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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a purple belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©2004-2014 Can Sönmez

01 September 2014

01/09/2014 - Teaching | The Back | Maintaining Turtle (Top)

Teaching #190
Artemis BJJ (Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 01/09/2014

We have a new position this month, the turtle. To begin, I wanted to cover some of the basics for maintaining the turtle, from the top person's perspective. A good starting point is a wrestling position I learned from Nathan Leverton, the side ride. You are alongside them, with your nearest knee next to theirs, your other leg out for base (but bent, as if it's straight, that hinders your ability to react to their movement). Your same side hand is grabbing their near arm, while your other hand is reaching inside their far hip.

Don't go too deep, just to the level of your wrist, also being careful to keep your elbow out of range: if they can grab your elbow, they can roll you over. To maximise your pressure, keep your head low. I'd also advise keeping your knee off the floor and leaning into them.

You can also move around directly behind them, legs in tight rather than sprawled back (that can work too, but it does potentially provide them with some space to exploit). In that position, put both hands inside their thighs, your knees pressing into their hips, staying on your toes and keeping your weight low. From there, you can switch to the side ride on either side. If they manage to start turning in either direction, always run behind them to their back. If you run towards their stomach as they turn, that can put you in their guard.

Teaching Notes: This is the first time I've taught a class on turtle, so I was looking forward to seeing what works and what doesn't. I think tonight went pretty well, though I can see a few bits I could possibly add in, such as the spiral ride for when they're trying to get up. For that, you basically just thrust your non-hip hand underneath them and past their head, while simultaneously running round. That is meant to flatten them back down, either returning them to turtle, giving your the back, or potentially putting you in side control. At the same time, I don't want to go overboard adding details, as it's important to maintain that balance between useful and comprehensible.

Next time I'll emphasise keeping weight on them and probably add in the spiral ride (although maybe just in drilling, if I see somebody is having trouble because their partner keeps rising up?). I could potentially broaden out the grips, as there are lots of alternatives besides grabbing the arm. However, that could easily lead me to over-complicate stuff. If I went with grabbing the wrist, that would fit in nicely with the crucifix stuff, so I might try that when I teach it next, with a view to teaching the crucifix later on.

30 August 2014

30/08/2014 - Open Mat | The Back | Turtle Basics

Class #588
Artemis BJJ (Impact Gym), Open Mat, Bristol, UK - 30/08/2014

In September, we're returning to the back, revisiting a position for the first time since we kicked off Artemis BJJ back in January. It won't be a retread of April, however, as the focus will be a specific variant of back control known as the turtle, where you're on your knees and elbows. This is something that crops up quite often as people try to avoid being passed, along with various other situations. It isn't a position I find myself in all that much, perhaps because I tend to go with tight, pressure passes that result either in a pass or getting stuck in half guard most of the time. Either way, it means it's a position I'm looking forward to exploring in more depth.

So, as usual with open mats, I wanted to have a play with some techniques I plan to teach next week. The reason I was especially keen to look into turtle was due to a couple of instructionals I've been sent to review that are based around turtle: firstly, Aesopian's Mastering the Crucifix that I reviewed recently, then secondly a turtle seminar from Nathan 'Levo' Leverton. A number of the techniques from Levo's video are ones I've seen before at his LSG back seminar, so it's good to get a different take on it as well as a refresher.

I'm going to cover some of the basics for maintaining the turtle, from the top person's perspective. For that, I'm using the side ride and the back control position Levo learned from Demian Maia. For the side ride, you have your nearest knee next to theirs, your other leg out for base (but bent, as if it's straight, that hinders your ability to react to their movement). Your same side hand is grabbing their arm, while your other hand is reaching inside their far hip. Don't go too deep, just to the level of your wrist, also being careful to keep your elbow out of range. Your head stays low.

A point of difference between how Levo showed it on that video and how I've seen Xande do the same thing is that Xande keeps his knee off the floor and leans into them. You can also see that in Aesopian's section about the side ride. I decided to go with knee off the ground, to add a bit more weight and mobility, but I'm still experimenting to see what works best both for me and for students.

You can also move around behind them, where you put both hands inside their thighs, your knees pressing into their hips, staying on your toes and keeping your weight low. From there, you can switch to the side ride on either side. If they manage to start turning, always run behind them to their back. If you run towards their stomach as they turn, that puts you in their guard.

Along with some of that maintenance, I had a quick play with the clock choke variation I learned from Kev, who got it in turn from Felipe Souza. I find it simpler than the usual clock choke, as you simply grab their collar, block the near side of their head with your free elbow, then walk round for the submission. I tend to find the standard clock choke tricky to get and more awkward to finish, but that's probably just because I always use the elbow-block version instead.

Finally, I also had a play with some crucifix stuff, which fits nicely with the side ride. In specific sparring, I was able to switch into the crucifix a few times, walking back and going into the collar choke. However, I also lost it a few times, their arm slipping free because my legs were too loose. I didn't get lifted up, as my training partner was my size, which meant different gaps in my technique were exposed compared to Congleton.

Underneath, my turtle escapes could do with some work. I was waiting for them to try and get their hook, then grabbing the arm and driving through. That kinda works, but it's sloppy and I think uses way too much strength. I felt sore in my lower abs/groin afterwards, which indicates to me I was relying on force rather than leverage. On the plus side, the random kimura grip thing to escape back control worked, having watched some guy use it while browsing the net earlier: getting something off a Sherdog thread to function has got to be a first for me. ;)

Best thing that happened all day was my training partner hit the clock choke variation I showed him a few minutes earlier! Unfortunately I wasn't watching at the time, but still cool to know it was effective for him straight away. :D

27 August 2014

27/08/2014 - Teaching | Open Guard | Maintaining Spider Guard

Teaching #189
Artemis BJJ (Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 25/08/2014

Following the women's class, I repeated the lesson on maintaining spider guard (as it was different people in class from last week). There are three main variants, all of which require you to grab both sleeves: this guard isn't commonly used in nogi for that reason, though it is possible to adapt. You will also normally have your feet curled around their biceps. For the most common variant, put your feet on their same side biceps, pulling their sleeves towards you, then push one leg straight, while keeping the other leg bent. This is intended to break their posture, keeping them off balance.

That is true whether or not they are standing up. There are several basic spider guard sweeps, which begin by pushing one arm out to the side, that work in either situation. You also don't have to push your feet into both biceps. There are numerous spider guard variations, such as pushing into one arm while also hooking behind their same side leg, or pushing into an arm and also holding a collar, which can set you up nicely for a triangle or omoplata.

A second option is to use your knees rather than your feet. While you could use this when they stand, it is more typical to do so when they're sat in your guard, given the obvious point that you've got a much smaller tool to work with when using your knees rather than the full length of your legs. The same sweeps can work here too, except that you're shoving their arm out to the side with your knee rather than your foot.

In nogi, you could grab around the back of their arms, just behind the elbow. In gi, you can grab the sleeves. This is something that you'll see pop up in Gracie Combatives, where it is part of the punch block series. I don't really use this one, but it's an option, and there is a bunch of stuff you can do from here.

The third option, and the one I and Dónal prefer, is known as the lasso grip. Circle your leg around the outside of their arm, so that your lower leg is on the inside, then wrap your foot so that it hooks the outside of their arm. You can then either keep your foot there, or Dónal's option of going deeper, hooking it under their armpit and around their back. That gives you a bit more control over their posture.

In terms of your sleeve grip, it's important to get that fabric as far round the front of your thigh as you can, clamping your elbow tight to your side. Braulio uses the metaphor of tying up a boat at the harbour: to pull their arm free, they have to not only fight your grip strength, but your thigh and your elbow as well.

As before, you don't have to keep both feet against their arms. You can also switch grip on their non-lassoed arm from the sleeve to their collar, slide your foot to their shoulder, or indeed push on the hip. That's useful if you find that you want to create some distance, as well as keep them off-balance. Pushing into their non-lasso side knee is another option to disrupt their base.


Teaching Notes: The tattoo I got after the recent Grapplethon is still healing, but it's healed enough that I felt more comfortable demonstrating this time. Hopefully I'll be able to get back into sparring properly either on Saturday or next week. I added in the point about pulling pistol grips around the knees when you're in the knee spider guard variation. I was also able to briefly run through a few different options in response to questions and stuff I noticed in sparring.

First off, there was the simple scissor sweep. If you know how to do it from closed guard, you can do much the same thing from spider guard. The main difference is that rather than loading them up onto the shin you have across their stomach, you'll be bringing their weight forward with the foot you have on their bicep.

The typical situation is that they are on their knees. You have the orthodox spider guard, with one foot on their same side bicep and the other by their hip. Pull them forwards: just like the scissor sweep from closed guard, you want to bring your elbows right up by your head, to get them as far forward as possible.

This will take their weight off their knees, which means you can take your foot off their hip and chop through their same side knee. Help them over by kicking into their bicep, so that you're pushing diagonally towards your opposite shoulder. Roll through and settle into mount, or possibly side control if they end up too far.

I also very briefly ran through a few passing options at the end, which is basically shoving your knee in behind the leg you want to remove, using that tension to pop your arm free. This will be the last class on open guard until the new theme next month (unless we go for a third month on open guard), so I'll keep it in mind for next time.

One other thing that's important to keep in mind is how spider guard is hard on the fingers. So, if you're drilling spider guard for a whole class, that can get a bit unpleasant. Therefore next time I teach it, I'll try to think of ways to mitigate that. Given the finger strain, I probably wouldn't want to spend more than a week or at most two on spider guard stuff. ;)

27/08/2014 - Teaching | Women's Class | Rear Naked Choke

Teaching #188
Bristol Sports Centre (Artemis BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 27/08/2014

The RNC is a fundamental technique to BJJ. Everybody with more than a few lessons under their belt knows that you're going to be looking for it, so they will immediately be trying to create barriers with their arms and hands. However, as this particular class has plenty of absolute beginners, I focused on the basic application before getting into the set-up.

So, to apply a rear naked choke (the reason for that name is that you aren't using the gi to complete the choke, hence 'naked'). Position the elbow of your choking arm under their chin. You don't want to leave any space, as the idea is to press into both sides of their neck. This will close off their carotid arteries and prevent the flow of blood to the brain. That is an efficient and safe way of subduing an opponent.

Reaching past their shoulder, you are then going to grip the bicep of your free arm. This is to lock the choke in place. It will normally be difficult to grab your bicep straight off, as your opponent knows that's dangerous. You can instead secure your initial arm by gripping the back of their shoulder. Stephan Kesting has a useful video on RNC details, where he talks about holding the ridge of bone at the bottom of the shoulder blade, using what he calls a 'tiger palm'. From there, switch to gripping palm to palm over their shoulder, dropping the elbow of your back-arm down along their shoulder blade. That will further help to lock it in position: as Demian Maia demonstrates, you can even finish the choke from there. If not, you can then do what Kesting calls the 'creep', wriggling that elbow across their back to cinch up the choke.

When you have managed to grip your bicep, make sure both your elbows are in front of their shoulders. In other words, your armpits are resting on their shoulders. The elbow drops straight down. As Nathan 'Levo' Leverton emphasises, this now means that both your wrists are hidden, making it difficult for them to strip your grip. It also makes the choke tighter, as both of your arms are directly by their neck.

Bring the hand of that bicep arm to the back of their head: a commonly used version is to press the palm into their skull, but there are various options, coming down to personal preference. Using the back of your hand against their neck is arguably better, as that may slip in more securely than palm down. Also, palm down is easier for them to grab, if they try to peel your fingers off their skull. Either way, when you're locking in the choke, don't reach your hand forward over their shoulder. If you do, then they can armbar you using their shoulder as a fulcrum. Instead, slide it behind the head.

Bring your head next to theirs on the bicep gripping side, to further cut off any space. If for some reason after grabbing your bicep you can't get your other hand behind their head, grab your own skull, using that grip to finish from there. Staying close to their back, expand your chest and squeeze your elbows together.

A common problem is that people will also tend to tuck their chin. Some people advocate unpleasant methods to force your way through to the neck in that situation. For example, Stephan Kesting has a list here: the results of that kind of approach (though Kesting does make a point of saying he is not fond of pain-based options either) can be seen in this video of a brutal Baret Yoshida match. That is not how I want my jiu jitsu to look.

My goal is smooth, technical, leverage-based jiu jitsu, causing as little pain to the other person as possible. As Saulo says in my favourite BJJ quote:

"You have to think that your partner, the guy that you're training [with], has to be your best friend. So, you don't want to hurt him, you don't want to try to open his guard with your elbow, make him feel really pain, because jiu jitsu is not about pain. You have to find the right spot to save your energy"

I strongly feel it is best to avoid hurting your training partners, for four additional reasons:

  • You're in class to learn, not to 'win' at all costs. Save the 'win' mentality for competition.
  • If you're always hurting the people you spar, eventually nobody will want to train with you, making it rather hard to improve.
  • Presuming you're in BJJ for the long-term, you're going to be spending a lot of time with your training partners. Therefore it would make sense to build a good relationship.
  • Even if you don't care about your classmates, everybody has a different pain threshold. So, the efficacy of pain-reliant techniques will vary from person to person. The efficacy of leverage does not: that's based on physics, not how tough somebody is.
There is a less nasty option you could try for opening up their chin, from Andre Galvao. If they really shove their chin down, this may not work, but it is worth a go. Twist your hand so that your thumb is pointing down, then as you slide the arm to their neck, twist the thumb back up to lift their chin.

If I find I have no option except something brutish (e.g., crushing their chin until they tap from pain or lift their head), my preference is to instead transition to a different attack, like an ezequiel, a bow and arrow choke or an armbar (which I'll be covering in later lessons). In my opinion, if I get to the point where force and pain are the main routes to finishing a submission, then my set up was poorly executed.

You can also try tricking them into giving you access to the hold you want, a handy tip I saw on a John Will DVD. For example, when you try to get an arm around their neck, a common reaction on their part is to grab your arm and pull it down. If you respond by pulling up, they will normally pull down even harder. This means that if you time it right, you can suddenly switch direction and swing the arm they are pulling down across your body. This should sweep their arms out of the way for a moment (try to catch both of their arms when you do this). Make sure your other hand is ready and waiting near their shoulder, as you can then immediately bring that other arm across their suddenly undefended neck.

Even better, you can take their arm right out of commission. With one of your hands, grab their wrist. Shove it down towards their legs, then step over that arm with your same side leg. When you then re-establish your hook (or pin your heel to their ribs, or put your leg behind their back), they are left with only one arm to defend against both of yours. If they've grabbed your wrist, twist your palm outwards, shove it down and out, then again step over their arm with your leg. Make sure you maintain pressure, so they can't simply swim their arm free.

Teaching Notes: I think the three minutes of drilling is working ok, followed by a few minutes of progressive resistance. That leaves time for a good bit of sparring, which the women continue to enjoy (or at least, there's always lots of smiling and laughing, exactly the kind of atmosphere I'm hoping to build). I could perhaps have talked more about gripping their shoulder blade and the like, but I feel for absolute beginners, that may be too much info. I wasn't sure how much detail to include on setting up the choke, but I think a few pointers were useful. There are plenty more I could add in, so I'll put them in here in case I want to add them next tiem.

First, you can adjust your hand positioning to maximise your efficiency. If you have one arm under their armpit and the other over the shoulder, then it can be helpful to grip palm to palm or grab your own wrist, with your shoulder arm on top. That means that as soon as there is any gap between the neck and chest, you can immediately slide your arm into their neck. Others prefer to grip with the armpit hand on top: that way, if your opponent pulls your armpit hand down, they are giving you access to their neck with the choking hand, which is what you wanted anyway.

There is also the method I learned from Dónal. Grab their wrist with your armpit hand. Drop to the choking arm side, twisting your hips to increase the range of motion for your leg. Shove their arm down, then swing your leg over your armpit arm. Grip your own shin with the armpit hand, then using both your leg and arm, get your foot to their spine to trap their limb.

Next up, the mixed class.