Friday, January 30, 2009

A Tribute To The "Gracie Way"

Well, by now, all of you probably know that yesterday morning, Professor Helio Gracie died at the age of 95 at his home in Brazil. I actually didn’t find this out until our training session last night. At first, I took the news in stride. After all, Helio was 95 years old, and led a full life. But as I thought about this news during and after class, I began to feel both sad and grateful—sad for Helio’s family, for the Gracies have lost their patriarch who has made immeasurable contributions to the world of Martial Arts. I felt a sense of gratitude for this man bringing to us Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Without Helio, Jiu Jitsu as we know it today would not have defined and permeated mixed Martial Arts or vale tudo fighting. Without Helio’s brand of Jiu Jitsu, there would be a lot more victims in this violent world.. And without the philosophies evident in the Jiu Jitsu he created, the familial-like comradery that is prevalent between Jiu Jitsu teams and their members who ordinarily wouldn’t hang out with each other, wouldn’t exist. So I’ll add my voice to the “thank-yous” that are echoing around the Martial Arts world to the man who has given to us all so much. I’d also like to express my deepest sympathies to his family, and hope that time coupled with lots of good Helio memories might dull the pain that they must feel. Visit the Gracie Academy. on-line to read about Helio’s passing, and to read a decent tribute by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, visit

Needless to say, we didn’t stick to the ordinary class format last night. Darren taught a couple of sweeps from the open guard which can be executed when somebody stands up to pass your guard. This is my most obvious, glaring weakness in my BjJ game. I absolutely HATE defending the pass when people stand up, and usually deal with it with a couple of sweeps while keeping my guard locked. I felt OK with the first sweep he showed, a tripod sweep that I’ve drilled before, but had a great deal of difficulty with the second sweep. I know that I need to work diligently on parts of my game that are my weakness, so I’ll blog about this second sweep after I execute it successfully at least 50 more times!

At 10:00 p.m. last night, we had a moment of silence in honor of Helio. It was the first time that I’ve heard Darren not speak for 60 seconds while awake—LOL—so I know that Helio’s passing had a profound affect on him as well.

We then split the class into two teams and had matches. I won my match, but I wasn’t happy with my rather shitty rolling performance last night. I don’t know if I was just tired, or the news about Helio was bothering me, but my Jiu Jitsu was at about a C Grade level—I just couldn’t get moving, or put things together—don’t ask me why, but I was beginning to rely on my brand of "caveman jiu-jitsu" and muscle through things too much. So as a self-imposed punishment, I forced myself to roll for a while with Andres, our team’s 18 year old phenom who, (and here comes an LTrain prediction) will be a black belt world champion by the age of 21.

At the risk of embarrassing her (which is not my intent, for she reads this blog from time to time),I was extremely impressed with one of our female students, Aekam, who had a hell of a match last night. Aekam’s been training for around 7 months, I believe, and she had a match against a blue belt who’s been training over twice as long as her, and who outweighs her by about 25 pounds. Aekam really hung tough for the entire match using Jiu Jitsu principles to keep herself safe and stay in the match. I really haven’t paid much attention to her rolling up until last night, but I have to say that she really exemplified what Gracie Jiu Jitsu was all about in her match. Without technique, Aekam wouldn’t have been able to control someone that much bigger and stronger than her, and that is what Helio Gracie’s brand of Jiu Jitsu is all about. It was only fitting that she had such a good showing on the day that he died.



Thursday, January 29, 2009

Another Great Internet Resource, And Musings About 01/26/2009’s Gi Class

The other day, I received an e-mail from my friend, Billy Hofacker, Operations Manager and one of the lead instructors at Serra Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Matt serra’s School in Long Island. I’ve had the good fortune to have trained at Serra-Jitsu a few days last summer while in NY City on business.

Along with being an excellent BJJ player, Billy’s really into fitness, conditioning, and nutrition. He sent along this website that I wanted to post on my blog, “Training for MMA Fitness”

It’s a great website full of interesting facts and strategies for improving one’s fitness, cardio, strength training, nutrition, etc. There’s even a few free self-assessment tools that you can use to help modify or create a fitness plan for yourself. While I realize that GJJ prides itself on a smaller, weaker individual being able to defeat a larger, stronger opponent, I still think it’s important to compliment my own Jiu Jitsu training with a decent fitness program as well as pay attention to what I eat and drink. I still have my membership to my local gym although I go there quite a bit less than I would go prior to beginning my BJJ Journey. But I still go. I focus heavily on cardio exercises, and I have changed up my strength training a bit to sustain leaner, more durable muscle mass. I also stay away from a lot of pushing exercises like the bench press for I have a bad habit of trying to “muscle” back to guard when somebody has me in side control rather than relying on technique. I stick more to pulling exercises like rowing and lat pulldowns and incorporate exercises that will also improve my grip strength.

Now, regarding class last Monday: Darren taught a very basic, yet extremely detailed class on pulling open guard with the gi. I’ve done this a fair amount in the past, but have never felt real comfortable doing it. But Monday felt different. I’ve been working very hard to immediately pick a side to turn to when achieving any form of open or closed guard, for I have a habit of being TOO FLAT. Monday felt really good—I’m fairly comfortable with the gi grips and the mechanics of pulling open guard, and I’m creating decent tension with my partners while doing so. We worked triangle chokes and arm bar set-ups from this position. I need to work on elevating my hips when I don’t break down my partner when taking an arm bar. The triangle felt a little better to me. But I really have to focus on better hip movement from the open guard. I’ve been trying to open the guard more while rolling in an attempt to expand my submission game, and Monday’s class was extremely helpful to me. No class last night due to inclement weather—yes, Darren’s developing a bit of common sense—smiles! So I'm really antsy to have a good class and to roll really hard tonight!


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Defending A Somewhat Bold Statement

In my second blog post, I made a statement that I have since been thinking about quite a bit. I now realize that without a bit of explanation, the statement could seem rather brash and arrogant—this was not my intent, so here comes the statement followed by the explanation:

I said: “Leverage, technique, and focusing on the principles of Jiu Jitsu vs. just learning individual moves makes this Art the most affective fighting system to which I have ever been exposed.” Who am I to make such a claim, and why do I believe that the Gracie Jiu Jitsu Art is the “most” affective” fighting system?

Firstly, you should know that I have a great respect for traditional Martial Arts. I actually have earned a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo—an accomplishment that I’m very proud of. While this is a Jiu Jitsu blog, here comes a few photos of this accomplishment. Click any to enlarge.

Photo of the LTrain at his TKD Black Belt Testing using his right fist to smash through a stack of wood on bricks in order to get to the Black Belt that had been placed underneath the boards.

Photo of 6th Degree Master Rick Morad tying on the LTrain's Black Belt for the very first time.

Photo of the LTrain adjusting the fit of his new Black Belt.

Photo of the LTrain bowing to 6th Degree Master Rick Morad after receiving his TKD Black Belt.

I believe that many of the striking arts have a number of valuable skills that one can learn, and I’m actually a big proponent of the physical fitness benefits of such disciplines.

But we’re talking about a “fighting system” here, and what techniques serve as the best means of defending oneself. I’ll base my assertions on some of the altercations in which I’ve been involved in the past as well as what I have learned thus far on the GJJ self-defense front. What are the primary goals when engaged in a physical confrontation? In my estimation these are, but may not be limited to the following:
1. Keep yourself safe! All of the fancy, flashy strikes in the world aren’t going to help you if you end up looking like the one who lost the fight. The best way that I know how to keep myself safe is to: “Close the distance” between me and my assailant, one of the first things taught in the self-defense element of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, and a life-saver if you are blind!
2. Control the tempo of the fight: Let your assailant determine how the fight is finished. Prior to beginning my journey in Gracie Jiu Jitsu, my immediate reaction would be to totally wreck somebody if it came down to a physical confrontation. The self-defense aspect of GJJ allows you to confidently allow your opponent to determine whether the fight ends peacefully, or badly for him.
3. End the confrontation: Depending on how your assailant responds to point number 2, you can “finish” the fight accordingly. I’ve heard Professor David Adiv state on more than one occasion that choking somebody out is the most humane way to end a confrontation. You don’t bust up your hands, and you don’t break your attackers bones, knock out their teeth, etc. You just put them out for a little while and walk away unscathed.

Below are links to two videos on YouTube that support the above three assertions. The first is a video of Royce Gracie fighting a Kung-fu expert.

Obviously, this is not a street fight, but the principles of Gracie Jiu Jitsu self-defense are exemplified in this video; and Rorian Gracie’s narrative describes what is happening throughout this fight extremely well for readers who are vision impaired.

The second video which is also posted on Youtube is less descriptive for persons who are vision impaired.

In this video, brothers Rickson and Royler Gracie walk through the various self-defense moves principles, and strategies prevalent in Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

From a BjJ player’s perspective, I realize that the self-defense aspect of GJJ might become a bit tedious and boring for some who wish to improve their sport BjJ game. But I’m committed in my own BjJ game to always remember and practice the basics of this art form and to not forget why I started studying GJJ in the first place. Renner Gracie often concludes his instructional video clips by saying: "Keep it real! And Keep it Gracie." To me, that statement sums up the essence of this post.


Larry, the LTrain

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Referencing An Internet Resource, And Thoughts About A Rolling Concept Recently Introduced To Me

Many of you who have been around the BjJ game for some time are probably aware of this wonderful internet resource, but maybe it has evaded you. And, if you’re new to the game, or somebody who is interested in BJJ, then this resource will be a great place for you to start.

The Fightworks Podcast is a website whereby a couple of BjJ players post a weekly podcast that is posted every Sunday, and these downloads are chock full of great interviews as well as the latest BJJ news and happenings. There’s a very solid interview with Royler Gracie on the November 23,2008 download discussing his relocation to the U.S., which is a great thing for those of us who train with RGDA. I strongly encourage you, if you have not subscribed to these podcasts and e-mail news alerts to DO IT, for it’s definitely worth your time. If nothing else, this past Sunday’s podcast made my hour run at the gym go a lot quicker the other day—LOL!

Speaking of the January 18 download, the Fightworks team interviewed Ryan Hall, a brown belt who used to train with Lloyd Irvine’s team, but is opening up his own academy in Arlington, VA. Hall has the distinction of having over 200 triangle submissions in competitions, and sounds like a very knowledgeable guy. He talked about a concept which really hit home for me. He equated the Art of grappling to the discipline of learning a language. This was particularly interesting for me, for I have a background in educational and of Master of Arts in English. He continues by musing that words in and of themselves mean nothing, and a string of words mean nothing—much like a string of moves that don’t really flow don’t really mean anything on the mat, and will generally lead to one getting smashed.

He continues by illustrating this by putting words that don’t adhere to the rules of English together as a string of words, and then goes into greater detail as to how some moves might or might not work in a particular series. Team RGDA focuses a great deal on learning principles of BJJ in conjunction with the moves that comprise these principles, and hearing Mr. Hall articulate this philosophy using something as basic as human language really hit home for me. Now, if I could just make my body always do what my head wants me to do…

He also had some good tips for stretching and improving one’s flexibility. He can even supposedly put himself in a triangle, which I’m sure goes over very well at parties! The interview in its entirety is definitely worth a listen.

With Much Respect

Monday, January 19, 2009

LTrain’s Introduction to Gracie Jiu Jitsu—Day 1

As I mentioned in my previous post, I began my formal journey in Gracie Jiu Jitsu on November 4, 2006. I should back up, though, and mentioned that a week prior to this introduction, I walked into the Academy while Professor David Adiv, one of Royler Gracie’s U.S. Representatives was conducting a seminar for Team Evolution under team Royler Gracie-David Adiv (RGDA), the team with whom I train. I remember walking in while David was in the middle of meticulously explaining something, and I felt pretty sheepish walking in, so I quickly turned to leave. Before I could turn around I felt a hand on my shoulder, and this young man, who I at first thought was a kid, stopped me and pulled me over to the side. “So what’s going on, bro?” he asks, and I tell him why I’m there. This was my first encounter with Darren Branch, a purple belt under RGDA. Darren’s about 5 foot 6 and weighs about 140 pounds, fully clothed, and is a prime example of how affective Gracie Jiu Jitsu can be. For those readers who are unaware of the Gracie Family and its founding of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you can read more about its origins by visiting for I don’t want to waste blog space giving a historical run-down of this Art and how it came to be. Nevertheless, the philosophy which undergirds GJJ is that through leverage and technique, a smaller individual can affectively defend himself against a much larger and stronger opponent/assailant.

Darren encouraged me to hang out and listen to the seminar, but I felt a little out of place. I did promise him that I’d come back, though, and he gave me his word that he’d be there ready to help me. I asked him if he thought that my blindness would present any problems for me learning GJJ, and his response was: “Nah, bro—it’ll be easy!” This guy, who I had never met, then hugged me and told me that he was “really happy that I came by”! I was a little wigged out about this at first never having met the guy before—is he coming onto me, or does he really love GJJ that much???? I was relieved to have quickly discovered that it was indeed the latter. Darren lives and breathes Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

I arrived at Team Evolution’s Academy wearing a pair of sweats and a T-shirt. I'm about 6 feet tall, and at the time, I was weighing in at about 225 lbs. I’ve since shed approximately 30 pounds as a result of the Jiu Jitsu workouts, some diet modifications, and changing up my strength training program a bit. My first class was an amazing experience. We didn’t work on anything too difficult—just some basic drills working arm bars from the guard as well as a little bit of pummeling and takedown defense from the feet. The two concepts I came away with from that class were “posture” and “base”. What struck me about the class was how helpful everyone was, and how much everyone enjoyed being there. I was, and still am, always impressed with Darren’s attention to describing moves and techniques in such great detail, that even if you can’t see him perform a given technique, his teaching style lends itself to understanding what he is showing. And, he was so great about coming over to me after each technique and personally showing me what he was doing. I’ve taken classes from some black belts who don’t pay attention to a fraction of the detail that Darren shows.

As if the formal learning part of the class wasn’t enough of a work-out, the “rolling” portion was even more invigorating, and somewhat painful. So, you need to understand that at this point, I’m still not quite a believer in this Gracie Jiu Jitsu thing. Darren must of sensed this because he walked over to me and asked me if I wanted to roll (spar) a bit. At this point I’m thinking to myself: “I’m really gonna smash this little shit.” Well, it didn’t exactly go down that way. We both lock up on the feet and Darren lets me take him down. He immediately wraps his legs around me in the “full guard” position and chokes me out—it was either “tap out” (submit) or fall asleep in this small man’s lap! We engage a 2nd time. This time, Darren took me down rather unceremoniously, quickly gained a dominant position in “side control” and arm barred me. What I lack in technique, I do make up for in persistence, so I come back for a third time. This time, Darren was quite a bit more forceful with the takedown, got a full mount, and arm barred me again. At this point, I’m both amazed and a little bit dejected that this guy who I outweighed by over 70 pounds was owning me on the mat. He walks up to me afterward and puts his arm across my shoulder and I say: “That didn’t go so well.” What Darren said next totally made me feel better and set the tone for my participation in future classes. “It’s not that it didn’t go so well. You’re just a big, tough guy who doesn’t know anything!” This really made me laugh, and drove home what Gracie Jiu Jitsu means to me. Leverage, technique, and focusing on the principles of Jiu Jitsu vs. just learning individual moves makes this Art the most affective fighting system to which I have ever been exposed. It was a great day, and one that will be forever etched into my memory. The greatest thing about it was, when I stepped onto the mat for the first time, my blindness didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was there to learn, and had a great group of guys to help me learn. I work very hard now to make any new guy who comes to the Academy feel like I felt that first day, and do whatever I can to make them comfortable and help them learn. That’s what Royler Gracie-David Adiv Jiu Jitsu is all about. To learn more about RGDA on the web, visit To visit Team Evolution on the web, go to
Larry, The LTrain

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Introducing Myself, And This Blog

Greetings! And welcome to “LTrain’s BlindJits-Blog”. My name is Larry Lewis, the creator of this blog, but for the sake of brevity and consistency, I’ll be referencing myself as “LTrain”, one of those nicknames that has stuck with me over the years I’m originally from the Chicago-Land Area, so the “AKA” suits me, I suppose. Before I begin, I want to thank you for visiting this blog, and I’m excited by the challenge of keeping your interest peaked with new posts so that you keep coming back, and maybe even dropping me a comment or two.

So who am I, and why does this blog exist? I’ll be as succinct as I can be, so that we can get on with the business of this blog. I’m 38 years old, a small business owner with a background in sales and product management both on domestic and international playing fields. I live in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. I have a wife, two hound-dogs and four cats. My interests include, but are not limited to: outdoor physical activities, reading, music, and physical fitness. I’m also totally blind. I have a very healthy view of my blindness, for I view it as a character trait that defines part of who I am rather than a disability. I figure that disabilities are rather “self-imposed”—I mean, being short can be a disability if you don’t go out and buy a step-ladder. Being uncoordinated can be a disability if you don’t strategize how to compensate for this minor inconvenience. And that is how I view my blindness. Is being blind inconvenient at times? Yes. Is it a disability? Not if you don’t want it to be , or allow to become one.

On November 4, 2006, I formally began my journey in Gracie Jiu Jitsu. I had just left an upper management position with my last employer to start my own training, consulting, and sales organization, Flying Blind, LLC As a point of reference, I'm in the business of working with and representing a variety of adaptive technologies that enable persons who are vision impaired the ability to access mainstream technologies through speech and Braille input and output. I'm currently composing this blog post using a computer with software that reads the contents of the screen to me audibly. I also use an electronic Braille device that converts the print on the screen into Braille, a tactual reading system for persons who are blind.

One of my goals for starting my own business was to recapture much of what I had lost over the past 15 years. I allowed my own career to stifle my own mental, spiritual, and physical well-being, and am fortunate to have been able to make a living being self-employed and focus a bit more on these three areas of my life.

I’ve always had an attraction to the Martial Arts. I wrestled in high-school and studied TaeKwondo for a few years as well as Karate for a short time. I’ve also been a fan of mixed martial arts for quite some time, and had heard lots about this “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu thing”. When I walked into the Academy and stepped onto the mat for the first time, I was instantly hooked. I’ll explain more about my first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class in the next post. Suffice to say, aside from my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, my gratitude to Alcoholics Anonymous, and the relationships that I have with my family and a few close friends, nothing has had a greater impact on my life than Gracie Jiu Jitsu. It’s done wonders for me physically, mentally, and emotionally, and the friendships that I’ve made with such a diverse group of training partners would never have occurred if I didn’t walk in the door of the academy and decide to stay.

The purpose of this blog is to document my experiences that have defined my Gracie Jiu Jitsu journey thus far as well as document my current experiences and perspective as a blind participant in this ever-evolving Martial Art.

I invite you to join me as I blog and post new articles with points of information, my take on what I am learning, my struggles, my opinions, etc. I’m not one to sugar coat things, and while I don’t seek out controversy, I do write what is on my mind even using a profane word or three at times, and welcome your comments. I’m a strong believer in the 1st amendment, so don’t plan to preview comments before they are posted. But I do ask that we all respect each other, even if people post comments that juxtapose others.

OK, enough with the introduction! Let’s get this blogging started! Stay tuned for my next post that will give you all the 411 on my first experience with Gracie Jiu Jitsu, and why it has hooked me!