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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

15 April 2010

15/04/2010 - BJJ (Private Lesson)

Class #303 - Private #001
RGA High Wycombe, (BJJ), Kev Capel, High Wycombe, UK - 15/04/2010

Private lessons are not something I've considered up until now. Previously, I always felt I got enough out of the group classes, as my game wasn't sufficiently advanced to get any benefit out of a whole hour one-to-one with an instructor. However, there are several areas in my BJJ that have sucked for a long time, so I'd really like to try and overcome those deficiencies. Now seemed like a good time to work on the biggest: opening and passing the guard. Each of those are large areas in themselves, so I wanted to focus on just opening the guard.

Things kicked off with a brief point on reaching a safety position in the guard. If they pull you forward, bring your elbows to the inside of your knees, clamping both against their hips. This should kill their mobility, enabling you to recover your posture.

Kev then focused on three techniques for the private, which is good, as I was keen to go for depth rather than breadth. We started with the twisting guard break, something I've been trying to develop for a long time now. Kev provided a number of further details, as well as refining what I'd been doing in the past.

Begin by grabbing both collars with one hand, then twisting so your knuckles are pointing towards their head. Kev likes to have a finger in between the collars, something he was shown by Marc Walder. You should position your hand in the middle of their chest: this will prevent them from sitting up. If you hold lower than that, it is possible for them to curl around that hold. As a general principle, you also want your knees squeezed into their hips, to reduce their mobility.

Your other hand presses on their belt, on the hip. Either grasp the belt or simply push down on that area. Lean to that hip side, in order to help you step up your other foot, on the collar grabbing arm side. Put your foot right by their same side hip, turning the knee inwards to increase the pressure on their ankles.

As soon as that knee is up, it's essential that the elbow of the collar gripping arm locks to the inside. This is something I wasn't doing before, and it makes a big difference. Not only does this elbow and knee 'connect' (as Saulo might call it, and he does indeed do something comparable on his DVD) mean you have a strong frame, but it is also tougher for you partner to harvest that arm for attacks.

Come up on the other foot, twisting into a sort of horse stance. You'll necessarily be leaning forward, but this isn't a problem as long as you keep your back straight and head up. Bring your hip hand back to push on their knee in order to break the guard. This becomes easier if you maintain that pressure with your own knee, by turning it towards them.

As this was a private lesson, that gave me the chance to do plenty of troubleshooting with Kev. The part where I've been getting stuck in sparring is if they manage to establish a collar grip. Kev demonstrated how this doesn't mean you should stop: if they are grabbing with the same arm as your hip hand, simply keep going (as long as they don't have a deep grip: otherwise, you'll need to loosen it first, such as by pressing on their arm and posturing up).

If they grab your collar on the side of the arm you're using to grip both of their collars, then release your grip, bring your arm over theirs, re-establishing the hold. This means you can now use that arm to press down on theirs while posturing up, which should loosen their grip, enabling you to continue with the technique.

Something else I've been doing is keeping that collar gripping arm out straight to keep them on the floor. This tends to make it vulnerable to attack, so either they start a submission, or I think they're about to and sit back down. Locking the elbow to the knee really helps with that, as I'm no longer overbalancing forwards, or worrying about attacks on my arm.

Another common problem is that they'll grab your foot, or somehow try to hook inside. This doesn't matter so much in terms of opening the guard, but it does come into play with the pass. As he showed in a class late last year, Kev likes to grab their knee, step his leg inside on the collar grip side, while on the other, he pulls their leg back and takes a big step forward.

If they grab your foot, it is difficult to step inside. Instead, you want to circle around their leg on that side, grabbing it with both hands. You can now pull up, driving your hip forwards, then slide down and move into side control, using lots of pressure.

The next technique for opening the guard is something Kev simply referred to as 'Roger's technique', in the same way that the previous option is something he saw Carlinhos teach. It begins the same, with your knees squeezed into their hips and a double collar grab. However, this time you aren't just going to push on their belt by the hip. Instead, hold their same sleeve, then press that into their hip. You also want to tuck your elbow by their thigh.

Kev suggested you first make a 'pocket' with your thumb, then grab that with your fingers. You can put your thumb either on top or below: he often puts it on top, out of habit to make certain there is no chance a referee could complain about fingers inside of sleeve cuffs. In terms of the grip strength, it isn't that big a deal.

At this point, Kev warned against ever taking a cross-grip when in somebody's guard. I hadn't realised that was dangerous, and I realise now that having done it a few times, it was putting me in danger of getting submitted. Kev showed how that grip means you're basically giving them an armbar.

Having got that sleeve secured, stand up with the same side leg. If you step up with the opposite leg, they're liable to move into an omoplata, as Kev demonstrated. Once you're up, you can let go of your collar grip and stand up straight (maintaining that sleeve grip throughout). Gravity should be making their guard a lot tougher to retain. Finally, splay your hand (Kev said Roger called this 'making your hand big') and press the inside of their knee.

This will create tension on their ankles, and if that doesn't open the guard, you can also step back and push. Kev mentioned that he tends to stand square when doing this guard break. The only danger is the double ankle grab sweep, which they can't do as you have their sleeve. For any other attack, they'll have to open their guard, which is exactly what you want them to do. Once the guard is open, you can use a leg pin pass.

Sometimes an opponent will sit up with you, clinging onto the guard in midair, holding your collar. This isn't a major problem, as you just need to loosen that grip. Use the same tactic from earlier, bringing your collar grip arm over the top and press down.

Kev also gave some more general advice, about sticking with a technique. My passivity is of course a problem here, so I need to make sure that I push through when I try something. Not aggression of course (after all, I'm not keen on aggression), but conviction. Kev also said that you shouldn't get put off by thinking "oh, but what if they do this? Or this? Or maybe that?" Have faith in the technique.

The third technique was a pass, specifically for when they have pre-emptively opened their guard before you can. This can happen when standing, or with a knowledgeable opponent who can feel when you're about to open their guard. If that happens, Kev suggested I should immediately step backwards, holding their knee. At the same time, you want to shove their other knee to the floor and take a big step over the top of it.

You can then drop your hip into them, moving past that leg. You're still holding it with your hand, which should enable you to get your legs past before releasing. Your other hand will secure an underhook, sliding into side control. If you instead go to half guard, trapping their leg with yours, you can turn to face away from them, dropping your weight down next to them. Use your other knee as a wedge against theirs, freeing your first leg and passing.

If they underhook as you're moving around, drop your weight into them, scooting back to trap their wrist, then continue. Also, quite often when you try to step back and pass, they may well be able to get a shin across to block you: Callum does this all the time. I think it's what gets referred to as 'z-guard', due to the positioning looking a little like a 'z'. Collapse your weight onto that top knee, while your same side hand reaches over their back (not too high though).

You can now either gradually move through and continue the pass, or alternatively, go in the other direction. You'll use your outside leg to hook their bottom foot, holding it in place. Shift your body around their top knee and foot, then simply backstep to pass to their back.

Finally, at the end of the beginner lesson which followed (when I asked to quickly go through the three techniques from the private), Kev mentioned that your hand on the hip can come in handy if they open their guard. You can use it to push them down and prevent them from swivelling into an attack before you can initiate your pass.

So, main points I want to remember are connecting the elbow to the knee, moving back and stepping over their leg when they open, and following through on techniques.

We did lots of drilling, which was really helpful. I guess I could have asked to spar, but for the purposes of this private, I wanted to go into detail on opening the guard. If I ever did another private, it would be quite interesting to start off with a spar, then ask the instructor advice on fixing flaws. Then again, that could be a bit unfocused, so it seems to make more sense to come in with a clear idea of something you want to work on, as I did for this lesson.

I'm not sure when and if I'll take another private. I enjoyed this one, and felt I got a lot of good tips from Kev, but not all instructors are as approachable. I tend to be quite introverted, so it can take me a while to feel comfortable with people, especially in a student/teacher environment. If I'm able to develop that kind of relationship with an instructor again, then private lessons might come into the picture, though that also depends on cash.

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