Aside Posted on Updated on
It was a beautiful setting. I couldn’t ask for a more idyllic scene to receive my Purple Belt. Today we held a seminar with Rigan Machado; BJJ legend and 8th Black Belt. Two of the first books I ever bought were by Machado (Encyclopedia of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I and III).
There were about 50 people in attendance, many of whom I have trained with for 2 years now. Professor Shealy started off by saying there were some people he wanted to recognize and then he started calling us up. Jason Dominguez received his Black Belt. I was called up second and received my Purple Belt. Prof handed Master Rigan Machado the belt and then Machado took off my Blue Belt and tied the Purple Belt around my waist.
I was all smiles while it happened and really appreciated the applause afterward. Not for vanity’s sake, but because I have trained over and over with these guys and without them it wouldn’t have been possible.
I trained for a year in judo in the late 90s, started no gi in 2004 and began training with the gi in 2008. I have moved often due to my career and didn’t receive my Blue Belt until Feb 2009. Since that time I have trained in two different academies.
In other words, it took me 8 years to earn a purple belt. Even though I have a million excuses, I am finally glad that I have a permanent BJJ home that I can grow in and progress. Some people probably dismiss the idea of BJJ being a marathon and not a sprint as a banal statement, but it is truly a journey and I have appreciated every step!
Class started off as usual today. We were going through drills (from side control) and then our Prof. called for a break and told us, “Get water guys!”
As we headed off in different directions he went up to the front counter and started pulling up tape. Long story short, I received a stripe. He told me that I had been working hard all summer and really improved my game. So now I am a second stripe blue.
(I didn’t blog this but I had a dream on Monday that I was getting promoted. The major difference is that he called me into his office and told me he was going to promote me after an event on Saturday. He also gave me a ribbon and a medal instead of a stripe or belt. I woke up that morning and told my wife that I was going to get promoted.)
Luigi also received a stripe on his blue belt (to 4 stripe blue).
Seth and Brian received a stripe on their purple belts (to one stripe purple).
Congrats to all and time to get back to the grind.
First things first:
Congratulations to Professor James Smiley on his promotion to Black Belt! I am a little late, but I finally had a chance to say congratulations on Friday when I went to train. Also, congratulations to Art (promotion to Blue), who is a training fanatic and who I doubt will remain a blue belt for long.
We drilled a takedown and practiced sweeps from a modified butterfly guard position.
I bought a new gi and it’s been a while since I have worn a full Gi to class. It presented a few new training challenges for me as I am used to my old reliable Judo gi with the much shorter sleeves. But it also taught me a valuable lesson as well. Let me explain.
In my first roll (didn’t catch his name), I rolled with one of the guys who didn’t have a gi. In the past I used to take my top off when rolling with these guys because they have material to grab onto and the person wearing the gi has nothing. I am not that proficient in using the gi as a weapon yet so it offers me no advantages to wear one against a no-gi opponent. When grappling him I was able to counter his attempt at a leg trip and then I obtained side control. I held the position for a while and then decided to transition to another position as I wasn’t able to gain a submission. I eased up and he secured closed guard.
That’s when the fun started.
I spent the next few minutes breaking his grips on my sleeves and collar and attempts at arm-bars while I had nothing to grab onto. I had to make sure I was square with him at all times, posture up as much as I could and make sure he couldn’t obtain any angle. At one point I baited him with an arm in order to snatch out my arm but I forgot I was wearing a gi so I spent the last 2 minutes defending his all out attempt for an arm-bar. I need to continue to learn how to defend and use my gi as a weapon, but I am not going to do it with people who don’t wear a gi.
My next roll was with Cedrick. I rolled with Cedrick probably a month or so ago. He’s about two months in now and he had on his gi. Cedrick attempted a sacrifice throw and ended up on his back with me standing up looking down at him. He attempted to use spider guard but I was able to pass and gain side control and then gain mount. He is a big guy so I couldn’t get a quick Knuckle choke. I also tried an Ezekiel Choke and an Americana. He was defending well and I had the mount for a while so I decided to switch positions. As I decided to spin out to side control he clamped a lockdown on me. Then we spent the next 7 minutes or so with me in his lockdown. I couldn’t break the lock. In no gi, I can usually use a couple of tricks and get out pretty easily. The gi complicated things for me. He had no intention of letting it go either.
Joel told us we had been wrestling (or stalled) for over 10 minutes and after a couple more minutes Cedrick suggested we restart, which was fine with me. (We didn’t re-start though.)
I learned two things from those rolls. First not everyone is interested in exchanging and working from different positions. Many are going for the tap (as in my first roll) as long as it takes or are willing to hold you in one position for the entire time if it keeps you from advancing. Why should I be so willing to exchange positions and put myself in danger of being tapped if others don’t follow the same model? I don’t fault them at all. I also don’t blame it on them being relatively new. It has dawned on me that the higher belts (purples, browns and blues) don’t give up their dominant positions when they have them. They will work for the submission until they get it and that is precisely what makes them higher belts.
I have given up dominant positions many times after I knew that I could hold it for a long time in order to be fair and to be conscientious of my training partner. Also after training with giants who were 6’6 and who outweighed my by 30 to 70 pounds I know that it is not cool to smash your opponents in training to the point where they question if they want to continue. But at the same time, being conscientious has often put me on the defensive when I didn’t need to be and the same generosity is not always extended. I think my new approach will be to not give up position and work for the submission.
I also rolled with Professor Smiley twice. I was able to avoid being tapped the first round. We started halfway through it so I was able to escape being submitted. I was lying flat on my stomach with both arms behind my back when the buzzer sounded though. On our second roll I boarded the Tap Train but I could see that the daily drills that I have been working on at home has helped. After our roll, Prof. Smiley showed me how to escape an omoplata by standing up and another way to pass butterfly guard.
Bear with me everyone as I process this experience (Blue belt promo) for my memories later on. Tuesday was my first night back since the belt change. Admittedly, I felt a little different. I don’t know how though. Of course there were congratulations when I walked in and throughout class but there was also something else.
I overheard a White belt, who will rename nameless, say to one of our Purple belts, “I am going to test that Blue belt out.” I was shrimping at the time and believe it was in jest. But, I figure this is similar to the feeling of having a target on your back. I also had a new guy purple belt, who I just met that night, say something about not taking it easy on me.
I really enjoyed the drill as we worked on a self-defense throw, first from our knees, then standing. Then we worked on the scissors sweep, a 5 step mount escape and a flow drill combining the scissor sweep and mount escape. Last, we drilled the baseball choke. I have seen people pull it off on videos and I have watched a couple of demo videos but that was my first time drilling it. It’s a sweet move, but our instructor let us know that if it doesn’t work you can end up trapped under your opponent.
I rolled with a new Blue belt to our club (whose name I forgot). He pulled out the spider guard on me. I was able to defend but we spent most of the time with me in his guard and him trying to pull me into him with my sleeves. Then I rolled with the White Belt who ‘threatened me.’ I was able to keep dominant position and eventually gained the mount for the tapout.
Next, I rolled with the new Purple Belt. He has a game slightly similar to our instructor but he is about half the size. Since he had a similar game I knew a few of his plans ahead of time and was able to jump to step 3 in the process of me getting tapped out. He tapped me out with the same neck crank that Smiley uses. My mission is to never get tapped with that submission again and to tap early if I even think it is that submission. The guy is much smaller than I am so it just reminds me of the effectiveness of BJJ. Finally, I rolled with Juan (who practices just about every discipline in the academy). I was able to gain positional dominance but he is crafty in escaping positions.
All in all, I have come a long way but have even farther to go.
Check out my grappling books on Amazon: Grappling Games: BJJ & Submission Wrestlers, Tapmonster: Ideas about Grappling for BJJ and Submission Wrestlers, Grappling for Newbies, 20 Ways to Increase Grappling Skills off the Mat, The Lazy Man’s Guide to Grappling and much more.
At 10 AM this morning I officially became a Blue Belt.
I had just finished 10 minutes of sparring where I rolled with a new person every minute non-stop. I thought the 10 minutes would be no problem because after classes we roll 5 four minute rounds and I participate in 3 to 5 of them with no problem. The only time I sit out is usually due to a lack of a partner.
I miscalculated how hard it would be. Before we began my instructor, Smiley, casually stated that it should be so intense that “someone should have to drive me home.”
I had hallucinations about halfway through. At one point I said to myself, “Doesn’t Smiley know I am going to pass out?” After the third person switched they began to jump on me in whatever position I was in. I was grunting like the guy who was taking his Purple Belt test with Roy Harris and I actually became scared at one point when I was being smothered and had a flashback to Big Rick in Georgia. Finally, I lost count and couldn’t remember how many minutes I had left. When 1 minute was called out I thought 1 minute with the person I was rolling with or one minute after this one. Luckily that was the last minute. And with that, it was all over.
I suspect anxiety and adrenaline played a roll in my exhaustion. Oh yeah, did I mention I was the only one testing. So the guys had nothing to do but stand and wait for their turns to jump in.
Before the rolling session I had to demonstrate 11 techniques (submissions, escapes, sweeps and reversals from every position) and then demonstrate them again with an explanation of what I was doing.
It was all smiles and hug-pounds at the end as I was congratulated and we bowed out. The kids BJJ class had started to stream in so the kids and their parents (some of them take BJJ too) had a opportunity to see me have my behind handed to me. They offered congrats as well.
I have to admit it was one of my finer days in the lovely art (sport) of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
I’m off to celebrate,