Category Archives: Jiu-Jitsu

Loving Jiu-Jitsu Too Much

I am assuming that most of you reading this love Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But, have you ever arrived at your academy with a body which has been broken down by days of hard training, and thought ‘fuck this shit’? I have always lived life under the assumption that more of anything is better; however, I have come to see recently that under certain circumstances, the cliché: less is more, is actually a profound truth.

I really love jiu-jitsu and for the past eight years my daily existence has been consumed by it. Although, it wasn’t quite love at first sight, initially, I found it awkward, overly complex, and claustrophobia inducing. This was coupled with the fact you had to wear a weird outfit. But, it didn’t take long before I fell hard, its multi-faceted personality absorbed me; the way it seamlessly managed to function as a sport, a form of self-defence, and a beautiful art-form where one is able to creatively express themselves.

My life has revolved around it: training six days a week, studying matches, keeping abreast of the latest techniques, devouring magazines and books; spending all my disposable income on fresh new shit, and visualising possible mat-based scenarios while I should be working.

I was happy to give my heart to the mats; this was an unconditional love which ignored hurt and injury, agony and loss.

I wanted to spend as much of my time as possible in its sweet embrace. I had to get better. I had to acquire more techniques. I had to win medals. Logically I believed that the more time I spent training, the more skilled I would become. Like a jealous lover, I just knew that if I wasn’t on the mats somebody would take my place, they would be improving and I wouldn’t.

My desire was insatiable and even led me to quit my job to train full-time.

At the beginning of the year I made the decision to enter the bizarre and wonderful world of professional wrestling. Consequently, my ability to train jiu-jitsu became limited. It wasn’t the end of the affair, we weren’t going to be “taking a break”, but, we were certainly attempting a long distance relationship.

My new schedule afforded me the opportunity to train no-gi twice a week. This wasn’t easy. I missed spending time with all my dudes, I missed knowing, I was working towards the day that I received my black belt; I missed the “toxically masculine” environment and all the dick jokes; I missed being choked with my own clothing, and I missed my connection with the flow state that only jiu-jitsu could provide me.

As with any significant change, it was very alien at first. When I did train, I didn’t feel as sharp; while rolling, guys who I felt had no business doing so got the better of me (insert ego here!). I was riddled with self-doubt over my performance – which was compounded by recently returning from broken ribs – it felt like I was going backwards.

After a month or so, as I became acclimated to this new routine, something strange seemed to happen. I actually felt like I was getting better. I felt stronger, fresher and incredibly motivated.

Some of this can be attributed to the strength program that had been created for me (size being a prerequisite for pro-wrestling). For years, I had mistakenly followed the advice of Caio Terra: being a weakling was irrelevant, only techniques matters. This is sound advice if you are an anomie like Caio but well-meaning bullshit if you are the other 99 percent of the jiu-jitsu population. Although, the blame can hardly be laid at the feet of the pint-sized wizard. My blind adherence to this pseudo-philosophy should have been shattered after being bullied around for years by those stronger than me on the mats. Lifting heavy things seemed like an incredibly mundane act in comparison to rolling, so I simply didn’t bother. I loved jiu-jitsu not squatting.

Even with this addition, it sounds like an improbable paradox, how could one train less of a sport and actually improve? When I look at it objectively, training as much as I did, there was certainly a point of diminishing returns. While living in Rio, I would often train three-times a day, two sessions of hard rolling and an “essential” drill session (my body and I were often not on speaking terms). I was no spring chicken to boot, attempting this at the age of 30.

My overall enjoyment of training has radically changed. Now, every single session I am excited. I look forward to getting on the mats. I feel super fresh and inspired to learn. This is a stark contrast to how I used to feel. A number of times during the week I would arrive at training and be so tired that it was arduous even walking up the stairs. Worse still, I wouldn’t even want to go and had to force myself into my gi, resenting the fact. During these sessions I would invariably perform badly, grappling in an effete manner and get beaten down by cats. I would go home in a pit of depression, lamenting the decision of coming in the first place and convincing myself that my jiu-jitsu sucked beyond belief.

In hindsight, I spent a lot of time over-trained. Training was a chore. I had to go and that was it, I couldn’t let others get ahead or risk falling behind. Perhaps, this wasn’t actually a love affair, it was addiction. I was a fiend that put desire in front of well-being.

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. For me, taking a step back has certainly reenergised and reinvigorated my love. I don’t need to train jiu-jitsu every day, nor am I jealous of those who do; there is more than enough jiu-jitsu love to go around! I actually think I am a better grappler now (without having actually competed this year, I have zero empirical evidence to back up my own hypothesis). Like all successful relationships, I have learned to really appreciate our time together as well as our time apart.

The Greatest Thing About Jiu-Jitsu

I have often attempted to conceptualise the flow state that jiu-jitsu allows one (after some significant mat-time) to tap into.

I recently came upon this excerpt by Ian McEwan from his novel, Saturday. I think you would struggle to find a more perfect summation of what is, for me, the most gratifying thing about training BJJ:

“in a dream of absorption that has dissolved all sense of time, and all awareness of other parts of his life. Even his awareness of his own existence has vanished. He’s been delivered into a pure present, free of the weight of the past or any anxiety of the future. In retrospect, though never at the time, it feels like profound happiness. It’s a little like sex, in that he feels himself in another medium, but it’s less obviously pleasurable, and clearly not sensual. This state of mind brings a contentment he never finds with any passive form of entertainment. Books, cinema, even music can’t bring him to this. Working with others is one part of it, but it’s not all. This benevolent disassociation seems to require difficulty, prolonged demands on concentration and skills, pressure, problems to be solved, even danger. He feels calm, and spacious, fully qualified to exist. It’s a feeling of clarified emptiness, of deep, muted joy.”

 

 

Ode to the Cheesecake Assassin

From the highest of heights in combat sports, the UFC, to the pinnacle of daytime television, Bargain Hunt, my teacher, mentor and friend Danny Mitchell has always taken it directly to cats. Today, on the 15th of July his career as a professional MMA fighter comes to an end. This marks the culmination of a lifetime’s journey that began at the age of ten with tae kwon do. Traveling the world on the back of his combative acumen, he has competed in karate and kickboxing, full-contact stick fighting, judo, professional boxing, bare knuckle fighting, and wrestling.

Despite this drive to compete in every discipline that allows one to inflict pain upon others, he is, at heart, a jiu-jitsu fighter. To see the truth in this, one only has to watch a highlight of his spectacular submissions in the cage. Receiving his black belt at age twenty-seven, he has befuddled opponents with flying triangles, and tortured others with the rarely seen twister. With his long limbs and a seemingly photographic recall for technique (not to mention an obsessive-compulsive habit for notetaking) it isn’t a stretch to say that he was built for the Gentle Art.

This is my ode to Doncaster’s begotten son, the inimitable ‘Cheesecake Assassin’, and the indelible mark that he has left on my existence.

I first started training with Danny at the beginning of 2011. At that point I had already been on the mats for about twenty months, but looking back I was a very limited white belt. Like many who are reading this, I had quickly fallen in love with jiu-jitsu. I loved the positions, I loved the idea of beating others into submission, I loved using the gi; I loved the camaraderie with my training partners, I loved learning; I loved the feeling of awe that you were left with after a great session, I pretty much loved everything about it.My only issue was that I completely sucked!

There is always that one cat at your academy, everyone knows them, they just don’t get it. No matter how many times you show them something, they fuck it up. You humour them, in full knowledge that they are a lost cause. I was that dude.

This all began to change from the first session I took with Danny. In that inaugural class we explored the use of the kimura grip from half guard; opening the guard and using it to sweep. I was enamoured, both by the dude himself and his teaching methods. He taught what appeared to be simple techniques, they didn’t have eight complex steps to get to the final goal (this was the jiu-jitsu I had been accustomed to), and delivered it in a way that someone so devoid of skill such as myself was seamlessly able to pick it up.

I honestly could not believe it when we began to roll and I was able to immediately pull off the moves that I had been shown, it was a revelation. I really had no idea that jiu-jitsu could be delivered in such an effective fashion. As we prepared to begin rolling he asked me if I wanted to jump in with him for the first round, bear in mind that I had never sparred with one of my instructors before. My mind was officially blown.

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Promotion to blue belt in 2011

In the proceeding months he pulled me up kicking and screaming from the abyss of absolute suckage, and very soon I wasn’t that dude in class anymore. I wasn’t the guy that would just fall over from invisible sweeps, or capitulate without a fight, or fail to comprehend a technique no matter how many times it was demonstrated; no one was more shocked than me at this change. His teaching and approach to jiu-jitsu got me to blue belt in six months, which for so long had seemed like a distant dream.

I’d like to think that I’ve become a pretty proficient grappler since then!

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NAGA London 2015

In the years that have ensued, I have encountered many amazing and inspiring teachers. From my travels I have been lucky enough to train with some of jiu-jitsu’s most renowned and celebrated professors. But, I can honestly say that no one has a gift quite like Danny’s for imparting knowledge, his pedagogical prowess trumps that of anyone else. He has the unique ability to paint pictures with his words and create analogies that permanently lodge themselves into one’s consciousness (usually revolving around the intravenous consumption of flesh-eating opiate, Krokodil).

He is able to tailor lessons that benefit the whole spectrum of jiu-jitsu ability, essentially demonstrating the same techniques to the lowliest of white belts as well as killer purple belts and beyond, which is akin to teaching five-year-olds and university students in the same class. He is able to achieve this through an innate skill for differentiation, breaking techniques down to base level to facilitate the learning of novices while adding nuance incrementally based on a person’s skill, this ensures that everyone’s level is raised.

He is quick to correct mistakes and provide answers for those who have questions, but he fosters an environment where students are encouraged to learn independently. It is fair to say that I have borrowed liberally from his methods both on the mats and in the classroom.

Since that first lesson he has remained my favourite person to roll with, he is a veritable grappling chameleon, you have no idea what style you are going to be attacked with. We don’t have the opportunity to do it that often anymore, so when we do, I go all out and try and assassinate him. I realise this admission contravenes verse 337 of the unwritten doctrine of jiu-jitsu making me a heretic among purists. But, those who see this as disrespectful and haven’t themselves sought the admiration of their teacher by trying to murder them, are sorely lacking in ambition. Anyway, disrespectful or not, any attempt at doing so is entirely futile, and I am invariably humbled in a variety of ways; last time we rolled I was caught in a trilogy of differing one-armed chokes.

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Old-school tops off action rolling at the former, Caged Steel Gym.

To say that he is charismatic would be to completely undersell his personality, he cranks charisma up to the proverbial 11; looking like a council estate Jedi with his signature rat-tail and beige trackies, he is someone that you cannot help but want to be around. He is a natural leader, one that if he chose to wield his power for evil could have everyone drinking the Kool-Aid. I have never met anyone, who didn’t walk away from meeting him without thinking “that is a cool-ass mutha-fucker.”

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UFC Fight Night 48

Nothing can faze the Cheesecake Assassin – also akin to a Jedi Knight he doesn’t register fear or anger. When faced with the apocalypse, this is a man you want by your side, deadly with his hands, (worryingly) proficient with an array of weaponry, and seemingly unburdened by human emotion.

This is a cat who lives by the immortal words of Rowdy Roddy Piper: “When you think you have all the answers, I change the questions”. Case in point, the aforementioned appearance on the BBC’s Bargain Hunt.

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A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

This is also a jiu-jitsu black belt that bizarrely can be found chopping it up on the mic at some of Thorne’s famed Donk nights. For the uninitiated, Donk is a form of dance music that is profoundly unpalatable to anyone who hasn’t consumed at least seven pills. In what was undoubtedly a feat of amazing fortitude, I once witnessed him spitting over this painful cacophony of bouncy beats stone-cold sober.

I feel people throw around the idea, “jiu-jitsu saved my life”, far too freely. It’s a cute sentiment, but it sounds a lot like hyperbole to me. It might have stopped you from contracting type 2 diabetes from being such a fat whopper, but I doubt that it actually prevented your life force from expiring. Nevertheless, I know that jiu-jitsu has the potential to change lives because it literally changed mine, and that was down to Danny.

I had a very comfortable teaching position, there was a ladder with clear instructions of how to climb it, I could have sleepwalked my way into retirement. The skills I acquired from him, as well as watching how he lived his own life, showed me that there was so much more; he gave me an escape hatch.

In 2013 his jiu-jitsu emboldened me to quit my job and go to live in Rio to train and compete full-time. This experience has profoundly altered my direction and perspective on life. No longer was I willing to settle for anything that I didn’t love to do. Danny would never directly tell anyone to do anything, yet, I am just one of the plethora of students whom he has inspired to radically alter their lives in pursuit of their own personal goals.

He isn’t exactly sailing off into the sunset and will continue to drop knowledge on dudes at AVT, both in the gi and for fistycuffs inside the cage. But, he will be getting punched in the head a lot less, which is always a good thing.

So, it seems like the perfect time to say thank you to the man who has made my life unequivocally more awesome.