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

12 March 2008

12/03/2008 - BJJ (Advanced)

Class #126

Roger Gracie Academy (BJJ), Roger Gracie, London, UK - 12/03/2008Advanced

My mats arrived on Monday, so only took six days: got to put them to use that evening, working mount and side control with my gf. I was once again reminded of how often the person who learns most from teaching is the teacher, as I'm still forgetting little details that come to light when I realise I'm showing something wrong. On Monday, that was related to getting to elbow up when trying to move from side control to mount, a problem I've been having in sparring too. I realise now what I've been missing is switching my base so I can use my knee to help scoop up and trap the elbow, after which you switch back to secure it and then make space to slide your knee over.

I've only got two mats at present, so that’s just 1x2m, which is pretty small. Works ok when focusing on guard, but have to be a bit more careful with mount and side control. Then again, its going to be a while before my gf feels comfortable sparring (right now we're just doing a bit of isolated resistance on things like mount escape, chokes etc), so its not too much of an issue yet. When she gets to a level where she's getting used to moving around on the bottom and sweeping me, may have to invest in a another two mats to create a 2x2m area, but that’s a while off yet.

Tonight's lesson started off with lots of stand-up, which is relatively common when Roger is teaching. We also did some sparring from stand-up, which tends to leave me very confused: I ended up just trying to keep my balance and drag my partner off their's. I'd prefer we didn't do much in the way of throws, but its unavoidable given the importance stand-up has in competition.

The sole technique we learned was the arm drag, which is useful. Roger showed how it could be used whether or not the other person was standing, but the main method he demonstrated was from butterfly guard (your feet hooking their inner thighs). Grab their sleeve with one hand, gripping under their armpit with the other. Step out your same side foot and simultaneously drag them across your body, shifting to their back as you do so. You should already have one hook in, due to your other foot remaining between their legs, and ideally can bring your free foot over, securing the second hook.

Roger also noted that you need to stay low on their back, not bringing your head past their shoulders (I think: might have been slightly further forward than that). Otherwise, you can get dumped over your opponent's shoulder.

Specific sparring, unsurprisingly, was from butterfly guard. I found that a strange experience, as if I ever find myself in butterfly, its normally because I'm attempting to transition to closed guard, or just flailing about in open guard. So, unusual to have it as a static starting point. I attempted the arm drag a few times, but Christina was amply prepared, not having too much trouble passing my guard. I need to not only try and control the hips from open guard, but also get better purchase on their arm, such as with a foot in their bicep. Something to experiment with, as I'm continuing to get bunched up on one side.

On top, I tried passing and got through to half guard eventually. As I've been trying for the past few weeks, I had a go at dragging up the arm to set-up the kimura, but couldn't isolate the limb. Still, I did manage to just about maintain my position, and it felt a little more proactive than before, but then again the point was to pass, not hold half-guard top. I also managed to drive through to side control at one point, but it was sloppy, more a matter of just pushing rather than any kind of refined technique. That doesn't help me, as while it might occasionally succeed in class, its never going to result in improved technique on my part, which is my central goal when sparring.

We then went to side control, and as before, when I managed to lock in a solid position on top, it became a stale mate. Thinking of my drilling earlier in the week with my gf, I tried to bring my knee into play and dig out Christina's elbow, but without success. Still, does at least give me something to go for, though I need more options to make my specific sparring more productive. Its good to have a technique to work on, but better to have at least two I can switch between.

Free sparring kicked off with Liam, who I haven't sparred with for ages. He was pretty dominant, though I managed to snatch half guard at first. We struggled there for a while, until he passed to mount. Liam stayed active on top, going for chokes and armbars, his knuckles trying to work their way to my neck. I reacted by blocking that with my own hand, and bucking Liam before he could secure a good position. Eventually, I got the bump and roll, coming up in his guard, but was too far forward. This is becoming a recurring problem for me when I manage to escape mount: I go from getting squashed to a triangle. Normally, I at least have two arms in, but often its only just in. However, I think I get a little complacent when I'm in that position, because I know I won't be choked, just uncomfortable.

My other arm instinctively slipped out, meaning I was both vulnerable to the triangle and to the armbar, which is the option Liam took. I must remember to watch my posture when rolling up from under mount into their guard, as I keep leaning forward and opening myself to triangles and armbars.

After my usual break, I then went with Pippa, who I also haven't sparred in a while. I pulled guard, although I didn't have it locked: one leg was over her back, the other hooking her thigh. I tried to use my knee to prise her elbow up in order to go for the kimura, but while that did enable the figure four, I wasn't able to twist her arm due to her grip. I also had a try at the choke where you get one lapel and then grab behind their gi, bringing your arm over to get in position. That didn't go anywhere though, because Pippa had her chin tucked so I couldn't get to her neck.

Eventually I got a sweep, moving through to half guard. I again tried to bring my knee to her armpit and pull her arm up for a kimura, like I'd attempted with Christina, but still couldn't free the arm. However, I did at least push through to mount, with her arm loosely across her neck. I thought briefly about trying some kind of arm triangle, but before I could go for anything I could feel her escaping. So, as the arm was there, I had a go at the armbar, but left way too much space, meaning Pippa moved to her knees.

She wasn't in my guard and I still had a firm grip on her arm, but I could see she was about to either pass or end in my closed guard. Instead of just pulling her into guard and giving up the arm, I tried swinging my leg over: I wasn't really going for anything in particular, as I can never remember how to do an omoplata, so it was just a vague attempt to not end up in guard. Pretty much by fluke, she tapped as I'd put on some kind of shoulder lock – I was worried I might have accidentally cranked it, given that I wasn't even aware I was in position for a sub. Sounded as if her shoulder was ok when I asked her, but can be hard to tell. Hopefully she's ok: I'll have to keep in mind the submission potential next time, so I don't end up hurting anybody by being a clueless noob flinging my leg around.

Finally, I went with Tran, which is always an excellent test of my escapes. I tried to pass from knees, but could see I was about to go over. Before he could secure mount, I grabbed at half guard. We stayed in that position for a while, as Tran stayed typically tight, until eventually he squeezed through to mount. I've been trying to shift from half guard to getting a hook in, which would then ideally give me the option of butterfly and closed guard, but not quite sorted the technique yet. Hasn't worked so far in sparring, but gives me another option from underneath (as opposed to my current "terrified squirrel" technique).

At one point, I managed to roll into Tran's guard, but just like with Liam, I was trapped in the triangle/armbar combination. Later on, Tran managed to get a very bizarre looking sub. I had been trying to slip out of mount, when he got his knee over my arm, leaving me fairly helpless. My other arm was pressed against my own throat, with his other leg over my head. He then used the leg trapped my first arm to press my neck into my own forearm, resulting in a choke. Or something along those lines, if I understood his explanation correctly: effective, either way!

Should be training again tomorrow – that thumb hasn't healed yet, but I haven't noticed any major problems because of it so far. I also got a good scraping from the gi, but fortunately it didn't quite go in my eye. Skin may be a little raw tomorrow, though.


  1. The person who learns most from teaching is the teacher...

    That happened to me a couple of weeks ago, when we didn't have an instructor and tried teaching each other.

    The key thing is that if you have no-one to ask, you have to work it out for yourself. And that gets you thinking about the first principles instead of memorising moves.

    There must be some way of structuring real classes to take advantage of this!

    (By the way, congratulations on your blue belt: I completely failed to notice it when you mentioned it in your blog).

  2. Cheers!

    I find that writing notes produces the same effect to a lesser degree, as you have to work out how you'd explain the technique to someone else. Also makes it clear when you haven't quite understood something in class, which has happened a fair few times in this blog (pretty obvious when I've got confused about a particular move). ;)

    Of course, problem with a noob trying to work things out with no supervision (e.g., rolling with a bunch of their friends instead of a reputable club) is that they don't have the experience of a qualified instructor, so can end up making mistakes which would normally be corrected in a proper class. That can lead to what's called 'crappling' over on Bullshido (although the definition does kinda vary).

  3. Well, when I skipped my maths lectures and just did the problems instead, someone did mark my work! :-)

    Teaching ourselves without instructors would be like me doing those maths problems and no-one ever checking the answers. But still, for some temperaments at least, the instructor saying "show me what you've worked out and I'll correct it" is a much better way of developing the right BJJ instincts than "memorize everything I show you".

  4. Normally you'd do both: memorise what you've learned, then your instructor corrects any details you need help on. Best way of putting that which I've seen - and you've almost certainly come across this - is the 'I' method from Matt Thornton: introduce (instructor demonstrates the technique), isolate (students drill with increasing resistance), incorporate (add it to your game by trying it in free sparring).

    Though I see your point, and there are classes that kinda work like that. E.g., some remote area with no senior belts, a blue might take a class to show the basics, while a black belt comes in every few months.

  5. I am truly flabbergasted at your ability to recall so much of your lesson and get it all blogged so eloquently! Good on ya.

    Shit, you got the blue belt? Congratulations! It's a big responsibility... :-/

    I still can't quite get over that you get to train with Roger on a regular basis. Does he hang around and roll with the peons during rolling? The guy is pretty much the best in the world at the moment, you are very lucky to have him there.

  6. Cheers! Though I am getting more confused due to the advanced classes coming up with more complex stuff: lots of De La Riva work at the moment (didn't even know what the hell that was until a few weeks ago). Then again, there are a few other RGAers blogging, so I can normally double-check with them. ;)

    A lot of the time I'll see Roger rolling with a black or brown belt: I'm guessing "you get to roll with Roger Gracie" is a major point in RGA's favour for any black/brown belt that wants to teach/train there.

    However, he does also roll with lower belts too - there's a huge (but friendly) guy I've seen him roll with a fair few times, presumably because there aren't many people his size. That guy got his blue shortly before me.

    However, I've still only had 15 classes with him so far, which makes up 11.8% of my training overall (woo for spreadsheets). Though thats down to when I train: at the moment, its normally Gustavo taking the classes I attend, who I think is a 1st or 2nd degree black. Recently came over from Brazil.