Training with Michelle Nicolini

Driving to the airport, early in the morning, to catch a flight to Sydney I started to think how lucky I was. Twenty four hours earlier I had been driving in a car to the same airport with Andre Galvao, now I was on my way to Sydney in order to meet and train with women’s world champion Michelle Nicolini. I have had some great opportunities in my short BJJ journey, more than most, and now I was reminding myself of this fact. I believe it is very important to be thankful for the good things in my life no matter how small or common. To not think this way I feel leads to the belief that the world owes you more than you deserve. Nothing in this world is ever actualised without a combination of desire, effort, work and attitude. Realising the situation you are in and the opportunities you have in order to realise the products of your desire, effort, work and attitude will keep you humble and more aware of your place within your environment. I often think about this to keep me grounded. I think to myself a lot. Which is sometimes a problem when I’m driving a car… That red light had plenty of green in it I’m sure.

This trip would be an easy one as the flight from the Gold Coast to Sydney has a rough duration of one hour. I was only going for two and a half days so I did not need to pack a whole lot in my luggage. My carry on luggage would contain my laptop and headphones while my checked luggage would contain my Gi, belt, toiletries, shirts, jeans etc… My brother lives in Bondi Junction, a suburb on Sydney not far from the gym I was to meet Michelle in, and so I would not have to fork out for a hotel room this trip. All the opportunities man, you got to be thankful. I was able to hang out with my brother for a day. He is a great guy. He as always looked after me and encouraged me to do the things I loved even if they weren’t the most conventional life aspirations, for example becoming a doctor, fireman or astronaut he would more encourage me in my passion for music, Jiu Jitsu and extreme M&M’s consumption. He is a good dude. Today I would hang with him, tomorrow I would train with Michelle.

I left my brothers apartment in Bondi junction and stood at the taxi rank awaiting a cab. As I waited for my chariot an elderly gentleman approached and stood behind me second in line for a cab. I looked back at him and smiled. He threw a “How are you going today mate? You winning?” at me as he smiled back. He was a nice guy I thought. He was probably on his way home form a long day out as he looked very tired from standing. I let him take my place at the front of the line and he was very grateful for this. As he entered a cab and departed I found that another person had lined up behind me. This time it was a young pregnant lady carrying enough shopping to feed two or three more children. She was out of breath as she asked my how my day had been so far. I told her that I had not done a thing the entire day therefore I could bare to stand and wait it out for another cab while she took my spot in line. She too was very grateful to me for this and told me many times as I helped to load her shopping bags into the next cab. We had been fortunate that two taxis came in quick succession, one for the elderly gentleman and one for the nice young pregnant lady. The next taxi however was taking it’s time. I was now beginning to stress that I would be late for my appointment with Michelle. I hate being late. At this time another lady approached the taxi line. This time I couldn’t afford to let someone go in front of me again. As I turned to smile and say hello to her she brushed straight passed me and stood in front of me in the line. “Wait a second, what are you doing? Haven’t you seen me? Am I Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense? What are you doing?” I thought to myself. She was looking down the empty street at a cab that wasn’t there. She was cursing like a sailor because there was not a taxi immediately where she wanted one to be when she wanted it to be. Remember what I mentioned earlier regarding the difference between being thankful compared to the belief you are owed things. Nice lesson. I told the angry lady that I wasn’t standing there to secure the pavement to the earth and that she had taken my spot in line. She began to direct her cursing at my direction now, specifically regarding my height and suggesting that I may have been confused with my sexual orientation. I proceeded to tell her to jog on. As she stormed off down the street still cursing at me I noticed a taxi finally approaching…and then stopping…right next to the angry lady…then picking up the angry lady… then driving off…with the angry lady… who was now flipping the bird at me as they drove away. I could only laugh.

Eventually a cab came and took me to Darlinghurst where the academy Jiu Jitsu Kingdom, headed by Felipe Grez, was located. I spoke with Felipe while we waited for Michelle to arrive. I found Felipe to be a very nice guy who had met and trained with a few of Jiu Jitsu’s greats. He was easy to speak with and was very welcoming. Not long after speaking with Felipe, Michelle entered the academy.
Ever since I had first seen a match of Michelle’s on YouTube, when I was a white belt, I thought “She is killer!”. Many other matches I had seen on YouTube, live streams and even in person would sometimes become stagnant and boring as competitors would viscously fight for a takedown or sweep in order to score the initial two points of the match only to lock down their opponent in side control or a similar position for the remainder of the match in order to win as they were too respectful of their opponents abilities and techniques, therefore opting to play the same game reluctant to take risks. But, in this first match I had seen of Michelle’s, she was very active, specifically in her guard game. I was amazed at the skill she demonstrated within her guard, at the time the tangled of legs and arms truly baffled me as I tried to comprehend what she was doing. The next time I heard her name was while I was half asleep watching the live stream of the 2011 IBJJF World Jiu Jitsu Championships on Budovideos.com. Due to the time difference between California and the east coast of Australia I was fighting a loosing battle with my consciousness and my lead weighted heavy eyelids. I was just about to nod off when I heard the deep sugary voice endowed to that famous IBJJF announcer, who’s name completely escapes me at this time, call out “Michelle Nicoliniiiiiiiiiii” I fell off the couch frantically slapping my face in an attempt to enter a state of alertness. This was one of those names I knew I wanted to see compete that day. Of all of the matches that I have seen of Michelle’s, win or loss, I can’t remember one that I deemed as not exciting. So for me now meeting and training with her, here in Sydney, was definitely a milestone in my Jiu Jitsu career.
We exchanged greetings and I found Michelle to be very pleasant. She asked me what techniques, if any, that I would like to learn. I mentioned to her that I would like to learn some of her triangle set-ups. Watching Michelle compete, I noticed that she had an amazing triangle that originated from her spider guard. She was able to catch her opponents off guard by offsetting their balance and capitalising on their attempt to regain composure by executing a lighting fast triangle choke. This was something I wanted to learn. As with other training articles I have written I will not go into detail with the techniques shown to me as I recommend that everyone train with these athletes and support them in their careers. After a while I had many questions to ask Michelle regarding the techniques she had taught to me, which she was more than happy to answer. I also asked her if she found it useful to write down her techniques in a type of a flow chart in order to help remember which techniques to hit in certain positions. She answered that because she had drilled the techniques and trained with them in sparring for so long that she did not need to write them down, she would automatically know what to do when the opportunities arise. At this point I remarked that I, personally, needed to write down every technique I learned due to my extremely poor memory. Not just techniques either; names, directions you name it and I’ll forget it. If I were to close my eyes, spin around in a circle and then reopen my eyes I would have completely forgotten where I was. She laughed at this. Then asked if I wanted to start rolling or review the techniques first. I replied that I would like to review. As soon as I went to perform the first technique learned that day I completely drew a blank… I completely forgot how to set up the first technique. How could I do this? Right after I had just made fun of my terrible memory I came through with a powerful illustration of that fact. Michelle started laughing at me;

“Oh my god are you serious? ha ha”

“See I told you I forget things….who are you again? Ha ha”

What a great start!

After I had gotten over my embarrassment we began sparring. We msut have rolled for around twenty minutes or half an hour. It was probably the most fun I had had ever rolling. Though Michelle is smaller than I, I knew she could have destroyed me at any point. She knew she could destroy me at any point. But she chose to roll lightly and let my try to use the techniques I learned today by pausing in certain situations allowing for openings. We moved very fast in a flowing type motion, which reminded me of the sparring style of Jiu Jitsu in Japan, extremely fun. While we rolled there where others in the room watching. They were students of Felipe’s that had opened their home to Michelle while she was in Sydney. At one point Michelle stopped the roll and said to me.
“Did you hear what they just said?”

“No” I replied

“Ha ha they said that you are wearing a girls Gi.”

The room went silent with akwardeness. I wasn’t quite sure what was said but I did know that I was wearing a Shoyoroll Gi designed by Ryan Hall. The Gi was black with purple stitching and in some areas might be seen as a nice colour for girls. I had to break the silence and commented, “We are in Oxford street aren’t we? I just wanted to fit in.” (This may be a joke only comprehensive to Australians as Oxford street is the site for the famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, where every year a huge carnival style parade is held displaying very colourful and flamboyant costumes) If there is anyway to break the ice, especially awkward silent ice, it’s to make fun of your self and at this I am a black belt. Towards the end of the roll Michelle asked Felipe how much time we had left. He replied “About six minutes.” At this point I jokingly said to Michelle that if she could tap me three times in those six minutes she would win. But if she did not I would win and that she would have to give me her belt. She laughingly agreed. This was a mistake on my behalf as I was about to experience the tightest triangle I have ever been put in. It was crazy! I felt like my head was going to explode. The crazier thing was that she actually tapped me by wrist locking me while I was in the triangle. Double whammy. The submissions were followed by a bow a toe hold and another triangle. Illustrating the fact that if she wanted to destroy me…. She could have very easily.

I have a lot of respect for Michelle as a person and as a Jiu Jitsu practitioner. Jiu Jitsu, in many areas, is seen as predominantly a male dominated sport and lifestyle. For her to earn her black belt and become world champion she must have dealt with many male ego’s and attitudes against a female presence in the gym. I believe she would have over come these ego’s and prevail to become the champion she is today and this is something I hold very high. I believe Jiu Jitsu is such an amazing thing that everyone regardless of gender, race, class or age should experience. Michelle is a great inspiration to female competitors and practitioners alike and also, to myself. If you want to train with one of the best guard player in the world I highly recommend training with Michelle.

I had a great time while in Sydney for this short visit. I had met one of my favourite Jiu Jitsu competitors and was able to spend some time with my brother. But… It wouldn’t be one of my adventures if everything went according to plan.. Though I had gone to Sydney, a mere one hour flight from my home, my bags had taken an extended vacation getting more acquainted with Australia’s other great cities; Adelaide and Melbourne…. I better get a postcard.

Article by: Cristiano Del Giacco

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