Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Welcome, to the Dojo, of The Real...



My intention for this blog was to write a simple review of my first BJJ lesson, but I've found myself reflecting on some deeper issues since taking the class.

I got into MMA a couple of years ago and wasn't too keen on the ground fighting aspect; it seemed like a way of stalling to me. It wasn't until I watched UFC 1 that, like many, I really appreciated how powerful ground fighting and more specifically BJJ could be.

About a year ago I finally started training in martial arts, a lifelong ambition, joining The Martial Arts School SW, a local MMA school. I was excited about this school as I noticed they did grappling (no-gi), something I was keen to try, but a little apprehensive due to it looking very physically demanding.

I did kickboxing only for about 6 months and it became apparent to the instructor that I was a huge MMA fan and he started encouraging me to grapple. I was so excited to do it, but kept putting it off. Finally when I felt my fitness had reached an acceptable level I hit the mats, learnt a couple of submissions and rolling for the first time. I was instantly hooked.

I said to myself I'd never train gi BJJ but found myself watching an increasing amount of instructional videos and getting sucked into the culture more and more. Finally, after shopping around for a gi which there was no real reason for me to buy, I admitted to myself that BJJ was actually something I really wanted to do.

However, finding a school wasn't easy. Being just down the road from London and having a football team in the Premiership, you'd assume that there would be at least one BJJ class here. But no! The closest I could find were Carlson Gracie Academy, Ze Marcello and Andy Roberts, all about 25 miles away.

After chatting to each one about their pricing (each were super helpful) and juggling their timetable with my current kickboxing and no-gi classes, I decided on the Carlson Gracie Academy.

My gi arrived (a Tatami Nova Basic, highly recommended across the internets) and after a couple of weeks off with a bad knee from a failed standing sweep during kickboxing sparring, I set my first date, this past Monday.

Before I go into the class, a little bit more info about myself; I'm a big guy. 6"6 tall, 18st. Being 'big' has many advantages, but it can be frustrating at times, as people can fail to see beyond it.

The last sport I put a lot of effort into was golf; I played seriously for about 12 years, but quit with very little to show. I never made it to a single figure handicap and only once broke 80. Basically, I was shit, yet was well respected for the fact I could melt a ball onto the green of a 400+ yard par 4, or hit driver-wedge to a par 5 like it was easy. No one cared it would often take me 3 or 4 puts to finish the hole, I was still an urban legend on the course.

Fast forward to joining an MMA school, straight away my size is the topic of discussion. After a few months training I developed decent kicking and punching power, which I put manly down to working hard on technique, but everyone credits it to my attributes. When grappling, as the average size of my partners is fairly small, I'm often able to use my power to gain an advantage. It's frustrating and I feel like I'm cheating, but it's hard not to do it when technically outclassed.

However, when stepping onto the mats at the Carlson Gracie Academy, the first thing I notice is several guys my size or bigger. Finally, my size means nothing!

Onto the lesson. We started with a decent warmup that really got my heart going, which quickly blended into the techniques for the day, Omaplata and variations. Straight away the gi confused me, using grips seemed really weird. I struggled with the harder variation, but felt I got most of the basics down.

We then lined up in grade order and the coach selected pairs to roll. He asked if it was my first lesson, I could have said no as I've got quite a few hours experience rolling, but seeing as I was already tired and wanted to make it through the whole session, I answered yes and he let me sit out the first roll.

On the second roll he paired me with a white belt with 2 or 3 stripes. We started and the first thing he did was grab my gi! Wtf! It still felt so bizzarre. He pulled guard and did an excellent job of just neutralising me. I asked for some advice on how to break the sleeve grips, and armed with this I made a few attempts at passing his guard, almost getting there a couple of times but he always grabbed me and pulled me back.

For the third roll I was then approached by a Blue Belt with 2 or 3 stripes (I should take more notice) and knew I was in trouble. Instant grips and butterfly guard, which resulted in him lifting me in the air a few times. If you noted my size earlier, then you'd realise I wasn't used to this treatment; this guy was very strong. Breaking his grips was nigh-on impossible, but he did give me a few openings to pass, each time though he would crush me with some sort of choke or lock.

The final roll I was all but spent, so quickly ran to another non-striped white belt who looked as tired as me. I went back to what I know, aggressive no-gi style, and was able to tap him a few times, but really  I should have been more open to giving him opportunities and experimenting with the gi, but my ego was hurt.

A really fun experience, but also MASSIVELY humbling. I'm no longer the big guy, only decent technique can carry me from here. I can't wait for my next lesson.