Monday, 8 June 2009

Hear the drummer get wicked!

I need to open this post with a big “Congratulations” to Roubel who got his Blue Belt at the end of May. Roubel has been training for something like eight or nine years (with some breaks) and in my humble opinion was at Blue belt level a good few years back. It’s always been the lack of opportunity to grade within Rickson’s Association that has meant some pretty long-held belts within our club. Under the Association, gradings are formal affairs and administered by “licensed” Black Belt examiners (of which there are now only a few still in the Association).

But the times have changed.

Rickson’s Association seems to be really only that by name. Rickson is back in Brazil doing his own thing and running his seminars. Many of Rickson’s Black Belts (whilst still loyal in spirit to Rickson) have gone on to do their own things. Association is mainly through loyalty to Rickson’s name and this is the case in our club. Rickson is Dean’s Instructor…that’s a strong enough link for us to be a “Rickson” club, but the loyalty is to him, not necessarily the Association – the two seem to be increasingly separate entities. It’s interesting that even Kron competes under the Humaita banner…

These changes ultimately enabled Dean to speak with his friend, Romolo Barros, one of Rickson’s Black Belts and close friends and seek permission to award a well earned belt. It goes without saying, but Dean is well qualified to understand how a Blue Belt should perform against the standards that Rickson sets and it was this, combined with Romolo’s knowledge of Dean’s Jiu Jitsu that allowed Romolo to sanction the award.

This is great news for Roubel and I’ve confessed to him a degree of envy that it was Dean who gave him his belt. I’ve said it before, Royce is a good name to drop, but ultimately, it is Dean that is our instructor and has guided us through, and I know that Roubel cherishes this accolade. I also feel that I can now wear my belt with some credibility – despite knowing (and having been told) that I’m the worthy holder of a Blue Belt, it always felt strange wearing it knowing that there were guys better than me still wearing white belts – sure, it’s all cosmetic and about opportunity, but nonetheless….

Roubel’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and since he’s been back training regularly his Jiu Jitsu has become just great, aided by his naturally good movement and athleticism. When I roll with him, he reminds me of all that good technique and movement in Jiu Jitsu is…something that’s easy for me to forget. It’s great as I feel that between Roubel’s technique and movement and my size and strength, we can both develop each other’s games.


Training’s going OK at the moment – we’ve been covering probably one main technique per session and really drilling it for the whole session. This is a really great way of learning as you get to fully understand the technique and the movement variations that can occur. If we’d have done this a few years back I think I’d have been impatient to move on to the next technique, but now I really value the depth of understanding that I can gain within each technique. It’s the difference between good and very good Jiu Jitsu. A lot of what we’ve been doing has also really highlighted the use of efficient leverage, which, when combined with sensitivity and movement is really what Jiu Jitsu comes down to. It’s great and adds a whole new dimension, but it’s tough trying to overcome the mind and body’s natural urges to use strength as a substitute. It’s great training.

At the moment, I’m training 2-3 times a week, which is great as I love it, but work seems to be getting in the way a lot lately – a bit of travelling and a few overnight stays. Another problem, (but an infinitely nicer one to have) is that the summer brings with it, more opportunities for family days out…don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint – I wouldn’t have it any other way, just it necessitates the odd missed session here and there.

My back has been playing up a bit again recently too – not sure what’s going on but it’s certainly not as bad at it has been in the past. This has meant that my movement has not been all that I want it to be and when I’m rolling with the likes of Roubel, this is highlighted even further. I think it’s this that has led to a bit of frustration for me in my training recently. I have known and felt a better way of rolling…at times my movement has been good – now it sometimes feels like I’m regressing. I’m hoping that just as past “dips/plateaus” have come and gone, this one will too, but it’s always tough when you’re in the middle of it.


I’ve been going to BMF for a few weeks now and I’m still really enjoying it. As with Jiu Jitsu, work has been getting in the way of the two sessions a week I’d like to attend but overall it’s going well. Gains? I’m not sure…I think I’m upping the intensity slightly, but haven’t lost any weight as yet (need to fix my diet!!!). In my last entry I told you how I’d plumped for a Blue (novice) bib. Well last Saturday we had a Fitness Test. These are held roughly every two months and consist of a timed 1500m run, max press ups in 2 mins, max sit ups in 2 mins, max burpees in 2 mins and timed 15x 20m shuttle sprints. In doing this you are able to assess where your fitness lies. I set myself the target of getting the minimum scores needed for the Red bib group. I managed this in all but one of the exercises, which I was really chuffed with – to be wearing a red bib, you need to get “red” scores in at least three of the exercises. Sit ups was my worst exercise as I find these really make my back hurt…and I’ve got rubbish abs!

Still, I hit my targets and next time I plan to wear a red bib. Granted, I’ll be at the bottom of that group, but it means that I’ll get worked harder and have something more to aim at. Another good feature with the BMF Fitness Tests is that all your scores are put into a series of graphs in your member’s area of the website. They show your exercise scores overall and then your scores for each exercise against the highest, lowest and average scores for the group. These are great for me as I work well with targets to hit, so now I’ll have scores to beat at the next test.

One thing I am struggling with at BMF and have done with Jiu Jitsu also, is what to eat when. Tuesday is fine as it’s after work so I can plan my eating at work and time it well so I’ve got enough energy but am not full. Saturday morning however is harder as the time between waking and training is short so trying to eat enough but without feeling bloated and getting stitch is a challenge. One week I’ve felt close to being sick, another I just had no energy and lagged at the back of the group all session. It’s just a case of experimenting and finding a formula that works I guess.


One last thing that I have to mention is the show that I went to this last weekend. I went to the Royal Festival Hall to see the Kodo Drummers from Japan. Now, the linkage here with Jiu Jitsu is tenuous at best, apart from, maybe a shared Japanese lineage and physical exertion, but I just had to post about this. I’ve always been interested in all things Japanese – I just think it’s a fascinating culture. I first heard of Kodo from a mate of mine who shares an interest and he told me about how he was blown away by them, so I’ve waited about a year for them to come back to the UK.

Before the show, I was lucky enough to attend a talk with Kodo’s Cultural Director who gave a bit of history of the troupe and their work and lives, which was fascinating. Kodo are an ensemble of musicians, dancers and mainly Drummers who live on Sado Island in the North of Japan and their mission is to preserve the traditional Japanese cultural arts. For them this is done mainly through the use of the Taiko - the drums. The drums themselves are amazing – the larger ones hewn from single tree trunks and covered with animal hides.

The show itself was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Drumming stirs a primal energy in all of us and the power of these drums makes your entire body shake. The skill, composition and timing of the pieces performed was amazing, but what really blew me away was the sheer physical exertion put into each performance. The largest drums are beaten with what can only be described as baseball bats wielded with huge speed and power for pieces that can last over ten minutes. Even some of the smaller drums are beaten fiercely with Rounders bat sized sticks. The deep postures the drummers hold are essential to be able to wield the power needed to strike the drums and these postures alone would challenge even the fittest people – add knocking ten shades of ssss out of huge drums, in perfect rhythm for ten minutes and these feats are not only artistically awesome but also super human feats of endurance! One piece was performed almost exclusively on the largest drum of them all – about 2 ½ times larger than a man with the drummer wearing little more than a fundoshi (loin cloth). This served undoubtedly to keep the drummer cool as by the end of the piece he was dripping with sweat, but it also showed the strain of every sinew in his body as he struck the drum. With the loudest beats you could see his whole body lift the baton into the strike with the kind of audible exhalation that only comes with violent physical exertion. After this piece these drummers then moved onto smaller (but still huge) drums that were played from what I can only describe as a half sit up position. Simply awesome. Holding a half sit up for the duration of the piece whilst laying into a drum skin in perfect artistic timing… awesome is the only word that springs to mind. I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief at what I was seeing and hearing. The two standing ovations were well and truly earned.

If you have even the faintest interest in Japan, drums, performance or simply human endurance go and see Kodo if you get the chance. I was blown away.

Take care