The Part Time Grappler – Introduction

A guide to starting (and sticking with) Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

“Just keep swimming…”

Dory – Finding Nemo 2003

“The most effective form of self defence.”

If you’re reading this book I can (I hope) safely assume that you know something about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You are probably considering starting, or you’ve just started, and the title of this book spoke to you. Either way, it might be useful for us to have a quick look at what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is and why it has become so popular, especially for those who may have no idea what is is about.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (also known as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu), or more commonly abbreviated as BJJ, is a fairly young martial art, having been developed from Japanese Kosen Jiu-Jitsu in the early 1900s. Depending on what version of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu history you believe, the first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school opened in Brazil in 1912. That makes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu less than 100 years old.

In the early 1980’s in America, Rorion Gracie, a member of the Gracie family from Brazil (one of the largest families of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which they branded Gracie Jiu-Jitsu) brought the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a fighting system to the world through the Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC. Now more of a sporting event than a legalised street fight, the UFC showed the world that the small, skinny, younger brother of Rorion, Royce Gracie, could use the skills and techniques of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to defeat larger, stronger and more athletic fighters from other martial arts styles. Soon after the first events, thousands of people in the United States, and around the world, went looking for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools to learn ‘the most effective form of self defence’ in the world.

Now that we have a common background, let’s look at why I wrote this book.

The purpose of this book is not to go into the history and development of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’ll leave that to other, more in depth volumes. Nor is this a book on techniques, or how to master the path from white to black belt. The purpose of this book is to look at, after you decide you want to start Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, how to make the most of your training (and non training) time, so that once you start, you are able to maintain a long and healthy obsession with the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

To understand why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has become so popular over the last 30 years or so, we need to understand the mindset of the people who choose to practice the art. I’ve had the privilege of training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at various schools for over 10 years now and I’ve found that there are usually three types of people who decide to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The first type of person are those who want to learn to defend themselves. They have no real experience of fighting (except perhaps to have been on the receiving end of one) and they want to learn how to fight back if they are attacked. They may or may not know of things like other martial arts, the UFC or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) but usually they have no idea. They may or may not already follow some kind of fitness or exercise programme.

The second type of person (of which I fall in the category of) are those looking to learn an effective form of self defence. They are have a lot of the characteristics of the first type above, but they have also tried other martial arts styles and found them either lacking or ineffective. They have seen Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at some point in time or heard of its effectiveness as a system of self defence and they want to try it out. Often they will have some opinions about the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and may require a few object lessons to drive the point home.

The third type of person are those who want to be Mixed Martial Arts (or MMA) fighters. They dream of one day signing a UFC contract and fighting on the world stage. They appreciate that to be an all round fighter they need to have a good ‘ground game’. They probably also practice some form of striking art, like kickboxing or Muay Thai. They definitely have a physical fitness and/or exercise programme, and they often train more than double what a person from the first two categories does.

As you can see, these three categories cover a wide variety of people. This book is aimed at the types of people who fall into the first two categories, because, more often than not, both of those types of people also have day jobs and families, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training is just one part of their lives. They are the “part time grapplers” that the title of this book refers to. As part time grapplers, it might be easy to start, but over time it becomes more difficult to keep up a good pace of training. This is made even harder when people who typically fall into the third category, and get way more training time in, tend to outstrip you on the mat.

As such, it is to those people that I speak to. As we move into Chapter 1, I dedicate the title of this chapter to these people, because it is the most important piece of knowledge any part time grappler needs to understand: Here be sharks!

Hello World!

I few months ago I indicated I intended to shut down this blog. What I actually meant was that I would be retiring the domain name of infinitusjiujitsu.co.za, and reverting back to blogging under the original domain of jiujitsu.co.za (or jiu-jitsu.co.za, because I own both).

The history of this blog goes back to when I started training in Gracie Jiu Jitsu, back in 2008. I wrote about my journey, in an attempt to keep track of my own training, and to inspire others. It then morphed into writing articles to promote my club, which ran semi-successfully from 2018 until it closed early last year.

So what now? Well I have big plans for this blog.

I feel like I have two books worth of jiu-jitsu musings inside of me, and I intend to publish those books, as a series of posts, here. Once I feel like I’m finished a book, I intend to gather all the relevant posts into a downloadable book format. I may try to sell this, or I may give it away for free. I’ve not decided on that yet.

Either way, if you’re new to jiu-jitsu, have been doing for as long as I have (or longer), or just want to know what it’s all about, I hope you’ll join me.

In the meantime, why not take a look at some of my earlier posts.

Shutting down this blog.

10 years ago I started blogging about my jiu jitsu journey. A lot has changed since then, and my priorities have shifted.

Jiu Jitsu no longer represents a priority in my life, it has become something that I fit in between the things that have become my priorities. And this is OK, because for me this is all jiu jitsu needs to be.

This will be the last post on this blog, and then the time comes to renew the domain, I will let it expire.

Thank you to everyone who shared this journey with me, hopefully I’ve shared some mat time with you, or I will in the future.

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

On endings.

“I will miss you too Pooh. I will miss you very, very much.” – the final words of Christopher Robin in Winnie-The-Pooh

Hard decisions are never easy, they wouldn’t be called hard if they were. It is therefore with some sadness that I write this post.

Due to circumstances related to Infinitus Jiu Jitsu’s training location (two weeks ago the landlord, as per the rental agreement, gave us a months notice) and the stresses of my professional and personal life, I’ve decided to no longer continue teaching at Infinitus Jiu Jitsu. In short, at the end of April, we will close.
When I first opened the club back in March of 2014 I had no idea what path my life would take. Since then many things have changed and many events have happened, both good and bad, that have finally brought me to this place.
This is not something I ever thought would happen, but life sometimes has a way of making your mind up for you. If the only factor involved in the decision was location, we would simply find a new one. My personal and professional life have also gone through major changes over the past few years and as such my priorities have changed, so this decision is also about what is best for me and my family.
Hopefully you can appreciate how difficult choices like this can be.
To those who have shared the mat at Infinitus with me these past four years, both current and ex students, as well as practitioners from other clubs and schools, I thank you for your part in this journey.
To all my current students, both adult and children, thank you for your support and for really teaching me what jiu jitsu is about.
From the 1st of May this site will revert back to a blog, detailing my personal journey through jiu jitsu. I hope you’ll consider sticking around.
Please enjoy some of the highlights from the last four years in a gallery of images below. Feel free to imagine your own sad closing music playing overhead.

Thoughts on belt ranking

Recently there has been some debate online regarding belt ranking, specifically the coral belt that is awarded to 7th degree black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

It started with a BJJ black belt who was awarded his coral belt by his students.

It escalated into the leaders of two pretty big associations publicly squabbling over the requirements to achieve coral belt.

Last night I discovered that a legend in the BJJ community was awarded his coral belt by his son, from the sounds of it due to relations with his senior family members, and the recent passing of his father, meaning no one else would have been able to award him that belt. I’ll be honest in that I’m not too sure of this myself.

What I do know is that after all of this, I feel like burning my belt.

I’ve worked hard to achieve the rank I wear today. In the grand scheme of things, the belt means nothing more than time and experience on the mat. But I’ve put that time in and, I believe, earned the rank I wear. It’s taken me 10 years what some would do in 6 or 8, but its my journey and I’ll walk it as slow as I want to.

That being said, my lineage is one of many, there are many groups and associations within BJJ, each with its own rules and guidelines. One such group is the IBJJF, which has certain guidelines regarding belt promotion. There are others, like Gracie Academy/Gracie University, from which my rank originates, that have their own guidelines. Some choose to follow the IBJJF, some don’t. Each one has it’s own specific requirement for achieving and awarding rank.

What has bothered me about all of this is that when this kind of mud slinging starts happening online, all it does is break down the BJJ community, not build it up. If there are no strict guidelines on how to award rank that everyone who does BJJ must follow, then how can anyone comment on anyone else being awarded a rank? If we don’t all have to follow one set of guidelines, how can we comment on what constitutes a black belt, or any other belt, from another school or association?

Some time ago I made a pact with myself that unless a situation effects me specifically I will not comment on it online. This week I broke that pact because all of it annoyed me. I won’t be doing that again.

Some days I wish everyone (and I mean f***ing EVERYONE) in the BJJ community would just stop commenting on everyone else’s rank, way of doing things, whether someone deserves a rank or not and just focus on the thing I try to focus on every time I get onto the mats, working hard to be a small degree better than I was the last time.

 

Gracie Jiu Jitsu Cape Town Tag Team Tournament and new promotions

Congratulations to Dino Calitz, Tian Visser and Jonathan Bossenger on their promotions today at the Gracie Jiu Jitsu Cape Town belt ceremony.

Dino and Tian were awarded 2nd and 1st stripe on their blue belts respectively and Jonathan was awarded his brown belt.

Special thanks also to everyone at Gracie Jiu Jitsu Cape Town and our head instructor, James Smart.

Personal Evolution of Jiu Jitsu

One often finds that with jiu jitsu (as with most things in life) being able to determine personal progress is difficult. Mostly this is because you are living through that progress. So you can’t really compare yourself today from where you were say a year (or more) ago. This is made even more difficult when you have the same training partners, as you are improving each day along with them.

One way that you can compare yourself is to look at old competition footage and examine the differences. I recently competed in a local no gi competition and, thanks to one of my regular training partners who always records these things, I now have the ability to compare myself this year to myself when I competed in the same event two years ago.

(Note, due to illness I didn’t compete last year which is a pity as I would have like to seen the year on year progress.)

Here is the video from 2015

Here is the video from this year

Some things that I notice almost immediately

  1. I’ve developed a bit more of an ‘aggressive’ game. I don’t know if aggressive is the right word, but I definitely take a more active approach to both defence and attack now than what I used to. While I still train a patient approach during my training I’d like to think that in competition I am more focused on Keeping it Real vs Keeping in Playful.
  2. I react better and with more focus. Watching the 2015 video there are some places where I know now I would do things differently. Early on in the 2015 match I allow my opponent to take side mount, something that I would definitely not do today.
  3. My movement now has more purpose. Also, during the stand up phase of the fight I am more focused on keeping good posture.

There are also still areas where I can improve.

  1. I need to work my take downs. I still rely on my opponent to shoot for a take down and then defend and control from there.
  2. I need to improve my open guard foot lock defence. I’m mostly sure that the only reason I didn’t get foot locked is because I was able to use my size to my advantage in defence. I’m not 100% sure that if my opponent was bigger or stronger I’d have defended as well.

It’s quite fun to be able to visually compare yourself to your past self. My current motto for jiu jitsu is that I don’t want  to be better than anyone else, I just want to continue to be better than what I was yesterday. Being able to review my jiu jitsu from 2 years ago and today at least gives me hope that there is progress.

 

An open invitation to my training partners, past, present and future.

Saturday 15 April 2017

2017 marks my 10th year training in the art of Gracie/Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’ve never been a ‘full time’ practitioner, training 5 days (or more) a week. With work, family and various other responsibilities I’ve managed on average over the last 9 years to train for 2 – 3 days a week. A rough calculation puts me at around 900 hours of mat time.

As I move closed to 1000 hours, I’ve started to realise two things. Firstly, that I still rely too much on my size and weight. Secondly, that my status as the ‘most senior’ (whatever that means) rank at my current training facility (my own Gracie Garage), means that I do not get pushed past my comfort zones enough.

This needs to change.

Therefore, as of this week, if I am rolling at my Gracie Garage, I invite you to roll me with in what I like to call ‘Purple Belt Shark Tank’. The rules are quite simple

  1. I must never be allowed to rest. No breaks between rolls, no time to put my gi in place or retie my belt. If a submission happens (either yours or mine) start over straight away from where ever we are. If the timer goes off, do not stop. Keep going until someone comes to take over from you. I want to be smashed.
  2. If you want to roll with me, just do it. If I am rolling with someone and you want in, take over from them, in whatever form that takes. If it means that I am on top of someone and you want take my back, take it. If you want a specific position. Stop me, put me there, take it and go.
  3. Whenever we start a roll, you get to choose where we start. If back mount is your favourite, take it. If you are a side mount person, it is yours.
  4. You are allowed to be a little impolite. During a jiu jisu sparring session it is a common courtesy to ‘slap & bump’ as a handshake. However this will give me time to rest. I will not take offence if you just start attacking me with no handshake.
  5. My safe phrase ‘I’m broken’. This is the phrase I will use to indicate that I need a short break.  Please respect it.

I look forward to seeing you on the mat!

Jonathan