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.