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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a purple belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©2004-2014 Can Sönmez

26 August 2012

Video Review - Becoming A Giant Killer (Dan Faggella)

Warning: Dan Faggella has been repeatedly accused of shady business practices (e.g., here), such as hidden charges and resubscribing people who have specifically unsubscribed from his mailing lists. Think carefully before you sign up to any of his products.

Short Review: In this video, brown belt Dan Faggella shares his tournament strategy for fighting larger opponents. It isn't ideal for beginners, as that strategy involves lots of heel hooks and toe holds, but it should provide the smaller competitor with some useful ideas. Faggella's game relies upon mobility and speed, so if you prefer a pressure-based, patient approach, look elsewhere. Faggella told me that his instructional will be available here as a download for around $70, though that isn't yet finalised.

Full Review: Dan Faggella is currently a brown belt under Alexandre Soca. That automatically means the question of rank is sure to come up in any prospective buyer's mind. There have been a few instructionals I can think of when a brown belt has produced a notable contribution to the market (for example, Shoyoroll founder Vince Quitugua's Lost Techniques of the Half Guard), but it is comparatively rare. Faggella does appear to have a decent competitive record, which again demonstrates just how useful it is to have that straightforward method of bolstering credibility. Danaher is among a very select group of instructors who have no need of an impressive list of tournament victories to enhance their reputation

Since the early 2000s, the number of instructionals by top black belts has rapidly grown, so for a brown belt to break into that market, they have to either be incredibly good or come up with a unique angle. This particular video is aimed at the smaller grappler looking for an approach to dealing with larger opposition. I presume it is based on Faggella's website, MicroBJJ.com, which has a strong Lloyd Irvin marketing vibe (not to my personal taste, but it's become a widespread approach). [Update Aug 2013: Since the start of this year, there have been some very unpleasant revelations surrounding that team, here, further putting me off the already distasteful marketing approach]. Again, that remit is going to bring up another question for most potential customers: how does Faggella's video stack up to the Stephan Kesting and Emily Kwok release, How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent?

Kesting and Kwok are both well-established black belts: like Roy Dean, Kesting's reputation has been founded in large part on his high quality DVDs. Therefore I'm going to be mentioning that DVD more than once in the course of this review. It's especially pertinent, as Kesting is about to release a follow-up to that series, covering the same theme but this time enlisting black belt Brandon Mullins rather than Emily Kwok.

Faggella's chosen title, Becoming A Giant Killer, is certainly snappier than Kesting's, which is blandly descriptive. It is also about half the listed price, though at under two hours, Becoming A Giant Killer is much shorter than Kesting and Kwok's five-DVD set, which clocks in at over seven hours: the next series with Mullins is due to be ten hours, though I imagine the cost will therefore be higher.

Faggella helpfully provided me with a link to download his videos (from what he told me, this is also how he will sell them in future), which is certainly a lot more convenient than getting them posted, though I'm not sure if these are the final versions. At several points in the video, Faggella walks over to the camera to fiddle with equipment, chats to his cameraman and goes to check his notes. I would assume that this is therefore a pre-release version, but if not, then those unprofessional segments definitely need to be edited out.

There is also a lack of replays and rarely more than one angle. That's an unusual omission, as it has become fairly standard in instructionals. It can be redundant to repeatedly run through the move, but being able to see the technique from several perspectives is always useful. The position of a heel or a particular grip can often be obscured if the technique is demonstrated from a single angle. Blue Belt Requirements is the best example I've seen of how it should be done: for every technique, Roy Dean finished by running through the whole sequence from at least four different angles.

Faggella has also chosen to show the techniques purely nogi. For some people that's a bonus, but in my case, it always makes me wonder about collar chokes, especially with techniques that expose the neck by moving the hands lower down the body (such as on certain mount escapes). However, my preference is very heavily the gi, so that's not going to be an issue if you prefer to train without the jacket.

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The first video is a little over fifty-four minutes long. Faggella is an articulate instructor, often drawing upon his knowledge of kinesiology, a subject in which he holds a degree. He begins with a section on escapes, choosing the position which many will tell you is the toughest to escape: side control (slightly under nine minutes). He starts off by demonstrating an escape to half guard, in order to move into the dogfight (I have to admit, that's an example of Eddie Bravo coming up with helpful terminology) or deep half. I'd generally prefer to move back into closed guard, but as Faggella will make abundantly clear later, he is not a big fan of that position.

That's followed by what Faggella calls the 'lotus escape'. As soon as there is space, he brings in his knees to switch into guard. The last escape is dubbed an 'ejection', for when they have both arms over to the far side. The key appears to be pushing and wriggling, which looks a bit odd at first glance, but certainly worth a try for a smaller person. Speaking from experience, I know that it is easier for a small grappler to find the gaps when their opponent is much bigger.

Next up is roughly ten minutes on escaping the mount. Faggella likes to use a frame against their hips to shoulder walk out of high mount, which I've been shown by other instructors too. It's a legitimate option, but personally makes me a bit nervous due to exposing the neck: still, he's in good company, as Kwok shows it on her DVD too. Like Kwok, Faggella then demonstrates my own personal favourite way to get out of mount, the heel drag. It's by far my highest percentage escape.

I was a lot less keen on the following escape, as it's all about transitioning into a heel hook. To be fair, for nogi, that isn't quite as unusual as for gi, but I still can't help wanting to see big flashing red letters warning the viewer of the danger. Of course, not everybody finds the heel-hook's knee-exploding properties as frightening as I do: Roy Dean has long included that submission on his DVDs, even when the material is directed at beginners.

For the squeamish, Faggella also notes that the same position can be used to switch into a basic x-guard sweep, where you stand up while trapping their leg against your shoulder. The last mount escape is the 'ejection' method he discussed earlier in side control, so essentially it's an elbow escape.

Moving on from escapes, Faggella then spends a little under nine minutes on the guard, from the perspective of seeing guard as a platform for making space. Faggella evaluates what he calls 'movement potential' in order to assess preferred guards. His aim is to stay aggressive, mobile and active, which is the complete opposite of my game. His discussion turns out to be an introductory pre-amble, as this section is not so much about that active guard as what to do if you get stuck into a position where mobility is difficult.

The first technique relates to getting trapped in butterfly guard, then some details on bottom half guard: these are both fairly brief, at around two and a half minutes each. Finding himself in closed guard, Faggella aims to get back to open guard as soon as possible, bouncing his thighs against his opponent to achieve that transition.

Twelve minutes of guard passing comes up next, where again Faggella emphasises mobility and speed. I felt he was a bit too quick to discount the less dynamic methods of passing the guard. Faggella describes them as the 'steamroller' option, which isn't quite accurate. I would define it as using leverage and weight distribution to maximise the pressure, which is developed with experience rather than strength and size. It isn't necessarily a case of force against force.

Nevertheless, Faggella does of course have a point, which is that a quick, 'dancing' game can be a good strategy for a smaller person coming up against a much larger opponent. From a competitive perspective, this makes even more sense, as if you're an avid competitor, you're probably fit and agile enough to maintain that pace. I'm not fit or agile and I'm also not interested in competition: my goal is longevity, so a fast-paced approach doesn't make sense in my case. However, I don't think I'm the target audience for this instructional, so that isn't surprising.

Faggella is fond of the front headlock position, part of his route to the back. This is a running theme throughout the instructional. Rather than holding the typical dominant top positions like side control and mount, Faggella looks to get to the back as quickly as possible. His reasoning is that as a smaller person, you're liable to get thrown off the mount or side control, whereas the back is a more reliable option.

The leg drag pass is another example, which as Faggella mentions has been popularised by the successes of the Atos team in recent years. Rather than passing to side control, he moves directly to the back, even when it looks as if side control is there for the taking.

Although he apparently is not keen on the top position, Faggella does include another twelve minutes on maintaining side control and mount. He advises against the orthodox side control where you grip under their neck and armpit then link hands, dubbed the 'super-hold' by Xande on his set. Instead, Faggella prefers to grab the neck and drive in with his shoulder. Kwok does something comparable in her DVD, although in her case she has the gi collar to help increase the pressure.

He follows up with a transition to north-south, then some helpful hints on breaking the classic beginner death lock, where they clasp their hands behind your back. This is generally a bad idea from their point of view, because having both arms around the back when on the bottom of side control makes them vulnerable to submission. Nevertheless, it can be annoying when somebody particularly big and strong tries that grip. So, Faggella demonstrates how you can break their grip by hooking around an arm, bracing your other forearm by their neck, then driving your shoulder forwards.

There is another simple solution to a second common 'beefy beginner' reaction, this time when they try to bench press you off of side control. Go with the motion and move into knee on belly, which in Faggella's case is an opportunity to get that front headlock and spin to the back. He specifically advises against keylocks from side control, as he feels that requires too much strength.

Finally, he also shows how you can take the back from side control if they attempt to turn in either direction. Should they turn towards you, that front headlock comes in handy again, whereas if they turn away, cup the shoulder and hip, then look to shoot a leg under to take the back (e.g., if they're going for Saulo's running escape).

The second video (just over fifty-six minutes) kicks off with some strategies from the feet, beginning with a couple of single leg attacks. However, Faggella also notes that he frequently pulls guard too, though he insists that it is not a 'passive' guard. Instead, he looks to pull guard right into a submission or sweep, with leg locks acting as an especially useful entry. If he misses the leg lock, he can switch to x-guard and look for sweeps and taking the back.

At several points he refers to his own competition footage. It would have been a nice touch if rather than directing the viewer to YouTube he was able to insert the relevant bit of footage right into this video. That's something that was done to good effect way back in the day by Renzo Gracie and Craig Kukuk on their 1994 instructional, then more recently by Rener and Ryron on Gracie Combatives. Roy Dean does it as well, on No Gi Essentials.

Faggella continues with another eight minutes on top strategy. As before, he includes a lengthy disclaimer, including how he feels cross choke finishes from the mount for a smaller person are "ridiculously unlikely." After a few points on hooking the head and using your feet to maintain mount, he quickly switches to knee on belly. He then demonstrates yet another back take: it's a good strategy, working off the gift wrap from technical mount.

Next up is leg locks, the longest section so far, clocking in at fourteen minutes. For this Faggella puts on some gi trousers, presumably to make it easier to distinguish his limbs from his uke, which is a considerate touch. Faggella feels that there is a hierarchy for smaller grapplers using leg locks: he prefers heel hooks and toe holds to kneebars and achilles locks, because he feels that a larger opponent could power out of the latter two.

There is a bit too much sitting and talking at this point, but that's a trait common to quite a few instructionals, including one of my favourites, Saulo's Jiu Jitsu Revolution. It is also worth emphasising at this point that Becoming A Giant Killer would not be a good choice for beginners, given that emphasis on heel hooks and toe holds. Although you can use those in some nogi tournaments even as a beginner, I wouldn't recommend anybody get too heavily into leg locks until you've developed a reasonable level of control, something that only comes with time and experience.

To introduce his closing segments on submissions, Faggella yet again makes it clear that he does not like closed guard, whether or not he is sparring people his own size. Even so, he notes that you will regularly end up there, meaning it is important to have a decent understanding of the next steps. To attack from guard, Faggella advises that you avoid becoming scrunched up, using the example of an armbar from guard.

If you have your knee by your face, then it will be easier for them to stack you, making it tough to finish the submission. If instead you create some space by stretching them out, then even if they stack you, there should be enough leverage to complete your attack. Similarly with the triangle, it's important to generate distance, this time from walking your shoulders back, then angling off.

Faggella then discusses a central concept for submission, which is isolating a small area, such as the neck. This is something Kwok talks about too How To Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent. Faggella states that you should not rely upon any attack that involves holding down or immobilising a bigger opponent. Like Kwok, he shows the north-south choke, along with a guillotine. Both attacks isolate the neck, especially the former, where you're dropping your entire body weight back to get the choke.

There is some more advice against going for keylocks – Faggella suggests going for the back or a near side armbar instead – along with a couple of other submission options, like the near side guillotine from side control. He finishes off his instructional with an unusual attack he says is known as the 'honeymoon', perhaps so called because you're lying down alongside your partner.

If you are a smaller grappler interested in competition and also fairly athletic and agile, then this instructional will provide you with a game plan for entering the absolute division: you'll be able to buy it here. Faggella has apparently used these techniques successfully himself when competing against larger opponents, so it may be worth checking out his YouTube channel to see if it is the kind of game you'd like to incorporate into your own. It isn't the sort of approach I would take, but then I'm neither a competitor nor athletic.

Warning: Dan Faggella has been repeatedly accused of shady business practices (e.g., here), such as hidden charges and resubscribing people who have specifically unsubscribed from his mailing lists. Think carefully before you sign up to any of his products.

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