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

06 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.

1 comment:

  1. Great review as always. I might pick this one up.