I've said it before, but what I love most about BJJ is the sense of community. It's a vibe that I've enjoyed during my trips to the US, the BJJ Globetrotter Camps and most especially the GrappleThons I've been to over the last few years. The way that people from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can come together for a good cause - sharing their time, money and effort to support something important - is beautiful to see. So when I read last week that Averi Clements was trying to organise an international event in memory of her friend Nichole Ossman, I wanted to help. She wrote a powerful piece for Jiu Jitsu Times, which I'll quote at length:
On Friday, October 7 (for those who have tournaments on Saturday) or Saturday, October 8 (for those who have work on Friday), I want the BJJ community to come together and Roll for Nichole. I want us all to have an open mat in her honor at our individual gyms. Invite other academies, invite people who have never done jiu-jitsu before, invite whoever you want. Take an hour or two to do the thing that— at least for a while— gave Ozzy happiness and a release from the things she was battling inside her mind.
But on whichever day you choose to do this, I want you all to sit down with your coach and teammates and take the opportunity to talk about mental illness. I want you to tell each other that you’re there for each other, and I want you to discuss the warning signs of suicide, which can be found here. I want you to discuss all kinds of options for help, including talk therapy and medication. By the time you leave that gym, I want every single person to know that mental illness is as serious as a physical injury or disease, and above all, I want you all to know that you’re not alone.
During all of this, I want you to create a memory with your teammates. Laugh together. Take pictures together. Post them on social media and use the hashtag #RollForNichole so that everyone inside and outside the jiu-jitsu community can see just how big our extended family is and how we support each other.
How you personalize this is up to you guys as individual gym families. I’d love for this to be an event to raise money for Ozzy’s family to help pay for funeral expenses, but if money is tight, I understand. All I want is for us to make it as convenient as possible for us to have an open conversation about this while helping to create some kind of a silver lining to the darkest cloud I’ve ever experienced, just as Ozzy tried to do for everyone else going through tough times.
I’ve seen the amazing things the jiu-jitsu community can do when we all come together. Now, we need to do so for each other for the sake of our teammates, ourselves, and the people who love us. We need to do everything in our power to make sure that no more friends or families ever go through what Ozzy’s loved ones are currently experiencing, and I think that by having a conversation about this, we can take the first step to preventing suicide in our own gyms.
So let’s do it. Let’s roll for a better future, for a stronger jiu-jitsu family, for a world in which mental illness is treated as a legitimate condition instead of something that should be swept under the rug and ignored. Let’s roll for ourselves, our teammates, and anyone else who has been at war with their own mind.
That's exactly what I did, along with many other clubs around the world (I've been reposting everything I see on the GrappleThon page, mainly from Averi's own indefatigable reposting of all the awesome #RollForNichole international support). We started off with a short open mat on Friday 8th October, from 18:00-18:30.
It was then time for the main event, our two hour Sunday open mat. I wasn't sure how many people would come down, as I'd only announced it a week earlier: as it turned out, the room was full. We had people head over from clubs around Bristol, as well as from further afield, like GrappleThon stalwart Piotr from Gloucester. There were lots of students from the local university too, which was cool to see. I hope this helped to raise awareness about mental health. :)
I was particularly impressed with Brendan. He had been along to watch us train earlier in the week, never have done any grappling before. Sunday was therefore the first time he'd ever got on the mats. After running through some basic escapes with me, he was happy to jump right in. He rolled with lots of the people there, picking up tips, until by the end he looked like he had much more training time under his belt than a mere two hours. Very cool! :D
The excellent turn-out for a short notice event makes me excited about the upcoming GrappleThon next year. I will therefore be getting my plans for that underway: we decided on a charity quite some time ago, just need to finalise dates. Keep an eye on the GrappleThon page, I should have more details soon. :)
Averi wrote a follow up piece on Jiu Jitsu Times, where she revealed that forty schools took part in the #RollForNichole, from Peru through to the UK. Amazing! Nichole's family also received over $1,000 in donations towards her funeral: if you'd like to help too, you can donate here.
Artemis BJJ (MYGYM Bristol), Open Mat, Bristol, UK - 09/10/2016
As ever with GrappleThons, my main focus was spreading the word on social media. However, I did get in a few good rolls, giving me a chance to work some more on my open guard. I continued to keep trying for that shin-on-shin sweep, where my main problem is still getting that arm. I was trying to switch to the alternative of grabbing the gi, but without much luck. I need to remember to try grabbing the belt too, as that tends to be easier than the arm or the gi.
On a similar note, I looked for Chiu's lapel guard variation, where he pulls that under their leg while also grabbing a collar. This is something he showed at the UK BJJ Globetrotter Camp in June. Rather than relying purely on the shin-on-shin lift, he adds in a sort of judo foot sweep style finish, pushing their ankle inwards. I've found it combines nicely with shin-on-shin stuff, so I'll keep on attempting it.
Underneath I practiced Chiu's side control escapes some more, where the main thing is getting that arm locked against your shin. I need to remember that if they are moving back to prevent you getting control of the arm, I should capitalise on the space and go to another escape. I'm not combining it well enough yet, but it's getting better I think. The best thing was the relaxed pace, making for a fun, technical roll. That's another great thing about GrappleThons, most people don't go nuts in terms of intensity (especially higher belts who have been to GrappleThons before).
Playing around with kimuras was entertaining too. I managed to avoid mangling my wrist this time (yay!). Knowing when to let go is key: getting a submission is nice, bending my wrist without pain is even nicer. ;)