Thursday, February 26, 2009

Training Last Night

Last night’s training was very basic, but good. We worked on a couple of straightforward arm-bars and a choke from the “north-south” position, and I was able to get some questions answered about “pummeling” while on the mat as well as some proper adjustments to my “Gi” grips.

What really impacted me last night was some things that happened during our “rolling” sessions. I rolled with a few people for the first time—one guy is fairly new and a wrestler with good base, and the other guy has trained for a few years. He was training with our team when I began my GJJ training but moved away and trains out of the Akron Area. So I was quite stoked to train with him for a bit.

Regarding the new guy who is a wrestler, I’ve found that wrestlers often present me with some difficulties when they’re in my guard—a wrestler with a good base is fairly tough for me to sweep, so I’m always angling for the submission. But last night, I was pleased that I was able to sweep the wrestler and take his back with both hooks in.

Along that same vein, when training with the gentleman who has trained for a while, I hit a “star sweep” as he stood up in my guard, moved to side control, and submitted him with an arm-lock. I was SOOOOOOO happy about hitting that “star sweep”—a sweep that I’ve drilled a fair amount, but have never hit it “live”! For those readers who aren’t familiar with this sweep, it’s a sweep executed from your guard as your opponent stands to pass the guard. Simply pick a side, hook his ankle hooking from the inside, and use your opposite hand to assist you in backward rolling over the same side shoulder of your arm that has the leg hooked. In the past, my mistake has been that I lose my connection with the guy’s leg and either botch the sweep completely or end up in his guard. Last night, I was able to stay connected and keep the pressure on while advancing to side control where I got the “tap”.

Thirdly, I rolled with a blue belt on our team and was able to actually work in some techniques that we worked on in a class a few weeks ago where we open up the guy’s Gi when he’s in the closed guard and use the bottom edge of the Gi to secure some pretty tight chokes. I was able to control him in this position, but couldn’t finish him with the choke, but I did trap his arm with his Gi and finish with an arm-bar.

On a less positive note, I did a few stupid things yesterday where my guard got passed a few times--mistakes that were innane, and I do find that I'm starting to really get upset with myself when I get myself into predicaments due to carelessness and simply not adhering to the principles that I've learned. I suppose that getting upset doesn't really help me, but as I say "old habits die hard".

It’s finally beginning to sink in with me to really relax, not be so amped up and rigid, and try many of the riskier things that I’ve been drilling. I’ve really had to overcome the whole idea of putting myself into potentially risky situations to try new moves and series of moves with my partners because I really do hate to “tap”. I’m getting a bit better about tapping when I get caught while trying something new or untested by me, although old “redneck” habits do die hard! I feel that I’m beginning to understand the difference between Jiu Jitsu and just “grappling”, and am excited to try a few new tricks tonight. I still haven’t nailed that “monoplata” from the mount yet, but you can be damn sure that it’s coming!


Larry, the LTrain

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Training With The Eyes Closed

I’m borrowing this blog title from a Roger Gracie Brown Belt out of London who wrote an interesting entry to his blog last year about “Training with the Eyes Closed” to improve his own BjJ game. The blog appears to have been discontinued or I’d share his direct thoughts with you. In short, he finds it very helpful to train with his eyes closed, but runs into problems when some of his “rolling partners” feel a bit disrespected when they catch him closing his eyes while rolling with them.

A couple of weeks ago, Darren, our GjJ coach made us all “roll” while handicapping ourselves. This exercise was intended to force us to think about our respective Jiu Jitsu game, and how we might compensate in a specific situation. During a couple of the “rolls”, he made everyone train with their eyes closed. This invoked a fair amount of laughter aimed in my direction from my training partners, and, to be sure, I contributed a bit to the jesting. I think for one of the “rolls”, I didn’t use my right hand for grips, but for the other matches, I just basked in the reality that training without vision comes so naturally for me.

One of our training partners, Mike Martin (AKA “Black Mike” or Mikey) is one of my favorite guys to train with. He’s been training a little bit longer than “yours truly”; he’s about 5 foot 10 and is a fairly solid, athletic 200 lbs—a great size and skill level for me to train with. I’m probably a little bit stronger and a little more “cardio-minded” than Mike, while he has the edge on speed and experience. Lately, Mike and I have had some marathon “rolling” sessions where it has taken us up to 30-45 minutes to “tap” the other.

That night, “Mikey” trained with me with his eyes closed, and it was truly amazing for me to observe how much he relied on his vision when training GJJ. He did very well adjusting to the lack of vision, but I could tell that he was really struggling that night.

Since that time, “Mikey” and I have “rolled” a number of times, and he insists on closing his eyes when “rolling” with me. He says that it helps him really think about “being smooth” with his techniques, and relying on how things “feel” as he works his GJJ game. The other day, he moved so well, that I didn’t believe him at first when he said his eyes were closed, but I have no reason to doubt him.

This whole exercise really gave me a perspective on my own blindness and Jiu Jitsu. I stated early on in my blog that I didn’t view my blindness as a disability. That was a rather “off the cuff” statement which I still believe, but the reality is that anything can handicap a Jiu Jitsu player if he doesn’t use the principles of Jiu Jitsu to help him strategize as to how to solve a given problem. For instance, someone who is not very tall or who doesn’t have very long limbs isn’t going to just automatically develop a good triangle choke without making some necessary adjustments to accommodate his body’s dimensions. Someone who is lighter may prefer to minimize his use of a “stack pass” and focus on more affective ways of passing.

I’ve been thinking about my own game and identifying characteristics of my style that serve as a reflection of my visual impairment. I know that I HAVE TO stay super tight and connected to my opponent without relying on strength. I really like “stacking”, “knee driving”, or “thread passing” to pass the guard, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE a series that focuses on transitioning through a succession of arm-locks from side control, a series that Donald Park showed me last April. Last week, Andres, our 18 year old phenom, showed me a pretty sick “monoplata” from the mount that also plays into my game, and I'm going to try like hell to hit this submission during a "live roll".

So in conclusion, this whole business of “training with the eyes closed” has helped me to identify strengths in my GJJ style as well as some glaring weaknesses, not specific to my lack of sight. I’ve really appreciated being both a participant as well as an interested observer of others throughout this exercise, and have gained even more respect for “Mikey” who is still voluntarily continuing to train with his eyes closed when we train together. It demonstrates a level of humility and a true willingness to learn that many Jiu Jitsu players (including yours truly) would be best served to emulate.


Larry, The LTrain

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The LTrain Gets “Gracied”

Every March, I travel to Los Angeles to both attend and work an International Trade show relevant to my line of work, and this year will be no different. The other day, I was thinking about my trip to Los Angeles next month, and where I might train while visiting the “Left Coast”, for I’ll be out there for about a week. This caused me to think about March 26, 2007, the day I visited the Gracie Academy in Torrance, CA founded by Rorian Gracie.
Prior to my trip to the birthplace of Gracie Jiu Jitsu in the U.S., I had decided that I had to visit this academy, if nothing else, for the experience of meeting some of the Gracies who teach there, to get some invaluable instruction, and to pick up a few souvenirs.

So I made a point to visit, I extended my trip over the weekend, hung out on the beach in Santa Monica on Sunday, and bright and early Monday Morning, March 26, I arrived at the Gracie Academy.

I arrived at approximately 8:30 and the Academy was still locked. In about five minutes this fairly tall kid, probably in his early 20s walked up to the front door, gave me a hearty slap across the back, and welcomed me to the Gracie Academy. Rener Gracie, one of Rorian’s sons, is one of the instructors at the Academy. Rener’s really well known for his technical approach to the Jiu Jitsu game, and I hear he has some pretty nasty foot and leg locks to go with an amazing triangle choke which I soon experienced. I had arranged to take a private lesson with Rener prior to taking a class with students. Once again, I did this primarily for the experience of being taught one on one by a Gracie. To be honest with you, private lessons with a Gracie at this Academy will run you about $300 and up. He’s an excellent teacher, but at that stage of my BJJ journey, I could have been taught by a blue belt and learned just as much as I learned with Rener. But I threw down the cash for this amazing experience.

The lesson was Gi oriented, and we spend probably the first 30 minutes with him showing me four fundamental positions for defending strikes from one’s full guard. At the time, I had never worked this self-defense series from my back, and was amazed how affective these series of movements are for the guy on the bottom. Within 30 minutes, Rener was raining down some pretty decent shots and changing his positions making me work the four different positions that he had shown me. The most difficult of these positions was when someone stands up in your guard, and this is still a weakness in my game today.
The next 20 minutes was spent by Rener helping me to properly adjust my angle when throwing up a triangle choke, and shifting my body to finish the choke. Rener’s got fairly long limbs and can lock down a pretty sick triangle—to be sure, my ears were ringing a little bit during this part of the lesson. We conclude by rolling a bit, and I finally asked him to “smash me” at a blackbelt level so that I could experience it. He asked me if I was sure, and absolutely wrecked me—I’m sure he was still holding back. This was the first time that I’d rolled with a world-class blackbelt, and it was (and I’m sure still would be) entirely overwhelming. We ended the private lesson with this photo session of Rener sinking in the rear naked choke—check it out! If all worked out well, you should see the photo on this page, but I warned you all in my first blog posting not to expect too much out of a blind guy trying to post photos!

At the conclusion of the private lesson, I went to a class taught by Rener. Class was good; I went to a beginner’s class where we worked some basic self-defense. The one thing that I do remember about the class was making the mistake of not “standing up in base” while on the mats. As I stood up, Rener walked by and as I was in the process of standing up, he unceremoniously shoved me to the mat and exclaimed: “What’s up with that, bro? What if you’re in a park somewhere and you’re trying to stand up while some punk is trying to smash you!!!!?” He was mildly upset that I didn’t stand up in base without prompting, and I took his correction to heart and always, out of habit, try to stand up in base in class, and sometimes, just whenever I’m getting up off the floor at home, etc.

I concluded my visit by visiting the gift shop picking up some shirts. It was really a great time there—the facilities were clean and the staff (including Rener) were all very nice and helpful. I’m a bit torn as to what I should do next month—last year, I was a bit tied up and couldn’t train anywhere in Los Angeles, but this year, I’ll have some time to do so; there’s so many decent places to train in that part of the country. I’m actually interested in maybe taking one day and visiting 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu where Eddie Bravo teaches his “rubber guard”, a style that is fairly foreign to me, but is something that I’m interested in gaining more exposure. I’ll report back on what I decide to do, probably after I’ve trained out there, the week of March 16.


Larry the LTrain

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tapped By A Woman!

As I’ve continued blogging, I’ve decided to steer away from my original intent which was to chronologically blog about past and current events occurring throughout my GJJ Journey. I think that it’s good for me to take a much less organized approach to this blog and simply blog about issues that I’m thinking about, or events that I can vividly recall. So allow me to share with you a rather humbling event that occurred about six months into my training.

As I’ve mentioned, I travel a fair amount for business, and I really do try to find decent academies where I can train when I’m on a business trip. There was a time when I focused all of my energies working in my hotel room every spare moment, and while I may have been productive in the short-term, let me tell you that it’s a sure way for anyone to burn themselves out when they don’t have any sort of outlet to relieve the day to day pressures of work life.

This particular trip took me back to the birthplace of the LTrain, Chicago Illinois. Donald Park, a brown belt under RGDA, and founder of Evolution Jiu Jitsu in Cleveland, was living in Chicago at the time, and encouraged me to check out POW! Mixed Martial Arts, located in Chicago’s West Loop, This is an excellent facility which teaches a variety of Martial Arts. The staff are friendly and the facility is clean. Their Jiu Jitsu program is headed up by Dino Costeas who received his purple belt from Rickson Gracie a number of years ago. While I prefer a little more “gi” in my training, Dino runs a great class, and I was very appreciative for Donald allowing me to “drop” his name so that I could train there, for this Academy doesn’t seem to advertise “mat fees” for visitors to drop in and occasionally train.

So I arrived at the gym and after warming up, I rolled a bit with Dino and a couple of his blue belts. Instruction was light that evening with an emphasis on “rolling”. I remember that we worked a few straight arm-bars from a few different angles, and I was quite impressed at the pace Dino and his team kept. I’ve heard others talk about the conditioning of grapplers in the Midwest and how their cardio is off the charts. Well, Dino’s team proved to be no exception to this rule. He was very helpful to me and offered lots of suggestions to me relating to controlling one’s hips and passing one’s guard. But enough about that, what was really etched in my memory happened after Dino and I were finished.

I was approached by this young lady named Jamie. She’s a Jiu Jitsu player who, at the time, had been training for approximately four years and I believe had either just received her purple belt, or was about to receive it. I would guess her to be in her mid 20s, and she was keeping up with that relentless pace that the rest of the team was setting. She asked me if I wanted to “roll”. I was really taken aback, for I’d never rolled with a woman before, and found the situation quite awkward. She didn’t give me much time to think about it or respond. She just sat to guard as she pulled me down by the arm exclaiming “Come on! Let’s GO!” So here I am in the full guard of a young woman who smelled great, and by all sighted accounts, looked as good as she smelled. I am a huge fan of the opposite sex, and had really never given much thought about training with women. But here I was, in the thick of it with someone who had a very active guard, and, as I ascertained rather quickly, wasn’t there to play games. Within seconds, she had broken my posture and was controlling my right arm. As I tried to posture up, she threw up her hips and extended my arm.

“HOLY SHIT!” I thought to myself. I’m really in trouble here. Jamie just slowly raised her hips, and it was “tap” or get my arm broken. I reluctantly tapped. We rolled again, and by this time, I was quickly forgetting that I was rolling with a woman. I passed to half-guard briefly before she recovered guard and swept me taking side control. I was able to regain guard, but she was able to pass at will. We rolled for about fifteen minutes and I think she tapped me another time or to. Needless to say, the experience was an enlightening one.

I learned a great deal from this experience. The first thing that I learned is that when I step on the mat, I want to be perceived as just a Jiu Jitsu player. I’ve had to really go hard with certain assholes outside of Team Evolution, and even a couple of visitors to our academy, who feel that they need to go easy on me because I’m blind. Respect is very important to me, and disrespect isn’t tolerated by me. I didn’t extend this respect and courtesy to Jamie until she tapped it out of me. To me, she was just a very attractive woman who needed to be handled as such. I really disrespected her as an fellow BJJ player, and I was quite sorry about that. I’ve trained with a number of female BJJ players since then, and have really learned my lesson well, for when I’m on the mat with them, I basically put it out of my mind that I’m training with a woman. My main focus is being the best training partner that I can be for them as well as learning whatever I can from them. Jiu Jitsu really has a way of breaking down some serious stereotypes, for the principles of this art really lend themselves to serving women well because leverage and technique definitely supersede strength and power. In the rare event that she ever reads this blog entry, I’d like to thank Jamie for adding to my growth and maturity as a BJJ student, and apologize for initially disrespecting her


Larry the LTrain

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Killing “Cavejitsu”!

Sorry for the delay in blogging. Last week I got hit with a pesky winter cold which derailed “The Train’s” training schedule, and business for me has been a little bit crazy as of late.

In the wake of Helio Gracie’s passing, I’ve been fortunate to have listened to some interviews on-line by people who actually knew, and trained with Professor Gracie. One of the underlying themes of these interviews has been Helio’s great attention toward developing an art that is solely based on technique whereby much smaller individuals can survive against much larger opponents. This sounds good to all of us, but I was struck by how profound this philosophy is while training with Darren Branch, my Jiu Jitsu coach this week. Darren’s really been on me to be much more fluid and less rigid when “rolling”. Darren and I have a pretty good relationship, and he knows that I respond well to harsh criticism at times, and this is often hard for him to give.

Darren and I had a private training session yesterday where I spent some time working some half-guard positions that I have wanted to review as well as a sweep from the “butterfly guard”. Of course, we had a spirited “roll” for about the last 30 minutes of the private lesson. He stopped me a few minutes into the “roll” and was pretty emphatic about me “breathing”, “relaxing”, and being more fluid with all of my movements. I’m generally pretty loose when I’m doing well in a sparring session, but at the first sign of trouble, I tense up, and as I like to call it, I “caveman” through the problem. “Cavemanning”, as defined by the LTrain, is the process of throwing all of what I have learned out the window and relying on brute strength to muscle through a predicament. In one of the interviews that I listened to, the interviewee was pretty adamant about Helio’s dislike for such an alternative, going as far as saying that “relying on one’s physical strength is not what I develop or teach”.

Those words coupled with Darren’s mild annoyance with me really helped drive that point home yesterday, and so I tried it—I just relaxed and focused on thinking about Jiu Jitsu principles and movements rather than “not tapping”. The result was an excellent “roll” with one of my favorite training partners. Ironically, I didn’t feel gassed at all after the “session”. My cardio is pretty good, and I generally can hang in there longer than a lot of folks who are quite a bit younger than me, but I really felt different yesterday. I totally felt as if I could go a lot longer, for I didn’t feel like I spent a great deal of energy or strength at all. Of course, I still had a good “LTrain sweat” going—but it felt so different yesterday. I’m out of town today, which is why I worked in the private lesson, but I can’t wait to really “tune up the band” tomorrow night and really start throwing all caution to the wind and focus on more fluidity, movement, and overall BJJ activity no matter what position I’m playing. As much as it pains me sometimes, the days of “Cavejitsu” are coming to an end—they have to if I expect to advance my overall GJJ game.

Larry, the LTrain