“A black belt only covers two inches of your ass, you have to cover the rest.” – Royce Gracie∞
I recently spent a couple of weeks back in Texas for work. I’m not a big fan these days of travel for work, but occasionally it does occur. The only benefit that I can get from work-related travel is the opportunity to train at different BJJ schools. Being on active duty and in the military has given me plenty of opportunity to travel and train over the years. This has mostly been detrimental in my training and progress over the years within BJJ; there’s no fun in having to pick up, move and then find a new school that is in line with your perspective of jiu jitsu. Those moves over the last nine years have caused some significant gaps in my training time. However, I’ve found that there is some benefit to gaining different perspectives on this art albeit once I’m finally settled and into a normal routine again.
I do consider myself rather spoiled based upon where I started training (The Gracie Academy). The academy, Rorion Gracie, and his sons, Ryron and Rener are known for their teaching ability and talents at conveying the art to others in a digestible and organized manner. This has continued to be the case in the current line-up of instructors teaching there (to include Alex Stuart). The training and travel that I have done as a part of my military career has exposed me to many other lineages and teaching methodologies. Sometimes these are less methodical and less organized than what I am use to, but the perspective that I have gained from training during those opportunities have proven to be just as valuable in shaping me and my jiu jitsu.
For this most recent trip to San Antonio, I was referred to Brazil 021 San Antonio and Professor Saad Al-Aziz. My training there DID NOT disappoint. The school is brand new and conducting its grand opening on November 13th. I spent 2 to 3 of my nights each of the two weeks at his school and training with his students. The atmosphere of the school is non-competitive and family-friendly. Those are two of the most distinguishing qualities that I search for when finding a place to train. The current trend in schools tend to cater to the MMA / cage fighter want-a-be types or those that would like to focus only on sport jiu jitsu (thus, very competitive and every roll is treated as if it was for a gold medal). Now there’s nothing wrong with those business approaches to jiu jitsu or running an academy, but that is just not how I like to train. Some of my preference is due to my age, injuries, and my original focus for what drove me to jiu jitsu (self-defense). The instruction at Brazil 021 San Antonio was ‘on point’ with an organized curriculum-focused approach and positive-reinforcement-style to teaching that caused me to adjust the remainder of my training plans while in town. His students and assistant instructors were friendly and welcoming from the first moment I stepped into the school and onto the mat. Professor Saad was an enthusiastic, attentive, and knowledgeable instructor for his students. I should also mention that he is a 30-year veteran of the US Navy, and therefore, fully understands some of the difficulties in making progress and realizing goals due a career that doesn’t always cooperate with your individual or family plans.
Brazil 021 was only one place that I had planned to train. However, after meeting Professor Saad and training at his school on the first night, I decided to continue training there at his invitation for the remainder of my stay. I highly recommend training and visiting Professor Saad if you are ever in the San Antonio area! It will be time well spent.
The thing that first drew me to training in Gracie or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was its undoubtable effectiveness in unarmed combative situations. All martial arts have their strengths and weaknesses, but jiu jitsu has continuously proven itself as the most effective martial art when faced with stronger, faster, and more athletic attackers. However, there can be some downsides to any grappling based art. How do you handle multiple attackers? There are strategies that a jiu jitsu stylist can implement to handle these situations, but that’s not truly the topic I’d like to tackle today.
The Helio Gracie self defense methods include striking and weapons defense. In many jiu jitsu schools across the world, these techniques are becoming less and less the focus of training. There are a few instructors, however, that make it their mission to keep Helio Gracie’s system alive.
The system is composed of situational responses to scenarios involving unarmed attacks (punches, grabs, etc.) and weapon attacks (to include stick/baton, knife, and gun). Here’s a couple of examples:
There is a stark difference between these defense techniques and the usual free-sparring training method (rolling) used to increase reflexes and auto-responses (Boyd’s concept of implicit guidance and control) to your opponent’s full resistance. In fact, the self defense techniques have a feel of WWII-era combatives to them that is undeniable. The problem from my perspective is that they do not add an element of “aliveness” to them which makes the more sportive aspects of jiu jitsu so effective. For more on aliveness read through Matt Thornton’s Straight Blast Gym’s philosophy. This aliveness is critical to the development of real skills to be utilized and called upon when needed in the most dire of circumstances. This should be kept in mind when further evolving and developing training methodologies that build upon the spirit of Helio Gracie’s self defense method.
There is an example of this aliveness that was shared by the Gracie Academy a while back. It was something that I had not seen before, and showed an example of how the concept of Gracie Jiu Jitsu self defense should evolve to create this aliveness when training weapons defenses. In the video Rener Gracie removes a training knife hidden inside his gi and begins attacking his rolling partner with it mid-roll. It was an interesting exchange and created an increased level of realism in how an attack might occur during an assault.
An interesting video that shows the dynamic nature of knife attacks:
As you can see an attack can occur in the blink of an eye. An change to the training methodology is warranted in order to increase the preparedness for such an encounter. Aliveness is the answer. Consider Matt Thornton’s explanation of this core concept of his from the link above. It could be what is missing in your self defense training, armed or unarmed.
Recognized as the world’s leading expert in self defense instruction, Relson Gracie is the second oldest son of the late Grandmaster Helio Gracie. Helio Gracie is credited as the innovator of the jiu jitsu that the family was taught by Mitsuyo “Count Koma” Maeda, and which is now known as Gracie Jiu Jitsu.
Finally had the opportunity to train with the legendary “Shark” and “Champion” of the Gracie family. The seminar was hosted by Relson Gracie Black Belt Marco Moreno at The Basics Gracie Jiu Jitsu in Leesburg, VA.
I got invited to attend one of the Machado Brother gatherings in Farmer’s Branch, TX by Master Carlos Machado. Of course I accepted! It was a very informative two days of jiu jitsu training that covered a wide variety of techniques and strategies. What struck me as most interesting was the more principle based practice as compared to other jiu jitsu seminars where a progression or random variety of techniques were taught. Brothers Carlos, Roger, and John were present and taught throughout the weekend. The atmosphere was friendly and cooperative and taught in a family-oriented environment vice a competitive environment that one might experience in more MMA-focused schools. It was time well spent, and I would recommend training with any of the Machado brothers if given the opportunity. First class all the way!
Back in September I got the opportunity to attend a seminar conducted in KC by UFC Middleweight and multi-time BJJ world champion, Demian Maia. The seminar was simply awesome! Although the techniques are far too numerous to try to recall on this post I would say that the highlight of the seminar for me was his emphasis on jiu jitsu as a self defense art. I haven’t seen this in other BJJ schools like I have seen at the Gracie Academy, so it was great to hear it being emphasized from someone outside of the GJJ Academy lineage. If he comes back…I’ll definitely try my best to attend. Cheers…