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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a purple belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©2004-2016 Can Sönmez

14 January 2017

Lo Pagan, Spain, 5th-14th Jan 2017

I've been to Spain many times now, a country I've come to enjoy more and more. It has wonderful art (Goya being my favourite Spanish painter), gorgeous architecture (like the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcazar in Seville) and the weather fits well with the British winter. While it was -4 degrees Celsius in Bristol the morning I went to the airport, arriving into Murcia it was a temperate 16.

For me, that's perfect. Even better was the apartment where I'd be staying for ten days had an impressively well placed balcony. Due to the angle and height, it became a sun trap. That meant while I was sat on the balcony in my shorts, looking very summery, confused Spaniards were staring up, bundled in their winter coats. They probably thought I looked a right prat, but I didn't care: summer time! :D

The apartment was in a town a short distance from Murcia Airport, Lo Pagan. Be aware that the taxis appear to be rather expensive: we paid €25 for a 10-15 minute journey. He initially claimed it was no more than €20, then alleged our flat was further than he'd expected and tacked on the extra. That's to be expected with airport taxis though, they are almost always more expensive than normal.

If you're looking for WiFi (I'm always looking for WiFi), it's available at plenty of cafes, bars and hotels, such as Hotel Traina. On the waterfront, there is a large flag advertising free WiFi: that seems to work quite well. It also appears to be genuinely free, surprisingly, without even the usual sign-up page trying to harvest your email.

Lo Pagan is famous for its salt pools, filled with mineral rich mud. I had a brief paddle through the chilly waters, but the mud feels fantastic on your feet. There is also a large shallow lagoon, which would be perfect for swimming if it was slightly later in the year. As it was, the water was freezing cold. I went in anyway and forced myself (slowly) for a rather bracing swim.

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In my many trips to Spain, I have never gone as early as this in the year, meaning I had my first experience of the Spanish 'Fiesta de los Reyes' (Holiday of the Kings). I had not realised what a huge deal it was in Spain. Lo Pagan is a small place, but the parade was comparatively huge. It began with several cars lugging huge sound systems, preceded by an assortment of lavishly costumed figures. The first few were Disney characters, then what appeared to be the entire primary and secondary school intake of Lo Pagan performing choreographed dance routines to cheesy seasonal music.

Bringing up the rear were the kings themselves, each with their own continental flavour. First up was the Asian king, sat in a pagoda with a tiger. Next was Melchor (or Gazpar? Can't remember which is which), representing Europe, then finally Balthasar for Africa, who appeared to be in blackface, somewhat disturbingly. Each king was flanked by several women in leotards and sparkly tops, along with an assortment of large cardboard boxes. As floats ambled down the streets, the king and their attendants were reaching into those boxes and flinging sweets at the streets lined with children and their parents.

I was in the first row or two, so I got repeatedly hit in the face with some of those sweets. You also need to watch your footing, as the floor swarms with children scrabbling for bonbons, many of whom were carrying large bags to maximise later sugar-guzzling. It was an odd experience, to say the least. Still, as somebody who loves christmas, I like that in Spain it extends through to early January. ;)

Lo Pagan is very flat, meaning it's perfect for bikes. There are plenty of places to rent a bike for one or more days. I paid €12 for a day (10am through to 5:30pm), which was plenty of time to fit in everything I wanted to see. Cycling up around the salty lagoons is perfect if you want a slow, relaxed amble around some beautiful scenery. You can head all the way up, bu if you want a circular route, the way back is trickier. If your bike wheels are thick enough, you can return via the beach, but there are a few sections heavy with seaweed and/or thicker sand that make that tougher going. It is doable though, and cycling past the sea is cool. I've never cycled down a beach before, probably because I've never been on a bike with super thick tyres before.

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Should you wonder what those windmills (molinos) are doing, they were built in the early 1900s. Their role was to fill the salt marshes with water, according to the leaflet. It mentions two of these by name, Molino de Quintin and Molino de la Calcetera, though I don't know if that means there are only two of them. Either way, they certainly add to the scenery, putting me in mind of Dutch landscape painting. On the one hand that's random, as I don't see much similarlity between South European Spain and North European Netherlands, but then again, both Lo Pagan and Holland are flat and full of bikes.

This area is all part of a nature reserve, the Salinas de San Pedro, declared a national park in 1985. It's full of specially designed cycle routes, or you can also hike if you prefer. Along those routes are a range of different birds, from black-headed gulls to kentish plovers and avocets. The big draw are the flamingoes, normally white (IIRC my Attenborough documentaries correctly, the pink comes from the algae they eat elsewhere), but you do see pink ones during migrations.

As it is so calm and shallow, that also makes the area perfect for water sports. Or at least, my introduction to water sports. I'm not a big fan of the sea, but I like swimming pools and lakes, particularly when they are clean and flat like the Mar Menor. There's a large watersports centre a short walk from where we were staying, SeaWorld Pinatar, which was offering windsurfing lessons.

The centre has only been around since May 2016, so is still building up its profile. That's probably why we were able to get a 2 hour windsurfing lesson quite cheap, at only €30 each. After running through the terminology, our instructor (Fran, I'm guessing short for Francisco?) set us loose on the water.

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You want to make sure your back is always to the wind. When initially getting onto the board, there should be a little white wedge sticking up. That has a 70cm bit underneath that tells you when you're too close to the lakebed. Push the white thing down with your back foot (the one nearer the blue bit on the board that doesn't rise up), keeping your front foot (nearer the nose, which is white and tilts upwards) in line. Make sure your front foot doesn't go beyond the white line, or move out of line.

Bend at the knees to keep your balance, adusting your feet if necessary, but always returning to that in-line position. To lift up the sail, grab the elastic bright thing (I can't remember the name) and yank it upright. You're then going to grab the boom (the bar that circles all the way around the sail) with your hand nearest the nose, reaching across your body. Your other hand grabs the boom lower down on the same side, alternately pulling it in towards you and letting go (like opening and closing a door).

The hardest part was getting the board to turn around. You can either tack (turning behind you) or jibe (turning in front). I didn't quite get the technique for this, but managed to get something workable. I dropped the sail down a little and jerkily moved around the sail until I had my feet aligned the other way. It worked, but I don't think I was doing it right. I do know you're meant to keep your arms straight, though, that helped.

I'm not sure if I'll windsurf again, but I'm glad I tried it. If I ever try more watersports, this is the best place for me. When you fall off the board, you can easily land on your feet in the shallow waters, so I only rarely got a faceful of cold seawater. Good teaching by Fran too, I can recommend him if you're in the area. ;)

CARTAGENA

If you know your ancient history, then you might think the name Cartagena sounds a bit like Carthage. That's no accident, as the city can boast of a Carthaginian founder, Hasdrubal, back in the 3rd century BCE. It was later conquered by Scipio during the second Punic War, renamed New Carthage. There would be an Islamic period some further centuries down the line, part of the great Moorish history of Southern Spain, before Cartagena gained its current name.

Fortunately for posterity, much of that history has remained relatively intact. After arriving into Cartagena on the bus (it took us a little under an hour from Lo Pagan), the Punic Wall (Muralla Punica) is a short walk from the station. In there you can buy a combined ticket for €12 which gets you access to three sites run by Cartagena Puerto de Culturas: the Punic Wall, the Roman Theatre (Museo Teatro Romano) and the Roman Forum (Barrio Foro Molinete).

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All three of those have been beautifully presented, partly because they have only recently been pushed as tourist sights. The wall has a large, well appointed centre around it, so although the actual wall isn't all that extensive, there is loads of info about it. The introductory video is really good and packed with useful knowledge, unlike many others I've seen. You also get entry into a much later crypt, within the same building.

There was also a special treat perfectly calibrated for my tastes, as it heavily appealed to my nostalgia: a historical diorama made of Playmobil. This appears to be a city-wide project as it popped up elsewhere, too. At the Punic Wall centre, the Playmobil figures were re-enacting Hannibal crossing the Alps, along with a typical scene from ancient Cartagena, showing the wall in action.

Another short walk gets you to the Roman Forum, parts of which are still being uncovered and restored. Again, there is plenty of information to read with several interactive videos. The forum is split into three main sections, starting with the baths at the far left after you enter. The peristyle is in the middle, then finally the atrium building at the far right.

A raised walkway provides a view over the whole forum, then tucked away near the entrance is a set of stairs, matched by another slightly further down. These both lead into the forum itself, one to the baths, the other to the atrium. Once again, you're also treated to a Playmobil diorama, this time celebrating the nativity. Whoever made these (the label on the front reads 'SuresClick': I'm not sure if that's a person, a group or a company) has an entertaining sense of humour, as they dotted anachronistic figures throughout, turning it into a kind of Playmobil 'Where's Wally'.

The last option on our combined ticket was the best, rightly regarded as the highlight in Cartagena: the Roman Theatre. Not only is it magnificently preserved and restored, with a commanding view of the city, it also has an intriguing backstory. Up until the late 1980s, the theatre had been buried under successive centuries of urban sprawl. There were houses up the steps, then even a church built out of the side.

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For over a thousand years, it had been forgotten there was even a theatre here, until it was uncovered just a few decades ago. Since then, it has been transformed into an excellent giant museum piece. There is extensive information about the various stages the theatre has been through, its excavation, plus a number of artefacts retrieved by archaeologists (such as a fine set of vases depicting Juno/Hera, Jupiter/Zeus and I think Minerva/Athena).

It was especially cool to get all three of these sites initially to ourselves, as we got there early. It is also off-season at the moment, though as far as I'm aware, even in peak season Cartagena isn't a major tourist mecca when compared to the Costa del Sol. Hopefully it stays that way, but the attractions as so good I am sure numbers will continue to rise.

Our last stop in Cartagena was the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, which as it isn't run by that company does not feature on the combined ticket. It's only €3, though it is also quite small: if you want to get in free, go on a weekend. This is very much an educational museum, where almost all the content is geared towards teaching you just what underwater archaeology involves.

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Everything is one massive room, with the description of underwater archaeology taking up one side as you walk down a long ramp, then moving into descriptions of the ancient Punic, Greek and Phoenician civilisations that impacted Cartagena. That includes interactive videos describing naval terminology, trade routes, shipbuilding and the like, along with cross-sections of ships along the far wall.

You'll also learn how to tie knots (that Hercules Knot looks handy, I'll try that next time I have two bits of string to tie together), smell different trade goods (like vanilla, chocolate and cinnamon) and learn about amphora. I had wondered what the pointy section at the bottom was for, which the museum explains meant they could be stacked efficiently in a boat (with a lifesize example to demonstrate).

04 January 2017

04/01/2017 - Teaching | Closed Guard | Kneeling Break & Knee Slide

Teaching #617
Artemis BJJ (MYGYM Bristol), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 04/01/2017

First thing I wanted to cover was posture. Stay upright, with your head up. Curving your back slightly, arching it like a cat (so, convex rather than concave), can help too. Don't let them bend your arms: keep at least one of them stiff into their hip. It is important to control their hips, as they need to angle off to attack effectively (though there are other methods, like Christian Graugart's 'samurai sword' grip, where both arms are near the chest). Your other hand is ready to push them down if they attempt to raise their torso towards you, or more typically, gripping both collars and keeping their back on the mat.

Be aware that you don't want to extend that arm too far or they can break your posture: it's also likely that they will primarily be looking to dislodge your arm and gain control of it, so be ready to disengage and then quickly re-engage the grip. Having said that, there are numerous other ways of posturing up, so it's good to experiment.

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For a strong base, widen your knees, sitting on your heels. Alternatively, you could try squeezing your knees to their hips to stop them moving, but that will result in a less sturdy base. Make sure you do not put your elbows on the outside of their legs: keep them inside, or they can start kicking up into your armpit for triangles, armbars, flower sweeps etc.

A key detail is to come up on your toes. This will feel uncomfortable at first, but it provides you with much better base than having your insteps flat on the floor. With your toes up, you can resist their attempts to pull you around. It also enables you to drive forward and improves your mobility.

Another way they'll be looking to disrupt your base is to angle their hips away. To prevent that, you can simply follow them, making sure you keep squaring back up so they don't have that attacking angle anymore. You could also try caging their hips by squeezing your knees together, but that can result in a less stable base.

In order to attack, they are going to want to disrupt your base and break your posture down. The first way they'll probably do that is to establish a strong grip, on your sleeve and collar. You don't want that, so try to strip any grips before beginning your pass. Not to say that it's impossible to pass if they've got grips, but you'll find it easier if they don't.

If they grab your collar, you can use both of your hands to grab either side of that sleeve or wrist. Push it forcefully away from you, while simultaneously leaning back slightly. Another option is to put both your hands on their gripping arm, trapping it to their torso. Posture up forcefully to break the grip. Alternatively, you could try simply re-establishing your grips on their collar and hip over the top of their arms, meaning you can press your arms into theirs. That way, it's possible to use arm pressure to loosen their grips to the point they become less effective.

The basic method of opening from the knees starts by setting up your own grips, grabbing both collars with one hand, by their chest, your other hand by their hip. Dónal has a handy tip about twisting up those two collars, rolling them over each other so that there is no slack when you grip, though that may sometimes be tough to secure.

Also try to jam your palm or fist into their sternum to lock it in place. Regarding your hand on the hip, measure your gripping position by bringing your elbow back to their knee. Once your elbow gets to their knee, grab whatever trouser material is then under your hand, pressing your weight through that hand into the mat to try and pin their hips.

From there, get your knee underneath their butt cheek, meaning they are slightly raised up onto your leg. Your other knee slides out to the side, so you're now making a right angle with your two knees. Still keeping your back curved, slowly wriggle backwards, shifting your sideways knee back and continuing to wriggle until you can pop open their ankles. As soon as you do, immediately shove their leg to the mat with your elbow and/or hand, then begin your pass.

Saulo's version, as per that earlier picture, has the knee off to the side with the leg stretched out, using a sort of dip rather than relying on scooting back. As ever in jiu jitsu, there are numerous variations: you can reach your destination following a multitude of paths. Tonight, I went with the knee cut, starting from a low position rather than the standing start I normally go from.
_______
Teaching Notes: I should add that break as a drill, to get people more used to it. With the knee slide, I taught a very low one. I think it's best to pin with the leg first, in terms of the order. This also relates to what Neil Owen taught, in his sequence: I'll be teaching the rest of it too.

In sparring, when sweeping I also forget to nab the hand, probably because I don't like gripping sleeves. That means I need to get people at underhooking the arm. It was also great to spar with Tad, as it's been a long time. I tried to various grips, trying to be careful of my fingers, eventually getting caught in a triangle. I went for the triangle defence where you grab the knee and drive, which gave me enough space, but then got armbarred instead. Worth remembering about trailing arms. ;)

04/01/2017 - Teaching | Women's Class

Teaching #616
Artemis BJJ (MYGYM Bristol), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 04/01/2017

Today I had a play with some basic options for opening the closed guard, going with the classic kneeling break followed by the double stiff arm. I like the latter, but it takes a bit of finesse and can be tricky to get into position for that. The standard one is safer, but again that needs some finesse and is hard to master, particularly with them constantly off-balancing you.

I threw in the hip shift sweep, as that's quite fun. I don't often get it, but it's a cool tip I saw on a Henry Akins video a few years ago. Handy for surprising people who rely a lot on driving their knee into your tail bone. :)

03 January 2017

03/01/2017 - Open Mat | Open Guard | RDLR Sweep

Class #793
Artemis BJJ (MYGYM Bristol), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - -03/01/2017

Really good open mat today. I had a chance to work through the reverse de la Riva sweep I wanted to practice, with a view to potentially teaching that in a month or two. It's from the next issue of JJS and the reason I like it is the lack of sleeve grips. This sweep just needs collar and wrist, relying mainly on the legs rather than the arms. There is a whole sequence from here, which I will continue to play with at open mat. I got a video of it, so will embed that at some point later, probably when I come to teach it.

We also practiced the over-under pass, as it seemed to be a good fit for one of the students who has been looking to develop their passing game. I think I'm going to spend a lot of the next couple of months on passing, in order to build up to the next Neil Owen seminar. I intend to get through all the techniques he taught, so Neil can then build on that.

If I'm being selfish, what I'd really like is to get a good handle on that reverse de la Riva sequence, then ask him to add some pointers to that series of sweeps. His previous seminar was fantastic, but I may not be as successful with the stiff arm counter because that relies on a strong sleeve grip (then again, with a pistol grip that wouldn't be so bad on the fingers).