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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

25 September 2008

Website Review - The Grapplers Guide (Jason Scully)

Short Review: At the time of writing, The Grapplers Guide operates through a fee, $127 for lifetime access. That gets you a huge range of instructional videos, which you can also download, covering numerous techniques and positions, both gi and nogi. There are also competition videos, with insightful commentary, a range of useful articles, plus a mature discussion forum frequented by a helpful membership (there are also various black belts posting on the site).

The profile system, if you like that kind of thing, has the most options out of any I've seen to date, and I am an internet geek, so spend lots of time on forums. If you have plenty of time to look through tonnes of great information and can afford the fee, then The Grapplers Guide is a worthy investment.

Full Review: I was upgraded by the owner to premium membership in June 2008, so as with Roy Dean, the least I can do is provide a review. I first came across the Grapplers Guide when Scully posted about his new site (IIRC, founded in May 2007) over on Bullshido. Since then, the Grapplers Guide has steadily moved over to a pay-to-access model, where your fee gets you a subscription: previously it was an annual cost, then a monthly fee and now a lifetime membership. There are also regular offers on membership, with a variety of discounts, in keeping with the shifts in pricing metrics.

At present, there is a huge contest running (a member benefit Scully sets up intermittently, so this is merely the latest of many previous competitions), where the first place rewards are pretty impressive, netting you over $800 worth of prizes. That includes your choice of gi, cash, grappling shorts, various instructional DVDs, amongst an assortment of other equipment. Second and third prizes aren't bad either, worth $300 and $120 respectively.

Update June 2014: The Grapplers Guide has continued to get better and better. Scully has really beefed up the video section, with a wide range of videos covering numerous positions, especially guard. Since I began teaching in 2011, I've often used Scully's videos as reference material, such as when I taught his version of the half guard staple pass and most recently when I drew upon Scully's approach to the toe grab/old school sweep. The range of videos is comparable to some of the other online instructional sites, like BJJ Library, though Scully doesn't update quite as often (unsurprising, as it is just him working on it, as far as I'm aware).

Update Sep 2016: Since I first wrote this review, there have been lots of updates (around 4,000 new videos, for a start!). I got a long list of them from Scully, so will summarise those here. The layout has changed, with a category tree and clearer subdivisions of the various programs and areas. Scully has also been bringing in guest instructors, including Vlad Koulikov, Reilly Bodycomb, Jared Weiner and 10th planet experts. He has a new flow chart tool, GrappleFlow, with some changes to pricing too. Right now, membership cost is:

- $297 for lifetime membership
- $79 for 4 payment plan

If all that wasn't enough, there are gear discounts too. It's impressive how much Scully continues to work on his site, a lot of these kind of web projects either fizzle out after a few years, or coast along without changing anything. The Grappler's Guide definitely isn't one of those sites.

The big draw of this site is the video section. Both gi and nogi are included, with detailed coverage of techniques, position and grappling drills, both with and without a partner, as well as technique combinations. The section is divided up into articles, which will contain one or more videos. Often Scully has a sequence of videos in a single article, such as the 45 minute 'Dealing With and Breaking Grips' series. In others, it is more specific.

Update May 2020: You also get numerous other instructors on the site, which has been perhaps the biggest change since I first wrote this review. For example, here's the excellent Emily Kwok teaching:

While it is only one part of the site, this is where your money is justified, as Scully covers numerous positions with detailed instruction, both gi and nogi. To compare that with an instructional DVD, like Blue Belt Requirements ($44.95), Roy Dean gives you high quality teaching from an experienced black belt, taking you through the basics, position by position. With The Grapplers Guide, you also have an experienced, technical teacher (Scully is a brown belt at present), but there is a lot more instructional material. It isn't as methodical and immediately applicable to beginners as Dean's DVD, but in terms of sheer quantity of instruction, you get much more for your money from The Grapplers Guide.

Two significant differences are video quality, which you'd expect to be superior on a DVD, along with online content as opposed to physical merchandise. If you buy Blue Belt Requirements, you can then watch it on your DVD plauyer, whereas The Grapplers Guide hosts its videos on the site.

Having said that, if you click the arrow pointing downwards (near the volume control), you can download Grapplers Guide videos onto your computer, yours to keep: personally, I prefer having something I can access through my computer rather than having to bother with a DVD player (though naturally, you can watch DVDs on most computers anyway). This is the biggest plus point of the site for me, as that means I can then review the techniques whenever I want, whether or not I have access to the internet. The videos are all in flv format (same as YouTube and various other sites), which is small and compact, but might have compatibility issues with some media players. Personally I use Winamp, though I'd imagine you can either get codecs for your current player, or download something with inbuilt flv capability.

I especially enjoyed the competition videos with commentary: having that informed perspective massively added to the experience of watching top grapplers compete. Not only does Scully explain the events as they unfold and what the grappler in question is going for, he also carefully edits the video so you can see exactly what he is talking about through slow motion replays. Here's an example of Scully's teaching posted up on the Grapplers Guide YouTube:

You also have an impressive range of options for playing with your profile, if that kind of thing appeals to you. There is the possibility to customise the background, text, colours, borders etc, which also applies across into other areas, like the photo albums section. Interestingly, you can't link to offsite pictures, but have to go through your Grapplers Guide album (which naturally you can also just use as online storage for your photographs). It’s a fairly intuitive system, as once you've uploaded your picture into an album, you can select it from a submenu which pops up in the custom options.

The BBcode is comprehensive, with built-in embedding script for a large number of video sharing sites, as well as iframe support. You can even make a YouTube video into your avatar: I've never seen that anywhere else, so when I first joined as a free member, that really stood out as unusually swish. The video option extends to your profile too, so you can, for example, stick up a recent competition video to show people your abilities.

On top of all of this, The Grapplers Guide has a discussion forum, which is the part that used to be public access in the past. Due to the fee, there is a refreshing absence of trolls (most people, fortunately, aren't willing to pay that much just to fuck around and piss people off), which raises the tone of the site considerably. All of the members are looking to improve their grappling, which leads to informative, helpful threads. The large number of black belt posters also makes a major positive impact on the level of insight, although quite a few of the black belts on the site don't post all that often.

One mitigating circumstance that should be mentioned is Scully recently opened The Grapplers Guide Academy, meaning that not only does he have an online source of instruction, but a physical location where he teaches as well. This must take up a great deal of his time, with the result (I assume) that in the period I've been a premium member so far, there have been less updates than there normally would be.

So keeping that in mind, threads in the 'Questions and Answers Through Video' forum are normally answered quickly and thoroughly. Many of the current videos were generated by questions in that forum. More recently, its been a bit slower, but that's explained by Scully's busy offline life. Not long before I polished off this review, he promptly responded to a PM I sent about a thread I'd put up in that subforum, asking if he had any thoughts (because nobody had responded yet, which is rare in the 'Questions and Answers Through Video' section). Hopefully I'll get to see a video dealing with open guard against a standing opponent in the future, because as anyone who reads my blog regularly will know, that's one of my major problems at the moment.

Speaking of blogs, there is a part of the website you can use for blogging, with the usual vbBulletin options (as far as I'm aware: seen a similar set-up on other forums, like the Heathen Hangout). Much to my pleasure, you again have the option of using iframes in that section, which means I could put up my main blogspot: using RSS or iframes is far preferable to copy and pasting the same thing all over the place.

There is a helpful product review section too, where the mature, thoughtful tone of the site shines through. A few are ones Scully has simply copied over from other sites, especially when you look through older threads, but certainly now they are provided by the Grapplers Guide membership.

My overall impression up to this point is that the wealth of grappling resources available to you on The Grapplers Guide is probably worth your time and money, if you compare it with a DVD set like Saulo Riberio's BJJ Revolution ($130). The Grapplers Guide covers a comparable range of positions and techniques, with a continually expanding resource library. Your fee goes a long way, giving you full access to a large (and increasing) number of detailed instructional videos, along with all the excellent advice spread throughout the forum, the high quality presentation, numerous interactive options and frequent competitions for members. I'm not sure what incentives Scully will develop in order to grow his membership, though he does regularly add more videos and content. It will be interesting to see how this site progresses in coming years.

To finish, here's an advert for The Grapplers Guide Scully has up on YouTube:

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