I am having a great time at Gracie Jiu Jitsu Victor! We arrived in Rochester just short of a year ago. The disruption of the past year has been pretty intense. On the one hand, I miss London, the UK, our friends, family and lives there very deeply. On the other, Rochester has a lot to offer us and our family-life is certainly more balanced and happy. Big achievement! As we begin 2016, we are much more settled here. Finding the right folks to train with both at Wolf Brigade Gym and at Gracie Jiu Jitsu Victor has really helped me to reclaim the Roc as ‘my home’.

There are some very skilful and welcoming BJJers in the Greater Rochester Area. For me, John Ingallina and the people at Gracie Victor offer the school that is right for me. I am incredibly grateful that this club started offering GJJ around the time that I arrived in Rochester. I am so pleased to have been welcomed and embraced by this group of practitioners. John is a very well-rounded and seasoned martial artist. This is clear from his skill and his humility. It is also clear in how invested he is in his students’ progress. John sets a great tone and his club is full of men and women of a wide range of ages and abilities. A very inclusive and loving place to train.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Victor, kimora
Keith, Alicia and Kimora at Gracie Victor

Settling-in here has taken a toll on my health and fitness. In London, I walked many miles everyday, attended a couple PT sessions a week and trained jiu jitsu. Here, we drive everywhere, it took several tries to get my gym and jiu jitsu situation right and last year much of my ‘free time’ was eaten up with renovating our new house. This resulted in the undoing of much of my hard work in the UK to get my fitness back after becoming a parent. When we arrived in Rochester I was 3 kilos off where I’d like to be, now I’m more like 6 kilos off. It may not sound like a big deal and in the scheme of things of course it isn’t. However, I do find it really demoralising and just don’t feel at my best, physically, while at the same time I seem to lack the lifestyle mojo I once had to eat well and to move about. As we’re getting on a more even keel now, I am hopeful that 2016 will see me lean out a bit more and get my diet to a clean and healthy state.

On a more positive note, I’ve been really enjoying strength and conditioning classes at Wolf Brigade Gym and I’m there pretty consistently twice a week. I’m making a deal with myself to up that to three times a week in February. In the jiu jitsu arena, I had a chat with my coach, John, about how I’d really like to work more conscientiously towards getting my Gracie Academy blue belt and be more involved with Gracie Victor. Over the course of last year, my attendance was okay, making it in once a week as much as I could, but overseas moves are no small potatoes and there’s been a lot of work getting ourselves set-up here. This impacted on my training frequency. It also impacted on how much my head was in the game and how goal-oriented my training was (or wasn’t). John has been more than happy to meet me halfway and we’ve come up with a timeline for my blue belt examination. This has really helped me to get focused and the process of working through the BBQD (Blue Belt Qualification Drills) has been a useful exercise for me.

GJJ Victor
John Ingallina

I’ve practiced the techniques included in the Gracie Combatives programme for years. Even still, I never really internalised the names nor could I systematically name the variations for individual techniques. I could perform these techniques in class and sparring, but I was intellectually lazy about it. Having to commit the syllabus to memory has helped me to re-engage with my jiu jitsu in a number of ways. Firstly, it has helped me to consolidate and strengthen my existing knowledge of Gracie Jiu Jitsu by forcing me to properly and fully internalise a syllabus. Secondly, working through the BBQDs has encouraged me to put more mind-cycles on jiu jitsu. Since becoming a parent my visualisation and jiu jitsu daydreaming time has reduced to essentially zero; in my leisure-time laden pre-natal days I would spend several hours a day musing on technique, considering problems in sparring, writing in my training diary, watching interesting fights, reading jiu jitsu blogs. Readers know exactly what I’m referring to. After the boy came into my life and my leisure time was radically compressed, I dropped all of that ‘mental jiu jitsu time’. This affected my on-the-mat performance as well as my emotional connection to my art. Making a goal to get this blue belt thing done has helped me a great deal to build-in time for jiu jitsu contemplation. Finally, I feel much more motivated to make sure I am getting more and very consistent mat-time so I can get better at jiu jitsu and healthier in my body. Two things crucial for my sense of well-being.

So, with all this talk of getting a(nother) blue belt, I suspect some readers are curious to know what is the situation regarding the belt that I wear? As some readers may remember, the jiu jitsu Internets went a bit mad when I made an off-hand remark that I would be wearing a white belt in my Combatives classes when I joined my new school. I followed this up with a discussion of why, in my case, it felt like the right thing to do, though no one at Gracie Victor expected me to change my belt. Big feelings erupted. Not so much about me, per se, but my telling of my story acted as a catalyst for a flare up of tensions around the Gracie University system, how the Gracie Academy codifies its syllabus and delivers its instruction, and the intense opinions around ‘GJJ’ and ‘BJJ’. I respect and appreciate the complicated feelings associated with ‘GJJ versus BJJ’. I myself feel uncomfortable with the somewhat divisive nature of the term ‘GJJ’. At the same time, the material that term is used for and the material disseminated through the Gracie Academy’s CTCs is exactly the sort of stuff that I want to be involved with. With that preface, what friggin belt am I wearing?

I wear a white belt. It has a stripe on it. Wearing a white belt makes me feel like a part of my club, rather than like a swaggering interloper parachuted in from the UK. I don’t bully or ‘sand bag’ anyone, and the people who train with me understand, respect, and recognise my previous experience. The Gracie University system has a clear procedure for handling belts awarded outside of their system:

If you have achieved rank in Gracie or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from any school that is not accredited by the Gracie Academy, your belt color will be recognized in the Gracie University student database, but it will be tagged as ‘unverified’. In order to officially recognize your rank, we must verify your knowledge of the street applicable techniques of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and the only way to do this is for you to demonstrate proficiency in the Gracie Combatives techniques by passing the blue belt test. In other words, if you were awarded a purple belt by a BJJ instructor, and you pass the official Gracie Combatives blue belt test, then Ryron and Rener would consider assessing your skills to see if your purple belt can be formally recognized by the Gracie Academy ~ Gracie University FAQs

This suits me very well; of course it wouldn’t be right for all readers. My relationship with jiu jitsu has been on the fritz for a number of years owing to a knee operation, a pregnancy, an infant, and an international move. Methodically working through the Combatives syllabus, as discussed above, has been invaluable in helping me to reinvigorate my relationship with jiu jitsu. It is my intention to work up to the Gracie Academy Blue Belt one stripe material. Then, I’d like to seek to have my purple belt ‘verified’. Could that happen in 2016, maybe yes, maybe no. Lots of smaller goals and milestones to reach first and right now I’m targeting submission of my blue belt exam materials by the end of Q1. First things first!

Photos reproduced with permission of John Ingallina, Gracie Jiu Jitsu Victor.