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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a brown belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©2004-2016 Can Sönmez

31 May 2011

31/05/2011 - Gracie Barra Bristol

Class #401
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Miles Pearson, Bristol, UK - 31/05/2011

A carpenter is coming at 8am tomorrow morning, which meant that tonight was going to be my first night spent sleeping at the new house. We don't have any curtains up yet, so that meant I'd have a natural alarm clock. We also don't have a bed, so I was using an air bed (which has a really, really loud electrical thing to blow it up: I felt too bad for the neighbours to actually wait for the damn thing to finish, so just made do with something half-inflated). Then of course there was the biggest drawback, which is that I wouldn't be able to see my gf in the evening, or wake up with her the next morning.

Despite those discomforts, there was still a big plus. Staying overnight meant that, at last, I didn't have to rush off to jump on a bike and cycle the forty minutes or so back to Downend. Instead, I only had a seven minute walk around the corner. So, I could finally stay a bit later to get in some more sparring, and even more valuable, pick Geeza's brain.

Before that, however, there was of course Miles' class. He takes a different approach to me, as the techniques are a little more complex, with a greater focus on submissions. Last time I popped down to a Tuesday, it was the gift wrap and various attacks. This week, Miles wanted to cover the crucifix position, followed again by a number of submissions.

First, you have to get there. To transition to the crucifix, Miles had us enter against them turtling. You're on their side, looking to dig your knee inside. Pull back on their collar to make a little space, then insert your near knee. With your other leg, step over their near arm, then drag it back over your other arm, triangling your legs.

Reach through with your far arm, to thread inside their far arm and grab their wrist. Bring that towards their body to stop them using it to post. Push off your feet, then roll over your shoulder, moving over their body. You should end up on your back, with them perpendicular to you. One of their arms will be trapped by your triangled legs, while you have the other wrapped. Secure it by bringing your hand to the back of your head, as if you were combing your hair.

From here, you can effect a choke. With your free arm, reach over for their far collar and get a deep grip. Twist your wrist up and raise your hips, in order to press into their neck for the choke. You're aiming to squeeze both sides of their neck here, so your arm needs to also be pressing into their neck. It is possible you can choke them by just pressing into their windpipe, but that's less efficient than cutting off their blood flow.

If they're sufficiently strong to break their arm free of your arm wrap, they will probably pull on their collar or otherwise remove your grip. You can still get a choke, by simply reaching a bit further, past their collar and to the shoulder. The point of your elbow should now be just under their chin. You'll probably need to roll towards them and onto your side to reach in deep enough.

Create a backstop by gable gripping your other hand (so, palm to palm). Also keep your head in close to theirs, as with a rear naked choke. If this was a rear naked choke, you'd finish by expanding your chest and squeezing. That isn't convenient from this position, so instead, roll away from them slightly to pull them up onto your hips to increase your leverage, then bridge.

Finally, you could go for a shoulder submission off a triangle. From the crucifix, press on the side of their head with your arm, so that you can step your leg over their head. Put that foot into their far armpit, then lock the triangle. It is unlikely you'll be able to actually submit them with just that, so it is more of a controlling hold. The submission will come from bringing your other arm over their near armpit, then bridging up and twisting to apply pressure to their shoulder.

Miles left plenty of time to fit in a good bit of free sparring. I started with Monica, who had been my drilling partner today: it was good to see her in class again, as that hopefully means she will become a regular. I look forward to the day we reach a critical mass of women at GB Bristol, so that other women are encouraged to join, especially once the women progress to higher ranks.

Monica mentioned yesterday she'd done a few months of BJJ in the past, which is possibly why it turned out her ability to maintain side control was pretty good. She was able to generate a decent bit of pressure, without leaving much space for me to escape. Good stuff. She also reacted well to my attempts to recover guard, quickly moving around to pass and re-establish side control.

I then went with Luke, who as always maintained a relaxed, technical pace. I was looking for the spider guard sweep again, without much luck. I can't remember how I got there, but at some point I ended up on top in north south looking for an attack. The opportunity to work on my offence is one of the nicest things about a relaxed roll, although on the other hand, I'm not sure if that means I'm taking advantage of somebody's kindness. I guess it depends on if you go nuts with the attack, rather than keeping it steady and gradual.

Geeza was up next, who made a quick point about side control maintenance before we got going (something he wanted to mention after my class a couple of weeks ago, but as usual I had to leave early). In short, it is important to be aware that you need different types of control for different types of escape: although you might block their guard recovery, that could open up an opportunity for them to go to their knees. You need to be aware of both.

The roll itself led on from that, as Geeza asked to start under side control so he could take a look at my game from top side control. Naturally he was taking it easy as a result, so I tried to move around to north south, seeing if I could isolate an arm (I tend to go for the kimura from north south). At another point, I went to the step-over triangle, then again looked to see if I could get hold of an arm. I wasn't able to isolate the non-triangled arm, so attempted to switch to pushing on the trapped arm instead, going for a bent armlock by bending it over my hips. Something I need to keep in mind, as I haven't tried it much from that triangle position.

Finally, I had a roll with Oli, seeing if I could go for the spider guard attack. I also wanted to keep in mind more basic open guard options, like the tripod sweep. For once, I remembered to switch to the sickle sweep if I couldn't get the tripod, but didn't drive my hips through properly. That meant I ended up in a crappy pseudo-mount, which was soon reversed, putting me back under guard.

Class finished, but because I could stay late, that meant I was able to hang around and chat, as well as get in some more sparring with Geeza. As with previous rolls, he tried to work my passing game, going to his back and inviting me to try and get past. Also as with previous rolls, I flopped to my back at the first opportunity, then played defence. This is a bad habit, which I find I particularly do with instructors who are looking to help my game. Rather counterproductive on my part.

Unsurprisingly, Geeza finished up with the sensible advice I've also had (among others) from Kev and Nick Brooks: my defence is ok, so now I need to really focus in on going for some kind of attack. My intention pretty much since I started has been to develop a good defence so that I can take risks with my offence. I’ll throw in a quote, in case anyone still hasn’t read the best thread ever (which you really, really should). This is what I’ve been aiming for:

JohnnyS: We had John Will teaching us on Monday which is always enlightening. Before class we (the brown belts and myself) had a private with John and he recommended we work on our defence. He said the number one way to work on your confidence is to work your defence. When you are certain that no-one can tap you, what do you have to fear? You can work any attack you want because if you stuff it up, you don't have to fear being caught in a bad position.


From what several instructors have said, I've shifted more towards the negative side of that mindset, which is clamming up to avoid being submitted, rather than going for a submission of my own. Rolling not to tap is only going to lead to stagnation. I've been trying to avoid doing that, but it definitely happens a lot with higher level sparring partners. Something I need to stop: perhaps if I keep saying it on my blog enough, it will finally sink into my thick skull. ;)

Geeza also had some good tips on the basic guard break he showed yesterday, which I made sure to ask him about as I've been having problems with it for so long. He emphasised controlling the hips by pressing all your weight through the hand you have pressed into their hip. To get the guard open, aim to slide your own hip bone down their shin, making yourself too broad for them to keep their guard closed.

30 May 2011

30/05/2011 - Gracie Barra Fundamentals

Class #400
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai 'Geeza' Holt, Bristol, UK - 30/05/2011

Mondays start with Gracie Barra Fundamentals, so there is often some kind of self defence element. Tonight, that was how to enter a safe clinch, stepping to one side and slightly forward, then stepping around to their side. Hug around their hips, pressing the side of your head into their chest. Put your leg behind them slightly forward, pull their hips towards you, then using your head and leg, bend their body over your leg and down to the mat.

There was another woman in class tonight, which was great to see: it would be great to have a strong female presence at Gracie Barra Bristol, so hopefully the club will continue to build up the numbers. Monica was already wearing a Zero G gi, as she had done a few months of BJJ in the past. Brand new members tend to be in the Gracie Barra gi they get with membership (must review that gi at some point, after I've spent a bit longer training in it).

The main technique tonight was opening the closed guard. Geeza had us start from a weak position, so they have already managed to get a hold of your head and pull it down to their stomach. Put your knee in the middle of their bum, moving your other knee slightly to the side. That should give you the base to move your head out sideways, though it can be easier said than done if they have a really firm hold. Return to good posture, sitting upright, straight back, one arm grabbing both their collars, the other pressing into their hip.

To open the guard, it was the classic option from the knees. Again, put your knee in the middle of their bum, then step up with the other leg. Drive all your weight through the arm you have into their hips, so that they can't adjust in either direction: if they have the ability to move, they'll be able to hold on to their closed guard. The other arm is by their chest, but only engage that fully if they try to sit up.

From here, aim to slide your hip bone along their shin, turning so that you end up becoming too wide for their feet to remain locked. Push on their knee or leg, then eventually you should be able to shift their leg off yours, pushing it to the ground ready for your pass.

Of course, this is also much easier said than done: I've been trying unsuccessfully to pass from the knees for years. My continuing inability to get this technique was borne out by the brief progressive resistance Geeza added, where from that held down position, we were to try and escape our heads and pass. We only had thirty seconds: with Monica, I couldn't even get my head free. I was then with one of the teenagers, and though I could at least free my head, I still couldn't get the guard open. I was trying Saulo’s method of stepping back in a circle, but I’m still not pinning their hips enough to create a suitable point around which to pivot.

Unfortunately I had to leave before the following advanced class, so I'm not sure if there were further guard passing insights to be had. Something I'll have to ask Geeza, as I've wanted to work out this guard pass for a long time now, especially as I'm far happier going from the knees rather than standing (although on the other hand, that's also a bad habit, as I still need to be more confident standing up to open). Either way, teaching guard passing in a month or two should be an interesting and productive challenge.

Geeza also made an interesting point about the closed guard in general. He said that you don't want to be using closed guard too much in training, as it will eventually get opened, so you might as well get familiar with open guard. There's also the point that you'll normally need to open your guard in order to attack or sweep. Geeza suggested that only time you want to hold the closed guard is when you're setting something up, or if you're competing.

Lesson finished on a very good note for me. As we were walking out, Clayton mentioned that he had some success using the americana set-up I went through last Thursday, where you switch your base and lean back as they push into your neck, then twist back to drive their hand to the mat. Really cool to hear that a student was able to apply something I taught the day before. :D

26 May 2011

26/05/2011 - Teaching (Attacking Side Control)

Teaching #003
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 26/05/2011

I'm not big on submissions, but I wanted to make sure I taught a few. On the rare occasions I do manage to submit anybody, it will often be an americana from side control: I'm fond of that technique, as it is one over which you can exert lots of control. I also wanted to remind people of the previous lesson on side control escapes, so again had everyone quickly drill that ten times each (took a bit long, so I think I'll cut it down to five). I'll have to think of a maintaining side control drill that can be done quickly too.

Getting into the main technique, I wanted to show how to go for the americana from that strong, orthodox side control position I mentioned before. To start, you need to isolate their far arm. Often the set up is that they've pushed their forearm up towards you (which is why from an escape perspective, you don't want to be shoving up with your arm and trying to benchpress them).

Go with it a little, then turn back towards them, driving their arm to the mat with your bodyweight, head and hand. You can increase the power by switching your legs as you move back, then switching again as your return your weight towards them. Alternatively, you can simply turn your body slightly as they push, with the intention to get enough space to go for their wrist, then push it to the ground.

There are different arguments regarding gripping their wrist using your thumb or not. Some feel that having the thumb there provides better control, and that is the instinctive way of holding something. However, most BJJ instructors I've seen describe gripping for the americana advocate a thumbless grip, so that all of your fingers are over the other side of their arm.

That's the direction they want to escape, so that's where you want your strength. It also means you can really push down, rather than squashing your own thumb. Then there's the point Kev at RGA Bucks makes, which is that he feels the thumb can act as a lever for their escape.

Support your hand with your head if you're having trouble pushing their arm to the mat (Cindy Omatsu is showing it from mount in the picture, but same idea). Also be sure to keep their arm away from their body, so they can't grab their belt or gi. The aim is to put the arm at right angles. Another handy tip is to get your elbow into their neck. That means they can't turn towards you to relieve pressure on their shoulder and begin an escape.

Finish by 'painting' the floor with their knuckles, moving their hand towards their legs, lifting their elbow off the floor. You may need to adjust the angle of their arm, depending on how flexible they are. Make sure you don't give them space by their shoulder, or they can relieve the pressure and perhaps begin an escape.

I had everyone drill that for four minutes each as usual, before moving through what I call the Roy Dean lockflow, as he is the person who taught it to me during one of his seminars (it's also on his DVD, Purple Belt Requirements). A couple of blue belts there mentioned Lloyd Irvin calls it the mousetrap, so you might be familiar with it under that name.

If they start to slip their arm free from the americana, you don't want to simply go for the same thing again. It is of the utmost important that you combine techniques in BJJ, instead of viewing them in isolation. That goes for escapes as well as attacks. What I wanted to show was an example of that, using the americana as a starting point.

You also want to avoid meeting force with force if possible. So instead, as they slip out, go with it, letting them straighten it out. However, this sets you up for another attack, as you can get a pressing armbar from here. Slide your figure-four grip up their arm, so that you have one hand around their wrist, with one of your arms a little in front of their elbow. That means you've created a fulcrum, so you can press their wrist down to apply a jointlock.

Roy Harris, Dean's instructor, has a whole DVD on bent armlocks. For the transition to the straight/pressing armbar, he advises moving your weight forward, so your chest is over their elbow. Harris also puts his arm in the crook of his elbow, raising his other elbow off the ground to get the pressure. You may need to twist their wrist to get their thumb pointing up, in order to create the right leverage on their elbow.

Possibly they manage to slip out of that as well, meaning their arm begins to bend in the other direction. Don't worry, you can still keep attacking. Clamp their arm to your chin using your own arm, then switch your free arm. You can now apply the kimura. If you need extra leverage, turn to your side and base out.

For even more leverage, step over their head and lift them slightly off the floor. Keep in mind that if they slip free of that, you can go back to the pressing armbar and americana: hence why this is a lockflow, because it should be continuously available as long as you maintain control of the far arm.

Again, I had everyone drill that for four minutes each, then followed with two minutes of progressive resistance. I made sure to emphasise tapping and safety here, as we were dealing with submissions rather than the positional work I'd been doing the previous fortnight. I'm wondering if I could explain progressive resistance better, as some people were working their partners like I wanted, but others looked to be taking it fairly light.

Right now, I'm tending to try and encourage people at various points during the drill, like saying "make it difficult for them! Don't just give them the submission!" etc, but I don't know how effective that it. I guess people will eventually get the idea if they do it enough. The difficult thing is reaching that balance between a decent test of their application, but without going nut and effectively shifting into a sparring situation.

At this point, I probably should have just moved into specific sparring. However, I still had a transition from mount I wanted to teach, to give them another option, so asked people if they wanted more technique. They did, but perhaps I should have made the decision myself, as sparring ended up being somewhat brief as a result. I think I also overran a little at the end, which was silly of me given I was previously all pleased with myself for getting the lesson to start on time at seven.

Anyway, to transition from side control to mount, start by killing the near arm, as I discussed last week. Another thing to try, which I don't think I mentioned in class, is to switch your hips to get that elbow up, then switch back to trap it. However you trap it, as with maintaining, getting the near elbow out of the way is key to this particular method of transitioning to mount.

From tight side control, having killed the near arm, switch one arm to their far arm, putting the other hand to their near hip, then shift hips right back towards their head as far as you can. Your elbow is either in their far armpit or wrapped underneath for control. This position means you're also blocking their view with your entire body. Lean into them, using your body weight to help maintain control. This is reverse scarf hold.

That therefore stops them from seeing exactly what you're doing (note that when Saulo shows it on his DVD, he suggests you mess with them by slapping their legs, until you can pick your moment). When you've got up really high and are ready to go (at this point, they should almost be bridging to relieve the pressure), grab their knee to stop them snatching mount, then bring the leg across. Ideally, you'll crush this to the mat, squashing both their knees together.

For that last step, you have three main options. First, you could simply swing the leg over to the other side. This is quick, but there is a real danger that they may trap you in half guard mid-swing. There is also a simple escape they can do here, if they merely turn into you, coming up into full guard. Therefore I wouldn't recommend this option.

Second, you can grab your own foot and pull it across, or just squeeze it past your own arm, depending on your flexibility. This is useful when you have limited space, but personally I find it feels a little awkward, in that you might tangle yourself up in your own limbs.

Third, which is my favourite, is to slide your knee over their belt line. Bring that knee to the far side of their body, then quickly swivel your leg around and into mount. I feel this is the safest option, which uses steady pressure to get into place, rather than relying on explosive power, flexibility or luck. You can also grab their belt or cup their far hip to stop them shrimping midway through.

Note that as ever, this isn't the only way of doing it, but I didn't have time to show some of the other options. I think next time when I'm cycling through side control, I'll devote the whole lesson to transitions into mount. I felt like I could have gone into more detail, so wasn't entirely happy with my teaching tonight. The previous two lessons seemed to be better structured, so I'll avoid cramming that much technique into one session in the future.

Specific sparring was only about ten minutes (in order to leave a bit for the warm-down, though like I said, we ran over slightly). Turn out tonight was the best I've had so far, with about nine people. I split it into groups by weight, though that left five in one and four in the other. As I had two people go on their backs, that didn't quite work for the group of four. It happened to be the smaller people group, so I joined in to provide a bit more variety.

Next week, I'll be moving into mount, starting off with maintaining the mount position. Having two chunks of technique seems to work best for me, so I'll focus on good posture and grips for high mount, then low mount. Should be fun, though I'm still mostly in my comfort zone. The more challenging lesson will be when I get to guard and how to pass, as passing the guard is without any doubt the worst part of my game.

25 May 2011

25/05/2011 - GB Bristol

Class #399
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai 'Geeza' Holt, Bristol, UK - 25/05/2011

Good news for US fans of Jiu Jitsu Style: you can now buy the print version of the magazine through Budovideos. Also, Steve from Black Eagle recently attended his first class of BJJ and wrote it up here, which is excellent news. Steve has an interesting perspective, as he runs a martial arts company, including equipment for BJJ, especially gis (I have one of their judogi and a backpack, though they don't seem to make the latter anymore).

That means that he has been around the sport for a good while now, sponsoring athletes and competitions as well as consulting various practitioners in the process of creating equipment, but up until now he hadn't actually trained in the sport himself. I'm therefore very intrigued as to how his perspective will change as he develops first-hand understanding of BJJ: should become a fascinating blog. :)

Getting back to tonight's class, Geeza was running us through the x-guard, specifically some sweeps. Like last time I was at a Wednesday class, Geeza was able to draw upon his vast store of competition footage (as per his YouTube channel) to show us some examples of him successfully performing the techniques he was about to teach in a tournament. Really cool that he can do that, though I must remember to leave my glasses on the dividing wall: otherwise not that easy to see the image on the screen with my short-sightedness.

If you're not familiar with x-guard, it's called that due to the position of your feet. You are sideways, with your arm wrapped around the back of their leg, clamping their foot to your shoulder. Your opposite side leg then hooks around the back of their other leg. Finally, your remaining foot (so this is on the same side as your leg-hooking arm) hooks around the front of their far hip (so your feet are in an x shape), meaning that the knee of that leg is behind their arm-wrapped leg. In the likely event that description is confusing, see Stephan Kesting's pictures.

The first x guard sweep is the main one I'm familiar with from that position, having seen it a few times before. With your crossed feet, push their far leg away from you, to knock them off balance. Come up on your elbow, lifting the leg you've trapped by your shoulder. Make sure the knee of their trapped leg is pointing down.

You can also continue pushing on their far leg, by switching your foot to the side of their knee. Do a technical stand up, which means that you'll be raising their trapped leg into the air as you stand. From there, it should be fairly simple to take them down and pass, as they can't stand while you have their leg like that.

Geeza's second x guard sweep was slightly more complex. Again, you're going to push their leg slightly, but this time, you're also going to grab their nearest arm with your free hand. Push them in the direction they're facing, then as they fall, bring their trapped arm past their far leg, so they can't use it to post out. Roll with them as they fall, turning your hips, coming up in a sort of mount.

My training partner Kirsty gave me some useful tips here. Make sure to keep hold of both that sleeve you've grabbed and the leg you've hooked with your arm as you roll. Kick through with your foot as you come out on top. If you release a grip and don't kick through, you'll end up leaving too much space and probably get your back taken, or simply lose the pass.

The final x-guard attack was a method for taking the back, a bit like the one from de la Riva. It starts as before, but this time, bring your free hand behind the leg you've trapped, grabbing the wrist of your leg-wrapping arm. Push them forward slightly with your crossed feet to knock their balance off, then use your hands to shove their trapped leg to the other side of your head.

Unwrap your arm and grab their belt: keep the wrist of the second hand pressed into the back of their leg. Using that hold on the belt, you're now going to swivel directly behind them, so that you can hook the inside of their knees with both of your feet. Kick forward with your feet, then sit up to take the back.

Specific sparring was therefore from x guard, with the proviso that the person on top could not sit down, they had to stay standing. We were split into groups by weight and skill, which is something Geeza likes to do for safety: seems to work well, so I'll be looking to do that in my classes, when the 1-2-3 grouping isn't viable (or indeed combine the two options, but it would need to be a pretty big class for that to work).

I wasn't able to do all that much from underneath, though I did manage to sweep one guy by grabbing their leg and knocking them backwards. Not very technical, but still better than the vague flailing I fell into later, where I generally soon lost the x-guard and started wibbling about in various sloppy attempts at open guard. I had a good roll with Kirsty: IIRC, she's a judo black belt and has done a few years of MMA, so hopefully I'll get a chance to roll with her again. Always good to train with people around my weight, especially when they're experienced.

On top, I wasn't getting anywhere. My natural instinct would be to sit down, but forced to stand, I was generally just getting caught with the exact same sweep Geeza had shown earlier. They do a technical stand up, and I'm left hopping around on one leg. What I should have been doing, but only did once, was shove their foot down and try to pass from there. As ever, I hate standing up in guard, but something everybody has to get used to.

At present, there isn't a separate changing rooms for women, probably because Kirsty is currently the only woman training there. Hopefully that will change in the future: I'm pleased with how the female contingent at RGA Bucks has grown, I'm sure in large part due to Yas training there. Must be encouraging to have a friendly senior ranked female for any new women joining up.

Women at GB Bristol are temporarily getting changed upstairs in the ladies toilet, from what Kirsty said: as far as I'm aware, a proper female changing room is in the process of being built, as there are some showers being made ready upstairs too. I think she left her bag or something in the main changing room (which was fairly packed, as the class was relatively large tonight), as she briefly popped in to get something.

As soon as she'd left the changing room, somebody made an off-colour remark about what she might have been looking for. Given that this was in a men's locker room, that is perhaps to be expected, but nevertheless, training partners should be respected as training partners, on and off the mat. Sexism in particular is something that annoys me, hence why I've written stuff like this in the past.

Now, I'm sure nobody at the club would say anything sexist during class: very much to his credit, Geeza actively attempts to foster a respectful atmosphere, regularly speaking to the class about the ethos and principles he wants to institute. However, that comment in the locker room did make me wonder how I would react in the hypothetical situation of somebody making a crude sexist joke while I was teaching, or indeed a racist or homophobic comment.

In an ideal world, I'd immediately cut them down with a dazzlingly witty retort. Unfortunately, I'm not blessed with great wit, so I'd probably end up coming across as a stuffy headteacher instead (which would at least be better than saying nothing and letting it pass). Dolph related an incident he remembered regarding some mild homophobia, but I haven't seen much talk on the web about how instructors generally deal with bigotry during class (probably because it is rare: I can't think of any incidents during class in the years I've been training). It would be interesting to hear if people know of any, or have suggestions on what they would do.

19 May 2011

19/05/2011 - Teaching (Maintaining Side Control)

Teaching #002
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 19/05/2011

I covered escaping side control last week, so this Thursday I wanted to look at maintaining on top. I could have gone with more escapes, as there are plenty more to cover, but I'm intending to cycle through a position every three weeks, with escapes, maintaining then attacking (not necessarily in that order).

Like last week, there were only a handful of people, but that's still to be expected. Until all the house fixing has been done, it will be difficult to spend more than two evenings away, which limits how often people see that random purple belt who teaches on Thursdays. As long as there are even numbers, I don't mind: given that fellow blogger and recent(ish) teacher Leslie often has nobody show, I feel quite lucky to get anybody at all. :)

After the Gracie Barra warm-up, I wanted to use a drill to give them a quick refresher of last week. In pairs, one person escapes from side control to their knees, then they move to side control. Then the other person escapes to their knees, so the process repeats. From there, it can repeat in a continuous cycle.

In order to maintain side control, the first thing is to reverse engineer the escape. When you're underneath, one of the worst things that can happen is they control your near arm. Now that you're on top, that is therefore exactly what you want. Start by digging your knee in to get it into the armpit. You want to slip it right under, bringing your knees in close to their head. Liam Wandi did a good lesson on this recently, when I visited his class in Manchester.

Next, you want to apply the cross face. If you're not familiar with the term, that means bringing your near side arm under their head. From that position, you can then drive your shoulder into the side of their head, aiming to get their head to turn away from you. If they can't turn back towards you due to the shoulder pressure, it will make it much harder for them to create space and escape. This is what SBG call the 'shoulder of justice.'

So, you've got control of their near arm and their head. You're now going to deal with their far arm. Reach under that far elbow with your arm, coming under the armpit. You have a couple of options here.

Option one is linking your hands together with a gable grip and sucking them in towards you, providing a very tight side control. This is how Tran showed it to me several years ago, and has been my preferred control ever since. Option two is gripping around their shoulder, to bring their shoulder off the mat. To mention Liam again, he demonstrated in his lesson how you can also use the elbow of your far arm to squeeze into their far hip.

You want to keep control over this far arm for two reasons: first, they can use it to defend, by getting it into your neck. Second, there are a number of attacks you can do from here, which I want to cover next week.

Final point I wanted to emphasise was chest position. Picture an imaginary line between the middle of their chest and also between yours. You want to bisect those lines: don't be too far over them, or they can easily roll you (if they DO try and roll you and it's working, put your far arm out for base). Too far back, and it's easier for them to slip out and escape. Stay low, dropping your hips: don't leave them any space.

This is what I would call orthodox side control, and it's the one I use all the time. I prefer this position, because here I feel like I have the most control, as my opponent has no space. I also tend to clasp my hands, in what Xande calls the 'super hold' on his DVD, with good reason. It's a powerful grip.

At this point, I wanted to note that there are a bunch of different things you can do with your legs. I prefer to bring both knees in tight. Other people like to sprawl them back and drop the hips. Then there are others who will have one knee up by the hip, the other leg sprawled back. Play around and see which you like, and also be ready to switch depending on your partner's movement

Like last week, I then had everyone drill that for four minutes each. Unlike last week, I wanted to try switching partners halfway through, like Julia suggested. However, for that to work, it needs to be a large enough class to have a broad range of body types. So, I'll save it for later.

This class wasn't so much about technique as a set of principles, so it needed some resistance to put into practice. So, I brought in the progressive resistance earlier, into the usual four minutes each of drilling.

Moving on, I discussed how you also want to keep your hips in close, which is something Saulo emphasises in his DVD. That offers an alternative to the clamped down version I like, so I wanted to show that to people as well, bringing in an element of choice. Like I said last week, I don't want people to come away with the impression that my way is the only way, as I'm a mere purple.

I wasn't sure beforehand if the Saulo method would take long enough to warrant a separate technical portion, so went into the lesson ready to switch things up if the earlier technique took more or less time than I was expecting. As it turned out, I asked people how much they wanted, which ended up being this and then some brief details on a sub-position, scarf hold.

Saulo's method for maintaining side control, which he shows on Jiu Jitsu Revolution, is to keep that hip stuck to theirs throughout. He keeps his hip constantly next to his opponent's hip. The only time he lets off the pressure is if he gets something better, like strong control on the far arm. As they move, turn and put your other hip to theirs, following them around with your legs sprawled back. Your elbow is across, blocking their other hip, like in the Liam tip I mentioned earlier. Your weight is constantly on them, because of that sprawl: don't touch the floor with your legs or knees.

I was keen to emphasise mobility in side control as well as focused pressure. Although it can be tempting to just seize up in side control, you have to keep moving: otherwise, you aren't reacting to your opponent and they're eventually going to escape.

In order to practice that mobility and weight distribution, I added in a progressive resistance drill where neither person is using their hands. The idea is that the person on top is simply using their weight to maintain control, moving around, focusing all the pressure through their chest. The person on the bottom also gets to practice their escape mechanics, focusing on their hips and legs. I wasn't sure if this drill would work, but wanted to give it a go anyway.

So, staying mobile means switching around, reacting to your partner's movements. That includes different types of side control, and also sub positions of side control. I was ready to show up to three, but people seemed happy with just the one.

That one sub-position was scarf hold, something I believe Miles already showed last Tuesday. This is a good one to switch to if they start shoving into your neck and bridge (again, like Liam showed in Manchester). Turn your body, resting your torso on them, leaning into them for extra weight. It is also very important you pull up on their arm and keep good control of that elbow. If they can get their elbow back and dig it back under your hip, they can start to make space and escape.

There are various attacks you can do on the arm, or like good judoka, you can simply pin them here. If they try and shrimp away, you can return to side control, and switch between the two. Also, make sure to stay right up into their armpit, rather than going low by their hip.

Finally, this can also combine well with the Saulo position I demonstrated earlier. If they are really shoving their forearm into your neck, you can go with that pressure but still keep control, 'connecting the hip' like Saulo advises.

Teaching that lesson served as a good reminder to try out Saulo's version myself, as I tend to stick with orthodox side control. In the future, I'll look to bring in north-south and knee-on-belly: I noticed both of those cropping up in specific sparring, so it will be fun to research them in greater depth. I could easily spend a whole class on each sub-position, but I'm still working out my lesson plans.

17 May 2011

17/05/2011 - GB Bristol

Class #398
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Miles Pearson, Bristol, UK - 17/05/2011

There are two purple belts currently at Gracie Barra Bristol: I'm one, and Miles is the other. We've both been asked to teach by Geeza, with my class on the Thursdays, Miles' class on the Tuesday. I'm obviously interested in what my fellow purple is teaching (although he's a more experienced purple, and a more experienced instructor: he has a background in primary school teaching), so I was keen to pop along for the Tuesday class. It's impressive Miles is teaching at all, as his wife recently gave birth: congrats to both of them. :)

Miles runs a comparatively long warm-up, following up the usual running round the room with various drills, like partner hip lifting, gi pull ups, belt sprints etc. He then moved into the technical portion, which was all going to be based around the 'gift wrap' made famous by Rickson Gracie. It's a bit like Lesson 35 from Gracie Combatives, which Rener calls 'twisting arm control' (except that he has his foot over by their hip, rather than both knees behind their back). The set up Miles showed started in scarf hold.

To transition to the gift wrap (or twisting arm control, if you prefer that term), step the leg nearest their head over their face. That will push their trapped arm across their body. Grab it with the arm you have over their body, also bringing your other hand under their head. You can then feed their wrist to that other hand, pulling it in tight to establish the gift wrap.

There is a chance you might be able to get a wristlock here, if they don't make a fist with their trapped hand. You want to hold their wrist as high as you can, also controlling that arm with your other hand. Bring their arm out slightly, making sure that their fingers are pointing towards their head. Put your sternum on their elbow, then apply pressure for the wristlock.

As that is low percentage, like Miles mentioned, you can also go for a choke. Loosen up their arm enough that you can slip your other arm through, then reach for your shoulder or bicep. Tighten their arm back up: you're looking to block off one side of their neck with their own arm, and the other with your arm. Once you're in position, pull them up slightly towards you, then straighten your arms, pressing forward.

From the same position, you can also switch to an armbar. Again you want your arm through, but this time grab your wrist, to establish a figure four. Bring your knees up, shift your arm over their head, then get one leg over their head as well, dropping back for the armbar. Make sure to also grab their trouser leg, as otherwise they'll be able to turn and use the hitchhiker escape, because you don't have both legs over.

Miles then showed the same gift wrap/twisting arm control from mount. To transition to the gift wrap, move into a high mount. It will be tough to simply shove their arm over, so instead block it with your hand. Move your upper torso to the side, then pressing your side into their elbow, put your whole body into the action. With that weight, you should be able to slide their arm across their neck, then slip your arm under their head to grab their wrist and enter the gift wrap.

You can now shift into s-mount, where you can go for an armbar in the usual fashion. You can also take the back, by getting a figure four grip again, then dropping towards one side. This will end up being your weak side in terms of the choke, so you'll want to push off with your leg to roll them over to the other side. You're now in a strong position to set up your favourite choke from the back.

Miles finished up by having everyone line up against the wall, where he paired people up for free sparring. I started off with Miles, who was taking it relatively easy with me (possibly because he's a fair bit bigger). I was mostly going to the running escape, trying to spin around back to guard, which he largely let me do.

Next was Geeza, who dropped to his back and waited to see how I'd try to pass his guard. As ever, my answer was mainly to stare at him in confusion, vaguely flailing at his legs before getting swept. My guard passing remains really, really bad: I sometimes forget just how bad, because normally I'll mercifully get put on my back somehow, meaning I can then work my guard.

However, being a good instructor, Geeza kept returning to his back after he landed a sweep, meaning I had to keep on attempting (and failing) to pass. Afterwards, he suggested that instead of trying to push forward and drive with my hips, I should move back and push the legs down. I'm small and weedy, so the second option is a better fit for my body type. Something I need to keep in mind for next time.

Finally, I had a roll with Luke. As always when I roll with Luke, he shows an impressive level of calm control, never using strength, meaning sparring with him is always enjoyably technical. I tried for that lasso spider guard sweep, and set it up just right: I had the lasso, he was passing...but I didn't grab the leg and push, leaving it too late. Luke could see what I was trying to do, so had no problem basing out and preventing the sweep.

I did manage to then bring my legs up for the triangle and roll on top, but that was mostly down to flexibility and the light pace of the roll, rather than solid technique on my part. Still, worth trying that kind of thing when I can, as it's a handy thing to spring on people: they aren't normally expecting to be attacked from under side control. At the same time, it's low percentage stuff (on top of side control is a dominant position for a reason, after all), so definitely not something to rely on.

15 May 2011

15/05/2011 - RGA Aylesbury

Class #397
RGA Aylesbury, (BJJ), Kev Capel, Aylesbury, UK - 15/05/2011

I was visiting my parents and sister at the weekend, meaning my lovely nieces were there too, which is always fun. I've no plans to have kids myself, but I do enjoy being an uncle: all the fun and cuteness of small children, none of the huge financial outlay, nappy-changing or sleepless nights. Also meant I had the new experience of helping a three year old go to the toilet (I had plenty of experience changing nappies back when I looked after her for eight months in 2009, as she wasn’t potty trained then). Top tip: make sure they've pulled their knickers down before you lift them onto the toilet. Only just noticed in time, or that could have been messy. Ahem.

The new house my parents have bought in Aylesbury is a short cycle ride from RGA Bucks, which is extremely convenient. I was lazy and got a lift in the car this time, as I wanted to get maximum toddler time, which also meant I only did the beginner class, leaving before the open mat. I intend to drop in to RGA Bucks whenever I'm at my parents' house, especially as it is so nearby. Good way to stay in touch with an awesome group of training partners, as well as being on the receiving end of a guaranteed arse-kicking (given that there are people like Callum, Draz and Sahid training there).

Kev's class was as excellent as ever, particularly as he included a couple of techniques I've been planning to teach myself, for one of my Thursday GB Bristol lessons. He started off with the right way to pull guard, which without any doubt is what I'd do should I compete again for some reason.

You have the standard collar and elbow grip from standing. Put your foot up on their elbow-side hip, then drop to your back while spinning your head towards their elbow-side foot. As you maintain the grip on their collar, that will break their posture. From here, you could potentially go straight into an attack, or simply look to close your guard, or possibly enter into an open guard.

Kev went with option number one, running through two sweeps that work well together. I'll be going into more detail on these when I come to teach them myself, but the first one is called the tripod sweep (among other things: jiu jitsu has an annoying habit of many, many names for the same thing, unlike judo). From the guard pull, you're going to slide your hands down their sleeve until you reach their cuff. Grab that tightly on either side of their wrist, clamping your elbows to your side.

This is a surprisingly difficult hold to break, and keeps them bent over. Disengage your elbow-side hand, grabbing their same side foot behind the heel (or the bottom of their trousers, being careful not to reach inside the bottom of their trouser cuff: that will get you disqualified in competition, due to the danger to your own fingers). Pull their foot and stick it to your hip, so their foot is slightly off the floor.

Your other foot goes behind their same side heel. You will then simultaneously push on their hip with your foot, yank their other foot forward with your other foot, while also holding their remaining foot in position by your hip. This should knock them backwards: thanks to your sleeve grip, you should be able to follow them up as they fall down. Pass through to side control, keeping control of their foot throughout so they can't establish some sort of guard.

However, you have a problem if they turn sideways when you attempt that sweep. The pressure and leverage is no longer right for taking them down. Fortunately, you can easily solve your problem by switching to the sickle sweep. Basically, all you do is switch the position of your feet. So, the foot that was on their hip goes behind their foot. The foot you had by their heel now goes to their hip.

That also means you have twisted to face them. Push on their hip and chop back with your foot to take them down. Again, use the sleeve grip to come up, while still pulling their foot to your hip with your hand. Also remember to still control their foot on the way up, as you don't want them to put you in guard.

Sparring was from open guard. I was with Callum, meaning that as often happens with Callum, I kept thinking I'd passed, only for him to spin through and scupper the attempt. He's really good at spinning, so I must remember to pick his brain about it next time we're both at an open mat. I need to work out how to control both his hips when I pass so that he can't simply spin away from me, going into various inverted guards and the like.

Underneath, I thought that looked like fun so I'd give it a go too. Unfortunately, I'm not anywhere as good at it, so generally just got passed instead. Still, good to try it out, as I'm relatively flexible, so don't mind my legs being over my head. I wasn't able to establish my preferred open guard, which is spider guard with a deep lasso on one arm. Callum was wise to that, so made sure I couldn't get it in deep.

That meant that although he put a knee up, I couldn't attempt the sweep I'd be practicing for when people raise a knee, because it depends on having the lasso. Hence the back up plan of spinning around. Didn't prove successful, but it's essential to not rely on just one thing, even if the one thing is a series of moves. If you can't get into your starting position, you need something else to try.

The second of my two rolls that class was with a female white belt I hadn't seen before, Hayley (Haley? I think it normally has two 'y's). She was wearing a Roger Gracie Academy gi, which either means she was visiting from HQ, or Kev sells the patched up RGA gis at his club too. Either way, she was a good training partner, and doing the right thing when I was trying to pass, stopping me from getting good control of her leg.

She also gave me an opportunity to go into instructor mode, which is always nice. My purple belt, despite being A2, is kinda long for me, so the ends dangle temptingly for anyone playing guard. She asked if it was allowed to grab the belt and use it to attack. I said that it was, unless the belt actually falls off: you can't go ahead and tie a noose round somebody's neck (although this guy tried, as you might have seen linked on some forum or other).

When we switched positions shortly afterwards, I could then demonstrate, sweeping her by bringing the end of her belt behind one of her legs and passing it to my hand. It wasn't a very good sweep, but hopefully illustrated the point. I was thinking of the de la Riva sweeps I got shown at Gracie Barra Birmingham a while ago.

Also finally picked up my contributors copy of Jiu Jitsu Style issue 2, as Callum had left one with Kev for me. If you're wondering what bits I did this time round, I provided the Barbosa DVD review and the Carlson Gracie Academy history. Good review of the whole mag by Leslie over on BJJ Grrl, which I think is due to be joined by various others. If you don't fancy a print copy, remember you can pick it up through iTunes, or there is a non-Applefied digital version over on PocketMags.

12 May 2011

12/05/2011 - Teaching (Escaping Side Control)

Teaching #001
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 12/05/2011

I've been asked to teach one class a week, which at the moment will be Thursdays. Naturally I've got lots of ideas on what I'd like to cover, so we'll see how it goes. I'm also hoping that posting up the lessons on the blog will help with feedback, either from people I'm teaching or from experienced BJJ instructors.

I'm not completely new to instruction, as I've been teaching undergraduate seminars at university since 2007 (e.g., like this). However, that's poetry, which is obviously quite different to showing somebody a physical skill set: at university, it's more about developing critical thinking and introducing students to writers they may not have encountered before (or alternatively, deepening their understanding and appreciation of poets they may already know well, like Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell).

I found myself teaching the Zhuan Shu Kuan class back in the day, which is a bit closer to what I'm going to be doing at GB Bristol, but ZSK is a striking martial art, which involves a whole other set of drills and techniques. That means the main experience I can draw upon is informal teaching, at things like the Warwick BJJ group, along with helping out beginners at various throwdowns.

If you've read my blog before, then it won't surprise you that I've considered how I would structure a class for quite some time (yep, there is a spreadsheet). For GB Bristol, I knew there were certain things that needed to be in place: Geeza wanted to retain some of the formality at the start of class, like lining up and bowing to the pictures on the wall, along with the standardised Gracie Barra warm-up (which Geeza said took about six minutes). As an instructor, I'll also be wearing an official GB gi, though that isn't expected of the students (unlike some GB schools in the US).

That set up gives me plenty of room to try out different things in terms of specific drills, techniques and how to run sparring. I like specific sparring, especially the way you can set parameters to focus in on particular components of a technique: e.g., when passing the guard, one person purely concerned with opening the guard, the other just looking to break posture and keep their guard closed.

For my first taught class, I thought it would be best to stick with the techniques I'm most familiar with and use all the time in sparring. In my case, that means side control escapes. I couldn't think of many drills for side control escapes, so just added one legged bridging, as that would prove relevant later. I knew I wanted to cover the absolute basics, but I also wanted to try and come up with a way of both refining the details and making them stick. At the same time, I didn't want to bore people, particularly as even beginners will probably have seen these escapes a few times before.

I'll be experimenting with various ways of teaching. I thought about breaking the technique down, drilling it in sections, then putting it back together. Preparing for that also meant I needed to try and work out the component parts of each technique, which was a useful exercise for me too. Initially I considered just teaching one technique, but I don't think I can stretch that out long enough (though perhaps I can with enough drills: again, will see what people think).

However, I decided that drilling in sections may have been too boring and disjointed, so stuck with teaching it all at once. There are definitely some techniques which I can easily split into chunks for drilling, but I don't think the fundamental escapes I planned to teach are among them. I could be wrong, so when I come to teach a lesson on side control escapes again, I'll have another look at how people have taught it in the past.

There were only six people, including Geeza, but that's unsurprising. People don't know who I am yet, as I've only been to a few classes at GB Bristol over the last few months. A small class also has the advantage of being less intimidating, which is good if like me it's your first time teaching BJJ.

To begin the basic side control escape where you shrimp to guard, I started by focusing on your hand and arm positioning. First thing to note is that they will want to kill your near arm. This is bad for you, because it means you can't stop them shifting up towards your head. From there, they can make as much space as they want and pass to mount.

So, you need to get your arm inside, the forearm pressing against their hip. That will help block their movement, and initiate your attempts to create some space. This is also the first part of your frame, so once you have that first arm through, you're going to add your other arm. I should have emphasised that this defends against the cross-face, which I didn't do enough. I also could have noted that there are many other options for hand positioning, but that may have been somewhat overwhelming. Something to spread across later classes.

Anyway, to get that grip: grab the gi material by their shoulder, close to their neck, then pull down. Twist that arm up into their neck, keeping the elbow in: you need to be tight here, as otherwise they will go for a figure four on that arm. Once you've got the forearm into their neck, they can't press down into you, as they'll essentially be choking themselves.

Next I moved on to the legs. Your legs have two main purposes here: first, blocking your opponent getting to mount. Raise your near knee and drive it into their side. The idea is to wedge them between your knee and the arm you have by their hip. Personally, I like to keep my knee floating, glued to their side. This is where the one leg bridging from earlier comes in.

That makes it easier to slip my knee under as soon as they give me any space, which is something I learned from Roger. Many people prefer to cross their foot over their knee, which is something I used to do in the past as well. However, as this long Sherdog thread discusses, that can leave you open to a footlock, and also limit your mobility. Then again, you can see it used at the highest levels, like here at the Mundials.

The second use for your legs is bridging. Marcelo Garcia has a handy tip for this (although the escape he is doing there is slightly different), related to increasing the power of your bridge. To do that, bring your foot right to your bum, up on your toes. That increases your range of motion, so you can really drive up into them.

Make sure you turn into them as you bridge, rather than just straight up. This will help the next part, which is to shrimp out as you come back down. That's why you've created space in the first place: if you simply plopped back down, then you've wasted the opportunity. As soon as you shrimp out, slip the knee pressing into their side underneath. I could have added another thing here, noting that you aren't trying to lift them with your arms. Instead, you want to push off them, moving your body rather than theirs.

Once your knee is through, you need to be careful they don't immediately pass by pushing down and moving around that knee, ruining all your hard work. To prevent that, keep your hand by their shoulder. Straighten it, then add further support by bracing your other hand into their bicep (same side as the blocked shoulder). Your new frame should create a barrier to their pass, giving you enough time to recover your guard, or even move into a submission.

Alternatively, you can control their arm with your hip-bracing arm as you escape, like Roy Dean demonstrates in Blue Belt Requirements. That will also stop them pushing down on your knee, as their arm is trapped. It is worth trying both and seeing which you prefer, or which one the situation demands. I definitely don't want to give people the impression that there is only one way of doing things, particularly as I'm a mere noobie purple belt: I'm very much still a student myself, so teaching is helping me learn too.

Prior to the lesson, I tried to work out my timings, and estimated that demonstration would probably take around five to six minutes. I then wanted to have everyone drill it for four minutes each: I wasn't sure if that was going to be too long, so wandered around seeing if anybody was getting bored and chatting, or something like that. As it turned out, that seemed to work ok: there is a round timer on the wall, which makes it simple.

I also wanted to encourage people to let their partner know if they were making any errors, like hand positioning was off, pressure not quite right, bridging not powerful enough, etc. I didn't want people to go into autopilot while drilling.

I followed that up with a bit more drilling, for a further three minutes each. This time, I wanted to incorporate something from SBG I really like, which is progressive resistance (from 'aliveness', a term SBG founder Matt Thornton popularised). I expected it might take a bit of getting used to, especially as beginners can find it hard to dial the level of their resistance up and down. I tried explaining it by saying that you're still going to let your partner get the technique, but make them work for it: if they make any mistakes, capitalise. I hoped that would result in around 50% resistance, maybe less.



The second side control escape was the other basic one, where you go to your knees. It begins in much the same way, again establishing that frame with your arms, knee into the side and bridging. As an instructor, that meant I could review what we'd just done once again, which is useful: whenever possible, I also want to closely link whatever techniques I'm teaching.

After you bridge and shrimp this time, you're going to do something different with the arm you have into their neck. Rotate it under their armpit, then reach for their legs, bringing your leg and head up on one side. Grip the gi by their legs, then drive towards them while pulling their legs in the other direction. That should enable you to move through into side control.

Roy Dean has a modification on that, as he moves around to the side, puts his hand by the far knee, then drives forward to take them down. William Vandry, a Machado black belt, shows how you can stay straight in front of them and flat, pushing into their hips to keep them away. Vandry also puts both arms around the leg on your non-raised leg side, with his head inside, rather than trying to encircle both: looks sensible, as they have a lot more power in both of their legs than you do in both of your arms.

Once again, we did four minutes of drilling each, then another three of progressive resistance. That flowed nicely into specific sparring. For this, I wanted to use something I'd liked about how Gracie Barra Birmingham do things. Most clubs will have everyone line up against the wall and a few people go to the floor, after which everybody spars, winner staying on. That's a great workout if you're high on the club food chain, but not so great if you aren't, as you can then spend a few seconds getting passed, swept or submitted, followed by a long wait in line before you spar again.

So, I prefer the GB Brum method, which is to split people into groups. You go along the line, counting people off in groups of three. Everybody who is a number one then goes to the mat: whether or not they reach their sparring objective, they stay there for the whole round. They are then replaced by the number twos, followed by the number threes. That means everybody gets a chance to work the specific sparring.

However, a disadvantage of this is that you're mixing up weights, which is potentially dangerous. I need to consider that next time, and perhaps split people into two weight groups as well. There's also the fact that the GB Bristol mat space is enormous, so there is plenty of room for everybody to spar at the same time. Personally, I quite like the rest that the waiting-in-line type sparring offers, but then I'm lazy. ;)

Another formality Geeza uses, practiced by Roy Dean too, is having everyone line up against the wall when demonstrating a technique. Other clubs just have everyone gather round in a circle, meaning each student can pick their own best angle for seeing the technique. If class is lined up against the wall, the instructor picks the angle, so you have to make sure to demonstrate from enough angles that everyone can see (depending how big the class is, of course).

I need to remember those formalities, like lining up in belt order at the end of class, and things like doing stretches under the picture of Carlos Sr. Although I'm not personally used to formality at my previous clubs, it makes sense for continuity, as otherwise my Thursday class would stand out. I'm sure it will come with practice.

Cane Prevost's blog has long been a favourite of mine, but it is going to become especially valuable now that I'm doing some teaching. I'll also be looking over instructionals and YouTube, to see how other people demonstrate stuff I'm intending to show in class (with a particular focus on the instructional material I really like: Saulo's Jiu Jitsu Revolution and his book Jiu Jitsu University, Roy Dean's Blue Belt Requirements and the Ed Beneville books). Galvao's Drill to Win should also be handy for specific drills: that will also feed into a later review.

11 May 2011

11/05/2011 - GB Bristol No Gi

Class #396
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai 'Geeza' Holt, Bristol, UK - 11/05/2011

There are two classes on a Wednesday, each an hour long. This will probably be the first and only time I ever attend the no-gi (as I wanted to chat to Geeza about my lesson tomorrow): I rarely take the gi off for training, as I don't enjoy no-gi.

Almost everybody was in full Gracie Barra no-gi regalia, something which is currently included in Gracie Barra Bristol membership (along with a bunch of other stuff, which is pretty cool if you like to represent your club both inside and outside the school). Most people tend to wear Gracie Barra gis as well, although I don't think that's a requirement: as far as I'm aware, GB clubs in the UK don't tend to have any uniform restrictions.

Geeza brought in an innovative teaching method for no-gi, as he has a large TV set up on the wall, which can connect to his laptop. Geeza is a regular competitor, as demonstrated by the glass cabinet heaving with medals, championship belts and trophies. He also makes sure to video most of his matches, meaning that tonight he was able to not only teach us two techniques, but also show us footage of him using them in competition environment. If you'd like to see him in action, check out his submission-focused YouTube channel, which includes lots of other people doing their thing too.

The first of those techniques was what Geeza called the 'flying angel' sweep, which you might also know as an overhead sweep. The key to this is timing. They're in your guard, and you have control of both their wrists, with your feet pressed into their hips. You're waiting for them to bring their weight forward. As soon as they do, you need to pick the right moment to lift them up by their hips, pushing their hands between their legs, then rolling backwards over your shoulder.

Done right, this will result in you getting to mount. Done wrong, you'll get squashed, or you might end up dropping them to one side. I was generally doing the latter: this is one of those techniques that makes me nervous, as I don't feel like I have much control. That's a problem I have with no-gi in general, which is a large part of the reason I avoid training without the gi. On a safety note, if you're the one being swept, make sure you tuck your head and roll, or you'll get piledrived into the mat.

Geeza then demonstrated a method for taking the back, again running a video of him successfully applying the same technique in competition. This time, the situation is that they have just passed your guard, but they've left an arm loose. You go for a kimura as they pass. Presuming you're able to lock it on, they're either going to have to tap, or roll through in order to avoid wrecking their shoulder.

Maintain your figure four grip and scoot in towards them. You're looking to stay close, so that you end up on your knees near their head, also forcing them to sit up. Loop one arm over their head, still with the kimura grip, then shift them to one side in order to establish your first hook. Move them to the other to get the second, and you've taken their back.

It was then time for sparring, which meant I got to roll with Donal, a blue belt I know from Gracie Barra Birmingham: he's in Bristol studying for the next couple of years. He is also more than capable of kicking my arse, which he proceeded to do tonight. The only thing that saved me from repeated tapping was – and this is frequently the case – Saulo's running escape. As ever I'm still using it to stall too much, though I did try and roll through back to guard a few times.

Donal's guillotine is especially nifty, in which I was very nearly caught numerous times. I also narrowly escaped an armbar and a triangle, probably due to the slipperiness of no-gi rather than any technical expertise on my part. The closest I got to any kind of offence was a vague flailing attempt at deep half guard.

Geeza often does a mini-lecture at the end of class while we're stretching, this time on the topic of no-gi and gi training. He made a comparison that certainly rang true for me, which is that no-gi is pitting your body against somebody else's body. Gi is putting your mind against theirs, which Geeza said he prefers (worth noting here that many of those aforementioned medals he has won are in no-gi, so he's speaking from long experience).

My first session teaching is tomorrow, which I'm looking forward to. Naturally I've planned everything out in advance, with a few things I wanted to test out for the future (mainly in terms of drilling).

11/05/2011 - GB Bristol

Class #395
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai 'Geeza' Holt, Bristol, UK - 11/05/2011

Tonight's class focused on what Geeza called the shin guard, which I think is the same as z guard (see Stephan Kesting's pictures of it here). Either way, it's the one where you are in half guard, but with your shin across their upper torso. In Geeza's version, you knee is by their chest, and you feet aren't locked. Instead, your feet are touching close together.

Class kicked off with some specific sparring from that position, as a way of introducing everyone to the shin guard. I was looking to do the sweep Nick Brooks showed me at Mill Hill, but couldn't quite remember the details. It was a good sweep, so I need to re-read my notes on that. Nick's version does have the feet locked. The reason is that without them locked, Nick noted there was a danger that your opponent could simply circle his leg around to press through the gap. Clamping your feet together will help stop that, of course.

The first of Geeza's two sweeps is a set up for the second. In shin guard, you pull on their arm with both of yours to break their posture and stretch them out. You're then going to grab their knee with your same side hand, leaving you with a cross-grip on their sleeve. Pull on their sleeve and trousers, then raise your hips and drive with your knee. Also twist your body, so that your head turns as if you're looking over your shoulder.

As Geeza commented, that sweep is fairly easy to defend, as they can just drop their weight and drive forward. That's exactly what you want them to do for the next sweep. After going for the previous technique and getting them to react, use your sleeve grip to push their arm across their body. You will then lift their knee (as you still have that grip too) as you roll them in the other direction.

The first thing that should touch the floor is their shoulder, on the same side as the sleeve you've trapped. You then roll back into top half guard: this felt like a similar motion to the hip shift Nick Brooks described for his sweep. I also found that again like that sweep, I could keep control of the arm and push it away from their body, ready to be attacked.

Having taught us two sweeps, Geeza returned the class to specific sparring from the shin guard position. On top, I wasn't passing all that often, although circling my lower leg did work a few times, whenever my partner left a gap between his feet. I was mostly concerned with keeping my weight down and maintaining base, looking to post if he tried to move me in either direction.

Underneath, I had a go at the sweeps and went for the kimura a few times. I also looked to take the back, which is something I'm keen to improve, as that is such a good option for smaller people like me. In the process of doing that, I managed some kind of sweep, though I wasn't really thinking about it. I had their arm across their body and a grip around their back, but couldn't quite get around to back mount because they shifted their weight. I pulled them in the other direction instead as I felt that weight shift, getting the sweep.

There was also an impromptu blogger meeting just afterwards, as Andy was over from Gracie Barra Bath. He has been in Germany for the last few months, which he has written about over on his blog. Unfortunately he hurt his arm a while ago, so may not be able to compete in the Mundials as planned, but it could still be ok: he's waiting to hear from the doctor. Either way, cool to see him, as I always really enjoy meeting people I know from the internet. Hopefully that arm will make a full recovery. :)

09 May 2011

09/05/2011 - Gracie Barra Fundamentals

Class #394
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai 'Geeza' Holt, Bristol, UK - 09/05/2011

I've now started work on the house in Bristol, though we can't move in properly for a while, as there is still plenty of work to be done on the roof, the floors, the bricks and various other niggles. As I know absolutely nothing about DIY, it's been an interesting process. Fortunately, my gf's father knows plenty, so I've been following his lead. I managed to lift up a few of the boards myself, although I'm not sure if that was down to me or the vast array of specialised tools in my gf's father's shed.

Gracie Barra Bristol has now officially opened (which rather handily is right around the corner). That means the club is moving into the massive gym which has been built next to the small one Geeza started off with. This was my first time seeing the finished building: really impressive, very professional looking. It is without any doubt the best looking BJJ facility I've been in so far.

There were plenty of people present for the first day of Geeza's new timetable, which now offers classes every day except Saturday. The Gracie Barra curriculum is heavily featured: Monday's class is from Gracie Barra Fundamentals, lasting for an hour, followed immediately by Gracie Barra Advanced.

Geeza started things off with a bit of self defence, related to standing up in base. This is the same technique Kev has taught in the past up at RGA Bucks, again based off the GB Fundamentals syllabus. The scenario is that you've been pushed over, so you breakfall, then move into a defensive posture on the ground (same as when you're about to stand up in base). Basing off your hand and opposite foot, kick their front with your same side foot. Kick them again for distance, then stand up in base.

Next up was the scissor sweep, followed by the basic cross-choke from guard. Both of those gave me a chance to go into instructor mode, as I was drilling with a fairly new white belt. Geeza also added a useful detail on the cross choke, which is to grab two layers of cloth when you grip, rather than just holding around the collar.

He also made some points about breaking down their posture, if they are pushing their arms straight into your torso. Having established the first grip for the choke, you can press your elbow into the back of theirs, into order to bend their arm. At the same time, grab the cloth by their other elbow and pull: this should help bend that other arm. Finally, you'll also be bringing your knees to your chest, also at the same time.

There wasn't any sparring for the Fundamentals class, but then as I left, I noticed that the following Advanced class went straight into specific sparring from guard. At the end of class, I was on the receiving end of an extremely warm welcome from Geeza, who officially introduced me to the rest of the club (some of whom have met me before, as I've been popping down intermittently since last October). Geeza was rather flattering, so hopefully people won't be too disappointed with the reality when I teach the class on Thursday. ;)

I'll talk more about what I'm intending to teach in the post for Thursday, but obviously I've got lots to say on the topic: I like to plan things carefully, so we'll see how the lesson works out.

06 May 2011

DVD Review - The White Belt Bible (Roy Dean)

The White Belt Bible - Roy Dean AcademyShort Review: From the title, you might think this will be a comprehensive compendium of basic BJJ techniques. You'd be wrong: that's already been well covered in Blue Belt Requirements. Roy Dean's latest release functions more as a distillation of his take on grappling as a whole, covering judo, aikido, traditional jujutsu and of course Brazilian jiu jitsu.

There is also plenty of his trademark artistry included, such as training with Saulo Ribeiro, a mini-documentary on a trip to London and musing about the difference between white and black belts. The White Belt Bible serves as a useful introduction to the viewer with a general interest in grappling martial arts, presenting the quintessence of judo, aikido and BJJ. Available to buy here, or from iTunes here

Full Review: When I first heard about this DVD, I was intrigued as to what it would discuss. Dean has already produced Blue Belt Requirements, which remains the best DVD on the market for beginners. I wasn't sure if he was looking to perhaps replace or complement that instructional, but all became clear once The White Belt Bible dropped through my letterbox last week. Rather than a Brazilian jiu jitsu instructional, this is an exploration of all the many arts in which Roy Dean holds a black belt: judo, aikido, Seibukan jujutsu and BJJ.

Symbolically, Dean begins the first DVD of this two disc set with a brief video on tying the belt (a bit under two minutes). He uses the judo style, rather than the quick method common to BJJ. That has the advantage of holding up better to the rigours of training, as once you tie the judo knot, it is unlikely to come undone. However, it does mean that your jacket may get yanked out of your belt instead, meaning you'll replace the annoyance of retying the knot with the irritation of pulling your jacket back behind your belt.

The main technical instruction starts with Kodokan Judo (around sixteen minutes). Dean first discusses the concept of kuzushi, the off-balancing which is essential to good judo. That then proceeds to several basic throws, starting off with ippon seionage, the one arm shoulder throw (usefully, there is a caption preceding each throw, with both the Japanese and English names). In the course of demonstrating seionage, Dean also explains another important part of judo, uchikomi, where you repeatedly practice the entry to a particular technique.

Dean spends about five minutes on ippon seionage, including several variations in the grip, as well as options like dropping to your knees. For example, the orthodox grip is to bring your hand outside as you turn for the throw. However, for larger opponents, Dean suggests gripping the gi with that hand instead, using the elbow to press up into their armpit. Each variation is shown from multiple angles, and where warranted also includes a slow-motion replay. That format continues throughout this section of the DVD.

Kata guruma (fireman's carry) is next, briefly covered in just under a minute. Dean spends a little longer on o goshi (major hip throw), emphasising that this is the classic throw most laymen have in mind when they think of judo. He also states that it is probably the best self defence throw, as it is an option from numerous positions, which also means that it is common to many grappling styles. As before, there are several variations in the grip, such as on the belt, under the armpit or around the head.

That moves into slightly under two minutes on the osoto gari (major outside reap), before getting to the uchimata (inner thigh throw), which takes a further two minutes. The uchimata is then used for a series of combinations, starting with just over a minute on an uchimata to tai otoshi (not translated this time). The section on judo finishes with an uchimata to ankle pick (a minute and a half).

The second segment of the DVD is titled Jujutsu Examples (around seven minutes in total). There have been numerous high quality belt demonstrations from the Roy Dean Academy since it started in 2007, which means Dean has a considerable store of footage to draw upon. That's exactly what he does here, creating a highlight reel of various techniques, split into groups. Again, he uses both the Japanese and English terminology: two minutes of armlocks/juji gatame is followed by another two minutes of sweeps and throws/nage waza.

Next is a slightly more controversial category, leg locks/ashi waza, which lasts for a minute. The inclusion of lower body submissions on DVDs intended for beginners has always made me uncomfortable, but it isn't unusual in the Roy Harris lineage. Also, it's worth noting that the straight ankle lock is legal from white belt onwards, so although they aren't always taught at the beginning, leg locks are technically a part of BJJ from day one.

Those examples finish up with another two minutes on chokes/shime waza. For the beginner grappler, this part of the DVD accomplishes three things. First, it shows them what grappling looks like against resistance, as opposed to the many traditional styles which often rely on compliant drilling (such as aikido). Secondly, it provides a quick overview of numerous submission techniques. Thirdly, this is empirical evidence that those techniques actually work.

A more experienced student may even be able to work out how to emulate the attacks on display, but as they're all fairly brief, that would be next to impossible for a novice (and I assume isn't the purpose of this segment). An inspiring quotation from Kyuzo Mifune closes the section.

Aikikai Aikido (about thirteen minutes) is essentially an abbreviated version of Art of the Wristlock. As on that earlier release, Dean runs through the fundamental wrist locks of aikido: ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo, gokyo and kotegaeshi. These are all grouped under suwari waza, which lasts around five minutes in total. The main difference is that the camera is much closer to the demonstration, rather than the wide angle Dean used the last time he taught aikido on DVD.

He then progresses to tachi waza/standing, where the previous wristlocks are demonstrated in combination. First is nikyo to gokyo, taught in a classic aikido manner, entered by a flick to the eyes. Forty seconds later Dean discusses the equally brief 'sankyo handshake', where he applies that lock from a handshake position. There is a mixture of aikido and BJJ next, as Dean flows from a sankyo to a rear naked choke, taking just over a minute.

Yonkyo is then also briefly shown off a handshake, before two applications of kotegaeshi: the wrist turn, used to take the opponent down, or the turnover. Two minutes later, Dean adds in tsuki kotegaeshi/straight punch turnover. His introduction is interesting, as he states this technique is "often demonstrated against a straight punch. This is, while not impossible, very difficult to do in real life."

The implication there is an important one: aikido training requires resistance to be truly applicable to a real life situation. Dean's multiple black belts mean that his perspective on this point is particularly useful, and it is also one of the reasons his material initially appealed to me, after I read An Uchideshi Experience. Dean has since taken that online book down, as he is planning to re-write the material into a new book, which I'm looking forward to. Hopefully he won't mind if I quote this section from chapter five of the old version, which sprung to mind after watching The White Belt Bible:

I generally take issue with the aikido I’ve learned, seen, and come in contact with being advertised as self-defense. Although there are aspects and techniques of aikido that I believe can be gleaned and added to your martial arsenal (i.e. footwork for getting off the line, blending with an overcommitted attack, etc.), I could never recommend it to somebody who wanted to learn self-defense. Not only is there too much silence about what works and what doesn’t, the non-competitive training method doesn’t put students in pressure situations similar enough to real confrontations, breeding a false sense of security in students through tacit affirmations such as:

1) It may take 20 years, but this stuff will work if you just keep practicing.

2) Don’t worry about strength, since physical conditioning isn’t that important.

3) These exercises we’re doing are how attacks really are.

4) If it’s not working, you’re not using your center.

5) Keep extending that ki to keep him at bay!

It’s not fair to your students to misrepresent what your art is capable of. If your average aikido student rolled with a judo or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player, or got in the ring with a boxer or kickboxer, he wouldn’t know what to do with that kind of intensity. He’d simply be overwhelmed. I’ve seen this point debated through letters to the editor in Aikido Today Magazine, but there’s only one way to find out. Do it. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, you can’t learn to swim unless you get wet, so how can you learn how to fight without fighting?


Those points become even clearer in the last part of the aikido segment of the DVD, which is kotegaeshi with weapons. Dean notes that if somebody is coming at you with a knife, your best option is to run. It is a very sensible disclaimer, and means that he can introduce the technique as what he calls "an interesting tactic," rather than something you should rely upon should somebody actually want to stab you in the head.

Continuing the TMA theme, Seibukan Nidan (just under five minutes) is a belt test Roy Dean took in the course of his studies in Seibukan Jujutsu under Julio Toribio. If you've watched Art of the Wristlock, you'll be familiar with the set up, as on that DVD there is another Seibukan belt test (shodan rather than nidan). This follows a similar pattern, with the flowing dance common to TMA styles: as Dean intimated in An Uchideshi Experience, efficacy may be questionable, but it certainly looks aesthetically appealing.

As a BJJer, the segment of most interest to me was of course Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (nineteen minutes). Dean divides this part into two chunks: 'The Positions of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu' and 'Submissions'. The positional segment provides a broad introduction to the major positions of BJJ, from the perspective of the person on top.

That starts with a two minute long overview on the guard, highlighting principles like base and posture, with a visual demonstration. What I liked most about this section was the manner in which Dean did not stop and talk at you, in an attempt to describe a physical motion. Instead, you get to see the motion under discussion, with a voiceover. This is a much more efficient method of explaining techniques: I often feel that the static lecture style of instructional is wasting the opportunity offered by a visual medium like the DVD.

Sidemount is up next, and like the guard, Dean emphasises that you'll be spending a lot of time here. I can definitely vouch for that, as I'm a purple belt, but these two positions are still where I spend the majority of my time. A minute and a half later, Dean transitions to the sub-position, scarf hold (or kesa gatame, to use the judo nomenclature: Dean includes both). Again, this lasts for around a minute and a half.

Dean introduces mount as "the most dominant position in BJJ and grappling," spending another minute and a half showing how to settle into a low grapevined mount with head control. That's also my preferred position, which I like for the same reason it is useful for beginners: it helps to increase your level of control, so you can slow things down and consider your next move.

Two more sub-positions follow, each covered in a minute: knee on belly and north-south. Dean shows how to reach those control points, along with the slight variations available in knee on belly, such as the angle of your leg (e.g., over the belt line, or towards their sternum). Slightly under two minutes on the back closes off this first part of the segment.

As is common on Roy Dean's DVDs, he then pauses to provide an eloquent introduction, in this case on the topic of submissions. Over three minutes, he notes that while submissions may be what catches the attention of those starting out in BJJ, "there is an entire pyramid of skills you need to have to submit an opponent regularly." Most important of these is the ability to escape, along with passing the guard.

Interestingly, he also notes that some physical conditioning is important to maintain a pace for sparring, and a certain degree of isometric strength to hold the mount. This contrasts with what he says on Blue Belt Requirements, when he commented that the answer to grappling fitness is not a bigger gas tank, but improved fuel economy. Of course, it is true that you need a base level of conditioning, though that will tend to develop simply through training BJJ regularly.

The technical instruction is fairly brief, focusing on the basic mechanics. Dean spends between one to three minutes on the armlock, kimura and chokes. He also includes his excellent side control lockflow, where you switch from an americana to a straight armlock to a kimura, then back again. As with the rest of the DVD, these are introductory: for a more detailed explanation of fundamental techniques, beginners should turn to the aforementioned Blue Belt Requirements.

White to Black (about six minutes) is more philosophical than instructional. Dean's intention here is to examine how the perspective of a student changes as they rise up the ranks. He takes the armlock as an example, utilising my preferred format of relevant footage with an articulate voiceover. As with the jujutsu examples from earlier, a more experienced student may be able to draw some techniques from this footage, but that probably isn't the central intention.

The second DVD moves away from technique, instead examining various personal encounters with grappling. That begins with some belt demonstrations, an innovation Dean has very much brought to the fore via YouTube, his blog, and previous DVDs. I was pleased to see that a female blue belt demonstration, by Rebekah Creswell, kicked off proceedings.

As you'd expect from a Roy Dean student, the techniques are crisply executed. They also cover the gamut from escapes to chokes to leglocks to throws, providing further examples of grappling in action for the beginner student. Creswell's demonstration includes a spar with another female student, already at the blue belt level: hopefully more women will continue to appear in future releases. Brown belt Jimmy Da Silva, who is always entertaining to watch, is among her other rolling partners.

Creswell is followed by TJ Brodeur's demonstration to earn his purple belt: TJ will be familiar to previous viewers of Roy Dean's material, as he is the regular uke (a role taken by James Malone on The White Belt Bible). As well as being memorable for that reason, the editing also provides an insight into the gruelling nature of these demonstrations, which require not only skill, but stamina too.

Chris Wright-Martell, who will be familiar to readers of The Underground as twinkletoes, is third of the four demonstrations. He is under Roy Harris directly rather than a Roy Dean student. Although Dean is just another training partner here rather than the head instructor, the production is as excellent as usual: presumably he was in charge of that process. The last demonstration is by Roy Dean himself, going for his second degree black belt under Harris.

Two short documentary pieces from a Rick Ellis project are next. Lessons from a Champion describes training with Saulo Ribeiro, showing Roy Dean the student rather than Roy Dean the instructor. You may have already seen this on YouTube, but it is nevertheless a treat to have a high resolution version to watch: as always, the editing and production is flawless.

That is followed by Jiu Jitsu in London. This marks a first in my reviews, as I briefly appear in this section of the DVD, looking particularly malnourished. The reason my scrawny features pop up is that Ellis filmed this during Roy Dean's first UK seminar, which I attended. The film follows Dean and his students as they are taken around London (hence the title), traversing the Tube and taking in the sights and sounds of the capital (such as the guy who does cool stuff with crystal balls, just like in the classic Bowie '80s film, Labyrinth).

Sight-seeing is juxtaposed with clips of training at the Roy Dean affiliated Poole BJJ Academy, including interviews with the instructors, Steve Greenaway and Paul Laver (who you can also spot during the demonstrations earlier). It is a real shame that the larger project Ellis told me about, which was to be a full-length film tracing his journey to purple belt, didn't pan out. However, I'm glad we still get to enjoy beautiful miniatures like these, even if it makes me long for what might have been.

The White Belt Bible finishes with a large number of trailers: is earlier releases, this tended to be a short section, but there is now a quite extensive library of Roy Dean DVDs on the market. Like most people, I'm excited to see what he comes up with for Brown Belt Requirements: as with any good artist, his output is rarely predictable, but always high quality.

If you're a beginner looking for BJJ instruction to complement what you've been learning in class, then I would as usual suggest Blue Belt Requirements. If you're a beginner with a general interest in martial arts, perhaps with some experience in aikido or another traditional style, this DVD is a great place to start. The White Belt Bible serves as a stylish introduction, both to jiu jitsu in its various forms and the unique Roy Dean style of instruction captured on his growing collection of DVDs. Available to buy here, or from iTunes here.