Tuesday, December 29, 2009

holidays and training

I miss going to classes.

I've been amusing myself with watching UFC, BJJ instructionals and other predictable stuff :-))

I've been trawling the forums. There seem to be a lot of bored people out there, too. Sometimes I come across some good stuff, for example the Sherdog thread on BJJ Quotes. There really were some good ones. But hell's bells, there are a lot of stupid posts. I don't know if that's because people think they can post whatever inane crap or poisonous b/s they like in the relative anonymity of those forums. Or whether that's just the way they really are. Scary either way. Still, there is the odd pearl of wisdom in these forums, and some funny stuff, so when I have time to kill (not often), I go and have a look.

To save myself the pain of going back to training after three weeks off, I've started using my mini gym. Ah, really it's not just the fear of things to come, I really do get all pent up when I've not been working enough. I gave myself a week off after the last class this month. That gave all the icky complaining body bits a chance to heal up and shut up. But it was time to get the old body used to being sweaty again. It's not as though I sit on my butt all day long, I live on a farm and I feed and work horses. But it's not very intense.

I've invested in a timer (gymboss). What a good little gadget! Quite easy to program, and a beep loud enough so I can hear it over the music I play when I do gym things. I think that I've mentioned in a previous post that I'm not the most self motivated person when it comes to working out. It's just that it's not very exciting and I'm always willing to let close enough be good enough. What's good about the timer is that I can set it to whatever intervals and then I'll decide to do so many rounds. I have enough discipline that I will start at the beep and I won't stop until I've done the rounds I set out to do. And instead of watching the clock, I can concentrate on doing what I'm doing, for example hit the heavy bag, until the beep relieves me :-). And start hitting again when the merciless beep goes off yet again!

To ease myself in, the first day I did ten one minute rounds with a minute off inbetween. Alternated between hitting and kicking the heavy bag one round, and the next round hitting and doing positional changes on the bag on the ground. That was after a good warmup of course and some other stuff (situps, pushups, leg curls, squats etc). Did about 3/4 hour all up, including stretching etc.

Then I had a day off and yesterday did another 3/4 hour in the gym. This time, 10 one minute rounds on the heavy bag with 30 second breaks. That got the heartrate up considerably more! That aside I practiced armbars from mount on the ground bag (I imagined the arms), did positional drills on the same bag, especially knee ride. I did some squats with kettlebells, working particularly on standing up one leg at a time like I would for a standing guard pass. And a couple of turkish getups (I think that's what they are called?). I also did some pretty thorough stretching.

And I felt really good afterwards. So I'm going to keep a similar schedule for the next couple of weeks until we have classes again, and even after that probably.

I'm lucky enough to have a mini gym for my own use. It's nothing fancy, just a few basic things in my shed. A suspended wooden floor with mats, a heavy hanging bag a floor bag, a simple weight bench, a small selection of dumbbells and kettlebells, gym balls, a treadmill (for winter nights), a selection of wooden practice weapsons, a bar for towel pullups and of course a cd player! The only thing missing is a training partner. But living out of town, the chances of finding a like minded person withing striking range (pun intended) is slim indeed. So I just play loud music and get on with it :-)

I get my ideas for workouts from several books I have, and from Ross Enamait's Rosstraining website (I also have his book "Never Gymless"). That guy is amazing. I don't have his drive but he is an inspiration to me all the same.

Monday, December 21, 2009

year end, open guard etc

It's that time of year. The Christmas holidays are coming up, the end of the year has nearly arrived. That also means no classes for nearly three weeks. As the typical BJJ addict, that will seem like a loooonnnngg time to me.

I had some excellent classes last week, both PFS and BJJ. So I finished the year on a high and I have a lot to look forward to next year. To be fair to my body, a week off will probably be good. But three weeks? Waaah! ... just venting ;-).

We did some pretty technical butterfly guard sweeps on Friday night and continued on with that theme on Saturday. I've only started experimenting with open guard fairly recently, and I use it mostly with the big guys so I can keep them off me. But sweeps are hard on the big guys. So that means I need to use open guard more often rather than looking for the "safety" of the closed guard. If I use it more often, I'll see more opportunities for sweeps and they will become part of my repertoire. So in the new year, I'll promise to use open guard aggressively even with the people more my weight.

It is so easy to stick to what I know and feel comfy with. It is much harder to go outside my comfort zone (=closed guard). Because there, I will probably get passed and then I'll end up on the bottom. Having spent most of my first year primarily on the bottom and in bad positions, I don't want to be there any more than absolutely necessary. But hey, I will never improve my open guard and utilize the many sweeps and attacks from there if I don't try. And what's the worst that can happen? I get passed and if I can't escape, I tap.

Also I find that there is an even greater reliance on timing, balance and utilizing momentum in an open guard scenario. I can really do with an upgrade in all those areas, and I see open guard as a way to get there. As I still get swept very easily, I also hope that that better understanding will help me become more sweep-resistant.

Our last BJJ class ended with a couple of scored rounds from standing. I like those, but still I get that tingly feeling. It's probably not fear, but excitement. In any case, I think my adrenal glands are getting a workout ;-).

So close to the holidays, our classes have been pretty small, and the Saturday class was just myself and two blue belts. So no points for guessing whose pelt was nailed to the wall when we had our rounds :-))). With three of us, it was two rounds each. First fight, I hesitated and was taken down. I always have trouble remembering what happens, but what I do remember is that I didn't spend the entire time on my back. At some stage I was turtled and trying to take him down which partially succeeded but then there was a sudden and unexpected choke a short time later (from mount??).

The round with the other guy was so brief (takedown... armbar) that we had to go again. Somewhat pissed off with my own (lack of) performance by this stage, I shot for a double and got it easily (yeah!) and managed to get to side control. I couldn't get an arm and whilst trying to attack, he rolled me (have I mentioned before that my top game is a joke??). From there it was downhill for me, even though I regained guard at one stage. I also managed to get back to half guard from under mount, but couldn't sweep or do anything and in the end it was an armbar that I couldn't get out of which led to my demise ;-)

Not the most glorious performance. However. I scored a takedown and it wasn't all just a case of spending the whole time being mounted without being able to escape. I had the chance to try some attacks in both rounds and that is progress for me. If I can make them work harder and harder to get a submission, that is progress.

I can't wait to come back next year.

We've been told we can eat as much as we like during the holidays, because we'll have our butts worked off after we come back. A certain BJJ teacher has plans for turning us into lean and mean fighting machines. Oooh, I can see how that translates into sweat, bruises and sore bodies. And as we are heading into the hot time of the year, I suspect that means yet more sweat...

Anyway, in late January we are expecting John Campbell to hold an MMA seminar at our dojo. That should be good. He's been a BJJ guest instructor a couple of times and I like his teaching style.

To everyone who drops in and reads here, I wish you happy holidays and a fantastic new year!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

need to rewire that brain

When I was a couple of months into BJJ training, I heard that one has to pay one's dues on the bottom. That those who spend much time on the bottom in the beginning end up with solid defenses and escapes which firstly ensure survival and secondly bring about good positions which lead to attacks.

Well, I think I spent pretty much my entire first year on the bottom. There were times when I thought that's all I'm destined to ever do in BJJ and I will admit that at times it was very frustrating.

But from being owned and submitted fast I went to being owned and not submitted quite so fast. Then I managed to escape sometimes and it evidently became more and more difficult to submit me. Ah yes, we all know how it is, one day you fly high because you fluked a sweep and then a submission, or you just had a good start and the right body part moved in the right direction by accident and you ended up on top. Then, the next day, every Joe and his dog sqash and dominate you, rip your arms out and choke the living daylights out of you and you limp home wondering why you come for these beatings.

So time went on and on the balance of things, my sweeps happened more often. My escapes happened more often, I saw openings I never used to see, I managed to pass guards. I managed to stay out from under the heavy guys more often and found that the big new guys didn't always succeed in muscling me around. I started being a bit more aggressive at the start of rolls which set me up for better positions. My already reasonably closed guard got even better.

Ok, and now comes the next big thing. Due to my lack of "top time", I have little experience in applying all those lovely submissions. I've learned loads of armbars, figure fours and chokes from various top positions. But I have only ever practiced most of them on a compliant partner. So when it comes to rolling, I find myself in mount or side control, I have a great deal of trouble setting up and finishing subs. About the only place I'm reasonably ok with is back control. I guess it's because it's so dominant. So one part of the problem is lack of practice. But that will come.

The other problem is the mindset. Since I started, I've primarily been concerned with defending and escaping. But what I need to do is think of attacking. Even when I'm defending or escaping, I need to look at ways to turn the table and make the game mine. If I wait until I have a good position before I look for a sub, then likely I'll give my partner the time to consolidate, defend and even start escaping before I have time to even set up, let alone finish a sub. So I need a plan of attack. From every position, I need to know my best submission and one or two backup ones which flow on from there. But really, I need to rewire my brain so that I no longer think defensively, but offensively. That includes looking out for loose arms and exposed necks all the time and then find a pathway to attack that target. I need to arrive at the attacking (dominant) position already set for the attack, and ready with the next one if he defends.

That's a pretty fundamental shift in thinking. Actually, I like taking the initiative and the thought of having a string of attacks up my sleeve makes me smile. So it's not like I'm a timid soul. But it's so easy to get into a mindset. Same as I ended up in the "I can't do it" mindset regarding takedowns (which I have successfully discarded), I'm in a defensive mindset out of habit and experience. Now that my skill level has improved, it needs to be matched up with an aggressive attitude. I know that aggressive sounds a bit over the top, I'm not aggressive with my training partners. What I means is the opposite to defensive, taking the initiative and dictating the pace of the match. I hope I've expressed that well enough.

So for next year, my goal is to be active rather than passive and to develop a small arsenal of effective techniques which are part of a small and simple game plan.

I think BJJ will be even more fun next year :-) And of course that will translate into my no-gi grappling and standup stuff as well.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

takedowns - there may be hope yet!

Just like so many other people, I've not been mad keen on takedowns. Not very good at any of them, not very successful and not confident. Not sure if the lack of confidence led to lack of success or the lack of success (from lack of skill) led to a lack of confidence. Probably it's a bit of a vicious circle. Particularly shooting for a takedown wasn't working. I had the grace and the success rate grace of a drunken gorilla....

So I will admit I was secretly very glad that we usually start from knees or in some sort of open guard at BJJ. I know that a lot of people poo-hoo that, but I suits me just fine :-)

Both in BJJ and PFS, we have been working on takedowns for some time. So I know a variety of takedowns for both gi and nogi situations. I know how to do various versions of singles and doubles, how to do entries by shooting or from clinch. I also learned a hip toss, some foot sweeps and a sacrifice throw. And of course I've been taught how to fall so I don't break my head or my limbs.

All the same, usually when I hear the word takedown, I cringe, and if I had half a viable excuse, I'd do something else. On the other hand, I don't like guard pulling in BJJ, to have half a chance against the bigger guys, I can't start off on the bottom.

I notice now that here and there something positive is happening. Sometimes when we drill takedowns, I pull one off nice and sweet. That must have given me a bit of heart which means now I'm that little bit more committed which in turn means I have more success.

Last Wednesday, we did some free wrestling from standup, it was a small class and everyone had a turn with everyone else, so that was four fights for each of us. We had set out a little competition sized area and someone scored the fights. I'll admit right upfront that I cringed when I was told the plan for the day. The smallest of the four guys is probably 10kg heavier than I and he is a much quicker and more flexible at less than half my age (sigh...). The biggest of the guys would easily be twice my weight. Wrestling with these from a ground start is tough enough, but from standing??

I had the first fight with the young guy and he took me down. Don't recall how. It went for a while but I was mostly on the bottom defending until he isolated one of my arms. One of the fights I barely recall (goldfish brain ;-) ). I think I was looking for a takedown when he pulled guard, and then I was swept and then it went downhill from there to a submission I really can't remember.

On the really big guy I shot in on for a single leg. He put his weight on me, so I dropped down for a low single but still got flattened. Then I was systematically squashed until he had high mount and made me tap from a wristlock. Anyway, at least I attempted the takedown. The last fight was with another fairly large guy (probably 30kg heavier than I). I attempted a takedown again, not sure how he defended but I ended up with him in my guard from where we had a lively wrestle. It ended in another submission, after I fought off his choke attempts for a long time. Just can't remember the details.

But the relevant issue of the whole session was that for a change, I (yes, I!) went for most of the takedowns. Sensei noted that it was commendable that I took the initiative and that it would always be very difficult for me to take down big guys with more experience. I allowed myself to be very pleased with my little self ;-)

Last week we also had a PFS class where we worked on takedowns among other stuff. We learned a new version of a double, where you drop, step in deep, hug his knees with your arms, clasp your hands and bring them towards you while driving forward with your shoulder on his belly. As he goes down, your shoulder pins him to the floor, and you hold his legs together while your legs walk around to side control. The guy I worked with is usually very good at takedowns, but this one didn't work well for him. I think he had an off day (I know the feeling all too well). First, the takedown didn't work for me either, but we had the chance to get in a few reps and in the end it worked quite sweetly. So although we only drilled, it was another success for me.

In tonight's PFS class, we worked various combinations. Step and pivot to avoid a punch, and from there to either a kick, a combination of punches or a shoot. We drilled shoots from various positions, avoiding punches. At the end of the class, we briefly did some free sparring from standup, all allowed. In the past, I used to dread those because for the life of me I couldn't get a good entry for a takedown, so it would either just stay up or I'd get taken down to an inferior position. Groundfighting with punches thrown in.... I don't like to be on the bottom! The difference tonight was that I was the one who initiated the takedowns. Never mind the fact that I was idiotic enough to attempt a single with my head on the outside. I deserved the guillotine choke I had to tap to. Never mind I did the same damn thing again. At least the second time I defended the choke.

What I was pleased about was the fact that I initiated the takedowns. In the first spar I shot for a single when I saw an opening. In the second one, the guy really didn't want to be taken down, and tried to keep me away with kicks. But I snared his leg and got the single that way.

There is so much to be learned and so much of my technique to be tidied up and mistakes to be eliminated. But something in my mindset has changed, and that seems to be making all the difference. Believing I can do something is such an important step in succussfully doing something. The mind is a powerful thing, it needs training and developing, just like the body ;-)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

how things change

I have been reflecting on my training for some time. I was questioning my commitment to training in a martial art which emphasizes forms and patterns rather than live training.

The thought of learning more katas and other patterns didn't make me enthusiastic. Also, for me, there will never be proficiency, let alone efficiency or elegance in high kicks, spinning kicks and some other pretty stuff. I am tall and have long legs and my balance sucks, so to speak. I was really struggling with those kicks. And that illustrates a point. If something isn't working for me due to body type or lack of ability, then I'd rather just learn it on a basic level and concentrate on other techniques which I can do efficiently. Just talking from a self defence point of view here.

That aside, I've been doing between 7 and 9 individual classes most weeks, some days 2 or even 3 classes. That's pretty heavy so by the last class in one evening, the brain is full and the body empty!

Ok, so to cut a long story short, I told Kyoshi last night that I will not continue with my Karate training. I told him why. It upset me a bit because I hate endings of any sort. A friend later commented it was fair to be upset because I put emotion into the training so it's an emotional thing to end it, and that's OK. In any case, Kyoshi did laugh and say that I'm a bit unusual, liking all the "gung-ho" stuff (ie: PFS and BJJ), where a lot of people who come for Karate lessons, especially the women, prefer the orderly, no/low contact nature of this Karate school. And yes, that's right, I do like the live training with plenty of sparring, and close contact is fine (otherwise I wouldn't like grappling!).

As I said, I'd been mulling that over for a while. I'm not a believer in doing something for the sake of it, if my heart isn't in it. I'd rather not do it than do it half-heartedly and waste the instructor's time and my time. I'm glad for what I did learn in the time I trained, and what I learned about myself. I'm glad for the solid background in dojo etiquette and mutual respect. I'm glad for the other doors it opened for me, too. I have no regrets about my training. Only I came to a point where I wished to draw a line under it and move onto other things.

So while it was sad, now I'm relieved and I can put all my energy into what I like best - the gung-ho stuff :-)

The rest of last night was fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed a PFS class which was all (no-gi) grappling. Aside from learning a couple of new moves, we did a fair bit of rolling. One of the sweeps I learned in BJJ last week worked sweetly for me. Also, I caught myself using a hook on someone's leg to try and move him off me, which turned into another sweep. I didn't think, it just happened. I remember thinking WOW, how did that happen. As if the foot was self controlled, it hooked and propelled the guy's leg skywards. I've not been using hooks enough, so that was reason for happiness ;-) Right at the end, I wrapped up the last roll with a neat and tight triangle, after lots of positional changes. Something else to feel good about.

In the BJJ class, we worked on a transition from armbar from guard to sweep or from armbar to omoplata. Then another sweep where we attempt an armbar but they lean across.

The rest of the class was rolling. I ended up going non-stop for about 15 minutes. As usual, I was smashed by one of the big guys. I try my best to stay out from under him, but he still gets me every time.

I rolled with one of the newer guys and helped him a bit with escapes and sweeps until I choked him from guard. During a second roll with him later on, I again helped him a little. He did a lovely bridge and roll at one stage and I told him so. The I swept him and ended up in mount. I threated to wrap up one of his arms and while he defended, I took his other arm in a figure four.

I then had an excellent roll with one of our purple belts. He pointed out when I made on major mistake and gave me a chance to go back one step. I had turtled up and was going for a single but had my head outside. Put myself in a beautiful position for a rollover crucifix.... Duh. We went on for a bit and there were lots of positional changes. I made a slick changeover from something to a triangle once ("nice!"), but then he defended in a way that still makes me scratch my head. He somehow extended one of my arms with his foot??? During the roll, he didn't attack mostly, just defended, which gave me a chance to work my attack game. I (think) I ended up armbarring him.

Then my turn was with a big blue belt. I continued working on my new strategy of sprawl, head control, try to get the back. He turtled which I still have trouble with, but I succeeded in turning him over and getting his back. Couldn't sink the choke but maintained back control for a while. Then various things happened (which I can't recall) until I saw an opportunity for another triangle. I didn't have it in really tight, but he said he wanted to try some new defence so I waited. We had a laugh as he couldn't remember all of it. I don't know where it went from there but time was up soon after.

I know I managed several sweeps during the evening's assorted rolls, I escaped several bad positions and I saw and capitalized on several opportunities to attack. And recently I noticed that I can go from one attack to another, because I can see the opening and because I have the other attack in my head. I must be on the right track, and it feels great. It makes up for the frequent DUH moments when I go blank and don't know what to do or something I try results in a heroic failure that lands me in a really crappy position. I know that in the beginning sometimes I was hesitant to try things, because I was worried about failing and landing on the bottom. The difference is that now, if I end up on the bottom, I see that as an opportunity to work my escapes. And undoubtedly, I will have endless opportunities to practice escapes :-))

So that was my Monday evening.