Penny Thomas
Penny Thomas demonstrates spider guard

Last night I had the great pleasure of attending a BJJ seminar with Gracie black belt, Penny Thomas, at the Warrior School of Combat, Kensington. The seminar was co-ed with a slight majority of female players and a good range of white to purple belts. It was absolutely packed. Just goes to show how many folk are willing to make last minute plans for a BJJ treat, with one plucky lass coming down from Birmingham.

The primary theme of the evening’s training, on reflection, seemed to be the use of opposing forces both to feint and to control and the use of opposing forces was apparent in the evening’s takedown drills and ground work. Emphasis was also placed on the use of one’s full body weight to gain position and control.

We warmed up with a selection of takedown drills, including double and single legs, what we call ‘Drop Seoi Nage’ at my club (a sacrifice version of Ippon Seoi Nage) and sweep to mount/side mount from the back and front. Here, Penny highlighted the importance of encouraging the opponent to fall into the trap of the takedown. So, if the goal is to get the opponent’s weight moving forward, push the opponent back, so their reaction to move forward initiates the takedown you’ve in mind, hence the use of opposing forces. Personally, I was interested to note the similarity in Penny’s approach to these techniques and how we train them at Dartford BJJ; Penny even calls her arm position ‘T-Rex arms’, just like Coach! For me, the synergies between Penny’s approach and what I train normally was comforting and made me feel part of something bigger. The ‘story’ of Gracie Jiu Jitsu is told around the world, and while there may be minor regional variations in how that story is interpreted, the core is preserved and shared by the entire Gracie community. This sort of outside reinforcement also boosts my already deep trust and confidence in the Marc Walder/Mauricio Gomez technique that is part of what we do at Dartford BJJ.

The ground-work portion of the seminar focused on mount and open guard. We looked at some of the fundamentals of the mount position, specifically grape-vining the opponent’s legs while driving weight through hips into solar plexis – I’m on the receiving end of this whenever I spar with Coach, not comfy – and working to get knees under opponent’s armpits while tucking the feet onto the ‘shelf’ of the opponent’s hips. Penny reinforced the importance of dropping the body’s full weight through the opponent and ensuring the position prevented weight being supported by knees rather than the opponent. From the mount we drilled Americana, Ezekiel and arm triangle. Again, the use of opposing forces and the body’s full weight was clear, and, for example, in drilling the Americana we feinted 3 attacks against alternate arms, on the third driving full weight against the arm to drop the elbow by the opponent’s head and take the submission. I especially enjoyed the open guard drills, as this is a new facet I’ve just started working and we looked at one of the three basic sweeps I’ve been looking at. The importance of pushing and pulling to control from open guard gave further evidence of the theme of opposing forces to both control a position and to feint; as a standing opponent lost base due to the push-pull of the open guard and came to one knee, an opportunity was made for the sweep.

Finally, a big thanks to Penny for making time to train with us during her whirlwind trip to the UK. Penny’s a tremendous athlete and an inspirational sportswoman. Thanks to Pippa Granger and Warrior School of Combat for opening their doors to all of us, and thanks to all the great folk I got to meet and train with; such a rare treat to meet and train with men and women from a range of clubs.

Photo reproduced by kind permission of Meerkatsu (who’s review of the seminar you might also be interested in).