On Friday 17th I went along to Eddie Kone’s Gym (Eddie is a Black Belt under Royler Gracie) in Hackney for a seminar with Royce Gracie. I wanted to go along as I’ve never met or trained with any of the Gracie clan so it seemed like a good opportunity. Thos reading this who know BJJ will know all about Royce. For those that don’t just google him. Regardless of what anyone thinks of him, his status in martial arts cannot be denied. He woke the martial arts world up to BJJ and the importance of grappling.
So, after a rubbish drive (endless traffic lights and slow moving traffic) I eventually found Eddie’s Gym which is above a convenience store on Lower Clapton Road. It’s a good place – well equipped and spacious. I was greeted in a friendly fashion by the guys that train there, even moreso by Eddie, who I guess recognised me from my Rickson Gi patch. Royce wandered in and was immediately in the thick of handshakes and photos all in good humour. I was immediately struck by his size…by this I mean how slight he is. He’s a little over 6ft but very slim. I could immediately see why the Gracies chose him to represent the technical superiority of their art in those early UFCs.
The seminar kicked off with some standing drills – the first was practicing the movement for Susae Tsurikomi Ashi. Starting with a “classic Judo” grip, lifting the opponent up and forward slightly to break his balance then stepping forward to block the front leg. Then we covered a sort of Tai Otoshi - fake a foot sweep, follow through to step to side of opposite leg bracing back of knee against opponent's knee. Post weight on front leg, pull opponent and straighten back leg for throw. Next up was Koshi Guruma - stepping one foot forward diagonally in front of your opponent’s same foot, then you pivot, hips under your opponent’s hips, lift then execute the throw. The last takedown technique was pretty nifty. Same grips, you pull your weight back so that you are virtually bent at 90 degrees. Swing the same side leg as your lapel grip up, as if to jump to guard, fall to your back, lift the hips and bring the other leg up to take the arm bar on the arm that you have maintained your grip on. Cool.
We then moved on to some guard stuff. A lot I had seen before, but it was good to get some additional details. In no particular order (except that which I remember): 1) Pull your opponent in with your legs and into cross-collar choke from beneath. 2) Attempt cross collar to bait opponent into scissor sweep (here I realised I need to work much harder on unbalancing my opponent before making the sweep). 3) Pull your opponent in with legs and arm drag. Escape hips out to opposite side to arm drag. Push opponent's near leg away with bottom leg and put in hook. Reach over back with to arm and grab lat/armpit keeping close contact. Pull up and over to take back, other hook in.
From open guard we did a few drills: 1) as opponent lifts leg to make classic guard pass, you block hip and shoulder, scoot out, then straighten to replace guard. 2) Similar drill but you simply circle your lower leg back inside to replace guard. These two are good movement drills. The last one that I remember was from the same starting point so, your opponent makes for classic guard pass. You brace against his body with the leg that is being passed raise hips and opposite leg up. Roll back over your shoulder, frame against the opponent who’s likely coming forward and sit back into guard. Again, a good movement drill, but possibly a useful technique in the right circumstances.
Royce moved quickly but took time during the practice to move among the attendees to make corrections and give pointers. He was also very concerned, as you might expect, with correct technique, stopping us at various points to point out common errors and potential pitfalls. It was all done in a friendly and humorous way.
Then Royce asked who had been training for over a year which was, I guess around half a dozen or so of us and he got us onto the mat in pairs to spar, wandering between us seeing what was going on. I was pretty OK with my first opponent, keeping good control and tapping him twice with a cross collar choke – once on top, the other from guard. My second opponent was a tough (is there any other kind?!) Polish guy who I later found out had five years of judo under his belt. This bout went on and on and on, both exchanging positions, near submissions, escapes. It was exhausting and seemed it would never end. Eventually he caught me in a cross collar choke from mount, I tried to upa out, but it was a touch too late and his balance was good. It was a good roll though and we both came up smiling but knackered.
Just as we finished, Royce called time and told me, my Polish opponent and one other guy to stay on the mat. My first thought was “oh, no – he’s going to make us go head to head!” and I was pretty exhausted. Instead, one by one, he shook our hands and said “Put on a blue belt!”. At first I didn’t really twig, but then I realised – Royce has just given me a blue belt – Wow! Totally unexpected and I felt a little drunk with happiness – or maybe that was just the after effects of the last choke!
Royce stuck around for photos, chats, to give individual pointers and was more than generous with his time. I got changed and after thanking a few guys that I’d trained with and Eddie, it was downstairs to the shop for a drink – never has a bottle of water tasted so good!
So here I am, a BJJ Blue belt. I know it’s a junior grade and I’m not going to be the best blue belt, nor was I ever the best white belt, but after 3 years and three months’ training 2-4 times a week I have reached a milestone I had wondered whether at the outset it was possible for me. I’m pretty sure I was the best white belt I could have been and know I’m good enough to wear a Blue Belt. For the time that I’ve put in, for the continuous effort to improve and for the mindset I bring to my Jiu Jitsu I know I deserve it.
A few thank yous are also due. To Big Dean and Si – thanks for keeping me going when training was looking like ending and for the training and coaching and time you’ve given me. Thanks to all the guys I’ve trained with – you’re all a part of my achievement, especially Richard who's given me some good pointers along the way. Thanks most of all to Dean Taylor. From the time I started, it has been Dean’s teaching that has inspired me to keep going and his communication of Rickson’s vision of Jiu Jitsu that has kept me on this path. More recently, it has been Dean’s encouragement that has helped me start to train a style of Jiu Jitsu I never though that I would be able to execute and it’s this that will help me on beyond this achievement.
Without this sounding like the Oscars, last and by no means least, thanks to my wife Laura for understanding how important BJJ is to me and putting up with me being out a few evenings a week!
So, I guess I’m now left with a question – what next??? This blog has been all about the lead up to a trip to LA next year with the aim of getting my Blue Belt and a year sooner, I get given it unexpectedly by Royce Gracie! I’m going to have to rename the blog for one thing and try and figure out a new colour scheme!!
Blogging aside, my training will continue as it has done – trying to master (is that ever possible?!) balance and sensitivity. I have a decent (enough) repertoire of techniques and I’m pretty certain that will continue to expand of its own accord through general training, DVDs, books, seminars – all the usual sources, but the work is really in the stuff we’re training with Dean T. I still want to get into better shape and will continue to use Jiu Jitsu as my driver for this. Purple belt is a possibility but many years away so is not really a focus at the moment. As for a trip next year…I still really want a decent BJJ adventure so we’ll see how that pans out – LA is top of the card, but if Rickson surfaces, Brazil could also be a possibility…whatever, I’ll let you know.
Thanks to those that have offered congratulations – I’ve had some very kind words. I leave this entry with a simple photo that I think sums up how I felt on Friday night – stunned, tired, but very happy: