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.

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