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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

14 January 2008

Book Review - Angry White Pyjamas (Robert Twigger)

My time off recently has hopefully meant I should be recovered enough to get back to training soon. It also gave me the opportunity to rewatch a bunch of old UFCs, and find a copy of Angry White Pyjamas in a shop for £1.50, I couldn’t resist picking it up. It turned out to be an engaging read, so I whizzed through it over a Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

Angry White Pyjamas describes how the author, Robert Twigger, decided to pull himself out of his inertia while teaching in Japan by training in Yoshinkan aikido, eventually taking on the hardcore senshusei Riot Police training course. Mainly, that appears to be hardcore in the sense that boot camp is hardcore: you’re humiliated, beaten, forced through injuries and generally broken down in an attempt to build ‘spirit’.

Twigger speaks of ‘suppurating open wounds’ on his knees due to practicing endless suwari-waza (techniques from the knees), or special classes where you sat in seiza the entire lesson. Sounds very painful, but I was left with a sense that it had little to do with efficacy.

No doubt the course would be excellent for teaching you how to deal with pain, but less good on teaching you how to actually fight: for a start, I didn’t see any mention of sparring. Closest thing was jiyu waza, but that still sounded more like a drill than anything to do with ‘aliveness’ (and Twigger also spoke of what basically appeared to be the most impressive way to throw yourself).

Then again, my personal experience of aikido is miniscule, consisting of just a single lesson years ago which put me off for life: seemed very stiff and formal (though of course that was just one club, and a mere one lesson). A more serious quibble I have is with Twigger’s slapdash approach to research, at least in two areas, which makes me wonder about the accuracy of the book as a whole.

Firstly, there is his description of what he refers to as Gracie jujitsu (which presumably would have been the most common term at the time, given this was written back in the days of the early UFC). Twigger states that “the grandfather had visited Japan and learned basic grappling techniques more or less similar to judo techniques” (p254, 1999 paperback edition).

That is a bizarre misinterpretation of the actual story, in which a judoka, Mitsuyo Maeda, came to Brazil and taught Carlos Gracie as a favour to Carlos' diplomat father, Gastão (who had helped Maeda out with the Japanese colony he was trying to found). Admittedly the information on BJJ may have been limited in 1994, which appears to be the time of writing (judging by his mention of Kimo later), but there was plenty available by 1997 (when the first edition was published), and no excuses by 1999, when the paperback edition I read was released.

The second, even more glaring error came when Twigger spoke about the UFC. In reference to UFC III (where Royce won his infamous bout against Kimo, after which, according to Clyde Gentry and I think Kid Peligro, hypoglycemia prevented him from continuing in the tournament), Twigger writes that it was held in Tokyo. Again, a strange mistake to make (he was off by almost seven thousand miles, as UFC III was in fact held in Charlotte, North Carolina), and it made me wonder if he had a similarly flawed approach to research when it came to his other material (which being less familiar with, I wouldn’t know offhand if he’d made a mistake or not).

He also makes the typical “what about multiple attackers” and “ooo, but wouldn’t knives/glass/lava negate everything” arguments about grappling. Then again, in his defence, if he was writing this at the time of UFC, that wouldn’t be quite such a thoroughly dead horse (which in case you’re wondering, I discuss here).

Those couple of quibbles aside (along with his slightly irritating habit of insisting on using ‘piss’, ‘shit’ etc whenever possible), it’s an entertaining read, so I can recommend it. Especially if you’re only paying £1.50. ;)

While looking for responses on the net, I found what purports to be several of the people mentioned in the book (Mike Kimeda, Nic ‘Mad Dog’ Mills and Twigger’s flatmate Christopher Ross, who is now an author himself) writing up their own thoughts, here. Interesting.

Also, Twigger’s site mentions that he still teaches, and apparently even has a film script for Angry White Pyjamas (although it appears the site is currently down). Buy the book here (for the US, click here).


  1. Many thanks for writing about that book. It was one which i have been recomended constantly, but i dont think i shall be getting it now. If you want a good read about a great martial artist check out the reveiw i gave to Joko Ninomiyas book My journey in karate. The link is,

  2. I'd still recommend Angry White Pyjamas as a good read: I certainly found it entertaining, and the writer has an engaging style. That he apparently didn't properly research BJJ and the UFC (at least as far as I can tell: may have been mitigating factors I'm not aware of) before publication was a little irritating, but thats about the only real quibble I had (particularly as that was only a couple of pages out of the whole book).