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This year, I'm planning to compete as much as I possibly can; finances and health allowing.

So far, my plans are:

January 13 - Grappling Industries in London, No-Gi
February 17 - BJJ 24/7
March 3 - Elite BJJ Events Adult Nationals Gi
March 31 - Southend Open (Sub Only)

If I can make all of those, that will be almost as many tournaments in the first quarter of the year as I managed in the whole of last year, and since they're planned ahead it should hopefully work out!

I'm aiming to do Hereford adult and masters as well, and the Surrey Open, and hopefully one of the All Stars events as well later in the year.

Everything is booked for January now. I'm really looking forward to seeing what Grappling Industries events are like. I've heard nothing but good things about them from people in the USA, and they were very responsive when I contacted them with a scheduling question, so that's promising.

There are four no-gi classes between now and the London tournament. That's not long enough to make any changes to my game, so I'll just be getting a couple of hard sessions in then relaxing for a few days. It will come around fast.

I started training BJJ seriously in September 2013. I had dabbled a bit before then but I only did a few lessons and then got knocked out with an injury. I got my blue belt in January 2015, and then not long after that suffered a shoulder injury that knocked me out of competing for a long time.

The rehab was pretty rough. Getting back into competition was hard. I tried a bit in 2016 but wasn't really ready. Did a few in 2017, but was suffering from bad competition nerves and just generally wasn't feeling it. This year I decided to force myself to compete as much as possible. I did the Surrey Open, London All Stars, Hereford Open and Hereford Masters. I started getting into the groove and my results slowly started getting better.

A few more defaults than I'd like.

My competition year was plagued by no-shows, and I did end up with a few more defaults than I would have liked, but I ended the year with an earned gold at the Hereford National Masters. I'm the number 13 ranked blue belt in the country according to the UKBJJA, and ranked number one at Light Feather (which sounds more impressive before you realize that there are only two of us with points in that category, but I've been chasing the leader for a long time!).

Goals for 2019

I've spent the holiday season pigging out, but now it's time to get back to training. My goal is to compete whenever I can get a match this year. I've signed up to Grapple Industries in London, and will be doing the no-gi there.

I'm also looking to do Manchester in February, and UAEJJF in March, and want to keep up with the 'at least one a month pace' for the foreseeable future. I'm finally healthy and starting to get some confidence back, and I'm aiming for a spot in the top 10 in the UKBJJA rankings.

If I can take another regional gold, then I want to do an IBJJF tournament as well. The IBJJF requires membership for blue belts as of 2019, and I don't want to pay for membership, renew my passport and fly somewhere if I'm not completely ready, so I want to rack up some more UK competition time first of all.

Let's see how this goes!

What are your goals for 2019?

Ingress is an AR/geolocation based game made by Niantic. It was the game before Pokemon Go, and the Pokestop and gym database is actually taken from the Ingress portal database. The games are fairly different in terms of exactly HOW they are played (there are no creatures to catch in Ingress, instead, the game is divided into two sides which compete for control of the portals in the game, and link portals together to create fields, which then 'control' areas). I play both games, but personally I think Ingress is more fun.

I started playing Ingress several years ago, but never really took it seriously because for the longest time I had a Windows Phone, and it's not that easy to play Ingress on a tablet. So, I didn't really level up all that far, and I quit the game before it had badges. I changed over to Android recently and went back to Ingress. A lot has changed!

One of the biggest changes is that to level up past level 8 you need badges as well as experience points. To earn the different levels of badges you need to put in a LOT of of time hacking portals, creating links and fields, recharging resonators and doing other in-game tasks. I started looking at some of the badges that were 'quick wins' so that I could rack up enough gold badges to continue leveling.

Sojourner is an "easy" gold (simply hack a portal every day), so was one of my first ones to aim for:

Another interesting one is the Spec Ops badge, which you get for doing missions. I travel a lot to go to tournaments, so at least once a month I'm in a different town or city. That means I'll have the chance to run a few extra missions in different places.

Missions are fun. They send you around the city going to different waypoints, and you get to read about what each landmark you're visiting is. Sometimes I'm guilty of speed running the missions and not really taking the time to look around, but if I have the time I do let myself get side-tracked and take the time to soak up the atmosphere. I was in York for a training course, and got to see some nice architecture and some historic sights then. I'll be in Edinburgh in December, and London in January, so it's going to be fun exploring!

Speedy and Ritu organised a seminar recently with Dan Strauss, AKA the Raspberry Ape. The seminar was focused on Guillotines. He's been very busy this year touring the country and has done dozens of seminars on the guillotine choke.

The seminar was three hours long, and very detailed. It was hosted at Universal Martial Arts, which is in a large industrial unit, and it was cold! It's a tough building to heat at any time of the year but considering it was miserable outside it wasn't fun waiting for the seminar to start!

Dan Strauss says that he never does warmups at his seminars. In fact, he asked someone else to lead a warmup this time around so that we could at least get enough blood flowing to be able to think. Sadly, that didn't really work out, and we all ended up feeling rather cold again as soon as we stopped moving.

It didn't help that the seminar was incredibly detailed. We started off by drilling cupping the chin and the back of the head, and just doing that over and over, until we were able to cup both at the same time. Then we moved on to 'roll the shoulder' to make sure you can't see the nape of their neck... that's how you know that the guillotine is tight. Then we focused on 'pulling' the person's head down instead of just lying back and losing the head as we went for the guillotine.

Once we practiced getting the guillotine from different positions, we moved on to the 'thrust guillotine', which involves supporting the choking hand with your other hand and 'stabbing' up into the neck. The idea is that even if the other person tries to pass your guard to free themselves, they'll just push their own weight down onto the thrusting hand and choke themselves. By trying to escape, they're making it worse!

Dan Strauss is quick to emphasize that the guillotine is not a strength move. Which sounds funny coming from a guy who is pretty darn big:

He's got an interesting philosophy about chokes, though. He reckons that chokes, if you get the technique right, are easy to finish. Lock the choke in properly with not too much effort, and it might feel bad for the other person. Start slowly adding pressure, and even if they aren't ready to tap yet, they're going to get worried... "how much worse could this get?" The more pressure you add, the worse it gets for them.

The reason a lot of people don't tap in competition is that people squeeze with all their might for a second or two, then relax, and the person in the choke thinks "Well, I survived last time, I can gut this out." The next time you squeeze, it won't be as tight, and then the next time it will be even less tight as your arms slowly burn out. It's better to just not give away how much power you have, then they're more likely to tap!

I don't use the guillotine much myself, but I did enjoy the seminar and I'm definitely going to play around with this stuff in the gym.

This weekend I competed at the Hereford Masters, and I entered the light feather category (since they don't run Rooster). There were three of us in the category. The others had come down in age.

It was run as an IBJJF three-man bracket instead of a round robin. I won my first match on points, then the girl that I beat had a match against the other girl, won that (also on points), and then we had a rematch, which again went to a win on points.

They were fun matches. Hard work (my opponent was very persistent in her cross collar choke attempts!), but fun. I managed to out-wrestle and win positionally. In the final I got mount and I remember thinking "I should just hold this, I can't believe I'm winning". Not exactly exciting, but it works!

I love competing in Hereford. It's always a well-run event, and it's a nice venue too. This time around I really wasn't feeling the tournament. I remember retreating to the cafe and thinking "I don't want to be here. This was a mistake". But then on the way back to the mat area I heard a white belt elderly man, clearly a Grandad, say to a 10 year old boy wearing a team hoodie "your Dad has gone to get changed, do you want to help me warm up?"

Three generations on the same mats competing. You wouldn't hear that sort of thing, or see that sort of scenario in many other sports! Overall, the day was like a reunion. I was cornered by a guy who used to train with Ian many years ago (and who has since moved to Bath). I ran into a guy from Darlington that I talk to a lot online. I also saw Marc Walder again (he had his own match with Meerkatsu), and some guys from some of the less-local Gracie Barra clubs that I normally only see at kids tournaments. While in the canteen I saw some guys from Carlson Gracie London, that had visited our gym a few months prior. In a lot of ways, competitions are like mini family reunions!

The only thing that 'went wrong' this time around was that I booked my accommodation too late and didn't get to stay in my favorite little guesthouse. But the place I stayed wasn't too bad, and it was only a short walk from the competition venue.

I can't wait to come back next year.

I started BJJ because I wanted to compete. To me, BJJ is a sport. I do the self-defense stuff because in the lineage I'm a part of, it's important, but really I'd rather be focusing on sport training. That doesn't mean I'm a berimboloing, worm guard loving meta-gamer that knows exactly how to stall or score an advantage. I love the basics. I just think "basic" is 'holding mount well' rather than doing a bodylock takedown from a punch block.

I'm a roosterweight, and that means it's really hard for me to get matches. In fact, I usually compete up a weight category, sometimes two.  I travel to compete, because there are more light women down south.  This time I went to Surrey to compete in the open there, and I entered the Feather category, which is two categories higher than my normal weight. It cost me around £300 for the train fare, the hotel and the entry fee.

I stood in the warmup area waiting for my opponent. I looked at all the women as they came onto the mat. She's a white belt so it can't be her. She looks a bit tall to be a feather, but I'm terrible at guessing weights, maybe it's her... 

I waited, and waited... when my category had been and gone by 40 minutes, I checked the schedule and listened for the matches being called, and noticed that a category AFTER mine was already running. So I asked the weigh in desk. My opponent hadn't shown up. Not only that, but women's lightweight had already run too, so I couldn't even go up another category.

I decided I'd take my default gold:

I don't like just taking a medal though so I entered the absolutes as well. I got matched against a judo player who was 50lbs heavier than me. That's quite a difference considering I'm sub-100lbs myself.

The match was really boring. A lot of her not being able to pass my guard. Then a lot of her almost passed and me struggling to do much from turtle. I'm disgusted with myself watching it, because it looks like I'm not trying. But I know that at the time it was really hard work. The weight difference was just too much. I lost on points. That was my one match in the absolutes. Then I had a long train ride home.

Still, I really like the Surrey open. It's a good tournament and the staff are really friendly. This was my second visit. Last time was plagued with no-shows as well, although they at least just shrank the category to a round robin, nobody lost out on matches. I'll be back next year and hopefully have a better time of things!

Marc Walder is my coach's coach's coach. He is based in Essex and we don't get to see him often at all. In fact, the last time he came to Newcastle was in 2013 to give Ian (my coach) his black belt.

This time, he came to teach some self-defense techniques, and also to promote Tyrone Elliott, Speedy's son, who has been training BJJ since he was tiny. It was a well-attended seminar with people from all of the Origins in the north turning up for it.

Marc Walder is really big on self defense, so he focused on some basics - escapes from grabs, a self defense armbar technique from someone pushing/shoving you, and a way to stop people from picking you up. He also did some side-control techniques to stop people from being able to hold your head and secure the crossface. It was simple stuff, but incredibly effective.

After that he shared some of his thoughts about self defense, and about competition. I'm a very competitive person so I found some of what he said was a bit alien, but it was an interesting perspective.

I run into Marc Walder from time to time when I'm competing in the south and he's always been very friendly and helpful. It was great to finally get to learn from him. Hopefully it won't be four years for the next visit!

I've always had mixed feelings about the idea of "martial arts being empowering for women". Maybe it's because I'm really small and most of the arts I train are ones where hard sparring is a part of the curriculum, but for all I do agree that "technique is a force multiplier", there comes a point where the laws of physics apply. There are plenty of day one new guys that could destroy me in a "fight" and I've got over 2,500 hours of time on the mats.  Do I beat those guys when they're playing by "BJJ rules" and wearing a gi, sure. But if the rules go out the window and a big guy wants to hurt me they can. I don't find martial arts empowering. I find them to be a huge eye-opener as to how small and fragile I actually am.

Except for one thing.

Wearing a Gi is Pretty Liberating

I've been self employed for over a decade. Before then I worked in an industry that had a dress code of "well, we'd appreciate it if you'd at least wear pants". Before then, I was at college/uni and I was a metal head so I wore jeans/leather pants and dark t-shirts 90 percent of the time. I've never dressed smart and I only dress girly for other people's weddings.

Last week I had cause to dress up slightly. I still only wore "smart casual", but the girly pants I was wearing had a tighter cut than my jeans. The top I wore had cosmetic buttons on it that were sure to rip off if I carried anything bulky and heavy, and they were tight on my biceps (and I assure you, my biceps aren't massive). The bag I had to carry had thin straps and was nowhere near as big or comfortable as my usual backpack. The shoes felt flimsy and weren't good to run in.

I never wear makeup. It feels like dirt / oil on my skin (even the expensive stuff, I've tried). I hate having my hair long because it gets in the way so I get it cut at a barber's shop. Dressed smart, I felt like it was hard to run for the train, it was hard to carry anything heavy. I couldn't just 'climb over that wall as a shortcut', and when I got to the dojo and needed to demonstrate something for someone, I couldn't because I didn't have the same freedom of movement as I normally do dressed like a, well, bum.

I Like My Armour

One of the parents of the kids I teach saw me dressed 'smart' and they said "You look different without your armour on!".  They were joking, but it's true - my rashguard and spats are like a suite of chainmail, and the gi is like plate on top. Since I train every day and I go to the dojo wearing the rashguard and spats, I feel like I'm always ready to do something physical.

If most women (or most men, for that matter, I've heard guys say 'I can't demonstrate a round kick in these smart trousers') wear the clothes I was wearing every single day, then no wonder the feel "empowered" when they stick a baggy gi on and start moving their body more freely.

Modern clothing sucks. To me, it's not that martial arts or other forms of exercise are 'empowering' - it's that the way we're forced to dress to work in the average office is incredibly disempowering.

I like to be able to run, climb, jump and carry things at a moment's notice. I like to wear layers so I'm never too hot or too cold. I feel good like that. I may not turn heads or win any fashion awards, but who cares? My confidence comes from what my body can do, not from whether my top is the right color to go with my shoes.

That's not to detract from people who like fashion. I certainly like how it looks - I just don't like how it feels to wear it, and it's given me a new perspective as to why some people like to train casually and say that it feels so good.

This weekend we hosted the UKBJJA referee's course. This marks the third time that I've done the course. The first time I traveled up to Glasgow, where it was hosted at The Griphouse, and run by Dewi Coles.

The second time, Dewi came to us, and we hosted a course in Arch 3 King Edward Bridge. We had trouble getting the numbers for that course, which is a shame considering that it's a great course for both competitors and wannabe referees, but it was a great course all the same. Dewi does a good job of making it interactive and keeping it interesting. That's quite impressive when you consider that the IBJJF rules manual is longwinded, and not particularly interesting.

This time, we hosted the course at Arch 5 Westgate Road. We attracted some more attendees from other local gyms, and ran through a quick version of the course with Marcelo Coppa. His way of delivering the course was less interactive, and he "taught to the test", which is something I have mixed feelings about. The test is mostly multiple choice and filling out tables, so it's a good way to ensure a high pass rate, but people were getting bored sitting through three hours of talking about jiu jitsu. Live examples keep it fun.

Marcelo definitely knows his stuff, and he was able to confidently answer some tricky questions, which is good. I came away having learned a few things (e.g. about getting flattened out on your back in half-guard being worthy of an advantage). One of the guys I train with attended the course, after having done a class... during Ramadan. He's strict about Ramadan too and doesn't even touch water during the day, so his brain must have been fried!

I passed the test my first time and haven't been resitting because I don't intend to ref. I still enjoy getting updates on the rules and it's nice to see people from other gyms too. The plan is to host one of these courses every year, to try to build up a stable of qualified referees, although so far almost everyone who has attended the courses has been an 'interested competitor' rather than someone who wants to work tournaments as a ref!

Last weekend we hosted a seminar with Seph Smith at the gym. Seph was Ryan Hall's first black belt, and is also the guy who is the demo dummy in all of his videos.  He's been on the podium at IBJJF tournaments, and is a NAGA superfight champion too, so he's a legit competitor in his own right, so it must get kind of frustrating for him to be known as "Ryan Hall's demo dummy", but he certainly didn't show it even though throughout the seminar people kept taking the conversation back to that subject.

Seph knows how to party. Some of the lads took him out for pizza and karaoke the night before. I couldn't go out for that part, so the lads decided it would be funny to message me in the middle of the night to say that they had "lost Seph". If nothing else, that meant we were all a little tired on the day.  The seminar was quieter than I'd hoped, but that meant we all got some one on one attention.

Still, Seph hosted a great seminar. We covered some half-guard stuff, and some reverse De La Riva. I picked up some useful drills for retaining half-guard, and got another reminder to keep my elbow on the inside (I have a bad habit of putting it on the outside, which is a weaker frame).  We did a nice back take from an attempt at an over-under pass, and a rolling back take, as well as a sweep from deep half.

It's the Details that Matter

It's the details that made the seminar. One thing I learned about the back take was that it's important to control your opponents leg, and to keep your ankle in the crook of their knee. If they can switch so their ankle is in YOUR knee, they can reverse the back take.

The reverse De La Riva section of the seminar covered a sweep and a single leg. Again, the details helped a lot. I've always struggled with sweeps from RDLR, but something Seph said about loading the person's weight up on top of you really helped to make it easier to get the ofter the shoulder sweep. Instead of feeling like I'm pulling on a dead weight, the sweep just worked.

With the technical stand up to single leg, I've always known that you have to stretch the person out to make their rear leg weightless, but again, hearing the stand up explained as "you come back, then go forward" was a massive help.

1000% Harder to Arm Triangle

I'm hard to head and arm triangle so people at the gym asked for some tips. Seph showed everyone how to finish the head and arm triangle. Two of the guys at the seminar have managed to pull it off in sparring now. The half-guard framing works really well for avoiding getting put into a head and arm triangle in the first place, however, so everyone got something out of it.

Train Techniques as Systems

We have a brown belt competitor, J, that trains with us who teaches techniques in a chain - so he'll do "ankle pick to knee slice pass to knee on belly, then choke". Seph likes to do things in a similar way. He says "drill techniques as a system". If you just drill a takedown, or just drill a pass, then you're going to be too slow. You won't be able to stay ahead of your opponent. If you drill, say, the back take from an attempted over-under pass, then go straight into a rolling back take from that, assuming that your opponent will attempt to sit back to guard as you go for the back, then you're going to be fast when you do it in sparring. It makes a lot of sense, and it's something that I'm trying to incorporate in my drilling now.

Are Seminars Worth It?

I'm a cynic when it comes to seminars. I don't skip regular classes to go to them. I think they're a lot of money (even this one was £30, and that's quite affordable compared to some of the higher ranked black belts) and I think that they're quite risky. There's usually a lot of people on the mats, so you never know if you're going to really get much time with the instructor, or whether what they'll show is applicable to your game. Of course, if you love guillotines it makes sense to go to a Raspberry Ape guillotine seminar, but not all seminars have a clear, advertised theme.

If the seminar isn't at your gym, you never know who you'll get as a partner either. I got really lucky and got paired with my instructor for the first half, and with a long-standing blue belt for the second half. That blue belt is a lot bigger than me, but he's a really good partner, so I was exhausted by the end of it but at least I got to do all the techniques. I know people who have travelled to go to a seminar and got "clumsy guy with a stinky gi" and not really had a chance to learn anything.

Overall, I think that if you've got the money to do seminars, then they're worth it as a meet and greet for famous black belts and high level competitors, and you have a good chance of picking up some wisdom along the way. If you're lucky enough to train at a gym that hosts them regularly, then you have a better chance of having a good experience.

If you don't have a lot of money, then it's a tougher decision. I like to spend my funds on competing, and to just hit every regular class. Some people may prefer to meet as many high level practitioners as possible in seminars but compete less often. Some people may be in a position where they can afford to do both - or neither, and just do classes. It's all good. After all, it's all jiu jitsu.