Well, after my first foray into BJJ, I went to another session, this time with a man that had trained with the legend Rickson Gracie himself. His name is Antonio but they refer to him as Tunicão (Not sure of the spelling) and he´s the head instructor at El Greco´s place in Campeche (Florianopolis). El Greco is actually a Greek man called Christophoros Constantinidis and the gym is located in Travessa de Benção 191 Campeche. The sexy outfit of mismatched gi trousers and top, along with the green belt was very kindly lent to me by Christophoros.
As it turns out, the instructor at the first place I went to try BJJ was a student of Antonio. The experience here was of a different order. Christophoros is much smaller than I am, and it´s his gym, but he immediatelly took to showing me some techniques with enthusiasm and an attitude that frankly I have not encountered outside of our own gym in London yet.
There was absolutely no ego here, just the wish of honest warriors trading information and friendship through the medium of martial arts. Christophoros allowed me to practice techniques with him and when I asked him to please be a little more forceful so I could experience the locks properly, he went on to demonstrate the efficacy of the various arm locks he was teaching me.
Later, Antonio offered to spar a bit with me and I of course jumped at the chance. Antonio is 57 and I am 41, apparently from the picture at the top of this post, he looks roughly my height although I am sure he is a little heavier than me, but this is a trick of the light, I assure you. Wrestling with him it is clear he is actually 20 years of age, 4 metres in height and weighs about 300kg, and is composed of flexible steel.
I am of course no Ju-jitsu expert and wrestling is my worst skill, still I had been at least able to escape and occassionally do a lock of my own with other Ju-jitsuka, here the expereince was markedly different. I could literally sense that Antonio was always 3 or 4 moves ahead of me is not 5 or 10. While I struggled to get out from under him or avoid him locking me up in some way, he was exerting minimal effort at all times. I think I may have managed to partially escape once or so, but even here, it is hard to say if I really did, or if he allowed it. I also tried to put on one of the few locks I know on his ankle, something I had been able to use successfully in the previous training, but I could not get it on. It was this maybe that evidenced his skill more than anything else. The reason I could not put the lock on was always due to an infinitesimally small movement on his part, that nevertheless placed him in complete safety. And of course at the same time also began to put me in trouble positionally.
Overall the experience was quite amazing. Afterwards Antonio, being kind, said he was tired today and was not giving me any opportunity to do anything. In reality, it´s not like I could have done much to him at all, the man is clearly an expert. I recognised also several similarities in the advanced BJJ practitioners with the principle of Systema of remaining calm and continuing to use your mind. Overall, as Uldis always says…there is no such thing as two martial arts…there is only what works and what doesn´t work.
I did not get a chance to go back to El Greco´s due to my wedding and so on, which went so well it was beyond perfect (another post on that soon), but I will definitely be back there one day. The guys in that gym exemplified better than probably any gym I have ever trained in, the attitude I love best about martial arts. They welcomed a pair of total strangers in their midst as though we were old friends, invited us to their grading ceremony the next day, and behaved with us in an exemplary manner. The total openness and absence of ego is one feature I specifically like about BJJ and I also think it is quite peculiar to the Brazilian way of life in general, which I also love.
Brazil in general seems to me to be one of the most ideal countries I have ever visited and the attitude of happiness, friendship and openness of the people is without doubt its crowning feature.
Returning to BJJ vs Systema for a minute, I still think that Systema principles could probably be applied a little more to BJJ in order to improve the fluidity of the movements, but short of an expert Systema practitioner, I think most BJJ guys will be a very hard match for most other martial artists once the fight goes to ground (which is a very common occurrence in real fights). Ultimately I would say the “weakness” of Systema against a BJJ expert would be the fact that certain techniques could be applied, that due to lack of experience in working with them, could be placed on the Systema guy faster than he can get out of them. BJJ also tends to teach people to be faster at changing their whole body position in a very short time, something that as Systema practitioners we probably do not practice enough.
Putting the shoe on the other foot, I think the main BJJ “weakness” against a Systema practitioner is their lack of experience and practice at unorthodox and realistic things like strikes, and other “dirty tricks” which are normal for us while wrestling. I also think the prescribed techniques are easier for a Systema person to avoid if he is good enough to have developed his sensing of positioning and intention, specifically in a grappling context. Lastly I would say that Systema training probably develops more opportunities for dynamic breaks to be applied, though this type of activity is difficult to train for, regardless of style, as it´s quite dangerous.
The experience of trying BJJ has also taught me that a certain level of technique is required but, as I said before, this can be limited to a few examples before the technique is developed individually by the student, which incidentally is exactly how the guys at El Greco´s train.
My deepest thanks to everyone at El Greco´s place, and if any of them are ever in London, they are all welcome to come and train with us too. My thanks too to Jonathan, who I met at the first Ju-jitsu place and who took me along to El Greco´s. Jonathan is also a professional photographer and you can see his site here.
Lastly, a Wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all. I am back in São Paolo today but off on my honeymoon soon. I have plenty of blogging material and pictures for the next few months, so expect updates on the galleries as well in due course.