My summer training plans have been ruined somewhat by a freak accident that occurred to me the weekend after my end of term Judo lesson which resulted in me breaking my second toe on my right foot. I would like to report that this happened in Judo Randori or whilst someone attempted an ankle lock in BJJ but alas that is far from the truth. The truth is that in the early hours of Sunday morning my wife and I were woken by the loud meow’s of my blind Cat Freddie. Freddie often does this when he cannot locate my other cat, Frankie. The reason he wants to locate Frankie is so that he can beat him up.
Well Frankie was clearly hiding and not making a sound and as such Freddie’s meows got louder and louder. Fearing that these loud meows would wake my 5 month old daughter, Florence, I leapt out of bed and ran downstairs to make him quiet. Unfortunately, with the lights switched off I fell down the stairs and broke my toe.
Just to rub salt in the wounds I have been advised to lay off the weights for 10 days to allow my suspected tendinitis in my wrists to calm down which means I cannot run nor do any upper body exercises, which has left me nothing more than a keyboard Martial Artist for now.
I have therefore been trailing YouTube for some training advice and have been reading lots of Martial Arts related forums and have been thinking about the type of Martial Artists who have or continue to inspire me.
I’ll start with my old Wing Chun instructor Kevin Chan. I started Wing Chun when I was about 19 years old and at this point Kevin only had two clubs, one in Portsmouth, where he lives, and one in Croydon. I remember even back then that Kevin was already cross training in Maui Thai and would often take trips to Thailand to supplement his training and would then incorporate some of the leg techniques into the Wing Chun that he taught us. I guess it wasn’t until I quit Wing Chun that I truly understood what an impressive and inspirational Martial Artist Kevin was and I’ll explain why. Kevin’s Wing Chun Empire had grown exponentially, with clubs covering most of the south London area. But unlike a lot of other traditional Martial Artists, Kevin was not too proud to don a white belt and start training as a beginner in another martial art, namely BJJ. I’m not sure what Kevin’s reasons where for training in BJJ but I can guess that as Wing Chun is focused on stand up techniques he clearly felt he needed to know what to do should a fight go to the ground. Now not only did Kevin win numerous competitions in BJJ but he eventually received his Black Belt from Mauricao Gomes. Kevin now has a couple of Gracie Barra affiliated BJJ clubs where he teaches, in addition to the still expanding Wing Chun clubs that he runs and for these reasons he is truly a modern day Martial Artist and a true Master.
Next up is Brian Jacks, a Judoka who was the first Britain to win a medal in the world Championships, taking a bronze in Salt Lake City in 1967 and also gained a second bronze in the 1972 Olympics. Now I wasn’t born until 1972 so you might wonder why he would inspire me. Well it wasn’t until he started competing in the BBC TV show Superstars that he achieved real fame, winning it 4 times. I remember as a young kid cheering him on as he went on to win nearly every event that he entered. He was especially remembered for that famous gym test dual with another hero of mine Daley Thompson, the 2 x Olympic gold medal winner in the decathlon and probably Britain’s greatest ever Athlete. Jacks still holds the world record for the number of Dips and Squat thrusts he was able to do in a minute.
I had the pleasure of meeting Brian Jacks a couple of times. The first time was when I did Judo as a child and he was the club president and would occasionally pop in and give a lesson. Then a few years later he gave a Judo demonstration at a holiday camp that my dad had taken me to one summer and I was able to get his autograph.
So Brian Jacks was a hero of mine because he showed that Martial Artists could be the fittest and strongest of athletes and because Judo was the first Martial art that I studied.
When I am not training, one of my favourite pastimes is watching, reading or talking about MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). The premier MMA organisation is called the UFC which stands for the Ultimate Fighting Championships. The UFC was established in 1993 and the early events had few rules, no gloves and was marketed as a Style versus style tournament which was held in an octagon shaped cage. These early events were dominated by a rather slim built, unimpressive physical looking specimen called Royce Gracie who was a black belt in Gracie Jiu-jitsu which has since essentially become more commonly known as BJJ. Royce won 3 events by taking much larger opponents to the ground, where there stand up skills were neutralized, and submitting them either via a choke or a joint lock. I remember buying these early UFC videos from HMV in Wimbledon and rather luckily they had already released the first 3 so I had a feast in one night watching all three. At this point in my Martial Arts training I had dismissed the likes of Judo as an effective Martial Art and thought that Kung-Fu was the most lethal form of self defense. I was very surprised then when this little man used techniques very similar to those found in Judo to win all his fights often against Kung-Fu, Karate & Kick boxing experts.
Now fast forward eighteen years and all the top MMA fighters have skills on the ground and on their feet. They are, if you like, a Martial Arts equivalent of a Decathlete as they can do everything very well indeed and just like a Decathlete will probably have an event that they excel in so does most of the top MMA fighters. Let’s take George St Pierre (GSP) as an example of a modern day MMA fighter. He has a 3rd dan Black belt in Kyokushin Karate and a black belt in BJJ. He also has some seriously good wrestling skills, so much so that he has considered trying out for the Canadian Olympic Wrestling team for next year’s Olympics games. Added to those skills he also trains extensively in boxing and Maui Thai and he comes across as a bloody nice bloke and a true gentleman and champion.
Royce Gracie at the age of 39 made a comeback against the then UFC Welterweight champion Matt Hughes. Unfortunately for Royce he hadn’t evolved like other MMA fighters and Royce still relied on the one thing he did exceptionally well, his BJJ. Matt Hughes was not only able to neutralize Royce’s ground skills but he almost finished Royce with a Kimura before finally stopping him via ground and pound in the first round. I think this fight showed how far MMA had evolved and Matt Hughes was then beaten just as easily by GSP, who does not appear to have any weakness in his game.
So Royce Gracie is the reason I wanted to explore grappling again and is the reason that so many people are now training BJJ but GSP, in my opinion is one of the finest Martial Artists that ever lived so I salute you both.