Pressure and multi-tasking

One of the consequences of becoming a blue belt is that the higher belts have taken the kid gloves off another notch. It is really remarkable how much pressure a group of not very large people can deploy.

No doubt it can all be explained by force divided by area equals pascals. Plus, in absolute terms, big white belts have felt as heavy on occasion. What makes brown and black belts’ pressure notable is that it is unrelenting and casual.

Generally, whatever else they’re doing on top, they’re also pressuring in. Which rapidly becomes tiring and demoralising. It also requires you to devote a significant amount of attention to enduring or avoiding their pressure. And they never appear to be trying to apply it either by brute strength or even by specifically altering their positioning for that purpose. It’s all small effortless adjustments to the position that they’re already in and the movements leading to or comprising their attack. Which is itself demoralising.

This leads me onto one of those small insights. Part of the skill curve is about expanding the scope of things that you can do without thinking about them or at least with minimal attention. This is what allows you to do a lot of the more impressive stuff, because it frees the attention you need.

A low level example: it’s possible to defend an americana or kimura by keeping your arm almost straight (but not absolutely straight, because that allows for an armbar). This should buy you time to execute an escape. I’ve never made it work, because I can do the defence but it takes 80% of my concentration to maintain it. Leaving me no brain space for my escape.

Similarly, I suspect higher level grapplers are constantly making slight shifts from the bottom to redirect or counter top pressure, without really thinking about them. And, naturally, the top pressure itself is the result of a similar process.

Hillingdon Invitational

My first competition at blue belt (not entirely deliberately — I’d signed up pre-promotion).

Won my first on points: having done a reasonable job of denying the guard pass, I hit a nice sweep and carried the momentum through to mount. Tried for a cross-collar choke and got reversed. But, at that point, there just wasn’t time for my opponent to make a comeback.

Lost the second to an armbarm. After he pulled guard I worked to pass for a while, but didn’t make substantial progress. Then he swept me and it all went downhill from there. Much to work on.

Although it was a bit accidental, it was good to get my first comp at blue out of the way and I’m happy to have survived the experience. Competing a level up from before is always slightly nerve-racking. A small, friendly, but extremely well run competition was the perfect entry.

Euros 2017

As I said to one of my instructors: I’m 60% pissed off, 40% stoic. In short I lost 12-0 to Dimitrios Bitsanis of Rio Grappling Club Greece, who was just the better competitor on the day (as well as, as usual, having the audacity to be a really nice guy).

Stuff that went well: I managed to minimise my first match problems, primarily by doing a better warm up and having a bit of time to get myself mentally set before we started. It also helped that it’s easier to get yourself psyched up for something like the Euros.

I’ll no doubt be working on this for a while. My natural mental approach is to try to stay calm and I want to be sure of what I’m doing before I do it. This has advantages. I’ve won matches by not being the first guy to make a mistake. But it exacerbates the common problem of needing that first match to really warm up and get into the groove — which is no good if you loose it!

Also on the positive side, I feel I hung at the Euros. It’s pretty much the highest available level of competition available to someone at my belt level / age. So, stepping out there and not being totally out of my depth, isn’t a bad place to be around 16 months after starting.

Stuff that’s not so good: to continue the baseball metaphor, I might have been in the right ball park, but I wasn’t one of the starters. Looking at my division, I was below average in terms of my technical ability, my ability to deploy what I knew in competition, and my physical capabilities. This isn’t to run myself down: I think I do pretty well on all three counts compared with the general population of older white belts; or even Masters 2 white belt competitors in the UK. But the Euros is definitely a step up.

There are a few technical details I need to address, such as avoiding / countering the leg underhook when breaking closed guard, more technical escapes from the back and improving my knee slice pass. Also, I’m kicking myself for not trying for a straight footlock towards the end. Tactically, I should have recognised I wasn’t going to make back the points and needed to go for the sub. Even if it hadn’t worked, I should have tried. But I didn’t really lose because of any particular technical flaw or error. I was just generally below the level I needed to be to win the match, much less the competition.

To go back to the positive though, it was a great experience. Training for a high level competition was satisfying and certainly improved my jiu jitsu. Plus I had a great time in Lisbon, particularly since Anne came and we got to have a holiday as well.

A photo posted by Michael Reed (@mikereedin) on

A photo posted by Michael Reed (@mikereedin) on

2016 Resolutions Debrief

In the interests of accountability…


I missed my objective of three classes a week; averaging 2.66. In fairness, I did better in the second half of the year.

Having resolved to compete at least once, I ended up competing 10 times. It turns out I’m not as laid back and uncompetitive as I think I am…. Competing has been great. It’s certainly made my jiu jitsu better, I’ve met some great people and it’s been fun being part of a team (for an individual sport, BJJ has a big team aspect).


Basically a failure. Did a bit at the start of the year, but got overtaken by marathon training and then never got back to it.


Aimed to do the London Marathon in 4h30; did it in 4h27. Nice to go out on an okay time (at least by my standards). But I won’t be doing it again for a while. Marathon training is too hard on my recovery abilities to combine with BJJ competition. Maybe as a midlife crisis event when I hit 45….


At the moment I’m focusing on the Euros. I’ll do a goals for 2018 post when that’s done.

Surrey Open

Last one of the year. Would have been nice to go out on a high, but I took a default bronze after losing my first match. Essentially got run over by a more assertive, aggressive opponent who put me on the defensive from the start. I had some opportunities to make a comeback in the second half, but didn’t capitalise on them — primarily because he’d put me on tilt. So, definitely still working on getting that initial start right.

Apparently I’m now a nationally ranked athlete….


Which is highly amusing.

Also, just in case someone is actually reading this, hilariously wrong. For a start, I’m pretty sure it only picks up members of UKBJJA — which is probably around 25%-50% of competitors at most (and probably lower at white belt). Plus the whole idea of being ‘a good white belt’ is kind of silly, even before you get into the masters division. The best white belt, with the greatest promise to be brilliant athlete, is pretty crummy when compared with someone who started a few years before them. It’s such a transient snapshot in time, with so many people having taken themselves out of contention by having been promoted that it becomes meaningless. Of course, this is true to some degree until you get to black belt — but I think it’s particularly true at white belt.

Kleos 8

A slightly disappointing bronze.

Lost my first to an ezekiel from half-guard. My defence just wasn’t technical enough to do more than slow the sub down slightly (I now know that I should have been pushing on his elbow to relieve the pressure). Not so much annoyed at that, so much that I shouldn’t have let him get that far. For whatever reason I lacked focus and energy — and he was plenty good enough to punish me for it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, getting tapped woke me up and I won a convincing point victory in the second. Including an overhead sweep that, quite honestly, I think looked kind of cool. Of course, I wouldn’t have needed to sweep him again if I’d hung onto mount the first time around…

Then ended up in the bronze medal match against my first opponent. Definitely preferring not to get choked again, I played a fairly conservative guard game, ending with a sweep from single leg X. Once on top I got trapped in his closed guard (I must get better at coming up and achieving some measure of control, without pushing so far back into them that I go into closed guard). The fact he was down on points at this stage definitely helped me, since he felt he had to open his guard, which allowed me to start knee slicing. Unfortunately he held onto three-quarters mount for long enough to deny me any further points. Time ran out just as I came into mount. Still, I was happy to get revenge for my earlier loss.

My main thing to work on for next time is mental focus and getting ready for that first match. I think I need to try a slightly more intense warm up — break a sweat, get my heart beating — and then come down slightly before that first match so that cardio shouldn’t be an issue. Also I must make sure to drink coffee (seriously, the only mornings I don’t is when rushing out for BJJ competitions and it’s an obvious violation of the ‘Don’t do anything different on the day’ rule).

Paris Open


I wanted to do an IBJJF competition, before doing the Euros. And I’m glad I did. ;-> Two good matches against strong competitors, but I managed to win both by points and take home the gold for masters 2, light.

As I suspected there isn’t really much difference between IBJJF and other competitions. Fundamentally they work the same way and it’s a very similar experience. The only totally new thing was that they throughly checked my gi by running a wooden block built to the standard measurements over it. I think there were also a few more staff on the organisation side than you’d see at a smaller competition (and the PA system worked reliably). But otherwise much the same. Still, I’m glad to have seen that for myself since it might take some of the pressure off.

The competitor standard was high (for white belt, all is relative). But that was more about consistency than absolute ability. I’ve been against people as tough or tougher in the UK. But nobody at Paris was doing their first comp and everyone seemed to be at the tail end of white belt. It was probably the first division I’ve been in where everyone could have plausibly won it.

From the matches, the particular positive thing I’m taking away is that I managed to stand to break closed guard several times. This feels like a milestone in terms of confidence and control. Standing up in closed guard is a) genuinely a bit tricky and b) tends to feel unsafe. So I’m glad to have overcome that in the heat of competition. Of course, I still need to work on it — in particular I need to get better and more systematic about breaking their grips and controlling them so that I can stand up more easily and in better posture.

Also, while I obviously need to improve everything generally (ahh, the wonderful open freedom of the beginner), I feel I’m starting to get to the point where it’s worth working more on my submissions. Particularly in that first match, I should have put him in serious danger a few times, given my positional advantage. Aside from the fact that it would be nice to win by submission more often, being able to seriously threaten the submission will keep my dominant positions more secure.

White belt, four stripe

Last stripe before blue belt. Unfortunately, I’d managed (for the first time ever) to forget my belt, so I’d borrowed one from Cesar — who then had to put four stripes on it. He was then kind enough to let me keep the belt.

Despite the prevailing view that one shouldn’t care about stripes, I like getting them. They’re a welcome symbol of encouragement and recognition. I do suspect the impact fades as you go up. In fact, that’s been my experience so far. It was a big deal to get the first one and a moderate deal to get the second. The third and fourth have been very welcome, but not quite the same impact. They’re more a symbol of progress towards other goals rather than a milestone in themselves.