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“Get Your Little Gnome Hands in There!:” A Private Lesson with Kurt Osiander

I felt like I have been training Brazilian jiu-jitsu for the past two years just so that I could have the experience I did today. Today was my day to take a private lesson with Professor Kurt Osiander at the Ralph Gracie Academy in San Francisco. My journey has never been about anyone saying that I was good at jiu-jitsu, but rather that I was good enough to not embarrass myself while meeting the practioners whom I have come to admire since my journey began.

Kurt was the number one person who I wanted to meet. After watching Anthony Bourdain’s show on the Bay Area, I was inspired; not only to learn what I could about jiu-jitsu, but to one day be able to visit the Ralph Gracie Academy. I never expected to go inside; I certainly never hoped to take a class, let alone a one hour private lesson with a community celebrity, best known for his YouTube series Move of the Week. But that is exactly what I did today, and that hour was definitively the best hour I have spent on the mats. I felt like I had achieved a major accomplishment simply by making it to this first, small human plateau. I had arrived at the port carry the right basic equipment for the voyage, at least. I was still a lowly white belt, but no one rolled their eyes or acted like I was an old guy chasing the impossible. I was good enough.

My day started at 4am. I had to catch the 5:45am commuter train from San Jose and there was a 2km walk from my hotel to the station, then the 65 minute ride, then a 30 minute walk to the academy, paper work and changing into my kimono before the 8am lesson. I was already sore and exhausted from the two and a half hours I spent training at the Caio Terra Academy in San Jose just hours before, but this is what I love to do, so no complaints.

As I walked into the academy, I was shown to the change rooms, and as I walked by the mats where Professor Osiander was teaching, our eyes met, I grinned like the Cheshire Cat, he asked if I was Anthony, I nodded, and then I heard “Cool.” And that is exactly how I feel about the entire experience: cool. Kurt is super cool, laid-back, hilarious and perhaps most refreshingly, he is honest. He is the man you see in his videos, and that is a rare, magnificent thing in the world as we know it.

I had no delusions about what I hoped to accomplish today. I simply wanted to be present and to hopefully work on a classic Osiander move known as Animal Planet. It is a compression move where you use pressure on the diaphragm to slowly squeeze the life and breath out of your opponent. I have been working on this specific move for over a year, and it is the move I go to when a player is either being a total jerk or if I need to cook an opponent so that I can begin to try to attack as he catches his breath. It is a favourite technique, but I was still missing a few key pieces to make it mine. I hoped we would be able to spend some time on that, and then I had three other areas to work on that I hoped would improve my game significantly: a closed guard break, a guard pass and an approach to sinking in the collar for a cross collar choke from mount position. Within the hour time frame we were able to focus on each area and I learned exactly what I needed. It was an hour filled with humour and a bit of physical pain for Kurt’s students chosen to help us through the lesson. 

The devil is in the details. As Kurt went through the techniques being taught, the little details, the ideas that came from his catch phrases that wove in the wisdom of his jiu-jitsu narrative rang out. Like the desert nomad tales told to children by their forefathers, Kurt’s expletive-filled stories reveal posts along the trail to gather water. As he shouted for me to “get my little gnome hands in there!” When I struggled with grasping the inside collar deeply, it resonated in a hilarious, but effective way. His mythology about other students or Big Dave helped to cement the ideas he had to share about not falling off mount but “to lean off it like a motorcycle.” Metaphors and similes are the literary devices that communicate the unknown to the student. He is brilliant, perhaps unconsciously, at using his charisma to communicate extremely complex series of movements.

Old School. Kurt is Old School, and that is exactly what I appreciate most about his jiu-jitsu. His style is clear, direct and without apology. If you apply the technique with the foundation of 10,000 hours of grinding the fundamentals, then it will defeat the latest Caterpillar on the Moon Guard. It is not a circus of parlour flash; his jiu-jitsu is the style you would climb a mountain in ancient Bhutan to learn from a mystical monk. The difference is that Kurt exists, his techniques work, and I only had to catch an early morning train, pay $150 for the hour and fly across the continent to access his wisdom. 

If I lived in San Francisco or even San Jose, then I would train under Professor Osiander and then would be there every day. I just would find a way to make that happen. The work ethic in the Ralph Gracie Academy was infectious. I could see that the students loved the rigour and pain because they knew that their dedication would bring great returns over their years of work.

As it is, I will never live in Nor Cal and I already train with a great crew at Toronto No Gi in Canada, but Kurt Osiander is a sage that I strongly encourage all practioners to visit if there is ever a possibility to do so. Until that pilgrimage, one can always watch his collection of online YouTube videos or perhaps attend the upcoming NOMAD event in Toronto this November. 

In my tiny, non-competitive athlete, 44 year old, white belt world this was a great moment. A level-up bonus on my path towards whatever individual growth that I may accomplish during my time learning the art of jiu-jitsu. 

Parting thought: Go train!

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