The inaugural issue of Jiu Jitsu Style, the UK’s first dedicated Brazilian Jiu Jitsu print publication, hit ‘stands’ today. I had the great honour of being involved with the first issue, to which I contributed an interview with Marc Walder for the cover piece and an article on BJJ for self defence; both pieces are beautifully illustrated with pictures by Fighters in Focus. Callum Medcraft, the mag’s progenitor, has put together a stunning publication and it really raises the bar for national and international martial arts periodicals in its professionalism and polish. The JJS team has worked with British-based BJJ-writers such as Seymour Yang aka Meerkatsu and Can Sönmez aka slideyfoot and fulfills the brief to represent and cater to the UK Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community in superb fashion. Not only is the design, layout and content of the mag of excellent quality, even the paper is A-grade; this mag is a class act (yeah, I’m biased, but seriously it rocks!). Go here to order your single mags or a £23/year subscription; JJS will also shortly be available as a digital subscription from iTunes!
It has become clear from popular representations of open hand combat that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and grappling are becoming a stronger part of the mainstream consciousness. Surely, the popularity of the UFC and MMA more widely and the fundamental importance of grappling skills for this arena has influenced this, and while portrayals of fighting still emphasise ‘flash’, there is greater and greater use of more practical ‘smash’ via BJJ and grappling arts in these representations, for instance the cobra choke in Inception. While ground and pound to a rear choke is increasingly apparent in popularised representations of fighting on television and the big screen, it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, rare to see women showcasing grappling skills in fight-fantasies (and let’s leave surrender of an ‘ultimate’ nature to one side – keep it clean, people!).
There are popular representations of female grappling, however, and I was very excited by the overhead sweep to mount/ground-n-pound in Lady Gaga’s Telephone video; I friggin’ LOVE that sweep! The most recent pop culture representation of women’s grappling is Britney Spears’ doppleganger cat fight in her Hold It Against Me video in which she attempts to RNC herself (yes, the technique is atrocious, but that’s not really the point here). So, as far as I know, Ms Spears is the first A-list – is she still A-list? – female celebrity to go all BJJ, albeit within the context of some crazy kung fu mania, and thus marks some sort of milestone of yet indeterminate connotations for women in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Can you offer an earlier popular representation of a woman practicing BJJ? Comment below!
We enjoyed our first Marc Walder seminar of 2011 at Dartford BJJ on Wednesday night; we are lucky enough to enjoy quarterly seminars with Professor Walder. Over forty of us packed into the Academy to enjoy an evening of jits and philosophy with Marc. We were honoured to have the event photographed by Fighters in Focus and, as was the case with our last seminar, it was a fun, educational and emotionally charged evening for all concerned.
The evening developed into a master-class of attacks from the back. We started with taking the back from a north-south position. I was intrigued at Marc’s suggestion to hold this position at an angle favouring one side rather than square to the opponent; I’d never absorbed this detail before. From this position we gripped the lapels, looping under the opponent’s armpits while keeping our head tight to the opponent’s chest as if ‘listening for a heartbeat’. While maintaining pressure with the head on chest, come to standing and roll the opponent to a sitting position, applying pressure on the opponent’s back with chest. Roll the opponent to one side, insert a hook on the opposite side, fall towards the hooked side while inserting the opposite hook. Consolidate the position while maintaining a grip on the lapels.
We then examined three submissions from the back: the ‘clock choke’, the ‘Ezekiel’ and a transition to an armbar. For the clock choke, from the grips on the lapels, one hand is drawn out from under the opponent’s armpit while the opposite hand opens the collar and passes it to the free hand which then passes in front of the opponent’s neck. The free hand grips the collar with the thumb up and the wrist and arm straight. The had under the opponent’s armpit grips the opposite lapel. For the submission, rock to drop to the elbow of the arm passing across the opponent’s neck, straighten the back to straighten the arms for the ‘tap tap’. A new detail for me, as I had the pleasure of acting as Marc’s uke for a clock choke, was the use of the ‘top’ elbow to exert pressure when falling to the side prior to straightening for the submission. This isn’t an aggressive, strength-based pressure (Marc only has a few kilos on me, so strong-arming is not how he has developed his game) but rather a firm, tilting pressure in the desired direction of movement, what I like to think of as ‘being active in the position’. For the Ezekiel, where the opponent has defended the clock choke by gripping at the cuff and back of the elbow, remove the hand from beneath the opponent’s armpit, release the collar and grab the inside of the newly freed cuff with 4 fingers. Bring blade of forearm around to rest against the opponent’s neck and straighten for the submission. For the armbar, where the opponent has defended the Ezekiel attempt by trapping the hand passed under the armpit with their own elbow, release the lapel gripped by the trapped hand and transition to cup over the trapping arm. Bring the opposite foot to the opponent’s hip and use this as base to push body towards the side of trapped arm while bringing the other shin across the opponent’s lap to rest the hook against the opposite hip. This movement is intend to alter your positioning for the armbar as well as break the grip on the cuff passed across the opponent’s throat. Once the grip is broken, transition the newly freed forearm against the side of the opponent’s neck and push away while falling towards to the opponent’s knee to make additional space for the leg to pass behind the opponent’s back to come in front of their face. Roll to a seated position while retaining the cupped grip on the opponent’s arm. Consolidate the position by ensuring hips are ‘glued’ to the opponent’s shoulders and transition grips/angle for armbar.
Naturally, once we’d examined offence from the back, we examined defence versus the chokes. To counter the clock choke, grip at the opponent’s cuff and elbow to prevent the attacking arm from wrapping the throat. Drop to the side away from the attacking arm; Marc noted that if you imagine the index finger of the attacking hand pointing, it will show you the direction to fall. Transition hand from behind the elbow to block the opponent’s far knee to prevent being mounted. ‘Shrimp’ hips away to escape from between opponent’s legs and turn towards opponent to establish side control. To counter the Ezekiel, grip at the cuff or elbow and drop to the side as before. Walk feet towards opponent’s head so that your back does a ‘flat spin’ against your opponent’s chest. When the angle for the choke has been neutralised, use head to push up unto the opponent’s chest, turn to face the opponent and establish side control.
Our Marc Walder seminar in October 2010 was a big night for promotions and Wednesday’s gathering was similarly exciting for two gentlemen in particular. Ryan Debenham and Wayne Rowlands both made the jump to purple! This was a joy to see. Ryan is a very accomplished martial artist with both significant traditional martial arts and professional MMA experience. He matches his technical and athletic abilities with a great attitude and, on a personal note, I always learn a tremendous amount from him when lucky enough to pair with him. Wayne, a former Para and Kimura-savant, also has a wealth of martial arts experience both as a student and teacher. His grappling journey began in a simpler time with wrestling and CSW and while he’s been a consistent jits player for many years, in recent months he’s really stepped up his training regime and taken it to the next level. Well done, brothers, much deserved!
One for the road
Marc’s seminars are always about more than *just* techniques, they are also concerned with a philosophical approach to training. In his closing words, Marc dropped some nuggets that really clicked for many at the seminar. He prefaced his statement with the solid advice:
How do you know if you’re a ‘winner’ or a ‘loser’? Winners judge themselves against their own goals and losers judge themselves against others.
The idea is that you judge your achievements against your own goals and aspirations, rather than in comparison to your perception of the abilities of others. In this way, your journey of personal development isn’t about the domination of others or fueled by a malicious intent. It is this sort of ethos that underpins the newly launched Origin BJJ Team. Clubs affiliated with Professor Walder operate up and down the country and have united under the Origin BJJ Team banner. We are a community of clubs with our own identities, but we are all part of a single team whose purpose is to ‘evolve with tradition and benevolence’. I am very excited that our collective approach to jits has been united in this way while allowing space for the the distinct characters of our individual clubs; it feels good to be part of a larger whole in a somewhat more tangible and, for me, I’ve already started to get to know more of my teammates further afield. What more is jits about than human relationships and cooperation? Go team!
From our humble beginnings at our first BJJ Women’s Open Mat in July ’09, our women’s rolling initiative has gone from strength to strength. From Nov ’10 Dartford BJJ was happy to pass the baton to Mill Hill BJJ and the goal of rotating the Open Mat around different women’s clubs was realised. BJJ School was next to step up to the plate and our hostess, Leoni Munslow, worked with Black Eagle who generously sponsored the event and covered our hall rental. Leoni has been a longtime supporter of the London BJJ Women’s Open Mat and she put on a fantastic event, as one participant remarked, ‘you guys are so amazingly unbossy’. Our goal is a fun atmosphere that is all about ‘us’, all about providing additional support for women on their BJJ journies, not to mention, you get that many alpha type personalities in one room – personalities that are united in a sisterly vision of BJJ – and folk make a real effort to keep it friendly!
What we did at Open Mat
As usual, the Open Mat attracted women from a wide range of experience levels. Twenty-four women attended this quarter’s event and we would have edged 30 if a carload hadn’t hit vehicle trouble on the way down; we missed you Dominique and crew! It is so heartening to see all the new white belts that came out to the event, along with a strong group of blues and some purples; it is clear that our community is growing. I tell you, when we started the warm up and running around the hall almost bumping into one another, I was honestly moved to be in a room packed with BJJ women; it is a tremendous sight. Happily, professional photographer Mark Corpe of Fighters in Focus was on hand to capture the event on film, and his work will illustrate an upcoming article on women in BJJ for Jiu Jitsu Style. Historically we have sought to cater to all skill levels and run the open mats half drills and half sparring, this event was no different and after our warm up Leoni asked the assembled ladies if there were any particular issues they were having trouble with in their training. The age old question ‘how do I stop being squashed in side control’ was posed as well as questions on chokes and passing guard. Participants offered solutions to these issues and we drilled these approaches before a water break and sparring. We closed out the day with a trip to Nandos to recharge after a superb afternoon’s training.
Personal reflections on the day
I had an amazing time training with as many of the girls as I could, from white belt to purple belt. I think, as ever, the women who attended were quietly impressed with the room’s level of awesome. Fact is, many of the women in there will, at one point or another, face each in competition and yet we are all able to leave our egos at the door and enjoy a relaxed, friendly, non-competitive day’s training. Now, don’t get me wrong, these girls *will* come for you and I had the pleasure of rolling with some very aggressive, strong, young, fit blue belts; just because we’re pals doesn’t mean we don’t take each other seriously, it just isn’t personal. As I mentioned, it was really exciting to see the number of white belts that joined us; the next generation of BJJ women is looking very healthy and I really enjoyed the chance to train with these girls. One thing struck me about women newer to the art is that quite a few asked me if I knew of some special move that would prevent badness/allow goodness such as retaining mount, avoiding a prejudicial crushing in side control, that sort of thing. ‘Fraid not. Well, with the exception of consistent practice there is no magic formula and no quick fix. That’s the beauty of BJJ. This will be my 7th year in grappling and I’ve only just scratched the surface and I have so much to learn and to improve. It is a long journey and, perhaps, an especially tough one for the lighter person. But you will get there! Trust the technique your teachers share with you and work with your coach to address problem areas and just work it in drills and sparring and eventually your percentage of success will increase. Ultimately, though, BJJ is friggin’ difficult! The challenges are great but so are the rewards when something, no matter how tiny, comes together. Isn’t that why we do this?
Excitingly, other women have agreed with their coaches to offer us space for events, and we have in-principle agreements for the rest of the year’s open mats. Our Q2 event will be hosted by Tanya Coombes and held at The MMA Clinic in Romford, Essex. We will be announcing the date and times in the next fortnight. Can’t wait! In the meantime, grappling women are invited to join our Facebook Group and to Like our Facebook Page to keep up to date with our events.