Short Review: Blue Belt Requirements is a superb summary of the fundamental techniques and principles of Brazilian jiu jitsu. Roy Dean is both eloquent and thorough, carefully walking you through each technique, emphasising important details, before repeating the movement from multiple angles. If you're a beginner, this should be the first instructional you pick up. For more advanced students, the basics are never going to lose their importance, so I'd still recommend getting hold of the DVD (although I say that as a beginner myself, having only been a blue belt for a meagre four months at this point). Available to buy here, or through iTunes here and for your Android here.
Full Review: Once again, Roy Dean very kindly sent me a copy of his latest DVD, so I was happy to have the opportunity to give it a review. There have been clips of the potential footage on YouTube for some time (see Roy Dean's video page). Having seen those examples, I was excited to get hold of the finished product. I've been a firm believer in the importance of basics since I started in November 2006: judging from what I'd heard and read, this double DVD set was going to be perfect for developing those fundamentals.
The first of the two DVDs (eighty-eight minutes) starts with a seven minute welcome, where Roy Dean runs through his perspective on BJJ, split further into sections (e.g., Reinventing Effectiveness, The Benefits etc). There are lots of interesting topics raised in the course of the discussion, which begins with some basic advice (such as urging the viewer to keep turning up to class, especially as the initial few months can be tough), along with something mentioned by Roy Harris in his open guard seminar on the previous DVD release. That is the importance of using your legs: like his instructor, Dean emphasises how this is one of the major advances required before you can reach purple belt level.
Escapes (the menu is much swisher than the straightforward list of Seminars: Year One, now with animated clips signifying each section) come in three parts: mount escapes (09:33 minutes long, five techniques), sidemount escapes (07:42, three techniques with three follow-ups for coming to your knees) and sweeps (10:05, five techniques, leading into possible submissions). Again, these are further subdivided into chapters, although there isn't a specific menu for them. Still, arguably its easy enough to flick through with the buttons on your remote, or if like me you often use your laptop to watch DVDs, you can select the relevant chapter by right-clicking to bring up a menu, then select the relevant option.
The techniques are recognisable from the YouTube videos Dean released, but in developing DVD versions, Roy Dean has been considerably more thorough, with obvious attention to structure. After a useful theoretical introduction for the section as a whole, he goes through the same process for each technique. First, a demonstration noting details as he goes along, then most importantly, the same technique from multiple angles, occasionally with a further discussion at the end.
I was especially interested in the foot drag, as that's my favourite escape from the mount, but I've never been shown it in class (I saw Johannes do it at the first Belfast Throwdown). Normally when I've done it, I'm snatching at half-guard, so it was great to see the refined approach Dean takes, ending up in full guard instead: somewhere I'd much rather be.
Even better, the final mount escape is a variation on that, where you lift their foot up rather than stepping over to trap. I can think of several times when I've been trying to escape from Tran's (experienced blue belt I regularly roll with) very tight mount, and only been able to flail at his foot. This gives me something useful to work on.
In a later segment, Dean's addition of potential submissions from various sweeps is a great touch: if you've seen the Alaska seminar mainly about the kimura, featured on Seminars: Year One, you'll recognise the way he moves through the sit-up sweep. This time, however, there are multiple angles and much improved camerawork, which makes all the difference. I was especially glad to see the flower sweep, as that is something I've had trouble with for a long time now. Dean even provides a solo drill you can do at home to get used to the leg motion. I've been relying on the sit-up sweep in sparring, so watching this section reminds me to revisit the flower, as well as the scissor and knee push (I used to have success with these in the beginners class, but I don't think I've ever managed to catch a fellow blue).
Submissions, once again, is divided into three: chokes (18:53, four from guard, five from mount), armlocks (13:38, three from guard, four from mount, plus a sensitivity drill) and leglocks (09:47, four techniques, plus entry and footwork). There are a number of schools, the one I attend included, that do not permit leglocks at white belt: Dean makes it clear that, while it is good to be aware of the technique, white belts should not be trying leglocks in sparring. It is easy to cause serious damage before your victim realises they're injured, so safety and control is especially important when dealing with leglocks, in particular the heel hook. As well as specifically stating the risk, Dean also emphasises it when demonstrating, noting the heel hook's danger by simply showing the motion rather than fully applying the submission.
As with his previous release, it is the details that make Roy Dean's instruction so good. He frequently points out little adjustments that can make or break the technique, as well as useful follow-ups. For example, on the spinning armbar from mount, Dean notes that he prefers to post on his partner's armpits and shoulders (so with the thumb and fingers on either side) rather than fully on the chest. That enables him to switch to one hand if his opponent bridges in one direction or the other.
One minor criticism I have is that the absence of a chapter menu for these subsections is missed more than with the three escape segments, due to the greater length of chokes (nine techniques) and armlocks (seven techniques and a drill) in particular. Organisation of technique is always a difficult choice, and it would appear that Dean has tried to be broad, keeping that rule of three going through his main sections. In the Seminars: Year One DVD, there was careful division by technique, which I think might have been of benefit on this new DVD as well, especially the longer submission section.
Guard passing is all in a single eleven minute chunk, covering my favoured tailbone guard break, then passing both over and under the leg. I was very much looking forward to this part of the DVD, as it’s a major weakness in my game. The section is well-suited for my purposes, as I often try to pass from my knees, which is the area Dean focuses upon. He also shows some responses to an opponent who blocks your hips with his hand. I was surprised that Dean did not go through standing passes as well, which I thought was normally the first pass shown in class. However, he does show it later on during the BJJ guidelines segment on the second DVD.
The instruction is, once again, very detailed, with Dean pointing out common mistakes and dangers to be avoided, such as the typical error of not tucking in your elbows, thereby leaving yourself open to getting triangled. Hopefully in the future he will release a DVD with an extended guard passing segment, or perhaps even one devoted purely to that skill set.
The second DVD (sixty-nine minutes) is a little different, as here Dean covers two elements of his syllabus which might not immediately spring to mind when most people think of BJJ: ukemi and takedowns. Of course, BJJ grew out of judo, but many schools have little emphasis on throws. Where I train, we regularly drill them, often incorporating hip throws and double legs into the warm-up, but groundwork (which in judo would be called newaza) is still very much the mainstay of the lesson.
Ukemi, a term Dean presumably uses due to his aikido and judo background, is an essential skill for learning throws: it translates as something like 'falling skills', I think. The segment is six and a half minutes long, going through the various types of breakfall: forward and backward rolls, followed by breakfalls. As Roy Dean also points out, ukemi is practical beyond martial arts. If you come flying off your bike, knowing how to fall suddenly becomes very applicable.
The next section is just under thirteen minutes of takedowns. It is worth noting here again that Roy Dean is a judo blackbelt, so he is well versed in throws. Along with judo tachiwaza techniques, he also includes wrestling takedowns, like the high crotch and double leg. In addition, Dean goes through the basic pummelling drill, all very useful if you're looking to compete. Reminds me once again I should really give judo another try, which I haven't gone back to since getting injured early on in my third ever class.
Around eight minutes is given over to BJJ guidelines, which I expected to be an extended bit of thoughtful musing on advice for beginners. However, it proved to be more directly practical than that. For example, Dean covers grips both for passing guard and when you have someone in your guard, or offensive strategy like using the shoulder to drive their arm to the mat in order to set up a submission from side control.
There is an important concept for people new to the sport mentioned right at the end, which is that you need to relax. Almost every beginner gets very excitable during sparring, expending lots of energy. New students would be well advised to follow Roy Dean's simple advice: slow down. As he puts it, the answer is not a bigger gas tank, but improved fuel economy.
The DVD finishes with a section entitled demonstrations, including three examples of blue belt tests (which viewers may again recognise from YouTube), some BJJ combinations, three minutes of footage from the 2001 US Open and finally a trailer for Seminars: Year One.
You'll see the techniques from earlier in the DVD shown in the blue belt tests, along with a number of others, such as the escape from mount where you bump them forward with your knees, press your arms stiffly into their hips, lift and go to butterfly guard. That reminded me that the YouTube versions of Dean's instructional demonstrations contained some techniques not repeated on the DVD counterpart (and conversely, numerous new details and techniques on the DVD). Instead, you'll get to see his students applying them as part of their examination.
Its also nice to see some of the faces from the other DVD cropping up, like Jimmy DaSilva, who gets his purple belt in the extra on Seminars: Year One (I think he's still a blue during the tests here). There are nice touches like brief interviews, such as Dennis Doi (whose drilling partner I think I recognise from the previous DVD as well) talking about how he started BJJ a year ago in November 2006 (same time as me), and wanted to get the blue before he turned 49 the following February (which, slightly ironically, is the month I got my blue here in London).
The most useful thing about these tests is the sparring, as that gives the viewer a chance to see all the preceding techniques of the DVD in action. To a certain extent, that is also the case with the US Open clip too, but as its from 2001 and therefore not originally intended (I assume) as part of a professional DVD production, the picture quality is reduced. It does, however, show the contrast between the pressure of competition and sparring in class, when that drive to win is not so apparent (and indeed should not be, as in class, it should always be about learning, not 'winning' or 'losing').
BJJ combinations lasts seven and a half minutes, featuring not only Jimmy DaSilva's new beard, but also a series of technique flows. Like the summer seminar on Seminars: Year One, there is no dialogue, so as you'd expect from the section header, it’s demonstration rather than instruction. However, they're going slowly enough on some of them that its possible to follow, like an open guard pass to an armbar, or side control escape counter to armbar then triangle.
All in all, that's a lot of solid instruction for $44.95. Blue Belt Requirements is without any doubt the best BJJ DVD for beginners out there. Available to buy here, or through iTunes here and for your Android here. If you need further tempting, then check out Dean's videos on YouTube. E.g., this trailer for Blue Belt Requirements:
Once you've absorbed the wealth of information from Roy Dean, I'd suggest the old Cesar Gracie set as a good follow-up, as is Cindy Omatsu (if you can find her DVDs, which are becoming a little rare). After you've got a good grasp of the fundamentals and have either just received or are fast approaching blue belt, Saulo Ribeiro's Jiu Jitsu Revolution is a must-have. If you're interested in Roy Dean's next projects, take a look at Art of the Wristlock, where he explores the connections between BJJ and aikido. In 2009, he released Purple Belt Requirements, providing blue belts with a guide on the long journey to purple. In 2010, No Gi Essentials hit the market, and like Cesar Gracie's instructional, it makes for an excellent follow-up to Blue Belt Requirements