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Under Pressure: Learning Basic Principles at Maui Jiu-Jitsu Academy

Maui is a magical place. The Hawaiian Islands are a place that filled my imagination as a child with the likes of Magnum PI, Hawaiian Punch, Hawaii Five O, and countless other media that showed us sharks, hula girls and tropical beaches. The realities of Maui are quite different, but equally compelling nonetheless. 

Before the birth of our first child, and after our school year ended, we decided to  return to Hawaii for a week’s vacation. We needed to unhook from the grid and travel one last time together as a couple without the commitment of a child. The key to a happy life is to take the chances to do what you will regret not doing once the moment has passed. 

If the daily grind of big city life creates pressures and stresses that tax our bodies and souls to the limits, then Brazilian jiu-jitsu has been the solution for me to find a way to begin learning how to transcend those pressures. While I have only practiced for seven months, I already feel a heavy weight coming off my shoulders as I improve my basic techniques. Each class brings new learning; each class brings the big picture into view. Therefore, as summer began I have tried to bring together my normal method of pressure relief, travel, together with my new method: Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Last week I was in Denver, and I trained at Alchemy Combat Club once, and this week finds me in Maui, where I was able to train at Maui Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Haiku. 

Finding a place to train while travelling is not as difficult as convincing your ego to actually go to a class in a new gym, with new people and where the approach to training may vary dramatically. Still, I am always impressed with how open and welcoming gyms are to visitors. Mat fees are fairly standard, but some gyms may waive the fee. One thing that I do is try to buy a t-shirt, a patch or small item to help support the gym a little more than just the drop-in fee. Most important, though, is that I try to be as humble, appreciative and present as I can be. I am not out to pretend that I know anything or that I am going tap anyone out. I am a student who wishes to learn and never embarrass my home gym by not giving my full effort or attention. If I can give positive feedback to my partners, then all the better. I leave my ego in Toronto.

Maui Jiu-Jitsu Academy is  a nice gym, with nice mats and a set of bleachers for family to watch their children. It is clean and situated in a Haiku shopping centre. Luis Hereida runs the academy and I was honoured enough to speak briefly with him and shake hands twice. He clearly takes an interest in his children’s program and runs a solid school. The school is a Gracie Academy Affiliate which is a neat experience for a student who trains mostly at a Drysdale no-gi affiliate. You can read all kinds of Internet troll articles about Gracie Academy, but I find their approach to be inspiring and traditional. I especially appreciated how the technique section of class opened with a Gracie Combative Technique. Defending against a rear-naked choke while standing was a fundamental that I feel may be lost in pure sport approaches. I know that when my partner shoulder threw me to the mats I felt how effective the technique would be against a non-jiu jitsu attacker.

Class began for me with the waiver form, the $30 mat fee, and the purchase of a small “lemon head” patch which is Master Hereida’s nickname. Within five minutes I was drilling on the mats through a tough series of forward rolls, backward rolls, shrimps, and scoots, which were followed by a collection of conditioning exercises that left me quite winded. 

The instructor chose to focus on what may be the most fundamental of all concepts in jiu-jitsu: pressure. Pressure is how a practitioner uses his body weight to weaken his opponent without expending his own energy. At age forty three, pressure is a key concept for me to be able to continue practicing into my old age, so I was thrilled to have a chance to practice this area in a Gi at Master Herreida’s academy. My partner weighed in at 130 pounds, so pressure would be critical for her as well, but much harder for her to apply. She was excellent to work with, and I did my best to let her know when her pressure was working. I also kept my own application of super heavy pressure to a minimum. I chose to focus on gradation of pressure instead of being a poor partner. For the duration of the technique section we rotated between applications in side control and getting to either mount or scarf hold. I felt pretty confident about these techniques as they are the ones that work best for me so far in my training.

Rolling on the mats was pretty involved. Five minutes starting from side control with each partner rotating after five minutes, then you switched partners for another ten minutes. We did this three times for a total of thirty minutes, which is definitely my longest rolling time to date. My only focus was to use pressure when I was in control and to withstand pressure when I lost control. I chose to only go for a submission when I felt it was a high chance; otherwise I might lose ground and fail in my main goal of white belt survival. Perhaps it is this particular concept that has provided me with the most power thus far in my training: white belts need to focus on withstanding pressure until the see a clear escape or a clear submission present itself. I simply have not mastered submissions well enough to have any business seeking an armbar against a blue belt; I will always end up being submitted. However, if I can outlast a blue belt, frustrate him into making risky moves, then I feel I am winning. I might eventually be tapped, but the length of time it takes a blue belt is getting longer and longer. 

On my first rolls, I was with a single stripe white belt. I scored three submissions: rear-naked choke, Americana and a collar choke. Next up was a blue belt. I tapped early on two armbars before I got a feel for his movement.  I, then, held him off from the bottom for eight minutes, and I made a few escapes that seemed to impress him a tiny bit; he also mentioned  how strong I was for my size, which was nice to hear even if my strength came from the techniques I chose to focus on. He was gracious enough to help me take my grips into spider guard, but I just could not see the sweep he hoped I would see. Finally, I rolled with a strong, young white belt. He was quick, but became easily frustrated and exhausted by my pressure. I could not blame him. I applied my full pressure on him for five minutes at a time. I used Animal Planet to constrict him. I pressed in tight. I kept my base solid and fluid. I took mount twice and held it. When he eventually swept me he found no holes in my frames and he became frustrated while remained steady. He was solid though, and will undoubtedly become an excellent player as he matures. Final score for thirty minutes: 3-2 for me. 

In the end, I only recount how I did because in February I would be submitted within 15 seconds and only last for five minutes of rolling per class. The fact that I know any positions, escapes or submissions well enough to use them on the mat with strangers feels miraculous. So even though I had no stripes on my white belt, I can clearly feel the transformation happening in my jiu-jitsu. I expend little energy. I feel my opponent’s moves and breathing. I see the submissions that will work best for my body type (guillotine into closed guard, rear collar choke and a triangle from the bottoms IF I can only practice it more and more and more).

I am hoping to go to another class tomorrow night. I really appreciated the opportunity to train in a Gi in Hawaii under these instructors. Like any great experience, I was well-treated and I learned how strong other academies are while seeing just how powerful the teaching is at my home gym. I feel pretty blessed.

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