Thursday, May 30, 2013

Meeting John Danaher

One of the upsides of now training at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Holmdel is that I get to drop in at the Manhattan school at no extra cost. My work schedule allowed me to take the 1pm class today, which was taught by John Danaher. For those who don't know, John is a highly sought after BJJ instructor, and coaches many MMA greats like Georges St. Pierre and has a unique background. He came to American from New Zealand to get his Masters degree in philosophy from Columbia University. This gives him a really unique way of explaining techniques and understanding BJJ.

John explained the takedowns and techniques we did in class very clearly, but looked around as the class did them as opposed to walking around. However, this doesn't mean he wasn't carefully observing us; after class ended, I came over and spoke to him and he pointed out a couple of things he noticed I was doing. He asked a little bit about myself, and I explained that I was one of Rolles' students from Holmdel, but worked in the city. We discussed what I did at work, and I explained that I'm a program coordinator at Fordham Law School. It was then that I saw that John and I see things in a similar light. We got in depth about how my boss helped write the constitutional amendment for Presidential succession, and how brilliant you have to be to understand the law at that level. While he referenced my boss's likely "encyclopedic knowledge" we agreed that at the highest level is where the application, understanding, and dissemination of that knowledge is what separates the elite from just the smart.

And that's where I began speaking about my journey in jiu jitsu. I explained my rut to him; that I hadn't won a gi match since December 2011, and he immediately asked if I felt any turning points. I thought for a second and then explained that I am starting to learn how to set up moves instead of forcing them. Throughout 2012, I tried to force moves in competition instead of looking for openings. Now with every pass, sweep, and submission I learn, I try and learn it in context; what to look for, how to set it up, and what to watch out for.

I also mentioned how I am no longer intimidated by my opponents. How I used to obsessively check the registration list, how I would freak out if I saw a big name like Alliance/Gracie Barra/CheckMat, etc. on the list and immediately defeat myself. He made the point that you are "fighting a person, not their reputation".

He thanked me for speaking with him and said he looked forward to seeing me at future classes. It was reassuring to know that the way I approach jiu jitsu now has been used effectively by someone else and isn't as overly analytic as others have led me to believe. Too bad his private lessons run at 150/hour!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I lost my first match at the New York Open by a referee decision and my first match at the Big Apple Open by 5 points and 1 advantage.

To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. It occurred to me after I lost at the Big Apple Open that I haven't won a gi match in a tournament since December 2011 at the Renzo Open. That's 8 tournaments that I've been eliminated in the first round. The first three times I lost after December 2011 it was by points, decision, or advantages, then I lost by armbar submission, then began losing by points/advantages/decision again.

In 2012, I took a break from May to October to not compete and just focus on improving. I feel that I've improved during training; I have better body awareness, have a better idea of my own strategy, and feel like I've learned some important details in several techniques. I've dropped to featherweight after my weight naturally changed and feel much more comfortable and healthy; I've never had to starve myself or doing anything crazy to make featherweight; I just avoid junk food and alcohol. Despite all these things, it clearly has not carried over in to the competition aspect. I think part of this is the aggression factor. "Pulling the trigger" in terms of going 100% is a tough thing to do, because there is fear of injury, fear of being a jerk, or simply not being used to going that hard if not everyone chooses to compete. I remember when I trained at Shaolin's, he put the people who were competing on one side of the class so they could roll hard against each other without any of the issues I just mentioned.

Additionally, it's been a rough few months of training. The school I was training at is now set to shut down. In the 6 or so months leading up to this, our instructor began teaching less and less, and sometimes did not even show up to class. A purple belt with the key would then hurry in ten minutes late and end up holding an open mat. Slowly, the school turned from a structured atmosphere in to one with more open and less structured training. I left the school about a month ago because it simply wasn't a structure that I could thrive in; I have no ill will towards the school owner and wish him the best in whatever he chooses to pursue.

I don't blame anyone but myself for poor performance. When you step on to the mat, it's just you. If there is something bad going on, it's your job to fix it before you compete, and maybe I should have switched earlier or sought out different resources so I could improve.

I am now training at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Holmdel, NJ. It's only about ten minutes away from my house, and there are several black belts as well as a great brown belt who teach class. I am also allowed to drop in at Renzo's in New York City for no additional fee, so I can complement my training the days I'm working in NYC and can't make it home on time. The switch has been pretty seamless, and some of my friends from my old academy are at Renzo's with me and are happy. Unfortunately, since I'll be attending graduate school at Rutgers University in the fall, I will have to switch schools yet again! The inconsistency of switching schools has definitely slowed me done in some aspects, but I'm much happier now.

I'll be doing the IBJJF NY Summer Open and possibly a Grappler's Quest at the end of July. I'm hoping that this new structured training environment will help me develop a game plan and that I'll be less preoccupied with other factors.