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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.