Monday, April 19, 2010

Sparked from an thread

The topic was why BJJ schools don't really intermingle and teach all aspects of grappling evenly.

"It is odd to me that there aren't more schools dedicated to grappling in general where you can get quality wrestling, judo, sambo, and bjj training all under the same roof. They could even have dirty boxing/clinching training so that it represents a complete grappling approach to fighting. Students could focus on one art, or cross train.

I know that some schools have done something along these lines, but it is usually with the focus on a single grappling art and peripheral training in the other arts.

It would seem that a school like that could field competitors in a variety of sports related to grappling."

One individual posted that the idea of true cross-training in grappling is "wishful thinking".

In a sense I agree. Not many gyms have the space capacity to offer multiple classes in all arts. However, I think it's possiblity is beginning to pop up all over the U.S. BJJ gyms ARE looking for quality instructors in other arts to develop grapplers fairly well versed in multiple aspects.

One small example:

First, as you all know, I train (and teach) at Ryan Hall's gym, clearly our focus is BJJ. However, about 4 months after opening the new academy, he encouraged me to begin taking small group wrestling lessons from a D-1 College coach (I'm obviously a girl and we had discovered that the coach was teaching private lessons to 2 female highschool wrestlers). During the same time period, Ryan began working one on one with a former wrestler friend of his and later after ADCC began working with the D-1 coach privately as well. We were interested in learning the art (wrestling) for itself as a wrestler would learn it. We were lucky to find a coach with 9 years experience coaching at the collegiate level as well as experience competing in both Greco and Folkstyle who's own college coach was Russian and who of his own accord(years ago) cross-trained in Judo to help his wrestling. Now, about a year after I'd started working with him, we were able to bring this coach on to take over our once a week wrestling class. This has become an extremely popular class, consistently attended by most of our competitors.

With previous grappling experience and consistent classes and lessons with this wrestling coach, Ryan and I have been able to add pieces of his influence into the rest of our instruction and I believe you can see the difference in the style of jiu-jitsu in our gym. As one person replying to the original post pointed out, wrestling is so much more than takedowns and it's influence can be integrated into your entire game.

Second, we don't claim to teach "Sambo" however our assistant head instructor has a black belt in Sambo and everyone knows that Ryan makes use of leg-locks frequently, therefore, all students are expected to learn them to some degree of proficiency.

Third, all of our instructors have worked some Judo and we encourage our students to try it (okay none of us can be considered particularly good at it - although it is a little known fact that Ryan placed in a 16 man division at a local Judo tournament recently). We have a couple Judo players who train at the gym and occasionally they offer advice to coaches and students. Hopefully, in the future, as the gym grows we will be able to add a real Judo coach as well.

See! I really don't think it is unique for BJJ schools to be offering this type of variety - my last school did as well. But maybe I'm wrong and it is unusual to see your head instructor taking the wrestling class from a guy who works "for" him. And maybe not all coaches are willing to jump into a local Judo tournament to work on their Judo (and not just try to win with BJJ).

Everything always comes down from the top. If the guy at the top is willing to learn and try and potentially fail in front of their students than everyone will be willing to try new things as well. If your best students don't appreciate the usefulness of wrestling and Judo and participate in offered classes, no one will. If the head coaches don't cross train to the point where they are teaching and encouraging throws, take downs, leg locks, and the like during "BJJ" sparring, then you will never see their full integration in the students.

So if you want integration, stop whining about it and do what we did...go out and get it!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How to Teach The Arm Drag...and everything else

"The most important thing to remember is to grip the shoulder, not the arm, and instead of attempting to PULL with your arm, keep your elbow in tight to your side and allow your body weight to pressure your opponent into the ground". I started my explanation for how to begin the arm drag to the basics wrestling class by emphasizing a piece that I had the hardest time with when I first learned a proper wrestling arm-drag from James Torres (Asst. Coach at George Mason University) almost one year ago.

James himself came in halfway through the half hour class I teach on Wednesdays because he teaches the Advanced Wrestling class next on the schedule. Not one to be able to watch someone do anything wrong for any length of time, it took him all of 2 minutes watching before he asked me if he could give one of the groups that was having trouble a few pointers. His quick point to this individual was, "Don't grip the shoulder, hit the armpit with your wrist and allow your hand to catch quickly and then pull your elbow HARD down and in to your side".

The interesting thing is that both James and I were looking for the same result. Some students (like I used to do) pulled too much and didn't connect enough, others didn't pull at all and were too worried about connecting. It appears that no matter which way you first describe a technique, someone is going to need you to emphasize a different aspect as everyone's tendencies and experience levels are different. I have one student (not here tonight) who gets too attached to a specific description instead of realizing that often as an instructor you over emphasize generalizations in order to focus on the most important aspect. The challenge as a student is to be able to accept generalizations as 100% truths until the instructor adds the next piece. The challenge to the new instructor is to know which piece is most important at a given level.

When I first started teaching BJJ regularly one year ago, I thought the importance of each technique was all in the details. That, like in swimming, careful, exacting practice at the beginning stages would set the parameters for future successful performance. But after working with James and seeing the way most adults approach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I am beginning to think that it is more important to push for people to just try, try, try, as aggressively as possible and to fix after the fact. Maybe with children who are more likely to proceed with wanton abandon and no thought, slowing them down can be more successful (I'm not sure about that yet) but it seems with most adults, the biggest hang up is fear. Fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, or fear of injury. We need to be pushed to be more child-like in our approach, to just GO for it!

Of course there are always those who need to be treated differently. The child who needs to be pushed to be more aggressive or the adult who needs to be reigned in. But recognizing the differences in your students and adjusting your instructions to fit each individual is what great coaches are so successful at. I need to keep working on this. But I'm happy to be in a gym where no instructor is above learning from any other and all feel comfortable with someone else offering an alternative description or point when they are showing a particular technique. As I described above, a different explanation is not necessarily contradictory...but often the addition of another's point of view is complimentary.

I've seen coaches who don't like to be questioned, or don't like teaching when there are higher level belts on the mat. Schools that don't allow visitors at the rank or of higher rank than the head instructors for fear of being contradicted or shown up. But at our gym, you might find head instructors Ryan or Seph taking my wrestling class. Or someone like a visiting world champion caliber black belt, Murilo Santana sitting in on a regular class like any white or blue belt in the room. This is an environment I am proud of and very happy to be a part of.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Going to watch Ryan in his first Black Belt Division!

I woke up feeling a little better this morning, finally. Ryan got plenty of sleep, had breakfast, is in the shower and in a few minutes we will leave for the venue.

Can't wait to watch him fight today! Good luck to Ryan, Felipe, Michelle, Val and all our other black belt (and brown belt female) friends competing today!


p.s. Here is a photo from the guys training at the new Shoyoroll studio on Friday night. Just after this pic, it was packed with brown and black belts from everywhere.

And a pic of Son and Kenny playing on Vince's Street Fighter arcade game after training, lol!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Breathing is unfortunately necessary

Well, things didn't go my way yesterday. Although I am frustrated and disappointed, I shouldn't be all that surprised.

We went up to New Breed to train (not that I did any real training, it was mostly for Ryan) in the early afternoon before coming back to the hotel, showering and heading to the venue. At New Breed I almost had a panic attack when Ryan held me in side control at one point, I tapped because I couldn't breathe. He looked at me and said, "don't get on the bottom today or we'll have a problem". I tried to put it out of my head though and get serious.

At the venue I went to warm-up on my own, just jogged for 10 minutes. I normally start running faster towards the end of my warm-up jog, but I was having trouble breathing so instead I just stopped and went to look for Ryan to warm-up with some jiu-jitsu. Our jiu-jitsu warm-up didn't last more than 4-5 minutes because I started breathing really heavy right away and Ryan thought we should just skip warm-up since it was clear my lungs wouldn't hold up. But we weren't about to let it deter me from fighting. Although I know how my body handles this kind of sickness, I ignored my brain and decided I was going out there and going to win.

...And then the match started. I kept my head on straight trying to be careful and control my breathing, think positive thoughts. I was pretty successful with that. The only problem with that is, if you are spending every thought on making sure you can breathe, there's not a lot left to think about what you are supposed to be doing - jiu-jitsu. I felt like I was dying the whole time despite a couple breaks to fix my belt, I just couldn't get my lungs to relax. I remember at one point getting underneath for half guard and even though she wasn't very heavy, I almost tapped because I couldn't breathe. Somehow Ryan's voice managed to make it though telling me what to do and I tried to relax, shift her weight towards my hips and go for my sweep. I don't even remember if I was successful, because literally every thought was on trying to make sure that what should be an autonomic body function, was still happening. I remember looking up at the clock around the 5 minute mark convinced I would have to tap or die before the match was over. But I made it to the end, barely. I had an attack after the match was over, and spent the next 6 hours just struggling just to breathe.

Unfortunately, I still don't feel a lot better. I couldn't sleep last night because I kept coughing and coughing and coughing - until Ryan yelled at me because he needed to sleep and I finally discovered an old sticky cough drop in my toiletry bag. But I woke myself up only about 4-5 hours later coughing, I had run out of cold medicine. Now I have a full box of Dayquil and some Halls and it's about time to head back to the venue to watch some of our friends compete this afternoon. Lets go Jake and Michelle!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pan Ams...Day 1

On Tuesday after work, I started to feel like I might be coming down with something - not all that surprising since Michelle was sick on Thursday and Friday and only barely recovered on Saturday.

We had our last Pan Am practice on Wednesday morning before heading to the airport...well to Robeks for smoothies first, then to the airport. I rolled light with Michelle once or twice and with Ryan a couple times. I was beginning to feel worse though...not a good sign.

By last night after the flight I was having numerous coughing fits and feeling super miserable. A trip to the hot tub in the hotel helped a little, but really I need another week or two at least for my lungs to recover. (You do not want to know what's coming out of them right now, yuck.)

This morning it was only worse, but I hoped out of bed at 7am to shower, eat an awesome free breakfast at the hot buffet downstairs and head to the venue for the Blue Belts we had fighting. Ryan was on the other side coaching Kenny (ended up losing by adv) when Son's match was called so I went over to the other side to coach Son.

Ryan's been completely revamping Son's game the last few months and this was the first time he would have the opportunity to try out his new style at a big tournament. He looked really good, came up with a single leg (wasn't able to finish but getting it was a good step) but he got caught in an ezekial choke and ended up going out with 30 seconds left. I know he was bummed but I think we can expect good things from him in the future once he feels more comfortable with his new jiu-jitsu.

Quang was up next. Quang's been working really hard and improving a lot but he cut a lot of weight, barely ate or drank anything the last few days and on top that, this would be his first IBJJF tournament and we weren't sure how he would handle the pressure. Everyone was psyched when he made it to the finals! Quang ended up tapping to his own muscle cramps, as the days without enough food and water, and way too much pacing and not enough resting in between rounds caught up with him. But second place is not bad at all! Congrats, Quang! We look forward to an even better performance at the Worlds when he is better prepared for the environment.

Rich ended up losing in the second round to a tough competitor from Alliance. And the guys are at the gym right now helping/watching Andy fight the other big guys. (I'm hanging out at the hotel trying to rest up for tomorrow and see if I can kick at least a little of this illness. Stupid asthma always taking every cold immediately to my lungs. Stupid lungs.)

But I'm looking forward to my division at 4:40pm tomorrow. All the girls in it are super tough. I fight a really good Brazilian girl in the first round and if I win, would fight Melissa from Toronto who won the Mundial in my division last year. And I'm really curious to see how Samantha and Hillary will match up on the other side of the bracket in the semis. Can't wait!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Path to Michelle...

On our way into the gym on Saturday morning, coffee in hand, I asked Michelle if she knew what she wanted to teach to us ladies at the seminar, she nodded quickly and said, "spider guard". I just about jumped for joy right there because it's one of the aspects I've been admiring about her game for years. Last week, Ryan returned from his first training session with her and immediately informed me that I needed to copy her guard yesterday, lol!

No one at our gym uses spider guard, lots of different varieties of open guard and half guard but very little spidering is involved. Recently, I had been showing some techniques from that position to the women's class because I know it's a piece of the game they will at least need to be aware of, but I know so little about it. So I'm psyched that now, I know a little more. =)

Michelle is so quiet and unassuming that at first you might think she doesn't speak English, but mostly it's that she's just a little shy with new people. After warming up, she shares easily that in the past she has been intimidated going into fights against known tough competitors, although you'd never know it by watching her compete. She told me that this feeling affected her a lot more as a new purple belt when she had to compete in Purple/Brown/Black divisions in Brazil - but she overcame it well, winning the division as a purple belt at the 2004 Mundial before they split and created a separate division for purple belts the next year (which she also won)!

She had been training Capoiera for four years when her instructor moved out of town and suddenly Michelle was in a situation to be looking for a new martial art. This happened around the time she met a young (blue belt) Robert Drysdale and he convinced her to try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Ten years and multiple championship titles later, Michelle funds training full-time through sponsorships and with a stipend from the Brazilian government which she must reapply for each year and will only receive as long as she continues to place at the major tournaments - talk about motivation to succeed.

Michelle gently, quickly, and easily commanded the attention of the chattering bunch and was clear and concise in all movements and descriptions. She went through her A game series from the guard (sweeping and submitting) to passing and submitting from the top, making sure to give various options based on the different movements you may expect from an opponent. Michelle made it seem so effortless, although some of us struggled with the movements with which we were unfamiliar. Quick to correct or praise with an eye for detail on each woman's movements, she made sure we were all on track before moving to the next step. Then she invited each attendee to roll with her for three minutes before the seminar came to an end.

There is an undeniable, yet unclaimed and perhaps unrealized, toughness under Michelle's quick shy smile. Perhaps this is what makes her so endearing to those she comes into contact with. I don’t think a single woman left without feeling as though they had learned some new techniques, succeeded with at least a few of them, and were ready to go out and try it on the men in their academies at home.

One of the great thing about women only events is that there are no fake exteriors or bids for attention. It's all about the art and the desire to improve in it. There is an amazing camaraderie felt with the realization that we are all in it together - from Michelle down to the newest white belt.

As one woman pointed out this weekend, attending one of these events can be intimidating because it strips away the ability to blame a mistake on someone out-sizing or out-muscling you and forces you to come to grips with your strengths and weaknesses head on. This is the one aspect that many BJJ women are missing due to the male dominated environment in our sport. And these occasional women only events are one of the few venues outside of competition that we have to face ourselves. The only possible result can be a positive one in that it helps to raise the level of us all.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Ryan Hall Gets His BLACK BELT!

Felipe Costa promoted Ryan to black belt last night in a room full of 40 students attending his seminar and Ryan's family (yeah I'm sneaky - surprise to Ryan)!

The seminar was awesome! And it was so great to finally see Ryan achieve Black Belt. I am so so so proud of him, I almost did cry. Haha!

Ryan is really looking forward to being able to test out his new belt at the Pan Ams next week and is more psyched and ready to compete than he has been since the ADCC in September. Online I was surprised to read a few posts where people were wondering why you would promote him right before the Pan Ams. Why not?? Why hold yourself back when you can challenge yourself? That is not the Fifty/50 way.

Plus, it's the first time Felipe has been here since right after the Worlds last year. =)

Good luck, Ryan! We are all rooting for you! =)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Arte Suave

I have never been so happy to have my ass repeatedly handed to me on the mats. Michelle had been on a plane for over 24 hours (layovers in Chile, then Peru, then LA, then Phoenix) and she still managed to wipe my face on the mats. And it was...AWESOME!

We did 4 x 10 minute rounds, all but the first at competition speed (and I did one round with Ryan, while she rolled with Felipe). Twice during each round Seph yelled, "stand up", and each group had to stand up and restart on the feet no matter what their position was. Awesome Pan Am training!

I wish I had someone like her to roll with everyday. Most of the guys really just don't appreciate what it's like to not have an entire room full of people your size (or within 10, 20, or sometimes 30lbs of your size) to train with. But then again, when we have the opportunity to roll with women our size, it's phenomenal! We get super psyched for Jiu-Jitsu!

I guess that tells you how awesome Jiu-Jitsu must be because so many women stick through it despite rarely/never having great training partners in their own academy.

For the first time in all my 4.5 years of training, I was able to train hard with a woman my size who is significantly better than me (I rolled with Felicia Oh at camp, but she was being nice because it was during a private lesson, lol). It's amazing the realizations you can have about your movement and techniques when you know with 100% certainty that nothing your partner is doing while they crush you into a bloody pulp has anything to do with their size or strength - it's pure smooth technique. And one day, I hope to achieve this.