Thursday, 30 September 2010

The first roll of my forties..........

As one door closes on a chapter in one's life, another brand new, unadulterated, mistake free chapter opens and lies ahead; sitting here typing this today, I have sun shine on my back, awesome views all around and a house full of BJJ addicts like myself and it really feels like a new start in my life. All the troubles and calamaties that struck me back in 2008 are behind me and I have emerged a stronger person because of them and they will never be far from my mind, when other dark days come along to test me.

Gis are everywhere. On the washing lines. Poolside. On backs of chairs. Anywhere there is space there is a gi. Oh and rash guards as well. Gi's of all makes and designs are lying about getting dry in readiment for the next training session, all decked out in club and sponsor patches from all four corners of the globe, makes you feel that BJJ is truly global in its popularity and practice.

After a fun filled afternoon, with a trip to the beach and a surprise birthday cake singsong from everyone at the house, it was time to go to the evening class. My first class of BJJ as a forty year old. How would it differ from the day before as a sprightly 39 year old? They say age is just a number, a state of mind etc etc so I stepped onto the mats and enjoyed every single second of the session. For a true BJJ addict, what better place to be on the planet than in the heart of jiu jitsu, in Brazil for your fortieth birthday?

The class was packed with black belts and all colours in between and after the usual warm ups and techniques it was down to free training and onto my first roll in a new decade and who better to start with than the Gerbilmeister himself, Jeremy Arel, decked out in a eye catching canary yellow gi. The ten minutes passed way too fast as we had a good technical roll, with Jeremy sweeping me at will time and time again, this guy knows his sweeps!

Round 1 over and three more rounds followed with a number of black belts and I was toast for thrity minutes with these guys, but what a way to begin training at 40, with high level guys all night. Glad to say no injuries, just a sore hand from tapping out, but that's what it's all about, if you ain't tapping, you ain't learning.

The end of the class drew upon us and after the handshakes, all the guys wished me a happy birthday, so all that remains now, is to log off from here, have a shave and shower and hit the bars and restaurants to refuel and party with the rest of the guys from the house, so until next time folks, keep training hard and keep reading the Blog :)

The last roll of my thirties.......

I arranged this trip to Rio for it to coincide with my 40th birthday and before you know it, I'm on the last few hours of time as a thirty year old; trained at the evening class tonight and Leozinho was on teaching duties. After the usual warm up, we went through a couple of sweeps from when the opponent stands up to pass guard and then it was straight into free training.

So my last rolls as a 39 year old lay ahead and I had a motley crew of opponents (only kidding guys); I rolled with a few blue belts, two purple belts and the last roll of the night was with a brown belt by the name of Leonardo Paciello and we had a right royal tear up, photo below taken after we clashed on the mats :)

A fine way to end a decade of training, I wonder what's in store for me tomorrow..........

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Brazilian adventures - end of weeks 2 and 3....

After all the excitement of the first week here in Barra de Tijuca, weeks two and three have been a bit of a blur and I can't believe how fast the time has passed. Four months and three weeks prior to coming to Brazil, I was at the end of another adventure on the other side of the world in Thailand. Sat at home on a very damp and dreary Wednesday afternoon, wondering 'had I really been to Thailand?',I looked out of the window to see the wind and rain and it was enough for me to reach for the phone and book a flight to Rio. Once everything was finalised with the flights and accommodation, I started to mark off the days and at the time, sixteen weeks to count down seemed like an eternity.

Fast forward nineteen weeks and I am now on my last week of my BJJ adventures and now it seems like yesterday that I was sat back in the UK, pining for sunnier climes. The weekdays here in Rio follow the same pattern, training at 2pm in Dennis's class and then training in Gordo's class at 630pm. The house has filled up in the last week and there are people from all over the world living their dreams and all training hard. The weather has been hit and miss the last two weeks, with a few damp days in a row, which makes drying training gear a nightmare on the washing lines. That said, as I type up these notes in the early morning, the sun is making an appearance, so hopefully we'll all have dry gi's and rash guards to train in today - HOORAH!!

There's a great mix of people at the house, from all corners of the world, including Russia, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Australia, USA and more and at all belt levels; two days ago Carlos Rocha arrived here to prepare for his upcoming UFC 122 bout against Kris Mc Cray and made himself a popular house mate in no time.

As for my own training, I am still doing two classes a day, the 2pm class and the evening class at 630pm; in the afternoon class, most of the housemates are in attendance, which makes for great training and bonding new friendships between each other, as well as lots of japes and general mickey taking.

The evening classes are the ones I look forward to, as there many senior grades on the mats and is the ideal chance for me to put into practice, the techniques learned in the afternoon class with Dennis, as well as all the other helpful hints from other senior grades, such as Jeremy Arel, founder of Gerbil Jiu Jitsu and in the photograph below.

Jeremy is training here full time and has vowed to stay here in Rio until he gets his black belt and is not shaving until he gets the job done; Jeremy has shown me a number of little pointers to help improve my game, as well an unstoppable guard pass (which remains a secret for a while lol) that I've been using with high success in the evening classes against the purple and brown belts. I've yet to try it out on the black belts, because they don't usually let me get that far down the line in the first place!

Two days ago saw the arrival of Teta, who teaches at Frontline Academy in Oslo and is here for one week visiting family and friends and marked the beginning of my cauliflower hand. I've rolled with many black belts, but Teta seemed and felt a breed apart and at least five steps ahead of the game, well my game that's for sure. With a smile on his face after each submission, it was a long and tortuous ten minutes on the mats with Teta, but I'm sure I learned a lot, aside from tapping out that is.

Other memorable rolls have been with the purple belts at the club; some have been all out wars for the whole round, whilst others have been one sided traffic, both for them and myself and some have been technical from start to finish. Of the brown belts I've rolled with, Jeremy feels like a steam roller, as he applies the pressure game, leaving no openings at all and Rafael never ever breaks a sweat and taps you out time and time again, making you wonder if you really deserve your purple belt at all! As for the black belts, well they ain't a black belt for nothing as they give you a thorough going over, but never hurting you and after every submission, they came back with a few words on where you went wrong and tips on improving your positions.

For the time I have been here, I haven't seen anything groundbreaking regards the techniques shown (although I have seen a few slick sweeps and passes), it's more the little gems of advice from the senior grades that have made all the difference to my game. Rather than showing me new ways to move and execute techniques, they have shown me tweaks and pointers on the things I do in every roll, as well as pointers on keeping my positions tight and from this I go back to each session and try them out in the afternoon class and in the evening classes against the purple belts and I'm not doing a bad job if I may say so myself, which I'm sure is what it's all about :)

So, that's been the last two weeks out here in Rio; training hard through the week and R+R at the weekend, taking in the sights, sounds and beers of Ipanema and Copacabana, as well as all the touristy stuff such as visiting Sugar Loaf and Cristo Redemptor, keeping the yin and yang in equal balance. Tomorrow (Thursday) will see me embark on a new chapter in my life, as I turn the big four zero and only then will I know that if indeed, life does truly begin. From where I am sat in Rio, with a fine view of the Pedra de Gavea, the sun in the clouds and training a few hours away, I think I already know the answer.........

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Kyra Gracie mini interview

Whilst I was at the Acao Social project last Tuesday, I managed to have a few words with Kyra in between classes; it's not a huge interview, just a few questions about the project, but I thought I'd share it on here with you, Constant Reader, because that's the kind of guy I am :)

Kyra Gracie chats with the Fighting Photographer

When did you start teaching here Kyra?

I have two places where I teach, one is also here in Vargem Grande and I started the first one about eighteen months ago and this one where we are now a year ago.

How did you get into this work Kyra?

I was always helping people at Christmas time, we have a children’s day here and on special days I’d help them out and I felt there wasn’t enough here for the children; I realized that jiu jitsu could help the children both on and off the mat and everything they learn here can help them with their lives, so that’s the main reason I started teaching here.

Have you seen a change in the children since you started?

Oh yes, a hell of a lot; when they first started they were very hyper (laughs) and didn’t have any respect, but after a short time they are more respectful and humble and we see an improvement at school, all the teachers have thanked us for the changes they have seen in the children, they couldn’t believe that they were doing their homework and doing well at home as well and doing everything right. They love to train and enjoy the training and we very serious about the teaching and want every child to do well here at the school.

How many classes do you teach?

We have six classes a day and six at the other school and I split my time between the two schools, I can alternate morning and afternoon classes and teach at both.

When you’ve finished for the day where do you train?

I train at Gordo’s

Have any of the children done any competitions?

Yes they have, we have competed in four tournaments and we have some medals and they have a lot of fun, it’s a big thing in their lives every month, something for them too look forward to, we spend the whole day there and have lunch and they always come back with a medal (laughs). Next month we have the State championships here in Rio and the kids will be competing and a competition in November as well, all the tournaments are with the gi.

How does it feel for you as their coach to see them do well at these tournaments?

It’s great to see them do well, to see the shy kids at the schools come out of their shells and do well in the tournaments; we have kids here that have a hard time getting the moves and then we see them improving and doing well and at the other schools we have a few yellow belts so I feel very happy to do this and some thing I want to give back what jiu jitsu gave to me, everything I am today is because of jiu jitsu.

Is there anyone else that help out with you?

I am the only one that takes care of the jiu jitsu part at the schools; I take care of the structure and I have a few people that help me out with the classes and we have Judo classes here as well.

Do you receive any financial help with the projects?

No, this is my project, I get money from my pocket and pay the salaries of the instructors.

What are your plans for the future?

I wanna have my own place and organization, so I can have everything in one place, the Judo, the Jiu Jitsu, classes, everything in one place all for the children.

How does this all fit in with your normal training and competition training?

I am always here every week, no matter what even when I am sick (laughs) during competitions if I don’t train on the Tuesdays I get extra training at the weekend to balance things out.

What is the maximum age for the children here?

Here it’s fourteen but at the other place some of them are nineteen and twenty, not children anymore (laughs)

Do any of the older children train at Gordo’s?

Some of them when they have free time go along to Gordo’s and do some extra training but most of the children are very busy with school work, so they don’t have much free time.

Do you get girls training here as well?

Yes we do, I wanna get more coming in to train and it’s my goal to make it more accessible for the girls and show them that it’s not only a sport for the boys (laughs)

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Rafael dos Anjos interview - online!

Head on over to Kombat Clinic dot com for my latest interview -

Kyra Gracie and the Acao Social Project

On the first week of my trip, Dennis Asche arranged for me to go out and see one of the many social projects in the area; this particular project is the brainchild of none other than Kyra Gracie and every Tuesday you can be sure that Kyra is at the Acao Social project in Vargem Grande, near Recreio. She has two projects in the area and divides her Tuesdays between both schools, teaching three classes in the morning and three in the afternoon.

I headed over there with Aldir, Max and Leozinho who all help at the schools and teach jiu jitsu to the children; the projects started by Frei Gaspar, a monk who owned some land and started with a soccer court thirty years ago and then began to build extra buildings and from an initial student base of a handful of kids, there are now over 120 children at the school today.

Frei Gaspar died in 2003 but his legacy continues thanks to the help of Bruno and Renato who manage the school and have a staff of twenty three to help them run music and PC classes, as well as aerobics and capoeria classes. Kyra runs the BJJ classes and Judoka Flavio Canto teaches Judo on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.

Also on the site is a chapel for the children that was built thanks to the financial donations from local actor Oscar Niemeyer in August 2008 and the children have a service once a month.

I arrived early in the morning and stayed all day at the school and joined in six jiu jitsu sessions; I don't think the children had seen many gringos until now and what a treat they had in store for them with my good self. They flocked around me and spoke to me in babbling Portugese, all laughs and smiles and were very taken with my tattoos on my calf and foot. After the excitement the children trained jiu jitsu and started with basic self defence moves, a few technqiues then rolling and there were some very able young children all loving jiu jitsu and it was a pleasure to watch the kids enjoy training and pick up jiu jitsu skills at the same time.

The children have also been enjoying success at BJJ competitions and will be competing in October and November this year and who knows maybe some of them will be at the Mundials in years to come??

Huge thanks to Dennis for sorting the trip out and to Bruno and Renato for their hospitality throughout the day.

More pix on my Facebook account :)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Brazilian adventures - end of week 1.....

It's the end of week 1 here for me in Rio and what a week it's been; I more or less hit the ground running upon arrival last Wednesday morning, taking in two training sessions on the first day and repeated this on Thursday and Friday. The weekend was taken up by the hard task of lazing around on Pepe Beach, taking in the sights, smells, sounds and surf with new found friends and just general chilling out on the Sunday, took in a long walk down the strip where the beach is.

Weekends in the UK for me usually comprises of long hours on the doors dealing with idiots and getting in at crazy hours, which plays havoc with me through the weekdays, as my body tries to make up for all the lost hours of sleep at the weekend.

A weekend off was just the tonic I needed and I hit the mats with renewed vigour on Monday, training twice a day and Tuesday I missed the afternoon class, as I was out for the day at the Acao Social project in Vergam Grande, where Kyra Gracie gives up her Tuesdays to teach the local school children for free, giving something back to the community. A more detailed report, plus pix will follow.

Evening class last night was packed out with black belts, purple belts, blues and whites, over thirty guys and we were treated to a guest session from Mamazinho, who covered for Gordo.

So what are the classes like I hear you cry?

I must admit I was very apprehensive about the reception a 'gringo' would receive out here; I've trained all over the world but this is the first time I was to walk with the Brazilians on their home ground, so I was nervous and excited at the same time. Anyway, all the doubts and fears were soon laid to rest in the first afternoon class with Dennis Asche; Dennis is a black belt with Gordo and runs Connection Rio and is one of the most helpful people you could wish to meet. After meeting me at the apartments, we walked round the block to Gordo's academy and started the class; Mad Jack Magee was also at the class and we started with grip defence into takedowns and uchikomis, before moving onto guard passing drills.

Dennis showed a couple of technique 'series' which were really cool and a great way to fully warm up, before specific training and of course, rolling. The rolls were seven minutes long and we rolled with everyone on the mats, which at the time equated to six rolls in total. The afternoon class has two purples (Jack and myself) and a few other white belts and Dennis and my first roll was with Jack, a very technical and flowing roll, then I was on with Dennis. Dennis is a very technical and precise roller, with great movement on the ground, but at the same time allows you to relax and open up your game, which in turn helps you improve.

So that was the first session, the weather wasn't too hot but still worked up a sweat, so it was back to CR and a quick shower and all that was required was to kick back and wait for the six thirty class with Gordo.

Gordo's class was a lot busier and had more coloured belts, so this was it, in with the big boys; the warm up was no different from what we're used to back in Blighty and Gordo stepped in and showed a few techniques from open guard and then it was onto specifics and rolling and this is where training here comes into its own.

Based and training in Bolton, there aren't a lot of higher grades to roll with on a daily basis, but on this first session, there were three black belts, five brown and purple belts and a handful of blue belts and so the fun began and my worries eased. To say the guys were laid back is an understatement; all the training from here on was relaxed yet competitive and once again, relaxation was the name of the game and from that I had some awesome rolls with the browns and blacks (ten minute rounds) and my last roll was with black belt Mamazinho, how cool is that?!

It was the best ten minute roll I have had in a long time, I was pulling off guard passes and sweeps like a man possessed and was encouraged all the time with a large smile and then was brought back down to earth with the sneakiest of submissions. I even threw in a few of my own, but yes you've guessed it, I didn't get the tap, just a cool escape and an even cooler submission, but I still learned heaps about getting the submissions on in the first place. There were no egos on the mats from all the guys, everyone was helping each other improve and just sitting watching the black belts go at it was an education in itself.

And that has been the way of training since I arrived; training twice a day (2pm and 630pm) has exposed me to the technique and drill-driven classes with Dennis and the high class rolling in the evening session with Gordo, a perfect combination.

Whilst here, my journalistic desires are being fed to the max by Dennis, who has an eye watering amount of contacts and I've already bagged an interview with Wallid Ismail, that can be seen at the Kombat Clinic dot com website, the first of many, together with a mini interview with Kyra Gracie, to join my write up on the Acao Social project. More BJJ and MMA legends will be given the FP treatment, so keep 'em peeled on here for the links.

All in all a great first week, hard training and no injuries, which can only be a good thing, so with that said, it's time to log off and get ready for the six thirty class - no rest for the wicked!

Wallid Ismail interview

The first of many interviews from sunny Rio!

Friday, 10 September 2010

MMA legend Wallid Ismail in Connection Rio!

Dennis Asche has pulled out all the stops since I came to Rio; possessing an eye watering amount of contacts in Rio, Dennis has already lined me up some awesome interview opportunities with some of the biggest names in BJJ, plus a number of hardcore old school BJJ players (at my request) from way back in the day, as I am fascinated to hear what the old guys have to say about BJJ in the 50's and 60's.

I had an interview lined up with Wallid Ismail this morning, but he couldn't make it due to meetings all day, as he prepares the next Jungle Fight Championship event, September 18th, in Sao Paolo. Hours later, before evening class, Wallid went out of his way to come and see me at the house and I had a quick chat with Wallid before he left for other business meetings!

The guy is as cool as they come, very humble and for him to come out of his way to grant l'il old me a quick interview and full of apologies, WOW!!
One interview down, many many more to follow!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Greetings from Rio!

After 11 years, I have finally got my ass down to South America into the mecca of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu! After a hassle free flight from Manchester, I was met at the airport by Carlos, a friend of Dennis Asche and was taken up to Connection Rio in Barra de Tijuca. The weather was cold and raining so I immediately felt at home, as we drove through the winding streets, passing the Estadio Mario Filho, Brazil's biggest football stadium and had my first glimpse of the favelas, as we passed the Borel favela in Tijuca.

After arriving at Connectio Rio, I unpacked and managed a few hours sleep before attending the 2pm class with Dennis; the class was a great way to wake me up and I trained with Mad Jack Magee, who is also resident at CR; drilled out some techniques, takedowns and guard passes and rounded off with specifics and rolling with Jack and Dennis.

Chilled out with Dennis before joining in the evening class with Gordo and a number of brown and black belts; there's just been a national holiday here in Rio, so most people are still recovering from the partying, so numbers were low last night, with a few black belts, browns, purple and blues. After a good warm, we drilled out some takedowns, before covering a few open guard drills and sweeps and then I had three ten minute rolls.

My first roll was with a brown belt called Thiago and started off very relaxed which allowed me to relax and open up my game a bit more, as we weren't fighting to to the death, just training and having fun. Thiago was a cool guy and we traded passes and sweeps and all too soon it was 'Tempo', end of the first round.

Second guy up was a lightweight blue belt called Rafael, very flexible individual and we had another good session, he had an insane bendy open guard, one minute he was there, then POW he was underneath me and on my back and then somewhere else, a very slippery cutomer.

Last roll saw me up against Mamazinho and was one of the best ten minutes I've had on the mats; I pulled off sweeps from all crazy angles and guard passes galore, he really let me relax and get the most from the time with him. We moved together the whole ten minutes non stop from start to finish, laughing all the time, more so when he set me up with some sneaky moves of his own!

So there endeth my first day in Rio and all that remained was to eat; I went to the Canto Alegre with Jack Mc Gee, round the corner from the gym and we feasted on grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, black bean rice and rice with broccoli, the food of Gods (and hungry BJJ men).

As of writing, the sun has made an appearance and in two and a half hours time, the 2pm class will be upon me, so until then, I'll hit the road and go for some Acai and protein and fuel up for the fun that lies ahead of me.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Bling at the weekend!!

Competed at the UMA 'With Gi' event at the weekend, as well as refereeing and had a great day out, always good to get on the mats and lay it all on the line; bagged a brace of silver medals and even better, watched one of my students, Shaun Killelea, compete in his first ever grappling comp and walk away with the gold medal!!

Nothing better for an instructor to see one of his students do well in competition!