LIKE an anaconda coiling around its prey, Alexander Boldizar slides his forearm around the neck of his competitor, sinking in a winning submission.
Boldizar, 40, and his son Samson, six, captured matching gold medals at last April's Brazilian jiu jitsu championships, which featured martial artists from 15 dojos across B.C.
At first glance, Brazilian jiu jitsu seems like an odd bonding exercise for a father and his young son, but the form of submission wrestling popularized by former Ultimate Fighting Champion Royce Gracie has forged a bond of patience and skill between the two, according to Boldizar.
"It's really fun to be able to share a common set of knowledge and interest," Boldizar says.
Boldizar, an asthmatic former attorney, says he was initially drawn to martial arts to create a balance with his studious lifestyle.
Born in what is now Slovakia, and raised in Ottawa and Montreal, Boldizar studied at Harvard University and became a member of the California bar association before eventually moving to the North Shore.
"I moved to the North Shore two years ago with the intention of not moving anymore, because I'd moved my whole life," he says.
Shortly after discovering a martial arts dojo on East Esplanade near Lonsdale Quay, Boldizar discovered how much he needed jiu jitsu in his life.
"As soon as I moved here my marriage started breaking down and there was a lot of stress and I found that was kind of the only thing that completely just washed out all the stress," he says. The former lawyer had done kung fu and other martial arts, but he says there was something different about Brazilian jiu jitsu.
"The thing about jiu-jitsu that I really liked was that it was like chess with your body," he says. "You're using all your strength, all your speed, and when somebody's strangling you or you're strangling somebody, you can't think about your divorce, you can't think about your stress."
Despite his ivy league education, Boldizar's stint as a lawyer was brief, and he ditched his leather briefcase after 11 months.
"The reason I haven't moved to a higher-paying job is because I set my own hours, I can spend time with (Samson)." Some of that time includes hitting the mats at North Vancouver Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
"Because I was a single dad I had a limited amount of time and I couldn't afford a babysitter every time I wanted to go to class, so he would come with me," Boldizar explains. "We had a deal that if he sat patiently for an hour-and-a-half for the class. . . he and I would wrestle, and that was kind of his favourite activity in the world."
Taking a break from an impromptu school-day ski trip with Samson, Boldizar reflects on the community afforded by North Vancouver Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
"When you say jiu jitsu, people think MMA (mixed martial arts) and they think meatheads, and our club is really not meatheads. It's a very educated demographic," he says. "They treated him, basically, almost as a mascot and a club member."
While Boldizar began competing in tournaments, Samson became the first child to take classes at NVBJJ.
"He started learning delayed gratification and patience," Boldizar says.
That patience was tested when his father brought home his first silver medal, according to Boldizar.
"I gave it to him, and he said, 'Thank you, but next time can you please get me a gold?' So the next tournament I was in, I got silver again, and he looked at me and said, 'Daddy, did you forget, I asked you for a gold this time?' " Boldizar says as his son laughs.
Samson earned his own gold at his first tournament, the Copa Katana Brazilian jiu jitsu championships, held in Vancouver.
"His first match was against this kid who had a lot more stripes and clearly had a black belt dad," Boldizar recalls. "(Samson) stayed super calm, he spun around, and he won the fight in 19 seconds."
Besides dealing with a skilled adversary on the mat, Boldizar was faced with a debilitating asthma attack during his march to gold in the super-heavy category.
"I almost had him in a headandarm (submission) and I knew that I had to submit him right there or I was going to lose. I knew if I didn't finish that submission, my lungs couldn't keep going."
Boldizar finished the submission on his way to the tournament's top prize, although he dropped a subsequent match that would have given him an entry into a world championship tournament.
While Boldizar enjoys sharing the sport with his son, he wants to be certain Samson carves out his own identity.
"I've always tried really hard not to push my sport on him." Boldizar says.
Still, for the time being, Samson says he's happy going for double-leg takedowns on the jiu jitsu mat.