Note: please read this paragraph in Morgan Freeman’s voice. There was a spirit lost in a vast and empty desert, wandering without course. After years of trials, battered and bruised, the spirit encountered some armour; black and strong the armour clung to its body, tied by a long strip of cloth. Where once lost, a sense of direction and focus suddenly overwhelmed the spirit. Once bearing the black armour the spirit was no more, and from the zanshin he emerged reborn, a white belt.
My interest in the ‘martial arts’ started from a young age; I’m very reluctant to use the phrase martial arts in this context, because I can’t honestly say that I knew what a ‘martial art’ was. Aside from dressing up as a my favourite Ninja Turtle (Donnie!) and running around with a broom handle, I started emulating ‘fighting skills’ between 10-11 years old after watching the first Matrix movie. My two best friends Ethan and Josh were particularly responsible for this as it was their Matrix DVD and both were keen collectors of ‘weapons’ thanks to a liberal single father. I have very fond memories of spending countless summer days ‘choreographing fighting sequences in their garden, which would inevitably end up in a wrestling match with one of the participants walking off in a strop.
Shortly after showing my parents some interest in fighting they decided to send me off to a Karate class run by our neighbour across the road. This contributed towards ensuring I would cower away from martial arts training for years. I was a tall, lanky and ‘hot headed’ kid with plenty of confidence but lacked any real muscle mass. During the first lesson with my (I’m sure well meaning) Karate instructor I was clearly not demonstrating good enough push ups; in response to this he saw fit to embarrass me in front of the class by putting his rancid running shoe underneath my nose during my push ups. I didn’t go back.
Fast forward a few years, a new town, new school and a few new people to scrap with I found myself holding no interest in pursuing any form of formal training. In retrospect this saddens me because during this time I often felt deeply envious of my mates who had hobbies in music, skating, football etc. I was crap at all of it. Particularly skating. If only 14 year old me, now living in a small Fenland town, was shown the potential martial arts could offer. Where would I be now? Eventually I was reintroduced to martial arts when an old school acquaintance became a new friend, it was through Sophie that I was introduced to the world of Jiu-Jitsu… Kinda.
At (roughly) 20 years old I became friends with Sophie, who had just returned home from her world travels. Prior to travelling the globe Sophie thought it would be a good idea to learn to defend herself; thus, finding herself becoming a Jiu Jitsuka, studying at a local Kokoro Kai/British Jiu-Jitsu Associations affiliated school. I was impressed and promptly signed up, bought my white gi and started training. I have very fond memories of my early introduction to Jiu-Jitsu, I felt like I was beginning a long path towards mastery and looked to the black belts as though they were demigods. I swiftly earned my first belt and without expectation decided to enter the Wakarishin / Kokorokai Championships. I entered three categories, continuous sparring, ground sparring and ‘random attacks’. During my training for the competition I paid particular attention towards improving my ‘newaza’, in part due to my recent discovery of the UFC and BJJ. I was not deterred by the fact our sensei showed very little interest in teaching any newaza techniques and learned as much as I could from live sparring and watching YouTube videos.
The day of the competition arrived and it started with a very large (and largely pointless) warm up, followed by a quick seminar. We all then went off and hit the tatami. Two of the three competitions I sucked (as expected); however, I entered in to the heavy weight division of the ground fighting competition with a spring in my step and an open mind. I remember telling myself all morning “you’re a yellow belt, enter and leave the competition with a smile and no one will expect anything of you”. What I was not prepared for was to do well. The first round of the tournament style competition went quick, I cant remember how long the rounds lasted but the judges decided I won by points and as you can see I was quite relieved (I’m bowing my head).
To this date I can’t remember much about Round 2, only that I won and judging by my old photographs I won with a submission.
As you can see from my (perhaps inappropriate) glee I was both surprised and ecstatic at how well I had done.
The third round began quickly and this time I definitely remember winning by submission – RNC, classic. This round didn’t seem to go by as quick, having some fatigue from the first two rounds and a bit of an adrenaline dump I wasn’t able to go in with the same intensity, which probably stopped me acting like a ‘spazzy white belt’, helped me act more cerebral and find the submission.
Then came the final round. At this point I was barely thinking, I was having an ‘out of body experience’ and was going over and over in my head the quarter dozen techniques I had managed to teach myself. By this point all of my tools had been used, my brain and body was running on empty and suddenly I found myself in a wrestling match of strength over skill. The round went by, followed by two rounds of overtime with both competitors hardly moving, relying on strength alone to move and counter the opponent. Finally, when the judges had seen enough (and with me on the bottom trying to put on a sloppy triangle choke), they scored the round not in my favour. However, and here’s the kicker, I received a silver medal and upon the podium I looked over at my fellow competitors and was dumbfounded to find that I had beat a purple belt and then lost to a second dan black belt… by points… after overtime!
I carried on training at the school for a little longer, but deep down Jiu Jitsu had been ruined for me. I was convinced that I not only should have not been allowed on the podium, I should have been destroyed, laughed at for even trying to compete with these elites. My illusion of the black belt demigod had been ruined.
I previously hinted that during this period I discovered MMA and BJJ through watching UFC events and series of the Ultimate Fighter. Based on this I was convinced that my experience was proof that Japanese Jiu Jitsu was a joke and if I wanted to really learn to fight I should join a BJJ school, or preferably a MMA gym. Unfortunately/fortunately I was living in a small Fenland town and had limited ability to travel to an MMA gym out of area. Over the next 4 years I accepted that I would limit myself to being an avid spectator and fan of MMA whilst I obtain my degree and start my career as a fully functioning adult.
After forming new friendships and (romantic) relationships I was slowly re-introduced to the world of physical activity and martial arts. In 2013 I met the lovely Eve who having moved to a brand new town took up kickboxing as a way of making new friends; one friend in particular (James) was a black belt and occasional instructor at the local PKA kickboxing club. After meeting James we quickly established common interests in our love for combat and this was often our main talking point which eventually lead to a kindle slowly igniting inside me. James eventually stopped training at PKA and started to invest him time in ‘reality-based self defence’. He would occasionally mention a club he was training at and one day proudly announced that he had become an instructor in something called ‘FRACT’; during one particular BBQ at James’ house this lead to a demonstration of some ‘basic’ techniques, which was a defence from a punch, whcih to me seemed not too far from principles I learned during my time as a Jiu Jitsuka. I was interested, very interested, and so James invited me to attend a small club he had been training at called ‘Kombat Cave’.
I owe a lot to Kombat Cave and its captain Andy ‘The Batman’ Holmes, particularly a reignited interest in combat training. I fondly recall my first session at ‘The Cave’, walking in to a small town community centre, which thanks to sweat, hard work and heavy metal music, was transformed in to a atmospheric arena that earned its name. It was at Kombat Cave that I started to evolve some old skills, learn new ones such as correct striking, but most importantly I learned how to channel a ‘fighting spirit’ by embodying their ethos of never being the victim.
Whilst still training at Kombat Cave I had an itch to broaden my combat training experience and decided to seek out a local MMA gym. It is of particular note that since my prior bad experience of Jiu Jitsu and my enjoyable training at Combat Kave, I saw little reason to find a ‘traditional’ martial arts class. It was at this time I found ‘Code Combat MMA’, a MMA class run by Adam Gold, a Taekwon-Do black belt and BJJ blue belt. Through BJJ/Submission grappling, live sparring, and actual tuition, I started to remember the pure enjoyment I felt when training for my Jiu Jitsu competition. In May 2017 I decided to once again revisit my Jiu Jitsu training.
During a week off from work I sat down with the lovely Eve (training/romantic partner) and we googled Jiu Jitsu classes in our area. We were very much looking for a BJJ school with a good vibe, good prices and trained on days that would fit in with both Kombat Cave and Code Combat. I sent out emails to three BJJ schools that appeared to fit our criteria and we awaited their response. Whilst waiting to hear back I started to think about a JuJutsu club I briefly trained at a number of years ago, which I stupidly (in retrospect) quit due to work and a lack of interest at the time. Thinking back to the class structure, their ‘ethos’ and great people I started to feel a pull towards them. On 21/05/2017 I messaged the Shirindo JuJutsu Facebook page and committed myself to a class on Thursday that week. I loved it.
From the moment I put on the heavy black ‘Tatami’ gi and wrapped the white belt around my hips I felt a pang of excitement and a sudden drive that had not previously existed. I could see a road ahead. I felt like a martial artist. I have now been training at Shirindo JuJutsu for two months and feel completely immersed in to a group of enthusiasts and friends who are sharing a journey together. I am now looking forward to being an uke in an upcoming grading, a training camp weekend in September and an exciting seminar in October. Unfortunately with this new direction came sacrifice, it was with a heavy heart that I announced my intentions to leave Kombat Cave at the end of July to focus my attentions on my Jiu-Jitsu training. That said, I am thoroughly looking forward to my new path, which I will share with whoever wishes to read this blog. I intend to regularly update waza.blog with my progress from white belt, to hopefully one day achieving black… and beyond. I will update with my thoughts and experiences as and when they stick around in my head long enough to write them down… and hopefully in less words next time!
Thank you for reading!