Category Archives: Jiu-Jitsu

Jiu-Jitsu is Weird: Part One

Old-School Gym Invasion

I have met some of the most interesting, intelligent and compassionate people while training BJJ. But, I’m sure you will agree, jiu-jitsu can attract some bizarre individuals, and on occasion the mats bear witness to some all-out weirdness.

I sat down with my coach, recently retired UFC veteran, Danny “Cheesecake Assassin” Mitchell to break down some of the more peculiar experiences he’d had in a lifetime in the martial arts.

One incident that stood out was the occurrence of the oft-fabled gym invasion.

On a grey morning in Doncaster, Danny — then an eighteen-year-old blue belt — was teaching a small class of students. A “pretty jacked up guy” walked through the door, eying up the proceedings. After delivering his technique (a triangle choke from guard), he approached the newcomer assuming, naturally that here was a prospective member. After introducing himself, he was met with a rather unexpected response, “this is shit,” the bald-headed newcomer belligerently stated. “What do you mean?” questioned Danny. “It’s fucking bullshit, this doesn’t work, I’d smash my way out of that,” the man replied.

Danny’s first gym, opened in Doncaster as an eighteen-year-old blue belt.

The situation escalated quickly from there. Unsurprisingly offended, Danny offered the unbeliever the opportunity to test his hypothesis. The antagonist didn’t need asking a second time, sprinting onto the mats and lunging at the, then young grappler. Not wasting the chance to prove the efficiency of his jiu-jitsu, Danny quickly put him into closed guard, throwing up his long legs and sinking in a triangle. I would posit, this is where the dude began to seriously regret his life choices.

Like the drowning man as panic sets in, he soon became desperate. “He used his fingers and was literally gauging my face – putting his hands in my eyes and shit like that,” remembers Danny.

Ensuring the choke was as tight as possible, Danny under-hooked a leg to prevent being slammed. With zero chance of escape the man’s bald noggin began to swell, veins protruded violently, the unrelenting squeeze deprived him of the life-affirming flow of oxygen. Akin to jiu-jitsu’s belts the colour of his head changed incrementally from white to blue before ending up at purple. After this final promotion he took a well-deserved trip to Snooze Town.

The stunned class turned to Danny for some clarification to what the hell was going on; encouraging them to carry on rolling, he dragged the unconscious body unceremoniously to the edge of the mats. Awaking from his forced slumber, the guy unsteadily got to his feet, leaving without another word.

Pondering why this ever happened, why did this guy come to his gym of all places? Danny doesn’t think that he was intentionally sought out. At the time MMA was in its infancy in the U.K. and Danny was the proverbial “skinny youth”; hardly an imposing figure. He explains “Maybe he thought he’d come to some MMA class and he thought we’re all going to be punching each other and we’re rolling around on the floor and he thought it was a bit shit.”

The Cheesecake Assassin was once a ‘skinny youth’.

Randomly, years later, on a night out, Danny ran into his bald challenger, who happened to be working behind the bar. There was to be no repeat (being brutally choked usually rids one of their misconceptions about jiu-jitsu!) as he hooked Danny up with free drinks the entire night. “Sorry for getting off on the wrong foot,” he apologetically noted. Perhaps, the understatement of all understatements.

In the battle of jiu-jitsu against all-out idiocy, there can only be one winner.

Defining the Polish Grappler

It is true there is no one-size-fits-all in jiu-jitsu. Individual preferences for guard, variations of passing, differences in strength, stamina, explosiveness, and mobility ensure that styles differ wildly from person to person. Nevertheless, there appears to be a certain commonality inherent in Polish grapplers, a shared ethos, bathed in a righteous belligerence that one must never say die.

This anecdote, I feel, goes some way to sum up this hypothesis. During a session at Warsaw’s Academia Gorila, I witnessed a blue belt refuse to tap to the kimura of a higher belt (I had my own experience with this particular blue belt; seemingly, gifted grip strength from the devil himself, he’d strangled me mercilessly last year. It was somewhat depressing to return and find him sporting the same colour belt). His shoulder made an array of stomach-churning cracking sounds before the higher belt responsibly let go of the hold.

The blue belt ruminating the following day on not being able to move his arm, gleaned there were two important lessons to be learned for everyone involved. Firstly, you need to concede before something pops. Secondly, don’t ever let go of a submission until your opponent taps!


Fighting for my Life in Warsaw

Typing these words is an arduous process. Right now, I feel like complete shit. I am being crippled by an unbelievable fatigue. I have zero motivation. My whole body is cramping intermittently. My thoughts are consumed with self-pity. I have once again fallen prey to the self-inflicted condition of over-training.

In my last piece I wrote:

“I think I have a developed a more sustainable relationship with jiu-jitsu, my body is not being continually ravaged and broken down, nor is my every waking thought invaded.”

It has taken less than a week for these words to become completely obsolete.

There is, of course, a reason for this: a return to Poland to train with my good friend and owner of Warsaw’s Academia Gorilla, Marcin Polczyk. I had only trained in the kimono a handful of times this year, but, for the next ten days, it would again become my second skin.


The stereotype of the brutish Polish grappler who relies solely on strength and seeks to divorce one’s limbs from their person is a pervasive one, at least in my part of the world. However, the truth of this can be called into question. Yes, every single round of sparring will involve your head on a chopping block, forcing you to fight for your life to dislodge it. But, no, this will not be based solely on brute strength – this notion is doing an incredible disservice to the high level of skill, efficiency and dedication I have witnessed on these mats. The studious application of technique coupled with the innate desire to fight for everything and never tap, ever, seems to be an endemic quality to the grapplers here.

Having to roll round after round with cats like this was going to result in nothing less than a beaten up and broken down version of me (which occurred very quickly, as it happens). It would be balls to the wall, and that was all there was to it.

By the second day of training, my descent had already begun, aches and pains called to me from my tiring body. I had been made acutely aware of the dreaded gi rust. I struggled to pry off the forceful and unrelenting hands that were constantly attaching themselves to my lapels, leaving me tethering on the brink of unconsciousness on multiple occasions.

My third session, the advanced class, was a euphemism for: everyone here is an assassin (yes, even the white belts).  After guard-retrieval drills, newly minted black-belt Marcin informed us –  sporting the sort of smile that indicates pure sadism – we would be rolling continuously for the remaining forty-five minutes of the class. The only possible respite would come if you were submitted, whereby, you would have precious seconds to suck up some oxygen while you awaited another submission to jump back in the trenches.

There was to be no break for me. I spent the entirety at war with fellow purple belt, (my new friend) Paweł Żochowski. While there were no submissions, I was, for the most part, fighting for my life. My seemingly indefatigable interlocker was able to slice and dice my guard, time after time, as my own power level began to deplete. I thought, I finally had it at about the forty-minute mark, when exhausted of all other options, I managed to catch the most bastardly submission of them all, the wrist lock. The fact his hand was pointed in an entirely obtuse angle did not inspire him to capitulate, no, he gutted it out until he was able to free himself. After that, I was done, clinging to half-guard, I impatiently waited for the clock to count down.


Returning to the academy the following morning – to take part in what was reassuringly called “Poranna grupa śmierci” (morning group of death). That day’s group included only the four of us. Pawel and Marcin, Brazilian brown belt, Carlos Sedlacek and myself. Rolling 6×6 minute rounds, the aptness of the name soon came to me, as I found myself in a moribund state. About half way through I began to struggle holding down the vomit, that seemed intent on violently ejecting itself from the pit of my stomach; the morning’s oats and peanut butter would not have coordinated overly well with the white of my kimono.

By the fifth-round my entire body had begun to cramp. Sat across from Pawel, our eyes met as we prepared for our second roll of the day together. Words were wholly unnecessary, as an unspoken consensus was reached – mutual respect was coupled with determined resignation that we would both push our exhausted bodies for another six minutes to get the tap that had so far eluded us. Of course, we fought for the entirety again without a clear victor, taking our total up to fifty-seven minutes without submission.

In the car leaving the academy, I experienced something new, bizarre and rather painful. I was attacked by stomach cramps (I hope it was cramp and not a hernia). Sitting bolt upright in a car seat and attempting frantically to push back the muscle that was protruding from my stomach was not an overly pleasurable experience. Anyone witnessing this absurd performance couldn’t have helped but consider me a fiend going through a particularly difficult withdrawal.

It feels awesome to be back in the kimono, but, it is abundantly clear that I have not developed the “sustainable relationship” with jiu-jitsu that I’d assumed. The seductive allure of the mats has once again left my body hating me. And, I am only three days in…