BarCamp 4

On Saturday I attended BarCamp 4 at East Perth TAFE. It was a really well organised event (Matt and Darcy did a great job) and the content presented by the speakers was really engaging and interesting.

I saw Jessica Ender’s talk on form design as well as Samuel Spencer’s talk on the Australian Bureau of Statistics and their adoption of open data formats for delivering data sets to the public.

My talk was on after lunch, and I think me wandering around in a blue gi drew a little bit of attention (which if I’m being honest, I was banking on) and had people interested. Aaron helped me with the talk and received a few knocks to the head as thanks – his noggin was determined to meet the carpet-covered-concrete as often as it could.

I talked about the overlap I see between my jiu-jitsu training and every day business life, and my hope is that I’ll get the audience thinking about all the areas of their lives, which they may have previously considered insular or separate, and how they might in fact be connected and relevant.

I personally had a great time at the event, and The Frontier Group will be sponsoring it again in the future. I was disappointed that another engagement meant I couldn’t stay for the whole day, but I was very pleased with what I did get to partake in. There were a few of us pressuring Matt to plan for the next BarCamp in 6 months, but we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve uploaded the slides from my talk if you’d like to check them out.

Why I bought a TapouT shirt

Many of you will know that I train Brazilian jiu jitsu, and have done for some time now. I first became interested in BJJ, like many others, when I saw Royce Gracie’s dominating performances in the original UFC tournaments many years ago. A guy weighing 170lbs was able to defeat much heavier opponents by using joint locks and chokes instead of strikes. This was something that I could see myself enjoying, and so I took up BJJ.

Back then mixed martial arts, or MMA as it’s known, wasn’t super popular. In fact the sport was only just being invented, as various fighters began training across multiple disciplines, mixing strikes, wrestling and submission grappling to become a complete, rounded fighter. From the beginning, the TapouT brand has been associated with MMA, and I’d argue it’s become the defining brand, in the same way as Intel, Oakley and Coca-Cola each define their product space.

The three personalities behind TapouT were Charles “Mask” Lewis, Jr., Dan “Punkass” Caldwell and their tall friend Tim “SkySkrape” Katz. What’s with the nicknames you ask? That’s part of their catch, or gimmick, and it works pretty well. They each have larger-than-life characters that they play up to, and it’s given their business a highly appropriate public face. In March 2009, Mask was tragically killed in a car accident. The MMA world was full of grief, and the genuine friendships that Dan and Tim shared with Charles were exposed and explored for all to see. I was personally upset at the news, even though I’d never met Charles. At the recent MMA Awards, both Dan and Tim were still visibly moved when accepting awards on behalf of Mask and TapouT. They were a family, in all sense of the word.

As with all brands, when MMA hit the mainstream a few years ago, TapouT exploded. I started to see t-shirts popping up in day-to-day life; people in pubs or guys in the city – I even saw a bogan mum with TapouT head-to-toe the other day. It’s no longer a niche brand for those “in the know.” As with MMA, the brand is appealing to a large range of people now, and that’s not always a good thing. My fear is that MMA will become too popular and we’ll start to see the rules modified in ways that create a more exciting experience for the fans. What do I mean? More average people are watching MMA, and they want to see people slugging it out rather than rolling around on the floor. These kinds of people don’t necessarily understand the nuances of MMA and just want to see some fights, some blood and some knock outs. Check the footage of the crowd at any UFC event and you’ll see more blood-thirsty morons than ever before. And most of them are wearing a TapouT shirt.

Now that you’ve got some background, I can focus on my initial point – what drove me, personally, to buy a TapouT shirt. I don’t want to be associated with this meat-head culture, that’s for sure, so why dress like them?

There’s a few reasons, the first being that I feel like I have a better understanding of the TapouT company, including their intentions and influences, than the average person. I have watched a few TV series that the guys did where they highlight an up-and-coming fighter, and follow them through the preparation for their fight. In numerous cases, the humanity and genuine good will that Charles and the other guys showed was heart-warming. I hear the critics and cynics out there saying that they were just presenting a face for their show, and whilst that’s true to some degree, I never felt that it was manufactured. Often they’d genuinely help fighters, providing motivation, support, or even paying their rent in some cases. TapouT cares about MMA, because they were there at the birth. I admire that.

Secondly, I can relate to the almost whimsical approach the three friends had towards their business. Being a partner in a small business, I know how hard it can be to stay true to yourself, and not bend to other people’s expectations. The TapouT crew are eccentric, no doubt, and that’s hard to maintain when you’re running a business.

When people see me wearing a TapouT shirt, I want them to know the real reasons that I admire and respect the company. I want them to know that I am supporting, in my very small and own way, Mask’s legacy and his memory. I hate to sound like the guy that was “into the band before they were mainstream”; that’s not my intention. I want people to know that I’m supporting a brand because it supports a sport I love.

That probably won’t happen, and people will probably presume I’m just another meat-head who likes watching people get beaten up, but I can hope. Does this make sense, or do I just sound like an elitist?

It’s all about the small victories

Last weekend at The Academy we had a jiu jitsu seminar with internationally-renowned  Robert Drysdale. We spent three hours with him, going over some of his favourite techniques, and linking together movements and transitions. I found him really approachable and familiar, in contrast to some of the senior black-belt Brazilians I’ve trained with. He was just a guy that was good at jiu-jitsu, or that’s how he came across.

One of the activities we performed at the end of the seminar was an “in the hole” exercise. For this, we have five people starting “in the hole” on their backs with an opponent in their guard. The guard player has to sweep or submit their opponent, whilst the defender has to pass the guard or back out to win. The winner stays in, either keeping or taking the role as attacker and the loser joins the end of a line, from which new defenders cycle in.

I volunteered to be one of the initial hole dwellers, starting on my back with an opponent in my guard. I tend to like fighting from my back so this is an activity that I quite like. I worked my way through three or four defenders until my instructor, Adam, was in my guard. I figured my run would be up, and didn’t have any expectations of beating him. Similarly, he was aware that Robert was doing the exercise with us too, and everyone was anticipating the match up between the two black belts. I think Adam was a little distracted, and wasn’t as focussed on me as he might ususally be.

This was great for me, because as Adam started to pass my guard, I caught him in half-guard, which is a position I’m not very comfortable in. I find people pass through my guard into half, and then straight through to side control. However this time I locked him down and went for a basic half-guard sweep (reverse the positioning and place Adam on his back with me on top). He regained some balance (he has great balance, as you might expect) but I felt he was committed in one direction, so I swept him the other way.

It was only a minor victory, but in terms of my jiu jitsu journey, it’s a milestone. Sure Adam wasn’t at his peak, and if he was concentrating 100% on me then it might not have worked out. But that wasn’t the case, and I won this encounter, this time.

I think it’s what I really needed to kick-start my 2010 training. I have a goal for this year, and if I can string enough small victories together, then I’ll achieve it.

What are some small victories you’ve had in your life that had significance to you?

This is why I get you to set the pace

When a new guy starts on the mats he inevitably thinks that he’ll be really good at wrestling. It’s especially true if they’re physically strong. The reality is that unless you’ve trained in ground fighting before, no matter how strong you are (or think you are) you’ll be schooled for the first few months. It’s guaranteed.

The Academy runs beginner, intermediate and advanced classes in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The beginner classes are aimed at, well, beginners. As a one-stripe blue belt, most of the techniques are familiar to me, and whilst you never stop learning, after a certain point you either get something or you don’t.

I feel that the rolling at the end of the beginner class is more for the white belts to practice their techniques than it is for me to smash as many submissions as I can on them. To the casual observer, I get my ass kicked by white belts all the time. They’ll tap me left, right and centre. Sure, I’ve let them get the position and more often than not I’ll coach them through the submission right up until the point I tap, but you won’t see that if you’re on the sidelines. I’m fine with that, and I enjoy the sincere joy my partners show when they’ve executed a move, had a few corrections pointed out, and got the tap.

This works really well with the white belts that know me and my style. They understand that they’ve not actually tapped me (though hopefully they all will at some point), but it can also make me appear as an easy target to the new guys who don’t get my goals from jiu-jitsu, or understand the value I place on helping beginners out. Again, I’m fine with that, but it means that sometimes I have to reaffirm my position a little.

The problem with beginners though is that they’re beginners. They don’t have the control or understanding to execute their moves fluidly and it’s easy for them to hurt themselves or their partners. You always have to be more careful rolling a novice than an expert.

I know it can be intimidating wrestling a more senior person, so I always like to let my training partner set the pace. If they’re a 40kg teenager then they can go hell-for-leather on me and I’m not likely to get into a situation I can’t mange (save them from hurting themselves or me). The problem lies when they’re a young stud who wants to really throw down, because then they’re unpredictible, and have the muscle to back it up.

The worst kind of partner is the one who really goes hard, and then ends up hurting themselves or being hurt by me. That’s not why I train.

I had that tonight with a young guy who came at me “hord-and-forst.” I caught him in an arm lock which knocked a bit of the wind out of his sails, but he then went into retaliation mode, where he thought going “horder-and-forster” was the key. Argh!

If you want to have a slow roll and learn something, then I’m more than happy, but if you want to step it up a notch, you can’t cry when I match your pace and you come off second best.

Remember, it wasn’t me that set the pace.

My first taste of MMA

I’ve been doing jiu-jitsu for about 4 years now, though over the last 9 months I’ve probably been to training a half-dozen times. In all that time I’ve never had an interest in trying out any of the stand-up arts, like boxing, kick-boxing or Muay Thai. Considering that The Academy has classes covering these arts, and my membership facilitates unmetered access to them, I thought it might be good to expand my horizons and check them out.

I decided to check out the shoot class, which is a mixture of striking and grappling – it’s more commonly known as mixed martial arts, or MMA. I figured that my BJJ would count for something and that it’d be a nicer transition.

Aaron and I went to the club on Monday night and got to train with a bunch of new people (and a bunch of familiar faces). The class is more cardio-intensive than a straight-up grappling class. The mixture of striking, takedowns and grappling was a welcome change. It’s a different head-space to punch or knee someone, even if you’re only going light. I picked the guys to spar with a bit more carefully that Aaron did, and he wound up with an accidental knee to the groin. Ouch!

I think that I’ll hit the beginner class once a month for a bit of variety, but BJJ is still my preferred art. I will probably throw in a few shoot classes when I have my week of intensive training… stay tuned for more information on that experiment.