Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fightzone (Checkmat) Sweden 04-22-14

Getting to Sweden from Estonia was going to be a bit of a task for me. I had planned only flying from Tallinn (Estonia) to Stockholm, and then taking the train from Stockholm to Malmo. I stupidly booked the flight before checking train prices, and when I finally did look at the train prices I found that it would have been cheaper to just buy a plane ticket straight to Malmo. I was lucky enough to find a FinAir flight from Stockholm to Copenhagen for under $100, with a bit of a layover in Finland and a cheap train ride over to Malmo. It wasn’t exactly ideal, but at least I could say I’ve spent some time in Finland!

I woke up around 0500 and was still feeling the effects from the food poisoning. I felt sick, lethargic, and otherwise like shit. Rather than taking the public transportation to the airport, which didn’t start running until 0600 anyways, I decided to just spent money on a cab from the hostel. Normally taking a taxi to an airport is very expensive, but I ended up spending about $15 USD on the ride including a tip to the driver. 

It amazes me that people are still ignorant when it comes to security checkpoints at airports. Henry Rollins did a great spoken word piece that embodies my thoughts on the subject rather well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2lVcmtHX90 I’m always ready to go when I hit the line. Things in my pockets are transferred to my bag, as is my metal clad belt. My laptop and tablet are out of the bag in my arms. My jackets and sweatshirts are off, and my shoes are in hand. But I always have to wait on multiple people who act like they were just magically transported into the line and are slowly taking things out right before they get to the metal detectors, like it’s an exercise in Zen meditation. I’d say there are 1 out of every 3 people who think their cellphones or whatever will be able to pass through the detectors. I know, it shouldn’t irritate me as much as it does, but it’s a huge peeve of mine. 

After getting some food in the airport and some fluids in me, I started to feel better. I was behind on writing my blog, but didn’t really feel the motivation to write anything. More or less I just wanted to sleep some more. Instead, I decided to do some reading which ended up leading to me falling asleep mid-flight. 

After arriving at the hostel and checking in, I was pleasantly surprised to fine that there was only one other person occupying the dorm with me. A younger Israeli guy by the name of Yuval. We chatted for a bit about our trips that we were on. He was taking some time away from home to just travel about to a few countries in Europe. I noticed he was reading “Into the Wild” and commented on it. It was his second time reading the book and he found the story to be extremely fascinating. I can understand the romance with the novel, as I have my own with Fight Club. 

Yuval wanted to go out later in the evening for a beer, I told him to let me know when he was ready I would head out with him. It was still pretty early in the day so I decided to go try and find some food and water for the couple of days that I would be in town. Luckily there was a corner store about 100m from the hostel, so I headed down there and loaded up on goods. 

Later on Yuval and I headed out into Malmo to see what was going on. We walked for 30-40 minutes before we found a pub that was open. We inquired with the bartender why everything was shut down on a Monday evening and we told that it was a “red day”, which meant it was a public holiday. Yuval and I had a couple of pints while discussing out travels, politics, and war among other things. Yuval had served in the Israeli Defense Forces and had some interesting insight in terms of the politics in the region. He essentially told me that things are not as bad as American media portrays them to be. Thats not to say that there are not problems in the area, but watching American news you would think there is an active war in the region with fighting daily. Yuval seemed pretty impressed with my limited knowledge of the intricate story of that area. We ended up leaving the pub pretty early, around 2200 or so and headed back to the hostel for some sleep.

The Academy I would be training at, Fightzone, only had evening classes. I had the day to myself to go around and take some photos and wander aimlessly. And I did exactly that. I found a Vietnamese restaurant off the main stip to eat lunch at. While the Pho was a bit bland compared to what I’ve ate at home and in Hawai’i, it was still good. The Bahn Mi sandwich I ordered along with the pho was fantastic!

Before too long it was time to head out to go train. My foot was still bothering me and my energy levels had not returned to anything close to normal, but I wasn’t going to mis an opportunity to train. The academy is located in a Swedish version of a “YMCA” and covers about three levels of the building. On walking in, I headed for the main level training area. As I entered the small doorway I was greeted with the smell of stale sweat and mats on of side of the room and a ring on the other. I looked around for a place to change and couldn’t find it. After standing about for a mite or so Stephan, the academy owner, came up and introduced himself. He asked where I was coming from and what I was up to. I told him briefly about my trip and that a user from Reddit had invited me to come out and train. At the time I didn’t know the redditers given name, only his internet handle. Stephan welcomed me in and showed me down into the basement where the locker room was. 

After changing out into my uniform I headed up to the training area with Stephan and was introduced to some of the other folks who were training there that day. The warmup started promptly there after. The warmup wouldn’t normally have been too strenuous, but as I was still recovering from being sick just two days prior it was a bit of a workout for me. I rarely sweat from a warmup, I had a good one going after the exercises which consisted of running, inside/outside shuffling, inside/outside shuffling while dropping levels, skipping, forward rolls (which made me incredibly dizzy), backward rolls, technical standing and basing, and solo single leg shots. 

I ended up being introduced to Drago, one of the purple belts at the academy who was a few years older than me. He was another person who was very interested in my trip and offered up some help for finding places to stay in Croatia if I ever decided to head that direction in the future. We ended up teaming up as partners for the technique portion of the class. I really enjoyed the setup for the technique portion, it was one technique for the entire class. Personally I don’t like learning 3-4 techniques during a class period. It makes it more difficult for me to assimilate the knowledge. It’s been a point of contention for me at my home academy with some of the instructors sometimes showing a few unrelated movements which just ends up confusing the hell out of people. 

Stephan decided to have the class work on a deep half guard sweep, and one that I’m familiar with but needed some help with on the mechanics. The setup for the sweep is with the half guard on ukes right leg, taking the same side arm and reaching around the back of uke with your palm flat on his lower back just above his rear. The opposite hand goes under ukes thigh. It’s important to note here that your left ear needs to sit about on ukes bell button, unless you feel like getting choked or want to lose control. After establishing the above position you want to dive under ukes hips while throwing uke over yourself. From my position, the right side of my body will go under uke and my right arm will shoot up further through ukes thigh. Your legs need to be working in tandem with your upper body by moving down ukes legs, more specifically your right knee needs to be brow ukes knee. Doing this will help from ukes legs forward so that you can capture his ankle/calf with your now free leg hand and bring it over towards your stomach or chest. You also want your leg leg to be sliding up the front of ukes right thigh to above the knee. 

Another important aspect to get the move to work is to make sure that your switching or “hopping” your hips. I was trying to roll over my hips and kept getting stuck. Once I watched Stephan a bit more closely I noticed him popping his hips for the switch. I tried it out and got into position every time. Once in the proper position you will find that uke is already unbalanced and you don’t need to move him anymore into position, just rather push uke over a bit. As you’re coming over through, you want your left hand to let go of the ankle while bringing it to (the hand) to hug ukes right thigh. While maneuvering your left hand into place you want to straighten out your right arm and push it forward to keep ukes left leg weak. 

From here you you want to circle in to straighten ukes legs together, it should appear like your doing a top side knee bar on ukes right leg. You want to keep on your toes for pressure, making sure that your left knee is keeping tight contact with ukes right leg. If you don’t keep the knee con act you will give uke enough room to escape his leg out. You can now free up your right leg from any entanglement that uke might have had. Stephan pointed out that it’s a common mistake for people to get a bit excited here and immediately try to jump into side control, which may or may not work. He said that it’s not worth the risk, you just passed the guard, sit there for a few seconds and get your points before moving on. Some additional things to look at are if uke is pressuring your with his arms extend (while you are hugging his legs) then it’s east for you to reach up and over for the crossfire while shrugging his arm through. 

Conversely, Stephan pointed out that when someone has you in deep half guard it should be your sole duty to remove their high knee. That’s where they get their sweeping power from. 

Had time to spar with three people. First was the purple belt Drago, a Croatian guy who took interest in what I was doing trip wise. We drilled the technique together and he helped me piece everything together when Stephan wasn’t over helping me. Roll went pretty good, messed up in half guard and left an arm out for a straight armlock for him, took him a minute to get it in the right position before I finally tapped knowing that he had it. 

Next up was one of the white belts I had talked to also about my trip. I forget his name, but he asked how long i had been training and when I told him 4 years he exclaimed that I must be good. I laughed and said I’m average at best. Ended up catching him with a triangle after opening my guard for a bait of a guard pass for him. At first he didn’t want to tap, so I trapped his head and pulled it down, which elicited the tap in a few seconds. Ended up trying to work my lockdown half guard, didn’t have much success. I need to work on moving uke into position from here, as nobody wants to give me the free leg for the electric chair sub/sweep.

Last person was a rather big white belt. Big as in tall and maybe 220 pounds or so. Not big as in fat. He started off pretty good, but his lack of confidence ended up messing him up. He had some good movements to start, but didn’t commit which allowed me to get a hip heist that I wouldn’t commit on because if I had it would have put both our weight onto my injured foot and made it hurt worse than it already was. I ended up pulling him back into guard and working on some other sweep attempts. I don’t recall if I worked any submissions on him that stuck. I just kind of played around for a bit. 

                                                                      (Stephan and I)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

3D Gym Tallin Estonia 4-22-14

Estonia was one of those destinations where people wondered why I would go there. What is Estonia known for, outside of being a former Soviet republic? I couldn’t tell you. But, it was just a stones throw away from Latvia, and about a 4 hour bus ride. So why not?

I didn’t have any contacts in the country, just the name of the gym and an email I had sent them asking if it was OK for me to come train with them. Estonia isn’t a large country, so I wasn’t too worried about getting around. 

I took the bus out of Latvia, having Ieva and Olga send me off and wishing me well. I rode the equivalent of a “Mega Bus” here in the US, over there it’s called “Lux”. The trip ran me somewhere around $20-30 USD, which was a lot cheaper than a plane would be, and far smarter. Olga had packed me a lunch for my ride up, which I thought was pretty awesome. My Latvian hosts went above and beyond in making me feel welcome. 

The ride itself was pretty insignificant. There was “Wifi” but I couldn’t get much for downloads, so I decided I would do a bit of reading, went eventually evolved in me deciding to play a game or three of Starcraft 2. There were a group of younger mothers and their children sitting in front of me for the majority of the ride up. I had no idea what they were saying, but I got the impression they were single mothers heading out for a weekend trip to somewhere. 

When I arrived in Estonia I wasn’t sure how I was going to get from the bus station to my hostel. Thankfully there was wifi in the bus station, so I mapped out a few options. I was in luck, there was a bus that would take me all the way to my destination. 

The hostel I stayed in was called the “Academic Hostel”, and I wasn’t sure why until I arrived. It was academic in that it was on a University campus. Reading through some of their European literature I came to the confusion the hostel was a place for prospective students or friends and family of current students to stay at while visiting. The dorms kind of reminded me of some of the military housing for bachelors at my old base in the United States. There were two beds to a room, and two rooms shared a toilet, shower, and a kitchen. 

After I checked in I went down to the front desk to inquire about any nearby stores. I was told there was one about 3-4 minutes away. It turned out to be the students mini store, kind of like a “mini mart” back home, but minus the gasoline sales. They has just about anything a traveler would need. Fresh fruit, water, drinks, decent easily prepared food, eggs, and of course beer. I loaded up on some bread, eggs, snacks, fruit, and yes…beer. With not much around me within walking distance for food options, I decided I would make some small snacks over the couple of days I would be there. 

I went out into Tallin that evening to look around and take some photos. It was small, yet interesting. The language was close related to Finnish, and distant to Hungarian, so I really could not decipher much of anything around me. Thankfully a lot of people in the country spoke English, so getting around was pretty easy. My taxi driver who brought me into the town center was a very nice guy, and was curious about my trip to the country. He offered a couple of ideas on where to eat, one of which was called the “Beer House”. That sounded right up my alley, so I headed that direction after I had taken some pictures and done some sight seeing.

I walked into the Beer House and was greeted to a rather large area, complete with some interesting Estonian band playing American country music (not my favorite). I waited around at the bar for about 30 minutes, without even so much of a hello from a bartender or server. I had enough at that point and decided I would take my chances with another restaurant somewhere else. I ended up deciding on a place called Clayhill’s Gastropub. They had food and beer, and that’s all I required. 

I ended up grabbing a seat at the bar, and was served almost immediately. I decided on some sausages with potatoes, and of course a nice large ale to go with it. The restaurant was kind of a hip place for all kinds of people. They had a bluesy duo playing music and singing in the middle of the pub. The food was excellent, and I ended up having a few more beers than I expected due to the good environment and knowing that my trip was coming to an end very soon. 

I woke up the next morning and felt extremely hot. I chalked it up to leaving the blinds in my room open and the sun coming up at like 4am (seriously). I got some water and started to make some breakfast for myself. I ate some of the Estonian bread that I purchased and made up some fried eggs. I hopped in the shower, and then headed off to the academy via taxi.

On the way to the academy I started to feel worse. This wasn’t a hangover from the few beers the night before. It was either me coming down with the flu or worse, it was food poisoning. My stomach was churning, I was sweating, I didn’t feel good.

I made it to the academy a few minutes late and they had already started warmups. I tried to change out as quickly as I could, but I felt so lethargic. The sweats and the stomach churning hadn’t yet left me either. I was only going to get one day of training in and mustered up everything I had and headed out to the mats. 

When I made it out to the training area, there were around 30 people doing warmups. I just kind of followed along. The instruction was in Estonian, so I had no idea what was going on. At the end of the warmups, a younger blue belt with a few stripes approached me and said something, I apologized and told him I didn’t understand. In near perfect English he asked if I would mind being his partner for pass/sweep/submit rolling that we were doing. I told him I didn’t mind at all. I also let him know I wasn’t feeling the best. He jokingly replied that I must have had a good night last evening and was suffering from a hangover. That was a bit annoying, considering it was taking everything I had to stay put and attempt to train. 

We ended up playing around for about 10 minutes or so, which was mostly him passing my guard at will and otherwise keeping me in check when I was trying to pass his guard. My head was pounding, I couldn’t think clearly, let alone move how I needed to move. I was weak, slow, and stupid. At the end of our little session I apologized again for being in the condition I was in. 

Next up another blue belt, with four stripes, came up and asked if I would like to train. We would be doing the same pass/sweep/submit routine. I again gave him the full disclosure that I wasn’t feeling well and apologized. I again got the “lol you must be hungover” spiel, and was told not to worry because he was hungover also. I had to laugh, being hungover must be a thing in Estonia. I told him I was well aware what a hangover felt like and that I was in fact not hungover. 

It was essentially the same situation for me again, no being able to accomplish anything and pretty much hanging on for dear life while trying not to get passed or submitted. At the end of our round my training partner asked what I thought he could improve on. I was a bit taken aback, a four stripe blue belt on the verge of getting his purple belt asking me for advice? I applaud his lack of ego, but it was a situation I was a bit stunned by. I tried to articulate what I thought was good and bad. There was more good than bad, butI followed it up with the fact that I wasn’t feeling well or thinking clearly so it was difficult for me to give him an honest assessment. He thanked me for my time and wished me well. I in turn got up and hit the restroom. 

The room was starting to spin, my stomach was messed up but I didn’t feel like I was going to puke. I did feel like another part of my was going to erupt, and promptly took care of that situation. I quickly changed out and headed down to the reception area where an old Estonian couple sat behind a desk. I just said taxi and gave them the phone number for the taxi company, they smiled and called the cab for me. I thanked them and hobbled outside.

While waiting for the cab all I could think of is what in the hell had made me sick. Was it the sausages from last night? Maybe it was the eggs this morning? Who knows, I felt like I had to burp and went to do so only to have the minimal contents of my stomach end up on the pavement in front of me. A bit about me, I don’t puke. Well, that’s not true, I just did. But, I only puke if I’m seriously sick. The last time I puked was a few years ago when I ended up catching a case of the H1N1 “swine flu” strain in 2009. I knew something was wrong, and I figured the best course of action was to head back to the hostel and sleep it off.

I got back to the hostel and trudged my way up to the second floor slowly, back to my room. I turned on the television to give me some background noise and promptly went to sleep. I slept from around 1pm that afternoon until 5am the next morning, when I needed to get up to catch my flight to Finland, and then onto Sweden. Waking up the next morning I felt better, but I was still weak. I slept on most of the travel and otherwise sat around in a daze the rest of the time. When I finally arrived at the hostel in Sweden I slept some more until that evening. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy - Riga 04-15-14

My good friend James and his wife hooked me up with accommodations while I was going to be in Latvia, Riga to be precise. Having accommodations and transportation out of the way, I decided to skip over Lithuania and spend a couple of extra days in Latvia to rest a bit and hopefully recuperate. I would be staying with James’ in-laws while in town and they were excited to have me. 

I arrived by airplane from Warsaw, my ear was surprisingly feeling much better. My foot on the other hand was still a pain. I’m thinking if the pain persists through the end of the trip I will probably have to see a doctor when I get back to the States. I need to get one of my shoulders checked out also. Elga, the in-laws mother of my friend, picked me up at the airport with a coworker of hers. Elga doesn’t speak much English at all. Latvian or Russian, and I spoke neither. Thankfully her co-worker spoke near perfect English, so a lot of conversations were conducted through her. 

The first day in town I didn’t train at all, because my plane got in too late. I thought that I had two places to train, one being a Pedro Sauer affiliate and the other being a traditional ju jitsu place that had a grappling class. I read the schedule wrong at the second place, thinking their day “I” started on Monday, but it was actually Sunday. So their schedule actually overlapped the Pedro Sauer guys. 

The next morning the sister (of my friends wife), Ieva, took me around Riga. She wanted to take me to the local chocolate store, and picked out some fattening goodies for me to snack on while I was in town. After that we wondered around to a church, which we curiously had to pay to get into. Paying to get into a church was a pretty odd thing for me as you can pretty much enter any churches in the US at anytime free of charge. Next we wandered around the old town, which is pretty nice and expansive. 

My buddy James kept raving about a restaurant in Latvia called “Lido” and told me that I needed to go there. The previous night, Elga and her coworker took me to the largest Lido location and I really enjoyed the food. When presented with options for lunch for the day, Ieva suggested a pizza place or Lido. I was all for Lido, but when I said I had ate there the previous night she decided I needed some diversity in food. I think she took it as that I didn’t want to eat there again so soon. We ended up going to the pizza place instead, which wasn’t bad. It was incredibly cheesy and heavy on carbs, just like one would think it would be. 

After lunch Ieva dropped me off so that Elga could take me out to where I would be training. We had a few hours to spare and Elga wanted to show me the Forest/Park that she worked at. It was the largest one in Riga and Elga was pretty proud of it. It was a very nice place, complete with a pretty big playground, a large amphitheater, a huge lake on one side, and a bunch of walking and riding trails. Elga sent me off for a bike ride with one of her coworkers, Caspers (sp?). He spoke a bit of English, only having issues periodically with specific words. We rode around most of the park, had it been a bit warmer, or if I had thought to bring my gloves with me it would have been a lot more enjoyable.  

When it was time to go to training, Egla and I took off for the journey there. I had previously given her the address and she thought she knew where it was. She got us pretty much right next to it, but it looked like it might be in a high-rise apartment complex grouping. My google maps kept pointing off into the same area. We were both a bit confused, and the lack of a common language between us made matters a tad frustrating for both of us. I remembered that I had the number for the academy and gave it to Elga for her to call Eugene, the owner and head instructor. It turns out, the one of the high rises had a community center type of deal on the first floor and we were not too far away. 

I took the walk to the location and found my way in, having to dodge a rather large raiding party of children and their parents coming out of the dojo. I went in and waited around to find Eugene, who wasn’t there yet. There were a handful of white belts milling about, looking my way, curious as to who the new person was. Eugene showed up a couple of minutes later and showed me to the locker room where we changed out quick. He informed me that most of the academy had just competed in a local competition and the next week was going to be very low stress and “fun”. This was good news to me, considering my foot was still messed up. 

As we went out, I looked around and just noticed an army of white belts. I was the only other colored belt in the class besides Eugene, who was a black belt. I attempted to line up at the back end of the white belts, but Eugene wasn’t having it. He jokingly mentioned that I needed to be at the front because I earned it, and to be aware I was a target for all the white belts in the room. Wonderful!

Eugene wasn’t lying when he said that things were going to be fun. The warmup consisted of a game. We all huddled around Eugene and on the count of three we were to hold out 1-5 fingers of one hand to be placed into a specific group depending on the number. The game would be that of one group having a medium sized rubber ball, about the size of a basketball, and would chase around the other people on the mats. The thing was, you couldn’t move your legs as long as you had the ball, but your teammate could. If you went off the mats or got tagged by the ball (in possession of a person, not thrown), you were out. Sure, it was a bit juvenile, but it was fun. This lasted about 20-30 minutes. 

The next portion of class was going to be Eugene going over positions that caused problems during the competition that they had just attended. I thought this was a great idea from a coaching standpoint. He never mentioned anyone by name, only that there were problems from specific positions, and some options on how to correct them.

The first position was where someone went to pull guard, but missed and ended up in half guard instead with the opponent still standing. The person wasn’t entirely sure what to do next. Eugene showed to grab the leg opposite of your half guard, weave your torso through while grabbing for the belt. Then you want to use your legs to help bring uke  down to the floor so that you can complete the back take. This seemed like a pretty standard movement that I have seen repeated in a few academies. 

The next problem position was breaking posture from guard. I’m guessing it was a pretty inexperienced white belt having the issue here. Eugene show a few different ways for breaking down posture, which I’m not going to go into as I assume most of the people taking the time to read this are familiar with it. Eugene went on to show the various options for submissions after breaking down posture. 

Next we went over single leg takedown options. I didn’t catch what the issue was here, if someone botched the whole takedown or just stopped after they got the leg and stood there. Eugene showed two different options for taking the opponent down one you have control of the leg. The first was to pinch the leg between your thighs to maintain control, then to trap the other leg with your arms, with your hands at knee level to hep collapse the legs. Eugene got on my case to not lift the opponent up, but to rather drive through them. The second option was a typical single leg takedown of cradling the leg capture capture and walking it up to chest/shoulder level and either pushing uke over or dragging them to the ground with the leg high enough to off balance them. 

The next position I’m still guiltily of getting caught in from time to time due to being too high. When you’re in Kesa Gatame (side control), if you’re entirely too high on the bottom player they can roll you over and reverse the position. The counter to this is kind of sneaky in regards to giving them the roll and then attacking with a shoulder lock as they are coming over. As you’re rolling into bottom side control, you want to feed the arm closest to your legs into your top leg (the one opposite of the floor), then pull ukes head towards you and push your leg away and “back” (towards your rear). It’s important to pinch your knees here, and it’s VERY important to act quickly. This isn’t a movement that you’re going to get all the time. If the person is smart they are going to feel you feeding their arm into your leg and pull it away quickly. 

A second option for the above is to use the momentum of you being pulled over to your advantage and keep the roll going and rolling uke over on their own head. Another movement that may not work all the time and your timing needs to be spot on. 

There was no sparing during the 90 minute session. Eugene asked me aster class if I wanted to roll. I told him I wasn’t able to, as my host would be waiting for me and I didn’t want to keep them waiting on me. I inquired if they ever rolled during the scheduled class period and was told they only ever roll after class. I told Eugene I would stay later at the Thursday class to get some rolls in. 

Sadly, I didn’t end up making the Thursday class. I just didn’t really feel up to it. My foot was bothering me pretty bad the next morning and my body was otherwise not happy with all the traveling that I had been doing. I only have three more countries to go, Estonia, Sweden, and Denmark. I’m hoping to stay healthy enough through it to get some more training in at each stop

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Polish Memorial Helio Gracie Tournament 04-13-14

I sleepily woke up around 0445 in order to get my things together for the tournament, and to walk the kilometer or so to the gym. I was annoyed to find that my ear was still “plugged” up when I woke up. There wasn’t much that I could do other than keep trying the medication that I had bought at the pharmacy the day before, which didn’t seem to be helping. My host, Przemyslaw, wanted to get up and make breakfast and I told him I didn’t have time. Had I stuck around to eat I would have been late to the gym and probably left behind.

When I made it to the academy, I noticed Marcin and a group of teammates standing around presumably waiting on more people. After some phone calls and a few more minutes of waiting we loaded up in different cars and headed out. We drove for about 10 minutes when Marcin phone rang. I couldn’t understand the conversation, but he looked over at me and said that a couple of people were running behind and would meet us where we were. About a minute later two more guys materialized out of nowhere and joined us. 

I tried to keep my eyes open, but I have a tendency when I ride in cars to get very sleepy and end up falling asleep. I had just purchased a digital copy of the “Black Belt Blueprint” that was written by Roger Gracies first black belt, Nicolas Gregoriades. I had heard good things about it, so I figured the discount price that I purchased it at from BJJ.HQ was worth it. The first few chapters were incredibly dull (pretty much for beginners) that this added to my normal “car ride narcolepsy”. I think I made it maybe 30 minutes before I was sleeping like a baby. 

When we got to the tournament venue, Marcin had asked me if I had medical insurance paperwork with me. Thankfully I had printed of proof of “travel insurance” that my company offers for free (both for work and pleasure travel). He needed me to go up with him to register for the tournament. The tournament director was nice enough to allow me in the competition even after the registration had closed. My understanding was that he was very happy to have an American there to compete.

I showed my ID, weighed in, and signed the various forms that I needed to sign. Marcin asked if I would represent his team in the competition. I told him absolutely. Considering that I was about 7,950 kilometers from home and this was just a regional competition, I didn’t see the harm in representing another team. Besides, these guys and gals had bent over backwards to give me accommodations, entertainment, a place to train, and entrance into the tournament. Also, nobody over here knows who or what “Team Vaghi” is, with the exception of some random Brazilian and the Rickson Gracie teams over here. 

The tournament started off looking pretty good, being on time and all. The first couple of matches were brown and black belt super fights. There were one fight each for the two belt divisions. They were pretty interesting fights, with the winners being the larger of the two competitors in both fights. That was pretty expected, technique and ability being equal, size and strength play a major role in the outcome of the fight. 

What happened next was a bit annoying to me. After the super fights there was around a 2 hour lull before the actual tournament started. I’m not entirely sure what the holdup was, and it really didn’t matter, I was a captive at this point and wouldn’t be going anywhere until later in the evening. My ear was still bothering me, and my body was otherwise rundown from all the traveling I had been doing. 

After a few hours Marcin came running up to me saying that my name had been called. I chuckled a bit, as I had heard them call a “Michelle”, but I figured it was a female. I guess “Michael” looks the same and could technically be pronounced the same way. No worries, I grabbed my gear and headed over to the the entrance area. I tried communicating with the people at the “pit” entrance to the competition mats, they were not entirely sure what I was saying. Thankfully a younger guy heard my frustrated English and came over to interpret for us. He made sure I made it over to my mat, asking along the way what I was doing there and all that. I told him about the trip and the blog and thanked him for helping me out. 

My first match was against a guy who was slightly taller than myself, but a bit leaner. This was an oddity for me, as I usually end up fighter shorter and fatter (or stockier for those who have delicate feelings) opponents in the United States. In any case I decided I was going to pull guard on the guy, and I felt that was going to end up being the strategy for both of us. It was going to come down to who pulled first, and that person was going to win the match. The opponent had pretty good base to him, it was hard to off balance him, but I would pretty much break his posture at will. I kept launching submission attempts at him, vary narrowly missing a nice armbar from a setup that I had been working on (Thanks to Remy in Pecs!). The match ended up going to me by refs decision. Not entirely what I was hoping for, but a win is a win. 

                                      I don't always play Rubber Guard, but when I do, I do it wrong. 

The second match I lost to the eventual winner of the division. I’m going to point out that I do not justify my loss to him because he won, I’m rather just pointing it out for narration. Accepting the lose for what it is was something that black belt Robert Drysdale covered in a seminar earlier this year in January. He took about an hour to cover competition physiology and I’ve been trying to implement that as much as possible. 

Back to the fight. The guy was also a bit taller than me, but a bit heavier too, more filled out in the shoulders. I think that I was moved up into the higher weight class, 95+ kilos. The guy immediately pulled guard and started attacking my left leg. I could see him trying to work towards an achilles lock, which never troubles me. It’s a bit painful, but I’ve never had to tap to one of these locks. My defense is to usually just reach out and grab the back of the attackers neck in a wrestling style clinch and bring them towards me. A lot of times this will cause them to stock attacking the leg. I fought the position off for a couple of minutes, but was unable to improve my position overall. 

I made the mistake of sitting down into 50-50 guard, believing that my unorthodox approach to shutting an opponent down from the position would allow me to come out ahead. The next thing I knew I was blinded by pain radiating from my foot and knee. My original thoughts were that I had been hit with an illegal leg lock. I reflexively tapped the mat so hard that I heard it echo through the whole hall. My opponent immediately let go and crouched over me, asking if I was OK and that he had heard some popping from my foot as he applied his submission. Very irritated and confused I told him that I would be fine. 

I felt zero strain from the lock on my achilles at all. As I said before it was all foot and knee. I swore up and down the move was illegal, but I don’t know because I couldn’t see how he had the leg/foot wrapped up. However the referee was on the side of the lock and he allowed it, so I had to assume it was legal. 

My third match, and what would be my final match due to my foot hurting and swelling, was against a built and very strong opponent. We ended up going to the ground, and I believe he got the points on the takedown. The takedown points could have went either way, I wasn’t mad and I had confidence in my half guard. I tried to reverse my previous luck and attempted an achilles lock on my opponent I couldn’t get the tap, my technique wasn’t as good as my previous opponents. I decided to switch gears and apply my “lockdown” half guard and see if I could leverage it into a sweep or a submission. 

Unfortunately for me my opponent was pretty strong and had great base from my lockdown position. I couldn’t move his at all. I tried everything I knew to get him to move into the position that I wanted him to, and it all lead to nothing. But, I kept trying, I wasn’t going to give up. About 3/4 of the way through the match he tried to move at a weird angle, like a “knee slide” pass from the lockdown, and he let out a loud scream/yell of pain. I heard and felt his knee pop. Normally in a competition in the United States, that would have been the end of the match. It would have been a verbal tap on my opponents part. I looked at the referee and he didn’t seem phased by it, so I kept going. The opponent ended up just laying on top of me for the rest of the match. Another loss for me. 

I could feel the pain in my foot, it wasn’t going to be a good day. I was walking off the mat with a limp. The limp was makable. I figured I would just have to ice it down and everything would be fine. 

What would have been match four, with me fighting for third place (I’m not sure how they did the bracketing for us) I ended up bowing out of. It was about an hour later when they called my opponent and I out to fight. My foot had been progressively getting worse. With two weeks left in my trip, I didn’t want to risk injuring my foot further. I approached my opponent and told him that I was not going to fight him due to the injury. He was immediately relieved and said that he wasn’t looking forward to fighting me. I kind of chuckled and asked him why? He told me that my opponent from my third match was his teammate and the guy said I was entirely too strong and a difficult opponent to manage. I was a little perplexed, because that opponent felt a hell of a lot strong than I. I told the guy exactly that. He thanked me for bowing out and wished me a speedy recovery. 

I watched a lot of matches after I was done competing. I noticed a metric shit ton of stalling being allowed to happen with none of it being called out or having penalties/warnings enforced. I had talked to the ref of my third match afterwards and asked why he didn’t call my opponent for stalling. He told me that I was equally as guilty, so it leveled out. It was always my impression that the top person had more options for mobility and thus was required to try to move more, otherwise he/she would be called for stalling. The stalling that I was noticing was coming from all sorts of positions of side control and kesa gatame where the top player would pretty much just pressure and lay over their opponent until the end of the match. It was reminiscent to a Judo fight where a pin can win you a match. 

All in all I felt a lot better this tournament. I felt like I was more aggressive both in my own guard and while defending. I do however need to work on my lockdown, as I essentially get stalled out and I am having trouble with getting my sweeps and submission attempts from the position. I’ll probably need to do a couple of drop ins with the local 10th Planet Omaha location when I get back home to work on this. I also noticed I had very little competition anxiety before and during the tournament. The anxiety party of things makes competiting much easier for me. I didn’t feel tired after any of my matches. If I can maintain that while keeping the aggressiveness moving forward and working on my technique I think I will be a forced to be reckoned within about 6-9 months of time. I plan on hitting all the local tournaments that I can from here on out. 

                    The tournament director wanted a picture of me here, so I took one with a potato.

              With the Academia Gorila team. Overall they did pretty well, four gold medals if I remember correctly.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Academia Gorila Open Mat 04-12-14

I checked out travel options the previous evening to see if I could make the competition going on this weekend in Poland. I had originally booked bus tickets from Warsaw to Vilnius (Lithuania), and from Vilnius to Riga for very cheap. So, if I were to find a cheap way to Riga from Warsaw I could probably pull things off. Luckily enough I find a pretty cheap one way airline ticket out of Warsaw to Riga. Looking at things from a cost standpoint, I wouldn’t be out much money as I would have had to pay for accommodations in Vilnius, but Przemyslaw was still wiling to host me for a couple of extra days. I said screw it and committed to the tournament. 

The Saturday before the tournament, Academia Gorila was having an open mat training. I was hoping Marcin would come, but he was missing in action and not returning messages on Facebook. Not a big deal, as I assumed there would be other people there training and I could get some good rolls in. Przemyslaw was going to go to do some Muay Thai bag work during the same period. 

When we arrived at the gym, Przemyslaw introduced to me to a friend of his that did solely “MMA”. The guy seemed pretty nice and asked if I would like to roll, saying that Przemyslaw wanted him to roll with me. I thought it was a bit odd, but went along with it anyways. I heard the ever ominous “we can roll light” and knew what would be coming my way. 

The guy was about my height, maybe a few kilos below my weight, but was in pretty good shape. He immediately came after me aggressively, so much for going light. I should also mention that I was wearing the gi and he was in a t-shirt and shorts. I mention this because every opportunity he had he would get grips on my gi. This was a little irritating as it’s pretty much an unspoken rule everywhere else that you don’t grab nogi clothing, and if you’re in nogi attire going against someone in a gi you don’t grab the gi. So I was at a bit of a disadvantage, but i rolled with it anyways.

I knew that it would be a matter of time before my opponent gassed himself out. I could hear his breathing, there was not a good rhythm to it and the speed that he was going at was that of a sprinter. So the plan was to keep the guy as close to me as possible while making him expend as much energy as possible, then move in for the kill. After about 8-9 minutes, his breathing was very labored. Just as I was about to start attacking full on, he said that he needed to go. I don’t know if he really had to go, it felt like a move to save face on his part. 
I was able to get some more rolls in with a couple of white and blue belts. I mainly focused on experimenting with arm drags and other aggressive actions on my end. Finally I had enough for the day and grabbed Przemyslaw to let him know I was ready to go. 

The rest of the day Przemyslaw and I wandered around to different areas that he wanted to show me. During which he would point out specific war memorials and tell me stories about how things unfolded through the city in different areas during the war. It was a lot of fun. 

I had to be up and at the gym pretty early the next morning to hit the tournament, it was about a 2.5 to 3 hour drive outside of Warsaw. I forgot to mention that during this time in Warsaw I developed some sort of an ear infection in my left ear. I lost a lot of the hearing in the ear, only being able to hear very deep sounds and even those were very distorted. That side of my head felt very stuffy, but my sinuses felt fine. Przemyslaw took me to the pharmacy to grab some solution that would maybe help clean the ear out. 

                                                       Out doing some sight seeing with Przemyslaw

Friday, April 11, 2014

Academia Gorilla 4-11-14

When I got off the train in Warsaw, I ran a quick route through Google maps to see how far I was from the Academy. Maps said it was only about 30 minutes walking, I figured I would give it a shot and that it would wake me up. Unfortunately the route only took me about halfway, the application messed up. Rerunning the route again showed me to be about another 30 minutes from the academy. My bag was feeling really heavy on my shoulders and I was tiring more and more. 

I arrived in the general vicinity of the academy, but couldn’t seem to find it. I tried to ask a couple of people on the street if they knew where it was, but I was met with confusion. I finally went into the building I thought it was in and ran into a gentleman who spoke English, he thought the academy was in the next building over and offered to walk me over there. On entering the building there was a sign on the stairway for the academy, I thanked the guy and went on down. 

I was greeted in the reception area by a young Polish girl who didn’t speak any English at all. I looked up Marcin’s conversation from Facebook and showed her his name, she smiled and brought me out to the mats. Marcin looked up at me like “who in the hell are you?” I just waved and went to change out, it wasn’t until I had my uniform on that he finally recognized me and apologized for the confusion. 

The morning class was sparring only. Me being as tired as I was, can’t recall a lot of it. There were only a handful of people present and I had an opportunity to roll with all of them. For the most part it was me playing defense and otherwise just playing around with different positions. It was a good little workout that actually gave me a nice second wind to keep going for the day. 

After class Marcin and one of his teammates who worked for the Warsaw Police wanted to take me out to eat at a nice little “hipster” place off the main street in Warsaw. With a couple of coffees, a full breakfast, and Polish style pancakes I think I paid maybe $4-5. I was a bit surprised by that. Such a nice modern city and it was cheap!

Marcin wanted to meet up with the guy who was going to host me from his academy, Przemyslaw. Przemyslaw was a karate guy and a current Muay Thai guy. He had trained a class of BJJ before, but it wasn’t something that he seemed to be totally into. He liked the striking aspect of things much more. He was a nice guy, wanting to take me around and show me the history of the city, making sure I was fed, and otherwise having a good time in Warsaw. 

After meeting up with Przemyslaw, Marcin and I went around looking at different historical stuff around town. I knew that Poland had a pretty horrible time during WWII, but I didn’t realize the extent of the damage caused by the German and Soviet occupations. There isn’t really a nice way to put it other than Poland got fucked up, especially Warsaw. The people put up a valiant effort during the occupations to continue fighting their occupiers, even winning some big altercations during the time. Every other street corner seemed to have a monument on it proclaiming some atrocity of Nazis or Soviets killing a certain amount of people on a certain date during the war in that area. The polish did a great job of keeping a written history of a lot of the things going on in their cities and country. 

I think Marcin and Przemyslaw were pleasantly surprised that an American took a lot of interest in the history of their city and their country. But, I tend to like a lot of old military history, especially that of World War II. They asked me why I was so interested in the history, and I used a quote from Santayana that is well known “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. 

We headed back towards my hosts place so that I could get some rest before the evening class, which was going to be much needed. Marcin offered to pick me up and bring me out to the academy, and I took him up on it. 

When I finally woke up, I had about 30 minutes to be to the Academy, and thankfully I checked my Facebook beforehand. There was a message on there from Marcin saying that something had come up and he was going to be unable to pick me up. He had sent it a couple of hours before hand. I packed up my stuff and headed out, arriving at the academy only a couple of minutes late. 

The evening class had a very light warmup, consisting of the normal movements a lot of academies have circling around the mats. From there we did some positional drilling consisting of escaping from bottom half guard and coming up to the knees. A half guard drill where we would take the back, move to half guard on the other side, take the back again, and back to half guard on the starting side. The last drill we did consisted of a combo of movements that I’ve never encountered before, but really enjoyed doing. The movement was going for the armbar from guard only to have uke escape the attacked arm, from there you would omoplata the arm that was left behind, then move into a triangle, and back into an armbar again. 

I really enjoyed the last combo movement. It’s something that I hope to bring back to the academy back home and have drilled on a weekly basis. I suffer from not setting up multiple attacks at a time, I don’t think that far ahead, I suppose that’s why my game is so reaction and defensive based. There was nothing flashy to the movement, they were just there. 

The moves that Marcin ended up showing for the class were a half guard sweep from top and then the reversal for the bottom person. Here’s the breakdown:

Halfguard sweep from top. This reminds me of Joe Rogans nogi half guard sweep, which if done incorrectly, can lead to you getting your back taken, but correctly done means you take ukes back. Here’s the Rogan version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGNSktn1kks

Marcin’s version went a bit more like this, You take your far side arm and cross face uke. You want your far side leg to come over the top to what was the far side, still with me? Now you take the arm which is currently cross facing uke and move it to block ukes hips on the far side. You then want to drive to the far side, the same side that you’re blocking the hips on, with your head facing ukes feet. It’s important to make sure that you’re grabbing ukes hips at either the pants or belt as you’re rolling through and with the free hand you’re grabbing for (and hopefully getting) ukes back. 

Now, the reversal is going to be a bit more tricky for me to describe, as I seemed to have left off on my notes for it about a sentence in. I must have fell asleep. Anyways, as uke is making his move from the top via close side to far side, you want to release your legs from the half guard. Now, if I recall correctly, you want to use your bottom leg in the half guard to raise ukes left leg up, with you coming up to your knees, grabbing ukes leg, and moving into side control. 

We ended up doing some sparring from here, and I got some good matches in with people. Some of the white belts were bringing it to me in an attempt to impress the teachers, I would assume. I handle it like I would any other time. Just roll and see what happens. I don’t mind tapping to white belts if they catch me. The blues and purples that I rolled with were a bit more cautious, exploring my game to see what I would do. 

At the end of the night, Marcin told me about a competition going on over the weekend about 2.5 hours outside of Warsaw. I told him I would look at travel options to see if I could afford to change things up and skip over Lithuania. My goal was to get more competition time in overall, as I felt overall pretty good in Rome, I wanted to see if I could mirror that and be a bit more aggressive with things. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Pecs to Warsaw 4-10-14

I decided to take the train out of Pecs to Budapest, and then onto Warsaw. It was going to be a decently long trip, although most of it was going to be overnight in a “bunk” car. I was pretty excited about it, as I had never has a long train ride before. The longest was from Strasbourg to Zurich. I missed out on the previous evenings training because I decided to eat some McDonalds, which was a stupid idea. I don’t even eat that stuff at home, but I was tired and not in the mood to try to figure out the Hungarian menus nor did I was to assume anyone spoke English. Sometimes you gamble and win, this one was a loss. I ended up sticking in the hostel all evening until the next morning before it was time to head to the train station.

The ride out of Pecs wasn’t too bad. I picked up a snack and some drinks before heading out, not knowing if there would be a snack car on the train to Budapest. There ended up not being one, but it didn’t matter. The woman who ended up sitting across from me laid down a couple of Hungarian to English books before she sat down. She was attractive for her age, well maintained. However, she had to be my mother age at a minimum. I decided to stay in my own little realm in my head, reading Fight Club on my tablet. 

I always enjoyed Fight Club the movie, but never got into reading the book. I figured since I had the extra time, I would go ahead and check it out. Thankfully the book and the movie seemed to be pretty much the same, there was very little deviation between the two. I really liked how they both started, the peeling away from consumerism, the cries for minimalism, the echoes of anarchy, the use of fighting for meditation. But then things take a deeper and darker turn down the road of insanity, and that I couldn’t really get into. It almost felt as though the author needed to tie everything back together in a hurry or risk having to write another book. I think he should have went the route of writing another book or two. 

The fighting for mediation part really hits home for me. I enjoy some “zazen”, or “sitting down, shutting up” as Soto Zen Master Brad Werner would say. But I also enjoy combat. While our training combat is “safe”, there is that risk of death or injury in the back of your mind. An analogy that I use for explaining why I do what I do to people who don’t train is this: My dog is a German Shepherd Dog, she’s great. Although a bit high energy. If I don’t play with her, run her around, take her to the dog park, or anything stimulating to help her burn off energy then she acts up. Her discipline goes out the door (although by American standards people still believe her to be very well trained) and she messes with me. Commands she would normally follow with only being told once will start to take 3-4 times with a stern voice from me if she doesn’t get that exercise. I’m a lot like my dog. If I don’t train, I start to get irritable or want to “fight the man”, whoever “the man” might be. 

There have been some rough times in my life while training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The loss of my career, having troubles getting back into the workforce due to having a very specific set of skills, the threat of losing all my valuable “stuff” to pay bills, wrecking my credit because I couldn’t find a new job, losing a girlfriend who I thought was the one I would end up spending a lot of my life with, etc. The moment I step on the mats and have that first roll of the night, that all goes away. The person across from me doesn’t care what I have going on in my life at that moment, they only know that I want to hurt them. And all I know is that they want to hurt me. The little “zen” state I hit of not thinking, only reacting, is great for my mental health. It may not be great for my BJJ game, but it’s done me good so far in life. There hasn’t been a night of sparring where I get off the mat and immediately start thinking of my problems. They just don’t exist anymore at that point. I’m sure just about everyone who trains that reads this can relate in some way, and those who don’t train are probably struggling to figure out how in the hell it works this way. It just does. 

So anyway, back to the ride on the train. It was pretty uneventful overall. Just the older cougar reading her books, and glancing up at me from time to time. I had the feeling that she thought I may be American, but because I never spoke she couldn’t tell for sure. I figured maybe she wanted to practice her English skills with me, but I was too entrenched in my digital novel. After about a three hour ride we arrived at the Budapest station.

I had about 2 hours to kill, so I walked around for a bit. I found a money changer and changed some of my Euros and Swiss Francs out for some Hungarian Fornits. I grabbed a bottle of water, a beer, and went outside the station to take a couple of quick pictures. There was a restaurant next to the tracks, so I headed over there to grab a quick bite to eat before catching my ride to Warsaw. 

The night train from Budapest to Warsaw wasn’t horrible. My cabin mates were a young Polish couple who spoke pretty good English. I left the cabin early on to go try and get some writing done for the blog, but ended up playing portal for a couple of hours instead. Around 2300 I decided I would go back to the bunk car and try to get some sleep.

The best that I can describe the “sleep” that I got was that of just having my eyes shut, and being aware of every single damn bump that the train hit. I knew my cabin mates were getting up around 0400 because there stop was coming around that time. When the train finally made the stop, the guy of the couple was nice enough to “wake” me up and give me some advice about being in Poland. Watch out for pickpockets, lock the cabin door when they left, etc. I thanked him and tried to fall asleep, but had no luck.

Somewhere in Slovakia

                                                             The station at Budapest