21 Oct 2009

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 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.


About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


Matt said...

Jolly good job matey! Hope you get it published.

Meerkatsu said...

Meg Smitley's far better version of events here:

Meg Smitley said...

You're too kind Meerkatsu, I think you do yourself and injustice!

David Onuma - Combined Fighting Systems said...

Nice one - good review .Cheers


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