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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 October 2011

31/10/2011 - RGA Bucks Aylesbury

Class #428
RGA Bucks, (BJJ), Kev Capel, Aylesbury, UK - 31/10/2011

After the beginner class, we moved into the advanced, although things stayed fairly basic due to it being beginners apart from Howard and I. Kev started with some takedown drills, which is something he's always done (that black belt in judo certainly helps), before going into more detail on the uchi-mata. Normally, you swivel in, then kick back your leg into theirs to put them off-balance for the throw. Instead of completing the throw, Kev prefers to use that kick to get in close, then step towards their other leg, either grabbing the ankle or blocking their far knee to put them on their back.

Ground technique continued on from the previous lesson. You're in low mount, so from there you can finish them with an ezequiel choke. Control them by grapevining their legs, also grabbing under their head. Put your head next to theirs, both to help with control and block their view. You want to use the hand you have under their head to grab your other sleeve. The next step is the most difficult, as you need to somehow bring that hand past their face to the other side of their neck.

Generally, they're going to try and block that with their chin or their arm. So, ideally you don't want to give them any warning. Kev suggested shooting your hand straight through, immediately after you slightly raise your head. You can also try sliding your hand down over their face, though this is a bit more unpleasant for your partner. Finish by chopping your hand into their neck: the gi material you've dragged along with you should enable you to block the remaining artery for the choke.

Kev illustrated the grey area in the rules regarding touching their face by showing another confusing rule, about reaping the knee. As some people started asking about why that was illegal, we got onto an interesting tangent about heel hooks and how to escape them (basically, roll, but make sure you roll the right way, or you'll end up really messing up your knee. Hence why Kev doesn't want people to use them in sparring, as there is too much risk involved).

I was a bit wary of sparring because of my lingering injuries, so stuck to positional work from mount with a friendly white belt. He's only been training four weeks, so it mostly consisted of me offering advice on both maintaining mount and making space to escape when underneath. As I taught a class on the former last week, that was all still fresh in my mind, but even so I didn't manage to take the opportunity to shift into s-mount when on top. I've not used it much in sparring before, but it's something I want to try more often, as there seem to be loads of good attacks from there (some of which I'll be covering this Thursday).

Instead of free sparring, I stayed in instructor mode, helping out a different white belt. He was injured so couldn't spar, but we could still do some drilling. The main thing he wanted to work was escaping side control, which was perfect for me as that is my comfort zone for teaching BJJ. I'm not sure if he's reading, but basically the stuff I went through is all in my earlier write-up of my side control escape class, here

31/10/2011 - RGA Bucks Aylesbury New Location

Class #427
RGA Bucks, (BJJ), Kev Capel, Aylesbury, UK - 31/10/2011

There have been big changes since I last headed to Kev's, as he has recently opened up a full-time academy. So, I thought I'd take the opportunity to plug his school. ;)

The new venue is brilliantly located, as I discovered while walking to my parents' house after arriving into town. You can basically jump off the train at Aylesbury Station and almost immediately step onto the mats at RGA Bucks. It's in Duck Farm Court, a cluster of shops. Due to all that retail, there is ample parking, convenient if you're driving to your BJJ. Duck Farm Court is right behind Morrisons (for US readers, that's a large supermarket chain in the UK), which also means you've handily got an ATM nearby.

Roger Gracie Academy Bucks (new website in development)
Duck Farm Court
Station Way
HP20 2SQ
07904810640 (Kev)

The building itself is two floors. RGA Bucks' main matted area is on the lower floor, visible from outside because the entry is through two glass doors. If the sign above the door didn't give it away, the sight of people in gis wandering around lets you know you're in the right place. Kev's mats are really soft, so they're ideal for working your takedowns (and I think a judo class is indeed in the works). Though there are some pillars holding up the ceiling, they're all heavily padded: I didn't notice any problems with that during sparring or the warm-up. Kev has an office on the same floor, with an open window you can lean through to chat or settle up your bill.

Upstairs houses the changing rooms, along with a spacious chill-out area that reminded me of Mill Hill. You can relax on the couch while enjoying the library of BJJ DVDs and books. That might be because you're about to have an appointment with the resident physio, who I think Kev said was a back specialist. So, if you've got any niggling injuries, you don't even have to leave the premises to get some professional assistance. Which is pretty cool.

There are classes every day (except Saturday, I think, but that will probably get a class in future), with evening and daytime options. Kev is handling most of the teaching duties at the moment along with his work in the fire service, but is due to expand his staff. Most of the people who got their purple belts on the same day as me are going to become instructors: I'm looking forward to checking out Howard's class, as he's got a lot of experience in other martial arts as well as BJJ.

In the daytime, you have the pleasure of being taught by Yas Wilson, one of the top female competitors in the country who has fought at the highest levels of competition. She got silver at the Mundials this year in the purple belt division, only losing out to Mackenzie Dern. Yas has also fought at the Abu Dhabi Pro, and recently took part in the most prestigious grappling competition in the world, the ADCC. If you're in the Aylesbury area and are free during the day, then you should definitely go benefit from her wealth of competitive experience.

On top of all that, Kev himself is of course an awesome instructor, who started off in boxing, went on to get a black belt in judo, another in jeet kune do, fought a few times in MMA and has since earned a brown belt in BJJ from Roger Gracie. I really enjoyed my time as a regular student under Kev, which is why I'll be continuing to drop in whenever I'm visiting my parents. If you're in Buckinghamshire, you need to go train at RGA Bucks! :D

Getting on to the actual class, the beginner class started off as normal with some self defence. Like I've said many times before, I'm not a fan of self-defence, but I like Kev's approach. That's because he has a straightforward, realistic perspective, without any of the mystical fluff you often get in traditional martial arts at one end of the scale, or the 'hard man' posturing that plagues RBSD. There was a great example tonight during Kev's defence to a haymaker. It's something I've seen him teach before, similar to how it's shown on Gracie Combatives.

The difference is that when Kev teaches it, he will say things like "yeah, you're probably going to eat a shot when you do this." As he mentioned, you'll likely be in a pub, maybe had a few drinks. You may well even find that you don't just get hit, but knocked out, in which case you're obviously not going be able to land the technique. However, presuming you manage to stay on your feet or avoid the full force of the punch, you can then move into a side-on clinch. From there, step through into an o-goshi hip throw.

Another thing I like about how Kev teaches self defence is that he merges it nicely with the stuff I'm interested in, which is what the Gracie Academy would call 'sport' jiu jitsu (as ever, that terminology is debateable.) So after you take them down, move through to knee on belly, then secure the armbar.

Kev then went through two ways of transitioning from side control to the mount. Start by killing the near arm, switching your hips briefly to scarf hold 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.

Make space by shifting towards their head, then slide your knee over their belt line. To stop them blocking your slide, grab their far hip with your hand, creating a barrier with your arm. Keep sliding the knee through to the mat. If they have an arm in the way, underhook it and walk your fingers towards their head to get it out of the way. From there, you can now adjust your legs in order shift into mount and establish your grapevines.

The second transition to mount again starts from a a tight side control. You've already killed the near arm. Switch one arm to their far arm, putting the other hand to their near hip, then shift your hips right back towards their head as far as you can. This puts you in reverse scarfhold, where your elbow is either in their far armpit or wrapped underneath for control. This position also means you're blocking their view with your entire body.

That therefore stops them from seeing exactly what you're doing. 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 far knee to stop them snatching mount, then bring the leg across. You can either grab your own foot and pull it across, or just squeeze it past your own arm, depending on your flexibility and how much space you've created.

I'm still injured, so sparring from side control was light. I wanted to practice Saulo's method of holding side control, as that doesn't require much use of my wrist. Instead, I can just clamp the elbow to their far side, concentrating on keeping my weight down. Still, it is much harder to transition to variations of side control when I can't use my hand properly to grip, so it wasn't a particularly dominant side control on my part.

Rolling with Kev was fun, as he was sweeping me with a whole bunch of techniques. I got reversed from his deep half guard at one point, which Kev showed me afterwards. He said the move he used is normally called the waiter sweep or the He-Man sweep: either way, good stuff. Deep half guard isn't a strong point of mine, as my approach to half guard is normally to try and get back to full guard or take the back. Still, it is something Geeza likes too, so I'm in a good place to learn it.

27 October 2011

27/10/2011 - Teaching (Maintaining Mount: Technical Mount & Gift Wrap to the Back)

Teaching #025
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 27/10/2011

Last time, I talked about the two main ways of maintaining the mount, which are low mount with grapevines, along with high mount, walking your knees up into their armpits, squeezing your legs into their sides. However, as with all the other dominant positions in BJJ, sometimes you'll find your opponent is about to escape. Rather than lose the position, there are several transitions in mount that mean you can retain control.

The most common is probably technical mount, sometimes referred to as seated mount. I mentioned this briefly in my previous lesson, but I wanted to spend more time on it tonight. If they turn under your mount, turn with them, so that you're facing in the same direction as their head. They will end up facing away from you, balanced on their side. As you turn to follow them, lead that turning motion with your knee, sliding it along their back. The other knee comes off the floor, meaning that you can now jam the heel of that raised leg into their hip. This is key: if you leave any space, you're vulnerable to their escape.

I tend to have the foot of the leg by their back tucked close to them, to cut off space. However, that may not provide as good a base compared to angling the foot away slightly, should they try to shove you in that direction. Lean into their shoulder with your upper body, to further help stabilise the position and remove any gaps. From there, I like to reach through with my lower hand and grab their collar, ready to initiate some choke attempts.

If you can get a decent grip on their upper body, then you can also apply some lessons we learned about other positions. For example, a while ago I showed one of Andre Galvao's methods for keeping the back. If you look at that technique, you'll see that certain stages are quite similar to the technical mount. So, if from reason the foot you have by their hip is slipping and they try to catch it in half guard, try sliding your other knee right to their head and rolling them to the other side. Due to their half guard attempt, they've already given you one hook, so you just need to insert the other.

It is also worth keeping in mind that you can of course switch back to full mount. That may present itself if they turn towards you from technical mount. By doing that, they're basically putting themselves back underneath full mount: you just have to adjust your leg positioning slightly. Always try to stay fluid, rather than locking yourself stiffly into one position.

A more secure way to go to the back from mount is to use a gift wrap, which you'll also see called twisting arm control. If they have an elbow exposed (e.g., they might be reaching over to grab their own collar, in an attempt to protect their neck), you can push into that with your chest, to shove their hand down next to the side of their neck. If you then reach under their head with your arm and grasp their wrist, you can pull it tight.

Use that grip on their wrist to turn them on their side, switching your legs to the technical mount position. Drop backwards, pulling them along with you using that gift wrap grip. The first hook is simple, as you already had that foot by their hip, so it is in position. For the second hook, your knee that was by their back slides into position, as you are pulling them past it.

Another option is to switch into s-mount, which is often the precursor to an armbar (which I'll cover next week). From full mount, slide one knee up towards their head. Your other knee is going to drive into their far arm. Once you have their arm roughly at the level of their chest, swing the lower part of your far leg: your foot should point towards their head, with the rest of the leg curled around their armpit. It is important you keep this tight.

You should now be turned towards their far side, sitting back on your near side heel. To further tighten up the position, you can reaching under their head and grabbing your far ankle, pulling it towards their near side. Stephan Kesting recommends you slightly raise the knee that is by their head off the floor, to put additional pressure into their diaphragm. A final tip on s-mount, this time from Aesopian (fill out his gi survey if you haven't already), is to hook their far leg with your free arm, to diminish the power of their bridge. He also tends to drive his near side knee a bit further, so that it slides under their head.

25 October 2011

25/10/2011 - Gracie Barra Bristol (X-Guard)

Class #426
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Donal Carmody, Bristol, UK - 25/10/2011

My wrist and neck are still not in working order, but Donal's classes have been too good to miss, especially as he is currently going through open guard. It did unfortunately mean I couldn't do all the drills, like the gorilla walk, but I could at least get the technical benefits from Donal's impressively cheerful instruction. ;)

Tonight it was x guard, going through the classic sweep from that position. First, Donal showed how to get into the position. Starting in a simple spider guard, where you have their sleeves pulled around your knees, the x-guard entry beckons when they stand up. Hook your instep around the outside of their far hip, while the knee of that same leg goes behind their near knee. The instep of your other foot also hooks on the far side, but this time behind their upper leg. Your legs and feet now form a sort of 'x', hence the name of the guard.

You also want to make sure you scoot underneath them, so you may need to wriggle your bum sideways and forwards to get in position. The aim is to get your near arm wrapped around the leg closest to your head. Push with your legs to stretch them out, which also makes their near leg light: it should now be a simple matter to bump that up onto your shoulder with your wrapping arm. Immediately lock that to your head, clamping it in place with both your skull and your arm (either grab your gi with your hand, or hold your own head).

There is still another grip you need, to fully break their posture. Ideally, you want to grab their far sleeve. If that is out of range, the second best option is their near sleeve. If you can't get that either, you'll have to make do with any lapel that is dangling within reach, making sure you really pull that tight, feeding it as far into your grip as you can. This should now force them to lean towards you awkwardly, making it hard for them to balance.

If you can get the far sleeve, you have a chance to totally mess up their posture. Pull that far sleeve right to your shoulder, so they're yanked forward. Pass that sleeve to your other hand (but still keeping the arm wrapped around their leg). This will put an even better grip in range: the armpit of that far sleeve. Grab that and pull it towards you. From here, you barely have to do anything to knock them over to get the sweep, as their posture is completely broken.

Should that not be possible and you're left with a slightly less awesome grip, push on their far leg with your feet to stretch it out. The normal process would be to then keep pushing with the sole of the foot you had on their outside hip, transferring it to the side of their knee. That would then enable you to do a technical stand-up, lifting their leg up onto your shoulder as a result (because you still have it wrapped with your arm). Simply keep moving forward to knock them over, then pass.

Donal does it slightly differently, as he doesn't put the sole of his foot on their knee. Instead, he keeps the instep hooked and pushes with that. Also, when standing up, Donal noted that you don't have to drive forward to get them down. You can instead just pull their leg in tight and shove your shoulder into it to start your pass.

Sparring was next, in the 1-2-3 set-up Donal normally uses, but I wasn't confident my injuries would hold up against excited white belts. So instead, I had a roll with Tony's son (I think he's 8 or 9), which gave me a chance to go into instructor mode. I tried to give him a chance to work his guard recovery, as well as practice x-guard, although given the difference in leg length that wasn't easy. I'm not yet used to teaching kids, but if they were all as attentive and polite as this one, it would be a doddle. ;)

To finish off, I had three light rolls, first with Luke, then Donal, then a flow roll with Luke again (although Luke has such good control it always pretty much feels like a flow roll). In the course of that, I got a good tip from Donal. At one point he was passing my guard, while I still had a pocket grip on the bottom of his trousers (by which I mean you create a 'pocket' with your thumb by rolling it under the cuff, then put your four fingers into that pocket). I tend to get nervous about my fingers, so will often switch to the less secure grip of the heel.

However, Donal said that you need to have faith in that pocket grip. Like Big Mick said in his lesson a while ago, if you just stick with that grip, it makes it really tough for them to pass. Donal gave the example that when they are trying to drive their leg through, maintain that grip and squeeze your knees together on both sides of the leg (without locking your feet, as then you can squeeze even more). Turn their leg over your body in the other direction, then open your knees back up to re-establish guard.

24 October 2011

Gi Review - Black Eagle 'Predator' MK II

Short Review: This is a comfortable, well-fitting gi, which is also very light. Due to the pearl weave and ripstop trousers, along with a tapered cut, the Predator is ideal for a competitor close to their weight limit. It is also both sanforized and mercerised, which not only makes the Predator a notably brighter white, it more importantly guarantees the gi won't shrink more than 1 or 2%. That means you should check the size chart carefully: I bought a size below my usual option.

The only downside for me was the amount of embroidery and patches: the word 'Predator' is emblazoned all over the gi. However, as I discuss later in this review, you can remove the embroidery, it just takes a long time. The Predator is available to buy here in the UK for £79.99.

Full Review: I hadn't expected to receive a Predator, as I was waiting on the new 'Basico' offering from Black Eagle. However, having both of them drop through the letterbox meant I could be comparative, which is useful. The Predator was a big step for Black Eagle in 2010, completely redesigning their previous BJJ offering. It was then followed in 2011 by a considerable marketing push for the Mark II: this review joins many others around the web. That also inaugurated the Predator BJJ range, which has become a broader BJJ product line including equipment for nogi (a website is in the works, AFAIK).

A relatively unique feature of the Predator gi (or at least I haven't owned any other gis that make the same claim) is that it is guaranteed to not shrink beyond 1-2%. That's something which has been tested by Meerkatsu, who surprisingly found that it actually got bigger after repeated hot washes. SkinnyD discovered that it would still shrink if you put it in the dryer, though generally that isn't part of a gi washing routine: personally, the only reason I ever put a gi in the drier (for the very few who might be wondering, I've seen it spelled both ways) is to shrink them.

Washing my own Predator, I kept it at 30 degrees Celsius, which perhaps unsurprisingly didn't result in any change. The width from cuff to cuff stayed at 153.5cm, while the trouser length didn't deviate from 90.5cm. Apparently that resistance to shrinkage is because the material of this gi is not only 'sanforized', but 'mercerised' as well. I've seen those terms mentioned before in other Predator reviews, but until joining those reviewers myself, I had no idea what they meant.

Looking around the internet, Wikipedia tells me sanforization dates back to 1930, when the process was patented by Sanford Lockwood Cluett (1874–1968), who hailed from New York. You might well have seen the 'sanforized' label inside a pair of jeans (unless you're me, as I don't wear jeans: not enough pockets ;p). There is a link to the OED on the wiki, so as I happen to have access to an electronic edition, here's the definition: "A proprietary name for cotton and other fabrics which have been preshrunk by a special process." Which doesn't tell me much.

Fortunately the other link on the wiki is rather more expansive, with an illustrated description. In short, the actual method itself is called 'Controlled Compressive Shrinkage'. That involves running the material through a machine, which first sprays the cotton with water and steam, squashes it in various ways, then finishes off by drying to lock the threads. CCS is entirely mechanical, rather than chemical.

The etymology of 'mercerised' is similar, but this time it owes its name to a gentleman from Lancashire (nice to see the local County Council is proud of him), John Mercer. Incidentally, he's appropriately named, as 'mercer' means "One who deals in textile fabrics, esp. a dealer in silks, velvets, and other costly materials". Mr Mercer was English, so as you might expect, that means the innovation dates back to the Industrial Revolution (1844 to be specific, patented in 1851), when Britain was the global power rather than the USA.

According to the wiki, Mercer wasn't the man who popularised the process that bore his name: that was down to H.A. Lowe, who made some changes in 1890 (though I guess not enough to warrant 'lowerised'). The wiki states mercerising apparently strengthens the fabric, this time thanks to a chemical (sodium hydroxide) instead of a machine. Tom Beaudet goes into a lot more detail:

John Mercer was granted a British patent for work he had done pertaining to cotton, linen and other vegetable fibrous materials that in effect caused certain changes in the character of the fiber when subjected to caustic soda, sulfuric acid, and/or other chemicals, etc. He went on to list a number of these changes, one of which was that caustic soda caused the fiber to swell, become round and straighten out (but it did not impart any change in luster). At the time Mercer introduced these processes, the British cotton trade showed no interest in any of it and it all sat in obscurity for about forty years. In 1890 Horace Lowe was granted a British patent in which he claimed that by applying Mercer's caustic soda process to cotton yarn or fabric under tension a resultant high luster (a result of the light reflection off the smooth, round surface) was imparted to the fiber. It became an overnight success and revolutionized the cotton industry. The rest is history.

Research into random fabric processes aside, this gi is comfortable and light. The top is pearl weave, which in this case results in a thin, soft but still sturdy jacket. It's very light, comfortable, and due to all that sanforising and mercerising, a notably brighter, shiny white compared to other gis. The ripstop trousers also felt fine, though my training partner did find them a bit hard to grab (which may be down to size rather than material). The Predator also dries quite quickly, taking less than a day, which is another big plus point in its favour.

The foam collar feels relatively strong, and like the sleeve and trouser cuffs reinforcement, it is covered in ripstop material. I'm not sure if that has any particular benefits, though I would assume that it helps make the gi lighter, as well as speeding up the drying process. If you don't know what ripstop is, I've got a long description over on my review of the Gorilla Fight Gear all-ripstop gi, here.

There are a whopping six belt loops on the trousers, which create a point of contrast, as they're black as opposed to the otherwise white fabric of the gi. The drawstring is black too, and also slightly longer than usual. Black Eagle have opted for a flat drawstring rather than rope. Although I know some people love the rope tie, I'm not overly bothered either way. The flat drawstring is perhaps marginally my preference, as there is no danger of it forming a large knot that digs into you. Then again, I've not yet had that problem with rope drawstrings, as they've been sufficiently soft that I haven't noticed the knot causing any pressure.

The design isn't to my taste, as there is embroidery down the front of the jacket, shoulders and the back of the skirt, plus patches on the upper legs. As I've mentioned before, I especially dislike large text on a gi, as it makes me feel like a billboard. That meant while wearing the Predator, I kept thinking that although I quite liked the fit (which works for big guys too, as discussed by Big Stew in his review), it was going to take a long time to remove all that bling. Fortunately, another Black Eagle gi was due to arrive which I hoped would solve that problem: the Basico. Look out for the review next week.

It is possible to remove embroidery, but the procedure is even more time-consuming than getting rid of patches. You need a range of tools, patience and a lot of time. From what I read, it also isn't easy to avoid damage to the fabric. At best, you'll still probably leave behind some discoloration. Still, I'm suitably anti-bling to at least give it a try, so I headed for the sewing kit. As it turned out, the process itself isn't that complex: shave the back of the embroidery with a beard-trimmer (not essential, but speeds things up), then as with patches, carefully cut your way through the strands of thread, again from the back. Finally, pull out the loose threads with a pair of tweezers (you can use your fingers if you prefer). But be warned: just getting rid of the 'r' on the jacket skirt embroidery took me over an hour, as there tend to be several layers of stitching.

At £79.99, the Predator isn't cheap, but it isn't ridiculously expensive either. If all that science lives up to its claims, it's a fair price for increased quality and durability. Available to buy here in the UK.

Update August 2014: Sadly, the company no longer exists, as per this status update on their Facebook page. To quote the founder, "Due to the incompetence of the people we effectively sold our business to, and from which we still earn a living through a percentage of sales, Black Eagle has now ceased trading. Those concerned still owe us £20K, plus earnings, and have left us completely penniless. So, if you see cheap Black Eagle gear being sold, please don't buy it, we get nothing for it, and you will just be lining the pockets of the liquidator."

20 October 2011

20/10/2011 - Teaching (Attacking Side Control)

Teaching #024
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 20/10/2011

My neck was a bit messed up from training on Tuesday (entirely my fault: I was turtled up, then while looking to roll someone over, managed to drive their weight through my neck rather than my legs), plus that wrist was still sore. I was in 'lazy instructor' mode as a result, calling out some of the exercises rather than doing them myself. I normally try to at least do the star jumps etc, but I'm trying to rest those niggling injuries as much as possible. I'm hoping that means I'll be (mostly) good to go for the sparring class on Sunday.

My intention in this lesson was to move on from transitions into attacks. To connect up the two classes, I wanted to show how you can hit submissions off that transition, specifically when going from side control to north south. The first is my highest percentage attack from north-south, a kimura. Starting from side control, you want to control their far arm. This is made easier if they aren't careful, and let you bump their arm up onto your shoulder.

Whether they put it there or you do, the next step is to wrap your arm over theirs, aiming to get just under their elbow to kill mobility in the limb. Ideally, also pull them up by that arm, so they're rolled onto their side. To lock it in place, grab your own collar, or just somewhere on your gi if you can't reach far enough. You'll also want to use you head, clamping your skull against their forearm. Braulio advises following their arm with your head: e.g., if they try to fling it down to the mat or something like that. Don't let them work their arm past your head.

You're also going to move round to north-south, so again you may want to block their legs from running after you by putting a hand on the mat, near their bum (although it should be a bit harder for them to turn if you've locked up that arm). As you move around, you want to jam the knee that begins nearest their hips into their armpit, sliding your lower leg under their arm as you move around. That makes it harder for them to escape. If you can't manage that, slide your knee over their free arm once you've got to north south. It is useful to maintain some kind of control on that free arm, as otherwise they can use it to try and create some space to escape.

You essentially end up sitting on their head, so in drilling, be aware that you don't want to crush your partner. You can take a bit of the weight off by transferring it to your knees: obviously in competition, that's less of a concern. As you sit up, make sure their elbow is glued to your chest.

The next important step is to establish a figure four on their trapped arm, which can be easier said than done. One simple method Kev showed me is to put your free hand in place, ready to grab their wrist. Next, turn your head away from their arm: this will push your shoulder forwards, which will then also knock their arm forwards, putting the wrist right into your waiting hand. It's then simple to complete the figure four grip.

To finish the kimura, simply turn back in the other direction, pushing their wrist towards the side their elbow is pointing . Alternatively, you can also bring the elbow of your non-clamping arm to their trapped arm side. Turn your body so you're facing their head, then apply the kimura from that lower position.

If you make a mistake while looking to apply the kimura from that upright position, or they simply defend well, you might find that they are able to grab their own belt or gi. This will make it tough to complete the submission. You can try pulling in the direction their knuckles are pointing, or Roy Dean's option of using rhythm to break that grip. Push their arm towards them twice, as if you are really trying to break their grip, then yank hard in the other direction (aiming for the direction in which their fingers are weakest).

Should none of that work, you can instead switch to an armbar. Bring your knee up on their trapped arm side. This will enable you to put your whole body into it when you turn towards their other side, which should break their grip. Make sure you keep that figure four grip, as it is about to prove useful. If possible, you also want to try and slip your foot into the armpit of their free arm, which should help prevent their escape attempt.

Pinch your knees together to control their arm, in what is sometimes called a 'Japanese armbar' position (I'm not sure why: something from Japan, I guess? Or maybe Pancrase? Leave a comment if you know). You don't have both your legs over their body, which means that the hitchhiker escape is a possibility. It's called that because they lead with their thumb pointing the way out, turning their body and walking around.

However, because you have that figure-four grip, they can't use it anymore. If they try to turn away, you can just apply the kimura. In order to relieve the pressure, they'll have to turn back. You can then drop to the mat, switching your grip to finish the armbar as normal.

There was still plenty of time left after that, so I asked if they wanted to learn another technique or go to sparring. The students opted for the latter. That bonus technique is still up my sleeve if I need it next time. :)

18 October 2011

18/10/2011 - Gracie Barra Bristol (de la Riva)

Class #425
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Donal Carmody, Bristol, UK - 18/10/2011

Jiu Jitsu Style issue 5 is now out (you can get JJS through iTunes, in the US or in the UK, among other countries): if there are any students from Gracie Barra Bristol reading, those pictures from the photo shoot a while back are included (so, the one before Mick Wilson), with an exclusive Geeza interview! Lots of other great stuff in there too, from a variety of writers, not just me. ;)

My wrist was a little sore from DIY this week, but I decided to just wrap it up and train anyway: I've been to class plenty of times when one of my hands wasn't working right for some reason, and it isn't too difficult to avoid relying heavily on the injured limb. The focus for this class was still open guard, but moving on from last week's spider guard into the de la Riva. After his usual excellent series of drills, Donal talked through the basic position.

You start by establishing the de la Riva hook itself, wrapping your leg behind theirs, curling the toes of your foot around their inner thigh for control. Your same side hand grabs their trouser leg on that side: you can also grab the heel, but it is easier to kick the foot free (though I know black belts disagree on this, as I've been taught both as the 'right' way to grip). Your free foot pushes into their other knee to stretch them out.

You also want to grab their far sleeve. Simply reaching for it is too obvious, as they will then pull their arm back. To be more cunning about it, you can grab their arm as they reach to grip your pant leg, or indeed grab their sleeve after they've already grabbed your pant leg. If you then kick that leg forwards while maintaining the grip on the sleeve, you're left holding their arm while they have nothing.

From that basic position, Donal progressed to a sweep. He wasn't sure if this had a name, so I'm going to refer to it as the Donal sweep. You want to get your de la Riva hook right across their far hip. In order to do so, push off with your foot on their far knee and pull down on the sleeve you've grabbed. That should enable you to turn onto your shoulder, while also providing you with the base to kick your de la Riva hook straight: Donal described it as making your body into a sort of surf board. Wrap the hooking foot around their far hip.

Return your shoulder towards the mat, so that you can then put your remaining foot underneath the de la Riva hook. This results in a sort of x-guard, but using a deep de la Riva. Sit up towards their leg, then as you drop back, pull your knees towards your chest while also yanking their sleeve. This will knock them forwards and off balance. From there, you should be able to simply turn in the direction your bottom knee is pointing to knock them to the mat.

All the way through, you need to make sure you keep that same side grip on their trouser leg. This now comes into play as you look to pass. Maintaining that grip, you can either slide your knee through to cut over their shin and pass, or you can establish a cross face and move to pass from there. You might even find you can step around and go the other way, towards their back.

Donal also briefly covered some simple tips on passing the de la Riva. The main thing is that you can simply turn your knee outwards to pop their hook off your leg if they haven't got it deep. You can also try pushing down on their leg and kicking your foot free, if they aren't being careful to maintain a good grip.

We did three bits of sparring, starting off with just trying to maintain the position as they looked to pass, which stayed fairly light. That was mainly to get used to de la Riva. Next, it was the same 1-2-3 thing, where all the 1s go on their backs and stay there, then the 2s, then the 3s. On my back, I was pleased to get the Donal sweep, even if it was just the once. After that, I was generally just maintaining and wriggling.

While trying to pass, I had some success, if I was able to either knock off their de la Riva hook by pushing the heel or stepping back and shoving their other leg down, preferably both. However, I was also sometimes being too complacent and sitting down, trying to rely on base, which isn't sensible if they've still got those strong grips. I need to make sure I break the grips first, then move into the pass.

Finally, we did free sparring. I was vaguely looking for the de la Riva, but kept ending up in spider guard or simply wiggling my legs around instead. I had an interesting roll to finish, where I was looking to grab an arm from turtle and roll them over. I isolated the arm and turned, but although I got on top, I wasn't able to secure the position. They still had their arms locked around a leg, so reversed me right back.

I also need to be careful, because at one point during all my spinning and twisting, I had my leg in a very vulnerable position. If I hadn't luckily pulled it free just as they were driving forward, I could have easily busted up my knee. That serves as another important reminder that I can't just dangle my legs anywhere I want, as my knee is not made of steel. I need to stay tight and pay more attention to the safety of my leg.

13 October 2011

13/10/2011 - Teaching (Maintaining Side Control)

Teaching #023
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 13/10/2011

Two exciting developments from the BJJ blogosphere this week. First off, Aesopian has just released his new gi survey. The questions have been carefully sculpted, so the results from this should prove very interesting. However, to get good results, lots of people need to fill it in. So, make sure you head over to the survey.

Secondly, Seymour from Meerkatsu has released his Honey Badger rashguard for pre-order. Bright colours, sublimated print and Seymour's famous design stylings have resulted in this (looks like you can get hold of it internationally, as they're on BudoVideos among other places).

In my previous lesson on maintaining side control, I went through some basic grips, along with a bit on scarf hold. This time round, I wanted to talk about north-south, as that is my personal favourite transition. I not a big fan of knee-on-belly myself, but planned to cover that as well: not only is it a good transition, it's meant to be ideal for small people like me, so a handy chance to practice.

When moving around to north-south from standard side control, start by shifting your grip. You'll need to place one arm by their near hip. A useful tip from Braulio is to anchor your hand flat on the mat by their legs, elbow near their bum. If you instead grab their gi or their trousers, they will be able to follow you with their legs as you turn. If you put your hand in the way, that acts as a barrier, meaning you can scoot around but they can't scamper after you. Your other hand will normally wrap under their far shoulder.

As always with top positions, you must make sure you are maximising the weight you're driving into them. Stay on your toes as you walk around, also establishing solid grips with your hands. Press your chest down to turn their head to one side: that is a good general rule of thumb from top position, as if you can turn their head to one side, it is tough for them to turn their body in the other direction.

As ever, there are numerous ways you can grip in this position. A common option is to basically flop your upper body onto their head, bringing your knees in. My personal preference is to move off to one side of the head, driving my weight onto their shoulder, my head low and pressing down, sprawling back with my legs.

You can also experiment with various grips. The most basic is probably grabbing under their shoulders and reaching for their belt, then pulling them in towards you. You could also try putting your elbows into their armpits, or maybe wrap up an arm, perhaps sliding your arm under the head. Another common approach is to have one arm over their arm, while the elbow of your other arm digs into their armpit.

Generally you want to keep your hips low, like in side control, but there are variations where you raise your hips, driving your weight through your shoulders. As Jason Scully over on Grapplers Guide mentioned, if they try that escape where they wriggle out and fling their legs over to take your back, raising your hips can be useful. You can then drive your forehead into their chest to stop them completing the escape.

The best place to learn about maintaining the north-south probably isn't BJJ: its parent art judo is much better at pins. In judo, the orthodox north-south is called 'kami shiho gatame', with lots of variations. For example, the picture on the left shows three options mentioned in an old instructional book from 1952, Higher Judo: Groundwork, by Dr Moshé Feldenkrais (not only a good judoka, but an engineer, physicist and founder of the eponymous 'Feldenkrais Method').

Along with scarf hold and north-south, the other major subposition of side control is knee on belly. To pop up there from a standard side control, as before you want to clear their elbow out of the way. That also helps you make lots of space to put the knee through. Establish a grip behind their head. Drive the knuckles of that hand into the mat, keeping hold of the back of their collar. You other hand presses on their hip, until you can hop your knee onto their stomach. An alternative is to grab their belt near the far hip, then bring your elbow back, which blocks the leg.

Once you've got up to knee on belly, move your hip hand to pull up on their knee, while your first hand stays behind their collar. Straighten that out, to make it more difficult for them to turn: your arm will be pressing into their head. You can then pull up with that collar grip too, bending them around your knee.

Make sure that your posting leg isn't near enough for them to grab, but not so far you're unbalanced: you want it roughly equidistant from their head and your hip, so a forty-five degree angle. That leg needs to stay mobile, as you'll use it to follow them if they try to spin away. Finally, take the toes of your pressing knee leg off the floor. That will put all your weight through your knee into them, rather than easing off the pressure by putting a foot on the floor.

Although this position is commonly known as knee-on-belly, or sometimes knee-on-stomach, there are different schools of thought as to where exactly you should place the knee. For example, Roger's father Maurição is well known for his crushing knee-on-chest. He recommends angling the knee up into their sternum, which is a lot less pleasant.

11 October 2011

11/10/2011 - Gracie Barra Bristol (Spider Guard)

Class #424
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Donal Carmody, Bristol, UK - 11/10/2011

Some people may remember I mentioned I was working on a new BJJ history project, as an extension of my Jiu Jitsu Style magazine articles about team history. I've now taken that a step further, so I'm trying to organise the data (which still isn't anywhere near complete, so please drop me a line if you can help on dates, team lineage, further historical sources, etc) in a sort of 'BJJ teams family tree', here.

Tonight was another fantastic class by Donal: I'm really enjoying his teaching style, and again there was an almost permanent smile on my face the whole lesson. He came up with more cool warm-ups, too, including the great open guard drill from last time, where you move around your partner using only your legs without putting your feet on the floor. Last time I kept things simple, but this time I was happily spinning around on my shoulders into inverted guard. I think it's the same drill Abmar Barbosa shows on his DVD set (which looks hilarious sped up).

When I trained at RGA HQ, I was often early, so got to watch Felipe Souza teach the kids class (he is the best teacher of kids I've ever seen: the only guy who comes close is his student and Future Champions head teacher, Jamie Hussein). The biggest difference was that a large chunk of those kids classes was devoted to games, bringing in learning by stealth.

The reason I mention this is that I got the same vibe from some of the cool stuff Donal brought into his warm-up. For example, he split the room into two groups, at either end of the mat. He then told us to spider walk towards each other (so, you're on your hands and feet, but facing the ceiling), then try and 'high five' as many people as you can. One important difference: you have to high five with the soles of your feet. Great way to work on your agility, getting used to using your feet like hands and of course decent cardio too, not to mention fun. ;)

Randomly, I also found that a passing drilling dredged up a memory of an old kung fu drill I used to do in Zhuan Shu Kuan. From what I remember of the history, backed up by Rod's trip to China, ZSK is supposed to be based on 'long fist' kung fu, which I guess is where the lunging stances come from. The drill I'm thinking of was a sort of diagonal punching thing.

You lean forward on one leg, keeping the other straight behind you, then punch out at an angle. Switch to the other leg, then punch the other way. The BJJ application is that you're passing the guard, having grabbed one of their trouser legs. Side step towards their head and punch with that grip simultaneously, to move their leg out of the way. The ZSK stance seemed to fit. Strange, as that's not something I ever thought I'd use again. ;)

Technique was still spider guard, which makes me very happy, as I've been trying to work on that for a good while now. Donal started off with a sweep, from when they are still on their knees. Starting with your feet on their hips, grab both sleeves and put one foot on their bicep. Push with your foot while also pulling their other sleeve forwards, so that your hand holding their sleeve is right by your head.

That should knock them off balance, as their arm is dragged forward on one side, while on their other you're pushing it right up. Keep on pushing with that foot into their bicep (remembering to curl your toes for extra grip), manoeuvring it over your opposite shoulder. When they're totally off-balance, use your free leg to chop into their same side leg, while continuing to pull on their sleeve and pushing with your bicep leg. From there, you should be able to roll into mount, similar to a scissor sweep.

If they manage to resist that and stay on their knees, they are still going to be off-balance, leaning right forward. That means it is a great time to transition to a triangle. Simply pull them arm even more forward as you slide your leg off their bicep and into their neck. Lock your legs by their head, also trapping the arm, then move into the triangle as normal.

As in Big Mick's lesson and the GB Brum method, we were split into groups of 1-2-3 for specific sparring, from spider guard. Interestingly, Donal used that to teach another technique, as before we started, he recapped what he said earlier about going deep with your lasso, hooking the foot around their back. This was for when they stand up: swing your leg out to one side in order to then swing it back to wrap over their arm, establishing your lasso spider guard.

Passing, I wasn't getting all that far, partly because I wanted to give the person on the bottom a chance to work, but mainly because my open guard passing is awful. I was able to work on the principle Geeza taught a while back, however, which is to use their strongest grip (in this case, the lasso wrapped around my arm) as a 'hinge' for your pass. I just kept trying to move around that leg, while gripping the other leg with my hand.

Underneath was fun, as I had a chance to start throwing in the various other sweeps I've been practicing. My favoured tripod sweep to sickle combination fits in nicely with spider guard, when they stand up: the sickle seemed to work better, for some reason. As you've already got such a deep control on their arm, that also seemed to help with coming straight up and into a dominant position, which is one of the things I often flail at with a normal tripod or sickle sweep.

Like last week, Donal also started free sparring with a round of flow rolling, though this time it was more jiu jitsu chess than what I'm used to (i.e., instead of just flowing through positions, you took it in turns with your partner). For free sparring proper, I had the usual relaxed roll with Luke. I was looking to go for an arm-wrap choke, but he was wise to that, so I couldn't bring the other elbow down across his chest while getting a grip on the collar.

I did somehow end up in mount later, where I aimed to use grapevines for control (or rather, Kev's tip on just crossing your feet underneath them), then working to either go for an ezequiel, scoop their elbow and walk my fingers up to loosen up an arm, or try and reach behind the head to grab the wrist for twisting arm control.

Having had a cool email exchange with a woman who recently started training BJJ in New Zealand, I'd been thinking about grapevines from mount earlier. She mentioned that in her class, someone had dissuaded her from using them, while her instructor went so far as to claim he could break her ankles if she put in grapevines. I've read elsewhere, somewhere on reddit, that grapevines are frowned upon in some schools.

I'm not sure why, as I use them all the time: it's something I taught earlier, in my maintaining mount lesson. Could be I've got a different definition of grapevines, or that I just haven't come across somebody who will punish me for putting in grapevines. Food for thought, though I take solace in the fact that top black belts like Demian Maia and Saulo Ribeiro both demonstrate grapevining on their instructional DVDs.

06 October 2011

06/10/2011 - Michael 'Big Mick' Wilson at Gracie Barra Bristol

Class #423
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Michael 'Big Mick' Wilson, Bristol, UK - 06/10/2011

Normally I would be teaching the Thursday class, but this week is a bit special. That's because this week, there is a top black belt training at Gracie Barra Bristol: Michael 'Big Mick' Wilson. I was therefore more than happy to give up my slot to him, especially as I thought I'd lost my chance to learn from Big Mick due to being away yesterday. Also, I stayed on my brother's floor last night after a five hour meeting I had to attend up near Leamington, so lack of sleep would probably have rather hampered my teaching. ;)

Instead, I could relax and be the student rather than the instructor. Big Mick's lesson got off to an excellent start, as I really like his approach to warm-ups. Rather than any running or press-ups, it was based entirely upon partner-exercises which were directly relevant to jiu jitsu. For example, pummelling in the clinch, bullfighter passes and a useful drill for working leg flexibility, hip movement and lower body dexterity all at the same time.

That third exercise begins by having your partner sat on their heels, with arms outstretched in front of them, held parallel. You then put your instep on the opposite arm, after which you rotate your hips so that the knee of that same leg points to the floor. Follow that up by swinging your other leg over the top, until the instep of that leg presses into the other arm, whereupon your repeat. Great drill.

Mick's lesson tonight looked into the efficacy of double sleeve control from guard. He described it as if your partner's hands are an opposing team's star players, while your hands are going to act as markers to take them out of the game (or to use Mick's choice of metaphor, taggers from Aussie rules football). If you keep hold of those sleeves, then even if they get all the way around your legs, you can still stop them passing. There is the possibility of a sweep too: using another metaphor, Mick described the person passing as a plane trying to touch down without landing gear, meaning they were liable to crash.

To drive that point home, he then had us do some specific sparring from that position. That brought up another feature of the lesson I liked, as Mick followed the system at Gracie Barra Birmingham. I've mentioned this before, but you have everyone line up, then count them off in groups of 1-2-3. The ones go down on their backs first and stay there, until time runs out and it's the turn of the twos, then finally the threes. That way, everybody gets a good chance to practice the position, instead of just the most skilled and/or athletic people (which is what happens in a typical king of the hill set-up).

The people on their backs started with that double sleeve control, so the aim was to see if you could use those grips to hold your partner at bay. I found it tough to pass (though my passing is crap, so that's not unusual), even when I managed to get into a good position. I managed to move round to north-south at one point, but due to that double sleeve control, I couldn't settle into a dominant position. I also found myself getting swept a few times, after trying my usual tactic of sitting on one leg to force half guard and pass from there.

Underneath things went better, but I wasn't very good at maintaining the double sleeve hold. Most of the time my fingers would fail me on at least one of the grips, meaning I went back to spider guard or looked to take the back. It required a slightly different mindset than normal, because the idea was to hold on as long as possible: most of the time, if somebody seems to have got to side control, I'd stop and restart. However, as the point this time was to see if those grips could rescue you from a worst case scenario, I tried to fight on unless they could establish firm control for a few seconds.

The first technique of the day was a triangle from spider guard, but different to Donal's version from Tuesday due to the grips. Rather than a spider guard with a lasso, this time you just had your knees pressed into the crook of their elbows. From there, you're looking to get one foot on the bicep, which means you can then kick through while simultaneously pulling their arms forward. That puts you into a good position to finish the triangle. Grab your shin, foot on the hip to readjust, then lock your legs and complete as usual.

Interestingly, both Oli and I had trouble completing the triangle on eachother. That's possibly because we both have small necks, so had to be careful to close off any possible gaps. Shifting the leg in closer helped, as did wriggling backwards to stretch them out. Mick went into more detail on the latter before moving on to the next technique, demonstrating how your opponent is much weaker if you can bring their head forward of their knees. For example, push on their hip with your foot while holding their arm to pull them out of posture, a bit like the Gracie Combatives 'giant-killer' variation.

Mick rounded things off with an omoplata from spider guard, again in the same position. This time, you kicked one leg up, until their elbow was slipping past your knee. You then immediately push on their wrist, so that their arm wraps behind your leg, enabling you to swivel. You want to get your foot by their head. Grab their trouser leg with your hand, then continue rotating until your foot is pointing forwards by their head. Kick them forward as you also pull with your trouser grip to flatten them out. You can then lock your legs for the omoplata, crawling up their back to bring on the shoulder submission.

There was enough time for a round of free sparring, where I again found myself looking for the back. I focused on breaking posture, then keeping them there with a high guard, wrapping behind the head and also seeing if the overhook was a possibility. I was looking to then sneak around the side and pop up onto their back. I often have a problem getting myself up from the side to the back, which was again the case here.

Eventually I managed to swivel round, but I think I need to use my bottom instep to hook around their far hip to help (I seem to remember being taught that a while ago, so need to go review my notes). Once I got on the back I wasn't very good at finishing the choke, but the main concern for now is working on back control. While I did land a RNC earlier during specific sparring, I made lots of mistakes, like leaving my arm vulnerable as I brought the second hand in, as well as leaving too much space.

Going from back mount to mount is another technique I'm not doing properly. I was able to shift to mount as I felt my back mount slipping, but not with sufficient control. They had little trouble readjusting and dropping me back into guard, so I need to work on securing that transition to prevent myself immediately losing the position. Something to play with when I come to teaching the back again.

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.

03 October 2011

03/10/2011 - Gracie Barra Bristol 1 Year Anniversary (Half Guard)

Class #421
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Oli Geddes, Bristol, UK - 03/10/2011

Tonight was special, as it marks the one year anniversary of Gracie Barra Bristol. Back then, we were in the small building up the stairs, crammed into a small but comfortable room at the top. I first headed down at the end of October 2010, eager to try out the Roger Gracie team outpost in Bristol. Fortunately for me, plans for moving down here came to fruition, after my girlfriend bought a house just round the corner from Geeza's new academy.

As it was a special night, Geeza had two higher belts in attendance. Michael 'Big Mick' Wilson, a top black belt from Australia, was visiting after taking part in the ADCC. I think he used to train with Donal back Down Under, so is staying with him for a few days. Big Mick is also going to be teaching a class on Wednesday, though unfortunately I won't be able to make that as I have writing commitments. Still, will be cool to have him in class over the next few days.

The other higher belt was my first ever instructor of BJJ, half guard master Oli Geddes. I don't think there is anyone else in the UK who competes as much as Oli: if you want to enjoy his half guard goodness, he has videos of most of his fights on his blog and YouTube channel. I haven't been taught by Oli much since that intro class in October 2006 (again October, clearly a good month for BJJ beginnings), except for this class in 2008. Having experienced Oli's teaching when he was a blue and then a purple, tonight I got the chance to see brown belt Oli in action.

Like 2008, he again stuck with the strongest part of his game, half guard. That started off with maintaining half guard, which reminded me a bit of Indrek's version (which I taught a while ago). Like Indrek, Oli emphasised that you should be worrying more about the cross-face than the underhook. Therefore, block that cross-facing arm with both of your hands.

In terms of your legs, Oli feels that the inside leg is the most important: bring that over towards the outside, so that it is clamping down diagonally across their lower leg. You don't want to be too shallow. If they try to circle their leg out, hook your foot around their shin, but otherwise just keep pressuring down.

You outside leg doesn't necessarily need to be triangled over the inside leg. The main purpose of the outside leg is getting the knee either into their hip or higher up, towards their chest. Make sure you don't put it across their stomach, as then they can shove down on the knee and collapse your leg. That's the basic pass they're going to be looking for, so keep your knee firmly against the hip or chest.

From half guard, it is essential to secure an underhook. However, if you try to reach under their arm from far out, they can easily swim underneath and establish their own underhook. Therefore, you want to minimise the space. Come up on one elbow, still blocking their cross-face with the other hand. Sit up, bumping your free forearm into their chest. From there, you can then circle your arm around for the underhook. That's much less distance for your arm to travel. Finish by jamming your head close to their chest: if you leave any room, they can start to push on your skull, or even work for a cross-face.

You've got half guard, so it's time for a half guard sweep. Begin by switching your legs. Either do that in one motion, transferring your outside leg to the inside, or stamp the outside leg into their calf, sliding it into position. Your outside heel is then going to slip to their instep, hooking it backwards. Push your leg through, so that their instep is in the back of your knee, then lock their heel to the back of their hamstring. The idea is to force them to angle their knee inwards, which disrupts their base.

That whole motion is awkward, so it takes some getting used to, but there is a video of Oli teaching it. Next you want to stop them basing out with their free leg. Using your same side hand, grab the gi material by their knee. Slide your inside leg (the one which isn't clamping their heel to their hamstring) underneath their trapped leg, then come to your knees.

Reach further around their back to grip their side, then drive into them sideways. Pull with your knee grip, which should help knock them down. Keep hold of that as you move around, so they can't readjust to escape. Once they're on the floor, it should be a simple matter to backstep and transition into side control.

Handily, Oli's follow-up sweep combines nicely, as you can keep switching between these two sweeps depending on their reaction. The second sweep starts from the point where you've got to your knees and are trying to drive forward. However, they've somehow managed to drop their weight into you, preventing the sweep. That means there is lots of momentum driving into you, which also means you can use physics against them.

Drop back to the mat, roll underneath and thrust your knee-gripping arm upwards. As you've still got their heel clamped to their hamstring, you should be able to keep turning, until they are put onto their back. Come up on top, then continuing to push your knee-grip into the floor to trap their leg, move around into side control, or possible even mount.

I had more trouble with the final technique, Oli's infamous loop choke. Thankfully there is video of him teaching that too, although his shows it slightly differently. The way he taught it tonight was to start by gripping their collar, putting your knuckles into their clavicle. Pull them forwards, slipping that collar around their neck as you do, then also pushing on their head with your other hand.

Raise up the elbow of your collar-gripping hand, so that there is a window to insert your other hand. Pointing the fingers of that other hand up, to lock it in place. To finish, lift the elbow of the collar gripping hand while dropping the elbow of the other hand. It also helps if you can get your leg into the bicep of their same side arm, or even better over the top.

Oli mentioned that this choke is sufficiently versatile to function from various positions, such as butterfly guard, and also when they're trying to establish double underhooks on your legs to pass. I struggled to get my hands in the right place, so kept missing the correct choking point. I could occasionally get a sloppy choke into the windpipe, but not the proper blood choke. Good thing there is video. ;)

Normally, Monday is two classes, split into an hour each. Tonight, they merged into one, so after technique it was time for sparring. I started off with Kirsty, looking to play around with spider guard again. I made the mistake of giving up my back, for which I was very nearly punished: Kirsty was close to choking me out at several points. I defended using the crappy option of shifting my gi collar up onto my chin, which is not advisable as people can just dig that painfully into your face. Probably the only reason I didn't get choked was because Kirsty was being nice: she thought she'd kicked me in the head, so paused to check before restarting.

After that, I had a good technical roll with Tony, who like Kirsty is close to my size. I was messing about with wrapping the gi around various limbs without any real clue of what to do with them. Still, I did manage to get a sweep as a result, though I'm not sure how: something to do with wrapping it by his leg and grabbing a foot. I also got stuck under Tony's mount, which gave me an opportunity to try deep half.

That happened with Kirsty too, but both times I wasn't getting the right grips. I can get underneath and grab their leg with my legs, but I think my head position and hands are in the wrong place. It doesn't feel like I'm disrupting their base at all, so perhaps I need to kick my legs up to move their weight higher. My head should be lower. I haven't paid much attention to deep half, but as I'm finding myself there more regularly, it's time I gave it more thought.

Finished up with Chris, who is a tough blue belt, but I was able to keep him at bay with the usual spider guard lasso (mainly because he isn't sure how to pass it). I was using my other foot and knee to press against his shoulder, chest and hip. That meant I could keep slipping out of his attempts to press down to establish a passing position. However, I again was failing to do anything offensive with my spider guard, just holding him in place.

At the end of class, Geeza held another photoshoot to mark the occasion. Due to the large numbers of Gracie Barra Bristol members in attendance, the organisation for colour coordinating the pictures was almost as hard as the preceding two hours of training! ;)