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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

05 February 2010

DVD Review - Cindy Omatsu BJJ

Short Review: As far as I'm aware, this 2005 set is still the only BJJ instructional produced by a female black belt. Unlike its contemporaries, like Saulo's DVDs from a year earlier, Omatsu's release is no longer that easy to find. That's unfortunate, because the first two DVDs form a superlative introduction to BJJ. Omatsu has a relaxed, friendly style, with plenty of detail, helped by the multiple angles and zooms. The last two DVDs present more advanced techniques, though I wouldn't say there is anything beyond a blue belt here.

Full Review: Cindy Omatsu was the first non-Brazilian woman to achieve the rank of black belt, promoted by Rigan Machado. She was also, as far as I'm aware, the first woman of any nationality to release a Brazilian jiu jitsu instructional DVD. Her assistant is a certain Felicia Oh, who would receive her own black belt not long afterwards, and has since grown to be one of the most successful women in the sport.

This DVD set is supposed to be the Brazilian jiu jitsu installment of a series entitled Vicious Vixens. There are other DVDs covering muay thai and MMA, featuring Lisa King and Debi Purcell respectively. Presumably the reason for the somewhat dubious name are the female teachers, but fortunately that is the only example of women being treated differently than men on the DVD (or at least that's true for Omatsu's contribution: I haven't seen the others).

Omatsu splits her instruction across the four DVDs by level, beginning with 'Basic BJJ', then 'Beginner', 'Intermediate' and 'Advanced.' Each DVD is between forty to fifty minutes long, divided into various sections, normally based around a particular position.

Omatsu wears a white gi while Oh wears a black one, always an important point to include in any BJJ instructional: otherwise, it can be difficult to sort out the tangle of limbs. The camerawork is also good, with multiple angles and frequent zooms when more detail is required. Omatsu goes through each technique at least twice, sometimes more, adding in details along the way. She also points out common mistakes, and is relatively concise.

Basic BJJ (forty-two minutes) certainly lives up to its billing. Omatsu starts from the absolute fundamentals, showing the viewer how to tap. She then moves on to what she feels are the four basic positions: the guard, side control, mount and back mount. I particularly liked the way this was all logically connected, passing the guard into side control, then transitioning to mount, before taking back mount as your opponent rolls to their stomach.

Guard is described as a neutral position, but noting that the person with their legs around you has a slight advantage, due to the possibility of sweeping and submitting. I feel a lot more comfortable in guard, but I imagine there are plenty of instructors who would insist that it is always better to be on top, including in the guard.

After about five minutes, Omatsu follows with some warm-up drills, again making certain to cover off the absolute fundamentals. That means she has Felicia Oh shrimp up and down the mat (though Omatsu prefers the term 'hip escape', which is fairly common), before adding in a useful complication.

Rather than just shrimping against thin air, Omatsu stands above Oh and walks up the mat with her. That means that the shrimping motion is put into practical context, something which is all too easy to forget when you've done it a hundred times at the start of every lesson. This is also something Rich Green used to do when I was at Combat Athletics.

The mechanics of the triangle, bridging, shoulder rolls and leg circles complete the basic drills, taking the DVD to the fourteen minute mark. Leg circling possibly requires a bit more explanation, as not every club I've been to does it: the idea is to practice establishing hooks from spider guard, circling around the arm. As with shrimping, Omatsu demonstrates the application from open guard.

Omatsu dubs her next section 'Basic Techniques', though this is less specific techniques than outlining the fundamental motions and postures in BJJ. Omatsu keeps to the positional hierarchy she laid out earlier, beginning with the guard. Omatsu shows the importance of good base and proper posture, including squeezing your knees into their hips to stop them moving. She also reiterates essential tips like always keeping either both arms in or out of the guard.

Interestingly, Omatsu also shows how to properly pull guard from kneeling. This again isn't included in most instructional DVDs I've seen, but it is the kind of thing a beginner will find useful. While there isn't much use for that technique in competition or on the street, it is a common situation when training in class.

Finally on the guard, Omatsu points out something I don't think I've ever considered before, which is how to arrange your feet when sat in somebody's guard. She points out that for safety reasons, you should be sitting directly over your heels, rather than splaying your feet to the side (as in the picture). It is also the first time she says something specific to her gender, mentioning that "a lot of women do this because they can." Generally when she mentions women later on, it is in this context of flexibility.

Side control is up next, covering the correct posture both on top and underneath the position. The key is keeping your weight on your opponent, rather than on your hands and knees. Omatsu's preferred variation of side control appears to be a knee up to block their hip, with the other leg back to increase the downward pressure. She also demonstrates how to cross-face.

On the bottom, it is all about making space. Omatsu takes the posture I'm most familiar with, pressing an arm into the throat while the other blocks their hip. After running through guard recovery, Omatsu explains going to your knees. From there, she takes Oh down into side control, again using the method I'm familiar with, head and leg on the outside.

The mount crops up thirty minutes into the DVD, kicking off with the low mount, grapevining their legs, basing out with your arms. Pointing out the advantages of each version as she goes, Omatsu moves up to a higher mount, making sure to tuck her feet tight to their bum, before bringing her knees to Oh's armpits for a third variation.

Escaping the mount I noticed that, yet again, Omatsu appears to have learned the same way I did, judging by her hand grips (though I would grip closer to the wrist). I'm not sure if that indicates Rigan teaches in a similar fashion to Roger and his instructors (as I first learned the basics at RGA HQ), or if it is just something smaller people do. Either way, this fleshes out the observation I made when reviewing Gracie Combatives.

The last few minutes are spent on back mount. Sticking within the 'basic' remit, Omatsu simply lets her opponent roll under mount, then inserts her hooks as Oh turns around. Rather than locking her hands together as in Gracie Combatives, she takes advantage of the gi and secures a collar grip, using that to help point Oh towards the ceiling.

This time she doesn't show any escapes, instead adding in the first submissions of the DVD series, a couple of chokes. I would have expected a rear naked choke, but Omatsu prefers to run through two collar choke, which upon reflection makes sense, given that she already has that collar grip. The DVD finishes with both Omatsu and Oh joking their way through the final technique: you can tell these are two long-time training partners, which contributes to the overall friendly atmosphere of the DVD series.

As that previous DVD documented the basic postures and movements, Beginning BJJ (fifty-two minutes) can get right into submissions. Omatsu begins with the armbar from mount, assuming that your opponent makes the beginner error of pushing up on your chest with their arms. You can then simply post on their chest, spin, and slide down the arm, before dropping back to apply the joint lock.

That is followed by an Americana, which again is predicated on your opponent raising their arms, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Omatsu uses the thumbless grip, due to the possibility of your partner using your thumb as a lever to escape. Helpfully, the camera zooms in on details, something which is a positive feature of the series as a whole.

Omatsu gives out a helpful tip at this point, which is using your head to help push their hand to the mat. That can provide the extra leverage you need if they're being especially difficult. Once you've got their arm to the mat, Omatsu also suggests inserting your second hand through the side, if they have managed to clamp their elbow so tightly that you can't slip underneath.

For the choke from mount, Omatsu does not show the straightforward cross choke you might expect. Instead, she grabs one collar, then circles her other arm around. This is the style Roger Gracie normally uses, and also seems to result in a more stable base, as you don't immediately commit both your arms. Omatsu emphasises getting your knees up their body first, so that you're away from the bridging power of their hips.

In a technique mainly specific to sparring in class from the knees, Omatsu then demonstrates how to pull guard into a scissor sweep, building on pulling guard in the previous DVD. There are a fair few people who dismiss sparring from the knees as unrealistic, but it nevertheless remains a constant at most BJJ classes, due to space and safety considerations if nothing else. Also, there is the JohnnyS argument, which is that you can use techniques from the knees if you find yourself in a scramble, among various other situations.

Armbar from the guard is covered next, using the set-up I'm most familiar with. Omatsu shows two possible grips to use on the sleeve, and states that you don't want to cross your feet. She also, handily, has a follow-up sweep if you get stacked while attempting the armbar, where you drive you leg down on their head, then grab their far trouser leg and roll them into mount.

Throughout the DVD, Omatsu will run through each technique several times from a few different angles. As she does so, she'll also add in further details, such as here, where she notes you can pull them in with your legs to initially break their posture.

The next ten minutes are spent swiftly describing several fundamental attacks. First, the basic choke from guard, which takes just over a minute, with another four minutes on the kimura from guard. As with the Americana, Omatsu opts for the thumbless grip. This contrasts with several other instructors, such as Rener Gracie, who feel that the thumb provides greater leverage without the same danger of being used to aid an escape. She finishes off with the guillotine, as that connects well with a kimura attempt.

A final ten minutes cover passing the guard. Omatsu's method for opening the guard at first looks the same as Saulo's preferred technique. She inserts the knee and steps back, but then digs her elbow into the thigh, which is exactly what Saulo recommends against. It can work, but personally I dislike that particular guard break, because it relies on hurting your partner rather than using body mechanics and leverage.

She follows up with a pass, sitting on the leg, backstepping, blocking the hip with her hand then moving into side control. Though I'm not fond of the preceding guard break, it is nevertheless very clearly explained in combination with the pass. Omatsu shows the viewer three different angles, carefully pointing out hand position, legs and grips.

To finish, Omatsu includes the same guard break Roy Dean showed me at his UK seminar, which is also part of Purple Belt Requirements. You can either push into their biceps or the armpits, aiming to make enough room to stand and insert your knee. Once in place, sit back down, sliding them down your knee, which should provide enough pressure to open the guard. Omatu's version makes it clear that you create a space in which to place your knee, which wasn't quite as obvious on Purple Belt Requirements (then again, Omatsu's application may well be slightly different). To pass, Omatsu then uses a leg pin pass.

The third volume, Intermediate BJJ (just under forty-six minutes) opens with a method for reaching open guard from closed. You feet move to their hips, while you grip both their sleeves, pulling their arms around your knees. From this position, Omatsu is able to launch a number of attacks, which can also function together as a sequence.

The first submission is an omoplata from guard. This also provides Omatsu with the opportunity to highlight the importance of following through when doing a drill, and that you need to be working out with a partner on the mat, to facilitate resistance training. It is a point worth repeating, particularly with the proliferation of online training programs over the last couple of years.

She moves on to a triangle, before combining that into a sequence with the armbar and omoplata. If they pull their arm out of the armbar attempt, you can swivel around their other arm, moving into an omoplata. Omatsu traps the arm at a right angle by pulling it across her leg, grabbing their belt, then clamping her other arm on top in the process. Should they attempt to posture up out of that, Omatsu swivels back, locking in a triangle.

I'm keen to start building attack series, as Roy Dean advises on Purple Belt Requirements. Omatsu delivers a classic option, teaching each element separately before joining the three techniques into a flowing offence. She also demonstrates a few sweeps, such as a scissor followed by a push sweep from that earlier spider guard variation. Rather than a shin across the stomach, she uses the leverage of a foot in the bicep.

Having covered sweeps from the knees, Omatsu then demonstrates several against a standing opponent. Strangely for an intermediate DVD, one of those is a basic ankle grab. Categorisation is always difficult, but I'm not quite sure why she left this until intermediate. Either way, it does give her a chance to make an important point: "when your opponent is grabbing you, you want to grab back. You don't want to let them control you."

The last ten minutes are again devoted to passing the guard. This time, that is specifically open guard. They have their feet on your hips and are grabbing your sleeves. You grab back, pull their knees towards you so they're on the floor, then sit down and squeeze your knees together. To finish, you grip their trouser leg and behind their gi, then spin them straight into side control.

Finally, Omatsu shows a similar set-up, where as before you get their feet to the floor, crushing their knees together. This ends up as effectively a sort of butterfly guard. This time, she is a little more acrobatic in passing, gripping a trouser leg behind their calf, then flipping right over the top and rotating into side control.

The fourth and last DVD, Advanced BJJ (forty-seven minutes) kicks off with eight and a half minutes of takedowns. As far as I can tell, these draw more on wrestling than judo, based around a single leg, but then my takedown knowledge is quite poor.

Omatsu progresses to submissions from side control, starting with an arm triangle if they try to shove their arm up into your neck. She shifts into scarf hold after that, developing another attack sequence, which encompasses five different options.

It begins with the step-over armbar demonstrated on Renzo's old set, which like Renzo, moves into an Americana with the legs, if they slip their arm out of danger. Should that fail, Omatsu shifts into the side control/scarf hold triangle I've mentioned a few times recently, which enables her to attack for a kimura. You could also go for a straight armbar from there, or indeed an Americana, depending on where they move their arm. If the kimura doesn't get a tap, Omatsu pulls that arm up, then swivels round into an armbar.

Again, much of what Omatsu shows on these four DVDs are techniques I have seen in class, with the same set-up. That continues when she shows a choke from technical mount, as a response to her partner rolling away from her in side control. This is the same submission Kev has taught a few times in class, meaning that Omatsu's instructional is an ideal way for me to review techniques I already know, but want to refine. As with Kev, Omatsu finishes by applying an armbar, if for some reason the choke isn't working out.

Having explored side control, Omatsu adds attacks from the mount. Similarly, the armbar she shows here is also something Kev has included in class. The advantage of this set-up is that you can apply it either by falling back or going belly down, so your opponent is stuck either way they try to roll. Along with the armbar, Omatsu shows how you can move into a mounted triangle, pushing on their shoulder and stepping over as they attempt to elbow escape.

Yet more sweeps from guard follow. The first is a little unorthodox, and possibly low percentage. Omatsu controls the sleeve, gets a cross grip, then either grabs the pant leg or swims under their leg. Swinging her leg over their arm, she rolls over to face the floor, knocking them onto their back with her body. From there, Omatsu spins directly into an armbar.

The second sweep is more standard, off an omoplata, after which Omatsu describes a few grip breaks if you're having trouble completing the armbar. Some are relatively standard, like moving in a semi-circle to loosen their grip, while others are more risky, like kicking it loose with your foot. To finish, Omatsu narrates a couple of armbar escapes, which Felicia Oh demonstrates step by step.

It is a shame this set is no longer easy to find, as the first two DVDs are excellent for beginners. I especially liked the fundamental nature of the opening video, which was well complemented by the selection of techniques in the second DVD. It is also refreshing to see a female black belt teach on a BJJ DVD: hopefully others will follow suit, as this series is now five years old. There are plenty of prominent women in BJJ today, like Hillary Williams, Lana Stefanac and indeed Omatsu's old training partner Felicia Oh, all of whom could no doubt produce a decent instructional.


  1. I never heare of Cindy before, thanks for enlightening me on this pioneer of female bjj.

  2. I found her DVD while looking for a copy of Rigan's Triangle DVD. I can't find any for sale. If you know of any please post. Thanks.

  3. Yes, this a great set of DVDs. I have been using it for the past 4 years for re-training with certain techniques. Felicia Oh's demonstration is also excellent on the entire set. I have been looking for mre DVD's and instructionals from Cindy, Felicia, and their colleagues but the endeavor has been frustratingly unsuccessful.

    Anyone is looking to buy these DVDs individually can find them in stock and ready to ship at Century Martial Arts. I have used them before and they are great with placing orders and service.

    Copy and paste this exact address:


  4. Cindy is terrific. I have had the pleasure of training with her recently @ Rigan Machados.

  5. Cindy is awesome..She's one of my teachers at Rigan Machado's academy in LA and as my skill has grown, its been my pleasure to actually roll with her..Thanks for the review Slidey..

  6. She certainly seems cool from the DVD: IMO, the relaxed, friendly style of teaching adds a lot to the set. :)

    If you ever get the chance to ask, it would be interesting to know if she has any idea who the first female black belt in BJJ was, which is something I and various other bloggers have been discussing here for some time now.

    I think Cindy was the first non-Brazilian female black belt, but I'm not sure about the first female black belt ever. Current most likely options seem to be:

    1. Patrícia Lage, who was competing as a black belt at the 1998 Brasileiros, according to the IBJJF.

    2. Kim Gracie (Rickson's ex wife), who might have been a black belt in 1997

    3. Karla Gracie, according to the April 1997 issue of Black Belt Magazine.

  7. There's also EMily Kwok's instructional available nowadays, gi and nogi.

    1. Yep, the ones she did with Stephan Kesting. I have the gi one: lots of good stuff on there, although I wasn't keen on the way it's organised (a kind of '5 favourite moves' thing). I like the straightforward structure of either position (mount, back, side control etc), or something similarly specific, like sweeps, submissions, passes etc.

      There are also a few women teaching on BJJ Library, which is really good to see. I've got some useful material out of the Mackenzie Dern series on there, they've also got Luiza Monteiro on BJJ Library. The other one I'm aware of is Dominyka Obelenyte, who has a short on-demand series about the spider guard.

      It would be interesting to know if there are any others. So many awesome female instructors out there now: here at Artemis BJJ, we're having ATOS black belt Chelsea Bainbridge-Donner down for her second seminar, then I have another seminar planned with a top female brown belt later in the year. Looking to get some UK female higher belts booked in too. :D