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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

20 November 2008

20/11/2008 - BJJ (Advanced)

Class #195

Roger Gracie Academy (BJJ), Nick Gregoriades, London, UK – 20/11/2008 - Advanced

There's a new site by Stephan Kesting, specifically for beginners, with the straightforward name Beginning BJJ. I saw this mentioned by Aesopian, and it looks good so far: along with a newsletter, sent out every three days, you get a thirty-four page e-book, A Roadmap for BJJ, after signing up. At the moment, its all free, which I assume will remain the case.

You're also in luck if you're into comics, as a professional cartoonist from Seattle has put her skills to work in creating some stylish BJJ art: check out Ellen Forney's free wallpaper here. There's a whole load of other cool stuff available on her website, with various books by Ellen for sale, as well as free samples. Reminds me to take a look in the library for graphic novels again: last time, I delved into MAUS, which is right up there with The Sandman, Watchmen, Preacher and other classics (unsurprising, given its also rather rare amongst graphic novels in having won the author a Pulitzer Prize). That high status means its one of the very few comics available at my university library, but there might be more by now.

Couldn't train yesterday as my gf stayed round in Bucks for a conference in London today, meaning I popped down with her to High Wycombe in the evening rather than my usual afternoon train to Marylebone. However, that means I'll get extra training in next week to make up for it: if your partner doesn't share your hobby, then its good to set up compromises like that :D. At the same time, BJJ is probably number three on my list of priorities (my relationship and family being one and two), so I don't mind missing the occasional session if I have to.

As I was getting changed, I could hear the instantly recognisable voice of one of the best training partners at RGA, Christina. Great to see her again, as it's been almost two months since she has been down to the same class as me.

She immediately reminded me of just how good a training partner she is by offering some tips on the tai otoshi, a throw I'm keen to improve given all the handy follow-ups Chris demonstrated at judo earlier this month. Main points are that I need to keep my upper body straight and get my hips closer to my partner: Christina used to do a fair bit of judo at the Budokwai, so is a handy person to ask.

We moved straight into specific sparring after the warm-up, where I went with Melissa. I found that on top, I was able to control her with scarf hold, but I couldn't really do a whole lot else with the position. I always attempt to trap their arm so I can do that step over triangle, then if that fails I try to wedge my knee in to push their arm past their head, switch back to side control and go for mount.

That's only two options, however, which is too limited if I'm struggling with both of them. I need to develop another submission from scarf, and also work harder on the transition to mount. Holding somebody is a useful first step (although I think I have a size advantage on Melissa), but I need to move past that and initiate some kind of offence.

Underneath, Nick urged me to bridge more and with greater force, also suggesting bridging twice in quick succession, which I haven't tried before. I'm used to biding my time and conserving energy, but that can easily lead to being totally passive and waiting, giving my partner all the time they want to work offence. Again, I need to be more proactive, and combine various escape attempts.

I also need to be careful of my neck, such as when I go to my knees to escape side control. I'm being too complacent about people going for chokes, relying on my defence to get me out. Melissa came close several times today, mainly trying guillotines and cross chokes, but I was either able to get an arm or leg in the way and make some space. Definitely not comfortable though, so requires greater vigilance on my part.

There was just the one technique today, but it was relatively complex, transitioning from side control to mount. Nick called it 'around the world', where starting in side control, you first scoop up their near elbow and then switch your base, driving your knee through to push that elbow out of the way and break their defence.

Next, bring your rear leg over their head, using your hip to force the arm you just knocked out of place onto their face and neck. This will put you in north-south. From here, put your hand on the side of their head (in the direction you're about to move), then bring what is now your rear leg all the way over again (meaning you've switched your base once more).

As you do so, use your arm to keep their arm trapped against their neck. This is important, as that means you can then dig your hand under their head, which sets you up for an arm triangle. You can finish the submission by grabbing your other bicep, then with the hand of the arm you just gripped, take hold of your own head and squeeze.

Alternately, keep going and transition to mount. You've got their arm uncomfortably shoved into their face (or neck, or perhaps chin, but either way its not pleasant), so now you have to make enough space to go to mount. Similarly to how you started, you're going to switch your base yet again, moving the knee of the leg closest to their hips underneath your other leg, which should knock their free hand out of place. The mount is now yours for the taking, putting you in a very controlling position with both their arms out of play.

Nick got us to spar from side control again, and this time my partner was Christina. I tried to concentrate on keeping my weight down, and then switching to north-south while maintaining the pressure. While doing that, I tried closing my eyes to see if that helped, also aiming to squirm my elbows into her armpits.

However, I didn't use my weight properly. Afterwards, Christina mentioned that I was just using my arms, with my hips too high and therefore not helping with weight distribution. Not being used to north-south, I'm still a little apprehensive about shoving my weight into somebody's face, which partly accounts for that, but I can always drop it more onto their shoulder. Either way, weight distribution remains key, and the hips the most important part of the solution.

Underneath, same story as usual, with Christina popping up to knee-on-belly. I was being cautious with my hands, trying again to implement Dominik's advice about using your elbows instead of your hands to push on the knee. This seemed to work better, and Christina noted that it was definitely an improved defensive strategy on my part (though naturally she still didn't have too much trouble passing).

My first partner in free sparring was again Melissa, and again I'm not being careful enough with chokes. Towards the end she was in open guard really pushing for a cross-choke, which I only held off by pressing my knees into her torso. Similarly I'd earlier resisted a guillotine by having an arm in to make a bit of breathing space. Not very reliable defence on my part: much better to develop better awareness and watch out for choke attempts before they're locked in.

Before that, I'd been spending a lot of time in side control and half guard, eventually reversing Melissa and getting into her guard. Once again, she was working for a choke, as I tried to posture up and go for a pass. Due to my horrendously bad guard passing, that just meant I ended up in open guard, leading to yet another choke attempt by Melissa.

Closing spar with Christina was very relaxed, turning into instruction, which was really handy. She gave me a whole load of good tips on open guard. First was to keep my knees off the floor and on either her upper legs or higher. I've been tending to hook knees, but if I do that, I shouldn't just sit there, but go for the sweep immediately.

Christina also advised that I should keep my legs pushing constantly, but not completely straight: there should still be some tension, or she can simply push them down and pass. Finally, once your partner is going low, use spider guard to push them away on their bicep, and/or getting a knee into their shoulder if they're really low and close.

Turns out that another of my old training partners has got involved with Kukla Pictures, though unfortunately he isn't able to train yet. Chris has been carrying injuries for a long time, but its cool to hear that he's been able to use his considerable artistic skills to help out with the film production. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the stuff Kukla comes up with, so will have to try and clear some time in my diary to make the events.


  1. Really like that beginningBJJ link!, some really handy stuff in there. Have already suggested it to a guy whose just started at our place. Am quite enjoying reading the E-book for myself as well.

    Thanks for the link!, gonna throw it up on my blog as well.

  2. Thanks to you and Aesopian for the Stephan Kesting e-book link - I printed out lesson #1 and brought it into class to run the info by my teachers. Thumbs up for almost all of it - this'll be a great resource for me, as I've just started to feel pretty overwhelmed. (Excited, but overwhelmed.)

    Do you want me to let you know when I post more BJJ art on my blog? I just sketched Fabiana Borges in a world championship bout:

  3. Always handy to have a heads up, but I'm subscribed to your blog in Google Reader (in case you're on the lookout for more BJJ blogs, huge list on the Fightworks Podcast), so should see new posts in there.

    Cool pics!

  4. cool wallpaper, thanks for sharing!

  5. Hey Slidey,

    I actually found you off of the fightworks podcast website.

    We have a section of our MMA U: University of Mixed Martial Arts blog entitled "College of Jiu Jitsu" that I would love for you to post your technique articles on.

    I think it would be great cross promotion for your blog as well as a part time income for you at some point in the future.

    Take a look around and let me know what you think.

    I am open to other suggestions as well.

  6. Hi Jon,

    While part time income is always cool, I think that especially if there was money involved, I wouldn't be confident my description of technique is good enough to help people learn directly from the text. I don't have the qualifications or the experience. I enjoy teaching (I've shown people the basics before, in an informal - and most definitely free - setting), but my own technique needs a lot of work.

    If you're looking for some professional technical contributions, then I would direct you towards my instructor Nick Gregoriades, who posts regularly on his blog, The Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood. Not that I speak for him, but he may be interested, and has the black belt round his waist, competitive experience and eloquent writing skills to justify a fee.

    Hope that helps, and best of luck with the site!