Disclaimer : Pictures and links are to follow soon. Also, most of that text was written when I was still in Clearwater, so half the trip is not yet covered.
Just before the trip, I strained my right calf, so during the first week of the trip, Training was pretty much out of question. By I was more or less pain free at the beginning of the second week, however, I went back to business.
First, I had the opportunity to train with [Phil] at the Renzo Gracie Jiu Jitsu Academy in Crystal River. The class was No-Gi, which obviously is a topic of special interest to me. Phil had is go over a couple of his bread and butter moves, such as the cross coke to arm lock and the cross choke to triangle. After that, we were shown a dismount defense that lends itself nicely to MMA, as it addresses the issue of being punched. Phil did a great job pointing out the differences between pure Jiu-Jitsu (i.e., with a Gi, without any striking) and MMA (i.e., without a Gi, with striking).Towards the end of the class, we rolled for about an hour or so. It was my first time sweating after getting off the plane, so my condition was terrible. As a matter of fact, I had to quit the last round. Now if you know me, you know this means something... nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed the class and definitely learned a lot. Need to practice those moves once I'm back in Vienna.
Two days later, we arrived in Clearwater Beach, near Tampa. There, I had the opportunity to spend two days at the Clearwater Beach Gracie Barra under the tutelage of [Eduardo de Lima]. The first day I took a fundamentals class which was led by Nico, one of Eduardo's black belts. In a wonderfully structured way we were shown the single leg takedown, how to pull the other guy into one's guard in a BJJ setting and finally how to reverse the situation and establish mount with a scissor sweep. Now I hope I didn't forget anything - with all those impressions, I might miss a point or two. If so, I apologize.
Quite a few of the things we did at both BJJ schools were quite similar to what [Andy] covered at the [T36 instructor course], albeit everything was done in a slightly different fashion. For example, the knee pass Mr. De Lima taught us is based on the concept of raising one's hips so that the other guy is forced to climb his guard up. From there, you'd just sit back, using your bodyweight and momentum to open the guard. In contrast, Andy's approach is based on the idea of pushing away from the bottom guy with your arms and arching your lumbar spine. Then, by flexing the spine, you'd again crush the guard and make way to pass over.
I'm certainly not skilled enough in terms of groundfighting to judge which variant is better, but then again, I'm pretty sure the answer is "it depends". I do understand that at the Gracie Barra we did Gi-fighting while [Luta Livre] revolves around no-Gi, but I don't believe that either of the two approaches would be non-functional in the opposite setting, i.e., I strongly believe you could do both passes in a Gi- and no-Gi setting alike. One thing to consider when standing up in a MMA context would probably be the up-kick, while staying low might put you at a greater danger of being submitted (not sure on that one, though).
Overall, I'd say that the mindset and general approach is a bit different in grappling than it is in striking. The fact that there's always a certain amount of control limits the number of possible moves in every situation. This is definitely more so than in a striking setting, where basically everything is possible whenever a fighter is in a proper stance. This probably makes mid-to-long-term planning a more important factor in grappling than in striking. Also, friction (even in a no-Gi setting) slows things down a bit, so making surprise moves is a hard thing to do - of course, great grapplers can do it anyway.
More than ever before, I believe that a striker's approach to grappling should revolve around wrestling and obtaining a dominant position, rather than trying to land a submission. Here, the same principles as in the striking game apply - any offensive action of yours will open a window of opportunity for the other guy to retaliate and take over initiative.
In any case, I've learned a lot on that trip and I'm grateful to Phil and Eduardo and of course to all the decent people at their respective gyms for giving me such a warm welcome and a chance to train with them. It's people like them that show the virtues of true warriors : politeness, friendliness, wisdom and a strong spirit.
I will be doing more on the trip soon, so stay tuned.