When you started: 2012
How did you first get interested in BJJ and what led you to start training at GSW?
I was looking at getting back into judo as a way to be more active and improve my fitness. The judo clubs I found in Wellington didn’t appeal to me but the GSW website did. It seemed like the place had energy and a good culture. I knew one of my best friends had done BJJ in London and asked him for his opinion. He said “go. You’re going to love it!” I came to GSW for a trial class and at the end of it told Geoff I was ready to join. He said “are you sure? you’ve got another free trial class. Wait until then”. But I had seen everything I needed to see and (this one time) ignored his advice.
Can you share a memorable experience or achievement from your time training at the school?
There are many memories I can think of but two really stand out. The first one is the day Geoff awarded his first black belts. It was at the end of a seminar. The mat was packed, and the anticipation high. At the time, being promoted to black belt seemed like the stuff of legends. No-one was a black belt apart from Geoff. I remember a lot of emotion and an incredible sense of collective accomplishment. It felt like we had all been a part of this achievement and that we were all building something really cool together.
The other memory that stands out is coming back after the first lockdown. For what had felt like a very long time, we hadn’t been able to train and examples of decisions made overseas with regards to contact sports didn’t provide much hope in our ability to train anytime soon. As soon as it became possible, Geoff put in place a system of small training sessions with 10 people maximum in each and a booking system to get a slot. We were all stoked to be able to train and see each other again. There were a lot of hugs (both the aggressive and non-aggressive kind) and smiles. You tend to appreciate things a lot more when you’re about to lose them. This was a good reminder of how important BJJ and the GSW family were to me.
How has BJJ impacted your life outside of the gym?
It’s hard to separate BJJ from my life these days. It is my main form of exercise, my meditation and a big part of my social life. Once I opened the box, I got hooked and gradually got into everything that could help me get better, be it superfoods smoothies, bulletproof coffee, cold showers, stretching, breathing exercises… After some persistent niggles with my neck, I started strength and conditioning sessions and haven’t looked back since (by the way, the gym I go to is run by a GSW member!). BJJ has improved my fitness in many ways but more importantly it has improved my overall Health. It helps me reset when life gets stressful. It’s my never-ending project, it keeps me focused on learning new things. It keeps me humble. All of that in a friendly, positive and supportive environment. Getting to training is generally the best part of my day.
What advice would you give to someone new to BJJ or to our school?
Relax. Embrace the challenge. Trust that we’ve all been where you are now and everybody is genuinely here to help, not to “get a tap” at the expense of the newbie. The sooner you can think of rolling as a form of “puzzle solving” and not as a fight for your life, the faster you will progress.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to improve their BJJ?
There is a lot of advice to give, but this is my top 5:
1) Have a goal when you’re rolling. It might be that you’re trying to get to a specific position, get a specific pass, get a specific submission… You may want to consider different goals for different rolls.
2) Slow down. I noticed a big improvement in my game when I decided to not sit out rounds. In order to be able to do that I had to lower the pace so I would last the whole hour. I quickly noticed that my jiu-jitsu was not getting less effective. It just got more efficient. Slowing down will also give you time to think about what you’re doing.
3) Roll with everyone. One of the mistakes I made was to roll only with people at my level, quickly followed by another one which was to roll with only better people. You need a bit of everything. Rolls where you’re the better player and you can experiment, rolls where you’re the weaker player and you test your skills under high pressure. Have a goal for every roll.
4) Get fit. Geoff’s view is that GSW is to learn BJJ, not to do push ups and stretches. This optimises your time on the mat, and you will get fit by just doing BJJ. But if you want to hit a smooth berimbolo, you might want to work on your range of motion. And as you get a bit older, you will improve your chances of not getting injured if you are doing what it takes outside of GSW. Top two things I recommend are: strength training and stretching.
5) Keep turning up. It is cliché for a reason: it is true. You can only get better by spending time on the mat. Any training is better than no training but I would say that if you’re looking at making visible improvements, you probably want to train 3 or more times per week (at least that’s what I found but I might be a bit slow at picking stuff up). Don’t let small setbacks discourage you. There is only one way to eat an elephant!
How do you balance your training and your daily life?
Life can get pretty busy but I know that jiu-jitsu has to be a priority to keep everything balanced. I generally aim for 4 training sessions per week (typically 1 or 2 nights, 1 or 2 lunch-times and 1 Saturday morning session) and I also bring my son to the kids’ class which I help with on Sundays.
It hasn’t always been like that and there are times when I get really busy at work or with family commitments and prioritise that for a while. As a result I don’t train as much. One thing I know is that in the long run, I can’t support others if I’m not in a good place myself.
On a plane, you’re instructed to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others, In my case, being in a good place includes doing jiu-jitsu so I do everything I can to fit it in.
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