Thursday, 8 January 2009
Aside from hob nobbing with magazine editors and directors and chatting with world class grapplers, there was, believe it or not, a whole city in Amman to be explored if the fancy decided to take you and what better way than the local taxi. Or so I thought.
Limited in places to visit on such a short trip, but none the less keen to see at least some of the city I ordered a yellow cab at the concierge and in under a minute a taxi was there, driven by an effervescently friendly Mohammad. Complete with heavy leather jacket and bristling moustache a la Freddy Mercury, the ensemble was completed with aviator shades and, in customary style, hugs and kisses in the most manly of ways.
I had about an hour to kill before I went training and my host spoke good English which was helpful and I spoke of my wish just to be driven around and see some of the city in the day time, something I have done on many foregin trips in the past. Driving around a strange city taking in the sights and sounds and smells of the day is a real stress buster, just sit back and let the driver lead the way. The big yellow taxi cruised off and we were off downtown, windows down, with the local radio station on pumping out a mix of Western and Arabic music and all was well with the world until we hit the roundabouts.
If you ever think that the UK roads are wild oh how very very wrong you are - the most hair raising roundabout I have experienced was in Piraeus, Athens, when I was working the cruise ships and we had to get round to the other side of the docks, five of us in a Mr Bean style Mini, complete with luggage and an insane and psychotic driver - these roundabouts and driving styles come a oh so close second.
Rules of the roundabouts
1 - there are no rules!
2 - any code book previously read, throw out at once!
3 - hesitancy on entering a roundabout equates an early appointment with your Maker!
4 - a minimum of 12 horn blasts, 10 curses and much squealing of tyres is de rigeur at every roundabout!
5 - for full terror experience, make sure driver is texting on mobile phone at the same time!
Amman is littered with roundabouts and what promised to be a throw away lazy hour tuned into a ride with hands over the eyes every five minutes and constant checking of undergarments for any unannounced deliveries. Suffice to say I ended my taxi ride with flying honours in the under carriage department and as close to a nervous breakdown as was possible, much to the amusement of my taxi driver.
From that buttock clenching hour of mayhem and traffic lunacy, I made my way to the academy and continued another evening of jiu jitsu magic in the company of world class black belts and a damn fine job I was all clean below as I was wearing white gi pants!
Well by now you have pretty much got the idea of the kind of week that lay ahead in front of me and are full of sympathy and understanding at my precidament I found myself in the Middle East - truly an exhaustive week of wrestling with hard core decisions and choices, so to make life a little easier in between wrestling, I decided to find out who else was at the hotel for the competition.
First up, Mr Alexandre Esteves was sitting comfortably in the hotel lounge, enjoying a coffee, when his enjoyment was interupted by the arrival of my good self, as I made my introductions, one professional (cough cough) to another. To those who don't know Mr Esteves is the director of Brazilian based Tatame magazine, so I thought it prudent to indulge in spot of international media PR shenanigans and without further ado (and more wrestling) a rather enjoyable afternoon, with light refreshments, was spent discussing in depth media and grappling issues, too detailed and in depth to explain on a mere Blog like this, between two consumate professionals from two countries united in a common goal.
If that wasn't enough and unbeknownst to him as he exited the hotel lift and en route to the hotel lounge for solace and sustenance, Marccelo Dunlop's life (or whole week) was to change for the good, as he found himself in the company of another journalistic leviathan from the mean streets of Bolton. Mr Dunlop is the editor of the legendary Gracie magazine, the monthly bible for all BJJ and grappling men and women in the know. Marcelo was here for the week to soak up the hospitality and cover the event for the magazine and their website, to keep the Brazilian readers up to speed on the upcoming event at the weekend.
So there it was in the hotel lounge - a triangle of wordsmiths, united in the pursuit of all things photographic and from the pen and keyboard, brought from north and south of the equator to the Middle East to be present at one of the most expensive BJJ competitions to date in terms of prize money.
It don't get much better than this!
Saturday, 3 January 2009
Friday, 2 January 2009
Room 118 at the Grand Hyatt Amman was to be my new home for the next seven days and every day was filled with agonising choices; from the start I had the unenviable task of deciding which nice fluffy and comfortable double bed I was to sleep in each night and if that was bad enough, I was faced each morning with a choice of luxurious hot and steamy power shower, or a nice relaxing bath - a reporters life is a true test of a man's mettle!
Upon alighting from the lift to the lobby to take breakfast, choices are once again the name of the game as you enter the restaurant. Cereal or muesli? Orange or apple juice and then things go from bad to worse - fresh salmon fillets, smoked or unsmoked?
I never knew how draining a 5* star hotel would be and I'd not even finished my breakfast proper when I had my own chef asking me for fried or scrambled eggs to go with my sausages and bacon and everything else. Judith Chalmers has conveneintly failed to mention the choices one faces in these establishments, any wonder she looks like she does with such choices on offer?
Breakfast completed, it was back to my room to have a lie down and recoup some energy after all the choices faced - or so I thought. Tucked away on the first floor was a state of the art gymansium together with massage room, jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and swimming pool, all of which was on offer for a worn out reporter and again, back to choices which to use first??
With all these distractions on offer, I was wondering if I would able to muster up any energy to actually go and train and report on the event at the weekend, so I decided to test all the facilities and see how I felt afterwards and suprisingly enough I found enough energy to continue the day up to dinner time, where I headed back downstairs to, yes you guessed, more choices!
And so this cycle of events carried on throughout the afternoon and into the evening and after training and onto bedtime, where like something out of Groundhog Day, all the choices came back to me the next day and the day after that, yet somehow I managed to get through the days as best I could, mustering up some of the Great British Reserve and the old phrase 'When in Rome' also came in to help me in my week of need.
As you know, I was invited out at the behest of Zaid Mirza, a Cassio Werneck black belt and founder and Secretary of the BJJ Federation of Jordan, to cover the Capital Challenge International, a 2 day BJJ fest with the highest allocated prize money for a BJJ event to date.
Zaid's generosity was unlimited and after a day of relaxing it was time to head to the training academy and do some training. Black belts Tiago Alves and Adriano Silva were at the club and gracefully took the class through a few moves from the half guard position before rounding the night off with some rolling and after the first night at the club, I had made two new friends in Tiago and Adriano.
Team photos out of the way, I spent another hour or so rolling with black belts and getting my ass kicked big time and hanging out matside with Zaid and Carlos Santos head coach of the Emirates BJJ Team and President of the IPJJF. Watching black belts roll is a great way to spend an evening if your that way inclined, where you can see just what is needed at this belt level, always inspiring me to train harder and practice even more.
Training over with, we headed back to the hotel, where more Brazilian fighters were arriving for the weekends event and themselves enjoying the hotel's facilities and restaurants. Evening meal was a repeat of breakfast and dinner and after much agonising, fresh lobster was the meal of the night, no takeways this week,a week of healthy eating lay ahead and clean living for once, no beer for a whole week - sacrifices have to be made!
Soon enough it was time to head back to Room 118 and grapple with the power shower in my bathroom, by far the most powerful shower unit I have ever used, a good job I wasn't sunburned, you could have used the shower for shotblasting! First time I turned it on, I was nearly thrown into the bath, man this was a Bob Sapp in the shower world, a Lou Ferrigno in power showers that commanded the utmost respect when being used, one wrong move and you were toast!
So, after a choice filled day, swimming and jacuzzis, training and power showers all that remained was to decide which bed to jump into and switch on the telly to find a decent film before turning in for the night. Getting a good night's sleep was essential for the following days that lay ahead, to muster the energy needed to make really big choices through out the day in the hotel and leave enough energy to train.