Monday, 12 October 2009

A day at Carlsons London!

As many of you know over the years, I have adopted the philosophy of ‘have gi, will travel’, which has seen me hit the mats in BJJ and MMA academies all over the world. Over the last couple of years, I haven’t been on the road as much as I would like, but now I am back in a position to do what I do best – pack up my gi and haul ass!

I have known Simon Hayes and Dickie Martin from Carlsons for many years, seeing each other at BJJ tournaments and chatting away on the forums and every time I see them, they always tell me to come down and train at their gym. This is an offer that one simply cannot refuse and one I have been meaning to honour since the very first invite was offered, yet circumstances never appeared to be in my favour for a visit due either to my work commitments or with Simon’s, whose trade as a sound recordist takes him all over the world.

Thankfully, the invite was honoured last week, as I made the long journey down to Hammersmith to the academy to join in no less than three training sessions with the Carlson guys – it’s been a long time coming so time to take full advantage of the offer.

The day started by meeting Simon at the club and as I entered the Boiler Room (MkII) at the bottom of the stairs, Simon proudly showed me the many photos adorning the walls, photos of Simon and other academy members stood with some of the world’s best BJJ instructors and feared competitors. Pride of place, of course, was a large photograph of Carlson Gracie himself, keeping a watchful eye over the club as people trained, sweated and at times bled, as they pursued their individual goals and dreams.

Dickie Martin was also present and after a quick change into our gi’s, Simon started the dinner time beginners class; after a long drive down, this was great place to start to get the blood flowing through my veins and the class started with breakfalls, shrimping and guard replacement drills, before moving onto a small slice of self defence, which was mainly to help improve balance and co ordination. From a bear hug, the defence was to push the hips out and perform an O Goshi throw, landing the partner on the mats, following up with knee on belly and finishing off with an arm bar, all good fun.

The main part of the class dealt with a standing guard pass and covered a number of variations and the last technique covered the far arm bar from side control; although a beginners class, there were a number of coloured belts on the mats and my good self, together with white belts sharing the mat space. I am a firm believer in training the basics in every class and Simon went into great detail on every technique and on every drill and I picked up a number of tips and finer details over the duration of the class. The class finished with specifics and rolling and so far so good.

After an energising meal of chicken and rice, I managed to cram in an interview as the tea time MMA class was underway, taken by Ryan Robinson and before I knew it was time for class two – Dickie Martin’s beginner’s class.

After a thorough warm up and stretching, Dickie started the class with the O Goshi throw, splitting the class into four groups and having us all do a line up of throws on each other onto crash mats, with Dickie and Simon at hand with tips and encouragement. The main bulk of the class covered taking the back and Dickie went on to show three gi chokes from the back position, before drilling specifics for a good half hour and of course ending the class with rolling.

Now it was time for my last session, the advanced class with Dickie, which followed as the beginners classed finished; over forty people where on the mats by now and the gym was filled with a haze of sweat and body heat. This is what BJJ’s all about I said to myself, as we started another quick warm up, everyone packed into the gym, mat space occupied by like minded individuals all keen to push and to test themselves to the limits. Warm up over, the high guard was covered by Dickie, together with three arm bar submissions on offer, as well as a triangle and a sneaky way of taking the back. Once again specific training followed, training the high guard and rolling rounded off the session and the evening’s training.

As you can see, each class followed the same formula of warm up, drills, techniques, specifics and rolling; as many people know, Carlson Gracie clubs have a reputation of hard training, hard sparring and vocal and passionate support when ever they compete and it takes a brave man to climb the stairs of the academy and step onto the mats, especially when one is from another club and association and for me, I was that man.

What was I going to get when I rolled with the guys? Was I going to leave with the same number of limbs as when I started at dinner? Would I be able to make the drive home in one piece and live to tell the tale of training at Carlsons?

In each class, my first roll was with the black belts Simon and Dickie, before being paired up with other team members; first up was six minutes with Simon and I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but hey, I was there to train and improve and so it began. A complete and utter tearing apart. Simon only knows one way to roll – HARD! That isn’t to say he’s there to deliberately harm you and put you in hospital, Simon’s goal was to control and then smash you into mats, in the nicest possible way of course. His intensity when rolling is second to none and he embodies the essence of Carlson Gracie’s fighting spirit to the max. Every time I submitted, we shook hands and went on for some more, every time was new experience of pain from positional dominance and inevitably the tap out. And I loved it. I gave it my best shot and fought as hard as possible, all to the same conclusion, the tap out, but I wasn’t frustrated or angry, I was on the mats with a warrior, a man hell bent on defending his belt rank at all costs and before I knew it the six minutes was over and Simon was back in the room, smiles and hugs aplenty and then it was some one else’s turn to roll with Simon.

That was the dinner time session and I had a few hours to contemplate what Dickie would be like to roll with; Simon is one of the most enthusiastic and hyper motivated instructors you’ll ever meet, whereas Dickie comes across as more reserved and outwardly calmer than his team mate. However, when it came to my turn to roll with Dickie my questions were soon answered; Dickie started off very cool and collected and thought, Good Cop Bad Cop routine here. Big mistake. That didn’t mean I was more relaxed when I rolled with Dickie, I was still as wary as I was with Simon and then Dickie opened up and hit me a triangle out of nowhere and I just about had time to tap before I was out cold, all performed as cool as James Bond ordering a vodka Martini. His strength and pressure had me in serious trouble and then it started, submission after submission, arm bars, chokes and kimuras, from a guy as cold looking as a Great White in the ocean hunting its prey. I didn’t know who was the more scary, the pit-bull like Simon or the cold calculating Dickie, so I gave them joint first place, so as not to upset them when they read this.

In Simon and Dickie, these two gentlemen embody the true spirit of Carlson Gracie every time they teach and when they roll, especially when they roll; even at club level and certainly in competitions, when you face them, they are there with one thing in mind – to smash and crush you totally, leaving you in no doubt who the boss is. The academy is no Fitness First five star facility, it is a serious 100% no holds barred place of hard training. Pain. Sweat. Blood. Tears. For many people, this is too much for them and their egos get the better of them and they seek easier avenues of training, a crying shame as they are missing out on life changing training and a brotherhood second to none.

When you join the club or any of the other affiliate clubs in the UK and beyond, you are joining a band of brothers who will support you every step of the way, be it training or competing. Hard training is the order of the day, but none of it is done in malice or with serious intent to damage the other person; by training this way you overcome many fears and doubts about yourselves and in this environment you can only improve and become a better fighter and individual. I survived three hardcore action packed classes and rolls with Dickie and Simon and coloured belts and white belts and managed the drive back home all in one piece.

Three sessions in one day – pretty hardcore stuff if I say so myself. Anyone passing through London should do themselves a favour and train with Simon and Dickie, as they extend an open invitation to do so. The welcome and hospitality is second to none, but be warned – soon as the gi’s come on, it’s a different ball game, so make sure you bring your A game!



binster said...

Very good read. Too bad I missed this opportunity last Wednesday. I do agree that Simon and Dickie (and Wilson, too), embody the Carlson Gracie spirit, in demeanor and mat performance, and am lucky to have the opportunity to learn from them.

TFP said...

Thanks for the compliment Binster; I'll be down again in a few weeks, let's hope we meet next time, make sure you come and say hello!

My said...

Thank you for writing this, I have been curious to know more about the Carlson Revolution Team and see inside the academy for some time. Keep writing!

TFP said...

Thanks for the comments My!

I will be going back down to the academy soon and will be making a more in depth article about the history of the academy, gonna be a HUGE article when it's finished!