Saturday, December 25, 2010

Saying Goodbye

The fortune of a co-op student is that he gets to travel, and can live in work in different areas. The problem is that he's always in some stage of leaving.

I was lucky to be able to spend the last year at Ronin MMA in Ottawa and Club De Judo Ginkgo over in Gatineau, Quebec.

This round at Ronin MMA was not my first. I had actually been down for four months last summer. I was there for the same reason as I was all this year; a co-op job with DND. The club was a departure from those I had been at in the past. It was far, far more informal, and unapoligetically so. People rolled hard there. Everyone was tough.

I'll be the first to say that I didn't do well making friends on my first visit. I was pretty shy, and surprised by my new surroundings. I was there for four months. I'm sure I made something of an impact; but not a great one. I was certainly a familiar face when I returned, but I was no-ones BJJ-BFF.

Mon Petit Singe!

That all changed across the course of this year. I lightened up a lot during it, learned how to interact with this gang of characters. I learned that if Big D is running the warm up and starts dancing to "Da Rockwilder" it is obligatory to follow suit.

Who could say no anyways?

This year, I made some fantastic friends. The individuals and the tribe itself are a thing that I will not forget.

At Ronin, it really is OK to have fun. It's very informal, and a bit of a boy's club; you gotta get in, prove that you've got nothing to prove, be humble, and roll smart. If you manage to do this and have fun, you're golden. Bonus points if you make fun of "Beyonce Hips."

There are so many stories to tell and so many people to thank that I don't think its fair for me to say them here. I would forget too many people. I'll save these memories for future stories. Just let me say that the experience has changed me, that I'll do my best to visit, and always keep a picture of Frodo close to my heart.

I also had to say goodbye to another interesting institution this month. My Judo odyssey came to an end. I found out about Club De Judo Ginkgo from word of mouth. I had wanted to try my luck at Judo for a while, when a conversation with Big D brought this club to light. I couldn't find any club that had good training days that didn't interfere with the days I wanted to do BJJ. I was very lucky to have found out about Ginkgo... I don't think any other set up would have worked out as well.  The club had just recently been started. As such, they didn't have a crazy number of people. This was probably best under my circumstances. The ground is my forte, but I wanted to learn judo. I needed to be in an environment where a BJJ person is seen as useful, not as a threat to be destroyed. I'd be lying if I said I was not at all worried about this.

The Ginkgo people took me in and did their level best to teach me. I learned a lot. I really did. For this I am grateful.  More importantly, I also made another group of friends.

I think that this may be what all this BJJ/Judo stuff is all about; having fun, making friends, and trying to choke them good. I was lucky this year: I had a lot of fun with two groups of awesome people. That's really what counts. I'm sad to be in a position where I have to leave every few months, but I am incredibly fortunate and happy to have experienced it.

My next stop will take me back to Hamilton ON. Here I'll train with Pura BJJ. I'll be here for 4 to 6 months...then I'll be leaving again...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You Should Compete

Yes, you.

If you want to know when, the answer is now. Not once you have gotten to a certain level, not once you are a blue belt, not once your cardio is in line. Go Compete. And do it now.

Today is the day of Champions, Tomorrow is a day late.

I’ve competed 16 (or 17, not sure) times now. I’m still a beginner at it. My reasons are individual (namely, I’m bad at it and this challenges me.) Tournaments have done a number of good things for me...It’s been a profound education for me that has extended into day to day life more so than any other aspect.

As rolling on the mats is a learning tool, competing is a whole other realm of education.

Do it because:

It scares you.
Competing isn’t easy. It can be nerve wracking. Things that provoke fear in you need to be beaten. Don’t take the easy path. If you don’t already know, the best way to defeat something is to embrace it first. Then choke it good.

I change my mind; competing is easy. It’s training for life, it’s a small example of how to live and do enormous things while you are scared. Life? Life is hard! A BJJ tournament is going to teach you about fear and what motivates you. How best to face challenges, and how your guts and forearms might go haywire while you do it.

You will win.
You’re going to learn some fantastic things about victory. You will begin to grasp that you are capable; and that your power, and the power of the individual, can surmount any obstacle. You’ll take this back to everyday life.

Can I do this? Just watch.

You will lose.
...and how you react is going to reveal a lot about you. I sense that this is where the real fear lies in competing:

What happens when you put your all into something and you fail? What will happen to you?

This will be a good test of your spirit. Can you fight, lose, and try again? Or are you going to slap your hands on the mats in anger, and never come back again? Will your losses make you stronger? Or will you crumble?

I tell you, you’re already on the mats, working hard. Loses make you better, smarter. This is what BJJ is, and this is what life is.

You will be a better BJJ’er for it.
I’ve already beat down the important ways that competing makes you better; the mental ways. You’ve also got the fact that training for tournaments will make you grow as an athlete. You will have to get into the gym more and work harder when it’s time to roll. The addition of a goal, the end result, will give you something to work towards. Pick up a barbell, develop a “game,” learn your strengths.

There is a subtle yet undeniable difference between competitors and rec players. Respect for anyone on the mats, but competitors have pushed their limits and seek to push them further. They know a comp will test them from top to bottom. They know that how hard they work right now will determine their success in the future

It will guide you
Everyone you fight in a tournament is going to do things differently. Every time you face someone, you’re going to learn something. Whether you’ve fought before or not.

In your club, everyone knows your game and they know how to react. You also know their games.

When you get called on to the mat at a tourney, you look over and see the guy you’re about to fight. You know that he’s a black box. What does he do well? What are his weaknesses? It’s a truer litmus test of your Jiu-Jits. Will you react correctly? Do you just not have an answer? Either way, there’s something he’ll do that you’re not completely familiar with. You will learn about how your game reacts against someone who doesn’t know it, and how you will react to theirs. It’s a whole new bag of hammers.

You will not be hurt
Well, I guess I can’t say that definitively. People get hurt at tournaments. These are physical pursuits. Regardless, people don’t get hurt very often at all. I routinely see more injuries in a week of club rolling than I would at a Tournament. It just doesn’t happen that much.
Either way, I don’t ever see someone injured due to someone else’s malice. If people get hurt, same as in the club, it’s usually rolling the wrong way, or just an unlucky scramble

It’s fun
When we’re not trying to beat each other on the mats, competitors are great people. I’ve made a few hundred friends from academies other than mine. These people have invited me out for dinner after, these people have helped coach me when I showed up without a team. That is camaraderie. It’s honestly a fantastic and beautiful brotherhood, in ways that you wouldn’t believe. You’re going to show up, fight people, and make friends for life. Are there better things to do in a day? No, there are not.

Start right now
Competing does get easier. The fights never do, but the time spent before hand does. You should start now, as soon as you can. Get your feet wet. Experience will eventually make it easier, and the more you have the better. Go sign up.

Do you compete? Tell me why, or why not.

Interesting, I found this post on Starting Strength that basically says the same things. Different sport, same ideas. Cool.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On Spazzing

I will fully and once and for all admit that I have spazzed.

Spazzing, or “being a spaz” (for those of you not aware) is engaging in idiotic and unintelligent grappling. Using strength instead of technique. Cross choking peoples noses and the like.

Being a turd in the punch bowl, grappling wise.

The problem with this behavior is it is risky to the person doing it, and to the person who they are rolling with. Rolling like a maniac can very easily get people hurt.

To the Spazzer, this behavior might seem justified at the time. They don’t want to lose, or someone with less experience is getting the better of them. These aren’t really good justifications though, they’re a function of an ego.

The goal in all BJJ (well, I guess in my opinion) is to think and plan your way through the game, whether you employ a particular game plan, or are an opportunist. The idea is to employ techniques, feints, and strategies to make the other person make a mistake.

I can remember this one time, rolling at My old club, when I was clearly being a spaz. I was rolling with this escapes me. Anyways, he was MMA oriented (and quite good at it) and had a good deal of No gi experience as a result. I’m primarily focused on the Gi game. We were rolling No gi, and despite the fact that he had less cumulative time on the mats, he was getting the better of me, and it was annoying me. I was losing my cool a little. I thought I was keeping under control, but I was just scrambling around moronically.

Another training partner showed up in the doorway. An experienced purple. I saw him there and said hi. He said hi, but sort of looked at me funny. I didn’t think anything of it.

I like this guy, make no mistake, but it warrants mentioning that this guy is one of those guys who doesn’t mince words. I mean, at all. He doesn’t care what you think.

Gi class came after the No gi class. I changed out and we worked. For sparring, I partnered up with Mr. Brutal Honesty. He beat me good, but because he out ranked me significantly, I didn’t mind. I asked him if there were elements of my game that I could improve. He said:

“When I walked in the door, you were rolling in the most unimpressively idiotic manner I’ve ever seen you do. I was hoping we’d roll and you’d lose your cool so that I could beat the bejesus out of you for it.”

“…..ahm....” I was stunned.

Guy had a good point. It was hard to hear though. I had lost my cool a little bit. I was very unhappy with it. It had all seemed appropriate in the circumstance, but that idea wouldn’t stand up to any real introspection.

There’s a difference between rolling aggressively and spazzing. A spaz uses no appreciable technique and pure strength (keep in mind that strength is appropriate when used appropriately) to muscle out of and into things. Aggressive rolling implies a method of fighting that utilises speed (appropriately) and an offense oriented method of rolling that seeks to keep the opponent on their heels.

It’s been a challenge for me to balance these aspects. I feel though, that thanks to the honesty of my purple belt friend, and a few other situations, I’ve really come a long way. I’m not perfect yet, “I am only an egg.”

Leaving the ego behind can be difficult for the less experienced. Speaking from my above experience, it can be brutal to hear that people think you are being a spaz. It’s commentary that cuts beyond your technical prowess, and criticizes the way you think and behave. That’s rough. I know there are people out there “Angst Rolling.” I see them, where ever I go. I think we, as a community need to develop methods for teaching people that BJJ is beauty and technical prowess expressed through physical contest.

The aim of BJJ isn’t violence after all; It’s making the other guy give up...without hurting him.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ontario BJJ Championship Dec 4, 2010

I managed to get another competition under my belt this weekend. I was very happy with it.

(I plan on writing a whole post on why everyone should compete, and (possibly another post) on some tips and tricks for competing. It will be tricky for me to outline why I enjoyed this tournament so much without going on tangents about why competing is awesome, but I’ll give it my best.)

I’m living in Ottawa right now (I will be until January.) I had heard about a tournament about 2.5 weeks before the date. Apparently there were some problems with finding a venue, thus they couldn’t advertise it. I found this odd. They could have mentioned it anyways so that people who are far afield could at least plan the time off of work, get a hotel, etc. I guess though the organizer had some notion of how pissed off people would be if they had to cancel. All the people from afar would have to beg and plead with their hotels for the deposit back, recommit to work, etc.

I guess, either way it’s a mess. No biggy for me anyway, I’ve got things to do in that neck of the woods.

I dropped by the Girl’s in Kingston to spend the night. I left around 7 in the morning. I was a little sleep deprived, but pretty chipper regardless. That’s a handy thing about mild tournament anxiety; you can stay awake pretty easily.

I rolled in around 1030, my division was supposed to start at 11. I didn’t actually expect this to happen though. Tournaments are always late. It’s a bother, but frankly, once you’ve been to enough of these events, you have people you can walk around and talk to. I’ve gained an insight into who knows how the tournament is running. You see these people at every tournament, running the show. I asked around a bit, talked to the guy running the scales, and found that the tourney was 1-1.5 hours late. This is par for the course, and of no concern.

Despite the fact that I have in fact been to a tournament that ran on time, I still plan on being at a Tourney all day. You can’t really ever make specific appointments later on in the day, there’s no point. Someone there will want you to go have dinner with them anyway. So, if you’re lucky (I was) the venue will have Astro-turf, and you can just hang out on the plastic grass.  

I changed into Gi pants around Noon, and was wandering around, watching matches and meeting old BJJ “brothers-in-arms.” I bumped into a really good friend of mine. Accomplished grappler and MMA fighter, Rory MacDonnell. I’d done quite a bit of rolling with Rory in Hamilton, and we’re the type of friends who are always trying to make cutting remarks to each-other. Generally speaking, the best friends are the ones you respect enough to make fun of.

Rory is a surprisingly smart guy. I suppose if you take a university grad with a double major, anything that person teaches will be well explained. He’s also done some cornering work for people. Summarily: Good teacher, Good coach, Ugly.

Anyways, Rory trains his grappling at PuraBJJ in Hamilton. Despite the fact that I’ve never been a member here, Pura Guys are at every tournament and they are always willing to and volunteering to help me. As previously mentioned, I used to train with The Pura Patriarch, PJ.

I have pretty much always been a lone wolf at these tournaments. Even when I was with Joslins, the turn out from our guys was not tremendous, and the people who did go usually (attempted to) coach each other. Now that I train far afield from most tourneys, I can’t really expect someone to come down and coach me.

Rory happily volunteered to help out with this. He even helped me warm up by flow rolling. I’d explained to Rory that my strategy involved being equally concerned with points and the sub. I could do without the sub, but I prefer it. The sub is pure. The sub is unequivocal victory. There is no better way to win than by having your opponent concede that you’ve beat him.

Rory and I arranged that he’d be calling out points (whether I was up or down) and when i had held an intermediary position long enough to score, so that I could continue and gain the most from the progression. This worked great.

I’m going to try to analyse my matches...I’d like to point out that I tend to roll opportunistically, and seldom have a good recollection of how it actually went. As always, I will do my best.

First Match: I fought a guy I’ve never seen before. Keil...or something like that. We started, and he got the take-down. He shot single. I had thought about maybe countering this with the Uchi, but I could tell from his grip that I would not be able to turn for it. I’m also crap with the Uchi Mata. I sat out of the takedown. This concedes him the points, but I *sort of* land guard-ishly. Damage control. He has points, I’ve kept a good position. I swept and got to the top. I’m not sure what sweep or to what position. I think it was half. I passed to Side and held until I heard Rory say “points.” Then Knee on belly, “Points” then mount “Points” then took back. He got out and the whole thing started all over again. I looked at the score at one point, 22-4....Good margin. It got down to the last 30 seconds. I was now up 30-4. I humoured the notion of stalling, I could hear my opponents coach insinuating that I was tired. Opponent was struggling like crazy. Despite the point lead, he still had spirit in him. Good man!  I decided that I still hate the notion of stalling, the sub is a better victory than a points one by any margin, and that I was not at all tired. I worked a bit harder, secured the collar, and bow and arrow choked for the win.

Second Match: I fought this guy named Jamie. Jamie is one of these guys that I see at every tournament, but have somehow never fought. There’s only a few left of these people. I attempted to Tomoe Nage him, but he was wise to it and it didn’t work. I landed with my back to the ground. Jamie had his weight back. I swung my free leg over his head and attempted to armbar. I couldn’t make enough space to extend the arm, and the Opponent worked his way out of this. Jamie worked his way into My open guard. I swept and mounted. I worked for a while holding him in S-mount and trying to armbar and choke. No dice, excellent defense. Opponent worked his way out and was now in my guard. He tried hard to work the pass, but I prevented as time lapsed. My Win, 6-0.

Third Match: Max, the other guy who I see all the time and have still never fought.
Max has a good strategy. I had seen him do it earlier in the tourney. He pulls guard, moves to De La Riva, and sweeps. He gets the top, but doesn’t work tremendously hard to advance. He doesn’t quite stall per-see, but he doesn’t fully engage when he has a lead. Fair enough, I guess. This isn’t a strategy I’d adopt anytime soon. It’s effective (He won the tourney at weight,) but I just don’t find that mentality fun.
I felt confident that I could pass his De La Riva. I couldn’t, as it turned out. I almost prevented the sweep, and then I almost had a bunch of other sweeps work out. Almost doesn’t cut it at tourneys. Max’s Win, 2-0.

After this fight, the refs asked Jamie and I if we wanted to fight again, for third. This would normally not happen. You would nto typically have to fight a person twice. People who accrued enough points in competition during the rest of the year competed at this tourney for free, and were placed automatically in the semi final round. This messed up the brackets so that Jamie and I would have to battle for third. Jamie said it was my choice. I know that we can tie and both take third. I chose this option because:
A) We’ve already fought
B) We can both qualify for the Absolute (I’ve never fought absolute)
C) If we fight for third, the loser will be disqualified from the Absolute, and the winner will be more tired than he would be other wise.

Jamie seemed disappointed. I don’t blame him. He’s a skilled competitor, and another match between us would be a total toss up. He in fact beat Max (champion at our weight) during the absolute and managed to come in third.

Absolute: This was fun. I have never been in an absolute before, so I was super stoked to take part. The atmosphere is even more chill than the tournament at weight is. In an amusing twist of fate, I ended up fighting Reid. The coincidence here is that I went to high school with Reid ages and ages ago. Then randomly, at a Team training event at Joslin’s, he showed up. He had started training with the guys from Dragan’s, our sister club in Kitchener. People were remarking even then at how he had progressed technically and at his remarkable strength.

I wasn’t expecting this to go very well. Aside from the fact that he’s become quite skilled, he’s alo 55 lbs heavier than me. I wasn’t being defeatist about it, but it was going to be a heck of an uphill battle. Anyways, I lost. I played it wrong from the start. I pulled guard (or tried to Tomoe Nage...not sure) and ended up with him in my open. He passed masterfully, and moved to North/South. He went for kimura. I defended well and came out on top. He still had the armbar, and he made it work. Good for him.

It was very cool to fight absolute, against a former high-school acquaintance and Team-mate, no less.

All in all, I had a great day. I really enjoyed this. It’s always a pile of fun to compete. I made a ton of new friends, Max and Jamie among them (you always seem to find friends in the people you fight.) I was also able to pleasantly bump into lots of old friends. Tournaments are the shiznat. They are central to BJJ culture. If you’re not experiencing this, you are missing out.

Any interesting Tourney experiences out there among the readership? Do you hate it? Love it? Lets hear!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Start Pt 2

Click for Pt. 1!

I’m “in to the whole brevity thing” (except when comparing Judo to BJJ,) and I understand that unless it’s pertinent or entertaining, no one could care less about the trivial matters. I’m trying to abridge this, is what I’m saying. Concise. Concision. Booyeah.

The training in Oakville, in hindsight, was some of the best I’ve ever seen to date. It was a large facility, with a ton of mat space. Their was a big room and a small room, and both of these were matted with high quality tatamis... the big room had a 25’x40’ mat and a ton of seating area, where you could hang out between rounds. Aside from the generous matting, my favorite aspect was the deck. It was a converted warehouse and as such had two large loading dock back doors on the back wall. You could open these up to reveal a narrow but well made deck. It was beautiful to train there, get beat, then hang out on the deck in the sun.

I trained here for the summer of 2007.

I can say now that what I saw and was exposed to then, I was in no position to appreciate. If I was still there under those conditions. It would be mind-bendingly good.

It would be a mistake to not make a point of noting the fact that PJ is well known, extraordinarily highly thought of, and a kick ass instructor. Everybody in Southern ON knows PJ it seems, everybody likes him.

I was there to train with PJ. This was all I was interested in. His teaching methods get through to me well. I had no knowledge otherwise of the people I saw there. I rather wish I had.

A typical Tuesday/Thursday (It was either these days or Mon/Wed, I can’t recall) You’d have me, a couple other shlub white belts (including a few characters in stories that I’m keeping for later posts) and an incredible assortment of personalities from all areas of Southern ON.  I’ve looked back on the people I met then and have seen them conquer the world, develop followings. I’ve seen pictures of one of them hanging out with Rickson on a beach from way-back-when.

One thing in particular that I found very cool and unique, were the “Justice League” episodes. When there was a Justice League meeting going on, we wouldn’t even do Technique. We’d have people from all over come to train. High skilled browns, purples, blues, whites, all coming together (from different clubs no less) to roll, talk, laugh, and love Jiu Jits. It was incredible. I’m going to try to dig up that picture of me at one of these things....I remember I’m craning my head all weird because I was worried I’d be cut out of the photo.

This was one of those times when the beauty, the friendliness, and the spirit of BJJ revealed itself to me. You’d look around the mats and see high calibre local rivals just shooting the shit and talking tech.  I am a little sad to say that this is one of the highlights of my BJJ adventure. I’m not sad it happened, I’m sad I don’t have a time machine. I’d give an arm to be involved in something like this again.

It all came to an end when one of the leaders of the clubs that were coming to these events got annoyed with the missing talent. I reserve judgement on this. I can sympathise to an extent, and I know the person very well. He’s also a very respectable guy. I just feel like cross training is necessary, beneficial, and honestly a beautiful thing. You simply can’t get your own people to think that hard or develop such bonds when you only train with your own guys. I know this is gonna be a topic for me down the road, So I won’t beat it to death here.

After things got clamped down on, Oakville was still a fantastic place to train, We had PJ and a number of people from his current school come in to train with us and teach.

For me though, school was going to be coming up, I was going to be taking my vehicle off the road. Commuting would be impractical. I needed somewhere else to train...