Narrating my recent BJJ class

Hm. Would it be cool to film some of these rolls? I bet it would. You know you want to watch me get smashed into the mat and choked out. I’ll think about how to make that happen one day. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy following along. It improves my game to think about how stuff went down.

I’ve been out of class for a week with a cold. Alas, it was an actual cold and not one of these sniffles-inducing Covid variants, so I had a couple of nights with a lot of coughing and little sleep. Yes, I do occasionally get sick, even with all the cold showering and breathing exercises. But it’s far less often and far less severe than my younger days. I was a smoker of Marlboro Reds for 23 years (age 18-41). I am sure some folks would like to know how I stopped smoking, but that’s a story for another blog. Even for years after I quit smoking, I would have month long bouts with whatever was going around. Nowadays, it’s a few days and I’m over it.

And so what gift is awaiting me as I return to the mat? I get to spend an hour partnered up with Stone Man - the 50 year old purple belt who is perpetually pissed off and can basically bench press a truck. We’re working on take downs from standing position. Since our gym is a lot of old geezers, we only work on take downs for a couple of months leading up to a tournament. I can see why. It beats me up pretty good. After Stone Man and I work on a few techniques, it’s time to roll.

It’s been about 8 classes now that I have studied take downs, but I have no chance with Stone Man. When he gets a good grip on my lapel, I can do very little. I try to come down on his elbow and underhook his arm, get close, hug around the belt. But he’s fast and strong and I end up off balance and ready to be swept. I have the quickness to dive in for a single leg or double leg, but not the technique. With Stone Man, the technique must be perfect or he escapes easily.

Still, I’m happy that I’m doing a good job of staying relaxed and I am keeping my balance when he goes for leg drags and ankle picks. Eventually though, he simply forces me to the ground with brute strength, and here if I had better jiu jitsu there were plenty of opportunities to use that against him. But I simply get crushed and he slides right into side control.

Now I’ve been working hard on my side control escapes. As a newbie of six months, I have spent a lot of time getting crushed in people’s side control. But Stone Man has a trick that I really struggle with. He slides in so perfectly, hip crushing mine, so that he ends up in what’s called Kesa Gatame. Stone Man has an awesome Kesa Gatame game. And it sucks for me.

So my side control escapes are mostly stymied by this position. And his compact weight really smashes me in this spot.

What I do is to shrimp and turn in to build some kind of frame and wall against his hip and forward leg. As I do, I fail to keep my elbows in, and he captures an arm. I get the arm free, but then I make another mistake that I’m going to repeat later to much more severe consequences. I try to escape by turning away, exposing my back. Stone Man takes my back. I do a good job of staying calm and working an escape. As a purple belt, he decides how we roll, and determines that’s enough and he’d like to go back to standing. So he disengages and we start over to work from standing for th last couple of minutes. I survive those without getting taken down, and hope that I made his roll at least interesting, if not challenging.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

My next roll was soul crushing. I go from Stone Man to High School Wrestler (HSW). High school kids are just the worst to roll against. They have an unlimited gas tank and no fear. High School Wrestler is also a nifty 230 pounds and quick to boot. Ugh. Nice kid though heh. I love chatting with him. I don’t really love getting smashed by him.

Take downs are right up his wheel house. Wrestlers love the take downs. I never wrestled.

Usually, I do pretty well against High School Wrestler, but he’s killing me in the stand up. His legs are like oak trees, so even when I’m quick enough to pluck an ankle he simply leans into it and breaks my posture. And he’s quick enough to get me off balanced several times. He finally gets me down as I completely lose my sense of technique and balance. And HSW is right into the mount.

Initially I panic. But I quickly realize how stupid that was. While it’s never fun to have a 230 pound teenager sitting on your chest in perfect position to pummel your brains in, this is jiu jitsu. And he’s not very good at it. Like me. He’s still a white belt and has only been around the gym for a little longer than I have.

So HSW makes a mistake. He doesn’t drive his knees up into my armpits, to control my arms. I’m able to use that to establish inside position with my elbows, and I turn and shrimp out, pushing one knee away and then the other as I establish guard. I’m surprised how easy that simple escape worked.

I’ve got HSW in my open guard now, but I have grips on both sleeves. There’s a lot to like here and he doesn’t feel comfortable. Unfortunately my grips are not solid and he decides to rip out of them and back away. Now I make my first real mistake. I get up and get back into a standing battle with him. I could have just stayed on my butt, where I feel more comfortable and engaged him to pass my guard.

This next dance doesn’t last long. I get taken down quickly and end up with my back exposed in the scramble. HSW sees it and this time he pounces, getting his hooks and starting a rear naked choke. There’s still a lot I could do, but my mind is going blank and I panic. I barely attempt an escape, and I have to tap out or pass out. This was incredibly frustrating. This was the first time HSW had ever submitted me.

I didn’t like it. Not one bit.

He liked it a lot.

My last roll of the night, I was able to turn the tables. This was a ten minute roll against another newbie. But he’s a military officer, let’s call him Slider because that’s what he looks like to me. Standing next to me, you’d pick him to win every time. He’s taller, leaner, and more muscular.

Yet, I destroy him easily. Six months of BJJ vs. one month. We start in standing, but he tries to pull me into his guard. It’s a fine idea but he leaves his leg on hip too long and too lazy. I pounce and pluck it for an X pass, moving it across my body to the opposite hip as I drive him to the ground.

Normally, this would put me knee-on-belly, but he moves pretty well and gets squared up to me, so I’m in a better position to do a cross-knee pass. I don’t execute it perfectly, but I learned from Stone Man how to push those hips through, and there’s just nothing Slider can do but take it. I go into Kesa Gatame, but just to use that as a transition into Side Mount.

In Side Mount, I attempt to isolate his far arm for an arm bar or Americana, but he’s very strong. He is able to hold and frame. But as a newbie, he forgets about his legs, so I grab his far leg at the knee and drive them down towards me, making it easy to slide over into Mount.

I don’t mess around in Mount. I’m very comfortable there. I move up to the arm pits quick. I remember my lessons from watching Rorion Gracie videos. Be heavy but relaxed. Slider can squirm all he wants, but he’s not going anywhere. I start working on an Americana, with good technique at the start as I keep my elbow up against his head, but then I am unable to get a tap. The harder I go for it, the less I feel balanced. So I abandon it for a choke.

It takes a while, but I execute a cross collar choke. Once I had the hand deep in the collar, it didn’t really matter how long it took. As long as I kept my balance, I’d eventually get the choke and I did.

After the tap, we had a couple minutes left, so I let him start in the Mount position, and I worked escapes. I executed quite a few good ones that I really enjoyed. Then we’d reset. But when I hit my favorite Mount escape, where I smash in one arm at the elbow, trap the same side foot with mine, and then roll the attacker in the direction where he no longer has a way to post up, Slider is flipped and I am back into side control. I keep the gas on looking for another arm bar, but time runs out.

It was nice to not be the one getting smashed for once.