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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

20 March 2010

DVD Review - No Gi Essentials (Roy Dean)

No Gi Essentials - Roy Dean AcademyShort Review: With this DVD set, Roy Dean fills a gaping hole in the instructional market: the no-gi beginner. Dean lays out the basic principles of nogi with his trademark smooth production, clear explanations and cerebral approach. 'Essential Movements' and 'Essential Grips' provides the new student with the understanding they need to confidently take off the gi. After each demonstration of technique, Roy Dean shows the practical application through sparring footage. Even better, he also includes further examples of rolling, with an in-depth commentary.

The set then progresses to more advanced jiu jitsu, where Dean shifts from running through a syllabus to effectively presenting private lessons. He combines techniques, resolves 'what if' scenarios and presents multiple alternatives. That means the material on this DVD set will grow with you, remaining relevant throughout your training. The more you improve, the more you'll get out of No Gi Essentials. It is quite possibly Roy Dean's best DVD to date, an impressive achievement considering the high standard he has set in the past.

Full Review: When I trained at the Roger Gracie Academy HQ, classes were split into beginner and advanced. Once you got three stripes on your white belt, you could go to both. The no-gi lesson was categorised as advanced: I can remember sitting at the side of a no-gi lesson as a new white belt, waiting for my class to start, thinking how much more difficult it all looked.

The most famous teacher of no-gi jiu jitsu is probably Eddie Bravo. What his 10th Planet school lacks in results, they make up for in marketing. That unfortunately means that many new students look to Bravo for tips on no-gi training, whether or not that was his intention. Whatever else you can say about 10th Planet, it isn't for beginners, despite what misled initiates might think.

With No Gi Essentials, there is finally a no gi instructional geared towards that beginning student. That is why I relished the chance to check out the pre-release copy Roy Dean sent me, even though I'm not personally a big fan of no-gi. As with his other instructionals, it comes on two discs. The first is divided into eight sections, Welcome, Essential Movements, Essential Grips, Takedowns, Armdrag, Kimura, Guillotine and Rolling Analysis.

The second splits across Guard Options, Mount Options, Sidemount Escapes, Opening the Guard, Leglock Techniques, Leg Combinations, No Gi Essentials, and the usual section entitled Demonstrations, including trailers, competitions and a purple belt demonstration.

Roy Dean has progressed in his mastery of instructionals since Blue Belt Requirements. He now makes sure to include the practical application of each move against a resisting opponent, after first introducing the technique with multiple angles. Competition footage is present too, but best of all, there is sparring with an in-depth commentary.

This makes for a tremendous addition to the instructional. There was rolling on Purple Belt Requirements too, but without commentary. This is something I asked Dean about at his UK seminar: basically, he ran out of time. I'm really pleased that he was able to include it for No Gi Essentials, as it boosts the already high standard even further.

no gi essentials roy deanMy one complaint is that everybody on this DVD set is wearing the same rash guard. A cardinal rule of gi instructionals is that you must wear a different colour gi from the person who is helping you demonstrate, otherwise the tangle of limbs can become confusing. That is less of a problem in no-gi, but it would still have been beneficial for one person to wear a white long-sleeved rash guard and white gi pants, while the other wore black or blue.

Having said that, I can't think of any specific instances where I had to rewind to clarify whose arm was grabbing whose leg. This is further helped by the greater use of close-ups on this DVD, as well as slow motion replays. It also appears that Dean has stopped adding in the words 'Discover Who You Are' at the end of every video, although that may be because this is a pre-release copy.


The first DVD begins with a brief Welcome (01:07). Normally, that title indicates a talk by Dean explaining the concepts and principles he is planning to cover. This time, there are no talking heads: it is basically a trailer for the rest of the set, with a series of clips showcasing a variety of no-gi techniques, as Dean's distinctive musical stylings play in the background.

no gi essentials roy deanEssential Movements (05:15) starts off the technical meat of the DVD. This is especially beneficial to the beginner, as Dean lives up to the 'essential' remit of the title, kicking off with how to bridge (just over a minute). Dean advises against emulating wrestlers, who bridge right up onto their head. That makes for a powerful bridge, but it also places a lot of strain on your neck: instead, Dean recommends bridging up on your shoulders (see the above picture, which you can click for a larger version). I was pleased to see that one of the best parts of Purple Belt Requirements has been continued, as Dean follows up his demonstration with the practical application in sparring. That proves to be the case for almost all the other techniques on this DVD, a major point in its favour.

Dean calls the shrimp (about forty seconds) the next step from bridging. This makes sense, as when escaping, bridging is not enough: you need to make use of the newly created space by shrimping your hips out. Dean decides to go for a one legged shrimp, so appears to be putting it into the context of escaping mount or side control.

As he emphasises, to develop good escapes you need more than one option. The turnover (slightly under a minute) enables you to move to your knees, such as if you're looking to escape side control. Dean covers a basic error here, noting that you should avoid leaving a trailing arm. Instead, make sure to tuck your elbow underneath, which will better facilitate the turn to your knees.

Similarly, you can also shrimp to knees (about thirty seconds). This is a drill Kev often uses for the warm-up at RGA High Wycombe: watching Roy Dean's version, I think I may have been doing it wrong. He shifts his upper body back towards his knees, whereas I've been bringing them forward underneath me.

Weight Transfer (just over a minute) gives Dean the opportunity to offer up a definition of BJJ, saying that "Jiu jitsu is the art of pushing and pulling, and in that process you have to learn how to shift your weight." Here, he is thinking specifically of transferring your weight to your hands. To illustrate that point, he uses the example of spinning into an armbar. It also reminded me of shifting your knee up to their head when moving to technical mount. Dean's practical application brings up another example, as he applies a kneebar.

The last of the essential movements is entitled Pivot (about a minute). What Dean means by that is basically using your knee to swivel on the spot. His application makes this clear, or rather, the application by one of his students (refreshingly, a woman). After driving her knee into Dean's stomach, she spins into an armbar.

Having covered movements, Dean moves on to Essential Grips (10:37). This is very important for a no-gi DVD, as the need to adapt your grips is the biggest adjustment when you take off the gi. Dean starts with a short introduction, where he points out the specific differences: "With a gi, or with a uniform, you can grip almost arbitrarily and have some degree of control over your opponent, but with nogi jiu jitsu, you want to focus on the joints."

For the wrist (thirty seconds), Dean emphasises that you don't need to squeeze all that hard, just enough to be able to follow their arm. That combines with the elbow (forty seconds), which you can use to establish a two-on-one grip, then push on their hips with your feet for a solid control. This enables you to perform an armdrag, as Dean demonstrates in the practical application following the technical explanation.

no gi essentials roy deanNext, Dean grabs the shoulder (just over a minute), into a position that is effectively Shawn Williams Guard without the leg. Also reminiscent of that guard, Dean uses this grip to move into an omoplata. He calls the shoulder "valuable real estate" for no-gi, as not only is it useful for control underneath, but it also helps when passing, something Dean goes on to prove in his practical application.

The shoulder works well in conjunction with gripping the head (slightly under a minute), where again it is useful for passing the guard. Dean also shows how it helps set up sweeps, such as the sit-up sweep. He then moves on to hips(a bit over a minute), which he shows both as a guard pass, using that pressure again, and how it can assist in a takedown.

With the knee (about a minute), Dean advises that if you want to deal with their leg, don't try and manipulate the whole limb. By focusing on just the knee, you can better achieve your aims. He uses the example of passing butterfly guard, as well as preventing your partner from replacing their guard, by simply pushing down on the knee, completing your pass. The accompanying practical applications start using slow motion at this point, which is especially helpful for fast transitions, like quickly pushing on the knee to slip to side control.

To pass the open guard, it is important to pay attention to the feet (a little over a minute). Dean shows how you can push their feet diagonally over their head for one pass, then takes another example from butterfly guard. This is the same pass I've seen Kev teach, where you trap their foot in order to move past the leg.

The longest section discusses the wrist (a bit under two minutes). The grip here is bringing their arm across their throat, then reaching a hand under their neck to hold the wrist. That traps their arm uncomfortably against their neck, and also gives you a lot of control, particularly from technical mount.

Dean shows in his practical application how this control lends itself to armbars, running through that submission against a variety of training partners. It is also powerful from guard, where Dean uses the grip to aid in a sweep. As you can maintain that grip throughout, it will put you in mount, where you can use the techniques Dean just demonstrated.

Finally, and to my surprise, Dean has a segment on the D'arce (slightly over a minute). I hadn't thought of that as a grip, but it does demonstrate a principle Dean wants to bring up at this point. He talks about "binding two limbs together at once," something integral to applying the D'arce effectively.

The next option on the title menu is Takedowns (05:06). This also signals a shift in presentation from multiple segments to one long chunk of instruction. However, that could be because this is a pre-release copy, meaning chapter headings may be incorporated later. Dean covers the options off the basic singe leg sequence, where you shoot, secure their leg, then stand up, with their leg now trapped between both of yours.

no gi essentials roy deanThis also begins another trend, and a very welcome one at that: covering 'what if' scenarios. Dean shows you what to do with that leg once you've trapped it, but also how to respond if they circle their leg outside or inside. Interestingly, Roy Dean also draws upon his judo black belt knowledge, rather than just wrestling. He details the execution of classic throws like the uchimata and harai goshi in a nogi environment, as well as how to switch from one to the other.

nogi essentials roy deanDean's next lesson is on the Armdrag (06:24). He states that the best way to learn the principles of the armdrag is from the standing variation. 'Wax off' to circle around their arm, pull them in, while simultaneously stepping back them. Dean also notes that you need to push their hips forward, as otherwise they could potentially throw you over their shoulder. If you don't want to go to their back, you can also reach down to their heel, then take them down by driving forwards.

You can apply an armdrag from the knees, baiting them by leaving your shoulder slightly forwards. Though this is a no gi DVD, Dean does occasionally point out adjustments required for gi, such as here. If you're wearing a gi, their grip in this situation can cause you problems, so timing the movement correctly is essential to your success. Dean makes certain that he provides you with as much help as possible, with plenty of details.

The two-on-one grip on the wrist from earlier is also pushed further, to its main application, an armbar to the back from guard. Again, Roy Dean goes through a lot of 'what if' situations, telling you what to do if they post their arm and block the movement, if they try to bring their knee to pass, if you don't quite make it and end up back in guard, among others. The coverage is thorough.

That section is followed by an exploration of the Kimura (10:37), a fundamental submission. After running through the basic application, where he also adds that he prefers thumb on top out of preference, things get more complex. There are numerous follow-up submissions, such as a pressing armbar, and the kimura also combines with sweeps. The sit-up sweep is a particularly good fit, as even if they block that sweep by basing out with an arm, you can shift into triangles and armbars.

no-gi essentials roy deanDean has some other interesting options involving the kimura in more defensive situations. First, he shows how you could grab their wrist as they pass your guard. If you time it right and have the proper grip, you can then circle their arm up and over, then roll them right into side control, where you can apply your own submission. However, Dean notes that this does depend on them looking towards your knees.

Finally, there was a method for defending the kimura to move into your own attack. As they go for the lock, put your hand between their legs, fingers pointing towards you. That makes it possible to shift your weight back, whereupon you can jump over their legs, keep moving round to their head, and eventually spin into an armbar.

Another technique that fits with both the kimura and the sit-up sweep is the Guillotine (08:14). As before, this starts off basic, with Dean showing a common error beginners make when trying to apply the guillotine. It is a slight adjustment that makes all the difference: Dean feels it is important to get this submission in your arsenal. That's because he treats the guillotine like a jab in boxing, something you should always be threatening in order to keep your opponent under pressure, hopefully leading to an error on their part.

nogi essentials roy deanYou don't necessarily need both arms to get the tap, as Dean shows in his next technique. He simply gets his thumb by their throat, puts his elbow back and expands his chest to effect the tap. I would have thought it is tough to maintain control in that position, but certainly looks worth a try: I always find it hard to get both arms through.

If you have a guillotine locked on, but they pull away, Dean advises that you don't let go. Instead, follow them and push through to mount, still maintaining that hold, which could lead to a submission. This may not apply in no-gi, but I remember Kev mentioned that this can get you disqualified for neck cranking, so unless that isn't the case, I'd be wary when attempting to finish the guillotine from mount.

Dean moves on to a situation where your opponent has reached under your head from guard, then attempts to stack you. That's a mistake, as you can sweep them, by trapping that arm against your head, similar to when the same thing happens under mount. There are further details on finishing the guillotine if they're trying to stack out of it, which then progresses to pointers on the turtle position.

no gi essentials roy deanDean shows how to guillotine them from a front headlock when they're on their knees, though he notes that it takes experience to get the timing right. Usefully, he then explains the most efficient way to spin to their back. Rather than flinging yourself right over, as I've tended to try in the past, you simply put your knee by their armpit, then turn inwards. That is a much quicker route, potentially resulting in a rear naked choke.

Roy Dean finishes his first DVD with what I think is the highlight of the whole set: Rolling Analysis, which comes in three parts. First up is a woman, Karen, in a six minute roll with Dean. This is wonderful, as not only does it showcase female BJJ, but Dean provides an in-depth commentary, with frequent slow motion replays to illustrate what is talking about. It also exemplifies what he said on Purple Belt Requirements, about letting junior belts into your game. Karen taps Dean several times, proving he is an instructor who cares more about his students than his ego (though he does mention it was a 'warm-up' roll, rather than a full-on contest).

The two other rolls are seven and a half minutes with Jeff, a senior blue belt, and finally seven minutes against TJ, a purple belt. That high rank also means this is the most competitive roll, and it is also a treat for anybody who has been watching Roy Dean DVDs for a while. TJ is the main uke in most of the DVDs, so it's cool to see him in action, rather than just on the receiving end of a demonstration.

no gi essentials roy deanSparring and competition footage is always welcome, but the inclusion of detailed commentary and slow-motion makes this a superlative addition to No Gi Essentials. That also means that as you progress in your training, you'll be able to keep coming back to these three rolls and get more out of them, due to increased understanding. In other words, good sparring footage never stops being useful: on the contrary, it actually becomes more useful over time.

The second DVD begins with a section called Guard Options (07:45), once again starting with something directly suited to somebody brand new to the sport. While they will soon get out of the habit, beginners often do things like grabbing your neck from within your guard. The reason they stop is because, as Roy explains here, extending your arms like that is actually to be submitted. Reach under their leg, swivel, and take the armbar.

no gi essentials roy deanThe same is true if they drive their forearm into your neck: again, you can take that armbar and move into a submission. This very usefully leads into an explanation of dealing with getting stacked. Dean advises pushing on their thigh, spinning out from underneath and taking the armbar off to the side.

If your opponent is inexperienced, as is quite possible if you're a beginner, there is the chance for techniques like the double armbar. Anyone who has been rolling more than a couple of months is highly unlikely to get caught with this, but it can happen. If that doesn't work, then you can still throw your legs up by their shoulders and threaten an armbar. They'll probably pull the arm out, but that just means you switch to a triangle.

Along with the various armbars, Dean includes the omoplata from a basic set-up, as well as a number of options from the overhook, especially important in no-gi due to the lack of fabric to grip. Continuing the beginner theme, there is also a defence to the can opener, which again is basically swivelling and armbarring them, or moving into a sweep.

Mount Options (07:18) is initially a little confusing, as it starts with Dean already in side control with a tight gable grip under their head and far arm. However, it soon transpires that he is going to demonstrate how to transition from side control to mount. Again, it could be that there will be a chapter heading here in the commercial release, which would inform the viewer of the upcoming technique.

Using that close control, Dean first shifts into mount, then continues walking his hand up towards their head. That sets him up for an armbar, progressing through the basic s-mount set up you'll be taught in most jiu jitsu schools (if you'd like an example, I've seen it a number of times in Kev's class).

nogi essentials roy deanFrom the same position, you can also attempt a head-and-arm choke, or if they try to spin out, shift to a rear naked choke. Dean goes on to show the fundamental spinning armbar, from the beginner situation of somebody pushing up into your chest. If they only push with one arm rather than both, you can attack that arm. You can choose whether to hyperextend the elbow belly-down, facing sideways, or lift their foot to roll them into an armbar from mount.

Sidemount Escapes (09:34) is something I always look forward to, and I was especially interested to see how it compares to the explanations on Dean's earlier Blue Belt Requirements. As you'd expect, there are many similarities, with descriptions of the orthodox bridge and shrimp to guard almost exactly the same, which is also true for going to your knees in order to escape.

no-gi essentials roy deanHowever, Dean adds on some extra details in No Gi Essentials. While the bridge and shrimp is simple, Dean also runs through a more advanced sequence. He first moves into butterfly guard, sweeps them into mount, then takes the mounted triangle from there. Dean later provides more details on dealing with an opponent who sprawls when you go to your knees, scuppering your attempt to take them down.

If their sprawl is fairly narrow, you can still step up the outside leg and progress with the takedown. However, if the sprawl is wide, you need to hook their same side leg with your own to initiate your takedown. Should they manage to step free of that as well, Dean shows how you can roll into a kneebar.

Dean includes scarf hold as a part of side control. First he shows the most simple escape, where you bring your trapped elbow to the floor, shrug your shoulders to pop your head free, then move to the back. In the event that isn't successful, Dean explains how you can push on their rear arm with both of yours. You can keep on pushing, sitting up, until eventually you drive them to the floor, coming up on top.

It is likely they will resist, swinging their arm over and transitioning to side control. To prevent that, switch your hands, pushing on the outside rather than the crook of their elbow. As before, keep pushing, and you should be able to move into a scarf hold of your own. If you aren't able to roll them, you may still have a chance to come to your knees, taking them down in the usual fashion.

To close that section, Dean reiterates that it is better to prevent them getting to side control in the first place. To do so, you use a similar principle to the scarf hold escape, pushing their arm to prevent them establishing side control. This is something Damian Maia also covers in his DVD.

no gi essentials roy deanOpening the Guard (07:22) begins with a segment on 'baiting your opponent'. This makes perfect sense to me, as while I don't often intentionally bait somebody to open their guard, I will frequently wait for them to attack before beginning my pass. The triangle is one option your opponent will be looking for, so that naturally lends itself to a discussion of the infamous Gracie Gift pass.

This was first taught by Rorion Gracie on the original BJJ instructional from 1991, Gracie Jiu Jitsu Basics. Due to having one arm in and one arm out, this pass presents your partner with a golden opportunity for a triangle. As a result, it became known as the 'Gracie Gift'. The main problem with Rorion's method was that he didn't even mention the danger of being triangled, instead happily giving up his inside arm, reaching for Royce's bicep.

Almost twenty years later, Roy Dean is able to revisit the technique and demonstrate a much safer strategy. The key detail is keeping your elbow back, rather than extending the arm forwards like Rorion. If your elbow is tucked on the inside of their leg, then if you reach back and they try for a triangle, it is much easier to defend. That means you can secure their leg, press your weight forwards and slide through into side control.

You can also bait the armbar, using the very same techniques Dean referred to as mistakes in guard options, such as pressing your forearm into their throat. However, with greater experience, you can use that to tempt your opponent to open their guard, clamping your hand on the back of their knee before they can swing it into position. If they sense you're about to pass and try to bring their leg back, make sure your knee comes up, preventing them from reclosing their guard.

A safer method is to stand up. Should they keep their guard closed and follow you up, push on their knee and shake, using gravity to open their legs and drop them back to the floor. They may realise that risk, and pre-empt you, opening their guard and returning to a standing position. If that happens, Dean shows how you'll need to throw them before they try a takedown of their own.

After an exploration of the double underhooks pass, Dean looks into your options if they're about to catch you in a triangle. The key here is to immobilise their second leg: if they can't bring that up to lock their ankles, they can't complete the triangle. Dean mentions that it can be a risky move, but if you maintain control of that other leg, it is possible to drive forward and spin to side control. You can even attempt a kneebar from there, if you manage to put them in the right position.

Lower body submissions continue for the next two sections, starting with Leglock Techniques (06:33). Dean opens with a straight footlock, noting that many people make the mistake of gripping too high. Usefully, there is a close up at this point, which makes the arm positioning absolutely clear. If that straight footlock isn't working, then by switching your arms, you can try an Achilles lock instead.

After covering some entries, Dean moves onto heel hooks. This always makes me uncomfortable, as that is not something I would want beginners to ever try in class, especially as it is banned under many rule sets. However, it is in keeping with Dean's lineage under Roy Harris, who has long advocated the use of leglocks. Dean does warn the viewer that it is a very powerful submission which requires care, but I almost wish there was red flashing text. I'd like to keep my knees intact, safe from over-eager beginners. ;)

no gi essentials roy deanLeg Combinations (06:34) is a continuation, beginning with a defence to the straight footlock. Straighten your foot, turn it slightly to the side, then bounce over their foot, sitting up and pushing their knee underneath you. Should they insist on holding the footlock, you can move into an armbar: they no longer have the position for a submission.

The counter to that defence is to insert your knee in between their legs after they bounce over, then attack the other foot. Of course, they can do exactly the same thing again in the other direction, as can you. This brings up one of the reason some people dislike leglocks, as it turns into a battle of attrition, rolling over in a very repetitive cycle of attack and defence.

That brings the technical portion of the DVD to an end. The next option on the menu is No Gi Essentials (01:12), very similar to the welcome from the first DVD, as it is a brief collection of no gi footage set to music. Demonstrations leads to a sub-menu containing a further five options, where the old 'Discover Who You Are' text is reinstated at the end of each video. The first of these is Subleague (04:00), showcasing a number of Roy Dean Academy students performing well in a 2009 competition. There is no commentary this time, just music.

That is followed by Flow Roll (01:54), which appears to be an extract from Jimmy Da Silva's brown belt demonstration, as I recognise a few of the sequences. Nevertheless, like that demonstration, it is a beautiful display of technique. The same is true of Brodeur Purple (09:40). Having already seen his sparring, you now get to see TJ en route to the purple belt. As with all Roy Dean Academy belt demonstrations, it is up on YouTube, but this DVD version boasts much better picture and audio quality. The DVD finishes with two trailers, for Blue Belt Requirements (03:49) and Purple Belt Requirements (01:02).

This is definitely a step above Blue Belt Requirements, so brand-new white belts need to control themselves if they pick up this DVD. The opening sections are easily digested by everyone, with the absolute basics of bridging, shrimping and weight distribution, along with the main grips required for no-gi.

After that, things begin to get a little more advanced, with combination attacks, sweeps and escapes. There are also a few dangerous techniques included, such as heel hooks, which should never be attempted by somebody who lacks considerable mat time.

Nevertheless, it would be a much, much better idea for beginners looking to improve their no-gi to pick up this set, rather than something like Mastering the Rubber Guard. That is not to say that Bravo's products are bad, but they are best suited to experienced grapplers. This new offering by Roy Dean has much broader appeal, ranging from white to blue belts, possibly even purples and above (I'm not qualified to judge, as a mere blue myself).

No Gi Essentials is a good choice for beginners, though absolute beginners should purchase Blue Belt Requirements first, leaving this until a little later. There is a lot of material, and thanks to fantastic inclusions like the in-depth sparring commentary, you can keep coming back to No Gi Essentials, picking up more details as you grow in the sport.


  1. Awesome review!!
    I must admit, I bought Eddie Bravo's Jiu-Jitsu Unleashed book many years ago and it has single handedly put me off no-gi. I just didn't get it. An instructional aimed at (what I consider myself to be) a no-gi beginner is perfect. Roy had better bring some over, and some rash guards too.

  2. I had already orderd this DVD, as soon as it became available for pre order. I figured it would be at least as good as Roy's other instuctionals!

    But thanks for your in depth review, it is much appreciated. I'm so glad I've ordered it :-)

    @Meerkatsu: I have Jiu-Jitsu Unleashed, but I had over a year's experience in no-gi by the time I read it. It would have been no use to me in the beginning. As we are doing a little bit of rubberguard stuff at the moment, I sometimes use it to clarify things. But as a first or primary no-gi reference, I wouldn't recommend it.

    Can't wait got get No-Gi Essentials!!

  3. Yeah, Jiu Jitsu Unleashed had a lot of flaws, something I believe Bravo has admitted himself. I should clarify that I do think his later Mastering the Rubber Guard is a good book, just not suitable for beginners.

    For beginners, No Gi Essentials is now the place to go, though not absolute beginners (but then, I don't think absolute beginners should be bothering with instructionals at all until they've got at least a few months of mat time. They're not going to get much out of DVDs, books, online resources etc until then).

  4. On the strength of the first few paragraphs from this review I just ordered the set for the gym.

  5. great review as always. Ordered.

  6. Another great review that's going to set me back nearly 50 dollars! :D

  7. Great review. Many thanks.