Tuesday, March 27, 2007

2007 Great Lakes BJJ Championship Re-cap (vids & pics)

On March 24th Ryan Fiorenzi and his East Weat Martial Arts Academy held the 3rd annual Great Lakes BJJ Championships in Canton, MI. I was there as a referee and managed to catch some footage of some great matches. There was a Blue Belt Absolute Division with a $300 first place prize, won by Nate Steffen, as well as an Advanced No-gi Absolute Division with a $300 first place prize, won by "Big" Don Richard from Team Caique.

There were some great matches in the blue belt divisions, especially in the blue belt Absolute. The Advanced No-gi brackets were very exciting and were only out done by the Advanced No-gi Absolute bracket that had some very talented blue belts, 2 former NCAA wrestlers, Big Don Richard (Team Caique Brown Belt) and Sean "Abdula" Bansfield (Team Saulo Ribeiro Black Belt).

Here's the Highlight vid I made from the footage. To see all of the fight clips that I managed to catch, go to my user profile at You Tube, here.

Phil, from Taproot (and a tough BJJ blue belt) approves of my reffing... I think.

Big Don Richard, Team Caique Brown Belt. Big Don @ Sherdog.

Phil, from Taproot, getting his picture taken with Sean "Abdula" Bansfield.

Oh, yeah. I was reffin'.

Like all good refs - I laugh at Evan's bribe attempts.

With James Lee - KOTC Light Heavyweight Champ and recent victor at Pride 33 in Las Vegas. James @ Sherdog.

Some of the competitors from the U of M BJJ Team.

With Harvy Berman from Warrior Way & Team Caique.

Big Don trying not to look scary between matches.

Even Courtney was helping out as a Timer.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Janet & Adam LaClair: Battling for Their Lives

Adam LaClair is a BJJ purple belt under Joe Moreira as well as being accomplished in other martial arts. He runs a martial arts and BJJ training facility out of his home in Lyndonville, VT. Adam and his wife Janet are currently in the Battle of their lives. Adam's wife Janet has been engaged in a long standing battle with pancreatic cancer for some time now. The hospital bills are mounting and the bank is ready to foreclose on their home in the near future. But, there are ways we can all help.

Jason Hammell of AGC will be holding a grappling tournament in Sudbury, Massachusetts on April 7th in order to donate the proceeds to help Adam and Jan pay their mountainous hospital bills and mortgage payments. If you can attend this event, please go, even if only as a spectator and make a donation to the fund.

Tomorrow, March 23rd is the Grand Opening of the new Focus Jiu-Jitsu Academy run by Saulo Ribeiro black belt Sean "Abdula" Bansfield in Ann Arbor, MI. We will be collecting monetary donations at the Grand Opening to send to Janet and Adam.

If you can't go to either the tournament or the Grand Opening, you can send donations to:

Janet LaClair
PO Box 4293
Pleasant Street
Lyndonville, VT 05851

or via Paypal to jan@adamlaclair.com

They are also interested in receiving martial arts supplies and equipment that they can auction off.

Adam has a website with discussion forums where he keeps people up to date on the condition of his wife, here. You can also stay up to date by reading some of the threads being posted on the Underground forums. This guy wrote about Janet and Adam's struggles on his website, as well.

If you want to send Janet some words of encouragement you can send them to jan@janetlaclair.com . Please do so. Please do what you can.

Monday, March 19, 2007

2007 Michigan Open Judo Championships Re-cap

The 2007 Michigan Open Judo Championships brought out some of the best competition that I have seen in the state tournaments in my limited Judo experience. The tournament was held in the Intramural sports facility adjacent to the MSU football stadium in East Lansing, MI, and was run on 2 large mats. Many of the previous tournaments run by the Konan Judo Association have utilized this facility. If you do come to a tournament at this location, bring you're own water/drinks/snacks as the vending machines are unreliable, and bring some extra cash in case you need to pay for parking. In the past, parking has always been free, but on this occassion the NCAA Women's Basketball Championships were being held on campus so they started to charge for parking around 10:30 A.M. My only gripe about this particular tournament is that #1: it was held the day after St. Patrick's Day and I was unable to go out with my friends the night before. And, #2: it was running about an hour behind schedule. This was due to the unexpectedly large kids division and unorganized awards ceremony for the kids and junior divisions.

Due to my recent experience at the Arnold's and my curosity of possibly also competing in the Master's Division, I arrived early to the tourny (around 10:00 A.M.). I decided to not compete in the Master's Divison due to a lack of competition at my weight, but I am still glad that I showed up early. The kids and Juniors Division were awesome! There's something rather admirable about watching kids execute perfect throws and pins that makes me enjoy watching a good kids division. Also, I love the way the kids accept both victory and defeat in stride - unlike some of their adult counterparts. The kids, in their oversized little judogis, get thrown for an Ippon and bounce right up, often with a smile on their face. I admire them for their humbleness and joy for the sport. In the kids and Juniors Division, Team Tsunami from Toronto, Canada really stood out. They showed up in a decked out Team van and wore Team Tsunami jackets and warm up gear. The Tsunami kids were on fire and a big hand goes out to them, the Tsunami team and their parents and coaches. These kids were well skilled and very well mannered, same goes for their parents. Thanks for coming out and doing well. Other notables will be mentioned once I get a peek at the results, but it was Team Tsunami, who came all the way from Toronto, that really stood out in my mind in the kids Division. I wish I was that good when I was their age.

On to the adult divisions. The heavy weight Master's Black Belt Division looked fierce this year with some awefully big boys chucking each other around out on the mat. One second I would be watching a a team mate competing in a novice match on Mat #2 when all of a sudden I'd hear THUD! Followed by "Ohhh's!" from the crowd in response to 500 lbs. of meat hitting the ground on Mat #1. These gentlemen were giving it all they had and some were taking quite a pounding. I believe a powerhouse judoka from Orion Judo won the black belt Heavy weight Master's Division.

This was my first Judo Tournament fighting against black belts. Let me tell you, I have learned a valuable lesson. I have finally found the environment that will help me improve my stand up game to new levels. Since starting Judo back in September, I have walked away from every tournament with at least a silver medal. But not this time. I was stopped short in my tracks by Dusty Moran from Southside Dojo in Portage, MI, and had to settle with a 4th place finish in the under 90kg black belt division. Dusty and I have a similar style and prefer the same 3 throws in competition, but he is better at those 3 throws than I am. Dusty and his team mate Ron Blake both fought in 2 black belt divisons (Ron -73kg and -90kg (although he registered for -73kg and -81kg) and Dusty at -81kg and -90kg). Dusty had just won the -81kg black belt division and was fighting up in weight when he and I met. He was on his 6th match by that time. A huge credit goes out to him for what he accomplished at this tournament. Ron reported to me in an email that he was happy that his children Max (3 yrs old) and Jada (2 yrs old) were there to see him compete and see their daddy take 2nd place in the -73kg division. Ron and Dusty have extended an invite for me to come train with them at the Southside Dojo, and I fully intend to take them up on it. Dusty, Ron and Richard Boehme from Southside Dojo will be competing in the Nationals in April of this year.

The under 90kg Black Belt Division started off with 7 judokas. Three of which were from EMU (Christian Gerlitz, Clint Denison and myself), 2 from Southside Dojo (Ron Blake and Dusty Moran) and Ron Maly from an unknown dojo and one other whom I'm unfamiliar with but will add their name once the results are posted. The division wrapped up with my team mate Christian Gerlitz taking 1st place. Christian is awesome, and not just because he beat me in his 2nd match! Christian first beat Ron Blake by submission (collar choke), myself by Ippon, and Ron Maly by drop Ippon seoi nage - his signature throw. Christian has an unorthodox gripping game in that he is right handed but prefers to fight left handed or with modified right handed Russian and Japanese grips. He loves the Ippon seoi nage and the Sode tsurikomi goshi and is incredibly fast at executing both of them. Dusty finished in 2nd place and his opponent, Ron Maly, finished 3rd. I missed medalling and took 4th (beating the judoka that put Dusty into the losers pool) and I believe that my other team mate, Clint, finished in 5th after a possibly questionable call.

Below are some pics from the tourny and the videos of my 3 matches. I put sound tracks over my first two matches, but on the third - due to a referee controversy I didn't.

The tournament area. Two competition mats and a warm up are in the foreground.

Left to Right: Myself and my EMU team mates Luke and Dane.

My "Judo Mom" girlfriend Courtney and me waiting in the bleachers.

Taping up in the bleachers.

My BJJ and Judo team mate, Matt, taking a break from Judo competitions to prep for the BJJ Pan Ams. But, he stopped by the Judo tourny to slurp up my Capri Suns and eat my bananas.

Despite the McNinjas (from my McDojo story) I found a brown belt.

A little Uchikomi with my team mate Luke to warm up.

Kinda hard to see, but this is the aftermath of Luke trying out his drop Ippon seoi nage on the warm up mats and after he landed on the third toe of my left foot with his knee. I am standing on the warm up mats in the pic. Luke might have just broken my toe right before this competition. It's so hard to tell with toes. I don't think this instance has anything to do with me being in the same black belt division as his brother... does it? Luke could be a crafty Ninja...

I think Luke nearly broke my toe before the tournament. If it's not broke... well, it hurts and I'm a baby.

Yep. It's ugly. Might not be broken, despite being lumpy, swollen and purple. Luke, you suck! I had no idea how important a healthy left foot is to a right handed thrower in judo until now. Luke, you're the reason that I lost! Just kidding! I have to make fun of you over this, I hope you understand.

Here's the vids:

Here's my first match against my team mate Christian Gerlitz. I'm wearing the blue belt in this match. I am limping because the second toe on my left foot was dislocated and is sprained and my third toe on the same foot is banged up and possibly broken. Note to self: If you're a primarily right handed thrower, your left foot is very important. Anyway, Christian is giving my a frickin' clinic in the Ippon seoi nage - which is my favorite throw to do. He went on to win 1st place in the under 90kg black belt division and I am proud to have fought him and have him on my team. I was close to getting Ipponed many times and eventually was - my first defeat by Ippon.

Here's my second match against and unknown black belt competitor. I'm wearing the white belt in this match. I missed the drop Yoko sutemi waza and he took my back with hooks, but as I had his right arm trapped under me there was not much he could do. In judo, there are no points for him taking my back, unlike BJJ, so no worries there. Afterwards, he lunged for a kouchi gari makikomi and scored a koka but I hip escaped to put him in my guard and caught him in an arm lock. His elbow popped a little bit, but he was tough and went on to fight another match after me, despite his damaged arm.

*NOTE* The above video is taking a long time to load, but will play. I will try to upload a new version tonight (3/20/07).

My 3rd match against Dusty Moran from Southside Dojo in Portage, MI. I'm wearing the Blue belt. I tried a drop Ippon seoi nage at the 0:08 mark and really banged my left knee up bad. That's why I was bending over and holding my knee the rest of the match. This, combined with my left foot injury, really cut down on my mobility and made me hesitant. My girlfriend was yelling for me not to push into him as he loves the drop Ippon seoi as well, but I was trying to bait him into a ground game by pushing into him and hoping that I could counter his throws. At the 0:53 mark I was able to do so, and was working a clock choke and was about a 1/2 of a second away from executing the choke until it was stopped at the 1:02 mark (i was only given 9 seconds to work on the ground, which is about 6 seconds short of what is normally allowed for ground work). Some of my Team mates might argue that my Ippon seoi nage attempt at 2:45 was an Ippon, but watching it in slo-mo shows that only Dusty's right shoulder blade hits the mat - not his full back. This clip doesn't have a music soundtrack, because there is some referee controversy, and I wanted to show that. This poor ref (from Southside?) was having a some trouble with this match. Being a Judo Ref or a BJJ Ref is hard work. Overall, this was a good match and I definitely want a rematch against Dusty when he is fresh ( and 6 more seconds to work on the ground!). He was tired from many matches and I was a bit injured. It would be more fun when we are both at the top of our games.

Friday, March 16, 2007

McDojos... Keepers of the Belt

This is not a news worthy post, this is merely anecdotal and a little bit funny. This regards my recent experience at trying to buy a brown belt for Judo practice.

After having done well at a Judo tournament (1st in Whit/Green/Blue, 2nd in Brown) and meeting other training requirements, I was promoted to brown belt. But, it was an on-the-spot promotion; no fan fair, no ceremony, just "You're a brown belt now," from my judo instructor. He did not hand me a brown belt, I was expected to go buy my own. I have no problem in buying my own belt, at least this way I can get one that I want. I figured that as fast as I advanced to brown belt, I'd probably be one for a while. But, I kept delaying getting the belt. I just never seemed to have the time to buy one and I'm not one to order things I wear from the internet without first having tried them on in real life. Plus, I'm a BJJ guy and I'm not yet familiar with the sizing system of Judo and other traditional martial arts (TMA) belts. The green belt that I had been wearing was given to me by a friend and I had no idea what size it was.

Anyway, a couple of months go by and I figure I need to get a brown belt in order to respect my instructor's decision to promote me and to avoid confusing the newcomers at the dojo. It was a Thursday evening and after work I decided that I'll get a brown belt before I went to practice that night.

My first stop was the local martial arts supply store, but they had closed at 6 P.M. Feeling a bit dejected, I remembered that many TMA schools also sell uniforms and belts. This was great because the Ann Arbor area is chocked full of these types of schools. But time was running out on me. Judo practice started in about an hour and I didn't have time to visit all of these schools and shop around. Thankfully, my girlfriend carries a phone book in her car and we were able to make some calls while still out driving around.

The first half dozen phone calls were not answered or went to an answering machine. Then, finally, we got a person on the other end to answer my question:

Jason: "Do you sell belts?"

McDojo Receptionist: "Umm... What?."

J: "I need to buy a belt and I was wondering if you sold belts."

MR: "I... I... I don't know."

J: "You don't know?"

MR: "I don't know."

J: "Do you sell uniforms and other martial arts supplies?"

MR: "Yes."

J: "Then, you probably sell belts as well."

MR: "Well we have belts for our students, but I don't know if... You see, our students have to earn their belts. So if you want a belt, you'll have to enroll and earn it like everyone else."

J: "I'm not interested in enrolling. I need a belt for another style before class tonight and I'm in a pinch. That's why I'm calling you."

MR: "Well, I'll have to clear this with the instructor."

J: "Okay. Where are you located? I'm in town and I can just swing by."

MR: "Okay, sure." She gives me the address. "Come on in. I'll tell the instructor that you're coming."

It worked out great because this place was about a 1/4 mile from my girlfriend's apartment, and we were heading that way as it was. We pulled into the strip mall parking lot and were greeted by a swarm of children running around in little white gis. They were screaming loudly and executing flying kicks whilst their mothers tried to shuffle them into the appropriate minivans (Soccer Mom Assault Vehicles - SMAVs) without getting hit by other cars.

I strolled in to be greeted by a thin little receptionist wearing glasses and standing behind a glass display counter stocked full of throwing stars and nunchaks. The class was in full swing and kids were "Ki-yapping" their little heads off, while their parents sat and watched mindlessly from the lobby. Admittedly, I was on defense about the whole conversation I was about to engage in. I've been in the martial arts since I was 8 years old and BJJ since I was 19. I have heard a lot of crap spewed from the mouths of TMA proponents that take themselves and their art too seriously. I wanted none of it today. By now, I was on a mission and solely focused on buying a brown belt, I didn't care if it was a piece of crap or not. I was hopeful that I could convince them to sell me one.

After our greetings and introductions, my conversation with the receptionist went basically like this:

MR: "So, you're not interested in enrolling, huh?"

J: "No. I just need this belt for another style."

MR: "What style?" She asked as if we were going to have some kind of connection or bond.

J: "Judo." When what I wanted to say was "A real martial art." But, I think the bluntness of just "Judo" sufficed. I wasn't even about to say that I also do BJJ, because nothing ticks me off more than when these TMAs glean a BJJ move off of YouTube, incorporate it into their program, and claim that they do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, too. Same goes for Judo. ("See how much we have in common now?" *Slap*).

MR: "Oh, we do some of that here, too." 'No you don't,' I thought to myself. 'There's no way you do that here.'

J: "Oh. Do you sell judogis then?" As I'm always in the market for them.

MR: "No. Just the karate gis." 'Like I thought, you don't do Judo here.'

So she cuts to the skinny and fills me in on the whole selling me a brown belt situation.

MR: "So, yeah... I talked to the instructor about selling you a belt and she said that belts here are earned, not sold. But, if you really are in another style and you really are a brown belt, then you'll need to bring a note from your instructor to prove that. Then she'll sell you one."

I looked out on to the mat area and saw kids around 9 years old wearing black belts. "You don't sell belts, my ass!", I thought.

To be honest, I felt rather insulted. Her comment was taken by me to mean that I didn't earn my brown belt, or that Judo is inferior to whatever style she's got going on in this former nail salon... or whatever was here before. But, I can see the logic from which their argument is based. However, it is a flawed argument beyond the philisophical and ethical realms, in that there are many martial arts supply businesses doing quite well selling belts to individuals and schools like the one I was standing in at the moment. She wasn't comprehending the fact that the reason I was even there was because a store that does sell belts just happened to be closed when I decided to get hell bent on buying a brown belt.

I looked around the school again and saw kids, teens and adults wearing tabi boots and spinning ropes and sticks around. A few of them were doing Aikido-like wrist locks to counter a slow moving and lobotomized attacker. I began to put the pieces together, slowly at first. Throwing stars, nunchaks, tabi boots, swords on the wall, children wearing black belts, a general vibe of weirdness... Then the pieces fell into place. I turned to the receptionist and asked,

"Is this a Ninja school?", as I wondered what the look of disgust on my face looked like from her perspective. Does the look on my face imply that I really wanted to add profanities to that question if kids weren't around? I hope so.

MR: "Yes. We actually teach a style of Ninjitsu called, blah blah blah."

My ears were off. She lost me at Ninjitsu.

I looked around more closely at this world I was in. I was taking it all in. I played back our conversation quickly in my head. I felt rage and anger creep over me from the middle of my back until it reached my face, making it red and warm as I realized what had just happened. They shrill of "Ki-yapping" little kids wearing black belts wasn't making things any better. I thought to myself, "Did... Did I... Did I just get dissed by a McDojo?" I did. I got denied by a frickin' McDojo.

Then suddenly, I had a flash of morbid fantasy in my mind: I was going to walk out on to the mat and fight the McSensei for my brown belt. I figured it would only take a few seconds: Ippon seoi nage, armlock, tap or snap, presto - brown belt. I'd even still pay for it. As funny as that would've been, I obviously didn't act upon it. I am not a dojo stormer, but this would probably be a better story if I were.

I had my mind made up. I don't know who made up my mind, the McDojo or me, but I wasn't going to get a note from my Judo instructor so some Ninja could sell me a belt (crafty Ninjas). My Judo instructor is the type who might wonder why I didn't actually just fight the McSensei for it, and send me back to do so. Besides, since when do ninjas wear belts other than black, anyway? Imagine being in feudal Japan and seeing a Ninja slink across the roof top dressed in all black and wearing a yellow belt. "Oh, that's Hiroki, he's new. He can only scale one story buildings and throw smoke bombs. Don't worry about him." Stupid Ninjas.

To humor myself, I turned to the receptionist who was watching me this whole time with eyes full of anticipation at my decision and asked,

"Out of curiosity, what brand of belts do you guys carry?"

MR: "Century."

What! You want me to get a note from my Judo instructor so you can sell me a piece of crap like that? I figured that after all they were asking me to do that they might have some top level gear, ninja stuff that none of us BJJ and Judo players have ever heard of before. I would be cool and show up to class with a kick ass brand of belt that was more obscure and harder to find than frickin' Yeti droppings. But, they wanted to me jump through hoops for Century. I chuckled at the receptionist and shook my head.

MR: "What?" she asked.

J: "No, that's okay. I'm not going to do all of this for a Century belt." I don't give a crap what Chuck Norris thinks about them.

MR: "Why don't you like Century?" Was she unaware of the cornucopia of other companies out there that sell gear 100 times better than the likes of Century?

J: "They're crap", I said loudly. A couple of the zombie-like parents in the lobby heard me and turned to invesitgate. 'Screw them, too,' I thought. Still bitter from my defeat at the hands of a McNinja.

MR: "Oh."

J: "Have a nice night." Exit McDojo.

As soon as I got outside I had to laugh out loud and a part of me hoped that they heard me. I was in awe of what just went down, and that I wasted that much time in a McDojo. I would've bought the crappy Century belt if they just would've sold it to me on the spot and not wanted a note. I thought back to all of the discussions on the Underground forums about fake BJJ black belts, etc., and I had to laugh at the situation I was in. I had been defeated by the McNinjas in accomplishing my mission. Stonewalled. I was no match for them. Even though they are a different style, they attempted to protect the integrity of Judo and other martial arts by sending me on my way. I guess they could've used a little introspection themselves in that department, though. I was reminded of a quote that I read some years ago, from somebody who's name I can't remember: "Against all logic, there is no armor greater than ignorance." I think whoever said that, was frickin' Ninja.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Team SRJJA Photos from 2007 Arnold's

Thanks to photo contributers Chris Blanke, Evan Sarnacki and NAGA.

Xande, Randy and Chris Blanke.

Xande, Chris Blanke and Rico Chipparelli.