My backup plan was to head to Chris Rees’ academy if I got to feeling better. I started to feel slightly better and figured that if I wasn’t up to training that I could always call a taxi and just head back to my room relatively easy. I asked the owner of the guesthouse I’m staying in (The Alexander) if he could call me a taxi, which he did, and which showed up about 4-5 minutes later and headed out to Rees’ place. A warning, the academy address on the website and on Google Maps doesn’t seem to ring any bells with the locals. I had to get the detailed instructions from the website in order to get the taxi to the right spot.
The academy is housed in a very unassuming building in an Industrial part of town. There are no nearby hotels or hostels, and the walk can be a bit tedious if you decide to go that route, as there are pretty large sized hills in both directions. As I walked into the academy I feel a bit of a chill in the air, noticing there was no heating on in the building. I would later come to find out that the Academy is in the middle of renovations, big renovations, and they are changing a bunch of stuff up.
The class that was going on when I came in was a beginners class, for 2 stripe white belts and below. The instructor leading the class, who’s name eludes me at the moment, was a younger fellow that was a four stripe purple belt under Rees. He noticed me walk in and immediately got up off the mats to come and welcome me and ask me what I was there for. I told him about my trip, where i had been, where I was going, and that I had been talking to one of the black belts Rob (http://thetattooedchimp.blogspot.co.uk/) about coming out to train. He seemed generally interested in my trip and the like. He then sent me a few doors down to the MMA academy (also owned by Rees) where Chris was teaching.
As I walked in the door of the MMA academy I could hear someone yelling out instructions. As I got a little closer I could see a bunch of people doing shuttle runs. I just stood there for a bit, quietly, waiting for someone to come over and chat with me. A rather large man came over to inquire as to what I was there for, I asked if he was Chris and was told that no, Chris was the one running class. I told the gentleman what I was there for and that I would meander back over to the BJJ side and wait for Chris to finish up.
When I got back over to the BJJ side, I took a seat inside the reception area in front of a large window that looks out into the training area. I watched the young purple conduct the rest of the beginners class. They seemed to be going over arm bars from guard in a slightly different way that I had seen them done before, and I was mentally taking notes of the subtile differences between the way they were doing the technique compared to the way I do mine (see: Drunken Bear). The biggest difference that I was seeing over and over again was after grabbing the elbow of the arm that you are going to attack, they put a lot of emphasis on using the same side thigh/knee to trap the arm in place while hitting the angle transition and trapping the back with the other leg. The movements seem basic, but very on point.
After a bit the instructor came up to me and asked if I wanted to roll for a bit with one of the four stripe white belts that had just come in. I said absolutely. The prospective opponent was about my same height and weight, although a bit younger, and he was wearing the same gi that I had brought in with me. By the time I dressed out, they were getting ready for the next class, which was a take-downs class.
The instructor of the takedowns class is none other than Brett Jones from Cage Warriors fame. Brett is the current, and undefeated bantamweight champion for the Cage Warriors promotion. He was introduced to me, and asked me a bit about my training, if I had any wrestling experience and the like.
For the duration of the class, all we did was go through mostly wrestling style takedowns, ranging from a double leg, suplex, an ankle pick, and finally an attack from the back where you force the opponent to a knee and doing a rolling dive with your outside arm through their legs and coming up into side control. It’s been awhile since I’ve “wrestled” back in the states outside of BJJ and Judo, but it’s really not the same. Brett was nice enough to give me some of his time and cleanup some of my horrible habits on my double leg takedown and my suplex. Watching Brett execute the moves he was teaching led me to believe he had been wrestling for most of his young life. As it turns out, talking with Rees later, wrestling was a new edition for Brett. Chris had brought in a well respected Middle Eastern wrestler to teach for a time and Brett just soaked it up like a natural. I wouldn’t doubt it if we see Brett soon in the UFC at his current rate.
The next class was going to be lead by Chris Rees himself, and was more of a open mat/Q&A session according to Brett and the other instructor. Fantastic, I get to finally see the guy I’ve been hearing about so much in action. Half of the class was in no-gi gear and the rest of us were in the gi. Chris had every sit in a circle around him while he demonstrated what he wanted us to work on for the time. It was going to be a half guard sweep, which I had see before, but personally have never “learned” at this point in my journey.
Starting in half guard, you want to take your bottom arm and loop it under the shin of your opponent with enough room to bring your forearm up the thigh and be able to hold it in place. From there you want to start to stretch the opponent out with your legs and upper body, causing them to try to base on you. While doing the stretching you’re going slightly toward your back, but Chris put a huge emphasis on not being flat on the back because this would put you in danger of possibly not being able to move about. Once you feel the opponent base out you move quickly to a “crunch” motion back to your side, coming up on your bottom elbow to help support you to bring the uke over. It gets slight fuzzy for me here, but I believe he used what I know of as the “old school” sweep where you latch on to the ankle and push them over. I could be mistaken about that part, but I’m pretty confidant you could add it and it would still work pretty well. The goal there after is to clear through the legs and get into side control. Every so often Chris would pull us back in to watch him go over a specific point of the movement that the majority of us were not executing correctly. Chris would also be walking around while we were practicing the movement critiquing us and offering person specific advice to everyone, including me.
A mother very important thing that I noticed that Chris does is have his student “pressure test” a new movement. Where one students responsibility was the execute the move, the other was to only provide resistance if the executor gave too much space or missed an important movement. When I had the chance to be on top, I tried my best not to be a pressuring asshole like I normally would when stuck in half guard where I would use my “shoulder of justice” and weight to punish whoever was below me. The whole process is a step above the normal practicing of a move, but a step below full on sparring. I think it’s a great idea that I can hopefully have implemented back at my home academy.
About 2/3 of the way through the class Chris wanted us to roll from the position. I was able to go with a few people, going slowly and trying out the new movement myself to get a feel for it. At the end of whatever numbered round we were on Chris looks over at me and asks if I’d like to roll. Hell yes I’d like to roll, but what I actually said was “Absolutely, although I don’t know how much of a fight I’m going to be able to put up to you”, and Chris chuckled.
As we started, I was ticking with the basics. Isolate the ankles, knees, attempt to isolate the hips. Unfortunately for me Chris knew where I was headed every time and managed to turn the tabled after a few seconds and get me firmly planted on my back. There were a whirlwind of taps on my end as I was probing for any possible way for my lowly blue belt self to at least try to get a dominant position on him, sadly that wasn’t going to happen unless he allowed it to happen. At one point I ended up in Chris’s open guard and felt that this was my point to blast through his guard. I was thinking of moving one specific way and got it mixed up in my head and ended up getting triangles by him, he let out a little chuckle and inquired as to what I was thinking. I told him I meant to go the other way and he allowed me to reset and execute the moment I had originally hoped for and complimented me on solving that specific problem. From there he someone got to my back where I spent the remainder of the match fending off submission after submission, but if I recall correctly he ended up getting one of the many submissions he was looking for.
After we were done rolling, I had some questions for him concerning the weird lapel guard that I liked to play. I told him about rolling against Darragh in ECBJJ and hot Darragh could pull off a slick arm bar submission while I was controlling his lapel with my leg and arm. Funnily enough Chris said it was all in the placement of my thumb and hand. So easy, but yet easily overlooked. Chris complimented me on my “game” execution, and I feel he was being pretty sincere about it and not just being polite. I laughed and told him that I appreciated the compliment, but that I had a long ways to go.
After class Chris was kind enough to offer me a ride back to the guest house and let me know I was welcome to come out and train with their team anytime.
I didn’t snap any photos this time around, but I will be headed out there over the next couple of days before I leave.