Friday, June 19, 2009


A couple of nights ago I was finally able to make it out to Kota Damansara where Marcos Escobar, a 2nd Degree Black Belt with Check Mat, runs a BJJ class. Finding the place was no problem, and parking was plentiful as by 9pm most of the tenants there have long since left for home.

Right as soon as I was about to lock my car up I noticed Roy, who was one of the first guys I ever trained with and who was himself getting his stuff ready for class. It was great to see him again, it must have been 2 years since the last time we rolled. I also saw a bunch of friendly faces while I was waiting for the class. Aaron, Eugene and a few of the other guys who went to Manila were there, among others.

Marcos took us through a great warmup, as well as a really nice guard drill before finishing up with a transition to kneeride and choke. It was all excellent food for thought and I enjoyed it. Rolling after the class was also very fun. I got to go with the blues in the class, as well as Marcos himself, who was very open and friendly.

I would like to say this about the guy: I've met Black Belts who talk a good game and put forward this image of themselves as laid-back avant-garde hippies, but when they roll and don't get their way with lower belts, will invariably end up kicking it into high gear and throwing everything but the kitchen sink at their hapless target.

Marcos is not one of those guys, and in fact I had a tremendous amount of fun rolling with the guy. I got hit with an armbar that was so smooth I didn't even realise it was on the way until it was too late. So right there I picked up one more thing to watch out for.

I really liked that there were so many familiar faces in the class, and it helped me feel immediately at ease. I look forward to the next time I get to go train there!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


1. They only really cared about you videotaping matches on the final day. I saw a lot of people break out their video cameras and tape black belt matches on Saturday, and nobody cared. It was only on the day of the finals that they started searching bags. I did not video any matches after Thursday (the only day that it was officially allowed), partly because I didn't want to have my camera taken away or something, but I was also still wallowing in righteous indignation.

2. If you're there with friends, excellent. But if you're there on your own, don't bring more than 1 bag, the room is just too huge and you won't be able to keep an eye on your stuff the whole time. Also, if you have to go to the bathroom or buy some food (see next) you will have to lug your stuff everywhere with you.

2a. Travel as light as possible. Leave extra space in your bag for food, maybe an extra T-shirt and maybe a couple of DVDs that you may or may not (you know, inevitably) purchase.

3. Buy extra food and water in advance. You don't want to be starving but afraid to leave your seat. This scenario will usually take place in addition to one of the following circumstances: either there's nobody in line at the concession stands but there's a hugely important match coming up, or there's a lull in the action and everybody wants to get a hot dog. Buy extra food in advance. Bring your own water though.

(note: the hot dogs at the Walter Pyramid were in my opinion incredibly good, I didn't try the pizza though)

3a. If you're interested not in the regular food, but the açaí, then you don't have to worry, as the stand for that should be located in an area with a good view of the mats. They may change the location for next year but I honestly don't see why they would, as it made it so much easier for them to sell their product. Which was fantastic.

4. Bring a bit of extra cash but leave the credit card at home. If you're anything like me you simply won't be able to walk past the DVDs and not "have a look", no matter how many times you do so.

5. Are you competing? Get there early on your first day. If you do not, then the line to collect your competitor T-shirt may take 30-60 minutes to get through. Why? I don't know, it seems like it's pretty straightforward: say hello, tell them who you are and show your ID, collect your stuff and go away. Someone will always manage to drag this process out for several minutes.

6. If you are a competitor but you only see action on some of the days, you will be able to enter as a spectator for free (normal spectator fee is $10), which is nice - just go through the athletes entrance, EXCEPT on the day of the finals. Be aware that on the last day everyone except black belt competitors has to pay a $15 entrance fee. I was a bit shocked at this. I understand why they did it, which still doesn't make it OK, but whatever.

7. Bring an iPod. Mundials competition is a huge game of "hurry up and wait", and trust me, the waiting you have to do will be excruciating. It's MUCH better with friends around but it's nothing short of torture if you have nobody to talk to.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


The last 2 days of the Mundials were crazy, with loads of awesome matches to be seen. I didn’t stay the whole day on Saturday, and had to leave before Kron Gracie and Marcelo Garcia had their matches, but I did get to watch Braulio Estima and Roger Gracie in their absolute matches.

On the Sunday I got there in time to catch Cobrinha’s first match. Later that day I met up again with the Factory BJJ team, as well as fellow CMD trainer, Cecil Burch! It was excellent to meet him finally, and he struck me as being a great guy. I hung around until just after the last matches of the day then left for the airport.

So here’s a bunch of random thoughts from the competition:

I was really struck by the sheer scale of the Mundials. When they say “world championships” they mean it. It’s crazy how big this competition is. ESPECIALLY for a guy from South-East Asia. I’m used to having 3 to 4 guys in my division. Everything wraps up nicely in a day and you can stay to watch every last match. And if you’ve been to maybe 2 of them, you already know at least half the people there. Now, the Mundials, unless you don’t care at all about life outside BJJ, it’s just about impossible to watch everyone’s division. It’s exhausting, really…in a good way, but still. It would be so easy to burn out from 4 solid days of BJJ, 9 to 12 hours each.

Roger and Braulio were easily, for me, the definite highlight of the whole Mundials. I saw loads of people play for points and then stall to the end so it was both really satisfying and really inspiring to see people go out and actually submit their opponents. As far as the matches I watched, that is to say, as many as possible, Roger tapped everyone out and Braulio won all his matches by submission except his division final.

Braulio Estima has, in my opinion, the single coolest name in all of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, rated higher than even “Cobrinha” on the grounds that it’s his actual name.

My favourite match of the competition was probably Roger Gracie v. Rafael Lovato. This one was pretty amazing to see; almost no other match (Cobrinha v. Rafael Mendes and Kron Gracie v. Lucas Leite were probably the others) that I watched had as many people in the audience more pumped up to watch. For me, this match wins out because it’s the only one that ended with a submission instead of points or referee decision.

Gilbert Burns, after winning a match on Saturday, decides to taunt the losing player’s team, by doing the little Atos victory dance – 2 slashing motions and a stabbing motion with an imaginary sword (the Atos crest is a sword and shield) – in their direction. Normally that sort of thing is just being a poor winner. But when the team you decide to flip off is Alliance, people will start wondering if you’ve lost your marbles. The whole Alliance team was singing chants at him for maybe a few minutes, it was awesome. Not the greatest exercise in public relations but really fun to watch.

Gui Mendes, after winning his division final, also decides to do the little Atos dance and use it to cheese off the Alliance bench. The only thing was his opponent (Samuel Braga) was from Gracie Barra. Then, after the match (more below) he goes and celebrates with the Barra team, which at that point was sitting right next to Alliance.

Samuel Braga, after being (IMHO) ruthlessly and blatantly stalled out by Gui Mendes, decides to shove Gui and get in his face. Yes, what happened to him in that match was really frustrating, but he lost any sympathy the crowd had for him. The organizers also weren’t impressed, and DQ’ed him, stating that “there will be no 2nd place in this division”.

After Michael Langhi won his division final match, against Gilbert Burns no less, Sergio Moraes runs on to the mat and does the Atos JJ dance at Langhi, whose response was to get his hands in a machine gun motion and riddle Moraes, who falls over flat, with scores of imaginary bullets. Just about everyone in the room went crazy for that. Makes you wonder how long they were waiting to do that.

After Sergio Moraes won his division semi-final and Romulo Barral won his division final, they spent time to give their opponents respect. They got their team to cheer and/or sing to honour the loser, which I thought was really classy.

I get there on Saturday and find a spot on the bleachers. After a minute I notice a guy sitting a few seats away. I’m thinking “hey, that guy looks just like Xande Ribeiro. Can’t be him though, he’s way too huge.” And then I notice he’s wearing a “University of Jiu-Jitsu” shirt and he’s talking to Saulo. What? He looks a lot skinnier on Youtube.

My vote for the best team would probably go to Alliance. Not because of any success on the mats, but because of the tremendous support they gave their players, it was nothing short of amazing. Fabio Gurgel was always there to lead the team in chants and songs. They were easily and by far the most vocal bunch of supporters – every time they won a big match, everybody in the room knew about it. They also had a huge flag bearing the team logo and waved it every chance they got. I wish every team was as supportive of their guys as Alliance.

For much of the time I really enjoyed the location of my seat, which was on the side with the bulk of the Barra supporters. The guys I was most there to watch were Roger and Braulio so this meant everyone near me was also cheering for them. A bonus to this was that it was the best possible place to watch the Alliance team go crazy.

After Rafael Lovato lost in his division I saw him sitting by himself. I could feel the anguish and frustration from all the way in the stands. He didn’t break down or anything, he was just really quiet. Some guys will lose it right on the mats and I’ll feel bad for them. Rafael sat there by himself and it was heartbreaking. Royler walked up to him, patted him on the shoulder and walked away without saying anything. I would not even try to compare my disappointment to his, and it gave me some valuable perspective.

There was another moment of silence on Sunday to honour Helio Gracie. The whole building went dead silent and for just a minute, we were all family members at a belated wake. They played a video of his life and you could see all these world-class BJJ players looking up at Helio. “What? No I just have some dirt in my eye.”

Marcelo Garcia is still incredible.

The Budo Videos guys were really cool as well, and really helped me out. I needed to get some stuff that they didn’t have available at the competition so they brought it over from their store (which I also went to, it’s a bit small but very impressive…just costs a lot to cab there from downtown Long Beach).

Cobrinha won his division semi-final and final matches by referee decision. I know that these matches are really close but I did feel just a bit unsatisfied. Not just as a spectator but I can only imagine the sense of injustice felt by the “loser”. It happened a whole lot of times that the score would finish perfectly tied, and the referees would pick the winner. The thing I found a bit awkward is that both players would always raise their hands and act like they already won.

At the Budo Videos booth looking to buy some dvds, the guy I’m talking to asks me to hold on a sec. He says to someone behind me, “hey, Rickson”. I’m thinking, “ehh?” I turn my head to the left and sure enough, Rickson Gracie is standing right there. I did a pretty good job of being cool, but what I really wanted to do was scream, ask him for an autograph and a photo and then have a heart attack.

Demian Maia and BJ Penn were there to check the competition out. That was pretty cool to see.

My favourite personality at the competition was the announcer on Thursday, no idea who he is. He was a big guy and whenever someone didn’t show up on time and missed the warnings, the whole room would hear something to the effect of, “(NAME), you are NOW oFFICially DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE KEWWWWWWWWWWWWWW” in this awesome bass voice. It was brutal. Sometimes he would do it in a southern drawl. It got to the point where some audience members would sing along.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Thursday June 4: Woke up to some abysmal weather, especially considering we were in Southern California. Took a cab and got to the Walter Pyramid around 10.30 or so in the morning. Spent some time getting used to the place and such, checked out the merchandise booths.

I managed to catch up with Adam Adshead and the Factory BJJ guys and chatted with them for a bit. It was good to meet them. Didn't see anyone else I knew well enough to just go up to and say hi, but I definitely saw some recognizable people.

Around a half hour or so before my division's scheduled start time I went down to the holding area to get warmed up. John from Factory BJJ was in my division and we passed a bit of the time chatting, but he got called up first at I don't know, maybe half past 2.

I was there for a good while before my name got called. I don't know how long, but it felt like forever. Then when my name did get called, it felt like another eternity (I was told later it was around 40 minutes or so) before I even had my gi checked.

Match 1: v. Omar Rashid, from Rick Young's Blackbelt Academy

The match started with us working for sleeve grips. He jumps guard and right away starts to look for a cross lapel choke. He doesn't get it (though the scrapes on my face are still evident some 12 hours later) and I go for an Ezequiel. He doesn't let me get it, and keeps me pushed away. He keeps working for a sweep by trying to underhook my leg, but I use the opportunity to underhook his head and go for a choke.

After a few minutes of this, the referee stands us both up, gives each of us an advantage (for stalling, apparently, I'm not sure how this works) and makes us go again. He jumps guard though and it's the same thing over again, albeit this time he's got a bit more urgency about his game.

I don't let him get anything, he tries a couple of sweeps (from the same underhook setup) but I base out. I'm trying to pop his legs open to pass his guard but I guess I left a hole open so he jumps in and goes for a triangle. He cinches it in, but I'm nowhere close to tapping. However, my best guess is that the Mundial-brand adrenaline was pumping, because I just couldn't break his legs open. Time gets called and the referee awards him an advantage for the triangle.

Result: LOSS VIA POINTS: Me - 0 points, 1 advantage. Omar: 0 points, 2 advantages.

It was a bit of a surprise, as I really didn't think we were taking that much time. I thought I still had maybe another minute to get things done. I shook hands with him and we thanked each other. He seems like a nice guy.

I don't feel like I was very affected by the atmosphere. Once we touched hands, it was like I forgot where I was and it was just the two of us. Having said that, I was surprised by all the faces I could make out. Robert Drysdale was walking around, Marcelo Garcia was sitting a few rows behind me and I could swear I saw Saulo Ribeiro there. While waiting for my match, I saw Leo Vieira and Lucas Leite chatting to some competitors.

So for me, yes the experience was quite surreal, but as far as the actual Jiu-Jitsu part, I don't think I let it get to me. I went in with a strategy and maybe I was too rigid in following it, whatever, it didn't pay off. Full credit to Omar, who played his game, stopped me from playing mine, and got the win fairly.

While it was an extremely disappointing way to lose - the worst part was that I was still fresh, and had to go home without even sweating - I'm trying to take as many positives from this as I can. Don't get me wrong, this is pretty hard to swallow, but judging from the sheer amount of what-if-20-20-hindsight-coulda-shoulda-woulda scenarios running through my head, I definitely have a list of things to analyse and to work on.

I'm so very thankful to God that I even got the chance to be here, to see what it was like at this level of competition (even if it was only for six minutes) and that I have such an amazing wife and family, who have fully supported my crazy globe-trotting BJJ adventures. They know I'm not done yet and they don't care.

I'll be taking Friday off, before heading back to catch all the black belt action on Saturday and Sunday.

When I get home I think I'll be giving my BJJ mind a good rest, during which time I look forward to occupying my Dungeons & Dragons mind. Next competition stop: Bangkok!

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Posted: Wednesday June 3, 11.45 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. My division is set to go at 2pm tomorrow. Brackets have been posted and my first guy also has a bunch of tournament wins under his belt. Seems he's from Scotland, which means that one way or the other, somebody travelled a long way to lose in the first round. All I can really do is pray that I'm able to give it my best and play my game.

I'll be heading to the venue later to check it out and get a feel for the area. Taxi fares cost an arm and a leg over here! Thank God there's a city bus that stops in front of my hotel.

I still feel good. Going to relax today and take care of my mind.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Long Beach is freezing, the 3-day forecast won't put the high above 21 degrees celcius. Nobody knows why. My hotel is pretty awesome though. So far that's my favourite thing about the trip: there's a really good competitor discount for a whole bunch of hotels in the area.

I just found out some pretty important details though:

1. The schedule, newly released, has me competing in my division on Thursday and not Friday as I was expecting. Not a tremendously huge deal but it did catch me a little off guard and means I have less time to do touristy stuff with my wife. The absolute is to be on Friday.

2. NO VIDEO CAMERAS ALLOWED ON FRIDAY, SATURDAY AND SUNDAY. I'm NOT happy about this, as not only have they not given any indication that recording would be banned - I've JUST bought a HDD camera to record the black belt matches. GAH. Well, at least I'll get to have my division matches taped.

Edit: GAHHH!!!
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