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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

06 February 2011

06/02/2011 - RGA Aylesbury Drilling/Open Mat

[I'm off to Malta on the 13th, and won't be back until the 24th, so this will be my last post for a while. I had intended to train with a local club out in Malta, but unfortunately that knee injury means I can't.]

Class #377
RGA Aylesbury, (BJJ), Kev Capel, Aylesbury, UK - 06/02/2011

I'm not too comfortable with advertising myself through self-promotion: normally, I'll link back to stuff I've written in the context of a thread reply, rather than start a new topic purely to tell people to go look at something I've done. However, I know that there are a least a few fellow bloggers who are much less reticent about doing that. So, you guys may want to check out the Reddit subsite for BJJ.

If you aren't familiar with Reddit, it is a system for sticking up stuff you want to share, be that links, videos, questions, or just your thoughts on something. There are sub-divisions by interest, and the one for BJJ has grown pretty large (around 900 people posting) since I first noticed it (through my blog stats: I tend to follow up any links to my site I don't recognise). For people who are reading rather than writing, it's also a useful place to check out videos, questions etc. Sort of like a forum, but not quite.

Getting back to training, I really like Kev's drilling/open mat set up. It's an excellent way to make certain that people don't waste their open mat time due to having no plan of what to practice, or chatting the whole time. That's because the first hour is instructor-led drilling, beginning with a useful warm-up where you shrimp forwards, then across, then back, then across the other way. My leg can't handle forwards and backwards shrimping, but going side-to-side is fine: also a good work out for your core.

Kev moved into a double leg takedown drill, where you take it in turns to shoot in and lift your partner, then run or walk to the other end of the mat as they dangle over your shoulder (so basically like Matt Hughes in various MMA fights). I definitely wasn't going to be picking anyone up with my knee, but I could at least be useful as a weight for somebody to lift.

I'm small, so that meant that another guy who was injured (in his shoulder rather than knee) could get some training in that way, as he is much bigger so I was no problem for him to pick up. After he ran with me up and down the mat, I practiced shooting in the double (very carefully, given the knee).

Next up was drilling the armbar from mount, swivelling from side to side. That was relatively ok for my knee, though I had to do it slowly and with control. That dogleg position in s-mount does put some torsion on the knee, but it seemed ok if I didn't do it really fast and put lots of weight on it.

Knee problems also ruled out most of the following drill, which was annoying as it is something I would have liked to practice more. Again it is from the armbar from mount, but this time, they are defending, so you are struggling to yank their arm free. Instead of straining, you can simply switch to the other arm. Reach under, then bring your knees into a sort of crouch (i.e., rather than one knee up and the other in a dogleg position under their arm, the soles or both feet are now on the ground.

From there, switch to the exact same s-mount position, but on the other side. Apparently, there is a silat drill that is good for honing your transition if you don't have a partner, which Kev demonstrated. I didn't see a video on YouTube (mainly because I don't know the name of the drill: presumably there is some funky silat name for it, if anybody recognises this?), but you start on the floor, one leg bent in front of you, with the sole of your foot pointing at your other knee and upper leg.

Sort of like a hurdlers stretch, but with the other leg bent as well. Your other leg will also be bent, but the heel of that foot will be by your hip. You then rotate your legs to come up into a crouch, and finish by continuing the rotation of your legs, to end up in the reverse of your starting position.

The last drill was another transition, but this time from mount to knee on belly. If they try to upa and turn, your leg in the direction they aren't turning will swivel around, so that you bring your foot from the mat to their opposite hip. The leg in the direction they are turning steps out for base, putting you in knee on belly. The drill continued with them shrimping away from your knee, which you counter by sliding through into scarf hold. Switch to side control, reverse scarf hold (so facing their legs), then bring your leg over or slide your knee through to return to mount.

That finished off the taught drilling, leaving an hour of open mat. I couldn't spar, but even if I could I would still have wanted to get in some more drilling on that overhook choke I've been working. Fortunately for me, Kev is awesome, so when I asked him if he would mind drilling it with me, I ended up getting a great mini-private.

This centred around the second grip, which I now suspect may be the root of my problems landing this submission in sparring. After you've got the overhook and reached through for their collar, use that grip to also slide your other thumb up towards their head. This will also provide you with control, as you can pull their head down, as well as the opportunity to continue tightening that first grip.

Crush their collar in your second hand, to get a strong grip, fingers pressing into your palm through their gi. You hand is not going to move from this position. Move your body to the side a little, bringing your knees up their back to pinch together. The arm of your second hand needs to circle over their head, without moving your hand. Straighten that arm, so that their is a firm line to your hand: you shouldn't have your hand curved in either direction. To get that straight line, you may need to turn your knuckles towards you.

If you need to straighten your wrist from a bent position, don’t move your hand. Instead, press against their head to make the space. You can then finish the choke as usual, elbow into their chest. Throughout all of this, don't forget about your first grip: that also needs to stay tight.

You can also get the choke by grabbing fabric instead of the thumb grip and circling your hand over. Alternatively, you could grab material on the opposite side, and get the choke from there: looking at three DVDs that feature this choke, I notice that Roy Dean, Matt Thornton and Xande Ribeiro all go for that option (which works well if you want to choke across the throat and flare your elbow, which is what it looks like Thornton is doing). However, drilling the variations and having them done to me, Kev's method seemed to suit me better, as I found I could get a tighter choke that way (though the grip is a lot more difficult to establish, at least if you have weedy hands like me).

After that, I had a brief chat with Kev about grips. I've mentioned before how Chiu told me that he doesn't use spider guard much these days, because the grips knacker his fingers too much. However, Kev mentioned an easy solution to avoid getting to that stage: learn when to release the grip, and either immediately re-grip, or use it to attack.

For example, if they are yanking away to free themselves from spider guard, letting go may set you up for a triangle by putting their arm out of the way. If you've grabbed the inside of their trouser leg to pass the open guard and they are bashing away at your fingers to break the grip, there is a point where it makes sense to let go and re-grip, rather than accepting the potential damage to your fingers.

So, I'll finish with a Julia style closing question related to that: do you try and mollycoddle your fingers like me, or do you rely on your grips of steel and laugh at your opponent's puny attempts to break free? ;)


  1. I've had too many finger injuries that interferred with my training for too long... as soon as you start smashing my fingers I'm going to let go. But then I'm going to be looking for something painful to do to you in revenge.

  2. @Kitsune: Heh - sounds ominous! Do you use a lot of grips, out of interest? As much as I've been wary of getting into spider guard, I can't help myself. That lasso grip is just too controlling, so I almost always slip into using it from open guard.

    Anything that slows the game down makes me happy (spider guard lasso, overhook from guard, reverse De La Riva, step-over triangle from side control, running escape posture, grapevine mount etc).

  3. The question posed makes it seem like "grips of steel" magically appear fully formed and ready to go.

    Romulo Barral says that the best way to build up a Barral-like insanely strong grip for spider guard is to keep gripping and playing spider guard.

    I think quite a few people have trouble noticing how their grip strength is progressing. It's not something that "clicks" like a sweet pass or nifty sweep. Grips come with time and training and thus it's hard to recognize that progress is being made (or lack of progress).

    Hang in there. Literally.

    This has inspired me to go get my buddy's Captain Crush #1 and start squeezing away, though.

  4. @Tree Frog: Heh - as you may or may not know, I've had the pleasure of asking Romulo that very question in person. Well ok, via Skype, but that doesn't sound as good. ;p

    Just to clarify, Kev wasn't saying you shouldn't work on grip strength, but that thinking long term, you should put some thought into when to release and re-grip, or release as a set-up to something else.

    Naturally I'm simplifying the question in the hope of generating more responses, but your point is well taken. I definitely want to improve my grip strength (as I like spider guard, along with various other guards that involve plenty of gripping), but I don't want to rely on it. :)

  5. Hey! Thanks for the tip on Tatsuya...I'm liking his stuff.

  6. Cool, glad to be of help. If you end up getting the DVD, I'll be interested to hear what you think, especially if it is worth it for a non-Japanese speaker.

    My anime-Japanese doesn't stretch that far: just stuff like 'nii-san' and that k noise they make for 'dammit'. ;)

  7. I go for the grips of steel approach, but i would'nt be much of conditioning coach if I did,nt, gi pullups, plate pinches and heavy dumbell holds are the order of the day

  8. I'm far too lazy for any kind of proper conditioning program, but I would like to do gi pull-ups for my grip.

    I may have dreamt this, but my gf was musing about installing a pull-up bar when she bought a house. That would be very awesome, although she'd be worried about it damaging the ceiling/doorframe or wherever we put it.

    Unless it was a dream, in which case I could probably fly and shoot lasers out of my eyes anyway, so moot point. ;p