Sunday 30 September 2007

That'll ding dang do for me!

So, just got back from the Tournament. I got BRONZE! More than happy with that considering it was my first tournament.

First off, a huge thanks to Big Dean. After a late night, Dean was up and about to meet me at 0830 and accompanied me to the tournament, coaching me all the way, keeping me focused. Dean was at the side coaching me all through my fights and we didn't really get back to his until about 1800 - a long day that he didn't have to give up just for me. So truly mate, really is appreciated.
So, onto the day - I arrived to find that there were 5 guys in my category. The atmosphere in the place was good - music pumping into the arena, guys re-acquainting themselves with people they've met through BJJ etc. The Tonbridge guys were there - good to see so many of them there and a big congratulations to all their guys that took medals.

It was about a two hour wait until my first fight so after a quick warm up, and a pep talk from Dean it was down to business. My first fight started off with lots of just gripping up and pulling about. Eventually, bored and frustrated with standing I dropped to try and get guard, but the guy got X-side. I managed to roll him off, surprisingly easily (all that drilling came in handy!), took X-side, tried for knee on stomach, eventually took mount and then submitted him with an Americana arm lock - not the best one I've done, but I figured what the hell? A win's a win. In my second fight I was up against a huge guy from Carlson Gracie Hungary. I knew a little of him from the guys at Tonbridge - he's a big, strong guy - I was giving away around 8kg to him and most of him was muscle! I kind of knew I was in trouble, but hey - you do what you can. He broke down my posture pretty early and rather poorly (and much to Dean's frustration, I'm sure) I went down to take guard. He was quickly on me, took X-side and then submitted me with a good choke. There wasn't an awful lot I could do against his sheer strength. He went on to take Gold. I'm kind of hoping he'll get his Blue Belt soon so that I don't have to meet him again in any future tournaments! My third fight, I knew I was on for a Bronze , so didn't want to lose it. This was a bit of a stale-mate for a long time. Neither of us wanted to do anything too rash, so loads of just standing, looking for a gap to do something with. With Dean's threats of violence ringing in my ears, I wasn't going to go down easily this time. After a bit of probing I got a sweep on the guy which got me points, but I couldn't follow up quickly enough and the guy stood up. So, off we go again...more of the same. Eventually, the ref gets bored and takes a point off me for stalling (Still not sure why I was the one deemed to be stalling when the other guy was doing the same - hey ho). From memory, I went for a double leg takedown but he sprawled. My opponent got my back but I managed to roll him off but couldn't follow up - the same happened again, then he went for a sort of rear naked choke, but it wasn't on at all and he couldn't make anything stick long enough to get points...just as time went. I think I must've won by 1 point.

Sure - I was pleased to take the Bronze, but I'd rather have won easier than I made it and I know I could have done. I think I was so preoccupied with not making mistakes that I wasn't as forthcoming as I could and should have been. At the end of the day though, I'd got a medal from my first tournament.

So, reflections on the experience? Well....

1) Waiting - god, there's so much waiting and when you don't know what's coming that's even worse as the adrenaline just keeps on coming. Even when I'd finished, there was the hanging about to get my medal. Next time I shan't rush to get there so early knowing that I'll have to wait two hours before I get on. I'll also know what's coming so hopefully can stay a bit calmer.

2) Standing work - considering how long this bit of the fight can last, it's really important to understand it and have some sort of a game - in my last fight I wasn't stalling at all - I was just waiting for an obvious route in - I got one, but it's so hard if you're just not sure what you're looking for. Some work to be done.

3) Don't give anything for free - in 2 out of three fights I went down voluntarily...a big no no. In one I was fortunate to work technique out of X-side, the other I got submitted. 50/50 - not a good tactic.

4) Match strength when required - there were a couple of times when I really should have pursued or driven harder to push home an advantage - maybe I wasn't aggressive enough. I know BJJ isn't meant to be about that, but then tournaments aren't about pure BJJ in my view - you do what's needed to win. I think a bit more controlled aggression might not go amiss.

5) My knee survived - I need to try and not worry to much about what can't be controlled. By "guarding" these weak points you become tentative and move differently which can be more risky that just going with it - easier said than done, but something to think about.
I did have some video taken of my fights (thanks Neil) and I'd have loved to have put up some footage, but numpty that I am, I royally effed up the download and lost the videos! (gutted!). Here's a couple of photos instead - promise some film in the future - sorry!:

(L) Me with my medal (R) a close up of my bling.

Will I compete again - yes! Where? When? Dunno, I need to work on a few things - I know what worked for me and what didn't so I want to go off, fix those things and go in better prepared next time now I know what to expect.
It's been a long but satisfying day...I'm off now to have well earned cold cider! Cheers!

Thursday 27 September 2007

Pass the toilet roll...

Really quiet week this one…only four of us training on Monday and three on Wednesday. C’mon guys – there’s plenty of you out there. Come train!

Anyway, Monday we covered some submission combinations from the mount. Richard started us off with the Ezekiel choke – a nasty little bastard that I’ve been caught with loads of times (usually by Big Dean). It was good to understand the mechanics of it. Then we looked at how this can be used to set up armbars, chokes, taking the back and all manner of other things. For me, it was all a bit beyond where I’m at, but the thing I took most from it was the mindset of not just setting up one option and investing all your effort into that one move. By doing this, if the move doesn’t come off, that’s it – it’s all you’ve got, game over. However, setting something up with two or three other possibilities always means that you’ve got several options open that you can switch between. Rather than get too bogged down in thought I spent a while practicing the movement for the armbar – I often get the position but can never finish it, so with some good pointers from the other guys I managed to iron out a few creases. It’s still not perfect, but slowly slowly…. One thing I really need to work on for this is my control – just need to develop some core strength.

Wednesday was just me, Si and Lee. We went through a reminder on keeping base in standing – a useful reminder ahead of the weekend. Then we worked on a bit of standing sparring. It was useful to do this with Lee, him being a big guy. I think I’ve worked out from this that I need to either be out of the way of my opponent or in really close – clinch range. At least at this clinch range, even if the other guy goes for a take-down, there’s a 50/50 chance that I can end up on top. I don’t want to be anywhere where the other guy can work a throw on me. So that was useful. We worked on guard for a bit – just positional training, which again, was a useful thing to do, re-capping the basics, then just rolling. Si had me tapping like a type-writer – I think nerves are getting the better of me and I was making my movements too big – just need to keep calm and go back to what I’ve been doing in recent weeks. Overall a really useful session – just to get a few things straight before Sunday.

Like I’ve said before, I’ve got no expectation. Most of the time I don’t think too much about it, but when I do, I’m bricking it. I know I’m gonna be really nervous on Sunday – it’s a real step into the unknown. As far as strategy goes, I’m just gonna start out for a clinch and go from there, work for the mount. I’m not too fussed about loads of positions, I just want to submit the opponent as soon as possible. I just need to try and stay calm and keep good technique and work with what the opponent gives me. I’m gonna be rolling with big guys. It’s going to be tough. But hey, whatever will be will be.

I’ll post Sunday night to let you know how I got on…..

Sunday 23 September 2007

Let's get readeee to rhuuuumblllllle!!!

So, I've alluded to it a few times, but yep, I'm entering a tournament. It's the Southern Open in Reading next week - (Sun 30th Oct). This will be my first BJJ tournament, and, frankly, the first time I've done anything like this...entering a competition where I only have me to rely on.

I'm really nervous, but really looking forward to it. I'm entered into the White Belt, Masters', Super Super Heavyweight Category (basically a "cattle and others" weight group) and I also figured I may as well give the Absolute class a shot too (may as well make the journey and entry fee worthwhile eh?).

I've got no preconception or expectation whatsoever so I'm just gonna go along, do my best and see what the experience brings. Right now, the only thing I'm worried about is the stand up bit at the start of each fight - I haven't done much of that and I don't need much to really screw my knee up, but I can't let that run all over my mind otherwise I'd never do half the stuff I do.

Win or lose, I'm just going in to this for the experience - no extra special training, weight loss or anything like that - that can come next year. I just want to see how I get on, especially under the pressure of competition. So, here goes.....

Friday 21 September 2007


Just thought I'd drop a quick post so that anyone that reads this won't think I've gotten bored and disappeared.

Just got back from a week at Butlins with the family. I'm knackered! I gotta say though - it might not be the most exotic holiday, but in terms of stuff for the kids, it was an excellent break - really great stuff. Great to see my kids really enjoying themselves, meeting all the characters and enjoying the shows and activities.

The other really good thing about being there was that I was able to feel like the fittest, well-honed, dietarily superior being on the planet compared to many of the obese nicotine addicted slobs that seem to be drawn to that place like moths round a lamp! Jeeeeez! I thought people like that only existed on daytime TV!

No BJJ this week...about the only BJJ I did was showing my mate how my 2 year old son can execute the basics of an escape from under the mount (upa)...cue much paternal pride! As I mentioned, I was going to train at Neil's "Dojo" today, but really, unless you've spent 5 days running around after two 2 and a half year olds, you'll never know just how tiring that can be and with the best will in the world, rolling gives way to sitting down and having a cuppa in this instance! Training on Monday as usual.


Sunday 16 September 2007


Friday before last I trained MMA with Dean, Si, Mike and Tugboat Steve (the nicknames are pretty straightforward - Steve works on the boats on the Thames...not a great leap of imagination for his nickname). It's not a regular thing as it depends on everyone's availability, but it's a good extension to the BJJ.

It was a really good session, working on the pads - a few strikes and make an entry, move the opponent to the wall and tie up, coming out for the odd strike, elbow etc. It was a really good drill for working on closing distance and controlling an opponent. It was also a really good workout. It was hot, but man, did I sweat? (Yes I did, by the way).

I like MMA. I don’t get to see a lot of it, and I don’t train it as much as I’d like, but I like it. I like the rawness of the contest. I like that it has evolved martial arts and put them in an arena so that we can see what really works and what is just BS (gone are the days when people can hide behind a “black belt in origami” and a few fancy looking Kata). I like the personalities that it has created. I like the lifestyle that has sprung up around it – one with its own fashions, one that values hard training, athletes that understand conditioning, technique and nutrition along with the best of other sports.

So when I see articles like this one from the BBC, I worry. It’s the same argument that’s been used for years to try and get boxing banned. “It’s barbaric”, “Dangerous”, “glorifies violence”. All the usual standard phrases being thrown about by people that do not understand the sport. UFC (75) was in town last weekend, so it's easy fodder for the Daily Mail set.

Both sides of the case tend to conveniently use the “1%” rule to justify their claims. Boxers will point to a death in an MMA bout in 1998 (a pretty amateur affair without the controls put in place by organisations such as the UFC and Cage Rage). MMA will retort with cases like that of Michael Watson, left permanently brain damaged by his bout with Chris Eubank. These are the 1% of cases that reach the public eye when things go horribly wrong – set against a backdrop of thousands training each year and hundreds fighting both professional and amateur bouts , all without incident or injury.

So what’s the fuss?

From my point of view, there is a logic as to why MMA can be considered safer than boxing. Despite what people might say, there are rules, designed to remove the biggest risk factors from the sport. A MMA win can be contrived from any number of avenues - strikes, decisions, submissions via chokes or locks. Most smart MMAers prefer not to stand toe to toe and "box" with an opponent, prefering instead to work close range and secure submissions. This is perhaps one of the single biggest differences with boxing, in which there is an agreement by both fighters to stand at a certain range and exchange blows, mainly to the head, in an attempt to induce concussion or knockout. in MMA, the clinch is a vital part of the game, in boxing this is stopped by the referee as it prevents the objective of hitting one's opponent in the head. Boxing gloves are bigger and heavier than MMA gloves, allowing the hitter to hit repeatedly as the gloves provide greater protection to the hands. For the person being hit, the damage is arguably greater as the weight and size of the gloves all adds to the impact.

Some will point at MMA and try to draw parallels with Gladiatorial contest from a bygone age - it's "thuggish" and uncivilised - glorified street fighting, the likes of which you can see on any high street on a Friday night. Frankly this is typical of comments from those that have no clue. The people I know that train and compete in MMA are highly intelligent poeple. Christ, Big Dean stepped up...and he's a PhD! Steve Morris, clearly one of the most intelligent people I've met...a thug? Absolutely not. Intelligent? Devastating? Yes. Every month I buy "Fighters Only" Magazine. Now, look at some of the magazines dedicated to traditional martial arts (you know the sort..."Ninja Weekly", "Deadly Street Fighter" etc) and compare it to this... a magazine dedicated to MMA and the lifestyle...there's a vast difference, and not just in the prodcution values. The latest edition contains information about blood borne viruses, a very open article about depression (a serious issue, statistically affecting a good proportion of its readership), every month, training, nutrition and conditioning information...all well written and presented...the mark of a sport run by thugs?

It's a sport, just like any other. At the top flight, the guys are honed athletes - training hard, taking care of conditioning and nutrition as well as any other athlete (except without all the coaches and sponsorship etc). At the lower levels, people like to train - it's great for fitness and requires skill and intellect. I train. Am I ever going to step into cage? No chance. I just like the training.

If there are two areas where MMA could clean up its act it's in the controls over blood borne diseases.... and this moreso at the amateur levels. It's my understanding that this is pretty lax. With Hep B and C on the rise and the ever present shadow of HIV, organisers need to grab hold of this and match the standards in place in boxing, especially since the potential for cuts in MMA is higher. MMA does not need the publicity of fighters becoming infected through poor infrastructure. The second is the use of steroids. Rumours abound everywhere about who's using them. Hell, even Royce Gracie has been called on it. Like all sports, use of such drugs calls the integrity fo the sport int question for all competitors, clean or not. It needs attention.

Ultimately though, it's like all these things that our increasingly "nannying" country sticks its nose into and sensationalises. IT'S AN INDIVIDUAL CHOICE!!! Let people get the info, see the data and make a choice.

I'll leave you with this little gem - a spoof trailer for UFC 75 - very funny! Enjoy.

Older. Wiser?

I turned another year older last weekend...still no wiser. But, as I was standing in the queue in Morrisons, my phone went and it was Big Dean...wishing me a happy birthday. That was a real nice surprise - cheers mate. It's small things like that - unexpected things that can really make a difference to your day and for me, just goes to illustrate again what I've said about the guys I train with - all staunch fellas. No-one at work remembered. I sign all sorts of inane cards every week, but not one person remembered it was my birthday. I'm not bothered - saves me a fortune following that ridiculous tradition of buying cakes...often the only time that people actually remember who you are, or deign to speak to you to say a half-hearted "thanks". I only mention to highlight the huge difference between the people you have to spend time with and the people you choose to spend time with. So again, cheers mate - it really made a difference to my day.

Only one training session this week. On Monday, Rick took us through a self defence movement - defending against punches from under cross side. Whilst predominently a self defence technique, it also conditioned a sensitivity to the movement and weight of the opponent that will be useful in this position in "regular" BJJ. There were two variations, depending on where the opponent puts his weight (depending on whether strikes are to the body or head). Useful, effective drills.

Rolling went reasonably well again - good movement and I was trying to keep a "dominant" mind-set in preparation for an up-coming tournament (more on that soon). Nothing major to report, just felt "OK" with how things are at the moment.

I didn't train Wednesday this week. My new tattoo (left (top left arm) - done by Brendan Mudd at Inkfish Studio) took a beating on monday (probably not the best idea to train the day after) so was really sore on Wednesday and was significantly more scabbed, so thought it best to leave it a bit. I'd also been working in London most of the week, so was pretty knackered from some unusually early starts and later finishes.

I'm not going to be training next week either - I'm away on holiday with the family and some friends of ours at Butlins at Bognor Regis. Not the most exotic of places, but I'm really looking forward to having some time away and our first "proper" holiday with the kids. Got an al fresco session lined up at Neil's Dojo when I get back. I'm already itchy for a session, but hey, that's how it goes.

Thursday 6 September 2007

Black bogies and handstands...

Good turnout Monday. There’s always a good vibe when there’s a good number – everyone’s really up-beat and there’s always a lot more good humoured piss-taking goes on. Not sure what Si was on – I think the fumes from the tyres burning near-by (we train in a delightful part of North Kent) were getting to him. Something about “Chopper” and obscure Japanese kids’ programmes?!

Just so you don’t think all of our conversations are obscure or lavatorial (although a good percentage are), this week I had a very topical conversation with Mike regarding the state of industrial relations and their impact on the UK economy. Actually, it was really a conversation started by Mike’s observation about black bogies (which he discovered tending to a well earned nosebleed) – a result of working in London and particularly using the Tube. This led to a conversation about the strike by the RMT…the incisive commentary being “what a bunch of bastards”. I tell ya, it’s like Newsnight down there sometimes.

Rick covered a couple of submissions from knee on stomach. First, just covering off the position – where your head needs to be for good balance etc. The first submission was a cross collar choke – dependant on the opponent rolling into the knee. Key points here, keeping knee on stomach, place head on floor over opponent’s opposite shoulder, lower hips and apply the choke.

A major learning point for me was how, when applying this type of choke (which I’ve already said I struggle with), it benefits to almost not think too much about it – keep relaxed hands, breath out as you drop towards the opponent (contract) and breath in and pull the elbows back (expand) to apply the choke. Really relaxed – the more you muscle this choke, the less it works. It’s more mental discipline to keep relaxed and calm than physical strength.

The next submission relies on the opponent rolling away from the knee. In this case you need to follow the shoulder with your hips and scoop up the uppermost arm. Base out with your free arm for the three point base. From here, dependant on how far your opponent rolls, you can drop forwards or backwards for the armbar. Pretty cool – although I need to work on the armbar falling back as my leg over the head always kicks up allowing an escape. Just need to slow it all down I think.

Rolling this week was the usual affair – I tried to work on just moving the whole time and went OK – a few moments I got caught flat and there were big chunks when I just didn’t move at all, but on the whole it felt better. It’s tough against most of the guys as they’re often a couple of moves ahead of me, but I guess at least they’re having to make those moves rather than being able to just sink in a choke from the off. The other thing I noticed is that in concentrating on movement so much I feel I’m actually missing the rest of the game, so the trick now is to make movement automatic so that I can feel everything else that is going on at the same time.

Wednesday was a good turnout again (for a Wednesday). We have an interesting warm up on Wednesdays – usual run around and fling your arms type stuff, but then we do hand stands and rolls and backward rolls with sort of flips – all very gymnastic…except I’m the least gymnastic person that ever lived – it was always thus at school I guess this is why I always opted for Rugby – as a forward it requires little or no finesse. Anyway, when we first started this I avoided doing the flippy handstand stuff for fear of coming a cropper. Eventually, I gave it a go and dropped like a felled tree for a few weeks, but you know what – now I’m not too bad with the handstand bit. I’m not going to win any awards for form or anything like that, but it’s alright. The backward flippy thing is a way off yet, but I like to think I keep everyone entertained with my efforts. It’s all good. Good BJJ can be pretty gymnastic (there’s even a whole BJJ/Gymnastics/Yoga hybrid thing called “Ginastica Natural” which looks interesting), but more important is confidence in your physical capabilities…it’s arguably far more important to discover what you CAN do rather than focus on what you can’t.

Anyway, this week we worked on cross side again. Really good to keep revisiting these core positions. We only worked a couple of variations from the endless possibilities that this position gives. I think the single biggest thing I took from this session was regarding making and keeping good connection with your opponent. The bridge and movement etc was all familiar, but the connections made with the arms made a huge difference to the success I had with this. Time went quickly drilling this position, largely because I think we know that it’s so important to understand it and try to work from it.

Rolling afterwards was really good. Just trying to keep on moving and using principles gained from the earlier technical stuff. There were a couple of points when I felt, probably for the first time, that I was actually using Jiu Jitsu and it was working for me, rather than doing a vague imitation. Really pleased. The only thing I was a bit annoyed about was that I ended up with knee on stomach with Mike and was in a perfect position to try out what Rick had shown us on Monday. Retard that I am though, I went blank and completely forgot the hand positions. I really cannot chew gum and fart at the same time…which is a real problem in Jiu Jitsu. Dunno… maybe I just got so excited that I actually got good position and that was why I went blank…or maybe my wife is right and men really can’t multi-task.

Anyhow, it was a really warm night, which wouldn’t normally bother me, but whatever it was, I just felt really breathless, like there was no air in the room. Towards the end, I just had to tap to catch my breath. I wasn’t particularly physically exhausted, I just felt like I couldn’t breathe. Really weird. Added to that, my knee “popped” during the session too. Not sure why – it does that every so often. It’s always disconcerting when it happens. The times when I tore the ACL, it was a “pop”, then nothing for a few seconds, then a build up of searing pain. So now, whenever it pops, I’m always waiting to see if the pain will come. Thankfully it didn’t, but it always aches a bit the day after. It’s annoying as it’s like a little reminder…just when I’m doing OK…”ha ha! Not so fast!”.

Still, not a major thing. The over-riding feeling for me was that this has been a good week.

Monday 3 September 2007

BJJ...ryhmes with...Gay

Just got back from training - more about that in my summary of the week later. In the meantime, I just wanted to post this - saw it a while back...made me laugh: