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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 February 2008

14/02/2008 - BJJ (Beginners)

Class #119

Roger Gracie Academy (BJJ), Jude Samuel, London, UK - 14/02/2008Beginners

My flight from Sevilla got delayed, so although I'd been thinking about training last night, I arrived into the UK too late. I'll write up something about Spain later (it'll be the entry before this one, as I always fiddle the date in order to put it in the right place, so it doesn't always match the date I actually wrote it), but in short, I went to Jerez, Cádiz, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sevilla, drinking lots of sherry on the way. :D

Speaking of which, that diet of Pedro Ximénez and various combinations of cheese and meat probably wasn't too healthy, so yet again I wasn't feeling 100% tonight. Still, I wanted to at least make a beginner class: hopefully this isn't the start of a similar run of flu that ruined my January training. Does at least give me another kick up the arse to implement my eat-lots-of-soup plan to try and regain my apparently errant immune system.

The renovations at RGA are continuing apace. When I first noticed the building work some time ago, I thought they were replacing that room at the back with some mats, but I see instead that’s making space to move reception – its now in the entrance. The main mat area is being extended to where reception used to be. For a long time I had been under the impression that RGA might be moving premises, as that was mentioned in the changing rooms, but I'm told RGA is definitely staying put for a few more years. So, the extension of the mats makes a lot of sense, given the rapid growth rate in membership.

Another change is that the class schedule has finished. I don't think there are major shifts in time – chatting to Paxton, he mentioned that on Tuesday the advanced class is back to being 1.5hrs – but the one major difference is the no gi class. Or rather, major for me, as its now on Friday rather than Thursday, which means I won't be making many anymore. Will have to check the timetable to clarify.

Tonight's session focused on chokes from the guard. Jude started with the basic cross choke from guard. Feed one hand into their opposite collar, then slide your other hand underneath, gripping as deeply as you can. Twist your grip, pull them towards you whilst simultaneously raising up, then squeeze to finish the choke.

The two main things that I noted which I hadn't been doing enough before was pulling your opponent towards you once you have that first grip, then shifting your closed guard up their back and breaking their posture by bringing them forward with your knees.

A variation on the cross choke, if they've grabbed your gi with an arm, is to first grip the fabric by their wrist with your opposite arm. Bring your same side arm underneath, holding your other wrist (making a figure-four, as with kimuras, Americanas etc). Push up to release their grasp on your gi, then maintaining your own grip on their sleeve, pull that arm behind your head. At the same time, let go of the figure four and slide the same side arm underneath, until you can reach for the overhook on their arm. Drive right through with your same side hand and get a hold on their opposite lapel.

As their arm is under your armpit, you can't go for the usual cross choke, so instead Jude demonstrated three options. First, you can dig your thumb around the back of their gi and get it into their collar, then bring the arm to the same side as the overhook, sliding against their ear and trying to get under the chin. You can then secure the choke by pulling on both your grips.

Alternately to that grip, you could try to get your fingers in behind their collar and follow the same approach as above to complete the choke. Another option is to grab the back of their gi before bringing your arm around.

Jude then showed us some defences against the choke. Again, there were three variations. First, when they go for that initial grip, bring your opposite hand to your cheek before they can bring their other arm into play. You have to be careful, as there is an opportunity for them to push on your elbow and take your back. Second option is to block in the same way, but with your same side hand: this doesn't leave the elbow open. Assuming I haven't mixed those two up.

Finally, there was the option I'm most familiar with, as its what I've been using to block cross chokes. If they get both grips, bring your arms over the top of their and grab your own sleeves. At the same time, look up in order to prevent your opponent pressing into your neck. Bringing your elbows together and pressing down, while also sitting back on your heels and posturing up, will give your breathing space. Eventually, you should also be able to push their hands down your gi and break the grip.

I found that while I could hold off the choke, it became something of a stalemate. I need to remember to sit back on my heels and posture, as that should help facilitate breaking the grip: its good to have breathing space, but much better to completely remove their hold.

Sparring was initially very specific, in that we were just going for chokes or defending against them. I was with Amy again, and found that neither of us was able to secure a choke, as we could both defend successfully against the other. I'm sure that's partly because the drill was so specific and we both knew we didn't have to defend against anything else, but nevertheless, goes to show that the defence is effective.

Class ended with guard passage, where I was paired up with somebody I realised I'd encountered before on Facebook. I didn't recognise him until he mentioned his name was Brian, then made the connection with a guy who'd messaged me earlier about RGA – nice to meet him in person. On top, I was able to resist choke attempts and maintain my posture, but it was largely a stalemate. I eventually managed to slip my knee past when Brian loosened his guard (think he was going for a sweep, but not sure), but ended up in half guard. Eventually managed to free my other leg and go to side control, but found it fairly difficult: also, I don't think Brian was too familiar with the position, which obviously helps me pass.

Underneath, I went for an armbar a few times, as Brian seemed to be shifting his weight to one side and presenting me with his arm. However, as soon as I got into position, he was able to immediately get ready to escape, so I switched back to guard. I also tried the sit-up sweep a few times and switching to a kimura when that didn't work, but wasn't able to isolate his arm. I think there is a sweep which involves a kimura grip, but couldn't remember it. Also, Brian was able to keep his weight forward, so I had trouble setting up a sweep. When in that situation, I need to concentrate on shrimping out to make space for the sweep attempt and breaking their posture, rather than just clinging on to the arm.

Class finished up with a few people getting stripes, including Paxton, which was cool: he's been waiting for that third stripe for some time now. Jude then pulled a blue belt from inside his gi, and called my name, which was a bit of a surprise. On the one hand, it’s a proud moment for me, as this is what every white belt is waiting for. Its also particularly pleasing to get it from Jude, as he is the only black belt who has rolled with me, so presumably has the best understanding of my current level. On the other hand, that belt feels pretty heavy: I've still got a great deal I need to work on, especially my top game, and I now no longer have the protection of a white belt (not to mention I now can't attend the beginners classes). Sparring in the advanced class is probably about to become a whole lot more painful!

Then again, that does at least give me the chance to put into practice my oft-repeated assertion that training is about learning, not winning and losing, so all that matters is improving technique. We'll see how my ego handles being tapped by a white belt (and there are plenty of white belts at RGA I think are significantly better than I am). Hopefully I won't succumb to pride, as its something I've been determined to ignore ever since I started (not to mention I'm not magically better than yesterday just because my belt colour has changed), but I'm now in a situation where its finally going to be tested.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, my gf and I had our romantic meal a couple of days ago in Spain. I'm not quite forgetful enough to blithely train through Valentines Day: tend to do something during the week rather than the specific date. ;)


  1. Congrats Can.

    How come you can't carry on attending beginners? Our blues and above are still able to attend our Basic classes (class minus free-rolling - just technique, and specific sparring basically).

    I wouldn't worry about defending your belt already. White Belts do catch Blue Belts, it happens, I've caught a couple of Blues in our No Gi classes but I still get killed by our 2, 3 and 4 stripe whites so it levels me out ego-wise. There's going to be a lot of hungry whites looking to add you to their list but what you've got to look at (which you probably know as well as I do) is that you get guys who are going to do anything to submit you just because you have a blue belt on. All you need to do is be calm and control. I'm sure you'll be fine.

    Still fighting at Bristol on Saturday?

  2. Cheers, Rowan!

    "How come you can't carry on attending beginners?"

    At RGA, the beginners class is for white belts up to four stripes: blue belts are restricted to the advanced class, which is for white belts with their third stripe upwards (mostly its blues, but there have been a whole load of promotions recently, so I'm guessing the number of purples and browns is getting fairly respectable now).

    "I wouldn't worry about defending your belt already."

    Heh - I'm not so much worried about defending my belt (the ego challenge is interesting rather than worrying, from a psychological point of view) as complaining I can't be lazy and take it easy hiding in the beginners any more. :p

    But I agree with what you wrote there - all good points.

    "Still fighting at Bristol on Saturday? "

    Wasn't planning to do it before, and definitely no chance now. I had been considering the SENI in April, but I don't fancy that much either. Probably no competing for a fair while - I'm happy enough with Bullshido Throwdowns and class sparring to provide me with an indication of my level for now. Once that blue belt starts feeling more comfortable, I'll begin looking at competitions again. ;)

  3. Hey Can,
    I've read on the RGA site that you have been awarded your Blue belt. CONGRATS man!!!
    See you in class

  4. Oh I forgot to mention, make sure you train smart and select who you wish to spar with as there are some guys at RGA who have shit control...I mean really shit considering their Purples. But other then that just keep on doing what your doing and I'm sure you will be fine.

  5. Cheers, Tran!

    And yeah, I tend to be fairly selective when it comes to sparring: doesn't take long to work out who does and who doesn't have control.

    Your advice sounds spot on, and fits with my thinking. I'm planning to pretty much ignore my belt colour and just keep on focusing on technique, like before. Nothing has changed in what I want to work on, which at present remains escapes.

    Top game is still my biggest weakness, but my hope is that once I've developed a solid defence, I can build my offence on that foundation. That way, if I mess up, I'll have defensive skills to fall back on.

  6. Can,
    Now you will begin to feel like you have a bullseye painted on the back of your gi, as the white belts stalk you like a gazelle.

    I get beat up by everyone, regardless of belt, so I agree with Tran. Pick your partners carefully. If you are injured, you can't train. :)

  7. Cheers! Yeah, I remember that's what you said when you got yours, and I could sympathise at the Oxford TD. Don't get that sense so much from the advanced class, at least not yet: I guess I normally roll with blues anyway, but I'd like to think (hope?) that getting mauled by whites wouldn't bother me. After all, Grant does that every time I roll with him. ;)

    I guess you already felt comfortable with your blue once you went to Brazil? I could see that being an issue, as if I was going to a different class where nobody knew anything about me except the colour of my belt, I'd want to feel a lot more secure in the blue.

  8. I do feel comfortable with the belt now, yes. I think I had to enter a contest, and do ok, in order to feel like I really deserved it.

    Caleb and Dan, in their last episode talked about how you need to kind of hide your 'A' game and work on new stuff with the people you train with. I think that was a problem for me. I was a bit too predictable, too comfortable. Now I've got some crazy new things to try, and though I tap in class, I still catch some people sometimes.

    Starting out down here was a challenge. As they put you against good people of your belt color. They like to humble you.

    However, I rolled with black and brown belts today, so I am starting to really put some flair into my tapping. I've got different tapping styles now. The "one tap/slap" the rapid fire "staccato alegre alegre tap".

    Oh yeah, my game is evolving.
    (If this double posted, sorry, blogger is acting weird.)