Urban Kings, (Legacy BJJ), Jude Samuel, London, UK - 15/03/2014
I haven't had a whole Saturday morning and afternoon in London to myself for a good while, so I determined to make the most of it. I started off with an exhibition at the National Gallery that caught my eye (to ignore my babble about art and skip straight to training, click here), as it focused on the Northern Renaissance, specifically Germany. It wasn't as large as I had hoped - I had wrongly thought it would be some extensive examination, when it was in fact a tightly curated narrative - but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I especially liked the engraving of St Christopher by Albrecht Altdorfer, which I think is normally in the British Museum. I thought it looked surprisingly modern, almost like a piece of comic book art, rather than something from 16th century Germany.
The strength of Strange Beauty was the excellent audio guide and clearly defined structure. There was nothing haphazard about the arrangement of works around the rooms: they were all there to tell the story of how German art first entered the National Gallery collection. That meant not only did you get to see some of those early additions, you also got the full context, with comparative paintings put alongside. For example, when discussing the low reputation of German painting back in early 19th century Britain, there is the useful counterpoint of the kind of painting that was admired, exemplified by Raphael.
Much of the exhibition is made up of paintings from the National Gallery's own collection, but I still felt I got my money's worth due to the insights from the audio guide. I pretty much never go round an art gallery these days without one. Some audio guides fall down on a lack of coverage, picking out the odd painting but leaving most untouched, but this one was relatively broad. It also often went beyond the pieces with the specific audio guide marker on them, giving you orders like "now turn to the painting on the left".
The big names at Strange Beauty are Holbein, Cranach and Dürer, along with a few others you may have heard of too, like Altdorfer. It's not all paintings. they are bolstered by miniatures, medals and even original documents discussing the purchases of some of the works. A ticket will set you back £7, while that audio guide is another £3 (I think, as I paid a tenner, but that might be the £1 Gift Aid). Looking around at reviews of the show, a number of them complained about paying to see works that would normally be available for free. Personally, I don't begrudge the fee: that lack of entrance fee to the main collection is a wonderful privilege.
It took me around an hour and a half to explore the exhibition fully, though I go quite slowly. Head right down the bottom of the Sainsbury Wing: Strange Beauty is in the basement all the way down the stairs, down from the cloakroom and main ticket desk a few floors up. Remember to buy your ticket from that desk before you descend into the depths of the gallery.
Ever since Jude set up his new club, I have been meaning to pop down and check out the class. It has taken me so long to finally make the time that the club isn't really 'new': Legacy BJJ has moved location several times, with at least one person there who wasn't training when I last saw Jude but is now a purple belt. I guess five years is a pretty long time. ;)
The current home of Legacy BJJ is near Kings Cross Station at the swish Urban Kings gym. It's a classy venue, from the front desk through to the card-operated turnstiles, the extensive weight training facilities, boxing ring and a matted area. Even the bench by the lockers in the changing rooms is upholstered with plush padding all along its length. It therefore also isn't cheap, with a day rate of £20 (I've heard RGA is the same, but that's from quite a few years ago now). Bring a padlock with you for the locker: the showers have soap and shower gel in them, but you'll need your own towel.
I was mainly there because I wanted to catch up with Jude. He was one of my first instructors, along with Felipe, and he's also the guy who awarded me my blue belt back in 2008. Naturally I was hoping to get in some training as well, which on Saturday at Legacy BJJ is open mat. After the warm-up, Jude moved into a few drills, starting with the basic bullfighter pass, then a slightly more complex option. Interestingly, Jude split his demonstration between a technique for the advanced students then another for the beginners. For example, x-pass for the advanced student, for the beginner, just stand up in guard and push the leg down. This is something Ricardo da Silva also did when I was at Nova Forca: it's a sensible approach to mixed ability classes.
There was then some specific sparring from guard, with the person on top looking to pass and the person on the bottom trying to sweep or submit. My guard passing remains terrible, consisting mostly of stalling. I stayed on my toes, trying to keep my balance and looking for an opportunity. That means that it becomes a matter of waiting to be swept or submitted rather than initiating any kind of technique. It's a bad habit I still haven't shaken off, especially when I'm visiting another school.
Moving into the free sparring, I had the useful experience of getting beaten up by three higher level partners. First up was a brown belt, who proceeded to easily dismantle my guard, immediately passing. I'm not sure if it was a leg drag or a basic bullfighter pass, but either way my guard was completely useless. I'm being too passive as ever, so I should work more proactively to get some kind of grip with both my hands and feet. It happened three times, IIRC: on the third occasion I tried to get into what I hoped was the stronger position of Kev's sitting guard, but got passed exactly the same way.
The vast majority of my sparring time was spent in the running escape position. Both the brown belt and the purple belt I went with next treated it the same way Kev had warned in our last private: halfway to a leg-drag pass. I did manage to grab a sleeve and stiff arm, but couldn't convert that into some kind of escape. Their knee pressed firmly into my leg made making space difficult. I also attempted to hook the leg into the empty half Kev had demonstrated, but couldn't get any purchase. I was perhaps still too flat and not pushing off them to make some space, in the way Dónal advised back in his private on the same topic a while ago.
I swung my legs through a few times, though I can't remember who that was against, but not sufficiently to make any headway with guard recovery. I'd just bounce off their arm or side and end right back under side control in the running escape position. More commitment to the leg swing might help, along with making more space initially for the swing.
I ended up squashed under mount with the brown belt too, who gradually got tighter walking up into my armpits (I couldn't get my leg flat on the ground to attempt the heel drag: Saulo's escape where he bridges into their leg then pushes it to half guard could have been worth trying too), then switched to s-mount. I had expected him to drop back for the armbar, when I thought I might have a small chance to try and escape during the transition, but he simply pushed my arm outwards for an americana. It also makes me think I should be trying s-mount more myself, as I often have trouble finishing from mount.
Jude unsurprisingly made me feel like a white belt. He was taking it easy, waiting for me to do something, but I was unable to do a whole lot. Jude watched as I moved into a lasso spider guard, then totally failed to disrupt his base at all. I was trying to push into his non-lassoed arm to get him to stand-up, like Kev showed, but he didn't budge. Switching to the running escape at some later point, I was flopping around ineffectually as usual against higher belts. Jude gradually moved to take the back and then choked me, I think. So, our most recent roll probably wasn't much different to our last one back in 2009. ;)
Rolling finished with a purple belt who is also an MMA fighter. He stuck with a very relaxed pace and like Jude was waiting to see if I did anything. Again, much of the roll was spent with me in the running escape looking for an opening. It is always good to spar with people better than you, along with people at the same level and people who aren't as experienced. Given my current situation, most of my sparring partners are new, meaning it's especially useful visiting mature clubs like Jude's and Kev's.
I need to keep improving my woeful guard, creating better angles and being careful of grips (both in terms of breaking theirs and establishing my own). My passing still needs loads of work, where again angles might help: I tried sitting on the leg as per the Dónal private from a while back but my positioning was off. Pinning the legs with good grips would help too. Under mount, I'd like to incorporate that Saulo escape in there, as it looks like a good option when you've messed up and they've gotten high up into your armpits. Finally, back escapes and over-reliance on a stalling running escape. On the positive side of things, I was grabbing the sleeve, so taking my own advice of breaking down techniques into components, that's something I can hopefully build on. :)