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28 July 2009

DVD Review - Purple Belt Requirements (Roy Dean)

Purple Belt Requirements - Roy Dean AcademyShort Review: In this DVD set, Roy Dean provides a conceptual approach for the aspiring purple belt, with the intention of helping you learn the essential principle of combining techniques. Dean aims to assist the viewer in developing their own personal game, presenting several possible options.

This DVD is not a comprehensive compendium of techniques, but a philosophical guide for the journey to purple belt. There are plenty of techniques included, but they are part of an overall theme, rather than an exhaustively described syllabus.

Full Review: Once again, Roy Dean kindly sent me his latest DVD, his fourth release so far. In addition, I've also now met and trained with the man, so I'll be trying even harder than usual to remain objective. I should add that this is a pre-release copy, so if and when I get the commercial release, I'll be sure to update if there are any changes.

Dean is probably best known for Blue Belt Requirements, which I've been consistently recommending since it went on sale last year. That DVD was intended for beginners, so laid out a comprehensive syllabus, running through all the major positions, as well as elements seen less often on instructionals, like the correct way to breakfall. The instruction was concise, but very clear, and the price was right, so along with its range, Blue Belt Requirements remains the perfect package for beginners.

Purple Belt Requirements is Roy Dean's attempt to make the next step. An instructional aimed specifically at blue belts is a far more difficult prospect than beginners, without much in the way of comparison. A white belt needs the fundamentals, with detailed instruction and a firm structure for progression. Dean's previous DVD is perfectly suited to help.

The path from blue to purple belt is far less clear, and widely regarded as the most difficult in BJJ. Roy Dean presents his personal opinion on the eponymous requirements in his opening segment, What Makes a Purple Belt (04:31). Essentially, this is an impressively eloquent lecture on the principal requirements for the purple belt. Dean builds an extended metaphor around the idea of techniques as words. The most important element in gaining the purple belt is to take these words and string them into sentences. Eventually, you will be able to use those sentences to create a compelling argument, refining your oratory until you can debate at the highest levels.

That lecture is accompanied by technical footage, each stage of Dean's discussion considerably enhanced by relevant flows of submissions and transitions. This is something I have long thought would benefit the typical lengthy talks on certain DVDs, such as the work of Saulo Ribeiro and indeed Roy Dean himself. It is much better to be able to see just what the instructor is discussing in action, rather than staring at a talking head.

Also, voiceover enables Dean to build a really decent piece of writing to read out, as he doesn't have to worry about making a personal visual impression at the same time as delivering his speech. That is almost certainly a large part of the reason the lecture is so beautifully constructed.

In his lecture, Dean introduces the viewer to Purple Belt Requirements by stating that "the goal of this DVD is to move you forward conceptually, so you can develop your own game." That carries throughout the material over these two discs, beginning with the next segment on DVD 1, Positions of the Game. This is further divided into a section for each of the major BJJ positions, along with an introductory synopsis (06:16).

Dean's synopsis follows on from the opening lecture, providing a similar philosophical take, focusing more specifically on how an aspiring purple belt should look to develop those positions. While it is almost to be expected on most modern BJJ DVDs, I should note that Dean and his uke wear a black and a blue gi respectively, which greatly helps navigating the tangle of limbs.

The major principles for each position are summarised in slices of varying length, going from about forty seconds up to a couple of minutes. Again, relevant technical footage accompanies the voiceover. For example, in sidemount, Dean explains how to respond to your partner turning to escape in either direction, applying the clock choke and getting the D'arce, among numerous other submissions. However, this is not an in-depth tutorial, but a broad introduction.

Returning to the 'Positions of the Game' menu, the back (13:32) takes its cue from the synopsis, kicking off the technical meat of Purple Belt Requirements. While Dean's focus is conceptual, he does still deal with plenty of technique. This particular section begins with choke variations from the back, which are mostly the same as those he taught at the recent UK seminar.

There are four options for the basic rear naked choke from back mount, with them sitting in front of you. It is taught quickly, in only two and a half minutes, usefully leading into a brief bit of rolling footage. The clock choke follows, in a sequence which also appeared in last weekend's seminar. Dean spends three and a half minutes running through the basic clock choke, then taking off one hook, progressing to a leg over the shoulder for greater pressure. Alternatively, you could finish with an armbar, along with the further option of shifting to a bow and arrow choke.

Instruction for this DVD set is generally faster than the material on Blue Belt Requirements. Also, there are normally at least a few angles and repetitions, but not the thorough coverage seen on Blue Belt Requirements. This is because the intention is now not to provide in-depth technical explanation, but instead encourage a purple belt mindset, looking for combinations rather than single techniques.

That isn't to say the instruction is somehow lacking: you will learn a lot from this DVD, but it is very much intended as a supplementary guide, which after all is what instructional DVDs should be.

The demonstration of a triangle from the back exemplifies that speed. Dean explains the technique in a mere twenty seconds, providing an option if they spin to escape the above chokes: you'll be waiting for them with a triangle. This wasn't shown at the seminar, unlike the next choke, where you roll them into the bow and arrow. That takes longer, taught over roughly two minutes, followed by some more sparring footage incorporating a few of the preceding chokes.

A rolling armlock I also saw at the seminar is next, starting from the turtle, again including sparring footage, for a total of a minute and a half. The section on the back finishes with a minute on the shoulder choke (once again, shown in the seminar), another minute on moving into the triangle against the turtle, then a final minute on the head and arm choke from that position.

Dean has an interesting comment when demonstrating the triangle, where he states that it is "very important to look for new ways to get into the same finishing techniques. Always be looking to go one step back, and ask how can I get into that differently." This fits in with the overarching theme that purple belt is about depth, not breadth. Refine what you know and look for different ways to apply it, rather than adding ever more techniques to your grappling repertoire.

Dean introduces the mount (06:00) by commenting that it initially feels like a "difficult position to maintain," something I'm sure many beginners would agree with. I've long had a tough time not only getting on top, but staying there. However, I found it a little easier during one of my rolls at the Roy Dean seminar, having decided to try and grapevine the legs as an anchor point.

This is what Dean goes on to describe, in a section he calls 'creating pressure.' Get your arm under their head, grapevine the legs, then drive your hips down. That last part is something I'm missing, so will be sure to keep in mind next time.

After a minute on position, Dean then takes roughly 1.5 minutes to cover some points on strategy, showing a few options on how you can bait for armlocks. As with a good proportion of the techniques, that is followed by some brief sparring footage demonstrating the application.

Another minute follows on the mounted triangle. Dean states that the "timing on it is easy, once you know what to look for." The trigger point is if they drive an elbow into your leg during an escape attempt: you can then pop over and go for the triangle. I was getting caught with this all the time by Simon at Nova Força in our last spar, so it was useful to see the set-up.

Dean closes off this segment with three further minutes on chokes from both s-mount and full mount, progressing from the transition to s-mount along with a choke, incorporating the knee, and finally shifting to an arm triangle.

Sidemount (11:26) starts with two minutes on one of the highlights from the UK seminar, which was a far arm submission sequence. After you've hooked under one shoulder and driven through to the americana, shift to the straight armlock if they unbend their arm, then finally a kimura if they then bend it the other way. As Dean puts it, "this submission flow is critical if you want to have a good kimura game from sidemount."

Over the next three and a half minutes, further techniques recognisable from the seminar follow. That kicks off with the far side armlock from knee on belly, a position Dean describes as one in which the point is "not to immobilise the person, but to cause them to react." Next comes a kimura from knee on belly, similar to the north-south kimura from the seminar, and finally a method for breaking their grip, if they grab their belt during your kimura attempt.

Dean also has a little under five minutes of instruction for when your partner is escaping your side control. Depending on which way they roll out, he shows how you can either catch them in a clock choke, or alternatively lock in a D'arce. There is also something Dean calls a 'chest pressure choke', where you basically just get an arm around the neck and use your chest for the submission (though this depends a lot on the momentum your opponent generates during their escape attempt). Better still, once again there is accompanying sparring footage of the techniques in action.

Sidemount closes with about two and a half minutes on chokes from knee on belly, beginning with the baseball bat choke, then an arm scissor. Dean notes here that this should be a choke, not a neck crank: take care it doesn't turn into the latter. You can also increase the pressure by sliding your knee off their body, once the arm scissor is locked in.

The penultimate entry on positions is the guard (12:43), beginning with the flow between an armbar and a triangle. Dean calls this "the most basic, critical combination you need to know from the guard." After a minute, he continues with just under fifty seconds on the armbar to omoplata, then three more minutes demonstrating the related omoplata sweep, armbar to flower sweep and finally flower sweep to armbar.

Combining techniques is a hallmark of this DVD, which is in keeping with the central goal of purple belt. Jimmy Da Silva pops up in the sparring footage, where this time it is Dean who is on the receiving end of a submission (it looks like a clip from either Da Silva's purple or brown belt demonstration).

I was looking forward to the minute and a half of overhook options from the guard, as I've been working on this for a while now, ever since Jude taught it in the Kilburn class. Judging by Dean's take on the position, a central detail I've been missing is that you open up the collar before overhooking the arm. I'm always struggling to wriggle past the overhooked arm for the collar, so makes sense to get that space under the lapel first.

Dean also adds a few more options on top of the choke and triangle I've seen before. These extra submissions are both related to when your partner tries to pull their arm out. Depending on just how they attempt to extricate the limb, you can either catch them half way and twist for a keylock, or use the opportunity to take the back.

The DVD's central theme is again emphasised in the next technique sequence. Dean states "as you go for the rank of purple belt, you need to get away from the mentality that a single attack will get a submission. Instead, use your attack as a probe." He exemplifies this with the cross choke, often tough to get on an experienced opponent. However, that merely means you should be ready with a follow-up, such as the armbar and then flower sweep Dean uses here.

A final five minutes are spent on open guard attacks, incorporating both competition and sparring examples of the application. This includes a sleeve choke set up by the legs, a grip break straight into a hook sweep, armdrag to take the back, and then the helicopter armlock to finish.

The important point Dean looks to make here is another essential requirement for the purple belt, which both he and his instructor, Roy Harris, have mentioned on earlier DVDs. For purple belt. you must learn how to use your legs, whether its setting up chokes, or learning how to control and balance the weight of an opponent, such as in the helicopter armbar.

Leg Locks (04:48) concludes Dean's tour of BJJ's major positions. He starts with the same technique he showed me after our roll at the seminar. The application was different, as he suggested it as a way for me to improve my guard passing. Here, however, it is an entry into an ankle lock. From guard, put your hands into their biceps, jump to base, knee into their tailbone and cut the guard open. The head wasn't buried in the chest this time, but perhaps that's due to the change in goal.

Next up are two minutes on heel hooks, building first off a scissor sweep and mount escape, then progressing from a heel hook attempt into a knee bar. On my copy, the clip was titled 'Hook Hook', but that may well be because its pre-release. Very minor point, but I'll be interested to see if its corrected on the official version.

If your opponent is especially flexible, the last two minutes will be of particular use to you. Dean shows how to attack the inverted guard with a toe hold, or you could switch to a kneebar. As he puts it, by flinging their legs up to your face with their head pointing towards your knees, they are "practically giftwrapping the submission."

One of the few reservations I had about Blue Belt Requirements was the comparatively brief explanation of guard passing, which was largely focused on a single guard break. For those looking for more details, the first DVD of Purple Belt Requirements finishes with a long section on Passing the Guard. Like 'Positions of the Game', this is split into several sections.

Also like 'Positions of the Game', Dean starts his explanation of guard passing with a synopsis (02:07), in the same voiceover format with relevant technical footage. Passing Techniques (10:18) follows, beginning with standing footwork against the open guard. Dean explains how you can go left, right or straight through, using fakes to help trick your opponent.

A minute and a half later, Dean briefly works through the classic option of stepping back and forcing their feet to the floor, if they are using them to press on your hips. In similarly concise fashion, he then explains how to shove a flexible opponent's ankles to their head before moving round.

The 'no pressure' pass is a little different, as like the name suggests, this does not require you to drive your weight into your partner. Instead, you'll simply walk around without any grips, then react depending on if they roll away or into you. Dean notes that this is especially useful for nogi.

I did wonder if the opponent wouldn't just stand up in that situation (though naturally you'd want to be quick with this technique), but then that would involve takedowns and therefore be beyond the scope of guard passing. As if anticipating the question, Dean immediately follows his demonstration with some competition footage of the pass in action. I really wish all DVDs did that, as it adds a lot of value to technical instruction.

The next three and a half minutes featured yet more techniques from the UK seminar. First there is the knee through pass, where you use a collar and sleeve grip to initiate sliding your knee over their leg. That is followed by the Margarida pass, where you drive your knee right into their sternum, aiming to surf into either mount or slip past to their side.

Three minutes on passing the butterfly guard close off this section, starting with a sprawl pass, bringing your weight to bear in order to trap a leg. Almost the opposite option is to use a bridge pass, where you first base with your head and shoulders on their torso, then flip your lower body up and over. Less acrobatic is to hop over their knees, a strategy also used in the comparable side switch, which again operates off the stable head and shoulder pressure to move from one side to the other.

Half Guard Strategies (03:39) is much shorter, with just two potential routes. Dean starts with the turnaround pass, where you press your shoulder into their shin and switch to face their legs. Walk the foot of your trapped leg tight to their bottom, grab the pant leg and drop your weight, trying to uncross their legs.

The knee slide pass is similar, as you also turn towards them and get the foot to their bottom. This time, use your elbow to free part of your leg, until you can bring the trapped knee to the floor by getting them flat on their back. Once you're able to slide free, you can move into a choke: frequently Dean will follow up a technique with a submission, something he also did in Blue Belt Requirements (most notably in the section on sweeps). It makes even more sense for purple belt, given the oft-repeated centrality of combinations.

It was at this point I remembered a minor criticism that occurred to me during my first look at this DVD, in Steve's flat after the first day of Roy Dean's seminar. Blue Belt Requirements was filmed at the old location of the Roy Dean Academy. At the new dojo, there is a bit of traffic noise, which is presumably why this new DVD was instead filmed at a student's house (he has a swish little matted area). The downside of that home dojo is the squeaky mats, squealing with every motion.

However, I found that I didn't notice that slight irritation on the second and third viewings, perhaps because I was so absorbed in noting down my impressions of the instruction. It also isn't normally much of a problem, as most of the time Dean is talking while stationary, not in the midst of a technique.

'Passing the Guard' finishes with two short sections taking a broader perspective on the guard passing skillset. First, Passing Concepts (03:58) is reminiscent of the earlier synopsis, but this time it isn't a voiceover. Instead, Dean presents a conceptual approach to passing by taking you through two principles. First, there is the importance of what he calls 'keeping progress'.

Dean opens by saying "I want to change your mentality and level of patience when passing the guard." Dean expands on that with the analogy of a hundred yard race. When passing guard, it is common to make it to fifty yards, get blocked, and then find yourself all the way back at the start line. The point of this section is to embed the concept of keeping your progress: if you're blocked at fifty yards, hold your place. For example, if you've uncrossed their ankles, make sure they stay uncrossed, or you'll have to go through the whole race again.

Dean's second concept is 'overlapping pressures'. For example, if you are pressing down on their leg with your hand, it is paramount that you only release the grip once you've replaced that pressure with your shin. Dean calls this a key to success when passing, but it also applies throughout jiu jitsu: the sidemount americana/straight armlock/kimura flow from earlier uses that same concept.

The last section is entitled Pass Transitions (03:18). This consists of four techniques, moving from a pass straight into a submission, with some sparring footage providing live examples. There is a method of passing open guard to an armlock, spinning them straight into knee-on-belly and another armbar (as per the UK seminar), leg under pass into a far arm kimura, and finally passing into the clock choke.


I've noticed that Roy Dean's DVDs have developed a certain branding, creating a relatively regular format. Having asked Roy about this, it is intentional: the opening and closing font, the atmospheric music and the menu style are all recognisable from previous releases. A divide between the first and second DVD in each set is also notable, with DVD 1 normally working through a structured progression of techniques, while DVD 2 ranges more widely.

Purple Belt Requirements is no exception, as DVD 2 moves through further conceptual discussion into sparring examples, seminar footage and artistic projects. The first section resurrects a title from Blue Belt Requirements, BJJ Guidelines (05:43). However, this time it isn't additional technical demonstration by Dean, but a talking head going through further concepts.

While I've already mentioned I prefer a narration coupled with dynamic footage (like the lecture on DVD 1), I can see why Dean went for a conversation into the camera here. Rather than explaining technical strategy, these guidelines discuss a general approach to training, beginning with purple belt requirements.

Dean emphasises three things a purple belt should possess: smooth and efficient movements, a complete game (with a go-to move from every position) and the ability to use two and three technique combinations. He then moves on to explain breadth versus depth, arguing that a prospective purple belt must bypass the technique accumulation stage.

On the journey to purple belt, injuries may well set stumbling blocks in your path. I had assumed that Dean was going to say something about staying calm and relaxed in sparring to avoid injury, but instead he discusses how you should try to train around injuries if possible. That way, you might find that you can learn how the rest of your body works, such as improving techniques using your left hand if the right is out of commission. This certainly has precedent, most famously Gordo's development of half guard after a knee injury.

If the injury is so severe you can't train around it, then make sure to observe class. You can learn a lot by taking notes and watching others spar. I can definitely attest to note-taking, as anyone who has read my blog will know: I personally think it is essential to write up class, whether or not you're led to your pen and paper by injury.

Roy Dean then discusses how letting others into your game is important, as it will develop the BJJ of both participants. Finally, he has a segment called 'developer's toolkit', which lays out his intentions for this second DVD.

Rolling Examples are an important part of that toolkit, with eight sparring matches between varying belt levels. The animated menu displays the options of James and TJ (01:36), Jimmy and Brad (04:21), TJ and Roy 1 (02:09), James and Jimmy (02:31), Roy and Jimmy (04:57), Brad and Roy (06:42), TJ and Brad (03:38), then finally TJ and Roy 2 (04:39). Jimmy is purple belt (who has since become brown), Brad is a brown belt, and Roy Dean is of course a black belt. TJ and James are both blue belts.

It is a shame that there is no commentary for these matches, though when I asked Roy about it, he said commentary is something he originally considered. He then pondered if perhaps it could be added as an alternative audio track, but in the end decided to leave the matches without added analysis.

This is because Roy wants these sparring bouts to be something the viewer returns to repeatedly, finding new aspects each time, really exploring the exchange of techniques, strategy and flow. Also, even though there isn't a commentary, it is nice to hear some of the incidental chatting from the guys rolling and watching, like at the end of TJ and Roy 2: as with so many of the YouTube videos, for a moment you feel you're a part of the academy.

As in previous DVDs, Dean includes seminar footage, in this case from a three day session he held in Kuwait. Day 1: Leglocks (11:40) starts with the toe press, before moving on to heel hooks and kneebars. I liked the personal note at the end, where he thanks the organiser and comments on the progression of the students, which serves to further humanise the DVD.

Like you'd expect, the camera work is less professional here, but still adequate. It is also useful that the camera stays close to Roy Dean throughout, often circling and zooming in order to get the best angle. That continues in Day 2: The Guard (06:19), which begins with a triangle to kimura combination. The rest of this segment focuses on jumping straight into offence from the knees, such as leaping onto the opponent for a sweep, rolling right into the top position.

If they try to stiff-arm you, that leaves the arm vulnerable to submission. Finally, Dean demonstrates the same armbar attack he showed at the UK seminar. It was useful to be able to get a picture of that, as I found it a little difficult to put the initial foot positioning into words.

Day 3: Passing Guard (05:35) repeats a number of the techniques from the guard passing section on DVD 1, though generally with slight variations. Butterfly guard is the focus, with earlier passes utilising the sprawl, as well as basing with your head and shoulder. There are also additions, such as how Dean demonstrates a pass in combination with a throw, again displaying that purple belt mentality of combining techniques in a continuous flow.

Competitions features two of Roy Dean's fights, beginning with footage from an HCK tournament (05:09). This is edited highlights of a match Dean had with famed judoka and BJJer, Dan Camarillo. It is a back-and-forth exchange displaying plenty of high level technique, as well as the respect challenging competition can develop.

While that was interesting to watch, I personally found the next segment, triangle breakdown (02:33), much more compelling. This is because here Roy Dean provides commentary all the way through, along with slow motion replays. Due to that analysis, the viewer gains insight into exactly how you could potentially approach a match, but most importantly how to string techniques together, as any blue belt must learn before they can truly earn the rank of purple. After the explanations and replays, you get to watch the original video.

The final section of DVD 2 is Demonstrations, which as usual includes a belt demonstration. This time, it is Donald Bowerman's test for his purple belt, (08:50) as per YouTube. In keeping with all the other Roy Dean Academy demonstrations, Bowerman achieves gorgeously smooth BJJ throughout, an inspiring display of jiu jitsu skill.

Artistic work follows, which isn't so much about technique as the sheer beauty of jiu jitsu. Black Belt Feet (03:30) functions through a series of photographs, granting you access to the intense physical strain of Roy Dean's black belt test under Roy Harris. Interestingly, there appeared to be a sizeable chunk of teaching required as part of the evaluation by Roy Harris.

Spirals of Jiu Jitsu (03:14) moves away from that arduous gauntlet of a test, instead capturing the fluid circles of jiu jitsu. Bodies describes arcs in the air and over the ground in slow motion black and white. Finally, Dean includes a brief trailer for Art of the Wristlock, a DVD blending aikido with BJJ, which I reviewed here.


Purple Belt Requirements is a new kind of DVD instructional. Almost every other instructional is a long compilation of techniques, sometimes (but not always) arranged in some kind of structure, with the instructor methodically working their way through the details. In his new offering, Roy Dean takes a conceptual approach instead, where the techniques fit into an overall philosophy for purple belt, the most important element of which is the need to learn how to combine techniques into a flowing sequence.

Therefore this is not Blue Belt Requirements 2, with simply another syllabus broken down for the viewer. The instruction here is faster, less intensively detailed, because it is intended for a more advanced audience, who already have a basic technical understanding, but need to find ways to take those techniques and incorporate them into a personal game.

This two DVD set is a supplement, not a textbook, which was arguably the laudable goal of Blue Belt Requirements. As a blue belt myself, I'm sure this new release is going to help my game progress, though I personally still feel like a very low level blue, with numerous holes to shore up (especially guard passing). I'm looking forward to seeing reviews by senior belts, particularly whether or not they feel that this kind of DVD would have helped them on their journey to purple.


  1. Top notch review as ever from the Slideyfoot. Objective and enough description to inform the potential punter about making a possible purchase.
    ie is it worth a poor blue belt's money...your answer seems to be YES.

  2. Wow, now that's what I call a thorough review.