by Benjamin Bieker
I just got home from Day 2 of the seminar that Henry Akins taught outside of Philadelphia, PA this weekend. If you don’t know who Henry is, look him up on the web. There are some good interviews that he’s done for various podcasts and websites. In short, he is a Black belt under Rickson Gracie who spent 15 years learning from the legendary fighter. Former head instructor of Rickson’s academy in California, Henry now has his own academy with high level Coaches Antony Hardonk and Vladmir Matyushenko called Dynamix MMA in Santa Monica, CA.
By reputation, Henry is known as one of Jiujitsu’s great minds. Having heard about him for years on the internet and from people I respect in Jiujitsu, I sought out some instruction when I was in California for Mundials in 2012. I was completely blown away with the group class and the private lesson that I took. I won’t go into detail about the lessons at this point, only that it got me excited to learn more from Henry. (as a side note, if you are in the area, do yourself a favor and stop by his school. His instruction is top notch, the facilities are nice and the students are really friendly and talented people. I felt like I was at home instantly)
Fast forward almost exactly two years. I hear that Henry is doing a few workshops in the Philly area, which is where I live. Sign me up, no questions asked. The two day workshop ended up costing $150, I would have paid double that for what was shared.
Day one. My friends and I arrived and promptly began a discussion about the X men movies with Henry. Satisfied with his thorough knowledge of Mutant powers, ninjas and Wolverine, we proceeded to get ready for class.
Henry began with a word about base and stability and then launched into an explanation of his way of performing the over/under clinch. A day one move in Gracie Jiujitsu. In fact, most of what Henry showed was stuff that you will learn in your first 6 months of Jiujitsu. However, there is something important to mention here: It’s all basic stuff, but it’s all done with a level of detail and explanation that is truly rare. Henry showed small adjustments in body alignment, limb placement, engaging certain body parts, or a simple philosophical adjustment that changed the way we usually learn these movements completely. He provided logical explanations for why he does things a certain way and why one variation is more efficient and effective than another variation.
We went over clinching, mount maintenance and some attacks from the gift wrap position. All excellent material. The techniques were fantastic and simple, which I like. The explanation was my favorite kind of explanation: Simple, logical and stands strong against questioning. I find that my favorite instructors, authors or speakers are ones that can make the complex seem so simple that you feel almost stupid for not having thought of it yourself. Henry is one of those guys.
Day two began with us arriving almost an hour early. We planned on drilling some of the techniques that we learned the previous day but then I spotted Henry rolling with another Black belt. My plans were immediately forgotten. I was actually a little rude to my friend who wanted to drill and I hope he forgives me, but I really wanted to watch Henry roll. With creepy intensity, I grabbed my notebook and stared like a stalker at the two rolling, trying to soak up whatever little tidbits of information I could. It was cool watching the roll. It would be rude to talk in detail about the training session, but one thing I noticed was that Henry was exceptionally efficient in his movements. No wasted effort, lots of off balancing from closed guard, lots of distance and structure from open guard and he looked heavy as hell on top. It was cool to watch. I’m always mesmerized by people who can train like that. It reminded me a lot of how Phil Migliarese (one of my teachers) moves. Heavy, efficient, effortless. Inspiring.
When the instructional portion began, we started with a self defense wrist lock which works for sport Bjj as well. Very similar to the famous wrist lock that Jacare caught this poor guy in:
After that, we worked on posture inside of the closed guard (which was some of what we worked on in the private lesson two years ago) and I gleaned some important insights. We worked on bottom of closed guard off balancing, sweeps and a very efficient arm bar. The arm bar was something that I was very happy to have gone over because I learned a similar arm bar at one of Rickson Gracie’s seminars in 2010 or 11, but when Henry taught it, I learned some new details that helped a lot.
After the techniques, Henry opened things up to a Q and A which was something I was looking forward to. I was really curious about how Henry thinks about Jiujitsu when he’s trying to solve a new problem. He mentioned some of the points that he considers when breaking things down (things like where his opponent has control, where there leverage is, where their power comes from, grips, and how he can take these things away from them). This brings me to an important point:
Going to a Henry Akins seminar, or a Rickson Gracie seminar is cool. The techniques are great, and they are an important component of the seminar. I think the real “magic of Jiujitsu” (to quote Henry) is in the small details they share though. I think it’s in the subtle things that you almost cannot see unless you know what to look for. The small pressure here, the precise timing of the movement, etc…But what’s even more important to me than the details is understanding the logic and system of thought behind this stuff. I like the fish that these gentleman are kind enough to serve, but I also want to be able to catch my own fish. So when I go to one of these seminars, I really like learning the concepts that guide and inform their Jiujitsu. The way that they think about Jiujitsu. The things that are going to help me adjust, simplify and make more efficient the techniques that I do. The criteria that they use to decide whether a technique is worth while or not. Those are the gold nuggets that I get from experiences with teachers like these.
As an instructor, Henry is a super cool, approachable guy. Friendly and willing to answer damn near any question we had (he encouraged questions repeatedly at the seminar. Which is another tidbit that gives some insight into the thinking. Question everything!), Henry was happy to demonstrate the moves hands on, letting you feel the technique in action. He would patiently explain the moves, explain why certain counters would or would not work and he made sure to get around to everyone in the room. He spoke clearly and didn’t “over teach” (which is important, in my opinion). In speaking after class, he comes across as super humble, but very confident in the Jiujitsu that he does. He explains why he believes in his Jiujitsu 100 percent without being arrogant about it.
In short, if you get a chance to learn from Henry, do it. Go take a private lesson, take a group class, take a seminar. Watch his youtube videos. It is time and money well spent! You will come away with a different way of thinking about your Jiujitsu. You will understand that Basics are still relevant and powerful and the rabbit hole of basics can go really really deep.