Tuesday 27 May 2008

I want to be a part of it, New York, New York!

It's been a while since my last post and there’s a lot to cover so I’m only going to go over the highlights. Training around the following items has been the usual affair – drilling the basics, practising the more sensitive side of BJJ with Dean T (had some useful pointers on holding posture in guard from Dean the other week), Fridays at Tonbridge – really enjoying the Friday format and the variety of training partners there.

On to the main events:

Rodrigo Medeiros Session – Carlson Gracie BJJ Revolution Team, 8th May 2008, Tonbridge

Rodrigo Medeiros is a 4th (?) Dan Black Belt under the late Carlson Gracie and several times champion at the Pan-Ams along with a list of numerous other accomplishments. He ran this session as he would a session at his own gym in the US and was joined by one of his purple belts who had just won the purple no-gi World title. The session was well attended by Carlson’s guys from all over as well as those from other schools (me, Si and Big Dean from Rickson’s) and it was also good to see Simon Hayes sporting his new black belt (many congratulations) and Dickie Martin there too. It was the first time I’ve met Simon, having heard a lot about him and read some great stories from him on the EFN forums. Seems like a great guy and clearly passionate about what he does – a great ambassador for the sport and a great ally for all at Tonbridge. I’ve also just heard that since that session, Dickie has also been promoted – really well deserved!

The session revolved around working the open guard – taking up grips, movement, using the legs to defend. A memorable drill from this section was just using the legs. You partner up, one guy standing, the other on his back. To start, both guys put their hands in their belts so that both partners are reliant on their legs to pass/defend. Stage 2, the standing partner removes one hand, stage 3, the guy on his back removes one hand and so on until both partners have full use of both hands and legs. Each “bout” was 2/3 mins long. It was a great cardio drill as well as really helping to understand the movement required in open guard – good fun too.

Here's a film clip of this exercise:

The latter part of the session looked at various leg hooks in combinations and using these to sweep from open guard. It’s hard for me to remember all of these now, but one key thing that stuck was that Rodrigo always hooked his opponent’s heel with his hand before doing anything else – really important. We went on to look at an Omaplata from open guard – I really liked this move and the combinations off of the Omoplata were good too.
Here's another clip:

The session ended in usual style with a bit of rolling. In keeping with the stuff we’ve been doing lately, I tried to maintain my defensive sphere and work off of any imbalances of my opponent – all to good effect I’m very pleased to say.

The session was great – a good energy in the room and it was impressive and inspiring to see a guy of Rodrigo’s calibre in action. A really engaging, genuine guy who’s been around with some of the best in the world.

Here's a few photos of the session:

US Trip – NYC and Long Island, USA, 18th May to 25th May 2008

As I type this, I’ve just gotten back from the US after a week’s break with my family, staying with my Brother in law on Long Island. With the trip planned, I also made plans to fit in a decent chunk of training – well, it’d be rude not to wouldn’t it?!

Renzo Gracie’s Academy - NYC

Me at Renzo Gracie's Academy NYC

I trained here on Tuesday and Thursday, both early afternoon (purple belt) sessions. I knew I’d be in for a good time here…an instructor's personality is a strong influence on the students and as Renzo is renowned as a happy, approachable guy, it was likely his students would be too. I’d also had a reply from Rolles Gracie saying that the gym was my “home” whilst in NYC which was a really nice thing to say. I met Rolles (a giant) and his persona matches his correspondence – a really nice guy, very laid back.

Both sessions were run by John Danaher (New Zealand John) and were attended by mostly Blue Belts, a few purples and the odd Brown and some senior white belts. The sessions followed the format; Take downs, technique on the ground, sparring. The sessions were very relaxed and the tuition by John was first class – very methodical, technical and delivered in an easy to follow “instruction manual” style (John co-wrote the book “Mastering Jujitsu” with Renzo).

Here's what I remember:
Session 1

Take down: Change to cross grip, break opponent's balance step in, hook heel with own leading foot through centre, sweep or hook foot with hand if opponent steps up, take down. Knee over opponent, take cross side, finish with cross collar choke.

Take down as above but finish collar choke across throat sprawling hips downwards.

Take down as above, draw up opponent's upper arm, move round head(keep shoulder on opponent's hip to pin) and finish with arm bar.

Session 2

Mirror opponent's grip, step in to fake hip throw, step round back, block foot and pull opponent down finish with arm lock, kimura or armbar.

Similar to above – step in, block furthest foot (important to keep leg straight to prevent opponent landing on it.

From butterfly guard to choke defending opponent – begin choke, turtle backwards, project legs upwards to force opponent’s hands down, roll forward to execute choke fully.

Rolling at both sessions was a similar affair – three or four 6 minute bouts with a rotation of opponents. Considering I was rolling mainly with Blue belts, I fared pretty well, submitting all of my opponents except one that got promoted to Purple belt at the end of the session – he was all over me like a rash so I can more than live with that. I even got a cross collar choke on which I was really pleased with – text book even – I always struggle to stay mounted when attempting that. The area I struggled most was the stand up – unfamiliar territory – I did OK, but never got any take downs and always lost out at this point. I was pleasantly surprised at how well my basics worked for me and I was also impressed by how the guys there roll – very gentle…maybe a mark of how long some of them have been training but more likely it stems from the ethos of Renzo and his team of instructors. I was expecting a lot more of a “tough guy” approach given Renzo’s MMA links and the wrestling background a lot of US guys have, but it was all cool.

Training at Renzo’s was excellent – highly recommended. It’s steep at $40 a session, but with the facilities they’ve got that set the standard for BJJ gyms and instruction of the quality that I had, it’s well worth it. Friendly guys and great training.

Matt Serra’s Academy – East Meadow Long Island

Me outside Matt Serra's East Meadow Academy

I trained here on Wednesday evening and Saturday around lunchtime (white belt sessions). The sessions were led by purple belts – didn’t get the guys name on Wednesday, but Saturday was run by Billy Hofacker, the gym manager. Both session ran the same format; warm up technique, positional training/sparring. Wednesday’s session looked at defending a guard pass from the open guard, which was a useful drill and the sparring at the end was positional starting with the position we had been training. Saturday’s session was much more my sort of thing – Billy took us through a few different submissions from your opponent being on all fours in front of you. Very good, practical stuff that I know I can use.

Me and Billy Hofacker, Academy Manager
Here's what I remember from the second session:
- Arm drag to take back
- Arm drag, step round for take down from back
- Arm drag to pull down
- Guillotine position grab posting arm and roll opponent, take up slack on gi with free hand, grab gi, sit and pull for choke
- Gullotine, step up, sit back and apply.

The rolling was good – the styles between guys was very different – the younger guys were all gritted teeth and attack at all costs, whereas the older guys fought a bit smarter and softer. Again, I sub’d all of my opponents, but to be fair, I think all of them had been training a lot less time than me. A great workout and again, really friendly guys. Thanks again to Billy – he really made me feel welcome and took the time to make sure I enjoyed my sessions.

The sessions cost $25 each. The facilties were, again, very good and I’d recommend it to anyone who can get to, or who is staying on Long Island.

The icing on the cake for me was that, after the session, Matt Serra turned up to take a no-gi session fro his top guys. What a nice, funny guy. He took about 5 minutes to chat to me, asking about where I trained, how long etc, how my stay on Long Island was (he’s a proud Long Islander) – so genuine and you’ll see from this photo, you can’t help but be happy around a guy like him. Really great – a true champion.

Me and Matt Serra - what a nice guy!

My time in the US was short but I made good use of it and bring back a handful of new techniques, but more importantly a great experience and memories (oh, and a couple of great t shirts). If you’re going over that way, be sure to take your Gi and go train – you won’t regret it. Everyone I met was really friendly, one or two white belts (I have to say the younger guys) saw my white belt and were a little patronising (I’m sure they were just trying to be helpful), but their underestimation ended when we started rolling and then they were genuinely interested to ask about where I train etc etc so no offence – I’m sure it’s the same any club you go to until guys know where you’re at.

It was all great – thanks to everyone I met and trained with – it’s great to know that regardless of club or association, BJJ is just one big family with the common bond of good training and friendship.

At the end of it all, it was still a family trip and I had a great time in the US – many thanks to Tammy and Matthew for putting us up and giving us lifts – we had a great time – great memories.

Me and the family - what a great trip!