Delta 5819 to Phoenix is accelerating across the tarmac. The Vancouver rain becomes a machine-gun crackle and then disappears behind the roar of the dual GE CF34-8C5 turbofans. The plane sways violently in the gusts of wind coming off the Fraser River, dropping several feet and taking my stomach with it. I can’t help thinking about how difficult it is to study the genetics of nitrous oxide reduction when I think I’m about to die. It wouldn’t be the first time a small aircraft slammed to the ground after taking off from YVR, but I put my exaggerated sense of doom on hold and focus on my excitement about finally starting on my journey to train with the two best lightweight Jiu Jitsu athletes in the world.
Heat and Pressure
The two most memorable aspects of my weekend in Phoenix were the heat and the pressure. The temperature was north of 34oC (93oF) while back in Vancouver it was snowing. For me it was a difficult adjustment but one I gladly made to get out of the Canadian winter and bask in the desert heat. Feeling both Rafael’s and Guilherme’s pressure while passing the guard made me a convert to their philosophies of the importance of posture and pressure. These two elements came up repeatedly as I delved deeper into the Jiu Jitsu of the Mendes brothers.
Rafael Mendes has won the world championships in the featherweight division twice at black belt and looks virtually unstoppable as he contends for his third world title in 2012. He is also the reigning two-time ADCC champion. His older brother Guilherme was the first of the two to win the World Jiu Jitsu Championships in 2009, regaining his title in 2011. Just with credentials like these the brothers would be in high demand, but their style of Jiu Jitsu has also revolutionized the competition scene, making the study of their techniques a must for every serious student of the art.
While they have been performed by others before, the Mendes brothers’ signature positions – the leg-drag, the berimbolo, and the reverse de la Riva guard – have become have become de rigueur for competitors in the lighter weight classes. It was more than their techniques that made them great at Jiu Jitsu, however. Their ideas of posture and pressure and of a systematic approach to Jiu Jitsu were equally important for creating a highly-developed Jiu Jitsu game.
The Mendes brothers’ approach to Jiu Jitsu is fairly simple. From every position they analyze what the most efficient action is, then break down their opponents’ possible defenses and counters, and adjust the position or techniques to pre-emptively nullify them. Their techniques are developed as a series of movements that take away their opponent’s defenses while adhering to the basic principles of Jiu Jitsu. For example, for the leg drag pass to work, the brothers want to control the leg, then the hips, then the shoulders – which should be kept flat on the mat to secure the pass. Each detail, grip and movement is calculated to achieve these criteria with as much control and efficiency as possible.
The crucible: Gracie Arizona
Mendes Brothers Seminar – Day One
I arrived in Pheonix, Arizona late on the evening before the seminar. At the time I wasn’t aware of the socio-economic intricacies of the city, meaning I was ignorant that I would be staying in one of the worst neighbourhoods in one of America’s supposedly top-ten most dangerous cities. I guess that’s what $30-a-night accommodations get you. I was told later by Dave, my drilling partner during the first day of the seminar, that it would be a good idea to find alternate accommodations if possible, advice that I followed for my last night in Phoenix.
The direct area that I was in wasn’t actually that bad. It was very poor, but I mostly saw families trying to make the most of their lives in a city hard-hit by the recent economic downturn. There were even the dreaded signs of gentrification nearby: art galleries, trendy cafes and vegan restaurants. Of course this was all bound-in by the scrawl of drug cartel graffiti.
Mendes brothers seminar – Day one in the gi (Mendes bros. photo)