07 July 2011

When does Jiu-Jitsu get easier?

The short answer: it doesn’t for a VERY long time.  At least that’s my experience and the experience of those I talk too.

I’m asking this in a self-reflective way because my perception of how difficult it is for me and other people’s perception about how I’m rolling are quite different. I feel like I’m terrible, too slow, too late and yet other people say I’m rolling really good.  I think it’s encouragement but the hard thing about BJJ is it just doesn’t seem to get any easier.

You start off as a White and think that once you get your blue the problems you are having will be solved or at least easier.  The thing is…it doesn’t and you find out that even white’s cause problems to Purples from time to time.  Jiu-Jitsu is relative especially during the years until your black; you will always be training with people of better and equal skill.  Until you get past that hurdle that’s a very long time where Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t feel easy.

Once you can roll very relaxed and adaptive to the situation then I think Jiu-jitsu may become a bit easier. So enjoy rolling and leave your ego at the door – otherwise that’s doing to be one bruised ego after 10 years of jiu-jitsu training.


28 June 2011

A New Beginning

So I officially changed schools over the weekend.  I cleared everything first with my old coach so that no bridges were burnt.  He understood that this is life.

I was very apprehensive and nervous driving to my first class.  I had committed myself to changing and everything would be new. I was definitely stepping outside my comfort zone.  The hardest part is the commute, but I think the longer class and tuition I’m receiving should offset that.

After all the formals I jumped on the mat before class and was greeted by one of the blues for a light roll.  A nice introduction; we didn’t try to go at it hard.  We just played a lot with give and take.  The class itself was excellent.  It was only the beginner Gracie self-defence but the instructor gave a lot of good details so both beginner and advanced students could take away something.

What else was a nice surprise was that there was another black belt in the class.  So come the free rolling part of the night I got to roll with a black belt – AWESOME!!! I love the feeling of being swept effortlessly – it just makes me think there is so much to learn in this art.  I made sure I didn’t go too hard with anyone, and just tap if I was caught instead of fighting stubbornly.  There isn’t as many intermediate belts as my old gym but I can feel that everyone really tries to get technique over strength.

So overall an awesome first class. Even though it was a beginner class I actually picked up quite a few details that would help going from side back to hooks in back control.  The other students were great, the gym was great, and best of all there is a massive drawing of Rickson hanging up on the main wall overlooking the mats – awesome!

24 June 2011

Sensitivity and Balance

Ok I’ve been slack and haven’t posted in awhile.  Two things have played on my mind and that is motivation and acceptance for my existing gym.  Since starting privates I’ve noticed my attendance for my gym has been declining, and that my motivation for going there is also declining.  I’m just getting so much out of my privates that I feel like my old gym is just not progressing me in any way. I don’t feel accepted at the gym.  So I’m thinking of making the switch permanently to the Rickson (and Kron) Gracie affiliate school.

It’s a lot further away – 45mins to 2 hours depending on how bad traffic is – each way. Still I think overall the change will be for the better.  It’s a personal thing, sometimes you start BJJ at one school but you just don’t click there in the same way. I don’t think it’s bad to change schools as you can never know what another school is like when you first start BJJ.I got into this art because of Rickson Gracie, so really that’s where my heart is telling me to go.

On other topics I’ve been working a lot on sensitivity to movement and balance.  Interesting enough I just happened to come across a Rickson Gracie video of him doing a private lesson on a Swiss balls.  He demonstrating some great exercises that I think can directly apply to Jiu Jitsu. The three main exercises were:

  1. Lie flat on the ball and try to keep balance without touching ground.
  2. Put knees on ball and then stand up on the ball and do squats (that’s right…squats) without falling off.
  3. Lie on back on ground and put a leg on the ball, elevate your hips off the ground and keep balance.  You can even practise going to your sides if you want.

All of these sound easy, but for me they work so many aspects of sensitivity, balance, muscle and timing.  I’m starting to incorporate these exercises into the Gynastica Natural exercises.  I think they compliment each other very nicely and will help my Jiu Jitsu.

Rickson Gracie demonstrating some balance sensitivity.

I can’t last 3 seconds in the first exercise without touching the ground.  The second exercise I finally got both of my feet onto the ball after a couple of days.  I can’t stand yet.  As for the last exercises: I don’t feel I have enough power or more correctly the power isn’t being directed correctly onto one leg.

Anyhow it’s a great video showing just how much body awareness he has…

06 May 2011

Mat Stickiness

So most of April was a total write off for me.  I managed a grand total of 6 training session;  injuries and holidays are bad for Jiu-Jitsu!

One thing I’ve rarely paid is the mats I train on.  My gym has old worn out PVC rubber mats that have lost the ridges and gloss.  In other words you could never use them as a slippery slide. 

I’m musing whether or not one type of mat in particular stifles the learning of BJJ.  Other mats I’ve trained on are the opposite;  they are so slippery that you can slip and slide on them if you wear socks.

I wonder how would this effect the development of a person’s Jiu-Jitsu. Would having low friction mats enable the person to develop excellent hip movement from underneath.  Promote a more flowing game and fun rolls?  Would high friction mats promote more reversals than escapes,  and make it harder for the person underneath to move or escape?  My experience is this – on high friction mats it’s physically easier to wait for a timed roll or reversal than it is to escape by moving on the mat.  Would one mat promote an overall more well rounded game than the other?

Or are both fine and good to train on?

Take tennis as an example.  The surface of the court makes a massive difference.  A person who only ever trains on a hard surface courts usually really struggles when they play on a clay surface and vice versa.  They develop very different games, and if you’ve watched matches on both types of courts you would notice that they style of tennis even looks different.

From my observation of video’s released on Jiu-Jitsu it seems more places have low friction mats than they do high friction mats.   So I wonder, am I doing myself a disservice by training at a gym that has extremely high friction mats?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen any good conversation around this as applied to Jiu-Jitsu and grappling.

12 April 2011

A Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu Rebirth

Last week was a fairly pivotal week for me BJJ wise.  I decided I needed to get a private lesson from someone not affiliated with my school, or even in the same federation (Will-Machado).  My reasoning was simple: I needed a different approach to my training and technique.

I discovered that there is a Rickson Gracie affiliated academy black belt an hour from my place.  Seriously, what are the chances! So I talked with my current instructor and told them I would like privates with this other person; they were fine with that.

The results were astounding.  I’ve read about people coming away from Rickson Gracie seminars completely in awe and how everything has changed.  I had exactly the same feeling.   What I loved about my private was he used the same terminology such as Connection, Energy etc that I heard and read that Rickson uses.  I left my private lesson completely shell-shocked and in awe.

It confirmed everything I thought and hoped; it gave me insight into how Rickson makes things seem so effortless.  I have to start again,  my basic movement has been completely changed:  Do you know how long it’s going to take to undo the muscle memory of 10000 incorrect hip escapes (shrimping for the people in America)?!

It’s the best money I’ve spent for BJJ: Better than any seminar I’ve taken, lesson or free roll.

I feel like I’ve got lost in the BJJ city and ended back where I started,  only this time I know where not to go!  Time to try again,  this time I’m driving in that BJJ city with GPS (Rickson Gracie black belt) directions.


01 April 2011

Defensive Mindset for BJJ

One thing I’ve noticed is that big white belts can get extremely competitive in rolling with blue belts.  Especially if they are 4 stripes.  My theory is they want to test themselves against the blue; beat the blue and prove that they deserve a blue belt.

This is one of the main reasons I don’t roll with large strong white belts close to their Blue Belt.  They muscle moves instead of finesse them;  each roll feels like an ADCC match.  The end result is an unhappy roll with injuries.   I’ve incurred 2 injuries in the same number of weeks due to this; bruised ribs and a hyper extended elbow. All caused by overly “eager” white belts with a point to prove. 

If you are a big white belt – then please don’t act like every roll with a blue belt is life or death.  Relax and treat your training partner as a training partner and not an opponent!

Ok, end of rant.

So to combat this I’m following a plan to improve my defences;  the plan helps me have focus and conserves my energy.  I allow the white belt to attack, get good positions and I work on my survival and escapes.  I’ve changed the focus of my rolls from wanting to tap someone, to trying to be efficiently unbeatable for that roll. 

I was quite surprised to see John Will blog on this very topic recently.  He made a point that having a defensive mindset for rolling is a very empowering experience.  In fact a lot of high level black belts always repeat this exact thing.

Personally, I enjoy the defensive aspect – the more you do it the more you become relaxed and still feel like you are in control..  I don’t feel I’m struggling and gassing out at all.  In fact I can keep this up for 8+ rounds – which is a record for me!

Initially I thought my focus would be on Side Control for just a week or two.  I’ve realised however that most people in my gym prefer side control to any other attacking position which means I need to spend more time working escapes.  It also means that if I want to practice mount and back defence I specifically have to ask my opponent to start from those positions.

So my average roll atm looks like this: Survive, Survive, Survive, Escape, Survive, Escape, Pass, Reversed, Survive, Escape Pass, Pass, Submit (optional).

Much better than: Stall, Stall, Pass, Attack, Attack, Attack, Stall, Stall, Attack, Exhaustion.


17 March 2011

Everyone needs a Survival Plan

After attending a Jujitsu coaching accreditation course (NCAS) I was reflecting on parts of the course that I liked, parts that I didn’t and parts that were a big hole in my own development.  Part of the problem is that I’ve internally placed too much importance on letting my instructor develop me as a BJJ practitioner.  Until this blog I never took ownership of my development – besides just showing up.

During the coaching course, a section was dedicated to vision, goals, planning and monitoring progress – the examples were shown in a generic sports sense.  However I started thinking about how I don’t apply this to my own BJJ.  I had a vision and I set goals, but I never created plans for those goals.

That is a plan outside of showing up to class and doing whatever technique was being displayed.  I don’t have a coach as such that gives me that direction.  So my approach is if I can’t have that I’ll coach myself.  It doesn’t mean I’ll learn technique and make it up myself.  It means I’ll give my training some structure.

My vision is simple: Make my Jiu Jitsu as effortless and effective as Rickson Gracie’s.

That’s a huge vision,  but that’s what a vision is suppose to be.  Something far off the drives everything else you do.

So my immediate goal this month is this:  To feel relaxed and safe when underneath all belt colours and sizes.

I added a monthly plan on how to achieve this goal.  This stuff, is the extra stuff outside of class drilling.  It’s my own session by session plan that augments whatever is being taught.  Perhaps I work on it during live rolls, after class, or during open mat.  I still will work on what is being taught.

The idea is for every day I have a specific requirement that I have to work on in training. Which leads me one step  towards achieving the current goal I’ve set.   I then just go back the next day and mark (either green or red) whether I completed my planned drill/exercise or not.   I also update my training log with how the night in general went.

My plan for last night was to get under SC, S-Mount and Mount and just work survival skills without even worrying about escapes.  I didn’t get much time in Mount as people generally got stuck in SC or went straight to S-Mount.  So I accomplished most of my plan for the night.  My plan has me doing this particular thing for the next 3-4 training sessions.


Example of my training log.


Example of my Training Plan

The plan doesn’t tell me how well I did things – I have the training log for that.  It’s purpose is just to ensure I’m following the plan towards the goal.  If you don’t have an instructor that actively participates in asking you for your goals and setting out a specific plan then I recommend you give something like this a try.  Otherwise you are like the guys that go down to the local weights gym to workout without any direction – what are they really achieving in the long run?  I don’t want to be a great competitor or anything,  but I do want to be getting the most out of every Jiu Jitsu class I attend. 

Happy rolling


11 March 2011

Butterfly Sweep Leverage Explained

In my previous post titled “Understanding Leverage in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu" I explained some of the basic concepts for leverage in general in BJJ.  I wanted to give a more concrete example applied to just one branch of techniques.  So the technique is the Butterfly Sweep.  I’m not going to explain how to do one.  I am only going to explain the leverage behind it a bit more.

In my previous post I mentioned that I thought I saw the Butterfly Sweep as utilising a Class 2 lever.  Well I think that the sweep has more than one lever.

Using the Opponent as a Class 2 Lever

imageLet’s have a side on look at the butterfly sweep.  Btw this is Stephen Kesting demonstrating the sweep.  Let’s look at the Opponent (White Gi) first.  This is utilising a Class 2 Lever.  His Load is low to the ground on his hips.  If you look at the 3rd and 4th picture you can see that Stephen is creating a Fulcrum on the opponents left shoulder.  In the 3rd and 4th picture you can see that a Force is being generated from the hook . 

So this is our classic Wheelbarrow lever.  The opponents shoulder is the wheel, their load is now in the middle, their leg is the handle. These combine to lift the person over the Fulcrum point (their shoulder).

Using yourself as a Class 1 Lever

Stephen is also using himself as a lever.  To help generate the Upward Force to lift the handle he sits up and in.  He then propels himself backwards (Force going down behind him) while keeping his leg at the same position relative to his own body.  This seesaw action is key,  he doesn’t lie down and then lift his leg – the leg starts lifting as soon as he starts any backward movement. 

If you break it down to basic concepts.  The Load is on his left foot – the handle of the wheelbarrow.  His butt is the Fulcrum (the part that doesn’t move) and the Force is throwing himself backwards (which gives the bonus of gravity to add to your mass) to the ground.  What Class lever is this?  Well the Fulcrum is in the middle of this lever.  He becomes a seesaw.  So it’s a Class 1 lever – which is the strongest for lifting a heavy load.

If Stephen was stronger relative to the person he was sweeping then I’m sure he could have relied on his own muscle strength. He could potentially just sit back and then lift the person using a straight leg. I’ve seen strong guys to this to lighter people.  They muscle the technique. This requires a very strong Class 3 lever.  Where possible utilise Class 1 or Class 2 levers.

Another point is this, if you are too weak to be able to structurally move your leg up as you fall back, keep your hook leg (Load) closer to your Butt (Fulcrum).   Structurally you will make the Lever (your body) stronger, but the side effect is it’s now slower to lift.

This is where feel comes in.  I’m just discovering this, but I think the really good guys make all those adjustments on the fly to make the levers work.  I know I use to do everything correctly, but it felt impossible to actually lift the person because one minor part was wrong.  The part I was forgetting was I had to also make myself a lever.  This helps increase the Force generated to help me lift the opponents leg. It’s easy to overlook that part.

The Butterfly Sweep is a very powerful sweep.  It utilises both people as different levers.  Thinking about BJJ at this level sounds very complex, but the beauty now is once you understand this for Butterfly Sweep  you only need to think about 1 sweep instead of 10  – every butterfly sweep from now on is just a minor adjustment for a specific scenario.  Every Butterfly sweep should have a Wheelbarrow and a Lifting Seesaw.

Some Reasons Why things go wrong

Q: The sweep failed, when I fell backwards he lifted up but then he was able to post out with one hand which stopped him from being swept.

A:  Most instructors probably will say you didn’t secure his arm etc.  A more technically correct answer as applied to leverage is this.   He was able to MOVE the Fulcrum from his shoulder to posted hand (think how hard it is to lift a full wheel barrow when the wheel moves forward as you tried to lift it).  Make sure the Fulcrum can’t be changed or make sure you account for that change. 

Q: The sweep failed,  I did everything right, I used myself as a lever, he came forward but I could lift him.

A:  An Instructor might say keep your hook further down his leg away from the centre line.  A more technical answer is this: The upward Force was being applied to close to the Load.  The further back from the Load you can apply the Force, the less Force you need.  Think trying to lift a wheelbarrow full of cement from the point the handle meets the barrow – This is much harder then lifting it at the end of the handle.

These are just demonstration examples for highlighting  how to apply some good thinking. I’m much more concerned about fixing the basics of my BJJ.  If I can get these concepts correct then I think it will be easier for me to correct minor things such as poor grip selection in a particular scenario.  Through this understanding I will have LESS things to think about when rolling.  For me it’s about technically correct simplification of my applied BJJ.

Happy Rolling


PS:- Did  you see there are actually 2 Class 2 levers on the opponent – the one I didn’t mention is on the the initial pull down – Looks at Stephen’s arms...

09 March 2011

Understanding Leverage in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu

I’ll preface this whole blog by saying that this is going to be a work in progress – expect mistakes.  I’m going to update this particular blog many times (I hope) as my understanding of the mechanics solidifies.  I’ll try to add and expand it.  It MAY be incorrect at times – which is fine as I’ll be able to come back and really refine what I thought I understood.

BEGINNER’s Terminology of Leverage

A Lever can be described in 3 main parts. A “Load”, a “Fulcrum”, and a “Force”. 


Fulcrum – it’s the immovable part,  the part that the rest of the lever has to work around

Load – that’s the weight you are trying to move. Such as the opponent.

Force – That’s Acceleration multiplied by Mass.  A small Mass can produce the same Force as a larger Mass if  the small Mass is Accelerating faster.

In BJJ terms we care about leverage, which means we care about all 3 points as it’s applied to us and our opponent. The chief point we care about is the Fulcrum.  So if you want to apply leverage (which we do if we use BJJ) always think about the Fulcrum.  To get the Fulcrum though you need to have a connection.  This is why connection is critical for BJJ.

No Connection = No Fulcrum = No Leverage = No BJJ.

3 Class Types of Levers

To easily think about what type of lever is being used I currently like to think about what part of the lever is in the middle.

imageClass 1 Lever – This lever has the fulcrum in the middle. Think  Seesaw.



imageClass 2 Lever – This lever has the Load in the middle.  Think Wheelbarrow.



imageClass 3 Lever – This lever has the Force in the middle.  Think Tweezers.



If we considering each of the class levers above with the same load of 1KG.  The Class1 lever requires the least amount of force to move it.  The class 3 lever requires the most amount of force to move the load.  Class1 levers are more efficient than Class 3 levers when it comes to moving something very heavy.  However Class 3 can move the load faster and further.

This is why people say technique triumphs over strength in BJJ (excluding where you talk about both together).  Strength relies a lot on Class 3 levers (your own muscle) to generate Force without considering using the leverage. While good technique will take advantage of Class 1 and Class 2 levers that can be used using less Force and effort to manipulate the opponent.

Examples of Class 1 Lever BJJ techniques

  • Armbar from Mount
  • Kneebar
  • Kimura
  • Americana
  • Omaplata (sub or sweep)

Most limbs can easily be manipulated by class 1 levers for submissions.  Force can be generated from your hips, or your legs, or just your body weight.

Examples of Class 2 Lever BJJ techniques

  • Butterfly sweep
  • Arm drag from guard to back attack.
  • Upa from Mount
  • Sitting Roll Over sweep
  • Shrimp (Hip escape – upward and towards part of it) movement from Side Control

I think BJJ utilises class 2 levers mainly for sweeps and reversals.  A lot of the force is generated through the hips (either from the feet and legs or from the core).  Thus like a wheel barrow, it’s easier to lift a weight much more than you would be able to normally.  So generally, we use this class of lever when underneath an opponent. 

Examples of Class 3 Lever BJJ Techniques

  • Bicep Crush
  • Scissor Sweep
  • Front Sweep against standing Guard

I’m not sure how accurate these ones are.  I’m struggling to find  many techniques that actually use class 3 levers.

Leverage is a core component of BJJ.  Being able to move and manipulate using them is one thing.  Being able to recognise the leverage an opponent has against you I think is even better. I’m struggling to find a good defence strategy that is easy to understand.  With so many techniques it’s very hard to identify what my opponent is really doing.  Instead I’m going to develop feel triggers based on the 3 leverage concepts.   I’m going to try to set people up with a repeatable pattern so I can recognise what leverage the person has against me.

In terms of attacking,  I’m already starting to think that an Armbar is an Armbar, no matter from where it’s put on.  Understanding how to to anticipate my opponent based on the leverage he is trying to apply I think is key.  That’s the end goal on why I blogged this.  I want to be able to distil all these attack and defence “bjj techniques” down to core concepts only. For my brain, it’s easier to think about 3 things (Force,  Fulcrum and Load) than 50. 

That’s my very long term plan anyway – that seems like a galaxy far far away…

Happy rolling,


04 March 2011

Keeping it Simple and Real

I follow a lot of BJJ blogs online.  It's good for information and insight, or even bad insight that I can then turn into good insight. 

So I was reading a blog entry from the Inner Game of Jiu Jitsu.  The heading of the blog was titled KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid).  I agree with this principle whole heartedly. I agree and have thought for a long time that you don’t need to learn all these variations of techniques.  To me, my blog has always been about making my BJJ as basic as possible.  If you understand the finer concepts of a choke or armbar then you probably can execute 1000 minor technical variations of each quite easily. I think just “choke”, or just “armbar” now. I find it simplifies things greatly.

What I don’t agree with was the assumption that simple meant to pass guard, then mount and finish.  If you read my previous blog on the Attack Triangle then you would see that I think this strategy limits yourself to one side of the triangle – I think that this approach misses all the neck and arm attack opportunities along the way.  The approach, while sounding simple is actually very predictable and your opponent will fight against you tooth and nail along the way.

It’s great to have a specific strategy,  but one strategy does not fit all – every opponent reacts in a unique way.  That’s why as a large beginner I could easily get Kimuras on small guys, but against larger more savvy opponents those opportunities dried up. My strategy no longer worked.  I would fight for it, and the person would know and concentrate on arm defence.

I consider my Jiu jitsu is becoming much more simpler now. If I was to articulate the actual techniques I now know I’m sure it’s far more then 12 months ago.  Yet it feels simpler – I can understand techniques more easily as I see the similarity between them all. Currently when rolling I try to only think of the the simple stuff – never a specific technique.  So in my mind, I’m usually thinking:
  • Redirecting Resistance
  • Moving Hips
  • Attack Triangle
  • Grips
  • Feel (does what I’m doing right now feel effortless)
The more I watched Rickson Gracie talk about techniques. The more I heard him express things in a simple manner,  just choke the person,  just armbar, just pass, just hold the arm.  I realised he has distilled his BJJ down to the very basic concepts – that then link into a very complex tree of technique I’m sure.  Of course it’s incredibly technical if you were to pull it apart – but the high level thinking behind this is simple.  Thinking simply leads to good timing as you are operating on feeling your opponent and not thinking about the specific steps for your next move. 

The last key to making things simple is the ability to critically reflect on rolls.  Go through it in your mind afterwards and identify the core concepts you executed well and executed poorly.

I think the measure to tell if you followed the KISS principle is this.  If the move ended up feeling effortless and highly effective then it was the right thing to do.

Keep it simple, keep it real.

01 March 2011

The Attack Triangle Trinity of BJJ

During my time studying these Rickson Gracie seminar’s I’ve been slowly coming to revelation on various attacking options.  I started with the micro, that is, I just pick one technique from one position and tried to understand how he applied it.

That attack for me was the Knee-In Armbar from Side control.  It was my worst submission, now it’s by far my number 1 submission.  Gone are the days of forcing on Kimura’s.  However  people have started to wise on to what I’m doing and to varying degrees can make things more difficult for me.  Now a few times I’ve chosen to grind through and get the arm bar, thus causing the roll to stall a bit.  Other times I’ve tried to attack the neck which has then re-opened the arms to attack.  Still something was missing – and yet again watching these Rickson Gracie seminars I stumble upon an almost throw away comment he makes.

He was stating that the person cannot defend all three (arm, neck or you getting better position), and that you always have these attack options as long as you move and keep fluid.   The comment was simple.  It was basic and easily understood.  This tells me it’s valuable.

If they defend the neck, then attack the arm.  If they turn into you from side control then take mount or attack the neck.  Rickson’s commentary on this sounded bigger than just an answer to a quick question – it sounded like a philosophy or core concept for attacking in BJJ.

I’ve fallen for the error of trying to attack a persons arms, then their neck and somehow they’ve managed to defend both and getting caught up in that.  The thing I’m forgetting in these circumstances is my opportunity to improve my position or change it.  Numerous times now people have attempted to get to turtle from under my side control rather than lose the arm to the inevitable armbar.  In these circumstances I generally control an underhook on an arm and stopped them turning.  I get frustrated as they were defending the arms and the neck.  What I should have done is take the back as they go to turtle.  I’m one step ahead of them anyway,  I know what they are about to do, but in these circumstances I choose not to flow with the go. 

This was an error on my behalf.  So intent was I on the control and submission of the arm or neck that I neglected the free opportunity to improve my position.  Many times after rolls I recall opportunities that I missed to get full back control or mount.  I failed at applying the Attack Triangle (neck, arm, position) concept correctly.   My opponent was giving me position, he didn’t want me to attack his arm or neck – yet I ignored this.

If you focus on position improvement and their arm then your opponent is going to stop you from getting those.  The defender can stop a person achieving these goals.  It’s so easy to get focused on two sides of the triangle that you ignore the third. Try to keep fluid between all three sides of this attack triangle.  Pick a side and legitimately go for it, then be on the lookout to switch to another side of the triangle attack and opportunities to finish or get better position will present themself.  Part of this is changing position yourself when you feel you aren’t making progress.  Knee-Ride, North-South and others are just variations of side control.  Use them all in side control and flow.

This Attack Triangle concept is just part of the BJJ building blocks – I believe most good BJJ players do this subconsciously and only a select handful can articulate this concept.  I come from a software development background,  in that you have a triangle for Cost, Quality and Time Constraints.  You can only ever achieve two of these constraints in a software development project.  If you have a set Cost and a set Time Frame then you have to sacrifice Quality to achieve those other constraints. I think the same applies for Jiu-jitsu defence -  it’s almost impossible to defend all 3 sides of the Attack Triangle unless you have a very good idea what the opponent is going to do next.

As an attacker I think you want to have good control, be fluid, use your hips and their levers correctly.  A sure sign you are not doing things correctly is if you find yourself grinding on the other person and trying to force a submission for say more than 5 seconds.  I’ve done this a ton in the past and it was such an effort to attack.  If you can’t get the neck after 5 seconds, then most likely you are NOT going to get it in without something changing – the only thing that can change in this circumstance is you.   Think about when someone attacks your arm and they are just belligerently trying to get it from the same position (say Kimura from Side Control).  You start to adjust and make it as difficult as possible to apply the position, and you start to work for escapes to use their strength against them.

For now I’m going to try to think about the Attack Triangle when I’m going for my attacks.  I’m going to see what other opportunities open up for me with this trinity of options.  I’m hoping Mount and Back Control.  They aren’t my strongest areas of control but I’m looking forward to see what I learn next.

Happy rolling.


24 February 2011

Training with Injuries can lead to Innovation

So I’m starting to get a bit bruised and battered with all the training I’m doing.  My finger is broken and my ribs on one side are very tender and sore.  The ribs are what really worry me.  It’s my Achilles heel of injuries. Previously I’ve been sidelined for 2 stints of 3 months because of the ribs. Having a separated rib is not a pleasant experience – anyone who has felt the pop and tear will attest to this.  The recovery is very slow and the mobility you have is very limited.  The current injury is in the same area as the previous ones, however for now it’s not as serious.

There are certain injuries that are easy to work around, and others that aren’t.  The broken finger for example was remarkable easy.  I’d just tape the thing up to another finger nice and tight and not use too many grips.  I used it as an opportunity to work on alternate methods for controlling such as underhooks and overhooks.

The ribs, well, they are more insidious.  Everything in BJJ is connected to your core body movement.  The ribs are central in that they are affected by anything your core does like twist, hip escape, turn.   Once injured they become the weak link in the chain for your body.

On the flip side I don’t want to go for weeks without training.  This injury probably will take me about 3 weeks to fully recover and if I’m not careful I could be out for another 3 months.  So, with that in mind I once again will have to modify my training.

I haven’t got any concrete ideas yet on what I should be doing but I’ve got some initial thoughts on it.

  • Limit live sparring
  • Turn live sparring into a positional drill
  • Tell my partners “No Knee Rides”, “Knee-In armbars” or rib pressure.
  • Ask to improve my top attack game, to limit the pressure on my ribs.  In the hole training…

I like the last point.  Anything underneath is going to hurt quite a bit and potential lead to a greater injury.  Still I understand that some people don’t like to have it all one way.  Hopefully some people will like the challenge of escaping to a better position and starting again. While I will have the challenge of start in side control and submit or get and control the back for 20 seconds.

I want to have goals that progress my BJJ and give me something to work for each class. The nice thing about being restricted in what I can and can’t do is it gives you an opportunity to innovate and become creative.  You can actually incorporate these restrictions into your goals.  Having restrictions is a good thing for BJJ and life.  

So my opponent can’t knee ride and arm bar.  Okay, so they have to innovate and come up with different attacks and controls.  I can’t be on bottom.  Okay, so I’ll make goals such as taking the back.  I’ll work on submissions and attacks that don’t increase the injury to my ribs.  My finger is broken,  okay so I’ll work on controls that don’t use Gi grips. 

So with these restrictions I’m going to look forward to training. As long as I have supportive partners and I obey the restrictions I’ve imposed I’m sure I can still improve my BJJ in a safe manner.

Time to put on the problem solving hat.


18 February 2011

Rickson Gracie teaching vs Damien Maia and Xande Ribiero


Showing Escapes from Armbar–However the arm bar has a critical basic flaw…

Fast forward to about 1.30 into this clip and watch Xande put on the arm bar.  Notice how he jams his foot directly under the shoulder and his knee’s naturally fall out towards the persons leg.  You often hear people say squeeze your knees.  With that foot jammed in, you can’t do that correctly. You can’t effectively squeeze your knees together because that inside legs angle which is critical for control is wrong.

This is why this sweep looks so easy off of a very poor knee in arm bar attempt.  If Xande instead had his foot embedded closer to the hip and was then squeezing his knees then the escape would have been much more difficult as the angle of his shin would come across the ribs into the armpit.  The inside knee allows you to control the person, but to do that you need the right angle so you control their hip and ribs.  The top leg across their face is actually less important than the one behind.

Don’t believe me?  Well would you believe Rickson Gracie showing it through demonstration?

Go to the 8 minute mark

The audio is poor but the demonstration is clear.  If you get the knee angle wrong they can escape easily.  What I like about this series of video’s is the simplicity in the technique, it’s pure and not fancy.  I tried this particular issue last night in live full resistance wrestles against equal size and level partners.   I was able to easily hold the bigger person down and nullify his escapes.

I’ve used this series as the blue print for rebuilding my game, I might not know all the technical details but most importantly I’m trying to flow.  Rickson makes it very clear numerous times – you always have another option to go to if they try to block something.  It’s working amazingly well.  Some of the senior guys in class have commented on how my Jiu-Jitsu has skyrocketed in the last month.  To me,  I have one person to thank and that is Rickson Gracie – never met the man but this one series has transformed my entire game.

As for Damien Maia and Xande Ribiero concealing fundamental techniques that they know from others that have paid to attend tuition from them.  I don’t have much time for people that hide and deceive critical basic technical details from their students.  To me that’s the same as committing fraud or at the very least lying.  Two traits that are very unbecoming of a Martial Artist.

I don’t want to learn some fancy pass that will only work against a poor quality arm bar.  I’m sure that it works. Personally if I was at that seminar I would have preferred to be shown the correct way to keep people in control with the Knee-In Arm bar or what to do when you are caught in a technically correct Knee-In arm bar. 

When in doubt, ask this question: “What would Rickson do?” 

Happy rolling.

11 February 2011

Fluidity as a Basic Concept

Continuing on my theme from the last couple of posts I wanted to talk more about fluidity. This is another area I’ve studying from all BJJ video’s I could find on Rickson Gracie.  What does fluidity mean in BJJ.  Watch any video’s of most top BJJ practitioners– past and present.  Then watch two white belts or two blue belts at your gym.  Invariable one will have lots of movement…the other very little and lots of stalling.

I’m going to argue that the big difference isn’t in the amount of technique a blue vs high level belt knows but the core difference is in how they roll and create opportunities. A part of that is the use of triggers.  Beginners learn techniques but aren’t wired yet to instinctively know the triggers and what to do.  A beginner is all intent and zero opportunity.

Using this principle I’ve totally gone against  Cross Face from side control.  I can’t stand it any more as it doesn’t create opportunity.  The position anchors the top person onto the bottom person.  Making it hard for either person to move or work.  It’s this type of position that restricts fluidity.  As a person on top what option have I left the bottom person.  None.  So what is he going to do, keep tight and defend.

Everyone quickly learns the lesson of elbows in and protecting the neck.  So you aren’t going to get what you want, unless you give the other person what they want.  The other person wants the opportunity to escape.  To this extent, use less pressure (pressure for pressures sake)  when on side control and mount.  Become more mobile and use your hips to deflect their arms and stop their escapes thus creating opportunities for yourself. 

For myself I’m putting into practise triggers.  Depending what the person on bottom is trying to do, I’m trying to find very simple answers to that.  The end result is many opportunities for submissions arise and now I’m getting many submissions every roll if I get on top.

So I’m happy with my progress in this area.  Each training session I’m becoming more fluid  and more dangerous  with my attacks.  To do this I’ve eased up on the pressure, relaxed and concentrate on breathing and moving in reaction to whatever the opponent gives me.

Here are some tips I’ve been using myself when on top attacking:

  • Never Cross face (shoulder of justice) from side control, it locks you to your opponent.  Good for points, bad for everything else.
  • Never use excessive pressure – it locks your opponent so they can’t move and therefore can’t create opportunities for you.
  • Don’t get into static escape fights– you engage in arm battles instead of redirection with hips and movement to stop your opponent escaping.
  • Don’t try to force a particular submission – only go for it once the setup opportunity has arisen.
  • Switch hips to redirect pressure from escapes.
  • Keep moving at a nice easy RELAXED pace.  Use a 3 second rule so you don’t stall.  Stalling is just another word for a loss of opportunity, trying moving and switching your hips when you feel stalled.

10 February 2011

Rickson Gracie Side Control Analysis

I was watching some Rickson Gracie Seminar’s over the last couple of weeks.  One aspect I’ve been really trying to hone and rethink is my side control all the way to mount or submission.  One thing I’ve noticed when Rickson rolls is just uses whatever the opponent gives him.  He has very fluid hip movement and doesn’t use any strength to hold a person down.

I’ve noticed at my school and many people I train with is they have one thing in common from side control.  They love the cross face (shoulder pushing into face).  While this keeps a person pinned it really doesn’t achieve much else.  It’s difficult to attack and you expend lots of energy.  To top it off the person will naturally want to be tight and not give you much because you haven’t give him much.

Instead what I’ve seen is that Rickson prefers to keep a short base side control with both arms on the other side of the opponent.  The difference is, he isn’t static.  If someone pushes his hip near their head he will switch base towards their head.  Likewise if they push his far hip or leg (the one near their leg) he will switch base and look to quickly take mount.

He will keep going around to the head and back to side control looking for any opening.  Always attacking, always moving.  However it’s the small details that make a big difference.  Switching hips, breathing, not using strength.  Lots of feints, letting the opponent trying to move a bit.  Going around to the head, he will keep his head pushing into the chest. That is, up until he has the reverse underhook locked up.  Then it’s game over with the arm bar.

I’ve been trying a similar strategy of keeping my hips moving, searching for the elbows, going to mount if the opportunity arises.  It’s proving quite effective.  I know a couple of posts ago I was bemoaning the fact that this was suppose to be the gentle art.  I’m starting to notice my top game is becoming that.  So far every time I’ve got top position (side control or mount) I’ll end up getting the arm bar!  Against blues, whites and against massive guys (120KG) full of muscles.

So much to learn. My next step is to take the side control flow and utilise a similar strategy for mount.  All the while looking for this arm bars.

Flow with the go!  Winking smile

07 February 2011

Ginastica Natural

So I’m starting to get more into Ginastica Natural.  In fact, for now I’ve removed all weights training and replaced it with half hour of cardio and half hour of ginastica natural.  I’m hoping that over the long term I’ll start to see improvements in my flexibility and hopefully fluidity in my Jiu-jitsu.

I certainly feel better after committing half hour to these movements.  It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to solo BJJ.  So instead of talking lots about it I will instead update my blog about once a month with my progress.   At the moment I’m just taking the movements and stretching components.  Perhaps in the future I will look at some of the breathing applications.

03 February 2011

The Gentle Art

Doesn’t feel that gentle when I’m against a resisting opponent.

This is the crux of a great deal of issues for a lot of problems.  What’s the point of dominating a live roll if you are exhausted at the end of it.  I completely burned myself out in a roll the other day.  Against someone who is very strong and fairly well versed in not doing anything stupid like exposed arms etc.

So for me,  I feel totally inadequate.  I don’t have sharp technique to take advantage of timing.  I get into strength battles.  I’m currently trying to improve my arm bars.  I’m now finding people see the setups coming and defend like crazy.  I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to fight through it.  Perhaps my setups aren’t correct, or I need to adjust to  essentially make the setups impossible to defend regardless of the action.  Monday and Tuesday I resorted to brute strength – and failed.  The thing is, I see lots of other people do this too…it seems like it is the accepted norm. Especially when you get the big guys walk in wanting to learn MMA.  They progress fast for awhile because of their size.

So I wonder,  how do you train using the gentle art?  Where things look and feel effortless.  It’s doubly hard when someone is technically more proficient than you or at least close to equal.  I don’t know the answer to this question. 

I do however want my game to be based on the gentle art.  I think that requires that I just use whatever it is an opponent gives me. This requires good timing, understanding of small details for leverage.

For my current skill set – that seems like a pipe dream.

25 January 2011

Rickson Gracie Arm Bar Grip Analysis

The last week  I’ve made some great strides in the entries and finishes for arm bars.  In particular the finer details with which grip to use in the setup.  I was watching an old Rickson Gracie video and I noticed how he was setting up his grips for the arm bar.  The other points I noticed was how when finishing the arm bar he would get on his side slightly, always facing towards the opponents head.  It didn’t seem to matter about being perfectly perpendicular to the opponent,  sometimes it appeared he would even have the arm stretched out past that 90 degree point, more towards the opponents head.  I hope that makes sense.

So with these in mind I tried to apply some of the concepts to how I apply arm bars.  The most critical part is the grip he achieves.  It’s far superior to other grips I’ve seen and tried to use. 

  1. Grab their wrist with the hand nearest their head and get the other hand underneath their armpit and connect into a figure four grip by holding your wrist.  Never let your wrists bend backward once you’ve achieved this grip.
  2. Jump up, around or whatever variation you are currently doing.  Aim to get your hip behind their elbow near the shoulder.
  3. Try to “fall” onto your side slightly.  You should be on your hip/butt check nearest their head.
  4. This angle, with this grip enables you to pry open most grips. 
  5. Don’t be afraid to roll with the person, just don’t let go of the grip.

I’ve got this from a lot of setups over the last couple of days. Which is surprising given I never get arm bars at all!  Ever.  I’m sure their are issues, but now I’m getting 3-4 arm bars on each person I roll with!

I’m sure I was shown something like this when I first started, but honestly it’s all the little details that this grip delivers that make the big difference. I see people grabbing the grips the wrong way around, or using the forearm up near the bicep instead of the the wrist, or not using leverage by falling slightly away from the opponents strong resistance point.


Rickson Gracie demonstrating the grips for arm bar from side control

19 January 2011

Queensland and Brazil Floods

So my home city of Brisbane QLD just received the worst floods in 35 years. Scores of people dead and many thousands without power in the middle of a capital city!  Brazil was hit even worse,  mass landslides.  Luckily the flood for Brisbane was 1 metre lower than expected.  For my gym this made all the difference and it escaped any water damage.

I’ve noticed a trend in lessons that I hadn’t noticed before.  At my gym we do a lot of lessons based on submission but very little on passing or escaping. I think the ratio is the wrong way around. To me, what’s the point of the submission if I’m struggling to assert any type of control over my opponent.  I know the principles you hear of defend/attack but still I need to spend more time escaping and passing before I can get to submission attempts.

That being said I’ve been working on Arm Bars the last couple of weeks.  I’m trying to work one that involves set ups off successful scissor sweeps or failed scissor sweeps.  I just need to drill it out more to feel comfortable attempting it.  I’ll probably also start working on a combination from the flower sweep in closed guard.


06 January 2011

2011–Year of the Scissor sweep

So I’m setting myself some goals this year.  Nothing major but enough that it gives my training some underlying focus.  I want to work on all aspects of my BJJ and will work with whatever happens to be taught, but for clarity and purpose I’m going to pick some basic techniques to continue to sharpen.  Foremost this year will be the Scissor sweep.

I find I have more luck with sweep than finishes from guard.  Historically I’ve been a slow methodical BJJ practitioner who doesn’t give up top position once it’s gained.  My goal however is to roll more dynamically and not be worried about giving up top control as long as it’s flowing.

The other part move is going to be arm bar.  The most dreaded underutilized move in my arsenal.  I never even attempt this move.  I want to get to the point that I can just roll from armbar to sweep to armbar.  I still will go for the collar chokes, and to a lesser extent figure four locks but the emphasis is going to be on finding techniques that use my hips and legs and not my upper body or arms so much.

I want to see if I can change how I roll over the next twelve months.  Fundamentally change how I approach things to become more fluid.  A big part of this change will be flexibility.    I’m not  very flexible and I believe that is something that hinders my progress.

I really enjoyed the changes I made during the later half of 2010.  Focussing on a subset of techniques and really reviewing and drilling them in detail. I’ll still incorporate the collar choke into my fluidity, gaining high mount correctly. For learning though I’m going to just go for arm bars…and I imagine for 3 months really suck at them and get reversed and submitted badly.

Through these techniques my goal is develop an understanding of the application of the following concepts:

  • Fluidity
  • Timing
  • Controls (grips and levers)
  • Distance