Friday, December 7, 2007
TUF training with Andy Wang and Mac Danzig...
A few months back, my good friend and training partner Mike L called and told me that he'd been frequenting some underground training sessions in Santa Monica and that I should go. Well, my first question was how underground and the second question was who were we going to be training with. Both answers would leave me pleasantly surprised. First to the nature of the "underground session": It was only underground because none of us were supposed to be there and it was one of those, "hey my friend opened up the gym to us after hours" kinda things. Training would be Andy Wang who had at this point recently finished his season of The Ultimate Fighter and Mac Danzig who was soon to be blown up by the very same show. With that established, I immediately agreed and before you knew it, Mike and I were off to Santa Monica.
Prior to meeting Andy, I had only known of him through grappling tournaments and videos. I did not really know what to think of him and Im glad I got to know him a little bit before watching the show or his subsequent fights. What I did know was that he was a black belt under the Inoue brothers at Grappling Unlimited, was like myself a former University of Hawai'i student, and that he had a very open training philosophy. Upon arrival to his LA house (to pick him up for the carpool to Santa Monica), I learned that he was a very humble and likable guy as well. Andy talked a lot about winning and losing, establishing a mindset to succeed, and the very real topic of ring jitters and fear. Andy spoke honestly about everything and needless to say he left a very good impression. In addition, he was a UH fan, so he couldn't be all that bad.
When we arrived in Santa Monica, our destination was a very posh gym and we all were ushered quietly in through the backdoor. There was a thai boxing class that was just ending and Andy was going to take over for some of the students that stayed and others that also knew of the training. Before you knew it, Mac Danzig had arrived as well as some other North American and Japanese MMA fighters. I even met a really good wrestler whom I would later find out was Harrison Ford's son, Willard. This training was going to be good.
Now, being a strictly gi guy (I more or less just started gi less training when I started the blog), I was a little intimidated at first. There were a lot of yoked guys walking around lacing up their MMA gloves and shinpads and I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. However, once the class was under way I realized how fun the training was going to be and I immediately relaxed.
After self stretching and some very good pummeling/wrestling drills, we got into the technical portion of the class. As an instructor, Andy showed a complete lack of ego and he was always asking students to come up to the front and teach a class a move. He would then sit there and try to perfect the move the way the student had taught it and he was very sincere in this. Our first sets of moves were wrestling takedowns that Andy and Willard taught. I liked both moves, but it was clear to me that the wrestling was going to be very technical and that I would have to work on wrestling comfort. What Indy showed really stuck with me, he did a shuck to leg pick that was so nice. I really appreciate the yin yang of wrestling. Although to some it seems so strength based, but it is really about forced reactions just like jiu-jitsu and judo. It was incredible. Afterwards, some students volunteers taught some brabo chokes and the Rigan Twister (to be seen in my next blog entry with Rigan).
Next up we did some stand up wrestling and I had such a blast with the takedowns. I was paired up with Mike L and he was showing great technique, especially with his use of the wrestler's tie ups. My infant like judo skills did help me acclimate a little bit, but I was glad that Mike was so helpful with my movements. There were some really good wrestlers on the mat and it was just plain fun watching those guys go at each other. Talk about athletes. LESSON LEARNED: Get more comfortable with the wrestling game. Dave Camarillo once told me that to be good at standup with the gi, you have to do judo, not BJJ style judo. Likewise, I feel that to get my no-gi standup to a higher level I should also wrestle to minimize that deficiency. Also, as said earlier, wrestling was just a lot of fun.
Now, I should note that the pacing of the class was pretty high and the workout level was something beyond the average jiu-jitsu class. With that said, no one was getting hurt and everyone was focused without attitude. I did not see anyone talking about who they tapped or didn't, only training. LESSON LEARNED: It isn't the intensity that people should worry about, it is only the atttitude. Personally, I think just as many people get hurt by people with attitude problems at less intense schools than those with good training partners at their more intensive counterparts.
After the stand up training, we immediately went into ground grappling and this was just as fun and intense as every other aspect of the training. First off, I rolled with Mike L. and we both played around without going to nuts. We figured that we've rolled with each other about a million times and there was no point in expending ourselves. My next round was with a really tall former jiu-jitsu guy from Santa Monica that gave me a really hard time. He was tall strong and he gave me all that I could handle with his passing pressure. After our roll, we talked a little bit and shared some feedback with each other that definitely helped me out and hopefully did the same for him.
Mike L. training with Willard Ford
My next match would be with Andy Wang. After our feeling out phase, we dove right into it and it was a great session. Without over discussing the session, I do have to say that Andy Wang is a solid gi-less grappler. We traded a lot of positioning and I got the feeling that Andy actually enjoyed the movement phase of the ground game and he proved to be very good with forward pressure and the scramble as well. In the end, Andy got to either my side control or half guard and locked in a very tight head and arm choke. Afterwards, we got to talking and he told me that his game had been feeling really sloppy and that he liked to wear the gi every now and then to clean things up a little. He could have fooled me, all I felt was forward pressure with good movement. LESSON LEARNED: Andy is not a very big guy and definitely is not the athletic specimen, but when you roll with him you can see that he has the biggest heart in the building. I think these are the guys that have to push the hardest, but also get to go further than most. He has a never quit attitude and I really thought that this was contagious when you are around him. I was impressed.
Andy starting to pressure my 1/2 guard. Note: I am way to flat in this picture, therefore giving Andy even more options with the pass.
Here I am on my side more, but Andy has me over committed and he has good pressure, all he has to do is hop over to the other side to have my back.
Voila! Andy takes my back!
Following my roll with Andy and a second session with Mike L., I had my last match of the night with Mac Danzig. Mac was kind of sitting there after rolling and helping one of his guys, so I rolled the dice and asked if he would be interested in rolling. Mac was more than willing and he put on a very technical display of submission wrestling that is perfect for MMA or Grappler's Quest. While we rolled, Mac had really good attacks and when a position of his was almost passed or it seemed like he may have been in trouble, Mac had the uncanny ability to quickly reverse the situation as well my fortunes. Another great thing with Mac was that he was always willing to share his knowledge. After he caught me with an armbar, he quickly showed me how he likes to avoid it and how he caught me and then we jumped right back into it at full speed (or at least I was and Mac was at 60% speed!). For those that want to know what belt he is, I thought he felt like a black belt. LESSON LEARNED: I think for many jiu-jitsu guys who enter MMA, they should look at guys like Mac and Andy and ask themselves if they think they can win in the scramble. For instance, Mac knows he will and he takes that confidence with him to the ring. In addition to this, he has the technique to submit black belts in BJJ (he already has), so when you add his confidence in transition as well as the scramble, he becomes a real nightmare.
Feeling out Mac's open guard
Mac passing with good technique. Note: I am commiting a huge error here, I am only worrying about Mac's pressure/leg's while Mac is sinking in a great crossface control; I should be blocking the crossface.
Moment of glory, I almost hit one of my favorite sweeps on Mac. Oh yeah, almost isn't good enough, Mac scrambled out and subbed me for the effort!
Mac is just relaxing as I spaz pass. He is waiting for something...
Mac transitions into a beautiful Brabo/D'Arce choke while Andy rolls on in the center of the mat.
My closing thoughts on training with the TUF stars Andy Wang and Mac Danzig is that they were both all class and they put training above all else. These guys live for this stuff and you can see this in how they dedicate all of their time into getting more proficient and technical. Both were great guys and humble to the core. In addition, they are both sponges and that to me is the scary part. These guys are just getting better and better.
Mac teaching me how he defends some of his attacks!
Epilogue- After watching Andy on TUF as well as his other recent match, I am left a little frustrated. First of all, I do not think Andy has yet to live up to his potential and his last fights definitely have not been his best. That being said, I still think that he is all heart and he has the drive and spirit to go much further than he has. It is laughable that some feel they can ridicule a guy like Andy. He is a great guy and a consumate warrior. He'll be back and I think some people will be eating a little crow, perhaps crow burgers.