I was graduated to Blue Belt, Faixa Azul, by my professor, Braulio Estima, today in front of the Annual Gathering at Gracie Barra Birmingham in front of Professor Victor who was teaching and 19 Black Belts.
I am also so honoured, humbled and touched that my instructors and coaches thought highly enough of me to award me the Most Improved White Belt of 2016. I intend to take this training through with me as I explore Jiu-Jitsu at my new rank.
Here is my story so far: I started grappling back in in January 2007 with PFS Stafford under Chris Simpson whilst also learning a bit of Mixed Martial Arts stand up skills with the intention to compete in Amateur MMA. I moved to train under Carcara and his team in July in preparation for my first ever BJJ competition, in Bristol in August, organised by Pedro Bessa.
When the opportunity presented itself I moved specifically to Birmingham for University to continue my training with Gracie Barra. During my first stint with the team I got some stripes, won a Bronze medal at my next Bristol Open and then got injured playing Rugby for my University. When I came back I was re-injured off of a Russian arm-drag drill and this kept me out until after my Union’s elections.
I came back after the summer of 2008 but my training was inconsistent. I remember attending the GB Annual Gathering with Mauricio Gomes, Roger Gracie and Luciano Cristovam teaching but ultimately I fell out of coming to a Jiu-Jitsu regularly.
What ensued was a seven year break during which time my weight ballooned from 13st (pictured above) upto a high of 24st 4lbs (pictured right)! I lost confidence in myself (although you wouldn’t have guessed it!) and I suffered from depression, whether diagnosed or not, whereby my mind wouldn’t allow me to pick myself up and get out of the hole I was in.
I endured a period of intense workplace bullying, allowing too many negative influences to dictate my life, spending countless hours focusing on immaterial internal battles and struggles rather than looking outwards and facing the challenges on the mat with team-mates, friends and opponents improving myself and developing my Jiu-Jitsu.
Coming back to BJJ in 2016 I started off slow and steady, with Fighting Fit in Stafford who were offering a month’s free classes. I couldn’t fit in my gear at the time so I took a few free classes for a month or so to reorient myself with Jiu-Jitsu and the mats. I started losing weight so I could fit back into my gear to train properly again. Their apolitical BJJ group were really friendly and helpful to me coming back to Jiu-Jitsu for the long term. I knew I had to get back to GB Birmingham and I was always clear that my GB Birmingham was my home.
Before I paused my training in 2009 I had spent a number of hours suffering with Rob Stevens, who was a Purple belt at the time, whose favourite guard at the time kept giving me difficulties and so when I came back my initial training looked at how to play half guard. I played it with everyone and being less mobile meant my guard was passed a lot because I didn’t have the core muscles to be active with it. I was successful with top positions and enjoyed some moderate wins in training with the Americana and Kimura’s from side control.
In April I had lost enough weight and had sorted out my gear so I was able to return to Gracie Barra Birmingham. This is a picture of my first class back. You can see how badly my Gi and belt fits:
In the training between April and September I stayed consistent (probably the most consistent I’ve been at GB since I started training with them, at 8 full months) which led to being awarded a couple of stripes and being able to attend regular competition classes, which I feel has really brought my game on. Having a mix of white and upper belts to play competition Jiu-Jitsu with regularly identifies my weaknesses and my strengths – especially after the weeks of compliments about my top pressure in side control and pressure passing. I went through a plateau, was graduated from the fundamentals programme to advanced, and then in September I went to Liverpool to compete and entered my first ever No Gi competition and my third competition for the Gi.
Ultimately this competition was the first one I’d entered since 2008, a gap of over 8 years, and the competition was run by BJJ 24/7 with a base of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) rules with an EBI overtime twist to make sure that fights got finished by submission.
I was pleased for the results of my team mates, all five of us, who all won matches and brought back medals (especially those in new belt divisions for the first time) as Gracie Barra won the team competition, as shown on the right with Coach Bradley Hill celebrating with the team trophy.
I was pleased with my first performances back and I finished second in my division in the No Gi competition and came back with a Silver Medal after finishing my first opponent by Rear Naked Choke in Overtime. I also tried Acai for the first time and really enjoyed it! My Gi matches taught me some valuable lessons and I enjoyed competing against two team-mates from the same team (shout out to GB Trafford Quays). I brought heart to my matches because I wanted to escape bad positions, resist getting submitted, and attack the submission if I could.
Earlier in the year I’d picked out the Nottingham Open, as a competition of Professor Victor Estima, as the place I’d return to compete for the first time (but I’d got antsy in September and jumped in, in Liverpool). At the competition in November I only got one fight which I lost on points, 7-0 due to a mount and a guard pass spending the majority of the fight trying to sweep from half guard, and I came away with a Bronze Medal.
In conclusion; I can’t thank everyone I’ve ever trained with individually by name because the list would be too long, but I want you to know (if you’re reading this) that having had the opportunity to train with you as helped me achieve this milestone so I want to thank you for helping me to improve my Jiu-Jitsu, however I would like to single out a few people who’ve really supported me in my journey thus far:
- Professors Braulio Estima and Victor Estima. Anyone who’s ever trained with them or been taught by them know how good they are and I appreciate having such world class people, on my doorstep and, as my teachers.
- Professors Dave Iverson, Nathan Roberts, Stuart Gwilt, Bradley Hill, Rob Stevens, Rafael Pinheiro and Arari Carvalho for their regular teaching, coaching, and one to one tuition with me over the years.
- Matt Higginson: I think this promotion is due as much to your support, advice and coaching in training as it is my effort. Thanks for all your help!
- Sophie Newnes: Thanks for all your advice and technical expertise on takedowns. I’ve really enjoyed our rolls this year and I hope we continue to push each other through the ranks.
- Martin Jones: Trained with him since day one at PFS Stafford and I’m glad to see he got his Brown Belt today. Our training together really helps me see the path Jiu-Jitsu has for me to still discover.
See you all on the mats soon. OSS!