Visiting Lisbon (and the European Championhips!)

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This blog will see a collection of firsts: my first adult holiday, first trip to Lisbon, first IBJJF tournament, first European championship, first Gracie Barra competition camp, first competition at Blue Belt and the first month since my promotion at the Annual Gathering 2016. 

planeI started writing this blog on a plane at 35,000 feet on the way to Lisbon, heading to the 2017 IBJJF European Championships, excited for the coming competition and eager to spend time with the team and have a really great first adult holiday.

I flew with one of my team mates who was due to fight first thing on the Tuesday morning. After advice from the Captain, we expect to land just after 5pm in Lisbon when we’ll head to the hotel, check in, get some dinner and then relax for the night so that we’re fresh and ready for the last day of the Gracie Barra camp led by Victor Estima.

We stayed at Hotel Roma, as recommended by senior students who’d completed the trip before, and had dinner at their restaurant downstairs. We both had the chicken with seasonal potatoes and for dessert I found myself trying and falling in love with Pasteis de Nata.

Ultimately, they are a custard tart but they have a crunchy casing which makes them different from British custard tarts. They’re topped with powered sugar and cinnamon (it’s the cinnamon that makes them to die for). I would literally fly back to Lisbon for a week just to eat these again.

Due to my little bit of Portuguese learning I found myself talking more with the taxi drivers on trip as the team tried to get around Lisbon, at least until we started using Uber, and Monday was an interesting conversation / journey as we headed to Gracie Barra Lisbon, Professor Alex Machado’s school. Getting used to the passenger seat on the opposite side, as well as the car being on the opposite side, and the liberal interpretation of the phrase lane discipline made some interesting first few rides until we acclimatized. 

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completed-gb-campProfessor Victor taught a guard pass from the Anaconda Guard, and my training partner for the day was a Portuguese White Belt called Diogo from Lisbon. During the sparring section of the camp I sparred with two GB guys and one guest, three different belt levels and all gave me something different as part of the training. The first was a 4-stripe Blue Belt from Costa Mesa in California, a White Belt from Kazakhstan and a Purple Belt.

Then, of course, came the GB Team Photo which every seminar, class or training camp could not be complete with (organised by Victor Estima):

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Then came the IBJJF European Championships:

Rhys fought two very good fights and in my opinion was screwed out of the second win. I couldn’t understand why the refereeing was so inconsistent (at least to my eye) throughout the whole week, especially when it came to stoppages and medical attention) so whilst I’d heard the stories from other students and online about gringo decisions at IBJJF events and the like I never thought it was this bad.

The worst of the week was the clip that Flo Grappling made go viral of a White Belt being disqualified after illegal knocking his opponent unconscious with a slam from the closed guard. There was also another slam I saw later in the week involving two juvenile Blue Belts and the match was stopped and restarted. I sincerely hope a coach or a parent was involved in the decision making of allowing the athlete to compete after the slam. Ultimately he went on to submit the slammer but that’s not the point, what’s the point in having the rules if they’re only going to be liberally applied when it comes to the biggest competition in Europe?

Anyways: so halfway through his fight, he’s down on points, Rhys’ opponent signalled he was unable to continue because his ribs or his shoulder were injured. For me: this was a verbal tap. I don’t see provision in the rules for time outs because you’re hurt. He was then allowed to be treated by the medical team (not sure if they were doctors, paramedics, first aiders) and then the referee called them to the centre of the mat and restarted the fight. This changed the pace and rhythm of the fight not in the advantage of the fighter who was up on points and controlling the fight.

I also had the opportunity to meet and get pictures with Mackenzie Dern (Gracie Humaita) and Tayane Porfirio (Alliance). These girls put on a great semi-final in the Absolute class and I watched Tayane’s game intently against Mackenzie to get tips, and see the kind of game I play, performed by a much more proficient practitioner who is successful on the competition circuit. 

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In the warm up area ready to be called

Thursday – Fight Day!

So I arrived at the venue as early as I could because Melissa was fighting first in the day (with me, Zin and Laura to fight later in that sequence). I was full of nerves, and had been the past couple of days in the venue, but I knew that I was going to fight this day so I just focused on getting my head right. Being there early meant I was able to warm up properly well before my opponent arrived so I could just zone out and think about the fight and the game plan. Luckily I was called to fight around 40 minutes early so before I knew it I was handing over my ID card and getting my Gi checked before stepping on Mat 9.

I had been able to find some footage on my opponent before flying out so I was able to see what he liked to use in competition, as a white belt in 2016. I could see he favoured attacks from side control like the Americana and Kimura, managed to judo trip his opponents and had one strong judo throw so knowing I was going to give up size and mass to him I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to get a dominant position that I couldn’t recover from. You can see my match on Flo Grappling.com or read my play-by-play analysis below:

I discussed it with my team and then I made my mind up to guard pull. I hadn’t judged his proportions well enough so when I pulled for full guard I actually ended up in half guard (which wasn’t a disaster as I like to play from there). 

I went for the deep half guard, swimming my arm under his legs, to try and come underneath him for the sweep. He focuses on one side, and retrospectively I don’t think my legs were active enough to prevent the pass) so he gets past and into side control. He waits for the three points, which are awarded. I know I’m down points and I have to escape to come to the top if I want to win the match. I swim my arm underneath his body down to his hip and try to bridge up to create the space to come to the top or re-guard. It doesn’t work but he’s giving me a lot of pressure over my chest, face and shoulders. I’ve been here so many times before. This is a recipe for my go-to sweep from side control. I start it and see some moderate success but he’s heavy and I haven’t got the explositivity to finish it on a natural Ultra Heavyweight.

I position my legs to prevent an easy mount attack because coming back from 3 points down with three minutes left is possible but 7 points down would be unlikely against such a big and strong opponent. He continues to move around, and I follow him, making sure to stay tight and close to his body leaving no opportunities for him to attack the knee on belly or armbar. By this point he’s already been awarded an advantage (perhaps for an attempted submission I’ve defended) and a penalty for failing to advance his position (according to the hierarchy of positions). I attempt my elbow roll sweep again but again I haven’t got the power to lift him up sufficiently to roll him. He starts attacking a basic choke with his forearm over my throat but I’m not tapping to that. I know how to relieve the pressure with movement of my body.

There’s two minutes left now and I’m still down on points. I press my knee on his butt and try to push him above my head to clear the space so I can mount and escape or re-guard. It doesn’t work but I’m still pushing for the escapes, preventing choke attacks, and trying to find a way to get on top. He starts to roll me up for a kimura, looks at taking the back, but decides against it and goes back for the safe side control position where he’s controlled the last 3 plus minutes of the fight. I eventually regain a half guard but my arms aren’t in the right place and my legs need to adjust. For him, it’s easy to pass so I need to get myself sorted quickly. He attacks a choke and I use the opportunity to come to the top but here’s there first and I end up in the turtle guard.

Little over a minute before the fight is done and I’m hoping he goes to take my back so I can go for my back escapes and come on top, or at least enter into anaconda or X-Guard and attack a footlock. I see blood on the mat and I know there’s time left still to run. I don’t want to be disqualified from my first IBJJF competition because I couldn’t shave properly before the tournament. I hide my face so the referee doesn’t see the blood. (Afterwards, it wasn’t hardly anything but in that moment I saw more blood on the mat than I should have done). I end up in deep half guard again, more through luck than judgement, and I’ve got thirty seconds left to get a sweep and a pass to win the fight.

It doesn’t happen. He watches the clock run down as I try to get grips to help me sweep him. I lose the match by 3 points (from the guard pass), 2 advantages and he received 1 penalty. My first match at Blue Belt, and my last at Ultra Heavyweight, is done.

So, reflecting on the fight – I got my win conditions that I wanted to achieve. I knew I was unlikely to win Gold this time round but I wanted to achieve some things from the competition: I left the tournament uninjured (apart from a pre-existing issue that most competitors will carry in), I didn’t get submitted and I fought well keeping it a close fight where I was attacking the sweep and trying to fight to come to the top so I know I’m not out of my depth at one of the biggest stages out there for Blue Belts.

I want to thank my team and my coach, Bradley, for their support on the day. It meant a lot to me. Now it’s time for me to cut down and go and batter some heavyweights in the adult category. 😉

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Becoming a Jiu Jitsu competitor

This is just my opinion on starting competing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Feel free to add or share your thoughts at the bottom if your experience varies.

img_0302Stepping on to the competition mat for the first time can be a scary experience. At least it was for me. There’s no timeouts and you can’t pause if you start to cramp or need some water. For that first five minutes you and your opponent have each other’s undivided attention. The reason it can be scary is because white belts, no matter how experienced they are, aren’t yet fluent in the language of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Your movements are still blunt and obvious.

The competition waiver you sign doesn’t really protect you so it’s only you who can, and that’s what I find scary, that you can be controlled and dominated in the fight and not be able to stop it. That’s unfortunately the nature of the beast. Being afraid of what can happen can also be a good thing though because it can bring forward your desire to be dominant, and not get hurt, and impose your will on your opponent. Manage your emotions and set realistic expectations for what you want to achieve in the fight.

Most of the white belt fights I have seen usually focus at the start on gaining the right grips and then looking for a take-down or a pull to a guard position, usually full guard. I’ve always pulled guard in competition, bar my first fight when I knew no better and tried a double leg, because I wanted to fight by the maxim “Get on top, stay on top, win on top”.

Once you’ve pulled to the guard you have to attack the sweep or the submission and in that first minute of the fight you’ll be managing nerves, stress over completing your techniques, your breathing and your energy. It’s obvious that your breathing and your energy are the ones you need to manage first but often when you first fight they aren’t high on your priority order. You gas yourself out because you don’t want to be in inferior positions and you’ll do anything to avoid it, even if you don’t know how to escape it. The way to prepare for this is lots of cardio, HIIT training, and rounds at the gym sparring with everyone of all sizes, shapes, belts and games.  Everyone in the gym can teach you something about BJJ, learn from them, and make sure you go into the competition in the best shape you can.

Check YouTube for how to get disqualified in BJJ. You’ll see a bunch of clips with white belts getting slammed from the guard, which is illegal, or striking which will also get you disqualified. It’s crazy that some will enter a competition not knowing the rules and arguing the toss after using an illegal technique. Know the rules and how to win. You don’t have to submit everyone (even though everybody wants to) so understand how you can win by controlling your opponent in dominant positions.

But that’s the bad side of the competition mindset for me when you first start competing.

The good side is this:

  • You get to use your technique 100%. You shouldn’t really hurt your training partners at the gym, but in competition the onus is on them to protect themselves and if you have a submission locked in you have to finish it until either they or the referee stops you.
  • You can use all of the variations your instructor tells you not to use on your team-mates 😉 
  • Fighting in front of a large crowd of people, especially your team mates, is a great feeling. I’ve loved having coaches direct me in my fights. It’s a great feeling and whether you win or lose – you feel your team has your back. 
  • Having your hand raised, maybe even having an instructor there to coach you to victory, is a precious feeling. One I have yet to get used to.
  • Being called to the podium is another great sensation when you can stand above all other competitors and celebrate your victory is another reason I can’t get enough of competing.
  • If you’ve cut weight to compete you can finally have whatever fantastic treat meal you’ve desired is, and that’s a fantastic feeling.

I love going to a competition, with a new Gi, ready to fight and put it all on the line knowing I’m representing my instructor, my team and myself. I prepare the best I can, I fight the best I can, and at the end of the day I know my team will always support me – win or lose.

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My Goals for 2017

RD ProfileThis time last year I was seriously unhappy, massively unhealthy, unbelievably unfit and fat (as you’ll be able to see from the picture on the right with the purple background).  

So taking inspiration from Barney Stinson who says in How I met your mother: “When I am sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead” so I made a change and just got on with it. 

I set myself the following targets:

  • Get back to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Stop smoking
  • Lose weight
  • Read 12 books
  • Finish learning to drive

 

How did I do?

  • I stopped smoking and adjusted my nutrition and alcohol intake which meant I got healthy along with the cardio and HIIT exercises I was doing I reduced my walking weight from 24st 4lbs (kg) by 2st by April.
  • I returned to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in January and Gracie Barra Birmingham in April. I was awarded a third stripe in May and a fourth stripe in September before winning a Silver Medal in my first No Gi competition. I competed at the Nottingham Open and was awarded a Bronze medal. 
  • I was promoted to Blue Belt at the Gracie Barra Birmingham Annual Gathering on the 17th December by my teacher, Braulio Estima, which wasn’t a goal for 2016 but was certainly a goal I had aspired to achieve since 2007.
  • Rather than learning to drive I saved up and booked my first holiday to Lisbon for the European Championships in January 2017 and started saving for a second holiday to Rio de Janiero in 2017, but I will be learning to drive as soon as I come back from Rio, and I am looking very much forward to flying out and spending time there.
  • I still have a few books to read but instead I learnt to speak and write Brazilian Portuguese, which should come in handy for my trips to Portugal in January and Brazil in May.

What I look like now:


My BJJ goals for the year to come:

  1. Tijuca Tennis ClubMedal at three different competitions, including the British Open 2017.
  2. Medal at the British Open at Blue Belt (May 2017) and compete in the Absolute division.
  3. Compete at the Rio Open 2017, Brazil – May/June 2017, at the Barra de Tijuca Tennis Club.
  4. Compete in one No Gi competition.
  5. Learn to be a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Referee.