Saturday Spotlight

Spotlight Saturday: Samantha Oram



  1. When and why did you start BJJ?

I started jiujitsu on the 6th of January 2016 and it was totally a random decision to start BJJ. I was always asked to start by one of the girls on the team (Sara), who has been there since the class started, but I never thought I would ever stick to it. This is especially true with the gym being about an 40 minute long car journey; but the journey seems to get shorter and shorter every time I drive there!

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

I had no other martial art experience whatsoever, apart from my boyfriend being a high level MMA fighter. I had watched lots of MMA fights with him, and had the odd play fight when he gets annoying! When I was younger I used to do dancing, and lots of horse riding I used to own my own horse, but other than that, no other sporting/martial arts experience.

3. What do you love about BJJ?

I love everything about BJJ, it is so interesting and confusing at the same time, but the thing I love the most has to be competing.

4. Where do you train? Tell me about your gym/training partners. What makes it special?

I train at The Dungeon BJJ and MMA academy. It is in my opinion the best gym in the U.K and the results from everyone on the team prove it. They are 3 gyms altogether, but the main gym is based in Sunderland. The other two gyms are based in Thornaby and Consett. The head coaches are Aaron Naisbet and Sean Colfer, who are both black belts. Even though there are 3 gyms at 3 locations, we are all one big gym/family.

My training partners are mostly all female; we have a huge and successful ladies team based in Sunderland, with 10 ladies in total. We all have such a great bond together and always so supportive towards each other in everything we do. 8 out of 10 of us have competed and done amazingly well, especially Rebecca Purvis who is only 15. She competed against a girl of a higher belt, and won gold and silver at the Europeans last month. There’s also Sara Colfer who is the first female from our team to medal in an IBJJF competition, coming away with a silver after some very tough fights against highly skilled girls. I am proud of everyone in my team and so happy to have them all as training partners.


5. What would you tell yourself when you first started BJJ?

This is such a hard question! I would tell myself that you will find weird shape bruises in the strangest places haha! But seriously I would tell myself it is the best thing you would ever do and you will not look back!

6. What has been the hardest part of training BJJ for you?

Having a full time job is the hardest part because all I want to do is train! I recently changed jobs so I could train more regularly and get into a routine, as my old job I used have to work weekends and some days until 8pm, which meant I had to miss a night of training, whereas my new job is monday-friday 9-5. This means free weekends – more competitions waaahhooo!!!!

7. Have you competed? What do you like/hate about it?

I competed in my first competition on the 8th of May 2016 which was Versus Grappling in Newcastle and I loved it, I was sooooo excited! I love everything about competing, I never get nervous which I find strange as it is such a physical sport. I always get so excited to compete, from the moment I find a competition I can do, to the moment you slap hands on the mat.


8. What was the best BJJ-related memory from 2016?

I have lots of great memories this year, my highlights are when I got my first stripe in May at the Leon Amancio seminar at our gym; winning my first gold at the Blackpool Open; competing in the IBJJF; receiving my second stripe on the 14th of December, and being sponsored by Vicky Lynch of Additional Lengths Hair Extensions who helps me towards all my competitions. I wouldn’t be able to compete so much if it wasn’t for her help you will see me wearing ‘remi-catchet’ patches in the upcoming competitions representing her business.


9. Do you prefer gi or no-gi?

I prefer no-gi as I find it a lot easier for some reason I feel like I can move a lot more and a lot faster than I can in the GI! I always seem to do better in no GI at competitions which I find strange as we don’t have a no GI class for the ladies at my gym, the only time I get to do no GI is at open mat! I do love GI as though! It’s all great.

10. Is it hard being a female BJJ practitioner? Is there some things that you think are different to your male teammates?

I do think it can be hard for females, as I don’t think they get as much respect as males. For example I got a load of rubbish from a ref at my 3rd comp, at Empire, he mocked me losing my match, and he mocked my team mate for wanting to get a picture on her phone. That can put a girl off competing, and I can’t imagine him saying that to a male competitor! Males also have more weight classes and better prizes, but I have to say the BJJ competition’s are slowly growing for the women it be interesting to see what 2017 brings for us ladies!


11. What are your goals for 2017? Do you plan to compete?

My goals for 2017 are to do as many competitions as possible, and to do the absolutes as I have never done one before! I also want to get better in the GI at comps.

12. Take down or guard pull?

I don’t actually have a preference I just go with the flow, sometimes I might pull guard sometimes I might try for a takedown. I just wait and see what the other person gives me and react from that.


13. Where would you like to see yourself, in terms of jiu-jitsu, in a years time?

In a years time I would like to see myself competing in a couple of international competitions, going around the world meeting new people, attending one of Mackenzie Derns seminars, and I would also love to do the female bjj camps in Amsterdam.

Written by Samantha Oram,

Edited by Bryony.

Until next time,


Saturday Spotlight

Saturday Spotlight: Joe Butler



  1. How and why did you start BJJ?

I couldn’t find anywhere to wrestle in Lancaster, so decided to start BJJ! After a couple of years wrestling in Manchester while at uni there, (minus some time where I broke my leg after a dicky takedown), I was hooked on grappling. I was aware of BJJ through watching the UFC and having a few friends who were competing in MMA, however, I didn’t really know about submissions, or that whole side of the game that unfolds on the ground.

After university, I moved back to Lancaster, and there was about a year where I was doing no martial arts, just lifting and running, Then I discovered that Kieran [O’Brien, Kaizen co-founder], was putting on some MMA classes at Lancaster University Sports Centre, and out of boredom and a desire to fight, got involved. Shortly after that Kaizen begun, and I’ve been training BJJ exclusively ever since!


Joe at his old wrestling gym.
  1. What has BJJ come to mean for you since you started?

After starting with nothing but good fitness and the positional control that comes from wrestling, I’ve fallen in love with BJJ! Any kind of fighting/training to fight is fun, but the prolonged, smothering wars of attrition and limb chess just suits me down to a T. I enjoy it much more at this point, being good enough now to really experiment with no ego and string together far more stuff on the ground.


  1. How do you think it’s changed you (if it has)?

I’m aware, more than ever, of the huge distance in front of me in this BJJ journey. I’m excited about meeting people far ahead down that road, which, if anything, has been extremely humbling.


  1. What advice would you give yourself a year ago, if you could?

Experiment more, risk letting yourself get tapped in rolls more. Casual rolls are exactly when you should be out of your A game, testing new things, and getting beat all the time before you master it.


  1. Tell me about your gym/teammates

I train at Kaizen Academy, Lancaster. It’s a great group of people and a great atmosphere. There’s some people I’ve been growing with since I begun, who I compete alongside and have risen with together, each of whom provide a unique aspect as a training partner. I can always count on having rolling partners on my level, and those who are both more and less experienced. On top of that Michael Wood, our head BJJ coach, is pretty much everything I could ask for in a trainer; his extremely logical, almost video game like approach to BJJ, is something I really feel like I thrive under. Also, I guess like everyone who does BJJ for long enough the gym becomes a social hub too!


  1. What have been you best/proudest achievements to date?

Being one of the first “Kaizen” blue belts after a year obviously! Every competition gold… Not vomiting and quitting after getting kneed in the balls in the no-gi for the BJJ 24/7 NW Open, and then going on to get gold in the Gi!

Oh, and cutting my hair.

Joe winning gold at the NW Open
  1. You just got promoted to blue belt, talk about what that feels like.

It’s just a refocusing basically. This is the path I’m on, no doubt anymore. Time to think ahead and plan accordingly, work on new areas.


  1. What aspect of your game is the best?

Top pressure, guard passing. Things I learnt in my wrestling days and use to my advantage.

  1. What aspect do you need to work on?

Guard, leg stuff. I even pull guard now, something I would never have dreamed of a few months ago!

  1. Where do you want to be in a year’s time re: BJJ?

I want to have a series of wins under my belt (pun firmly intended) at blue.

  1. What’s your favourite sub/guard/sweep?

Sub: Americana

Guard: Butterfly-Half

Sweep: X-Guard

  1. Have you been to any seminars/other gyms?

I dabbled around some MMA gyms in Manchester for a little bit, and went to a couple of different classes here and there. I even trained for a few weeks in London while working the bar at a festival, under a really chill Brazilian black belt doing a class at a nearby gym. I’ve trained in some nice, friendly places, and in some more egotistical, stereotypical, “MMA douchebag” type places. Nowhere really has had the sheer breadth of experience and knowledge that I’ve found at Kaizen though.

  1. Gi or no-gi?

Probably no-gi, coming from a wrestling background, but Gi has really been growing on me lately. Lasso guard is pretty decent and I like me some bow and arrow chokes.

Joe training in the Gi
  1. What are you hoping to accomplish in the next calendar year?

Grow my hair back!

I want to move down a weight category so get down to 73.5kg. It would also be sweet to dominate some blue belt comps like I have white.


Written by Joe Butler,

Edited by Bryony.

With thanks to Laura Jenney Photography, James Karlsen-Davies, and others for the photographs.

Until next time,



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,




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. 

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,