An Alphabet of BJJ · General · Kaizen

A is for Academy: An Alphabet of BJJ


When the idea of Kaizen Academy was first mooted, I wasn’t sure if it was actually going to happen, or if it was just going to be one of those fantastic ideas that was spoken about but never really got off the ground. The talent was there, in terms of the guys martial arts experience, it was just whether the stars were going to align for it all to happen. People had back-up plans for if it didn’t, and it seemed for a while that those might happen, rather than moving forward with opening a gym in Lancaster. Luckily for all of us, the gym did happen, and Kaizen was created. All of sudden a venue had been found, business partners brought in and Kaizen had gone from being an idea to an actual physical space in the town. At first it was difficult to imagine the final product; it was messy, dusty, and a broken down shell, but it was large, light and if you used your imagination, you could see where it was going.

It immediately became a community project, with members of the sports centre martial arts classes (and others) coming down to the new building to help paint, build, clean, brush, garden and try and get the place sorted for opening (Michael mentioned that it was probably going to need touch ups this summer… of course I’ll be there to help, as long as I don’t get stuck painting that bloody fence again!) The building had previously been in use by the Salvation Army, and we had to repurpose it for a martial arts gym – so there was a lot to do! The guys had an aesthetic in mind for the gym; very clean, white, modern, friendly and open. There seems to be an image in mind often associated with MMA gyms of them being dark and grungy, and therefore unwelcoming. Whether this stereotype is true or not, they knew they wanted to do the exact opposite.

With that in mind, light and colour was one of the key factors in the gym. White mats were ordered from Dollamur, the building was painted white, the furniture was white, the lighting was big and bright, the artwork was clean and fresh, with martial arts heroes and icons placed on the wall. It definitely has a very clean and modern aesthetic. The kickboxing and MMA kit was ordered from RDX Sports, so everything matched and worked well together. It’s not just the visuals that the guys wanted to be like this with the gym; the approach to teaching martial arts was also similar; a clean and modern approach that everyone could get involved with and understand. The online syllabus has been a work in progress, but it’s the hope soon that the interactive system will be totally up and running, for everyone to use and learn from. I’m excited to be able to track my progress through the BJJ syllabus, and see what I’ve been attending more and less, and therefore what I need to work on.

The official opening date for the gym was October 14th 2015. A few days out it was a bit touch-and-go as to whether it would make it on time, but it did, and the gym opened to a great turnout on the first night.

Opening Night

I think I was member number four to sign up overall and the first girl (bragging rights!). Okay, now for the soppy bit, the way Kaizen came to be I think really represents the atmosphere of the place. It was a large group of people coming together to create something and make it work, to create something that they would use, but also that other people could enjoy and explore. I think it’s a great gym, I’ve had some amazing times there and because of it, and I hope there will be many, many, many more…


Competition · Kaizen

Kaizen Competition: Testing, 1,2… Testing



Kaizen grappling comp poster

Well, when I first pinned down a date to organise a competition, I anticipated that it would take some organising. I’ve organised events before, and I’ve been at the head of (small) teams of people in order to get stuff done. Just how much organising BJJ comp would take, however, did not become apparent until we truly got stuck in. I’ve learnt a lot in doing this one that I hope to carry over to future events to make life both easier for myself, the guys at the gym, and for competitors. Not to say the organisation of this hasn’t gone smoothly, it has, but there are always things that could be improved upon. For example, next time I hope to use some kind of online ticketing system, much like they do at the bigger competitions, for ease of payment and registration. This helps prevent confusion and crossed-wires for both us as the organisers, and the competitors.

Anyway, it was about two months ago that we finally pinned down a date for the first Kaizen Academy no-gi grappling contest. I wanted the first one to be no-gi because that is what most of the members at Kaizen have the most experience in. We have a few players who come from a gi background, and those of us who do train mostly no-gi are slowly becoming more comfortable in the gi. For the first one, however, we would definitely have more interested no-gi players. We have plans to expand to gi competitions in the future.

So we sent out the invites to everyone and anyone we could think of who might be interested in coming to compete. We had our ups and downs in terms of responses, some categories filled very quickly (looking at you, men’s <77kg White Belts!) and others we had something of a struggle with (ladies…). Yet, as of yesterday, and one week ’til competition day, we had 52 athletes registered, 44 of whom have paid. We’ve promised every athlete at least two matches. This is a digression from traditional competition style, but it means that everyone gets a consolation match if they lose in their first match. This might not be the way we do it in the future (especially if we run bigger competitions), but Michael and I thought (certainly for the first one), that it provided a nice touch, and added to the friendly atmosphere of the day. We wanted this to be an introduction to competing for those who’ve never done it before, or a chance just to come and have some fun for those who have been to comp before. What I think is most exciting is that whilst we’ve got 25 out of 52 athletes coming from Kaizen Academy, 27 of them are from other parts of the country. We’ve got athletes coming from York, Hull, Sheffield, Manchester… we’ve even got some coming from as far away as Ireland, which is pretty damn cool!

comp 3
The match space has been marked out


After we’d got competitors lined up and brackets sorted, we ordered in the medals (they’re very pretty by the way!), and started to think about set up and things that needed to be done on the day. The match space has been marked out to IBJJF regulation size, and we will have spectators sitting mat-side, as they do at EBI’s. We thought that this would make for a great atmosphere for the competitors. We did a mini-test run of a few division sizes yesterday (pictures below). Clearly we won’t have girls and guys in together on the day, this was just to test run with the right number of players.

comp 2
Competitors sitting “in the hold” waiting for their match
comp 1

We roped in every bit of help from our current Kaizen members, who have been absolutely stars in helping this competition run smoothly. Michael, our head BJJ coach is going to be the main referee on the day (we will be following IBJJF rules), but Adam – our MMA coach – has also stepped up to brush up on the rules so he can be our second referee. We have table refs, a comp MC, runners, photographers, a podium overseer, food and drink helpers; you name it, Kaizeners have stepped up help out with this, which is absolutely amazing.

Our scoring system is interactive, and will be broadcast onto one of the two television screens within the gym. This means that the competitors can see both their score and the time during their match. Anyone who has ever competed will know that this is seriously helpful, to know exactly where you stand and how much time you have left. It means you know that you either have to crank it up, hunt for the sub, or pull something amazing out the bag, or – you’re in the lead – you can attempt to relax, not doing anything daft, and let the person who’s behind go on the attack, allowing you to defend. To make this work, we have two table refs at any one time; one to work the system, one to keep an eye on the ref so the score can be kept accurately. We have rotating teams of table refs, so no one gets stuck on the table all day.

We’re doing a few more test runs later this week, and I’ll let you know how those go before show time on Sunday. I’m seriously excited. It’s going to be awesome!


General · Kaizen · Training · Unstoppable Girls

BJJ Girls: Unstoppable Girls (Part One)


I’ve always been spoilt, I think, in that I have a lot of female training partners at Kaizen Academy. Before Kaizen was even a glint in Ze, Adam, Michael, Kieran and Shane’s imagination, there was also plenty of girls training both at Lancaster Sports Centre, and in the MMA Society at the University. Sure, we were definitely still a minority when compared to the guys, but there was always a good handful of us.

In this, I think, I am very lucky. Speaking to other girls involved in BJJ or MMA, they often say how they’ve only got one other girl at the gym, or that they’re the only regular girl, or worst of all, that there’s literally not another female in sight. It is sad, because whilst guys do make great training partners, it is useful (especially for the sport side of BJJ) to test yourself against people your strength, weight and build from time to time. You can get this in competition, sure, but it is nice to experience it without the performance pressure as well.

Before Kaizen there was always about four or five regular girls, and then since Kaizen (Oct ’15) there’s been a core group of about four “BJJ girls” which over the past month or two has rapidly expanded to a number around ten, which is absolutely amazing! We’re all white belts, and (as cheesy as it sounds) it’s nice to support each other through all the nuances of being a beginner at BJJ. A few of us have a little bit of comp experience, but the other girls are also quickly getting on board and diving in feet first on the competition side, which is absolutely amazing. It’s also great because it widens the competition pool. When looking at competitor lists you often see familiar names, but the more girls we can get in there, the better. Fifty-seven ladies competed at Manchester last weekend at the BJJ24/7 Event, which I think is pretty amazing going. Onwards and upwards, ladies!

Training with girls is a totally different experience than rolling with guys as well, and I think where BJJ is concerned, having few or no girls at a gym can be a bit of a self-defeating cycle. I know when I first started grappling about eighteen months/two years ago, I was intimidated to roll with the guys at first; they were bigger, faster, stronger. It wasn’t that I was worried about getting hurt, necessarily, but it was also the fact that they were guys, and you wanted me to put my hands where? Under his armpits? Around his thigh? North-South you say? Erm… You can see why for completely novices, doing all these moves with someone of your own gender can ease you to the idea of being that up close and personal with another human being. Anyway, I digress, I quickly learned that there was nothing to be scared of and that there was nothing “dodgy” about rolling with guys,   and that most people really really don’t care. Despite that, I think having girls there at the beginning certainly helped me get over whatever fears I may have had. Therefore, having more girls attracts more girls, they see that it’s something they can do, or that they don’t have to immediately grapple with guys, and feel a lot more comfortable with the idea of getting involved with BJJ.

My rolling style also changes when I roll with girls compared to guys (unless they’re an extremely small/light guy). For example, I have to be much more careful with my underhook. On a big guy, if you lose it, it’s often relatively easy to get it back. On a girl, the space is a lot smaller, so therefore it’s harder to fight for. I often find girls are more aware of the underhook as well, because we’re so reliant on it’s power when passing, that often half-guard will digress into a hand battle for the underhook. I think girls can be more aggressive than guys as well – some of the most brutal crossfacing I’ve ever experienced has been from girls, as well as some of the meanest pressure. It’s because most of us can’t rely on our weight or stature when doing this sport, that we become so much more aware of other things in order to become more effective (and sometimes more nasty!).

Next time I’ll take a look at some of my experiences going to female fight camps…


General · Unstoppable Girls

Here Come The Girls: Ronda Rousey


I thought I’d do a series about my female influences, inspirations, and people that I genuinely admire. They’re not all going to be fighters, but this being the nature of the blog, a lot of them probably will be.

So why Ronda? I hear you yell… she’s not even world champion anymore. Well, it’s true, things have been rather quiet on the Rowdy front lately, with rumoured fights popping up left, right and centre, but none of them actually coming to fruition. It seems likely that we’re set for Rousey vs. Tate mk. III if Tate manages to hold onto her belt against Amanda Nunes at UFC 200.

Anyway, I digress, why Ronda? Well Ronda was the first for me. She was the first woman fighter who I saw being a total badass, winning titles and opening up the world of women’s combat sports. For some it was Gina Carano, but I was generation post-Gina, so for me it was definitely Rousey. I watched with glee as she dispatched opponent after opponent in the bantamweight division in under a minute each time with her strong judo acumen and a well placed armbar. Tate was the only one who seemed to be able to get out of the first round. Many people thought she was untouchable, because no-one could get close enough to deliver any damage without being thrown on their head. Yet, we all know how this story goes, Holly Holm figured out how to deliver damage without getting anywhere near her, leaving the Judo champ perplexed as to how to get hold of her opponent and play her game. When forced to play Holm’s game of dodge and distance, she was totally out of moves.

Regardless of that, you can’t deny that Ronda Rousey did an awful lot for women’s MMA. She made me aware that there even was women’s MMA and from there the journey has been continuous. Okay, so I’ve left MMA behind for now, but Rousey still remains up there as one of my influences on how it all started. I think the sport owes her a lot for raising it’s profile so immensely. Of course, not everyone agrees with how she did it, and she’s made some fairly controversial statements along the way. There are others as well: Miesha Tate, Cat Zingano, Joanna Champion, Michelle Waterson, Chris Cyborg, Holly Holm, etc. etc. And those are just the MMAers.

Next week, I’ll go back to BJJ with one of my faves… Mackenzie Dern.


Competition · Kaizen

BJJ 24/7 Manchester International Open: Play by Play and New Goals

This weekend was BJJ 24/7’s Manchester International Open. Once again this was the biggest competition I’d ever done, with over 300 competitors, and eight mats running at any one time. The venue was a cacophony of noise and people.  I actually found that this took the pressure off compared to smaller competitions, because there’s so much going on that no one really has time to focus on you and your match, other than your immediate team members. Everyone is too busy concentrating on what they’re doing.

Anyway, got down to Manchester and weighed in. I was in the <56.5kg no-gi white belt category. I weighed in at 52.3kg. I had considered dropping down to the weight category below (<51.5kg), but Kaizen already has a girl in that category. Hopefully when I start weight training again I’ll put a bit of muscle mass on, and be closer to where I should be within my category. I also want to start competing in the gi come the autumn. Anyhow, I was supposed to be competing at roughly 11.30, with Kasia (my team mate) on just before me in the weight category below. We warmed up and then headed to the mat.

Kasia put on an absolutely stellar performance, despite saying she wasn’t going to remember anything before hitting the mats! From what I can remember, she was taken down by her opponent, but then proceeded to absolutely dominate on the ground. The final score was 16-2 to Kasia, and despite this massive score difference she continued to search for the submission throughout the match. In the end she didn’t get it, but with that big of a point difference it was totally insignificant. So she got gold! One more for the Kaizen treasure trove…

Kasia dominating her match, photo courtesy of the Jits Art Project.

After Kasia’s match it was my turn. Only one girl in my division had shown up, so I only had one fight in my weight category, when I was supposed to have had two. The girl I was against, Becky, was extremely good and very strong. She won by submission at around the four minute mark. I was still quite pleased, however, because I managed to play my game plan up until that point. I pulled guard into reverse de la riva – I tried for half guard but she immediately moved to knee slice, making me adopt reverse de la riva. If I’d have had a bit more forearm strength I may have been able to hold onto this, but as it was my arm gassed out and she passed into side control with a strong knee slice. I turtled up (sadly too late to avoid 3 pts being awarded to her) and she attempted to take back mount, but she couldn’t get her second hook in, therefore missing out on the four points. There was a lot of rolling involved and me balling up to resemble a hedgehog in order to prevent her getting her foot in. It worked though.

Becky on my back, but without her second hook in.

I then somehow managed to reclaim guard (it’s all a bit hazy if I’m being honest!) and ended up on the bottom, on the defensive again.

In the end she got me with a kimuora from half guard (maybe?), which was well deserved because she played an extremely strong game. I tapped as soon as she put it on because – as you can see from the picture below – no way was I getting out of that! So I took the silver and she the gold.

End Game

I then decided that I might as well have a go at absolutes, where all the weight categories are in together. I’d never done that before and I wanted more than one match in the day, so signed my name up. I was easily the lightest one in the bracket.

Anyway, my first match in absolutes was against a girl called Rachel and she got me with either a head and arm choke, or a darce choke. To be honest, I can’t remember, all I know was something was around my neck and I couldn’t breathe. Once again though, I wasn’t too disappointed. I pulled guard at the beginning, managed to secure half guard, I worked my way to deep half at one point and nearly swept, but couldn’t quite finish it.

We were even wearing the same rash guard!

My bronze medal match in the absolutes was the one I was most proud of that day. It was 0-0 and it went to refs decision to the other girl. That might as well have been gold to me. She was significantly taller and heavier than me, and the fact that I managed to prevent any points being scored and play my game was a massive victory to me. She won refs decision because I pulled guard, and therefore was on the bottom. Her passing attempts were more sustained than my sweep attempts as well, and she ended up in ¾ guard a few times, although I managed to reclaim half guard from them. Either way, it went to decision and she took it due to her dominating position. Becky won the absolutes by beating Rachel.

Thank you to all my opponents (Becky, Rachel and Oyinda) for giving me invaluable experience on the day. It was a pleasure to meet you on the mats, and I hope we do so again at some point. Two other team mates of my Jack (in the adult mens division) and Kenzie (in the boys division) both took medals home as well; silver and bronze respectively. Another clean medal sweep for Kaizen Academy!

Moving forward I have plenty of goals to work towards. After I left Newcastle I had two clear goals in mind for Manchester; 1) Don’t get swept by doing anything stupid, 2) Don’t end up in closed guard. Neither of those things happened, so I count that as a victory. I have multiple new targets to work towards:

  1. Work on my half guard sweeps from the bottom. I really want a chance to play my half guard top game, but to do that I’ve got to get there first! If my bottom game is strong and technical enough, it shouldn’t matter how much they weigh. Michael said he had some things for me to work on, so we’ll go through those and I’ll strive to improve.
  2. Work on my wrestling somewhat, so I perhaps have another option other than pulling guard.
  3. I want to improve my muscles. Every one of those girls was physically stronger than me. I don’t want to bulk up per say, but working on my overall athleticism can’t hurt.
  4. Attempt to figure out where the subs came from, and how to not let that happen again. As there aren’t any clear videos, this could be challenging, but I’ll rack my brains and see if I can figure it out.


Anyway, I really enjoyed the day and all of my matches. I was happy with how I played, and I’ve got a lot to focus on now. It’s the Kaizen comp in a couple of weeks, and then I’ve got a break for a bit, but I know there’s some comps in late summer that I want to take part in.

Thank you to my coaches Michael, Adam and Kieran for being awesomely epic, and to all my training partners (especially my BJJ girls – Kasia, Cosima, Natalie, Jo, Amy, Kayleigh and Andreana) for being supportive and awesome.

Until the next one,




Kaizen · Training

Half Guard Part 2 of… oh a billion


Last night in the advanced BJJ class we were learning some techniques that Pablo Popovitch favours when on the bottom in half guard. A few were about maintaining a strong defensive position before attempting anything offensive. If you move before you’re strongly positioned then you’re just going to get swept or submitted, or at the very least find yourself in an unfavourable position.

Then it got a little bit more complex, including a roll to a knee bar (of course illegal at my belt level – got to wait for brown (be waiting a while!) for that to be a-okay, but it’s still a good technique to know), a sweep from a position that was vaguely similar to x-guard, and a toe hold if the knee bar proves to be challenging to apply. Something funny happened with that one, one of our instructors (Adam) is known for being pretty good at toe holds, and whilst we were training, my partner, Natalie, couldn’t successfully apply a toe hold to me. I have fairly bendy feet and a pretty high pain threshold thanks to training footlocks/foot attacks for a while now (and I guess it’ll just get better from now on in?), and whilst I could feel what she was trying to do, there wasn’t any real pain, so I didn’t tap. Adam was sat to the side giving her tips on grip and force etc. but it still wasn’t working. In this manoeuvre I was facing away from her, so I couldn’t really see what was happening, and I just heard a sound of moving and Natalie let go of my foot. I started to say “Hey wait up, am I about to get toe held by Ad-OWWWWWW!”, I didn’t get to finish the sentence as he cranked it on. Guess that’ll teach me for being so damn stubborn.

It’s going to take a lot more for me to even begin to remember these techniques, because my brain wasn’t entirely absorbing everything last night. Some of the Popovitch top half guard game we learnt lately though is fast becoming my favourite, particularly twister half-guard. I’ve pulled it off a few times in rolling… I guess the real test is whether I can get it to work in competition!

Anyway, Manchester in 2 days!

Until then,