Monday, 1 February 2010
A layman's journey into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Part 8
The enemy camp.
The gym I have been training at is the only BJJ gym I have ever been too. I basically walked in off the street and just started training. I had watched a lot of MMA and wanted to armbar and triangle people. I knew nothing of BJJ lineage and family specific styles. I had my first lesson at this gym and I have stayed there ever since.
The only other gyms I have seen the inside of have been those featured in the many thousand YouTube tutorials. These clips are like small windows into the worlds of other gyms. They have different instructors and styles, and other men and women just like me congregating each week in their respective part of the world to engage in the intricacies of ‘the gentle way’.
So, how my club does things is basically all I know. How we train, the emphasis on different positions, how we spar and the general vibe of the gym. It's my BJJ home so to speak. I have been brought up under the tutelage of the black belts there. I have most likely inherited aspects of their mind-set, style and values. My Jiu-Jitsu probably speaks their language. I am a young adolescent (metaphorically speaking) white belt who has rarely strayed far from home and I like my home. It’s familiar, respected and tough.
It was only until I really caught the Jiu-Jitsu bug and became fully immersed in its world that I began to realise a good gym is hard to find. I have heard numerous horror stories of "McDojos" that apparently teach "Gracie Jiu-Jitsu" and are really just fraudulent shysters with questionable credentials trying to make a quick buck off of the back of the UFC. No camaraderie or sense of team, no respectable black belt lineage and, above all else, no love or honour towards the art of BJJ.
It does not take long for BJJ and your gym to become a part of your everyday life. Training becomes both a joy and a downright necessity. You need your hit of mat time or else you start getting twitchy and unstable. My job requires that I travel a lot and so I have to be away from training quite often. This has become progressively more frustrating the longer I have been training. It upsets my rhythm and hinders my progress. So I decided that on my next trip away with work I would visit and train at another gym. I would pack my gi, leave my home and venture out into the big bad world of BJJ.
My first port of call was internet research. Oh, the wealth of knowledge at my very fingertips. "Google...sweet, sweet Google!" I began researching the various different schools and gyms in the city I was going to be working in, looking at their instructors’ accolades, reading team histories and examining class schedules.
It was like I was putting together a dossier on an assassination target. I was meticulous. I also had to bear in mind practical details like the cost of classes and the length of time it would take me to get there from where I would be staying. I presented these findings to my instructors. They quickly narrowed it down to one school. I should have just asked them in the first place.
They also advised me not to wear my gi, as it had my team’s patches on it. They said this might be interpreted as me being 'provocative' and 'disrespectful' to the visiting club. I had visions of a Celtic fan walking into a Rangers bar in the heart of Belfast...'nuff said.
So I needed a neutral gi, covert and anonymous. However, I did not have the funds to fork out for a new one. I asked around my club to see if anyone had a spare gi knocking around that I could borrow. One of my instructors disappeared into the gym’s store room (a mysterious room that no one dare enter). He came back and presented me with a peculiar looking gi jacket. It was a faded, off white with frayed edges, huge collars and short Judoka sleeves. It was as if he had gone into the store room/Tardis and travelled back in time and stolen it right off the back of Maeda himself.
It was enormous. Like the school blazer your mum buys you when you first start high school so you can grow into it and she can get her money’s worth. It was like trying on medieval chain mail. I slumped under its sheer mass, burdened by the mantle of its history. It was then as if my instructor became King Arthur himself when he challenged me with the task of preserving this garment's rich legacy. "I was never choked in this gi as a white belt." Come on! All I wanted to do was borrow a gi and now I am being burdened with preserving a martial arts legacy.
I felt like I was preparing for an undercover operation. I was waiting for the specifics of my mission, a list of dos and don’ts and the things to look out for before I landed in the enemies’ camp. This was sadly dispelled when my instructors told me to introduce myself to the dojo's instructors upon arrival, tell them where I was from and to send their regards. This quashed my childish fantasies of a covert Navy Seal infiltration and reconnaissance mission. Sometimes you just have to let dreams go.
I decided to bring a friend from the local area with me to my first session. He was a complete beginner and I figured he would act as an acceptable human sacrifice to appease the more bloodthirsty BJJ players of this foreign land. As I approached the gym (under the dark of night) I saw a number of predatory roid monkeys striding out from the entrance and stalking the car park. Big massive men all cranked up on 'Mountain Dew' with disturbing looks in their eyes; time bombs. I could hear the twisted echoes of what I can only describe as Polish Euro happy hardcore being blasted out from a bass heavy sound system inside the building. It was the type of music that would be a fitting score for a massacre scene in a zombie movie.
Thankfully this was not the destination. It was just the weights gym above the dojo.
The dojo was bright, clean, spacious and well equipped. The staff were friendly and the teaching solid. I thought I'd ease myself in and so I attended a basics class first. I was nervous about sparring. Firstly because I wanted to hold it down and represent myself and my club well and secondly because I didn't know what to expect.
I have heard certain clubs have different approaches to sparring. I didn't want to come across like an overzealous nob and then alienate myself for the rest of the week. Surprisingly, there was no sparring at the end of the session. I was pretty disappointed. I was really up for it and for me it does not feel like a proper workout unless you get a good scrap. It was a bit anti-climatic.
The next day I was working in a local high school (I do workshops in schools). During one of my breaks I was showing one of my colleagues the mechanics of a judo throw I had been working on. Unknowingly I was being watched from a distance by a suspicious looking dinner lady, smoking a fag outside the canteen. I caught her eye and she shouted over “You’ll bollocks your leg if you do it like that”.
I’m sorry, but has Karo Parisyan quit MMA and assumed the identity of a middle-aged dinner lady?
It turns out her partner is an MMA fighter and she has a mild, slightly disturbing obsession with Michael Bisping. So we talked up a storm and she tells me a teacher at the school trains in BJJ. It turns out it was the teacher who had been hosting me all week and the gym I had trained at the night before was his gym.
So I went back with him for the remaining sessions of the week and I had found a sparring partner. I attended some advanced classes, experienced a few different instructors and picked up some sweet techniques. I also managed to get some sparring in with the other guys there. Let’s just say I kept the gi's mythical legend intact.
If you are planning on visiting another club, you must find this gi and harness its magic.