I have migrated, you can find further misadventures from deep half at:
Following my time in Vegas not competing at the Masters Worlds, I headed to New York to stay with friends and sample some of the Jiu-Jitsu based delights that the Big Apple has to offer. The four-hour overnight flight afforded me little respite, with a few hours of uncomfortable sleep, I headed straight out into the chaos of the city morning and onto the mats at Vitor Shaolin’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The class happened to be a competition session, it will be a surprise to no one that this was a mistake; after busting out a few jumping jacks in the warm-up, I started to gas. Two minutes of positional sparring and my lungs were burning like I’d woken up after having blazed forty cigs the night before. I spent the remainder of the session open-mouthed, battling to suck in as much air as humanly possible to prevent my life force from expiring.
My friends, Fernando and Justine Reals, had very kindly offered to put me up during my time in the city. Fernando is one of Shaolin’s brown belts and he teaches at an affiliate school in the Bronx called Bronx Jiu-Jitsu. This lead me to the decision to train with Shaolin out of the plethora of other world-class academies in New York and split my time between both schools. My decision was also swayed by Terere’s stories of his competitive days where he maintained that Shaolin was his favourite and toughest opponent.
Having trained at Renzo Gracie’s Academy on my last visit to New York and only seeing the main man in one session where he taught one technique; I wasn’t sure such how much of Shaolin I would actually be seeing. However, to my surprise the dude was always on the mats, he lead practically every session, from the white belts all the way through to the advanced guys. Very similar to Terere, he oozed charisma, you can’t help but smile being in his presence, whether he is telling stories of his own glory days on the mats or giving his view on the current state of MMA. During each class it was imperative to impress him as he roamed the class like the Brazilian Harry Callahan telling cats to ‘make my day’.
During my visit I was also treated to the splendidly bizarre sight of watching this multiple time world champion and legend of the sport attempt to ride a hover-board through the corridors of a Manhattan office block. Safe to say Michael J Fox is still the only dude who can look fresh riding one of these bad-boys.
The academy felt very much like the vibe of New York in general, the classes lasted an hour, cats come in, do a quick warm-up, rep a few techniques, get their roll on, and get out and on to the next thing.
Halfway through my time in New York, I took a trip to Bean Town. The allure of seeing my favourite dudes in tights try to defeat one another in predetermined contests was too tempting to pass up. Arriving at an ungodly hour; after a few highly uncomfortable hours kipping on a Greyhound bus, I was thoroughly unprepared to wrestle other men in my PJs, but did so nonetheless. Having done a little research, I made my way just outside the city to visit Boston’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy. I was impressed to discover that the academy had been there for twenty years, in fact they had just celebrated their twentieth anniversary the previous weekend; two black belts and the two brown belts were all rocking fresh new belts as they were newly minted. The structure of the session involved a slow roll to get warmed up followed by four techniques from the butterfly guard. This lead into five-minute rounds of sparring. It was a noticeably older crowd for the day session, but the standard was high with my purple belt being the only colour that wasn’t brown or black! The rolling was a lot of fun but not overly competitive with dudes not attempting to assassinate one another. This visit was well worth depriving myself of sleep for, I meet some seriously good guys who welcomed me with open arms and shared their knowledge freely.
After an evening of watching Brock Lesnar suplex dudes on their swedes, eating Lucky Charms to the point of an intestinal explosion and trying to avoid any form of infectious disease at my contagiously AIDS-ridden hostel; I had another full day in Boston. I spent my day training with the guys at the Florian Martial Arts Center. The academy was ran by the brother of famed MMA Fighter Kenny Florian, Keith Florian, who looked freakishly like his brother; he is a long time and accomplished black belt in his own right. The evening session, a No-Gi class taught by Professor Florian, saw the beautiful tatame filled with an interesting mix of dudes, from MMA fighters, collegiate wrestlers, to recreational grapplers.
Professor Florian opened the session up with some Q&A trouble-shooting, before exploring a sweep, back-take, and submission from the butterfly guard. The sparring went from fighting for your life to some chilled out rounds. When the class concluded everyone was brought into a circle and a mantra was recited; I’d never experienced this in a Jiu-Jitsu class and thought it was an interesting idea worth exploring. The mantra ensured the session was ended in a positive way by everyone. This positive conclusion is especially important when you have one of those days where you have sucked beyond belief, and you would otherwise go home questioning why you even exist and invariably torture your loved ones about something completely unrelated as a direct consequence of your suckage. Professor Florian himself was also very cool, after we finished he insisted on carving out a space on the mats which were already busy with another class, so we could catch a roll in before I left. He thoughtfully broke down his rear naked choke set-up after savagely choking the life out of me on multiple occasions.
Arriving back in NYC from Boston after another couple of mobility-destroying hours of coach sleep, I was accosted and abused in the subway. A large and seemingly unstable lady took time out of her morning to scream in my face. She happily informed me that my Mum was a whore. As I was reeling from that revelation, she went on to detail the suffrage of Robert De Niro and the rest of the black peoples. Before I had a chance to wrap my sleep-deprived swede around this information, she had moved on to terrorise more unsuspecting victims with confusing views on ethnicity.
My time in New York concluded with a trip to Unity Jiu-Jitsu. Having checked my man’s video over at BJJ Hacks, I knew this spot was gonna be tough. I’m not afraid to admit that I had some nervous palm sweating going on as we made our way there on the subway with a quick detour to peep the Big Pun memorial in the South Bronx. Nothing could have prepared me for what was in store. I really should have took Pun’s advice about “packing the mac in the back of the ac” as I was about to take part in the toughest session of my life. When dropping in on another academy as long as you walk in there respectfully and armed with a smile, you are met with reciprocal smiles and are made to feel welcome. There was none of this at Unity, walking in there you could cut the atmosphere with a knife; dudes were ready to go to war. This isn’t to say it was hostile, dudes were cordial with handshakes and introductions, but there wasn’t any time for pleasantries.
Of course, arriving twenty minutes early, I got to witness first hand, The Miyao Brothers drilling berimbolos. During the introduction head coach, Murilo Santana announced his intentions for the session, which included a points deficit for each roll. Due to my general fear, I wasn’t able take in a single word he said, focusing instead on his wild and manly beard which managed to emasculate me and my pre-pubescent facial hair before training commenced.
The session began by drilling our own techniques – we did roughly eight rounds. This went into guard passing with our partner at eighty percent, but of course nobody really knows what eighty percent looks like so we just started to kill one another. We then went into groups of three for rounds with a points and advantages deficit, this involved the third man being the referee. We did three minutes from the top and three minutes from the bottom. One man came out and you repeated the same thing with the fresh man, twelve minutes of rolling to the death was when things started to get tough! Trying to ref the other dudes after this was rough going especially as Murilo was walking around and testing people on the scores. This 5×10 minute rounds, at about three rounds, I felt like the outset of death creeping in. During one of these rounds, I noticed a large water spillage, as I instructed my partner to move, I noticed it was actually a giant puddle of sweat! It was at this point that I became acutely aware of the sweat practically cascading from the walls and the roof.
The session finished with ‘sprint’ rounds; we were instructed to go one hundred percent for a minute, I was under the impression we had just been doing this for the last couple of hours. We did five rounds of this; by that point I was mindfully holding down the vomit. The most difficult part of the session actually came when we had finished training and lined up and shake hands, I was unable to make eye contact with anyone as I was genuinely struggling to stay on my feet and avoid passing out.
I was flying out of the city a few hours later and spent the rest of the day feeling horribly ill and unable to construct a cohesive sentence. I rode the subway to the airport, which unfortunately coincided with rush hour. I held onto a railing for dear life as cold sweat dripped from my head, arms and chest; landing on the ground, bags and arms of others fellow passengers. I will never forget the disgusted and fearful looks on their faces like I was coveting some infectious disease. You might not be able to gather this from these words but what an incredible and unforgettable experience.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
My man Rodrigo Guttierrez dropping knowledge on how to dominate cats from half guard.
As I was coming upon the end of another stay in Brazil, I thought it appropriate to visit a new spot, Manaus, which happened to be hosting an IBJJF Open. This was the perfect excuse to head north, try and choke a few likeminded dudes, and see what the Amazon was all about.
The first thing I noticed after stepping off the plane in Manaus was the suffocating heat, it was literally work in and of itself to breath. My initial thoughts then were, this does not bode well for competing. I arrived just 24 hours before I was due on the mats, which was hardly time for my body to acclimatise; I didn’t like the idea of gassing 20 seconds into my first match! The second thing I noticed was how different the people look, facially Manaus’ inhabitants were noticeably different from those of Rio and Sao Paulo. I suppose this shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise to me as Brazil is a whopper of a country. The third thing that struck me after reaching the city centre was it’s similarities to Blackpool. There was excess levels of cheap and tacky stretching as far as the eye could see but in a way that was somehow beautiful and uniquely South American.
The IBJJF in their infinite wisdom did away with a bullpen and had the athletes waiting for their matches on the seating steps at the Sao Paulo Open. It is already bad enough with no matted area trying to warm your body to compete, could you imagine Olympic athletes being told to get themselves warm standing on a set of stairs? Thus the lovely cold slab of concrete to ready ourselves to compete seemed like a real treat here in Manaus.
My fears of gassing were seemingly unfounded. It probably helped that my first match ended up lasting all of thirty seconds after catching a footlock. Like a lot of No-Gi competitions here in Brazil it was a small category, so that was one and done, I had won the gold.
Winning my category gave me an opportunity to compete in the open weight and for the first time ever I beat a super heavy weight. This individual was huge and there was definitely an intimidation factor stepping on the mats to face him. I didn’t want to mess with the possibility of being smashed directly through the mats to the concrete below, so I touched his hand and dropped into guard so quickly my ass went completely dead. He aggressively attempted to pass to the outside of my guard, this allowed me to get underneath him to get the sweep and go straight into a belly down foot-lock. This large gentleman didn’t seem to like the idea of tapping, it got to the point I could feel something begin to tear. I had always wondered if I’d have the ability to keep cranking on something knowing it would break, I discovered today, I would have pulled his foot clean off to beat him. I think dude thought we were fighting Pancrase rules and he’d get his rope break as he pulled himself out of the mats, he obviously hadn’t seen Abraham Marte do the same thing in the worlds. So he was DQed and angrily hobbled of the mats. I didn’t have the same luck against another super heavy weight in the final as I really was punched through the planet with a takedown!
By the time I fought in the kimono late in the afternoon the intensity of the climate began to take it’s toll. In both my matches I relied on trusty old deep half to get me through to take the gold medal. I’m not too proud to admit, I got my sweep and pass and then knowing I was five points ahead sat back and stalled as much as humanly possible to win without vomiting.
To celebrate a successful campaign I spent the next day in the Amazon, which gave me the opportunity to fulfill a childhood fantasy borne out of too many episodes of Mysterious Cities of Gold. Visiting the ‘native’ village was a strange experience, one that felt understandably contrived. It was a village as you would imagine but it felt more like a movie production of a village than one that people actually live in. I did see a pair of ‘UFC’ shorts hanging from a washing line, which shattered any illusion for me. Although stepping into a hut the notion of it being contrived suddenly flew out of the window when a topless women had a large baby attached to one of her ample breasts greedily guzzling.
I also had the opportunity to see a traditional tribal dance, which were both incredibly powerful and mesmerising. Although in this grandiose display of timing and coordinated rhythm, I noticed one of the young men missing everything, he was at least a second behind what his fellow dancers were doing. As someone who had to suffer through year nine music lessons and the shame of performing with no sense of rhythm, I could really empathise with him and felt his pain albeit on a slightly micro level. The look of sheer terror on my face then as I was pulled up to join the dance by one of the females of the tribe. This must honesty be the only situation in which dancing with a underage topless girl is not frowned upon but rather actively encouraged. After some coaxing I was on my feet and got my little moves jumping off obviously out of time with what everyone else was doing. I have never been so ridiculously aware of my own limbs in my life, I didn’t want to accidentally nudge anything. Reflecting on this experience it was incredibly surreal, I danced with a whole lot of naked people in the jungle and treasured every awesome uncoordinated moment of it.
After spending my day in the jungle, I was walking back through town to my hostel when I expectantly happened upon cats battle rapping in the street. I say in the street, we are talking a main road with two lanes of traffic going each way with a central reservation. Half the people were watching from the reservation whilst everyone else was huddled onto the pavement watching the guys battle next to a rudimentary speaker set up. Obviously I only had a basic understanding of what dudes were saying, there was the usual topics ‘you’re gay’, ‘I smashed your chick’ although a new one for me was the accusation of dog molestation.
The guys would battle for two x one minute rounds, if they couldn’t be separated by a crowd vote then they would go an extra round, if there was still a tie then they would go bar for bar. It had a real throwback feel, it felt like a battle from the late nineties / early 00s, everyone was going off the head and guys would get dissed when they were obviously spitting writtens. All the beats that were being laced were grimy shit from the nineties too. Everyone was blazing, it smelt like green and sweat, to give it that authentic hip hop show vibe. Manaus is the hottest, most humid spot I’ve ever visited but you had dudes rocking beanies like it was winter in New York. What you don’t see everyday is a dude battling sporting a pair of crocs and strangely not getting lit up for it. Obviously my phone had died at this point so I didn’t get a chance of provided any evidence of this dopeness.
I had also intended to get a spot of training in whilst I was here but as luck would have it my last day was a national holiday. This actually ended up being a blessing in disguise, I ended up having probably the highlight of my time there in Mindu park. This beautiful chunk of jungle which unfortunately had been somewhat, sullied by the huge amount of waste that people have discarded. Whilst walking along the river bemoaning to myself how I hadn’t really seen any wildlife. Even in the Amazon the only animals I’d witnessed were the docile, drugged up looking creatures that the natives had for the tourists to pay to hold. I rounded a corner and about fifteen feet ahead of me sat on a rock at the side of the river was an alligator. NO barriers to keep him from me, although there was a park ranger on one of the other rocks, I guess to distract the big fella from eating any dumbass tourists who stumbled upon him. This awesome, prehistoric dude looked rather bored and obviously uninterested in any effort to eat the dopey looking gringo grinning at him from the side of the river. After a while lowered himself into the water and swam down stream, it kicked so much ass I was smiling for the next few hours.
I am super happy to have one of Terere’s talented young athletes and my little bro, Gabriel Carvalho, demonstrate one of his favourite transitions, lasso to X-guard sweep which he hits straight into a pass.
My last two weeks have been dominated by two trips to São Paulo. The first was a mission to compete and defend the title I had won at last year’s IBJJF São Paulo No-Gi Open. Whilst the second was a trip with my little brother from my Brazilian family, Gabriel, to see the world’s elite grapplers compete at the illustrious ADCCs.
My experience competing at this year’s São Paulo Open mirrored what happened last year. I had a horrible first day, losing my first match in the Gi, which absolutely sucked ass and ruined any enjoyment that might have been had from the rest of the day. I then came back on the second day and won the No-Gi, which made the entire rest of the day, the best day ever. It was pretty cool to come and defend a title, the São Paulo Open was the first thing I ever won at purple belt, which made it rather special. The difference this year was I stepped up to the open weight. After fighting my way through to the semi-final, I came up short against a heavyweight and all around large human being, losing to a sole advantage to take a bronze medal. This loss has led me to a conclusion, one that has only taken four years to reach, that deep half simply doesn’t work on big whoppers.
The competition was sweet but the most memorable incident of the trip was seeing my life flash before my eyes as I felt death was imminent. This all began in an attempt to charge my Kindle whilst in bed. It was late so the room was in complete darkness and the eight or so people staying there were all in snooze town. I plugged the adapter into the wall and straight away it began to spark, my leg was in contact with the wire and almost immediately; I was shot with a current of electricity and I rolled off the bed like John McClane. I just happened to be on top of a bunk bed which was about five feet off the hard, tiled floor. Strangely though I didn’t feel any pain as I bounced up like a cat. Without being overly melodramatic the moment seemed to stretch between seeing the spark, the shock, and flying off the bed, I remember having the time to think ‘I could be fucked here’.
By this point everyone had woken up, someone hit the lights and it was now visible that the entire room had filled up with smoke. Some girl bolted out of the door thinking she was in the middle of a full on blaze, obviously with little thought for the lives of her friends. Thirty seconds later a terrified member of staff burst through the door with a fire extinguisher, the scorched mattress he was left to deal with cut down on the heroic factor. Speaking to a dude from Leeds the next day, he summed it up when he told me “I thought you were a goner mate”!
The highlights of this past weekend’s ADCC world championship have been well documented elsewhere and if you are looking for a dope write-up check my man at Flo Grappling.
However these are a few observations that I made during the two days that are mostly irrelevant and are probably without merit:
It hurt my knee just watching Gary Tonon go to work on Dillon Danis’ leg. The awesome Marcelo Garcia protegé had already escape one nasty heel hook attempt before being forced to tap as his knee was at the point of explosion. The poor dude could be seen walking with a crazy ass limp the rest of the weekend.
Vinnie Magalhaes is a guy that seems to flash hot and cold. He caught a spectacular twister, the first in ADCC history and is known to flying arm-bar cats. But sometimes it does legitimately look like he isn’t even trying.
Lucas Lepri’s awesomeness
Right up to the point that he was decimated by Davi Ramos’ flying over his guard to brutally arm-bar him he was my man of the tournament. Masterful performances against Gary Tonon, he was able to use his passing to completely nullify the super dangerous leg lock attacks of The Lion Killer. His battle against Otavio Sousa showed his resilience after he was on the back foot the majority of the match. Unfortunately all dudes will remember for years to come is that flying arm-bar.
Friday the 13th
It wasn’t AJ Agazarm’s weekend, after being choked out cold by a masterful Otavio Sousa. I noticed AJ accidentally bump into someone whilst trying to get closer to the mats, in a scene you would expect when visiting Camp Crystal Lake. He turned around slowly in that way that you know there is something large behind you. Rather than finding a machete wielding masked man there was something much scarier, the mass of humanity that is Rodolfo Viera. From where I sat it looked like he made his apologies and swiftly moved elsewhere.
I don’t know if Gabi Garcia’s idea of fighting in MMA is going to go anywhere, she will definitely find it difficult to find other chicks weighing 100kg. If she is to look for a change I’d say she has a promising career as a heel pro-wrestler. Cats just love to see her lose. The pop from the crowd when she was beaten in her division was one of the loudest of the weekend.
To clarify this, Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t work against big whoppers who are determined to do very little of anything. Big whoppers who are determined to ‘pass’ guard on their knees can prevent the best guys in the world from utilising their game.
The Unstoppable Force meets The Immovable Object
Watching Xande Ribeiro and Rodolfo Viera lock up was like watching The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 6. Both dudes are fan favourites, so who do you pick to win? It did feel like a passing the torch moment when Rodolfo took the victory. But I’m sure just like the Hulkster, Xande will be back albeit with less racism.
Rodolfo is The Game
in a successful bid to become champion in the heavyweight category, Rodolfo beat a very game Felipe Pena in a war of attrition fought predominately on their feet. As he pumped himself up to step on the mats, he took a large swig of water and then proceeded to spit it out all over a man in a wheelchair. That is one serious intimidation tactic, if dude is prepared to spit on a disabled person he is obviously going to do anything to win.
Deep Half Mestre
The man Jeff Glover excelled in awesomeness during the weekend. He competed rocking a wife-beater then proceeded to walk on his hands and repeatedly give up his back, it is no surprise then that he is such a divisive character. I can see how he could be construed as disrespectful to his opponents but he makes it super fun to watch. In perhaps the highlight of the weekend for me, I noticed during the Masters super-fight, he approached Rodolfo and proceeded to repeatedly pretend to slap him in the nuts!
The crowd repeatedly booed Orlando Sanchez for playing his negative game and not really doing much of anything. Then Keenan Cornelius was booed after just having scrapped through his semi final match. The difference however was Keenan was constantly fighting and attempting to use his Jiu-Jitsu to beat a very negative opponent in Rustam Chsiev, who was content to sit on his knees and not engage. So the crowd had affectively admonished Keenan for the complete opposite. I don’t agreed with the booing to begin with but at least dudes could have some sort of consistency.
Being in São Paulo gave us the opportunity to train at Cicero Costa’s academy. The academy is infamous for its intense training which has produced some of the world’s most successful competitors in Leandro Lo and the Miyao brothers. We made an attempt to train there as soon as we arrived but were wholly unsuccessful in the effort. As I have the uncanny knack of becoming lost wherever I visit, I thought I’d try something new and leave my fate in the hands of a sixteen year old, unsurprisingly this was a mistake.
Mistake Number 1: instead of telling the bus driver where we need to get off, the kid informed the driver the stop at the end of the line not the short five minutes down the road which we necessary to reach the academy. Mistake Number 2: when I realised we’d messed up, the kid insisted we get off the bus in the most ghetto, run down part of the city. Mistake Number 3: at some point, the paper with my detailed instructions had been lost or left on the bus, we end up walking down the longest, darkest and scariest street looking for another bus with no idea how to get back. We managed eventually to get back to the spot with phone and money intact but much later than we would have got there than if we’d actually trained!
We tried again prior to making our return to Rio on Monday morning, in order to make it there, it required a 5AM wake up which obviously sucked. Unfortunately the head honcho Cicero wasn’t there. But we had an awesome class led by top ranked black belt Thiago Da Silva Barros. The class structure was awesome and different from most academies I’ve trained in Rio. We did one drill, a lasso entry repped 50-100 times which led into the technique. We explored a sequence consisting of a transition from the lasso to an X-guard sweep, straight up into the pass. We were given lots of time to explore the nuances of the sequence and rep it whilst Professor Barros came around each group giving details and correcting mistakes. The rolling was six-minute rounds, due to it being the 7AM class it was more of a pre-work crowd rather than the elite young competitors. Although there were some killers on the mat and I left with the euphoric feeling that can only be brought on from the prevention of being strangling you death.
Prior to arriving in Rio for the year I spent here, I made the conscious decision that I was going to train with Terere, as my Jiu-Jitsu hero there really was no other choice. I knew where I wanted to be, so I didn’t have any desire to sample the multitude of other awesome academies that Rio has to offer. But arriving back and with Terere not initially here, I thought why not take advantage and go and peep a few other spots and learn from some other legendary dudes. So I visited a few academies, made a few notes, it was fun!
‘Gringo Class’ at Gordo Jiu-Jitsu
The ‘Gringo Class’ at Gordo Jiu-Jitsu in the luscious suburb of Barra is taken by owner of the world’s premier BJJ hostel, ‘Connection Rio’, Dennis Asche. The class is provided three times a week for all those staying at the BJJ hostel and selected friends too. Many guests choose to train at Gordo’s as it is a convenient two minute walk away from the front door. However many others choose to travel further a field, to train at Gracie Barra, Checkmat, Terere’s (which I did during the six months I spent there) or even an energy sapping two hour journey to Meier to GF Team. Regardless to which academy individuals are training at or what team they represent, Dennis provides the class complimentary so there is no obligation to sign up at Gordos.
I didn’t have the opportunity to train with Dennis in my two prior stays in Rio, so I was seriously looking forward to this class. He is known for his strong emphasis on drilling which isn’t something particularly easy to find in a lot of Rio’s academies. Unfortunately I am no Kit Dale and need to drill things a million times until I have them down. I was also a little apprehensive, it was the end of the week and my body felt as though it had been ran over multiple times and I knew that there would be a heavy emphasis on conditioning too. The class itself lasted nearly two hours and we didn’t roll once, if someone told me that they had done a class without sparring then I am going to assume that it was pretty chill. However nothing can be further from the truth. This was one of the most labour intensive sessions that I have ever done.
After a warm-up of takedown entrances and solo passing movements, the focus shifted to systematic sequences of drilling. Each sequence was conducted in stages, with each stage building on the previous stage until the entire movement was complete and could be done at the speed it would necessitate, if you were actually doing it in a live situation. The gradual build into the whole, ensured by the time it was reached, the technique was refined until it was performed perfectly. The drills were also constructed in a way that both partners had to take an active role, there was no chance for passivity or time to catch a breather as your partner worked his way through the technique. Both persons had work in tandem to make the experience as realistic to sparring as possible.
Safe to say both my movement and gas tank were tested to the limit in this awesome lesson. Thanks to Dennis, I was able to pick up not only the specific drills but also a system of drilling which is effective in both reinforcing and refining technique and can be applied to all positions. The lessons learned here had been a complete eye opener for me and something that has changed the way that I think about my own drilling.
It is fair to say from the offset that Alliance Leblon is the most picturesque academy that I have ever had the pleasure of being in. I could tell immediately that things were a little different. I descended down a set stairs and I wasn’t meet by a cloud of sweat vapour that you could cut with a knife or that dirty ass Gi stench that usually greets you at other spots. What also struck me was the beautiful wall to wall green tatame which stretched as far as the eye could see and which felt like rolling on pillows made from the wings of angels. Not to mention the serene changing rooms / toilets which left me with no fear whatsoever of catching a single STD.
I was seriously excited by the opportunity to train with one of the founders of Jiu-Jitsu’s most successful team and also the mestre of my mestre, Alexandre ‘Gigi’ Paiva. I have to admit that I was more than slightly intimated too. It wasn’t the exhaustive set of rules on the way on to the mats but the fact that Mestre Paiva is actually Don Corleone, from his personal appearance to the air of supreme authority he commands, he is truly the head of the family. He demonstrated variations on the smash pass with some key details that were missing from my own game. I analysed every nuisance of his movement and in order to do it perfectly and not attract any attention. This meant fighting off the day-dreaming that I acutely suffer from. Of course I failed and was then expertly guided through it by Mestre Paiva who wasn’t at all scary and even indulged me in my one-tense version of Portuguese.
Sparring took the form of a first point wins, from knees. Whilst it wasn’t the hugest class on that Friday afternoon it was tough rolling, not least when I was up with a huge black belt, dude must have been 120 kilos at a conservative estimate. I think that I made the initial mistake by trying to cartwheel over his guard, this wasn’t an attempt to showcase my flamboyance, of which I have none, more I couldn’t foresee any other way to get around him. My friend wasn’t in the least bit impressed and decided to show me how it was done. I guess it was an attempted back-step but what really happened was he jumped on my neck. I might add that I was already suffering with my neck daily and I really didn’t need such a large human being landing on top of it. There was a split second where I thought ‘Oh my God, I’m probably dead’, fortunately assessing the damage, I wasn’t deceased and managed to roll a few rounds albeit slower and more careful in open sparring. I learned a valuable lesson here.
I had heard mixed views from friends who had trained at Fightzone in Copacabana. Whilst everyone agreed that Ricardo Veira was an exceptional teacher, some explained that the atmosphere appeared quite hostile (everyone else thought it was the best place on Earth). The culture on the mats is very competitive. This isn’t too surprising given that Checkmat are one of the most renowned teams in Rio, producing the fiercest and most decorated competitors, a great deal of them also live in the impoverished Cantagalo community where I also reside. This is coupled with the fact that many gringos pass through the gym all the time to train with the legendary mestre. I feel this is the reason for the perceived ‘hostile’ environment but I didn’t find it to be the case at all. There was definitely war going on, but I felt welcomed by one and all.
Ricardo Veira is a multiple time world champion and a part of the most successful families in all of Jiu-Jitsu but his academy in Copacabana has become as renowned for his inspirational teaching style as it is for his own success in competition. His conceptional based teaching has produced his own slew of world champions. Lessons are delivered through exploration of a specific position, he demonstrates an initial technique and then gives multiple options depending on how an opponent might react. I didn’t learn any one ‘new’ technique but more importantly I was given essential details to pre-existing techniques which made them much more potent. Due to being given three or four techniques at a time, it relies on prior knowledge thus I would imagine it would be quite difficult for a beginner to access.
The concept of the lesson had revolved around being being forced into half guard with your opponent having the under-hook. We were then given a full thirty minutes to work our way through and explore the position ourselves, which was delish. During this time, different black belts made their way around the class, correcting technique and giving additional details. Sparring then began with 15 minutes of specifics, starting from that half guard position, the winner stayed on choosing whether they wanted top or bottom. What better way of reinforcing the learning than when someone is trying to kill you! The mats were filled with a mix of hungry young blue and purple belts and as well as battle hardened black belts, everyone fighting for their lives for every second of every minute of every round, I finished the session feeling like I’d been punched through the planet!
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By the end of my year in Rio I was fully ready to leave but nine months at home in the UK I was fiending like Renton to get back. This time I would not be spending a full year, my grand plan, to spend about three months, compete in some big comps, travel to some more cities and of course train a little Jiu-Jitsu.
Predictably my flight here was fraught with dumb-assness. I hadn’t really looked at the tickets prior to their purchase, they were cheap as hell which made them the only viable option. Unfortunately when I did check the day before leaving, I realised I had a connection in Toronto which was a seven hour flight itself, then a nine-hour layover there. All before my twelve-hour flight to Rio, which is pretty much what it usually takes from home without all the other shenanigans.
As luck would have it, I managed to spend two of my hours in Toronto looking for my ‘lost luggage’. Upon arrival, the tannoy instructed everyone to collect their luggage before moving on to their connection. I thought this was random and never having done it before, I went to double check with someone in the know. I was informed that this was in fact the case. I made my way through visa check only after asking one more airport employee if this was indeed the done thing, again I was reassured it was. I waited half an hour for said luggage which surprisingly never arrived. I quizzed a third employee and told unequivocally that I had to collect my stuff, prior to joining the long ass lost luggage queue. Ninety full minutes in this queue by this point I hate every single thing about Air Canada. The first dude sends me somewhere to look for my bags, he assures me that they will be there which of course they are not, I have to then wait to get back to the front desk. Finally I get to speak with a dude who isn’t actually a dumbass, he informs me immediately that I didn’t have to pick them up and they would meet me in Rio. By the time I had been selected for a random check and had some dude putting his fingers in the inside of my pants, Canadians become by far the worst people walking the Earth.
Arriving back in Ipanema and bearing witness to the natural beauty of the ocean, its endless stretch of beach, the mountains towering above both acting as their omnipotent guardian, the picture was of course sullied by millions of cats taking selfies. The only thing on my mind was the obligatory acai, which I needed before my brain exploded. From the first taste my Jiu-Jitu power levelled up immediately and I almost arm-dragged the waitress.
I headed up into the Cantagalo favela which I had previously made my home. It was a real blessing being adopted by my very own Brazilian family, so it was a full on reunion of awesomness when I got back to the gaff. My little bro Gabriel is now sixteen and trying to balance a girlfriend who he obviously wants to see every single minute of the day, as well as his Jiu-Jitsu, boxing and getting up for school at 5AM to start his day at 6. Although this doesn’t seem to be a problem for him as I discovered on the mats later that evening. They don’t call him ‘Godzilla’ for nothing, he was causing maximum carnage to everyone in radius of his Jiu-Jitsu. Gabriel’s little brother Vinicious was only six months old when I left, he is now at an inquisitive fifteen months and very interested in the random gringo who seems to have just moved up into his space. The little guy has already discovered that my foam roller is an excellent device to beat Gohan the dog with.
Making my entrance into the Fernando Terere Academy that evening I felt (undeservingly) like a returning hero. Unfortunately the head honcho himself, Terere wasn’t there but I was met with a rousing reception by Professors Nogueira & Fabricio and the rest of the fam. The warmth and love that I received from everyone was next level of delish and it made me feel beyond grateful to be part of the family here. Training itself was obviously war, the desire to prove your dominance against another on the mats works cross culturally and irregardless of friendship or respect, I wanted to vindicate my own improvement by smashing cats and they wanted to beat me down to show exactly the same thing. So I left the mats a tired and broken man but without a hint of jet lag.
Of course being back in Rio necessitated a visit to the Jiu-Jitsu haven in the heart of Barra, the Connection Rio abode. I had the privilege of taking part in my bro Torryn’s promotion to purple belt. Dude is the wrestling coach at Rio Fighters, a former collegiate wrestler, active MMA fighter and a near five-year blue belt. I honesty couldn’t think of a dude who had a more overdue and deserved promotion but he certainly got put through the grinder to receive it. Connection Rio owner, Jiu-Jitsu entrepreneur, long time black belt and general kickass dude, Dennis Asche orchestrated this torture at world-famous Gordo’s Academy. After a brief warmup, the promotion involved a technique test, techniques from guard, passing, escaping vulnerable positions and a series of submissions. This honesty must have been nerve-racking in itself, you have twenty dudes stood around silently critiquing your every move. This was preceded by one hundred shots, I’m sure years in the wrestling room meant this was nothing new but it still looked like it sucked hella ass especially with what was to come. Finally, there was a supreme test of attrition with an hour of straight rolling with a new dude jumping in every two minutes. He fought for every minute of that hour battling though on heart and determination. At certain points I attempted to empathise with him and concluded I would have unquestionably broken down into tears. It was a privilege to have been part of this.
This first week was also in a large part about beating up a small child. Terere’s social project has a Jiu-Jitsu protegé, fourteen year old orange belt, Jhonathan ‘Moricano’ Marques During my first stint at the academy he was a yellow belt and had this ridiculously difficult Miyao brothers stylee guard. His guard retrieval was awesome but at the time he had little else. What a difference nine months makes! I arrived back to see him obliterate competition level blue belts as well as give purple and brown belts a torrid time. As my young friend wasn’t supposed to be rolling due to a competition at the weekend (which he won), I had to wait until Monday to try to test his game. The weekend was spent wisely discussing with prior victims how to pass this guard. I spent far too much time over those two days fathoming the game of a fourteen year old and how I planned to kill it.
When Monday came, I was primed and ready to go. I was then more than elated when I passed his guard, to the cheers of onlookers in the academy. With the awareness it was a child, I resisted the urge to jump up and bust out my victory dance. However the balance was truly restored when I spent the next five minutes trying to desperately avoid being swept in his Rubix Cube like guard game. Then the inevitable occurred in the last 20 seconds, as I posted to defend a sweep the little dude arm-barred me. He is unquestionably a phenom with an outstanding all-around game that doesn’t simply rely on this devastating guard, he has dastardly submissions coupled with tenacious passing!
During my year in Brazil I trained a lot, rolling hard twice a day in addition to that extra, ‘essential’ drill session. This resulted in a great deal of time spent being completely run down, over-trained and lacking the motivation or enthusiasm for my time on the mats. I guess it must be an age thing but waking up in a morning everything has started to hurt these days. Spending time pondering this, I resolved that this time I would ‘train-smart’, I would roll hard once a day and just drill technique for the other session. Predictably though, I didn’t heed any of my own advice and I spent the last day of my first week struggling to move out of bed because I’d rolled like my life was about to end twice a day everyday since being back.
After scoring gold the last two weekends at the FJJD Mineirio & CBJJO Mundials respectively, Fernando Terere’s very own Jhonathan ‘Moricano’ Marques showing cats how he does his thing. A special debt of gratitude to BJJ Hacks for putting this bad boy together.
Thanks to BJJ Hacks for shooting this bad-boy
To donate to Terere’s Kids Project: http://tererebjj.blogspot.com.br/
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