Aside from doing touristy stuff (Jimmy Kimmel taping, Walk Of Fame, Santa Monica Pier), I had the chance to engage in some jiu-jitsu nerd-dom.
I had the opportunity to take three private classes with Henry Akins. Henry is kind of an under-the-radar guy, and while there are bigger jiu-jitsu names in Los Angeles, I very specifically sought him out. He's one of Rickson Gracie's first American black belts and is renowned for his simple and technical style.
I'm really glad I got to work with him, because his instruction is a lot like his jiu-jitsu - clear and easy to understand. Through the three-plus hours we did, he showed me a few "moves", but it was more about concepts and philosophy than anything. I really enjoyed this approach, since I'm not terribly interested at this point in learning tons of "new" and "innovative" multi-step techniques and strategies. As a brown belt, I'm attempting to take the things I already know and make them as good as they can be. As I'm learning, a simple Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game can be more difficult to attain than a complex one, but Henry really demonstrated the worth of focusing on efficiency.
If you're a jiu-jitsu forum lurker like me, you'll notice sporadic posts from guys who attend Rickson's seminars. The typical questions always ensue: "What did you learn?" or "What did he teach?" or "Does he have a glowing aura?"
If you read enough of these threads, you notice that the answers to these questions are kind of... nebulous.
"It's about connection."
"It's a feel thing."
"It was more about concepts than actual moves."
Having now trained with Henry, I understand that these answers aren't meant to be evasive. The information is just hard to describe and is very much based on feel. I think someone could explain the "connection thing" to me for an hour, but it took Henry passing my guard, without hands and just by shifting his hips, for me to understand it. It was a very kinesthetic experience.
- We started with the cross choke. Until now, I've thought mine was pretty decent. I mean, I catch it a lot in rolling and guys tap fast. Henry had me apply it. Not only did he not tap, he just sat there for awhile. Then he showed me an entirely different approach that put the choke on much faster and with far less strength.
- Guard Passing: I think this was my favorite part. As I said, I'm resistant to learning new techniques at this point. The accumulation method of learning does not interest me. What I like best about Henry's passing style is that it does not involve techniques. It's about shifting and gravity. As he explained it, it's like an "avalanche" - you can resist for only so long before it gets through your defenses. He stresses not fighting an opponent's legs with your much weaker arms.
- Henry is vegan. Maybe not a highlight for everyone, but go Team Veg! His recommendation of checking out Native Foods Cafe was helpful.
- Top Pressure: one of Henry's guys asked me, after the first day: "Have you done cross-side yet? We call it the Torture Chamber." We got around to it on day two. Henry asked me to escape his side mount. I couldn't, and after a minute, was ready to tap just to his weight. Mind you, he's only 170. It was death.
- Closed Guard: speaking of "death", Henry asked me to pass his closed guard. I couldn't even open it or stand up in it. And again, no hands.
- Finally, Mount Maintenance: Henry says his jiu-jitsu must always be applicable to self-defense, and wanted to check my ability to hold down an untrained, thrashing attacker from mount. I took position and he acted like a day-one white belt: bench pressing, twisting, and pushing. I couldn't hold position for more than three seconds. Then he showed me his simple method of retaining mount. It's something that will take practice.
I arrived early on the third day. Henry was finishing up a semi-private with some MMA guys, one of whom is under contract with the UFC (I didn't catch his name, sorry). The fighter was lamenting that after four years of BJJ study, he felt he had to go back and relearn everything after training with Henry. I hear this is a common statement from high ranking guys who are exposed to his teaching.
This can be a daunting and depressing thought. I've been training twelve years and was rendered helpless by very basic stuff, and was made to realize I need to make a lot of corrections.
However, the excitement of implementing these new concepts drowned out any possible dismay. I was just so psyched to get back to Connecticut and start trying it.
Anyway, can't recommend training with Henry Akins enough. I need to get rich and charter a private jet to LA a couple times a month.
Besides the private classes, I also had a chance to stop in to the Gracie Academy. Excuse me, The Gracie Academy. Josh Hesser and I were there about eight years ago but they've since changed location, and the new spot is amazing.
We arrived before classes so didn't get to see Rorion, Ryron, or Rener, but were told to make ourselves at home. The Gracie Academy is by far the nicest martial arts facility I've ever seen... and I've seen a few. It includes a stunning, 5-star lobby and pro shop, enormous matted area, and a museum. Yes, an actual museum, chronicling the Gracie family's rise to prominence since the 1920s. If you're ever out there, stop in. I hear you can even drop in for a mat fee. I bought a "mata leao" technique t-shirt and they threw in some stickers.
Anyway - I don't love Los Angeles. It's very busy, crowded, and commercial. Driving there is awful. But the jiu-jitsu highlights (and vegan food on every corner) made it all worth it.