Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Oli Geddes, Bristol, UK - 03/10/2011
Tonight was special, as it marks the one year anniversary of Gracie Barra Bristol. Back then, we were in the small building up the stairs, crammed into a small but comfortable room at the top. I first headed down at the end of October 2010, eager to try out the Roger Gracie team outpost in Bristol. Fortunately for me, plans for moving down here came to fruition, after my girlfriend bought a house just round the corner from Geeza's new academy.
As it was a special night, Geeza had two higher belts in attendance. Michael 'Big Mick' Wilson, a top black belt from Australia, was visiting after taking part in the ADCC. I think he used to train with Donal back Down Under, so is staying with him for a few days. Big Mick is also going to be teaching a class on Wednesday, though unfortunately I won't be able to make that as I have writing commitments. Still, will be cool to have him in class over the next few days.
The other higher belt was my first ever instructor of BJJ, half guard master Oli Geddes. I don't think there is anyone else in the UK who competes as much as Oli: if you want to enjoy his half guard goodness, he has videos of most of his fights on his blog and YouTube channel. I haven't been taught by Oli much since that intro class in October 2006 (again October, clearly a good month for BJJ beginnings), except for this class in 2008. Having experienced Oli's teaching when he was a blue and then a purple, tonight I got the chance to see brown belt Oli in action.
Like 2008, he again stuck with the strongest part of his game, half guard. That started off with maintaining half guard, which reminded me a bit of Indrek's version (which I taught a while ago). Like Indrek, Oli emphasised that you should be worrying more about the cross-face than the underhook. Therefore, block that cross-facing arm with both of your hands.
In terms of your legs, Oli feels that the inside leg is the most important: bring that over towards the outside, so that it is clamping down diagonally across their lower leg. You don't want to be too shallow. If they try to circle their leg out, hook your foot around their shin, but otherwise just keep pressuring down.
You outside leg doesn't necessarily need to be triangled over the inside leg. The main purpose of the outside leg is getting the knee either into their hip or higher up, towards their chest. Make sure you don't put it across their stomach, as then they can shove down on the knee and collapse your leg. That's the basic pass they're going to be looking for, so keep your knee firmly against the hip or chest.
From half guard, it is essential to secure an underhook. However, if you try to reach under their arm from far out, they can easily swim underneath and establish their own underhook. Therefore, you want to minimise the space. Come up on one elbow, still blocking their cross-face with the other hand. Sit up, bumping your free forearm into their chest. From there, you can then circle your arm around for the underhook. That's much less distance for your arm to travel. Finish by jamming your head close to their chest: if you leave any room, they can start to push on your skull, or even work for a cross-face.
You've got half guard, so it's time for a half guard sweep. Begin by switching your legs. Either do that in one motion, transferring your outside leg to the inside, or stamp the outside leg into their calf, sliding it into position. Your outside heel is then going to slip to their instep, hooking it backwards. Push your leg through, so that their instep is in the back of your knee, then lock their heel to the back of their hamstring. The idea is to force them to angle their knee inwards, which disrupts their base.
That whole motion is awkward, so it takes some getting used to, but there is a video of Oli teaching it. Next you want to stop them basing out with their free leg. Using your same side hand, grab the gi material by their knee. Slide your inside leg (the one which isn't clamping their heel to their hamstring) underneath their trapped leg, then come to your knees.
Reach further around their back to grip their side, then drive into them sideways. Pull with your knee grip, which should help knock them down. Keep hold of that as you move around, so they can't readjust to escape. Once they're on the floor, it should be a simple matter to backstep and transition into side control.
Handily, Oli's follow-up sweep combines nicely, as you can keep switching between these two sweeps depending on their reaction. The second sweep starts from the point where you've got to your knees and are trying to drive forward. However, they've somehow managed to drop their weight into you, preventing the sweep. That means there is lots of momentum driving into you, which also means you can use physics against them.
Drop back to the mat, roll underneath and thrust your knee-gripping arm upwards. As you've still got their heel clamped to their hamstring, you should be able to keep turning, until they are put onto their back. Come up on top, then continuing to push your knee-grip into the floor to trap their leg, move around into side control, or possible even mount.
I had more trouble with the final technique, Oli's infamous loop choke. Thankfully there is video of him teaching that too, although his shows it slightly differently. The way he taught it tonight was to start by gripping their collar, putting your knuckles into their clavicle. Pull them forwards, slipping that collar around their neck as you do, then also pushing on their head with your other hand.
Raise up the elbow of your collar-gripping hand, so that there is a window to insert your other hand. Pointing the fingers of that other hand up, to lock it in place. To finish, lift the elbow of the collar gripping hand while dropping the elbow of the other hand. It also helps if you can get your leg into the bicep of their same side arm, or even better over the top.
Oli mentioned that this choke is sufficiently versatile to function from various positions, such as butterfly guard, and also when they're trying to establish double underhooks on your legs to pass. I struggled to get my hands in the right place, so kept missing the correct choking point. I could occasionally get a sloppy choke into the windpipe, but not the proper blood choke. Good thing there is video. ;)
Normally, Monday is two classes, split into an hour each. Tonight, they merged into one, so after technique it was time for sparring. I started off with Kirsty, looking to play around with spider guard again. I made the mistake of giving up my back, for which I was very nearly punished: Kirsty was close to choking me out at several points. I defended using the crappy option of shifting my gi collar up onto my chin, which is not advisable as people can just dig that painfully into your face. Probably the only reason I didn't get choked was because Kirsty was being nice: she thought she'd kicked me in the head, so paused to check before restarting.
After that, I had a good technical roll with Tony, who like Kirsty is close to my size. I was messing about with wrapping the gi around various limbs without any real clue of what to do with them. Still, I did manage to get a sweep as a result, though I'm not sure how: something to do with wrapping it by his leg and grabbing a foot. I also got stuck under Tony's mount, which gave me an opportunity to try deep half.
That happened with Kirsty too, but both times I wasn't getting the right grips. I can get underneath and grab their leg with my legs, but I think my head position and hands are in the wrong place. It doesn't feel like I'm disrupting their base at all, so perhaps I need to kick my legs up to move their weight higher. My head should be lower. I haven't paid much attention to deep half, but as I'm finding myself there more regularly, it's time I gave it more thought.
Finished up with Chris, who is a tough blue belt, but I was able to keep him at bay with the usual spider guard lasso (mainly because he isn't sure how to pass it). I was using my other foot and knee to press against his shoulder, chest and hip. That meant I could keep slipping out of his attempts to press down to establish a passing position. However, I again was failing to do anything offensive with my spider guard, just holding him in place.
At the end of class, Geeza held another photoshoot to mark the occasion. Due to the large numbers of Gracie Barra Bristol members in attendance, the organisation for colour coordinating the pictures was almost as hard as the preceding two hours of training! ;)