Technique Conquers All: My Week Training at the Caio Terra Academy

Innovation and tradition are in constant tension. The traditional methods often fall to the wayside only to be rediscovered over time, renamed and made viral again. My week in Nor Cal has given me a whole new perspective on Brazilian jiu-jitsu that I will carry with me for the remainder of my practice: Old School beats New School only when the timing and placement is perfect, New School beats New School only when technique is perfect and it remains unexpected. I firmly believe that my path requires both visions, just as it requires me to train in no gi at my home academy and when I travel and take seminars, the Gi is king. Any chess player would assert that he would desire more pieces to move in as many variations as possible; jiu-jitsu offers that fifth dimension.

I finished my third class at the Caio Terra Academy in San Jose tonight, and I can barely move my aching limbs. Professor Terra is a bit of an enigma from what I have read online and in magazines. My own momentary experience revealed a brilliant practioner whose sense of humour is acquired, but honest and palpable like a fine single malt; he who speaks the truth like the Delphic oracle. You may not like it, your ego will not like it, but it remains true.

His message to me came midway through a De La Riva Sweep that I had never encountered before. He came over and asserted: “You use too much strength. Your jiu-hirsute will never get better unless you learn the technique properly, as it was shown. Strength is not jiu-jitsu.” Sigh. I replied: “Thank you, Professor. I will improve.” Did he just insult me? No, and I think that too many people misunderstand that when some people offer harsh critical advice they do not say “you suck, go home”, but rather they say “okay, this is awful, but I will tell you because I care because ( insert reason).” When a world champion says something is wrong, then he is almost always right. Drop the ego and focus on the meaning and direction you have just been given.

I have thought about his words. Two years ago I would have possibly cried, but I am a different man now and when my partner blurted out: “shit, I have been here a month and he has not said anything to me even close to that.” I smiled. I did not see a negative, but rather a positive correction. I immediately improved the sweep because I was missing a side twist and push.  Do I believe in Professor Terra’s mantra that technique conquers all? No. Force, strength, balance and power are equivalent to leverage, angles and timing in many ways, and I believe that one must improve in all areas evenly. But he was right: I needed to understand the technique better to expend less energy.

One would be blind to not see the brilliant talent and heart that flows through this academy. People want to be here and they train hard and with purpose. At the 45 minute mark of the shark tank I asked the man next to me when class was over. He laughed and said that the Professor often loses track of time, but that every minute we learn, it makes us strong. Ten minutes later the final rotation was called and the man yelled back to me: “See!”   I agreed; the shark tank improved my approach to the top position with every round between blue belt, brown belt, blue belt, brown belt, Caio Terra, blue belt…yes, I felt triumphant to have 30 seconds in grips with a world champion. The aches, the fact that my fingers would not close for two days, and that I was waking up in a few hours to meet Kurt Osiander for a lesson no longer mattered. I felt the master’s technique and…yeah, he was loose like water until I moved the wrong way for a second. Then. Done. Over. I have a long way to travel, but I now see the path just a little more clearly. I saw what he insisted was true: I felt it for a second, and that was inspirational.

I went back tonight. I could not touch my toes, nor could I close my grips, but I went back because I knew that I would gain more through movement than by sitting still in my hotel room. I decided beforehand to only attend the single Fundamentals II class rather than both. I did want to learn under Yuri Simoes, but a 44 year old body has limits. A one hour class would loosen my ligaments and a 2.5 hour session would make Thursday training  impossible.

The instructor,  Kaniela Kahuanui, is solid and reassuring in his approach. I had enjoyed his foundational positions of mount escape on Monday, even if the opening drills are no piece of cake. His instruction and attention to details was reassuring, and I have to admit that I felt I was at my level of progression in the Fundamentals class – I was good, but still had much to learn. I could crush my partners in a live roll, but not using the techniques of the day. So much to gain from sessions like this, so much to appreciate about what a partner can do against me when his style is different. Paper. Rock. Scissors.

At the end of the day, I am unbelievably fortunate to have these opportunities to train with so many new faces, each with their own ways and challenges. The Caio Terra Academy is a pretty special place for training, and their kids program looks like so much fun. I aspire to get my body back on the mats for the last time tomorrow for a double session. I think I have that little bit left in me. Tonight showed me that I can keep pushing, and I will get a night off after as I take the train back into San Francisco for my final night in California.

The real question is whether I can squeeze one final session in at the Ralph Gracie Academy on Saturday? It would be tough, and from what I see it would test my perseverance through a tough 2 hour session before I need to get to the airport. Who knows…I may simply head to Nor Cal fight shop and then to China town to get my coach a Wok. The universe will decide for me; let us all hope I hear the words.


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