April celebrates my tenth anniversary of training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You can read about my first ever lesson here. The first ever sparring partner I ever had was with Alain Pozo so it seemed fitting to catch up with Alain at his new academy - Carlson Gracie Essex - in Colchester, Essex.

Read how I got on...




Alain Pozo teaching defences to the back


Kid Attack!
I arrived on a Thursday evening keen to make it to the kids class and just about made it halfway in to the lesson. Colchester is around 45 minutes away by train from Liverpool street but the gym itself is located in an industrial park roughly ten minutes drive away from the station so visitors would need their own transport or get a cab.

The class was conducted by Alain with kids ranging in ages from 6 through to early teens. Several older teenagers were acting as coaching assistants. When I stepped onto the mat, the first thing Alain got the kids to do was to spar with me. Being attacked by small but deceptively good jiu jitsu assassins was quite an unnerving experience. I have to give immense kudos to these young warriors. They have embraced every aspect of jiu jitsu training and their emergent skills were in ample display as all I could do was turtle up and pray I didn't get humiliatingly armbarred or choked out!

Chelsea squeezes a meerkat's head off!


Throughout the kids lesson, which lasted an hour, Alain kept up a fast pace - a few minutes of one drill followed by a few minutes of sparring, followed by a few minutes of exercises...the fast tempo was designed to fit in with children's naturally shorter attention spans and high energy levels. Towards the end, they were performing one handed cartwheels and scampering up the climbing rope with enviable ease. Throughout, Alain and his assistants kept careful watch on all the students with safety in mind. Parents were able to sit and watch close by and there was a very warm family feel to the whole session.

Madeline in evil squirrel mode


Interlude
After the kids lesson, Alain and I sat down for an hour while the wrestling class was on. Alain is quite a raconteur and recounted stories of his time in the early days of BJJ here in the UK plus his experiences training in American, Malaysia and Brazil. It was fascinating to hear how he describes the big changes in the way jiu jitsu has evolved over the years. Alain pointed to some of his teenage proteges and described how the young men and women these days look up to fighters like the Mendes brothers, Keenan Cornelius, Miyao brothers, Andre Galvao and so on. These kids enjoy playing with berimbolos, deep half guards and all manner of complex sport only techniques. It is a far cry from the early days of how jiu jitsu began in Brazil, with its tales of legendary street fights, wide eyed staring confrontations and crazy challenge matches. We both agreed, BJJ today was the geeky student's perfect sport!



Adult class
There was a great turnout for the adults class. I liked to believe it was for my benefit but I was told that this was normal for a Thursday. Besides, they recently had genuine high profile visitors to their academy in the form of Claudio Calasans and Clark Gracie!

Alain ran us through a short warm up which included judo style standup drills. The main lesson was a focus on maintaining position when taking the back, followed by a defence and an escape from the rear naked choke. Alain's instruction was delivered in his perfect spoken English, with a small hint of an American accent.

Sparring while everyone watches, ooh nervous


Roughly 30-40 minutes of technical drilling was followed by around 30 minutes of sparring. At first we were all paired up by Alain and sparred all at the same time as a group. I managed to roll with three of the CGEssex members and can attest to their good technical proficiency!

After group sparring, we were told to form a circle at the edge of the mat and observe a single pair who sparred alone. I've seen this sort of isolated sparring before when I have visited London Fight Factory. It's a bit scary because you are sparring while the whole academy is watching on. It's a useful exercise however to get used to rolling under pressure plus any mistakes can be pointed out by a larger number of eyes on the mat and discussed afterwards.

The warm down was taken by the strength and conditioning instructor James. I must say, I really enjoyed the variety of ginastica natural movements we were instructed to perform. It's my first real taste of this limber series of exercises and the perfect activity to warm down smoothly and gently after a heavy bout of sparring.

We rounded off the evening with some crazy Dragon Ball style group photos which were a heck of a lot of fun to do and makes a change from the usual static group snap!

Rahrrrr!


The Only Way is Essex
I've known Alain ever since I first began BJJ. The past ten years have seen a lot of changes in our sport. What I experienced today, in an Essex town, was more than just a regular jiu jitsu class. I saw the foundation for a whole community of people who, through the sport, have empowered their lives for the better. This Carlson Gracie gym is a far cry from the stories of yesteryear. Here, kids run around playfully leaping over crash mats and practising their berimbolos, teenagers relentlessly drill techniques and smile happily whether they are doing the tapping or are being tapped. The adults (pleasing to see many women on the mat too) are here to get fit, learn cool techniques and build up their skills and confidences. In short, it's a typical modern day jiu jitsu gym, with great facilities, first class instruction from an authentic source and a team of friends and family both young and old. I have no doubts the gym will continue its growth and serve as an important base for the community around it.

Thanks to Alain and everyone who is part of Carlson Gracie Essex for making me feel so welcome!

Paul Frost and I - superhero dad mode

Alain Pozo and me!

Gil Frost and the back patch I painted for him



Further information:
Carlson Gracie Essex website: http://www.carlsongracieessex.co.uk
Locations: Colchester and Chelmsford
Timetable: BJJ throughout the week, also classes in wrestling, muay thai and soon to come, crossfit.



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