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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

19 February 2009

DVD Review - Gracie Jiu Jitsu Intermediate (Rorion & Royce Gracie)

Between Gracie Jiu Jitsu Basics and Gracie Jiu Jitsu Intermediate, much had happened. In the years from 1991 from 1996, there was one major change in particular: the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In 1993, Rorion's brother Royce stepped into an octagonal ring with a chain-link fence, unassuming and looking almost out of place. Or at least he did physically: Royce was the smallest competitor there that night. However, he was one of the few who looked calm, a confidence which he would quickly justify by coming out on top at the first UFC, following it up with further victories at the second and fourth events.

Winning UFC 1, 2 and 4 made Royce a household name, and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu a hot topic of discussion. When Rorion released Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Basics, he was still working hard to convince the world that his style was something special, something elite: in short, something you'd be willing to pay plenty of money to learn. By the time of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Intermediate, Royce had proved it to a large slice of the public, especially in the US. His success would be a lasting influence on the women and men who decided to step on the mats in the 1990s, much to the Gracie family's benefit.

[For more on the history of Brazilian jiu jitsu, see here]

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Intermediate is split into three volumes, 'Attacks from Front and Back Mount', ' Attacks & Reversals from Guard' and ' Offence & Defence from Cross Mount'. Just like Gracie Jiu Jitsu Basics, there is also a bonus, again emphasising Royce. Each of the tapes begin with a summary of the techniques from the basics series, which led some reviewers at the time (at present, the only contemporary review I can find is by Bill Lewis: hopefully I'll be able to dig out others) to comment that this effectively made the previous tapes redundant.

It should be noted that there have been arguments on the internet that 'Bill Lewis' was merely a pseudonym for Paul Viele, who just so happened to own a tape company himself, World Martial Arts (e.g., several threads on NHBGear, which should pop up here.) If true, that would put a quite different light on his reviews.

Rorion's easy confidence reflects Gracie Jiu Jitsu's new position in the world of martial arts. The UFC had gone a long way towards vindicating the claims that had bounced around magazines and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action tapes in the years leading up to the tournament. Rorion could speak from a position of true authority, and he made sure to capitalise on his brother's performance, slipping references to the UFC into his instruction throughout the series. For example, when moving to back mount by throwing punches to get your partner to turn over, Rorion notes how the viewer might have seen Royce perform the same technique many times in his no-holds-barred fights.

Rorion, now wearing a red-and-black belt, is visibly more relaxed on this series, as can be seen when he demonstrates the cross choke on the first tape. He describes how, if you apply the technique correctly, it is an almost pleasant sensation for your training partner. That gets a chuckle and comment from Royce, which is also the first time we see Rorion's brother speak up on an instructional tape. Rorion does something similar on the 'papercutter' choke (grab their collar, put your forearm over their throat, then drop that while pulling back on their lapel), pretending that Royce's head rolls down the mat after he brings down his elbow to complete the submission.

There were several chokes I hadn't seen before, though as I'm very far from knowledgeable on submissions, that isn't especially remarkable. The most unusual was something Rorion called the 'nutcracker' choke, where you grab the collar on either side of their neck, pulling up on the cloth. You use that motion to bend your top knuckles into the neck, with your elbow on the ground for balance and feet clamped underneath your partner to stop them bumping your forward.

Rorion moves on to combinations with the basic cross choke, showing how to shift to an armbar if they try to trap your choking hand in order to bridge and roll: he calls this a 'double attack'. Rorion also makes a point of Gracie Jiu Jitsu being for everyone, no matter if you're not limber or simply out of shape, demonstrating how you can either bring your leg straight over and around for the armbar, or a more gradual method for the less flexible. As with previous tapes, everything is reviewed at the end, with a final note on being careful with your training partner, in order to avoid injuries during class.

The second tape covers the guard, which was probably the most shocking aspect of Royce's UFC success for viewers unfamiliar with grappling. As Rorion comments in his introduction, many people used to view the person on the bottom as being in trouble, without realising they could themselves attack from that position.

Rorion begins with basic sweeps, like the scissor, moving on to the natural follow up, the push sweep. If your opponent manages to resist that, Rorion shows a variation where you insert an elevator hook under their leg to complete the motion. These are solid techniques, but it raises the question of what exactly "intermediate" denotes as opposed to "basic." Bill Lewis commented that this was effectively "Basics - Part Two," as he expected something more advanced to justify the 'intermediate' label. Semantic quibbles aside, I'm more than happy with the basics: after all, you can never spend too much time on the fundamentals.

Rorion also talks you through the triangle choke, which interestingly he shows as a defence against the very same pass he demonstrated in Gracie Jiu Jitsu Basics. So, Rorion was clearly aware that the triangle is an obvious possibility, which makes you wonder why he showed a pass in full knowledge that it was easily countered (at least when performed in the manner shown on Gracie Jiu Jitsu Basics). If they raise their head, Rorion demonstrates how you can switch to an armbar by pivoting your body, then bringing your leg over, after which you can lock in the sub.

Finally, the third tape covers side control. Rorion runs through the submissions from the earlier series (Americana and guillotine), then adds in armbars and stepping over for a kimura. With his typical attention to detail, Rorion goes through 'what-if' scenarios, such as landing the kimura if they put an arm over your neck, or how you can shift to an armbar if they grab their belt.

Rorion's approach to the knee-on-belly position reminded me of Nick G's set-up, although Rorion is much lower, so on the stomach rather than the chest (which is what Maurição – a man widely noted for his knee-on-chest – recommended during the same lesson). Rorion emphasises the grip, with your thumb over the four fingers, and also how you can secure a hold behind their head, so that if they turn it will drive your forearm into their neck. He also demonstrates various submissions, like the cross-choke, kimura and a few armbar variations.

However, I was mainly looking forward to the next part: side control escapes. This is something I've been trying to focus on for most of my time training BJJ, so I'm always keen to see different approaches. Rorion runs through two of the basic options: first, shrimp and drive your knee through then shrimp again to get back to guard; second, what I refer to as the Tran side control escape, because that's who showed it to me (very simple: bridge into them when they try to bring their leg over to mount, rolling through to guard).

Rorion also shows one I haven't seen before, which again depends on timing. This time, they aren't swinging their leg over as with the Tran escape, but instead sliding their knee through. As they do so, Rorion slips his arm under their other leg, raises them up just enough to slip his own legs through, then gets half guard. From there, you can shrimp back to full guard.

The coverage of side control escapes was extremely thorough, although at the same time it was only discussing the basic approach. I would probably judge this tape the high point of the Gracie Jiu Jitsu instructional series. It is also made me think about something I've been attempting to work out for a while now, which is the issue of where to put the arm that is nearest to their head.

Roy Dean and Saulo Ribeiro both drive their forearm into their opponent's neck, which is also how I was taught at RGA. Demian Maia instead wraps his arm around their head, something Saulo specifically advises against. Rorion does something a bit different, in that he avoids the head altogether, gripping around their gi on the other side. I've seen that for when you want to go to your knees, but not when shrimping back to guard: Rorion uses the same grip for both. Then again, in Rorion's version the person on top doesn't have an arm around the bottom person's head, which changes things slightly.

Bruno, a purple belt at RGA, advised that I should tuck my elbow into their armpit to prevent that from happening. Christina, on the other hand, prefers to keep her elbows tight, and like Rorion avoids the head altogether. I guess it depends on how the other person reacts, but it would be nice to imagine there is some kind of at least vaguely "safe" position from which to being your defence. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

The bonus tape is the most overt reflection of how the UFC has positively impacted on the Gracies financial situation. That starts from the title, 'Royce Gracie, The Ultimate Fighting Champion: Finishing Moves'. At the time, Royce was no longer the champion: in 1996, the UFC was dominated by two wrestlers, Don Frye and Mark Coleman. They ushered in the success of the 'ground and pound' style of fighting, proving how wrestling combined with a willingness to strike was a powerful combination. Royce had yet to face that kind of opponent at the time: Dan Severn possessed the wrestling skill, but when he fought Royce in UFC 4, Severn hadn't yet become comfortable with striking an opponent on the ground.

Nevertheless, Royce could claim that he was still the undefeated UFC champion, as he had effectively retired after defeating Severn in the tournament and drawing with Ken Shamrock in the UFC 5 superfight. Royce spends this bonus tape talking the viewer through the submissions he used to get his championship belts. If you're looking for some deeper insight into Royce's victories, you won't find it here. He simply shows the technique without elaboration. As with the last series, that is to be expected from a bonus. The main interesting point about this bonus is that Rorion felt, rightly, that using Royce's UFC fame might bring in further customers for the instructional series.

If I was going to recommend any of the original Gracie Jiu Jitsu instructional tapes, it would be these (though I would again emphasises that Roy Dean’s Blue Belt Requirements remains by far the best DVD on the market for beginners). Rorion does a fine job of explaining the techniques, in a clear and detailed fashion, once again keeping them in context. Available to buy here.

Finally, here's a clip of Rorion going through some of the finer details of a choke (which is also where he has a chuckle with Royce). Its from YouTube, so the link may disappear at some point. If that happens, let me know, and I'll see if I can find a replacement:

If there is anyone reading this blog who trained BJJ back in the early 1990s, and therefore may well have used these tapes upon their original release, I’d love to hear about your experiences with them, and especially how you view the tapes now, looking back.

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