30 Apr 2008

I missed SENI08. Completely forgot about it. Some people fought, some won, some lost. Who cares. Actually I do. SENI is Europe’s biggest martial arts expo. And the Gracie Invitational is the biggest tournament in it. One day I will compete, one day…
More on this later as I find out who won and who lost from my small BJJ circle of sparring pals.
Actually I can probably tell that the Roger Gracie Team won their usual haul of bling - if last BJJ class was anything to go by. I got tapped four times in a row, by exactly the same four techniques. As usual with many of these things, the very simplest of things would have prevented me from falling into the trap each time. Nick showed me how to defend that trap, then I fell for it again. Duh!

Been shopping recently for MA gear for my club. I’m going to use this opportunity to review and rate online martial arts shops:

BLITZ – This is a very well established brand and store. Only sell their own stuff.
PROS: Tons of trad and MMA stuff at very good trade/club prices. Quality of their own brand equipment is high and they update and upgrade their stock frequently.
For example, a basic Blitz gi I bought ten years ago is still in excellent condition despite hours and hours of sweaty training and rigorous grappling. They've also got a great Bargain Bin. I've found all manner of end-of-line stuff at knockdown prices. I love bargain bins.
CONS: Usually I visit the actual store and buy on site, but the one time I ordered online and they cock up big time. The telephone sales help was useless and it took a stiffly worded letter to the Managing Director to get them to respond and refund me. This gave me the chance to try some other stores out. It's also rubbish for return of faulty goods. Forms to fill, purchase order numbers to quote etc etc.

BYTOMIC – Lots of own-brand and name brand equipment.
PROS: Great easy to use website. Lots of choice for both basic trad, MMA. Also have a lot of interesting novelty and alternative MA products. Fast online support and helpline. Fast delivery. I've been using these guys a lot recently.
CONS: Slightly more expensive club/trade prices than Blitz. No BJJ uniforms. Other than that, nothing to complain about.

BLACK EAGLE – Recently established, selling own brand and name brand gear..
PROS: Good quality products. They make a very good and surprisingly cheap BJJ kimono. Excellent customer support. The owner gets back to your emails or calls you personally within the day.
CONS: More expensive than Blitz, not a great choice of equipment overall. I think it is one of the owners who poses in all the photos, looks a tad unslick since bless him, he's no finely honed athlete.

TAO SPORTS – Small high street shop recently expanded into large online store.
PROS: Quality, quality, quality. I’ve bought from Tao for years and their own-brand stuff is top quality. My kickboxing trousers have been worn for years and years and my own knees are more likely to wear out before the trousers do. Similarly, their boxing gloves are wonderfully garish and excellently made. My Tao judo gi could survive a nuclear war.
The customer support is one of the best, with almost immediate response.
CONS: Well you got to pay a lot more for good quality. Not a huge range of gear, but got all the basics.

MMA Universe - Very popular site solely dedicated to MMA and BJJ.
PROS: Probably the best place to buy MMA and BJJ gear, although their range is a bit limited. Eg millions of Wanderlei Silva, Koral and BTT stuff, but the MMA and BJJ world is vaster than just those brands. Would like to see more choice. Keenly priced though.
CONS: You need to purchase a minimum of £65 to claim the club or trade discounts, which is too steep if all you are buying are a load of groin guards. Blitz have no minimum fee. As for choice, BJJ and MMA punters should also check out...

Dragon Bleu - This French company sells a large range of trad, MMA and BJJ gear.
PROS: Huge range, keenly priced, postage is surprisingly affordable considering they have to ship to another country.
CONS: No club or trade discount. I bought an Atama gi from them and although the spec was the same as the one I ordered from USA, it was physically very different. I presume Atama tweek the design for different markets, but you don't know this until it arrives. Customer support is adequate.

International purchases - I've also purchased one-off items from lots of other shops including from the USA. Buying from the States doesn't really save much money since you pay huge amounts for shipping and tax. And it could take months to arrive or days, just pot luck. But you do get the chance ot buy stuff not available in the UK and the customer service I have found to be pretty high. I have read on forums that buying kimonos from Brazil can be a nightmare, so watch out. Finally, ages ago I saw one shop seriously selling an outrageous Stars and Stripes karate gi. I can't find it now. I'm dying to see it again, and of course laugh at the hilarity of such a concept. In fact, I might just blog an article about hilarious martial arts products.

Coming soon...Meerkat's recommended martial arts books.

Shop 'til you Tai Otoshi

I missed SENI08 . Completely forgot about it. Some people fought, some won, some lost. Who cares. Actually I do. SENI is Europe’s biggest ma...

17 Apr 2008

I’ve recently been chatting to someone from the Bullshido forums about hosting a possible London Throwdown (more about that later), but it reminded me that I have been meaning to write about Bullshido for while.

For those who are not familiar, Bullshido is a website dedicated to exposing the myths and hype that surround some martial arts and some of their infamous charlatans. It is by far the most informative and entertaining martial arts website on the whole of the internet. Unfortunately, it has acquired a reputation as a bit of a style basher. In that if you do something other than hardcore MMA or BJJ, then your style is obviously rubbish. And in fact many forum threads and articles are heavily biased towards this aim. But if you read the excellent deconstructions of so-called experts and view the huge library of video clips, I can guarantee you will walk away better informed about martial arts in general. The aim I believe is not to debunk martial arts, but simply to ask the reasonable question of whether something actually works or not.

Like many things, there are cranks, weirdos and plain outright scammers in all fields of life. Alternative medicine, for example has a lot of suspect misinformation (check out Bad Science, run by Ben Goldacre for a worthy expose of alt medicine).
The martial arts are also no exception. Many arts claim to teach you techniques that have no scientific basis and cannot realistically be proven to work. You just have to take it as read. That in my mind makes it too close to a cult, blind faith or religion for comfort. There is also nothing to stop anyone from setting up their own school and claiming all sorts of martial art prowess. As long as there are people willing to believe and pay for such instruction, such practices will always go on. Which is why Bullshido fills a very important role.

On their website, notable targets for their ire include:
Frank Dux - the man whose 'lifestory' inspired Van damme to produce the film Bloodsport.
George A. Dillman - the self styled, Grandmaster of pressure point fighting.
Ashida Kim - The Ninja Master.
Read and be damned. Bullshido are certainly thorough in their search to find the truth.

I’m not saying my trad JJ style is immune to propagating a few suspect beliefs. Some seminars I have attended have veered dangerously towards talk of meridian lines, one-touch rescucitation techniques and other ‘interesting’ interpretations of how the human body works. I cringe when I have to hear these things. They are often explained as fact, with no offer of a medical or reasonable explanation. Just because someone says if you hit L33 along the upper 'lung' meridian then you will feel feint, how different is that to saying: and if you wave this twig and chant intoxicum collapsicum, you will also feel feint? The words placebo, suggestion and parlour hypnosis spring to mind.

Many years ago, I attended a large seminar where a very highly ranked European sensei (he may have been like a fifth or sixth dan) gave a demo where he lightly kicked just below his uke’s knee and his uke collapsed as if shot by a 12-bore. We were all agasp in amazement. When we all tried it, some of my colleagues also attested to feeling intense pain and a sudden collapse. But I could not get it to work , nor my uke on me, so when the high ranking sensei came over, he performed the knee point technique on me. I felt nothing, but (and to my intense shame) I felt awful that he would be embarrassed in front of everyone, so I feigned a collapse (nothing too hammy, just a modest buckling). Yep, I tricked myself into believing this magical pressure point actually worked. The sensei walked away happy, the crowd were in awe and I acted honourably in saving his face. But it has haunted me ever since. I vowed from then that I would always aim to provide clear, logical and non-mythical explanations to techniques.

Of course, it is good to have an open mind and gain lots of knowledge. But it is equally important to be able to filter and interpret that knowledge intelligently. Realistically, a technique should be something that is logical, provable and repeatable. That is how one gains experience and wisdom. But it is human nature to want to believe in stories. They make ones physical endeavours seem more worthwhile and perhaps add a little mystique and glamour to otherwise mundane everyday lives. It is horses for courses and if a more ‘spritual’ approach to martial arts is your thing, then go for it. But a word of caution - just watch the pseudo psycho-babble, it can seriously harm your karmic chi levels. Oh, and the boys at Bullshido may just catch you.

In praise of Bullshido

I’ve recently been chatting to someone from the Bullshido forums about hosting a possible London Throwdown (more about that later), but it r...

3 Apr 2008

Earlier in the week I was a smug little bastard as I managed to hoax a lot of people with my juvenile april Fools joke.
Oh how the Karma tables were firmly turned last night when I made a complete twat of myself at BJJ.
It all began when I rushed home after work and, so determined was I to go to BJJ, that I rushed through all my evening duties (changing the kids nappies, bathing the kids, cooking dinner, putting the kids to sleep). Finally I rush out to training, nabbing all the gear in my bag and I arrive late of course as usual. But this is not the faux pas, oh no. I get changed and warm up by the side of the mat. One by one, everyone turns around and mouths drop and some muttering goes on. Instructors Nick and Daniel look up and laugh at me...aha, target practice and make gestures at their trousers. Huh? what was going on. I look at myself and don;t notice anything obvious like bird poo or baby poo, or indeed any poo. So I join the class and still the snide looks and suspicous glances carry on. Until finally, one of the junior grades shakes my hand and says congratulation on the purple belt. Arrrrrrgh! I was wearing the wrong belt. I should be wearing my blue belt, but in the rush I brought the purple and since I am a sad sufferer of Daltonism (colour blindness to you and me) I had absolutely no idea!

For those not accustomed with BJJ dojo etiquette, an analogy in say footballing terms is rather like walking into the red side of Liverpool wearing an Everton shirt - you just don't do it. Purple belts are rare and hard to obtain. there is no way in the world I am remotely at purple belt level and I sometimes wonder if I am even worthy of the blue. Hence the strange looks and suspicious glances. And even if I did get promoted, it would mean everyone would try that extra bit harder at sparring, hence the 'target' reference from Nick and Daniel.
Hugely embarrassed, I took off the belt and trained for the rest of the session without one. It made no dfference as I stll got subbed like every two seconds by Daniel and Nick. I think next time I'm going to ask for sponsor patches for my gi from the fast food outlet: Subway.

After the session I explained to everyone in the changing room about my faux pas. The guys were ok about it though. they just actually thought I was promoted and it didn't really bother them. In fact big guy Ollie (he of the evil knee on belly from my previous post) tried to reassure me by saying that he knew of lots of shit purple belts and even some dodgy brown belts in BJJ. Erm, somehow that didn't make me feel less embarrassed !

It was nice to see my sparring pal Stumpy Ninja turn up as well.

So there you go. Karma restored. Notes to self: bin the purple belt; get new colour sensing vision; train harder and try not to look like a prat.

Revenge...a dish best served purple

Earlier in the week I was a smug little bastard as I managed to hoax a lot of people with my juvenile april Fools joke. Oh how the Karma tab...

1 Apr 2008

OK, it's time to own up and admit my little April Fool's prank - in which I sent a group email out and pretended my Trad JJ club was gonna change into a BJJ club - was taken a little too seriously by some members.

Duh! I'm not gonna tranform my club into BJJ. My two jujitsu lives are distinct and separate but not wholly intercompatable, hence you'll find us practising groundwork in the trad class and self-defence drills in the BJJ class. I rate both forms as equally valid and important.

For those who didn't get the original email, here is an abbreviated version:
Dear club member,

I wanted to write and let you know about a big change I am making to Imperial JJ Club. After a very long time thinking about the direction the club should go, I have decided to focus the club
solely on groundfighting in the Gracie Jiu Jitsu tradition. Sadly this means I will no longer be teaching the current syllabus.
Clearly this is a huge step for me to take, but I have spoken to my BJJ instructors who are obviously pleased and have offered me support.

As is traditional with other BJJ clubs, I will be adopting a ‘Gracie’ figurehead as my mentor. Since Roger, Royler, Royce and others are well represented in the UK, I have been lucky to
obtain representation with the lesser known (and cheaper) but equally brilliant Ravinuon Gracie (3rd dan) – 4th son of Grandmaster Charlton Gracie (12th dan).

To kick things off, Master Ravinuon will be coming over from Rio and visiting our club for an introductory seminar – pencilled for September 31st. Of course I would be delighted to invite
everyone from NKJJK and Imperial to participate.

When students meet him, please remember that it is a big faux pas to mispronounce his name - the ‘R’ should be pronounced as an ‘H’ but other than that, he’s a really nice guy.

It’s all very exciting and I will keep you abreast of the news.

Take care and all the best.

So some people didn't get the 'Ravinuon', or 'Having You On' - play on words. Clearly, I have too much idle time on my hands. :)

Fools Gold

OK, it's time to own up and admit my little April Fool's prank - in which I sent a group email out and pretended my Trad JJ club wa...


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