Monday, 29 October 2007

A-P-A-T-H-Y...what does it spell? Oh it doesn't matter anyway ;P

By now, you’ll have seen a trend emerging in my posts. The same people training week in week out. The same FEW people. Most sessions I guess we average 3 guys, four at most.

There was no training tonight. Rick’s away until at least December and Big Dean is away with work. It happens. No problem with that. Anyone would be forgiven for missing training from time to time – we all have jobs, family, friends etc, and Si, Dean and Rick already give so much of their time anyway. In any club with a good, strong membership, you can absorb these intermittent absences, but as things stand, that just leaves me and Si as guaranteed tonight and there’s only so much value in rolling with the same guy all night, and I’m sure Si’s got better things to do than choke or armbar me all night.

No training sucks – I really look forward to it and there’s only the odd evening when I don’t want to train, but, so long as I can drag my ass to the car, then once I get there it’s all good again.

So, excuse me for a moment while I cast aside my normally sunny disposition, and indulge me if you will, in a bit of griping.

There’s something special about being part of a school affiliated to Rickson’s Association. Ask anyone into BJJ, who’s right up there at the top of BJJ folklore, and Rickson’s name will rightly be there every time. When people carry a belt awarded against Rickson’s standards, other people take notice. Lots of practitioners would walk over broken glass to train with Rickson, or to at least have one of his schools near them. I can only think that any desire not to could only be motivated by politics, which I have no time for anyway, so care little for opinions such as these.

We have a club that was started by a guy totally committed to Rickson’s teaching and philosophy and driven to pass this on to those that wanted to understand. People come and go…I’ve seen it enough just in my time training and I admire Dean T for sticking with it as long as he has – it must be so demoralising to believe in something so absolutely and yet not have people share your passion. I feel this. It’s not my club, I haven’t trained as long and I doubt I possess any natural talent, but I believe in what we’re doing and I believe in the style of Jiu Jitsu that flows from Rickson. If I didn’t, I would have gone elsewhere a long time ago, quite possibly from the start.

So, here I am, fed up. Not with Jiu Jitsu, but fed up with apathy. There is a real chance for this to be something really great for all those involved, but it needs more commitment. There are people that we do not see for many months, show up for one session, then disappear again – there’s no pattern to this, totally random, so no reliance can be put in the numbers of so-called “existing members”. We need new members, and I guess we could do more on this front, but, for example, I listed our club on the European Fight Network. We’ve had approaching 200 hits in a couple of months and only a couple of enquiries…all to no avail. I simply do not understand.

Something I’ve been told by lots of people on numerous occasions about Jiu Jitsu, is that you should not “play in the middle” – either take a position, or don’t. It’s sound advice. I think it’s just as relevant off the mat. Train Jiu Jitsu, or don’t. Don’t play in the middle. Don’t treat it like a convenience that you can pick up and put down as you please. We’re all different and have different motivations and issues in our lives, but when you boil it down, most of us are leading pretty normal lives with no great dramas or issues that should prevent us doing what we want to be doing. So, I guess that’s the question – is Jiu Jitsu what you want to be doing? If “yes”, great, I’ll see you at regular training, no ifs, no buts. Hell, I have lots of ifs and buts, but (there's one) I want to train. It’s important enough to me. If “no”, then make a decision now. Be honest and stop pretending. In Big Dean’s words, stop being a “partial artist”.

Something has got to happen – as much as I want it to, the club cannot continue, limping along as it has for the last couple of years. So, if you answered “yes” to the above question, let’s do it. Let’s get training and start making things work. If we don’t, one day pretty soon, that random evening you think “I’ll pop along to training”, we won’t be there. It will have died and so with it, a chance to be part of something good.

Sure, this is just my opinion and lots of people see the world differently. I’m not saying any of this aimed at anyone in particular, nor am I saying it to get a reaction. It’s not just Jiu Jitsu either, I experienced it in my last Martial Art and I’ve heard Steve Morris similarly puzzled by people’s commitment to training with him (and I've said it before, if you're serious about real fighting, you should be). I've seen it all through my Rugby days - the people that don't turn up to train but show up on Game Day expecting to get on the team. It seems that only a small percentage of the population have the commitment to stick stuff out. If you feel hurt by it, I apologise, that wasn’t my intention, but likewise, maybe you need to ask why you feel hurt by it. All I’ve done here is give my opinion, and it’s honest and heartfelt.

Rant over…back to the scheduled programme. Thanks for humoruring me.

Friday, 26 October 2007

I want to buy the world a choke...

Bit of a switch around this week – Richard had switched his session to the Wednesday, so Monday was just me, Si and Big Dean. Dean ran us through some submissions from cross side, utilising a slightly different position which basically requires pinching your opponent’s hips between your own hip and elbow, so that you are sort of side on (make some sense?). We just practiced this, moving around and trying to ride any upas etc. The first submission was bringing the free arm to rest beside the opponent’s head then gently reaching over the face to grab the opposite collar. A slight shift of position to bring the hip arm under to grab the nearside arm of your opponent, the choke is applied by dropping the elbow to the floor, out and up. The second submission from the same position basically requires you to bring the lower knee through, almost diagonally, against the opponent’s nearest arm, near the armpit. Hold the arm in, remaining leg round and over the head, drop back for the armbar – I liked this one, just, as always, gotta keep everything tight and controlled.

Part way through the session my phone went off (which freaked Dean out – my ringtone is a recording of my son laughing, but admittedly, at first, can sound quite freaky). It was my wife telling me that my Son, Cameron, had had some kind of asthma like attack. He gets hit pretty hard by colds and they always affect his chest. The doctors have suggested that we need to be cognisant of asthma, but at not quite three years old, it’s too early to properly diagnose. Fortunately, we have been given an inhaler to use should we need to, and in this instance, we did. He was OK – I think panic took hold of him more than anything, but it was still quite worrying, so I left early - for the best as I really wasn’t able to concentrate following the call. He’s fine – but it’s never nice to see your kids unwell or in distress though.

Wednesday was Rick’s session – me, Rick, Si, French Steve and Craig in attendance – a rare no-show by Dean due to car trouble and a mystery to me as to where everyone else was – maybe it’s Wednesdays…perhaps I’m missing something good on telly.

Anyway, Rick covered cross-collar chokes – a blue belt basic. I’ve said before, these are much harder than they appear, so it’s always good to cover them. Rick covered variations depending on what grips are available – both hands with fingers in, one fingers, one thumb, gripping round the back then bringing the arm round, but the major points taken from this were: 1) Positioning – posting the foot (knee up) to stabilise; 2) as the second hand goes in, just positioning the head to the opposite side to counterbalance against any upa; 3) take up slack and turn in the blades of the wrists before you commence the actual choke and; 4) Major one this – drop your hips onto the opponent’s chest, then drop your head to the floor. Breath out as you drop, pull the elbows in and back and then expand (breathe in) to finish. Depending on how well the previous steps are done, the choke may be over well before you reach the floor. The other critical thing with this is soft, relaxed hands – the more you relax with this choke the easier it is and the more effective it is. Rick also covered how to finish the choke if the opponent grabs the wrists over the top – a common defence. This is done by posting a foot beside the opponent’s head – this allows leverage to pull your body back, which pulls the opponent up. Key point here is to keep the opponent close and pull him up with your body, not your arms. At the top of the pull, expand as before, but this time, pull the elbows out. If the guy drops back down, revert back to the regular cross collar. With all of it, it’s just keeping everything tight – no gaps or slack, and staying relaxed and methodical. It’s a great choke when done properly but really hard to do well under pressure.

Rolling was good, although against Rick and Si, I think I lost sight of what I need to be doing – I was so preoccupied with being owned and not getting caught in their set-ups that I was pretty dumb with most of the stuff I was doing and ended up getting repeatedly armbarred. Rolling with Craig was different – I think we can both relax a bit more and be a bit more deliberate, so I was able to try a few things. I found myself in a decent cross side (top) so decided I’d give Dean’s choke from Monday a go. I tried to apply as gently as I could (as it can be a bit gnarly) and sure enough, it worked...well pleased with that.

No other training this week, apart from the gym, as I’m left with the kids for a few days as my wife’s off to a family funeral. Only other thing to say really is that I think we all hope that everyone in and around Rickson’s Centre in California are unaffected by the fires, or at very least, safe and well.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Cue the Training Montage!

You may remember my fighting fit post, well, I’ve not been doing too much on that front to date, just normal training which keeps things ticking over. Well, I’ve decided to crack on and work on my fitness. What has prompted this? Well, my local leisure centre has just stumped up an offer of full membership for only £25 for three months, which is just the financial inducement I needed to get my arse in gear. I get access to the gym – which has recently been refurbished and is kitted out with all sorts of machines and, importantly, also has a decent selection of free weights (I far prefer these – far more functional than machines). I can also use the swimming pool and get in on classes (although when I’ll have the time I don’t know…).

So, I want to squeeze in three gym sessions a week. These are mainly going to have to be before work, which sucks, but then again the kids are waking up way before 0700 lately anyway so it’s not like I’m losing sleep. I think I’ll break each session up as follows (with each session including a decent CV burst at start): 1) legs 2) Chest and back (3) arms and shoulders. My goals are really to lose weight, tone up and add strength.

I went for my first session today and it was good to get back into a gym. I still need to get into a rythym and figure out exactly which exercises I want to do, but that will come. I'm going to record everything I do (not here - that would be sooo boring) as I like to try and beat times and weights, reps etc etc, so I'll just keep you updated on how I'm doing and any major breakthroughs I get. I will also get my BP done and update the fighting fit post as I didn't have that figure back then.

I'm also thinking - the more varied a training regime is, the better the results, so they say, so I was thinking
I might give this a go for some CV work. Enjoy. (WARNING - contains Action Words so if you're easily offended or too young for such words, don't watch it.)

Friday, 19 October 2007

Life rolls on...

Still reeling from the stress of the weekend’s Rugby results (Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!), I went along to training as usual. Simon and Big Dean were fresh from training at Carlson’s in Tonbridge the day before and reported the usual mix of hard training, nice guys and getting owned by Wilson – the giant Black Belt instructor down there.

Rick covered an escape from under cross-side – the specifics of this being the assumption that the guy on top has wrapped his arms around you, effectively stopping you from rolling into him. A few deft moves, creating space with hands and framing with forearms and shins and you’re out, or, in some cases, able to take the back. I loved this one – it really worked and the movement seemed intuitive. Definitely one I want to try and keep in my armoury. Drilling this one move, with various scenarios off the back of it (i.e. opponent driving in, pulling back etc) was enough for this session, and one where I really felt like I’d got something I could use.

This feeling seemed to carry over into my rolling. Admittedly, Rick tapped me in all of about 5 seconds, but I did some good work against the other guys I rolled with. I got tapped eventually, but I really felt I made them work hard for it and for a lot of it was able to make escapes and keep dominant positions and make the odd threat myself. I think the difference was a sense of confidence from the earlier training (i.e. the fact that I “got” it) and also a conscious effort to stay tight, suck up the gaps (something Rick has brought home over the last few sessions). I also tried to utilise my attributes a bit more in conjunction with the developing technical aspects of my game, namely my strength (in a controlled and constant way, hopefully not in an aggressive, bullying kind of way). It didn’t work the whole time – I got swept and people made their escapes…it just didn’t feel like one way traffic, which sometimes it can.

Some might think that using these attributes is not what Jiu Jitsu is about, but I disagree. I think you should concentrate on technique first and foremost, but then you should start to bring your natural abilities to bear. Some guys are small and quick – should they “slow down”? Flexible guys can make moves that others can’t, should they not? No, of course not, so why should strong guys not use their strength? Even Rickson’s website says that he “recognizes and accepts the use of individual qualities, such as power, speed, instinct, strategy, talent, strength, etc” and that people can “achieve great results even without complete knowledge of the technique. Without question, the results are the most important elements as long as the fight strategy makes sense, and does not involve the use of thoughtless random movements.” If your technique is superior, someone using inferior technique should not prevail, regardless of physical attributes and this is constantly borne out in the whuppings I receive, but hell, it makes no sense to not use what you’ve got. Don’t misunderstand me – technique rules the roost and I’m not talking about brute force, but applying strength to good technique.

I finally got my new Gi which my wife bought me for my Birthday. You can never have enough matter how hard you try, there’s always an occasion when you have to train in a wet or dirty Gi…and that ain’t nice. It’s taken just over a month to get to me as it’s had to pass through the hands of various relatives through transatlantic travel. Anyway – it’s good and I can recommend it. It’s from HCK (Howard Combat Kimonos) and the Standard Single Weave I’ve got worked out at around £35 GBP – an absolute bargain, especially with £/$ exchange being so favourable at the moment. I think Shipping comes in around £25 (cheaper if you wanna wait a bit longer) so I guess you’re looking at around £60 all in for the standard Gi. Still not bad…many UK suppliers and importers will struggle to beat that in terms of quality and price.

On Wednesday, I arrived later than normal – stuff at home to take care of. Despite being there week in, week out, I got the usual ribbing from the guys – I didn’t even get to finish my bag of peanuts! I’ve got weight to maintain you know! Anyway, this week we went over chokes form the rear, mainly using the collar, but then digressing to other options following defences of that. It was good stuff. I think the main things that stuck were just keeping everything close, how to work the hands in for the choke, which can sometimes be a battle, and also how to control the opponent on their back.

Rolling wasn’t as successful this time, but then again I was rolling against Dean and Si. I was using strength, but in a bad way – far too much and at times, in frustration – all bad as it just gives your opponent everything he needs to submit you. And they did, time and time again. I even had Dean giving me a running commentary of what he was doing step by step and telling me how he was going to submit me and there was nothing I could do about it. It’s soul destroying. Fortunately, I have broad shoulders so remain unaffected and find it amusing. Just need to keep moving and doing what I need to do. I did pick up a nifty little escape from under knee on stomach from Dean – whether I can do it remains to be seen. But, armed with secret ninja techniques I will prevail!

There was a bizarre conversation at the end of the session which started off with quotes from Eddie Murphy movies and then moved on to Jamie Lee Curtis (the link being the movie “Trading Places”. I won’t go into details or mention any names, but all I’ll say is some people ain’t all that choosy and I guess it just goes to prove that we are indeed a diverse group. ;P

In memory of Jack Fennell 1921-2007

Friday, 12 October 2007

Game On!

So, I’ve had three sessions since my last post. Last Friday was MMA with Big Dean , Tugboat Steve and Si. A good session working a takedown from the clinch (immediately useful to BJJ stand up and pretty similar to a takedown from the rear in the BJJ syllabus). Then we worked defending strikes from the back under cross-side – again, very useful to BJJ, especially Rickson’s style which always starts from a position of self defence. That was really hard work, and especially with some meaningful punches coming in to be defended. It’s also easier in this drill to see how the BJJ translates as any attacker trying to strike will always give something up for an escape, much moreso than in BJJ without strikes. I have to confess, I got a bit carried away in this drill – we were fed opponents and it was hard work to keep up and I also found that after a couple of clips, I got a bit rattled and became a little more aggressive. So much so that when I rolled Tugboat Steve off, I took top position and gave him a dig in the ribs….it was automatic. Luckily, Steve’s actually built like a tugboat so no harm done but I’ve gotta watch my control. The aggression’s an asset, but only if it’s controlled.

We finished off the session with some stand up sparring, punches and kicks only, not all out but enough effort to want to keep your hands up. I enjoyed that – it’s good to put a bit of pressure in your training once in a while. Dean was looking sharp and threw in a lovely “Superman punch” that landed right on top of Steve’s head, giving him a look of “what was that/where did that come from?”. He got his own back a bit later on with a couple of heavy body shots. A good session and a great workout.

In Monday’s session Rick went over a take down from the rear for my benefit (grading wise). It was good to cover this again, not least for the need to look again at good base on your feet – a really hard concept. We also covered a takedown and escape from being in the side headlock – similar in principle to the previous takedown, then using a frame to release the headlock.

French Steve turned up again - always good to see him. Quick explanation of the oh-so transparent nickname. His name’s Steve and he lives in France. Good eh? See what they've done? He visits for a few weeks at a time then disappears back home for months – cue many jibes about being on the run and Interpol etc. Steve’s a Blue belt and started BJJ all the way back with Dean Taylor when they visited LA together. Steve’s a small but strong guy with great technique and he’s really into
Qigong type stuff, which is really interesting and maybe something I’ll investigate when I get the time.

Rolling was good – had some good rolls with Roubel and Craig. Roubel commented as we were leaving that I’m really improving, which coming from a far more experienced white belt that used to own me every time we rolled, was really cool, so cheers mate.

Anyway, here's a couple of videos of the guys rolling on Monday:

Above: Big Dean and Roubel

Above: Rick and French Steve

Wednesday night was just me and Si so we just drilled some positional stuff – cross side to be exact. I used to get real bored doing this sort of stuff, but now I know how important it is, I’ll drill it as long as someone wants to keep on doing it. It was really good to do this and Si’s really good at coaching the details and is very patient – happy to let me do my thing. Really appreciated. I think the biggest thing I took away was the need for good connections – take up the space and stay connected ….CONNECTED, not pushing. And small, constant, movements. It all makes a huge difference.

We spoke a bit about wanting to grow the membership a little more and to try and move things forward, in terms of getting some seminars or something that will help us all develop. It’s good to know that there’s a few of us that want it to stay alive and keep moving forward. I just think we need to set some targets and hit them, otherwise another year’s gonna pass and we’ll all be where we are now. It’s a tough one though – a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. We need existing numbers to be consistent to stand a chance of making a new venue work – which will attract new members which will make seminars etc cost effective. It’s really frustrating but it’s always been this way - why is the general population so apathetic? I’m not just talking BJJ – just life in general.

Anyway, there was a ray of sun on my BJJ landscape this week as I got an email from Kim Gracie, Rickson’s wife, saying that she’ll arrange my belt test when I visit LA, so, on the face of it, when I’m ready, it’s game on…very exciting!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

This is Sparta!!

With aching arms and medal in hand I went along to Monday’s session. I walked in to find Dean giving the guys the summary of my adventures and doing justice to the description of the Hungarian fella. Guys if you think it sounds like an exaggeration, it really ain’t – he was a monster!

There were constant references to my medal successes throughout the night – referring to me as “champ” and suggestions that anyone that tapped me got to keep my medal…. Ain’t no-one gonna touch the champ’s bling fool! ;P

Rick covered off a slight alternative on the defence of guillotine from standing – main points, grip choke arm as before, the other arm comes right over the shoulder and you then hang weight onto the opponent. Angling the closest leg round the opponent’s leg, hips in and head over to break posture and then take the opponent to ground, working in a frame against the throat to release the guillotine. Nifty.

It was during this drill that I heard possibly the funniest quote I’ve heard during training, and true to form it came from Big Dean, delivered in a way that only he could. I was putting on the guillotine (or trying to) and Dean shouted “C’mon! Finish me, you Homo!” It was all in the delivery – really cracked me up. :D

We then went back to the combinations from the Ezekiel choke that we’d covered previously – more armbar practice for me. We also looked at some sort of collar choke – moving from Ezekiel to armbar, to choke. Rick came and positioned me into this choke as I was struggling a bit. As always, tiny changes just tightened everything up so there was absolutely no slack and made the choke work. The great thing was I could instantly feel how the things that Rick did changed everything - a real kinetic learning experience…very powerful.

On then to rolling. Rick was in good form – his rolling looked really fluid and he seemed to have 2 or 3 options in every position he took, a pleasure to watch. I tried too keep everything a lot tighter and had Dean’s words ringing in my ears to always keep moving, which I felt I did reasonably well. I still got tapped like a good’un by everyone, but that’s normal. At one point I got sort of half a mount on Big Dean and he couldn’t resist a jibe – “now mate, this is what top position looks like” – a direct poke at me going to my back at the tournament. I know I deserved it. That was about it this week. I think the bronze medal is probably a pretty reasonable indicator of where I’m at at the moment – doing OK, but still some creases to iron out.

Usual Wednesday night crew – we just trained positions, cross side. Despite my success with it last weekend, I always struggle with it – always useful to drill it. I think the major point from drilling it again was remembering that you really need to get good connections between you and the opponent – in a similar fashion to what Rick said on Monday, just suck up any gaps or slack, keep it all tight. Also, like I’m frequently told – always keep moving, small movements – these will create a reaction from the opponent which may create space or an opportunity. It’s often frustrating drilling this position, as I always get rolled off with great ease when I’m on top but on the bottom, seem to flail without any direction. However, Si pointed out that this is against Blue belts with an average 6 years plus training. I am improving, but so are they, so it’s like chasing an ever moving target. I think I just need to look at the successes I’ve had against opponents around my level and in fact, yeah, they leave the gaps or shift their weight in ways that allow me to escape, so I shouldn’t really beat myself up so much. Just gotta keep on drilling it home. The other problem at the moment is that I’m still at the conscious stage – i.e. I know what I need to do but have to think about it and often, especially with the Blue belts, my thoughts aren’t as fast as their movements, so just as I figure out what I need to do, they’ve moved. It’ll come.

Off the mat, there is a bit of talk of finding new premises, which would make a huge difference I think, not least to our ability to maybe get a few more members. Watch this space. Also, any time now, Little Dean is going to be a daddy again. Good luck mate, to you and yours.

Slightly off topic, I watched 300 this week, just out on DVD – what a great film! I only mention it as it’s a great movie, it was promoted by Chuck Liddel (UFC fighter – Ultmate Fighter…Spartans…ultimate warriors…see what they’ve done?) and the training the actors went through (some good articles here and here and a good video here) to get in shape for the movie is awesome. Highly recommended.

I’ll leave you with this little curiosity. My son (nearly 3) knows I do Jiu Jitsu and vaguely what that entails. For some reason though, when ever we drive past the local Somerfield supermarket he says “you do Jiu Jitsu there daddy?”. I’m baffled – what on earth creates a connection in a child’s mind between Jiu Jitsu and a supermarket? Answers on a postcard.