Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Destination: Awesome.

Rickson Gracie  Seminars, Amsterdam, 3 & 4 Nov 2012

Some time back, I connected with Michel Verhoeven  - a Dutch Brown Belt under Rickson.  I first knew of Michel as Blue Belt under Harold Harder, Rickson's only European Black Belt and as the guy that took over the running of Harold's school when Harold could no longer commit the time to running an academy.  Knowing that Michel and Harold have hosted Rickson and Kron in the past,  I asked Michel to let me know if he ever did so again.

Back in September I got a message from Michel informing of a visit by Rickson to Amsterdam and that was it.  Nothing was going to stop me from going.  Ever since I started Jiu Jitsu, I've always wanted to meet and train with Rickson.

After a little negotiation with my wife, (which resulted in her coming too!) I secured my place and made my arrangements.  I was also to be joined again by Steve H and Simon. 

This was always going to be a special trip. The cost of the seminar was €200 (approx £160) for two 3 hour sessions - basically about £25 per hour to train with a legend. In the run up, I saw a few people on various boards suggesting the price was high, but by my reckoning that price was an absolute bargain.  Seriously - £25 is less than I paid to train at Renzo's place in NY and this was Rickson!!!

So, a ridiculously early start on Saturday morning (0300) for a very quick and comfortable flight to Amsterdam.  A short hop on the train into the city to find our hotel, which was a great price and the perfect location. After a short familiarisation stroll in the city with my wife, a spot of breakfast and later, lunch, it was time to hook up with the guys and make the short trip out to Amstelveen for the seminar.

On check-in, I met Michel in person which was nice and then on to spy the merchandise being sold by Rickson's girlfriend.  And there, in the corner, warming up on a swiss ball, was the man himself.  The atmosphere was hushed, excited and reverent.  People made and re-made aquaintances as they changed (and it was good to see Gavin from RGA once again - seems he's the man when it comes to seminars!). 

Rickson walked around and said hello and shook hands with every single person there, looking each in the eyes in a way that conveyed genuine openness and respect. Then Harold called order.  We lined up, had our welcomes, bowed to the portrait of GM Helio and then mutually bowed to Rickson.

Then the seminar began I am not even going to attempt to describe or explain it.  And this is for the following reasons.

1) I can't do it justice - I am not Rickson.  I am not even close so I cannot explain in the way that he can.
2) Explanation is not enough - Rickson calls his Jiu Jitsu "invisible" and whilst some may sneer, it really is.  You can only understand by feeling what he does.  Rickson frequently called people out to help him demonstrate and develop a point and I was lucky enough to be one of them.  Rickson wanted me to hold him round the waist and maintain base.  I tried to do what I understood of what was required but couldn't hold him.  With a few minor adjustments and feedback from the master, everything subtly changed and, not only did I feel rock solid, I was actually affecting his base as he tried to escape my grasp.  It's all fine and minute technical detail, but honestly, it felt like some sort of hypnotic magic.
3) Even if I could explain, It wouldn't be right or fair - and this is on two fronts.  Those that were there paid and travelled (from all over the world as far as New Zealand!) to be there. The session was ours and ours alone  The second front relates to Rickson's philosophy on his Jiu Jitsu.  It's such a tactile thing that he's developed over a lifetime and he explained to us that he will never release DVDs or books as these cannot adequately explain his Jiu Jitsu.  Having felt it and been so close to it, I can assure you that this is true.  I guess these two reasons are also why Rickson requests no spectators, photos or filming during the seminar and I respect and understand this.  The Jiu Jitsu I felt and saw on those two days is inside me, in my memory.  No photos or videos required.

Demonstration generally followed the same pattern.  Rickson would signal someone to join him and then ask them to execute a technique or ask them what they would do to defend or counter a move that he was going to do to them.  With no effort at all, he would repeatedly defend against their technique or impose his intent upon their defence, highlighting, time after time how ineffective people's Jiu Jitsu was.  And this was not down to something highly skilled that Rickson was doing - he was simply exploiting fundamental flaws in most people's understanding of Jiu Jitsu, leverage and connection.  I guess something that will stay with me for a long time was watching brown belt after brown belt and black belt after black belt being made to look like beginners.  It showed that many people, although
undoubtedly more proficient and knowledgeable than most (me included!), do not have the core concepts that Rickson is able to teach.  I've since come to the conclusion that there are many people who grapple whilst wearing a gi and have an outstanding range of techniques with which to catch others less experienced than themselves, but there are very very few who understand Jiu Jitsu in the way that Rickson and some of his closest students do.  I mean no disrespect to anyone who's worked hard to earn their rank in saying this, but I pretty much guarantee that if you asked any black belt that was there, they'd say they felt something special and had to re-evaluate what they thought they knew about Jiu Jitsu.

And of Rickson himself?  Well, they say never meet your heroes.  I've met mine and the aura remains very much intact.  He really does have a presence and an intensity about him, yet is a very relaxed and approachable person. Whilst teaching, he is uncompromising about what feels right and what feels wrong.  He teaches with passion, commitment and energy.  You never feel that he is giving anything less than 100% in terms of his attention or emotional or physical intensity.  When he talks to you he makes you feel like there is noone else in the room and he can captivate an audience like noone else I've ever seen.

This was demonstrated when he talked about his famous breathing technique and also at the close of the seminar when he talked about his life and his philosophy of Jiu Jitsu - it was just one of those moments that demands your absolute attention.

After the seminar had ended, there was the inevitable clamour for autographs and photos and this was done with great generosity and patience - Rickson was still going as Steve and I had to leave to catch our flight back.

All in all, it was a weekend that exceeded all of my expectations.  Even though a short trip, the timings of the seminars allowed me to get out and about in Amsterdam with my wife.  For anyone visiting I'd recommend the Ibis near the station - adequate rooms and a great location, and I also had a great meal here

Jiu Jitsu with Rickson Gracie and a weekend away with my wife.  Win win!!!

We like da Mango!

Allan Manganello Seminars, Sidcup and Chelmsford, 18 & 19 Aug 2012

So, continuing their alliance to Prof. Sauer's Association, both Paul and Laurence hosted Allan for this two day seminar.  As before, it was great to see Allan again so soon after Iceland and continue that aquaintence.  Also over for the seminars was Halldor which was brilliant and served to strengthen the bonds that Jiu Jitsu creates.  I also met up again with Gavin, from RGA who I'd met at Pedro's first seminar.  I just love the way that Jiu Jitsu brings people together.

Saturday was a hot and airless day in a small, but lovely little room at the Sidcup Dojo.  The seminar was well attended by both Paul's guys and Laurence's and a sprinkle of a few others like me.  After a warm up, covering fundamental movements with a detailed explanation of each from Allan, we moved into a great session of Gracie Jiu Jitsu self defence.

This was all fundamental stuff - by that I don't mean basic, but core. Allan explained everything with precision and detail and all the moves formed a useful and realistic self defence sequence accessible to anyone. It was all stuff I'd done before, but I picked up new details and connections on everything and, in particular, standing up in base - something very neglected by most.  I trained with one of Paul's newest students, in fact, I think this may have been her very first session and in very quick time, she was pulling together competent self defence moves.

The sequence basically went - Stand up in base > defend punch into clinch > O Goshi to ground > Armbar.   We also covered a few other points but the seminar was predominantly aimed at covering GJJ self defence fundamentals aimed at the high number of white belts at the seminar.

There are often discussions about GJJ vs BJJ, GJJ, vs"sports" Jiu Jitsu. I don't want to digress too much into that now.  I think there's a place for both and I do think that someone that trains "sports" or competition oriented Jiu Jitsu has a substantial chance of overcoming an untrained opponent in a self defence scenario.  I do think, however, that the GJJ self defence techniques are overlooked by many and that it adds another layer of technique and understanding to Jiu Jitsu.  Horses for courses. I'm not going to say one is better than another, but they are different in both philosophy and application.  To suggest otherwise is simply wrong IMHO.

Day 2 was held at Laurence's place in Chelmsford - an impressive set up and a very professionally run academy.  The self defence theme continued with defences against a straight punch to a takedown, defence and throw from a front choke, and then to the floor for some guard passing and some fine detail on the armbar from guard which completely changed the way I look at that technique.  The seminar was worth that alone.

Allan's instruction was excellent - easily some of the best I've experienced.  His explanations and details are immense and it's delivered with a fine mix of authority, concern for correct technique but with great humour and fun.  As someone that has spent a lot of time with Rickson and his family and now a key instructor under Prof. Sauer, I assure you, you will not find much better instruction out there.

Good times...

Here's a little clip of Allan in action...awesome armbar!


Monday, 19 November 2012

Whale meet again....(groan)

Pedro Sauer/Andre Galvao Training Camp, Reykjavik, 29 Jun - 1 Jul 2012

After the experience with the Professor in Essex, I was clear that I needed to train with him again.  Having checked his website, I noted that he was running a training Camp in Reykjavik in Iceland, with Andre Galvao as a guest instructor.  Through the usual mix of google and Facebook, I hooked up with Johann Eyvindsson - the instructor at Gracie Jiu Jitsu Skollin, a purple belt under Allan Manganello.  The chance to train with Professor Sauer - Tick.  The chance to train with Andre Galvao - Tick.  The chance to visit Iceland and experience the land of fire, ice and midnight sun - tick! It would have been dumb not to!

My accomplice on this trip was Steve H so we set off from Gatwick Thursday morning and after about a three hour flight, landed safely at Keflavik Airport.  A short hop to our Hotel and then straight out again to go Whale Watching in the midnight sun (we were really lucky with the weather whilst there - glorious sun the whole time).  Simply, this was an amazing experience.  After a couple of hours of seeing very little, we were suddenly entertained by a humpback whale pulling out all the tricks in its bag and with the backdrop of the barely setting sun, it was something I'll never forget.


The next morning, it was up bright and early to join a "Golden Circle" tour- the Golden Circle is a route that takes you round Iceland's main natural sites/sights - Gullfoss (the Golden Falls), Geysir, and ├×ingvellir National Park - site of the tectonic rift between the American and Eurasian plates and also site of the Viking Parliament.  It was a great trip and the sights well worth seeing.  A small oddity of the trip was a stop at a horse riding school and a tomato farm.  Tomatoes.  TOMATOES!!!????!!!!

The coach trip got back late so we then had a frantic dash to the Venue for the seminars.  On arrival, we went in and joined the first session 1800-2100 led by Allan Manganello. It was great to see him again and we went through some nice stuff.  Also accompanying the Professor was Mike Horihan , another of his Black Belts.  We also did a little bit of rolling at the end and my first training Partner was Halldor - a very capable blue belt, probably not far from his purple.  It was really nice to roll with a guy who wanted to flow and explore movement. The time went quickly and then it was back to our hotel for an early night ahead of a whole day of training on Saturday.

Saturday, and on the way to the venue we were picked up by Halldor who we'd met the day before and then into the first of the day's sessions.  The morning was led by Andre Galvao.  For the uninitiated, read about Andre's career here. He ran us through a really neat set up to a control and Kimura from cross-side. 

One of the things that struck me during this seminar was the Professor's involvement.  Quite often, I've seen Black Belts standing by watching the seminar host, nodding sagely as if they know the stuff already.  Not even a hint of this with Professor.  From the second that Andre was teaching, Prof. Sauer was one of us, right there at the front, learning new details.  After over 40 years of training with, and teaching, the best, he's still learning - a great example of humility to everyone.

Andre's instruction was clear and detailed.  His Jiu Jitsu was smooth,
strong and simple.  Yes, there are many clips of his aggressive and
acrobatic Jiu Jitsu, but from my observations, this is the icing on his
cake of some incredibly effective fundamentals.

At the break, were the inevitable round of photo opportunities with the Champ. During this, his personality "off" the mat shone through - a hugely friendly guy for whom nothing was too much trouble.  No ego and a genuine delight in meeting people.  He sometimes gets a bad rap because of his behaviour in tournaments, but I can only imagine that this is because he is a hugely competitive person with incredibly high expectations for himself.  As an everyday guy, he is generous, open and a fun person to be around.

Steve and I were lucky enough to be invited to a private lunch with the Professor, Andre and a few others.  One of the guys, Finni (a huge Viking of a guy) owns a few restaurants in Reykjavik so we were treated to a huge lunch of sausages, eggs, bacon, pancakes followed by heartfelt appeals to the professor not to cover any knee-on-belly in the afternoon!!!  Great food and great company!

The afternoon was the Professor's turn to teach, and, as in the UK, he invited questions on any and all aspects of Jiu JItsu.  We covered.....  We were also treated to a short break when the Professor retold tales of his training with Helio Gracie and his philosophy on Jiu Jitsu.  I love this stuff and could listen all day.  To me, the philosophy of Jiu Jitsu is as important as the techniques - it reveals the soul of the person and sets the context for our practice.  It's captivating.

That evening, we were treated to another fine meal at another of Finni's restaurants - meat soup followed by Lobster Salad.  The food was amazing. I'm not a big fan of shellfish so was a bit apprehensive, but also very hungry.  Simply, it was one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten.

Sunday morning - a thankfully slightly later start and the final of our sessions with the Professor.  During this session we mainly recapped all that we had learned previously which was a hugely beneficial use of time and before we knew it, it was time to go.  I was genuinely sad to be leaving.  I'd had an amazing time in Iceland, met some great people and had learnt some great stuff.
Steve, Pedro, Me
To make some summary thoughts about this special trip, I'd have to also mention Allan and Mike.  Having met Allan before, it was great to see him and spend time with him again.  It was also great to meet Mike and both Mike and Allan were great to have around to help us whilst drilling. 
I also have to mention Icelandic hospitality.  Everywhere we went, people were laid back and friendly and couldn't do enough to help us.  Johann looked after us, making sure we always had lifts, which was a great way to meet his guys and find out more about Icelandic life, politics and culture.

One of the conversations that has stuck with me concerned the Icelandic view of wealth and that it's not something particularly aspired to - everyone seems to have enough and not to particularly want for more - a very healthy mind set if they can keep hold of it.  Another was in relation to crime in Iceland, which seems very low.  Apparently there was a recent story on the local news about a car being broken into and a phone charger being stolen...can you imagine that being news in the UK!!!??  Oh, and one other thing which I thought was funny - our "Chavs" are internationally renowned!  One of our drivers was telling us about how they're reviled as much in Iceland as they are by us!!!  Anyone with any illusions of the grandeur of our former Empire should be aware  - it seems we are internationally known for two things...our comedy and our chavs!  LOL.

We really did not have enough time in Reykjavik.  We only saw a small part of the city and it looks like a great little place.  An old fishing town with great little restaurants and shops - the sort of place I can imagine just mooching around.  I also really wanted to visit the Blue Lagoon geothermal Spa, but we simply ran out of time.

Great people, great place - I really want to go back.  The midnight sun was a strange experience, but I think next time, I'd like to go back and try and see the Northern Lights and, of course, train again with my new friends!

Hail Cesar!

Training at Cesar Gracie Gym (Gracie Fighter Team), Pleasant Hill, CA,
April 2012

Back over Easter, my family and I went to stay with my brother in law Jack and his wife Jen in Concord, CA (just inland of San Francisco).  Last time we'd visited them, I trained in Oakland with Eduardo Rocha, which was great.  Somehow though, I missed the fact that there was a gym in the Concord/Walnut Creek area and that the Gym was none other than the famous Gracie Fighter gym under Cesar Gracie, home of the Diaz brothers and JakeShields of UFC fame.  Unfortunately, none of them, nor Cesar, were home when I was there.

My intention, scheduled around family time, time in San Fran and an awesome visit to Yosemite, was to train as much as possible, with this gym having a good schedule and being only a 5 min ride from where I was staying. However, on the flight over I picked up a cold, but worse, a nasty eye infection that took most of the first week to clear up.  Gutted.

So, eventually, in week two of my stay, back in a semblance of health I went to the gym for an all grades session.

The Gym is situated in a small strip mall, and, bizarrely, next to a Fish 'n' Chip shop.  Quick tip to anyone that visits - the front door slides open.  Do not stand forever trying to push/pull it.  It won't work and you will look dumb ; / Not that I'd know, of course!

It's a large and well equipped gym - plenty of mat space, lots of bags and a boxing ring.  There's also a well equipped shop inside. To train there is $20 a pop, so not too bad.

I trained two days in a row at the 1100-1300 session.  Both Sessions were led by Alessandro "Zoio" Ferreira and followed the same format: Warm up with fundamental movements, a single technique, well drilled with multiple
partners and then some positional training - in this case, passing guard from standing, or escape from cross-side. On the second day we also did some rolling in 5 min rounds.

The main thing that struck me in my time there was firstly, the number of very good black belts on the mat as a matter of course.  All were very good and extremely helpful to me, in particular a female Black Belt by the name of Lana Stefanac, who showed me some nice finishes from cross-side. The
second thing was just how technical all of the guys there were.  I guess, with the MMA link I thought Cesar's gyms would be hard fighting, hard drilling affairs.  Actually, these guys were all very skilled and highly technical and the purple belts were especially sharp!

I didn't really have time to make great conversation, but everyone I met was friendly and welcoming.  I'd highly recommend it as a place to train if you're in that area, and, given time there I'd definitely have been there more.

Yield to win!

Pedro Sauer Seminar, Chelmsford, 19 Feb 2012

I'd been wanting to train with Professor Pedro Sauer for a long time and this opportunity came out of the blue - Steve H at our club had read about it and set it all up... It had been arranged by Laurence Sandum, a JKD (amongst many other arts) instructor based in Chelmsford who, through his connections with Dan Inosanto (who holds a Black Belt in BJJ from (I think!) the Machados and has worked extensively with Prof. Sauer) has hooked up with Prof Sauer's Jiu Jitsu Association.

Prof. Sauer is an 8th Degree Red/Black Belt under Rickson Gracie and the late Grandmaster Helio Gracie and was one of the few that accompanied the Gracies in their move to the US.  His reputation as a technical instructor is well known and his deep connections to Rickson have always made him someone that I'd sought to train with.

A few words about the seminar organisation...This seminar was advertised on Prof. Sauer's website, so anyone interested in training with Prof. Sauer could have seen it.  It wasn't widely advertised on the usual sites, mainly as the guys organising it were new to the UK BJJ "scene".  After the event there were a few people whining on about how it wasn't publicised and then questioning why Laurence was aligning to Prof Sauer when there were already many UK based Black Belts around and then the inevitable "BJJ Police" started sniffing around too.

Let me say, I'm 100% behind the need to establish lineage.  Laurence (and Paul Finn) have aligned themselves to Prof. Sauer as they too highly value lineage (this is hugely important to them in their JKD and the other arts they teach).  Based on a recommendation from Dan Inosanto (and who would argue with his martial arts opinion?!) they sought out Prof. Sauer.  In my humble opinion, short of Rickson Gracie himself, you will find no purer Jiu Jitsu lineage on this planet.  Many will disagree because of their own lineage and loyalties (and I get that), but in my view, if you have the opportunity to learn from the source, then that's what you do.

And as for why these guys do not align with other UK Black Belts - why should they?!  And why is what they're doing so very different from what many of today's UK Black and Brown belts did when they first pioneered Jiu Jitsu in the UK?  There's no conspiracy here, nothing to hide, noone assuming unearned rank, so for doubters, your time would better served developing your own Jiu Jitsu.  Peace.

Anyway, to the seminar itself.  The sunday I went to was actually the second of two days (I now really wish I'd done both days!).  There were around 20 odd people there - mostly white belts from Laurence and Paul's schools and a few other belts from a mix of academies.  Professor Sauer had travelled with a few others from his association, including Allan Manganello, and Allen Hopkins (and his student Waylon - now a Brown Belt), both Black Belts under him.  It was great to meet all of them - every single one of them treated us like long lost friends.

The seminar opened with a warm up led by Allen - all movements that were relevant to Jiu Jitsu...a great preparation and great just as drills by themselves.  The seminar ran like an open workshop, with Prof. Sauer inviting questions from anyone on anything and then offering up solutions.

I got in early with a question on holding mount.  Having asked the same question of Romolo, I was interested to see if there was a different view or other details.  The Professor's instruction followed a now familiar format.  He asked me to come out and asked me to escape his mount, whilst showing (and allowing me to feel) how he defended my attempts at escape. It was simply impossible.  Every time I moved, he made minor adjustments with his hips.  Every time I tried to frame against him, he disappeared. It was like fighting vapour.  There's no substitute for feeling that Jiu Jitsu.  I understood.  That's different from me saying I can now do it, but I know what I'm shooting for.  It's beyond technique..it's a feeling.

The same process was repeated across a range of other questions.  But, more than techniques, three things stuck with me - over-riding principles and philosophy of Prof. Sauer's Jiu Jitsu: 1) Yield to win (don't fight - "flow with the go", as Rickson would say); 2) Control the Skeleton - this way of thinking about how to control an opponent opens up all sorts of possibilities and connections; and 3) White Belt mind - always try to find the simplicity in everything and never stop learning.

It was a great seminar and I met a lot of cool new people.  The Jiu Jitsu was sublime, but more than that, I was left with the impression of what a genuinely nice person Prof. Sauer is.  So generous with his time, his knowledge and he just has an aura of assurance, happiness and calm - the behaviour of a man who is at one with the world and has nothing to prove to anyone.  Just great.


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Romolo Barros visit: 29-30 April 2011

So, back in April 2011, Dean brought over Romolo Barros from Hawaii. Romolo is one of Rickson’s oldest blackbelts and friends and I’d heard lots about him from guys that had trained with him back in the early days of Dean bringing Rickson’s Jiu Jitsu to the UK.

I found Romolo to be a very warm, friendly and laid back guy. Clearly the Hawaii lifestyle has infused his very being and he talked about surfing as much as he did Jiu Jitsu!  I’m not going to recall everything we did during the seminar, but both days generally followed this format: Warm up, self defence, escapes, submissions, open Q&A, rolling.  As with all high level instruction, it was the simplicity of the techniques that I found most impressive and the high attention to detail that made all the difference. All techniques blended seamlessly together rather than a random collection of techniques which you get at some seminars.
The thing that stuck with me most, mainly because asked the question, was around maintaining the mount. I wanted to get Romolo’s take on this as I know it’s something that Rickson has spent a lot of time on in his recent seminars. Being shown a few little tips and then drilling that position mad a hell of a difference to maintaining that important position.
We also saw Romolo at training on Monday night for a short while where he ran through some nice chokes from inside half guard and cross side – I also felt the torque and leverage first hand….amazing.

It was a great turnout by the disparate bunch that makes up our little club and great training. Another part of Romolo’s trip was to take some of the guys that were read through some belt tests. The result of some pretty full-on test from what I hear were the following promotions:
Sunny – Blue stripe
Nuri - Blue Stripe
Monkey – Blue Belt
Richard – Purple Belt
Roubel – Purple Belt
"French" Steve - Purple Belt
Dean Taylor – Brown Belt

In all cases, these promotions were long overdue and testament to all the guys’ commitment and loyalty. Can’t say it enough, but well done to all, and especially to Dean who is one step closer to a truly amazing achievement. I’m hoping I might be ready next time round to put on a pretty new tag or maybe even a belt.

Roger Gracie Seminar - Soho Academy Opening, 5th Sept 2010

I came across this freebie on EFN as a celebration of the opening of Roger’s new academy in the heart of Soho. A great opportunity to train for free with one of the greatest BJJ players ever!
I met up with Si in London and, being near Brewer Street, it was the perfect chance to visit Arigato and stock up on Pocari Sweat – my favourite Japanese sports drink (which was desperately needed as that place is HOT!).
The Academy is tucked away in the basement (aren’t they always?) of a building on Street. On entering, it had something of the feel of Renzo’s place in NYC (probably the white walls, blue mats and the basement thing going on). The mats were packed and it was also great to meet up again with Big Dean. There was a good buzz around the place and the session started with British Judo legend and BJJ Blackbelt Ray Stevens showing a couple of throws.
With a number of Black belts on the mat, we were treated to a carousel of each showing us a couple of techniques, which was great as there was something there for everyone, but so many I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do any justice in trying to remember them here! Introduced by Dean, I briefly met with Roger, who I found to be relaxed and friendly...and very, very tall!!! I got the feeling the day would go on and on and after a few hours, Si and I simply had to get on our way, but it was well worth the trip so a big thank you to all of the guys at RGA.
It seems that the Academy, however, was short-lived - something to do with the regulations on the use of the building.  Seems a shame - it was looking to be a great place in a great location and would have been a huge sccess.



Back in 2010, I took up Judo. I’ve written before that my Son (and now also my daughter) do Judo and back in August 2010, with summer holidays in full flow, the kids’ and adults’ classes were combined and the instructor, knowing I did Jiu Jitsu said I could join in if I wished, rather than sitting at the side waiting for the kids. So I got involved. What the hell? I was there anyway for the kids and Judo is ridiculously cheap.

Me and Cam sharing the tatame
I really enjoyed myself (especially sharing the mat with my son) and really got into Judo (and read a really good book called “The Pyjama Game”). With Ne Waza (ground work) I can more than hold my own, but standing is a different world. Good 14 year old kids can trip or sweep me with ease. This, I always knew was going to be the case. Apart from at the highest levels, Jiu Jitsu takedowns are pretty scrappy and often neglected in tuition (but you will find that the best Jiu Jitsuka also train Judo), so it was good to learn some new things. I confessed some concerns about the ability of my knee (old ACL troubles) to withstand Judo, but all the instructors are older and carrying injuries themselves so fully understand and all the other students are very kind to me during randori (free practice). Mainly through technical knowledge and execution rather than competition, I am now an Orange belt in Judo and it’s something that I feel can only help my Jiu Jitsu.

Being a sport, it does have some curiosities to the Jiu Jitsuka. The aim of Judo is to throw or pin you opponent onto his back. When I first started, predictably, I would get frequently thrown and then be on my back, in open guard, ready to get started. Of course, my opponent walked away, having scored Ippon (outright win by throwing your opponent on his back). This took some getting used to. Also, being a sport, it has a time limit which requires a lot more aggression and directness when fighting. My Jiu Jitsu has always come from a position of exploiting the opportunities that arise when defending oneself, but in Judo, this is frowned upon and you can actually get warnings for being too “passive”. Another little curiosity that springs to mind is that, generally, I “roll” with my eyes shut. In judo, this is a no-no (as the referee has to assume that you are unconscious) and in fact, in one inter-club Ne Waza competition, I was disqualified against a Brown Belt (who I was clearly beating) as I had my eyes shut. There are also a whole lot less submissions that you can use in Judo so this has sometimes limited me, but you know, after a few weeks of feeling that all these rules are restrictive, I got used to them. It’s just about familiarity – Judo is a sport and as such it has its rules, but if you go past that, there’s a lot in it that is incredibly useful to the Jiu Jitsuka. Here’s a few things I’ve picked up.

- The standing game: simply, there’s more to life than pulling guard or grabbing legs only to get sprawled on. Done well, some throws are incredibly effective.

- Aggression: Judo is competition oriented. It’s a great focus for Jiu Jitsu competition (if that’s your thing) to be active and do what you need to do as quickly as possible.

- Technique: When all a guy wants to do is hold you down, it’s pretty tough to get out. Jiu Jitsu works in the spaces left when your opponent tries to move or submit, but when a tough Judoka grabs you in a determined Kesa Gatame, that’s tough. You need to work proper technique to get out. Think your cross-side escapes are good? Think again – ask a good judoka to hold you down and see how good it really is.

- Fighting Judoka – as time goes by, more and more people are cross training between Judo and Jiu Jitsu. This means rolling with Judoka and they can be pretty tough and, at times, frustrating. If a Judoka is determined to “turtle” and stay tight then it’s pretty tough to move them (not to mention pretty damn annoying), but I’ve learned some nifty Judo moves to counteract this that will hopefully be useful.

Apart from club visits (which are a very common and healthy thing in Judo – in Jiu Jitsu everyone would cry “dojo-storm”, but a bit more cooperation and play between clubs would be a good thing for everyone) and inter and intra - club competitions, I have entered one Judo tournament – it was a Ne Waza Tournament in High Wycombe. It was a while ago now, so don’t remember much of it, but I came 3rd. I fancied my chances, but in the end, was far too passive – I even got pinged for it in one bout. I did switch on in later rounds and things went my way, but I was too “Jiu/Ju” to start with and that’s what cost me – that and the HUUUUGE Greek fella that just fell on me and then laid there in my 1st round.
Since I've gotten back more fully into Jiu Jitsu, Judo has taken something of a backseat.  I maintain a licence and attend when the fancy takes me.  I've no ambition to compete and I'm nit fussed about belts - it's more of a recreational/fitness thing for me, and this suits me just fine.
Judo is a great challenge and I'd reccommend anyone to give it a go!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Don't call it a comeback...

My god, is it really that long since I wrote anything in this blog?!!!!
I got a comment on my last entry a while back from SlideyFoot. That was nice and much appreciated, so I suppose I (and you?!) have Slidey to thank for this resurrection.

Plus, there's so much that's happened and about to happen it seems appropriate to get writing again.  I've got a lot of catching up to do so will make a number of small entries on some of the main things I've been up to (seminars and the like).
But first, I guess I should explain myself, so let’s rewind. 2009 was a year when work really began to get me down – you might detect that when reading back over some of those entries, so much so that I started looking at ways I could break free from the drudgery of wage slavery. To cut a long story short, I started working on my own training and development consultancy (that’s what I do for a living). By early 2010, I felt, despite the economy, the time was right to go it alone. I’d made enough contacts to feel there was enough work out there, so in February, I left employment and set out on my own with Oracle Learning & Development.

Life was pretty good to start with as I only really needed to work a couple of days a week to get where I needed, which meant lots of time at home, dropping the kids off and picking them up from school. I was able to put things into my work that I really enjoyed, and test out ideas that I’d been thinking about for a while so I felt pretty motivated. The work I was doing was all about me and my family so had real purpose and was genuinely satisfying.
However, life is never simple, and, even when there was enough work, getting invoices paid on time was a nightmare! Then summer came and to show how bad things got, in the space of three days, £1600 worth of work got cancelled. When margins are tight, this kind of thing is not sustainable. I was incredibly lucky in that parents, in-laws, grandparents all came to the rescue and saw us through the worst times. I also did some work with super-plumber Si (mentioned in these blogs) which really helped financially and was also a great distraction from my woes. I owe a huge thanks to all those people.
All through my planning and running the business, Mrs Al had been wonderfully supportive, but the finances were really putting a strain on our lives so I had to accept that that little experiment was over and started looking for employment once again. What followed were several months of soul-destroying job-searches, interviews and dealing with those awful job-pimps, recruitment agents. Eventually, early in 2011 I landed a good job, with good money, based in the City of London and, a couple of jobs later I'm pretty settled again.
And this brings us to here, November 2012. So what of Jiu Jitsu? It’s been pretty tough with this background…
Starting and running your own business is hard – chasing new business, planning, putting together new training material and tenders takes a lot of time and I generally found that my key time for productivity was in the evenings. This had an immediate impact on my attendance at training. Then there was the money. Now, it’s not particularly expensive to train where I train, but even so, when things are tight, every penny counts (including petrol!) so that too kept me away.

Then, as things started to crumble and defeat stared me in the face, my black dog returned. Feeling anxious and depressed by the loss of my little dream of a life of freedom and flexibility and the thought of returning to employment, I lacked motivation to do much of anything.
With the relief of a new job and the financial security that comes with it, my mood brightened, but, as mentioned, my first job after self-employment was based in London which meant about and hour and a half commute each way each day, which meant that I don’t get home ‘til around 7pm (and later if the trains were fucked – which they often were). After a long and often frustrating day, pretty much all I wanted to do was get home, see my kids for an hour and the eat and then go to bed.
Net result, not much Jiu Jitsu at all for a couple of years.  I trained a few times here and there, but nothing with any consistency.  I did get to a couple of seminars – one with Roger Gracie at the opening of his new Soho Academy and another with Romolo Barros (5th Degree Rickson Blackbelt) – more about both later.

At the back end of 2011, I got a contract job based in Bromley which brought me much closer to home and so, in January of this year, I got back to regular training again 2/3 times a week.
It was great to be back, but with so little training or consistency, I sucked.  And my fitness was shocking.  I remember one session where I was so unable to do anything constructive and was so frustrated with myself that I serioulsy wanted to cry.  Like all things, this passed and my fitness built back up again and I'm back where I used to be, including my enthsiasm for Jiu Jitsu.

So, don't call it  a comeback...I've been here for years...over the following posts, I'll cover off some of the things I've been doing in an attempt to bring this all up to date, and then I have some really exciting stuff from this year and, as I write this, some great stuff still to come!

It's good to be back.