Aro Ling Buddhist Centre, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 14/05/2012
There are two major barriers to entry in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Firstly, it is an expensive sport. Monthly fees can be anything from £50 to upwards of £100 per month, then on top of that you will need at least one gi, which again can vary from £30 (I’d recommend a Blitz Kokuba judogi to start) to well over £100. BJJ can also be intimidating, as the close body contact makes many people uncomfortable. That's understandable, particularly if you're a woman: the prospect of rolling around on the floor with a sweaty male stranger (unfortunately, the majority of BJJ students tend to be male, something I'd like to help change) is not appealing to most people.
One of my main aims when I began writing about my BJJ training after I started in 2006 was to encourage more people to try out jiu jitsu, especially women. So, when a friend of mine told me that a number of her friends were interested in BJJ but didn't feel ready for the club environment, I jumped at the chance to put my words into action.
I'm not sure if this will turn out to be a one-off or an ongoing project, but either way, it wouldn't have been right to charge anything: I'm hoping that after getting a taste of BJJ from me, people might feel more confident about checking out one of the various BJJ clubs in Bristol. The main Pedro Bessa academy is a few minutes walk up the road, while the club I train at, Gracie Barra Bristol, is a short drive away in Redfield. There's also a Checkmat affiliate (for those who don’t know, Checkmat, like Gracie Barra, is another large team with outposts around the world) at Trojan Free Fighters.
I kicked things off with a warm-up: as I didn't have to include star-jumps and press-ups, that meant it was purely drills related to BJJ, specifically bridging and shrimping. As we had limited space, that meant I could go into much more depth than usual on how to bridge and shrimp. Along with the how, I talked a bit about the why, as it's helpful to be able to put things in context. My intention was to lead into the two techniques for tonight, which would therefore add in the application.
For the technical portion of class, I would normally go with the rear naked choke when teaching absolute beginners. However, having earlier chatted to my friend about what she thought would most interest the group, this time I decided to take Rorion Gracie's early years in the US as my inspiration. Rorion is large responsible for expanding Brazilian jiu jitsu outside of his native Brazil. In 1979, he travelled to the US for a second time, with the intention of establishing BJJ in North America.
Initially he found work as an extra in Hollywood, while teaching BJJ out of his garage. Thanks to those connections, over the years Rorion was able to encourage actors, directors and writers to come train with him. Around 1990, Ed O'Neill had a part in a popular comedy: his acting friends had been pestering him to give the Gracie Academy a go. To shut them up, O’Neill reluctantly agreed to try it out. Rorion, who has always had a knack for marketing, offered O'Neill a simple challenge. If Rorion sat on top of him, could O'Neill throw the small Brazilian off?
O'Neill decided to accept: as a fairly large man, it should be easy enough. However, try as he might, O'Neill couldn't budge Rorion from his position. Smiling, Rorion then suggested that perhaps O'Neill might find it easier to hold Rorion down. After the demonstration O'Neill had just felt, he felt that surely he would be able to use his size advantage to stay in place for at least a few seconds. However, again Rorion surprised him, with a quick reversal. O'Neill was hooked, and over a decade later, he earned his black belt. He tells the story himself in this video.
I'm no Rorion Gracie, but I thought the same strategy was worth a try in 2012. So, my first technique was a basic trap and roll escape from the mount. A typical starting point would be when they try to establish their first grip on your collar for a choke. That provides you with a chance to trap their arm. The usual grip would be to grab their wrist with your opposite hand, then their elbow with your other hand. There are various other possibilities, like wrapping the arm, but the essential thing is to stop their ability to post their hand for base. You could bump to knock them forward, meaning they will normally catch themselves by putting a hand on the mat. You can then bring your linked arms over that extended arm, bending their elbow and trapping the arm.
You also need to trap their leg on that same side. Otherwise, they will be able to use that for base as you attempt to roll them. In order to prevent that, step your same side foot over their lower leg, hooking it in tightly. This means they are now like a chair with two of its legs missing. A common problem is that you're having trouble trapping their foot, because it is too high up. If that happens, try to use your elbow (or even your hand, if you need more reach, but that could leave your neck vulnerable) to shove their knee backwards, until their lower leg is in range.
To finish, you're going to bridge towards that trapped side. Get your heels close to your bum first for maximum leverage. Bridge up and over your shoulder, turning to your knees: this puts you in their guard (i.e., their legs are wrapped around your torso). Make sure that you're bridging over your shoulder and turning to your knees, not simply rolling over to your side. If you don't raise your hips properly, you may merely give up your back.
The trap and roll escape does work, but on its own may not be enough against an experienced opponent. Personally, I prefer the elbow escape, which relies more on shrimping than bridging. As a rule of thumb, if you're underneath, you don't want to be flat on your back. So, start your elbow escape by turning to your side and working your elbows inside their knee. Keep defending your neck throughout, so that your elbows form a frame. Create some space by bridging. You can then use your frame to help you shrimp into the space you just created, pushing against their leg.
The idea is to make enough space to pull your leg through: don't just bridge and plop back down. That leg will need to be flat, the other raised, or it will be hard to pull it free. After you're on your side, you can simply bump slightly, then simultaneously shove their knee with your elbow while sliding your flat leg underneath. Once it's out, you can then use that leg to wrap around one of theirs. Getting half guard may be a possibility here, but generally I'd recommend you keep working towards full guard. To do that, continue shrimping and framing until both legs are free.
You can also use a frame against their hips, one arm across, the other bracing against that wrist, elbow in tight. That's also handy for stopping them moving up higher in mount. However, be extra careful with your neck if you do that: as your arms are down by their hips, that could leave you vulnerable to chokes.
As with any technique, try to combine your escapes rather than obsessing over just one. Also, don't give them your head: that's what the person on top wants for control. Connected to that, make sure you always defend your neck and keep your elbows tight. I'm a small guy, so this is what I tend to do most classes: stay really tight, elbows in, knees curled up, not leaving anything loose for them to attack, or space for them to wedge their hands through.
I'll be running another session on Friday: hopefully some of the same faces will then move on to a real club, like Gracie Barra Bristol, Checkmat or Pedro Bessa. Also, if anybody interested in trying BJJ is reading this, you might find it useful to take a look at my BJJ Beginner FAQ. :D