Training in new spaces and with new people is the foundation of how I train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. So few people have the opportunity to connect with others outside of their daily sphere, and I am fortunate enough to have found that jiu-jitsu practitioners are generally open and positive to visitors who are respectful, humble and genuine. While it is not easy to simply put myself out there every time I drop-in to a new gym while traveling, the risks are mostly ego-based and can be minimized by making certain that you are welcome at the gym. Ask what the drop-in fee is. Buy a shirt or a patch if they sell any merchandise. Smile and talk with people. A little goes a long way.
Bermuda was a beautiful island and, at nine nights, it was a vacation where I was unusually stationary. Unlike a place like Maui, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is still in its early infancy on the island. In fact, Bermuda Combat Club has been moving from being an event-based group to a permanent grappling/MMA gym over the past year, and the goal is to align with a specific team and have a black belt instructor come in to assist in further developing the program and client base. When I first contacted Mark Prior, he was enthusiastic about my visit, but unsure about what stage the gym would be in by the time I came to Bermuda. As noted in a previous blog entry, I had been lucky enough to actually become his first client in the new gym space. My first experience was exceptional.
With a few days left for my vacation I decided to make another visit to the gym to see if I could learn a bit more from Mark and to get my jiu-jitsu fix. As a white belt, I do not have high needs in terms of exotic techniques or specific skills that I want to learn, but I do appreciate solid teaching and patience. At 44 years old, I prefer to avoid meathead combat where everyone tries to kill each other and leaves a trail of limbs on the mats. Injury is what I want to avoid. Mark takes the time to warm people up and guide students through the technique so that it can be done safely.
My second visit started with the end of a boxing lesson Mark was giving a new client. While I am not much of a boxer, I did enjoy watching his footwork as he moved across his student’s angles. After a few minutes of conversation, we got down to business and started our warm-ups. He would initiate one warm-up and then I would offer up the next. It was a fun way of loosening up the muscles, but also a way that I could catch a break on muscle groups that were getting tired from the previous drills. Animal drills as slowly becoming a favorite of mine, as they tend to open up tight areas and connect you to primal parts of your brain.
In the previous lesson we have briefly focused on the triangle submission, and it was an area that I felt like I could take away more from Mark if we went back to it. When I had learned it before in my own gym a year ago, I simply did not have the flexibility to even begin to make the technique a part of my game. However, a lot of physical changes can happen in a year, and when Mark drilled it with me this time I was able to connect my legs. I was able to see how I could make this attack a part of my game with some work.
In the second lesson, we were able to return to the basic steps and adapt the technique for my body and way of movement. Learning how to push my hips into the attack to clinch the back of my opponent’s shoulder was revelatory, and working on how to defend against the triangle once I was in it was also key to my learning. I had quite a few eureka moments as we examined the move, and as we finished up this part of the lesson I felt so much more confident that if I continued drilling the technique, then I could make it formidable in my game. In fact, upon my return to Toronto I was able to tap out my opponent to my first-ever triangle during a live roll. The thrill of making something that I had felt was not for me finally work is just one of those moments to be savoured.
After the triangle drills, a few prospective clients came into the gym space along with a few other friends who wanted to see what the space looked like. I was able to assist Mark to demonstrate the foundational attacks to a teenager and his father: armbars, rear naked choke, wrist lock, calf-slicer, triangle and kimura. I always find it surprising to realize just how many actual attacks and movements I know fairly well. Cycling through possible attacks when not under the pressure of a sparring opponent, however, drives home just how important live sparring/rolling is. I may know 100 techniques against a compliant or small person, but against a resisting adult opponent I can only hit about 20 of those techniques with full confidence. That number decreases as the opponent’s belt level, size and strength increases, but things the fact that it never goes to zero for me now is a major accomplishment in my practice.
When Joel arrived and hit the mats things got real. An enthusiastic, positive person, he was eager to demonstrate a few basic judo throws for the teenager, and a just a little over 6’1 he was an imposing figure on the mats. I was happy to have forgotten my mouthguard at home, so that I had an excuse to start our rolls on the ground; when you see the way he is able to shoot for takedowns or reach to gain kuzushi you simply have to respect the man. We drilled the arm bar from mount technique together for the remainder of class, and I found that it really helped to have a strong opponent to practice getting in tight on the arm bar. By the time we started rolling all three of us were stoked to see how things would play out given our size, experience and strength differences.
I was more than content with watching Mark and Joel roll, because their size and power difference it was a real lesson in how technique can keep you alive. Seeing them look for grips and then getting to the ground was quite impressive, as each knew that the other had a dangerous takedown just waiting to be unleashed. Chokes and arm bars were there main weapons of choice as they rolled and there were a lot of last second escapes on both sides that made for some exciting rolling.
When it was my turn, the focus was on survival. Both of these men had significant advantage over me, but that is the purpose of jiu-jitsu: diminish loss due to natural advantage. I had been working on sweeps from the bottom for the past three weeks or so, and I was able to make those happen multiple times against Mark. Perhaps it was my strength/size advantage that enabled those or perhaps he was simply allowing me to sweep so that he could attack me with a triangle as we exchanged positions, either way he edged me out during our rolls through his clearly superior technique. Still, I fared well enough.
Joel was a completely different challenge. His strength and understanding of how to apply his leverage left me with a sore jaw, neck and a rib cage that has seen brighter days. Once in motion he was hard to stop or even redirect. Regardless, it was a pair of spirited rolls that left us both grinning and exhausted.
In the end, I truly loved my short time with Mark and Joel. If I lived in Bermuda, then it would be a gym that I would commit my time to for the long haul. While they are small now, there is much solid wisdom and great potential for this to become a place that will offer the jiu-jitsu lifestyle to the youth and risk-takers of Hamilton, Bermuda. Getting in on the game early as the gym grows over the next few years. I cannot wait to read about how things for for the crew. Should I ever be lucky enough to get back to the island, then I will be on the mats with avengence ready to learn, laugh and roll with this bunch o’killers off the tip of the Bermuda Triangle.