People in South Carolina had recommended Luiz Palhares in Jacksonville, so I went to his gym first. I found it on the south side of town in a strip mall that contained a tae kwon do school, a krav maga school, a Brazilian church and a Brazilian barbecue place.
The Florida humidity disrupted my sleep and forced me out of bed earlier than usual so I putzed around on my phone for a while before class started at 11:30.
Luiz led the class of about 10 people- three purples, three blues, two whites, myself, and Luiz’s son Pedro, a black belt.
We did a high paced warmup and a couple stretches and began the technique. Luiz showed an arm wrap from the closed guard that led into a collar choke, just like this, but with the second grip inside the collar instead of on the shoulder.
Next he showed a butterfly sweep to use when the opponent blocks the choke.
Luiz payed a lot of attention to me during drilling, which I appreciated. I usually rely my elbow to clear the arm for the wrap, but he showed me how keeping my arm straight and trying to put my shoulder through the hole made it easier to break the opponent’s grip and created a deeper arm wrap.
We got into sparring shortly after. My first round was with my drilling partner, one of the purples. I tried to spin underneath him from reverse de la Riva, but he stayed and gripped my free leg. I got into closed guard and tried for the arm wrap we’d just drilled. I got it and used it to secure a triangle choke. We restarted and I went after the same position again. He stopped me from swinging my leg over his arm for another triangle, but I expected this and did the “invisible hook”, which gave me another triangle choke.
My second round was with another purple belt with four stripes. I could tell just by looking at him that was at least twice as strong as me. I tried to take extreme angles to negate his strength and it worked somewhat. I managed a sweep and climbed around to his back. He trapped one of my arms underneath him and peeled me off. From open guard, I got into deep half, taking care to hide my exposed arm behind his thigh when he tried to pull it up against his chest. I tipped him over and came up to my knees, but didn’t keep any weight on his bottom leg. He still had a grip on my armpit and when he slid his leg out from under me I found myself in a reverse triangle.
I was hopelessly stuck and couldn’t survive long enough for the bell to sound.
I realized afterwards that this same sequence is what got me subbed the day before in Brunswick. Lesson learned- stay heavy on their leg, or don’t give that grip under my armpit.
I did the next round with Pedro. I was in a bad position from the start as I played sloppily from sitting down. I gave up my back defending a knee cut pass and spent the next minute or so fighting off chokes. Eventually Pedro got one and we reset. He pulled guard and went straight into an omoplata. I have decent omoplata defense and squirmed my way out, but still had to work from the bottom. I stayed underneath Pedro for the rest of the round, barely surviving.
I got one more round with another purple belt. I passed guard to start, then tried to take the back. He avoided this by pinning his back against the floor. I went to knee on belly and tried to pry one of his arms up. He got one foot against my ribs and pushed hard, spinning up into a knee bar position. I kept weight on my threatened leg and compressed him into a ball. I tried to turn the position into my own leg attack and we ended up in 50/50. He went for a heel hook (Luiz had told me specifically no heel hooks in the gi [obviously]) but I rolled over and freed my knee. I decided to try to knee bar this guy as some form of vengeance, but time expired.
Class was over and I was shaky from sweating so much in the humidity. I spent the time between classes chugging water and washing my gi’s. I got a short nap in too, waking up just before the evening practice started.
Luiz, Pedro, and the beast purple belt were all back, joined by three older brown belts, a couple new blues and purples, and three white belts.
Pedro ran class. We went over a basic x pass, and a back take to be done when they turn away to try to get to their knees.
When we sparred, I got a brown belt first. He was a little bigger and stronger and passed my guard early. But I recovered half guard and eventually full guard where I tried another arm wrap and triangle. I got the position, but had a tough time breaking his posture. When I finally did, he played heavy on one of my legs and avoided being choked. There was an easy shoulder lock for me in this position, but couldn’t get his hands apart. I transitioned back to the triangle at the end of the round and was able to finish the choke.
Round two was with the beast purple. I took the top to start and passed his guard. He rolled into turtle and I went for his neck but he timed me perfectly shucked me over the top. I recovered half guard and followed I single leg to force him to concede the top rather than give up his back. He got into butterfly guard and I tried a cartwheel pass, which was kind of a dumb choice. I got rolled and had to fight from turtle. He had good pressure and I could only avoid a choke before time expired.
I did a round with a blue belt and handled him pretty easily, then finished with a white belt.
This was my first time meeting and training with coral belt and was a lot of fun. This gym is very informal and friendly with several upper belts with varying styles.
I was smoked at the end of the day and laid around in the van for a while.
I did some research on the next gym I would visit and chose one called The Garage on the north end of town.
It felt cooler, or I was more acclimated, or just really tired, but I slept well in a McDonald’s parking lot.