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

21 May 2012

21/05/2012 - USA Training Trip in November & GB Bristol (Opening the Guard)

Class #457
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai 'Geeza' Holt, Bristol, UK - 21/05/2012

For years now, I've been saying I want to go to the USA and meet up with some of the many awesome BJJers I've got to know online. I've always had five states in mind: California, Florida, Texas, Virginia and Oregon, based on the people I want to train with in each of those states. Canada is also somewhere I want to go (or rather, return to, as I went way back in 2002). I'm intending to visit all of them over the next few years, though I've no idea how long that's going to take. My girlfriend wasn't keen on doing a long haul flight this year, so I'm saving California and Florida: I think those are the two states she would most enjoy, possibly Virginia too, due to the landscape, sunshine and beaches (well, not so much Virginia on the latter two ;p).

That meant that this year, I've decided to go to Texas. My flights are booked, so I'm leaving on the 17th November, then coming back on the 30th November. At the moment, the only two places I'm definitely going are Dallas and Austin, with Houston being a likely third destination. So, if there are any BJJers from Texas reading this, let me know your suggestions. Though I should note I'm a bit weird in that while it would be fun to train with big names (Carlos Machado is the main one I'd like to check out), I'm a lot more interested in meeting fellow bloggers. :D

Speaking of big names, well-known BJJ film maker Hywel Teague is looking for contributions to his first full-length project, where he will be interviewing several red belts. The amount of first hand historical knowledge these guys possess is unmatched, so if you want to help out (the film will be freely available online, by the way, so this isn't a profit-driven project), go here.


Getting back to training, tonight will be the only session I get in this week. That's because it's my girlfriend's 30th. Every other evening is going to be dedicated to her instead. Should be fun, as I have a short trip planned, along with an outing to Phantom of the Opera (she's a big fan, so this will be the fourth or fifth time I've been with her in the eleven years we've been together). Hopefully I'll be able to get back into my Tuesday training pattern after that: there has been a lot more teaching recently rather than training. Of course, I do enjoy teaching, but it's important to still get in some drilling and sparring time for myself too. At least I'm not feeling as run down as last week, meaning I should be back to normal soon.

Geeza focused on guard passing basics tonight, specifically opening the guard. He began with a drill he's taught before, which tends to get a few laughs as it looks a little odd. The idea is to use cats and dogs as a guide for your back positioning. You're on your hands and knees, starting in the 'dog' position: head raised, back curved down, chest up. From there shift into the 'cat', where you arch your back and dip your head slightly.

The application is posturing in somebody's guard. Your back should be in the 'cat' position, though not too pronounced. One hand is in front of the other, with each hand gripping both collars. Twist your hands so your palms face up, also using your skeletal structure to make a solid rod of your forward arm. If they try to grab your elbows and pull you forward, that forward hand can brace against the ridge of their sternum. If they keep trying to drag you towards them, they're merely going to rub a raw red mark on their chest where your knuckles dig in. Which incidentally can make this a bit painful to drill more than a few times. ;)

You also want to make sure your head position does not shift further forward that your lead hand. Otherwise, they'll have an easier time breaking your posture. They are eventually going to get frustrated and stop trying to yank you forwards by your elbow. This is when you shift to the more orthodox posture, turning your lead hand palm down, but still gripping both collars and keeping that skeletal structure in play. Your other hand presses into their same side hip: although this is difficult in practice, you want to use that to prevent them moving their hips.

Next, put your knee into their tailbone, then step back with your other foot. Aim to slide your hip into their linked feet, until you can break them open. As anyone experienced will know, this is tough, especially if they have long legs or are simply stronger than you. However, passing from the knees is 'safer', in that you're less vulnerable to sweeps, though arguably you're more vulnerable to submissions.

So, most likely you're going to have to stand up. First you need to trap one of their arms, pressing it into their stomach. If you don't, then there is a much higher danger of them controlling your legs and getting a sweep. Geeza likes to use his head as a pendulum, so he swings it one way in order to lift his leg on the other side. Twist your other leg and stand. From there, simply shake up and down until gravity forces them to open their guard. Geeza used the metaphor of shaking a ketchup bottle to get the contents out, which is apt.

We did a bit of specific sparring at the end, which this time was very specific. Starting in the guard, all the person on top had to do was open the legs, while the person on the bottom was supposed to just maintain their position, no subs or sweeps. It's a good drill, as that enables the top person to really focus in on balance and the mechanics of popping open the legs. On top, I was generally able to open the legs by standing up and shaking, but I doubt I would have been successful if subs and sweeps were in play. I'm still leaning too far forward and I'm also continuing to grip too long on their collar, meaning my posture is hunched and weak.

On the bottom, I mainly just bounced my hips over each time they tried to insert their tailbone. I also took the opportunity to practice bringing them down as soon as they tried to stand up, by sucking my knees into my chest. Each time I did eventually get my guard opened, but it was as ever a good exercise. The more specific sparring, the better. :)


  1. Oh, Slidey. It looks like it will be quite some time before we have our grudge match. I don't even remember what the grudge was about. : ) But New England in November is not so nice. I'd go to Texas, too!

  2. Anonymity grudge, perhaps? ;)

    Until just now I wasn't entirely sure where New England was, but it looks like it isn't too close to any of the places I'm planning at the moment. Nearest one seems to be Virginia. Unless you fancy wandering over there? ;D

    Then again, I would like to go back to Canada some time, so I could try and combine that with a New England trip? I'd definitely like to check out Boston, as I've been studying Lowell for years, among others from the area, like Plath.

  3. Well, then, our match will have to wait for your return trip. Until then, I will be training hard....