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Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Ok, so I haven't been posting... but I'm not done with blogging and I'm not dead either!

Basically, every time my laptop has been on for the last few months I have been researching foam, tarpaulin, wood, banners, signs, and a huge number of other things which I will need to open my own academy :)

So there still won't be very regular posts for a bit, but once the new place is up and running I will be posting as much as possible and also plan on starting to put out some video content as well.

In the meantime, I will get a review I meant to do a long time ago written up, so maybe three posts in a week! (although 2 in a day is cheating, especially as this one is so short)

I love competition, but it isn't all that jiu-jitsu has to offer

I've posted quite a few times about competitions from various perspectives, but I think a lot of people get too hung up on all training being solely about competition (and sometimes even specifically IBJJF rules). I look at jiu-jitsu as much more...

It includes sporting competition for sure... gi and nogi grappling competitions under various rulesets... but also MMA & vale tudo. The most important thing about jiu-jitsu is that it gets tested. Doing that in training is one thing, but doing it in competition helps you develop in different ways. Testing yourself in whatever form of competition you want to is definitely something I think everyone should do.

Beyond competition, it's also a martial art which should give people skills they can use in a real life fight... physical and mental skills. Training jiu-jitsu gives you techniques and the ability to perform them on fully resisting opponents, that's always the case. But it should be teaching you to do that in a tough environment, there should always be lots of high intensity sparring. That level of intensity also improves mental toughness... you get used to dealing with being in terrible positions, unable to move with tons of pressure on you. Toughness is another aspect which effects a fight... along with technique, strength, size, cardio, flexibility etc.

Then it's also a hobby (activity?? hobby doesn't seem to do it justice) or even a way of life as some people describe it. The vast majority of jiu-jitsu you do is going to be in training, so really your only things to consider when rolling are to not get injured and not to injure anyone else... it doesn't matter if you leg reap someone in training, just don't smash your leg into it and twist your partner's knee. It doesn't matter if you grip inside the trouser leg either, or use a wrist lock on a white belt. Just do your best to not hurt people.

So yeah, competition is a massive part of jiu-jitsu, but I see competition as a place to test your jiu-jitsu skills not solely the aim of training. Now, if some people want to train just for competition, that's cool with me too, but I think they're missing out.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Random bits about the British Open

First off, it was a great competition. A huge number of competitors and ran on schedule. Maybe it's going to need to be bigger next year... more mats... more days??? Awesome to see how much UK BJJ is growing.

There are loads of people competing now, and the standard is going up so quickly. It's amazing to start to see lots of purple belt divisions where people are having 4-5 fights to win, and loads of brown and black categories with 2-3 fights to win. Can't wait until the current crop of purple belts are all black belts, will be fun to watch :) There is also a big rise in the number of competitors who are really serious about their jiu-jitsu training at lower levels... white and blue belt divisions are really tough to win.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing students winning in competition. Especially seeing them submitting people and dominating fights. It makes me able to be confident that I am doing the right thing when I am teaching.

I reffed a little kid who had been allowed to go up an age category as otherwise he had nobody to fight. He was giving up a lot of strength, the fight was basically a child (nervous and at his first comp) against a 15 yr old who was basically a young juvenile. The little kid got smashed around and the fight finished 17-0 but at no point did the older kid get close to a submission, and he was really trying hard for it. That little kid had amazing defence, t-rex arms like a champion. He didn't show any emotion during the fight either, really tough. Just shows what jiu-jitsu can do for people, especially kids.

It's amazing how many act like idiots at comps... and those people probably do it the rest of the time too. I didn't see it but heard people were kicking off because they got DQ'd for not making weight, what did they expect would happen? There are weight classes and to fight in them you must be within the weight class, pretty simple stuff. Also, it's sad to see a lot of black belts who think the rules don't apply to them, walking across a matted warm up area in shoes, not wearing shoes when walking off the mats... really bad to see.

I love going to competitions. The whole experience is great and I do even enjoy reffing so it's all good... I get to see friends I have known through jiu-jitsu since I started, I see my students smashing people up, I see lots of entertaining jiu-jitsu and I get to compete myself... all amazing. Give competing a go if you haven't already, you might just love it :)

Monday, 19 May 2014

British Open 2014

This weekend was the British Open, the biggest competition in the country and considered to be the most prestigious to win. My team, the Chris Rees Academy, took a big team of around 30 fighters up to fight and although I was confident that many would have success, I never expected the results we got.

As a team we took an unbelievable TWENTY ONE medals!! Eight of those were gold and one of my students took double gold at purple belt, then got promoted to brown belt on the podium by Braulio Estima. An amazing day for him, congratulations to the man-gorilla Wayne Samways.

The weekend was a long one for me as I was up at 5.45am to drive 3 hours to Birmingham on Saturday and then reffed for the whole day (a couple of short breaks). I started off reffing kids in the morning and the standard of some of their jiu-jitsu was amazing, great to see the future of UK jiu-jitsu being developed. As a referee for kids there is a responsibility to protect them from getting slammed and injured from submissions. This means I have to position myself behind any kid who gets lifted off the ground and make sure that submissions can't be cranked beyond the point they will cause injuries as well as stopping the fight if the submission is fully locked in. I had only reffed kids a little bit before but wow, those responsibilities add so much more stress on to reffing!! It also makes it pretty tiring, having to drop down to knees and then get back up again all the time... my legs were tired by the end of the day. It's also pretty crazy that many coaches didn't seem to realise that the ref will stop a kids fight when a submission gets locked on, I could hear a lot of "he didn't tap" type complaints. Read the rules.

After the kids I then reffed some adult divisions. Yet again I was amazed at the number of competitors and coaches who don't know basic rules/point scoring. People asking why no points were given for a bridge out of mount, why didn't they get points for a takedown where they ended up on the bottom, not knowing what the verbal commands meant (there are only three... now four under new rules) and more. I also heard a lot of competitors didn't make the weight because they didn't realise the weigh in was with the gi on, or thought there was an allowance. Really amazes me every time that people make such basic errors.

So after the whole day reffing I then drove 3 hours home again, hoping to get a good night's sleep before I fought on the Sunday. That didn't happen too well as my son has chickenpox so I ended up being woken up every half hour... grim. At least I wasn't driving up the next day.

So on Sunday I had a lie in until 8am then jumped in the car of a CRA student and headed back to Birmingham. All the travelling was definitely worth it as after falling short with silver last year in the brown belt division, this year I managed to become British Open champion at black belt, beating two tough opponents. My first fight went as well as I could hope; I pulled guard, swept quickly... started passing and he turtled allowing me to land an inverted triangle and then from there finish with a hamstring stretch/kneebar. The final was an ultra tough opponent, 1st degree black belt from Checkmat. I pulled guard and attacked with a collar choke, triangle, a few wrist locks, omoplata, toehold... all defended and none really coming that close. He escaped the omoplata and almost passed but I turtled, he attacked the back but I defended and managed to come up to the top and start passing. I almost got it a few times but he managed to recover guard, and then with the scores at 1-1 on advantages and about 30 seconds left I passed to half guard to put me 2-1 up on advantages. He attacked with some strong sweep attempts which I was able to prevent but then caught me in the halfguard kneebar aka the dogbar. It was tight but there was only 10 seconds left so I rode it out and was happy that no advantage was given for it. Only two fights but I felt like I'd had about ten, so was insanely happy to pick up the gold.

This was my first competition at black belt so to get that result was unbelievable. Having missed the English Open due to knee surgery, I hadn't competed for a year so thought I would suffer with adrenaline but it was actually the most relaxed I'd ever felt in competition. I came off the mat after the first fight feeling totally fine and ready to go again. Not quite so good after the second fight, but I guess that happens if you go the full time against a really tough opponent.

Looking forward, I guess it could be seen that I have put pressure on myself to continue to perform at the same level but my attitude towards competition has always been to just jump in and test myself. I never really train specifically for competitions, never change my diet or anything... I train all the time so I just look at competition as a chance to test my jiu-jitsu against others. I don't think that is going to change for me in the future.

Massive thanks to my instructors since I started jiu-jitsu over 9 years ago, Braulio Estima and Chris Rees. They have given me the skills and perspective on jiu-jitsu to get to this point. Thanks to my awesome sponsors Faixa Rua and Roll Supreme for the continued support. Thanks to all my students who always try to destroy me every time we roll and never let me rest. Finally, and most importantly, thanks to my awesome wife who always supports me in everything I do and convinced me to compete when I was ready to stay home with my son, I love you x

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

I don't teach submissions very often

It's a strange thing, because all my students are good at getting submissions... but most of my lessons I just teach something about control or passing, sweeping, defending, fundamentals of a position etc. Then in the odd class I will throw a submission on the end.

My thinking is that if position before submission is so important, why ignore that when teaching? If people can get to dominant positions easily, they'll quickly be able to learn how to submit people easily whether you show a new technique every lesson or not. There are lots of movements and positions and transitions in jiu-jitsu, but there aren't that many different ways to submit someone... there are lots of variations, but not many fundamentally different ways mechanically. There are definitely lots of minor details which will make a difference to whether you finish a submission or not, but in the overall scheme of things, knowing the minor details of a sweep or pass is always gonna be more useful and more likely to help more students overall. Everyone body shape and size can use butterfly guard well, every one can use pressure passing... but not everyone will benefit from another triangle lesson... nor arm-triangle lesson. Everybody ends up in half guard, no matter shape, size or game, but not everybody ends up going inverted to a toe-hold (although all that stuff is effective and does have it's place :) ).

Actually, submissions are probably the easiest thing to learn from instructional videos. If you can get regularly get dominant position on training partners you can easily practice stuff you've seen in a video. It's much harder to learn how to control and move in a certain position from just watching a video and not having instant correction from an instructor.

My instructor, Chris Rees, taught me the same way... he used to show me how submissions worked by wrecking me with them all the time haha. The vast majority of my wins in competition are by quick submission.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Thoughts on Metamoris 3

Well, first up I absolutely loved the show... pretty much every fight was interesting to watch and the fighters all went for it with lots of aggressive attacking. So specific fights...

Zak Maxwell vs. Sean Roberts
Thought Maxwell looked awesome. His style is pretty much what I try to do, solid ultra tight basics... slow and steady progress to a dominant position. Sean Roberts flexibility is ridiculous, what a guard to try to pass. Loved the fight.

Gui Mends vs. Samir Chantre
As expected, an easy submission for Gui. I thought this was the most pointless fight on the card but it was still great to watch.

Dean Lister vs. Babalu
I was hugely impressed with Babalu, not only being able to defend against everything Lister offered but also attacking flat out whenever he got the chance. For two big guys and a 20 minute fight the pace was amazing. Probably my favourite fight of the night.

Keenan Cornelius vs. Kevin Casey
So Casey was in for Magalhaes. I thought Keenan would get the submission much quicker than he did so fair do's to Casey, he showed he definitely has great jiu-jitsu. A pretty boring fight at times, but then it can't be easy to do much but defend against a guard like Keenan's.

Rafael Mendes vs. Clark Gracie
I was very surprised that this turned out to be the worst fight of the night. Nothing but repeated failed attempts to take the back from berimbolo. I have seen people criticising Clark for just defending, but what else was he meant to do when Rafa is attacking with his best guard attack? I just wish Rafa had chosen to go to the top and tried to pass rather than falling to his guard again every time... or at least tried something other than berimbolo.

Royler Gracie vs. Eddie Bravo
So surely it's gonna be hard for a 48 and 43 year old to keep up the level of action which had been seen in the rest of the fights? That's what I thought, but man these two gave an awesome performance. An amazing ending to a great event!
It's easy to be critical of people in fights, and I've seen many people doing just that, so all I'll say is that I was surprised it seemed Royler hadn't really studied Bravo's game and just stuck to the same plan of attack even after being repeatedly swept with the same thing.

Wow, I really enjoyed this event and I hope Metamoris goes from strength to strength. It was a bit sad to see that loads of people were getting free streams of it, it's one of a very small number of options for professional competitors to get paid to fight. Support the event!!

I've read an unbelievable amount of nonsense written about Gracie/Bravo... people saying Eddie Bravo "won" it. No, it was a draw... the only way to win was to submit and he didn't do that. Obviously he had the better of the match, but it was a draw. Then I read people saying how Bravo was sick after and was totally gassed but Royler was ok, so if they'd kept fighting... NO, it was a 20min fight, they knew that going in. Being tired after is a good thing cos it means Eddie had gone as hard as he could over the distance. There's no point having anything in reserve. "Eddie would have won on points"... but there were no points, this is meaningless... they weren't fighting with points in mind. Man, it was a great fight and people should just be happy with that. Unreal showing from a 43 and 48 year old, congratulations to them!!

A point above ties in with my only big criticism... the commentators talking about "under IBJJF" rules all the time. What other sport does this?? Commentate on how things would work under a different ruleset? I found it really annoying and off-putting. They should just stick to describing the techniques being used/tried, talk about how an attack or counter worked etc

Regardless, I'll definitely be buying the next event :)

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The mental aspect of a jiu-jitsu fight

This is a subject which I have been discussing with my students a lot recently, due to a lot of recent competitions. I think it can be almost as important as the physical side of things, but is often neglected by people as it's something they just don't think about.

Now I'm not talking about mental preparation for fights. I know some people spend a lot of time on that but I find it quite difficult to understand. I never step on the mat without thinking I am going to win and have never felt doubts about my own ability before a competition. What I am talking about is the mental ebb and flow during a fight. So many times I have seen students win fights, or lose very close fights (or even fights they have overall dominated) and they come off the mat with the feeling that they performed poorly or almost lost when in reality they won easily.

Why does this happen? First, I think adrenaline is a big factor, it numbs the mind and means that memories of a fight can be very foggy... I have had fights which I couldn't remember until watching a video! There is also a natural tendency for most people to be critical/negative of themselves and, lastly, people often only think about the last thing which happened during a fight.

What does this mean? Well, there are two fights going on during a match... the physical fight and the mental fight, and they are both vitally important. I have seen people winning fights easily who then make one mistake and suddenly panic, causing them to lose the fight. Or people who have been getting smashed but are so strong mentally they never give up and manage to win by submission.

So how does this all relate to aspects of a fight? The easiest way to explain is looking at the situations this stuff most often applies...

1. If you're in a bad spot and you escape then realise you are winning the fight at that point. Ok, you might be losing on points, but the ebb and flow of the fight is going in your favour, so when you get back to a good or neutral position don't stop, keep moving forward, it's the best time to attack. Your opponent has just lost a strong position and could be disheartened. The same for escaping a submission attempt... it may have been their best attack, they might have been sure they would submit you and now you've escaped... attack!

2. The opposite of the first point; you had a strong position and your opponent escaped. Relax, you got ahead of them once so can do it again. Don't freak out and do something silly, just control the position they have escaped to and go back to attacking.

3. You get reversed from side control. This is a classic that I've seen totally change a fight. Not only were you in a good position which your opponent has escaped, they've put you straight into a bad position. You need to stay calm, if you freak out and desperately try to escape you may end up in an even worse position or get submitted. This is another reason to learn the rules and points system... side control reversal, or being put in side control from top turtle doesn't score your opponent anything. In these circumstances you need to be strong enough mentally to relax, defend and take your time, your chance to escape will come.

4. The fight starts and you end up exactly where you didn't want to be... they took you down, or they pulled guard first. So what? You can panic or you can back yourself to win the fight. Stuff goes wrong in a fight and you have to be ready for it.

There are obviously other ways that show how mental strength during a fight is important, but from my experience they are the most common. Just like learning techniques I believe you can learn methods to improve your mental game. First of, as mentioned earlier, learn the rules and points system back to front... if you know exactly what is happening in a fight it makes it much easier to cope with adverse situations. Also, try to have someone coaching you from the sidelines they can help you by telling you the points and time. Think more deeply about what is happening when you're training, don't just live totally in the moment. Try to think about the overall round and what is happening at each point; you might have been getting smashed for 4 minutes but if you then get the upper hand... go, go, go, push forward hard and work to get the submission or enough points to turn it around. If you're winning the fight at a specific point, whatever came before doesn't matter.

Fight hard, be strong mentally and never give up no matter what has happened!!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Metamoris 3

The third submission only all-star fight card is on tomorrow and I love watching grappling matches of any sort... although the problem with this one is it starts at midnight so I doubt I'll much if any of it live.

My thoughts on the fights...

Zak Maxwell vs. Sean Roberts
From memory Maxwell has the better results overall but it's a tough one to call under Metamoris rules really.

Gui Mendes vs. Samir Chantre
A three time world champion vs. a guy around the same size who hasn't won anything really major. Mendes submission.

Dean Lister vs. Babalu
Tough to know what sort of size/shape Babalu is... his MMA career went off quickly after he'd spent a long time as a top contender. Can't see Babalu tapping Lister and he'll have a tough time not getting caught in something.

Keenan Cornelius vs. Vinny Magalhaes
Really tough fight to call. Keenan has showed he can mix with the top level of black belts but Magalhaes is an ADCC champion and could be much bigger. Maybe Keenan catches a tired Magalhaes late in the fight.

Rafael Mendes vs. Clark Gracie
Clark is good but Mendes is a different class. I don't think the weight difference will matter, both Mendes brothers get submissions.

Royler Gracie vs. Eddie Bravo
The sort of fight that has been discussed so much I don't care. Pretty much impossible to call, when was the last time either fought? I think the most likely options are either Royler wins quickly or it's a pretty boring match.

Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut

Ok, that's a bit drastic, but it's basically true when you're starting jiu-jitsu. As far as learning goes, try to speak as little as possible about technique and listen to every single thing your instructor says and watch every tiny detail of their movement.

The biggest issue around talking a lot is people who ask "what if" questions. It's understandable to want to know as much as possible straight away but it's impossible, you can't learn every variation of every option in every position straight away. If you don't understand something, or can't do a movement properly, ask your instructor... but if you immediately want to know every "but what if they do this?" then you'll slow down your learning. Trust your instructor (well, pick a good one then trust them!) to teach you well.

Much rarer, but I've also encountered people who have to talk a lot to act like they understand more than they do... and it never works anyway. Don't try to impress instructors by explaining how well you understand something just listen to what everyone more experienced says and remember it all.

As you get more experienced you'll learn to be able to ask better questions :)

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Techniques vs. Tactics

Jiu-jitsu is a complicated sport with a lot of techniques, and although being technically good is the key to good jiu-jitsu, it's just as important to know what techniques to use against a specific opponent and also when to use them. You have to be tactically aware as well as technically proficient.

Being tactically aware is basically the same thing as having a game plan. A simple example is that if your opponent is very good on top, you want to put them on the bottom, and vice-versa, for the best chance of success. Then within each position you have to understand what are the best options for you to use. If you are fighting a much larger opponent then closed guard and triangles are probably not going to be the best idea, keeping distance and keeping the weight off you by using feet on hips or butterfly guard should work out better. Then on the opposite end, closed guard will be strong against a much smaller opponent who will struggle to put enough pressure on to open it. If your opponent is big and strong, use movement and speed... if your opponent is small and agile, use pressure and tight control.

Outside of that general aspect of tactics, you also have to consider each position you end up in. If you have a really good guard pass but your opponent is positioned in a way to easily defend it, you should try something different. If you try to force a technique to work in a bad position you will probably come off worse. Thinking tactically means you also have to bail out of things at times... you might be halfway through a sweep, but if completing it means you will end up in a triangle it's time to give it up and accept you may fail on the sweep.

Another part of the tactical aspect is trying to pick up on things your opponent does during a fight. If you've tried your favourite submission attack twice and they've defended the same way twice, you can pretty much guarantee they'll do the same thing again... so be ready for it and plan your follow up attack accordingly. Similarly, whatever attack your opponent used in a position before, they will probably try the same, or something like it again. People will tend to go for the same techniques again and again as jiu-jitsu becomes an instinctual thing when you are fighting hard... so try to take advantage of this.

Competition also has a further angle on the whole tactical thing. You might have an awesome open guard, but if you are winning on points, have 1 minute of a match left and have 3, 4 or more potential matches to win gold... why open your guard? At that point you just need to try closed guard attacks, give yourself the easy win. Or a more extreme situation, maybe you are winning on points but are under your opponent's mount... you might know plenty of techniques to escape, but in this situation it's more tactically sound to just defend. If you escape you give your opponent a chance to score more points and while escaping there is much more chance of being submitted.

So, try to think on two levels all the time; what you need to do technically and what you need to do tactically. When you're in the heat of the moment you will react naturally, but by considering these things throughout your training you will make good tactical decisions naturally.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Who should teach jiu-jitsu?

As with any subject, there are a broad range of people teaching jiu-jitsu and it's often discussed who should teach and what qualifies them to do so. Well, you know the deal, here's my thoughts...

It should go without saying that to teach somebody should have approval from their instructor. This ensures their instructor believes them to be capable of doing so and also legitimises the teaching as being part of their lineage. It also means that the instructor should still be training as a student and continuing their own training.

The most obvious question about teaching qualification is what belt level someone should be. Except for in certain circumstances (no higher level guys teaching in the area) there is no need for white or blue belts to be teaching (and if they are teaching, they should have regular contact with a black belt instructor). Yes, they might be excellent teachers but they will not have enough technical knowledge. An experienced purple belt and any brown/black belt should definitely have the required technical knowledge, but this is still no guarantee of teaching ability. The environment someone is teaching in also matters here; a black belt can certainly run a large academy themselves... a brown or purple might be able to, and they could definitely run a smaller affiliate. Lower level belts are also much better placed to be teaching if they are doing it at an academy run by a black belt.

Judging teaching skills is a tricky thing to do. People learn in different ways and someone might be good at teaching one sort of person but not another. There is also always a human factor, as an instructor you don't just show jiu-jitsu techniques but also have to deal with the various personalities and attitudes of students. You have to make sure the class as a whole works well; people actually drilling, avoiding subdivision into groups/cliques and various other things. Some people are definitely bad teachers; they don't plan lessons at all, they don't have a clear idea of what to teach, they don't teach connected techniques, they favour certain students... and many other potential problems.

I think the best way to learn to teach jiu-jitsu is to learn from someone good at teaching it. People shouldn't just decide to start teaching, they should spend time studying a good instructor teaching classes and ask them questions about how and why they do things. The perfect scenario for someone to start teaching is that they train with their instructor until black belt and then open an affiliate academy, but there will definitely be times when people start teaching sooner (in a country without much jiu-jitsu). The worst option for someone to start teaching is the desperate-to-be-an-instructor types who leave their instructor at white or blue belt and start their own club. These people will use any type of excuse for it... they want to have a "different philosophy" within their club or they "see themselves more as an instructor than a student", maybe they see it as a fast track method to get a promotion via a long-distance affiliate relationship or they are just the sort who rate themselves much higher than their actual skill level. The worst of them will develop their "own style" and wear a black belt... whatever it is, they are idiots.

There are no official qualifications to teach jiu-jitsu, so it's always going to be the case that anyone can go out and set up an academy, but there will also always be people willing to tell others they shouldn't be teaching... and I'm one of them, haha.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Interview on a friend's blog

A friend and old student of mine interviewed me for his blog. You can find it HERE :-)

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Don't use strength!

This is probably one of the most common things you will hear from some people training jiu-jitsu but I think the idea of it has become confused.

Straight off... you have to use strength in jiu-jitsu. What is strength? A measure of how work your muscles can do. What do you use to move your limbs? Muscles = strength. And to go further, the entire basis of jiu-jitsu technique is to use leverage in order to multiply your strength and maximise your advantage over your opponent.

So what people really need to say is "Don't prevent yourself from learning technique by relying on strength"... I dunno, maybe it's not as catchy though. You should try to make any movement or control of your opponent be as easy as possible for you; if you're straining to do something then you're probably not doing it right. If your muscles are dead after every roll, you're probably using too much strength and not enough technique.

That said... there is nothing wrong with using your strength flat out at times. At the end of the day, jiu-jitsu is about learning to fight. Part of fighting is using your physical attributes and strength is an attribute just as much as speed, flexibility, cardio, long legs or whatever... and how many times have you heard people saying not to use those things to your advantage? Exactly. It makes me laugh when I hear a little guy telling an ultra heavy "Don't use so much strength" and then they hit a blink-of-the-eye armdrag to back take.

Basically, what it comes down to is that any physical attribute can be a bad thing in your training, but a good thing in your ability to fight. So you have to judge those things for yourself...

- when you're training in general try to maximise your use of clean technique and minimise your use of physical attributes.
- make sure you also do use physical attributes at times. You need to learn how to use these well; using an attribute correctly is a technical aspect of jiu-jitsu.
- pick your partners wisely when you want to go flat out. If you're really strong then there is little point in putting it to full use against a rooster weight.
- realise you also need to learn to deal with your opponents having superior physical attributes. It's no use just complaining when someone is really strong... it's a fact of life that some people are massive/strong. You might have to fight one in a competition or in a real fight, so get yourself prepared for it.

Monday, 10 February 2014

How and why I promote...

So I did a couple of posts about promotions but didn't mention anything about my own basis for promoting people. As this varies between every instructor it's definitely worth a mention.

First off, I have only given out two purple belts so far and nothing higher. I can't promote anyone to black belt for another 6 years and don't plan on promoting anyone to brown belt any time soon either, so I'll just look at blue and purple...

For both blue and purple, the most important aspect is always grappling performance; how does someone perform against their peers and a wider range of opposition? I judge this in a variety of situations... sparring in training, jiu-jitsu competition and even MMA. My judgement of performance isn't only based on results though, no doubt it's important to be able to get the better of someone in any sort of fight but I would never promote someone just because they can beat people using strength, they have to be using technique.

With that in mind, performance against peers is what I look at most closely. How somebody does against people of similar size, age and experience is a great indicator of ability. But also important is how they do against bigger/stronger opponents... and for that I definitely just differently depending on belt. For purple belt I would expect to see not only better technical ability but also a broader understanding of different tactical approaches to take against different opponents. If someone can beat similar sized opponents but then get smashed by anyone bigger because they are trying to triangle 130kg monsters, they are not due a purple belt imo.

Within the performance aspect there are also other factors... does someone just use the same techniques all the time? A limited range of techniques could get someone a blue belt, but for a purple I would definitely expect to see them using and experimenting with a wide variety of options, especially when rolling with white belts. For a blue belt someone might be good at triangles but not have that many options off it, that's cool... but if I am considering someone for purple belt I would expect them to have options for every triangle escape or defence. Can someone fight from every position? Being able to pass guard and tap every white belt is great, but if they end up on the bottom and are lost they are not ready to be promoted. For blue belt I would expect someone to have options from every position, for purple belt I would expect them to have a range of high percentage options from every position. Cardio is another issue of performance... being able to go flat out and smash any white belt in one round is no good if that person is then gassed and unable to roll the next round. No belt is going to be given to someone who doesn't roll every round.

There are then factors outside of performance... how does someone behave towards other students? I have no problem with people smashing in sparring, but if someone takes it to the level of bullying they show they are not mature enough to be given a higher grade. If they are the sort of person who tries to teach every new student an americana from mount during drilling/rolling then they are not going to be promoted. If they ignore advice and always think they know better, no promotion. If they are lazy and skip drilling, no promotion. If they have a generally bad attitude (talking while I'm teaching, whinging about stuff or whatever), no promotion.

I always consider time spent training in promoting too. I don't really have any minimums, and I definitely don't have timescales where I automatically start to consider promotion. But, if someone is performing to a standard I consider worthy of blue or purple, and they've got their in a short amount of time, I would expect them to have a history of competition success. If not there is no need to get promoted quickly.

And that takes us back to competition... I see competition success as an indicator I need to evaluate that student for promotion, but by no means is it a guarantee of promotion. Someone might win numerous competitions but not qualify for promotion due to any other reasons I've covered above.

Other people promote based on different factors though, or give different weighting to the factors I have spoken about... and after posting this I'll probably think of something I've forgotten about. Whatever, it's a bit of insight as to how someone promotes people... just keep training, keep trying to learn new techniques, compete, think about your training and how to train better... promotions will come in time.

EDIT: something I forgot to mention originally is what happens when people have time off, or haven't been training regularly. Again, in these instances I will not promote anyone. If someone has been off for months injured, it sucks for them but I will not promote them (not even a stripe) as soon as they get back. They will need to get back into regular training for at least a few months before any promotion. People may think this is harsh, but people I promote represent me from that point on. I don't want to give a belt to someone the first day they come back from a lay off, no matter why, in case I never see them again.

A similar thing applies to anyone who joins me from a different team or with existing grappling ability. No matter what their level I would not promote them until they have trained with me for a long time. I know instructors out there who promote people within weeks or months of them joining their team (or even at the first session!!). All this does is encourage people to "belt shop" moving from one instructor to another, often getting them in for high cost seminars, in order to quickly gain belt ranks. Nobody will ever achieve that through me.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Training both sides

This is something that comes up a lot when I'm teaching, and it's an important issue for drilling. Should you train everything both sides or not?

I definitely believe not.

Now, some things you do have to train both sides. If you can't bridge and shrimp escape both sides you are in big trouble. Same goes for any escape, especially when it comes to submissions. Generally, escape options are highly limited from any position (because so much of your body/movement is being controlled) so you should know them all well from both sides.

...but in attacking positions you always have a wide range of options and variations on them all. So if you're in a position where you're in control you should do what feels natural. That might mean you do drill something both sides, but if you find you really suck at something on one side, or you know you would never do it that side, spend the time drilling it on the good side. Why waste 50% of your time training below par?

If you're novice enough that when you drill something one side you just can't get it, but the other side you're ok, then getting really good on one side and rubbish on the other is definitely going to benefit you more than being ok on one side and still rubbish on the other.

If you're more experienced, so you can do a movement both sides but it feels much more natural on one, then as long as you have good attacking options from each position both sides, it doesn't have to be the same one. When you are fighting hard you will attack with what is natural to you.

By the time you get to an advanced level, you will pretty much be able to do everything both sides with relative ease as far as drilling goes, or at worst not take long to get the hang of it... but you'll still attack what is natural when fighting hard :)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Tough times

What's happening dudes? So I've had a long time between blogs again, apologies! My training has been terrible for the last two months; I had my knee surgery (3 weeks out) then it was the quieter xmas/ny period and I also had a cold so barely trained, then as soon as I got back to full training I had an infection in an ingrowing hair... nightmare. It's over with now though, so all good.

I stayed off blogging during this time because I get really frustrated easily when I can't train properly (ask my wife, haha). As it's my job I have to teach no matter what, but just teaching isn't enough to replace the desire to roll, and can make things worse. So I avoided writing about jiu-jitsu as it would have only increased the frustration at having been off proper training for so long... 3 weeks off after surgery I could just about cope with (as I knew it was coming up ahead of time) but almost 2 months is unbearable.

Tough times are really what jiu-jitsu is all about though, if it's not tough something isn't right. If you leave training feeling fresh then you probably haven't improved much; you either haven't done enough training, you haven't rolled with the right people, you haven't put yourself in bad positions during sparring... or maybe all three. You always have to try to push yourself, both physically and mentally, every session. If you always pick sparring partners who you know you can dominate you'll gain nothing, if you sit out rounds you're limiting your growth, if it's the last round and you're tired, your grip is dead and the only partner left is a higher belt the last thing you should do is not roll.

Competition is probably the toughest part of jiu-jitsu, because everything is magnified. If you tap you do it in front of potentially hundreds of people. When you lose you don't just restart and try again or move on to the next opponent, you go home. You might have trained specifically for the comp for weeks or months, dieted to make weight, driven hundreds of miles or more to the competition... and you face the prospect of losing in 10 or 20 seconds. It's a tough thing to do, so why do it? Because it's tough! It makes you stronger mentally, dealing with the nerves in the build up, having to face unknown opponents, dealing with the losses and disappointments.

Overcoming adversity will only improve your jiu-jitsu, and in life in general will make you a much stronger person. So the next time you feel like taking the easy option in something, take a moment to reconsider and think about which choice will really be the best in the long term.

Back to more regular blogs now, so check back soon :)

Thursday, 2 January 2014

So it's the new year and all that

I guess this is the time for looking back at the year which has just finished and planning for the new one yeah? Well, ok then...

So to review 2013, it was pretty awesome all round really. Two big things happened in my jiu-jitsu life; I got promoted to black belt and found out I would be running my own academy in 2014. The black belt was obviously a good feeling, but not due to the belt... just because it means Braulio is happy for me to represent him as a black belt, and I now get to fight the toughest guys in competition. Getting to run my own academy is awesome and something I have always hoped for since I started teaching full-time. I've always enjoyed the teaching side of jiu-jitsu and put more effort into it than my own competitive career, so to take charge of an academy is something I can't wait to do.

My own competition success was as minimal as it gets, just one silver medal, but I was sidelined a lot of the time through injury and hope to make amends for this in the coming year. However, as an academy, our competition success was absolutely immense. Our students won a total of 212 medals (74 gold) and we had 111 different medal winners (52 champions!) - only including adult grappling competitions. Most amazingly was that our overall top medal winner was a 16 year old girl who won 5 adult competitions, plus took 2 silvers and a bronze. Unreal performance for someone who is only barely in the juvenile division.

I've also seen a lot of my most committed students win medals and my classes have all grown and developed amazingly throughout the year. As much as the style I teach (a small amount of techniques each class with lots of tough sparring, as I was taught) must definitely put some people off, it is working well in the long-term... producing medal winners, tough fighters and breeding a great sense of team spirit and pride.

On the issue of not competing much due to injury, I had surgery on my knee a few months ago and it seems to have healed fairly well (although I have had some soreness the last few days). Hopefully it's all good long-term and my training won't be as fractured going forward.

Outside my jiu-jitsu life I had many great moments... I have seen my son grow and develop at a great rate, starting school and getting on really well. He's also done his first jiu-jitsu lesson which I hope will be something he will love as much as I do. I also celebrated my 5th wedding anniversary and 10th year of knowing my wife... still loving every day too. I feel lucky that all I do with my time is spend it with my family or train jiu-jitsu, it surely doesn't get better?

So, the year ahead... straight away I can tell you I don't do new year's resolutions. Goals can be set at any time, and setting goals means nothing, achieving goals is what is important. I made some of these a while back before my surgery and that's still my current set of goals, with the addition now of some involving running my own academy (usual stuff; produce good fighters, have students win a lot of medals, grow the student base etc).

But about goals/resolutions in general... I have a few which I always live by;

- don't be an asshole, unless it's necessary
- treat people kindly, unless they don't deserve it
- improve myself in everything I do
- always look to learn and experience new things

And that's it.

Now, there's nothing wrong with setting goals, but if you want to then make sure you do the important part and actually try to achieve them. Setting goals accomplishes nothing.