Part Two: N’djamena Has Heart
Meet Basile. Basile is an approximately 6’2″/ 188cm tall 220lb / 100kg Judo black belt with 1o years of combined Judo and Wrestling experience. I stand at a staggering 5’8″ / 172 cm and 170lb / 77kg after leaving a buffet and I’m about to introduce Basile to BJJ. I haven’t trained or competed in several months so admittedly I’m a tad intimidated. If Basile is able to just rag-doll me then myself and BJJ might lose our credibility. In most of the world these days it’s universally accepted that BJJ is a highly effective martial art. However, In many place of Africa it’s a different story. Without practitioners and limited media this is much of a ‘that won’t work on me’ mentality that existed when people first saw Brazilians turning people into pretzels. Just two days after finding INJS I was meeting Basile accompanied again by Doug and Zabra. We’re meeting at the modest gym that he does fitness personal training and I’m hoping we’re able to do some training there. The small gym is near what could be considered downtown just off a bumpy dirt road. It even has a bayside view of a well littered river. The gym itself is clean with realistic paintings of fitness specimen on the walls. Basile’s English is good and he invites me into his training room which is scattered with workout equipment. Much to my surprise there is a hefty stack of worn mats in the corner. The Judo Federation has done well for Tchad. Basile agrees to do some training and I set out mats as he finished with a client. Zabra joins in and we do a introductory no gi class. Basile has an idea of what BJJ is but this is Zabras first time with grappling. I teach seminar style showing what makes BJJ different from Judo and other martial arts emphasizing the guard and submissions. We successfully do some live guard passing / retention drills and finish with a few rolls. Basile and I had some great rolls! My previous worries were unwarranted as I was able to submit him several times using efficient technique over strength. He was intrigued and both Basile and Zabra were on board to continue learning. We scheduled a time to begin N’djamena’s first BJJ class within a couple days
I arrive at INJS ready to teach. I have a pretty solid idea to run through warm ups, basic fundamentals of an armbar from guard and passing the closed guard, live drills, and finish with a couple rolls. Unfortunately, INJS had other plans. I come in to see the familiar boxing and TKD classes going on and find Basile is there with bad news. The Chadian national Judo team is scheduled to train at the same time we had planned. Fortunately, the coaches agreed to allow us a shorter time to use the mats before they kick us off. I meet and greet everyone the has come to see what this weird new martial art in Tchad is. Thanks to Zabra’s social media skills, there is a pretty good turn out of 6 Africans that have come to join. Once the mats are ours I quickly get started to begin the condensed version of my lesson plan. Warm ups are simple with the added confused faces at the sight of a ‘shrimp’ movement. I explain in as few words as possible and demonstrate the techniques. Having Basile help translate is invaluable although I’m still not sure how much is lost in translation. I enjoy watching everyone smiling and struggling to get the moves down. I found that it’s almost impossible to correct mistakes without physically moving their bodies into the right spot and saying “Ici” here in French. Then, “Ceva” good. That’s about the extent of my French but it works and eventually everyone is armbarring or tapping. We’re able to just get a few minutes of live drilling before our time is up. The group is very physically strong and it’s difficult to explain how they need to use 50% of their energy or strength to properly learn so most of the drill is a lot of flopping around. The young Judo team trickle in and gaze at the fiasco as if there were gazelles playing soccer in the room. After we finish, I consider it a success and thank everyone for coming and set up the next training date. While packing to leave Basile informs me that the Judo professor would like to invite me to teach ‘newaza’ or Judo ground game to the Chadian National Judo Team. I’m thrilled to accept!
I arrive again at INJS with Gi in bag and mind racing with info from all the youtube vids I used to try to figure out what works in Judo. When the class is ready to begin I Gi up and feel awkward in my BJJ blue belt at a Judo class. Basile eases my suffering by explaining to the team who I am and why I’m there and letting me know that after warm ups I’ll lead the class. I’m going to show some submissions and details of kesa-gatame I work through the techniques with Basile on the side so he has an understanding of how to translate. The class is about 14 students from varying ages from about 10 to 17. As I teach the class is very respectful and responsive. We go through the series slowly to emphasize the importance of the small details. There are several very experienced students and I move around the room working with everyone a bit. Some of the students had good English and many questions. After we finish the successful instruction the Judo professor Najitan Koumninga takes back control of the class for a cool down and the bow out. I stand on the side with Basile and participate in the ending respects which are much longer than any I’ve had in all the BJJ schools I’ve trained at. It really hits me as this is going on how much discipline these kids are learning here and what that kind of structure will do for their future. I feel very proud at this moment to be a part of this Lionheart Initiative project to help spread these kind of qualities to Africa. I’m given a chance to speak to the class and I keep it short just saying how honored I am to be invited to teach them and I really hope that my BJJ will be able to help their Judo.
As this has been happening I’ve also been preparing for a trip to Dakar, Senegal to meet my KOA Team coming all the way from Virgina, USA to teach BJJ in seminars and run the Dakar open tournament for the competitors there as they’ve been doing every year since 2013. My next story will be of that amazing adventure!