Saturday was great! My brother and my nephews thoroughly enjoyed going to the Jax BJJ Academy. My nephews took to their drills like fish to water. I was unable to see what my brother was doing since we were split into groups minutes after we arrived. Even though the academy has Jacksonville in the name it is actually in Neptune Beach, FL and was about 20 miles further than the original 39 miles we had thought. I don’t know if they will return but I am glad that they had a chance to see what I am into.
Now for my experience; I had been wanting to visit this place for a long time (since my last visit to Jacksonville). It is a Gracie Barra Academy and the instructors have trained under the Gracies. I was also able to break out my gi, which I haven’t worn in a long time. The head instructor, Larry, greeted us immediately and recognized us from the email I had sent him that morning. After briefly assessing our experience and backgrounds we were split into groups and I went in their back room to change.
At first I was sent over to Jim, a purple belt, who was demonstrating to a guy, who I later learned had been there for two months, how to both defend and apply the guillotine. It was a good review and he also demonstrated proper finger placement and how to finish off the technique. This showed me that they were really into the technical aspects of Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Then the head instructor switched Jim out and brought in a blue belt (sorry, can’t remember his name) to work with me. When he asked what I wanted to work on I told him gi chokes. So he showed me a number of chokes that could be applied standing, in the guard or in side control. He also showed me some defenses to the choke. He and later on the head instructor told me that the most important thing to remember about chokes is to always watch out for the second hand. Which is good advice. One thing I have learned in BJJ is to never let your opponent do what he wants to do.
After working with the blue belt for a while, the head instructor brought me over to work with him. I believe he is a black belt but his belt was so old that it looked gray. So I don’t know for sure. This is the first time that I have rolled with someone who is above the purple belt level and the experience was an eye opener. (It was similar to when I sparred with the Judo guys who had been to Nationals, like Fred and Otto Hand or when I sparred with Brian Wilson of Olympic judo fame. You could tell you were in the ocean and not swimming in the stream anymore.)
Since I practice no gi, he also showed me a number of ways to use the gi to go for chokes or to gain positional advantage. He then had me go through a number of ways of trying to obtain the mount from a quasi side control position. A few things that he pointed out to me was to not extend my foot out so far when trying to defend a sweep because I could hurt my ankle. He also told me to use my forearm in the hip and not my hand when trying to obtain guard when someone is in side control. He stated that the gi can catch my fingers or twist my wrist the wrong way or when my opponent shifts for certain positions I could be hurt.
The more we rolled I could see what he was saying. Although I could tell that he was strong, he played a very relaxed and calm game. He was able to tap me by doing things like gently folding my wrist, some kind of forearm neck choke ( a few times) and an ankle lock when I was able to get his back. Sometimes he would let go of a submission before I had sense enough to realize I was in danger and could tap out. Once when I had his back, he folded my foot under his thigh and made me tap and that’s the best way I can describe it.
As I do not normally roll in a gi and because of the new setting I didn’t have my normal energy levels. I found myself struggling to keep going as he was non stop, “Let’s do it again.” I basically had the equivalent of a private lesson and that was cool. With my family included I think that there were about 11 people there. The head instructor Larry told me that normally it is much busier but due to the holidays not that many people showed.
For those who are new to visiting other academies in new cities like me; here’s what happened. My brother and his nephews received free lessons and I paid a small nominal fee since I was coming not to join but just work in with them and use the facilities. Everyone was extremely nice and helpful. I was also invited back anytime and they informed us of their tournaments that they hold for people who go to their academy. It was a great experience and I hope to do more of it in the future.
Next stop, Miami……