Recently I have found great entertainment in a number of the fake belt sagas that have been popping up on the UK BJJ scene.
Generally the story follows a reasonably set path – individual enquires about suspicious BJJ instructor, regulars on the UK scene ask around, people start digging, instructor’s credibility falls apart, shady instructor is forced to step-down. UK BJJ police claim victory.
Maybe I’m getting old but these cases always amuse the hell out of me. Some in the UK get really offended by these folks – and rightfully so. A BJJ black belt is a hard earned grade, requiring (literally) thousands of mat hrs of blood, sweat and tears. All legitimate black belts are rightfully proud of their grade and lineage and understandably protective of the sport.
For me – I am but a lowly white belt – it’s just amusing though watching these Walter Mitty types get the rug pulled from under them. This is my soap opera.
For those of you not familiar with the Walter Mitty reference in the post title, Walter Mitty was a literary character defined by both his ordinariness and his fantasy life. The term has since become a description for a specific type of fantasist in real-life. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as “an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs”. Traditionally these folk have been attracted to fantasy that play on macho stereotypes with common fields being warfare and martial arts.
Generally the fantasists all have the same tendencies – they never go for the mediocre, it’s always all or nothing with these types. They never serve in the Royal Engineers, they were deployed with the SAS on top secret missions, they’re not karate black belts, they’re karate ‘world champions’ who know a deadly style not taught in the west, they never got to purple belt with a decent competition record they are black belts who trained with a brazilian master every day for 5 years…..
They are all generally the same though – utter bullshit artists. One of the more amusing aspects of the BJJ bullshitters is that many of them have invested so much time, for such a long period in creating these stories that they could have earned a legitimate high grade in the sport in that timeframe.
But that’s the rub – the particular type of person that wants to pretend he is a BJJ black belt is the Walter Mitty sterotype – ‘an INEFFECTUAL person who DREAMS of personal triumphs’. They don’t want to just get on the mat and actually train. In fact they generally seem to have no interest in training whatsoever – no rolling with students. no competing etc. They would rather invest seven years in weaving a tangled web of lies and bullshit than actually train for that period. It’s simply all about the image.
Most people who will read this blog know of the high profile cases in the UK so I won’t name names but the big challenge to exposing the BJJ fakes nowadays is – money. There is a small percentage of BJJ black belts who have literally ‘sold out’ – offering promotions for cash, often through affiliation channels.
There is one interesting case in the UK in particular where there was an overwhelming body of evidence to suggest a particular black belt was no such thing, despite his ‘legitimate’ black belt.
If you type my name into google followed by ‘BJJ’ there are photos of me on the clubs website, links to videos of my matches on youtube, my name on competition result websites etc and I am just a white belt. When there is NOTHING on the internet about a black belt based in a developed country, it is pretty much a done thing that they are a fake, the rest of the evidence is just icing on the cake.
This individual was ‘under investigation’ for a few months until it came to light that he had been promoted by a black belt under a well respected name black belt. All of a sudden this guy and his gym were happy to shout from the rooftops who this guy was a black belt under with the same individuals that had previously claimed that “there was no reason to disclose who promoted him”, suddenly crowing about how the BJJ community had to eat their words etc.
Nothing however stacked up in the story – from the timelines, to the evidence of training etc. It all just looked like someone had retrospectively graded this guy to black belt remotely from afar.
As much as I find stuff like this amusing there is a slightly more sinister element to it. Often these individuals are training others under the guise that they are experts in BJJ and therefore self-defense. Now whilst the mcdojo martial arts instructor teaching ineffective, pseudo mystical nonsense is a well worn path, BJJ is now the style of choice for these individuals.
Fake belts putting themselves in instructor positions are potentially putting people in dangerous situations through the ineffective application of techniques they don’t properly understand having been taught them by a fraud.
The most disturbing aspect of all though is the cult like support these fakes often garner – whenever these cases come up, you can almost guarantee that there will be phalanx of loyal supporters to claim the fake is ‘a great guy’ and ‘a top instructor’, typically with the challenge of ‘if you got on the mats with him you would see’ despite the fakes usually doing everything they can to avoid rolling with a legitimate grade.
I’ve even seen it when parents of children trained by the frauds are defending these guys when all the evidence is out to see. If I found out that my kids’ Doctor, Nursery teacher, therapist, babysitter had falsified their qualifications to put themselves in a position where they had access to children I would have them out of there with a quickness.
Now before everyone gets their pitchforks out, of course I am not suggesting that BJJ fakes are nonces. That would be sensationalist and silly. I’m simply saying that I think a parent has a responsibility to avoid situations that MIGHT endanger their children – for me personally, putting them under the instruction of someone who has faked their qualifications to get to that position is one of those situations…..
Anyway – as long as there are weak-willed fantasists out there, there will be more and more cases of this – which is fine by me as I can just get my popcorn, sit back and watch the drama unfold….
This week I had the fantastic opportunity to train with Master Julio Cesar Pereira the head of GFTeam.
As the head coach of a relatively small team, his personal coaching CV speaks for itself – Rodolfo Vieira, Ricardo Evangelista, Vitor Oliveira, Jaime Canuto, Vinicius Marinho, Denilson Pimenta, Igor Silva, Theodoro Canal and many more – his fighters have more World, Brazilian nationals, European and IBJJF titles than you can shake a stick at.
Julio took us through a variety of back control and attacks – as ever with great small details that really tightened everything up as well as then some 50-50 escapes and attacks.
The day of the seminar was my second session back training and I am still very limited in what I can do – basically drilling moves only which require little to no work with both arms. I am rolling lightly with one hand in my belt so I can at least get some work in but its still frustrating – especially because I have lost a good few months this year through injury (I haven’t rolled hard since July time) and have had to watch a lot of teammates get promoted.
Our team has a lot of guys who have been training 12-24mths now and many of them were well due for their Blue belts and on the day there was an hr of solid sparring for the potential promotes with blues and purples in front of Julio. As expected every roll ended up being total wars with the whites going extra hard and the coloured belts really working them hard.
What was frustrating as all hell for me though was having to sit on the sidelines and watch this all without being able to join in.
Anyway – I’m in no rush to get promoted – I’m already 33 with more than enough on my plate with work and family to worry about fast promotions. It did though give me a real incentive to get rehabbed back to full strength as quickly as possible and get my blue belt and go through the whole process myself when I’m ready for it and have earned it. More importantly I can’t wait to get back to full health to start terrorising the new blue belts……
On the topic of my shoulder, I’m nearly two months in to my recovery now and already well ahead of schedule. The rehab exercises are being done regular as clockwork and strength and flexibility are steadily getting back to where I need them to be. As of today my arm feels like it did pre-surgery now which is an improvement on the last 6 weeks where it has been completely gimpy. By the new year I am hoping for a real noticeable difference.
Also, I need to step up the training a bit now as I have been given the OK to start jogging again so hopefully I can work off the 8kgs I’ve picked up since the op.
On the home front – we’ve got a planned date for my wife to get induced in a few weeks which means we might hopefully have the baby home in time ahead of xmas. That will be fantastic and means the whole xmas thing won’t be too disrupted for my other son. Busy times ahead…..
So apologies for the complete lack of posting the past two months but with the injury rehab and work I have been kind of preoccupied.
In terms of the injury – the rehab has gone much better than I could have hoped for. The physio is amazed at my Wolverine healing powers which are still in place luckily and I am well ahead of the average rehab time profile for this type of operation.
I have pretty much got full range of motion other than a couple of planes of movements and have been given the green light to start light training again already.
So this week I made my way back to training.
Firstly – I am pretty chuffed with myself for being so strict in my rehab exercises to get back in training as in the past, my aborted attempts to train BJJ have been disrupted by injury and then drifting away from the sport whilst rehabbing, due to not taking the rehab as serious.
This time I have been like clockwork as far as my rehab protocol was concerned.
In the weeks running up to the surgery I was still training but training very lightly when rolling, trying to use no strength and only technique. It sounds cliched but it made a real difference and I felt I got a lot better a lot faster through doing this.
This week I actually rolled a couple of rounds using my bad arm stuffed in my belt and going very light. That aside, to be rolling 6 weeks after this type of surgery is really good going.
Rolling one handed was bizarre as I was kind of lost. Just basic things like guard passing were really hard one handed and I found myself having to really think about what i was doing but still it was worth it.
Its a good time to come back as this week we are hosting Julio Cesar Pereira for a seminar and grading. I don’t expect to get my blue belt today as:
– my competition performance this year was shit
– I have lost a few months of hard training time in the run up to it
and I think whilst I hold my own against the blue belts there’s more to it than that, but it will be a great experience to attend any way as Julio is a legend and one of the top coaches in the world seeing as he is the head coach of GFTeam and personal coach of the likes of Rodolfo Vieira, Ricardo Evangelista, Jaime Canuto, Vitor Henrique amongst many others.
Anyway – I’m going to continue to take it light for the next few months as I have a baby due in a few weeks, then xmas and so a March timeframe for full sparring is what I am really aiming for – with a plan to jump straight into competing as soon as I can
Nope not a tranny post but a quick update on my shoulder. Sorry to disappoint…..
I’ll keep it brief as I’m typing one-handed but overall the prognosis looks pretty good.
Before the op I’d read up on the procedure and spoke to lots of other BJJ players who had it done and two things kept cropping up – Severe Post Operative Pain and risk of side effects (nerve damage etc).
During the procedure they give you a nerve block in your arm because you have so many major nerve bundles running through the shoulder in proximity to the spinal column and face as well. I’d heard various descriptions of the pain after the nerve block wears off as “unbearable”, “will prevent you sleeping”, “like a shark has savaged your shoulder”.
Well I just woke up after my second night sleep and first at home with no nerve block and it wasn’t too bad. It’s sore but not too bad and I seem to have missed all the nasty side effects. I’ve been prescribed codeine for the pain but paracetamol seems to be doing the trick. I’ve always made a point about avoiding paracetamol for minor aches and pains so my body will respond to it when I really need to take it which has paid off I think.
I’ve been doing my physio exercises 3 times a day which is going to be key to the healing rate and hopefully I’ll be back on the mats as soon as possible. My target is to be back competing before mt birthday (April 25th) next year which I think is a realistic target.
So all in all a decent result considering.
So tomorrow I get this torn labrum sorted out finally. I say finally as the only thing putting it off has been the fact I wanted to get my current work project out of the way.
Its been a real pain in the arse as I haven’t trained properly in 2 mths as a result and am facing another 5-6mths before I’m 100% again. This time round I’m going to continue to maintain some involvement with the club and training though to make sure that I don’t let it slip by the wayside again.
I’m going to load up the Kindle though and make sure I’ve got a wireless connection to kill the overnight stay and then its a few days at home resting.
The only scary part is that apparently the post-operative pain is meant to be absolutely hellish, which I’m not looking forward to.
Anyway – will post with updates following the OP…..
As readers of this blog will know I am a proud parent of a brilliantly funny, charming little boy with another on the way (due xmas).
One of the things I’m looking forward to, as most dads do, is doing sport with my boys. I grew up in a single parent household for many years and while I’m not saying this for sympathy, it did mean participative sport was not huge on the agenda.
I never did the youth football thing and was too small for rugby at the time which were really the two main sports in our small town.
I did however use to cycle.
Now for people that have recently got into cycling due to british success in the sport have NO idea what it was like being a teenage cyclist in the mid 90s. Cycling was most definitely NOT cool like it is today. I raced due to my mum’s boyfriend’s (at the time) involvement with the sport – not through any wish to participate of my own.
This guy’s son was a very good cyclist (now race director at a top pro outfit) and we used to trapse around the country each weekend watching him race. So I got forced into it that way despite hating it at the time.
However things came to a head when the boyfriend managed to get me a ‘trial’ with a top youth coach at the time whereupon I proceeded to trundle around the track at a leisurely pace, embarrassing the mum’s boyfriend and leading the coach to comment “he looks like he’s on his fucking paper round” much to my amusement.
Anyway – what this rather long winded intro is for, is to preface my thoughts on pushy parents in sport. I read about an incident this week involving an unsavoury character at one of the UK events who is pushing his underachievement baggage on his kids in BJJ competitions leading to ugly scenes when they lose (threatening refs, kids foul language directed at refs etc).
I would LOVE for my kids to eventually do BJJ with me as I think there are a hundred different benefits to doing the sport but when they do it I want them to do it because they enjoy it and not because they feel forced to do it.
I’d hate to be THAT guy stood there screaming and putting pressure on his kids and embedding ugly behaviour and attitudes in them.
I am an EXTREMELY competitive person in all facets of life and its led to be reasonably successful in my field of work but it is something I need to restrain which has taken me years to learn and my fear is some of that reflectively seeps out if my kids start competing. As much as I would be proud as punch for my kids to do well at BJJ, its more important to me that they enjoy it, as I think a healthy interest in sport as a youth is a fantastic thing and if it keeps you out of parks and street corners or sitting behind a computer screen I’m all for it.
Equally though – even the non-aggressive pride can be a bad thing. I was recently at a seminar with Rodolfo Vieira and a guy had traveled down from the North for the seminar with his son who was about 9 or 10 and wanted to film his son in a ‘match’ with Rodolfo. I was training privately with Rodolfo earlier in the day before the seminar and this guy came down early before the seminar specifically for this ‘match’, which they did after we got changed after training.
Rodolfo, to his credit, then had a couple minute ‘match’ with this kid, selling it like he was in the WWE, while the dad filmed it on his ipad. It was extremely cool of him and the kid looked slick as hell for a small child.
We spoke to the dad (whose wardrobe had caught full on affliction-itis) and he told us the kid had been doing boxing, wrestling, judo and BJJ since he was 4 years old and proceeded to start showing us loads of news articles about his son from local papers and photos of the kid with various top black belts that he had on his ipad…..
I was gobsmacked. All of a sudden my perspective on this cool little event flipped. This kid had basically been in full time MMA training since he was a toddler as an expression of his Dad’s obsession with MMA, who it turns out was not even training himself but has only come down to film his son with Rodolfo.
I went from being impressed to more than a little disturbed.
No kid at 4 years old makes the decision, “you know what dad I want to train various combat sports 5-6 days a week”. That to me is the opposite of a healthy interest in sport and is more than likely to burn the kid out before he is at an age where he can compete for real – that’s assuming he survives his childhood injury-free.
Unfortunately parents like that and the guy before are the reason I am not likely to let my kids compete if they do want to train BJJ as the hyper-competitive attitude expressed by these ‘adults’ and the desire for the kids to seek the approval of their parents is likely to lead to the ‘ego’ that adult BJJ so expressly seeks to avoid. The last thing I want is my 12yr old son injured in a comp by some other kid trying to tear his arm off because he is so desperate to impress his sted-head dad.
I said I’d also add a story regarding using BJJ in a real self-defense scenario as well so here goes:
It was around the time of my first stint training BJJ back in 2000/2001 so I had been training about 6mths. I’d been out drinking at an outdoor music festival in my home town with friends and my mum and was walking back home through town.
A couple of guys approached us and started to harass my mum throwing some pretty horrible slurs at her.
They were angling for a scrap and in hindsight we should have ignored them and just walked on as a first course of action but I engaged them with the classic, “Have you got a fucking problem?”.
This was EXTREMELY out of character for me as I was very passive growing up and avoided fights like the plague but had a belly full of dutch courage and 6mths of BJJ under my belt so was feeling a bit brave.
I won’t go in to the slick trash talking exchange that followed but what happened next is classic small market town stuff which is where a lot of people don’t believe me, but for anyone who grew up in small market towns where fighting is all the local yahoos have to do at a weekend, it will probably ring a bell.
It ended up in him ‘offering me out’ to fight in the shopping precinct round the corner. So off we went round the corner with my mum, her friend, and his friend as an audience.
We squared up at a distance and he adopted the ‘Liam Gallagher ‘ pose as he approached me (arms down and flared, chin up), I ‘put up my dukes’ into a regular boxing pose (I had done a bit of thai boxing too by this stage), got close to him, threw a jab to feint before double legging him, mounting him and then getting him in an Americana from the mount.
It lasted a matter of seconds and I made sure he knew who was in control before he was begging me to let go of his arm, which I did.
What followed next was where it got a bit bizarre.
So after getting off him he was nursing a sore shoulder and a bruised ego before insisting he wanted to go again because I was a ‘wrestler’ and ‘ that’s cheating’…..
His mate, who seemed to find this funny, informed him he had been fairly beaten and that I could have smashed his head in but didn’t which seemed to placate him. So we shook hands and agreed that was the end of it.
As we are walking off in the same direction he asks if we wanted to go for a beer in the pub (please bear in mind weekend scraps are such a regular thing in this area of the world, this is not that unusual). I wanted to go home but my mum’s friend decides to take them up on the offer, so my mum goes in to get her and I follow them all in.
Inside the pub is pretty much the entire family (brothers and cousins) of the guy I have just scrapped with. My spidey sense is tingling at this stage and I’m looking for the exit when the guy says to his brothers, “Me and this guy just had a scrap outside and he kicked my arse. He’s some sort of wrestler”.
The family then proceed to find this extremely amusing (as I looked as far from a hard-man as you could imagine) and buy me drinks so I can tell them all about the wrestling I did.
Very strange. Anyway, as scripted as I know that sounds, it absolutely did happen. With witnesses. I’ve even left some details of the build up to the fight and the fight out as they make it sound even more unrealistic despite them all happening. However fights almost never end up as amicably as that one did and to be honest I was stupid even getting into it in the first place but 6mths of basic BJJ enabled me to completely shut another guy down (who had a reputation as a bit of a hard nut at the time) without causing him any damage beyond a bruised ego.
So that’s my experience of a live situation and, with a family and responsibilities now, hopefully my last…..
Inspired by another blogger’s take on JJ and Self Defense (The Tattooed Chimp) I thought I would unashamedly plagiarise his post topic and talk about my thoughts on it and a ‘self –defense’ story I had involving BJJ. This started out as one post but I’m going to split it in two to make it a bit more digestible.
Firstly I’d say that the easiest method of self-defense is avoidance. 99% of people (made up stat) go through life never having a fight – which is the way it should be – simply because they avoid putting themselves in situations that might lead to a fight.
Cool new pub/club in a dangerous part of town? Not worth the risk
Walking through town centre at kicking out time? Get a taxi
Aggressive drunk guy in the pub angling for a scrap? Go drink somewhere else.
Not to mention when you do get in a fight, the risks are so high its crazy when you think about it. Lose the fight and you run the risk of disfigurement, brain damage or death, win and you risk the flip-side of prosecution for any of those things. Life-changing stuff for both parties. Fights almost never happen as a ‘square go’ with both parties shaking hands at the end (stay tuned for the next post with a funny story about when that does happen)
But on to BJJ.
Clearly the sport vs self-defense argument is a bone of contention in some circles and you only need to look on the BJJ forums to see it near the top of every message board as a discussion topic. My own personal view is simply that BJJ as a sport is just that, a sport. Train it, develop it and enjoy it.
People seem to be getting all het up that modern BJJ isn’t the all-encompassing self-defense system it may have previously been and whilst the criticisms of ‘impractical’ BJJ styles seem to be leveled at the elite inverted guard players, I think it’s ludicrous to suggest that in a ‘live situation’ some random meathead would be doing anything other than ending up unconscious if they got into it with a Miyao or Mendes brother.
Equally, amateur boxing has been watered down into a near mockery of the professional game but put an international amateur boxer against an untrained meathead in a live fight and it will last all of 10 secs if they are lucky.
Just because the competition rules of a combat sport have limitations that certain stylists exploit for competition success AGAINST OTHER COMPETITORS IN THEIR SPORT, doesn’t mean those same athletes can’t execute the bread and butter of their combat style if they need to.
Like learning how to throw a solid left right combo and some basic punch defense, the basics of BJJ will provide you with enough of a self-defense basis for almost any situation with an ability to incapacitate your opponent without running the risk of serious damage (just remember to let go of the choke….).
So just relax, train and stop looking for monsters under the bed.
So today I got the news I was really hoping not to hear.
I had an MRI at the weekend and a consultation with an orthopaedic surgeon on the shoulder injury I suffered in the last competition I entered 6 weeks ago.
It has come on leaps and bounds in the last few weeks and I had resumed almost full pace rolling so I assumed it wasn’t so serious.
However the MRI confirmed what the consultant suspected which was a torn labrum.
Unfortunately this means surgery to repair it. Specifically, an arthroscopy, pinning the labrum to fix the tear and then a subacromial decompression – shaving the bones down to make more space in the joint.
What this means is 2 weeks in a sling, 2 weeks of intensive mobility rehab, 2 months of further mobility rehab before I can resume light training/drilling and then a further two months of rehab before I can roll full pace again.
I’m going to carry on going to training in the interim as my personal view is there much to be gained from cardio, video study and light drilling. Even without rolling there will be things I can do, it will just mean a slightly longer path to improvement unfortunately.
Still, 3mths of no BJJ will be rough but not impossible but it means I should be back in time for the IBJJF , which is my target.
Luckily I have full medical cover and have access to one of the top shoulder experts in the country as well as a great physio practice and the view of the doc is there’s no reason that after the 5 months the shoulder shouldn’t be at 100%
One of the biggest differences I have noticed when I compare my training (and the sport) of 2013 vs 2000-1 when I first started is the sheer abundance of instructional videos. What I am not going to do is in depth reviews of instructionals and the merits or otherwise of each individual one – visit slideyfoot.com) if you want to read a quality take on instructional videos.
My take on them is simply my perspective having remembering what it was like training back in the early 2000s as a white belt.
When I first started out, I used to train up in Manchester and for anyone that is familiar with the city (especially students) you will remember Affleck’s Palace. A fantastic student-centric shopping bazaar in the center of Manchester City Center it sold a mixture of drugs paraphernalia, independent music, ‘fashion’ and bric-a-brac.
It was also home to a chap who had a trade in pirate videos (VHS for those that remember it…..).
Having first had an introduction to MMA and BJJ through the copy of UFC 1 that was passed around my thai/self defense club in my home town circa 1996 I quickly became obsessed hunting down as many vids as I could, which in those days were restricted to the selection available in HMV and Blockbuster (UFC 1-5, Ultimate Ultimate if you were really lucky and the old russian vale tudo tournaments with Igor V).
When my friend and I found this guy we discovered he had copies of all the UFCs to that point and more importantly Pride events which were the holy grail of mma tapes at the time. One video that he also had that I bought however was Mario Sperry’s old instructional set which I bought a pirate copy of for some daft amount of money. It was a hilarious tape to watch but, along with Gracie basics or whatever it was called, was pretty much the only instructional you could get hold of back then
Now you only need to go on youtube to see the sheer wealth of instructionals available from pretty much every top level competitor down to local instructors with self promoted content of varying degrees of quality.
Now I know some people (i.e. higher belts) are not huge fans of instructionals but for me personally I really like them. I do think however that they are pretty much useless unless they are aimed at white/blue belts as I imagine higher belts don’t need to ‘learn’ new moves and details and are instead refining their existing skillset.
I’m quite a visual learner, in that I can watch an instructional tape and pick up stuff that I then later apply in training. Now I know a lot of people will say, “Well you are won’t be picking it up correctly from a video vs an instructor” but to be frank I am probably applying it about as well as I would the first few times after having been show it by an instructor. I can always work on it in training and ask for help from the instructor after the class.
I’m not proposing this type of learning replaces class instruction, but it has been a big help to me at the level I am at and some of my most high percentage moves have been ones that I picked up from instructionals. Plus, with the limited time I have, its also a great way to while away the hrs when I am in hotel rooms travelling with work.
The ones I find to be really good are the ones that focus on principles, the details of the basics and top game focused ones – Stephan Kesting’s youtube channel, Demian Maia’s Science of JJ, Roy Dean’s Blue belt requirements, Saulo Ribeiro’s and Rafael Lovato’s Pressure Passing are some I particularly like.
As a beginner these all cover things like why a move works and the mechanics behind it and options from a particular base position etc All things I find helpful.
Some however, just miss the mark for me. I watched some of one the other day from a top level practioner and it was so complex and clearly aimed at higher level belts that I took nothing from watching the section I did.
And here’s my point (finally) its all very well aiming your content at higher level belts with the fanciest and latest sport moves that work for that athlete partly because of unique natural attributes, but the level of player they are aimed at are precisely the sort of people I expect are least likely to benefit from video instruction.
As a white belt I can actually take a lot of new information in from videos as there are still so many holes in my understanding and knowledge but I would hope that by the time I get to Purple and higher I have developed a style that works for me and don’t need to shoe horn my style in to that of a someone just because they are a competition monster at the world level. Anyway I guess to sum up I DO think there is merit in video instruction via instructionals when you still a beginner so long as it supported with classroom instruction (from a higher belt…..not in a garage) and sparring and there is some really fantastic content out there