Monday, March 31, 2014

Ruckus Clan Zurich 3-31-14

I spent most of the day at my companies local office in Zurich. I did this for a couple of reasons. The main one being that I knew I would have an internet connection. Having internet meant that I could get some of the back half of my travel plans set in stone, that being one less thing I would have to worry about. Secondly, I would have somewhere to eat, for free. With the expensive prices in Zurich, this would be a budget saver and a half during my time here. It took be about 19 Swiss Francs to travel out to the office, but I would have spent more than that one breakfast and lunch alone, and that’s not counting paying for internet access on top of it. When it was time to go train, I took the public transportation out to the athletic center that the gym was situated in.

After arriving and getting into my gi, I headed up to the training area. Igor, who was one of the senior purple belts, and the guy who runs the no-gi classes, was also taking charge of the warmup. Initially the warmup seemed pretty tame and what I would normally have to do back home. It stated off consisting of running, moving inside and outside, doing ankle slaps, and running knee raises. Then things switched up into a different rhythm. Now, keep in mind that Igor was running everything in German, no English at all. I had to watch everyone else to see what it was that I was supposed to be doing exactly. We kicked off into a large amount of jumping jacks, then a front jumping jack kind of motion. This went on for a couple of rounds, and my legs were starting to burn from the warmup combined with all the walking and stair climbing I had been doing. Next we started doing body weight squats, well shit…here we go! We did a couple of rounds of these and at the end we stood in a lunge position for a 30 count for each leg. Funnily enough, I almost ate shit during each lunge hold from quadriceps failure. The exercises seemed to be never ending, sit-ups (or crunches for me), leg lifts, leg extensions, leg holds, and then finally it was all over with 5 minutes of stretching. 

Next we started the drills for the evening. The first drill consisted of standing with uke in open guard in front of you. You want to grab the gi pants and base out with Saulo’s “headquarters” position. The headquarters position looks like a wide legged squat of sorts, which I probably looked drunk doing due to my quads being shredded already. Next you want to hip forward, effectively stacking your opponent, but with one knee in-between ukes legs, and the other bracing the leg of the side that you’re going to pass on. The hand opposite of the passing side will reach out and grab onto ukes ankle to help pull his legs away from the passing side. 

The second drill added to the first, but included bit more towards the passing portion of of the drill. Again, grab the lapel opposite of the side that you’re passing on. Keeping your elbows in as tight as your can to help block against the knee shield. When doing this, you will want to have your posture down low with your ahead approaching ukes chest. If you’re afraid of getting choked, like me, you shouldn’t be. When executed fast enough, you won’t be in a position to get choked anymore. The next thing you want to do is it hip in and pressure, like we did above. Bring your knee into ukes thigh, close to the groin (in compeition, you should probably just put it in the groin for added effect) and pointing forward. You want your free leg bracing for base but never fully extended. 

During the second drill I was having issues with keeping my based due to my overused thigh muscles. I kept messing up the positioning and putting myself where I felt more comfortable as opposed to where I would have been more effective. The partner I was working with, an older blue belt, was trying to help me out with pointers here and there. Keep your feet forward, don’t overextend the leg, get lower, and come further in when stacking. 

The final part of the drill was finally shooting for the pass. I have a very bad habit of hipping into my passes entirely too much, leaving myself open for a knee shield (which always comes). I’ve been trying to correct this over the past few months, but in the heat of a roll the bad habit always rears its head and I end up getting a knee shield up in my face and chest. 

After the drilling portion of things we moved onto sparring. Finally getting some good sleep paid off overall with a lot of the matches I was in. Surprisingly I kept finding myself in my go to half guard, the lockdown, that I had learned from the 10th Planet academy in town that I originally started my BJJ journey at. Maybe it was from watching Metamoris 3 that I was subconsciously trying to channel my inner Eddie Bravo, sans the “heefer” as Master Renato Laranja would say. I have trouble from the lockdown, I can hold it pretty damn well against most people. However getting into position for the sweeps is usually a difficult task that takes a lot of patience on my part, waiting for that exact moment to strike. I was able to get a couple of sweeps out of it in class, and one full fledged “electric chair” submission with a tap. All in all it was a pretty good night. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ruckus Clan Zurich 3-30-14

Samir had contacted me on a thread that I posted on Sherdog about my wanting to find places to train at in Europe. He hit me up and told me he trained out in Zurich Switzerland and that I was more than welcome to come out and train with the team. I was told about how expensive Switzerland was, but didn’t realize it until I started searching for hostels around the area, and even more so when I got into country. 

We had been communicating back and forth over the course of a couple of weeks. It finally became evident to me that in order to keep the trip going I was going to have to reach out to people for a place to stay. I hit Samir up for accommodations and he thankfully said it was no problem. He also offered to pick me up from the train station when I got into town, I just needed to give him the train info in advance. 

Per the previous day…errr this mornings Metamoris escapades, I was again dead tired when I hit the train station in Strasbourg. Thankfully I didn’t miss any trains, and was able to hope on down to Zurich with ease. When I got into Zurich, I wasn’t sure where exactly to meet up with Samir, as we had not discussed that portion of things. I searched high and low for free wifi, only to find wifi that wanted my mobile number to SMS me an access code. That would be great and all, but I didn’t have any cell service in Europe at all. I finally found some pay phones in the basement and struggled to figure out how to exactly use them. I noticed there was an SMS option on the phones (I know, right?) so I texted Samir a message giving him a description of myself and what street I would be on. 

I didn’t have to wait very long for Samir to find me. He came strolling up with his flat billed cap and his Shoyoroll jacket. I would later find out that Samir was fond of collecting two things presently, Jordan shoes and Shoyoroll gis. We hopped into his car to head out to go train for the afternoon.

Samir wanted to grab a quick coffee, and I agreed that caffeine was needed badly. We chatted on the drive out to a local Starbucks about my trip and the like. When we walked into Starbucks to order coffee Samir must have seen my eyes building out of my skull. I was looking at the prices and noticed that a SMALL coffee was a bit over $7 USD. He kind of chuckled and offered to grab the coffee on him, I thanked him graciously. I don’t think I had any Swiss Francs on me at the time anyhow. We made our way outside to chat a bit more before heading off to the training center. 

The training location was in Schlieren, a bit of a drive outside of Zurich proper. The scenery on the drive out to the location was beautiful. I was finally away from the cold and dreariness of the countries that I had previously been to. The landscape was covered with buildings, but every view beyond them offered lush green mountains to look at. Samir explained that the Sunday training was a relatively new thing for the team. He felt that in order to fight well, you needed to be in shape. At first I thought it was going to be a conditioning class, my attitude sunk a bit. Personally I don’t like going to a BJJ class for conditioning, it’s not what I’m there for. I’m there to either drill, learn a new skill to drill, or fight. I can do my own conditioning outside of class. Fortunately, it was a full hour of rolling. 

We were running slightly late when we arrived at the training center. Samir was renting space in it, much like Wim was doing up in Leuven. We headed to the locker room to change out, and then up to the training area. It was a small area, but large enough to train in. In fact, it was about average size compared to the rest of the gyms on my trip. I started my normal warmup of stretching, with mostly loosening the knees and hips up as I use them the most when grappling. 

A lot of the rolls and specifics are really eluding me at the present moment. I do recall having some good rolls, and some not so good rolls. One of the rolls that does come to memory was against a rather big, and seasoned, white belt. He didn’t say much, nor have much in terms of facial expressions. He was big, fast, strong, and young. And this wasn’t his first year of training. Samir would tell me later that this specific white belt had come from another school, one that was populated with a lot of smaller training partners. This white belt was the largest by far, and the strongest. His game developed into one of strength and speed, as he was doing only no-gi in the couple of years prior to joining the Werdum Ruckus Clan in Zurich. A lot of what Samir said made sense looking back on the match. The white belts sole intent seemed to be to out power me in every position. I would eventually get him onto his back, but keeping him there would prove to be a chore. 

At some point I ended up catching an elbow right to the top of the eye, putting me out for a few seconds or so I believe. I just remember feeling heat, seeing stars, my vision going black, and realizing I had whoever I was grappling in my half guard tight. I suppose thats a plus, unless someone is continuously raining blows down on my face from above. 

The time finally came for me to roll with Samir. Samir is a four stripe brown belt, on the verge of getting his black belt at any moment. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but what ended up happening I wasn’t expecting at all. Normally I feel like I can roll for a bit with any skill level without feeling like it’s my first day again. Every once in a great while I will run into someone who’s skill level is just light years ahead of mine and they absolutely destroy me. Samir would be no different. 

We slapped hands and he immediately came after me. His grips were ridiculously strong, so strong that 90% of the time I couldn’t remove them.   Samir pulled me into his spider guard, I popped down into the “headquarters” position that we had learned from Saulo Ribeiro during a seminar last year. The next moment I was flat on my back, struggling to get back some semblance of guard. I succeeded in roping him into my half guard, only to have a powerful knee slide pass performed on me. Now I was in side control with a skilled behemoth on top of me. Without much effort Samir took the mount position, and then rolled me over into his full guard like I was a rag doll. Armbar, triangle, omoplata…the submissions and sweeps just kept coming and coming. Everything I tried he immediately found my weak point and capitalized on it. The bell rang, I was relieve to get away from Samir with what little pride I had left. 

Talking with one of the purple belts directly after the round with Samir, I exclaimed my surprise at Samir’s skills, speed, strength, and technique. The purple belt just laughed and said “I know, I know”. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one in the gym who struggled against Samir. I would be looking forward to watching his matches in Rome, I had a feeling that he would end up dominating his division pretty easily. Seeing him in the Open division would be even more impressive. 

Overall I thought the evening went pretty well. Like i said, I had some good matches and some not so good matches. The biggest thing to take out of this is that a lack of sleep will degrade your performance on the mats. I’m sure this isn’t a relegation to anyone (including myself) reading this. But actually living through it was a great reminder to be well rested and in good condition before even thinking about stepping out onto the mats for a competition. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ozaka Academy (somewhere outside of Strasbourg) 3-29-14

I misunderstood Yannick about where we were supposed to meet. He gave me the tram route and stated they would meet me “at the station”. I interpreted that as the main station, rather than the last stop which is what he meant. I made my way to the main station and looked around for a good wifi connection, finally I found one. I messaged Yannick and he said they were running a bit behind and would be at the station in a minute. After a bit I messaged him back, and told him where I was standing. It turns out he was at the last stop before the main station. But not to worry, they were on their way to pick me up and take me to their normal Saturday training location. 

I ended up seeing Yannick before he noticed me and walked out to meet him. We exchanged pleasantries while walking into the direction of our ride. I had originally thought that we were taking a train out, but one of the guys from the academy was going to drive us to the other academy. We were running behind schedule. We jumped into the Mini Cooper and started our journey. The guy in the backseat with me I had not meet the night before. He introduced himself and asked me a bit about my trip. He was originally from Finland and had moved down to Strasbourg with his wife. He wasn’t working at the present time, for whatever reason, and spent his free time training when he could and taking care of their child. He seemed like a pretty nice guy. 

We arrived at the academy after about 25-30 minutes of frantic driving on the French highway out of Strasbourg. The academy was situated in a smaller village. The guy who owned it wasn’t training that day but owned the house behind the academy and usually trained on Saturdays. From the outside it looked like a nice little place. The inside was equally pleasing. A decent sized entryway with mats and exercise equipment, good sized locker rooms with full sized showers, and a decent sized mat area for training both BJJ and kickboxing. I’d say the main area could accommodate around 20-30 students at a time, snuggly. 

The instructor for the day was a purple belt, who had been out at CREPS the night before. He was a bit smaller in stature, but pretty fierce on the mat. When I got dressed out into my gi, I headed out onto the mats where the drilling for the day had already started. 

The first exercise we worked on was creating space for the leg lasso/spider guard. The instructor showed, and insisted, that it was better to have the lasso hook in deep rather than shallow. He emphasized that it should be nearer to ukes butt rather than the chest or the arm. Doing so would give you better control of ukes hips, which is always a good thing. However, if all you can get is the arm or torso, it’ better than nothing. 

The next part of the progression was a sweep from the lasso/spider guard. You want to get cat claw grips on both arms of uke. Next you want to hip out (shrimp), then you extend uke to break down their posture and help to make space. You want to then apply your leg lasso. I shrimped to my left, so the left leg was the first lasso that I applied. As I said in the last paragraph, you want to get it as deep as possible, keeping your left side elbow as tight to your hip as possible. If you need to, crunch up to help get the elbow tight. Then you want to open up your hips and knees in the direction of your leg lasso. You should be able to push uke over just from this action alone. If by chance uke has a strong base, then you want to use your free leg (in my case my right leg) to kick through ukes arm and torso to force the sweep. The kicking motion should be high into the armpit and in the direction that you want to take them. 

The next movement was an arm bar from the lasso, although it should be noted that it’s from a failed omoplata set up (or a faked one). Your right hand will reach across for a crossed cat claw grip, while your left hand reaches for the gi pants. From here you start to sit up and reach your left hand to cross grip ukes free arm, again with a cat claw grip. Hip out to make some space, with your right leg coming up and over ukes same side arm (which would be his left arm, but on your right side). You need to go very deep with this, so deep that your place your foot as a hook below ukes butt. You keep your left hand with it’s cat claw grip, while scooting forward on your butt until your hamstring/thigh can hold ukes left arm by itself. I should note that when you have the opportunity that you should cat claw grip that arm you have trapped again with your left hand. Your right arm will come across ukes chest, reaching under his right arm through the armpit with your palm clutching the upper back or shoulder. You want to place your left foot on the ground close to ukes leg, also letting go of your left handed grip to place your hang onto the ground near you to help you with the rest of the movement. From here you push off with your left leg that is on the ground in the direction of your right shoulder. You’re going to backwards roll over your right shoulder to complete the movement. As your push off and your right shoulder starts to touch the ground, you want to kick up and through with your right leg (remember the hook you had here?). This will help you to keep your momentum while rolling through. You should end up in knee on belly, while trapping ukes left arm with you right arm (not as difficult as it sounds). From here you keep that arm tight against your body, moving your left leg over and over his head. This is a very tight position when executed properly, with minimal chance of escape for uke. 

We rolled for a time after the drilling session. My mind still wasn’t as clear as it should have been, probably due to the exhaustion of traveling. I need to start taking notes directly after training and rolling. There were some pretty good matches, with me throwing in some “lockdown” for good measure here and there. Funnily enough, right before the Metamoris match between Bravo and Gracie. My main focus throughout these rolls was to get to, and maintain a dominant top position and pressure. 

On the ride back to Strasbourg, Yannick mentioned he was having a Metamoris viewing party at his flat later that evening. He asked if I would like to attend. I said sure, but inquired as to the time. He said it didn’t start until 2300. I told him I wanted to make sure I made it to the train early in the morning, and that I also didn’t want to show up at my couch surfing hosts house at like 0200 or 0300 in the morning. Yannick said he would check and see if his roommate would be home, and if note that I could sleep on his couch. I said that would help me out a lot and I would wait to here back from him before canceling my hosting option with Troy. 

I got back to Troy’s place and we talked for a bit about the different things he was working on. Mainly that he was developing a business plan for “democracy engineering”. I’m not going to go into the details about it here, because it’s a very intricate subject that would be better explained by him. In short, I find it to be a pretty interesting idea but I have my reservations about it due to the amount of work and marketing that would need to be put into such a venture. However, more has been done with less in the past. Troy pointed out some cool local tourist like locations that I should check out in my free time. I took up his idea and told him I would be back in a few hours. I also notified him about the possible plans I had with Yannick, but that I was waiting to get a definite answer from him (Yannick). 

I roamed about the Orange Park, the Council of Europe, the European Court for Human Rights, and the European Union Parliament buildings. I like to take artsy pictures. Before I was laid off work 4-5 years ago I owned a pretty nice DSLR camera that I used to take a lot of good pictures with.  Sadly I had to sell it before becoming employed again just to pay bills. Before my trip to Europe, I picked up a basic run of the mill Nikon “point and shoot” camera. So far I’ve been very pleased with the pictures I’ve taken with it. 

I ended up between the European Court for Human Rights and the European Union Parliament building, realizing I had to use the restroom…and use it soon. It slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t in the United States anymore, where we have public toilets on just about every street corner. In Europe, toilets are hard to come by. My options raced through my head, could I find a grove of trees out of public view? What about those buildings on the other side of the road? The European Parliament building also looked like it could be a good private spot. Hell, what about that bridge there next to the Parliament building? No, no, no, and no. I noticed a sign up ahead for a tennis club and restaurant/bar. Surely I could fake my way in there and handle my business. And that’s just what I did. I’d like to report some sort of awesome story about it, but sadly I just walked in and took a piss. 

I heard from Yannick and I was going to be able to stay at his place that evening. I notified Troy when I got back to his flat, he seemed a bit let down that I wouldn’t be spending the night there to converse more with him. The feeling was mutual, he seemed like a pretty damn interesting person. However, I felt that it was only fair for me to give the rest of my time to the team that allowed me to train with them. 

I made my way over to Yannick’s, we were slated to meet most of the people who were going to watch the fights at his place for dinner at a “Chinese” place for dinner down the street at 2100. When we arrived at the Chinese place, I noticed a lot of familiar faces who were going to eat with us. I fielded a lot of the same questions over and over again through the night about my trip. I started to feel like a broken record, and probably became a bit annoyed about having to repeat myself again and again. So, if any of you are reading this, I apologize if I seemed a bit annoyed. My personality is such that I don’t like to repeat myself again and again, it’s very uninteresting for me. However, I didn’t want to seem entirely rude and ignore the questions, so I rolled with it. 

Metamoris ended up lasting a hell of a lot longer than I thought it would. It was interesting to be around a bunch of French people, speaking only French about 75% of the time. Every once and a while they would switch to English to bring me in on the jokes and into the conversations. Metamoris ended up being much like the last one, predictable and pretty boring overall. I really only wanted to watch the Bravo/Gracie fight, but was pleasantly surprised to see a Rickson Gracie black belt (Casey) step in for Vinny Maghalas (spelling is wrong) and fight Keenen Cornilias (spelling). We ended up wrapping up the night around 0430, and I needed to be up to catch my train to Zurich at 0730. Another day of sleep deprivation. 

Hopefully Rome will offer more chances for sleep due to being in one spot for a few more days than I have been and being around a bunch of guys that are competing. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Gracie Barra 67 3-28-14

I had a rough night of attempting to sleep at the hostel in Leuven. Some younger Russian guys had checked into the hostel earlier in the evening, and I was also told that the night to go out and party was on Thursdays in Leuven. Needless to say, I figured I would go out myself and have a few good Belgian beers to help lull me to sleep in the hopes of not hearing any noise in the hallway until I had to be up at around 6am. Sadly, things didn’t work out at that. 

When I did wake up, I was running late. I had to run from the hostel to the train station with my 25-30 kilogram pack attached to me. I was still half asleep, so it was a good wakeup. When I arrived at the ticket counter at the station, I had no idea what line was for what, so I took a gamble and jumped into one. My 50-50 gamble didn’t payoff. When I arrived to the ticket person, he told me to go into the other line for a ticket to Strasbourg. Looking at the other line, there were already 5 people in it. I walked over to the other line, knowing that time was running short. By the time I got the ticket I was informed I had two minutes to make it to the proper platform.

I was off running again, from the ticket office to the platform, which wasn’t too far. I had to run up a couple of flights of stairs and back down a few more to make it to platform 1. As I glanced over at the tracks from the top of the stairs I could see that the train was still there. Perfect. As I got onto the platform and approached the train it pulled away. Rather than being angry, I went back to the ticketing office to see what my options were.

The ticket person was pretty nice during the whole ordeal, and hooked me up with a different route. The route would take a little more time, but it would put me into Strasbourg with more than enough time to get to the training center that the Gracie Barra 67 team trained at. It was difficult to catch up on sleep during the train ride. I had four different train changes along the route and I was deeply afraid I would miss one due to my getting on the wrong train on my route to Leuven just days before. 

When I arrived to Strasbourg I was completely spent. Going off just a few hours of rest wasn’t enough for my body. I needed rest and food, but not too much food as I was still a couple of kilograms heavy for my no-gi weight limit in in about a week away. I spent about an hour running around the train station trying to find free wifi. There seemed to be a ton of open access points, but they all required me to register or input a mobile number (which I didn’t have access to). I finally found a wifi access point that I could connect to without any requirements and messaged Yannick, my French connection. 

Yannick had originally offered me transportation to and from training, but his car had just blown a tire out and he wasn’t going to be able to pick me up. My host from had also messaged me and told me that he had some other arrangements come up and that he wouldn’t be able to meet up with me until later in the evening, which was fine for me because the BJJ training wasn’t done until that time anyhow. In the meantime I downloaded the map route to my phone via the wifi connection and then set off for a much needed coffee from the McDonalds across the street. 

I’ve been playing a fun game of “don’t act like an American” while in most of Europe. In Iceland, I assume due to my viking like beard, I would walk into places and have people have a conversation with me in Icelandic before I would inform them I didn’t speak Icelandic. They were good sports. In the Netherlands and Belgium if I needed something, rather than outright speaking English, I would ask people in Portuguese if they spoke Portuguese. I knew that it would be a very minimal chance that someone would speak Portuguese in either country, and they would always in turn ask if I spoke English. Of course I would inform them I did with a perfect American accent, but that never seemed to bother anyone. I still played dumb in France, even when ordering my coffee at the McDonalds, requesting in Portuguese a small coffee only to have the worker behind the counter look at me perplexed and offer to take my order in English. It wasn’t until the next day that I ran into a Frenchman who actually lived in Brasil for a time and spoke better Portuguese than me and my illusion was broken. 

I decided to head to CREPS early, just in case I was to get lost in my sleep deprived state. And in case you’re wondering, I did in fact get lost. My GPS on my phone was acting up, so there were a few times I thought I was going the wrong way and would get off the tram and jump onto another one. At some point I ended up close to where I needed to be and decided to walk the rest of the way. According to my map there was a short cut from where I got off the tram at, and the club should only be about 600-700 meters from my current position. As I started walking that direction I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make it through the forrest or the tall wall standing in my way. I backtracked and ran into some people that I asked desperately for directions to CREPS. After discussing the proper way to go amongst themselves in French for a few minutes, they informed me that I would have to go around the long way.

Off I went again, walking and walking. Probably a few kilometers to cover. By this point the burning on my shoulders from the weight of my pack was giving way to an ever so slight numbness, which was a bit of a relief. I ended up making it to the complex, but slowly realized I didn’t know which of the many buildings it was located in. I again tried to find some open wifi network only to be denied access again and again. Finally it dawned on my that I had my inbox of messages on open on my laptop with Yannick’s directions to the gym once I got to CREPS. It was a bit like a scavenger hunt: look for this building…that’s not it, follow it’s path over a brig, keep going through a grove, out the other side you will see a building, that’s the place. Thankfully, I found it. 

As I walked in, class had already started. There was no-gi for an hour and then gi for an hour. I noticed a couple of guys standing with half their gi on and walked up and asked if they knew “Yawn-Ick”. They said they didn’t, I told them that he had invited me out to train for the evening. I pulled out my laptop and showed them the name, which I of course was mispronouncing, because they immediately said “Oh yeah, he’s over there!”. Yannick was training a distance from us and as I looked over his way he happened to be looking our way. He jogged over and introduced himself in person. I told him I was pretty tired and would most likely skip the nogi portion of things. However, I knew if I didn’t get out and train I would end up falling asleep on the bleachers. I reluctantly ran over to the mens room and changed out into my no-gi gear and headed back out to the mats. 

Yannick was nice enough to stick by my side and interrupt the important bits to english for me. We worked on five different triangle setups. Ranging from the traditional pop the arm through and elevate the hips to some others which I can’t remember due to my tiredness at the time. I do recall doing a sparing session that the bottom person could only use triangles as a submission, no sweeps or other submissions. The top person was only allowed to attempt passes, no submissions. I ended up paired up with a young lady by the name of Marie, who seemed very intense about her training. She was also equality interested in my trip, asking me all kinds of questions. I thought it was pretty cool that someone would take such an interest in my little journey after only knowing me for a few moments. There were a few other training partners for the drill, but honestly a lot of it was a blur. 

 *note* I had to confirm the rest with Yannick because there was a block of time I don’t recall. I do remember telling him multiple times that I was going to fall asleep on the mats at anytime. I guess I went into autopilot at some point. 

After no-gi was over, it was time to suit up for gi. All the guys were dropping their no-gi stuff out in the open, down to their underwear. At my academy we would get yelled at like a five year old for doing such things. I was too tired to care about my American modesty, so I followed along and dressed out right in the open. We lined up and started the class with a light warmup. My legs were burnt out from all the running around and walking I had did through the day with my decently heavy pack on me. Just lightly jogging around the mats was a huge task.

After the warmup, we ended up doing some functional drills. The first that we did was standing from the guard. It was essentially placing your hands on the partners ribs and jumping up into a standing position. This is a bit different from the couple of ways that I’ve seen standing in guard, but I went along with it. My partner was a rather large, and Eastern European sounding dude who didn’t talk a whole lot, other than to apologize for putting a ton of pressure on me during the drill. When it was my turn against I had to fight against my legs giving out on me, the exhaustion was really getting to me. I needed sleep badly. The next drill was simply sliding the bottom hook into an opponent who had turned away from you, be it in side control or from the turtle position. While I prefer to slide the overbook in first with the legs, this is the second time I’ve seen an academy in Europe shoot for the underside hook for taking the back. There was another drill that we performed, but neither Yannick nor I recall what it was. Before sparring, Salah (the head brown belt of the club) showed us a choke from knee on belly, where you grab the lapel from behind the opponents neck. 

Yannick helped me remember the choke we went over with the following:
From sidecontrol, you grab the far side lapel, feed it under the arm to your free hand. Then you go knee on belly, and the free hand grabs the lapel, palm up, but passing on the same side you're on. After the second hand lets go of the lapel, reach over the head, grab the lapel again and bring the forearm in front on the opponents throat, and then you press down. We also variation where the opponent blocks the hand from getting the last grip, in which case the hand pushes the blocking arm away into an arm triangle. (Thanks Yannick!)

The sparring portion of the class came next. I was dreading this a bit. It’s not my goal to destroy anyone at any of these academies that I am visiting, but I do want to look like I am a proper blue belt and uphold Rodrigo’s name. The exhaustion was there, but I knew as long as I stuck to my basics, I would be fine. There were some alright matches on my end, and some pretty lackluster ones. The one match I recall in particular was with another blue belt. When he motioned for me to come over, he said “lets go light and easy”. Great, I thought. That’s exactly what I was in the mood for. The next thing I knew I was tapping to a pretty strong arm bar. I got up, a bit visibly angry, and said “well, so much for going light?”. My training partner said “sorry, when I see a submission I go for it”. I should have known better, as there is a stereotype that when you hear someone say “let’s go light” that it’s going to be the exact opposite. Talking to some of the guys later, the person in question always goes 110%, not out of ill intentions though. But rather that’s just his style of grappling. My anger had worn off before the match was over. I was too tired to care. 

                                                             The Gracie Barra 67 Team              

                                          Salah, me, Yannick

The negative of Yannick’s car being out of commission meant that I was going to have to navigate to my hosts house blindly. I had no google map downloaded for the return trip from the club. Thankfully Yannick and Ahmed (one of the purple belts of the club, and a cool guy) spent most of the journey back with me, with Yannick walking me all the way back to make sure I didn’t get lost. We arrived at the hosts flat, said our goodbyes and planned on meeting up in the morning at the train station.

I walking slowly up the stairs to my hosts flat. I had contacted Troy through in the hopes of having not having to pay a big amount for a hotel or hostel in Strasbourg. Troy stood out from the rest of the hosts in the area for a couple of reasons. First of all he had very high couch surfing ratings from other couch surfers, always a plus. Next, reading his information on the website made him sound like a pretty intelligent guy. I figured there would be some interesting conversations to be had while in his company, and I wasn’t let down.

There was a younger German couple staying in the flat also, which meant I would be sleeping on a  bedroll on the floor. I told Troy that I was so tired I wouldn’t mind sleeping on the floor itself at this point. He seemed a little surprised about that and insisted that I place some couch cushions on top of the bedroll with a sheet on top to hold them in place. It turned out to be a brilliant idea. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Brasa Belgium 3-27-14

I didn't end up making it out to train with the Brasa team last night, and I was a bit upset about that. More at Google Maps than anything else. I used Google Maps to plan out how I was going to get out to the club and it gave me a specific bus number to catch from a specific location and going a specific direction. Doesn't sound too difficult does it? Well, the bus showed up at the desired location, and started off on the right path. Before I knew it, I was on the completely opposite side of town and had no way to map out another way of getting there. So, I called it off and decided to take some pictures around town and walk back to my hostel. 

When I got back, I messaged Sam the bad news and inquired if there would be training this morning. He told me to find Wim on Facebook and send him a message. Finding Wim wasn't a difficult thing to do, and I sent him said message. He replied back rather promptly and told me to come in at the normal training time for the day (1030). Despite being woken up repeatedly during the night by my drunken Chinese and Belgian hostel mates, I was up early enough in the morning to catch breakfast and do some reading. 

Around 0930 I decided to trek out to the bus stop. I wanted to give enough time to catch a cab to the gym if Google Maps decided to fail me again. Surprisingly enough the bus dropped me off almost right in front of the gym. 

I made my way up to the community center in the cold and rain. It was a bit colder and wetter than it had been over the past few days here in Leuven. I pulled up my hoodie and threw my hands into my pockets. Within a few minutes I was at my destination. I made sure to take my hoodie down within about 100 meters, as there was a school across the way and I didn't want to make anyone uneasy. As I walked into the community center I noticed the training area was dark, and there was nobody in the lobby. 

Adjacent to the martial arts area, there is a dance studio of sorts. I walked into the reception area and I noticed there were a group of older people practicing Tai Chi. I've heard that Tai Chi is great for older people in terms of exercise and meditation, and I would periodically glance up and watch them. I didn't want them to feel self conscious about what they were doing, so I would only watch for a minute or so, and then divert my gaze back to my laptop (which had no wifi). 

At about 1045 I started to get a bit anxious. Nobody had shown up yet, and I was still trying to get wifi via different hotspots so that I could be somewhat productive. Maybe get a blog post out there or maybe get my already late expense report done for my company that I wasn't able to do before I left the country. 

Around 1100 Sam came into the front door. I didn't expect to see him, as he was pretty sick the day before. We greeted each other and went into the training area. He asked where everyone was, and I stated that I figured he would know. He wasn't sure either, as Wim had sent out a message earlier the previous day about training. Sam also asked if I had seen Wim, I laughed and said no. Sam thought Wim might be in his car sleeping, so he went out to check. 

A few minutes later, Sam returned with Wim. Wim laughed as he came in, and explained that he had been sleeping in his car. He said that it was normal for him to sleep in his car before a class, and that students would wake him on their way in. I told him had I known that I would have woken him, but I didn't know there would be a random black belt sleeping in their car in the parking lot. We were all changing out into our uniforms during the conversations. I knew it was going to be a rough day, a healthier purple belt and a black belt...and then me. I wasn't going to pass at the chance to roll with either of them, regardless of the beat downs that I knew were coming my way. 

Wim asked what time limit we wanted for rounds, I stated whatever the time limit was for the IBJJF masters division would be good with me. Sam and I were already on the mat, and decided we would go ahead and handle business. I could immediately tell that Sam was feeling much better this morning. His reaction time was a hell of a lot better, much better than mine today. The only advantage that I was going to have was that of my game still being somewhat new to him. The option of surprise. I'd like to report that it worked to my advantage, but in reality it did not. Even a half health Sam was still light years ahead of me. I attempted to pass his guard numerous times and was met with numerous wrist locks during our roll. 

Next I faced off with the resident black belt, and head of the Brasa Belgium team Wim. We started off standing, which I felt pretty confident in. I grew up wrestling in the midwest and I've been training Judo just about as long as I've been doing BJJ. My Judo isn't the best, but it's typically better than the average BJJ fighter. Wim immediately pulled guard and off we went with me attempting to pass. "ANKLES, KNEES, HIPS!" echoed in my head. Previous statements from my coaches AC and Ed. These words of advice, these tactics, seemed to mean nothing to Wim. I tried switching sides, and every time I was fighting off triangle attempts from the Brasa black belt. 

The only thing saving me each time was luck and getting my free arm lodged between my face and Wim's legs. At some point Wim caught me with a wrist lock, again. "What in the hell am I doing that is leaving my wrists open?" I thought. The second time I tapped ended up coming from a triangle attempt on Wim's part that I defended well, but yet fell into his trap of leaving my arm behind by a second or two. I tried to fight off the arm bar that he was going after, very slowly on his part. After about 2-3 seconds I realized I was fighting off the inevitable. I knew I should just go ahead and tap, he had it and there was no reason to defend my pride. This man was light years ahead of me, he could have broken my arm if he wanted to. 

We reset, and I decided to stupidly place half guard. Well,  I tried to play full guard and was passed so I ended up in half guard. So, I introduced Wim to the "lockdown". I'm sure it wasn't the first time he had seen it, but I was adamant to make sure he remembered it. I ended up stalling out the round for the last couple of minutes because I couldn't put Wim into position to sweep him or attempt  submission. Not a victory by any means. 

Sam and I met again, as there were only three of us. More and more taps on my end, Sam was starting to feel much more better. In fact, he was starting to feel like a strong purple or a new brown belt to me. I got sick of his guard game and backed off, attempting a cartwheel to pass his guard. I got about halfway though, only due to the fact that he flinched during my initial motion. Wim was laughing a bit from the sideline, I assume it was from my gorilla ass trying to be agile as opposed to Sam flinching...although it could have been the opposite. The cartwheel pass seemed to yield some results, I might be onto something with breaking down Sam's guard. At the end of the round I wrapped up some stupid toe hold, but Sam informed me in an IBJJF tournament I would have been disqualified for "reaping the knee". My far leg was over his hip, but it wouldn't matter to an IBJJF referee. They would have called it, and in my opinion the rule is a bit open ended. 

Wim and I rolled the next round. The only time I remotely came out ahead was when Wim would try to single or double leg me. My wrestling from junior and senior high came back to vindicate me. Granted, I don't think Wim was going 100%, but it was still a victory in my own personal world. Stuffing a black belts takedowns,  hell yeah! I attempted to do a drop Seoi Nage and hit the ground without Wim. I realized about halfway through I no longer had any  grips on Wim. A triangle here, an arm bar there...I feel like a 6th month old puppy trying to run with the big dogs. 

Sam again, there are only three of us. The heat is pumping into the room. I think Wim pumped the heat up for the training, it's like the old school wrestling hotboxes that I remember from my younger days. Sam accidentally hits me with a knee and I end up seeing stars, weird colors, and patterns for the next minute or two. He realizes what happens and apologizes, I try to play it off but he knows. We end up in a bit of a wrestling match at the end of the round and I feel like I have the advantage, but I end up losing it. (Note: my 5th and 6th round notes run together, Sam's knee to my face affects me more than I thought and the next 12 minutes blend together. The wrestling was actually with Wim).
We (Wim and I at this point, when I can think clearly) end up in a scramble. More taps on my end during both rounds. 

I end the training with watching Wim and Sam fight it out. Win is working on passing Sam's spider guard, from my vantage passing Sam's spider guard is difficult even for Wim. But not impossible. I notice that Wim always had both hands inside, with his elbows and knees connected. Eventually Wim elects for an under the leg pass and ends up in side control on Sam and fluidly hitting mount. Sam hip bumps a lot, trying to get Wim high up on his chest, which I assume he's going for a escape out the back. The bell rings. 

                                          Sam, me, and Wim

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Brasa Belgium, Leuven 3-26-14 (afternoon class)

I had been talking to Sam on Facebook for about a week or so about coming out to the academy. He seemed like a pretty nice guy, full of information and banter. Sam was a purple belt from the academy and had recently won his division at the IBJJF Munich Championships. Sam was one of the people who laughed at me for booking a plane ticket into Leuven instead of taking the train. He also was trying to help me find a way to get into Leuven without having to pay for another hotel. 

I looked at the route I needed to travel via google maps before leaving the hostel, and had it up on my phone so that if I took the wrong bus I would be able to still navigate back to the club. It was about a 10 minute walk down to the bus stop that I needed. I caught the correct bus at the correct time. However, I was noticing that the bus seemed to be following its own route through the city. About 3/4 of the way through the ride I decided that I wasn’t sure if the bus would infect stop at the correct place or not, so I jumped off about a kilometer from the club. It was an uneventful, but scenic walk and I forgot to take pictures along the way. Finding the club was by luck as there was a younger guy about 100 meters in front of me carrying a gym bag. So I just kind of followed him. The academy was a bit of a way from the street, and didn’t look like an academy from a distance. 

When I walked into the building there were a handful of guys in the entrance area, which was decently large. I scanned around, looking at ears. Cauliflower, cauliflower, cauliflower, yep…I’m in the right spot. I heard no english being spoken, and I wasn’t about to out myself so I stayed quiet and pretended to surf the internet on my no signal having phone. Pretty soon someone else came in and opened up the doors to the training area. I would soon learn that it was Wim, the person who ran the club, and the resident black belt. 

I asked were the locker room was, and was told there wasn’t one. I went back to where the restrooms were, in order to change out. At my home club, you get yelled at for having only a bare chest anywhere other than in a restroom. As I walked back into the training area I noticed random guys just dropping their pants and changing out right there. Well, I guess it’s cool for later. 

Sam had told me that the afternoon class was pretty relaxed. Come in around 1300 and do your own warmup. Around 1320 or so they would start rolling and continue to do so until 1500. I wasn’t sure if my lungs would bear the brunt of such a lengthy sparring session, as I am still having issues with my sinus’ and as of yesterday I started coughing crap out of my lungs. 

Sitting on the edge of the mat stretching out, which is enough warmup for me, Sam came over to welcome me to the club and introduce himself in person. He asked if I would like to roll the next round, the first round started between the brown black belts while I was still stretching. I said sure, and he ran off to grab the rest of his gi. He came back over, and we slapped hands and got underway. 

Sam is pretty close to my size, he’s tall and lanky and has a leaner build than I. He’s also a bit younger than me, but I’m not entirely sure by how much because he is a pretty mature guy. Even though he is a purple belt, I figured it would be a good match but one with me playing a lot of defense. And, that’s exactly what ended up happening. I’d later find out that Sam wasn’t feel very good, he was a bit sick to his stomach and ended up training only about half the class or so. I think if he was feeling a little better, the match would have gone a lot differently. And by differently I mean him subbing me at some point during out 8 minute round. 

Next I was asked by Wim if I would like to roll. Wim is the resident black belt and leader of the team here in Leuven. I will always roll with anyone, regardless of rank, size, sex, age, etc. I know I’m not too much of a threat to a black belt, so my goals are pretty simple. Irritate them until they start launching attacks on me and see how long I can last. And that’s exactly what I did, and that’s what happened. Wim didn’t beat me up too bad, but he tapped me probably 3-4 times during our match. I feel like he could have done a lot more had he decided not to play so relaxed. Either way, it was a nice experience for me.

My next round was with a brown belt of the same size. We slapped hands and things took off pretty quickly. I tried numerous times to get the advantage and stay on top, but it just wasn’t meant to be. It was a pretty fierce battle, with me usually ending up in side control, fighting to stay off my back the entire time. I was able to throw the “lockdown” half guard onto my opponent, which only frustrated him more. Over all I feel like I trusted the hell out of him with my defense. I used to feel pretty inept about having a pretty reactionary, or defensive game. It wasn’t until I was at the Gracie academy and was talking with Rener and some of the folks training there about it. They all pretty much agreed that was Helio’s game. Play good defense, tire out the opponent, and when they can barely move anymore take the offensive and submit them. You’re talking about a fight going on for 20+ minutes though in order to achieve this outcome. In an IBJJF match, I’ve got five, maybe six minutes to come out ahead either by points or a submission. 

The net round I went with a guy who had only a gi top on. Rolling with him felt like a pretty seasoned white or a brand new blue belt. He had his spastic moments and was launching submission attempts left and right, but never able to get them. A few times when I had him in side control, he was flexible enough to swing his hips and legs back and attempt some kind of weird inverted triangle. I was able to fend these off pretty easily every time be it with throwing the outside arm back in between his legs and my throat, or timing things just right and pulling back from the triangle. I had a few successful submissions on him. When we were done I asked him if he was a blue belt and he informed me that he was only a white belt. I asked how long he had been training, he told me about two years. That put him right around the time most schools would be promoting him into a blue belt. I thanks him for the roll and told him that he was moving good and wished him luck. 

My final roll of the even was against a slightly larger built blue belt. I was decently tired and decided to move pretty slowly to see how this blue would react. Surprisingly he matched my intensity almost perfectly. I think he may have been a bit tired also, and thus welcomed a slow roll. In any case I missed some sort of a guard transition I was attempting and ended up having to go into half guard. We ended up playing cat and mouse with him trying to get out of my half, and me trying to retain it. Same story, I missed another transition and ended up giving him control and eventually full mount. I was successful in fending off all the attacks he was throwing at me. I felt like he had a lot of the same game that I do, smash from the top and play a war of attrition. Sadly for him, I’m used to that game from my home gym. I’ll take a ton of pressure and punishment, rarely giving anyone what they want. 

After class Sam offered to give me a ride back to the Leuven Station since he was headed that way. We talked about different tournaments, how IBJJF was run in Munich very precisely. Germans were running it, so no surprise there. He was telling me about a Superfight he had the previous weekend against a brown belt, which he had tapped out but let go without realizing the ref didn’t have a definitive view of the tap. The brown belt got up and stated that he in fact didn’t tap, which is pretty horrible. Nobody likes to lose, but don’t let your ego take the drivers seat. Own up to it! Sam ended up winning the match by an advantage at the end, so in the end karma came back to bite the brown belt in the ass. 

There is a technique class this evening I’m going to try to make it to. Hopefully I can keep my head on straight and take some better note this time around. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Robin Gracie Amsterdam 3-24-14

I emailed my Hungarian point of contacted, Remy, the day that I got into Amsterdam to relay the fact that I didn’t plan correctly and wouldn’t be able to train with Raoul at the Rickson Gracie Amsterdam academy. He was nice enough to reach out to a friend of his by the name of Shebo who teaches at the well known kickboxing gym called Vos in Amsterdam to see if I could join them to train. Remy gave me the academy address and the day and time of training and I took off and went up there. 

The Vos gym has a very nice reception area, with a bar of sorts that serves up coffee and smoothies and the like. I got a little ahead of myself and showed up to the gym about an hour and a half early. I didn’t realize I was that early, I thought I was only 30 minutes early, but the body language of the receptionist was a bit off, so I looked at the clock and sure enough I was going to have some time to wait. Since I couldn’t get wifi in the reception area I ended up watching Dutch television without a clue of what was going on. 

After about an hour or so, Shebo came into the reception area and introduced himself. Shebo showed me the locker rooms so that I could change out, which there were two of. The most popular of the two was on the ground floor. There were another set on the second floor and you need to climb a spiral staircase in order to get up to it. The second floor also houses the showers, and I believe some steam rooms. We chatted a bit about my trip and I thanked Shebo for allowing me to come out and train with his team. 

Once we were on the mats the first warmup we worked on was with one partner standing and the other partner on their back. The partner who was on the ground would elevate their legs and hips, swinging up and over the standing partners legs and hips while using a free arm to brace against the partners legs to help move them backwards in motion. We did this up and down the mat, and then switched partners. Exercises like this tend to make my abs burn the first few times I do them, and them I’m usually good. This was no exception, while we do a similar movement at my home academy, we don’t move when doing it.

Next we jumped guard on a standing partner and did a 360 around them to the front, and then went the opposite direction. Think of a baby monkey climbing around it’s mother. Except in my case, more like an uncoordinated gorilla. I have never done this movement, let alone seen it. I personally really liked it and would love to see it thrown in from time to time back at the home academy. Due to my inexperience I fell off a couple of times. One of the purple belts pointed out to me that when you feel yourself falling you need to climb back up rather than attempting to keep your rounding motion. I also noticed that the purple belt was using his legs to hook and wrap around his partners legs for support, as opposed to my just retaining guard and trying to use only upper body strength to move around. 

When we completed we did some impromptu rolling. I teamed up with the other blue belt and we did a very light sparring session, with neither of us really using speed or strength. Like a flow roll, but adding maybe 20% intensity to it and not doing to “you go, I go” motions. 

The next warmup was one partner is standing straight up, and the other partner is on the ground with legs on hips, elevating their back off the ground. The goal here is to take one foot off and switch it to the opposite hip of the partner while moving yourself back and staying connected. I’m familiar with this movement, as we do it from time to time in class. What we don’t do is move backwards while doing it. Again, another thing my core was not ready for which made for some really awesome burning in the abs. We did this up and down the mat, and then switched places.

After we were done with the “wall walking” warmup we moved onto arm bar drills from side control. Going from side control, to securing the close arm and sitting into kesa gatame. Next, what I usually do is switch my hips to have my knees planted into the side of my partner, blocking the upper chest and the same side hip. I was told not to do this, that I should switch my hips over to the other direction (from facing the head to hips facing the opponents hips) in one motion. I’ve never thought of doing this before, but it feels like a much more efficient movement. From here you work into the mount position by swinging your far leg up and over the opponents hips. Making sure to but high enough to elude their block or attempted re-guarding. Making sure to base your arms, you put pressure on them in the hopes that they put their arms on your chest to relieve the pressure. Although, anyone with 6-12 months of training isn’t going to put their arms on your chest, because they know you’re taking an arm with you. For the drill however, we did. It’s important to get your hands in the right position. whichever arm you’re attacking, you want your same side arm to be forward with the hand on the opponents chest (over their arm), the far side arm goes underneath the far side opponents arm and onto the chest. You raise up on your arms, keeping downward pressure onto the opponent, and swing your close side leg over the opponents head, whilst keeping the arm your attacking close to your chest for the tap. We each did this 20 times and switched out. 

We jumped into some more informal sparing at this point. I went against the one stripe blue belt that I was working with. He felt pretty solid through the whole session. Neither of us really went all out, but he was definitely more dominant than myself through the whole ordeal. That’s been a bit of an issue for me as of late. I may have talked about it in a previous post, but I’m going to again. One of our senior white belts sent me an email about the same thing recently, how he was talking to our resident black belt and the black belt pointed out how WB was lacking intensity at the start of the roll but when a newer white belt put him in a compromising position he turned up the intensity and went after him. The WB said he was worried about being “an asshole” when rolling, it’s always a thing I’m worried about too. I know some of my teammates might not agree, but I don’t want to accidentally hurt anyone or use “dick moves”. However at the end of the day, sometimes you have to use “dick moves” in order to escape a position or to get the submission. The point here is I need to start turning up my own intensity too. 

My next round was with a white belt, who I believe was Eastern European by listening to his accent and his name. I got out of him that he had an MMA fight in a few weeks. I personally feel like a person shouldn’t have an MMA fight unless they have a blue belt at a minimum in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. To put it into some perspective, me as just a blue belt, had my way with him. I wanted to be in side control, it happened. If I wanted to mount him, it happened. If I wanted to submit him, it happened. This kind of reminds me of a local UFC vet from Nebraska. The guy was a great boxer/kickboxer, but he lacked ground game. In fact, anyone with a half decent single or double leg takedown would get him to the ground and he was done. So kind of the same thing here, this kid has a fight coming up and he has like 3 months of experience on the ground. He has no reason to be stepping into a cage at this point. 

For the last round of technique and drilling, we did a straight ankle lock with a deviation to keep the opponent in place. The deviation was to place your outside heel into the torso of the opponent. There was some confusion as to if this would be legal in an IBJJF competition because it was very close to looking like a “knee reap”. Knowing how hit or miss the refs are in the IBJJF, I personally would not risk getting a DQ over it.

My last match of the evening was with a younger lady, who I had previously did the arm bar drills with. She did the drills on me, I did mine on the blue belt. She was a bit reluctant to go with me in sparring, it might have been the sizee and rank factor, it might have been anything. I beckoned her over and Shebo gave her some words of encouragement. She was smaller, younger, and a white belt with no stripes. It was obvious that she was pretty new. But it’s all good. I told her not to worry, that I would be nice and that she didn’t have to be. She agreed and off we went. I’m not entirely sure how long this young lady had been training, but she brought what she lacked in technique and knowledge she made up for with tenacity and pressure. Granted I didn’t have to work too hard to keep her where I wanted to, I feel like she would do pretty well in her division in a tournament though. Another future star on the rise. 

I thanked Shebo for allowing me to come out and train with him. We all took a picture together, I thanked the rest of the people in attendance, dressed out and took off back towards the hostel. 

I was in a bit of a bind in terms of lodging in Leuven. I had booked a flight from Amsterdam to Leuven, not realizing that it would be far quicker to just take the train. My flight wasn’t due into Brussels until around 7pm, I would need to collect my baggage, go through any customs or immigration, and get onto a train find my way to the hostel in Leuven to check into the hostel by 8pm. That was cutting it very close. I asked the hostel if they could stay open a bit later and even offered to cover the costs of the employee to stay. I was informed by the hostel that “That is not how our economy here in Belgium works”. I’m not entirely sure what that was supposed to mean, as I can interpret it in many ways, and very few are positive. Needless to say I was going to have to wake up early in the morning and try to figure something else out. 

Whatever solution I was to come up with, it would end up costing me money. I had already paid for the plane ticket, but there was going to be a hefty bag fee. I was contractually bound to pay the hostel for the night even if I missed it. So I had a choice of either booking another hotel room for the evening, which was going to be expensive, or to take a train to Leuven early in the day. I chose to take the train. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Carlson Gracie Amsterdam 3/24/14 (morning class)

Surprisingly, I woke up with enough time to quickly eat and get on my way to the Carlson Gracie Academy. The ride by tram was only about 20-25 minutes, with walking, from my hostel, the Hotel Inner. I was about 45 minutes from the class start time when I left the hostel. I made my way quickly to the tram stop, and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally the route number that I needed made a stop. This was very curious to me, because when I go to the tram stop, there should have been a tram stopping within 2 minutes, with the next one only about 5 minutes out. I had been waiting nearly 15-20 minutes for a tram. It was going to be close. 

When we arrived at the stop I would have about a 5-10 minute walk. I glanced down at my phone to see that I only had about 3 minutes to make it to the academy. I was going to be late. 

When I arrived at the academy I rang the bell. Professor Flexa greeted me at the door, reminding me that I was late. I apologized profusely for my tardiness and thanked him again for allowed me to train with he and his academy. The day before, Professor Flexa had offered me the use of a gi at his academy so that I didn’t have to haul one with me. I took him up on that offer this morning, letting him know that I was a large A3, being an A3 that hasn’t ben shrunk. The first gi that he provided me was a bit small. The second one seemed to fit better on the top, but I would have to try on the pants to see if they fit. I headed over to the dressing room only to find that the pants were too small. And by too small, I mean they were panted on me with little room to tie them. I didn’t want to delay being on the mats any longer, so I just made do with what I had. Unfortunately I would be fighting to keep the pants above my butt crack for the rest of class. 

There was really nothing unusual about the warmups, but I wasn’t able to catch them in their entirely. What I was present for was bridging in place, laying on my back and rolling my legs and torso over my head and then coming up into a good postured stance on one knee with the hips forward. 

Our next set of warm ups were functional, with one partner on all fours and the other partner taking the back. The top player would grab the belt with the closer hand, and the lapel directly behind the head with the hand closest to that area. The leg closest to the head of your partner was to move under the torso to get a hook, with the far leg kind of scissoring behind ukes legs. From here you want to sit, or in my case fall over without grace on the same side at the scissored leg while pulling uke with you onto the scissored leg. The leg with the hook in needs to release and come up and over ukes hips and legs. You also need to relinquish your grips and place your hands into a basing position to successfully take and keep the mount.

The next movement was also from the back. This one focuses more on pressuring and driving uke from the turtle position and onto their side with the ultimate goal of placing them on their back. While maintaining pressure on ukes back with your torso or hip, you want to take the arm closest to the hips and move in under the torso towards the upper lapel/far side of uke. So more towards the upper chest and opposite from where you’re reaching from. You should be using an inverted grip, having four fingers on the inside of the lapel, so when looking at it, you should only see your thumb on the outside. From there keep pressuring into uke. If they have poor base, you may be able to drive them over from here. If they have good base, you’re going to need to reach your free hand across their face for a “cross-face” and grab the elbow of the far arm (preferably the elbow) in order to get it to work. From there you maintain a ton of pressure on their shoulder. If the person has bad shoulders, you may be able to get a tap. I  personally wouldn’t waste time on it, just push them over to side control and keep tormenting them with pressure from side control. 

The move of the day was an interesting clock/baseball choke. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. It was a choke Roger supposedly used to win a competition from last year, but I can’t seem to find footage of it. In any case, read on the breakdown. Using the same lapel grip from the previous move, the hip side arm into far lapel with only thumb out. You’re still pressuring from the top, you want to push the lapel you’re gripping (still maintaining the hold) towards ukes face,or the front of the body, which will open up the top of the collar for you to grab with with your opposite hand. From here you want to set your hook in with the leg closest to ukes hips, maintaining a butterfly hook. Marcos corrected me on having a very loose hold with my hook. He told me that it needs to be tight against the ribs of uke to help you sweep uke if he tries to defend the choke by hoping over that leg. With your hook in tight you want to drop in front of uke and tighten your grips for the tap. Another note here is that your grip on the top lapel should be that of having the inside of your wrist and forearm pointing at you. You could also have your wrist in a straight line with the forearm. If it is pointed away you probably won’t get the tap, which is what happened to me multiple times. 

For sparring we started off with a pass/sweep/submit drill with three of us on our backs. One purple and two blues, one of which was myself, went down first. I was able to go with everyone and mainly wanted to play around from sitting on my rear with my opponents standing to see if I could be fast enough to catch them when I wanted to, or to pull guard once they closed the distance and started to pass. One of the guys, who sounded French African (and whose name I forget), was a white belt and was joking with me after the match that I didn’t really break a sweat and that I was able to slap my half guard on without much effort and keep him in place. Well, I can do that, but I don’t have a lot of options from there and usually end up stalling out. Especially with much quicker opponents. It’s more or less my position of last resort if I don’t feel like trying to work my way out of side control. 

After around 6-7 rounds we switched out. I noticed the folks in the academy played a lot of knee shield when I started to pass them. Knee shields are the bane of my existence in passing. A lot of strong hips and legs in this academy and its was very difficult for me to try to pressure the knee back down. It seems like a lot of people have no problem passing my knee shield, but when the roles are reversed I seem to struggle. One of my passing moves is to reach over ukes hips, between their legs, and grab ahold of their belt tightly. It doesn’t require much effort from me, and I can usually maintain a position and control their hips so that they don’t get away from me easily. It turns into a war of attrition, who’s going to give up first? A lot of times I can usually pass people with it pretty well due to the fact that I can move away from their hips, while keeping their hips at a distance so that they can’t reestablish guard. But I couldn’t here. I kept getting trapped by their knee shields and having to reset into different positions to attempt another pass. I did have a bit of success using the same side shoulder to smash down on their knees or legs and move around the back. I’m not sure of the effects on the shoulder over time in doing something like this. 

My last match of the morning was with the French-African guy again. He bantered with me a bit before the match telling me that I couldn’t use half guard at all against him, to which I replied for him to not put me in a position where I would have to use it. I played with him for a bit before lowering my guard and seeing how his top game was. He was nice and heavy, not a lot of room for me to move around and re-guard. I threw out a very sloppy escape attempt and moved into turtle to see if he would implement any of the moves that he learned this morning. He did, eventually bringing me back to side control with nice top pressure. From here he started a nice baseball bat choke that I defended for a bit, before attempting to break his grips which ultimately allowed him to sink in the choke. He got up and joked that I gave it to him and I told him the only thing I really gave him was the position of the back, everything else was all him and that he should be happy with the victory. All in all a very nice guy, if he keeps with the sport he should do pretty well.

                                            The morning training class

                                                       Professor Flexa and I

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Carlson Gracie Amsterdam 3-23-14

I booked some of my travel without looking at the training schedules of some of the schools. It wouldn’t have mattered  overall because of the amount of countries that I wanted to cover in such a short amount of time, I still would only get one training session in some places, two if I were lucky. I realized that the gym in Amsterdam that I wanted to train at, Rickson/Kron Gracie of Amsterdam, didn’t train again until Tuesday evening. I would be on a flight to Brussels at the training time for them. I threw a quick note up on Reddit to see if anyone knew of anywhere else to train at. Someone responded with a Carlson Gracie academy on the other side of town. I looked it up, got the address and headed out there for their Sunday class. 

The trip out was about half walking and half riding the tram. I don’t mind the walking, hell I probably should have ran both portions of walking to make sure I was under the prescribed weight limit for the IBJJF Rome competitions. When I got to the last leg of the trip I had a bit of trouble finding the place. Google maps and my GPS put me at the entrance to what looked like an elementary school. I walked to where the entrance was supposed to be and didn’t see anything that stood out as a BJJ gym, so I took a stroll around the building. 

On the other side I ran into a bunch of kids and an older gentleman. I approached the man and asked if he knew where the academy was. He brushed me off and kept walking. I didn’t see any cauliflower ear on the kids from where I was, so I didn’t bother asking them. OK so I couldn’t really see their ears, but they were playing and I didn’t see any signs of grappling so I left them to their play time. As I started to get around to the other side of the building, there was an older man and his child walking about. I asked the older man if he could help me, and he said that he would. We talked a bit about the academy and he pointed me towards the doors where I had originally gone. He told me the school added on, but built bigger, and as a consequence didn’t need the old space so they set it up as a community center kind of thing. 

There were a set of door bells on the door with names on them. One looked Portuguese, so I ran that one. There was no response, so I went ahead and just rang all the bells Still nothing. Open mat was starting in about 5 minutes so there should have been someone there. Just when I was about to give up and head back to the bus, a guy about my age strolls up on a bicycle. The older gentleman that was helping me asked him in Dutch if the academy was around. Bicycle guy apparently told him yes, and then spoke to me in English and introduced himself. He showed me a bell that was a bit hidden from the others, which is why I didn’t see it. We rang it and a smaller white belt came to the door to let us in. 

We walked through a small room, to a doorway, and into a small entrance/closet looking thing. I knew I was in the right spot now, with the smell of stale sweat and the shoes cluttered about in the small entranceway. Through the door peeked the man I was looking for, Professor Flexa (pronounced in Portuguese as “Flesh-ah”). He greeted me and asked if I was training tonight, and to be aware that it was just open mat. I told him I didn’t mind, as I needed to get some rolling in anyways before my competition down in Rome. Through the doorway I could see the mat area, which was reminiscent of the Brazilian gyms I’ve seen from websites. It was maybe 15’ x 15’, not a large area at all. Radiators lined one side of the room, and I was positive that they were used religiously. 

Professor Flexa pointed me towards the lockerroom, which happened to be just an old closet area (although it could have been an old shelf inset) with sheets for doors. I took my shoes off quick and ran over there with my bag. Warmups were already in progress so I quickly changed out and threw my street clothes in the bag, jumping out onto the mats to join in on what warmup was left. There were only about 5 of us there, not including Professor Flexa. If I remember correctly there were 1 white, three blues, 1 brown. 

I teamed up with the white belt first. He was a bit smaller in stature, but decently built for his size. I don’t recall his name off the top of my head, but I do remember him wearing a Turkish flag patch on his gi. I started off just sitting, he was on his knees. The next thing I know he is all over the place. Now, for me, the great thing about short people is that no matter how fast they are, I can usually just catch them with my longer arms and legs and pull them into my guard or a variation thereof. This thankfully was the case, as I felt a lot of base out of him. He was very strong on his feet and knees for his size. This meant one thing to me, he’s a wrestler. Every time I got him on his back it was like a deer in headlights. This isn’t a negative things directly towards him, a lot of wrestlers have the same problem when they come into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It’s a big glaring issue, and he needs to work more from his back to get more confident with it. Once he learns that his hips are where his power is, just like in wrestling, he will be a beast. I confirmed with him after the match that he was in fact a wrestler. 

Next I was paired up with the brown belt, who happened to be Ukrainian, and a female. I’ve learned in BJJ that age, sex, size, etc all mean nothing. A small female brown belt can choke you out just as quickly, if not quicker than a large male brown belt. This was the highest ranked female grappler that I’ve had a chance to train with, and I was going to play it safe and see what her game was all about. Most of the round was spent in her guard, with me attempting to pass her guard in multiple variations. I *almost* broke through a couple of times. All I could think was “jesus, theres some damn leg strength here”. Men twice her size can’t hold out as long as she did, and I had about 60 pounds on her easily and probably a good 5-6 inches in height. The leverage should have been in my favor, obviously it wasn’t. I can say that she never got a sweep on me the whole round, not a submissions. 

Next I went with a traveling blue belt from the UK. Not much to really cover here, he was a cool guy but spent most of the round in my guard unable to pass. On my end of things I started to get a bit lazy and didn’t really put the pressure on and really half assed any sweep attempts. 

My next round was against the blue belt that I met while trying to find the club. He had told me previously that he had been away from the club for about 6 months. So long that they had changed the mats while he was gone. I was pretty impressed with his technique for being gone for 6 months. I take a couple of weeks off and I get my face stomped by guys who I can usually hang with. He was getting gassed pretty easily, which is always my plan for someone that I feel is better than me or stronger than me (or bigger). I’ll lock them into a position that will cause me minimal effort to keep, while tiring them out so that I can take advantage and hopefully eke out a win. I ended up playing a lot of top game on him, putting pressure and the “shoulder of justice” on him. I’m always trying to found out how my pressure feels on people, so I always ask, and request suggestions on how to make the experience more painful. According to him, it was pretty uncomfortable. In his words it was “pretty smothering and bad”, but in a good way. I told him I was happy to hear that, as I’ve been working on smothering people and otherwise putting them in their own little “hell” when I’m on top.  

The last match was against the brown belt again, and I was happy to take the match. I really wanted to pass her guard. Some of you reading this are familiar with a technique I use to pass a lot, in fact it probably annoys the hell out of you. Well, I did that. Usually once I get a guard open, I will voluntarily move into half guard to get a bit low. From here I will reach over the opponents top leg and wrap my arm around it and back through to the front of them. I then grab into the belt with my palm facing me and pulling down, trying to touch my elbow to the ground. This helps me keep pressure on their hips, and also keeps them from moving them a lot. Thats the good part, the bad part is that it essentially renders that arm useless outside of that specific job. Not always a bad thing.

I ended up passing her guard, but then somehow we ended up in a scramble that I didn’t expect. During said scramble she transitioned so fast into a knee bar that I didn’t have the time to stick my free foot on her butt to get my knee out of the danger zone. We’d been going at it for about 4 minutes at this point, and she had it locked pretty damn quick. I tapped. I was happy that I had made it that long. While I was trying to use technique rather than brute strength, I feel if I had resorted to out powering her it would have ended much more quickly. After we reset I decided I wanted to play from bottom, since he had played bottom both times before. Not too long after slapping half guard on her she ended up sinking in a clock choke that got tight as hell almost immediately. I threw out ever trick in the book to keep from tapping. I was bracing her arms, throwing one arm in between the choking arms, circling with her, switching my hips. All the while my neck bones are audibly popping all over every 15-20 second. It wasn’t too much longer and the bell rang. She seemed really let down that she wasn’t able to get the tap with the choke. Speaking to her after the round she told me that it was her go to move in competitions and always gets a win with it. I told her it was tight as hell, and in the right spot, but that I was doing everything I could to keep alive despite the pain and suffering. Hell, I had tunnel vision for most of the second roll. I told her that I thought that most people probably would have tapped, but I wanted to see if I could work my way out of the problem.

After class, everyone informed me of the morning class at 0800. Not being a big morning person, I told them all that I wasn’t sure if I would make it or not but that I would try. The shorter turkish wrestler went on to tell me about how energized I would feel after the class, that it was a good way to start the day. I just kind of grinned and went along with it. I knew how I would feel later in the day. Tired and sore.