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

08 November 2006

08/11/2006 - First Lesson of BJJ

Class #1
Roger Gracie Academy (BJJ), Felipe Souza, London, UK – 08/11/2006

Having been incapable of training since my intro class with Oli Geddes, there was no way I was going to miss tonight’s lesson. I even skipped ZSK earlier in the week to make sure the illness had a chance to lift. I was still feeling a bit sniffly this morning, and I could feel the vestiges of a fever as I slept on the way down to Marylebone, but seems ok at the moment.

I got to Westbourne Park far too early, as I’d been worried sod’s law would fuck me up by delaying the train down from Birmingham or something like that. Eventually got to the Academy itself at about 17:45, which gave me a chance to hear the children’s class. There weren’t seats available to actually watch it, so I went into my usual introvert mode of sitting quietly out of the way. I had thought Ben would be along again this session, but presumably he’s either come down with something or couldn’t make it this time round.

Class started with running round the mats. At various points, Felipe threw in some exercises, with one of the (presumably higher: I couldn’t tell) white belts calling out the numbers. 20 star jumps, 20 squats, 20 alternating arms and legs (sure that has a name, but can’t remember it), 20 lunges (as in pushing as far as possible with one leg bent, the other almost into a kneeling position), then a few exercises incorporated into running round the room (facing out sidesteps, facing in, knees up, heels to arse, sprints down one side of the room). The warm-up finished with breakfalls. In two lines, we went down the room over each shoulder, then from the back, and finally shrimping.

That meant it was time for the first technique, which turned out to be the same hip throw Oli had shown me in my introductory class. I was paired up with the only person in the whole class shorter than me (though I’m pretty weedy, so there probably wasn’t too much in it weight-wise), a woman called Dominique. She’d been doing this two months, along with her husband and two children, which was kinda cool – a BJJ family. The throw was next put into a ‘self-defence’ setting, which was a grab round the waist. This necessitated drawing the hips back and pushing the attacker away, then back into the hip throw.

Felipe followed up with work on the closed guard. Person A was on the bottom, holding the other in their guard. Person B stood up, holding onto both collars. Person A raised up their hips, squeezed their knees together and pulled on Person B’s ankles, aiming to push them over and get into mount (which I'll call the ankle grab sweep - see below for how Rowan Cunningham shows it). This then switched to the counter, which was to have Person B hold a strong base (legs apart, knees bent) pushing forward with their hips maintaining a firm grip on Person A’s collars, circling their arm’s behind to break Person A’s closed guard, then forcing themselves down onto Person A’s legs until they’re effectively sitting on them. Finally Person B pushed aside Person A’s legs to move into side mount (video here).

While doing this, I realised that I’d misinterpreted last week: people weren’t taking a break, they had simply come to the end of Felipe’s repetitions. He tended to tell us to repeat 10 times on the more basic move, then 5 when it got more complicated. I preferred to get as many tries as I could, but at the same time I wanted to chat to Dominique: I don’t know anyone at class yet except Ben, so will be good to try and socialise a bit. Always makes it more enjoyable if you feel a part of the group and get on with your training partners.

Specific sparring was next, which this time was to have Person A on the bottom and Person B in their closed guard, as with the drill. The objective was for Person A to pass the guard and Person B to sweep. This proved rather educational: I’ve rolled before, but its been brief and spread over three years. Importantly, I’ve never rolled in a gi before, which made for a lot of changes. I spent most of the roll struggling against collar chokes from Dominique, as well as trying to free my left arm, which was crushed against my chest due to Dominique grabbing the sleeve.

Dominique gave me some advice on trying to defend, suggesting that I attempt to push my forearm into her throat to make her uncomfortable, and also use my arms to try and break the choke: I had been trying to use them to pass the guard, at which I failed miserably. I think what I should have done is resisted less and simply accepted I was in a collar choke, rather than straining uselessly – would probably have been more productive to tap out sooner and try the guard pass/sweep again, as I was supposed to be doing. I’ll have to concentrate more tomorrow.

I noticed that my left shoulder didn’t enjoy the roll much, so hopefully that isn’t going to flare up again. I also ripped some skin off my big toe, but I’m fairly used to that from ZSK – will see how my toes are tomorrow. Also ground my right knee into the mat, which resulted in slight mat burn. Again, will have to watch that, but I imagine these are all things that will come with conditioning, not to mention the experience needed to stop trying to put muscle in so much. That’s especially ridiculous on my part, as I barely have any muscle – I need to focus on technique, as there is no way I can rely on strength.

Also provides a small sample of BJJ’s effectiveness. Dominique has been training for two months, is not a big person and hasn’t taken martial arts before now. However, she was able to pass my guard with ease and had no trouble incapacitating me with the collar chokes. An untrained person of roughly the same weight (with a significant discrepancy in strength and size, no doubt things are different) has little chance against even a fairly novice BJJer, going by that experience.

The one downside I noticed to class (I was already expecting the helpless frustration, which hopefully won’t become a problem, especially once I’ve been there a few months) was that the changing room was way too small for the amount of people training. You basically had to queue to get to your stuff, then had to wait again for the showers, of which there were only three. An unfortunate side-effect of popularity, but perhaps like Oli said, the classes might be split up into an additional intermediate level to try and reduce overcrowding. We shall see.

I should be training again tomorrow, and I’ve got a friend’s birthday party on the Saturday, so can make another session then. For the moment, I’ll be making Wednesday and Thursday and the odd Saturday: quite a few social things happening over the next few weekends, which should translate to a fair few Saturday sessions.

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