I’d first heard about the GrappleThon for Rape Crisis a couple of months earlier. After talking it over with a training partner and friend, we decided to put our names down and go for it. It should be noted that I’m not any sort of super athlete, I train BJJ two to three times a week and attempt to lift some weights every now and again. I do however have a history of signing myself up for events, which I’m in no way physically prepared for, and just going for it (I once ran up the stairs of a skyscraper where my “training” consisted of walking up and down the stairs in my house).
The point I’m trying to make is, lots of people might put off taking part because of the “24hrs” part of the GrappleThon, or feel they would be inadequate if they weren’t able to roll for as long as their team mates. My own goal for the 2013 GrappleThon held at Gracie Barra Bristol was to roll for half the amount of time of my training partner. E.g., if he rolled for 20 rounds I was aiming for 10. I ended up doing considerably better than expected being only 3 six minute rounds behind his overall total.
What do I put that down to? Well, once you actually start rolling it becomes difficult if not pointless to try and keep track of your own rounds. You soon forget about how many rounds you’ve sparred or how many times you’ve tapped and before you know it hours have flown by and you’re still going.
The atmosphere at the GrappleThon also made it incredibly easy to find partners to spar with. That's contrast to most open mats and sparring classes I have attended, where the etiquette is to wait to be asked to spar by higher belts. At the GrappleThon, because everyone is trying to get as many rounds as they can, everyone is extremely approachable. The chance to roll with so many highly skilled practioners is a great learning opportunity.
In fact I’d go to say that a few hours spent at the event has done more for my jujitsu game than a few days training at my home gym. The reason? You will be exposed to a wider variety of body types, styles and techniques in a short space of time while the intensity and speed is at level where you can process what is happening. Outside of competition I struggle to think of many instances where you would get to roll with people from other gyms in such a way.
Finally I thought I’d end this article with a list of tips and tricks that I took away from participating at the event.
1. Fundraising: My advice here is to be shameless. Plug every social network; harass workmates (I sent out nearly daily e-mails to my entire company). Constantly remind people it’s coming up and that your training really hard for it! (You don’t actually have to train really hard, most non-bjj people have no idea what your doing).
2. Explain what your doing! My two favorite ways to explain BJJ or grappling are: “It’s judo but on the ground” or “aggressive man-cuddling”. The important bit here is get across the message of the cause your trying to help. The event I took part in was for Rape Crisis, so naturally it was easy to explain why it was worth supporting.
3. Preparing for the event: My “preparation” was to try and spar as much as possible in the run to the event to attempt to build some sort of grappling cardio. Actually all I really did was try to get myself into positions where I could catch my breath on a more regular basis. And to force myself to roll when I had no energy left at the end of the class.
4. Packing List: Right so you are all ready to head off to event. I’d highly recommend taking at least two gis (trust me they will get soaked in sweat quicker than you think). As many rashguards (if you wear them) as you own, a sport towel (wipe yourself down in between rounds) and shower gear. Many people also brought along snacks for the group to share, which was a nice sentiment. Doesn't have to be healthy: boxes of donuts were rapidly devoured at the event I attended.
5. Be friendly and approachable: If the event isn’t in your home dojo, remember you are a guest in someone else’s house. Whilst there might be a more chilled vibe, try to follow any house rules they may have, bowing towards the center of the mat etc. If you're not sure, your host will be happy to explain.
6. Have fun! GrappleThons are a great way to meet new people and to learn. Remember to enjoy it!
Hiren Laxman is a blue belt under Roger Gracie and trains out of the Roger Gracie Academy in Westbourne Park, London. To support the GrappleThon in which he participated, go here.