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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

30 May 2008

DVD Review - Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Seminars: Year One (Roy Dean)

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Seminars: Year One - Roy Dean AcademyShort Review: Rather than the typical instructional with a catalogue of techniques, Roy Dean's first DVD compiles the footage of three seminars. The first focuses on the kimura and related techniques, while the second features Roy's instructor, Roy Harris, explaining the basics of open guard. The last one is condensed, so you'll need to be a bit more experienced to get anything out of it. Along with the extras, that's still a good 85 minutes of instruction for under $25.

Full Review: Roy Dean was kind enough to send me a copy of his first DVD recently, so the least I can do is give it a thorough review. As tends to get mentioned in any review of this DVD, its not the usual instructional. Instead, the DVD contains footage from two seminars (entitled Alaska Seminar and Roy Harris Seminar) with a third briefly summarised; an edit of Roy Dean student Jimmy DaSilva's purple belt test; clips from the Westside Submission tournament Dean entered while a purple belt himself; then finally an advertisement for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (I think from the Roy Harris Academy, as Dean is still a brown belt in the ad).

The meat of the DVD is of course the seminars (conveniently divided up into chapters, each one detailing a particular technique or variation), starting with Roy Dean at Gracie Barra Alaska. He covers a number of variations for the kimura from guard, which was great as that's currently my favourite submission (or more accurately, about the only one I've ever been able to get, which makes it my favourite by default :p). Demonstration of technique is rather quick, and generally only from one angle, but that's mitigated firstly by the fact it’s a taped seminar rather than purpose made instructional, and secondly Dean didn't take the footage (as far as I can tell, it was shot by Robert Grunder's wife: the impetus for the seminar was his 54th birthday, so that makes sense).

Despite the comparative brevity of the technique sections, broken up by clips of the students drilling, there is still plenty of useful advice: like his teacher, Roy Dean is excellent at picking out important details that can make or break the technique. For example, hand positioning when posting for the sit-up sweep, which I hadn't really thought about before. From guard, I'll often go for that sweep before anything else, then fall back to go for the kimura if I mess up. Dean shows the sit-up following on from a failed kimura instead, and emphasises that the position of your posting hand will depend on the size of your partner: the same size or smaller and you may just need to go up on your elbow, but for someone bigger or with particularly good base, you'll need to come right up on your hand, fairly close behind you for additional leverage.

Another basic tip that stood out for me was where to put your hips. I've often tried for things like the kimura, sit-up sweep and guillotine (all off the same set-up of raising up from guard and diving a hand over their opposite shoulder) with my hips relatively close. Dean points out that you need to bring your hips slightly back to complete the technique: I realise now that is a major part of why my guillotine attempts never go anywhere.

The seminar finishes off with some footage of Dean rolling with a few of the students. That wasn’t especially useful in terms of instruction, but it did add to the feeling that you are somehow present at the seminar, a pleasant sense of community that pervades the entire DVD.

The Roy Harris seminar features more extensive instruction, as this time I'm assuming Dean is in charge of the camera, as its at his academy in Bend, Oregon. Harris runs through what he considers the fundamentals of open guard, in sets of three: pushes with the hands, feet and knees hooking with the instep etc. This is the defensive portion, after which he goes through some grips for offence, then finally more specific counters (e.g., preventing the pass where they grab your gi at the knees, pull your legs and back, swing them to the side and move round).

As I've often either stated or implied throughout my blog, I'm a firm believer in the ongoing importance of basics: they're always going to be essential, whether you've just started BJJ or you've been teaching for years. Roy Harris sounds like he feels the same, and it shows in his instruction. He repeatedly states that you need to work your basics, not just every now and then, but for several years, after which you can build on that strong foundation. Very good advice, and I get the impression that I'd enjoy going to his class.

The basics were what I found most useful, with simple things like using the hand to push against their neck and jaw to prevent them completing a pass, shifting to underneath their arm, then finally using your elbow if they power through that. Harris talks about a 'no-man's land', where your opponent is past your legs, but hasn't managed to secure side control yet: once you are comfortable here, Harris says, then the whole business of recovering guard becomes much easier. I've never really thought about that position before, as normally I scrabble for half-guard if I have any time before getting passed and squashed under mount or side control. Now I've got considerably more options to try, though I'll need to review the seminar several times before I've got a good understanding of exactly how the techniques work.

As with the Alaska seminar, this one doesn't feature much variety of camera work either. Most importantly, all techniques are generally presented from just one angle: at several points, I wish I really had been there, so I could have walked around behind Harris to get a better view of his body/hand/leg etc position. Then again, I notice nobody else was doing that, so perhaps the setting was more formal, so moving around the instructor during demonstration would have been impolite.

The later section also felt rather quicker than the initial part of the seminar, and I found it a little harder to follow as a result. However, that's probably because it was simply more complex, so again will need repeated viewings and attempts in sparring before I can truly absorb what Harris was trying to teach.

Those two seminars are why you buy the DVD, and I'd say they're well worth the price ($24.95 last time I looked). The rest of the DVD is effectively extras, as while interesting, it would be difficult to learn anything from them in terms of technique. Summer 2007 appears to be a condensed seminar, with an ambient background track instead of any dialogue. It looked like there was plenty of useful technique demonstrated, but it flits by in about five minutes, so again, this is more like a window into the Roy Dean Academy than an instructional.

Jimmy DaSilva's purple belt test is the most interesting of the four extras, as the very idea of a test is alien to most BJJ practitioners. Roy Harris is known for his structured syllabus, and Roy Dean, as a Harris student, has continued that system. In addition, Dean has an extensive background in traditional martial arts, so that formal approach to instruction lingers. I've seen a few of these tests before, as Dean has put up clips from blue belt versions, and my reaction was probably similar to a lot of fellow blues: would I pass that? Probably not, as my repertoire of techniques is both more limited and definitely less polished than the smooth motions of Dean's students. DaSilva looks beautifully technical throughout, after which we get to see him spar, ascending a hierarchy of opponents until he concludes with Roy Harris himself.

Personally, I prefer the laidback promotion of most other BJJ schools (such as at RGA, which like the Roy Dean Academy lacks the 'belt whipping' of some other places. I know there are plenty of people who feel it builds team spirit, and perhaps more importantly is good fun, but its not for me) where the instructor decides from observation of your ability in sparring that you deserve your belt. However, there is definitely an advantage to the way Harris and Dean do things, as BJJ lacks structure and standardisation: a formal test is one way of instituting that. It is also worth noting that Dean has mentioned on the net that the test is something requested by the student, after Dean has already decided that they are worthy of a new grade.

Next you get to watch Roy Dean as a purple belt, competing in the Westside Submission tournament, where he looks pretty dominant against most of his opponents. I'm presuming he came out on top, as he seemed to win all his matches, but as this was a series of clips, not entirely sure.

The DVD finishes with a BJJ advert entitled What Does Jiu Jitsu Look Like?. Dean was still a brown belt at the time, so I'd assume that was intended for the Roy Harris Academy: it’s a professional piece of work, going through various throws and submissions with a variety of shapes, sizes and genders.

So to conclude, if you're looking to start out with open guard or want some tips on the kimura, this DVD is a worthwhile purchase. By focusing on basics it remains applicable to a wider range of students: I can't speak for advanced BJJers, as I'm merely a noobie blue myself, but for my purposes at least, this DVD is going to be useful.

Dean has also recently released another instructional, Blue Belt Requirements, which looks perfectly suited to my needs: I'll be aiming to pick this up in the future.


  1. Nice review. Seminar videos are really helpful but the problem with them is that the camera angle only stays in one place. I have one that I have been working on in the past few days which is a video of a Mike Fowler seminar. It is pretty good. Do you have any other videos that you can advice me to have?

  2. Yeah, the lack of multiple camera angles is the only real downside to this DVD (although Dean and whoever he's demonstrating on do sometimes shift round during the Alaska seminar), but to off-set that, it is cheap at only $24.95, so still worth picking up. The instruction is very good, so I don't think you'd be disappointed.

    I'm probably not the best person to ask on what instructional DVD to buy, as this is the first one I've ever owned. However, the next one I aim to get is Roy Dean's Blue Belt Requirements: looks excellent, and there are a bunch of clips on the net for you to check out before purchasing. There's a trailer here.

  3. nice video to have. i actually have a checklist that i got from a black belt's blog about blue belt requirements. it is simple checklist that illustrates thet you should have this number of escapes or passes or submissions. this dvd would be a big help in completing that checklist.