31 Oct 2009

NEWS JUST IN...My instructor Nick Brooks was awarded his black belt in BJJ by Roger Gracie!!!
On behalf of me, everyone at Mill Hill and, heck, the entire UK BJJ community, let's all say a massive congratulations to Nick. Were all so proud!!!

Breaking news...Nick Brooks...black belt!!!!!!

NEWS JUST IN...My instructor Nick Brooks was awarded his black belt in BJJ by Roger Gracie!!! On behalf of me, everyone at Mill Hill and, he...

28 Oct 2009

Last night I was invited down to my old traditional ju-jitsu club for a spot of groundwork teaching. When I ran the club, I tried to get everyone involved in ground-fighting based on my knowledge of BJJ. So I thought it would be a good idea to keep in touch with the lads and offer them my slim but perhaps mildly useful amount of knowledge on the subject. But before that, there was one importantant thing on my mind. It was a matter that I've given far too much thought to and still not had a conclusive answer to...

Which gi and belt to wear?
I mean - do I wear my BJJ outfit and blue belt? Or do I don my old black belt and JJ uniform with association badges? You see I worry too much about these things so in the end I consulted that great font of wisdom - the eenie-meenie-miney-moe oracle. Old skool gi won.

Okay, onto matters at hand. How to show a handful of BJJ techniques that would work within the tradJJ rules of groundfighting?

I chose to focus on one thing - start from the knees, grab for the cross collar grip, then attack attack attack. I went through basic loop choke, then reverse bow and arrow, pulling guard and then cross choking, pushing into your uke to sweep him backwards (assuming he has bad balance) - basically a lot of really basic stuff with the common theme of starting from that one cross collar grip. Its something my instructor Nick showed me often and, going way back, my former intructor Eddie also showed me whenever I asked about our 'on-the-knees' style of competition. And it seems to work. The gripping arm is also a basic guard if you 'stiff arm' your opponent, or acts as a foil if your uke tries to pull guard. At the very least, its certainly a solid way to start a match I think. Remember this is from-the-knees competitions, BJJ with its standup, is a whole different kettle of sardines.

From my experience of past tradJJ comps, the two minute time-frame is simply not enough time to work a complex guard game and in any case, the judges will always score the top player (even if he is within the closed guard) the win because he is seen as, er, the top player. Hey I don't make the rules. Hence my reasoning for the wholly attack oriented theme last night.

No workshop is complete without a few flashier techniques to wake the audience up, so I offered them a suicide choke from on the knees (risky I know), evil knee on solar plexus and evil knee on sternum. Oh I also made up a kata where you move from side hold variations into knee on belly into full mount into modified mount into taking the back. I figured it was important to give the newbies to groundfighting a sense of position rather than just stuff like 'here is a choke' etc.

We finished off with a few rounds of sparring. It was good to have a scrap with my old pals. The Team Imperial lads compete in two weeks time so I wish them luck!
Hopefully, if I make it back again I would like to focus on defence defence defence, you know, just for the sake of a Yin Yang style balance to the proceedings.


Last night I was invited down to my old traditional ju-jitsu club for a spot of groundwork teaching. When I ran the club, I tried to get ev...

27 Oct 2009

Oh boy, how to top the highs of last week?
Well, naturally, there's only one way to go and that was down.
I've been a bit slack since the seminar and with the Kent Open only three weeks away, I'm slightly starting to panic that my form will be awful come the big day of the competition.

My goal at each tournament is simply to learn from the experience and hopefully hold my own against my contemporaries. And I think this has generally been the case apart from Grapplers Showdown which forever will be known as 'the comp that dare not ever speak its name again!' But it I can only help myself by committing more time to training and sparring, which isn't quite happening at the moment.

However, I did manage a training session last night where my slackness caught me off guard and I got footlocked by a white belt juvenile! He got it on pretty tight and possibly, in my defence, I would say it would be ruled illegal as he crossed his legs over the leg he was attacking, but it was my sloppiness that led to me getting caught so I just said well done and moved on, a bit crestfallen. To add salt into my depressed ego my next spars were with (now purple belt) Daniel Strauss and Nick Brooks.

With Daniel, I realised one reason (apart from his general brilliance) that I struggle so incredibly badly against him is that he never lets me get one single grip on him. Not a single one! I mean, one lousy lapel grip or a sleeve -no, he slips away and dances around me and I'm flapping like a freshly landed fish. then he picks and chooses his submissions at will - usually involving attacks from the back. At least he complimented me on my defences from this position.

Anway, in other news, I've finished writing my Penny article and hopefully, once James has edited his pictures, we can see what the media interest is in publishing it. The select few I have shown it to for proofing think it is very interesting.

Tonight I'm off to visit my old traditional ju-jitsu club to work on various BJJ techniques that are of relevance to the syllabus and their system of sport groundwork. There are significant differences between the two styles, for example in the trad JJ comps, standing up is not allowed and many techniques are banned eg body triangles, and any technique that threatens the back of the neck eg possibly a head lock could be viewed dimly. [note techniques that threaten the neck vertebrae are also banned in BJJ.]
However there are tons of techniques from BJJ that do apply and most of all, the basic principles of fighting on the ground remain the same -mainly those to do with position, balance and leverage. It'll also be a good chance to catch up with my old tradJJ buddies.

Final bit of news, it looks like Nick has finally updated and revamped the new look Mill Hill Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu website. Thanks to Nick for keeping my blog link and many of the photos on there are by yours truly. The user name 'The Fighting Photographer' has been used for years by my blogging friend Carl Fisher, so I'm trying to think of another one. Possibly 'The Jiu-Jitsu Blogographer' might be catchy?

Panic stations!

Oh boy, how to top the highs of last week? Well, naturally, there's only one way to go and that was down. I've been a bit slack sinc...

21 Oct 2009

Seminar with BJJ black belt Penny Thomas, x4 Mundials champion, Warrior School of Combat,
Kensington, London, 20-10-09
So I'm talking to my wife and rather randomly, we have a conversation that goes something like this:

Wifey: Oh yeah I forgot to tell you, my mate Mel at work says she knows a BJJ world champion, oh darn what was her name?
Me: Was it a Portuguesey sounding name, maybe Kyra?
Wifey: No it was a english name, oh what was it? Erm anyway Mel just came back from Barcelona or somewhere where they fight world competitions.
Me: No way?
Wifey: Way!
Me: Oh my god, who is it? who is it? who? who? Call Mel NOW!
[Brrr brrr, brrr brrr]
Wifey: Hi Mel? who was that mate of yours? Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes [goes on for a bit]...Penny Thomas...yes that's her, what? she's coming over to the UK next week, ooh Seymour would like that.
Me: [I have just wet myself]

So here we are at the Warrior School of Combat in posh Kensington on a cold October evening and I'm interviewing Penny with probing questions offering a fascinating deep personal insight into the jiu-jitsu fighter's mind, oh and lots of silly questions like 'is her favourite colour pink?'
I first came across Penny after listening to her Fightworks Podcast interview with Caleb. I was struck by the interview because she tells a rich story about her life and comeback from severe injury and about her giving everything up to follow the jiu-jitsu lifestyle. You can listen to it here.

My interview fills hopefully will get published in a mainstream magazine, like wot they sell in WHSmiths. To help, top BJJ snapper James Oluoch-Olunya had spent the best part of 4 hours shooting cool photos of Penny and I've bagged what I think is a good interview.
And so onto the seminar...

Penny began the session with a warmup drill which included the usual running around and flapping arms, but then things got a bit more specific and weird. There was one partner drill where you turtle up and your partner stands over you, but you roll over your head whilst at the same time grasping your partner's ankles so you end up taking his back, then he does the same.
Penny then moved onto a series of partnered take-down drills which looked to me like they came from her wrestling training, but Penny added some nice twists. Such as her 'Michael Jackson dance skip before slipping on a wickedly fast half shoulder throw (please feel free to offer the correct Japanese name).

I should mention that in the room, there were probably about 12-13 women and about 10 guys. This is probably the one and only time you will get a BJJ session where there are more girls than boys in the room. And the flavour throughout the night was decidedly female oriented as Penny made cheeky remarks about how the more flexible girls would like so-and-so technique. Us guys just muttered and giggled nervously like little schoolboys, just grateful Penny didn't pick on one of us and crush us with her immense physique.

After the stand-up part of her session, Penny took us through a brief stretch. I say stretch, but when a former Olympic gymnastics prospect and yoga expert does a stretch, it is with the flexibility of someone with zero joints. I mean we were just laughing at the impossible contortions Penny put her body through. One simple stretch is where you sit wide legged and reach forward, easy right? but oh no, Penny bent forward and touched her nose on the mat.
In another episode, Penny was just mucking around and did some weird breakdance pose - basically holding her contorted upside-down body aloft on just one arm. Wow!

Assisting Penny throughout was BJJ blackbelt and main instructor at WSC Leopoldo. Leo was ever so courteous and happily let Penny rough him up with, in her words, 'my mean techniques'.

For the ground fighting portion of the seminar, I enjoyed this the most. Penny offered us tips on maintaining the mount and how to execute basic moves, such as kimura, ezekiel and head and arm triangle. I was happy to finally meet up with Camilla Hansen, who I have mentioned a few times in this blog. Camilla and I partnered up and she quite easily softened me into a pulp with her choke drills.

For the final part of the session, Penny asked if anyone had any requests and I immediately (and possibly quite rudely) jumped in with a request for tips on open guard - Penny's forte. And this I really enjoyed. She showed us her spider guard and how she moved from one position to another and how she could sweep her opponent with any one of these basic positions. Penny really emphasised the push-pull tension that one needs when gripping sleeves and placing feet on hips. She also showed us how she likes to place the outside edge of her foot directly on the person's biceps to inflict a little pain (one of her'mean' techniques). You could almost hear the whole room making mental notes to use that little nugget in training for next time (including me).

Finally, the session was over all too soon. I would have loved to explore more on Penny's open guard. The short period where she talked about this was really interesting. But hopefully there will be another session if Penny can make her way to the UK next year. I really enjoyed the session. Penny is articulate and coherent on every aspect on how a technique works, adding some personal insights and offering variations on themes you may not quite have come across before. She's also a very warm and engaging person.

After handshakes and thanks, it was group photo time! And you can see more pictures of the seminar on the Flickr slideshow below.

My thanks go first to Penny who was gracious with her time, not only for the seminar but also for the enthusiastic and brill interview. Thanks to my wife's mate Mel for bringing Penny over, also to Pippa Granger, who managed to organise the seminar with zero notice and after I pretty much gave up organising it myself. It was great to meet all the gang, especially the BJJ girls who I chat to a lot but not met personally and finally thanks to Pedro Bessa, who was not present, but pretty much helped make this seminar happen.


Penny Thomas Seminar

Seminar with BJJ black belt Penny Thomas, x4 Mundials champion, Warrior School of Combat, Kensington, London, 20-10-09 So I'm talking to...

15 Oct 2009


That female black belt I mentioned in my previous post has now confirmed that she WILL teach a seminar in London next Tuesday. She, is none other than World Champion Penny Thomas. I'm so excited.
Here are the details:

Date: Tuesday 20th October
Time: 8-9.30pm
Price: £20
Venue: Pedro Bessa BJJ London
Warrior School of Combat
Lower Ground Floor
Glen House
125 Old Brompton Road
South Kensington

And here is Penny's very impressive fight record:
- 2009 ADCC silver +60Kg
- 2009 Grapplers Quest Del Mar No-Gi Absolute Champion
- 2009 Grapplers Quest Las Vegas No-Gi Absolute Champion
- 2009 Brazilian Jiu-jitsu World Champion, Brown/Black

- 2008 Grapplers Quest Las Vegas No-Gi Absolute Champion
- 2008 Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Worlds, Brown/Black, 2nd
- 2008 Grapplers Quest New Jersey No-Gi Absolute Champion
- 2008 No-Gi World Championship, Brown/Black, 2nd

- 2007 NAGA Hawaii, Advanced Gi & No-Gi Champion
- 2007 Pan American Champion, Brown/Black
- 2007 ADCC Champion
- 2007 Brazilian Jiu-jitsu World Champion, Brown/Black
- 2007 No-Gi World Champion, Brown/Black
- 2007 Triple Crown, Men’s Brown Belt, 2nd

- 2006 Pan American Champion, Purple Belt
- 2006 Copa de Mundo (BJJ World Cup) Champion
- 2006 Gracie Worlds Champion, Purple/Brown/Black Belt

- 2005 Brazilian Jiu-jitsu World Champion, Purple Belt
- 2005 South African National Grappling Champion

- 2004 Brazilian Jiu-jitsu World Champion, Blue Belt
- 2003 Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Worlds, Blue Belt, 2nd

From her website: Pennyfighting.com

And here is a great interview she did for Caleb on the excellent Fightworks Podcast.


Photo above from Andy Foxx Photography - see his Penny gallery here.
Of course your Meerkatsu intrepid reporter will be present to capture in words and pictures his presence at the seminar - sometimes life is just too hard!!

Penny Thomas

....BREAKING NEWS! That female black belt I mentioned in my previous post has now confirmed that she WILL teach a seminar in London ne...

14 Oct 2009

Awful Analogies #2, BJJ is a bit like...music

BJJ is like music. Why? Well both are crafts that require the need to learn in a physical and technical manner. As in BJJ, the learning curve for playing an instrument to a moderately decent ability is pretty steep. In both, there are teachers, books, DVDs, youtube etc who can guide your progress, but ultimately, you only get better the more your practise. As in BJJ, some exponents are just outrageously talented and beyond the ability of most practitioners. Many, many people give up at an early stage. But I think the best analogy between music and BJJ is this - to really 'feel' the joy of music - to take the experience to another level - one needs to play live, onstage, in front of people who appreciate your art. It's the same with BJJ, practising and sparring is one thing, but competing in tournaments, live, in front of people who appreciate the sport, is an experience that cannot be replicated.
Finally, music is clearly a wonderful art-form. Some wouldsay that BJJ is an artform. And when you see the world's best grapplers in action, using techniques that you can also do, but executed in a way you can only dream of, that to me is surely an art.
Below, here is one of BJJ's best artists:

Media news
I should, crossed fingers, have a snippet published in this month's MAI magazine, and another, lengthier article, in the Jan2010 issue of MAI. I'm off to 'Smiths soon to see if they printed it.
Having my work published in print media is pretty nice kudos, but someone close to me remonstrated with me about not getting paid for this kind of work.
Naturally, I see things a little differently.
Writing gives me an outlet to let off steam and think about the sport on a more cerebral level. After all, it's good to exercise both mind and muscle.
Writing also opens doors for me. As my status increases as a spokesperson for this wonderful sport we call BJJ, so I find I get people telling me stuff, asking me about stuff, giving me stuff and best of all...inviting me to see and attend stuff that perhaps I would not normally be given access to.
Of course, things would be different if I relied on this as a means of income. But for now, I'm happy to play the hobbyist BJJer and the hobbyist writer.

Training news
Last week was a great training week. Got my x3 sessions in and sparred with a really good super feather blue belt from Carlsons who visited us. He showed me a ton of stuff and happily beat me into a twisted pretzel. And I was happy to be pretzeled! Thanks to Vince!

But this week I've had to hold back the training. My little lad is ill and wifey and I have to take it in turns to hold him upright at night to stop him choking and screaming in pain. It means we do not get any sleep.

Despite this, I've been trying to get a visiting female black belt to come give us a training session. This person is real special and I'm keeping my fingers crossed something comes out of it. Given her tough schedule, it's unlikely this time, but she knows the interest in the UK is high so maybe a 2010 seminar will happen.

Finally, I would like to give a shout out to Camilla Hansen, who just received her purple belt from my former instructor Eddie Kone. Camilla also took gold at the recent Ground Control no-gi tournament with x3 victories in a row. Awesome! (she's one of the outrageously talented people I talked about above!) . Speaking of Eddie, here's a seminar review written by fellow blogger and long time BJJer Carl Fisher.

Awful Analogies #2, BJJ is a bit like...music

Awful Analogies #2, BJJ is a bit like...music BJJ is like music. Why? Well both are crafts that require the need to learn in a physical and ...

6 Oct 2009

I thought I would update the blog with some training news...

I've made a concerted effort these past few weeks to make it to class x3 times a week. Doesn't matter which nights, as long as I get x3 sessions minimum I feel this is what I need to make progress. So far I have been managing to do this, although if my wife works late or goes away on business, I have to cancel my plans to stay home with the kids. But most nights are ok.

Nick's been getting tougher recently. He has installed a policy whereby those who want to compete HAVE to turn up to training on certain comp-training sessions and arrive precisely on time. Failure to do so will result in him barring you from entering the comp. At the moment, the guys (no me though) are training for the British no-gi Championships. I think the stricter approach is a good idea. Sometimes it needs a bit of stick rather than carrot to motivate people and make them work towards a goal. It also instils a stronger team atmosphere. He also said that we, the team, represent Roger Gracie, and he does not want to send in anyone who is unprepared. Quite!

During sparring, I've really tried to make each spar into a training exercise and aim for specific techniques. I know this sounds like an obvious thing to do but up until recently, I've only ever sparred in reaction to my opponent. They make a move, I defend, I try to counter etc. It's a bit lazy I guess and also somethig that I think is inhibiting my progress. So right now I'm sparring with a purpose in mind. Last week I was trying out a loop choke from half guard - something I see Oli Geddes do a lot. I got some nice submissions from this, but more often I got stuck. But regardless, I felt I really learned something from each spar. Fellow blue Dominique is very good at this way of sparring. She'll learn something that week and work real hard to apply it in sparring each session. The number of times she has caught me with a throat-ripping choke that I missed from the previous class is another motivation to make me attend more often!

This week, Nick has been making me roll counting the points as I go along. This is really hard. Most spars are a to' and fro' affair and you don't really care if you lose a position, but rolling for points (as well as subs of course) without giving anything away takes concentration and a very tight game. It's a very different way of rolling and I think good training for competition. Daniel has also been making me spar with comps in mind. He is so good its no point trying to out-manouvre him. So he 's been making me defend but not letting my opponent get any dominant position for more than 2 seconds. He told me to count out every time I lost a position. It's great because it really focuses my mind on getting out quick and not giving away points. But again, its really tough because you can't pause and rest up.

Finally I'd like to give a shout out to Hana who I have been training with a lot recently. Hana is just 16 and started about 4-5 months ago. She's been picking up techniques at an phenomenal rate. I think it is very inspiring to see anyone, especially a female, take to BJJ with such incredible gusto. This kid is gonna be a monster on the mats if she isn't so already. But she's injured at the moment and has been ordered to rest up. So here's a Meerkatsu message to say get well soon :)

Getting tough

I thought I would update the blog with some training news... I've made a concerted effort these past few weeks to make it to class x3 ti...

1 Oct 2009

This photo is amazing. I spotted it whilst trawling old forum posts about the history of BJJ in the UK. It shows the first ever BJJ tournament, which happened in 1999. The darkened vignetting on the photo adds to the feeling of a long forgotten past, but its only ten years ago - that's nothing really, is it? I'm using this tournament as an excuse to say that BJJ is ten years old in the UK this year.

Memories are kind of hazy as to when BJJ was first showcaseed here. But several online sources document when and where certain events happened, together with personal anecdotes and stories. You can read them here on SFUK and here on the EFN forum. There is also a good write up of BJJ in the UK by Slidey on his blog.

To summarise, here's a rough timeline of key events:

1993 Royce Gracie wins UFC 1
1997 Arlans Sequeira teaches a BJJ class in Tottenham

1998 Chen Moraes teaches BJJ at the Budokwai judo dojo
1998 Mauricio 'Motta' Gomes arrives in the UK and establishes Gracie Barra UK
1999 First British BJJ tournament run by Chen Moraes
1999 Royce gives his first seminar in the UK

2001 Roger Brooking opens his academy in Seymour Place, London
2002 Carlson Gracie London Team open under Wilson Junior and Luca Menegacci 2002 Braulio Estima begins teaching at GB Brum
2004 Roger Gracie Academy opens in Ladbroke Grove, London
2005 Mauricio promotes Jude Samuel, Marc Walder and Rick Young - first ever British black belts (although Roger Brooking is British by birth).

[Side note: The first Brit to train 'Gracie' style jiu-jitsu is most probably Rick Young, who went the the USA to learn from the Gracies in 1984.]

Fast forward to today, 2009, and according the Slidey's excellent UK BJJ List, there are now over 180 places to train BJJ in the UK (22 in London alone). And it continues to grow. Who knows how big BJJ will be in another ten years?

Just for the record, my first ever BJJ lesson was in 2003. What an exciting time it must have been to experience those early days just after the first UFC. Imagine training in California with all the older Gracie brothers (before they all split up and ran their own schools). Imagine talking about this new fangled thing called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and being laughed at by other martial artists who think groundfighting will never catch on. Oh imagine....

Ten Years of British BJJ

This photo is amazing. I spotted it whilst trawling old forum posts about the history of BJJ in the UK. It shows the first ever BJJ tournam...


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