After about 10 hours of air travel including a twenty minute layover at JFK airport in New York I made it to London. At the airport I got picked up by my friend Barry Paul, a black belt under Ed Parker and my connection in the UK (there will be a separate post regarding Barry). After a couple days of touring around the area I was able to get in and get some training. Barry had contacted a local Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor Andy Roberts, a Ralph Gracie black belt who happened to be a quick drive from Barry's flat in Farnsborough, a little burb south west of London. As I arrived the school rang of familiar spots, it was tucked away in a little alley and was a modest building with relatively limited parking. Inside there's a decent seating area for spectators or people waiting for their class to start, three mat areas, and spacious dressing rooms. The mat area to the left of the entranceway is tucked away and enclosed in a cage, clearly the side for striking arts as the school has a fairly prominent MMA and Muay Thai boxing program. The other two mat areas are connected in the middle and jointly used for the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class.
I had initially expressed interest in doing the Judo class at 6, but as I was the only one to show up for it I ended up getting grouped into the beginner jiu jitsu class filled with mostly white belts and a blue belt. While not having a large showing of women there were two in class who both had a lively attitude toward training which is always nice to see. It's funny, the more schools I visit the most consistent aspect of training is the warmups. Starting with running, high knees, high ankles, side skipping both inside and outside, etcWe continued with shrimps (referred to here as "worms") lizard crawls, bear crawls, forward and backward rolling and some basic joint movement. Next we moved into the first piece of training some work on guillotine choke defense. I have to give Mr. Roberts some props here because one thing he pulled off fairly effectively was only giving one piece at a time. Too often instructors will give you a whole string of things to do and will end up teaching too many lessons for a student to learn and grasp effectively. I paired up with the blue belt, a very welcoming and pleasant chap, and we began working the basic guillotine from standing. Next was a basic survival tactic, followed by a takedown, escape, and finally a finishing move, the kimura, or a tactic for locking the shoulder while across your opponent's side.
After some quality drilling we switched gears and spent some time working on choking with the lapel while on the opponent's back. After a few minutes of basic practice we turned it into a positional sparring match, one guy starts with a seatbelt grip on the back and tries to choke his opponent while the opponent tries to defend. After both folks turn switch partners and continue to burn out your grips. What I like about this type of sparring is as it's a class full of beginners it doesn't necessarily throw them into a full sparring match with open rules and positions, it allows them to focus on mastering one position all the while becoming comfortable with the idea of full resistance training. Having a little bit of a skill gap on my opponents I didn't end up getting strangled this round (although in defending I got mounted, boo) and I managed to catch each of my opponents at least once, at the same time burning through my fingers and forearm muscles. Nothing like collar death grip to get shakey fingers and arms. With that the beginner class ended and we lined up (by rank of course) and foregoing the bow, just shook hands and the beginners went on with their evening. I have to give the crowd some credit, for a Friday night class there was a good 16 or so people choosing to wreck themselves training rather than "getting blottered" at the pub.
The advanced class was a bit smaller with a total of about eight of us, one other purple belt, about three or four blue belts, a couple white belts, an orange belt, and Andy, the black belt of the group. We warmed up (most of us were still dripping sweat from the previous class) with a "King of the Hill" drill for guard passing. If you pass your opponents closed guard you win and take his place, if you get submitted or swept, you get back in line and wait for the next open body. The purple belt I worked with was certainly skilled and had long strong limbs. Finding myself a little tired and lazy I, without thinking, let him get a decent grip on my collar. I kept my base for a while but I could feel it was only a matter of time before I was put on my back. Making a decision to be more disciplined in my passing and defense I was able to last a decent while against Andy, surviving at least one or two legitimate sweep attempts before his black belt skills had me flipped over. Against the rest of the crowd of blue, white, and orange belts I was able to fair pretty well and got a little bit more into my passing groove. Plenty warm we began our drilling of half-guard passing.
After drilling we had about 45 minutes which was entirely dedicated to rolling. This meant I'd get a chance for a five minute match with each of the folks left in class which was nice for the sake of having a broader understanding of the strategies of the students at the academy. I was pleasantly surprised by the game of the 15 year old orange belt, (in jiu jitsu until you are 16 you can't earn your blue belt and instead work through yellow orange and green). He had long limbs and a fondness for triangles which brought me back to one of my students back in Washington who was just hitting his stride as I left. I love seeing these kids who are tough to deal with and aren't able to rely on any strength which only means they'll be a nightmare to deal with as their strength comes. I had another match with a big strong white belt who managed to pass my guard as I attempted to butterfly sweep him which left me crushed for about three of the five minute match. As a smaller fighter, about 145-150lbs a decent white or blue belt with some strength and weight can provide serious trouble if I let them get to a dominant position. After a lot of squirming around I finally managed to pull off a sweep and get on top finding it surprisingly serene once I was there.
My final match of the night was back with the blue belt I had drilled with at the beginning of the night which was a lot of fun. I have been working on controlling from north-south, or a position that relies on me controlling my opponent from above his head, chest on face style. From there I have a series of tactics to isolate the arm and use the collar as an anchor to finally choke with my forearm. Jiu jitsu folks will often refer to this as a "paper-cutter" choke as the motion is similar to the office tool. What I like about this technique is it relies very little on me being stronger, allows me to take one of their arms out of play, and with a little fight take out some of the biggest guys. I managed to execute the paper-cutter twice, once on each side on my partner, once right as Andy called time signalling the end of the final match. Keeping a positive attitude my new friend with the blue belt laughed and appreciated the roll.
My overall impressions of Andy Roberts' BJJ are all positive, it is a fairly small gym filled with a lot of positive energy. The instructor so often sets the tone for the rest of the students training and if there's an ego problem at the top it will trickle down to the rest of the students. Invited back with genuine interest in my travels I'll have to definitely stop by again if I find myself in North Camp. While I didn't get a chance to train at what some would call the premier schools in Britain, Roger Gracie and Braulio Estima, I feel fortunate to have gotten an opportunity to travel halfway across the globe and find myself as comfortable as if it were my own gym. Again, martial arts, and in my experience often with members of the jiu jitsu community, is a perfect reason to travel and meet new people and as long as you go in with a positive attitude and mindset it will be returned in favor.