3 Jun 2013

Academy Tour: Gracie Barra Cornwall

Last week I took my family down to Cornwall for a week's holiday. This meant I also got the chance to train with the team at Gracie Barra Cornwall, headed by Raphael Dos Santos.

For those unfamiliar with the UK, Cornwall is a large county located on the far south west of England and is famed for many things, notably the incredible beaches, countryside, local food and the legend of King Arthur. I thoroughly recommend a visit to this region.

Raphael Dos Santos is a Brazilian who in the past 5-6 years has carved a career in the UK as a popular BJJ instructor and top level black belt competitor. In 2011 he beat Felipe Costa to claim the IBJJF European Championships gold. Raphael repeated the success in the 2012 tournament too. In addition to BJJ he was an elite level judoka who was on the cusp of making it to the Brazilian Olympic team. A badly timed injury meant he missed out on selection. I've followed Raphael's BJJ career with interest for a number of years mainly as he is roughly my size. This week was the first time I got the chance to train with him.

Monday Class - Blackwater (near Truro)
Gracie Barra Cornwall classes are spread over a large expanse of the county. Monday's class was in Blackwater Primary School in Truro. Over 26 people attended the class from complete beginners to purple belts. What impressed me immediately was the high proportion of female students in the class. Warm up was very vigorous, based around crunches, pressups and animal drills.

Raphael's classes follow a fairly regimented weekly rotation of techniques based around the Gracie Barra curriculum. The first hour of the class is dedicated to fundamentals. In this portion, Raphael taught an sweep from guard when the opponent has stood up. He showed two variations; the first a handstand push sweep and the second, when the opponent bases widely to prevent this, a sweep off the omoplata attack. The final technique of the night was a hip bump sweep from closed guard based on an initial arm drag type set-up. Raphael has an excellent command of English and engages very well with the students through clear instruction, good humour and references to techniques taught previously.

At the end of fundamentals class, the beginners and novice white belts usually sign out but tonight Rapha invited everyone to stay on for advanced class - which was dedicated entirely to sparring. I managed to spar with Raphael himself and then a couple of blue belts and white belts.

It was a good session with a very friendly team who all seemed to really enjoy their training. Raphael told me later that it was fairly standard practice to only allow white belt + 3 stripes and above to enter sparring but he did allow a few exceptions for those who were really keen. The concept of delayed sparring for beginners seems alien to me (as I have only ever known about sparring from day one) but there is no doubt the success of this practice. It allows those who are slightly nervous about live sparring, to get used to drilling core techniques for the first couple of months before trying them out in a live situation.

Tuesday Class - Newquay
The Newquay classes are held in a purpose built venue (opened only last month) just north of the town centre. The upstairs training room has been built in the style of a Japanese dojo. The training space is smaller than the primary school hall of the Blackwater branch, but is still able to hold 25+ students - which was the number that turned out today.

Raphael was kind enough to offer the mat for me to teach. Seeing as it was a fundamentals session, I taught my favourite closed guard submission - the cross collar choke (thumb up thumb down). Hopefully I added a few details that were of use to the more advanced students too because while the choke seems simple and rather basic, so much rides on how well the opening set-up and collar grip is achieved.

I also taught one of my instructor Nick's favourite techniques - the same cross collar choke but this time using the opponent's own gi skirt as the initial grip. It is arguably a more fancy set-up compared to just gripping the gi collar but hopefully I showed that the fundamental movements behind this and the previous techniques were the same.

The next portion of the class, again usually divided for only the advanced students, was dedicated to just sparring. I managed to roll with Raphael again plus some new faces who were not present yesterday.

One aspect to the training room that soon became very apparent was that it got hot very quickly. With only one tiny window everyone's evaporating sweat soon filled the room with steam thus earning it the nickname of  'the sauna'. I had a tough series of rolls with everyone in this class and the added bonus of the sweatbox conditions only made my energy sap even further. Despite this, I loved every single second of it!

Thursday Class - Newquay
Raphael informed me that his current hectic schedule means he teaches classes everyday. In addition to Truro and Newquay, he teaches in Plymouth, Exeter, Torquay as well as private classes and seminars.

Tonight's class was dedicated to half guard passing and Raphael showed us one of his favourite passes to the closed half guard. He used this same pass to earn him the gold medal at the 2011 European Championships. It involved a cool method to break the closed half guard and then pressurising knee slide pass to take either side control or knee on belly. I found this technique very useful to learn and add to my armoury!

Once again, we finised off with a brief sesssion of sparring. Once again, I got to roll with Rapha who was in playful mood and put on a virtuoso display of assertive guard passing that had me ending up in all manner of twisted contortions and tapping like mad :)

I really love Cornwall. There is so much to enjoy for the holidaymaker and now, with the added bonus of top level BJJ training in the form of a champion instructor, I must give it my utmost recommendation as a UK destination of choice for anyone looking to combine a holiday with training. If you like surfing, or would like to try, then Nick Tiscoe, who runs the Newquay BJJ establishment, is also a surf instructor and organises roll and surf holidays.

Thank you to Raphael for inviting me down to train at his academies and thanks to the warm welcome (but tough rolling!) I received from everyone at Gracie Barra Cornwall. I really really want to come again!!!


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Author & Artist

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



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