02 April 2009

DVD Review - Pedro Carvalho Series 1

Short Review: Like the Renzo/Kukuk tapes, Pedro Carvalho's set has stood up fairly well to the test of time. There is a self defence focus throughout: this can get a little extreme, such as the gun defences on the second tape.

However, Carvalho packs lots of detail into his fast-paced but eminently practical instruction. The way in which he connects techniques into extended sequences is especially good. Best of all, like most of these older instructionals, Carvalho's set is cheap.

Full Review: Pedro Carvalho was one of the early Brazilian jiu jitsu instructors to release an instructional video tape series, around the time of Rorion's Gracie Jiu Jitsu Intermediate in 1996. Carvalho would follow his first series with a second and a third, all still available on DVD. Carvalho's name crops in old reviews, generally to the denigration of his contemporary competition.

Bill Lewis is especially fond of them: he says in his review of Gracie Jiu Jitsu Advanced that the leglock tape is "a pale rehash of Pedro Carvalho." However, according to the internet rumour mill, 'Bill Lewis' was merely a pseudonym for Paul Viele, who just so happened to own the company selling the Carvalho tapes, World Martial Arts (e.g., several threads on NHBGear, like this, this and this.) If true, then that very significantly reduces the value of the Lewis reviews.

As Carvalho says in a 1999 interview in The New Full Contact, he began training under Silvio Behring around 1985, later also training with Carlson, then finally receiving his black belt from Anibal Braga. In 1997, he came to the United States, opening a school in Rancho Cucamonga, initially to further his consulting work with the LAPD. Interestingly, although Bill Lewis was so impressed by the leglock tape, Carvalho notes that "leg locks are not my speciality." He points to an article he wrote on the topic, which he stated had given the media the idea he was some kind of expert on lower body submissions.

Carvalho's approach begins unlike any of the other instructionals to that point, as he opens by breaking down what he states are the three different types of BJJ: self-defence, vale tudo and tournament. This is laid out on the first tape, Tournament Jiu Jitsu (around twenty-nine minutes), where Carvalho runs the viewer through the rules, how to score points, length of matches per belt level and so on.

That also sets the structure of this opening tape: Carvalho will tell you a takedown is worth two points, then shows two techniques which will land you in the top position from standing. An example from tournament footage closes the segment, with the same pattern following for the mount (four points), back mount (four points), passing the guard (three points), sweep (two points) and knee on chest (two points). Or at least that was the case in 1996: as I've competed a whole once, I wouldn't know if there have been major changes since then or not.

Having explained the regulations and point scoring, Carvalho moves on to submissions, noting how this will immediately win you the match no matter how many points you may be down. To illustrate submissions, he shows a quick cross-choke from mount, then finishes up the tape with a hefty chunk of tournament footage, both BJJ and less regulated NHB challenge matches. It is a shame this lacks the commentary included on the Renzo/Kukuk instructional, but nevertheless enjoyable to see some old fights from (presumably) the 1980s and 1990s.

As Carvalho is gearing this towards absolute beginners, he shows you what each position looks like. Today, I would assume that thanks to widespread exposure through the increasingly popular UFC, a good portion of new BJJ students will already have some idea of the fundamental positions. In 1996, that was not so certain.

It is also interesting that Carvalho calls it knee on chest rather than knee on belly, which is a point Maurição emphasises in his instruction. Pressing into the sternum is considerably more debilitating than the stomach, as Maurição is only too happy to demonstrate (in the world of BJJ, there are few places less fun than underneath Maurição's knee on chest).

The second tape, Advanced Street and Tournament Takedowns (around thirty-four minutes), is less impressive, as can often the case with early BJJ instructionals. Carvalho runs through the usual basics, like a technical stand up, but then shifts into self defence territory. The stiff BJJ kick to the leg is very similar to Craig Kukuk's display a couple of years earlier, though Carvalho appears to possess greater familiarity with the position.

After that, the tape gets into unusual territory. Bear-hugs, pulling the hair and takedowns from the clinch are all to be expected from a BJJ tape with a self defence focus, but definitely wasn't expecting to see gun defence. If you've read Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Self Defence Techniques by Royce and Charles Gracie, you'll recognise the tactics Carvalho employs here. A good wrestling or judo instructional may be a better option if you're looking to supplement your knowledge of takedowns.

Tape number three, Advanced Mount Fighting, gets the series back on track. The title is a little misleading, as it actually begins from side control. The self-defence element lingers on, with Carvalho demonstrating both kneeing and headbutting your opponent from that position, after which he moves on to a typical armbar from side control. Progression is sensible from that point, with armbars moving to shoulder locks, switching to north-south (which Carvalho calls "rear cross-side"), knee-on-chest chokes and armbars, until finally showing the transition to mount. Carvalho finishes there, throwing punches and elbows.

Technical instruction is quick, and the camera also doesn't zoom in or switch angles when it would have been useful to do so, such as on a choke from north-south. Due to the camera being on the same side the whole time, it is difficult to see how Carvalho is gripping his training partner. In later tapes in this series – such as the volume on footlocks - there is the occasional zoom, but it's sporadic.

Interestingly, on the armbar from mount, Carvalho insists that the leg over their neck should be flat, not bent like I've normally seen it. The reason for this, he says, is that if you have your knee up, that gives your opponent space to escape. However, that presumably means you aren't able to keep your heel tight to their head, which I'd always thought was an essential part of the armbar. That is how I've been shown it in class, although admittedly I'm crap at armbars, so might have missed some details. ;)

From the next tape onwards, Carvalho comes into his own. The technical flow becomes especially good, with multiple variations and plenty of details along the way. After a further example of self defence, where Carvalho suggests smacking them in the groin if they're blocking your rear naked choke attempt, he shows six beautifully connected (and rather more technical) submissions, completing the cycle with a rear triangle.

The best part of Carvalho's teaching style is also made clear, which is his frequent use of three very important words: "the reason why." In all too many instructionals, some technical quirk will be emphasised without any explanation as to why it is so important. Not with Carvalho: almost every time, he'll immediately follow up with "and the reason why is."

For example, on tape four, Advanced Mount Fighting 2 (around thirty-three minutes), Carvalho states that when applying the Americana from mount, you need to keep your fingers and thumb on top. Carvalho explains that this is "because the only way for the guy to escape is that way, so you're better off with five fingers outside", as he pushes his partner's arm away from his body.

Instruction is still quick: on that fourth instalment, Carvalho takes the viewer through twenty different techniques and variations in just over half an hour. Nevertheless, it doesn't feel rushed, due both to the way in which he connects everything together, provides numerous important details and always stops to explain any potentially confusing point.

Advanced Guard Fighting (just over thirty-seven minutes) kicks off with an impressively basic point: when in the guard, you need to cross your legs. The use of 'advanced' to describe most of the tapes in this series is not entirely accurate: beginner to intermediate would probably be a better term. Again plenty of solid technique in here, with cross-chokes, armbars and kimuras, along with combinations like an armbar off a choke.

Unfortunately the kimura from guard provides one of the rare occasions where Carvalho doesn't say "the reason why," simply telling you to keep five fingers on the outside. In Rener and Ryron's instruction on the Gracie University, they instead have the thumb gripping on the other side of the wrist. When I queried that grip on the forum, the response was "During the final twist of the shoulder, you will be pushing his wrist towards his head, and if there is no thumb wrapping his wrist you have much less push potential." Though they do also mention you should try both, that contradicts various other instructors I've heard (such as Roy Dean) who advocate the thumbless grip.

Various reasons for that, the main one being that it gives your hand greater mobility to slide up and down the arm, shifting leverage as required. I would also have thought that contrary to what the Gracie University said, it is the thumbless grip which gives you greater push potential. As Roy Dean put it on NHBGear, "The power is in pressing the palm foreward on his wrist to maintain control, not in pinching your thumb and fingers tightly together." Up for debate, I guess (like here on Sherdog).

That's a very minor point, however, as the tape is otherwise excellent, in keeping with the previous two. Again there is good progression, such as when Carvalho explains control in open guard. He starts by pushing a foot into their bicep. If they grab onto your trousers, bring your leg over the top and hook the armpit. If they attempt to underhook the leg, hook under their thigh to kill their leverage. These kind of sequences crop up throughout the series, and mean that despite its age its still well worth picking up this set.

Carvalho also makes a simple statement which is nonetheless significant in the context of previous instructionals: he refers to the Gracie Gift as "the wrong way" to pass, because it will get you triangled, then goes on to explain exactly why. Given that neither Rorion or Renzo saw fit to mention this essential problem, it is a major point in Carvalho's favour that he produced the earliest instructional to bring up what is a fundamental maxim of guard passing: always have both arms in or out.

Sweeps, Reversals and Escapes (slightly over thirty-three minutes) makes up the sixth tape. It turns out that title covers a wide variety of techniques, some of which you wouldn't immediately associate with the three terms. For example, several linked variations on breaking your opponent's grip if they attempt to resist an armbar from mount. This ranges from pushing on their bicep with your foot to putting your leg on top of their clasped hands and then pressing down by putting your other leg on your ankle, like a triangle.

Carvalho's half guard escapes caught my interest, as that is something I've been thinking about recently. That is because he shows it from the diagonal position, which is where I frequently get caught. Carvalho also notes this is something he commonly gets asked about by students, which is why he shows four different variations.

They all work from similar grips: hold their shoulder with your same side hand, while the other hand grips the gi fabric on their same side knee. You stomp down on their calf with one foot to hold them in place, then get a butterfly hook with the same side leg. From here, you can lift them back into your closed guard (Carvalho mentions this is even easier if they have wrapped their arm behind your head). You also can sweep them to mount, or you can take their back.

The seventh tape, Advanced Sweeps, Reversals and Escape Part 2 (just under thirty minutes) focuses on simple sweeps. The basic elevator and scissor start things off, after which Carvalho shows some of the fundamental sweeps if they stand up, like the double ankle grab and knees pressing into the stomach. Carvalho also uses the De La Riva hook, though he doesn't call it that: all good, solid techniques.

Footlocks (a little under twenty eight minutes) completes the tape series. Bill Lewis holds this up as an example of just how superior Carvalho's tapes were to Rorion's contemporary releases. Essentially, Lewis believes that Rorion's attempt at teaching leglocks was merely a poor imitation of this eight tape in Carvalho's instructional.

It is soon clear that whether or not Rorion actually copied him, Carvalho is considerably more comfortable with the material. There are plenty of fine details, right down to the specific angle you should be pointing your foot, where to grip on their leg etc. There is also noticeably greater use of the zoom in this tape: I'm not sure why Carvalho waited until the end of the series to make full use of his camera, as the benefit to the viewer is obvious.

Carvalho makes the important point about just how dangerous leg locks can be, noting that they are banned in competition and that you need to be very careful with your training partner. Of course, he has also been referring to broken arms and punching people in the face all the way through, so that self-defence perspective means he is certainly not averse to snapping the legs too.

Two basic but still worthwhile points are also covered. First there is the reason why you never cross your feet when taking the back, because you'll give your partner an easy footlock. Second, and one I've seen less, is the vulnerable position you put yourself into if you're resting one leg on the knee of the other. That is quite a common thing to do from under side control: when I was taught escapes from side control, this was always treated as the basic defensive posture.

However, it can also get you leglocked, as Carvalho demonstrates (though he does it from knee on stomach rather than side control). There was a thread discussing the problems with putting a foot on your knee on Sherdog, around the time I was watching the videos, which meant I paid more attention than normal. I'll often have my leg up like that, so its good to be aware of the potential risks

Though having said that, I also like to bait mount by putting both legs down, then bridge into my partner when they try to bring their leg over, putting me in their guard instead. This is what I refer to as the 'Tran escape', as he's the guy who showed it to me. Tran always has good advice, which is one of the things I miss about training at the main Roger Gracie Academy.

Like Rorion, Carvalho also shows the defence to footlocks, which was better presented than the same technique on Gracie Jiu Jitsu Advanced. On the other hand, Carvalho only goes through one and doesn't spend all that long, leaving it until the end of the tape. Still, looks like he covered all the main points, like removing their foot from your hip, kicking your leg straight, grabbing their gi and moving forward.

Carvalho's teaching style isn't for everyone, as he tends to go quite quickly, and he also maintains a self-defence outlook through most of the tapes on this series. However, he manages to condense plenty of detail into his concise instruction, with numerous well-connected sequences, especially tapes four to seven. He is also the only instructor pre-1997 that I've seen so far that points out the obvious dangers of the Gracie Gift, long overdue.

As with the Renzo/Kukuk set, this series stands up well despite its age. I wasn't too sure about gun defence on the second tape, but apart from that, you can't go wrong with Carvalho if you're looking for practical techniques taught simply and quickly. Also like most of these older instructionals, this is cheap.

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