Wednesday, 24 December 2008

2008...Where did it go?

Wow, so this is my last post of 2008. It’s been quite a year.

I think back to the start of the year and not really knowing how training was going to pan out. Fast forward to recent months and there have been occasions where there hasn’t been room for everyone to train at once. Just shows what can happen in a year.

This has, by far, been my best year in Jiu Jitsu, some major highlights being:

- Two medals at two tournaments
- Training with John Danaher at Renzo’s in NYC
- Meeting Matt Serra and training at his gym on Long Island
- Training at Eduardo Rocha’s gym in Oakland
- Training with, and getting my Blue Belt from Royce!!!

There have been loads of other great bits and some great training this year, but my biggest “gain” has been in my application of Jiu Jitsu. I feel that since Dean has returned to teaching, my understanding of how Jiu Jitsu should and can be has grown exponentially. Whilst I’m still not great, I’m training and rolling in a way that I’d have once thought off limits to someone like me, in a way that will sustain my interest and development for a long time to come – suddenly, a lot more seems possible. And it’s this that has led to probably my single best moment of the year.

I’ve already written about this, but I’m going to mention it again. Shortly after getting my Blue Belt from Royce, I was practicing with Dean and we were rolling and exchanging positions in a really free and creative way – it felt great. I felt great – like I was actually doing Jiu Jitsu, like I was well and reasonably skilled. At the end of that session, all Dean said to me was “and that’s why you’re a Blue Belt”. Looking back now, that was this year’s best moment. For sure, actually getting my Blue Belt was great, but getting that acknowledgement from my instructor meant so much more. Why? Well, because Dean’s my Instructor and know’s where I’ve come from, my strengths, my limits and also sees what I can do. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need or look for that kind of thing – I love Jiu Jitsu, man, I’m obsessed by it, but nonetheless, it felt like the biggest compliment I could receive. So thanks Dean, for your time, your energy and also for giving me the confidence to adopt a style of Jiu Jitsu that makes me smile.

Thanks to everyone I’ve trained with this year – every single person has added something to my training. Thanks especially to Big Dean and Si for their friendship and concern beyond Jiu Jitsu – it’s nice to feel that there are people out there who care and you can trust...I spend my working week with so many people I dislike and distrust that it would be easy to shut off unless you had a few good friends around you to remind you that life can be good.

A great year on the mat then….what does 2009 hold? One thing I’ve learned this year is that you cannot predict what’s going to happen, so I’m not even going to try or worry about it. I just wanto train and feel good. I did have some hope of a BJJ odyssey, but that seems to have been removed in one swipe by the Billionaire owner of the company I work for announcing a pay freeze and no bonuses (I can see his brand new £180K Ferrari from my office window…hmmm) during 2009 – the credit crucnch hits BJJ! We’ll see – I certainly never expected 2 US trips this year – just the way things can work out!

My quest to be leaner and fitter will continue…as always. Yoga and a better diet will help. I’ve been trying this year, but no path to improvement is ever linear so I’m not perturbed, nor am I going to make any excuses. I’ve got to do something though – three colds in three months (yep, I’ve got another right now) has got to be telling me something and it’s hard to train well when you’re not 100%.

So, I’ll close this year by talking about our last session which took place on Sunday - a few hours training (mainly working on Mount and weight distribution – worth mentioning Richard’s return (with Craig!) – good to see both back.
Also good to see Toyah, looking very well on imminent motherhood) followed by a few drinks and a meal at Pizza Express. Despite feeling a bit ropey from this rubbish cough I’ve got, I really enjoyed being with those that could make it – it’s this stuff that makes you feel like a “club” or a “team” so thanks to all for your company. And what a great choice – Pizza…food of Ninja Turtles….a poor attempt by me to create a segway to this. I found this a long while back and thought I’d share it. I just know you will try it. Just one of those things you have to do. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Purple Belts...purple backs.

Training over the past few weeks has been excellent. We’ve been working a lot from the guard and open guard – passes, sweeps, controlling the guy in your guard with sensitivity and balance, movement and taking angles to get controls, taking the back – a lot of stuff, some new, some revision with fine tuning and new, deeper understandings, but one thing remains common to all of it – core understanding of body movement, leverage and sensitivity. I would honestly go insane trying to recall the detail of every technique or detail of the stuff we’re practising, so instead, what I am focussing on is the core principles of everything we do and how these apply to just about any situation. Ultimately, Jiu Jitsu is about creating – creating movement and exploiting leverage and balance.

There’s also been a good mix at the club lately – some of the older guys returning, a few new guys who seem to be enjoying themselves and a spirit of cooperation. I’ve been enjoying rolling with a couple of the newer guys – Nuri and Dave. Both have been training long enough now to have a grasp of the basics and the direction that they should be heading. I can roll with them and see the gaps and opportunities they give me that perhaps some of the more experienced guys wouldn’t – this doesn’t mean that I exploit any advantage of experience, indeed I purposely give up positions and wilful submissions so that we can continue to roll and learn from each other. I’ve learned a lot from rolling in this way, get a good workout and always come up smiling.

I’ve also enjoyed rolling with Dean T. Because of the way that Dean rolls, I feel compelled to return the complement, so to speak. Also, because Dean’s game is so secure, you’re forced to think more creatively about opportunities and escapes, which is never a bad thing. Last Sunday I trained with Dean and he took me through the basics and finer details of holding cross side and escaping – a position I always struggle with and I came away with a deeper understanding of this position and very grateful for the time that Dean had given me.

All told, I am really enjoying my training lately. I’m enjoying the possibilities and the feeling that I’m no longer do Jiu Jitsu “by numbers” – i.e. I’m a little more adaptable than thinking “Right, I’m under mount so I’m going to do an upa escape, page 5 figure 4” and insisting on that one technique because it’s all I know. I’ve felt the ability to move well – sure, sometimes, especially under pressure I can freeze and, especially early on in each session my back keeps me rigid (it takes a while for things to warm up and get some flexibility there), but I’m headed in the right direction.

Around Jiu Jitsu, I’ve been prevented from training a little by colds and a few sessions missed due to work commitments/travel, which sucks, but that’s life. Yoga’s going OK – I feel I’m making progress and becoming more aware of the areas of my body I need to work on – not surprisingly my lower back mobility is poor, but especially on one side – the side I had all the trouble – maybe I’ll look into some kind of massage/physio – I’m beginning to wonder if something strange has happened to the muscles there during the time that it was bad…? Anyway, yes, Yoga. I’m definitely feeling the benefits – I feel much stronger and still enjoying the challenge that it presents.

On to Some other news. On 6th December I went along to Carlson Gracie London, in Hammersmith. I knew that a number of guys I know would potentially be getting belts so I wanted to be there to congratulate them. I met some of the Tonbridge guys in central London and we headed over. I was meant to meet Si there too but there was no sign of him and I couldn’t get hold of his mobile. One of the guys mentioned that he’d hurt his ribs the night before so I started to suspect that he was bad enough not to train. More on that in a moment.

The gym itself looks, at first, like you’re walking into someone’s flat, but as you walk up the stairs the walls are covered in photos, reflecting the history and changing times the club has seen. Upstairs, the training area is a reasonable size and well matted out. I’ve been to lighter, airier gyms, but it has the feel of a friendly, but serious, no-fuss, no-nonsense approach to BJJ, which, I guess reflects the Carlson ethos well. I saw Mike there, who has been training there for a while now (it’s easier access for him), tearing up the mats. It was really good to see him again and catch up. It was also good to see him leglock a purple belt, who, I have to say, could have been a little more gracious in defeat. Also, really nice, was to have Simon Hayes come up to me at the start and congratulate me on my Blue Belt – a nice thing to do considering he doesn’t know me too well.

There must have been between 50 and 60 guys at the session and a great atmosphere of fun and expectation. The session was all rolling – and it was tough, lots of guys smelling blood and seeing a chance for a promotion. I managed to cope with most of my opponents well, staying calm and secure and mostly dominating. I rolled with a purple belt, who, at the end of the session got his Brown Belt. I actually did OK – first off he choked me but after that I managed to hold him at bay with a reasonable level of confidence. The person I struggled most with was a guy from Tonbridge called Keith – a blue belt for quite a while now. He caught me with armbars about 3 or 4 times from taking early cross side. I’m not sure what I was doing wrong or maybe I was just too relaxed, but I found it tough to compete. Maybe he was just better than me.

Anyway, after it was all over, it was belt time. Some well earned promotions for some of the Tonbridge guys – Doug, Hellboy and Yaron all got blues – well deserved. Mike got his blue – which I was pleased to see. Mike’s a monster and easily out performs a lot of guys with his natural ability and athleticism. Dave Broughton got his purple, which was easily due any time soon, if not sooner, in my opinion. Most noteable, for me, amongst all of those was Si, getting his Purple belt – long, looong overdue. Yep, Si had turned up nursing two broken ribs, but still trained (much to his pain and my concern!). It was mainly my suspicion that Si would get his belt that made me go along and it was great to see him promoted. Si’s been training at Carlson’s quite regularly now, alongside at our place, as usual, and has had quite an impact with his style of Jiu Jitsu and it was great to see it recognised in this way. I guess it also speaks well for the Carlson’s guys that they would do this for a guy, effectively, from another association. Anyway, huge congratulations to all, but for me, especially Si. Here's a snap of the proud owner of a new purple belt:

After a brief photo, some 50 odd guys lined up for what is a Carlson’s tradition – one which I believe is common in Brazil. All I can say is that I was glad to have got my belt in the way that I did. Belt Whipping. Basically this is the new promotions walking a gauntlet while being whipped by the other guys’ belts. There are boundaries – no head shots or below the waist, but, still, it’s pretty brutal! It’s done in good humour and people participate willingly – some actually seem to enjoy it! Man, there were some red backs at the end of that. It’s not for everyone, but it is the Carlson’s way. Here's a clip so you get the idea:

So, there we go – the last few weeks in a nutshell. Not long til Christmas now, so I sense one more post before the year’s out.

Catch ya soon.


Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The way...

Since my last proper post, training has continued as usual, and largely has been going great (apart from getting another bloody cold just as the last one has cleared up!!!). I'm still working on my movement, sensitivity etc with Dean and he's been really generous with his time helping me to get to grips with this and I just know it's going to pay dividends. It's also interesting in that it's kind of setting me up to be able to train myself and from what I understand of Rickson, this is very much the way that he's trained his network of friends and associates over the years. It's great as it's an ultimately sustainable way of training Jiu Jitsu so long as you can find a few like minded people to practice with.

A few things of note really in terms of what we've been doing - a lot more stand-up stuff with self defence application which has been great, a neat defence/escape from spider guard and really just focussing on the movement. There's little technique involved - a few set points here and there, but it all revolves around this movement and sensitivity.

Dean also brought in his set of "bodylastics" - exercise tubes, to illustrate how these can be used to practice the movements we've been doing whilst also doing specific conditioning. This was really interesting and guess what's now on my Christmas list?! Again, it's part of this ethos that with an appreciation of Jiu Jitsu and the true ethos within the art, you can train and develop a long way on your own.

I've also spent a bit of time chatting with Dean after training, sharing thoughts, philosophies and i've appreciated this insight into the way that Dean approaches Jiu Jitsu and it has made me appreciate all the more what we've been doing over the past months. A bit more on that later.

Earlier in the month I went to the
Kent Open for my first tournament as a Blue Belt. I guess by many's standards, it was a quick entry so soon after promotion, but I'd entered (and paid!) as a white belt (I wasn't expecting to get my Blue Belt so soon!) but I couldn't lie and I'd paid my entry fee! It was a mammoth event brilliantly organised by the Carlson's guys, held at the Olympic Judo training centre at Dartford - just up the road from me (bonus!) - a great facility.

I knew that by going up to Blue Belt that I'd meet Janos AKA "Dumptruck" who had so resoundingly beaten me at the Southern Open. An absolute monster. Anyway. It turned out that in my category it was just me and Janos - one other Hungarian guy hadn't shown, so only one fight. This would be the only criticism I had of the day (and it's not a huge gripe - that's the way it goes), but there were two guys in the same weight class in the Adult category (I'm Masters) so by merging the categories we could all have had a couple of fights at least. To be fair, looking at the numbers there maybe there wasn't time to mess about with the schedule, but to have one fight (and lose!) for £25 ...well, I just wish it had been different.

So...yes, I lost. Pretty early on Janos got a single leg take down. I fell quite well and managed to frame him off and as far as I know he failed to secure cross side or knee on stomach. He tried a a choke with the fist in the throat quite early but didn't have the purchase. Eventually (and it must have been approaching time) he took a decent Gi choke. Janos won, but I must say I didn't feel as overwhelmed as I had at the Southern Open - maybe a combination of more experience of both Jiu Jitsu and tournaments? I'm annoyed with myself that I pretty much got consumed with holding him off rather than working some movement to improve my situation, but I guess that's my learning point from the day. It was also strange to be awarded a silver medal for losing one fight!

On the flip side, getting my stuff out of the way so early meant that I got to watch some good (and some not so good!) Jiu Jitsu for the rest of the day.

Si had a great day at the office ploughing through his division with relative ease to take Gold. Here's a film of Si's final - it speaks for itself - great roll to reverse the takedown and a trademark cross collar finish from Si:

All in all it was a good day and a huge congratulations goes to all the Carlson's guys that made it happen - hopefully one for the annual BJJ calendar! It was good to hang out with the guys (Dean T came along, as did Dave, Big Dean (who is in LA training at Rickson's Academy at the moment - can't wait to get the low-down when he gets back) and to cap it all, there was a Subway van there and I had a Meatball Marinara Sub - my favourite!

On to some other stuff that I've found interesting. I mentioned eralier that I've had a few good chats with Dean T and he's spoken about how a lot of his recent philosophy has come from reading about Morihei Ueshiba - the founder of Aikido (there are some great clips of him well worth a look on YouTube) Dean mentioned a collection of Ueshiba's writings - "The Art of Peace" (which you can read here) so I thought I'd have a little look into it to see what it might have to offer me in my training.

It's a small, digestible book, full of short quotes on a range of subject, some more spiritual than others, but found a good few words that held resonance for me in the way that I am experiencing training. Here are a few of my favourites - whilst they ultimately stem from his practice of Akido, I feel that the sentiments are equally applicable to true Jiu Jitsu:

On Training

The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.

Iron is full of impurities that weaken it; through forging, it becomes steel and is transformed into razor-sharp sword. Human beings develop in the same fashion.

Instructors can impart only a fraction of the teaching. It is through your own devoted practice that the mysteries of the Art of Peace are brought to life.

Progress comes to those who Train and train; Reliance on secret techniques Will get you nowhere. Fiddling with this And that technique Is of no avail.

In your training do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung. Never think of yourself as an all-knowing, perfected master; you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art of Peace.

Ultimately, you must forget about technique. The further you progress, the fewer teachings there are. The Great Path is really No Path.

On Mindset

There are no contests in the Art of Peace. A true warrior is invincible because he or she contests with nothing. Defeat means to defeat the mind of contention that we harbor within.

A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind.

On the philosophy of the art

The Art of Peace is the principle of nonresistance. Because it is nonresistant, it is victorious from the beginning. Those with evil intentions or contentious thoughts are instantly vanquished. The Art of Peace is invincible because it contends with nothing.

It is necessary to develop a strategy that utilizes all the physical conditions and elements that are directly at hand. The best strategy relies upon an unlimited set of responses.

Techniques employ four qualities that reflect the nature of our world. Depending on the circumstance, you should be: hard as a diamond, flexible as a willow, smooth-flowing like water, or as empty as space.

If your opponent strikes with fire, counter with water, becoming completely fluid and free-flowing. Water, by its nature, never collides with or breaks against anything. On the contrary, it swallows up any attack harmlessly.

When an opponent comes forward, move in and greet him; if he wants to pull back, send him on his way.

The body should be triangular, the mind circular. The triangle represents the generation of energy and is the most stable physical posture. The circle symbolizes serenity and perfection, the source of unlimited techniques. The square stands for solidity, the basis of applied control.

In the Art of Peace we never attack. An attack is proof that one is out of control.

Never run away from any kind of challenge, but do not try to suppress or control an opponent unnaturally. Let attackers come any way they like and then blend with them. Never chase after opponents. Redirect each attack and get firmly behind it.

Opponents confront us continually, but actually there is no opponent there. Enter deeply into an attack and neutralize it as you draw that misdirected force into your own sphere.

Even the most powerful human being has a limited sphere of strength. Draw him outside of that sphere and into your own, and his strength will dissipate.

The essence of training is to bring your opponent completely into your sphere. Then you can stand where you like.

Whirl in circles around A stable center. Manifest yang In your right hand, Balance it with The yin of your left, And guide your partner.

The techniques of Peace Enable us to meet every challenge Seeing me before him, The enemy attacks, But by that time I am already standing Safely behind him.

Pretty cool huh? That's how I want my Jiu Jitsu to be.

One last thing - proud dad moment. I took my 4 year old son to his first Judo class last week. Dartford Judo Club run a "Pre Judo" class for under 5's which is great as most clubs and classes don't start 'til after 5 years. Anyway, he got really stuck in and loved every second. He even won a couple of his fights! I'm so proud and his new Gi just arrived today - the smallest Gi you've ever seen! Cute.

Sunday, 9 November 2008


Hi Readers!

During Movember (the month formerly known as November) I'm growing a Mo. That's right, I'm planning to grow more hair on my top lip than I have on my head because I care about tackling men's health issues and being proactive in the fight against prostate cancer. I’d be really grateful if you could spare some cash for this cause.

You can donate to my Mo by either:

Clicking this link and donating online using your credit card or PayPal account; Giving me hard cash, or; Writing a cheque payable to ‘The Prostate Cancer Charity Re: “Movember', referencing my Registration Number 1353376 and mailing it to:

The Prostate Cancer Charity
First Floor Cambridge House
100 Cambridge Grove
London W6 OLE

And don’t forget to Gift Aid it – every pound is worth £1.28 when you do! You can check my progress on my “Mospace” blog at:

The money raised by Movember is used to raise awareness of men's health issues and donated to The Prostate Cancer Charity which will have an enormous impact on many men's lives and the awareness will help us to fight prostate cancer on every front - through research, support, information and campaigning.

Did you know...?

-Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK.
-35,000 men are diagnosed every year and one man dies every hour.
-1 in 11 UK men will be diagnosed in their lifetime.

Thanks for your support


More information is available at

Monday, 20 October 2008

Blue Friday...

Well, you expect a quiet Friday night…and then…

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:

Friday, 10 October 2008

This sucks...sniff!

I haven't trained at all this last week as on Monday I came down with a cold... (in honour, I'm publishing this entry in green). I guess I'm due one and one of the things of having kids is that they come home with anything that's out there.

It's not the worst cold I've ever had but its main feature seems to be lethargy. It gym and no BJJ. All I want to do is sleep. The worst thing is that (I'm guessing I may be better once the weekend's out (I'm hoping to at least get to Yoga on Sunday)) I won't be able to train Jiu Jitsu until Thursday next week as I'm away with work on Tuesday night.

Recent training continues in the same fashion although we've started a bit of stand up - same principles of occupying space/yeilding, controlling your opponent's base with the odd trip here and there. I get the principles but just need to work a little more sensitively - there's still a temptation to over do it and end up wrestling with my opponent. In all of this there's a notion of self defence first and foremost, which is great. It means that the training is immediately transferable to a sports arena without any adaptation required - not neccesarily the case if Jiu Jitsu is trained primarily with sport in mind.

I trained on Sunday with Big Dean and Si - just casual, swapping a few ideas and observations - nothing taxing and good to just throw a few ideas around. Obviously it was good to see Dean again too - mate, it's been too long! I think it was a good thing that the session wasn't too tough as just after the first few signs of my cold started to make themselves known. :(

Another feature of recent weeks seems to be burgeoning numbers with Nuri bringing a friend along and old-timers returning (some threatening) to the fray. One major development worth spending a bit of time on is the news of Richard's (Blue belt, purple stripe) decision to stop training.

This came out of the blue and as quite a shock to all. Richard's not the longest serving member of the club, but is one of the most advanced and ever present guys. I'm only guessing, but I'd imagine a few factors in his decsion. Without going into detail Richard does a job that he's fully committed to both ideologically and in terms of his own career progression. It's a taxing job that most of us, me included couldn't even countenance doing - I'm just glad there are people around like him to do it.

He also lives in Whitstable so I guess a minimum hour and a half round trip twice a week is tough.

Whether this is forever, I guess time will tell and ultimately, only Richard knows. All I can say, and this is purely selfish, is it's a shame. I've definitely benefited from training with, and under Richard - he's able to feel exactly what you need to do to improve or make things easier and coaches really well. Maybe a long break will reignite whatever it is he's lost (assuming he has of course, or even that he wants to).

The other by-product of Richard ending his training is that Craig won't be around either as he got his lifts with Rick - a shame as I enjoyed rolling with Craig as he is much smaller than me so challenged me to roll with technique rather than strength.

Richard, if you're reading, thanks for the training, the coaching and the pointers and all the best for all that you do in the future.

Update to "Where is Rickson?"

Today, Dean Taylor, my instructor sent me a couple of links that make reference to recent Rickson activity that I thought was interesting so I thought I'd share it here:

The first is a recent (this month) interview with Rickson himself (in Portuguese):

No huge surprises in what he says, but it's interesting to see his views on Jiu Jitsu as a martial art above and beyond the sport and its links with MMA. The rough translation provided is:

“He said that he will probably not fight again, if he fight again he wants to get paid more than any other fighter (he said that he does Not need the money but he has too much to lose) and he doesn't need to prove nothing to nobody. He said that he is not impressed with anybody at this moment in BJJ in MMA, he said that he adores Minotauro but he is should be training more BJJ he has great BJJ but he should train less boxing or MT and more BJJ, because he should not have to take so much damage in a fight to win in the ground, when he is on the ground he usually wins but he has a hard time taking the fight to the ground. He said that he wants to change the image of BJJ in Brasil, he wants it to be a martial art that is effective like it is today but he wants everybody to do it, not just fighters, because he believes that, BJJ should be used to make people more confident, better citizens, make people more respectful, BJJ need to bring back some of the traditional martial arts ideals.” [sic].

Also, according to GracieMag, Rickson is running a seminar this weekend (11th/12th Oct 08) in Rio - “Rickson has reached a point in his life where he has decided to share with everyone, indiscriminately, his knowledge of Jiu-Jitsu. It’s a unique opportunity to learn the Jiu-Jitsu he has dubbed as "invisible", but that, although abstract, will be taught for application not just on the mats, but also off them”.

If this is true (aligned to the plans for a seminar series in 2009), this is going to be an awesome time for anyone that can attend these seminars.

The second is this interview with Shane Rice (scroll down the page)(Rickson Gracie Black Belt and main instructor at the LA Academy). What's interesting is Shane's take on what it's like to train with Rickson and the difference in the way Rickson approaches BJJ compared to most people. Some of the stories (like the legendary closed doors fight with Yoji Anjoh) are cool too. I've never met Shane (or Rickson!), but I recognise what he's saying in the philosophy that Dean brings to the way we practice Jiu Jitsu at our club. Some will dismiss this as just more Rickson propganda from a loyal student, but it's hard not to be inspired. Enjoy.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Where is Rickson?

Training this week has been more of the same and it’s going well – a couple of sessions this week just working hard on the principles we’ve been covering. Am I making progress? Yes, I think so – I may not have fluid, instinctive movement yet, but every so often I get something that feels great and works really effectively. My marker is that the frequency of such events is steadily on the increase week by week. I’m really enjoying myself at the moment.

For some reason, and I may have mentioned this already, my back is giving me a little trouble at the moment. Nothing like the “old” days, but I start out sessions a bit restricted then warm up into better movement during the session then it seizes up as I cool down. However, I’ve thought back to my time at the Osteopath’s and the hold/cold therapy that I was recommended so when I get in I’ve started using a hot water bottle and an ice pack alternately (always ending with ice) and it’s really helped – by morning I’m moving pretty freely. There must just be something that gets a little inflamed – I’m hoping that staying active, doing Yoga (my back always feels great after Yoga) and losing weight will gradually improve my back health.

On to the topic at hand. I thought I’d try and broaden the scope of the blog – mainly for interest but also as there are a lot of other things that surround BJJ – books, DVDs, news, products etc so I thought I’d try a few different pieces, reviews and so on. So today, I launch a pretty poor investigation into the question “Where is Rickson?”.

Rickson’s is a name that looms large in BJJ folklore and everyone’s got an opinion on him. To many, he’s a legend and an icon. Check any internet forum and there are many threads discussing how Rickson would fare against today’s MMA stars. It seems that as we approach the end of each year, rumours abound that “next year” Rickson is stepping into the ring for one last time, usually with the name of Sakuraba, “The Gracie Hunter” mentioned in connection. These rumours spark excitement, disbelief and their own speculations about who would win and how, and the inevitable discussion on Rickson’s age (he’s 49 at the time of writing) and whether he could still cut it in a professional Vale Tudo/NHB fight.

For an angle on this, we can look at a story from 2006, regarding Paulo Filho training with Rickson stating “I have trained with the toughest guys formed by Carlson Gracie. They were all great and I for sure don’t want to diminish anybody, but I have to say that no one ever did to me what Rickson Gracie has done during training these last days” suggesting that Rickson’s fitness and technique is as supreme as ever. And why wouldn’t it be? For sure, Rickson is genetically gifted, but why would anyone assume that he has stopped training, evolving, improving, just because he is no longer under the spotlights?

So where is he? Fitting with his legendary status, it seems that sightings of him and knowledge of his activities are fleeting. Every time he surfaces, there’s news or clips on the intranet and I guess there are two major things people want to know – is Rickson ever going to fight again and where/when and how can they train with him? It's a question that occupies my mind as a member of his association - especially since pretty much everyone else at my club has met Rickson and trained with him at least once...everyone except me!

Here are a few of the main sightings and rumours:

Rickson quits the US

According to this interview, Rickson has quit the US in favour of his Brazil homeland. Many observers speculate that the death of Rickson’s eldest son, Rockson back in 2001 in a Motorcycle accident (although rumours persist around the cause of death that I won’t grace with any mention here) prompted a retreat from public life for Rickson (and why wouldn’t it? The adage that no parent should ever have to bury a child springs to mind - take a look at this sympathetic interview which sheds light on Rickson's life straight after the death of Rockson). Rickson had this to say about his life in the US:

"There I feel that I am being sucked and I do not have a way to recycle that. "

I heard 2nd hand from someone that had spoken with Eddie Kone, who had trained in Brazil recently with Royler, that Rickson was at Royler’s Academy, just training and hanging out.

Rickson at the Mundials…

…and other assorted tournaments. Wherever Kron fights, Rickson’s usually around. Kron’s a big name. Not only is he Rickson’s son, but he’s also a pretty good BJJ prospect. OK, so after getting his black belt, he lost his first match at the Mundials. This created inevitable glee amongst far less talented people on internet forums all over with accusations of “sandbagging” at Brown Belt. From where I sit, these people conveniently miss the fact that Kron almost finished that fight by choke within the first two minutes but his opponent managed to tough that out – fair play, but it stands to some reason that a young guy (late teens) who’d been a Black Belt literally months, might lose out to an older guy with more experience. Kron isn’t Rickson, something that seems lost on detractors. I’m sure Kron will take lessons from the Mundials and return to dominate in future years. And Rickson will be there, coaching from the bleachers.

Rickson launches Budo Challenge

I think this was launched back in 2005 as a pilot with the prospect of more competitions to follow this foray. The notion behind the event was to promote Gi fighting with a rule set which encouraged submissions with core martial arts values such as honour and respect. This was seen as a rebuke by Rickson of competition Jiu Jitsu which allows competitors to play a tactical game of stalling and holding positions for points rather than seeking to end a fight by submission, which, ultimately, is Jiu Jitsu’s aim. It was also seen by many, with its production values, as an antedote to the rise of promotions such as the UFC, which many feel are now well removed from the core spirit of martial arts, something that Rickson quotes as his reasons for solely fighting in Japan during his “prime”. Take a look at this article which gives a pretty good overview of what Budo Challenge is all about.

I bought the DVD via the website and got pretty quick responses to emails to the producer, so there is an air of it not being completely dead, but almost three years on little else seems to have happened. I’ll review the DVD some other time, but suffice to say it’s a great spectacle for anyone that loves the Gi game.

Rickson joins Carlos Gracie Jr in Celebration

At the award of Carlos Gracie Jr’s Red and Black belt (8th Degree), in April 08, Rickson made an appearance as a guest speaker. This was a significant gathering of some of the best known names in BJJ and the promotion of a man who heads up the largest BJJ organisation in the world (Gracie Barra). Rickson’s presence was seen as significant by many because of a perceived “split” between those who believe that Carlos Gracie (Jr’s Father) is the true founder of BJJ and those that believe that Helio (Carlos’ brother and Rickson’s Father) forged what we now recognise to be BJJ. Such argument, if indeed any exists, is ultimately nonsense and was effectively buried by Rickson’s pesence at the ceremony, showing family unity between him and his cousins.

Rickson in Japan and launches the Jiu Jitsu Federation of Japan

Rickson holds a special status in Japan and has said in many articles he feels at home there amongst people who have a high appreciation of the martial arts. Because of his many Vale Tudo fights there in the 1990s, he is something of a celebrity in Japan and appears to spend a reasonable amount of time there.

Rickson has spent some time this year in Japan with one of his black belts, Takamasa Watanabe of Axis Jiu Jitsu running seminars with his son, Kron, which must be one of few, if not the only seminars or teaching he’s done recently.

Rickson (President) has also entered into a venture with Takamasa Watanabe (Director) called the Jiu Jitsu Federation of Japan. It seems that in addition to organising many tournaments, seminars and offering affiliation to clubs (for FREE and the list of current members is impressive), this organisation has, at it’s core, the desire to propagate the martial traditions that Rickson has spoken of many times and that are held in esteem in Japan, which is, afterall, where BJJ originated – almost a return to the roots.

Take a look at the website and you’ll get a better idea of what it’s about and here’s a little clip of Rickson talking about the federation:

Rickson slaps The Hulk!

Rickson makes a brief appearance in the 2008 film version of The Incredible Hulk, starring Ed Norton. In his short scene, Rickson plays a Martial Arts Instructor (a big stretch!) – confusingly labelled as “Aikido” in the end credits – teaching Bruce Banner a breathing method to control his anger. Quite how Rickson got this part (could be his famous breathing scenes in “Choke” caught someone’s eye), or whether this signals a wider interest in acting I do not know, but it’s still pretty cool that Rickson gets to slap the Hulk, thereby nullifying any arguments that he isn’t what he once was ;P LOL. Rickson beats the Hulk by Armbar! Here’s a clip (crumby quality but the only one I could find):

So there’s the best of what the internet has to offer…Still none the wiser, I decided to contact the Association Headquarters in LA and, as a member, ask simply “Where is Rickson?”.

I got this answer:

“Rickson pretty much living in Brazil, he spends only few times a year over here. He has a project for 2009 of seminars in the main cities of Brasil, US and some overseas. The Rickson Gracie Seminar Tour schedule is not available at the moment but we will post on the web. Rickson is not teaching in regular bases anymore or thus he has an academy in Brazil.” (sic)

I take the last part to mean that he doesn’t yet have an Academy in Brazil,
but may be wrong on this.

So there we go – there may well be more info out there or people that know stuff for certain, but this is what I’ve found. I’d be happy to hear from anyone that has factual information on where Rickson is and what he’s doing. Let’s see what happens in 2009 with the Seminar project. I’m planning a trip to the US in 09 anyway so if there’s a dovetailing of plans there that would be awesome, but we’ll see…

Rickson… where are you?!

Monday, 15 September 2008

I can see clearly now..

I’ve just had a pretty good weekend as things go. Saturday was an impromptu training session – just me, Dean T and Rick. We spent the time looking at one of the sweeps that we trained on Tuesday, but also the whole principle of inviting weight and re-directing and following weight. Dean also coached us to make it a training opportunity for both people – one practicing sensitivity and technique, the other just practicing movement and momentum.

I can’t quite remember what prompted the next part of the session, but I was struggling with one particular movement in trying to make our practice flow – that is kind of a backward roll – legs coming up and over the head to roll backwards. Having seen so many other people doing this, it’s an invaluable movement, but to me, there seemed to be two things stopping me executing. The first is a lack of core strength and the second, my perceived lack of flexibility in my lower back.

Dean took some time to coach me through the movement, using Rick as an “anchor”. With the right pointers I made pretty rapid progress with this movement, then, once I’d pretty much got it, Dean encouraged me to hold the position on my shoulders rather than follow right the way through. Once there, sort of just hovering over Rick, there were so many possibilities – I had controls with my arms, but was also able to use my legs and feet to block things – it was like a whole new world opened up. Being in such positions, I had Rick covered which forced him into various moves in his attempts to escape, which invariably gave me far more ammunition than had I simply followed the move through to the far more static mount, cross side or knee on stomach positions. It was amazing – on two separate practices I rolled effortlessly into a triangle and then an omoplata – positions I know but rarely, if ever, execute. It all just “happened” and I pretty much felt like I was doing nothing except waiting and moving with the energy created by my opponent. This is how Jiu Jitsu is meant to feel! I would never have thought that someone like me (I mean my level of competence, my size and restricted back movement) would ever be able to accomplish this sort of stuff! Before, I’d felt pretty much resigned to my “game” being using my weight, securing certain positions and then constructing opportunities for a few techniques which I know work for me. This was like coming up for air.

This was achieved with some great coaching from Dean – pointers at just the right moments, but far more important, encouragement which constantly raised my confidence to give things a try, reinforcement when things went well and the push to go “once more” each time to really drive home the feeling of success. It was also due to having Rick help me as my training partner – sympathetic and guiding in his own movements to give me the conditions I needed. Thanks to both of you.

I hope I’m right, but this feels like it could be the start of a new chapter in my training. I hope I can keep this feeling going – this style of training. I’m going to say now (easier said than done) that I know I’m about to enter a phase of making loads of mistakes and probably getting tapped every five seconds by less sympathetic training partners, but that’s OK. That kind of fits with how the BJJ learning curve seems to go anyway. Steep curves, drops, up again, plateaus, then another rise and so on…

So roll on training – I want more of this…I just hope I can get some consistency in keeping this going from one session to the next.

Yesterday (Sunday), I had my second Yoga class. More of the same stuff as last week, but focussing on different postures and mainly work around the shoulder area. This was bad news as my left shoulder has been a little “crunchy” of late and my trapezius muscle on that side feels pretty tight or like a nerve is trapped or something. Still, I gave it a go – tried the headstand (without success!) and the shoulder stand (which I just about did). Once again, I was surprised by how hard holding these poses works you – loads of muscle groups come into play and I worked up quite a sweat! I was keen to give everything a try and, with hindsight, I put myself under a lot of pressure to do things that, after only two sessions, I’d probably not be able to do after several. Even as I thought this I knew I was wrong to think this way, but seeing people around me, some many years older than me, some a lot less strong etc., doing things that I was not able to do made me even more “pushy” with myself. The teacher very kindly said to me afterwards “You’re game, but we just need to build up gently” – a kind way of saying don’t run before you can walk. I already knew she was right. So, I’m going to take my time, build up slowly and build my confidence. There were people there that have been doing Yoga for a while who were only just doing the headstand fully for the first time – why should I expect to do it on my second lesson?! Like I said in my last post about Yoga, I see this as a long term practice so have just got to take it slowly and as it comes.

It brought me back to thinking about this weekend’s progress in Jiu Jitsu. I’ve been training three and a half years or so now. In yoga, I’m like I was when I started BJJ – all enthusiasm and frantic tapping – metaphorically speaking. It’s taken a few years to get this far – and really that’s no distance at all, but I have made progress and am doing things I would never have thought possible even a few weeks back let alone a few years. You’ve just got to practice, keep applying and then when your body and mind are ready, things just “click”. You just have to trust in the process.

Monday, 8 September 2008


Another entry, but I thought it best to keep this one separate from the San Francisco post just to catch up on the last week.

We arrived back from San Fran on Sunday morning – not feeling too shabby as it goes, but jet lag was evident at times. I was faring pretty well although the kids were still on California time and if they’re awake, then me and my wife are awake so this delayed all of our recoveries somewhat.

Tuesday I got back to training and we were pretty much doing what we’d done just before I went away – practising certain movements, keeping the core connected, keeping the feet off the floor and then Dean T very skillfully wove these movements into the practice. We spent most of the time looking at escapes from cross side and knee on stomach using these principles of sensitivity to weight and balance and gaining leverage using the legs and the core. I love this stuff – it’s a tough route to take in Jiu Jitsu… a long term practice, but it feels right.
I found it good to get back to training, but the effects of jet lag were ever present and toward the end of the session I was very tired and everything teetered on the edge of cramp with every movement…maybe just a little too soon after getting back? I don’t know – there must be some stuff out there about dealing with jet lag and training etc…
Anyway, next session was due to be Thursday, but I’d agreed to take my parents to Heathrow and ended up getting stuck on the M25 on the way back so missed training. On reflection, I was still pretty tired so maybe it was for the best to have a rest, but I did spend the time in the car thinking through the movements we’ve been doing which I’m sure was useful.

As I’ve mentioned, Sunday I went to a Yoga class. Equipped with my £6.99 mat from Tesco (is there anything they don’t sell?) I arrived feeling a little sleepy and not at all bendy. Not unexpectedly I was the only man there (although I’m told there are usually a couple of others) but I was made to feel welcome. As I’ve said, the type of Yoga is Iyengar – the differentiator with this type I’m lead to believe is that postures are achieved and then held for longer than in other styles. I was pretty pleased with my level of flexibility in comparison to some of the people that have been doing it longer, but was surprised at just how tough it was! Like many other people I guess I thought that yoga was all gentleness and joss sticks, but half way through a few of the poses I got the muscle tremors and was desperate for the instruction to relax! After just one session I can feel a difference – my hamstrings and shoulders definitely feel like they’ve worked. I can see already that if I keep this up my strength, muscle tone and overall fitness will improve…no doubt at all. My objectives with Yoga…all driven by BJJ are: regain lost flexibility; strengthen my back; strengthen my core. I can see this as something that has longevity and many benefits, but we’ll see how it pans out – after my first session I feel very positive. The only thing I felt a bit strange about was the “Ommm” stuff at the beginning, but I guess I’ll get used to it – I still remember how odd bowing and “kihap!” was when I started martial arts.

If anyone reading this has thought about Yoga I’d say definitely give it a go. I was inspired to give it a try by Dean T and also watching Rickson in “Choke”, but also as I’ve read good things about it in relation to health and backs. I would say however, that I’ve also read about an upsurge in injuries form people trying to do it from books, DVDs and unqualified instructors. Having done this class I would definitely advocate finding a class with a qualified tutor. Getting the hands on corrections really is necessary and makes all the difference to the efficacy of the poses.

As I type this, I’ve just gotten another year older – I’m now 34. That’s not ancient, but I can feel time ticking on - things creaking that didn’t before. I’m still on my journey to my milestone blue belt and hopefully that will come to fruition next year. So I’ll ask the same questions as last year – older? Yes. Wiser? I think so. With Dean T’s help I’m starting to see how to train Jiu Jitsu in the way that it was intended and with it, practices, like Yoga, that are going to sustain me in the long term. I want to remain active and stay healthy right through to old age. Lots of damage has already been done with Rugby etc, but I want to limit this as much a possible and in achieving this, there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to train and regularly beasting your body is sometimes fun, but a surefire path to niggling injuries. I want to train smarter, not necessarily just harder.

The heat is on!

I’ve been back from San Francisco just over a week now, so time to catch up before time and detail runs away…

After an 11 hour flight (United airlines – dreadful) we landed in San Francisco to temperatures in the mid to late 30s. After a short drive we got to our hotel in Walnut Creek. I love hotels – you can make a mess and every day the hotel fairies just come along and tidy up after you. I got straight to work on satisfying my passion for Root Beer and later found the hotel pool (a welcome relief as you’ll see) and Gym which was well equipped and usually empty.

We were in town for a week for a wedding – My Brother in law Jack was marrying Jen – a lovely girl from Walnut Creek. How Jack met Jen is a long and complicated story that I won’t tell here…

All week we were very fortunate to have Gene and Michelle – Jen’s parents, pretty much at our disposal as chauffeurs for the week – an unexpected but absolutely amazing bonus. With two three year olds in tow, I’m really not sure how we’d have managed without their help. The Bay Area’s transport is very good – cheap, efficient, regular and well connected, but getting around local areas, like Walnut Creek, is just so hard – streets are not pedestrian friendly at all – the car rules out there, and, on reflection, that was probably a good thing. By the end of the week, temperatures inland (where we were) had hit highs of 46°c so any opportunity of being air conditioned was gratefully received.

Looking at the schedules (visits to San Fran, family get-togethers etc), Tuesday was going to be my best bet to get to Eduardo Rocha’s place in Oakland to train. I had planned to simply go there by BART, but Jen and her parents looked horrified at this prospect and said they’d drive me. By all accounts, Oakland is not the sort of place you want to go on your own and start taking wrong-turns. I gratefully bowed to their greater local knowledge and accepted a lift.

So, I headed out for an “all levels” session, Tuesday morning 1000-1200, ready with Gi in hand and a huge bottle of Gatorade (why can’t you get the range in the UK [weeps]?) A few people were just turning up as I arrived and I introduced myself (rather obvious from my accent) as being the guy from England. The gym itself is a small space in what seemed to be like an office block, but it was clean, well equipped and airy. The guy taking the class that day was a purple belt called Jeremy Adkins – a really nice guy that kind of reminded me of BJJ’s answer to Henry Rollins – only with more tattoos…the most striking being one that completely covered his head. I believe Jeremy won gold in the open division at the recent Mundials and Pan Ams. We were joined by another Purple Belt called Butch (like he said I really was in the US now I’d met someone called Butch) a couple of Blue belts, a Couple of White belts and a lady Brown Belt who I think ran her own school somewhere.

So, after a reasonable warm-up, we got on with the lesson. Jeremy ran through the techniques in a clear, logical fashion, highlighting all the important details – his style suited my way of learning really well and I found the translation to practice pretty smooth. I trained with a huge guy called Scott – a white belt, at least 6’ 5” and the build to go with it. It’s always good to train new stuff with someone your own size (ish!). We worked on various moves from Butterfly Guard – here’s a quick summary of what I remembered:

Sweep 1 - I've done this one a few times before... Sit up to your opponent, scoot in close and slightly side on. Grab his belt behind him, scoop the opposite arm. Staying connected, fall to the side then kick your upper leg to sweep the opponent and take either cross side or mount.

Sweep 2 - Can be used if opponent pins your ankles. Simultaneously sit up and grab diagonally to back of tricep, posting out same side leg and post remaining hand out to side. Shift butt out to where hand was posted, simultaneously pulling the arm that you have hold off - this pulls the opponent forward onto all fours (this is a dynamic movement). Position hips up to opponent's, take an over and under grip, connect to your opponent and fall to pull opponent to his back then place in the second leg hook.

Pass 1 - In the butterfly guard, slide arm to hip (elbow by hip) and place head on opposite side under ribs. Place other hand on knee. Sprawl, flattening leg that hand is on, keeping that hand in position to prevent opponent from taking guard. Work way up to cross-side.

Pass 2 - Start as pass 1. Bring other hand (the one that would have been on the knee in Pass 1) under the leg to grab his belt. Bring other hand round to grab the ankle of his trousers. Bring weight up onto shoulder and walk around the legs, extending the leg you have hold of and take cross-side.

(Somewhere in Pass 2 (I think) I've missed a detail which involves switching a grip on the pants but need to run through it again to try and figure out where this is and how it works.)

After drilling these techniques it was time for positional training and here we mixed up training partners a bit. I found passing OK, but struggled on the bottom – everyone was very quick and precise. I was most impressed with a small blue belt – his sensitivity and timing were perfect and I struggled to do anything against him. Also, as if proof were needed that BJJ is effective for the smaller person against a larger opponent I got nicely tapped to a choke by the Brown Belt.

Then it was on to free sparring and this was solely with Scott. Scott was a strong guy and we ended up 2-2 from our practice and I was pretty pleased with how I fared as I tried to use the type of stuff we’ve been doing at home over recent weeks and was pleased with how it worked with such a big guy.

As we were practicing, Eduardo arrived so as we finished I had a chat with him – a really nice guy who genuinely opened his door to me anytime I wanted to train. My only regret is that my schedule didn’t allow any more than that one session, but I shall definitely be visiting Eduardo’s next time I’m over there. His accomplishments speak for themselves and his mettle is shown through the quality of his students – very technical and all great people. There are plenty of schools in the Bay area and some of them more well known, but I’m glad I went to Eduardo’s – I’ve no doubt it was the best choice. If you’re over that way look him up.

After downing as much Gatorade as my body could take, and whilst waiting for my lift, I was chatting to Scott and what was great, as with everywhere else that I’ve trained, was that we were both able to shoot the breeze about Jiu Jitsu, our hopes, ambitions, favourite moves, our philosophy on training and it’s always remarkable just how, even with so many thousands of miles between people, there is a commonality in Jiu Jitsu.

A big thanks to Eduardo, Jeremy, Scott and the rest of the guys for making me so welcome and allowing me another great Jiu Jitsu experience.

The week was amazingly hot but passed by so quickly. We visited Pier 39 which was fun and allowed us to catch many of the trademarks of San Francisco including an entertaining ride on the Cable Cars. Later in the week we also went to the Golden Gate Park – the Japanese Tea Gardens there were fantastic and a great backdrop to our trip as the photo below shows, although parts of the park were pretty run down and inhabited by drop outs and people who don’t seem to know that the 60’s are over. It’s also a pretty spread out city so getting used to the transport options is a good idea, but with kids it’s hard to fit a lot in to a day. Walnut Creek was fun – a charming little place if only it hadn’t been too hot to step outside of anywhere – one to investigate properly another time.

One major frustration on the trip was trying to get a drink on Jack’s Batchelor evening. Last orders in one very nice bar were 10pm, so, on to other late night bars only to not be let in…even with passports! They were really strict on ID – as if I look under 21!!! It was like the 1920s trying to get served alcohol in that place… or maybe a bunch of Brits just scared them… I don’t know. A passport gets you into their country but can’t buy you a drink. Marvellous.

Anyway, it was a great week – the wedding was perfect and I was so proud of my kids who were Flower Girl and Ring Bearer. A big thanks to Gene and Michelle – I’m pretty certain the week would have been a blur of sweat and tears if it wasn’t for them. Good times.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Are you going to San Francisco...?

A quick catch up then on the last couple of weeks.

First the technical stuff…

Monday last week - we covered a take down in which, having taken up grips, you kind of squat, then project your hips backwards – this brings your opponent off-balance over their own toes. As your but touches the floor, you place one foot on the hip and execute a sort of half Ippon Seoinage, sweeping with the other leg. From here, you can take top position. Clearly, this technique is wholly dependant on the initial resistance of your opponent, but it’s easy to adjust and improvise with this one. If your opponent does start to come forward of his own volition, you can block his legs with your feet, slide them to hook the ankles, then push on his knees – this will sweep him backwards.

One other thing we looked at was from spider guard – feet in opponent’s biceps, controlling the wrists. Wrap one arm with your leg, pull the other shin across the body. Invite your opponent in and then project of using your shin.

Wednesday last week – still working on the sensitivity/leverage of the core and legs used in symphony, we practiced a movement where you start kind of in open guard, defending against the opponent with your shin and hand to stop them from passing. As he comes forward, you can frame against him, lift your hips to raise your legs, swing legs across and chop down, keeping your core engaged. As your body comes up, place your free hand on the floor and swivel round to face your opponent having created space and now in a stronger open guard position.

Working with little Dean we also did an exercise with one person initiating, the other trying to “sense” (through a combination of feel and reading body movement and posture) what the opponent was going to do. The aim of the exercise was either to occupy the middle space before your opponent does, thus putting him literally on the back foot, or to be away from your opponent’s forward intent, creating space and momentum that will work against your opponent. It’s about being alert to subtle changes in your opponent’s intentions, weight and balance and trying to never be where your opponent wants you to be.

We then looked at an escape from cross side using leverage in the legs and core to create space and movement. Once space has been created you can often get your bottom knee in to create a frame/take guard or sometimes, if the weight is correct, you can extend your other leg to sweep your opponent over. If your shoulder is blocked by your opponent (thus preventing you turning in to face him), simply use legs and leverage to come out the bottom – you can use the arm to create a frame against the throat or face to create additional space.

Only one session for me this week due to other stuff going on, but we really extended the work started last Wednesday. We started by drilling a whole heap of basic movements – variations on teeter totter, shrimping, pocket knife, all focussing on keeping the core strong and the feet off the floor. There were also a lot of movements to practice projecting the legs and one particularly hard one of coming feet over your head and sort of walking around your shoulders – I need a bit of practice on all of them methinks, but especially that last one. Apart from being good conditioning for the core muscles, the reason behind these movements would later become apparent.

We then worked on the same sensitivity drill from Wednesday, but a little more freeform and with this some of our earlier movements came into play. Dean T also went over the escapes from cross side again and the movements we practiced worked seamlessly into the practice and the same principles applied to practicing a couple of escapes from North/South.

All topped off with a nice bit of free-training which I did with Craig. I really enjoyed this and the training felt cooperative and mutually beneficial. Aside from cramps in both calves (a side effect of the previous night’s five mile run I suspect), it was a comfortable and enjoyable way to train.

I’m really enjoying the training we’re doing lately – I feel like I’m learning loads, like it’s the stuff that’s somehow “hidden” in Jiu Jitsu that can make it really effective. There are no shortcuts with this stuff though and you’ve got to be committed to its practice in the long term. There are shortcuts elsewhere – majoring on speed and strength – all great attributes to have, but this feels like it’s where it’s really at. I leave sessions feeling relaxed and happy. I’ve always left Jiu Jitsu happy in the past, but not always relaxed….more absolutely shattered and aching… This way means I get great training and am never too tired to go to the Gym for my CV workout the next day, which is great.

I haven’t trained at Tonbridge since Brighton, mainly because other stuff keeps cropping up, but also partly due to cost – petrol getting there and back then £8 per session. The credit crunch has hit BJJ :(.

I’ve managed to get back into some regularity at the gym lately and this is paying dividends – in fitness at least. I’m running further, faster and my resting heart rate and blood pressure have come down a lot (60bpm and round about 125/70). No more weight loss to note, but none gained so OK there.

I’m off to San Francisco tomorrow for one week – it’s my brother in law’s wedding, so, as with my last US trip I have some training planned…it has to be done. I originally sought out a guy who is/was (?) a Rickson rep in San Fran – a purple belt. I eventually tracked him down and he told me that the weekend I arrived he was hosting a seminar with Xande and Saulo Ribeiro. “GREAT!” I thought “what an opportunity”. So as instructed I emailed the guy and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually I phoned him again to check if he’d got my emails – yes, he had and would be in touch soon. 3 days before I’m due to leave and the seminars begin, I email him again to see if there’s any update….nothing. No response.

I know people are busy, but it doesn’t take much time to answer an email. I expected more especially from a guy who is a Rickson rep (although I heard he’s one over to Saulo’s Association). It’s just plain rude.

So anyway, after a bit of browsing, I find a guy called Eduardo Rocha, a 3rd Dan under Royler Gracie – 3 time Brazilian Champion, 4 Time Pan Ams Champ and World Cup champ amongst many other accomplishments. His gym is based in Oakland, a short hop from where I’m staying in Walnut Creek. I emailed Eduardo to see if I could train and how much it would be and almost immediately got a reply, in true Brazilian style “For sure. No Charge”. Now that’s more like it – how great is that…and no charge?! So, tomorrow, I’m off and hope to squeeze in a couple of sessions between the sightseeing and family fun and hopefully more great stories for this blog.

One other thing, before I go. I’ve decided to make more of my gym membership and recent talk from Dean T about Yoga and a thread on EFN, made me think about trying it out. Now luckily, there’s a class on Sunday Mornings at my gym – Iyengar yoga, the cost of which is covered in my membership, so when I get back I’m gonna give that a go – I’ll let you know how I get on.

See you in a week or so!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

It's good to talk...

I just want to begin this blog entry with a curiosity. I've had some nice comments lately on my blog so thanks to anyone that reads and makes the effort to leave a comment. I had one comment on my "always someone bigger" post though that simply read something like:

"I think you should show a little more respect to your opponent"

Predictably, this comment was from "Anonymous".

I've put it in this entry so that it doesn't get lost amongst the other comments as I think it's important to address this one. I have no idea what, or who "Anonymous" is referring to. All I can say is that nothing I wrote was intended to show any disrespect to anyone - least of all any of the opponents I've ever had, win or lose. Absolutely, categorically, 100% not. I have nothing but respect for anyone that I train with, and especially for anyone that competes - it's tough out there no matter who you are.

So, just let me say this. If there is anything that offended anyone in my last post, I apologise. That was never my intention and I am, to be honest, still at a loss as to what it was that prompted the comment. All I do here is talk about my training and my thoughts. So that's it. If "Anonymous" is reading this - genuinely, please let me know what it was I said that seemed "off" - feedback is great, but only when it's specific.

On to business. I'm not training at the moment as I just got another tattoo. It's at the top of my back, between the shoulder blades (possibly the worst place should I decide to train when not healed!) It's of a Sakura (Japanese for "Cherry Blossom") - My Daughter's middle name.

Just waiting for it to heal up properly so it doesn't go all patchy. So thought I'd use the time to reflect on one of the most recent sessions.

Last Wednesday, it was just me, Si and Dean T. Dean started talking about the philosophy of the training that he's been doing and I can't possibly do justification to the conversation here but it was pretty wide ranging, touching on Eastern philosophy, Buddhism, various Martial Arts masters, including Morehei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido. We talked for almost an hour, with the ultimate crux of the conversation being about the self discipline/personal improvement foundation of martial arts. It is clear, the more you read into it, that most of the originators of Martial Arts created them with the intention that they would be practised in this fashion. Yes, there is a defensive/combative aspect to them, but this might be seen almost as a by-product of the discipline of training. It is this that is at the heart of what Dean has been teaching and, I believe, is what is at the heart of those that practice Jiu Jitsu at the highest levels, including Rickson.

I've read a significant amount about Buddhism, and, whilst I wouldn't consider myself Buddhist, a lot of the principles hold a resonance for me. Carrying these principles into your training make a lot of sense to me. Sure, I'll compete and I want to be the best...but only the best version of me that I can be. As I say, I can't do the dialogue justice here, but I will say that it had a real impact on me and the way that I see Jiu Jitsu and the way that I want to train it.

It's strange, very little physical training that session, but the mental workout was every bit as valid for progression in Jiu Jitsu. We need to nourish and develop our minds as well as our bodies.

There was one thing I did pick up physically. Dean coached me through rolling backwards. Sounds simple I know, but as I've said in the past, my lower back is not the most mobile and so I struggle with any movement that requires this. Dean took me through a few exercises and projecting the hips..and somehow it just "clicked". really pleased - once again it's these small breakthroughs that carry you forward. I tried to incorporate it into my rolling but realised that I stopped the movement - this requires you to just go with the movement...another theme of Dean's teaching of late - knowing when to give or take with the movement of your opponent - it's great stuff and when you get it, it feels like anything is possible...even if only for a short time.

So, I left that session happy, tired and with a bit of a headache...I'm sure that was dehydration and tiredness rather than the impact of the philosophical discussion we'd just had.

The tattoo's looking pretty good at the moment. I've been using a nappy ointment called "Bepanthen" and I've got to say, it works really well as a tattoo cream! Hopefully this means back to training next week!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

There's always someone bigger...

I'm going to go a bit back to front with this blog entry and start with today's events. Today I went to the dubiously named Brighton "Grab and Pull" tournament - the first tournament organised by Brighton BJJ. I only really decided to enter about a week or so ago so no real expectations. I went along with Si and we met up with the guys from Carlson's which made for a great day out and as always, the guys made us more than welcome.

Although the day started later than published, the fights ran smoothly and quickly. There were a few mix-ups with fight weights, but the organisers remained flexible and in good humour which helped make a really relaxed atmosphere. I'm full of admiration for the organisers - I reckon I'd have flipped with all that stress so credit where it's due.

As with the Southern Open I was entered into the Super Super Heavyweight category (100.5kg +). After a long wait (about 4 hours) I was finally called. I really enjoyed my first fight. I was initially taken by surprise as my opponent jumped guard, but I dealt with it OK, quickly postured up, broke his guard and passed to secure cross-side. I then moved straight to mount and just secured that position, bringing weight and getting a nice high mount. I was just weighing up my options and resisting bridges and an Ezekiel choke seemed the best option so that's what I went for - sunk it in and stuck it on and got the tap - all lasted about 2 minutes. I felt I had good control the whole way through. Really nice guy though and enjoyed chatting to him before our match.

My second fight was a different story. The guy I was fighting was 122kg - that's 19 and a bit stone so I was giving away over two stone - and he was solid with it. He got some sort of sweep pretty quick and took mount very quickly too. That suited me - I stayed tight and was just looking to secure an upa, but he was clearly experienced and wise to this. As Si later pointed out, my mistake was that I stayed too flat on my back, preventing any decent disruption. Eventually, a combination of bad choices on my part and shepherding on his, he moved me to take an armbar which was successful. All over. That's the way it goes - sooner or later you always meet someone bigger, faster etc etc - different draws may have led to a different result, but that's the way it goes. It all meant I took bronze - again - that's OK. A medal's a medal. Just starting to think that losing weight might be a good idea for more than health reasons!

Si had a good first fight, took a decent takedown and then controlled everything as he always does, ending the fight with an armbar - great result. His second fight was against the eventual winner - a guy that had already shown some great Judo in his first fight and continued in his bout with Si, opening his scoring with a great ippon seoinagi. From there on, SI was always chasing the points. Si had the guy in guard and controlled him there for a long while always threatening to pull off one of his trademark cross collar chokes, but it just never quite happened. Eventually the guy passed and took a choke using his own gi. mathematics once again conspired to give Si a well deserved bronze. I get the sense that Si felt a little disappointed, but it was a good outing for him and there's always far too many variables in a tournament to worry about what could/should have been. Another good day out. I even met a nice parking attendant who bent the rules to avoid inconvenience. Once in a while something restores your faith in people.

Onto the last few weeks of training - usual story, Mondays and wednesdays at Rickson's, Fridays at Carlson's. All the usual drills really except that Dean T's sessions have been revelations - every lesson I've come away with a little gem. The ones that stand out are the relaxation required when applying chokes - I did one so well that I didn't even think I was doing anything. The other major thing was Dean helping me with my escape from cross side. I don't find bridge escapes easy due to my poor lower back mobility, so Dean showed me an escape using your legs to move your body to the side, slide the lower knee in to block the abdomen then project the free leg away to sweep your opponent over - really liked this and will work well for me - just need to drill it. The key with the leg movement is to engage the core of your body so that your legs connect up through your torso - realy obvious, but the penny dropped that previously I've just been waving my legs around - just a lack of understanding on my part. This also means that I really need to work up some core strength. After a good demonstration by Dean, I think I'm going to make an effort with an old Yoga video - I reckon this will benefit in sorts of ways.

Dean also spent some time with me rolling at the end of one session - in the way that he likes to roll - just playing really, working the movement and just "sensing". I really enjoyed this - it was imply fun but I could feel a whole lot more than I normally would - it's this "pronounced" form of training that gradually hones the sensitivity that allows the purity of Jiu Jitsu to prevail. Sure, I'm a long way from that , but it's really where I want to be in the way that I roll. It's what it's all really about. I'm really loving the training at the moment and finish every session with the same buzz that I had when I first it!

Rick has also helped me with some escapes from a common position at Carlson's - the head crush either from under mount or sometimes when holding guard. It was clear I've just been doing everything wrong - when holding guard I need to release guard, trap arms and work sweeps. Under Mount, instead of going for Upas that aren't there I need to be shrimping out. So I've been shown - cheers Rick...and thank you from my neck too!

One other breakthrough to mention happened during a light session with just me and Si one Wednesday. We just went through standing up in guard - trying to prefect this technique over and over. I finally made a few minor adjustments, the main one being to drive my stand from my foot position (like a sprint start), rather than awkwardly squatting to standing position...bit by bit, things just get better.

Everything's relative and belts aren't everything, but I've set out my goals and they remain intact. It takes many people only a couple of years to go from white to blue. By the time I hopefully get there, I will have been a white belt for four years, partly due to economics, but the results I get at tournaments and when rolling tell me I am where I should be. I want nothing more than to feel that any grades I earn came at the right time and that I am the best white belt I can be...still lots of work to do and I'm loving every second.

Speak to you again soon. I'm off to bed to sleep off this adrenaline headache.