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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

17 July 2009

DVD Review - Science of Jiu Jitsu

Short Review: The main selling point of Maia's set, aside from his UFC notoriety, is the conceptual approach promised by the title. To an extent, Maia delivers on that promise: more than the techniques, it is the principles you will most likely remember after watching these DVDs. Those principles recur throughout the DVDs, aided by well-presented instruction, multiple angles and insightful details.

Like Jiu Jitsu Revolution, this set is best suited to those around the blue belt level rather than absolute beginners, because both Saulo and Maia assume you already have a grasp of the basics. Unlike Saulo, Maia does not present a complete game, instead focusing in depth on particular aspects of a position, like escaping side control and defending against the pass, or even specific submissions, like the triangle and the omoplata.

Full Review: Demian Maia’s set was originally released in November 2007, followed by a second instalment in October 2008. His credentials are impressive, with not only Mundials and ADCC titles to his credit, but an unbeaten record in professional MMA. As of now he is 10-0, winning almost every fight by submission. Maia has repeatedly stated in interviews that he is seeking to prove the continuing efficacy of BJJ in the MMA arena, which is part of the reason he is pretty much the only fighter who perks my interest in the UFC. The other part is that he executes his intention beautifully, displaying what world class BJJ can do inside the Octagon, along with his refusal to lower himself to the WWE smack talk of certain other fighters.

In Science of Jiu Jitsu, Maia immediately covers off the first two elements I always look for with instructional DVDs. Firstly, he and his partner wear a white and a blue gi respectively, making it much easier to distinguish which limb belongs to who in the midst of a technique. Secondly, each of those techniques is demonstrated from multiple angles, meaning that details which otherwise might be missed are made clear to the viewer.

This inaugural set consists of six DVDs, where Maia essentially ranges over various aspects of BJJ rather than seeking to cover off all the basic positions. That can be seen from the titles: Defending the Guard Pass, followed by The Triangle, The Omoplata, Escaping Side Control, Attacking the Back and finally Counter Attacks.

Maia's approach is different from almost all the DVDs I've seen in the past, at least initially. Rather than purely show technique, he attempts to first show principles: the only DVDs I've seen successfully do this in the past are Matt Thornton's Functional JKD series. When done well, this is often more useful than explaining a single move, as a principle can be applied across a broad range of techniques and situations.

Defending the Guard Pass (a little over forty-five minutes) begins with something Maia calls 'centre line theory': fortunately this isn't the dubious wing chun mantra, but rather the concept that you should always keep your hips in the same line as your opponents. Guard passes occur when they get their hips out of line: to prevent that, Maia demonstrates how you need to shrimp back in order to stay square on, depending where they move.

The next principle is directly reminiscent of Matt Thornton, in what Maia dubs 'head control theory'. In order to pass, Maia states they need to get their head across your body. Therefore you should aim to make sure their head remains on the same side they are trying to pass, pushing it with your hands. As long as you keep their head on that side, they'll never be able to complete the pass.

Having established those two principles, Maia progresses to the application, walking you through several types of pass. He starts with the single underhook, then covers three options for the double underhook. That also gives him the opportunity to introduce another principle, opening the elbow, by which you can weaken their posture.

After briefly touching on half guard passes, Maia gets on to the Toreador pass, where he again uses the head control principle. This is where he spends almost all the rest of the DVD (closing with a 'spinning defence' to guard passes), running through a whopping six variants of defending against the Toreador. Maia is pretty thorough, although he doesn't talk about stopping them going to knee-on-belly, which I had expected him to do.

If the first DVD brought Matt Thornton to mind, the next DVD can be compared to Ryan Hall. That's because Maia now spends just under forty-four minutes running through the finer details of the triangle. Maia begins by showing a basic set-up from spider guard, again emphasising the application of an earlier principle, opening the elbow.

He moves on to a broad range of set ups and positions for the triangle, such as half-guard, defending a pass and side control (with two variations). Several of those enable Maia to demonstrate another principle, 'straight arm theory', which he touched on briefly in the previous DVD. In short, he states that a straight arm is stronger than a bent arm, with the example of a press-up. When your arms are bent, it is tough to hold your bodyweight in that position. However, when your arms are straight, it becomes much easier.

The application can be seen in actions like stiff-arming your partner as they try to push down your leg, in an attempt to pass half guard. You can then kick your leg out and bring it around the neck, ready for the triangle. Similarly from the kimura, switch your grip and straighten out your arm if you're finding it hard to complete the submission. You can now pass your leg over and go for the triangle instead.

Maia's set-up from the sit-up sweep is basically the same as the one Ryan Hall shows. I keep meaning to go back to the sit-up sweep, which used to be my go-to move from the guard earlier in my training. It is a great sweep, because not only is it powerful, but you can transition to several submissions if they resist, such as the kimura and guillotine. Something I definitely need to revisit.

I hadn't realised the triangle was an option too, but both Maia and Hall show how you can bring your leg out and back, using the same motion as the technical stand-up (which I'd never thought I'd ever use for anything, as I'd assumed it was purely one of those self-defence things). As far as I can see, this does depend on them posting their arm, but if they don't post, then you're likely to get the sweep.

Another interesting application is landing the triangle in the midst of countering their single leg attempt. You step with the leg they've grabbed, in order to bring their arm and elbow up, then trap their limb between your elbow and knee. That puts you in position to move into a triangle.

As well as funky triangles from all sorts of positions, Maia also has an option for when you can't quite finish. If they're defending by hiding their arm under your leg and locking their hands, you have the option to switch to a different submission. Maia shows how to raise your hips to get an arm in, then drop back and clasp your own hands together. That provides the opportunity for an armlock.

Maia also includes less orthodox techniques, like the armless triangle. This begins by getting head control and a grip on their collar, after which Maia triangles his legs without having their arm through. From there, you can apparently tap your partner out by using your arms (the ‘armless’ refers to their absent arm, not yours), which looks worth a try.

That's followed by flying triangles, which confirms to me that this DVD is not suitable for an absolute beginner: like Saulo's set, I'd put this at the recent blue belt level. Flying triangles are definitely not something a beginner should be attempting, as it is far more important to master the basic triangle, before moving on to anything of greater complexity.

The starting point for Maia’s first flying triangle is fairly common, where you're both standing, but your partner is holding one of your legs. I've certainly found myself hopping around for balance in that position, but Maia shows how you can jump into a triangle instead. Usefully for him, he can verify the efficacy by mentioning he's used this successfully in competition. From a black belt world champion, that verification of technique has considerable weight, given the level of opposition they are therefore facing in tournaments.

After showing another flying submission (this time from a whizzer), Maia follows his DVD all about the triangle with a DVD all about the omoplata (just over forty-eight minutes). He adds another principle, using the Americana as an example: when the arm and body are close together, the arm is strong, but when apart from the body, it is weak. That leads on from what Maia said earlier about opening the elbow, and it is a good concept to keep in mind for both offence and defence.

He then shows the set-up for the omoplata from both half and open guard, before moving on to the finish. This DVD goes some way towards justifying the lofty 'Science of Jiu Jitsu' title, as Maia employs a bunch of concepts here, breaking down the omoplata. I also found it flowed a little better than the previous DVDs, especially the opening, as Maia methodically works through basics, set-up then finish.

Often your opponent will try to roll out of the omoplata, for which Maia has carefully considered answers. He shows how you can use your hips to prevent their roll, or if they manage to complete the motion, you can still finish from there (Maia uses a triangle and a wristlock) rather than accepting side control.

If they stand up while you have your omoplata locked on, Maia demonstrates how to sweep them, with both early and late counters. This again works via one of Maia's concepts repeated at various points in the set. He states that when your partner establishes base, they're generally stronger either side to side or forward and back, rather than equally secure in both. That means you just have to manoeuvre them in the right direction, if it seems like they have a really solid point of resistance.

As with the triangle DVD, once Maia has covered off basic applications and counters, he branches out into options beyond the straightforward omoplata. That begins with something he calls the 'chicken wing omoplata', which Maia notes brought him success in the 2006 Brasileiros. The technique functions as a response to your opponent attempting to footlock you, as that can make them reach too far with their arm, setting up this unusual finish.

Maia completes the DVD with several submissions which can be landed off the omoplata. For example, there's the armbar, as you already have the arm locked, a reverse omoplata (as favoured by Aesopian) and also a kimura. This fits in with the earlier methods for preventing the roll escape, as here Maia locks his legs low and high, leaving him free to work on the arm.

The next DVD covers Escapes from Side Control (slightly over forty-nine minutes), one of my favourite areas to work in class. Once again, Maia begins with the basics, such as keeping your elbow tight and basic hand position. Maia also returns to a previous concept: head control theory, in which you aim to press on the top of the head rather than lower down, as this provides you with better leverage. That concept is central to Maia's approach for escaping side control, but it is somewhat controversial.

Contrary to most instructors I've seen, including the aforementioned Saulo Ribeiro, Maia advocates bringing your arm around your partner's head. Saulo warns against this position in his earlier Jiu Jitsu Revolution DVD set, as well as categorising it as a mistake in his later Jiu Jitsu University book. To quote from page forty:

Similar to the inside-over-the-shoulder grip, the outside grip is just as dangerous. By focusing on grabbing his opponent's shoulder, the bottom player has missed out on the only real leverage point in this poor position: the head. Again, many try to use this move to bulldoze a reversal and most are unsuccessful. To defend, all my opponent has to do is keep his base low and at worst, open his outside arm to defend against the strong rollover attempt. Once he is done defending, beware – your arm is free for the taking.

In Maia's defence, that "only real leverage point" Saulo mentions is exactly what Maia recommends. Rather than gripping the shoulder, Maia is pushing against the upper part of the skull, using his bicep, with the rest of the arm curled round the head. Nevertheless, I'd feel my arm was very vulnerable in the position Maia demonstrates, so much prefer Saulo's approach.

Of course, Maia is a world champion, just like Saulo, so his advice is grounded in the experience of an elite level jiu jitsu competitor. Apart from the arm on the head, the rest of Maia's advice follows the usual sensible lines: don't push straight up, make sure you keep your elbow inside and shrimp to recover your guard.

His demonstration of getting to your knees is orthodox, swimming the arm under then turning, ready for the single leg. Maia provides lots of good detail here, taking you through the correct way to get in position, where to put your legs and how to avoid common mistakes. Principles feature throughout, such as keeping your elbows close to your body to maintain a strong defence.

The principle of straight arms being stronger than bent arms returns here too, at first in the context of putting one arm against their hip to maintain the space after you bridge. More unusually, Maia then goes on to explain what he calls an 'inside escape'. You grab their collar, then shrimp towards them rather than away, stiff arming into their shoulder to come up on one elbow, then recover guard.

As well as conventional side control, Maia has options for escaping when they turn towards your legs, along with scarf hold. Both options involve manipulating their hips, a very common theme in BJJ. For the first escape, which Maia refers to as an 'elbow pivot', you get your elbow inside and under their hips, bridge, then with your arm around their head, kick your leg over.

Against scarf hold, you're lifting their hips in order to get the space to slip your leg underneath. That means you can grab their hips, pull them up, then gradually walk round in order to roll on top. The principle Maia discusses this time is preventing your opponent from getting in contact with the floor: if you can move part of yourself underneath them, like a leg or elbow, you can disrupt their balance.

At the end of the DVD, Maia goes through an escape I've tried for some time but not yet mastered, where you spin back to guard. Roy Dean covers the same manoeuvre in Blue Belt Requirements, which is where I first saw the technique, so it is useful to have another take on that escape.

The main difference between the two explanations is that Maia brings in his principle about opening the elbow. I found that a useful method for approaching the escape, so in combination with Dean's depiction, I feel I've now got a better understanding of the mechanics.

Maia's fifth DVD details Attacking the Back (a little over forty-six minutes). As before, he runs through the basics, such as being careful not to put your weight too far forward when attacking the turtle. Maia also takes the opportunity to again emphasise the principles he has been espousing throughout the set, especially keeping your elbows in close.

Another principle which proves of use once more is taking note of directional strength. Maia states that for the turtle, this means that forward and back your opponent is strong, but diagonally they are far less stable. Therefore when you want to establish your hooks, he suggests manoeuvring them accordingly to make the necessary space.

Several submissions also feature, generally chokes, as that tends to be the highest percentage attack from the back. Usefully, Maia also goes into detail on how to maintain your control once you manage to take the back, even if they try to stand up. As with much of the Science of Jiu Jitsu set, this can be relatively complex, which points towards its suitability for blue belts and up rather than white. In addition, he also shows some distinctly dangerous techniques which white belts definitely should not be toying with, such as the bicep slicer he demonstrates at the end of this DVD.

There are more fundamental techniques too, like the armbar from the back. Maia shows how to use your arm against their face to prevent them turning into you, putting his 'straight arm strong, bent arm weak' principle into action. It fits in nicely with his general offensive progression from the back, which begins with a basic sliding choke.

From there, Maia moves on to choke variations to deal with defensive opponents, providing several 'what if' scenarios. I especially liked his alternative for when they're blocking your arm as you try to grab a lapel with your second hand. In response, simply grab your other sleeve, then bracing that arm against their head, pull with the first arm to get the submission (rather than pushing their head, which Maia warns is a common mistake).

Maia also explains eminently sensible ideas like using four limbs against three: if you can push their arm under your leg and trap it, they've only got one arm left to defend. This flows into two types of triangle from the back (with and without an arm), both of which involve gripping under their chin. I wasn't entirely sure if this was purely a choke or caused some kind of crushing pain on the skull, so it would be interesting to drill the move some time, if I get the chance.

That leaves the final DVD, Counter Attacks. In the course of just under forty-six minutes, Maia demonstrates how to turn the tables on your partner's submission attempts, tackling the armbar from mount, cross-choke from guard with an overhook, baseball bat choke from side control, omoplata, two responses to a kimura and a whopping six methods of dealing with leglocks. There's also a simple way of escaping the body triangle, using a footlock.

Sometimes the response is relatively simple, such as against the baseball bat choke from side control. If they are staying tight, by pressuring their throat and using your legs, you can shift into an armbar. There are finer details, like locking their arm to prevent them pushing your knee out of the way, but it looked like a technique I could potentially attempt in sparring.

The leg lock counters tended to be specific and complex, such as when they attack from the turtle and end up in a calf slicer. Having said that, I did recently get submitted with one of these in training, so it all depends on whether or not the technique in question is directly applicable to your training. Maia's counter attacks DVD is reminiscent of Gustavo Machado's comprehensive Great Escapes, where the instructional acts as a reference tool if you're struggling against particular submissions.

I've often seen Science of Jiu Jitsu recommended for beginners on various internet forums: after watching it, I'd disagree. It is not a structured curriculum for beginners, but various well-taught techniques for a broad range of situations and positions, which may or may not be areas you want to focus upon. This is not something immediately applicable to most beginners, as much of the material Maia covers is specific, complex, and illegal for white belts (e.g., bicep slicers). As ever, the beginner would be better served by the fundamentals from Roy Dean's Blue Belt Requirements.

Maia's set also isn't a comprehensive overview of a complete game, like Saulo's Jiu Jitsu Revolution: instead, Maia picks out a variety of situations to apply certain principles. That means this doesn't really help you much if you're a beginner looking to get a grasp of the basics. Like Saulo, Maia already assumes you understand the importance of things like shrimping and bridging.

That isn't to say this isn't a good set: Maia is an excellent teacher, and if you happen to find yourself in those specific situations he covers, this will be a lot of help. It would also be an excellent choice if you want to improve your omoplata or triangle, as Maia covers both of those submissions in considerable depth. If you’re a blue belt and already have Jiu Jitsu Revolution, then Maia is what I’d recommend next.

Finally, if you're looking for a sample, World Martial Arts normally puts up a clip from their releases on YouTube. This set is no exception, so here is a slice from the DVD on defending the guard pass:


  1. Great review.
    I too was puzzled by the version of side escape as it runs counter to what my instructor and everyone else I've learned from says.
    I even tried it in sparring the other night, without much success.
    It might work better no-gi.

  2. Thanks for the in-depth review. I was considering this one based on a lot of good things I've heard in passing, but it sounds like it's over my head. I'm still digesting Roy Dean's BB requirements anyway, but was pretty hopeful that there was a whole DVD dedicated to escaping side control (which, as Prof. Dean astutely pointed out, is where I've spent a disproportionate amount of my time). Sounds like I may wait on this one for a bit.

    Thanks for the detailed breakdown, and for your blogging in general. I hope Prof. Dean sends you a copy of his purple belt requirement DVD to review. I think he'd find it would pay dividends...

  3. Thanks!

    Yeah, I was excited when I saw there was a whole DVD for escaping side control in the set, but like Meerkat, I'm not keen on the arm positioning.

    For the moment, the best DVD I've seen for escaping side control, aside from the excellent basics on Blue Belt Requirements, is the second DVD from Saulo's set.

    Although escapes are only part of Saulo's 'Cross Body' DVD (that instalment of Jiu Jitsu Revolution also covers top side control), if you can find it separately from the other five DVDs (if you don't want to pick up the whole set, of course), I'm sure it would help your escapes from that position.

  4. Nice review, thanks.

    I notice that you consistently recommend BB Requirements for beginners. I like it a lot, and have already pre-ordered Purble Belt Requirements, but I have to say I prefer the main DVD from Steven Kesting's Begining BJJ Roadmap to BBR. It's incredibly systmatic and comprehensive, a lot more so than BBR. It has a lot of downsides, in that you can only buy it as part of a bigger, pretty expensive, rather annoyingly marketed package, but it's really, really good as a comprehensive overview for beginners. Unlike Dean's it only looks at transitions and positions rather than submissions, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing for beginners, plus some of the other parts of the package have submissions material. For that reason I'd recommend both BBR and Kesting, but if I had to choose between them, and ignoring the price difference, I'd go for Kesting. Probably not much use to you now you've been a BB for a while, but I'd strongly recommend it for beginners (which I still am, more or less).

  5. Thanks for the comment, Ruairi!

    Yes, I would agree with you that Kesting's DVD is also excellent (I paticularly liked what I've seen of the half guard section), but as you say, the cost is a little prohibitive.

    One of the big advantages of Roy Dean's material is that he is consistently keeping the costs below $50 or so, which makes it very affordable, especially in comparison to most other BJJ DVDs on the market.