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.