Josh Hinger’s body hovered above a white-belt student, the balls of his feet straining against a gray mat.
Members of IU’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Club sat in a circle during practice, watching as Hinger, the club’s president and head instructor, demonstrated techniques for forcing an opponent to tap out.
“My hips are down,” Hinger explained. “Sometimes, if he’s being a pain in the ass, you can just drop your hip on his head a bit.”
The club members chuckled.
“No, I’m serious,” Hinger said, explaining that an opponent once used the move against him.
After a few minutes of lessons, the white-belt tapped the mat to signify the end of the demonstration.
“OK. Questions?” Hinger asked. “OK. Let’s go.”
At the end of the month, Hinger will depart for New York City to compete in the Pan-American Championship, the largest Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition in North America.
Hinger was introduced to jiu-jitsu eight years ago. In high school, he was a wrestler — varsity all four years — and after graduation, he said, he had nothing to do.
“A friend picked me up and took me to jiu-jitsu,” he said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and then I fell in love with it on, like, day two.”
Hinger said jiu-jitsu is similar to wrestling but said it’s more mental, like the intersection of chess and anatomy.
It’s unlike any other martial art, Hinger said, due to its “ground combat” orientation and the ban on striking.
“You can’t punch, you cannot kick, you cannot bite and you can’t eye-gouge,” he said. “That’s about it, though. Everything else is fair game.”
Half of the idea behind jiu-jitsu, he said, is about applying pressure to joints like the wrist and spinal column. The other is about choking the opponent.
Everyone needs oxygen, he said, and it doesn’t take much to cut off an opponent’s air supply.
It’s practical for self-defense, he said, in instances where the assailant is weaponless.
Hinger has only had to use jiu-jitsu for self-defense once.
He was vacationing in Vietnam while teaching English in Turkmenistan for the Peace Corps, he said, and two drunk men approached him late at night.
One threw a punch.
In skirmishes like that, when it’s likely the two parties will fall on the ground, he said, the one with knowledge of jiu-jitsu has an advantage.
“On the ground is where the jiu-jitsu guy is very comfortable,” he said.
Hinger practices with the Jiu-Jitsu Club every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Once a week — and sometimes more — he trains in Martinsville with Tim Sledd, an IU alumnus and the current chief deputy prosecutor of Lawrence County.
Sledd first contacted Hinger in May 2011 after Hinger moved to Bloomington to pursue his graduate studies in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Department of Central Eurasian Studies.
“I had heard good things about him as far as his skill in Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” Sledd said.
Sledd, a black belt who owns Small Axe Jiu Jitsu in Martinsville and Bedford, Ind., extended an invitation to train together and introduce Hinger to others in the area who
practice the martial art.
“The primary way that I’ve been helping Josh prepare is by hosting a preparation training camp every Friday night, which includes very rigorous conditioning,” Sledd said.
Hinger trains alongside Sledd’s other students, but during the past eight weeks, Sledd said, the conditioning program has been geared toward preparing Hinger for the tournament.
Hinger, however, is always competition-ready, Sledd said.
“I’ve been blessed to have Josh come to Indiana,” he said. “He’s an elite grappler. ... He has a wealth of knowledge and has made me better at jiu-jitsu.”
Senior Kevin Kopecky’s sweat smeared across the mat, leaving behind a trail, as Hinger took Kopecky’s head beneath his arm.
The pair used the last 45 minutes of practice to spar.
Kopecky winced, revealing a blue mouth guard, and struggled before tapping out.
The practice match lasted less than five minutes, but the pair had done several before with little break.
Hinger released Kopecky, and the two collapsed momentarily onto their backs.
They then shook hands and prepared to go one more time.