Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Destination: Awesome.

Rickson Gracie  Seminars, Amsterdam, 3 & 4 Nov 2012

Some time back, I connected with Michel Verhoeven  - a Dutch Brown Belt under Rickson.  I first knew of Michel as Blue Belt under Harold Harder, Rickson's only European Black Belt and as the guy that took over the running of Harold's school when Harold could no longer commit the time to running an academy.  Knowing that Michel and Harold have hosted Rickson and Kron in the past,  I asked Michel to let me know if he ever did so again.

Back in September I got a message from Michel informing of a visit by Rickson to Amsterdam and that was it.  Nothing was going to stop me from going.  Ever since I started Jiu Jitsu, I've always wanted to meet and train with Rickson.

After a little negotiation with my wife, (which resulted in her coming too!) I secured my place and made my arrangements.  I was also to be joined again by Steve H and Simon. 

This was always going to be a special trip. The cost of the seminar was €200 (approx £160) for two 3 hour sessions - basically about £25 per hour to train with a legend. In the run up, I saw a few people on various boards suggesting the price was high, but by my reckoning that price was an absolute bargain.  Seriously - £25 is less than I paid to train at Renzo's place in NY and this was Rickson!!!

So, a ridiculously early start on Saturday morning (0300) for a very quick and comfortable flight to Amsterdam.  A short hop on the train into the city to find our hotel, which was a great price and the perfect location. After a short familiarisation stroll in the city with my wife, a spot of breakfast and later, lunch, it was time to hook up with the guys and make the short trip out to Amstelveen for the seminar.

On check-in, I met Michel in person which was nice and then on to spy the merchandise being sold by Rickson's girlfriend.  And there, in the corner, warming up on a swiss ball, was the man himself.  The atmosphere was hushed, excited and reverent.  People made and re-made aquaintances as they changed (and it was good to see Gavin from RGA once again - seems he's the man when it comes to seminars!). 

Rickson walked around and said hello and shook hands with every single person there, looking each in the eyes in a way that conveyed genuine openness and respect. Then Harold called order.  We lined up, had our welcomes, bowed to the portrait of GM Helio and then mutually bowed to Rickson.

Then the seminar began I am not even going to attempt to describe or explain it.  And this is for the following reasons.

1) I can't do it justice - I am not Rickson.  I am not even close so I cannot explain in the way that he can.
2) Explanation is not enough - Rickson calls his Jiu Jitsu "invisible" and whilst some may sneer, it really is.  You can only understand by feeling what he does.  Rickson frequently called people out to help him demonstrate and develop a point and I was lucky enough to be one of them.  Rickson wanted me to hold him round the waist and maintain base.  I tried to do what I understood of what was required but couldn't hold him.  With a few minor adjustments and feedback from the master, everything subtly changed and, not only did I feel rock solid, I was actually affecting his base as he tried to escape my grasp.  It's all fine and minute technical detail, but honestly, it felt like some sort of hypnotic magic.
3) Even if I could explain, It wouldn't be right or fair - and this is on two fronts.  Those that were there paid and travelled (from all over the world as far as New Zealand!) to be there. The session was ours and ours alone  The second front relates to Rickson's philosophy on his Jiu Jitsu.  It's such a tactile thing that he's developed over a lifetime and he explained to us that he will never release DVDs or books as these cannot adequately explain his Jiu Jitsu.  Having felt it and been so close to it, I can assure you that this is true.  I guess these two reasons are also why Rickson requests no spectators, photos or filming during the seminar and I respect and understand this.  The Jiu Jitsu I felt and saw on those two days is inside me, in my memory.  No photos or videos required.

Demonstration generally followed the same pattern.  Rickson would signal someone to join him and then ask them to execute a technique or ask them what they would do to defend or counter a move that he was going to do to them.  With no effort at all, he would repeatedly defend against their technique or impose his intent upon their defence, highlighting, time after time how ineffective people's Jiu Jitsu was.  And this was not down to something highly skilled that Rickson was doing - he was simply exploiting fundamental flaws in most people's understanding of Jiu Jitsu, leverage and connection.  I guess something that will stay with me for a long time was watching brown belt after brown belt and black belt after black belt being made to look like beginners.  It showed that many people, although
undoubtedly more proficient and knowledgeable than most (me included!), do not have the core concepts that Rickson is able to teach.  I've since come to the conclusion that there are many people who grapple whilst wearing a gi and have an outstanding range of techniques with which to catch others less experienced than themselves, but there are very very few who understand Jiu Jitsu in the way that Rickson and some of his closest students do.  I mean no disrespect to anyone who's worked hard to earn their rank in saying this, but I pretty much guarantee that if you asked any black belt that was there, they'd say they felt something special and had to re-evaluate what they thought they knew about Jiu Jitsu.

And of Rickson himself?  Well, they say never meet your heroes.  I've met mine and the aura remains very much intact.  He really does have a presence and an intensity about him, yet is a very relaxed and approachable person. Whilst teaching, he is uncompromising about what feels right and what feels wrong.  He teaches with passion, commitment and energy.  You never feel that he is giving anything less than 100% in terms of his attention or emotional or physical intensity.  When he talks to you he makes you feel like there is noone else in the room and he can captivate an audience like noone else I've ever seen.

This was demonstrated when he talked about his famous breathing technique and also at the close of the seminar when he talked about his life and his philosophy of Jiu Jitsu - it was just one of those moments that demands your absolute attention.

After the seminar had ended, there was the inevitable clamour for autographs and photos and this was done with great generosity and patience - Rickson was still going as Steve and I had to leave to catch our flight back.

All in all, it was a weekend that exceeded all of my expectations.  Even though a short trip, the timings of the seminars allowed me to get out and about in Amsterdam with my wife.  For anyone visiting I'd recommend the Ibis near the station - adequate rooms and a great location, and I also had a great meal here

Jiu Jitsu with Rickson Gracie and a weekend away with my wife.  Win win!!!

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