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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

18 August 2014

18/08/2014 - Congleton GrappleThon

A photo posted by @grapplethon on

The (long) weekend from Saturday 16th August through to Monday 18th is among the most memorable I've ever had. It started off by driving up to Buxton, fitting in a walk around the attractive Tittesworth Reservoir on the way. The refreshingly helpful sales assistant in the visitor centre shop (huge and open until 17:15) gave us perfect directions to The Roaches, another local beauty spot.

From the Tittesworth Reservoir visitor centre car park, turn right, then keep going until you get to The Three Horsehoes. Left as if you're going to Buxton, then when you see a sign shaped like a teapot, left again. Follow the round down and all the way around until you get to a house with a gate. You can park there and walk up. As you can see from the pic, it is well worth a walk.

[Note: to skip all this preamble and get straight to the jiu jitsu, click here]

We arrived at the home of our rather excellent host Nigel (via AirBnB) at about 8pm. In the first of what would be several confusing events for Nigel, I waved goodbye shortly before 11pm carrying my Brompton in my hand, because public transport between Buxton and Congleton is patchy at best and non-existent at night. I therefore decided to cycle the 16 miles of hilly terrain myself. In the dark. Fortunately my girlfriend has the common sense I lack, so insisted on driving me the first 8 miles, past the worst of the hills. The latter 8 miles was mostly downhill, making for a relatively pleasant cycle (though I was very glad my Brompton has beefy lights, as it was pitch black).

Next up was the Grapplethon, held over at the gym where Jodie Bear trains, Warrior Martial Arts in Congleton. I first met Jodie at the Bristol BJJ GrappleThon back in April: I think that's when she first said she was thinking of organising her own Grapplethon a few months down the line (might have been on Facebook). Either way, I immediately started planning how I'd make it up there, as Congleton is in the beautiful Peak District, a favourite UK destination for my girlfriend (especially as she is a huge fan of the 1995 Pride & Prejudice adaptation). We've been before, so I knew it would make for a good trip. Having a Grapplethon too would make it even better - my intention was to head off to Congleton when my girlfriend went to bed, then get back before she had breakfast.

I managed to do so, though it wasn't quite what I expected. There are normally trains from Congleton to Macclesfield and a bus from Macclesfield to Buxton, but I hadn't reckoned with the erratic nature of Sunday time tables. By the time I left the Grapplethon at 06:40 and got to Congleton Station, there was a bit of paper stuck on the wall saying it was all bus replacements. They only started at around 10am. I'd already been considering the 16 miles cycle: as the alternative was to wait several hours, I went for it.

That 16 miles of scenery is unsurprisingly much better when you're cycling in the daytime, with some spectacular views over the Peak District landscape. Of course, spectacular views often means hefty climbs to reach them. That was ok for the first six miles, but I was flagging by the time I got to the tenth mile. Fortunately, circumstances meant I didn't have the option of giving up, as my girlfriend was still in bed. I pushed on, literally at points, shoving the bike up the hills. I'm glad I did, meaning I could enjoy the total shock on the faces of three hardcore road-cyclists who I gave a cheerful 'Morning!' to as they passed me on my teeny little Brompton. After another mile or two of admittedly not very fun struggling up steep roads, there was then four miles downhill all the way back to Buxton. I went from travelling at 4mph to 30mph, eating up the distance quickly, in time for a (somewhat late) breakfast at 09:40.

I got roughly an hour nap during the Grapplethon, which is why I curled up in the car to catch up while my girlfriend looked round Haddon Hall (same place we went last time, though we didn't realise that until I bothered looking at the guidebook from the AirBnB, immediately recognising the picture as the same spot we snapped in 2011). At the end of the day, we had a fantastic meal at St Moritz in Buxton, easily among the best food I've eaten across three and bit decades of shoveling food into my mouth. The menu seems to be largely Italian: my girlfriend and I shared gnocchi genovese and farfalle gorgonzola, topped off by a calzone stuffed with chocolate and mascarpone. Yes, that it exactly as tasty as it sounds. :D

The next day probably involved the greatest amounts of pain, though the 24 miles total of cycling over the Saturday and Sunday certainly left me sore. Along with wanting to support Jodie's GrappleThon, the fact that she's a tattoo artist also inspired me to finally have a serious think about what I would like for my second tattoo. I got the first almost 15 years ago as a student and though I'd always wanted more, I could never come up with an idea I liked. I got planning after chatting to Jodie in April, then after a few messages back and forth in the months that followed, I knew what I was looking for. I was therefore excited to head to Jodie's Bear Skin Studios and make it a reality.

My previous tattoo is quite small and on the fleshy part of my arm, so the pain was negligible. This time, the tattoo was somewhere much more sensitive and a lot bigger, resulting in four hours of increasingly sharp pain. It was especially bad with the 3 pin needle, as that focuses the sting. The 7 pin and 9 pin needles spread it out a bit more, though it still hurts. I'm thrilled with the results: this tattoo manages to combine a whole boatload of meaning for me and it's also got scope for additions. You can kind of see what it currently looks like here.

Class #587
The Donna Louise Children's Hospice Trust Grapplethon (Warrior Martial Arts), Open Mat, Congleton, UK - 17/08/2014

In terms of the GrappleThon itself, this was the first time I was there as just a participant rather than the organiser. I had a target of staying for around six hours, though I probably only rolled for two of those at the very most, so it wasn't all that strenuous (and that two hours would include a good bit of drilling with Jodie too).

I started off rolling with Jodie, trying to play with the crucifix and turtle. That's because first I want to update my Mastering the Crucifix review with practical thoughts on the techniques, then secondly because I've had another turtle instructional sent to me for review. I focused on trapping the arm, having saved a bunch of the gifs to my phone (that seems to be the easiest way to use the instructional on your phone if you don't have an internet connection). Digging the knee in is effective and difficult for them to block, but scooping that arm out with your other leg is a lot harder. I'm not willing to use the 'mean' techniques like stomping on their arm with their heel, so I'll need to work out something more gentle. Baiting did work a few times, but that's got a limited efficacy window with the same person. ;)

Previously, I've been using the walk back from the Dave Jacobs seminar to get them onto their back, as I like the less acrobatic application. However, I wasn't having much success with it today, so went with the roll Kirtley teaches. That got me in position a few times, where I eventually managed to catch an arm, but mostly just lay there trying to maintain the position. Quite a number of times, Jodie was able to shrug me off by sitting up: I assume that indicates my weight distribution and pressure was off. Something to play with. Also, breaking their clasped hands when you're looking for a choke (I'm sure that's covered in Kirtley's instructional somewhere, I'll have a look through).

The side ride from that other instructional was good, especially the little tip about reaching inside their same side thigh to anchor yourself. That gives you good control but doesn't expose your elbow to being rolled in the usual way. I did find myself running around chasing them to stop escapes though, managing to get into side control a few times but not always. Again, probably a weight distribution issue.

My next bit of rolling was with a strong wrestler. I tried that flipping butterfly pass where you kick your legs up, which did get me over and into side control...but he immediately reversed me. I then spent the rest of the roll in the running escape, until eventually he got me into a crushing wrestling pin and harvested an arm. I should probably have at least tried the hip swing from the running escape, and I also totally forgot about the handy stuff Kev showed me in that private a while back, like 'empty half'. It will be good to get back to side control month: we've done a lot of guard at Artemis BJJ recently (which is helpful too, of course, as my guard is weak), with four months of it now.

I did some drilling with Jodie later, showing each other various techniques we use: she has a nice simple tweak on a bullfighter pass variation, where you just underhook a leg and push the other down, then go straight into the shoulder drop. Something like that. I'll have to ask her again next time I see her. All in all, amazing weekend I'll never forget (especially as Jodie has inked an indelible reminder onto my skin ;D). YAAAY!


  1. An excellent review. Sorry I missed you.

  2. Cheers Rachel: next time! :)

    There's another Grapplethon in Middlesbrough at Middlesbrough Fight Academy on the 15th November, though I'm not sure I'll make that one. My geography is terrible (especially as I used to live in Yarm, so should know this!), but that's vaguely near you, I think?