Earlier this month I visited the Chris Rees Academy to check out their new digs. The Cardiff branch of this successful Brazilian Jujitsu club is helmed by black belt, Rob Taylor. Formerly housed in Ocean Way, Cardiff, the club has for the last month settled into its new site at Cardiff docks taking with it high achieving students who seemed to have touched more gold than Flavor Flav’s dentist. I went to find out why.
The Cardiff Chris Rees Academy has had a long standing good reputation. Formally situated in a rented hall in Cardiff Central Youth Club, Ocean Way, it had to share the facilities. Now with a place to call its own, business can resume night and day seven days a week.
‘Now there is no excuse that you can’t come to training’ jokes Rob.
Rob Taylor got into BJJ in 2005 after watching Royce Gracie in some of the most iconic UFC fights in the early 1990s. Although he had no other martial arts experience, it soon became apparent that Rob showed a certain talent and commitment for it and was subsequently invited to assist senior instructor Chris Rees in training.
‘It’s a good sport. I remember that when I first started, I got absolutely smashed by a guy who was much smaller than me and about twenty years older. I thought that if this guy can beat me so easily, then I should get better if I keep training. ‘
Now, with six years of instructor experience under his recently acquired black belt, he runs his very own club that he now calls his second home. The club is on the ground floor of an industrial unit. The front door opens up to a changing area and toilets leading into the training hall. The hall itself is very clean and well matted . The padding continues up the side of the wall for about 4ft, I guess for the students who have watched The Matrix recently.
‘I’ve been instructing full time for about four years. I live in Swansea but spend most of my time here now. We’ve only been here (on the new site) a month but it’s been stressful. Back and forth with solicitors to get it all arranged. We’ve never had our own dedicated gym until now. Its settling down now, so I can concentrate on the training.‘
Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ) is a close range grappling system that utilizes take-downs for a submission via choking out the opponent or using a joint lock. Its origins stem from Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese Judoka (Judo practitioner) and no holds barred fighting champion. He travelled to various countries to challenge anyone willing and to conduct demonstrations. In 1914, he came to Brazil and along with Soshihiro Satake began accepting the locals as students, including a man called Carlos Gracie. With that, the Gracie BJJ lineage was born with each one adding their particular style to the art and handing it down, developing it into what is known today. There are four main branches of BJJ, one of which is Gracie Barra. Chris Rees obtained his black belt under Braulio Estima from this branch and set up his own club that extends to Swansea and Bridgend as well as several affiliate clubs throughout south and mid Wales.
Its the optimum sport.
‘Its the optimum sport. When you get down to it, it is about fighting, so we do encourage rivalry among the other clubs. You should want to beat them but in a good nature’d competitive way. It’s how you develop as a fighter. There is a lot of friendly banter that goes on. We’re relaxed though. If you’re here to get fit or go at your own pace, that’s fine. If you want to go into competitions, then we will support you.’
No stranger to competitions himself, Rob has six Silvers and ten gold medals for the mantelpiece, including one recent Gold in the 2014 British Open (Black belt masters < 82.3 kg category) Not bad for a man with two kids (a four year old and a four month old.)
‘I took my four year old to the kids class taken by our assistant instructor Ash Williams. He’s brilliant with them. My boy loved it! Of course we incorporate games into it. You can start BJJ from 4 plus. It’s safe as each child’s ability is taken into account. The kids all love it.
A lot of the adults are put off (from training) because it is hard. The people who are in to it vary. Some come three lessons a week, some once a week. It’s relaxed here. If you want to train, we’ll train you. We will work around you. For some people it’s just not feasible to come all of the time because of work or family. Everyone spars with everyone here, whatever level. What you tend to find is that if we practice something and a less experienced person just doesn’t get it, then the more experience one will take them through it step by step. I think the oldest student in our classes at the moment is in his late 50’s. We have all sorts here. Students, police officers. It’s really a mixed bag.’
When asked if there were any champions in the room, he called out to a student in the middle of submitting another student, ‘(Dan) Gandi, what gold medal did you win recently?’
Gandi replied, ‘British open.’
With a smile and a wink Rob said, ‘We have lots of champions here. Everyone seems to be winning medals, so I can’t keep up!’
The Chris Rees academy does seem to bring on the bling with three students recently getting gold in the Nogi British Open, five golds in the Hereford open and three golds, one silver and two bronze in the rated NAGA UK event. It also boasts one of CMA News’ favorite fighters-Lewis Long. Lewis trains and instructs in one of their affiliate clubs, the MAT academy.
‘You’ve heard of him? I was his BJJ instructor. I was in his corner the other night when he was on Cagewarriors. He has great skills.’
I spoke to some of the students including medical student Ken NG from Aberdare.
‘I started off with Judo as a kid but didn’t have the discipline then. I’ve been training for about a year now. I got in to BJJ when I tried Gracie Barra in Cornwall. I considered Muay Thai but then thought that being a medical student, it would look bad if I came in with black eyes all the time. So, I chose BJJ. I’ve been in competitions. I went in to the Newquay open and won gold in my category. The second was the Welsh open. I didn’t do so well, but I love it! Everyone is like family. Even though this isn’t my regular club, everyone is so friendly in this academy. It is quite a commitment for me though. It’s usually takes me 45 minutes to get here, but I can’t do without it. It definitely helps me with coping with pressure that I have from my work and studies. By doing this, it makes it a lot easier to handle stress. ‘
Mark Springate – IT engineer from Cardiff
‘I’ve been training for about six years with Rob on and off. I also do Kali and Silat. Even though they are totally different, I found that by doing BJJ, you can pick up techniques faster. My favourite (BJJ) technique is the triangle choke. I haven’t been in competitions in a while. You don’t have to compete here. It’s totally a personal choice. People train for their own reasons. It’s such a friendly club. I feel comfortable and enjoy the sparring. Everyone wants everyone else to improve. The thing I like about BJJ is that in other styles, you pay money to do a grading. Here, you’re given a belt when the senior instructors think you’re ready. They watch you and see how you’re developing.’
The belt system is white, blue, purple, brown and black. The instructor takes numerous things into account when deciding if the student should go up a grade. They consider sparring ability, technical knowledge, commitment to training, how hard you train and competition record. The average student can take up to ten to twelve years to get their black belt. However, those showing above average ability will be quicker. The Chris Rees website quotes that UFCs BJ Penn had got his black belt in 3.5 years but does stress that this is the exception rather than the rule. They also take personal development into consideration.
The Chris Rees Acadamy – Cardiff has classes throughout the day, everyday, as well as the night. If you are interested in the club, then please click here to go to the website and view the class times.