Brown Belt Karen Peters Credits Jiu-Jitsu With Helping Her Recover From COVID-19

Image Source: Lisa Albon

The following is the account of BJJ brown belt Karen Peters, 56, as given to the Jiu-Jitsu Times. Peters also helped spearhead the T.A.P. movement that has helped grow competitive jiu-jitsu in the female Master divisions.

It’s been 24 days now of my fighting COVID-19 — round after round after round, in and out of the ER, night after night wondering if my breathing was going to get worse and I’d end up on a ventilator, wondering if it would take my life and leave my son motherless. It would come in huge waves, and still does, albeit less intense: Fever, cough, intense dizziness, diarrhea, teeth-chattering chills… and then the terrorizing chest pain and shortness of breath.

It’s felt like some huge dude took high mount, gave me all his pressure, and leaned into me with his fist in my chest. I’d escape, catch my breath, only to get mounted again. Sometimes I’d get buried so deep underneath I could feel the virus’ toxicity seeping into my brain, into my mind, where it would do its real work, tormenting and torturing me, trying to break my will, offering me an invitation to give up, tap out, die. I could hear my professor’s tournament voices screaming at me, ”Breathe, Karen. Breathe. Do not accept it. DO NOT ACCEPT IT.” I’d turn into the virus, moving with it, looking for the slightest space to wiggle into so I could breathe.

Image Source: Dani Flohr via Karen Peters

It was there in those tight spaces I realized this is exactly why I’ve been training jiu-jitsu all these years. It was never ever about belts, medals, championships, the fun of it, or even the relationships I’ve built over the years. It was all about this moment, this time. It was all about saving my life, escaping the grips of this hideous disease. God only knows what would have happened if I weren’t a jiu-jitsu fighter — if I hadn’t been so familiar with the pressure of a huge dude’s weight bearing down on me, or how to relax and not panic while being smothered, how to push myself to the extreme and keep going round after round, or how to not give up in the face of such physical and mental suffering.

So yes, we train for life. Jiu-jitsu is not just a sport. It’s not just an art. It’s much, much, more than that — it’s a lifeline, a way to stay alive. Thankfully I’ve trained many years now, living and breathing jiu-jitsu, encoding it deep into my being, having it become a living, breathing part of me that is more powerful then COVID-19.

In some ways, my fight with COVID-19 has not been unlike a menacing tournament opponent that tore me up or “that as*hole” at the open mat who decided he’d show the brown belt old lady what’s up. It’s taught me what I’m capable of and clarified on a much deeper level what my priorities are, what matters to me in this life, and just how much jiu-jitsu is in my heart and in my soul. Given the realities of this virus and the current state of the world, I implore our community to work together for the sake of jiu-jitsu and everyone’s health to establish safe training and competition practices that are informed by good science and medical information. It’s time now, more than ever, to give back to jiu-jitsu as it has given to us.


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