Saturday, November 26, 2011

BJJ in Littleton / Centennial, Colorado

I was in Denver and had the opportunity to train at Easton BJJ in Littleton.  Easton BJJ has six branches, which I was at a South Denver suburb branch.  This was my first time training at a larger school, but there was little difference except in their being a well organized curriculum.  My impressions:
  • Very welcoming to a drop in - it is a little intimidating/awkward showing up at a new school to train just for a night - they were very friendly and accommodating.  Thanks!
  • They required an instructor to watch you roll before attending class or sparring - meant to monitor the spazzes - safety measure. 
  • Floated/elevated springy mats were very nice.
  • They had separate Beginner (up to 3 stripe white belt), Intermediate (above 3 stripes), and Advanced classes, which seemed like it could make it easier for a beginner to start training to only spar with fellow noobs (or more spastic).
My biggest impression was the uncommon number of Over 40 folks.  I asked Head Instructor, Chris Stolzman, about the gentrified popularity of his school.  He noted that they had a well attended kids class and many of the older folks were parents.  Another instructor responded to my question on the percentage of aged students, "this intermediate class here is pretty typical, it has 2 of 10 people over 40, so 20%."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Roy Harris Interview on BJJ Over 40, DVD Review

Roy Harris has a great instructional DVD specifically targeted to the OMJJ's over 40 years old (Volume 3 of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: The Best of Roy Harris).  When I started BJJ, it was very difficult to keep at it.   Being very out of shape, I would get very winded. Gassing combined with little moves to use, I was like a big fat wrestling dummy for the youthful ones to beat on.  After class, all I could muster was laying down (and moaning).  The more practical techniques I learned, the easier BJJ became.  I wish that I had watched Master Harris's DVD sooner.  The apparent lack of information/technique geared to the older player is an original reason that I started this blog.  This DVD gives a great blueprint to start BJJ, regardless of age.  Even after you have a foundation, it still has many lessons to offer. 

One thing is totally apparent when you watch the DVD.  Roy Harris is a master teacher.  He really has a passion for educating and has the skills to be clear, concise, while covering a lot of information.  His voice sounds a bit like the Saturday Night Live skit, Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey.  However, this may not be so much of a laid back demeanor, but a method of teaching to make it easier to listen to his lesson.  I don't know.  I wish that I would have asked him.  Master Harris was kind enough to answer a few questions about the DVD and its targeted audience.

Roy Harris teaching a seminar in Norway, where he returns for another seminar on October 29-30, 2011, see Trondheim BJJ
Master Roy Harris is a Fourth Degree Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Professor Joe Moreira. He was one of the Dirty Dozen, the first 12 non-Brazilians to get their black belt in BJJ.  He has trained with the Who's-Who of the sport: Rorion Gracie, Royler Gracie, Rigan Machado, Jean Jacques Machado.  His BJJ school is the Harris Academy in San Diego, CA.  Master Harris has taught hundreds of seminars in 24 countries for companies, police and military, including special forces from Poland, Slovakia, US Marines and the US Navy Seals.  He even instructed the Anheuser-Busch "Bud Girls." Ay, chihuahua!

The DVD covers theory, i.e., protect yourself and make your opponent do all the work, and has a lot of practical positions and techniques.  He goes through basic concepts of fundamental movements and positions, before getting into techniques.  The detailed explanation of "fundamental" positions and movements goes beyond what you would see in class, although they are basic concepts.  He makes it easier to grasp by combining explanation, followed by demonstration, and then a powerpoint-style wrap up of why the moves are important.

One of the more "controversial" techniques is to grab your collar when mounted or in side control and wait for your uke to give some space and then sweep or recover to guard.  As Master Harris explains, "Basically you use this defensive position to get them to uncross their ankles. Pretty sneaky, huh?"  I have used this one especially when I gas out.  People rightly think it is stalling, but that is OK.

"Tell me more, Master"
I talked about stalling and why it was common in BJJ with Master Dave Trader (my Master where I train).  Dave explained, "BJJ has a history of very long or even no time limit matches.  So, the tolerance for stalling is much higher than in wrestling or judo which have short time limits.  Also, the focus on achieving dominant position requires you to not rush.  Rushing to achieve a sub or position can cause you to lose position and possibly the match or fight." Master Harris uses the defensive positions as a "wise man's" technique.  Why try to match the superior strength and endurance of a younger opponent?  It is a losing battle.  Let them do the work, get frustrated, screw up and then sweep or improve your position.

The most difficult thing that I have with using his approach is being pragmatic and defensive.  After realizing you gave up mount or an opponent has got your back, I am in panic mode.  I am not thinking, OK, get you defenses and wait for him to screw up.  I am not in the mode to think defensive, but that is more a symptom of my lack of maturity in the sport.  Hence, why I am a white belt.  Master Harris points out that defense prevents injury by reducing the number of times that you get tapped out.  In one example, an aged student went from 10-20 taps night to 10 a week.  As he states, "You like that word "survive", huh?" 

The technique portion of the DVD is also very good with some neat bemt armlock approaches (without movement), good submission escapes, etc.  He wraps up the DVD by showing sparring and "playing," a less than full speed sparring that focuses on trying techniques.  I sometimes can get out of the survival mode sparring and get into the "playing" mode with the upper belts, but that is also a level of maturity in BJJ that comes with experience.  he adds, "Its not about who taps who. The focus of training is to learn."

Here is the interview...
OMJJ: You explain in the dvd that these techniques are for the occasional BJJ practitioner that has a family, job, greatly needs to avoid injury, and wants to have fun with the sport.  Are these techniques not right for competition?
MASTER HARRIS: While some of the techniques and tactics can be used for competition, it must be remembered that competition isn't the only aspect for Jiu Jitsu. While there is the competition and self-defense aspect in Jiu Jitsu, there is also the playful, hobbyist's aspect. Each aspect requires a different mindset to be useful. 
It must also be remembered that there are a lot of Jiu Jitsu practitioners that are not interested in competition. While most of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that is taught in this country is competition oriented Jiu Jitsu, there are a lot more hobbyists now-a-days. This is the reason why I developed the Over 40 DVD! 
"Don't believe the lie that says,  'You're wussing out if you don't train hard.' That stupid mindset is for twenty year olds who have very few responsibilities in life!"
OMJJ: What advice do you have for the older BJJ noobs to get the most enjoyment out of the sport and keep at it?
MASTER HARRIS: Here's what I recommend: 
1. Not all instructors "get it." They do not understand your needs. So, shop around town until you find someone who gets it!
2. If you can't find an instructor within a reasonable driving distance, start a training club in your own garage. Take three to six months to find the right people.
Speaking of this, here's a funny story from my school:
A group of guys in the 40's and 50's decided to do what I had asked of them ("train on your own outside of the academy environment" - because that's where your progress will occur). They started their own training group in a couple of garages. Over the course of a few months, they trained in secret, not telling anyone what they were doing. They focused exclusively on escaping from the mount and side mount positions. 
Several months down the road, many of the young guns started to notice they could no longer hold down the old guys. Of course, the young guys started asking questions. The old guys told them they were training one day a week at this guy's house and one day a week at that guy's garage. Of course, the young guys wanted to cash in on this newly found resource. So, they asked the old guys if they could join them. The old guys said, "No." There's more to the story, but I am so happy that (a) the old guys got together on their own and trained outside of the academy environment, and (b) they said "No" to the young guns!
3. If you don't want to do either of the above, then you need to be vocal at your young gun training facility. You need to tell the other students, "My back is giving me problems today. So, don't go hard with me!" You also need to tell the spazzes at your academy "No" when they ask to roll with you. Speak up and let your wishes be known. Don't believe the lie that says, "You're wussing out if you don't train hard." That stupid mindset is for twenty year olds who have very few responsibilities in life!
OMJJ: At your school (Harris Academy in San Diego, CA), what percentage of white belts are over 40? 
MASTER HARRIS: The over 40 crowd represents around 5% of the students at the Harris Academy. Over the years, I've had guys in the middle to late 60's training with me. My oldest student was 73 years old. He trained with us for a year! 
OMJJ: Are there any different approaches that you take to help the Over 40 BJJ beginner get started in the sport (versus approaches for the younger student)?
MASTER HARRIS: For starters, a male who is over the age of 40, and just starting Jiu Jitsu, needs to understand that he is no longer a twenty year old. He needs to accept the fact that his body is "more mature" (which means it will take much longer to heal) and that he has responsibilities outside of the classroom. 
Second, he must focus on his priorities. Why is he there in the first place? He's there because he wants to get in shape and learn a bit of self-defense. So, focus on getting in shape and learning a bit of self-defense. In other words, turn a blind eye to the competition team. Forget about the fact that you used to be a decent wrestler. Forget the good ol' days of competition - how you long for them…..or how you'd like to see how you might do against one of the really good guys at the academy.
Third, have periodic talks with your instructor. Make him responsible for your safety. Place "some" responsibility upon his shoulders. Tell him your expectations and ask him if he is willing to meet you half way.
Speaking of talking with your students, here's a story from my past: 
Over the years, I've had all kinds of people come and train with me. Two gentlemen who came to train with me were surgeons. Each one pulled me aside and said, "Just so you know, I am a surgeon. I depend on my hands for my work. I need you to protect my hands during class. I am relying on you to help me accomplish this goal. Can you do that?" My response was, "Yes. I will help you accomplish this goal." 
Long story short, I watched them like a hawk. Any time they were about to begin sparring with a "spaz", I changed their partners. Other students wondered what I was doing, but my surgeon students knew. They were very appreciative! 
Thanks so very much, Master Harris.  It is going above and beyond to take the time to help us Over 40 Practitioners learn from your experience.  It is people like you that make this sport so great.  You can buy his 3 DVD set directly from Roy Harris or from other retailers.  It is also available as an iPhone App.  It is very OMJJ Approved!


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ex-soldiers in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

At our school, we have a few folks that served in the military.  Given that we are in the States, at least two I know where in Iraq.  One guy, was in his late thirties and in the infantry.  He never really said much about it, just that he was there.  After class, I saw him stretching and wincing.  I asked what the problem was and he said his sciatic nerve.  I asked, if it was from kicking the heavy bag.  He nonchalantly said that it was from Iraq, daily patrols with the weight from ill-fitted body armor, a rucksack and the other gear.  Herniated disks and other various maladies are what he contends with after moving on from that job.

That is such a real sacrifice to have made.  I can't imagine doing that work in my late thirties.  I whine about my physical degradations.  Hence, this blog, but I made choice to do the sports or was just born with clumsiness that has caused my few physical impairments.  These ex-soldiers were working, doing their job, got hurt (or worse) and sucked it up to live with the problems later in their lives.  Problems that they got from doing a job in public service. 

So, in respect and tribute to the servicemen and women on this Memorial Day weekend (oh yeah, its Labor Day weekend...uh, who cares, I always get them confused), OMJJ is thankful and gives this truly amazing fireworks salute.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Top Ten Signs That BJJ Is More Than Just A Hobby

Here are my Top Ten Signs That BJJ Is More Than Just A Hobby:

10. Your laundry area looks like an MMA store.

9. People at work don't bother asking why you have bruises on your face and limbs or have a slight limp.

8. Your wife gives you a curious look when you turn off a BJJ instructional video just before she enters the room (because the background music sounded like an adult entertainment video).

7. You watch BJJ instructional videos more than movies.

6. You get annoyed when people think BJJ is the same as karate/TKD or that you are "training UFC."

5. When you have time to lay in bed in the morning, you think about BJJ techniques instead of work.

4. You thank people for kicking your butt, as just having a good roll.

3. At times, you are more intimate with your ice bag than your wife.

2. You tell people about your BJJ blog.

1. You see the face of Jesus in a bruise on your arm and he tells you to improve your deep half guard.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Father Daughter Activity = Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Part 1 of 2

I was brought to BJJ by my 9 year old daughter.  I wanted to find a sport that we could both get involved in, both for the getting-in-shape and the something-to-do-together aspects.  We started with Tae Kwon Do after she attended a TKD presentation at school.  TKD had some benefits (exercise, memorization, discipline), which also created negatives (mindless following of directions, memorizing unrealistic "forms," less-than-intense physicality).  After a year, we quit.

I was then looking for another sport to try together with my daughter.  I sought Muay Thai, since she was half Thai, that would also give her the cultural aspect to learn.  However, I could not find a Thai instructor within driving distance. So, BJJ seemed to be a good idea to me, as I wrestled in yesteryear.

For my daughter, BJJ wasn't really her sweet spot,  She was a more girly girl type into fashion and drawing, but still liked boy stuff (shooter games, ziplining, roller coasters). Jiu Jitsu required focus and seriousness.  Two things she needed some work on.  These two things showed little improvement in the beginning.  However, she wanted to go to class half the time, since she made some friends with the son and daughter of Arturo Ayala, the Muay Thai instructor and a BJJ team mate.

I then had rotator cuff injury and elbow surgery that basically had me out of BJJ training for 6 months.  I took her inconsistently to class during that time.  After being lazy for another 3 months to get started again in BJJ, we both started taking class consistently at the beginning of this year.

I resolved at this time that I would not force and nag her to go to class, which was the case about half the time before the hiatus.  I told her that if she blew off class too much (like twice in a row), I would cancel her BJJ training.  She has actually not required a lot of coaxing since then.  I think that it is partly because she is getting older and she has friends in the class, but it is also definitely a component of the head instructor Michelle Welti.  She is amazingly patient and not everyone is that way with my daughter, who is a chatterbox.  She also looks up to Michelle, who is a successful BJJ competitor, but my daughter's admiration is more on the personal level.

Assistant instructor Andrew Babeu does a great job too, be her connection to Michelle has the "its a girl thing" component.  Andrew, I know sometimes you may roll like a girl, but you are just going to have to dig deeper into your inner girly to really connect with the girls on the team.

My daughter's liking the class has also helped me be consistent in going to class, as I had to justify any class skipages with more than just my easy-to-accept-an-excuse self.

I believe that we have also passed another milestone in BJJ with having done our first competitions.  After my getting a gold medal at the New York Open, my daughter was really excited.  She wore the medal around the house and told her friends at school.  She said that her one friend thought she was lying.  I asked why.  She said, "he's seen you're fat."  Rotten kids.

This weekend was the Copa Nova tournament in Ashburn, VA.  I had planned on competing, but started to get sick the night before.  It was really hard to get out of bed to go to the tournament, but she really wanted to compete, and her not making it would have really bummed her out.  She was very excited, a little scared.  All the emotions that I had before the NY Open.  This was something that we discussed and it was great to share in that experience with her.

I was surprised that she was so adamant on competing.  She never really took class very seriously and retained limited knowledge of technique.  Michelle and Andrew had to prep her for the tournament, by getting her to not make noises when she sparred (a family trait).  I first signed her up for only the Gi division, but she wanted to also be in No Gi.

Although she lost her 3 matches (they gave her 1 extra match for practice), she progressively improved her performance. She got a bronze in the No Gi.  That made her happy and proud.  She was very disappointed that she lost.  The next day, she was in a great mood.  The roller coaster ride of emotions that competition brings on is apparently the same, young or old.

Will this experience at competition drive her to take BJJ more seriously?  I hope so.  That's why this is a two part blog.  Once I know that answer, I will write Part 2.  Whatever the answer is, BJJ has been a great experience for both of us.  Who would have ever thought a sport that is typically relegated to the domain of sweaty dudes wrestling would be a good fit for a Father Daughter activity?