“Vegas baby! Vegas!”

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The sole reason that I found myself in Las Vegas was to compete in the IBJJF Masters World Championships, unfortunately the one thing that I did not do during my time in this licentious playground was compete in the IBJJF Masters World Championships. I had spent over a year at purple belt and had been having success competing at the masters level so when I saw this was on the competition calendar way back in February, I booked my flights without hesitation. I wanted nothing more than to become a world champion that The Nature Boy himself would be proud of. Registration for the tournament opened whilst I was in Rio, I thought I had all the time in the world and thus didn’t sign up immediately. Predictably, when I did attempt to sign up, a full six weeks out, the bracket had closed, painstakingly two days prior. This realisation of not having the opportunity to compete for a world title whilst having already paid for the privilege of being there sucked more than anything that had ever sucked before for at least a day or so. I reconciled with the fact my lackadaisical attitude had resulted in a grandiose balls up and honestly Vegas was hardly the worst place in the world to be stuck for a week!

My flight took me forward and then back again in time from Manchester to Atlanta before arriving in Vegas with my swede sufficiently up my proverbial arse. I hopped on a shuttle to my hostel, this was a dope introduction to Vegas as we stopped at all of the major spots on The Strip as everyone was dropped at their hotels, MGM Grand, Caesar’s Palace and The Stratosphere. I was the sole remaining passenger as the scenery began to change, gone were the beautifully lit up hotels and wonderfully gaudy attractions replaced by pawn shops, bail bonds, 24 hour wedding chapels, prostitutes and wild haired dudes screaming at unseen adversaries. Naturally this was where I was getting dropped off.

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I wasn’t the only penis who had left it too late and had failed to register for the tournament, one of my friends and training partners, Phil Ounsley a former masters world champ in his own right at purple belt had managed to do exactly the same thing. Making the most of the time here we visited famed competitor Robert Drysdale’s academy.

As a result of it being two days out from the Worlds at that point, both sessions taught by Drysdale were theoretical question and answer sessions with no technique at all. I had never attended a class which focused solely on the theoretical before which made it a unique experience and one that my severe levels of jet lag appreciated. These lessons went deep into the development of competition strategy which would have been absolutely perfect had I actually been competing that weekend! To share the wealth, the main points I picked up were:

  • Visualisation: He explained the importance of visualisation as a tool for competition success. He stressed the idea of not planning a concrete game plan but rather visualising every single variation of what might happen based upon the game you like to play. For example as well as imagining hitting your favourite half guard sweep also imagine what you are going to do if your opponent stands up or smashes you down in half guard or if opponent passes to the quarter guard. Run though each of the options. In addition something that sounds like common sense but it is something that I have been guilty of on occasion NEVER… EVER imagine yourself losing.
  • Research: Researching all the guys in your bracket, this is not something that I have ever paid any mind to, I always assumed that I would force guys into my game, which doesn’t always happen! However Drysdale explained the importance of getting a head-start by knowing the game of your opponents. He explained knowing where they are comfortable can be the key to victory.
  • Points: He broke down the accumulation of points in incredible detail. I had always wondered why when I had secured side control I had referees warning me for stalling. My attitude was like, I’ve worked for this position, I should be able to stay here all day. However I discovered this is due to side control being worth three points which isn’t the highest scoring position. Once you reach an opponent’s back and gain mount, it is not possible to score any higher so you are able to sit and chill all day there.
  • Warm Ups: He accentuated the importance of warming up effectively, this has to be something which gets your heart rate up prior to stepping on the mats rather than a few star jumps and a bit of a stretch. In fact he broke how static stretching can actually decrease performance you rather than aiding it. He advocated movement based dynamic stretches in order to maximise performance.
  • Silence: He advised never speaking with an opponent prior to the match. He explained that nothing positive could be gained from engaging with them prior to stepping on the mat, you have to be mindful of the fact this is someone who wants to stop you from achieving success. I wasn’t necessarily sure I agreed with this point but then again I haven’t won the absolute category at the ADCCs.

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If I could describe Vegas it would probably be the worst, tackiest place on Earth but simultaneously the greatest place ever! As I didn’t compete, I got to experience a slice of it, albeit a tiny one due to financial constraints. In my effort to ‘kick it old-school’, I spent more time downtown at Fremont in and amongst the old casinos. Although I discovered this was not the place to be with my head swimming from the time travel induced jet lag. I was thoroughly overwhelmed by the fat men in two-piece bikinis, fat ladies rocking minuscule daisy dukes and tassels to cover their modesty, muscular dudes wearing thongs, thick chicks dancing on bars, white dudes with dreads singing reggae and dudes bringing a new definition of body popping by rotating their limbs 360 degrees in and out of their sockets. There were little guys walking around seeing all of this, my fragile little mind would have been blown had I seen all of this at twelve, life would have instantly become more confusing!

I made my grand entrance into the world of gambling at The Fremont Casino, having never even used a fruit machine in my life, I always thought they looked a lot less fun than playing Final Fight so why bother? I instantly preferred the casinos on this side of town rather than The Strip, the low lighting, the fact everything seemed to be made from plastic, the majority of people were rocking their house slippers or cowboy hats and speaking in a form of English that I needed a double take to comprehend. This was couple by the fact everyone was smoking, it smelt like my granddad’s bungalow after decades of the continuous blazing of betties, it was my sort of place. Anyway having put two dollars into this one slot machine, I came up trumps when I won $2.75. I cold cashed that biatch and my seventy-five cents winnings I put to a steak buffet like a boss!

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I spent the rest of my time in Vegas training at Cobra Kai Jiu-Jitsu. Training at Dysdale’s had been fun and I had picked up some essential tips, however as soon as I walked through the doors at Cobra Kai, I immediately felt at home. The informal nature of the academy was refreshing, no restrictions on who you could ask to roll with or bowing in worship to a kimono clad demigod. I was treated to classes by academy head instructor Simpson Go, where I picked up some extra details on deep half. As well as classes by black belt Rodrigo Gutierrez who won the last year’s Pan Ams  at brown belt. Rodrigo gave a workshop on lapel chokes which felt like having your swede lopped off slowly by Leatherface’s rusty chainsaw. As luck would have it, two days uncovered in the desert heat meant my neck was burnt to shit which added an excruciating extra element of torture. The dude was ridiculously forthcoming with helping me with the omoplata game I have been working on as well as letting me pick his brain on his uber-destructive half guard. I can’t stress enough what an awesome academy this was, Go and his team of instructors have fostered an environment which is hardworking and tough but super friendly and so much fun. I met and was able to roll with so many guys that I immediately became friends with and look forward catching up with when I try to compete again next year!

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After a near week spent in Vegas my sole issue was the distinct lack of arcades compared with the seven million slot machines. Should you choose to frequent a 7eleven store at 5AM to pick up some delicious high fructose corn syrup based poison you will actually see cats using them. With this in mind where the hell are all the Street Fighter 2 machines? Fortunately on the day I was leaving a conversation initiated with a complete stranger due to our mutual sporting of Nintendo tattoos, I was informed of an arcade located at the Circus Circus Casino. Upon arriving there, to my delight I discovered a huge collection of classic cabinets from Mortal Kombat 2, Street Fighter Alpha 2, House of the Dead, Time Crisis, Jurassic Park to the super old-school like Ms Pacman, Donkey Kong and Space Invaders. This house of awesomeness allowed me to achieve a goal that had been twenty-four years in the making when I took Homer all the way through to compete the Simpsons coin-op. There was absolutely no shame as the credits rolled and I bust out my victory dance to the bewilderment of the few people in there, this was the culmination of a dream.

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My man Rodrigo Guttierrez dropping knowledge on how to dominate cats from half guard.

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