12 February 2012

Book Review - Advanced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Techniques (Marcelo Garcia, Marshal D. Carper & Glen Cordoza)

Thanks to Seymour for sending this book on to me for review: if for some reason you don't already know who he is, be sure to check out his awesome site, Meerkatsu

Short Review:This is a book aimed at competitors, presenting a methodical breakdown of Garcia's tactics for a jiu jitsu match. You'll learn takedowns, counters and re-counters, along with a well-structured path to certain submissions, particularly attacks from the back. Although Garcia makes a point of working on techniques that don't require strength, he does expect you to have speed, athleticism and aggression.

The selection of techniques reflects that ethos: Marcelo Garcia may be known for his big smile, but there is nothing friendly about attacks like the 'throat crush'. He also isn't directing his tips at beginners: after all, this is advanced jiu jitsu, so if you don't already have the basics, spend some more time developing your BJJ before you pick this up. Available to buy here (or in the US, here and here).

Full Review: When you ask people in BJJ who is the best grappler on the planet, two names will normally come up: Roger Gracie and Marcelo Garcia (though there is an increasing number who might say Rodolfo Vieira too). However, I haven't generally paid much attention to Garcia's output up until now, because I assumed his instructionals were too advanced for me. Garcia is an incredibly talented competitor with a knack for creativity. I'm an unfit hobbyist purple belt who still struggles to pass the guard.

It is therefore a little ironic that I find myself reviewing Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques: I was concerned that I'd soon be lost in a sea of tangled legs and backflipping Brazilians. Fortunately, aside from a couple of more acrobatic techniques, this book doesn't expect you to be one of the Miyao brothers. Nevertheless, it is not intended for beginners, as in keeping with some other top instructionals that give you a personal take on BJJ (e.g., Saulo Ribeiro's fantastic first DVD set), you're expected to already know the basics. Like Saulo, Garcia offers some ideas to build on those basics, as well as a few alternatives, based on his personal game. There is also no discussion of escapes here: the only defence consists of counters meant to help you stay on the attack.

When I opened up Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques, another Saulo product sprang to mind: Jiu Jitsu University. That's probably unsurprising, as Saulo's book was also by Victory Belt. They've gone for a similar layout here, with large pictures (normally six to a page at most), but it doesn't feel cramped. Most techniques will be presented from two angles, running simultaneously down the page, sometimes bolstered by a third angle presented within a smaller inset box. Occasionally there will also be a helpful close up, for such details as grips.

The book is arranged into six main sections: arm drags, establishing back control, submissions from back control, takedowns, attacking the guard and submissions. Garcia doesn't spend as much time as you might expect on options from the guard, instead referring the reader back to his previous book, The X Guard. I haven't read it, as I hardly ever use butterfly guard and never use x-guard, but given how often he directs you to go read The X Guard for more details, it doesn't sound like he is repeating any material from there.

Each of those main sections is subdivided into different colours at the edge of the page, with a main colour for the section above it. That's a format Victory Belt has used in the past, which helps your navigation through the book. For example, in attacking the guard, you start in the green 'breaking the closed guard', move through purple 'passing the closed guard', which shifts into yellow 'half guard passes' before becoming brown 'butterfly guard passes'.

Advanced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Techniques is introduced by former chess champion and current Marcelo Garcia black belt, Josh Waitzkin. The rest of the book is co-written by Glen Cordoza, a veteran of numerous Victory Belt releases, and The Cauliflower Chronicles author, purple belt Marshal D. Carper. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Waitzkin spends most of his introduction telling the reader how amazing Garcia is, which has some justification given his multiple world titles.

Waitzkin takes that further, however, with various stories that make Garcia sound like a superhero: he is able to masterfully pull off techniques he's never practiced before, he never gets caught in the same thing twice and he intuitively felt when he was in the best location for his new gym immediately upon walking through the door. He even almost leaps a tall building in a single bound, with a story about jumping across an eight foot expanse of water from a standing start.

Despite the gushing, it's an interesting introduction, providing you with insight into a great competitor. For example, there is an answer to a question you might well ask of somebody who has an extremely in-depth website detailing his every strategy for the world to see: aren't you worried your opponents are going to study your game? Apparently not. Garcia responds "If someone studies my game they will be entering my game. And I know it better than they ever will."

The discussion of MGinAction.com does not stop there, remaining a major presence in the book. Boxes entitled 'helpful hints' keep popping up through the text, which are little more than advertisements for the website. For example "For an efficient way to study the content, go to the 'InAction' tab and click on 'Load to Queue'" on p131. The extreme is reached with a two page MGinAction user-guide running through the key features on pp20-21. Although there is a seven day free trial available, the constant attempts to push you towards the website are a bit irksome

Update May 2013: I have since taken advantage of that free trial myself, resulting in this review of MGinAction.

Getting into the technique, Garcia kicks off with the armdrag (forty-six pages). Again like Jiu Jitsu University, there is a detailed introduction, where Garcia describes how the arm drag fits into his tournament strategy. Despite the fact I'm not a competitor, this made for interesting reading. The whole book follows that systematised approach with everything slotting together, including options for when you run into problems and common counters.

The arm drag starts with a variation for the gi, though Garcia notes he prefers nogi grips. He then stands up and demonstrates several methods of baiting wrist control: there is plenty of technique from the feet in Advanced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Techniques, another reason why this should appeal to competitors. That takes him right to the back.

If he can't manage to get the back from standing, or his opponent is simply much better standing than Garcia, there is also the option of arm dragging from a sitting position. This is the first of many techniques where Garcia puts his aggressive tactics into practice. He believes strongly that you need to always be on the attack, rather than playing a reactive, defensive game.

For his near grip arm drag, he scoots forward to get the arm, then launches himself backward to set up the transition to the back. After a few options for merging the arm drag with wrestling takedowns like the single leg and leg trip, Garcia combines his desire to constantly attack with a burst of athleticism. He literally jumps onto his opponent's back. The section then closes with a useful series entitled 'failed arm drag', where Garcia demonstrates how to follow up your technique if things go wrong, shifting into a double or single leg takedown.

[For more on Garcia's arm drag, here is a behind the scenes video from the Advanced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Techniques photoshoot, uploaded by co-author Marshal Carper]

Having got behind his opponent, Garcia spends the next section on establishing back control (sixty-eight pages). Interestingly, Garcia's attacking style means that he highlights the importance of the seat belt grip as opposed to hooking with the feet: he's willing to go on the offensive with one hook, or no hooks at all. As Garcia demonstrates later, his preferred submissions from the back are more reliant on your arms than your legs. In fact, Garcia actually says he prefers to have one hook rather than two, which is another reminder Garcia's book is not meant for white belts. You need to be very comfortable with the basics of back control to play a single hook game:

Regardless of the specifics, you always need to be prepared to go back to your techniques for establishing the second hook if necessary. With that said, the second hook is not necessarily vital in terms of control and finishing. The more I play the back position, the more I find myself preferring to attack with the seat belt and one hook, leaving my other leg free to stifle my opponent's counters by hooking his legs or by trapping his arms. This is an advanced way of approaching back control, and it hinges on your proficiency with the seatbelt.

Once again, the action starts from the feet, with Garcia standing behind his partner, arms wrapped around their waist. The first few techniques cover breaking wrist control, before Garcia gets acrobatic again. He leaps onto their back (whether or not they are leaning forwards) with either a jump or what he calls a 'crab ride'. A major advantage of being a seasoned and well-known competitor is that you can give specific examples where you've used a technique successfully. For the crab-ride, Garcia points to his ADCC 2005 victory over the much larger Ricco Rodriguez, where he used the crab-ride to collapse Rodriguez's base.

[For more on the crab ride, take a look at this blog post by Carper, which includes behind the scenes video from the Advanced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Techniques photoshoot]

Having finally got them onto the mat, there is still plenty of work to be done. Securing that second hook (for those of us who aren't yet comfortable with relying on just the one) can be a real pain, so Garcia has a number of options, along with counters to common escapes. There are also lots of techniques for getting to the back off your opponent's single leg, when they try to escape side control and finally from a butterfly sweep. Almost half of the book is dedicated to reaching the back and then choking your opponent out. So, if you're a senior blue or purple looking to improve that part of your game, Advanced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Techniques is sure to help.

My favourite section is probably the third, submissions from back control (twenty-eight pages). That's because Garcia hones in on just two techniques, both of which I regularly use (or rather, try to use) in sparring: the rear naked choke followed by the bow and arrow choke. Garcia's introduction echoes his major rival for the title of 'world's best grappler', Roger Gracie. Like Roger's cross-collar choke from mount, everybody knows about the Garcia RNC, but he still makes it work at the highest level. I especially liked his answer to the unspoken question: what's the secret?

The truth is that there is no magic secret to being successful with the rear naked choke. No sleight of hand or ancient ki technique. Jiu-jitsu is not a mystical art. There are no hidden moves. You already know why I have been so successful with the rear naked choke. It is the same reason any grappler is good with any submission: practice.

Garcia insists that if at any point you see their neck is exposed, you should immediately go for the RNC. It doesn't matter if you have your hooks in or not: if you can get your arm in place, attack. This contradicts the 'position before submission' principle, as Garcia acknowledges, but he has empirical evidence that the RNC is an exception. In the 2003 ADCC, Garcia credits that almost catch-as-catch-can spin on the RNC for his victory over Vitor 'Shaolin' Ribeiro. Having shrugged off Garcia's hook, Shaolin thought he was about to escape, but instead got choked unconscious.

If you've watched Garcia's DVD instructionals, much of this will look familiar, but it is very useful to have it all laid out methodically in a book. The anatomy of the choke is explained in detail, followed by some variations on the finish, along with three different options for trapping their arms with your legs (including one I haven't seen before, where you almost put them in a kimura as well as trapping the arm). That's a great strategy if you can get it, as then they only have one arm left to defend against both of yours.

Should the RNC be unavailable, Garcia suggests you try the reliable bow and arrow choke instead. As he puts it, "if I begin to feel that I am not going to be able to finish the submission, I can usually return to back control with little difficulty." That's as opposed to something like an armbar from the back, which has a much greater risk of losing position if you can't land the submission.

Takedowns (thirty-eight pages) comes next, with a heavy focus on wrestling. Garcia's thinking on this is in keeping with what I've heard from other instructors I respect, like Jude Samuel: judo isn't as applicable to nogi, whereas wrestling functions well whether or not there is fabric to grab. Garcia also feels that learning how to incorporate judo takes much longer than adding wrestling, so he'd have to take too much time away from his core, jiu jitsu.

[Garcia talks more about why he chose wrestling over judo in another behind the scenes video, here]

Garcia's preference is the single leg, but he notes that you should always drive deep enough for the double. That way, if you miss the double, the single is still there. Normally a good opponent will sprawl, so Garcia includes advice on countering that defence. He then moves on to a discussion of the clinch, switching to a rash guard and shorts to make those grips clearer.

Previously, he was in a white gi, whereas his partner Henrique wore blue. In this brief nogi sequence, they confusingly wear the same outfit, which makes it more difficult to distinguish limbs and hands. There is a slight difference in that Marcelo's rash guard has long sleeves and Henrique's does not, but it would have been better if they'd made a clearer distinction, as with the gi techniques.

Although he is famous for his x-guard and butterfly, Garcia notes that he always wants to be in the top position. To get there, you must first be confident attacking the guard (sixty-five pages): given his views on aggression, I'm sure it is no accident Garcia went with 'attacking' rather than 'passing'. He also writes that "rather than cover a bunch of techniques you already know, I included my method [...] My goal is not to reteach basic techniques but rather to help you see jiu-jitsu the way that I do". Again, Beginners don't already know those foundational techniques, so shouldn't be reading this book.

The guard break he starts with appears at first to be a basic standing one, but there is a clear danger of being swept. Interestingly, Garcia does not control a sleeve to prevent them grabbing his foot: "I do not waste time hunting for grips. I press my hands against Henrique's chest and lift my hips to jump to my feet." So in that sense, it's actually more advanced. Developing the sensitivity, base and timing to pull this off without getting knocked to the mat is difficult.

Garcia has a number of tips on how to avoid the sweep, along with a couple of variations, such as stepping on their bicep. He also deals with the common problem of your partner following you up as you stand. For all of these guard breaks, Garcia ends up in the same position, jamming one knee to the mat with his same side hand, while the other pushes into their hip.

That sets up his passing series, which will appeal to anyone who likes to pass by driving the knee through. There isn't anything especially fancy here, sticking with a fairly orthodox open guard and half guard. That's in contrast to the comprehensive approach of Jiu Jitsu University, which was stuffed with a considerable variety of guards, each with its own section on passing.

The only guard that is singled out like that here is butterfly guard. Reading this section also made me realise why I almost never use butterfly: Garcia points out that "unlike the closed guard or half guard, in the butterfly guard, your opponent is not trying to hold you in place." Holding them in place is exactly what I want to do, hence why I gravitate more towards half guard, spider guard and closed guard. A similar dynamism is present in the passing, such as the flashy 'tornado pass' where Garcia flips over their knees.

Advanced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Techniques closes with a sixth chapter on submissions (sixty-six pages). His opening statement is interesting:

Sadly, many grapplers railroad themselves into only attacking with a handful of the traditional submissions. The fundamental techniques are fundamental for a reason, and they should not be abandoned, but too many submission opportunities are overlooked. Those are valuable chances to win the fight, chances that should not be ignored.

Rather than review the submissions you likely already know or have seen in other books, I have collected an assortment of my favorite moves that may seem unorthodox but are still effective and useful. [...] In showing you these attacks, my goal is to expand the way you think about jiu-jitsu.

That's all well and good if you're Marcelo Garcia and you're already a master of the fundamentals. However, it's a potentially dangerous mindset if you're a fresh young white belt, who might take it as a license to spend all their time working on low percentage techniques. I'm much more comfortable with the Roger Gracie style of fundamentals above all else.

I was surprised to find that Garcia's first technique was the 'throat crush', which sounds brutish and crude. The submission works by crushing the windpipe, which is not something I ever want to do to my training partners. Having said that, I'm sure it's effective. Garcia uses it as a way to set up the guillotine, something for which he's become increasingly famous in recent years. That submission is explored in depth, with four ways of getting a guillotine as a counter to the single leg, plus some other set-ups, like a mounted guillotine off baiting the underhook during a pass.

Garcia is also known for the north-south choke, which he calls "one of my all-time favourite submissions." If you watch the ADCC 2007, you can see this working at the highest level: Garcia finishes both Mario Miranda and Pablo Popovitch with the north-south choke (check it out here). There's a good explanation of it in the book, although this is another technique that takes sensitivity to pull off, particularly in the gi. Garcia recommends you practice the north-south choke nogi first, as it's easier without the added friction of the gi.

The armbar from mount is covered in detail, followed by a few omoplata applications. Garcia shows how you can land it from butterfly guard, off your opponent's sprawl and when countering armbar and side control escapes. Even better, Garcia hones in on specific defences to the omoplata, like the forward roll and the bridge, as well as how to break their grip when they try to prevent your finish.

Advanced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Techniques is made for experienced competitors who want to gain a greater understanding of Marcelo Garcia's tournament strategy. It is also of benefit to hobbyists like me who are working on developing their ability to get to the back and apply a choke. Here's another behind-the-scenes video from co-author Marshal Carper, where Garcia talks about that preference for attacking the back:

There used to be a trend of instructionals throwing out the term 'advanced', like the old releases by Pedro Carvalho, but the content didn't justify the adjective. Times have changed, so if you're a beginner, you would be much better served by books like Jiu Jitsu University, or DVDs like Blue Belt Requirements. For everyone else, Marcelo Garcia's new release is available to buy here (or in the US, here and here).


  1. Wow a really thorough review there, I don't have any of Marcelo's books or DVD's, I keep meaning to pick something up, would you recommend I get this first or pick up a DVD.

  2. Firstly, it depends on your level. Like I said, I wouldn't get this book unless you already feel confident in the positions he's describing.

    Second, it depends on what game you want to develop. This book is very heavy on the back, with lots of ways to get there from standing.

    Finally, depends on if you find you learn better from video or from books. :)

    I don't have much experience with Garcia's DVDs, just the odd clip on back attacks/control. You've probably heard this before, but my general recommendation on DVDs is start with Roy Dean's Blue Belt Requirements after your first few months (or however long it takes to start getting an idea of what is happening in the basic positions), then a year or two down the line, get Saulo Ribeiro's Jiu Jitsu Revolution, possibly Xande's set too (once you have a decent understanding of at least a few options from each position).

    You're a blue IIRC, so I'd say Saulo would probably be the next one to get, if you haven't already.

  3. Ive been watching roy deans purple belt requirements and implementing things from that. I like the fact garcia's game is bassed on consistent attempt at offence. But I might leave it for now, i dont like having to many instructionals to go over at once!