Beyond BJJ

On Doing Things Alone


Okay, so this post isn’t related to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I decided that I sometimes wanted to write about things other than my direct experience on the mats at Kaizen Academy, so rather than starting another a blog, I thought I’d have a sub-section here.

This is about doing things on your own. In case the title didn’t give that away!

Sometimes it’s quite scary to lay one’s thoughts and feelings out in the open. It’s strange that I have no problem talking about my mental health, either in person or to strangers on the internet, but when talking about my personal life, it gets difficult.

Basically, I had to learn to do a lot of things on my own. I’ve never really been one for having a long term partner. Possibly I have too-high standards, or I’m too-high maintenance or whatever. Whatever it is, no relationship or flirtation I’ve had has ever managed to stick around for long. This often leads to wondering what went wrong/how I could’ve been different etc. etc. That’s a dark and lonely path, one that I have absolutely no desire to walk. It was easier to get lost on that path before I found BJJ and it gave me the focus and level-headed approach that I feel I have today.

So to the main point – I learnt to do things on my own, and more importantly, to enjoy it.

At first it was scary as fuck.

I remember the first time I went to dinner by myself. It was more out of necessity than thought; I was at a history conference in York by myself and the B&B I was staying in didn’t serve dinner. So it was either go out, or starve for the evening. I chose to go out. I suppose it was a better introduction to eating alone than most. At least York was a city that I knew, having lived near here for nearly a decade. I found an Italian restaurant and asked for a table for “just me”. I remember the waiter looking at me a little askance. Everybody in here so far was here in pairs, or in groups. It was clearly a little odd to sit alone. I think it’s even worse if you’re a woman alone. I think it was actually Ron who said it in Harry Potter regarding the Yule Ball: “It’s bad enough for a bloke to go alone, but for a girl it’s just sad”. It’s difficult to overcome what is “expected” sometimes.

At first I was really nervous; convinced that everyone in the place was looking at me, thinking sadwhat a loser, or the such like. I soon realised that this was not the case and I relaxed. I ended up having a great evening. I had an amazing book I was reading, the food was delicious, the wine was lovely, and even had dessert. I had nobody rushing me, or demanding that I entertain them (even sub-consciously). I was able to do what I liked. It was delightful.

After that experience I realised that doing things on your own really isn’t that scary, and that it gives you a freedom to explore things on your own terms. I think we’re so conditioned in society to feel like we must be paired up, that when you’re alone there’s something wrong, or you’re out of place.

So since then I’ve traveled alone, been to the cinema alone and been out to dinner a couple of times. The time I went to the cinema I had the whole place to myself. It was a 100 seater theatre and I was the only one in it. It was great!

It’s always an interesting thing to do, to do things alone, and I find I’m often more absorbed in what I’m doing than when I’m with other people. I guess what I’m trying to say is, that whilst of course it’s great to go out with others, and I love doing that too, spending time on one’s own shouldn’t be seen as a nightmare. It’s difficult at first, because self-consciousness and anxiety can creep up on you, but once you’ve broken through that barrier, doing things completely by yourself can be amazingly liberating.

Until next time,



Kaizen · Training

Mind. Blown.


There was something that my coaches and fellow practitioners spoke about when I first started doing jiu-jitsu – they spoke about the fact that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu would blow my mind.

At first I had no idea what they meant. How could a sport do that? You don’t really hear about hockey players having their mind blown by some new tackling move.

Then it happened to me. I think it’s the moment where all the principal based teaching at Kaizen started to come together and began to open up a myriad of possibilities as to what I could do with my jiu-jitsu. I started to see moves and opportunities everywhere, and now at least 4 out of 5 times I step onto the mats at Kaizen something new is revealed to me; some new technique or possibility that hadn’t thought of before.


I was discussing this with Ze the other day, and also about the difficulty of conveying what this phenomenon is, and just how it happens. People who don’t do BJJ sometimes struggle to comprehend what I’m talking about. I think it comes from the fact that the instructors are just so involved with what they’re teaching. Not a day goes by when I don’t see Michael sitting in the lounge watching some jiu-jitsu video, or on the mats testing out some new theory or other. Each of the instructors is devoted to understanding the academic and scholastic approaches to their art, not just to being able to execute a move in a monkey see, monkey do kind of way. Not only this, but it also comes from the way that the principals are explained to the students, so that once the principal is understood, lots of different opportunities are available.

Ze described it well once, but I’d like to expand on his analogy. Imagine Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a corridor with a million and more doors. What Kaizen Academy does is hand you the master key, and show you how to adapt it, so you can open up hundreds of thousands of doors in one fell swoop as long as you understand how it works. This is in comparison to some other teaching techniques which would see you crafting the key to each door individually. This is what I mean when I say my mind is blown. It’ll be because the move I’ve just witnessed and understood has allowed me to open another hundred thousand doors.

Hope that made sense…

Until next time,



 With thanks to Laura Jenney Photography for the image.


Playing The Blues



Members of Kaizen Academy gathered together at the weekend to celebrate the first anniversary of the gym. There was live music, dancing, light-up poi, and some speeches to celebrate how awesome this place is and how far we’ve all come in a year. I even got to make one!

What was slightly unexpected, however, although very deserved was what happened during BJJ Coach Michael Wood’s speech…


The belt in his hand is probs a giveaway.


First up to be awarded his very well deserved blue belt was Joe Butler. Joe recently smashed through his gi division of fifteen(!) at North West Open to take gold, and only missed out on gold in the no-gi division because he managed to take a knee to the goolies and had to spend the rest of the match trying not to die. In the end he took away bronze. He’s now hoping that he’ll have less people to fight, but that the matches will make him work that extra bit harder.


Joe getting his blue belt!

Joe wasn’t the only one to be awarded his blue belt on Saturday night, with the second one of the evening going to Thomas Ngai. As Michael said when giving it to him, he probably should have had it a long time ago! Tom won the Hong Kong Open in the gi in 2015, and his technique and game has been making leaps and bounds ever since.


Tom with his new (recycled actually) blue belt.

I reckon this is just the start of a blue belt flood. So many people have made such ridiculous gains this year, taking their technique to new levels, bringing new things to the game. Many of the members are so invested in this sport and are getting so so good as a result. Here’s to many more promotions and well deserved recognition. I’m not going to say who I think the next ones are going to be, but I’ve got my betting money on our resident foot locker, and our flying armbar machine…


Until next time,






With thanks to Laura Jenney photography for capturing these.


An Alphabet of BJJ · General

K Is For Kimono: An Alphabet of BJJ


Okay, so most people don’t actually call it a Kimono, but I already used the letter ‘G’ so Kimono will have to suffice. So, this article will be talking about the gi, or rather discussing the two sides of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; gi vs no-gi.  There are a lot of articles out there regarding the subject, and the (supposedly) manifold differences between the two. I disagree that they are totally at odds with each other. Quelle surprise.

I mean sure, there are differences between BJJ when done in the gi and when done without, but to hear some people talk about it would almost be to suggest that it was two different sports. This is something that has always been denied at Kaizen Academy. This is due to the fact that the style of teaching is principal based, rather than technique based. Therefore, whether or not you’ve got a jacket and pants on simply adds different nuances to the principal, rather than completely changing the game. There is a gi culture growing a bit at Kaizen, mostly thanks to Michael’s efforts. When the gi classes first started about five people would show up, now there’s at least fifteen to twenty regulars who don the pyjamas.

Some practitioners won’t practice in the gi, and others won’t ever take it off, saying that they “don’t do” that side of the sport. This doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me. They’re two halves of a whole. I mean, sure, have a preference if you must, but to completely disregard one side seems nonsensical. To me it seems like a split in the road, but the two paths run parallel to each other; you can see one path from the other, and they both lead to the same destination. You can cross between them at will, but one might offer slightly different scenery in points than the other. There are some people who train BJJ who go as far to say that if you don’t train in the gi then you shouldn’t be allowed to level up (in terms of belts). To me that is utter trash. Some of the best practitioners I know rarely train in the gi (although I have seen it from time to time), and I’m always blown away by their jiu-jitsu and their approach to the sport.

This post could be immensely long – discussing the fact that there are different guards that have strengths and weaknesses in gi and no-gi, and all the nuances therein. That’s not the point of this post and I would be ill equipped to discuss most of it anyway seeing as I have just dipped my toe into the world of jiu-jitsu.

I’ll admit, when I first started BJJ, the idea of putting on a gi seemed a long way off for me. I came from a more MMA based/grappling style of training, so therefore (other than a brief foray into Judo) had never worn the gi to train in before. I avoided it at first, doing the odd class here and there, but not really taking it seriously. I wore my old Judo gi to train in, but the sleeves were too short and the material too thick to be properly appropriate for BJJ. Eventually I bought my own gi; the honey badger black one from Tatami, and started to take gi training more seriously. I found that actually I quite enjoyed it, and that contrary to my earlier beliefs, it wasn’t so different from what I’d already been doing. The main downside was (and still is) the fact that it gets so hot!

As a smaller person there are some advantages (I’ve found so far) to training in the gi which you don’t necessarily get without. One is that I can hold onto my partner. Obviously this is one of the biggest differences between the two. I hear so much talk about grips that I think I have the word imprinted on my brain. Don’t get me wrong, grips are useful (especially when your opponent is trying a sneaky backstep from half guard!), but they’re not the be all and end all. Some practitioners get so freaked out if they don’t have their grips that the rest of their technique goes out the window. Our coach is damn good at addressing grips, so if someone rolling with him thinks grips > technique they quickly get corrected!

I will continue to train both, and enjoy both, and probably switch from having a slight preference in one or the other depending on what I’m doing at the time. At the moment my preference is lying with no gi because I’m making strides in that recently. In a couple of weeks I’ll probably be raving at a new thing I was doing in the gi. Who knows? I tend to do better in competition in no gi as well, and have been competing without the gi for longer. I fully intend to do both as often as I can next year though.

So, which do you prefer? Or do you approach them both with the same attitude?

Until next time,