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16 December 2009

DVD Review - BJJ Spirits 6 (Jiu Jitsu Damashi)

Short Review: In my opinion, the selling point of this DVD is the huge amount of competition footage, which importantly is not just lots of people stalling out points victories, but fast, technical matches that normally end in a submission. You can tell just how dynamic those fights were by the fact that the DVD manages to pack sixty-five of them into two hours and fourteen minutes.

On top of all that, there is over half an hour of technique, featuring luminaries such as JT Torres, Relson Gracie and Rafael Mendes. They are joined in the accompanying eighty page magazine by Fabio Gurgel, Robson Moura and Cobrinha, among others. If you happen to read Japanese, then there are also various articles and interviews, but given the three hour DVD and numerous technical photographs in the magazine, you're still getting more than your money's worth. Available to buy here (put in 'slidey' to get 15% off).

Full Review: Once again, Matt from ScrambleStuff, a new company selling t-shirts and Japanese DVD imports, sent me a Japanese DVD/magazine to review. This is by the same company as Paraestra Guard, but this time it is actually a magazine, rather than an instructional book. That means that it contains interviews and articles, with a few adverts thrown in. It also means that the fact everything is in Japanese becomes more of an issue, as unless you speak the language, you can only look at the pictures.

This particular issue is number six in the 'BJJ Spirits' series: the Japanese title is 'Jiu Jitsu Damashi'. There are a few snippets of English, such as in the contents page, which divides the magazine up into 'Interviews', 'Special Technique', 'Data Room' and 'Etc'. There are great pictures, but unless you're a photography buff, that isn't going to mean much to those who don't read Japanese. A few minor exceptions pop up, like the interview with Rafael Mendes has a little 'profile' box, with some details English speakers can understand: specifically, his birthday and his weight.

As a further indication of its Japanese origin, the magazine opens 'backwards' (from a Western perspective, at least), with pages running from right to left. As I can't understand the text anyway, this only becomes important when you get to the pictures for each technique. You have to start from the column on the far right, which was occasionally a cause for slight confusion when I forgot.

Techniques kick off with Rafael Mendes demonstrating how to take the back from the 50/50 guard, in a series of eight pictures over one page, with details like grips highlighted. Like Paraestra Guard, this is in conjunction with the DVD, though this time, not every technique is replicated. There are moves which appear on the magazine but not the DVD, and vice versa.

The DVD (which, along with its cover, is attached to the contents page) has two sections, the first of which surprised me. I had been expecting a repeat of everything in the magazine, but instead, it begins with 'Competition', which I'll detail later. The other section is 'Technique' (35:04 minutes total), split into a sub-menu with seven options. None of those are in English, with the exception of 'JT', which obviously refers to JT Torres. There are pictures for all of them, but I couldn't easily identify who was who until I clicked through.

For example, the last of those seven sections is where Rafael Mendes covers off the same techniques from the magazine, with a few extra. However, from the picture, I at first assumed this was going to be Robson Moura, as he also featured in the magazine.

Mendes continues his display in the magazine with a sweep, then follows by spinning round his partner's leg, knocking them forward and moving to attack their foot with a figure-four hold. The techniques aren't named, so you have to work it out from the pictures. Like Paraestra Guard, there is a heading at the top of the page in English, saying the name of the demonstrator and numbering each technique.

The DVD version is easier to follow, although it is equally unclear in terms of explaining what each technique is called (in English, at least: there's a big red kanji prefacing every technique, which I presume is a description). The audio for Mendes is Portuguese with Japanese subtitles: there is no dubbing, so almost every demonstrator speaks in their native tongue. Each section gets a brief header with a picture of the demonstrator and their name in English (for example, JT Torres is preceded by a picture of him with 'JT' written underneath).

Mendes provides the first techniques of the magazine, but the last on the DVD. Again like Paraestra Guard, the demonstrations are concise, Mendes being a case in point. In just over two minutes, he runs through the moves from the magazine, adding in a third sweep from the 50/50 straight into mount. Interestingly, he isn't sporting an Atos patch: instead, it just says 'Ramon Lemos Jiu Jitsu' on the back of his gi.

Other interviews and articles follow in the magazine, covering Cobrinha and Michael Langhi. As before, unless you understand Japanese or love photography, this isn't going to mean much to you. More useful are the techniques Langhi shows, which unfortunately are not repeated on the DVD. He offers five options from spider guard, with one foot on the bicep, the other loose. First he sweeps to mount, then in the second, he takes the back and secures a choke.

Third is another sweep to mount, then fourth, he sits up by their leg, sweeps and moves into a pass. This continues onto the next page, alongside the final technique. Here Langhi gives a quick demonstration of how to escape someone who is trying to do the double under pass, shifting back into position to go for a triangle (or just get free).

Andre Galvao is up next. After his interview, or perhaps as part of it, there is a small inset box on page thirty one. First are two techniques, showing what looks like a similar guard pass in four pictures, gi and nogi. Underneath that are three further passes, two with four pictures, another with eight. These are much smaller and harder to read than the large full page spreads from earlier: I'm guessing these are perhaps meant to illustrate some point he makes in the interview. They also do not appear on the DVD.

Galvao then gets a full page spread. The first technique is a guard pass moving into a triangle after he's got to side control. This continues over to the other page, for nine stages, plus what looks like a detail. On that same page, Galvao shows another pass, which again runs overleaf. That is a bit more complex, as it needs eleven stages, finishing with a wrist lock from side control.

The third technique is even more complicated, with thirteen stages, again continuing over two pages (not on a spread, however, which would have been easier to read). This time he not only passes the guard, but appears to show a few leg attacks along the way, until finishing up on the back with a choke locked in.

Galvao is followed by a section entitled, in English, 'Techniques of Lloyd's Students'. This has a little DVD sign next to it (indicating these techniques will be on the DVD), and three pictures, showing JT Torres, Jared Weiner and Nakapan Phungephorn. Torres was still a brown belt at this point, while his two team mates are both black belts.

Usefully, all three speak in English on the DVD, accompanied by Japanese subtitles. JT Torres is the first demonstrator, taking slightly over five minutes on the DVD. As with Paraestra Guard, the format is normally running through the technique twice from different angles, though there aren't any replays at this stage.

In both the DVD and magazine, JT starts with an armdrag from open guard, shifts to a leg, then stands up in base. As he still has hold of the leg, he can move into a single leg to take them down. In the magazine, an alternative option is summarised in a single picture (labelled '4), showing how you could instead go underneath the leg, putting it up on your shoulder.

On the DVD, this is explained in full, moving from the armdrag into x-guard. That enables JT to push on the other leg, hoisting the other up by his shoulder. Standing up it then becomes a simple matter to put them on their back, moving through for the pass. I've been shown this technique a few times in class, so it is handy to see a concise video.

Technique 2 in the magazine involves open guard again, but this time spinning around their leg to get behind them, knocking their legs out and securing rear mount. You also press into their armpit with your foot, which further helps put them off balance.

This is clarified on the DVD, although at one point the subtitles slightly obscure what JT is doing. The video version also includes a variation, where JT puts his foot between their legs instead of on the armpit. Rather than spinning around behind them, he instead spins into upside down guard, then scoots through their legs. From here he does the same thing as before, pushing his feet into the back of their legs and pulling on their belt, which flips them down into his rear mount.

Jared Weiner is up next, showing a guard pass. The second technique in the magazine appears to build on the first, I think. That's because there is otherwise a step missing, as he suddenly moves from trying to get past a leg to magically appearing in side control. However, if you apply what he's doing in the first technique, it fits the situation perfectly.

The DVD version (05:18) irons out any confusion. Better yet, because Weiner is speaking in English, he is able to provide further details and name the technique. He calls it the 'Wilson pass', where the idea is to shift to the side and trap their leg with your bodyweight. From here, you can break their guard and pass. You may know it by one of various other names: the Wilson Reis pass, Sao Paulo pass, Roberto Tozi pass, or even the ChimPass. Stephan Kesting has an article about it here.

Weiner adds even more value by explaining common mistakes. In the case of this pass, there is a vulnerability to getting triangled if you're not careful. Weiner does a good job of pointing out ways to avoid getting submitted, while still running through the technique fairly quickly.

His next technique didn't immediately make sense to me in the magazine. After the pass, he goes for their arm. However, it looks like he gives up the top position in the process, which seemed a bit strange after all that effort to get there. I also couldn't tell from the pictures exactly why he was grabbing that arm.

As ever, the DVD comes to the rescue. Weiner manages to trap the arm sufficiently to effect a submission by pulling it backwards, which is hard to represent in static pictures, but easily demonstrated on video. The DVD also adds in two more techniques: first, how to drop your weight and pass as they try to butterfly sweep you, then finally a method of beating the x-guard.

The third Lloyd Irvin student, Nakapan Phungephorn, shares several triangle set-ups. In the magazine, he explains two methods. The first relies on a sort of reverse kimura grip, while the second uses a shin into their stomach to make space. The pictures here make it look as if he is locking the triangle on his instep rather than his shin or ankle, which has potential long-term health consequences: you're liable to bust up your foot if you keep doing that.

However, this is rectified on the DVD (05:15), where the lock looks safer. In addition to the two set-ups from the magazine, Phungephorn adds in another option using an overhook, then finally how to move straight into the submission from your knees. This looks like a useful attack, seeing as most BJJ classes start sparring from that position.

The DVD continues with Hiroki Baba (09:04), who doesn't make an appearance in the magazine. Baba supplies the requisite "crazy Japanese spinning" portion of the instruction, with five flashy techniques from a variety of positions. The format matches Paraestra Guard, featuring not just multiple angles, but several replays overlaid with some funky music.

Baba begins with a sweep from butterfly, but just as you think he is going to finish and end up on top, he instead pauses with his partner in midair. Somehow he then moves into a leglock.

That sets the tone, as the second technique is a sweep from open guard where you pop them up in the air, balanced on your legs. You also pull their gi lapel across their body, which Baba uses to treat his partner like a spinning top, yanking the lapel and rotating them right into rear mount.

For his third demonstration, Baba uses an armdrag, then steps over their back and rolls straight into a choke. The fourth technique is even flashier, starting from spider guard. Step back to get their legs on the floor with trouser grips, then base your head on their stomach. From here, you flip your legs straight over, still holding their legs, then quickly turn through into side control. Last time I saw that was at a Shaolin monk show, where little kids were forward-flipping around the stage on their heads: perfect training for this. ;)

By the time Baba got to the fifth technique, I was looking forward to seeing what bizarre variation he'd come up with next. He begins in side control, then pops up into knee on belly. His partner makes the mistake of pushing with his hand on the knee, so it looks as if Baba is finally going to do something orthodox.

However, instead of the usual far side armbar, he manages to squeeze in yet more spinning, before eventually staying still long enough to secure the armbar. I can't see how that would be any better than the normal far side armbar, but it did look pretty cool (which I suspect for Japanese viewers is a big plus point in its favour).

Getting back to the magazine, legendary champion Robson Moura follows on from the Lloyd Irvin students. After an interview, he adds in three techniques, all starting from closed guard. As this is a Japanese magazine, Moura then immediately opens, puts a foot in the armpit and starts to spin. That motion provides him with three options: an armbar, an omoplata and a triangle, compromising sixteen photos over two pages.

The next section in the magazine, which at first I thought might be an advert, is devoted to 'Attack from the mount', featuring a number of big names: Fabio Gurgel, Cobrinha, and to my surprise, Relson Gracie. As a noted believer in no-nonsense basics, he seemed a little out of place amongst all the spinning and upside-down guard, though on the other hand, anyone called 'Gracie' makes for good copy in a BJJ magazine.

'Attack from the mount' also marks (on page forty eight) where the magazine shifts from full colour into monochrome photographs, as in Paraestra Guard. Gurgel starts things off by passing to mount from half guard (I think), after which he applies a straightforward cross choke.

Relson Gracie follows up with his own page, taking you through another choke from the mount in six pictures (he has a little inset box, which is presumably either a mini-interview, or his views on the technique). Relson is the only person from this section who also appears on the DVD (04:40). There he is joined by his son Rhalan, choosing to speak in English rather than his native Portuguese. It looks as if they're in Relson's backyard, where Relson walks you through the technique from the magazine.

He is able to go into much more detail, pointing out defensive options. If they grab their gi collars and pull them tight, Relson says "you do this, this Hélio Gracie. Hands don't go in." In typical Relson fashion, he has a number of similarly memorable quotes in broken English, like "Long I be on the top, more chance you win!"

From the choke, Relson progresses to some other options, like an armbar. He frequently mentions Roger Gracie, so it is possible that the magazine feature is supposed to be a discussion of Roger's favoured choke techniques. Relson doesn't just stick with the mount, also very quickly exploring a few options from the guard.

In addition to the technical content, the rapport between father and son is enjoyable to watch. His son, a brown belt, frequently interjects with his own comments. During demonstration, Relson will often mutter something under his breath in Portuguese, later giving his son a paternal slap on the back.

The 'attack the mount' section continues in the magazine with Fabio Gurgel, briefly demonstrating another choke from the mount in four pictures (part of the page is taken up by an advert). Fellow Alliance black belt Cobrinha takes over, moving from side control into mount, where he looks like he is about to finish off with an armbar in the eighth step.

Whether or not that is supposed to be a finishing position, it is demonstrated on the next page anyway, in four steps, starting with the same technical mount with arm control. On that same page, there is another sequence of four, showing a fairly simple choke from technical mount (which incidentally is one I always go for but never manage to secure: that second grip on the other collar is the hard part).

Cobrinha follows with a page featuring eight photos, again from technical mount, this time showing how to go to the back and finish a choke from there. On the next page, Gurgel returns with another four step choke from mount. I'm not sure if he actually completes it: as far as I can tell, this is supposed to be an option for when they try to block one side of their neck with their own hand. The adjacent sequence of photos, again in four steps, looks to be a more easily understandable ezequiel from the mount.

There are far more directional arrows in the BJJ Spirits 6 magazine compared to the Paraestra Guard book. This is a major advantages, especially as a significant proportion of the techniques are not bolstered by a DVD version. In a static picture aiming to teach a complex physical motion, it is essential to include some indication of movement.

Gurgel finishes off with two techniques. Technique 11 is an armbar from mount, with what looks like a fairly typical set-up. Technique 12, however, was a little confusing. At first I thought he might be setting up a triangle from mount, given the leg position, but I think Gurgel is trapping the hand and then stretching back for a sort-of belly down armbar. Step four also appears to be missing, as it goes straight from 3 to 5, but that may just be incorrectly numbered. It is a shame these weren't on the DVD, as that would have made things clearer.

There's an interview with Relson Gracie, then what looks like a brief historical summary of the Mundials, with some stats and pictures. As far as I can tell, that includes various rankings, such as where the various champions rack up. Roger comes out on top, which is unsurprising given his huge number of wins.

Lloyd Irvin also gets an interview, as does Fabio Gurgel, with an English heading of 'Champ Maker'. He's followed by another page saying 'Alliance Won Again' in big letters, which I would guess is some kind of competition report, or perhaps a discussion of Alliance's long-standing success on the world stage. The magazine finishes off with three more techniques by Fabio Gurgel: a basic stack pass, an armbar from side control, and finally a kimura from closed guard. Each one gets its own page.

On the DVD, I was in for a further surprise, as Relson is not the only Gracie present. Royler pops up too (03:40), speaking Portuguese, showing self-defence techniques on a yellow belt girl (perhaps his daughter). This is a diversion from the rest of the techniques, as there is nothing spectacular about escaping from somebody grabbing your shoulder. I'm not really keen on self-defence, but I did find it interesting to see some glimpses of the recording process: you can spot Japanese journalists and photographers in the background, along with lighting equipment.

That brings me to the second half of the DVD, 'Competition'. I wasn't expecting competitive footage, especially the enormous amount included here: two hours and fourteen minutes of fighting. If you're in two minds about whether or not to buy this DVD/magazine set, that footage may well be the deciding factor.

I'm generally not all that interested in watching competition, unless it has technically astute and/or entertaining commentary (like the recent No Gi Worlds). As this DVD is in Japanese, I'm clearly not going to get much out of the commentary. However, even for someone like me, this footage remains eminently watchable, because the competitors are fast, technical and dynamic. That is clearly demonstrated by the fact that over the course of its running time, the DVD packs in sixty five matches, almost all ending in submission.

Like the 'Technique' menu, 'Competition' is split into several sections, with a photo and a subtitle in Japanese. It isn't normally clear from these exactly what the competition is, though a few have enough English that is possible to work it out. Matt describes a few in his product details, so I'll be going off that too.

The first competition doesn't have any English to help you, but I'm assuming that it is the All Japan Masters and Seniors Open Tournament Matt mentions. It is also a whopping forty-three minutes long, featuring brown and black belts. Each match begins with a description of who is fighting, but again, in Japanese (though occasionally there is a word you can understand, like 'Grabaka'). If I counted right, there were fourteen matches, interspersed with a few interviews. This should be of particular interest to older grapplers, given that it's a Masters and Seniors tournament, so you can see more mature competitors in action.

Something with 'Spirits' in the title follows, so that is probably 'Grappling Tour Spirits' (14:01) from the product description. It is a nogi competition, with nine fights in total. The video opens with a quick camera sweep of the venue, plus an interview with a person who looks like the organiser. There is also a brief bit of footage where the winners celebrate at the end, which is a nice way to finish.

Another extensive section follows, labelled as 'deGO!' (41:26). This is also nogi, although there was one random guy who kept his gi jacket, for some reason. This time, the weight levels are indicated, with an impressive fourteen matches in the -66kg category, nine at -77kg and three at -88kg. Again, almost all the victories are by submission, with only a few points victories creeping in.

Rafael Mendes is briefly showcased in DEEP X04 (02:34). He appears to be fighting one of the guys from the previous competition, as I recognised those red shorts. It is also in a ring, but still just grappling rather than MMA. This time, Mendes is introduced as an Atos fighter, and also has 'Jesus Christ' in big letters on his rash guard. I knew that Galvao and the co-founder were religious, but looks like that spreads to the rest of the team. Hopefully they aren't going to start proselytising any time soon, as I always find that extremely off-putting. Mendes also does the sword slicing celebration, if for some reason you haven't seen that in action yet.

Next section is ALMA Presents (18:09), which unlike the others has a section on rules at the start (naturally I couldn't understand the Japanese, but it had 'RULE' written at the top). That made me wonder if the rules for this gi competition were particularly unusual, as that might explain why there was a far higher proportion of points victories this time. That could also be explained by the inclusion of lower belts, with three matches featuring white and blue belts.

Having said that, the black belt match which follows ends 0-0, so I guess that was a victory by advantage. Six purple and brown belts bouts are then covered, with a brown versus black belt match to finish off the segment.

The last chunk of competition is labelled clearly in English: Roberto Souza in World Professional Jiu Jitsu Cup 2009 Asian Trials (15:25). This follows a purple belt, presumably Roberto Souza, over the course of four fights, intercut with 'special interviews'. The matches themselves were quite entertaining, as Souza has some flashy finishes, especially in his second fight. He climbs right up onto his brown belt opponent's shoulders, locks in a triangle, then pulls on his head to drop down and finish.

I was a little confused by the fact that a Brazilian was in the Asian Trials, as I would have thought that the point was to provide Asian fighters with a chance to enter the World Pro Cup. However, I'm not familiar with the rules, and perhaps Souza has some other connection to Japan, like a passport or citizenship.

If you liked Paraestra Guard, you'll probably like this. There are plenty of flashy spinning techniques on display, demonstrated by some major names in BJJ. You also get a look at the 50/50 guard, spend some time in the company of Relson Gracie, and even get a snippet of self defence from Royler.

The magazine is well-presented and high quality, as you'd expect, but as it is all in Japanese, the articles and interviews aren't going to hold the attention of non-Japanese speakers. However, the techniques will, and there are plenty of them. Better still, several crop up in the DVD, along with a number of other demonstrations. The inclusion of three Americans means that you get some English instruction too, and Relson sticks with that language as well.

Best of all is the competition footage. I would say that this would be the main reason to buy the set, as it is fast, dynamic BJJ, giving you a fascinating insight into the Japanese style of fighting. Also like Paraestra Guard, this is going to be of particular interest to smaller fighters, as the majority of the competitors are under 70kg. Available to buy here.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Slidey, thank you so much for this thorough and honest review.

    One thing that I might like to add (although potential purchasers probably don't need me to point this fact out to them--they'll be thinking it already) is the sheer desirability of this series of magazines.

    They are true collector's items for fans of BJJ.

    Everything about them, from the Japanese layout, the mix of up and coming names and past legends, the production, the DVD, everything, (to me at least) is freakin' cool, and something that I want to own and show people when they come to visit.

    Also, Roberto Souza is possibly half-Japanese, but definitely lives and teaches BJJ in Japan. He is now a respected black belt I think, so this is like "remember when he was purple" kind of thing.