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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

19 April 2010

19/04/2010 - First Class at Gracie Barra Birmingham - BJJ (Advanced)

Class #305
Gracie Barra Birmingham, (BJJ), Bruno Alves, Birmingham, UK - 19/04/2010

Before I go through the "changing school" thing, I just wanted to mention a new site that has popped up on a few forums, called BJJ Questions. It uses the StackExchange format, meaning that you can ask questions, then both comment and vote on the answers. The idea is that you can go there to solve, ask and comment upon questions with a definite answer: for example, "where can I train BJJ in London?", rather than some more subjective, like "what is your favourite gi?" Its a good idea, but its needs a large, informed user base to function properly. Hence why I'm linking it here, in the hope people will go check it out and get involved.

The move and job have gone ok so far, but of course it's only been a few days. I should note here that I haven't bothered getting the internet at home, as I'm going to be much busier now, so will be spending a lot less time online (probably healthy!). It has been a while since I've lived on my own, and I'm definitely missing my girlfriend. Hopefully she'll be able to find something in the area soon. If not, weekends are going to be very girlfriend-visiting dominated. ;)

Since January 2009, I have trained at five clubs, so I'm hoping that number six is going to be a bit longer term (as I've just signed up for the minimum twelve month contract, that would be financially convenient too!). I've been to the venue before, for throwdowns, but this is the first time I've seen the renovated downstairs gym. There are several programmes on offer, ranging from the £40 fundamentals (which is compulsory if you're new) through to the £90 unlimited (which appears to be the same as RGA, except that you also get to use the weights room, I think). As I need to make sure I've got time to work on my writing commitments, I went for the £60 standard, which allows two classes a week.

Unfortunately you have to sign up to a twelve month minimum contract, but then that is fairly normal in BJJ (Kev doesn't ask for it, but then his main job is working as a fireman rather than running a BJJ school). I would hope that I won't have any reason to leave the vicinity of Birmingham, but given the way the last year has been and the economy, it is a little worrying making that commitment. Still, worst thing that happens is I lose a bit of cash if I have to leave before twelve months: the trade-off in excellent training should be well worth it.

You also have to use the lockers in the changing room, as you aren't allowed to leave bags at the side. They sell padlocks at the counter, but you could also bring your own. I would suggest you don’t bring an enormous bag, as while the lockers are relatively big, there is a limit. I managed to fit in my backpack (which had a load of clothes and work stuff in it), my coat and my boots.

There are showers too, though I haven't tried those yet – I decided to shower at home, because I was getting a lift. However, as my shower is a bit pants, I'd rather use the ones at GB Brum. Just means I need to remember to bring my towel and shower gel.

GB Brum includes belt whippings as part of the promotion process (if you aren't already clear on my views regarding that particular tradition, I wrote an article about belt whipping a while ago). Alex, who kindly gave me a lift tonight (he posts on the EFN, so I sent him a PM), was on the receiving end after getting his blue during the beginners class. It is even meaner than the version at Nova Forca, as the newly promoted person has to stand in the same place while everybody takes a turn at smacking them on the back. At Nova Forca and other schools, there was the slightly mitigating factor of being able to run past. Here, everybody gets to take their time, carefully picking their shot.

The instructor tonight was Bruno (not sure of his last name, so if anyone reading this knows, stick up a comment), although this will probably be the last time I see him, as he's off to help Victor at Gracie Barra Mansfield. So, this may not be typical of GB Brum classes, but the warm-up was much, much longer than at RGA Wycombe. It had more in common with the marathon warm-ups at Nova Forca, although much of it was running around the room, with the usual side-step, knees up, heels up etc variations.

The class is an hour and a half, so there was still time for a few techniques and then sparring. No specific sparring, but if I want that, I can always go to a basics class. Having said that, my membership only extends to two classes a week, and it is a bit of trek from Leamington on the train, I'll probably stick to the longer advanced classes on Monday, Wednesday or Saturday (Tuesday is nogi, while Thursday finishes too late). Then again, I could do a double on Monday, if I know I'll be busy the rest of the week (like if my girlfriend comes up to visit on a Tuesday for a few days). One of the advantages of a big club is the broad schedule.

After the warm-up, Bruno went through two options, both from the back. The opening choke from the back started just after you've passed their guard. If you pass, shoving their legs to one side, Bruno emphasised the importance of keeping your weight on them, driving through your hips. It is possible they may try to turn, leaving their back exposed.

To take advantage, slip your far foot under their body, in front of their leg, ready to establish a hook later on. Reach over to the opposite collar with your same side hand: if you try to grip on the same side collar as your hook, they'll be able to complete their escape, leaving you with nothing. Instead, your near side hand is going to stay around their ribs.

You can now roll them towards the near side, kicking up your free leg. This should roll them on top of you, so that they're facing the ceiling, meaning you can now put in both hooks with your feet. Keep on rolling, until they are facing towards a wall. Finish the choke by reaching under their arm with your free hand, threading it behind their head. You can now push with that, while pulling on that collar you're still gripping, which should result in a choke.

The second technique was also from their back, but this time, you're attacking the turtle position. You have one knee close to their side, the other leg out for base. Your weight is on them, to prevent them from rolling out into guard or some other escape. To being the attack, reach for their near side wrist with your same side hand. You'll use your other hand to maintain pressure on their hip.

I got a bit confused at this point, but if I remember correctly, you're then going step your near leg through to their head. Next, step all the way past their head with your other leg, swivelling so that the knee is pressed against their other side. You still have control of their arm due to that grip on the wrist: you're now going to use that to pull their arm up.

As you've swivelled, you should be in position for an armbar, with one leg over their head, the other pressed into their back. Keep that knee tight to stop them escaping, then drop back into an armbar.

Sparring started with Alex, who had little trouble controlling me. I played around with open guard for a while, trying to use my legs to keep him at bay, but he was able to drive his hips forward, keeping me under pressure until he eventually passed. That set the trend for the rest of lesson, which was back into my old pattern of defending side control until eventually getting caught in a choke or an armbar.

Same thing happened with a white belt, who was a little bigger than me, but I was being way too passive under side control. There appears to be a more aggressive style of sparring at GB Brum, although that could just be because my pool of rolling partners has been relatively limited up until now (either Howard or Callum, both technical blues, or relatively new white belts). As I'm not training doubles, that means I can push myself a little harder in sparring, rather than being lazy and conserving energy for the next lesson.

Last roll was with Christian, who posts as gawkrodger on EFN (Alex is on there too: it's always cool to meet people off the forums and/or bloggers). Again I was getting stuck under side control, and again found myself trying something I think I saw in Saulo's book, about getting into a 'survival' position. Having that knee and foot right over the other leg does feel safe to a certain degree, but not if you stay there too long, as I tend to do.

So, this is a good opportunity for me firstly to really think about how people are setting up their armbars and chokes from side control (I was pleased I could at least escape a baseball bat choke, as I often get caught with those). Secondly, and more importantly, I can work on being more proactive from under side control. Alternatively, I could try the much less likely option of getting to a top position when we start from the knees, which would lead to an opportunity for practicing guard passing.

Should be training again on Wednesday, where I'll have a chance to see what the train journey is like to GB Brum from Leamington, and how that will fit into my sleeping pattern for work (I got up at 06:50 on Tuesday, which should fit ok with a train getting back a little before 22:00, as I live round the corner from the station).


  1. Bruno = Bruno Alves

    Black Belt under Ze Radiola (unsurprisingly!)

    Closed out Mundial (or was it Pan-Ams?) Brown belt division last year with Kayron Gracie. Is going over to the States for the Mundials this year so good luck to him!

    Warm-ups and class session differ with who's taking the lesson - I'm sure you'll soon discover this!

    Always good to have more of us small blues!

  2. Cheers! I get a little obsessive about my blog labels, so good to have the right name.

    Should see you tomorrow, if you train on Wednesdays. Definitely good to have at least one person there around my size. :)

  3. Awesome, sounds like you've fitted in perfectly well at GB Brum. I remember it as a very friendly and welcoming place when I visited for Otavio's seminar.