Sunday, 24 March 2013

The best meal I ever tasted...

Rickson Gracie Private Classes, Kent, UK: 14th & 15th Nov 2012

Looking back on last year, it was an amazing one in terms of Jiu Jitsu.  Who'd have thought it could get any better?  Well, it did.

With Rickson in Europe (Seminars in Holland and his first UK Seminar in Glasgow with Royce Gracie Black Belt Scott McVeigh), Dean contacted Rickson to ask if he'd have time to visit our club. And so, the date was set.

Ever since Dean first started training with Rickson back in April 1998, it's been his avowed wish to have Rickson teach at his own club.  Last week that dream came true.  And it was a dream come true for fourteen others, including me.  The sessions were closed except to those that have trained with Dean over the years - a reward for loyalty to Dean, and Rickson's style of Jiu Jitsu.  And it was this that made it a unique experience.  It was basically classes with Rickson as our instructor.  Because of the size of the event, whilst it was Rickson and some of the content was the same, it was entirely different from the seminar, and through this post, I'll say why.

Unusually for our club (;P) everyone arrived early, mats out, photo of Helio on the wall, nervously waiting for Rickson to arrive.  Eventually, in he walked with his swiss ball under his arm.  Rickson was with us, in our club!  But somehow it felt like it was always that way.  He was so relaxed, it just seemed like another training session.  We all warmed up, watching out the corners of our eyes as Rickson did his own extensive warm up using the ball.  Then we started.  Dean gave a heartfelt speech about his allegiance to Rickson and Rickson returned the favour with a warm speech about being with Dean and his students, then after a quick bow to GM Helio and each other, we began.  Again, it's not my intention here to talk about the techniques, or to even attempt to explain execution, except to say that every movement, every position, leverage and connection were the order of the day.

Rickson was clear and exacting in his delivery and here was the first benefit of this small group experience.  Rickson was able to watch every single pair like a hawk and often stepped in with hands on, minor corrections.  With just a movement of a hand, or leg,  by two inches, suddenly, everything worked.  Effortlessly.  It was almost like being hypnotised - "when I touch you , you'll be able to execute perfect Jiu Jitsu".  Sure, you can do a technique and make up for doing it badly by being strong or aggressive.  But this proved that when done correctly, it almost feels like cheating (in fact I think Rickson used those words).

THIS is Jiu Jitsu.  After this experience, I'd have to say saying that a good many people (and I still include myself in this as my skill level is still quite low) do not train Jiu Jitsu in the way that Rickson understands it - many people train grappling whilst wearing a gi, using techniques that come from Jiu Jitsu.  BUT, the Jiu Jitsu is in  the details, in the connections, in the effortless and undeniable execution of techniques.  I'm sure (in fact I know) that there will be people out there who will read this blog and dismiss this as more dogma from a Rickson adherent.  And if you've trained with Rickson and still think that, then cool, you're welcome to your opinion.  But if you've never trained with Rickson and still want to believe that what you're doing is Jiu Jitsu and all this is just hype, then, well, I guess that's OK too, but I promise, you're deluding yourself.  As Rickson would say, "no my got nothin'."

The other difference in this small group setting was the ability to have Rickson show you first hand.  He actually did a pretty good job in Holland, given the numbers of getting round people, but here, everyone had the chance to feel what Rickson was looking for.  And this is why it's "invisible" Jiu Jitsu - you can see a technique and kind of understand what is happening, but unless you feel perfect execution, you can't appreciate the technique in its fullness.  It's like looking at a cook-book.  You can see a nice picture of the food and you can read about the ingredients.  You might even be able to imagine what the end product will taste like.  But,unless you actually eat the meal, then you'll never really know how good it tastes and smells.

Looking back over my notes, we got through quite a lot on that first night and it whizzed by in double quick time.  At the end of the session, I was able to give over something quite special to Rickson.

Knowing that the visit was on, I got in touch with Seymour Yang, (AKA Meerkatsu), BJJ artist extraordinaire to see if he would do a special piece of artwork for Rickson's visit.  We settled on a design of a bear, in Rickson's trademark fighting stance, wearing Rickson's red and black belt.

The reasoning behind the bear was due to an account I'd seen of Pedro Sauer talking about a T-Shirt Rickson had printed back in the early 90s which showed the Gracies and Prof. Sauer as animals, based on the animal nicknames given to them by Helio.  Rickson was represented by the Bear.

Take a look at the clip here:

Amazingly, my instructor Dean still has one of these T-shirts from one of
his earliest visits to LA - quite a museum piece!

Anyway, after a few emails, Meerkatsu's final designs arrived and went ontoT-shirts for the lucky attendees and a limited run of fine art prints (10 only).  More on the prints later.  I'm sure you'll agree that Meerkatsu's
anthropomorphism of Rickson is up there with his best designs - and great for him to have such legend wear one of his designs! 
Big thanks to Seymour for his time and efforts!

On the second session, everyone felt a bit more relaxed around Rickson after our experience the night before.  Whilst warming up, Rickson explained how he uses the swiss ball for his warm ups and conditioning, along with other props such as elastics for resistance.  He then spent 20 minutes talking about his breathing, which was every bit as captivating as it was in Holland.  In fact, he went further and talked about his training in Bio-Gymnastics with
Orlando Cani - the original stuff before Alvaro Romano left Cani and started Ginastica Natural.  Fascinating stuff and definitely worthy of further investigation.....more to come in another post sometime.

Then on to the main session.  More great stuff and a defence against being grabbed and driven forwards from the rear which was brilliant.  Not much else to say - as before the instruction was brilliant and Rickson gave all of himself to the session.  I never felt that he was giving anything less than 100%.  He did speak at some length on his philosophy of Jiu Jitsu and the direction of travel for the art and the sport. It was nothing particularly that you can't find on YouTube, but seen in person, you could feel his conviction that Jiu Jitsu competition is driving Jiu Jitsu away from its roots and served to reinforce my view that Jiu Jitsu based on strength, athleticism, aggression and scoring points is not Jiu Jitsu as I understand it from Rickson. When asked, he also talked with knowledge and enthusiasm about teaching kids Jiu Jitsu - something I would love to do at some point and gave an interesting insight into his family culture.

After the session, Rickson was generous with his time in taking photos and signing stuff - another benefit of the smaller session (I didn't even try in Holland as there were so many people trying to get their shot).  Two of the things that Rickson signed was a copy of the aforementioned print of Meerkatsu's work and a patch from Tap Cancer Out.  Please check out their website and go buy one of their great patches (it won't cost you much, looks great on your Gi and raises money for a great cause!) or a t-shirt, again designed by the ubiquitous and ridiculously talented Meerkatsu.

Anyway, both these items were sent to Tap Cancer Out and were auctioned off to raise important funds.  Check them out on facebook to keep up with their work.

Of course, I kept one of those bad boys for myself and it now has pride of place in my front room:

After both sessions, I found it really hard to sleep - just thinking about what he'd said, what I learned...just the buzz!  I am very fortunate to have been part of it all - fortunate to be Dean's student and fortunate to be around at this time.  Rickson is a legend of our art and he's alive right now....not some black and white photo on the wall - he's here and he's passing on, in person, a lifetime of accumulated experience and knowledge.  And I'm in the middle of it!  Don't get me wrong, I'm under no illusion...this will not suddenly make me a great Jiu Jitsuka, but it will deepen my knowledge and understanding and will definitely contribute to my journey to become the best Jiu Jitsuka that I can be.

Happy days.  I hope it's not too long until we see him again.