I was invited down to visit the Battersea branch of BJJ School, the academy run by BJJ black belt Felipe Alves De Souza. BJJ School have classes all over London and Essex but the Saturday classes are held at the Battersea Youth Centre. Those with long memories and who have been doing BJJ for over 5 years will remember that this venue was the scene of the first London Open tournament in 2003.
I actually arrived early to see how the kids classes, something for which Felipe is renowned for, were run and I was very impressed by the way he taught them. All the kids, from 4 years old up to teenagers, seemed to display a huge passion for the sport and all left the dojo with beaming smiles and a hunger for more. Felipe himself is a natural with the kids. I chatted to parents who were watching their little ones during the class and all enthused at what wonders BJJ had done for their child's fitness, concentration and attitudes.
Felipe somehow makes the class look like a hell of a lot of fun but the kids are actually learning fundamental BJJ moves at the same time. He doesn't allow them to scrimp on good old fashioned dojo etiquette and behaviour either. All the kids had to line up in grade order and bow before leaving the class. The children were obviously proud of their training accomplishments, many were seasoned competitors and boasted many trophies and medals. The copious stripes on their belts showed they had been training for quite a while. It's no exaggeration to say that I was witnessing a good proportion of the future of BJJ right here in that dojo.
Soon it was the adults class and I lined up with the others. Some people recognised me, like brown belt instructor Jackson Fortunato, who I had the good pleasure of training with many years ago at Eddie's gym. I recognised a lot of others from various competitions, like demon brown belt (and fellow small guy) Eamonn Madden. And there were a lot of bodies on the mat. I was very impressed at the class turnout. 30-35 was the average session apparently - that's just adults. Felipe said his kids classes had more sometimes.
After a vigorous warmup, including rolling breakfalls, Felipe ran through a series of half shoulder throw variations from stand-up. I found these to be very useful and reasonably easy to execute. I asked one chap beside me if stand-up was taught each session and he said yes, judo throws generally began each session.
For the ground techniques portion of the session, Felipe taught quick counters to a person standing up in your closed guard. The easy one I liked was to grip their elbows and, as soon as the person placed his second foot on the ground, you tug on his elbows hard and throw your knees over your own shoulder, thereby wheeling your uke over your body with you ending up in full mount. This was great fun, but timing was critical.
After drilling this, we worked on variations where your uke did not go over your body easily, but defended. Felipe showed a few sweet variations where you ended up countering his counter and submitting with a triangle, or armbar - remember this is from when you had cocked up the overhead sweep. An excellent example in BJJ where losing out of your option A technique simply means you execute option B or C.
I'm still in the figuring out how to do option A category!!
After technical lessons, it was time for sparring.
One of the reasons I love visiting other academies, apart from meeting new people and learning new techniques, is to break the over-familiarity of always sparring with the same people in my home dojo. Don't get me wrong, I love my training and sparring at Mill Hill, but I think visiting new places is a good way to overcome any nerves you get in training for competition. In my view, the most nervous aspect of competition is having to tussle with an unfamiliar face. No-one at BJJ school knew my fave moves and I did not know theirs so i'ts interesting to see how well or badly I would do.
As to the actual rolling, I sparred with young Daniel Agard St John, who was slippery as an eel and easily countered my attempted delariva guards and X-guards. He then finished me by taking the back and, to add salt into the wound, whispered he was about to do a technique that my own instructor, Nick Brooks, had taught him. Lovely! But Daniel is a cool guy and a star for the future, I really enjoyed sparring with him.
Next up, Felipe beckoned me to the centre and I spent the rest of the session rolling with him. Like many brown and black belts, rolling with them is incredibly deceptive. They are skilled enough to give you just enough room to do your stuff, only for you to fall into some trap and you end up scrabbling for dear life!
Time and time again Felipe worked to take my back. But crucially, he told what I shouldbe doing to escape and he made me do it time and time again until I understood it. BJJ schooling right in the heat of battle, I loved it!
After my lesson, Felipe and I chatted for over an hour for an interview I writing - about him, his very interesting charity work for Future Champions, his time at RGA and his painful split, as well as his current success with BJJ School. I'm going to get the interview published in full at some point so watch this space.
In the meantime, I want to thanks Felipe and everyone at BJJ School for making me so welcome at their academy. Thanks also to Ed Brown too for inviting me in the first place. There's something very special happening with this academy and there's no doubt their success will continue to grow and grow.
I hope to pop back when Felipe's instructor, Master Jose Henrique 'Leao' Teixeira, comes to the UK to teach a seminar on October 10th. Master Leao is one of the big chiefs of Gracie Barra and IBJJF. Felipe had only amazing things to say about his long time mentor and teacher.
Finally, one thing I asked Felipe about was his vegetarianism. I know this is quite random but it interested me because of his passion and forthright views on the subject of diet. He was so convincing that this evening, when I got home from my session, I made a beansprout and nut stir fry. Yes I know, my normally junk food eating, meat-loving Meerkatsu self decided to eat a vegetable only dish. Goodness, what has become of me!!!