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Monday, 30 September 2013

Why is loyalty important?

Loyalty is a big part of the team aspect of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but why? And does it really matter?

I think the most important thing to consider is that loyalty should be an important part of everyone's life. Being a loyal person is a good character trait. What is loyalty though? To me it's a two way relationship, not just one person being loyal to another. Both or all people involved in anything should be loyal to each other, they should always look out for what is best for all not just themselves and should treat everyone involved fairly. Judging whether people are truly loyal is the hardest part.

Before I talk about jiu-jitsu I need to say that I am talking from the perspective of someone who trains under an instructor (Chris Rees) who is a really good person and instructor, so my feelings on things are shaped by that. I will do a piece about why it's important to choose where you train wisely at some point in the future.

So why is this important in jiu-jitsu? Students are just paying customers right? They should be allowed to go where they want? I feel bad for anyone who has this feeling towards jiu-jitsu. I love training, teaching, competing and everything else that is part of jiu-jitsu, and being able to be amongst a group of really close friends doing all that makes it even better. I plan on doing jiu-jitsu until I am dead or can no longer get myself onto the mat, I want to be surrounded by people I've known most of my life when I'm 65 not be the outsider at loads of different clubs. I also want to do everything I can to help my team mates, not spend some time training elsewhere. If you really are just paying for a service at your academy I feel sorry for you. If all you get is the class time while you're there, no other support, no competition coaching, no friendship nothing but the lessons themselves then you are at a bad place to train.

Other people make the argument that if you want to be the best you have to always seek out the best training. Fair enough, but what level are we talking about here? If you are a high level competitor with aspirations of winning the adult black belt Mundials then you do need to have a very high level training environment, but how many people are in that position and who got them there? For most people, any genuine academy with good level of instruction/competition performance will be able to give them the training they need to win anything but major titles. Anyone with the potential to be a world champion should be able to find training from their instructor's lineage... which is another reason why loyalty to your instructor is important.

But what does it mean to be loyal? Does it mean you can never switch teams without being considered a traitor? To me loyalty in jiu-jitsu is the same as any part of life, it means you should do everything to try to improve the team not just yourself. You should support your team mates and instructors, and they should do the same for you. Not all instructors deserve loyalty; some will only see their students as income sources, some will neglect their duties as an instructor, some might have worse problems... there are definitely cases where students should change team. Plus some team changes will happen by necessity due to either the instructor or student moving (although when both are high level there is no reason for this to cause a team change). It should be rare though, and if you do have to switch teams make sure you pick well.

One of the worst things I've heard proposed is that it's ok to leave your instructor and open your own school. I am sure that every instructor out there will be happy to help one of their most senior students to start teaching, so get yourself to that level and ask your instructor. If you're not a senior grade why would you want to start your own academy? It will only end up worse for all involved... the instructor loses students, the students lose high level instruction and the students of the new academy get a lower level of instruction than is available elsewhere. "But what if people want to make money from it?" ...tough. Money shouldn't rule things, don't screw over your instructor because you feel deserving of benefiting from their hard work. And if you love jiu-jitsu enough that you want to make a living off it, why does diluting the training available and starting an inferior academy seem like a good idea?

None of this means people can't train at other academies/affiliations while travelling, I have always welcomed any visitor from any where and I think any legitimate instructor would.

Basically, find somewhere enjoyable and successful to train and stick with them.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Training and tattoos

As the name suggests, I like tattoos and have quite a lot, so I get asked about getting tattoos while training quite a lot. The question is always "How long should I wait before rolling after getting a tattoo?" and my advice is wait until it's healed (although you can train with a fresh tattoo and I'll get on to that). But further advice is... you should be able to get a tattoo healed pretty quickly if you do it right.

I am sure other people might have other ways of doing it, but all I know is my last 2 hour sitting was healed in 3 days and I have had a 6 hour sitting healed in 4 days. I am sure the tattooist you use makes a difference too, and people will naturally heal at different rates. I have had my last few tattoos by Chris Jones at Physical Graffiti in Cardiff.

As soon as the tattoo is finished it gets wrapped in clingfilm. I keep it on for about 1.5-2 hours then wash it in lukewarm water with a bit of mild soap (I use standard Dove) until the water runs off clear. Then pat dry it with kitchen roll. Straight away put a layer of Bepanthan cream (nappy rash cream) on it, enough to cover it with a thin layer, no excess. Keep applying the cream to keep the skin wet to touch all the time and wash it 3 or 4 times a day.

For sleeping at night I have tried wrapping it in clingfilm and not. I prefer not to wrap it, although I didn't find any difference in healing time. I find wrapping it means much more fluid on it in the morning and more mess. As long as you put a decent layer of cream on it before bed and get it in a good position. Note: I haven't got a backpiece or chestpiece so wrapping them might work better, I don't know. If you do this you shouldn't really get any scab, although places where your skin creases with movement are most likely to but it should be minimal.

Once the skin starts to get flakey keep it dosed with a plain moisturiser (I use E45) and after a few days it'll be all done. It's should be ok to go back training at this point for sure.

I've started back training the day after having one done. Just by doing the same thing as normal but I applied a bit extra cream to it before training and washed it immediately after. Again, I would recommend just taking the small amount of time off that it takes to heal. It's not long and it's going to be on you forever so make it look good.

I also believe a product called Hustle Butter has helped with these last tattoos healing so quickly. It's used during the tattoo process instead of vaseline. Before I had that used on me the healing took longer (all other variables were the same, I realise it's not a clinical trial). I've also tried using it as aftercare, but I prefer Bepanthan for that as it keeps the skin wet to the touch for longer.

An alternative method from the massively tattooed Nick Brooks (black belt who runs the highly successful Mill Hill BJJ in London) is that he keeps his tattoo constantly covered in clingfilm but regular removes it to wash and cream it. Says it takes a fair bit of effort but works.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Lesson plans

So I've recently been involved in a conversation online about teaching jiu-jitsu and lesson plans. Some people said they had a curriculum written down and planned out. I'm not sure if some people have every lesson plan specifically written out within that curriculum but it did seem to be suggested. Others said they like the randomness of teaching techniques as they see fit but they still plan lessons, just not strictly. There were also people who stuck to the lesson plan and others who said they would change things up depending on the students in attendance. I've also trained with people who seem to just teach a string of totally random techniques (even within the same lesson)... this is definitely not something I like.

I have approximate lesson plans, and as an example here is the one for tomorrow...

The Sunday morning class is one of the smallest for numbers usually (8 or less) and the longest (2 hours), so I can watch people drilling much more than a normal class. That means that I like to give people more options rather than just a few specific detailed techniques as usual, then let them work the position for longer periods of time. A much more free-form version of what I would usually do.

This week I've been covering two areas; butterfly guard attacks and passing half-butterfly, of those I'll concentrate on butterfly guard attacks tomorrow. It will be a sort of recap of the principles from the different techniques I've taught throughout the week, as they all had similar basic ideas running through them. The first drills will be the entries I've shown to different positions. Sitting up with underhooks from being flattened and two different arm-drags. These will be used as a warm-up.

After that I'll show the techniques I've been teaching in the week and also some other possibilities, then let the class work on them. Every now and then I'll break up the class to show any bits that people are struggling with and to cover questions I've been asked. I'll also add on other technique possibilities or variations which are relevant to how people are coping with the stuff I've already shown.

There might be some specific sparring but on Sunday mornings I usually just do one hour of straight sparring at the end. Rounds times will be what I feel like at the time, they could be different every round, all 5 mins, or 10 mins or more...

However, things could easily change. If I turn up and I just have a group of white belts to teach then I will go back to a normal type lesson. Warm-up will be the same, then I will show a specific sequence of techniques (2 or 3 linked sweeps or attacks and counters to defences) one part at a time and again stopping at times to show mistakes people are making/details they are missing.

This is as far as I think it's necessary to plan a lesson. The major variable is what group of students turn up, that can make me change the style of lesson as I've said but also the amount of sparring or in extreme cases even the technique I'm going to teach. I've also changed the class for other reasons... sometimes people turn up and ask a question about something and I decide that would be a pretty cool thing to look at so change to that position/technique. That's part of what I like about jiu-jitsu, it's not too strict and ordered, and I think allowing a bit of freedom and randomness helps make it more fun.

Friday, 27 September 2013

"BJJ is dead in MMA"

It seems that every UFC event which passes without a submission win results in some idiot somewhere (blog/forum/facebook) stating that jiu-jitsu is useless in MMA now, or the guard doesn't work in MMA anymore. I think that is total nonsense; for a start there have been many UFC events with a high number of submission wins plus every fighter still needs to have high level grappling skills to be able to compete at the top level. There is also the simple fact that nearly all UFC champions current or historic have had high level BJJ (with a huge number of them holding black belts). That obviously doesn't mean they all use jiu-jitsu as their main attack (Anderson Silva) but they have the skills if necessary (Silva/Sonnen).

Anyway, I do think there are a lot of problems for jiu-jitsu in current day MMA, but they are all due to rules (or application of rules) and judging. Rules first...

Something that happens in nearly every fight, where one contestant is looking for a takedown near the fence, is grabbing the fence to prevent the takedown. There is no other foul I know of which fighters can commit so often without any penalty. I have seen fights with multiple grabs every round, and each time the ref says "If you grab the fence again I'll deduct a point" but they only very, very rarely do. I don't understand this at all... grabbing the fence is a choice, it's not possible to do it accidentally and it can easily change the result of a fight (if the takedown landed it could result in a stoppage or sub). As it's something which must be a purposeful choice of the fighter, I think it should be an immediate point deduction. People argue that it's a natural reaction but fighters should train so it's not.

Probably a bigger problem for jiu-jitsu in MMA is fights being stood up. Preventing fighters from not attempting to fight is a good idea and there is a rule to cover this as "timidity" is a foul. I think it would be much better to utilise this rule rather than rewarding a fighter by standing them up. At the moment, if a fighter gets taken down by a much better grappler they have no incentive to try to fight as it's a much better option for them to just hold on and wait to be stood up. So why is the choice to avoid fighting (i.e. timidity) being rewarded rather than penalised as a foul? The equivalent would be for an inferior striker to just constantly back-pedal and run away (Kalib Starnes vs. Nate Quarry... but I don't think Starnes even got penalised?) which nobody would consider ok, yet for some reason everyone puts up with a refusal to engage on the ground. If you don't want to fight on the ground you should have to prevent the takedown or fight to stand back up again.

The rest of the issues are judging/scoring...

It's been shown time and time again that judges will not score a round in favour of the fighter on the bottom pretty much no matter what happens. Considering that fights are regularly won with submissions from the bottom I find this crazy. If a fighter gets a takedown then spends the rest of the round defending sweeps/submissions while landing ineffective ground and pound to the body, they should lose the round. The argument is that they are successfully defending, but again the standing version of this would be someone avoiding all the strikes thrown by their opponent and winning the round for it.

Another issue is how do you score grappling compared to striking? A strike which lands with 90% effectiveness could knock someone out, but a submission attack which is 90% successful can result in no damage or positional improvement at all. But surely consideration has to be given to the fact that the fighter almost finished their opponent? It's a tough to balance the two areas but I think judges need to start scoring sweep and submission attempts higher.

The biggest problem with the judging of grappling is that people who haven't done it don't understand it. Even people who haven't done any striking can easily understand that hitting some more and harder is better (although even with striking there have been the problems of judges hugely underestimating the power of leg kicks) but when it comes to grappling it is almost impossible for someone who hasn't done it to understand what is going on. There could be an almost submission and some judges may not even realise and it can be even harder to tell who has the advantage in a guard position. I really think that MMA commissions should start to employ judges who have fighting experience, preferably in both striking and grappling.

Whether these things will ever be changed I don't know, but I do think they would all help to balance the power of striking vs. grappling within MMA contests. Using jiu-jitsu in MMA is definitely harder now than it used to be, because the overall level of knowledge is now much higher, people have learnt to wall walk and get back to their feet and lots of fighters only try to defend and land ground and pound, so leaving far fewer openings for attacks. I think some jiu-jitsu based fighters need to use more strikes on the ground too; often you see a fighter lock on a submission only to not finish it and they could have landed strikes while in the position.

One thing is for sure, jiu-jitsu in MMA will never die (the sport would no longer be MMA) and any article which suggests otherwise is worthless.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Are you really watching?

Something I find interesting is to watch students watching an instructor demonstrating technique. It amazes me how often people are looking around the gym (what is there to look at??) or just aimlessly staring at some random point. Even some of the people who are watching the technique are clearly not watching properly.

The most important thing to realise is that everything the instructor is doing is important to the technique. In every position and during every transition everything matters; head, arm & leg positioning, hip angle, weight distribution, grips etc... absolutely everything. So don't just look at the general things which are happening, concentrate on all the little things and try to understand why your instructor is doing it (understanding principles is much better than simply copying without knowing why). Every time they run through the technique, try to pick out different things that are going on.

Also, make it an interactive experience. Don't just sit in one spot if there is stuff going on which you can't see. Watch the technique through from one angle and then the next time the instructor runs through it move to the other side. Ask questions; about things that you don't know why it matters (i.e. "Is there a reason you're putting your foot there?") or anything you're unsure of (i.e. "Do you have to use that grip?"), but avoid questions which are outside the scope of the technique.

Lastly, this should go without saying but it doesn't always... don't talk to other people while you're watching the technique demo or do anything else which will distract people. You're there to learn jiu-jitsu, learning anything takes effort and you will only get out what you put in, so give it your full concentration and effort!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Jiu-Jitsu for everyone?

So the current Gracie Barra motto is "Jiu-Jitsu For Everyone" and although I think mottos of any sort are a bit cheesy I do agree with the sentiment... mostly.

I think jiu-jitsu should be open to everyone no matter of their background, age, sex, ethnicity, size etc and I do my best to make my classes friendly environments (so does my instructor and the rest of our affiliate clubs). BUT it has to be real jiu-jitsu for everyone, not compromised training in order to gain/retain students.

People have to remember that jiu-jitsu is fighting. It's often argued it's not a fight because there is no striking, but if that's the case boxing isn't fighting either because there is no grappling... a silly argument. Fighting comes in many forms and it's always tough. Jiu-jitsu isn't easy, you get beaten up and you are constantly put in uncomfortable positions. There are lots of minor injuries and you are always challenged physically and mentally every class. Any effort to remove these things or diminish them will also remove the essence of jiu-jitsu (the ability to fight).

Training should be as safe as possible, but you can't remove all danger in a full-contact sparring session. And you have to spar hard to learn proper jiu-jitsu. Drilling and light rolling (an extension of drilling not an alternative to hard sparring) are important to the learning process but you have to test your skills against an opponent in training who is resisting fully and 100% trying to get the better of you. I also think this sort of training environment encourages a much better team spirit and friendliness between team members.

There is no need to rear naked choke a newcomer across their chin (I save that for coloured belts and pro-MMA fighters, haha) but they are going to get tapped out a lot when they start, just like everyone else did. They are going to be sore the next day and probably be covered in bruises, but that is the result of a jiu-jitsu class. If they like it then they will be welcome to training every class but if they don't, then there is no jiu-jitsu for them and I make no apologies for that.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Drilling is a skill

There are a few components which are necessary to become good at jiu-jitsu and one of the most important is drilling. But so many people waste their drilling time; some by not drilling at all and some by not drilling efficiently. Drilling is also a skill in itself and you can learn to get better at it. So here's a few pointers which will hopefully help you improve how you go about it.

A lot of people think that just drilling as many times as possible is the most important thing, and although it is good to do as many reps as possible during drilling time the most important part of it is to make sure you are drilling correctly. This means you need to be completing every step of every rep properly, copying exactly what your instructor demonstrated not just doing what you think you should do. So when you first start drilling do it slowly, step-by-step, and make sure you can remember each part of the technique and perform each movement necessary. Don't spend your time drilling something incorrectly, if something feels awkward you're probably doing it wrong. If you can't get it to work, or you're unsure, call your instructor for help. Only once you are sure you're doing it right should you start picking up the speed at which you're drilling. Start by trying not to pause between steps of the technique and then once you can do that build up the speed.

Don't stop drilling because "you know the technique now". Trust me, you don't know it well enough. You can always improve and make each transition tighter, smoother and more intuitive. Even for higher level practitioners there is always a benefit from drilling the muscle memory more and the benefits of simple physical movements (muscular endurance and cardio).

Only drill what the instructor has shown you. More advanced students can throw in some variations they know, or finish the technique in a variety of positions, but most people should just be drilling exactly what they were shown and nothing else.

Don't spend drilling time discussing the technique or anything else. Discussing jiu-jitsu is not going to help you improve your physical skills, discussing random things is not going to help you in any way whatsoever. Some talk about the technique you're doing is ok, but it should be relevant.

Make sure you start and end each rep in proper position. You are not there to just learn the middle part of a technique, so begin with the position properly set and never do stuff like sweep but don't bother coming up to top position. The whole movement from beginning to end is important and taking any short cuts will give you bad muscle memory.

Only ask questions which relate to the technique you are learning. If you've just been shown a butterfly sweep don't call your instructor over to ask about a mount escape. Lots of people are in a rush to learn everything as quickly as possible but jiu-jitsu is a slow process of small, incremental advances.

Apply submissions slowly and gradually. There is never any reason someone should get injured during drilling so don't apply armbars like you're trying to tap somebody in the Mundials final. You might also be drilling on someone much less flexible than your instructor demonstrated on, so don't assume you know how much pressure/movement is safe to apply. On the other side of things don't stop trying to apply a submission before your partner taps; your instructor may well have only had to apply a small movement to get a tap on their demonstration partner, but they are much more experienced and will be able to apply things much tighter. Just go slowly and gradually until the tap. If you can't get the tap ask your instructor for help.

Remember there are two people involved in drilling, so being a drilling partner is as important to do well as drilling for yourself. You shouldn't resist against techniques at all; it's easy to stop one technique when you know what is coming, but that's not what drilling is for. You should allow your partner to complete the technique without trying to prevent them doing so, but don't just let them do anything. If your partner is doing something wrong point it out to them (if you are sure about it!) or if they are trying to do something like sweep you the wrong way then post with your free arm and stop it. You shouldn't be resisting, but you also shouldn't throw yourself into sweeps or just collapse to your back from the slightest of movements. Drilling is a two person exercise aimed at improving your technique.

Advanced students can also start to offer more resistance (but always remembering your partner is only trying to do one or two techniques) and variation in how they base/balance. This allows your partner to feel how the techniques will work in a more realistic situation and work on minor variations. This is less advisable for novice students though, as they need to just learn the basic technique before worrying about what ifs.

Don't try to teach your partner. If they have issues/questions about the technique ask your instructor. Advanced students (at least purple belt) will be able to help with a lot of stuff but even they will be better off referring to the instructor and white or blue belts should never try to show specifics. For this reason I think it can also be dangerous for lower level students to arrange to drill away from class. If it's stuff you have drilled before and know fairly well, or you have an advanced student to oversee the session, it should be ok but don't drill new stuff you have seen somewhere as you could be learning something totally wrong. You'd be better off spending the time sparring.

Both people should also give and ask for feedback throughout the drilling. If your partner is drilling on you and should be controlling an arm but isn't keeping it tight, let them know. And if you're the person drilling the technique then ask your partner if everything feels tight, or if they feel properly off-balanced during a sweep etc.

Sparring is where you will improve your fighting ability but drilling is where you learn the techniques which will help you improve, so give it your full effort and make sure you learn the techniques well. Drill hard but drill correctly!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The ref's perspective

I've refereed at competitions since I was a purple belt and have found that it's given me great experience and insight which has helped me when I've competed myself, when I've been coaching students in competition and even as an instructor teaching classes.

The most amazing thing that I have found out from refereeing is how many coaches and fighters don't know the rules; from not knowing more minor points to seemingly having no idea of the basic scoring system. I find it hard to believe that people compete in other sports without reading the rules first... maybe this is because most of the sports people compete in they have been involved in from childhood though? Still, there is no reason not to read the rules and I remember doing it before the first time I competed. The IBJJF rules can be found here (pdf file) and any competitions not following those rules should state them on their website. Now there are many things in those rules which are not fully explained to cover all eventualities but all the basic rules are clear, yet there are still people who are totally ignorant of them. Worse still is that the people who are ignorant of the rules then berate the referees who have made correct decisions. They scream at you to score points which shouldn't be scored and chase you around even after the fight has finished to tell you over and over that you were wrong. I have experienced this many times, from brown and black belt instructors. They should learn the rules!!

So what are some of the most commonly misunderstood rules?

1. Side control doesn't score points.
A lot of people seem to think the position itself scores, but it is the act of passing the guard which scores. So that means if you get to side control any other way, you don't get three points. A takedown to side control only scores two for the takedown. Going from top of turtle position to side control doesn't score anything. A reversal from bottom to top side control scores nothing. All of these things have resulted in a coach screaming at me to score the three points... and once to score two points (an even worse knowledge of the rules!).

2. Advantages for submission attempts or sweeps
An advantage is only scored for a submission attempt if the opponent is in danger of being submitted. Whether they defend it or not doesn't matter, only that there must be a danger of submission. A joint lock must be close to being locked out, or fully locked out, a choke must be tight and fully sunk in. This means some submission are difficult to give advantages for... ankle locks and guillotines in particular can be very difficult to judge whether there was a submission danger.
For sweeps the advantage only scores if the person sweeping tries to go to the top and is prevented by their opponent. Just off-balancing your opponent or making them base does not score and even if you land them on their side or back, if you don't attempt to go to the top it does not score.

3. If one person has a blue gi they are always indicated by the green and yellow wrist band
It's actually table staff and referees which I have seen get this wrong the most. There have been times when I have missed the start of my students fights and looking at the scoreboard I ended up incorrectly thinking they were winning or losing. This means that when I am coaching them I am giving them bad advice; maybe saying they just need to close the guard and attack chokes when really they need to score points, or telling them to open up because they need to score when they really don't.

4. A sweep is going from a guard position to top
A lot of people think you need to put your opponent on their back for it to be a sweep, but an armdrag to top turtle scores the two points. The move has to start in either guard or half guard and you have to end up on top (if it's turtle position then you must be behind them), that's it.

5. There is only one count to score for two positions/movements if they happen at the same time
If you sweep to mount and maintain position for three seconds you score 6 points. Passing the guard straight to mount scores 7 after three seconds. This can mean that when reffing I count the three seconds then while indicating the first point score the position changes, but the second point score has already been achieved and will still be awarded.

Those are the main points of regular contention which come to mind. There are others, but those 5 seem to be problematic for a lot of people. It really only needs coaches and competitors to read the rules properly as all those points are clearly covered.

The worst thing about rules misunderstandings are how a lot of coaches act toward referees. I have officiated many matches where coaches have wrongly thought I have made an incorrect decision and they shout about it non-stop until the match ends, while you're raising the hand of the winner, after the match has finished, after the fighters have left the mat and I have even been followed around by a coach later in the day, just so he could repeatedly tell me I was wrong (which I wasn't). I have never experienced it myself but I have seen times when coaches try to physically intimidate the ref, going as far to encroach onto the competition area during a fight. There are obviously going to be times I have made mistakes, every ref will have, but even then, there is no excuse to constantly berate the ref and definitely not to intimidate them. Some decisions will be made incorrectly against you and some incorrectly in your favour... over the course of many competitions it evens out.

Another aspect similar to aggressive coaches is that of unsporting competitors. I've lost count of the number of slams I have seen, and many times the person performing the slam clearly knows it's illegal but doesn't care. I've also seen times when a person losing the fight has performed an illegal submission, trying to show superiority over their opponent and ignoring the fact that people won't be ready to defend a submission which is illegal. These people show that not only are they not skilled enough to win in competition but they are mentally weak and unable to deal with that fact. They are the sort of people who will find it hard to stick out jiu-jitsu in the long run. Although... some gyms have a much greater percentage of people like this, obviously due to a bad environment encouraged by the coaches. I have even seen a coach encourage overtly aggressive behaviour by a child competitor, which speaks volumes about the character and mental maturity of that coach.

The final issue which causes a lot of abuse and disagreement is when you have to make a decision as to who wins a contest. Sometimes it is easy to make a decision, one person will have been attacking the whole time but just didn't manage to score a point, but a lot of the time the fight will be very close (as you'd expect if points and advantages are equal). It's most difficult when both fighters have scored, especially if they have both scored more than once. As a ref, during the fight I am watching for so many things it's impossible to judge who was attacking for most of the fight when it's been back and forth so personally, I try to think of one moment which tips the balance toward one of the fighters (maybe a sweep or pass attempt which wasn't enough to score even an advantage, or maybe one fighter got closer to a submission attempt). But sometimes there isn't anything clear and the rules say you must pick a winner. In these cases I tend to just go with the fighter I think was working hardest at the end because I don't see any other way to do it. When coaches or fighters complain about decisions going against them they would do well to remember that they only had to score one more advantage point during the contest time to have won outright.

Even with all the bad stuff that gets thrown my way during refereeing I always enjoy it. As I said when I began, the experience has helped me in many ways. But I do think my ability to not care what people think about me or what abuse they throw my way really helps. I know a lot of people who refuse to referee because of the issues I've mentioned... and without referees there would be no competition. So think hard the next time you want to shout at a ref; do you know for sure you are right, and have you never made a mistake in your life?

(due to having been really busy these last few days, this blog entry has been written over a few nights at past midnight... apologies if it's a bit rambling or disjointed, and I haven't proof read it. It is what it is!)

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Self defence... part 3

So this will be the last post on this subject (for the foreseeable future anyway) and I'm going to, as promised, look back at the only real fight I've ever had as an adult.

A quick background first... at the time I was a purple belt and was training probably 3-4 times a week. I'd done a bit of training for a no-head-shots MMA type competition but other than that nothing other than what would be considered sport jiu-jitsu. Previous to this incident the only altercation I'd had as an adult was getting headbutted (and a broken nose) while trying to stop a mate getting attacked. I typed up this story as soon as I got to a computer (maybe 5 mins after the incident)...

Ok, so we all know how deadly the streets are... no rules, lava, needles etc. Luckily, there is no lava or needles in my car. I had a road rage incident (not my fault, a guy cut me up and all I did was beep my horn) earlier tonight on the way home from training. It turned into a proper fight too.

Basically, he pulled in front of me, slammed his brakes on and immediately jumped out of his car. I managed to stop about 10 cms from his bumper and had put my hazards on (safety first!!). Sadly, the doors on Micras are huge so I couldn't get out quickly (there was a central reserve on the road) and he got to my car pretty swift.

He opened my door so I just scooted back on to the passenger seat (over the handbrake!) as he lunged toward me. I grabbed both his wrists, put my left foot on his biceps and said something like "You're going to be in trouble now mate". He said he was going to stab me but I wasn't worried as I had control of both his wrists (I have no idea whether he had a knife on him).

So, I then locked a triangle on (hard) and he immediately started to panic. I let it off slightly (still choking, not enough to put him out quickly) and he said sorry and that his daughter was in the car. He started saying he had just split up from his wife and was having a really bad day, pleaded for me to let him go. I said I didn't trust him to let him go. He pleaded more so I thought I may as well let him go but do it carefully. We were in the middle of a busy road, so choking him out and leaving a small girl wandering around wouldn't have been a good idea.

I backed him out of my car, with the triangle still on and still gripping both his wrists. Then I let it off and it was obvious he was feeling the effects of the choke. He scarpered back to his car and drove off... sadly I was more concerned with possible damage to my car door at this time so I didn't get his reg. Oh well.

That's it.

A few members of my girlfriend's family are police officers and they said it would be best to report it, just in case someone else did and I ended up looking like I was hiding something. So I rang the police... when they came around to take a statement I had to explain that all the marks (currently have a slightly swollen ear, bruising on my cheek and various graises) on my face weren't from the incident but from training. I didn't think they would know what a triangle choke was so I just said "I choked him with my legs".

Sport BJJ works as self-defence, fact! 

Now it's worth noting three things quickly:-  1) plenty of people online have felt the need to strongly proclaim they do not believe the story  2) I don't care  3) it did happen.

Reviewing the story, the first thing I think is the grammar and structure is pretty bad... but I was writing it immediately after the incident and the adrenaline was still flowing (more on that later). One omission which people have asked about was how did I use spider guard to triangle? Usefully for me he had a longsleeve shirt on. I think it was a denim shirt but may have just been a heavy cotton type thing, either way it was great for grips. Then something else which people picked up on (as an apparent obvious sign it's a lie) was the bit saying "I backed him out of my car, with the triangle still on and still gripping both his wrists.". Now, I'm pretty sure this was accurate at the time but it's impossible to know now as it was so long ago. I would only have had to push him back a small amount (he was still standing outside the car) and it's easy to use elbows and ass to shuffle forward while keeping a triangle locked on, but I may have let go of his hands which would definitely have been a mistake (considering the knife threat).

Looking back at the incident now gives me a lot of thinking points...

- He said he was going to stab me -
I know that at the time this didn't register as a real threat at all (as I already had control of both his wrists/hands at that point) and I still think it was a bluff, but what if it wasn't? Maybe a much better course of action would have been to just lock my car doors and not get involved in any violent situation. At the time I remember I was worried about damage to my car, which is a stupid reason to risk my life. However, I'm still happy with what I did because I think a lot of people get away with being assholes and I'm glad I was able to give the guy the scare he deserved (more on this later). If I was giving someone advice though, I'd say lock your doors.

- What a bizarre environment to have a fight -
When most people think of real fights they think of alleyways or inside/outside nightclubs, but this happened across the front seats of my car! I guess this shows the randomness of events and it brings to the fore how useful the skills jiu-jitsu gives you are. I can't really think of any situation/environment where jiu-jitsu wouldn't be usable, whereas striking or throwing arts always need some room to work.

- Adrenaline is hard to overcome -
I had competed a fair few times before this incident and had got to the point that adrenaline was no longer a big factor in competitions. However, after the fight was over my hands were shaking... not badly but it wasn't minor either. Now adrenaline has it's advantages, boosting speed and strength, but I think for someone with a good level of fighting ability it is much more of a negative (tunnel vision, lack of clarity of thought, a risk of burning yourself out etc). The only way to overcome this would be to get used to it, meaning you'd need to regularly be involved in real fights... not something I would suggest. An important issue arising from this is how many self defence instructors teach people without having experience of adrenaline in a real situation themselves? I think that without experiencing it, it's hard to advise people on how to deal with it.

- Most situations can probably be avoided -
The first paragraph of the story is not entirely accurate... he did cut me up and I beeped my horn but then he stuck his fingers up at me and I returned the favour with one finger. Maybe if I had just ignored him and let him drive off in anger nothing would have happened? Plus as I said above, when it did happen I could have just locked my car doors.

- Do I have any regrets/would I do anything differently? -
It will sound really bad to some people I'm sure, but I will be honest... I kind of wish I had choked the guy out cold or given him a couple of elbow strikes inside the triangle. Not because I like being violent but I just think the guy deserved it; he'd been the one driving like an idiot and he'd started the fight. Really though, with him saying he had his daughter with him there was no way I could have done those things.
My biggest regret is that I had my phone in my pocket and could have easily taken it out to take photos or even videos... maybe even a video interview with him in the triangle?! Another problem of adrenaline though, the thought didn't even cross my mind at the time.

- The good points -
I think the obvious one is that I was unharmed. I also managed to avoid having my car damaged, saving myself any repair bills.
Sounds a bit stupid but I was really happy when it was over and I remembered I'd put my hazards on as it shows that I could still think clearly during the lead up.
I didn't get in any trouble from it which was definitely a good result, I think if I had given him a beating I'd have at least been in danger of legal repercussions if not ended up being charged. Not only would that have been bad personally, but from a professional point of view, with jiu-jitsu now being my job, it could have been disastrous.
Jiu-jitsu worked! Beyond anything this proved to me that people who don't know any grappling will have no idea what is happening to them until it's way too late. I used the most basic spider guard triangle set-up and I even got stuck at one point because it was hard to clear my foot across the back of his head as my shoe got stuck against the ceiling of my car. It was easy though, the guy obviously had no idea whatsoever that I was even trying to set something up.

So that's it for my meandering thoughts on the subject of self defence and jiu-jitsu. I've trained a lot of jiu-jitsu and I've had one real fight. I'd recommend doing your best to avoid real fights and training lots of jiu-jitsu! :)

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Self defence... part 2

What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? A self defence system, a sport, a bit of both? Are they very different things anyway?

So the argument you hear from a lot of people is that jiu-jitsu is "just a sport" and is no good for self defence because you don't learn to fight on a hard floor, or against multiple attackers or weapons, you don't worry about biting or "you'd get destroyed if you pulled guard" or whatever else they feel like bringing up. The most amusing thing about these arguments is that the person saying them usually trains in an art which doesn't even involve full contact sparring, just pointless compliant partner choreographed rubbish. The fact is, training jiu-jitsu gives you real skills which work in real fights. Every class you are (or should be!) sparring 100% against people of all sizes and skill levels who use different tactics and techniques. You are not learning choreographed counters to set attacks, you are learning to react to anything which happens and improvise as necessary. These skills will work no matter what scenario real fight you end up in. They are no guarantee you will be successful or come out of a fight unharmed, but that is true of every time you roll in a class so it's not something jiu-jitsu players are unaccustomed to.

But anyway, is there a difference between "sport" and "self defence" jiu-jitsu? As is so often the answers to questions like that... yes and no. As I've already said, "sport" jiu-jitsu (what I consider normal jiu-jitsu) teaches you usable skills which can be applied in any sort of fight, it doesn't matter whether it's a competition on soft mats or against four guys on a cement pavement. One of those situations is obviously much more dangerous and much more likely to result in defeat, or at least injury, but the same skills can be applied in both. The big difference between those two situations is that you can regularly train the first but not the second. Anyone who says they train against multiple attackers on cement is lying (unless they're telling you it from a hospital bed), it can't be done. Same goes for training biting... how often do you want to get bitten in training?? The sparring in jiu-jitsu is a format which you can do with 100% resistance on a regular basis without having to worry about incurring massive injuries every session.

There are other skills that jiu-jitsu teaches you which will help in a real fight to; you learn to be able to mentally deal with being in bad (inescapable) positions, to stay calm and composed under pressure, to deal with discomfort and minor injury during sparring. I have taken accidental shots to the groin, eye gouges, knees/elbows to the head plenty of times and kept going. I have even been badly gouged, accidentally, during a competition fight and still won by submission. Jiu-jitsu is a fight, you are learning to fight. It might not cover all aspects in depth but people should not forget that, bottom line, it is teaching you fighting skills.

So when people say they train self-defence jiu-jitsu, what is the difference? I really think it just comes down to drilling a few techniques which sport oriented clubs probably wouldn't bother with too much and doing some sparring against an opponent throwing strikes. First off the techniques I'd consider must-haves for any self-defence training...

- escape from a headlock (both orientations)
- escape from a bearhug (both orientations)
- standing up in base
- countering haymaker punches with clinch and takedown
- blocking strikes in guard

...and that's about it (although I might have forgotten something?). The top two should be easy for anyone with a blue belt or above to deal with even if they've never specifically trained it (remember I said jiu-jitsu sparring teaches you to improvise and in a real fight you are likely fighting someone with no grappling experience). Standing up in base is something which should be covered at some point in sports orientated schools as you use it from various guard positions and sweeps. The striking parts are the ones most likely to be totally missed out, but as I said in part 1... if you really want to have skills to defend yourself you should train somewhat like an MMA fighter, so do a striking art. You could also use open mat sessions to get a mate to put gloves on and come at you swinging. I even know that some academies do those drills during normal lessons. For a great take on this, see John Will's video here; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WC8Lh8k-Ic

And that about covers it. I don't think there is any major difference between the two brands/types of jiu-jitsu. As long as you train and do plenty of 100% sparring you will be able to fight in grappling range very well (obviously it takes time to get good) and if you really want to be able to defend yourself well do a striking art alongside jiu-jitsu.

But the most important thing to remember when considering sport vs. self-defence is that some people don't care about training for self-defence (me included), they just enjoy training jiu-jitsu. Now even considering that, who would your money be on to defend themselves best in a real situation; a "sport" jiu-jitsu blue belt or a guy who trains choreographed multiple attacker situations with no sparring? Blue belt every time.

Next will be my last post on this subject and I'll cover off my one and only experience of a real fight during my adult life.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Self defence... part 1

I think this will probably end up being at least 3 parts for me to cover everything I want to. I 'll start here with my thoughts on self defence training in general and then will get on to whether there is a big difference between "street" and "sport" jiu-jitsu and talk about my own experience of a "real" fight.

Before I go further, I want to say I'm ignoring weapons. To be able to defeat someone who is armed when you are unarmed takes a life-long commitment to training for those situations, nerves of steel and a large amount of luck. Luckily, most fights/confrontations that the average person in the UK will be involved in will be unarmed.

So... personally, I have never been interested in training for self-defence. I think that if anyone is paranoid enough that they feel the need to train specifically for self-defence purposes they would be better off just doing their best to avoid any situations which could be dangerous. However, I don't buy into people selling courses on "awareness"... if you're an adult and you don't realise what sort of situations/people could be dangerous then you have bigger problems. Just be sensible, avoid areas you know are dodgy and people who look suspicious. Then going to the other extreme; if you do listen to the things some people say about awareness you would be constantly on edge no matter what situation you're in... which is ridiculous. You can't live your life thinking everyone is a threat. Just be sensible!

But what can you do if you want to be able to defend yourself? First off, the best and safest way to get out of a dangerous situation is to run away, so get yourself fit... most people can't run at a high pace for very long, so if you can do a decent 400m sprint you'll get away from most people. But what if running isn't an option, or you have someone else you need to be able to protect? If you're worried about that then just train in the martial arts (combat sports) which are tried and tested in MMA. Pick a striking art and a grappling art and train them consistently. You won't need to be as well rounded as an MMA fighter, so just boxing and jiu-jitsu is enough, or Muay Thai and wrestling, or kick-boxing and judo... you should get the point by now. I know quite a few people who have been involved in numerous street fights for various reasons and they've all come out of them safely using what people would class as "sport" training... because they're trained to fight.

What about self-defence training/courses? Well, nearly all those that I have seen are rubbish. For a start most of them are not very physical and don't involve full-contact sparring. If you're not used to getting hit or thrown properly then you're not going to get far in a real fight, and people underestimate how tiring it is to fight someone, especially in a situation where adrenaline is pumping. Any training which is meant to be making you able to defend yourself which doesn't get you physically fit is useless. Worse than useless as it will lead to a false sense of security. Also, who is teaching... have they been involved in many, or any, street fights? If not, what experience are they drawing on to be able to teach? A further problem of these types of training is that many are X week courses... unless you're training regularly for a long time you won't develop good enough skills to beat an aggressive attacker. To look at this from a jiu-jitsu point of view, think about the new blue belt; this is a belt which will generally take someone 18 months+ of training at least 2-3 times a week, and anyone who has achieved that will know that a very big, strong and athletic guy on his first lesson without a gi on can still be hard to deal with... and imagine if they were punching you. The point is; technique beats strength alone, but it takes a long time to be able to develop enough technique to do so. You can't train for 10 weeks and think it will help you much in a fight.

Anyway, is there good self-defence branded stuff out there? Yes, definitely. There are instructors who have knowledge of multiple fighting arts and who will teach people general fighting techniques rather than flashy 'they grab you like this and you do this' stuff which will apparently work 100% of the time. There are also useful things to be able to learn which also have good instructors teaching them; concepts on how to mentally switch yourself into fight mode and how to prepare yourself to pre-emptive strike if you think it might become necessary. Check out Geoff Thompson and his fence idea for a great example. I know plenty of guys who train self-protection systems, but they train all the time and they spar full-contact, they don't just do a short course and teach people specific scenario techniques.

So that basically covers my thoughts on self-defence in general, next up I'll go through the sport vs. street BJJ argument...

Friday, 6 September 2013

A few thanks

Not a proper blog entry, I just want to thank two people who have given me advice to help start this blog. Both of them (fairly obviously) are experienced bloggers...

Can Sönmez, a purple belt who trains at Gracie Barra Bristol and runs a highly analytical blog with reviews of instructionals and dissecting techniques and teaching styles; http://www.slideyfoot.com/

Seymour Yang, a brown belt who trains at Mill Hill Jiu-Jitsu and runs a blog mainly based around his own art, gear reviews and a look at the more humorous aspects of jiu-jitsu; http://meerkat69.blogspot.co.uk/

...and yes, I said I didn't like lower level belts blogging for certain reasons, but these guys don't offer instruction. Meerkatsu doesn't deal with techniques at all and Slideyfoot does it from a student perspective, highlighting differences in approaches between different instructors and instructionals.

So yeah, check them out, they're both cool guys and have a lot of good stuff on their blogs.

The beginning...

So I've been training jiu-jitsu for over 8 and a half years now, and although I've always been interested in blogging about it I've only just started now. Why? Because I think it's a joke when I see blogs by people who think the world needs to hear their ideas on the fundamentals of side control, or their insight on training concepts when they are not even a black belt. Now, that's not really what I plan on doing with this blog, but I might... so I wanted to wait until I was a black belt before putting my thoughts on the subject online. That's not to say I think all blogs by lower level belts are bad... there are some excellent ones out there which focus on things other than trying to teach the online world with their blue belt knowledge. I'm also not saying that all black belts have mastered jiu-jitsu, but to be given that belt should mean your instructor believes you not only have a high level of technical skill but also an understanding of jiu-jitsu as a whole.

That's enough negative stuff though, why DO I want to blog? Because I love jiu-jitsu and I love talking about it. I also love helping other people with their training and I hope that maybe some of the stuff I can write about will be of some use to someone out there.

As this is the beginning of my blog, I guess it's fitting to discuss beginning jiu-jitsu as my first proper subject matter...

The most important thing anyone just beginning to train jiu-jitsu should understand is JIU-JITSU IS HARD. It's a very tough sport/martial art/activity/hobby (whatever you want to call it) to train and there is a very high drop-out rate, especially after just one lesson. I think what most people don't realise is that the first lesson is the same for everyone; we all went and got beaten up by everybody the first time (real beginners, not guys with years of wrestling/judo/nogi experience), we all had no idea what to do, we all felt sore as hell the next day, we all got tapped a lot. For a lot of people this is too much and they give up straight away... honestly, I'm not interested in those people. I accept that jiu-jitsu is not something everyone will like and I can't change that.

For the people who do stick with it there are still many hurdles to overcome, but the good news is that jiu-jitsu has an unbelievable amount of benefits. It will teach you skills you can use to defend yourself with, you will lose weight (assuming a sensible diet), gain strength, flexibility, agility, co-ordination and body/postural awareness, your resting heart rate will drop and you'll become much fitter. You'll become mentally tougher and able to deal with physical discomfort much easier, most people grow in confidence and find it easier to deal with other problems in their lives. It drives many to make other changes for the better in their life; giving up drink and/or drugs and eating a healthier diet. Probably the biggest benefit in my opinion is that you will meet a lot of people from a wide range of social circles who will all welcome you and see you as an equal on the mats and you'll have fun... if not, find a new club (a subject for a future post!).

So if you're just starting out and finding it tough, remember that every other person at your club and every other club went through the same. JUST KEEP TRAINING. That's all I did... I went to my first lesson in 2005, fat and out-of-shape with no prior martial arts experience, and I got my ass handed to me. I got tapped out numerous times by everyone I rolled with and I had no idea how they did it or how to stop them. I went home the most physically exhausted I'd ever been. I woke up the next day the sorest I've ever felt, I could barely walk downstairs. Straight away I knew I had to get good at doing jiu-jitsu so I went back to the next available lesson in 3 days time. There were times when I was injured and couldn't train, there were competitions where I got tapped out quickly, there were classes that I performed terribly in... but I always went back, I always trained as much as I could, and luckily I always had support and advice from my main instructor (Chris Rees, Wales' first black belt). I kept going back, I kept tapping, I kept learning, I kept increasing the frequency of my training... and 8 years 7 months later I was awarded my black belt by multiple-time world champion Braulio Estima.

Start jiu-jitsu and don't quit. It's not easy, but it's simple.