Tonight’s class featured the return of a white belt that I hadn’t seen since December. BJJ is like that. Sometimes, people will disappear for months at a time for all kinds of reasons: work, a new baby, a college term paper, an injury, a new girl friend…any of these things, and more, can take a student away from jiu jitsu training, either temporarily or permanently. I’m not sure what percentage of students make it even to blue belt, much less black belt, but it seems like it has to be a pretty low number. A lot of people don’t even make it past thirty days, which is one of the reasons, I believe, why the gym offers the first thirty days for free. I don’t recall whether I had ever sparred with him on the ground before tonight. However, I did go against him in stand up sparring (throwing only) at the Judo bootcamp. The reason I remember it is that he was the tallest person at the bootcamp, and I threw him with a pretty decent sasae tsurikomi ashi, if I do say so myself. Had I gone against him on the ground at the time, he may well have been able to give me a hard time, due to the size difference. However, it was pretty evident to me tonight that I had been training for the past six months, and he had not. Despite the size difference, I was able to control him pretty easily, and nearly submitted him with a chicken wing choke (kata ha jime) before the time ran out. I’m not sure if he was being stubborn and not willing to tap, or if I didn’t have it tight enough. You never know with chokes. Sometimes, you think it’s not working, so you hold on, even after the guy passes out. I haven’t encountered that situation (that I’m aware of), but it does happen, so it’s always something to be careful with. My next partner is one of the few white belts that still gives me trouble. The coach started us in knee shield half guard, with me on the bottom. He was able to smash down my knee shield fairly easily and move into side control. He had me locked down pretty good, but I held him off from getting mount. At one point, he went for an arm triangle (kata gatame), but I had learned the defense for this after the last time he caught me in it, so I was able to free my arm. He then switched to north south. I was worried about the north south choke, so I repositioned myself, but I forgot about the bread cutter choke until it was too late. He managed to keep my right arm away from my neck, so that I could only defend the choke with my left hand. I held him off until the end of the match, but I think it would have only been a matter of time before he wore down my defenses. That’s why I like sparring with him. He’s a bit ahead of me technically, but not too far ahead. That way, I can see what he is doing to get the edge over me, and then make tiny adjustments to my game. From tonight’s sparring session, I learned (or was reminded), first of all, that my knee shield has to be at a 45 degree angle, or I’m getting that leg smashed to the mat as he passes into side control. Secondly, I have to worry not only about the north south choke, but also the bread cutter, when someone transitions to north south from side control.