Tag Archives: Training

Sam Harris joins the blogging parade!

How’s this for a slice of fried gold? Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, member of the four horsemen, and all round sciencey bloke has taken up BJJ. What next? Dawkins in an MMA match with the pope?! (I would pay vast quantities of money to see that. Prediction: Reason by armbar).

As a card-carrying member of the militant atheist brigade – my rational jack boots and evidence epaulets look divine, dahling – I’m quite excited about all this. Sam Harris is a fantastic author. I highly recommend everyone to read Letter to a Christian Nation – it’s concise (96 pages long), clear, and as good a demolition of the absurdities of faith as I have ever read.

I am hoping him turning his laser logic onto a subject as full of bullshit as martial arts can only be a good thing. Having cut my teeth in the TMA world, I know first hand how delusional they can be. Write this is stone, tattoo it on your chest, and don’t forget it: Kata does not help you, chi doesn’t exist, you are only as good as your last fight.

Harris has tackled martial arts before, writing about the realities of self defense. I don’t really think I’m qualified to critique his viewpoint – the last fight I got into was in school, and the last fight I avoided was about 10 years ago (over a phone box, of all things) – but what he says here does seems consistent with other things I’ve read about “realistic” self defense as opposed to self defense as it’s taught in TMA: “Now you punch me. No, not like that like that, like this. No the other hand, oh you’re doing the attack all wrong!”

As an aside, I’ve always liked the term “Self Protection” to differentiate between the two. The logic is, I believe, that defense is something you need once you’ve failed to protect yourself from being attacked in the first place. Whilst it’s essentially a semantic thing, I like having the two terms. Of course there is a much simpler word to describe what happens when you need to resort to fisticuffs: Fighting. And make no mistake, the police take a very dim view of it.

Speaking of which: Harris actually links to someone, Lee Morrison, with whom I once attended a self protection seminar which I can sum up thusly: Avoid violence at all costs, but when you have no other choice – hit first, hit hard, and then RUN AWAY. This seems to be what Harris is advocating too, and makes a lot of sense to me. Why on earth put yourself in more danger than you need to be – both physically and legally. You call it “teaching them a lesson” the courts call it “attempted murder”.

Whatever your views on the whole self defense issue, I think we can all agree it’s worth reading. For my part I like the fact Harris refers to police’s views, quotes the stats (fuck yeah evidence!), and also has read the criticisms of his article (mainly about the role of BJJ in not going to the ground) and corrected his footnotes accordingly. It’s this attention to detail that excites me about his BJJ blogging.

I’m not going to go into details about the BJJ article, read it and judge for yourselves, but I really enjoyed it. I liked his analogy of drowning to describe being tapped – something I’ve done myself before, much less eloquently – and his rational approach to the reality of the subject he’s addressing shines through as always. He uses that video of the chi master getting punched in the face to illustrate the self deception of some martial artists. In his words:

Of course, it is sad to see a confused old man repeatedly punched in the face—but if you are a martial artist, or have even a passing concern with safeguarding basic human sanity, you will take some satisfaction in seeing a collective delusion so emphatically dispelled.


The one thing I will say is that the article is very dedicated to the self defense side of the art, something I could care less about if I’m honest, so might not be for everyone. Still, it’s not everyday a New York Times best-selling author starts writing about your martial art. Read it, fools!

For clarity, here’s the link again: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-pleasures-of-drowning  Enjoy!



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Excuses for not training, pt. 1 – GHANA BABY!!

This being my first post in a long time, I am brutally aware that it will never stand up to expectations. The stakes are simply too high, the clamouring hopes of the my adoring fans (both of them) can never be met. The rich ideas and dreams they have created in their heads will always be better than anything I can dare to make concrete or real. This is my chinese democracy. My Episode 1… but with less Jar-Jar. Thank Fuck.

Last year was a bit of a bust, training wise. If the key to progression is regular mat time then I have taken the key and put in it a draw for safe keeping. I then totally forgot about the key until I needed it again, and couldn’t fucking find it. It’s probably down the back somewhere with the old batteries, paperclips and the 7 year old non-identifiable power adaptors that seem to only exist in my drawer space.

So why haven’t I been training? Sheer laziness aside, it’s the typical thing of life getting in the way. Looking back I did a lot in 2011 – though it didn’t feel so at the time – I went travelling, was unemployed, changed careers, got injured, got depressed and of course dealt with all the other minutae of existence which gets in the way… In the words of Primo Levi: I drunk, I ate, I made love.*

Since the start of january last year I think there’s was a good 4-5 months of no training at all (the travelling and the injury) and the rest of the year seemed piecemeal at best. I am only now just about approaching what might be called a “training regime”. I feel I may have to address the fact – and own up to the truth – that this is a just hobby for me, not a lifestyle…

Or not. You make your own actions, you know?

Long story short: At the end of 2010 I was depressed and miserable. I couldn’t get a job I wanted so was working part time for crap money and I just needed to get the hell out of dodge. A friend of mine was going volunteering out in an Island off Hounduros to save some lizards or something (hippy) and that made me start to think about some good I could do. I’d inherited some money from my Nan that I wanted to do something meaningful with rather than piss it up the wall.

I had no ties to keep me in the UK, and the money to do it, so I figured it was the best time to do something different. And so, in early 2011 I took off for Ghana for two months. I was with a volunteer project about 140km north-east of the capital: building schools, teaching, giving aid to remote villages. You know, saving the world. And just to be clear – it does need saving. When you’re having to bring children’s clothes, paracetamol and soap to remote villages who wouldn’t have had it otherwise – something’s gone seriously wrong with the world. Now I don’t want to get all “sins of the fathers” on you all, but it’s our mess – we should at least help to clear it up.

I think it’s an understatement to say I enjoyed myself whilst volunteering and travelling around Ghana. I had possibly the best time I had in years, and with my clothes on – go figure. For starters the communal aspect of living was amazing. There were a lot of points when it reminded me of being at university: Playing stupid** drinking games, or being epically hungover, or simply just sitting around talking shit because we had nothing better to do. In fact: Given that I spent most of the time surrounded by hot teenage girls who wouldn’t sleep with me – it was EXACTLY like being at University.

Yes, these are my bitches.

And then there was the simple fact that I WAS IN FUCKING GHANA!! Having never really travelled before – and having never really wanted to – I was constantly amazed by how fucking awesome it was. The country itself was breathtaking, the people even more so, and just the freedom felt from being 3000miles away from home was immense. Clearly being taken out of my comfort zone is good for me. If you’ve never hitch-hiked home on the back of a flat back lorry, or drunk moonshine with the locals, or built a school with your bare hands – having first had to make the bricks – you haven’t lived!

It was, simply put, stunning. But then after a couple of weeks I’d settled in and gotten used the general craziness that is Ghana and I began to notice that I was genuinely really missing training. And there wasn’t much I could do about it – short of double legging the other volunteers or starting a fight with the Ghanians.

The annoying thing about BJJ – and, on reflection, one of the things I love about it – you can’t really train on your own. Sure you can do conditioning and solo-drills, but it’s not rolling is it? It’s not actually learning how to get better at fighting. You’re not going to become a Black Belt by reading a few books and going through the moves on your own in the comfort of your own bedroom.  The most depressing thing was, I think, knowing that when I was at uni and studying Lau Gar kung fu – I did exactly that. Only the angels of objective truth know how many hours of my life I wasted going over and over forms like this and thinking I was actually training. Self delusion is a terrible thing.

I suppose, looking back, that I could’ve forced myself to do some kind of conditioning work whilst I was out there just to keep myself in shape. Though I’d argue that shovelling literally tonnes of sand/gravel/cement in a 30+ degree heat is hard work enough, let alone once you factor in dehydration and being ill. Oh, and proper nutrition is a nightmare to achieve. The main diet is rice. And rice. With a bit more rice. The easiest meat to get hold of was corned beef (though we did find corned mutton which appeared to have a picture of a goat on it – I dread to think). Though you could take your life in your hands and buy chicken/mystery kebab from a street seller. Nothing says travelling more than thinking “I wonder exactly how ill this will make me?” and then eating it anyway.

How can I handle training on a day like today?

In short. I missed training. I missed my training buddies. I spent a fuck lot of time packed into taxis, coaches, and Trotros (read: minibus) listening to music and daydreaming whilst we travelled about. And no matter what I was thinking about it ALWAYS came back to BJJ/Fighting. I guess this isn’t unusual in itself (BJJ is my main hobby after all) but I was surprised that my mind drifted back to training literally EVERY journey. It was almost as if it was my passion or something – and that I should indulge that passion and become happy with my life… Crazy talk, I know.

The other thing that became abuntantly clear is that there is a big tribal element to training that I don’t think I fully appreciated until I was removed from it. I come from a damn good pedigree and I am fiercely proud of that fact.  I kept seeing little snippets on facebook & twitter about how well people were doing, fight results, promotions and so on and all I wanted to do was be there to congratulate those involved and bask in the reflected glory. I missed Andy getting his Black Belt from Roger, which was something I’d have paid money to see. I did phone him to congratulate him – even 1000miles away I am a suck up – and I think he appreciated it. Maybe. I even attempted to share this awesome news with the people there but gave up fairly soon when greeted with blank stares. If people don’t even know what BJJ is, they aren’t going to know who Roger is, and they certainly aren’t going to know who Andy is. The fools!

I am sadly aware the irony of this tribalism on my part makes me dangerously similar to the football fans I normally take the piss out of for saying stuff like “We totally won last night!” … Really? And how many goals did YOU score exactly?

The difference, of course, is that I have trained with all these people. I have helped in some small way towards their achievement. I know I am not responsible for their victory or promotion (We can only thank Steven Seagal for that) or whatever, but I’d like to think I was at least a small part of it.  That’s my story for being an RGA nut-riding fan boy and I’m sticking to it!

The point is, I think, that I wanted to be there. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to TRAIN, damn it!

My biggest fear whilst in Ghana – aside from catching AIDS, Malaria, being macheted to death, or dying in an RTA (9 people in one hatchback just screams “road safety”) – is that all the daydreaming I did about being back at training was simply that, dreaming. That I wasn’t actually motivated at all, I just thought I was. Everyone loves the IDEA of winning, but how many people are actually motivated enough to do all the hard work? It’s very easy to think “yeah, I’m going to train every session I can! I’m going to become king of BJJ! I will smash everyone at the next comp!” but the reality is very different. This is why all fight movies have montages that skip all the hard work. The alternative would be an attempt at realism, and no-one wants to see 90mins of someone endlessly repeating the same moves with a 5min fight payoff at the end. It’s only in the hindsight we see our hardwork come off.  To paraphrase an oft quoted phrase about writing: I don’t like training, but I like having trained.

Star Beer - Manna from Heaven.

I think my final point is: I started 2011 on a high note – My rolling before Ghana felt fluid and easy. I think I can safely say my last session in the country was the best I’ve ever rolled. Now, over 12 months on I think I am *just* getting to that point again. Or, to put it another way: It has taken me a year of work to stay EXACTLY WHERE I WAS. Progression can be a bitch.

There are times now (generally when I’ve been smashed to bits by someone I used to be able to hold my own against) that I look back and wonder why the fuck I just didn’t go to Brazil and train for a month instead, or stay home and use the money for something else whilst I kept up my Jiu-Jitsu here – but I think that does a diservice to past Dave: He made the right choice at the time, I think, plus playing the “what if” game is a recipie for disaster.

It was after all, when all’s said and done, an amazing experience. I had a unique opportunity to go, and I’m glad I took it. I really don’t think that I could do justice here to  everything that happened in those two months but here, in quick summation, are a few of those little moments that make life worth living:

Pirate Andy and his Methadone stories, Ring of fire & I have never, Star beer, dance-offs with the locals, Gin, dehydration, and the worst Valentine’s hangover ever, *that* photo, Kokribite beach (keep to the RIGHT!), Rich and the “bouncy bouncy” game, The crazy danish monkey sanctuary, Lake Bosumtwe (my favourite place in the whole fucking world), an incident that will now only be referred as “Zoe-gate”, that fucking American woman, Team Canada, KWASI TIME!!, Mica’s drum solo at the hotel, three ants in a giant ant costume, The nurses’ story, Joe’s amazing rice, snake attacks, showering in the rain, Dave’s rock, more hellos, goodbyes and hangovers than I care to count, and all the chants of Obruni! Obruni! Obruni! where-ever we went…

Fun. Times.

High fives are an international language...

I left with Ghana with a heavy heart; Though in hindsight that might have been my choice to listen to Ok Computer on the taxi ride to the airport… You’re born alone. You die alone. You leave Ghana alone. I cried when I left, real tears. But as Appiah (our Ghanaian equivalent of a conceirge) said: You should cry, it shows it meant something. Yeah. It really did.

Post-script: I would like to state very clearly that I did not “Find Myself” in Ghana, or any hippy bullshit like that. I deeply suspect that I am a massive wanker, and so self exploration is unlikely to yield good results. I did however have an awesome time, think I helped out quite a bit, made some new friends (who can’t all have been pretending to like me), and came back feeling all energised and motivated and shit….

Well. For a bit. Nooch.


*The ratios of which I refuse to discuss.

**And I do mean stupid. Trust me, if you’re playing “I have never” with people 10-15 years younger than you then it’s VERY fucking stupid. I mean, who doesn’t drink to “I have never indulged in a sexual activity that seemed like a great idea at the time but has ultimately left deep psychological scarring”?  Oh. Just me then… Just me…

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Jiu Jitsu Therapy

It occurs to me that my last post was a bit depressing* so I thought I’d write something a little bit more upbeat.

The start of November was, quite frankly, shit. I experienced probably the worst total mind and body failure in my BJJ career so far. The sort  of thing that makes you want to give in and take up Tae Kwon Do. Sadly for the guys at my club, and for you lot, I decided to soldier on. Sorry.

Since then I think I’ve made good progress. I realised I wasn’t getting anywhere and wasn’t having fun. So I decided to try and focus on just having fun again. I didn’t go to sessions when I felt I was forcing myself to go, and I didn’t beat myself up for missing sessions when I had other things to do (even things like catch up with some old mates down the pub). As a consequence I started to enjoy training again, started wanting to train more and started to progress again. Funny how those things go together isn’t it? Seriously. How many fucking times do I need to learn this lesson? Pigeons learn faster than me!

Skip to the end of November and I was feeling better about my training, feeling better about myself, and actually felt like I deserved to be wearing a Blue Belt for the first time in ages.  Good thing too really as I have now been given my first stripe to live up to… It never ends!

So, there we have it. Jiu Jitsu will save you. It took me from the worst I’ve felt in months to the best I’ve felt in months. Or maybe it’s just cos I got laid the other weekend. Further study is needed. Anyone? Purely in the interests on science, obviously…

*That’s the problem with being depressed. It is a bit, well, depressing.

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Top 10 phrases to avoid on the mat

Given that I am now a seasoned Blue Belt, I thought it was about time I passed on my years of accumulated wisdom to any beginners out there. Here a few choice phrases I’ve heard over the years (or possibly, made up) that highlight training mistakes or etiquette faux pas that you may want to avoid.

Obviously this is aimed at newbies, which like most things in BJJ means it goes double for all you higher grades out there… Share and enjoy bitches!

What’s the worst that can happen? BRING IT ON!

THIS. By all means train hard but tap early, tap often, and keep yourself safe.

RAAAARRR!! Newbie Smash!! RAAARRRR!!

Woah! Easy tiger. Everyone wants to win, and it’s really easy to force a sub on to begin with, but you’re really not helping anyone. Relax, and you’ll have more gas. Have more gas and you can concentrate on your technique more. concentrate on your technique more and you’ll find your game improving no end. If you want to train a strength only game, try power lifting.

I just learned a new deep half guard inverted gogoplata on submissions101, I’m going to smash everyone!!

Are you? Well well done you.  In the meantime I’m going to listen to my instructor who I’m paying to teach me and learn techniques that way. There is a very good reason privates cost £40 an hour and YouTube is free.

Yeah, well, he only beat me cos…

There is a big difference between a reason and excuse. Finding a reason as to why you lost helps you learn as you improve your game, making excuses  fools no-one apart from yourself.

Phwoooar, Kyra Gracie! I wouldn’t mind being stuck in her guard/ sometimes passing isn’t an option/I’d mount her alright/etc

Well, done, congratulations. You’ve realised Kyra Gracie is a beautiful women. But have some fucking respect – she’s a world-class athlete, and you’re a tool. I bet Renzo never had to put up with this shit.

When am I gonna get my Blue Belt? When am I gonna get my Blue Belt? When am I gonna get my Blue Belt?

At this rate, never. A watched pot never boils, a pestered instructor never grades. Forget about the next belt and concentrate on training.

Man, I love working on my Jitz game.

Listen Snoop Dogg, it’s not “Jitz” or “B-Jizzle” or any of your other cool trendy made up words, It’s Jiu-Jitsu. End of discussion. Everytime you use the term “Jitz” – Rickson murders a panda.

I’m going to buy a lightweight gi to help with my comp game

If you honestly think 600g difference is going to transform your game then a) you’re probably fighting at the wrong weight and b) you’re deluded. Train harder, cut properly, or fight at the next weight.

Can we take it easy? I put my back out last night humping your mother

I actually used this phrase once, and I wouldn’t recommend it… Big mistake. Huge.

Um…  look. I know we all joke about it, but, well… it really is quite gay isn’t it?

Shhh! There are just some things we don’t talk about, ok?

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Blue Belt. And here my troubles began.

On Tuesday 6th of April 2010 at approximately 8.35pm – After 2 years and 2 days (or roughly 240hrs*) of training – I was awarded my Blue Belt by Andy Roberts.

As the astute of you may have noticed – those of you with mastery of esoteric subjects like “The Gregorian Calendar” and “Maths” – that means I’ve now been training as a Blue Belt for 3 months now. A suitable time I think, to look back and reflect on that momentous occasion and address that all too familiar subject what does a blue belt really mean?

I think I’ve said this before, so I hope I’m not just repeating myself endlessly, but the goal is not the reward. The goal is, of course, to get better. The Blue Belt is your reward. I think it’s easy to conflate the two and see your next belt as the ultimate goal. I know when I was a white belt I saw Blue Belts as Gods among men, smashing us mere mortals aside with strange and obscure techniques coming from odd angles and weirder set ups and dreamt (sometimes literally) of having such super powers. And then I got my Blue Belt. And like everyone else before me I realised that, no, they aren’t special. They’ve just trained hard to get where they are. The techniques they use aren’t crazy or secret, they just know how to apply them and possibly have a few favourites they’ve perfected. But they still get subbed, and make mistakes. They are still growing into grappler in their own right and (if you’re me) still feel like they know nothing. In short a Blue Belt is a lot like being a White Belt, they are both different points on the same learning spectrum. Not like those Purple Belts – Wow – They are like Gods among men!

A Blue Belt for me represents you have a good grounding in the art.  To me, saying you’re a Blue Belt means that you have a good understanding of what BJJ is and how to do it. You know your kimuras from your armbars, you don’t just wildly scramble for position – you work towards it, and you know to set up positions before going for subs, you can hold your own whilst rolling against other Blues, and when you do tap out to higher grades you generally know WHY you lost. In short it represents you’ve achieved a solid base to work from. It shows you’ve arrived in the BJJ world. It is the first marker on a much longer journey, one you should be proud of and celebrate, but just a marker none-the-less.

Now on that last point and all I’ve said above about how it doesn’t really change anything: I’d like to pretend I casually accepted my Blue Belt with zen-like calm and didn’t make a big fuss about it,  but we all know I’d be lying.  When it happens it feels like the biggest achievement in the world. It wasn’t until I got in the car on the way home that it hit me. This was it. This is what I’d been pushing for all this time and I’d finally achieved it. WOOOHOO! I may have been listening to the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Protect ya neck” with the windows down and the system up, I may have joyfully punched the roof on more than one occasion, there may have even been a few tears. I refuse to confirm or deny any of these rumours – But I will say I was damned happy to get my Blue! Finally when posed the dreaded “So what belt are you now?” question from non BJJers I no longer had to waffle on about stripes and how “well, BJJ grading system is quite different from other martial arts”. I could hold my head up high, wait for the dramatic music and declare “I, my naive friend, am now a Blue Belt!” and then swish my cloak about my person before disappearing off into the night…

I got a lot of props at the club too, which was nice.  I think being one the last of the old guard to get my Blue helped a lot in that (as I knew basically everyone) and having so many people coming up to me to congratulate me and say how hard i’d worked and how much I deserved it gave me a massive confidence boost at the time**. Like a child I refused to tap to white belts and managed to succeed for over a month until a particularly large white belt leaned on my throat ’til I saw stars and I felt it was probably best to swallow my pride whilst I still capable of swallowing. I also (and I’m sure every new Blue Belt must do this) gratuitously wrist locked everyone I could until I realised that escalation can only every be a bad thing. Still, it was nice to play with my new toys. I think  my favourite moment as a New Blue was walking past two white belts chatting at the end of a class and one of them pointing to me and saying “He’s the one you should roll with him,  he could teach you a thing or two” WTF? Really?! When did that happen? It really made me smile at the time. Especially as, much to my surprise, I was able to teach him a thing or two – Namely “don’t encourage new Blue Belts to prove how good they are”, nooch.

Now it’s  several months in I think it’s all settled down back to normal. I gave up my foolish “thou shalt not tap to white belts” stance ages ago, I still occasionally try a cheeky wrist lock , but other than that it’s pretty much business as usual. I currently feel that I’m (re)discovering the joys of BJJ for the first time. I don’t really think my game’s improving in any massive way, but I am enjoying slowly trying things out. I train, I get smashed, and I try to learn. It’s almost exactly like being a white belt again, except that now I want to concentrate on the basics. An irony, I believe, everyone realises once getting their Blue.

P.S. I realised half way through this that I’ve been automatically capatilising “Blue Belt” like it’s some kind of title. I know I’m probably breaching all kind of grammar rules, but fuck it, I like it. I think we should all adopt caps-lock to show deference to the power the mighty belt. Also, I really want to be able to write: “oh, so you’re a blue belt in TKD are you? That’s cool. I’m a Blue Belt in BJJ…” on message boards.

*When I say “roughly” I mean roughly. The bullshit assumptions and generalisations I have made to get to this number would make mathematicians cry. In fact, I’ve recently submitted the “time spent training” algorithm to the board of BP so that they can use it to aid their accurate reporting of how much oil is pumping into the Gulf of Mexico.

** Of course, the props were all yours too. I really couldn’t have done it without y’all helping. Thanks guys.

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