NOMAD Martial Arts Weekend: Learning From the Masters in Ontario and Beyond

Finding a balance between the time I have for Jiu-Jitsu and the time I want to have is a big challenge. Two nights a week is my personal goal, but with my career demands, a 4 month old baby, and scheduling that can get pretty hairy some weeks. I adapt my schedule and train whenever, wherever I can. Therefore, when the NOMAD Martial Arts Weekend came up in my Facebook feed because of a friend I made at my first tournament, I had to consider the value/cost ratio for me to travel to Sudbury, Ontario to train all weekend.  Once they announced that John Danaher would teach a class and then Roger Gracie, too, I was quick to sign up for the Early Bird price.

My NOMAD Weekend began with the Sniper School session, which meant that I was awake at 5am and slightly north of the city by 6:30am. The opportunity to learn a small amount about sniper rifles (specifically the Prairie Gun Works Coyote and Timberwolf) was not something I wanted to miss out on. While I loved target shooting as a young boy in Army Cadets and in rural Prince Edward Island, I had never seen anything larger than the AR-15 I shot at a range in Las Vegas. Taking Jocko Willink’s advice that for self defence people should learn to shoot a gun and THEN learn Jiu-Jitsu to heart. I was ready to learn.  Did I become a sniper in the four hour course and shoot off hundreds of rounds? Nope. I learned a lot about simple safety procedures and shooting protocol, and I shot 12 rounds in total out of three different rifles. But that is what a sniper rifle is about: time, precision and power. My three shot test had 1/2 separation between hits and my first hit was dead center at 200 yards. Others had even less separation, but like in my Jiu-Jitsu, I have learned to embrace improvement versus perceived natural talent that is mostly mythical egoism. Our instructor was superb, and despite not receiving much at a one to one level, I felt like the cost and time were extremely well spent. Photography for social media was strongly discouraged as was any detailed explanation of the day, but one photograph of Coyote I shot feels respectful of range/instructor/participant privacy.

The actual purpose of the weekend was the Jiu-Jitsu, however. Given the time I had, and that my wife and four month old daughter were with me, I aimed for three one-hour classes a day.  Roger Gracie had to be replaced by Ricardo Almeida a week before due to visa issues, but my real focus was to see Danaher, so I was still amazingly happily with the white belt options. To hear that Professor Danaher would attend despite the challenges he was facing with his impending knee surgery made my entire week.

My first class was with Professor Almeida. He was enthusiastic and youthful despite his being a true master in his approach. The focus was on a side control escape and how to ensure we knew how to begin our escape to hip escape back into guard or half guard with a knee shield. It was right about the end of this first seminar that I realized that I needed to take notes and a few snapshots with my phone to be able to retain some of the teachings.

Next came Professor Egor Radzik from Primal MMA. I appreciated his willingness to show me exactly what I needed to do to improve the leg lock that he showed in the final section of his class. Hilariously, he offered two choices for students as the final area, but really he wanted to teach the leg lock and polled students in different ways until we clearly said “leg locks!” What I took away to work on from Professor Radzik was a confirmation of how not to reap opponents in competition, the twist and look away needed for the straight foot lock and a monkey foot grip that should work much better for my short legs than a traditional  hip post. He made me smile in a Russian Sambo kind of way, and who knew that he was the founder of Redstar Kimonos? It was such an honour to spend the hour under his supervision.

Anne David, a black belt under Professor Cooligan’s OAMA team, was my final instructor for the first day, and I have to say that she left zero space when she attached to her opponent. Her lesson took a simple transition from side mount to knee on belly and demonstrated exactly how to keep the control as you move from one position to the next.  While my partner and I struggled momentarily with how he might close the space gap with limited flexibility in the hips, she came over and demonstrated that our first step needed to be ensuring we pulled the shoulder in tight enough. When she demonstrated the maneuver on me, I felt that I clearly had neither control nor could I stop anything despite outweighing her. The final cross collar choke variation she demonstrated from mount/knee on belly was a killer.

John Danaher is the epitome of the wise master with the impish nature of a madman genius. He is deeply rooted in traditions, so much so that he chooses to use Japanese names for maneuvers, but he sees through the tradition to understand the applications for modern Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Hearing him speak was a lifetime goal for me. I read his Instagram posts, I read his contribution to the Renzo Gracie book, and I feel that his voice is the one that speaks wisdom in an unconventionally conventional way to me. I travelled four hours from Toronto to just catch a glimpse of him, but what I received was an hour long treatise on three key concepts that I would be able to keep close to my training from here on in. Now I would share these “secrets”, but really I respect his hard work enough to insist that if you want to learn anything from him, then you need to seek him out. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram. Look for seminars, workshops and lessons from him once he recovers from his recent knee injury. I probably learned more about my own jiu-jitsu journey and stumbling blocks in that hour than I could have with any other instructor. Plus, he was very approachable for a photo opportunity despite being crowded throughout the weekend. He is a true scholar and a gentleman with the warrior’s spirit ghosting through his entire way of being. Pretty cool for 11am in Sudbury on a Sunday.

img_2371Then there was Professor Omar Salvosa…if ever there was a laughing Buddha in jiu-jitsu, then he would fill that niche roll. He was glowing and honest and brilliant in his approach to teaching the white belts. He taught a flower sweep, a guard break and a butterfly sweep. Everything worked for me, and when I did the move I smiled like he did and self-spoke a one-two with each guard break. His energy was amazing as was his awareness of how many white and blue belts BJJ loses each month; he made you feel like you belonged to a tribe and that you belonged on those mats in Sudbury. Simple. Brilliant.

img_2388My last session was with Tammy Griego from Gracie Barra New Mexico. I have no snapshots because she was was real spitfire who had the group push through some live drills of her superb deep half-guard techniques. After five classes I was starting to ache and my baby was wanting to start the long trek back to Toronto, but I knew that this was a class that I had to stay for. Deep half is an area that I am working on because I also have “short arms and legs”, and Professor Griego promised to help us in our understanding in the position. She was the only professor I have a chance to live roll with, and she helped me enormously with her metaphor of the tree versus the log, but then showed me exactly where I became a tree hugger when she was, in fact, a log. Learning to let go was the greatest lesson she could have taught me in that hour, and she did.

In the end, I worked through six classes and the sniper workshop in the weekend’s two days. I would be egotistical if I did not acknowledge just how important it was to have a truly great partner to work with for each single session and who genuinely cared about what we were doing. My partner, Rob, drove in from North Bay each day for two hours to be part of the NOMAD event. He was a white belt. He was fifty years old. He weighed in around somewhere around 250 pounds. He was a kind, generous soul who worked really hard on every move we did. I came late to my first session, and when I glanced across the mats I saw him waiting for his turn to share a partner. I cannot express enough how fortunate I was to find Rob that day. The difference in our size reminded me just how strong another man can be, and that if my technique sucked, then Rob would show me exactly why and where. He knew the cross face and smash pass down cold, and there would be nothing I could hope to do to stop him getting there. I know survival, half/quarter guard and I got a few no-ti tricks up my sleeves. It was a humbling experience to share six hours on the mats with the same partner, and I felt that was one of the greatest parts of my time on the mats at NOMAD.

Oh, and there was the comradery of my wife’s team at Gracie Woodbridge. They are one positive, respectful crew under professor Moroney, and even though I have only trained there four times, I feel like they are a team I belong to in a cool, distant way. 

Would I recommend attending the next NOMAD (rumoured to be in Toronto)? I think that like any training opportunity, you get back what you put in. If you are looking for easily learned secrets, then you will be disappointed because Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu simply does not work that way. But if you can give time, a positive attitude and a a reasonable amount of effort, the NOMAD is a great way to squeeze in exposure to a large number of black belts from Ontario and nearby legends of the sport. Organizers, John Caroline and Pat Cooligan, did a superb job making certain that things went as smoothly as possible and they kept participant costs to a minimum.

Next weekend: Professor Robert Drysdale comes into my home gym, Toronto No Gi, for an afternoon of his favourite submissions.


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