A lot has changed in my jiu-jitsu over the past few months. Considering I’ve been at this for seven and a half years, it highlights one of the many things I love about the sport: constant change and progression.
Last year generally wasn’t good for my grappling. I was waiting nearly nine months to have my torn meniscus removed. Although I could train, it wasn’t effectively and mentally I wasn’t really in it. After the surgery in August I was raring to get back to some harder training. I even started teaching some fast paced 6am sessions at the gym so I could ensure some drilling on what I really wanted to work on.
I had a great six weeks to get ready for the London Open No-gi and ended up picking up a silver medal. I also trimmed my weight right back down to just over 90Kg. If I’m not training properly then I’m usually not eating as clean as I can so I’d had my weight creep up over the injury time.
As good as this stint was, I then picked up a nasty infection in my knee (not the repaired one!), which put me out for a further five weeks. This bled into the Christmas period and I hopped over to the US for a couple of weeks. I have fun when I’m there and eat as freely (and retain a lot of water from the carbs and salt) as I like so on my return at the start of the year I was back up to over 100Kg!
However at the start of the year I was also injury free. I have zero knee issues at all now and I was able to go back to the focus I’d had immediately following my surgery some months before. I picked a couple of very specific things I wanted to work on diligently. Not a fleeting one, two or three sessions but four to five times a week for a couple of months. Most notably, a chunk of Ryan Halls new defensive guard sequences. My coach Lee Doski also got excited to do the same thing and between us the last three months have produced some of the most productive training I’ve had in years. Little sequences that fill in some of the jigsaw pieces missing from our games and a more relaxed open sparring approach.
I quickly booked in for two competitions in March. The English Open No-Gi followed the next week by Kleos Grappling. Due to my MMA commitments over the last few years I’ve not been able to compete all that regularly. There’s usually a clash with one show or another not to mention stringing together several weeks of good training and clean diet is definitely harder.
Another huge improvement from me was a chunk of advice given to me by combat sports nutritionist Mike Leng from Unorthodox Nutrition. Mike was a guest on the Top Control Podcast in January and subsequently I’ve done a little work with him to address a few diet deficiencies I had. Whilst it was nice for him to reinforce that my general nutritional approach was very good the big advantage was what he’s done to fuel my training sessions. I’ve always been quite carb deficient when training and with his help I now have a wicked solution that works for me. I can train with a much greater intensity and pace now as well as better muscle maintenance whilst in a pretty substantial calorie deficit.
So, first up was the English Open No-gi. Historically I’ve done better in no-gi competitions but I have lately really rediscovered an enjoyment in lots of gi work. I always get paranoid about making the IBJJF weight classes with no-gi as they’re bizarrely 3Kg lighter then the gi classes. However no issues on this occasion and actually weighed in a good kilo under the limit. A first indication that I really should be heading down to Meio-Pesado again, a division I’ve only made once before.
Making the weight was actually really easy in the end. I woke up under weight to begin with. I’m good at a simple water manipulation to knock an extra kilo or two off right before the competition day but what I always forget is just how much water I lose just standing around for a few hours at the venue. I drank well over a liter of water, ate a three egg omelet and oatmeal during the morning and I still weighed in under what I needed to be.
I had a bracket of five competitors so I was one of three who had an entry to the semis. I did however get drawn against Jamey Law, the 2014 British Open gi and no-gi champ in the division (masters, purple, Heavy) so it was always going to be a hard match.
Historically, I can be a slow starter and it was an odd opening to this one. He shot early and I hit a marcelotine (high elbow guillotine), which I usually have a high success rate with. I got a great bite of his throat but it loosened in the scramble and I actually ended up bailing to turtle but immediately switching my hips and securing 50/50. We spent a good four minutes in that guard with me attacking some poor foot locks and him trying to escape. Eventually we untangled and I came up on top scoring the two points.
I tried to pass a bit too quickly and gave up a single leg. After a less than glamorous attempt at a kimura throw I lost the position and gave up two points for the takedown. Why I didn’t just wrestle rather than try and submit on the way down I don’t know. Poor decision in the heat of the moment. I retained guard and feeling pretty winded stalled out the last thirty seconds or so. I knew I would be up in the refs mind as I’d had five sub attempts and although most were never dangerous, he’d had zero actual attack offense. It is both a blessing and a curse that I am immensely cognitive in matches. Sometimes an aggressive autopilot would be better. But a win is a win.
On to the final I faced Daddy Kabuiki from Icon. He’d won divisions years before at the GoToTheGround grappling competitions I’d promoted in Suffolk so I knew he’d be tough. He’s very athletic and he totally out-pointed his first opponent.
However, I wrestle well. Not well by a pure wrestlers standard but better than most BJJ guys. I’m also faster than most people suspect when I commit to entries. After a stint of him being aggressive in the stand-up, because he genuinely is significantly stronger than me, I hit my favorite arm drag and scored an easy two points. Once he realised what’d happened he scrambled quickly and reversed the position. Then it all went a little wrong.
The general theme is that when my scramble ability ended, he still had steam and explosion to keep going. I don’t think I was ever technically outmatched at any stage and he never even attempted a submission but he got a couple of passes in the scrambles. At one point, I escaped and caught him with my tricep/elbow on the way out and he asked for a timeout, as it’d hit his eye. No problem there. However almost as soon as we restarted I caught my palm on his face again and he said it was his eye again. This triggered an argument with the ref, a penalty against him and I honestly thought he might get DQ’d for the confrontation.
What this meant was that on the restart he came at me ultra aggressive. But that means predictable forward movement and I hit a clean double leg for another takedown. Although I lost on points there are things I can be happy with. I also know I need to develop my work capacity on the scrambles. The day ended with acai, which made me very happy indeed!
On to the next weekend…
I almost had to withdraw from Kleos as I got hit with a sinus infection during the week. It was nasty and I had to take three days off training. Luckily it cleared up before the weekend and I still managed to keep the weight well down, actually lower than I’d been the week before despite being able to weigh in slightly higher. It’s been a while since I woke up at 89.9Kg which whilst being a good thing does make me under-sized for a 94.5Kg division.
I like this event a lot. It’s a nice small venue with a big spectator area that lets you actually enjoy all three mats running. They play classic rock throughout the day and give huge real war hammers to the absolute division winners. What’s not to love?!
Had a bigger division for this competition (seven) as they set masters to over thirty five meaning we were all in the adult category and the matches would be seven minutes long. This was also the first time I’d competed in a gi in about eighteen months.
I went up against David Allinson from Pedro Bessa in my opening match and got caught completely cold. I’ve no idea why I was so slow off the mark but I gave up a takedown and pass quickly. Despite restoring guard I went for the most ludicrous loop choke which lead to another guard pass and in the transition he caught a tight ezekiel choke. Considering he also won his semi-final with this move and ended up submitting all three of his opponents to take gold, I’m less annoyed about it than I could be. Still disappointed, but not distraught. At least I was warm and sweating now
So I moved into the repechage and went up against Josh turner, another purple belt from Carlson Gracie. Always a pretty cool metric when you can face someone who was awarded the same belt as you by the same person. I was intent on redeeming myself quickly and decided to wrestle harder. He’s taller than me so shooting a power double was surprisingly easy. I ended up in his closed guard and to be honest the rest of the match was very boring. I got a stalling warning at one point from the ref but did manage to force a turtle for an advantage with thirty seconds left. It was a 2-0 (1-0 adv) win but really not thrilling at all.
Finally the bronze medal match against Tyrone Derrick. He’d won his previous fight by submission from side control so I was fairly certain being on the bottom wasn’t a good idea. Again I went in to wrestle mode and hit my favorite arm drag for two points. Pinned both his knees down to one side and sat heavy. He didn’t scramble like I’d expected so it was quite a tactful minute or so. Eventually I fixed his legs to one side and passed to side control. He was lax with his near arm and I had four strong attempts at a cross choke variation from side, all of which were awarded advantages.
Unsuccessful with the actual submission finish I moved to mount and as he defended grabbed the back control for more points. Transitioned to mount, based out and with only thirty seconds or so left knew I was home and dry. Whilst I’m happy with the 9-0 (4-0 adv) win, I’m irritated I wasn’t more active and aggressive. It was a very methodical performance, but nothing that’ll set spectators alight. A 3-2 record with two medals in back-to-back weeks isn’t all bad.