Progress.

On Saturday, I decided to get my arse into gear and go back down to Newcastle for another of Speedy’s bi-annual grading days. I hadn’t been down in a whole fucking year. Which is pretty shitty on my part but it couldn’t really be helped due to problems with anxiety and health. I say arse into gear, I had to be coaxed into going but hey. This is a big ‘un by the way, sorry about that.

This time last year, I had my arse well and truly punted all over Tyne Met by Hubert and Fahad. Their technique was far superior to mine, and I felt embarrassed by even being there. You’re inevitably going to go to battle with people that are better than you, but that’s the first time I just wasn’t able to put up any fight at all (that I can recall). It was a whitewash, and I’ve felt shitty since.

Fast forward to May and I couldn’t attend the grading for two main reasons – I was having issues with my stomach (AGAIN!), and I really couldn’t face the idea of getting absolutely obliterated in front of my peers again. I’m not what you’d call a competitor. I was never athletically gifted as a child, or even inclined to be (save for riding my bike fucking everywhere, and being shite at football behind the park). It wasn’t until my adult years I actually found something physical that I genuinely fell in love with, in grappling. What I haven’t fallen in love with of course, is the peaks and valleys that go with it. There’s trippy highs, agonising lows and the plateaus in between. That’s some difficult shit right there. When you’re not an athlete, the highs are few and far between, so you’ve got to push through all the bullshit to get there.

Since last year’s grading, I’ve missed quite a bit of training to start the new calendar year, so that I could focus on fixing the physical ailments that governed my abilities (or inabilities, as it were) on the mats. With a bit of help from the doctor, I’m now in the best place physically I’ve been for years (my fitness is still shocking, because I’m still pretty fucking lazy). I don’t worry about pain or discomfort when going to training, and I can actually just focus on the training. So that’s great. Leading up to this grading, I’ve been far more attentive in my training – taking in as many classes and sessions as I can with a busy work schedule.
I’ve been able to teach here and there, and most importantly I’m not focusing entirely on Gi training. I’ve been sparring NoGi  and picking up bits and bobs from the people I’m rolling with, and the coaches around the NoGi scene. This approach and mix of training partners has allowed my game to come on from where it was last year. I feel confident on the mats in my own club, and that’s pretty cool because it took a long fucking time to get there.

Where I still don’t feel confident is the competitive scene. I’m well aware that a friendly inter-club shouldn’t be considered competition, but it is. Doing poorly there, reflects poorly on the training and learning I’ve been given over the last year. I’m not only embarrassing myself, but my coaches and training partners. So that’s not a position I like to be in. That’s where my anxiety stems from. Looking foolish in front of my peers, when I believe I can do better.

This year it took me quite a bit of convincing to get back down to Newcastle for this grading day. Strangely enough I feel comfortable as a purple belt now, but when you’re pulling up the ever lengthening measuring stick of where you stack up against other purple belts, I still consider myself wholly shitty at this sport. As a result, going to war with other people my age/weight/level crumbles me. I’m fine until I step on the mats, but it’s then that I just shell up into oblivion. If I’m having a friendly roll, I’m cool. If I think competitively, I shit my pants.

My other half was very instrumental in pushing me towards overcoming this anxiety. I also turned to Speedy, Sloany and Grant who all delivered choice words to help me take the pressure off of the inter-club. I felt suitably relieved and actually happy about going down to Newcastle to support my teammates.
I’d shifted the focus off of my own journey, onto my peers. I want to see them do well, and to do that, I need to be there.

The Dundee and Perth lot did really well. I took the side of the mats, and coached where I could alongside other seasoned Jiu-Jidiots. Adam, Ronnie and Sloany were the standouts of the day, all getting long overdue shiny new belts (blue, blue and purple retrospectively). Something I really appreciated from the Newcastle and Darlington lot was their coaching instruction when the Dundee and Perth guys were facing each other. Naturally at the side lines, you can’t pick a side when you know both parties involved well, so it was great to see other guys taking that on, and helping out.

For my own match, I faced one of Dom’s up and comers ( a 10th Planet Purple belt). As soon as Dom approached me about it, I lost whatever spark I had for my proposed match. I was meant to be facing familiar ground, and now I was facing the great unknown. Scary. I could see him warming up, and I was already defeated mentally. I needed a moment to collect my thoughts and get my shit together. As I was walking over to the other mat to see how Sloany’s match was going, I was called up. This was it. Me vs Mighele right fucking now. I faced him, shook hands, bumped fists etc and he went for the takedown. I just did what I could, where I could to stop his onslaught of attacks. In my mind’s eye there were scrambles, but I don’t know if I’m remembering the fight better than I actually did, because of the positive comments I received afterwards. At one point, he had me in an armbar that I was later told the ref was on the verge of stopping the fight over, but I just waited until I could find my way out (a big thanks to those who were coaching me from the sidelines at this point. I distinctly remember hearing Ant). Once I’d worked my way out of the armbar, I managed to scramble to my feet before getting tripped again.
I attempted a single butterfly sweep, but failed miserably and ended up in a dorsal-fin kimura. This wasn’t good, but I wasn’t tapping. Mighele adjusted and lead me into the reverse triangle. When he pulled my arm across my neck, I was truly fucked. I was done. Life was leaving my lungs and I tapped.

In all that though, I felt calm. I don’t think I lost my cool, became panicked or embarrassed myself like I did last year. Sure, I was bettered in the fight but I actually had fun going against Migele, and would like to do so again one day, regardless of the result. If I’d had a moment to collect my thoughts, I probably would’ve picked more faults in my game, as I often do. Afterwards, I spoke with Migele and Billy (another of Dom’s guys). It was a good reflection on the match that just happened, and also part of what makes this sport, and these inter-clubs so great. There’s no animosity between anyone. It’s not the demon filled hell pit I seem to have in my imagination. I shouldn’t be fearing this like I am, or suffering whatever anxiety I do. I need to move on. I need to move forward.

Next year, I’m going to take a more active approach to competing. It’s something I’ve severely neglected in Jiu-Jitsu and part of what I believe makes me such a shitty purple belt. The first competition I have my sights on is in February, and a lot of guys from the club are already keen to go. I’m going to have to get out there, and start getting my arse kicked by people that people that actually want to kill me, so that when it comes to the inter-club I can better make the distinction between war and fun.

I also had some great rolls with Big Show, Dom and Speedy on the day that deserve a mention. Dom and Speedy toyed with me, like the devious bastards they are. Speedy gave me a few things to work on, so that’s cool.

I’m aware I’ve rambled throughout this piece, but that’s entirely the point of this blog. I have to be able to put down the good, the bad and the ugly. The big difference with this year’s ‘performance’ is that I’m raring to go, and ready to get back on the mats tonight. Which is exactly where I need to be to continue improving. I’ve made progress in that defeat, rather than shying away like I did a year ago.

Off you fuck then.

Harmbars: Part Deux.

This week, I started a new shift rotation at work. That devilish rotation happens to have late shifts. So every seven weeks, I have to do eight o’clock finishes, leaving my mornings free for thumb twiddling, and of course ruining my training in the evening.

Showing my Bear Grylls level preparedness (sans Horlicks, and a TravelLodge), I wanted to ensure I got at least one session in this week. I gave my pal Ronnie a shout, and asked if he’d be available to train at some point this week. Ronnie’s one of the club’s hardest white belts. He’s the sort of guy that you always get a good roll with, because he’s strong as fuck and has a base/core from hell. He also has a garage that he’s converted into a training space.

Ronnie being the gentleman he is, offered to pick me up and take me out to his palace in the sticks. What a wholly hostile heinously cold little garage he has. The warmup couldn’t come quick enough. We had no choice but to get stuck in.

After a brief warmup in the igloo, I asked Ronnie what he wanted to work on. Thank the fucking lord he asked me something that I knew. Armbars. I fucking love an armbar, me.

As per usual, I started off with the intent of showing him a basic armbar. This turned into a deep rabbit-hole of hurt. Various lead-ins and approaches from the guard to attack the arms. I then covered how to break their defense and sweep, whilst keeping the armbar. If they defend again, we broke that down too. Jist is, you’re fucked. Well, that’s the plan anyways.

I had fun helping Ronnie with these techniques, because whilst it allows him to up his game, it also allows me to evaluate mine. Justify whether I’m worth the raggedy tassle that hangs from my waist-line. I had far more answers for ‘armbars’ than I expected to, which is good. It’s something you need to do to progress in grappling I think. Share knowledge, and expand on things you’ve picked up over the years. It’s up to whomever you’re sharing with to decide whether that works for them, or whether it’s absolute dogshit. You get valuable drilling time too, to explore whether what you’re doing works.

I came away from the Arctic Tundra with a rare Jiu-Jitsu high, because I felt like we’d both learned something valuable. For him, how to tighten already solid techniques – and for myself I’ve reviewed parts of my game that I’m clearly neglecting, when they’re stronger than I first thought.

Long live HARMBARS. Toodles.

Obligatory post training shot. Ronnie doesn’t take Jiu-Jitsu as seriously as me, I’m here for WAR.

Red.

Having trained Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for a number of years, it’s clear that there are good days, and bad days on the mats. It can’t be helped. Last night turned into a bad day on the mat. I had some really good fun rolls, with some absolute beasts (Ahmed, Danny, Frank, Marley, Ronnie & Sloany spring to mind). That much is good, but after running out of bodies, I asked a white belt I’d never seen before if he wanted to roll. New people don’t approach me, because they think my belt means I’m going to swallow them alive. That’s not the case.

I never go mental with a new guy. Fuck, I never go mental with people I know and trust, because it’s just not how I roll. I’m lazy, lethargic and then POW! You’re dead, or something. It’s also because I’m not a fucking prick when grappling (well, not a total prick – more on that later). I like to play a relaxed game, and find opportunities where I can, applying pressure when needed, etc.

New guy was athletic, jumping all over the shop, as you do. We had some fun scrambles, and back and forth exchanges before we found ourselves in leg lock territory. Now I’m not sure whether it was ill intent or ignorance that lead him to the position he landed in, but the Devil himself reared his ugly head. With that I snapped, I saw red and stopped him calmly by delivering the following line, “If you heel hook me, I will break your fucking leg.” His reasoning was that he was using it to roll me over. What happens if I don’t roll? Snap, crackle & pop.

Let’s forget the logistics for a moment. If he’d heel hooked me, I probably would have been rolling about the floor in agony, screaming like a baby – but there’s a distinct reason why we don’t toy with such dangerous moves. My legs are my primary mode of transport. BJJ is my primary stress reliever. If someone puts me out of action for a year or even toys with doing so – from an educated or otherwise approach, I’m going to fucking snap. Similarly, I’d expect the same in return if I were to do the same to someone else.

As an example, last Friday my coach had a heel hook position locked in, and I still actively looked for the toehold, like a fucking idiot. This was a glaring error on my part. It wasn’t until he pointed it out that I realised he could have had the heel hook at any time, but had the dignity to stop when he had the position, it’s part of our unwritten code in the club (although it might be worth getting a sign). I’d crossed the line. Rightly so, I felt like shit, but Paul being Paul handled it with better diplomacy than I delivered last night to the new guy.
The new guy being new should be excused for his error, and I don’t think I handled it well at all, but in that very moment I just reacted. It’s not something I intend to do again, but I guess we’ll find out when someone else tries to heel hook me.

The rest of the roll was fucked with new guy. I gave him nothing. So little energy that whilst he was able to play, and attack from anywhere without me giving a single shit what he was doing. That can’t help your learning, I basically became a grappling dummy. Afterwards, I told him I wasn’t being serious about breaking his leg, because I didn’t want him to be deterred from the club, and complimented him on his grappling/athletic prowess. However, it’s made me entirely wary of ever rolling with him again. There’s a level of trust in this sport, and whilst you have to branch out from the same rolling partners, time and time again – it becomes all the more difficult when people just don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. It’s dangerous, and the onus is on you to avoid that danger.

That’s enough rambling for one day. Bleurgh. On to the next class, hopefully it’s a good one. Peace out.

Rolling with The Master.

After another hiatus from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I wanted to throw myself back into the deep end. I asked fellow grapplers if anyone wanted to roll on Friday night, and the response was brilliant. I aim to roll from six to half seven every other Friday (work permitting), but Paul and Sloany were opening early to work on a few things. That was my in.
I swaggered into the gym at five on the dot ready to take skulls home with me, for the mantlepiece.

We drilled some techniques, then it was onto rolling. I got the fat straw first and rolled with Kenny. It was a fun roll, with him attempting various submissions and myself doing my best not to become another man trapped inside the stomach of Moby Prick. Kenny’s always a delight to roll with.

Then I rolled with Robert. I’d never rolled with him before, as we’re normally on different paths through the club. Opposite classes, different time tables or whatever the hell you want to call it. I’ve always passed him and thought, how does this guy roll?
I’d watched him roll with Kenny for a bit to try and gauge how he’d get on, but it’s hard to tell, when Kenny is on someone.
Rolling with Robert was fun. Plenty of back and forth and opportunities from both of us. It’s also good to roll with someone that is in a similar weight bracket. Although, with my ongoing fatness I’m probably quite a bit heavier than him. Gah.

Next up was Paul. The master himself. Paul’s been the staple submission grappling coach since the club’s inception. Without him and Billy we just wouldn’t know any of the shit we do. He’s a fan of catch-as-catch-can, and loves to wrestle. Tonight from the second I got into the club, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He’s the smallest I’ve ever seen him, at 76 kilos. I’m sure the last time I rolled with him he was at least 90KG, but it’s hard to tell because his top game is so dominating.
Apparently he’s eating yogurt five times a week, and the weight has just fallen off. Goes to a yogurt class and everything.  Amazing.

We tickled fingers, slapped hands, bumped fists, kissed each other’s cheeks, signed the necessary papers and got to rolling. I was completely thrown by everything he was doing, because for several years Paul has been very much a crush and smash sort of player. He gets top control, and makes you feel like you’ve never grappled before in your life. He has a few attacks that he’s able to get to from anywhere, and you’re just along for the ride.
Friday though, he was actively playing guard, and attacking from angles that I hadn’t seen him do before, unless giving the class a demo. He was inviting passes, attacks, etc. He thoroughly kicked my arse in a whole new way, expected of course – but not like that. He fucking Jiu-Jitsu’d me, when he’s meant to be a bloody wrestler. This will not stand.

Along the way he was doing what a good coach does best and correcting glaring holes in my game, and adding new tips and tricks to my arsenal. It took me a while to realise that I could actually move him, which never used to happen before. Obviously it was a friendly roll, so he’d turned crush and smash off for a more flowing approach – but it was just surreal to play with that energy.
You’re looking across at someone that used to be one of the strongest people you know, and now they’re this super flexible, relaxed grappler in the space of only a few months. It’s one thing knowing how dangerous he was when he was a big strong lump that could smash you through the floor, but this lighter, flexible Paul is a whole new animal. He’s always been the end game boss, but this is the sequel and he’s back with new tricks. The knowledge was obviously always there, but this further cements the necessity in understanding mobility and flexibility in grappling. It can completely change how great a grappler you are. Paul was always great, but now he’s greater whilst being less (fat). Mind fuck.

I don’t get to Paul’s classes enough, or train with him enough. That has to change. I might have to set my gis on fire and retire my Shaka to be allowed though. 😕

Harmbars.

Tonight’s class was great. More rolling from the get go, with my focus being the Megadeth approach. Seek & Destroy. This did NOT work on Frankie. He’s a tiny little tank that happens to be packing nuclear warheads. Fucker.

Luckily there was plenty of new blood to snaffle up, and slowly obliterate. There were of course exceptions, some of the more knowledgable less spazzy guys for instance – but I just took my time, and created the openings I needed to work the techniques I wanted to work.

My focus currently is getting back into the routine of doing armbars. A million years ago, I was quite good at them. So I’ve been exploring them again recently, and catching them from tricky little positions.
The aim of course is to get away from people identifying me as Barry the loop choke guy. I want to be known as the armbar or harmbar (trademark pending) guy. That way I can start loop choking the fucking shit out of people again. I’m crafty, see.

I still don’t feel especially comfortable giving people guidance when rolling. I don’t want to be coaching someone as we roll, because it gives an excuse after the roll if they best me. Fuck that noise.
So I’ve been giving pointers after the roll. Specifically with pressure and how to alleviate that pressure. It’s somewhere that I can confidentally speak from experience, because I’ve been crushed a LOT in my time as a grappler.
I’ll occasionally add little tidbits about how to tighten up certain techniques, when people are just throwing them at you in vain. Beyond that, it’s Billy’s domain.

*throws up shaka* Piss off.

Welcome Back.

Last week I had to skip BJJ, because some heinous fucking shite-the-bed decided to give me the cold. I’m not a big fan of training with the cold, because all you’re going to achieve is infecting everyone else. Which means less training partners. Fuck that noise.

So this week, feeling fit and healthy (lethargic and uninterested), I charged down to class to see what wares Billy The Yoda would have in store.
As if to say welcome back Barry, Billy has switched the class up again, having us do a brief warm up, followed by rolling for a solid hour. Once you’re physically and mentally destroyed, he opens the class up to questions. Where did you go wrong? Where are you getting trapped? Etc. This forum approach at the end allows the lower belts to learn something applicable to them, whilst the higher belts tighten shit up.

When you know you’re going to roll for an hour, you have to be conscious of what you have in the tank. You just can’t roll like a dickhead, because that one ‘good’ roll will be at the expense of every other roll you do that night. It’s great to look at people at the end of the rolls, and see who’s alive, and who’s dead.

For too long, the classes were getting a bit overwhelming. Billy’s wealth of knowledge can sometimes drown me in information. So we’ll run through what feels like 4,000,000 techniques, for me to only take away one – just before having that technique smashed right out of me by a brute like Frank.

Personally, I’ve really enjoyed this new approach. I’m coming out of class phyiscally and mentally stronger, and I can feel that immediately. I’m not getting tired during rolls, and the drill time at the end has allowed me to experiment techniques with trusted training partners. Concepts that I’ve been playing with for a while are tying together as a result. This is a fucking great feeling.

Billy’s going to continue teaching like this for a while, and I look forward to every second. That’s not to say I don’t welcome other teaching methods, but for now, this is straight up magic. And to quote big bastard Hagrid, “You’re a fucking ninja, Barry.”

Toodles.

Respite.

Jiu-Jitsu is HARD. It’s taken me a long while to get there, but I don’t think I have bad classes anymore. I’m always learning, always evolving, little by little.
I understand what’s going on. I can take in a demo and jump straight into a move with vicious intent. That’s great, but it’s been a long and horrible road to get there. I recently pondered whether I’m too caught up in the majesty of BJJ though, and for the most part, I guess I am. It’s a great stress reliever, but it’s often at the cost of further, albeit differing stresses.

The physical ailments you pick up in your time practicing this fabled art are ridiculous. I’m a hobbyist at best but the various bodily tweaks that I just live with, because HEY! That’s Jiu-Jitsu is utterly insane. Quite a lot of me just hurts. Your body really isn’t designed for grappling in the slightest.
My neck, my shoulders, my upper back, my knees, my ankles, my hands, fingers, toes, they’re all screaming at me on a daily basis to give it a fucking rest. If they could talk, they’d say, “Barry stop slowly destroying this ramshackled fuck of a body.”

I don’t train like a lunatic. I’m not Garry Tonon. I juggle work and a home life between BJJ, like most other normal people. I’m lucky enough to train three times a week, and my body fucking hates me for it.
I can’t even begin to imagine what other people in the club feel like. The dedicated fighters, or competitors.
I don’t feel I train stupidly. I’m not deliberately putting myself into neck cranks or anything like that, and whilst I do have a defensive focus, if something hurts or I’m uncomfortable I’ll do what I can to get out of that position. If you’ve got me, I’ll tap. I’m not in the business of trying to tear my shoulder apart fighting off an armbar. This isn’t the Worlds, it’s a grappling club in Dundee.

After my last class which was a smothering affair with a man many call Big Fat Kenny – I decided I was due a break. A good few weeks ago, I let a spazzy white belt go ham, and I’ve had quite a bit of pain around the shoulder since.
So I decided to take some time to just heal. Chill out without the strains that my body expects. Respite.

I feel pretty great physically after two weeks away. There are still niggles. I still hurt in quite a few places, but my desire to train hasn’t gone away  – which is always a worry when you take a break. I’ve still been watching a billion videos, I’ve watched tournaments, etc and of course I’m still taking a keen interest in the training of the people around me.

Mentally however, I’m back to being a wholly pissy, angry fuckhead. That’s the joy of the 9-5 and overtime on top. I haven’t had anything physical to alleviate the week’s stresses (Jiu-Jitsu is my thing, see), so it’s all been building up in one angsty ball. That sounds like a new Grunge album.

So on Monday I’ll go back to training, and try to better balance the stresses I’ve incurred, whether mental or physical, and I can’t fucking wait.

Fuck off then. x