Monday, 9 February 2009

Marcelo Garcia Seminar - 7th Feb 09

L-R: Roubel, Simon, Marcelo Garcia, Me

On Saturday I went to a Seminar with Marcelo Garcia (2 time World Champion at Black Belt, 3 time ADCC Champion). It was held in Hove near Brighton and organised by Grab and Pull, which is, I think, a BJJ related venture run by Gus Oliveira of Brighton BJJ. The seminar was scheduled over two days – 1st day being Gi, 2nd Day being No-Gi. Cost for one day was £50, both days, £80. I attended just the one day – the Gi day. The session ran from 2p.m. To 4p.m. with just under an hour of rolling at the end and the chance for photos.

Given the snow that had beleaguered most of the UK during the week, Si and I had a reasonable journey down to Hove and met Roubel there too. We had a good chat with a few guys we knew from other clubs, tournaments etc and I was also able to put faces to names of some of the guys that contribute to the EFN forums. As we were chatting, Marcelo walked in – just a normal guy – really quite small but he had a smile and a handshake for everyone – straight away you got the feeling he was one of those people that everyone enjoys being around. And there were no heirs and graces – he was in the thick of it with the rest of us (I’ve been to seminars in the past – mainly traditional Martial Arts I have to say – where the seminar instructor has been treated like Royalty…big entrance, separate changing room etc etc and many a lot less well known or accomplished than some of the top BJJ guys).

The seminar was held in the sports hall of the King Alfred Leisure Centre, which was absolutely freezing…something not lost on Marcelo as his opening remark was that this was his first trip to the UK and he couldn’t believe how cold it was. So after a quick warm up and stretch it was down to the business of the day.

Marcelo opened by explaining that although the two days were Gi and No-gi, the techniques he was going to show were applicable across both as this was how he trained in order to avoid the need to have two separate “games” depending on what type of tournament he was entering – sound logic (this was also indicative of his style which was very competition oriented, with mention of points and time considerations – that’s the world he moves in and where he’s made his name). He explained that day one would look at work from the top position and day two, the bottom position with all techniques building up an array of options from one position.

So, I’ll try to go through the details on the techniques he showed, but note that these explanations are given in ways that enable me to remember so I apologise in advance if they’re not always clear.

1. Starting from standing, at the feet of seated opponent using open guard. First try pushing opponent back or grabbing ankles to tip back. Grab ankles and place between thighs and kneel tight in to butt of opponent. This will, to an extent, trap opponent’s legs. Move hands in through between opponents legs, placing elbows at hips, head on chest. Move head to side of opponent’s body that you want to pass to. Hold knee of same side. Kick opposite side leg up so that you effectively end up almost doing a headstand, clearing any potential hooks from opponent and come down into kneeling cross side and secure with underhook and clinch around head.

2. Starting as above, but this time, as you kneel, the opponent is able to push your body away. To counteract this take grips on the side of the gi, then post weight with one arm and bringing hips in behind posting on the balls of your feet, head up. From here, using other hand, push opponent’s knee inwards and swing same side leg to posted arm up and around the head to slide own body down and across opponent to end up in cross side. Secure position.

3. This time, whilst aiming to do the above, the opponent is able to place feet on your hips and push you away. Reach through and post arm on chest as before and place other hand on top of same side knee. With knee that is same side as posted arm, work into centre position so that foot is near opponent’s butt. Push opponent’s knee down to get other leg outside of opponent’s. In one movement, push opponent’s knee down and swing centre leg back and up to clear hooks and swing back inwards to opponent’s body to take knee on stomach. If opponent tries to escape, follow and then drop into kneeling cross side. Secure position.

4. Whilst aiming to do the above, opponent manages to get half guard on centre leg and may also have grabbed posted leg (if you weren’t careful to keep it far away enough). As before, post arm on chest and place other hand on knee. Move leg to back of half guard (if this breaks it then great) and immediately shoot knee forward to land at opponent’s diagonal opposite hip. Take kneeling cross side and secure position.

5. As above, but this time the opponent has blocked any movement from the trapped leg (and again, may also have grabbed posted leg (if you weren’t careful to keep it far away enough). Posting and hand positions the same as before. But as with technique number 2, swing free leg round opponents head to slide down body. From here, turn body to face opponent and use free leg and shrimp movement to free other leg still trapped in half guard (if still trapped). Cross side and secure.

6. As above but having swung leg round, opponent has managed to grab back, preventing you turning to face him. Turn opposite way and take under grip and clinch around head. Place shin of free leg near trapped leg and roll your opponent onto his back whilst prising with legs to open half guard. Slide knees forward to escape half guard and take mount.

7. Submission #1. Progress as per movement 5 to point of having freed both legs. Post uppermost leg out and drop lower knee to hip of opponent. It’s important to be sitting up in good base otherwise you’ll just be rolled off. Push up so that you are effectively sitting on top of the opponent, straddling him You should be able to have taken his uppermost arm over your leg so that the hand sits near the hip. From here you can take an arm bar, wrist lock or a shoulder lock by squeezing your own knee towards the other, or by placing your foot over the opponent’s head, sitting to the floor then executing by squeezing in with your knee.

8. Submission #2. Progress as per movement 6. As you sit to the side, facing away from your opponent, wrap your closest arm round the back of opponents head. Keeping weight on the chest to keep opponent flat, work round to North/South position. Push hips back and to the floor. Bring free hand under to meet other hand and squeeze. Done properly, this should be a good, quick strangle but done badly can end up as a neck crank.

Wow, didn’t realise there was that much until I’ve just written it and I hope I’ve remembered it right – there’s always the risk of confusing the odd bit, but there were three of us from the club there so I guess we can always work it out.

One point to make about all of these – at every stage, Marcelo was very clear about the need to have good base, posture and to control the opponent and his hips, especially when in cross side type positions.

I was really impressed with Marcelo’s instruction – clear, precise with great attention to the details that make a difference. During the practice he was walking around paying careful attention to everyone, answering questions and making corrections. I really enjoyed the simplicity of the majority of the moves and was taken by the speed with which Marcelo was able to execute them.

The rolling at the end was done in rotating four minute bouts and was very enjoyable – no one going insane. I think the tone was set well by Marcelo and everyone followed his calm lead. I wasn’t fortunate enough to roll with him but those that did all commented on his amazing grip strength, lack of use of the Gi and his ability to almost magnetically grab and utilise anything of his opponent that was available. At the end Marcelo thanked everyone and seemed genuinely appreciative of the time and money people had given to go and see him – another mark of his humility. Then it was open season for the usual post seminar photo opportunities, again, all done in the same spirit as the rest of the seminar.

All in all it was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, learning some new concepts from someone recognised as one of the best. The things I took away from it were (a) just what a nice guy Marcelo is, (b) that good jiu jitsu is simple and (c) it’s good to work up a range of scenarios starting from one source – the techniques I’ve described above all stared from being at the foot of someone’s open guard and I can see now why Marcelo is as good as he is. If his whole game is like this, then he pretty much has an answer for just about any eventuality and all of them are drilled to instinctiveness.

Value for money? Pretty good I’d say – about average for a BJJ seminar and for tuition of that quality and from a name like Marcelo Garcia, it’s hard to fault it. Thanks to Gus and his team for putting together a good seminar in the UK with a top name – I look forward to many more!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Slowing down...

I’m pretty sure it’s something I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, but the parallels between Jiu Jitsu and mediation are many. In fact I would go as far to say that good Jiu Jitsu is meditation. There’s an interesting post on this on Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood and I can concur with everything written there.

A couple of years ago, I went to the London Buddhist Centre (LBC) in Bethnal Green for a day long introduction to meditation. I think it cost about £25… I know they still run them. I went along having read lots on Buddhism, a rudimentary knowledge of meditation and, I guess, looking for some answers. What I got was a relaxing day with some nice people, some methods of focussing meditation and some nice vegetarian food. Really enjoyable and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in getting started on meditation.

Just recently I’ve noticed a lot of “noise” in life and with a mail shot from the LBC my mind turned once more to meditation as a possible way to deal with this noise. The LBC runs drop-in lunchtime sessions from 1300-1400, costing only £1. So, with Bethnal Green only a couple of Tube stops from my office in London, I decided that, this year, meetings etc allowing, if I was working in London, I would spend my lunch times at these sessions. So far I’ve managed to attend twice.

The LBC is a great little oasis of calm in a busy city and the shrine where the mediation takes place is stunning – it just has an immediate feeling of calm. It’s a bright space, the air laced with incense and the giant gold Buddha that dominates the room gives the room the sense of reverence that it deserves. Two mediation practices are taught at the LBC – “The Mindfulness of Breathing” and the Metta Bhavana. Here, I’ll give a quick outline of the mediations, but I’d advise that you do further reading around these to understand them in their context, or better still, find somewhere that will guide you through them as they’ll be able to give context and also pointers on things like posture.

The mindfulness of breathing is probably the most accessible. You simply focus on your breath which is a constant and readily available feature that you can meditate on.

Stage 1: You begin by counting at the end of each out breath – do this ten times and repeat, initially for five minutes.

Stage 2: You count at the start of each in breath – as above. This is a very subtle but definite shift in focus.

Stage 3: You drop the count but focus on the experience of breathing – how it feels, how the body moves, pretty much any experience associated with breathing.

Stage 4: You take a single element of the experience of breathing (for me it was the sensation of cold as the air hit the back of my nasal cavity) and focus on that.

Each stage was five minutes. As you practice, it is possible to extend the duration of practice, and, I guess to become less reliant on the “introductory” phases. You do (I certainly did) experience “wandering” of the mind, but the trick is to notice this and come back to the practice, but the overall aim is to reach a single point of concentration that is here and now. It is this that takes you away from thoughts of past or future, problems etc and this that helps to restore peace to our minds. It is this same principle that is applied to all “mindfulness” practice – being aware of what is happening in the moment that you are experiencing rather than letting the sometimes damaging and rampant internal dialogue that we all have from taking over our experience and making us unhappy.

The Metta Bhavana (translates as something like “Cultivating Loving Kindness”) approaches a somewhat more spiritual angle on meditation, aiming to allow us to grow compassion and understanding towards ourselves and others, which I guess is no bad thing regardless of your religious views. Again, in the introductory practice that I have undertaken, the stages are done in five minute segments, but the aim is to extend the practice as you become more experienced. During the stages, you make the following “wishes” for the subject of your mediation:

- May they be healthy

- May they be happy

- May they be free from suffering

- May they make progress.

Simple, but nice sentiments. But these are not words, you need to feel that they hold a meaning and almost picture your subjects benefitting from these sentiments.

In stages, you apply these sentiments to:

1) Yourself

2) A close friend. It is recommended that this is someone same sex and not someone that you are romantically interested or involved with.

3) Someone you know but not well – this could be a shopkeeper, postman, receptionist – the point is that this is someone that features in your daily life but you are not well acquainted with.

4) An enemy – someone that you find difficult, perhaps even “hate”.

5) You open up these sentiments to the world around you.

I find this meditation a little more difficult – my mind wanders a lot more with this and a few times I’ve even felt myself falling asleep. Also, wishing well to an enemy is an alien concept and very difficult sometimes. But I think it’s worth persisting – to acknowledge that every person has hopes, dreams, desires and a wish to be happy, just like yourself, is a useful and grounding thing to do and if it cultivates a more open persona to others, then surely that’s a good thing…? I have found it a grounding meditation, especially in the last stage - realising that you are a small part in a much bigger worl that surrounds you.

The goal of any meditation, is, as I’ve already said, to focus the mind on a single point of concentration, to stop the mind from drifting into uncontrollable thoughts about the past, which no longer exists, or the future, which doesn’t yet exist and to experience more of now. By doing this, we experience more of life, calm our minds and increase our ability to focus and concentrate.

And this is why, in my mind, Jiu Jitsu, when practiced with a right mind, is meditation. Two or three times a week I put on a gi, step onto the mats and meditate. My mind is occupied with Jiu Jitsu, its movements, its sensations and it is immediate and single pointed. That’s what mediation is and if you are so minded, it can be likened to a spiritual experience. Jiu Jitsu allows you to experience life in the moment and without distraction – how many other parts of your life can truly do that?

Sure, Jiu Jitsu is a great physical workout, but how many people really give their mind a workout….and I’m not talking arithmetic, memory, IQ type exercises, I’m talking something deeper, something more spiritual. This is why, for me, Jiu Jitsu will never be a sport, a workout or a recreational activity – it is all of those things on a physical level, but its so much more. It’s the piece of the puzzle that is far too often missing in modern life. It gives the time and space to “be”.