edition Juli-August 2024

The Body in Full Readiness

A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Tournament as a Stage Situation.

Ilja Subkoff as Mr.Rat and Agata Siniarska as Mr.Racoon in "Down to the Bone", DOCK 11, 2024. Filmstill, Courtesy of the artist.

Choreographer and performer Agata Siniarska has been learning the martial art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu for a year now. For tanzraumberlin, she writes about her experiences with this martial art, which originated from japanese judo and jiu jitsu but focuses more on ground fighting. She draws parallels between martial arts and dance in terms of performative techniques, dramaturgy and presence, and views martial arts and dance as ways of expressing oneself.

Agata Siniarska
Choreographer and performer


I personally believe there are many connections between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu1 (BJJ for short) and contemporary dance; the vernacular of both activities involve space, time, movement techniques and bodies. In this short text, I’d like to focus on the performative connections between these two practices. Beyond the physical training, BJJ is a martial art and the aspect of competing in front of an audience involves a specific stage situation. The preparation for the tournament2, the fight and the time following the fight mirrors, in my opinion, a similar trajectory to the preparation of a dance performance, its premiere and the time after the show.

The preparation for a jiu-jitsu fight is very specific. Time is divided into prefight, fight and post-fight. In speaking to several BJJ fighters, all commented on private rituals (which I can’t mention here), specific diets, preparatory exercises, meditation, etc. Most fighters prepare a kind of choreographic score, a chart for the potential fight: what position do I want, what grips will I use, what if I can’t, etc. This plan is set executed during the fight, as a real time composition. Before a fight, the fighter often visualizes the fight and its various scenarios. As in dance, visualization is one of the key preparatory techniques in BJJ.

Just before stepping out onto the mat, the fighter warms up, and not in an ordinary warm-up, but already in fight mode. As you’re about to face your opponent, you must be absolutely ready; you can’t hesitate, because it’s a matter of life and death. And then the fighter (just like a performer) takes to the mat, driven by an ultra instinct, unifying an alertness of body and mind. Time changes, no longer linear, but rather out of order, suspended. Every performer knows exactly this feeling!

The fight isn’t just a physical encounter, but also a frenzied embrace of all kinds of tissues, an extreme closeness of two bodies, with a symbolic death lurking between them. When one fighter submits to the other, time stops abruptly, the defeated fighter tapping out, a symbolic death taking the place of a physical one. It’s not only a climactic moment, but also the moment of return to the social order, to the life that’s been left behind. The performance is over, you faced death and now you’re ready to come back to the commonplace, much the same, but yet completely different. The body inherently retains the memory of every fight. The fighter, like the performer, bears the traces of the fight, a living archive of an extraordinary moment in time.

After a fight, just as after a premiere, the fighter is first confronted with a feeling of hyper presence and immediately afterwards with a drop in the body’s chemistry, a feeling of emptiness, of the deprivation of creativity.

Just as a solo performance is never a solo work, the preparation for a fight, the fight itself and the post fight state are simultaneously solo and group experiences. As a fighter, you’re prepped by your coach, providing you with care, physical and mental support, and feedback. Your coach is your dramaturge. You also prepare by training with your colleagues and with their knowledge and help, you create your own unique fighting style. Every person fights differently, just as every person dances differently, as every body is different and everybody is unique. Just in terms of a performance, BJJ is a way of expressing yourself. What kind of fighter I am, what kind of performer I am, it’s my game. Both per- formers and BJJ fighters take center stage not just to win, but to create and share, with the audience, a time beyond the daily routine, an unearthly space and a physical performance that’s simply extraordinary3.


1 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a self-defensive martial art and combat sport based on grappling,
ground fighting and submission.
2 At the time of writing, I am in the middle of preparing for the Grappling Industries Tournament in Berlin.
3 My thanks to Frank Burczynski and all the friends and colleagues at Hilti Berlin for all the training we did together. My biggest thanks to Ilja Subkoff and our shared friendship
which remains as strong and tight as a rear naked choke.

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