Due to last nights escapades, I wasn’t able to make it out to the afternoon class at SBG HQ. And by not make it, I mean that I was still sleeping at 1400 when the class started. I was in pretty bad shape when I woke up. I downed about 1L of water in about 5 minutes. Ate, not swallowed, some aspirin, and kind of milled about for a bit. I didn’t feel like eating, but I went downstairs anyways to get some nutrition and much needed salts into my body. I was pretty let down, but I’m a big boy and should have removed myself to go to bed much earlier. In any case, I didn’t want to go train this evening. I knew I was going to have to man the hell up and go anyways.
I asked the front desk of the hotel about the buses and times out to SBG. I went and packed up my gi, rash guard, and belt. Grabbed some extra water, and headed a block down to the bus stop. I waited around for about 30 minutes before the bus showed up, I needed to move around and be in the fresh air. The bus showed up, and thankfully the busses here have FREE wi-fi on them (take note, America) so that I could track my realtime movements and make sure I got off on the right stop.
The bus dropped me off about a block away from SBG, and I headed that direction. On walking on I was greeted by a nice young lady who told me that this evenings class was nogi, and that the format wasn’t going to be the same as it usually is. John Kavanagh, the owner and head instructor of the gym happened to be in the vicinity and the young lady told him I was visiting. He asked my name, showed me the locker room, and took off for a piss. I changed out, sans belt and gi top, and thankfully had packed my rash guard. I headed out into the mat area a bit late, as the warmup had already started.
John was on the opposite side of the mats from me leading the warmup, everyone else was in a circle around the mat. The warm up was pretty simple and direct. Stretch out the hips, ankles, feet, some more hip exercises (crucifix), some sit ups, and head raises. The last part of the warmup was with a partner, one person would go a round doing sweeps from open guard and the other person would only try to maintain their balance and then you would switch. My hangover was still in effect, I was sweeting horribly, I could feel the lack of energy all over, every time I hit the ground it felt like i was hitting concrete. “Suck it up princess” is all I could think.
After the warmup we started on the technique for the night. It consisted of pulling the opponent in for a leading single-leg takedown, blocking the back of his leg with your free hand, circling him down, stepping back over his close side leg and establishing “knee on belly” from there. My partner and I went back and forth until John called everyone back to show the succession of the movement into submission. Once establishing knee on belly some people will shrimp onto their side and attempt to single leg you from below in order to get to their knees and try to escape, or get the takedown. So as the opponent is going for the leg, you reach around the persons head with your left arm (left if you’re riding their right side, right if you’re riding their left side), and by reach around I mean that you should be coming around the front towards the left side and looping back around. That is, unless they have already turned to their knees. You want to catch them before they hit the transition. This culminates with you either “grabbing your watch” with your free hand and angling your right side arm and elbow against the opponents shoulder in order to block them from passing, and to choke the hell out of them. The movement was a bit weird to me, I kept wanting to “gable grip” my hands to finish the move. It wasn’t until after the practice portion for the move that John brought up that some people may not have the flexibility for this and they should use a gable grip to finish things out.
Next John lined us up against the wall and assigned everyone a number, 1-2-3. I had a feeling I knew what was coming, after having been at Mjolnir, which was at one time an SBG affiliate from my understanding. I ended up being a 1, and thus ended up being on the mat first. This portion of things would consist of “pass, sweep, submit” and once one of the previous things happened, my opponent would go back into line and I would get a fresh opponent. This is a very brutal game, but personally…I love the punishment. It only makes me a stronger and tougher grappler. I had some pretty decent control with my unorthodox guard playing, which usually consists keeping them at a distance until they get too close and then I fish them in with my legs. With the gi on, I would use their lapels and play a modified version of Braulo Estima’s “guard of the galaxies”. There was one guy who was a bit larger than me, and stronger, that I had some issues with. Over and over he kept getting me. Challenge accepted.
The timer went off, and we changed out to the number 2’s being down, and I was in the line now. There were some younger kids, between the ages of 9-14 or so there. I ended up going with all of them at some point. I’m not going to smash the hell out of children, but I’m also not going to make it easy either. If they go into a position that if they were my size and a bit older that I knew would work, I would allow them to get the sweep or submission. I didn’t really look around to see if anyone else did the same, but as nice as the people there were I’d imagine they did. A child isn’t going to learn from beating them up, they know we can beat them, I prefer to make it fun and a learning experience for them. Again I ran into the same big guy a couple of times, it was a bit of the same as before, but with the positions switched. Initially I was playing cautious to feel him out and see what his go to thing were. He didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, but I just couldn’t get past him. I tried using my speed and athleticism to my advantage, which managed to get me a bit closer to my goal of passing, but not close enough that he would have felt threatened in my opinion.
After all three groups of people had been on the ground John said that we would pick a random partner and roll from the knees. John looked over at me and asked if I would like to roll. I said sure, and laughed that it wasn’t going to be very spectacular on my end of things. John brought it down a few notches to my level, but still took advantage of every mistake that I made. If my head was a bit too low in my pass attempt he had a present of a guillotine for me. If I off balanced myself in even the smallest way, swept. With about a minute left, he decided to put himself in some disadvantageous positions to see how I would react. I recall pulling my normal wrestling/judo side control of “hip-to-hip” connection, which wasn’t a problem for him to get away from. I also recall him allowing me to start to take the back before the bell rang. I thanked him for allowing me the privilege of rolling with him.
John looked over at me after the round and said “So Michael, what’s your story?”. I so went on to tell him about what I was doing, traveling around from place to place and training, writing about it and the like. John thought that was pretty cool and said I was welcome to come back. I told John I was headed out the next day and probably wouldn’t make another class, but if I was ever back in Dublin I would for sure come back to his gym and train again.
I ended up meeting the larger guy who was causing me issues all evening after he requested a roll with me. Again, a lot of the same stuff. I feel like I made some small incremental gains on him, but nothing that would ever win a match against him. After the round I asked him how long he had been training, “eight years or so” he replied. That made a lot of sense. That would put him in the purple/brown category, and possibly even black. I wouldn’t say he felt like a black belt though, he was good and knew his stuff, but I felt like he had to put some work into his game to capture me the way he did. He asked if he could give me some advice, and I told him I always welcome tips and the like. He said it was very easy for him to thwart my pass attempts because I keep myself at too far of a distance when passing and that anyone with a decent level of jiu jitsu could see what I was going to do and could position to resist or defend it. He did complement my athletic ability and speed, but told me that I should be a bit closer. I thanked him and we moved on to different partners.
The next person I ended up rolling with was someone I was slated to face at the IBJJF European No-Gi Championships in Rome. When I first signed up, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make the weight cutoff of 201, so I moved up into the Super Heavyweight division, which is were he was. Once I heard him name and accept I knew exactly who I was talking to. I told him that we were originally in the same division but that I had moved down a division because I was losing the weight I needed to. We talked for a bit between rounds and I learned that he was a Judo guy from back in Poland, he asked about my history and how long I had trained for, etc. We seemed to be pretty well matched skill wise. He kept going for ankle locks, and sometimes landing them with me fighting back and regaining posture and holding his neck so that he couldn’t crank the lock with any leverage. I wasn’t really shooting for any submissions, more just trying to maintain control, escapes, and positional dominance. He enjoyed the match enough to ask me to roll another round with him. I obliged.
At the end of class John had us all line up to take a picture, which perfect. After that I asked John if he would mind taking a picture with me, which he did.
As I was leaving, I asked a couple of ladies at the desk if the specific bus I had rode to their location runs the opposite way as well. They said they thought it did and that the stop was probably just up the road a bit. Sure enough, it was only about 50 meters from the front of the gym. I’m looking at the schedule and it seems that the next bus won’t be around for about another 40-50 minutes. I was either going to wait or take a cab. I knew a cab would end up being around 15-20 euro, and I really didn’t want to spend the money on that, things are already starting to get a bit tight. So I’m pacing around the bus stop, trying to kill the time and keep a bit warm when a car pulls up. It was one of the youngest students at the academy and his mother. She asked if I would like a ride to the hotel as she had to go that way also.
On the ride to the hotel we talked about my trip, and where I was going. It was interesting to learn that her son had been doing very well in BJJ and that he had also just won a title in kickboxing for his age group a couple of weeks ago. I told him to make sure he was careful and to not take too many shots to the head, because he was going to need his brain later in life. We arrived at the hotel and I thanked them graciously for the ride and asked if I could give them some euros for the gasoline, she declined the offer and insisted that she had to go that way anyhow.
On the way to the airport tomorrow I’m going to stop by East Coast Jiu Jitsu Academy in Dublin. I fellow jiujitsuleiro from Reddit send me an invite to come out and train with them. Hopefully he’s there when I come out, as I have not outright met any of my initial contacts between the first two gyms, although one did say that we ended up rolling together out at Mjolnir but didn’t recognize me until after the fact. Tomorrow evening I will be on my way to Swansea, Wales.
On a side note, it still hasn’t really hit me that I’m overseas, training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at different places, and how incredibly lucky I am to be able to do this. People say all the time that I’m living the dream, and that they wish that they could do the same. So, I guess it did just hit me. I’m sure the experience as a whole probably won’t hit me emotionally until the whole thing is done and I think back to all the great people I’ve meet and had an opportunity to train with.