Thursday, 30 August 2007

The sweet smell of BJJ...

So, August Bank Holiday Monday. Eventually we figure out that enough of us want to train, but there’s still only four of us, so we decided just to roll rather than instruction. Me, Richard, Dean, Si and were training. It’s always tough being the only white belt and by far the least experienced guy, but I just figure I just need to try and work some technique and movement against these guys…anything else is a bonus.

One mistake I made was a moment when Si stood up from mount and gave me acres of space, but I was so caught up thinking about where I should be moving that instead I just lay there and did nothing. Perhaps I’m over thinking – maybe I just need to “do”. If I get caught, hey, at least I moved. Just laying there is pointless. The second, and major mistake I wasn’t really aware of until Richard pointed it out, and when he did it was glaringly obvious! Again, I was rolling with Si and he had mount. I got a pretty good bridge onto one shoulder and nearly bridged Si off. I don’t think my head was quite in the right place. Anyway, when it became clear the Upa had failed, I just rolled straight back down, flat on my back. Rick pointed out that I’d worked hard for that position, only to give it up and go flat again – I should have stayed on my side and worked for something else. The only time I should go flat from that position is if I’m going to roll to my other side to move with my opponent. It was so obvious, but I missed it completely. For the rest of the session I was really aware of that advice and I don’t think I did it again – I was pretty aware of keeping any favourable position I got and my rolling felt a lot better for it.

See, this is how it works…for anyone reading this new to, or unfamiliar with BJJ, this is how progress is made. In the grand scheme, what I just described is pretty basic, but you can easily wander through training unaware of what you’re doing/not doing, unless you’ve got the right guys to coach you at the right times. This is how progress is made. It’s tiny things. Maybe only one small thing every lesson, and that’s why it takes time.

Wednesday’s session was good. The usual “Team Wednesday”. Mike was back, and a guy called Lee turned up again. I’ve seen Lee a couple of other times, back in the days when all we did was roll. I suspect that put him off, but now we’re back getting instruction again, hopefully he’ll stay this time. We need more people, especially on Wednesdays, and he’s a big guy, so purely from my perspective, it’s always good to have big guys to roll with as it forces me to be more technical.

This session we covered sweeps:- from the closed guard, spider guard, open guard and X-guard. The main one for me was the sweep from closed guard – one I’m already familiar with and have had some successes with. Good, as always, to fine tune stuff like this. The others were interesting, but pretty hard, and hard for me to conceive an opportunity to use them. Still, always good to learn new stuff.

During our rolling, I felt pretty good – aware of keeping moving and trying not to be flat . All in all I felt I moved pretty well and I even secured a cross collar choke from guard (bottom)! It can be done!

One curiosity with BJJ is the amount of methane expelled during a session…with varying degrees of pungency, depending on what people have been eating. Wednesday was no exception – the perpetrators shall remain nameless, but one particular “brown cloud” actually made my throat sting. I’ve always been pretty prone to the odd expulsion of “dirty chi” myself – it usually occurs when someone puts pressure on you, or bends you into and awkward posture…or, the most violent are often when you exert yourself into a position. They just “pop” out. Now, no matter what anyone says, farts are funny…always will be. If it’s infantile, hey, call me “kid”. Last night I happened to let one loose whilst rolling with Dean. It was pretty innocuous, no other qualities other than sound – a pretty sociable fart as farts go. The problem was that Dean’s girlfriend had turned up to give him a lift. I’m sure it was bad enough to see a bunch of grown men sweating and wrestling with each other without her needing to hear that kind of thing! I think it was the cheese sandwich that did it. My apologies...I have brought shame upon myself. Dean was quick with a comment..."Sorry mate, I didn't mean to scare ya" :D

You know, you get some pretty funny and wide ranging conversations at training. Last night we were all enlightened to learn that Panettone (an Italian fruit cake, traditionally eaten at Christmas), is best enjoyed with fine wines. Many thanks to Si, our Italian cultural attaché for that. See, we can be cultured! Moving though, from the sublime to the ridiculous, I also remember an extensive “brainstorming” session a while back about the potential creation of a blog charting the myriad themes around faeces – it was going to be called the “Log Blog” featuring gems such as “Celebrity Log”. I still think it could be a cult internet classic.

So, there you have it. The wide ranging and in depth conversations that occur “on the mat”. It is indeed a rich and varied landscape.

Until next time…

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Rollin' rollin' rollin'.......

Monday was Richard ’s session again and we covered some self defence moves – defending against attacks from the rear, either someone running in with a rear choke, or running in with a bear hug. The momentum of the attacker was important in this technique, as it was this that was effectively used to “roll” the attacker either over the top, or round the shoulder…almost like a shoulder throw, but much less of a throw than simply yielding to the energy of the attacker. A nice easy technique…not nearly as hard as it looked and very effective (as you can see in these photos - Roubel being Richard's willing assistant!).

Then it was just rolling from knees. Usual story here, particularly against the blue belts and more experienced white belts. Just trying to stay aware of where the gaps are and what I need to be doing, but it’s so hard as there are very few opportunities given to you. Having a pretty tender neck from Sunday didn’t help either, so the chokes were extra painful. I rolled with Craig, a white belt who’s been training a little while longer than me. Craig’s a slight guy so really has to work his technique, so it was a good opportunity for me to do the same. We were just rolling pretty lightly, just exchanging positions – it was pretty useful...cheers Craig. A few times, I brought on the strength, but managed to stop myself most of the time. One move I was particularly pleased with was an escape from x-side – I managed to start to try and secure half-guard, but as Craig pushed back to counter, I took his weight and rolled him the other way – just what Richard has been trying to get across to me for some time now. Cool…but whether it was a one off, or whether I could do it to a bigger opponent remains to be seen. For now, that I even felt the opportunity is enough. Still can’t get x-collar chokes though! And another mental note to self – what options have I got when trying to pass guard and the guy moves backwards into open or “X” guard – at the moment I just seem to sit there and think “what now?” Anyway, here's a few photos from Monday for you: (1&2) Si and Richard battle it out (3) Fraternal rolling with the Mckelvie brothers:-

No other training this week. Big Dean’s away with work. Si offered to come down and train, but it would most probably have been only him and me, which would be great for me in terms of 1 on 1 tuition but I don’t want to take Si’s time up when he really doesn’t have to. Much better for him to have some time at home with his new bairn. And for me for that matter… it is tough balancing training with being at home, but in the long run, I think I’m a whole lot more bearable at home when I’ve trained. It’s also good to have a break once in a while. I train pretty consistently and you do get these times when you just feel sooo damn tired and your aches and pains just don’t seem to go away…at these moments, a night off and an early night is a good option. It’s one of the most misunderstood things, recovery. I found out all about it on a course I did recently…I’m pretty certain I’ll talk about it another time, but part of it was all about diet, hydration, nutrition, and, importantly, recovery. Never underestimate how hard you need to work at recovery as well as active training.

With a Bank Holiday coming up I might see if Neil’s up for some rolling “Al Fresco”, but other than that, that’s me for this week.

I close this entry with some shocking news. I just heard that one of the guys at Tonbridge, a recently promoted Blue Belt, had a stroke on Sunday night. I hear he’s lost some movement on one side, although to what extent I’m not sure. Also not sure to what extent it’s permanent or not, but I hear he’s making good progress. I was rolling with him on Sunday and he’s a dedicated guy, around my age. Just shocking. Stuff like this always puts things into focus. Here’s sending positive thoughts for a quick and full recovery….

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Say it loud - I'm a nutrider and I'm proud!

Ever since Royce Gracie turned the world of martial arts upside down in the early UFCs, no fighting system could be considered complete without at least a basic smattering of groundwork and for many, BJJ rules the roost.

But this misses the expanse of a pure BJJ syllabus, which contains a large amount of stand up and self defence techniques. It’s true, a large number of BJJ schools and associations focus far more on the sport/competition Jiu Jitsu that many see, but there are also a large number that retain purer roots. Rickson’s is one of those.

But what is it? What is it that creates such loyalty and enthusiasm? Why is it like a drug ?

1. It works, and we know it works.

Watch the Gracies in action, or any other top BJJ practitioners for that matter. It’s no coincidence that they have been so dominant in MMA for so long. Far from being “a bit if this, a bit of that”, MMA has evolved into a martial arts style of its own, with its own catalogue of moves and techniques and a core part of this is grappling and groundwork techniques. And where do many of these hail from? Yup. BJJ. How many traditional stand up martial artists have been dominated by the fighter with better grappling/ground skills? There’s just such a huge weight of documented evidence and it’s all based on a pretty simple philosophy; by closing down the range, you can eliminate a striker’s main weapons. From this position, with superior grappling skills, there’s a good chance you can overcome your opponent. It works, plain and simple.

2. It doesn’t come easy.

You have to learn the hard way. You can’t learn this from a video or buying a book. You have to get on the mat and do it for real. It takes time and effort to get good. For some, this is all the reason they need to get frustrated, make feeble excuses and give up. For others, it is exactly this challenge that keeps them going. There’s a saying; “Nothing that was worth doing or having was ever easy to get” and nowhere is this truer than in BJJ. Those little moments when the light goes on and you understand a technique, feel the movement you’ve been missing, understand when to push and when to pull. All of these are the little rewards you need to keep you training and you know that these only come with time and practice and a lot of tapping and a lot of sweat.

3. You get instant feedback.

If you make a mistake, you get to know about it pretty quick. That searing pain from the armbar, or that spaced out feeling you get as a choke takes hold tells you straightaway that you did something wrong. So many other martial arts give you get out clauses, some don’t even need them as they never even test themselves against fully resisting opponents. Not in BJJ. You either get it right or you get tapped. If you like instant and honest feedback, it’s right here.

4. It’s physical

Some people like this, others keep it at arm’s reach, but I like aggressive physical contact. I loved it when I played Rugby and I love it in my martial arts. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something exhilarating about putting yourself in the way of a bit of pain. It’s all controlled of course, but there’s something very comforting about knowing that you’ve experienced pain and survived it. I’ve taken hits in Rugby that assure me that I can probably take the best of what most would-be aggressors might dish out. Likewise in BJJ. I can hack it. I’m not the best, and often come out 2nd best, but I can take it. How many other people wandering around know how they’re going to feel or react in the face of pain or threat? I guess it’s all about knowing yourself.

5. It’s full of really great people

Most of the people I’ve met in BJJ are really nice, down to earth, generous, genuine people. The only people that I’ve met that have not fitted this profile are the people who either don’t stick it out (too much ego) or turn up to “test out” the BJJers in their area (and often wander off in a huff having been tapped out repeatedly…too much ego). So there’s your formula. Because of what we do, most people are very self aware and therefore have no ego. Wandering into a BJJ gym with an ego will only end in one of two ways – you either lose it, or you don’t come back. Most BJJers are very self effacing and willing to give their time and experience. Where I train, I count every person as a good friend and I really enjoy their company. It’s a social experience as much as anything else. It’s a very varied bunch too – all walks of life leave society outside and create their own “community” in the gym.

It’s true, BJJ is a very male dominated activity, and more’s the pity. There’s no need that it should be so. I’m sure it can be an intimidating experience to wander into a BJJ gym and see a bunch of big sweaty guys, many with shaved heads. But get talking and you’ll find some of the most intelligent, approachable and respectful people you’ll meet in martial arts, and in general.

Outside of BJJ, others will deride it as being “gay” (to an outsider there is something faintly unusual about two grown men sweating and cuddling each other - can’t see it myself :D). They’ll call us “nutriders” because we genuinely believe in BJJ’s dominance over other fighting systems. They’ll tell us that system/style x,y and z is better, bla bla bla. I don’t see these people stepping on the mats of any club or gym near me to test their theories, so they’re welcome to their views and their continued life of misplaced ego.

BJJ isn’t for everyone…martial arts aren’t for everyone. But just think, why are so many people absolutely hooked? Don’t you ever feel like you might be missing out on something really good? Go train….and don’t forget to tap!

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Robot neck

Man, a tough session today. I don't normally train sundays, but I decided to go over to Carlson Gracie Tonbridge. I knew I'd get a good workout there, and it's also been a while since I trained there.

For a short while (a month or two) I trained regular Sundays there in addition to Rickson's as there was a bit more structure to the sessions at Tonbridge than at Northfleet (at that time, Dean had just stopped teaching and sessions were just rolling - at my level I need more structured sessions so I can develop). Once teaching started up properly again at Northfleet it then became too much to train at both clubs regularly, and, preferring the much more technical and "softer" style of Rickson's, the choice was simple.

This is to take nothing away from the guys in Tonbridge. They've got a good set-up with a good sized core membership. The guys are all really cool and welcoming and really competitive and have had a strong showing in all the contests they've entered. I always get a little more adrenaline when I go to Tonbridge - I know It's going to be hard, and sometimes's all good, but not something I could do every week - I'd just be a mess otherwise.

For a while, the sessions were run mostly by Nelson Solari (a 2nd dan under Carlson Gracie). I found his sessions interesting, but I found myself drowned by techniques, of which, I can only remember a couple. Not sure what went on but the teaching is now largely by Wilson Junior (Carlson 1st Dan) and some of his brown belts.

I really enjoyed the session today and found Wilson to be a really jovial, friendly guy . We ran through a few variations off the open guard. Many of these were chokes...hence today's blog title. Problem with practicing chokes over and over is that if they're not on 100% right they can end up as neck cranks rather than chokes - they still hurt but have the effect of giving a pretty stiff neck.

We also did a bit of sparring from standing in preparation for a tournament that's coming up (more on that another time) - very intersting for me as I've done very little of this in BJJ. The guy I sparred with was pretty frantic, so I decide to keep a distance and let him do the work - sure enough, after about a minute he was knackered and I'd done very little. He went for a takedown, which he got, but it wasn't clean and I landed on top in X-side, from there I worked into mount and just while I was working in for an "americana" arm lock, time was called. I was amazed at how quick the time went - we only did 3 mins, but wow - bit of an eye opener in terms of tournaments, where you have 5 mins - not a whole lot of time to do your thang.

We ended the session with the usual from the knees sparring. At Tonbridge, they're a whole lot more competition oriented so they roll in 5 min bouts - just as well as the pace is always frenetic! Pretty much all the guys roll in a very aggressive and attacking manner, which can be a shock, but my game plan is always pretty simple. Stay tight, let the other guy go hammer and tongs for 3 or so minutes - once he's tired he'll start to make mistakes and then I'll make my move. This works a lot of the time, but it's a risky strategy given that the 5 mins goes so quick. My game depends on getting a submission, so theoretically, the other guy could rack up points and win if I failed to do this in a tournament. Still, I'm happy with how today went - I worked the basics, sat tight, waited for my chances and got some good reversals. There were a couple of tight moments when guys went for chokes, but they weren't on - more on my jaw or chin than my throat. Whilst these are still uncomfortable, I'll never tap to one of these - sometimes just out of principle - it's got to be clean, or give it up and move on. Just no point in sitting there for ages going for something that clearly ain't working.

Anyway, really good session, really good workout - cheers guys.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Practice makes perfect

So, this is my first post about training since I started this blog, so just want to reflect on how this week’s gone. Monday night we trained an escape from mount (with opponent’s weight fully on and down) and then just span off variations from this, moving into positional training from the same position (top person aims to maintain mount/submit, bottom person aims to escape mount).

Sounds pretty basic, but even after two years, every time I do this position I learn something new…it’s tough. It’s like something Big Dean (one of our Blue Belts) said to me a while back – “these positions are basic – doesn’t mean they’re easy, but they are your core moves”….very true. Monday was a really encouraging session. Richard (Blue belt, purple stripe) took us through the moves and was really helpful. Really gave me a sense of the details that I should be looking at in order to realistically train for that Blue Belt and how I need to apply myself to the training – very good advice and nice to know that I’ve got support.

Richard explained that I need to be at the level whereby I am aware of what’s happening and what options I’ve got, then selecting the right option – it’s a kind of deliberate approach to training. I’m by no means intuitive about what I’m doing – that’s a whole other level when you just “do”, but I’m pretty sure I’m no longer in the stage when I just do random stuff in the hope that something might happen. It reminds me of something I saw in work once – 4 stages of Competence:

I think I’m somewhere between conscious incompetence and conscious competence at the moment, depending on who I’m rolling with. My aim over the next two years is to get to consistent conscious competence, and most of that is to do with mindset.

It’s cool as at least I think I understand where I’m at. Richard put it that I need to think like a small guy – could be a useful way of looking at how I train and getting to grips with technique – tough one, but it’s got to be the way. Richard’s really good at getting across the movement and sensitivity required in BJJ – it shows in how he rolls and is a product of so much time with Dean T I guess.

At the end of the session, the guys gave me some good confidence boosting talk – stuff like how I’m “not stupid any more” – :D sounds like an insult, but really, if you’ve done BJJ, you’ll recognise that’s a big compliment as to how far you’ve come. Also “I can see you’re thinking” and comments about my level of commitment. All small things, but still nice to hear and make you leave training feeling a little bit taller. Cheers guys.

Wednesday nights - always a smaller group for some reason, but this is where I’ve been making my most progress. We’ve been drilling the basics over and over and with smaller numbers, I’m getting great tuition from Big Dean (Barthelemy - Blue Belt) and coaching from Simon “Super Kong” Roberts (Blue belt). Between them there’s got to be at least 12 years of BJJ. This week we covered Guillotine from guard, defence of same, kimura from guard, defence of, and cross-collar choke – always looks so simple and is one of Si’s specialities, but actually pretty hard to do well. Si’s cross collar chokes are so strong yet deceptive – it was to one of these that was the only time I’ve been choked unconscious.

Strange experience – we were rolling and Si took up the grips and the choke came on. I remember thinking “this is it…I’ll tap” and then, next thing I knew, Si was walking off the mat. I remember thinking –“where’s he going, I haven’t tapped yet” – unbeknown to me, I’d just passed out, dead weight on top of him, sort of spitting/snoring (very distinctive sound). To me, it never happened – the choke was that good and that subtle I didn’t see or feel it coming. Still a matter of mirth even now.

Dean’s got this weird kind of photographic memory thing going on so the level of detail in his instruction is great. This also helps in the coaching – if something’s not quite working you can try it out with Dean and he’ll tell you what’s wrong straight away – instant results. Wednesday was no exception.

Anyway, we finished the session with some light rolling. As usual, this was fun, if not a little frustrating – I tried to roll like Richard had said, like a small guy , using as little strength as I could. I actually found it more energy sapping!! It’s like Jekyll and Hyde – part of me knows that being gentle is the right thing to do in terms of my development right now, but there’s the other part of me that just wants to push and fight – it’s tough….physically and mentally. Just gotta persist.

Tonight (Friday), I went to a mate's house. I'd taken the day off work so it was a good opportunity to squeeze in some more training. Neil (I met Neil a few years back at CKD and introduced him to BJJ at my club - he now trains mostly at Carlson Gracie Tonbridge - more about them some other time) bought some mats of his own a few weeks back, which is great - free training! It's the weirdest dojo you'll ever see though - 9mx9m of mats in his back garden in the countryside of west Kent, with only a fence to separate us from hundreds of sheep. It's even weirder trying to explain to my wife that two men, around their mid-3o's are going to wrestle in a back garden! I think both our wives find it weird and just roll their eyes in a way that says "when are you going to grow up?" But hey, who cares, it's all good. As you can see from the photo (neil striking classic BJJ pose at his private Dojo), I ain't lying about the sheep - I'm sure it was the clincher for Neil when deciding to buy the house!

We just rolled for about two and a half hours - good fun and able to try out new stuff or just drill what we want. I was trying really hard again not to use too much strength, but it keeps cropping up.

I was trying to work on X-side and being under mount - still finding it really hard. I think I'm just gonna have to repeatedly put myself there until it clicks. Also found it really hard to maintain mount if I was going for a choke - something else I need to fix as I work real hard to get mount then lose it every time to a basic bridge!:(

Anyhoo - always a pleasure - cheers Neil. Something really nice about rolling outside on a nice day in the quiet of the countryside. And all perfectly normal (:o.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Fighting fit....?

I think that another interesting angle to this whole journey is going to be the need to get into good physical shape for the grading. From what I hear it’s pretty demanding.

Back in 2002, I left the Royal Air Force which was probably the time that I was at my fittest. I’ve never been a natural athlete – I’ve always had to work pretty hard to get any where like fit, but for me, I was in pretty good shape. I was around 90 kilos (I’m 6 ft and a big build), pretty lean, well toned and able to exercise pretty hard (the RAF standard during officer training was a three mile run in 21 mins).

After I left, I tried hard for a while to keep in shape, but commuting 4 hours into/out of London every day made life hard – long days. In the RAF I had the privileged position of being paid to keep fit – keeping up that level of activity in a “normal” job is nigh on impossible. To give you some idea, in the RAF, I was maintaining my weight on a 5,000 calorie a day diet!

It was just after leaving the forces that I took up martial arts in an attempt to stop the slide, but it’s just not enough. I’m actually quite a lazy person at heart and I love food. I’ve always been one of those people that puts on weight real easy. I can lose it pretty easy too if I exercise hard, but time is an issue. Add to this (and I’m not trying to make excuses), I tore my ACL (for a second time – the first being before the RAF), which required 6 months of physio and took almost a year to get back to where I was.

About a year later I did something to my back. Don’t know what it was (something to do with a deep lordosis?) but I would go into intense spasms of low back pain that would take several minutes to subside. My mobility was severely affected – most mornings I couldn’t even put my socks on or tie my own shoes. It took a year of regular osteopathy to get things back how they were. The back’s still not 100%, but I can at least bend and move without fear of spasms. It’s made a big difference to my BJJ too – I can at least move with confidence that my back is not going to spasm, so now I’m trying out new moves that just weren’t an option before. The knee will never be right – little or no ACL in one knee means that one leg “giving out” is always a potential problem. I suspect the years of rugby had a lot to do with both these problems. Hey ho.

All of this (but mostly me just eating really bad) had conspired to put me where I am today. I’m still pretty fit, but nowhere near where I was. I know I need to lose weight, shape up and all this will make me stronger, faster, fitter and better able to execute my BJJ moves.

So, this two year quest is also a quest to get back in shape. I ain’t getting any younger – time to stop the tide of approaching middle age spread. I want my kids to grow up with a dad that can give them a run for their money whatever their age.

I work so much better with something to aim for, so the timescale and target gives me something great to tie this all in to.

So, here are some current stats (all done using home equipment); we’ll re-visit these at various points to see how I’m doing. This is it – I’m putting myself out there so I guess I’m gonna look pretty stupid if I don’t get where I want to be.

Height: 6’0” (183cm)
Weight: 110 kg (using cheapest of the cheap scales)
Waist; 38”
Body Fat %: approx 40% (done using cheap hand held unit)
Cholesterol 4.7 (home testing kit)

I guess BP would be something good to look at – I’ll get this done if I need to go to the Doctor’s and let you know where I’m at.

My target weight is somewhere around 95 kilos. I gotta face facts. I’m never gonna be what I was 5 years ago so this is realistc I hope. The rest of the measures will just fit around that. Fitness wise, I’d like to be able to keep up a 9-10 min mile for min 3 miles and up to 6 miles….anything else will be a bonus.

In my favour, I don’t and have never smoked. I do not drink loads (although probably still too much by accepted “units” measures), I train between 2-3 times a week for two hours each session, then there are runs and cycling to and form work around that…so at least I’m not starting from scratch.

As time goes on, I’ll keep you updated on my plans and my progress, for now, that’ll do. Speak to you again soon.

Friday, 10 August 2007

In the beginning...

I want to talk about the early days of my BJJ experiences….

I’d done a bit of Judo before, but found it way too hard on my knees (previous ACL injuries from playing Rugby). But this, combined with having a Dan grade in another martial art, and having played Rugby for many years (a very physical/heavy contact sport) I thought “yeah, I’ll be OK”. Not in an arrogant way, but just expecting that these factors combined with my size and strength would serve me well.

Wow. What a shock. The smallest of the white belts turned me inside out. Armbars and chokes came from seemingly nowhere. I was tapping like a typewriter. And sweat!? Out of breath!? I’d never experienced anything like it. Oh and the aching after training! I loved every second of it.

I guess this will be a familiar scenario to anyone that has ever started BJJ and the trick is to watch, listen, ask. Be a sponge for information. As soon as you’ve tapped, get up and get back on the mat and go again. Try to understand what happened, sit back and reflect on what happened and if you’re still not sure, ask someone. The guys I’ve met through BJJ are some of the nicest, most helpful guys I’ve ever met.

Slowly, you get shown some techniques, some basic positions, come to understand (even if you still can’t do it) base, balance and posture. You quickly learn (hopefully) as a novice that you’re unlikely to tap anyone out, so you need to focus on escapes and keeping any positions you might get. And one of the most valuable lessons you can ever learn is don’t freak out!!

This is the single biggest mistake just about all BJJers make at the beginning and the bigger the guy, the more he does it…I’m no exception. Simply trying to muscle your way may work against someone with limited training, but against someone with a bit of time on the mat, you’re just giving him everything he needs. Plus you’ll get tired. Real bad and real quick. One of the best markers I was given was by the instructor, Dean. He told us we need to be rolling like we're playfighting with a child – a kid of our own or a nephew or niece. Gentle and aware of where they are and what they're doing. This changed the whole landscape. This was one of the singlemost valuable pieces of advice I’ve been given to date, and it came at exactly the right moment.

That’s what makes Dean so good. Dean has dedicated his life to following Rickson’s style of BJJ, spending huge amounts of his own time and money, taking private lessons with Rickson, then bringing the knowledge back to the UK to pass on. Dean was one of, if not the, first people to bring BJJ to the UK. His understanding, timing, movement – the whole game is inspiring. There’s an almost spiritual side to his teaching that you see many lesser martial artists claim to have, but do not have the ability to back it up. There have been many sessions when Dean has spent a lot of time talking about the more philosophical side of martial arts and Jiu Jitsu and it’s intoxicating and the best thing….all of it is relevant. Dean is an amazing instructor and I’m really grateful to him for taking the time he has to keep me coming back for more. A genuine guy, Dean could easily have pulled in more students and charged more per class, but his interest is in the art. He has captured the essence of Rickson’s “gentler” style of Jiu Jitsu, where technique and sensitivity will overcome pitbull power and aggression. Dean is currently a purple belt under Rickson, but I suspect his abilities lie well beyond this. With no Rickson Black Belts in the UK, grading is a problem, which is one bar to progression, but also, over the last year, Dean has had pretty bad back problems. I just hope karma does the right thing and finds a way for Dean to get back to training and teaching…if he wants to of course. Maybe he’s enjoying the rest. Respect.

Anway, if your ego can handle being tapped week in week out and you can stay focussed on the fact that the guys tapping you were once where you are, you might just stick with it. Then, every so often, you may make an escape, you may even get a tap. Then you get a beginner wander in and you get to se just how far you’ve come as you dominate the person under you, freaking out just like you used to.

So many people come and go, only a few stay the distance. So far, I’m on this ride for good. I’ve been through the phases – freaking, surviving (where you just lie there trying not to be tapped, which is no good as just lying there teaches you nothing) and I’m now starting to pick through the details of the basics and making headway.

It’s tough. I’ve been training twice, sometimes three times a week for the last couple of years and am just starting to make real progress, getting a few escapes and making people have to go for other options because I actually have a proper defence. Hell, I can even tap less experienced white belts, or those that don’t train as frequently. So here I am, thinking that in 2 years, with some intensive training, I may just be ready to get my blue belt.

There’ve been a few people who’ve really helped me so far. I’ve mentioned Dean, and I’ll mention the others as this blog progresses.

Cheers for now.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Get set, Go!

So, here we go, first post... likely to be a long one this, so bear with me...

About a month ago I decide that I'm gonna set myself the goal of achieving a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Blue Belt, in Los Angeles, with Rickson Gracie, in late 2009. This blog will chart my preparations and thoughts in trying to achieve this. My aim with this blog is threefold; to reflect on what I'm doing, keep a log of my progress, and hopefully it may just be of interest to anyone else interested in BJJ, either as a beginner, or a more experienced person who may relate to what I have to say. Hope you enjoy the ride as much as I know I'm going to.

Some quick background....

I'm Al and I'm 32. I'm married with two great kids, both 2 and a half (twins - boy/girl) and a Border Collie. I'm an Organisational Development Manager for a large privately owned insurance company.

Aside from my family, one of my greatest passions is the Martial Arts. I did Choi Kwang Do for over three years, getting my 1st Dan and Instructor certificates. Without going on about it (not what this blog's for), I left CKD after finding the politics and syllabus limitations too great. Nuff said.

I've also qualified as an Advanced Level Instructor with the UK Self Defence Federation (SDF) under Dave Turton - one of the nicest guys you'll meet in Self Defence and one of the most knowledgeable. Most of the self defence training I've done has been with Stuart Rider, founder of Taishindo - another great guy and one of Dave's top instructors. I've also recently been training (not nearly as much as I'd like) Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)/No Holds Barred (NHB) with Steve Morris - again, one of the purest, fiercest most knowledgable fighters I've ever seen or had the pleasure to be in the company of. At the time of writing, Steve is 63 and still packs a punch, kicks and moves like the best of martial artists that are, or ever were. If you want it pure from a man that knows, you NEED to seek Steve out!

Anyway, at some point during my time with CKD I rapidly realised that my lack of a ground "game" was a concern in the effectiveness of my training. I'd heard of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so looked into it and did some searching on the web to find out what schools were near me. There was only one listed at that time and that was a school under Rickson Gracie's Association based in Northfleet, Kent. The school is run by Dean Taylor, (more about Dean another time) Rickson's only UK rep. Now, obviously, I knew the Gracie name, but that was about it. So, a bit more Googling and I came up with the DVD "Choke", charting Rickson's championship campaign back in 1995. If you haven't seen it - get it...NOW. I knew there and then that I HAD to be doing this art and that it had to Rickson's style. How lucky was I to have the only UK school 30 mins down the road!?!?! A school run by a guy trained by the most widely acknowledged pure BJJ practitioner and fighter alive today!!

Off I went and 2 years later I'm still training and now have my sights set on a blue belt in two years' time.

More reflections on the "early" days to come, but for now, that will do. Suffice to say, this is the beginning of an exciting journey and you're more than welcome along on the ride.