Thursday, 26 September 2013

Double Dutch

I’ve spoken before about my Dutch connection that I began cultivating a while back, and how I met Michel Verhoeven at the Rickson Seminar last year.

Michel has been training since 1999 under Harold Harder – as far as I know, Rickson’s first European Black Belt.  In April this year, Michel was awarded his Black Belt by Rickson and Harold.
Having had such a great time in Holland last year, enjoyed the mini-seminar that Michel did it had become my intention to go and train with some of the Rickson guys, and the opportunity presented itself in Jul/August of this year.

At various points in the year, the collection of 11 Rickson Gracie schools in Holland get together for “Central Training” – a chance to come together, to align, maintain bonds and share ideas.  I decided to plan a trip around one such session.  With Michel running his usual classes on a Thursday and Friday and the central training on a Sunday, the agenda was set for a great long weekend in ‘S Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch).

Training trip and Central Training – Den Bosch and Gouda, Holland, 25 – 28 July 2013
My companion for this trip was Simon.  We set sail from Dover early Thursday morning and had a very pleasant 2 hour trip to Dunkirk.  The drive from Dunkirk to Den Bosch (which is pretty much slap-bang in the middle of the Netherlands) took around 2.5 hours.  Thank goodness for Si’s air-con as, with much the rest of Europe, Belgium and Holland were experiencing a heatwave with temperatures up to 37°c.

We arrived at our hotel, situated just outside Den Bosch, near a small town called Rosmalen.
After check-in, we pretty much went straight back out and into Den Bosch to check out the area and grab some food.  More about Den Bosch later – certainly worthy of note in its own right.  After grabbing our kit, we mad the short trip to Michel’s gym and were greeted warmly by Michel and a number of people I knew by name and Facebook, and we quickly felt at home.

Training, Thursday 25th
Then the training began.  And bear in mind what I’ve said about the temperatures! We did a thorough warm up mainly based around core Jiu Jitsu movements and drills and then into some techniques.  The class was given in Dutch (which is fair enough!) so I was grateful for the translation given by the people I trained with, but even without that, it was clear from Michel’s demonstration, intonations and emphases, what he wanted. 

The main things covered in that session were the cross collar choke from guard (bottom) also incorporating a nice combo involving the leg coming up onto the shoulder which gives lots of options, but also reminded me of something that Dean showed a while back that really creates a lot of leverage for chokes, armbars and triangles.
And then there was sparring…  Oh my god.  It must have been around an hour of full-on sparring.  And remember again – the heat!  Oh the heat!

A succession of tough guys put me through my paces.  I was pleased to hang with most Blue Belts;  the white belts were really good too – hungry and frenetic.  The only higher belt I trained with was Michel.  He destroyed me.  That is all I have to say about that J. 
However, such was the intensity of the rolling and the heat, I actually started feeling pretty ill – I was overheating, could not catch my breath and felt like I would puke.  I didn’t want to pussy out, so just kept going and to be honest, my Jiu Jitsu may have actually improved.  Through lack of energy, I had no option to relax and defend and this created lots of openings.  I guess it also gave me some confidence that even when I have pretty much nothing left, I can still defend myself.
I was so grateful when Michel eventually called time... I could barely stand.  My gi was saturated and I felt wasted. 

We drove back to the hotel, which was next to a Drive through McDonalds.  I drank my way through two large drinks in an attempt to rehydrate and then it was back to the sanctuary of my air-conditioned room.

Training & Private Lesson 1, Friday 26th
On Friday, we spent most of the day in Den Bosch so a few words about the place.  Den Bosch is beautiful.  A really well preserved Medieval city with some of the oldest buildings in Holland, it’s built largely over a network of Canals.  Most people I know have never heard of it and this is reflected by the lack of foreign tourists.  It’s something of a hidden gem as this means it retains all of its Dutch charm – no tacky souvenir shops, no seedy district and none of the usual sub-standard restaurants you normally get with tourist-traps.  Every time we ate out, we experienced a friendly and relaxed social climate, great service and some great food.

We visited St. John’s Cathedral – an awesome Gothic place that it’s hard not to be inspired by.  We also took a boat trip around the canals which gave a relaxing and unique perspective on the city and also sampled the local delicacy – the Bosch Bollen (think a giant profiterole covered in chocolate).

Den Bosch is a great place to walk around – lots of shopping (if that’s your thing), great places to eat and some great things to see and do.  For anyone looking for a relaxed weekend break, I’d really recommend a visit.
Right, tourist info over and back onto training…

Friday’s session was shorter and a little less intense than Thursday’s.  After a similar warm-up we drilled the Upa and the elbow escape.

Rather than sparring, we did positional training – mount…top maintain and submit, bottom escape.  Michel had invited over a guy from another nearby Rickson school – a white belt, but a huge guy, specifically to train with me. It’s not often I get to experience what others experience when I’m holding top  and not often I’m mounted and my knees don’t touch the floor.
It was a sobering experience.  On top, I managed to hold mount but had no finish.  On the bottom, I really struggled two out of three times and he submitted me once with a sort of Ezekiel/knuckle in the mandibular pressure point.  It was really hard and I just could not fashion any kind of effect on his sheer size.  I did escape once, on the third attempt, but it was really just a burst of anger fuelled by frustration rather than any kind of technique.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Michel watching closely, taking notes.  It was this analysis that was to become the basis of the private that I took with Michel after the class.

Private lesson 1
We first worked on the escape from mount – a variation on the elbow escape which Rickson had shown at his seminar.  The key is the foot-hip-shoulder-frame connection and really made a big difference to me – I’ve been focussing on it since and it really has helped massively.

We then moved on to holding mount and playing a more dominant, assertive and submission-focussed game from that position.  The main features here were attacking the collar from the get-go, reacting to the escape attempt by moving to technical mount and then working combinations from there.  My timing and sensitivity need some work, but the concept is there for me.
I’ve never taken a private lesson before so I didn’t really know what to expect.  Fortunately for me, over the previous two sessions, Michel had been watching closely, feeding me opponents in a very deliberate way, and taking notes.  He knew exactly what to work on in the private both technically but also, and importantly, the mind-set.  It’s this that for me, makes Michel a great teacher.  I can see from watching him, experiencing his teaching but also seeing how he watches and guides his students that he has a complete grip on every student, his/her strengths and development areas and where they are on their journey.  His commitment to their development is absolute.

Time and money well spent…

Private Lesson 2, Saturday 27th
So we spent another 2 hours with Michel on Saturday morning.  We started off by recapping the learning from the night before which was a great way to cement the learning.  We then worked on knee-on-stomach, holding posture in, and breaking guard, guard passing.

Again, it was a really useful session and both Simon and I came away with specific action points to work on.
That afternoon, we went into Rosmalen, which is a nice little town where we had lunch (the Dutch do great Satay!) then we drove about an hour to Arnhem to visit the Airborne Museum and then pay our respects at the nearby War Cemetery.  If you’re in that area, both are well worthwhile and I think the cemetery is an essential, moving and humbling experience.

On our return, we went once more into Den Bosch for dinner and experienced the city in full social-swing.  The atmosphere was great and reinforced what a great city it is to just wander and eat out.

Central Training, Sunday 28th
We set off early for the hour’s drive to Gouda.  Here I met Mano, a Brown Belt who I’ve spoken with a number of times, so always good to meet people in person.  I was also hoping to meet Raoul, another Black Belt who runs the school in Amsterdam, but I guess he couldn’t make it – maybe next time!

After the usual warm up we did a bit of drilling.  I think at this point, the previous days’ training were catching up with me and I was finding it hard to keep up and immediately sweating profusely.
The focus for the session was competition, so we started from standing – firstly maintaining base, then moving on to defending against the guard pull.  We then moved on to working out of the under-arm bear-hug, using the frame-away.  Michel then took us all through the 50/50 guard.  This was not from the viewpoint of using it, but mainly recognising it and dealing with it, which, for competition purposes is potentially useful.

It was the first time that I’ve really looked at the 50/50 guard.  I can honestly say that it is not a position I would ever pursue, nor can I really see that without a sort of consensus between opponents, how you could end up in that position.  It felt completely counterintuitive.  I’m not a fan, but glad we covered it.
We rounded the session off with some stand up sparring – going for the take down…winner stays on.  I had limited success and what was really interesting here was the vast difference with Judo.  Much of the defensive posturing in BJJ would simply not be allowed in Judo – you’d be penalised for stalling and leg grabs.  It was good fun and done in great humour, but really exposed how the rule set in Olympic Judo is really oriented to a sport which, like boxing, fashions how the governing body wants athletes to fight rather than how people actually fight.

After the session, we said our goodbyes and headed off for Dunkirk for our Ferry home and all of a sudden our four days of BJJ were over.
It really was a great trip – both culturally and in terms of Jiu Jitsu.  A big thanks to Si for his company and of course to Michel for his time and guidance.  Also thanks to all the other great people we met and trained with – you really made us feel welcome!   Ooss!


Michel Verhoeven Seminar, Sidcup, Saturday 24th August 2013

This visit from Michel was organised by Paul Finn, on the back of Michel’s visit in April.
It was great to see Michel again so soon after our trip, and also to see his right-hand man Joost again.
A number of Paul’s students along with a sprinkling of others were in attendance.  One of those in attendance was prolific blogger and writer Can Sonmez – aka Slideyfoot.  It was great to meet Can – we’ve exchanged messages and views before and I’ve been reading his excellent blog for about as long as I’ve been writing mine, so it was good to finally meet.  Before the session we’d set up an interview between Michel and Can – watch this space to find out where the interview ends up, but it was good for me to sit in and listen to Michel’s story and thoughts on Jiu Jitsu.
Slideyfoot has done a pretty good job of summarising the seminar content here, so he’s saved me the job of doing that, but I will pick up on some of the details I personally took out/remembered.
When practicing the Seoi Nagi throw, it was good to be reminded of the sort of sit-back-and-down hip action that Rickson had shown to affect your opponent’s balance and posture.  With the Osoto Gari, I was also reminded of the back of the knee/hamstring brace instead of the foot sweep that I was shown by Royce.

A nice detail on performing the bent arm-lock was the focus on driving your own elbow to the mat next to your opponent’s ear, rather than focussing on the opponent’s wrist made performing that submission almost effortless.
Covering the cross-collar choke is always good…it’s such a hard thing to do well and the main small detail I picked up here was the straightening THEN the turn of the wrists.  Really does make a huge difference and the variation we were shown was also pretty neat.

Recapping the escapes from mount were another really good reminder of the Private I’d had with Michel and generally, covering all of the fundamentals, like the Upa were a great reminder of things that can get sloppy/lose their edge over time without such reminders.  Effective Jiu Jitsu is fundamentally simple – you can never do enough of this stuff in my opinion.

 Michel Verhoeven, Private lesson, Sidcup, Sunday 25th August 2013
So, on Sunday, I took myself back to Sidcup Dojo, for a couple of hours with Michel.  In my last private in Holland, we’d just started to look at holding posture in guard and guard pass so I wanted to pick up where we’d left off.  We spent almost an hour perfecting the posture in guard and breaking guard.  Fine detail and feedback really helped me develop this.  With most people it’s not a problem area, but one of those things I want to be undeniable in my game – it’s so important as a foundation for the guard pass and subsequent domination.  The main things here were hand placement, the pressure form the hips and the taking of slack in the back of the neck.  Done well, breaking the guard is effortless.

We then looked at the pass itself and this was really a case of tightening up what I already knew.  Michel really helped me create much more control and pressure in this move.
We spent some time looking at cross side – Given my size and some of the “pinning” elements of Judo, this is an important part of my game so Michel asked me to take cross side and bring pressure.  A few minor corrections of my chest position and hand positions had Michel groaning for mercy under the pressure – some great adjustments and feedback!

Finally, we finished up with a little positional training – me starting from top cross-side.  Michel wanted to see me dominating and really putting together a bit of a strategy to go for the submission.  With his guidance, I gradually became a bit more fluid and started opening up options.  For, me, I think, this is the major area I need to develop.  My knowledge of positions and techniques is pretty good, but I really need to work them into a coherent game plan and be able to execute them in combinations when rolling.

Doin’ it for the kids
Michel spent the last part of my private session with my Kids who had come along.  I’ve been teaching my kids Jiu Jitsu in my newly matted out garage for about a month and a half now.  It’s only recently that they’ve shown enough interest and I felt that they were open to learning properly.  I’m using the old Rickson Association Blue Stripe syllabus as a guide for what to teach them and I wanted them to get some feedback and pointers from Michel.

Michel watched as they performed the basic movements from the syllabus:
  • Forward rolling breakfall
  • Rear breakfall
  • Shrimp
  • Upa
  • Teeter-totter
  • Standing up in base

With each, they did well but improved rapidly as Michel corrected minor faults.  He also then covered the four-point base with them.  At the end of the session, he presented them with their first stipe on their white belts.  Both were delighted and I was really proud of them.  They were pretty keen beforehand, but now they are both even more motivated to learn Jiu Jitsu.

I’m so pleased on a number of levels.  That we have something else to share is great, but I also believe that Jiu Jitsu is a great lifestyle, builds great character and is also a highly effective form of self-defence.  It also means that they are active.  They’re already pretty active with various other things, but I believe firmly that kids are at huge physical and mental risk from inactivity these days.  This is something of a personal life-mission on which I’ll write more in future, but much of my attention and effort is currently aimed at children’s activity and Jiu Jitsu is an area where one day, I hope to be able to open up the opportunity to other children in addition to my own.

Anyway, thanks once again to Michel for his time and attention and also for the time spent with my kids – we all got a great buzz from it.  Thanks also to Paul for setting up the weekend.

And finally…
So, as seems the way with this more sporadic way of posting, a rather long post, but with the prevailing theme of my Dutch connection.

I’ll be back in Holland again in October for the Rickson Seminar and I’m hoping I may be able to squeeze in some additional training with Michel that weekend…we’ll see.
I really enjoy the focussed teaching that Michel gives and the sense that he genuinely wants to see you develop.  Whilst in Holland, I really enjoyed being with Team Babytank and feeling part of a club and part of a larger network of people all committed to getting better together.

I spoke in my last post about being something of a Ronin since the demise of Lake House.  Now I feel as if I’ve found a new home, albeit in another country!  Time will tell where this relationship will go, but for now, I hope to be able to visit Holland a few times a year and just enjoy some great training with my new friends. 
Dank u en tot ziens!