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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

04 October 2011

04/10/2011 - Gracie Barra Donal (Spider Guard)

Class #422
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Donal Carmody, Bristol, UK - 04/10/2011

Donal is easily one of the best guys at GB Bristol, so I was pleased to hear he'll be teaching some classes from now on. I wanted to make sure I was there to support his first lesson, as Donal has been kind enough to head down to quite a few of mine. Unfortunately I wasn't going to be able to stick around for Kirsty's judo session afterwards, which I'd also like to support, but hopefully she'll get a good turnout. For competitors, a judo class should be extremely helpful, so I'd urge everybody to go check out Kirsty's new class.

I was especially excited to hear that Donal would be teaching spider guard. That's something I've been fiddling with for years, but in a rather haphazard and unsuccessful fashion. I can generally hold somebody there, but not much else. Donal's whole class was geared around spider guard, including some helpful drills, such as trying to move in a circle around your training partner using only your legs, with the restriction that your feet can't touch the floor.

The teaching method was to break down the technique into stages of complexity, which worked well. The drill was the most basic level, as that helped to familiarise everyone with using your legs and feet to hook against somebody else's limbs. Donal then began to demonstrate the triangle from spider guard itself, again starting out simply.

You're in open guard, with your feet on their hips, gripping both sleeves. Swing one leg out, then bring it back in, wrapping over the same side arm. Your foot hooks under their armpit on the inside, reaching to pull around their shoulder blade: this creates a lasso grip. Your other foot presses into their other bicep, pushing that out. Once you've got that other leg straight, you can switch the hand from the bicep-arm sleeve to their lasso-side collar.

Pull their collar towards you to stop them posturing up. Next, release your hand from their lasso-side sleeve and move it to their same side elbow. Slide that towards you while kicking your lasso-side leg through. Bring your bicep-arm leg to their head, which means you're now ready to lock up the triangle.

We drilled that, allowing Donal to progress to a more detailed stage. He noted that when pushing into their bicep, curl the toes of your foot. That will make it harder for them to circle their arm free. Similarly, when you grip their sleeve on the lasso side, pull that around your thigh and clamp your elbow to your side. That means that if they pull, they have to contend with the static mass of your thigh, rather than matching muscle against muscle with your wrist and arm.

When closing up the triangle, Donal advised against pulling down on the head. Instead, he suggested that you angle out the leg which you've brought over your instep, so that you can look at your ankle. You can then complete the triangle by just squeezing your thighs, rather than relying on yanking their head towards you.

We then went into a sort of king of the hill sparring, but more along the lines of the 1-2-3 set-up I liked so much at Gracie Barra Birmingham. Donal called out several people to stay on their backs, while everyone else cycled in, before switching out to some other people to go on their backs. It was a particularly relaxed form of sparring, which was a hallmark of the lesson. Rather than fighting from spider guard, all we were doing was switching spider guard grips from one side to the other while your partner tried to pass.

That then led into flow rolling, which isn't something I've tried to add into lessons yet, but I'd like to as it's an awesome way to get people to chill out. When you get used to flow rolling, you become much more creative and fluid in your sparring, rather than stalling out in certain position. Ideally it would be a part of every lesson, perhaps a warm-up, but then there are time constraints. It's also a tough concept for beginners to grasp, though Donal built up to it well.

Free sparring enabled me to try out some of those sweeps I drilled months ago, but had completely forgotten until I reread my notes earlier today. I frequently try spider guard, which normally results in them raising a knee, but I then can't remember what to do. Tonight gave me a chance to remind myself (or if nothing else, the impetus to do so), which proved useful.

I loved the laid back vibe that lasted all the way through the lesson. Donal's friendly, enthusiastic personality definitely came through in his teaching: I had a smile on my face most of the time. He was constantly encouraging, even to his uke during demonstration, with a good grasp of details. Should be fun to see what he has in store for us next week. Donal will be teaching again on Wednesday at 12:00.

You should also be sure to head along to Kirsty's judo class if you want to work your takedowns (which if you compete, you should). I liked the way that Geeza made sure everyone paid the proper respect to both judo and to Kirsty's rank: she put on her black belt, while everybody else strapped on a white belt.


  1. I think I saw a video of robson moura employing a similar triangle from spider guard, its a position I play with alot, Im usually all about harpoon sweeps as soon as I catch the arm (the fact I caught it in a comp the other day was a bonus). Im thinking I might suggest doing some open spider passing drills like you suggested.

  2. Yeah, it was one of Robson's sweeps I was playing with during sparring, where you bring the lasso foot over to their opposite armpit. I haven't actually watched the DVD yet, but I think the guy who showed it to me said it came from Robson's stuff on 'cross guard'.