26 Mar 2009

I have just signed up to compete at The 2nd Open Grab and Pull in Brighton on the 4th April. It'll be my first BJJ rules competition (I have previously competed at 'groundfighting' comps, organised by my Trad JJ association before). I chose this as my debut as it had great reviews from participants last year and is not too far away.

I'm pretty nervous but I am also excited. Despite over 5 years of BJJ training, I had a number of insecurities about competing which I think I have overcome. But here they were as follows:

1. I'm scared of getting beat.
Yep this is the big one. No matter how awesome you are in class, getting beaten publicly is a hard cross to bear for some. But I get beaten in the class all the time. Doing so publicly should be nothing new. So this is a rubbish excuse - cross out that box for me then.

2. I don't have enough time to train up for the comp.
This is a big problem for me as I am pretty busy with kids, job and running my own trad JJ club. But this is not really going to change much for the forseeable future so it's now or never really. Not a good excuse - cross out that box again.

3. There's no one in my weight class so no point going.
It's true, I don't see many blue belt roosters compete, let alone senior 1 roosters. But if I am 'lucky' maybe I'll get a fight in the next weight up or compete against same weight women. I don't have a problem with either solution, so cross out that box again!

4. I'm too nervous I'll look like an idiot.
This is a weird one but I don't want to be the sucker who gets submitted in 1 second, or the recipient of a flying armbar or something that makes me look really crap. Having said that, such incidents are not all that common and I can at least draw on my trad JJ competition experience a bit.

I'm sure there are lots of positives to competing. Stephen Kesting has a fantastic and inspirational article about the pros to competing here.

And regarding my rooster or super feather conundrum (do I starve? do I bulk up?), I found this quote, by black belt whizz Felipe Costa in this interview.

“I think the roosterweight category and super featherweight are the most unforgiving ones in Jiu-Jitsu. We have tons of super technical athletes, but for being so light they end up being left unknown. I understand that’s not just in Jiu-Jitsu, but also in other combat sports, like boxing, judo, mma, etc… But it’s lamentable,”

YEAH! Let's hear it for the little guys out there!

Losing my BJJ comp virginity

I have just signed up to compete at The 2nd Open Grab and Pull in Brighton on the 4th April. It'll be my first BJJ rules competition (I ...

21 Mar 2009

OK warning, this is a rant. So my wife is looking for a martial arts club to join to get herself back into shape after having two kids. In our town - Borehamwood - there is not a great deal on but it's there if you look hard enough. All she really wants is a simple turn up and pay kickboxing class. So we email around. There is one club in Watford. It is rather slickly advertised and the facilities look good. Nothing. She emails again. Nutta. So she turns her attention to a leaflet posted on the local sports centre advertising Muay Thai classes. She emails them and hears back...nothing. WTF??? I know these classes exist, so it's not like they have closed down. So why the stony silence? If you run a club, you answer your emails, it's a given. It's not just good business practice, it's damned courtesy.

A new customer, especially in these recession hit times, is like gold dust. They enquire, you do the sales pitch, they turn up and you treat them like royalty. After that, if your place is good, they are hooked. It's a remarkably simple formula. One that has served my own club very well these past 5 years.

So I sigh a breath of sadness when a martial arts, or indeed any organisation, feels that we are not worthy enough to be spoken to.

Onto more positive news. I finished my course of antibiotics and my chest is finally clear enough to allow me back into training. And it feels gooooood. Wednesday's session at BJJ looked at the sitting up guard.
I have seen this guard position used by some of the more senior guys but never really done it myself. When Nick showed a few simple sweeps using this guard, I realised this was something I could use as it really suits the little guy.
Sparring later that session was fantastic. Although I am still way too unfit to roll with more than a token amount of puff, I used the chance to play with some more technical positions and moves. But the highlight of the evening was rolling with ten-year-old Jay. This kid is a ju-jitsu phenomemon. It has inspired me to write another proper article about kids doing BJJ when I get the time. Speaking of articles, thanks to everyone for the kind comments and reviews made for my Jiu-Jitsu Sisterhood article.


OK warning, this is a rant. So my wife is looking for a martial arts club to join to get herself back into shape after having two kids. In o...

17 Mar 2009

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK, but the number of women who take part and compete are still in the minority. Seymour Yang investigates what motivates this small but growing band of jiu-jitsu sisters.

There is no doubt that Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is a male dominated sport. In the 2009 European Championships just 84 women took to the mat, compared to 1,164 men. It is a stark statistic. But in academies up and down the country there are women, or sometimes just the one woman, who take their training every bit as seriously as the guys. What experiences did these women have of competing? And how can BJJ attract more females?

One of the common problems faced by female BJJers is the lack of other women to compete against. In the early days - which to be honest was only a few years ago, the few women who did compete often had to enter the mens brackets just to get a fight. Even today, many women turn up and see the same faces at each tournament. Caoimhe McGill is one of only a handful of British competitors, male or female, to have won at the Mundials. Currently a purple belt at Revolution Team in Belfast, she remembers difficult times on the competition circuit:
"When I first competed, at the Gracie Invitational in 2005, I had just become a blue belt the week before. With all the weight categories together there were 2 of us [women]. "
“I have fought up 2 weight categories in male competitions just to get a fight as there is often not many light weight boys either.”

But the scene is changing. Caoimhe notes that in recent comps there were very large blue and white belt categories with full numbers at all weights. A sign, maybe, that more women are coming into the sport.

One of the new wave of female BJJ fighters is Camilla Hansen, a blue belt under Eddie Kone (EKBJJ). Camilla first attended a BJJ class out of curiosity : “In my first class I got schooled by a bunch of people, took it as a challenge and kept coming back.” She has since added gold in the open weight female blue belt division of the 2009 Winter leg of the Bristol Open to her medals from SENI (gold) and ADCC trials (silver) last year.

Despite being one of the fastest growing sports in the UK, the lack of women who train and compete still persists. One reason could be BJJ’s close association with MMA and all the macho hoopla that surrounds that sport. But the notion that women are put off from the combat side of things is probably not quite as true as some may think. The success of British women in Olympic judo and taekwondo proves that women do love to fight.
Camilla Hansen has another theory, she thinks: “Maybe 1 out of 50 guys who try BJJ out actually stick with it for 2 years or more. I believe the same statistics apply to girls. However as a lot fewer girls actually try out BJJ (or martial arts in general) the number of girls who train is very small.”

The problem therefore is getting the women into the classes in the first place. But BJJ academies are trying to redress the balance. Many now offer a women only classes and self defence workshops. One well known program from the USA is Rorion Gracie’s ‘Women Empowered’ program, formerly known as RAPESAFE.

Caoimhe McGill said this about self defence programs: “I think any alive martial art would be good as a self defence. But they would have to train it as we do and spar to ensure what you have learnt works. I've seen some self defence classes taught very badly and leave the women more vulnerable as they think they can defend themselves but are none the wiser.”

So how do women find training with the guys day-in, day-out?
Dominique Vitry is a blue belt under Roger Gracie. She’s a regular on the competition circuit having won medals at SENI, Bristol Open and the Kent Open. I asked her how she approaches sparring sessions against guys: “I tend to play it by ear as to how I’m going to react…the main issue is how technical the person is; if they’re good, it makes no difference if they’re a man or woman (though I’ll mind where I put my knees).”

Most of the women agreed that there were actually very few differences between the genders in terms of how they fight. On the whole, women opponents were considered more flexible than the men, which results in a slightly altered game plan.

But they did come across some guys who had a problem with the female being the better fighter. Caoimhe recalls an incident at the Irish Open a few years back: “They had a new rule that a competitor couldn't talk to their corner. I was beating this guy by loads of points and he was getting very frustrated by it. I had my head low and was nearly passing his guard when he started laughing, talking to his corner in a foreign language in what came across as dirty talk. He was disqualified which is what he wanted as he didn't want to have to tell people he was beaten by a girl.”

Of course most people hate to get tapped out, regardless of gender, it’s the nature of the sport. Camilla offers her thoughts: “I have had everything happen within the range of some guys using all their strength to “get back” at me and prove something – to others who just think its great - to one or two who have simply not resisted and let me tap them again and again. Luckily most guys just accept it and continue.”
“It shouldn’t be a big deal. Everybody gets tapped.”

No article about women and BJJ would be complete without some mention of Kyra Gracie. Granddaughter of Robson Gracie, Kyra is a multiple World Champion and a popular poster girl pin-up for the boys.
Caoimhe McGill actually fought Kyra at the 2007 ADCC. She thinks it is good to have a famous name that everyone knows: “I am glad that I have had the opportunity to compete against her and would love to again. But I also think that it would be better if the famous female fighter was friendlier and more encouraging to other females in the sport” says Caoimhe.

On the subject of friendliness, the women fighters I spoke to found that tournaments were a great opportunity to make friends and all enjoyed a camaraderie, probably as a result of the female competitors being in a minority. Dominique says she loves the family atmosphere at tournaments: “we all have a laugh and are like one big team.”

It is often commented that women’s football is as skilful and often more free-flowing compared to the men’s game. In many respects, women’s BJJ could be seen in the same way. In a world where high value is placed on being an absolute champion or MMA superstar, sometimes just as much can be enjoyed by watching and learning from the lighter, faster and the more technical. In this respect, female BJJ fighters are a force to be reckoned with. Welcome then, to the Jiu-Jitsu Sisterhood.

Article (c) 2009 Seymour Yang
Photo credits (top to bottom): Keith Mills/ADCC Japan, Caoimhe McGill website, James Oluoch-Olunya/combat-bjj.com, jordanjiujitsu.com,

Full interviews:
Caoimhe McGill
Camilla Hansen
Dominique Vitry

The Jiu Jitsu Sisterhood

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK, but the number of women who take part and compete are still in the mi...

13 Mar 2009

Well I finally hauled my lazy Meerkat ass down to the doctors who diagnosed a chest infection and put me on antibiotics. After 3 days of treatment I can’t say I feel any better but we’ll see. Anyway, no BJJ for me right now.
But I did manage to attend ko-budo (traditional weapons) training at the weekend. Five hours of twirling wooden and metal farming implements was actually very therapeutic and I found it to be the best one I have attended for years.

Key to my satisfaction was having a very good instructor and completing that darned Sai No3 kata. It is probably the longest kata ever. My official kata notes lists 78 separate moves in the kata, but it’s more than just the number of moves. It is the fact that at several points along the kata path, it deviates from the sequence and throws in a curveball – or maybe it should be the sai-ball? But now that I have it in my head, I reckon it is the coolest weapons kata ever. Yes, even cooler than any of our various katana (samurai sword) katas.

All this spare non-training time means I have the chance to hone my writing skills. I’m researching and interviewing various people in the BJJ community for a proper blog article – yes proper like, with commas and full stops and everything. I think the subject matter is interesting and hopefully you will too when you read it so watch this space.

Sai balls

Well I finally hauled my lazy Meerkat ass down to the doctors who diagnosed a chest infection and put me on antibiotics. After 3 days of tr...

6 Mar 2009

Just came across this list of Top 10 Submission Moves from AskMen.com
I'm not sure what their criteria is in rating the moves into a Top 10 as one is surely as good as another in terms of doing the job, ie a causing a submission. They are probably rated according to how easy the technique is to set up and how quickly one can get the submission to work. So, according to AskMen, the Top 10 in reverse order are as follows:

10. Gogoplata - yeah, pretty hard to set up if you are not flexible but real flash submission to get if you can.

9. Knee Bar - there is a reason why knee bars are banned at BJJ comps until brown belt. Ouch.

8. Ankle lock - the straight lock version is nasty, but add rotational force and it is crippling. Again, banned from comps until brown belt (rotating ankle locks).

7. Kimura - old school technique but one that still catches people out, erm like me.

6. Arm triangle - scarf hold type submissions involving uke's own arm against his neck are very effective if done properly. Helps to have long and very strong arms.

5. Arm bar - only in at No5!! This is probably the commonest submission I see at BJJ class, but granted, this is an MMA list, so maybe not as common.

4. Triangle choke - this is probably the second most common submission I see at BJJ class, especially when Nick 'triangle' Brooks is doing em.

3. Omoplata - good old back hammer, or elbow lock and shoulder dislocation. I agree, quite hard to set up, but a real shoulder wrecker.

2. Guillotine - I very rarely see this in BJJ class, it does occur, but more so in nogi and MMA where the uniform doesn't get in the way.

1. Rear naked choke - yes, probably the king of all submission whatever the genre or style. Not called sleeper hold for nothing, victims of this technique really do look like they are nodding off.

Top 10 MMA Submission Moves

Just came across this list of Top 10 Submission Moves from AskMen.com I'm not sure what their criteria is in rating the moves into a Top...

4 Mar 2009

Animals! Every gym has one individual who fights like an animal, looks like one and heck even smells like one. But seriously, the use of animals as a metaphor or training aid in martial arts goes way back to the origins in India and China. Off the top of my head, animal associations in classical martial arts include tiger, crane, snake, dragon, mantis, monkey and loads of others.
BJJ is no different. Animals are used to name some techniques and many instructors and fighters are given animal nick names. But the best use of animal imagery has to be the 'Animal Workout' as seen on the video below:

My BJJ instructor Nick has been doing a lot of this at the Roger Gracie Academy so he's got us all doing it at Mill Hill too. It's fun, fairly easy to do, and a pretty good work out as well. I can imagine a really long set of each would be pretty punishing, thankfully Nick keeps it to just one set per length of mat.
Thanks to JJ pal Dave who pointed out that our very own British Quarterstaff Association are teaching their techniques through the use of animal imagery. There is the fox, stag, boar, cat, bear and hawk. All very British. I reckon a good old 'stag' style quarterstaffer would teach a pesky White Crane Kungfu stylist a thing or two about fighting. Yeah!

Animal magic

Animals! Every gym has one individual who fights like an animal, looks like one and heck even smells like one. But seriously, the use of ani...


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