Competition · Kaizen

BJJ 24/7 North West Open



One glimmer of hope for me, an amazing windfall for Team Awesome.

I put a lot of pressure on myself before North West Open. I was sick of coming last in a race that I knew I could do better in, so I made a seriously conscious effort to prepare before Sunday. I upped my time in the weights room, I did some intensive cardio and really honed in on aspects of my game that I wanted to improve. I worked hard on and off the mats to ensure that I did myself proud, regardless of what happened.

I had five in my no-gi division (someone had dropped out) and six in my gi (again I think someone had dropped out), so I knew I’d have a fight on my hands to even get onto the medal podium. That’s enough about me, however, for a while because I have to firstly talk about Team Awesome. Yesterday we took the largest team we’ve ever taken to a comp – including thirteen competitors. It was supposed to be fourteen, but one of our members unfortunately couldn’t make it. Our team included a lot of competition “virgins” and they didn’t pick an easy one to begin with! I’m so proud of everyone who came down to compete. The photo below shows our team, minus two competitors (Lucas + Kasia) who’d already had to shoot off by the time this was taken.

North West 1.jpg
Team Awesome

With a team with that many competitors in it there was naturally going to be people competing at the same time, so it was difficult for me to keep tabs on what was happening all the time.

First up, however, was our coach, Michael Wood in his no-gi division. He won both his fights without having any points scored against him. His first match was a lesson in technical half guard for all us spectators. His second match had one hairy moment for his spectators where we thought there could be a potential triangle, but Michael being a total pro, was already out of danger by the time we’d even noticed.

Medal Tally: 1 gold.

At this point I had to stop watching my team mates because it was my turn to hit the mats in the no-gi <56.5 ladies division. I had a mini mental breakthrough on Saturday and so I was focused and ready to hit the mats. I still got a little bit nervous and had to listen to some pump up songs to get myself ready to go, but I knew what I had to do.

My first match went well, with a final score of 9-7 to me. I got a sweep from half guard within the first minute or so and then proceeded to pass, so the score was 5-0. At that point the match was very near the edge of the mats so we were stopped to move back towards the middle. At that moment, horribly, I suddenly felt extremely sick and had to take a few deep breaths whilst we were resetting to make sure I didn’t throw up (pretty sure vomiting on the mats counts as a tap!). Anyway, the match re-started and I got swept, so the score became 5-2. There must have been a reversal in there at some point because I ended up on top again but received no points before taking the back and scoring my next 4 points, taking the score to 9-2. In order for my opponent to get the next five points she must have swept and passed me at one point, or perhaps it was knee on belly after a pass. I honestly don’t remember. I was just trying to survive because I knew I was ahead on points. At one point she attempted an armbar that I escaped. The thing I took away from that match was that I need to work even more on my intensive cardio so that I can keep attacking for the full five minutes. I did well when I was actively on the attack. The second I was on the defensive and feeling sick, I started to get points scored against me. Anyway, in the end it didn’t matter and the final score was 9-7, with the ref saying that was one of the most exciting matches he’d seen in a while.

Jits Art always manages to catch me at the bad time in my match!

My second match didn’t go as well! I did a great sweep from half guard, but then got caught in a guillotine after successfully defending a triangle attempt from over/under. I was extremely annoyed with myself because after the extremely promising beginning I fell swiftly to a tight submission that I ultimately could’ve avoided if I’d been a bit more careful. What I take away from that is now that my sweeping is (relatively) okay, I need to work on what happens once I come up and staying “defensively responsible” whilst I secure my position.

My teammate Kasia was also in my division, having been bumped up from her weight category (<51.5) due to a lack of competitors in that division. She was paired against Becky in her first match and did extremely well considering that Becky has a least eighteen months training on Kasia. Kasia was aggressive and didn’t give up until Becky secured a very deep armbar. We both knew that that would be a tough match and I thought Kasia held her own well against a tough and seasoned opponent.

Kasia and I hanging out matside.

So I took bronze in that division. I was happy though because I’d acquitted myself a lot better than in my previous two competitions and my approach to it had changed. This was the first glimmer of hope, I can do it, I just need to keep building on the foundations I laid during this competition prep.

On the podium.

Medal Tally: 1 gold, 1 bronze.

Whilst I’d been competing a lot had been happening for Team Awesome around the venue and I spent the next couple of minutes catching up with what had been going on. Ze was well into his weight division in the blue belt category, Kam had won a gold medal in his category, Joe was currently steaming through his weight division at white belt. Lucas and James had unfortunately lost out to tough competitors in their respective divisions. James had been up on points after some great sweeps and got caught in a chance submission; Lucas’ story was much the same. Laurence had lost his matches in his divisions but had walked away with bronze anyway and decided to try white belt absolutes. Simon, who has admitted he was nervous and acquitted himself amazingly well, had also fought in his no-gi category and walked away with a silver medal.

Medal Tally: 2 golds, 1 silver, 2 bronzes.

Then it was the girls again. Kaizen had taken five girls yesterday which I imagine was one of the biggest female contingent from any singular gym at the competition yesterday. Laura was competing in the <61.5; Andreana and Aimee in the <66.5. It was Aimee and Laura’s first competition and they both stepped up to the challenge extremely well. Laura fell to a deep armbar in her match which would see her injure her elbow, but she still did the gi division later in the day. She took home a bronze. Andreana and Aimee ending up fighting each other in their division for the bronze medal. I had no idea who to cheer for from the sidelines so I made up a new name: Aimdreana. It’s gonna be a thing guys. One thing to say for them both was that they absolutely went tooth and nail for it, despite the fact they’re team mates. There was no backing away and they had an awesome match. The ref said it was one of the most brutal matches he’d seen that day! In the end it was Andreana who came out on top with a final score of 9-4, and she took home the bronze.


Hanging out with Aimdreana.

Andreana and I both signed up for white belt absolutes, but I fell to an armbar in my first match to the same girl who’d taken Laura’s right arm home with her. Clearly that was her thing! Mine wasn’t as bad as Laura’s but it still needed a bit of bandage support for the rest of the day and has been giving me a bit of gip today, but nothing a few painkillers can’t sort. Andreana took bronze in the absolutes!

Andreana on the podium for absolutes

Whilst I’d been watching/competing with the girls Ze had stormed to gold in his weight division with an amazing display of Jiu-Jitsu. Joe had also taken a bronze medal in his division after injuring himself in the semi-final match, denying himself a place in the final.

Ze on the podium.

Medal Tally: 3 golds, 1 silver, 5 bronzes.

I then had a bit of break until my gi division in the afternoon in which I watched Laurence smash his way to gold in the white belt absolute division and Ze to the same outcome in the blue belt absolutes. Ze was disappointed that someone had managed to score 2 points against him in the whole competition. You just won 2 golds Ze, chill out, ye’ did good. That was it for the no-gi excitement of the morning/early afternoon, and suddenly a lot more people were walking around in pyjamas than there had been in the morning. It was time for the gi divisions.

Laurence winning his absolutes final!

Medal Tally: 5 golds, 1 silver, 5 bronzes.

I was up almost immediately in the gi. Competing in the gi is still something I’m relatively new to, but I thought I’d have a crack. I was up against a girl called Rihanna, who I found out was only 14. Don’t be fooled, however, it was like trying to fight Sonic on speed. She was so quick and her movement was insane. Apparently she’s been training since she was seven, and it showed. At one point she was doing stuff with her gi jacket that I had never seen before. She was trying to tie me up in it and I didn’t really know what to do (having only been training in the gi for a little while), so I ended up just hand fighting her to get out! She won 12-0 in the end. I don’t begrudge her her win at all – she was amazing and she’s going to go far. I couldn’t even get hold of her! In the last thirty seconds I knew I wasn’t going to get any points back so I dived for a footlock in an attempt to get the sub, but I didn’t get it locked in quite deeply enough so lost out. She took the well deserved gold overall.

Also in that division was a match up between Emily Smyth and Becky Bursnoll. Emily isn’t normally in my weight category, she’s normally up one, but she’d managed to come down for North West and she was matched up against Becky. I was really looking forward to watching the match because I think they’re two of the best female white belts in the UK. Emily came out on top with an aggressive and dominating performance. It took her quite a long time to finish the submission, but she had a locked down for a long time before finally getting the tap. Laura also competed in the gi in her category, but narrowly lost out on taking home a medal.

Joe was also competing in the gi and his division was absolutely stacked! There were fifteen in his category (white, adult, <79.5), and he had to have five fights to reach the final. Joe’s passing game is en pointe and his pressure is insane, so he managed to dominate through to the final with a variety of americanas and RNCs. He also won the final by Americana after passing into a dominant position. It was very well deserved and he’s now, hopefully, onto… bluer… pastures. Simon also fought extremely well to take home bronze in his gi category.

Joe winning gold

Then there was only one category left for Team Awesome and that was Michael’s gi category. For some reason they’d put his no gi at the very beginning of the day and his gi at the very end, which is a little bit annoying. He took gold in his division after another dominating performance.

Michael on the podium

It was a fantastic day for Team Awesome and we did so so well. We came fourth in the overall team rankings with the three teams above us all being franchises (meaning that there were multiple gyms representing the team). I think that is absolutely fantastic. Our final Medal Tally was 6 golds, 1 silver and 6 bronzes. We had amazing supporting members there was well yesterday with both Luke, Cosima, and Adam providing great cornering advice and support. Nilla was also there, cheering everyone on, along with Aimee’s boyfriend Ian (I am so sorry if this isn’t his name, I’m crap remembering names!), and Georgia appeared to wish us all luck in the middle of the day.

It was a fantastic day and a great way to end my competition season for 2016. I’m taking some time off until next year to just train for training’s sake, let my body and mind rest a bit and come back fresh and raring to go in the new year. I have new goals and targets for 2017 when it comes to competition.

Well done Team Awesome.

Until next time,



Competition · Training

In Preparation: North West Open


It’s BJJ 24/7’s North West Open this Sunday and Kaizen Academy is taking its biggest team yet. We’re taking fourteen athletes, and we’re entered into nineteen different divisions across the weights and experience levels. I’m very excited to see what the team can achieve because I think everyone has been working extremely hard to prepare for this competition. Everyone has been working on their games and developing the different aspects that they favour or that they’re best at.

As for myself I picked myself up after BJJ 24/7 Liverpool and looked at where things went a bit belly up. I’m feeling confident about Sunday and I’m very excited. The division I’m in, the white <56.5, is the biggest division I’ve ever been in. It’s still small compared to some of the guys divisions, but there’s six in the gi division and the same in no-gi. It should be good and I see all of this as a learning experience. I love going with a large team, Liverpool was very fun (stressful, but fun), and the most exciting thing is that in this competition Kaizen is fielding a team including five girls! We’ve always had a large contingent of girls training on the mats (now on and off to over a dozen), but five is the most we’ve ever taken to competition.

Considering that the gym only turned one this week, that we’re taking fourteen to a regional competition speaks volumes about how far we’ve come. Most of the people who are entering have been training consistently for less than a year, and their confidence has burgeoned to want to compete.

I’m not going to say how many medals I think we can bring home, but I think we’re going to do well and that everyone will do themselves proud. Just stepping up to the mats is freaking awesome.

I’ve been working hard both on the mats and in the weights room this month. I’ve been trying to eat more (doesn’t seem to reflect in my weight though!!), and I hope that it will pay off. This is going to be my last competition this year (I think) so I’m super excited about heading along. Now I’m going to focus my attention and see what happens on Sunday with the support of a fantastic team.

Until next time,





Happy Birthday Kaizen!


Kaizen turns one this week! 

It’s pretty amazing what a year can do. How far things can come, develop and continue to grow. I already discussed a little bit about how Kaizen came to be, but clearly the story has continued since then.

You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play them better than anyone else – Albert Einstein 

This time a year ago nobody really knew what Kaizen was going to be; everyone had hopes because people knew the potential of the owners, instructors and those involved. We all knew that there was something special here, but it was a little uncertain as to how that would manifest itself. In my personal opinion, it’s done far more than could be expected of most businesses/gyms in its first year.

I don’t know what the guys had in mind for specific goals (if they had them), but so far we’ve had wins at amateur MMA fights; our kickboxers were amazing at local bouts; we boast a European BJJ Champion; and at regional BJJ comps we’ve collected more medals than we can put in the display cabinet (time for an upgrade guys?).

But Kaizen Academy is clearly much more than titles, medals or trophies. It’s a community; a team; a working unit. We all have our separate goals about why we train. It could be to get fitter; to lose weight; to be world champion; to win an MMA fight; to gain confidence; to improve our technique… the list is pretty long. Everyone who steps in there will have something slightly different in mind, despite the fact we’re practicing similar things.

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It’s very difficult to articulate everything that Kaizen is, and everything that has been achieved in the last year. Clearly the gym as whole is equal to more than the sum of its parts, and yet without each of those separate parts, the whole would not function correctly. Sure, the instructors would still be successful in martial arts, but they wouldn’t be able to grow, train and develop their games together as I have seen them do over the past year. Perhaps the members would find elsewhere to train, but it wouldn’t be the same, there wouldn’t be that same feel of community.

There have been different members throughout the year, a lot of constants, but some that can’t stay for various reasons. Yet everyone who comes through the door, whether it’s just for one training session, or whether they stick around, has something to add to the place and is heartily welcomed. That’s one thing I love about this place; everyone’s ideas are considered, rather than information coming from the top down only. It’s a two way teaching channel. If a member comes to training with something new and exciting then they’re very welcome to add it or try it out. Nuances are adopted and people are willing to change up their games to incorporate new techniques that are brought to the mat.

I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious. – Albert Einstein

Kaizen Academy also has a unique way of approaching it’s teaching techniques. Rather than approaching each move as a separate idea, we think of each discipline in terms of the principals behind it. One of the business owners and instructors, Ze, explains this better than I could:

“At the University of Pennsylvania, physicist and neuroscientist Danielle Bassett studies the brain with the aim of making us better, faster learners. 

One of her most interesting findings is that when learning a simple motor task, such as practicing a series of notes on “Guitar Hero”, connections between brain systems are initially active but as people master the task these systems gradually stop communicating. It turns out that people who can disengage these systems the fastest are also the fastest learners.

In fact, Danielle argues, the biggest impediment to learning is the brain’s executive system – the part of the brain that makes conscious decisions. The executive system is the last brain region to develop, which keeps us from deliberating too much when we’re young, making learning easier. As we get older, we tend to overthink things, making learning more difficult.

These findings seem to support what we believe at Kaizen regarding martial arts learning: detail is overrated and principles are king. If one teaches martial technique as a series of detailed steps, the brain’s executive system is constantly firing and trying to correctly remember and execute each step. If, instead, we provide a simple guiding principle or goal and show how techniques are derived from it, the brain doesn’t have to remember anything and can instead focus on the goal of the technique, producing the details from that goal. It follows from Danielle’s research that our goal with learning must be to disengage the connections between brain systems and use the executive systems as little as possible (this also seems analogous to the ideal of “flow” which is often described as unconscious mastery). t seems to us that thinking and practicing in terms of principles is the best way to achieve flow and martial mastery in the quickest way possible.

To borrow a metaphor from Ido Portal: “The principle approach is like a master key, it opens any door, while the opponent is fumbling around with a bunch of keys trying to find the right key for the door… Principles are much higher than techniques – they produce techniques instantly, whenever you need them.” 

Read the whole article if you’re interested in finding out more about Danielle’s research on learning.”

This is a totally unique way of approaching training and it has clicked really well with the way I learn. Remembering a billion steps is very difficult, but if one just has to remember a principle, say about space, or distance, then it becomes a lot easier to slot different techniques.



It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop. – Confucius. 

As for the future, it looks very promising. The gym is going from strength to strength with continued interest in the gym, the teaching, and the members therein. It’s a beautiful gym, with amazing people, and I’m really proud to say I train there.

Here’s to another fantastic year,



With thanks to all photographers who have captured all of these moments. 

Kaizen · Training

Training Tuesday: Fasten Your Seatbelts


So, it’s been a little while since I did one of these, so I thought I better get back into the habit. This week we’re looking at back control and specifically the seatbelt grip.

In BJJ the back is clearly the one of the most dominant positions. It’s worth four points under IBJJF rules. That it is a dominant position is especially true for smaller practitioners like me. If I manage to attain side control on someone, if they’re much bigger than me, whether they’re skilled or not, they can probably just sit up or bench press me off. I only weigh 52kg. For an 80kg+ guy, lifting me off them is not a particularly difficult issue. Yet, if I’m on their back, clearly the bench press is useless. Muscles are no use when somebody is clinging to your back like a monkey.

I’ve been told by all my instructors that I should seek the back at every opportunity, rather than anything where strength and weight could be a factor. So (just for the purpose of this blog), say that you’ve got to the back – what do you do once you’re there? And how do you stay there?

The key principal is to keep your hips in line with the other persons hips. All their escapes come from them manoeuvring out to the side, down or up, so that their hips are no longer in line with the person attacking the back. In doing this it makes it a lot easier to escape the position and to negate any submission attempts. So for the attacker to be able to progress to a submission, it’s important that their position is maintained long enough to be able to see it through.

One of the key ways of doing this is by maintaining the seatbelt grip.

So called the seatbelt because you’re effectively strapping yourself to your opponent like a seatbelt, one arm under theirs and one arm round their neck to meet in the middle. An over-under hug from the back if you like. Key point to the seatbelt is that your choking hand should be on the bottom of the grip to hide it from the defenders attempts to pull it down. Another key point is that your grip should be high with your elbows squeezing together. Clearly you can’t actually make your elbows meet ’cause your opponents body is in the way, but the tighter they are, the tougher it is to break the grip.

A lot of people say that the key to back control is the hooks on the legs, and yeah sure this is very important to complete control, but it is not impossible to stay on someone’s back without hooks, as long as the seatbelt is maintained. We have a drill that we do at Kaizen sometimes where upon getting the seatbelt grip the attacker tries to stay on the opponents back without the hooks. It’s surprising just how effective this is if the grip is tight and correct, and you follow your opponents hips with your own (manoeuvring your opponent to make the most of a back take is a whole ‘nother post).

The seatbelt grip isn’t everything, clearly, but it was amazing how much easier it became for me to stay on someone’s back once I’d figured out how to use it alongside the principal of hip alignment. Sometimes I still fall off if I lose my grip, or am too hasty attempting a submission, but my back control taking has certainly become a lot stronger since making minuscule adjustments to the way I fastened my seatbelt.

Until next time…



General · Saturday Spotlight

Saturday Spotlight: Emily Smyth


When and why did you start BJJ?

I started training in June 2015. I get asked why I started BJJ quite a lot and I don’t really have a good answer! I had fancied trying MMA/BJJ for a while before I started training, maybe because I’d seen MMA on TV and I had always loved play fighting. I waited until I could actually afford it – a.k.a. not a skint student – before I opted for BJJ over MMA. I thought it would be less awkward going to a BJJ class for the first time and not knowing anything, compared to going to MMA class and not knowing any stand up, wrestling or BJJ! I also thought it would be less physically traumatic – y’know, not getting punched in the head or anything like that!


Did you have any previous martial arts experience? What was it?

I did Muay Thai for about 6 months when I was 14, but stopped because I began playing a more football and rugby! I didn’t do any sport for about 7 years after leaving school, before I started BJJ.

What do you love about BJJ?

I like how hard it is – both mentally and physically – and the variety that comes with BJJ. I probably make it physically harder then it needs to be, but I can’t help sparring like I’m in the final of a competition! I also love how it developes strength, stamina, balance, co-ordination, flexibility and weight distribution. Mentally I love it because it’s such a technical sport. I’m always thinking over techniques or my lastest sparring session/comp – why did they catch me in they same submission three times in a row? Why does a move work on person X but it doesn’t on person Y? What’s that half guard sweep I forgot again? Which hand do I grab the sleeve with? Am I mixing up two sweeps again? I like how much variety there is in bjj (if I was just doing one move/technique all night, everyone would react different, I would have to alter the technique slightly for different body types, for just one move there is so much variety, and then there are so many moves and counter-moves from there).


Where do you train?

Enigma gym in Blackpool (which is part of Lucio Sergio BJJ lifestyle) under Paul Rice. It’s quite an experienced gym – there are probably  more black/brown/purple belts put togther than white belts. It’s also quite a laid back gym compared to some others (practitioners can wear any colour/type of gi; you don’t have to call him Professor Paul; we always have music on; sparring/yoga often continues after classes; we have a good laugh at training aswell- so if training hasn’t gone well at least I’ve had a laugh!) When I started I was the only female training there, now there’s two other women who train and two girls who have now started coming to the adults class!


What would you tell yourself when you first started BJJ?

How addictive it is and how much it would take over life and totally change my routine! And that it’s going to be a million times more testing than I ever imagined!

You’ve done quite a few fight camps/seminars, what were they like?

All very different (some have hotels, some are sleeping in the mats, some are one teacher, some have multiple, some are girls only, some are mixed). First one I went to was in Copenhagen, to womens only camp when I’d been training a few months. There was probably about 40 women there from all over Europe. A few of the sessions were split beginners and advanced and then we would do specific sparring in lightweight and heavyweight. These sessions were really good for me, as I am used to sparring with men most of the time so being able to practice with around 10 people of similar weight and ability was great!

Then I went to Chichester with Walter Barnes to train with Jack Magee (not really a camp though). Joined in the classes at Jacks gym ‘mad hatters’. Really enjoyed it down there because Jack taught a lot of different things to what I had seen before, (and as he’s very flexible, so some stuff that was good for me). Was nice to see some different stuff as I had just been doing the basics up to that point.

I lived in Cardiff for 6 weeks and trained at Rob Taylor’s (again not really a training camp). Was really good training down there, and there was a lot of girls to train and a lot of them were really into competing as well. Also good because could train at other gyms in CRA, and went to a Braulio Seminar and CRA Swansea which was really good.

I then went to Fighting Fit Girls Camp. This was good as it was local to me and I had the opportunity to try Judo, Muay Thai and MMA, as well as BJJ. I also recently went to Brighton Camp with Braulio and Daniel Strauss. They taught both a gi and no-gi seminar, all of which were very good! Also I had to attend a strength & conditioning session which ran way beyond the boundaries, to the usual exercises/warm ups we normally do at the gym. I just got back from training in Tenerife at Ben Poppletons gym, was really good. Spent most of the week looking at one particular concept – this was really good as it allowed it to sink in more, and gave me more confidence to try pulling it off. I first took part in a camp so I could train with other girls. I like to train with other girls as much as possible, mainly just because I have a lot fairer sparring matches against other girls. But after I’d done a few I started to like them because I enjoy training with people from different gyms (as I get to try my technique on someone who has been taught differently, and I get to meet other BJJ people). I also like experiencing different teachers (it means that I can learn different things and have things I already know and do explained from a different point of view).

You’ve rolled with Mackenzie Dern – tell me about that!

I was probably only about 3 months in, can’t really remember it!

Em with various World Champions… y’know, as you do.

How do you find competition?

I get sooooo nervous on the day of competitions, to the point where table staff, refs, other coaches have asked if I’m ok! I don’t really have a before comp routine (drilling, listening to music etc.), so I tend to just be walking/sat about getting nervous! Then as soon as I start sparring I feel fine, I think all of the nervousness comes out as aggression when I compete. Sometimes between fights I get nervous again, but not normally as bad as at first; probably because I’m exhausted at that point! I do really enjoy competing (if I didn’t I would have done as many since May) but I’m not sure how/why I enjoy them as spend most feeling sick with nerves! It’s also good for meeting other female competitors and seeing/catching up with BJJ people! I also like seeing my team mates compete.

Where would you like to see yourself, in terms of jiu-jitsu, in a year’s time?

In the next year I would like to do an IBJJF comp (and won gold!). I also want to learn to love the positions and techniques that I don’t like now.

Written by Emily Smyth

Edited by Bryony.

Until next time,