Off the Mat with a Bjj Black Belt: Mike “the Spider-Ninja” Bidwell

Mike “the Spider-Ninja” Bidwell is a Bjj Blackbelt who teaches out of Tai-Kai Martial Arts / Team Balance.
Mike “the Spider-Ninja” is perhaps best known for his innovative and creative techniques which he films and shares through his
Mike talks about his philosophy of training, his approach to innovation and on REALLY being a Ninja!

Mike “the Spider-Ninja” Bidwell – Part 1

1) Jiu-jitsu Times: Mike for those readers who are not familiar with your background, can you tell us how and why you got started in Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
What got you addicted to Bjj?

Mike Bidwell: I’ve always been a martial arts junkie.
I remember practicing martial arts moves in my bedroom as a kid from books I got at the library.
I would set my alarm every Saturday for 5 AM so I could watch Kung Fu the TV series on my little black and white TV.
I started officially taking martial art classes as a kid growing up in the early 80’s in Upstate NY.
When I look back I was always drawn to the martial arts…

By 1996 I had already earned advanced ranks in Tae Kwon Do and Kenpo Karate and was now a few years into training in Ninjutsu.
Back then there weren’t many options for training…there definitely wasn’t any grappling to speak of and for me Ninjutsu was about the closest thing to “real” combat.
The school I trained at was less focused on the hokey ninja stuff you see on TV and we did more close quarter fighting and even some grappling.
It was nothing like BJJ…but for me it would spark an interest and excitement over grappling and joint locks.

In 1996 my good friend Ken Kronenberg and I (whom I met through our Ninjutsu training) took MMA fights in Virginia in an event called the “Fearless Fighting Challenge”.
It was pretty crazy.
We knew nothing about MMA other than what we had seen in the early UFC’s and on whatever bootlegged videos we could get our hands on.
We show up for this event and they keep threatening to close the event down because it’s 1996 and everyone thinks someone will get killed fighting in these things.

The event actually had some pretty tough people…Mario Yamasaki was there with Leo Dalla and my friend Ken Kronenberg fought Dan Bobish (who went on to fight in the UFC)… UFC / Pride veteran Carlos Newton fought on the card too.
I fought some blue belt from Canada.
It was a fifteen minute round with open hand strikes on the feet, knees, kicks, elbows were all allowed.
We fought thirty minute battle and he won a decision. I did okay on the feet but was completely out-grappled on the ground.

The next day we went to Mario Yamasaki’s school and took our first class and never looked back.
After this I went on a several years binge where I stopped doing all other martial arts and just focused on BJJ.
Like so many before me…I was bitten by the BJJ bug!


2) Jiu-jitsu Times: Who were your main instructors and what did they teach you about jiu-jitsu?

Mike Bidwell: Back then it was very different.
BJJ black belts were hard to come by and schools just didn’t exist on the East Coast.
You had Renzo in NYC, Yamasaki in DC and everyone else in California.
Back then you didn’t just hop around from school to school either…you decided what side on the Gracie family you were on and that was it.

Back then Ken and I would travel to Yamasaki’s when we could and eventually ended up going to California and hooking up with Carlson Gracie Black Belt and MMA legend Allan Goes.
We were fans of Allan from watching him in early Extreme Fighting PPV matches.
We called his school, he answered and we went out and trained with him.

Allan is an amazing BJJ teacher and a true early MMA legend. I was fortunate to get my purple belt from Allan and even be there when he fought Sakaraba in Pride-4 in Japan in 1998.
If you’ve never seen that match it’s worth a watch. Allan was the only BJJ guy back then who not only survived the “Gracie Hunter” but almost submitted him.

It was officially a draw because there were no judges decisions back then…but Allan dominated that fight with beautiful jiu-jitsu.
In those days we spent most of our time training with Allan whenever we could until he went back to Brazil in the late 1990’s.
We were starved for instruction back then and we had to work to get information.

There was no YouTube…so we would trade bootlegged VHS tapes. Sometimes they were instructional’s in other languages…stuff from Brazil, Japan anything we could get our hands on.
I feel like for me all these various influences shaped my Jiu-jitsu in a very eclectic way.
It’s the unending quest for knowledge that I had as a young martial artist that I continue to experience every singe day because of Jiu-Jitsu…it’s what draws me to this gentle art.

3) Jiu-jitsu Times: You operate a great website and resource for bjj guys
As an “After 40” bjj practitioner yourself, how is training bjj different for those guys who have passed their 4th decade?
How do guys after 40 need to approach training differently than the younger group of students?

Mike Bidwell: Here’s the good news….40 is NOT the end of the world…nor is 50 or 60!

I talk to 40, 50 and 60+ practitioners every day. I share the mats with guys and girls this age too!
Yes, you do have to do a little extra work off the mats, but you can train and enjoy BJJ just as much as the younger students.
I really believe that 40+ students make the best students in many ways.

There’s far less ego-flares.
40+ students have completed most of life milestones (marriage, education, career, kids) and can be more available and focused on learning.

I also believe that 40+ guys and gals are hungry for learning! There’s nothing more exciting and liberating than stepping out of your day-to-day roll…whatever it is…boss, husband, wife whatever…and putting on a gi and being a student all over again.
I think that’s part of the draw for most people. But with age there also comes some baggage…we may have some old injuries, etc.

I always recommend that 40+ grapplers create the best possible vessel to navigate through BJJ.
This means first addressing their off the mat rituals and habits.
Curbing obvious things like smoking and over consumption of alcohol and junk food.
But also addressing a healthy fuel filled diet, daily stretching rituals, injury prevention, etc.

4) Jiu-jitsu Times: One of the key areas for After 40 grapplers is injury prevention and recovery.
What advice do you have on:

A) How to roll safely / efficiently
Mike Bidwell: I recommend rolling with black belts every chance you get.
Don’t roll with the mindset that I’m going to beat you and take something from you…let your professor set the pace and try to flow with it.
This will help you learn to move more efficiently and with less focus on getting some outcome.
It’s even worth your time to do a private lesson and just roll with a black belt for an hour.
You will gain huge insights into your game!

B) Conditioning exercises / flexibility for injury prevention
Mike Bidwell: Stretch every chance you get!
Flexibility becomes more of a challenge as we get older.
Take a few minutes every day and get on the floor and stretch.
I also recommend using what I call cyclical flow drills to master movements.

Flow drills are great for warming up / post training conditioning or when you just want to move either solo or with a partner.
They’re also good for when you’re working your way back from an injury too!

C) Any other tips that will keep guys injury free and on the mat
Mike Bidwell: Stay humble!
The ego is a tricky thing and it serves it’s purpose… but ultimately you want to stay ON the mats!
Almost every injury I’ve had in my BJJ career had more to do with my ego or someone else’s than a technical BJJ mistake I made.
So remember, surviving is always the goal.
Whether you are defending yourself on the streets or having a tough match at BJJ…survival is always the goal.
Remember, he who fights and walks away lives to fight another day.

It’s okay to tap AND it’s okay to let go of a submission and move on when someone else isn’t willing to tap!

Video: THE VERY EVIL “CRY-ANGLE” CHOKE (Arm / Leg-in Triangle Choke)


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