Sunday 24 February 2008

Zen and the art of Jiu Jitsu

No teaching from Dean T week before last, so it was back to “da old skool” with Me, Si, Big Dean and Mike. Both sessions were really similar – we solely worked positional stuff – escapes from under the mount, focussing on the elbow escape. Just drilling the move over and over. I used to hate this type of stuff, but now it’s essential and I get a whole lot out of it. Coaching from the guys, as always was well observed and well-timed and really helped loads. The key points I took away from both sessions were:
  • Secure the frame (Dean’s image of expanding into the gap like water and then freezing is a useful prompt for how the frame should feel)
  • Be aware of not pushing with the frame – this can be helped by not using the “spare” hand – just make it ready for movement to the next phase of the move
  • Put energy into the frame – this comes up through the posted foot (needs to be as close to the butt as possible) and through the shoulder
  • Take up the space before beginning the move
  • Attempt the move to get a reaction from your opponent
  • Don’t be locked in to one move – be aware of the moment, where the weight and balance is and react accordingly

We rolled at the end of both sessions, and, having announced that I am going to enter the Gracie Invitationals at Seni, Dean was kind enough to give me a round robin of opponents both nights – roll after roll after roll! On Monday I was gassing big style – I was coming down with a cold, had struggled in the positional stuff and was just too frantic in a lot of what I was doing – really tough. Wednesday night was different thought – it was as though all the learning had sunk in and was starting to take effect – my rolling was a lot calmer and I was getting some good results. I even managed to remember and use some of the escapes Dean T had shown us recently, although I was a bit late on the omaplata escape! The guys were really encouraging and I did feel a difference. The key difference between Monday and Wednesday? Pure and simple – staying calm and working the technique. That’s what I’ve got to do – just gotta sit back and be cool. Both sessions were tough, but enjoyable and really brought me on in a position that I always struggle with – still no where near perfect, but big strides ahead.

The two guys from the previous week didn’t show. I was hopeful that they might return, but not surprised they didn’t. I get the impression that our style of BJJ wasn’t what they were looking for. Because of its association with MMA, BJJ attracts quite a lot of guys that just wanna smash things. That’s cool and there are a lot of BJJ clubs that can cater for that, but that’s not the way at our club – see my last post and my “painting” analogy. Hey ho – just another pair in a long line of people that wander in through the doors and don’t stay the distance.

Last Monday’s session was with Dean T and a good turn out. Sticking with the whole balance/kuzushi thing we worked controlling the opponent’s balance from standing – manipulating weight onto one leg then controlling how and where the opponent is then able to place weight with their other leg. The “sphere of energy” principle remains and it’s a case of manipulating the opponent’s weight by moving your “sphere” in a subtle fashion to the opposites of where he wants to be. In doing this, you can move weight on your own terms and as your opponent struggles to regain, you can exploit any over-exuberance with a well-timed takedown – albeit a gentle one of simply stepping away and leading your opponent to the floor.

We worked the “sphere” principle into a couple of self defence moves, the first one being a grab to one shoulder. The principle here is not to react with an overbearing “base”. Dean clearly demonstrated how this is ineffective. Rather, in this scenario, you simply raise your arm up to meet the grab, maintaining your own personal space – this move effectively neutralises the push from your opponent. Persistent pushing can be overcome by redirecting force and a change to pulling can be counteracted by following your aggressor whilst wrapping the arm into a shoulder lock. Using very similar principles, we also worked a defence against someone shooting in to grab your hips – rugby tackle style – again, all about maintaining distance with your “sphere” and redirecting force and balance. It’s always interesting to see the self defence applications of Jiu Jitsu and this is another thing that separates Rickson’s style from other schools – the Jiu Jitsu always starts from a position of self defence as opposed to scoring points in a tournament.

We also worked a similar frame/sphere thing with someone placing knee on stomach - not working too hard, just going with where the weight and balance of your opponent is - a very "alive" way of moving, always playing with the point of discomfort for your opponent. It's all very "in the now" and something that takes a lot of mental discipline. Dean demonstrated very well how the usual tactic of pushing against your opponent under knee on stomach just gives him everything he needs to get purchase, so the discipline with this is to keep your sphere and just keep rolling with the movement as it comes, staying relaxed and in the moment.

Here's a few photos of the session - Dean T demonstrating principles with Roubel:

The only other thing to note in this entry is that I have at last returned to the gym after nearly two months with assorted congestion/colds/catarrh. I'm slowly getting the hearing back in my right ear at last!!! It was a tough session, but the good news is that I don't appear to have lost any of the fitness gains I made before I got ill, so hopefully I can just carry on where I left off. Just may have put a bit of weight back on that's all but that's easily shifted!

Monday 11 February 2008

Use the Force Luke!

After Monday’s trials, Wednesday’s session was just what I needed to re-focus on what I need to be doing in my BJJ. Dean T worked solely on the whole balance/sensitivity thing, mainly from standing. We worked with low grips pushing up (as if you were pinning someone against a wall), high grips pulling down and straight arm grips pushing forward and were simply working off these to affect the balance of the opponent. All of this was related to defending an imaginary “sphere” of personal space – making a sort of frame of energy and just deflecting the opponent or defending the space with a fluid frame. It’s a tricky concept to explain, hard to do. It’s pretty easy to understand what needs to happen and when it’s done to you, you can feel exactly what is happening. Dean trained with me for quite a while, and at one point, he deliberately trained in quite a hard way, then, without warning, switched to the softer style. The impact was really marked. When training hard, I was able to get in on Dean, to take up grips and affect him, but the very second he switched, I could get nothing and was off balanced in a matter of seconds. It was literally like a switch had been flipped.

I think the toughest thing about this is mental discipline to override your natural urges to resist, or to use strength to combat the aggressor. Then again, I’m not so sure these are natural urges. My kids are three and I’ve shown them, albeit in a playful way, various BJJ principles and I’ve watched them playfighting. My son moves so fluidly and without effort that I’m so envious of his natural movement and it just makes me feel that I’ve somehow lost, over time, the natural movement that we are all capable of. We’ve somehow got to return to the source. If I playfight with my dog, he doesn’t push back, he rolls with what is happening and recovers and takes his chances when they’re there. Fighting, in the aggressive forceful sense seems pretty unnatural. When Dean demonstrated the principles, it felt like there was nothing that should be stopping me doing what I wanted to do – there was a zero energy to what he was doing. I was ultimately the architect of my own downfall – as I moved, I off balanced myself, Dean was just a facilitator in making me go to the extreme of that position.

The session was much more like the sessions were when I first started training with Dean. Plenty of practice, but also lots of Dean talking about the principles, trying to aid our understanding. Dean was really passionate about what he was teaching and it was great to see and to receive – it’s really inspiring and after a period when Dean, and he’s admitted it himself, was less enthusiastic about the whole thing, it’s great to see someone recapture a passion and want to share it with people.

We talked about Kuzushi (good article here), which appears to have gotten lost in Jiu Jitsu and in Judo, where competition with its rules and time limits have forced competitors to bypass the need for sensitivity and breaking balance via the use of pure force and strength. If you look at regular BJJ competitors and top Judo guys, they’re all strong, athletic people. Sure, they’re skilful, but they are all physically capable of imposing their will or a throw on someone through sheer strength and determination. It’s a small percentage of people that will affect a person’s balance so profoundly that a throw is hardly required. This is Kuzushi. I looked back at some old footage on Youtube of Jigoro Kano – the founder of Judo and Kyuzo Mifune (one of Kodokan’s finest proponents) and there’s hardly a single “big air” throw in their demonstrations. The subtlety of what they do is all in the Kuzushi. It is this, that we are practicing, and I know it’s the single most important aspect that I can try and get to grips with in my Jiu Jitsu. Get this right, everything else will take care of itself. All the techniques that so many people “collect” are simply the things that you apply at the end of your efforts (or lack of!) in Kuzushi.

Dean spent a lot of time with me this session and I really appreciated it. At a time when I could quite easily let the desire to use strength and get quick results take over, this was an excellent grounding in the style of Jiu Jitsu that I need, and want, to be using. This is why I’ve stuck with this club all through the times when we could and should really have folded. It’s pure. It may take longer, but it’s profound in it’s proficiency. It’s like anything – if you rush the job, you may get it done and it may be OK for a while, but in time, the lack of proper foundation or preparation will show. Like painting to illustrate a point. You can slap gloss paint onto a bit of wood and it will look good, but, after a while, cracks will appear, then the paint will start to peel and fall off. On the other hand, you can sand the wood properly to provide a key. Wash down with sugar soap to remove any grease that may affect adherence of paint. Apply a primer, then under coat, then coats of gloss. All of this will take time and seem like a lot of effort, but the end result not only looks better, but will last inordinately longer.

My point is this – these are my foundations that will make my Jiu Jitsu stronger. I know this. My foundations are not a collection of techniques, which, admittedly, are quicker to learn and look better, but it is this that is ultimately going to take me to where I want to be.

Does it mean that I’m not going to train hard against hard opponents, enter tournaments, still use a bit of strength from time to time? Does it mean that I will not get tapped by those less capable than me whilst I try and get to grips with this style? No. It just means that I need to have this in the forefront of what I’m trying to achieve when I train and let it soak into my mindset. That’s the challenge.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Stick to what you know...

No training last Monday – bit of a communication breakdown, so Me Mike and Dean had a chat and then I went home and enjoyed a few beers.

Wednesday’s session was taken by Dean T – we didn’t cover any techniques. We worked on sensitivity to your opponent’s balance – starting in guard position, gripping up behind the opponent’s elbows and just manipulating weight as the opponent shifts to pass guard – really useful drill. This then evolved into discussing the notion of defending your own personal space with a “frame” that you simply use to keep distance and “deflect” any aggressive moves into your space – this works standing, kneeling, on your back – a universal principle. Really good.

Friday was MMA night – just a few of us, but rather than go full on MMA we just revised some of the escapes we’d covered with Dean T – escape from omoplata, escapes from armbar combinations and escape from kimura (underneath opponent, on side). A really useful exercise, as, even despite blogging the details of these moves, there’s no substitute for doing them…especially so soon after. I feel like the week or two straight after doing something is the key time for revision – so easy to forget stuff in this time after the event. We finished up with a bit of pad work – nothing silly, just working a few punches. Man, I’m so sloppy on this stuff – any basics I had (if I ever had any) have just gone and I’m slow, telegraphing, just all the things that you don’t want. I got some good pointers from Dean and Mike and I just need to work on these – namely keeping my hands up and keeping tight whilst throwing punches – it’s a muscle memory thing.

I was going to enter the Bristol Open Tournament this month, but I’ve not been 100% lately and as a result I haven’t been to the gym in almost a month and t shows – the combination of catarrh along with a drop in gym work meant I was struggling a little on Wednesday’s session – nothing bad, just I felt a lot more breathless and sweaty than I have done in a while. I’ve just finished a course of antibiotics and things are starting to clear, so hopefully I can get back to the gym soon – still deaf in my right ear though! So, yeah, Bristol – decided against it, plus it’s a long way to drive to sit around and wait all day, so I turn my attention to the Gracie Invitationals at Seni in April.

On the subject of Tournaments, congratulations to a number of the guys from Carlson’s in Tonbridge, who competed in the Europeans in Portugal at the end of January. By all accounts all who went acquitted themselves admirably and they returned with a decent haul of medals, including a Gold for one of their instructors from their London club – great result. I may look to enter next year…depends on funds and where it’s going to be held.

Last night it looked like being back to the old routine, me, Si and Big Dean. I’d had an email a couple of weeks back from a guy that was looking to train who said he was coming down, but no sign. As we were about to start, he showed up with a mate – it’s not an easy place to find! Anyway, Rob and Richard – two nice guys that have done bits of stand up to date and are not strangers to grappling (more on that in a mo). Dean, knowing we may have new bods had lined up a session looking at the two major escapes from mount (upa and elbow escape), so we drilled these a bit and then ran them as positional drills – man in the middle under mount, 2 minutes to get out, then fed another opponent. Si made short work of all his opponents, then it was my turn. First off, Richard on top. Richard’s a big guy and strong with it – looks strong and is strong. I really struggled under his mount and to be honest, was spazzing towards the end of my two minutes. I really just should have stayed calm, worked the techniques and taken the moments as they presented themselves….instead, my ego took hold and I was just trying to not get held by the new guy – sooo wrong! Of course, these drills are great for training the technique, but aren’t a real reflection – I’ve said it before, anyone, with limited skill can hold a single position with no great effort and with no submission attempts for me to work off, I wasn’t really given any great opportunities. On the other hand, if my technique was where it should be at then there shouldn’t have been a problem. I managed to shift Rob relatively easily, but again, more with strength than technique so a hollow “victory”. By now, I was gassing and had Si “pound for pound” Roberts to contend with. Well, Si just locked on and brought the weight down – I couldn’t breathe, move, nothing – it was so claustrophobic.

After a short break, we rolled. Dean paired me up with the new guy Richard. I’d already experienced how strong he was so decided that Jiu Jitsu rules and to stick to technique and started off reasonably well. From the knees, we gripped up and it was the perfect opportunity to try out the stuff we’ve been doing with Dean T. Sure enough as Richard moved I off-balanced him and was actually taken aback by the force with which he went over. I took cross side and worked easily to mount. From here, I was working for an Americana, one of my favourites, but again, Richard’s strength made this tough. I probably could have muscled it, but was still in “jiu” mode so gave it up. I looked for a few Ezekiel chokes, but my position wasn’t secure enough. Neither of the new guys wore Gis so my options were limited to a degree, otherwise I’d have definitely tried a cross collar choke. Anyway, after a while, I worked Richard into a nice position for an armbar – all set up and ready to go and this is where I always mess up – as I drop back, my leg nearest the head always goes light allowing the escape – and this was no exception – I’m mad at myself – I know so much better and have spent ages practicing making it a slow, controlled movement, only to get excited and screw it up!!!

So, here I am now, with Richard in my guard and now my “jiu” has run out on me. So, instead of relaxing and trying to work the very stuff Dean T had been teaching the week before, I start trying to go for sweeps, which I’m not in any position to do and, without a gi to grip up on, I have to confess, a bit lost on. Net result was that I ended up with Richard taking my back. This is where it was evident that both the new guys were not complete strangers to grappling – he had a good position with hooks in and was going for a rear naked choke – fortunately for me, he couldn’t close it so I made for my escape – moving to the open side, killing the underside leg etc etc – all going well until he was able to mount. Again – stupid!! How many times have I been told, and even written here that the last and most important part of that move is to frame against the opponent’s knee to stop the mount and to move out. Did I do it? No! Not just once either, but twice!!!! Anyway, some poorly executed upas by me led to Richard taking my back again, this time going for a Gi choke, which again, was not executed properly so I was uncomfortable but not threatened and after a while, time was called and we finished. Now, the fact that I survived the latter part of the roll means nothing. If Richard had just a little more experience, knew to take up slack in the Gi before executing chokes, then I’d have been tapping. Him not wearing a Gi was a factor – I couldn’t take the grips that I’m familiar with, but not the factor. Far too many times I was sloppy – my control was poor and I committed the cardinal error of getting sucked into a fight rather than staying calm and working what I know. Like, when I opened my guard and tried fancy sweeps – what was the point?? Better to have held guard and worked on disrupting his base which could have opened up far better options. Under the mount – why force poor upas?? Far better to have waited for him to attack and then go for something with his balance exposed. My frustration was short lived as I’m actually far more interested in the fact that I can review what went wrong and try and work it into my rolling next time – the path of development. So, from that point of view it was actually a really good session.

I rolled with Rob and retained far better control and secured a decent Americana. Feeling shattered, I also rolled with Dean, and he used our sensitivity/balance stuff really well and walked all over me – usual story but I had little else to give anyway.

So, apart from my frustration at myself, it was actually a really good session. I learned a lot – not new stuff, just how I need to keep control to execute the stuff I know well. It was great to have two new guys to train with. I hope they enjoyed themselves and come back again – it brings a new dimension and it was certainly (and Si commented on this) a tougher session than we’ve had for a long time, just by account of the fact that they were two strong guys with a clue about what to do, enthusiasm and a competitive spirit, compared to our comparatively “gentle” style that pervades normal training. The gentle style, when executed properly, dominates – I’ve experienced this, but certainly, it’s good to test it, learn from mistakes. This, after all is what happens at competitions and that’s what I’m after doing a few of this year. Competition is by no means my focus, but guys at tournament don’t roll gently so it was a timely reminder of how it’s going to be and what I need to be working on.

Good times.