Short review: Saulo Ribeiro's instructional set is rightly acknowledged as one of the best available. This is because Saulo is meticulous in his detail, taking a concept-heavy approach to all the major positions in BJJ. Multiple angles and methodical progression mean these DVDs are perfect for refining your understanding of the sport, with an entire game laid out over the course of six hours.
However, I would not recommend this as your first purchase (I'd continue to suggest Roy Dean for the absolute beginner). There is an implicit assumption throughout the set that you already understand the fundamentals: what Saulo presents are modifications, improvements and alternatives to those basics. Therefore I'd suggest that this works best for those who have recently got their blue belt, or are fast approaching that level. Jiu Jitsu Revolution is available here.
Full Review: Saulo Ribeiro, a black belt under Royler Gracie, has a very impressive pedigree in BJJ. He has won the Mundials six times and the ADCC twice. On top of that, Saulo's teaching expertise was instrumental in enabling his brother Xande to rack up even more titles. Together they currently run the very successful University of Jiu Jitsu in San Diego.
Jiu Jitsu Revolution, Saulo's first instructional, was released in 2004, later followed by Freestyle Revolution, a no gi instructional, in 2005, with Jiu Jitsu Revolution 2 coming out during 2006.
Saulo prefaces Jiu Jitsu Revolution with a ten minute solo discussion, ranging from his opinions on other tape series, his reasons for making one himself, and a long list of acknowledgements to family, instructors and training partners. This sets the tone for his instructional style: Saulo loves to talk. He provides the complete opposite of the concise, no frills teaching epitomised by people like Pedro Carvalho. Instead, there is a certain similarity to the long explanations of Cesar Gracie and extensive detail of Rorion Gracie, taking his time over the techniques, rather than speeding through like Carvalho or Renzo.
Roy Dean also makes for a good comparison with Saulo's teaching style. Both black belts add a philosophical slant to their interpretation of jiu jitsu, exemplified by the rather high ideals Saulo attributes to his instructional set:
I think that now is time for me to give back what jiu jitsu gave to my life. I think that's a good contribution that I'm doing to the martial arts, to the jiu jitsu, and I think that make me a better man. Not just as a fighter, as a teacher: as a person. I want to be remembered by the people not for the champ that I am, not for the medals that I get, the Abu Dhabi that I won, I wanna be remembered as a guy that really help people.
As the above quote reveals, a major difference is that Saulo lacks Roy Dean's grasp of English, but you soon get used to Saulo's idiosyncratic vocabulary and grammar. He is especially fond of throwing in "aspects" and "concepts," which points to the attempt Saulo makes to approach BJJ with principles on top of technique.
The Mount (slightly over an hour) begins with yet more discussion, about "aspects" and "concepts" in the mount. Saulo emphasises the importance of the mount, a position which demonstrates your superiority, of which there are several variations. Handily, a number pops up in the corner of the screen, which is used to clearly break up each sequence.
Saulo's first mount variation is to grapevine their legs, basing your arms by their head, hips right on top of theirs. Saulo comments that he recommends this option "when you just want time." In other words, this is where you can catch your breath in competition, though Saulo states there aren't that many attacks from this position (although as he explains in the next section, the Ezequiel is one of those few submissions).
A second mount variation is to get your knees up into their armpits, marking section three of the DVD. Saulo advises you don't try to wrap an arm behind their head, as you are higher up on their body, meaning their hips are free to bridge (or as Saulo puts it, bump, another word he'll use throughout the series). He says you should keep your weight back, careful to avoid their efforts to bridge, although it is possible for flexible people to hook you with their legs and pull you down if you're not careful.
Saulo provides a useful tip in the fourth section, on securing the collar choke. If they're defending, you can simply grip the lapel lower down and open it there. I had always assumed you had to get past their arms first, but Saulo's method –at least against that particular grip - shows how you can break through their defences by using their gi against them. Saulo insists that they can only defend either the neck or the collar, not both at the same time.
Once you've got a hold on their collar, you can switch to seated mount (which Saulo calls 'technical mount'), then combine an armlock with a choke. Saulo demonstrates how you can try the choke, then attack for the arm if they try to defend, and in turn go back to the choke if they block that attack as well. As with much of this set, the purpose is to use what your opponent gives you, rather than forcing any particular position or submission.
Another point that crops up repeatedly is not gripping too deep. Saulo generally recommends a grip higher up, as he is keen to avoid getting "locked" into his partner's body. He also invests plenty of time into teaching the viewer how to maintain a position, rather than just lots of techniques.
On this DVD, that covers both maintaining the basic mount and the seated mount. For the former, Saulo states that the secret is to lift your hips when the person underneath you attempts to bridge. Effectively, that looks rather like riding a horse, and prevents your partner from disrupting your base. I would assume that your timing has to be good, however, and that you also need to be careful about leaving too much space.
By section nine, Saulo is ready to show the other side of the position: escapes. Across the six DVDs, the instruction on escapes tends to be shorter, with a focus on a few fundamental principles that apply to multiple situations. In the case of mount, as with much of BJJ, it is all about the hips. Saulo advises that you want to stop the person on top moving, which can be achieved by creating a frame with your arms to block their hips. From there, execute the usual elbow escape.
Another important part of Saulo's escapes is avoiding the cross-face. You need to keep your head pressed against the floor, so they can't get an arm underneath. If they do manage to get past and lock the head, look to the 'open' side, then block their hips and elbow escape as before.
Something more unusual crops up at the end. Having spent the previous sections basically showing multiple applications of the elbow escape, Saulo finishes with a completely different option. If they aren't giving you the resistance you need to frame against their knee and make space, you need an alternative. This turns out, surprisingly, to be a sit-up sweep.
Saulo doesn't call it that, but it certainly looks like the same motion. You pop up onto your elbow, lock their knee, then roll to guard. I would never have thought to try the technique in that situation, but Saulo claims it can work, as long as you get the timing right.
The Cross Body (around an hour) follows, with a similar division between maintaining the position, attacks and then escapes from the bottom. Again, Saulo draws attention to controlling your opponent's body without expending lots of energy, and he also repeats the central importance of the hips. As he says so often in this instructional set, you need to "connect" your hips to their hips.
Having achieved the control, Saulo moves on to a choke. This gives him another opportunity to emphasise that you shouldn't be hurting your partner, so there is no need to really smash your arm into their throat. Instead, focus on leverage and motion, sliding round to effect the choke.
After a variation that demonstrates how to overcome a blocking arm, Saulo adds what he refers to as one of his favourite chokes. This time, you use your legs to get the power for the choke, stepping over their head once you have a hold on their collar. This reminded me of something Tran called the 'exposé' choke, which he learned from Nic G. Probably the same thing, as he's definitely caught me with it in the past. I thought I was safe because it was just a single grip on the collar, until he stepped over and I was suddenly tapping.
While the submissions all looked useful, as do the details on transitioning to mount, I was far more interested in escaping side control. That's been my focus in BJJ for most of the time I've been training, so I'm always keen to see the different approaches in instructionals.
Saulo begins with positioning: he states that you should not put your arm under their armpit, as then it is too easy to block you. Also, in direct contrast to Demian Maia, Saulo advises against putting the arm against their head: Maia uses this as the basis of several escapes in his popular Science of Jiu Jitsu series. Again, Saulo shows how he feels this is a dangerous option, locking you in place.
As with the DVD on the mount, Saulo also highlights the need to stop them getting an arm under your head. This means that his arm position is slightly modified from how I've seen it in class. His forearm is into their neck with the other elbow inside their knee as usual, but the hand is not on the hip. Instead, that's holding their arm, stopping them from getting the cross-face. This is a little reminiscent of Indrek Reiland's use of the 'paw' from half-guard, with the same purpose.
Once you're into position, you need to use your hips: as Saulo says, they are "the strongest leverage that you have" so you should take advantage. Everyone knows to bridge, but Saulo shows how you need to bridge into them, not just up, which is an important detail. This helps with shrimping out, as you're already moving onto your side.
That then leads to another essential detail, which is yet another "connect". This time it isn't hip against hip, but elbow to your knee, to create a barrier to their knee. Saulo goes so far as to say that "no matter what happen, the perfect thing is the connect. As soon as I connect, I got it."
The escape in section thirteen is a little unorthodox, but I've already found it of use a few times in training. That is because Saulo goes against the idea that you should never turn away from your partner when escaping side control. However, if they have both their arms on the near side of your body, turning away from them can be an effective strategy.
Normally, the reason you don't turn away from your opponent is because it means you expose your back, but Saulo shows how you can get a step ahead. His secret is to push on their shoulder and get an arm between their chest: that way, you're able to make enough space to swing your leg right over and come to your knees before they can get to your back.
Like many other instructionals, Saulo includes knee-on-belly as an aspect of side control, showing two escapes. The first is when their knee isn't deep, so you can bring your near elbow around (as Saulo comments earlier, never put your hand on their knee or you're asking to get submitted), shift onto your side and shrimp out to escape. The second is against a more secure knee-on-belly: this time, you bridge up to get your arm under their foot and grab the back of their gi. Once you've got that hold, you can again shrimp, but this time knock them to the ground.
As I often get squished under knee-on-belly, I've been trying that second one repeatedly. So far, I haven't had much success, but I think what I'm missing is firstly the bridge to get a good deep grip, and secondly I'm not shrimping enough. Its been useful to have something to go for nonetheless, so hopefully with more mat time things will start to click.
The third DVD is about the Back Position (slightly under an hour). Continuing Saulo's established pattern, he first details common mistakes. For taking the back, Saulo states these are attempting to control the arm, pulling the belt, controlling both elbows, the collars etc, because that misses the issue. The first concern, as ever, should be to "connect my hips". Not too far forward as they can then drop you over their shoulder, or too far back, as they can spin to guard.
He continues to show how once you've got the hips in place, you don't want to grab with both hands, and especially not deep: otherwise, they can lock your arm and roll you into side control. Instead, Saulo recommends a shallower grip on the opposite collar, then pull that up tight. He progresses through to showing how to establish hooks, roll them to rear mount and get in position for a choke.
The way in which Saulo breaks down how to take the back (and importantly, how to stay there) is brilliant. His slow, concept-heavy style of explanation makes for a perfect fit, showing you step-by-step how to get into position, the pitfalls to avoid, and how to finish (e.g., chokes and omoplatas), along with variations depending on their reaction. As with all of the techniques on the DVD, Saulo uses multiple angles and pauses to clarify particular details, such as raising up his partner so you can see the grip on the collar.
His discussion of escaping from back mount occupies less of the disc, covering just three of the twelve sections, but it is nevertheless equally methodical and carefully explained. Readers of Jiu Jitsu University will recognise both the 'survival position' and eventual escape Saulo demonstrates here.
He begins, as before, by detailing common mistakes. That includes three of the more common escapes, all of which Saulo briefly demonstrates: putting your weight onto them and bridging; pulling their foot up and placing your weight on them; grabbing their arm, stepping over, spinning then completing the escape. Saulo is blunt in his appraisal:
I would say, that is a waste of time. Because, in fact, every time I put my weight on him, I'm not having the control of my body: he's controlling my body.
Saulo also makes a point of ridiculing the bizarre raised arm defence shown several years earlier on Gracie Jiu Jitsu Advanced, though he doesn't mention any names. Slightly mitigating that criticism, Saulo goes on to say that those escapes might have worked back in the 1990s, when knowledge of BJJ was both not so widespread and less refined (at least according to Saulo, from what I can gather from his comments). Today, which for this DVD was 2004, the level has shot up, largely due to the increasing development of elite competition.
Rather than focusing on getting your weight backed onto your opponent, Saulo's alternative is to drop down and lock their body onto yours. He states you do not lift your hips, instead 'scooting' into the survival position from his later book, Jiu Jitsu University. From here, you can kick out your trapped leg to remove the hook, then shrimp towards the opening and spin to face your partner.
After covering how to defend when turtled, Saulo moves on to a late defence from rear mount. This time, they've managed to get one arm around your neck. Rather than focusing on grabbing the arm, Saulo instead shows you how to drop to your side, then make space to return to the previous survival position and escape. Its notably different from the defence I'm used to (which is to clamp my hands by my chin, like Ais showed me), so will have to give that a try in sparring.
The Guard (just over an hour) begins with sweeps. Saulo's first piece of advice is that if they put their knee in the middle, its fairly easy to sweep them, though he notes "the sweep always in the momentum", so requires initial resistance from them. He moves on to what looks like the windscreen wiper sweep Ciaran showed me back at the first Belfast TD, before explaining a technique I almost always try at least once in sparring: the handstand sweep.
Saulo shows how that sweep is not about pushing up: instead, you want to drop slightly, then drive your hips sideways into their knee, using leverage rather than force. As Saulo puts it, you "don't want to be strongest, but the smartest." To get into position, wiggle back on your shoulders, which is something I've never thought about, so will have to try that next time.
After adding in the classic follow-up, a star sweep, Saulo progresses to butterfly guard sweeps: contrary to what you might expect, there are few submissions on this particular DVD. I hardly ever use butterfly guard myself, but the way Saulo has referred to it as ideal for shorter people makes me wonder if I should be attempting it more often. The sweeps here are the usual fundamentals, where you come in close, then drop to the side to roll on top.
Open guard, however, is a place I'll often find myself, which is unsurprising given how central a position it is to BJJ. Saulo's preferred grip is to hook on the opposite leg, bringing the same side leg and hand around the outside. He comments how this is an excellent controlling hold, which again gives you an opportunity to rest: that certainly appeals to me. I assumed it had a specific name, so checking Stephan Kesting's guard glossary, I see its called the reverse De la Riva.
From there, Saulo explains a sweep where the idea is to get them to step forward. One option is to grab their same side lapel and pull them forward, or if they resist, lift your legs to force them to step. You can then push with your legs to knock them down, or as Kesting mentions, switch to things like x-guard.
Another option Saulo discusses is going for the omoplata from open guard. This time, it looks more like a variant of spider guard: cross grip, foot into their same side armpit, with your hand hooked around their same side leg. From here, you can kick your other leg right up towards their arm for the omoplata.
If they try to put their leg behind to roll you, there is an unusual attack to combined with the omoplata. This looked reminiscent of Cesar Gracie's leg lock, as Saulo also hooks their leg behind him. Alternately, Saulo walks you through both a sweep and an armbar if your omoplata is blocked. As with all his techniques, Saulo shows multiple angles, generally adjusting as and when there is a particular detail he wants to emphasise.
The Half Guard (a little under an hour) was another point of interest for me, as like escaping side control, half guard is a place I frequently find myself during sparring. Like most of the other DVDs (with the exception of The Guard and Passing the Guard, which fit together), Saulo covers tactics from both on top and underneath the position.
Before passing half-guard, Saulo states you have to get them flat on their back. His method is very simple: circle round towards the trapped knee side. Once you've got your opponent onto their back, trap them there by getting your chest onto theirs. You can now secure an underhook, put your head on the ground, a hand on their knee, then lift your hips to pop your knee through.
Another common position is facing the knees. Saulo advises that you don't go too high when trying this half-guard, as otherwise you're liable to get swept. As before, you need to block their hips, keeping in mind Saulo's mantra of "connect." Once you've settled, you can then drive back against their arm, in a similar fashion to when you're looking to go from side control to mount.
Interestingly, Saulo makes a point here that contrasts with what I've seen before. When pushing their leg to free your own, it is not the top leg that should concern you, but the bottom. This is because they are unable to exert as much power with that lower leg, so its easier for you to manipulate. As soon as you've made some space, trap that leg with your knee.
Having demonstrated some passes, Saulo adds in a few submissions. Instead of going for a kimura, as you might expect from this position, he instead attacks with an armlock off a figure-four grip. The kimura from here, according to Saulo, is likely to get you swept, as you don't have the angle to apply it properly.
A simple looking armbar follows later on: this time, you're just using your weight on their arm and pulling up on their wrist. Saulo takes this opportunity to talk about how he has used this particular submission successfully in high-level competition, a method of proving the efficacy of his techniques that occurs repeatedly throughout this set.
I have found myself with a whizzer (if you don't know what that is, see the picture on the left) when in top half guard a few times, but never been able to capitalise. Saulo demonstrates one method I could use, which takes advantage of the whizzer to armbar the person on the bottom. Importantly, he shows this from both angles, which makes the technique much clearer.
Saulo then has a handy section reviewing all the passes and submissions he's just done, showing how you can fit them together. Its a shame he doesn't do this on all the DVDs, as its a great refresher and 'big picture' moment.
Now that he's worked through the top of half guard, Saulo moves on to the bottom, which I was particularly looking forward to watching. As you would expect given his advice for the top, on the bottom you need to make sure you're never flat on your back: get onto your side instead. You also need to work hard to avoid the cross-face, as that severely restricts your movements.
Like Indrek Reiland, Saulo uses one hand for blocking their arm, with a similar 'paw' concept (though he doesn't call it that). Saulo then does something in common with another internet legend, Aesopian, by putting his knee across the hip. If they manage to break your legs open, shift that knee up to their chest.
The next section is impressive, as Saulo very methodically breaks down exactly how you move to deep half guard, then finish by coming up on your elbow to execute the sweep. Lots of explanation, numerous angles and frequent emphasis on details make this a real highlight, exemplifying how an instructor should go about demonstrating a technique on DVD.
Saulo finishes off half-guard by showing a similar escape when the person on top is facing your legs, before moving onto the final DVD in the set, Passing the Guard (a couple of minutes under an hour). This opens by stating the two broad groups of passing, which is either standing or on the ground.
Saulo emphasises that as legs are stronger than arms, you never want to be matching your arm strength against their leg muscles. That will expend a great deal of energy without much purpose, so instead, you need to get in close.
He demonstrates how to approach and block one side, avoiding omoplatas and the like (as he showed earlier in the guard section). Saulo uses his leg to press into the back of their same side knee, bolstering that barrier with his same side elbow.
Basic theory follows, with how to stand up. Saulo doesn't just use the cross-grip, but instead drags their arm right over to trap it under his other elbow. This makes sense, as then he is able to control their arm while still keeping his own arm free. He also repeated something Jude said to me a while ago about passing, which is to make sure you don't lean forward when you're standing up: you're easy to pull back down in that position.
However, Saulo does not drive his hips as I was expecting. He prefers to lean to the side, then stand up at a diagonal. Once you've got to your feet, you can then switch your same side hand to grab that sleeve, preventing their attempts to hook your foot and go for sweeps. Finally, turn your body and disengage their leg in order to open the guard.
After numerous further tips on posture, grips and how to react to their attacks, Saulo progresses to opening their guard on the ground. This is the first clip I saw of the DVD, and the quote he produces here is what generated my interest in the DVD as a whole:
A lot of people give up about trying to open the guard on the ground because they have got so many problems and spend so much energy here on the ground. You have to think that your partner, the guy that you're training [with], has to be your best friend.
So, you don't want to hurt him, you don't want to try to open his guard with your elbow, make him feel really pain, because jiu jitsu is not about pain. You have to find the right spot to save your energy and be able to open the guard.
I really like the three main parts of that: your training partners are your friends, jiu jitsu is not about pain and always save your energy. It is an excellent philosophy for BJJ, which fits very much with how I've tried to approach my learning. Saulo reiterates the point in his later book, Jiu Jitsu University.
The guard break itself it not one I've yet been successful with, but I take heart from what Saulo says about "a lot of people give up," so I'll continue to persevere. It is similar to what I've called the 'tailbone break' at various points in this blog, in that you use your knee by their bum, then create distance by stepping back.
The essential differences in Saulo's version are that his knee is by the side rather than the middle of the bum, and he steps back and twists, in one motion. Rather than then shoving their leg off his hip, he moves around and dips, using his body instead of arm strength. The production company have a few clips on YouTube, which fortunately includes this particular technique: I'll embed it at the end of the review.
Passing on the ground again involves blocking one side. Once in place, Saulo uses his head to post, weighing down their legs. You can then swing your leg behind in order to pass, with a comparable principle to the leg pin. As always, maintaining pressure is essential, aiming to trap their hips through the combination of your bodyweight and your posted head.
Butterfly and open guard are also tackled, as is attacking the turtle, which was a little unusual. I would have thought that would crop up in the section on the back: as it is instead on this DVD, its possible that Saulo is treating the turtle as a sort of guard. Then again, it may just be an organisational choice for this particular instructional set.
After five years, Saulo's first set is still one of the best available, largely because he builds up the instruction through a series of concepts, like "connect the hips", "save your energy" and "your partner has to be your best friend." Saulo talks incessantly, pointing out details, explaining how they fit into a bigger picture and frequently emphasising how these techniques have helped him perform successfully at the highest levels of competition. Like Rorion Gracie, Saulo is incredibly thorough, spending a long time explicating a comparatively small number of techniques (an average of around ten or twelve per DVD).
However, I would not recommend this as your first purchase (I'd continue to suggest Roy Dean for the absolute beginner). To get the most out of these DVDs, you need to already understand the fundamentals. This is because everything in Saulo's set is built upon those basics, so if you haven't yet come to terms with the fundamentals, these DVDs will be much less useful. Therefore I'd suggest that the set works best for those who have recently got their blue belt, or are fast approaching that level.
Another good reason to delay until later in your training is the cost. Unlike the relatively inexpensive Blue Belt Requirements, Jiu Jitsu Revolution 1 normally retails for around $130, sometimes even more. It is certainly worth the cash, but wait until you've had enough mat time to really appreciate what Saulo has to offer. It is available to buy here, or as usual there is always eBay:
Finally, here's a clip to whet your appetite. This is where that great quote about treating your partner like your "best friend" pops up: