Julia ‘Jiu-Jiu’ Johansen writes a lovely BJJ blog, which she began in the summer of 2010 when she met BJJ and fell head over heels. I first ran across Julia’s tales of a BJJ grrl in Korea with this open-hearted tale of her first BJJ competition and have enjoyed her posts ever since.
Julia’s most recent (super cute) post, Your BJJ Nickname, has a great thread of comments on readers own nicknames and Julia’s hunt for an appropriate alias. I noted that my nickname is ‘Megatron’ as my name is Meg and my team mates consider me and my game (I suppose) ‘tronic’. Julia, a self-professed Sci Fi Fanatic and Geek Grrl Extraordinaire, shared with me:
Your nickname is a badass leader of the Decepticons in Transformers … Plus, you come in standard mode and BATTLE MODE!
Holy H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks! Standard mode and battle mode? Now we’re talking! I normally consider myself a Soldier of the Light, or at least I try to keep my dark side in check, but I can’t say I’m not psyched by my fellow Megatronian’s chimeric qualities!
So, what’s your BJJ nickname? Why not shoot on over to Julia’s blog, leave a comment, and help her create a name with just the right balance of sassy and sweet.
In 2009 I attended a seminar with Carmen Janke. I was a few months into my blue belt at the time and while I had respectable offensive success against females of my size and skill level and, on rare occasions, against big male noobs, I was all about survival and escaping against the (almost always) bigger and stronger dudes I train with at Dartford BJJ. Carmen, who also weighs in around 60 kilos, said something that day that struck me and has stuck with me: ‘I really didn’t develop my offence until purple belt’. Snap!
Since mid-2010, as I got closer to purple belt, I began to see green shoots of an improved offensive game and over the three months since my purple belt promotion areas of my offence have really started coming together. Let me quantify what I mean by that. My goal is offensive success against larger, stronger and more powerful opponents, ultimately of my own skill level. For me, evidence of an improved offence is consistent success versus a wide range of heavier, stronger novices. While this may not sound like much to those who had offensive success when white belts, themselves, this has been a long journey for me as a smaller ‘out gunned’ player, so it is a significant step forward in my personal jits journey. I attribute the evolution of my offence to a convergence of several factors: very good instruction, dogged persistence, improved self-belief and the re-introduction of both no gi and BJJ basics/self defence into my weekly training regime.
I have been focussing on my triangle for 12-18 months. In particular, I’ve been refining my ‘shoulder walking’ and transitioning from the triangle to an arm bar/inverted arm bar. I am cracking this on folks of all different sizes now, rarely on people of greater size and similar skill, but reliably on much larger opponents of lesser skill; while I’ve been able to survive and escape from less experienced big ‘uns for some time, it is a recent development to regularly submit opponents with a 20-50 kilo weight advantage. I’m pumped!
From the beginning I have been taught defence first. A basic delineation of the early belts in my Academy is survival at white belt, escape at blue belt. That’s your job. Coach has been assuring me over the years that, with time, I would gain enough confidence in my defence to being to dismantling opponents with my offence. Don’t get me wrong! I still tap like River Dance and I’m not ashamed of that, but, I foil enough attacks and escape enough uncomfortable positions to feel that I have a solid defence, a defence which can now serve as the backbone of an emerging offence.
When I write that I have been working on my triangle combos for some months now I mean trying it in sparring against every sort of opponent regardless of how much they might outclass me in weight, strength, skill, youth or speed. Working this flow in sparring has often resulted in being passed and crushed. Demoralising as consistent failure might be in the shorter term, I play a long game and trust that only through persistence will my game grow over the longer term.
Coach often advises us: ‘You must believe in your offence more than your opponent believes in his defence.’ Confidence in the offensive area of my game has long been lacking and as accurate as Coach’s prediction was that improved defence would make room for improved offence, so too was his insistence on the importance of self-belief. As new offensive skills did indeed reveal themselves, my confidence grew. A month or two before my promotion, I remember coming away from one of many private lessons working through the kinks in my triangle flow thinking, ‘I *can* submit with this triangle!’; I finally believed in it.
When I began my grappling-journey, no gi was a regular part of my weekly training routine. Changes to my training schedule during ’09 meant that this aspect got lost, to be re-integrated in ’10. I believe the speed of no gi allowed me to better capitalise on an RNC-opportunity which was pivitol for my self-belief. Likewise, I regained BJJ-basics/self defence in 2010. Drilling this material, which looks at technique in context of a striking attacker, gave me new perspectives on transitions to the triangle, in particular the utility of controlling the opponent’s wrist while getting the feet behind the opponent and maintaining that control while locking it up. Following on from my earlier discussion of BJJ as a ‘martial art’ or ‘combat sport’, I feel convinced that it is essential to balance training with a competition-focus with training for self defence, and indeed, complementing gi work with no gi. At least for me, this combination of approaches has been essential to consolidating a discreet area of offensive capability, a foundation upon which I hope to build and expand.
I accept that the ideas presented here aren’t original and I have certainly learned the importance balance in all things from teachers and mentors inside and outside of BJJ, but I have progressed to where I *know* these things for myself, on a visceral level, I see how they have contributed to my growth and I am simply here to testify!
Last night Dartford BJJ was proud to host Marc Walder for one of his regular quarterly seminars. This turned out to be a big, BIG night for Dartford BJJ and my review of the evening may be rather more personal and emotional than normal.
Marc Walder’s depth of understanding and sophisticated jiu jitsu never ceases to amaze me and this was further reinforced for me by Marc’s demonstration of a series of techniques that relied on gi-grips more than I am accustomed to. The beauty of Marc’s teaching is that he doesn’t overload you with a huge range of techniques, but focuses on a few moves and refines the details at the same time every time I have the pleasure of attending his class, I am shown new variants and means of approaching common problems.
We began with a takedown initiated from basic grips to collar and elbow. Transitioning from the elbow to the cuff on the upper-inside of the opponent’s grip to the collar, the elbow overwrapped the opponent’s while shooting in to drive hips against opponent’s legs with elbow tucked tight to body to hold opponent’s arm in a Kimora-shape. Releasing the opponent’s collar to hold the thigh, the front leg was extended straight to gain an ‘hurtler’s’ pose to allow sitting back at an angle to throw opponent. At this point the back is towards the opponent and it is ‘walked’ onto the opponent’s chest before turning to face the opponent and gain side control.
Submissions from Side Control
Submission #1. In this case the opponent’s arms are framed against the bicep and shoulder. The bottom hand loosens the opponent’s far lapel, pulls it taught and overwraps the opponent’s forearm. Retaining a grip on the lapel the fabric is passed to the upper hand which is looped under the opponent’s neck. The idea is to bait the opponent to rip the hand out of the gi at which point the bottom hand slips through the gap left by the opponent’s arm, passes across the opponent’s neck to allow for an Ezekiel-style choke by pulling up on the lapel retained by the hand under the neck and pushing away with the hand into the opposite side of the neck.
Submission #2. In this case the opponent has chosen not to remove hand from gi-wrap. Switch hips to face south while retaining top pressure move knee to opponent’s hip. Slide knee along body as it travels north in order to get good ‘bite’ and control of the opponent’s near arm. Hold opponent’s outside wrist and put body weight through it while transitioning to an S-mount. Relinquish lapel to grab ankle and sit back while wrapping legs for triangle. An important principle here is to not roll all the way back and allow the opponent to come to knees, but instead use hamstrings and core to prevent the opponent’s opportunity to come to knees.
Submission #3. In this case the opponent’s outside arm is passed under the lower armpit rather than framed against the shoulder. The bottom hand grips the bottom edge of the outside lapel and holds at opponent’s hip and transitions to north-south to end at side control on the opposite side. Pass the lapel under the opponent’s neck and pass to opposite hand. Transition arm from beneath opponent’s neck to pass across throat and re-grab lapel. Apply pressure to finish the choke.
Dartford BJJ goes nuclear
While I’ve been training with Dave Birkett for 6 years, the first half of that time was spent in his London City classes at the Bob Breen Academy, formerly located in Hoxton Sq. At the start of 2008, I started making the journey to Dartford to train at his main academy, where a hard core of dedicated practitioners impressed me with their work ethic, technical skill and friendliness. At that time there might’ve been a dozen of us on the mats, regular, with a select group of blues and the rest of us white belts. So much has changed in such a short period; we regularly have 20-30 people on the mats and we now have a healthy range of belts from white to brown.
5, FIVE, of the guys that walked through the doors at the end of ’08 made the jump to blue last night. Our second generation of blues is a special group to me. ‘Little Richard’ came to Dartford BJJ a blue belt in another club but wanted to start again and, after working it out with Coach, strapped on a white belt and got stuck in. How many folk work so hard to get that first coloured belt only to quit soon after? Real testament to Richard’s character that he decided to make a fresh start and pay his dues. Jamie walked in an absolute physical wreck! Overweight, out of shape and really struggling with his fitness in the early days, but he just kept hammering the nut. Two months and two stone lighter later he was a changed man and not only has he become an exceptionally precise and technical player, he is living proof of BJJ’s ability to change lives for the better. Will, well, we rolled within his first few days of training and he dislocated a toe during the course of a sweep; his game was all tense and aggressive and I wasn’t too sure about him. He through himself in and, these days, works tremendously hard to ‘get things right’ and to relax and work his stuff. Last, but not least, there’s Hasan and Richard. They walked in and I thought, ‘These two are a bit wide’, but then I saw the rather large Richard walk away from rolling with a 14 year old girl who gave him a really hard time with a smile on his face and patting her on the back – reckoned he must be all right! Hasan, too, had a kind temperament and the two were hooked after that first class and were dedicated converts over night; Hasan is a light, quick, technical and savagely sneaky player that teaches me so much when we roll.
The evening got rapidly more special for me. Marc sat us in a circle and it was clear that something was up. He spoke about what a difficult journey BJJ is and in particular how challenging it can be for women and smaller people; this being clear from the ratio of men to women on the mats. He described how impressed he was with the ladies in BJJ – and at this point my lips started trembling and I struggled to keep it together – and said he was proud to be making his first promotion of a woman to purple belt. This was really moving to me and it is a great privilege to feel I have the confidence of Marc Walder and Dave Birkett.
This morning, I finally realised that I honestly have my club’s respect. During a break in the seminar I had a chat with Hasan and Richard regarding my possible promotion that evening and I mentioned that I felt unsure that I could properly defend my belt if I were promoted at this stage. Hasan scoffed at this and reckoned that I could defend it adequately. Bear in mind he submitted me last week, the second time since we’ve been training together and as in the first time a helpful revelation of a gap in my defensive game; I had zero answer to his slick arm triangle. Richard suggested I was being too tough on myself as I do well rolling around with ‘a bunch of meatheads’ while tipping the scales at 60 kilos (on a good day). I was reflecting on the evening over my morning’s porridge and, dammit, if the tears didn’t come. Hasan and Richard made me realise that the guys don’t think I’m lesser because I’m smaller and weaker and I rarely tap them out; that’s all my baggage and nothing to do with them! Indeed, they respect my technique, value my opinion and enjoy training with me. The amount of support I have received from everyone in the club is immense and I am so grateful that I can finally start to see it more clearly. Right, so I’ve started the purple belt journey – saddle up and on to the next thing!
The finale of the evening was Marc Walder’s promotion of Dave Birkett to brown belt. Dave is a wonderful coach and mentor. Dave has a long pedigree in martial arts, from a black belt in Shotokan to expertise in JKD and extensive experience in grappling and wrestling. When Dave met Marc he took the brave decision to try learning a new way and has developed into a terrific exponent of Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Dave works tirelessly to support his students and make their needs his number one priority. The loyalty of his students and the retention rate of his academy is clear evidence of his prowess as a teacher and as a martial artist. I heartily look forward to the next 6 years at his club and beyond.
Thanks to Danny Suman, world-class Escrima stick champion and fellow DBJJer, for the use of the fantastic photos.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is part of my martial arts journey. For me, to describe (and confine) BJJ as a ‘combat sport’, strips away so much of the value and depth of the art, reducing it to a much less multi-dimensional pursuit of validation through medals and athletic achievement; I see jits as a more esoteric pursuit of personal growth and improvement. While I certainly see competition as a valuable learning tool, to me it is all about emphasis and, to my mind, competition is an important complement to BJJ training, but not the end for which training is the means; my perspective is neither ‘right’ nor ‘wrong’, but it is mine and this blog is my party.
There is no agreement in the BJJ community over whether or not Brazilian Jiu Jitsu should be termed a ‘combat sport’ or a ‘martial art’. Those who prefer the term ‘combat sport’ seem to wish to distance themselves from the douchebaggery popularly associated with martial artists as famously personified by Martin Kove’s John Kreese in Karate Kid or Diedrich Bader’s character, Rex, in Napoleon Dynamite, as well as from the mysticism portrayed by Pat Morita as Mister Miyagi. This is evident from responses to a poll run by the FightworksPodcast questioning whether or not practitioners consider themselves ‘martial artists’, where ‘no’ respondents pointed to the lack of formalised spiritual learning, ceremony and other ‘hokey’ trappings commonly associated with traditional martial arts or at least the popular perception thereof. In this case, a majority of respondents argued for BJJ as a ‘martial art’ and ‘yes’ respondents highlighted BJJ’s capacity to promote personal development on and off the mats:
I can honestly put my hand on heart and say that I have changed thru the training on the mat and that that change is evident off the mat too and that’s why I say that I’m a martial artist. The principles of jiu jitsu influence most of my off-the-mat activities (diet, relationships, work, gym, studying…etc.) and I am very grateful for that. I’m a part time grappler, but I’m a full time martial artist’ – Liam Wandi author of Part Time Grappler
While I empathise with the desire to distance one’s self from pretentiousness and cornball mysticism, for me, Wandi neatly summarises why I embrace characterisations of BJJ as a ‘martial art’ and reject the label ‘combat sport’. BJJ is very challenging and very rewarding. It requires a fully harmonised mind and body for proficient performance and I am absolutely convinced that my struggles and successes on the mats have helped me to become a better human being. While I recognise preparing for and participating in competition to be an important aspect of training and have personally found the experience an invaluable learning-tool, I heartily concur with Rickson Gracie’s assertion that tournament work constitutes 30% of jiu jitsu. My understanding and practice of BJJ as a martial art, where competition is a significant but minority element, is coloured by my roots in the traditional Japanese art of Shorinji Kempo.
A Traditional Upbringing
I started my martial arts journey in 1998, in the year between my graduate and post-graduate studies, in an American ‘ninjitsu’ system called IOMASDA Ryu; yes, I was a big enough douchebag to assert to the man I was to marry, on our first meeting, that I was a member of a ‘ninja clan’, but I was only 23 and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge, so forgive the transgressions of the young. Point is, that first year got me completely hooked! My instructors were kind and enthusiastically supportive and I jumped in with both feet, training with an almost fevered passion, dedication and consistency in and out of the dojo. When I moved to Glasgow, UK to pursue my PhD, a major priority was to continue my training; within a month I’d found Shorinji Kempo, fell in love with the club and by 2002 I’d attained the rank of shodan.
Until recently, and certainly while I was active in the community, Shorinji Kempo was a recognised religion in Japan; the art was designed as a system of physical and spiritual progression to develop the individual’s full human potential. Promotion included both a test of the kenshi’s mastery of the syllabus as well as written examinations on the philosophy of Shorinji Kempo. While I have travelled far from those days, the core principles I came to cherish as a kenshi remain with me and very much guide my training in BJJ.
The Fukudoku-Hon – the textbook of Shorinji Kempo philosophy that guides kenshi to shodan-level – defines 6 characteristics of the art, the first of which is ken zen ichinyo (body and mind are the same). The pursuit of a unified and balanced mind and body has been central to my martial arts journey. While I am grateful that Shorinji Kempo articulated this notion, formally emphasised its importance and that I had the opportunity to seek development of this principle in myself through Shorinji Kempo, I find that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu allows me to more effectively pursue this aim and to evaluate my progress.
My BJJ practice – and that practice is shaped by myself, by my training partners and my instructors at Dartford BJJ – acts as a barometer for my life’s equilibrium. Since my Shorinji Kempo days, a personal motto has been ‘balance in all things’. Of course, striking a perfect balance in all things may not be a practical goal, but it is all in the striving. Life is fluid and demands a ceaseless process of prioritisation, re-evaluation, re-ordering, negotiation and implementation; those readers familiar with the mats will recognise that here ‘life’ might be substituted with ‘BJJ’. BJJ practice has taught me that I perform best when fully engaged and present in ‘the now’ both cerebrally and corporeally. When anxious about what I must or mustn’t allow to happen, what I must or mustn’t do, my performance suffers. Similarly, if my mind and body aren’t in balance, my performance suffers: if I eat too little before training, I’m sluggish in sparring and unable to make the best of the opportunities that present themselves; if I train too hard for too many consecutive days, my sparring is loose and lacks intent; if personal or work pressures are getting the better of me it is difficult to let go, get with the program and roll with focus. Because Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is such a physically, emotionally and mentally challenging discipline it very clearly reveals to me when my life’s balance is out of whack; once I’ve re-tuned it is clear from my rolling when the discord has been resolved.
This is the first in a series of three pieces in which I hope to interrogate my own motivation for BJJ practice and to unpack my rather traditional approach to this non-traditional art. This is just one woman’s truth; leave a comment below about how you see BJJ. Is it a ‘combat sport’? Is it a ‘martial art’? What do such labels mean for you?