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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a brown belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©2004-2016 Can Sönmez

30 September 2012

30/09/2012 - Leverage Submission Grappling Fundamentals 04 (Closed Guard)

Seminar #009
Leicester Shootfighters, (Submission Grappling), Nathan 'Levo' Leverton, Leicester, UK - 30/09/2012

I first began actively participating in online martial arts forums back in 2002, during my MA when I was still doing Zhuan Shu Kuan kung fu. I started off as part of the Tung-Fu message board, which had some cross-over with the much more influential SFUK: I think shortly before I joined, there had been some kind of troll influx from SFUK. After a few months, those trolls morphed into contributors, causing Tung-Fu to go from being a staunchly traditional martial arts forum to one relatively supportive of the then recent phenomenon of MMA (indeed, when we had a meet-up a year later, grappling taught by an MMA instructor was a major component of the day). I think it was around then I first encountered someone posting as 'Levo' online, a regular on SFUK.

That name popped up frequently over the years on various forums I frequented, either in person or as a reference, in places like Cyberkwoon, Bullshido and Martial Arts Planet. Almost always, Levo would be making some measured and intelligent argument about something in martial arts. I often found myself quoting him, like here, particularly in the days before I was seriously grappling myself. I often thought it would be cool to go train with this Levo guy, but never took the opportunity to head over to Leicester and check out his school.

It's taken a decade, but I finally got round to it today. Levo is the internet handle of Nathan Leverton, a pioneer in UK grappling. Having spent well over a decade training numerous successful fighters in MMA, this year he's decided to codify his experience into a system, 'Leverage Submission Grappling'. I heard about it earlier this year, so have been keeping an eye out on developments.

The reason it intrigued me back in January was mainly down to Leverton's reputation. I expected that if he was creating a system, it would be technical, cerebral and for want of a better word, 'grown-up'. That's as opposed to something like 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu: though much of Eddie Bravo's nogi system is viable if you are an experienced grappler with the requisite flexibility, I'm put off by the marketing approach and constant drug advocacy. Leverage Submission Grappling also has the advantage that it was advertised as fundamentals, which always perks my interest.

Today's seminar is number four in a series of six proposed Leverage Submission Grappling seminars on fundamentals. The next one is on the 14th October (more information and booking details here), discussing side control, but I'll be in Portugal. Seminar number five on open guard is the following Sunday, which I can't make either, so I'm hoping I can make the one after that (which I should be able to, unless it is in November when I'm away in Texas).

Leverton's instruction totally lived up to my expectations: intelligent, detailed and thorough. The breadth of his experience was immediately evident from his theoretical introduction, where he discussed how Leverage Submission Grappling draws on numerous grappling styles, from catch wrestling to judo to Brazilian jiu jitsu amongst others. It would be fascinating to chat with him at length about his background in martial arts, so hopefully I'll get the chance to interview him some time, either for Jiu Jitsu Style or just for this website.

He started off with theory, running through a positional hierarchy in keeping with Brazilian jiu jitsu (i.e., the back, mount and side control are where you want to be, guard is neutral, whereas underneath side control, mount and the back are progressively worse). Of all the positions, guard was going to be the most influenced by jiu jitsu, given that BJJ is arguably the style which has developed that position the most.

First of all you need to know how to hold the guard properly. This might seem like a simple point, but as Leverton said, many people don't use their legs as effectively as they could. Rather than letting your legs flop down so you're resting on their thighs, you'll achieve better control by gripping higher on their waist, pinching your knees.

Next you want to break their posture. As soon as they adjust a knee and start to rise, pull your knees into your chest to knock them off-balance. You also want to bounce your hips over if they start shifting their knee into the middle: I'm used to having a trouser leg to pull on to help with that, but the principle is the same in no-gi. Once you've broken their posture, clamp your heels down to help keep them there.

Most likely they will try and position their arms to maintain posture: in gi, that normally means one hand grabbing both collars and the other by your hip. In no-gi, there isn't anything to grab, but they'll still probably be pressing into your stomach or possibly your hips. Either way, you want to get those arms out of the way. Leverton went through the three basic options, which are swimming inside the arms and pushing them to the mat, then the opposite motion from outside, and finally the same elbow grab and pull I'm used to from the gi.

When you've brought them down, wrap up the head immediately with your arm. There are two main routes for securing that: first, you could underhook with your same side arm then link your hands, or secondly you can overhook. If you overhook, make sure you put your knee by your elbow to keep things tight. This concept of tightness was probably the overriding theme of the day, as you'll see the further I get into this write-up.

Having established that grip around the head, Leverton moved into his first submission, a pressing armbar. For a fundamentals seminar it seemed fairly complex, but as Leverton explained, this technique also teaches several important principles that relate to various other techniques. Starting from your underhook, shift your arm from the head so that you're instead gripping around their shoulder with both hands. Pull that in tight.

Open your guard and shift your hips out towards the trapped shoulder side. You'll end up with one leg on top, the knee by their shoulder, while the rest of your leg curls down the middle of their back. Your other knee should clamp underneath the shoulder, pinning it in place. Next, you want to secure the end of their arm towards their wrist ('stick theory': to snap a stick across your knee, you hold it at both ends, not just one). To shift up the arm, you may need to push against their head with one hand to help your control.

Adjust your grip so you're a little underneath their elbow, grabbing your own far shoulder. You want to be a bit past the point of where you'd apply the submission. If they pull their arm out slightly, you won't lose the submission opportunity completely. Your other arm then moves up to join the first, so that both arms are crossed under their elbow and pulling into your chest.

Push your knees into them if you need to adjust that position on the elbow. Walk your shoulders back to stretch out the arm and lift your head up slightly, to create some space around their elbow. Finally, pull their elbow in towards that space you created by squeezing your arms and expanding your chest.

Leverton then progressed to the spinning armbar, which he noted was his preferred variation. According to Leverton, this is the judo approach and is more effective for nogi. The set up is to cup the inside of their elbow with your same side arm, elbow up. This is intentionally a loose grip, as you don't want to tip them off that you're about to go for the submission. Crunch your body so that less of your back is in contact with the floor, making it easier to spin.

Wedge the back of your hand under their same side leg, then open your guard. Kick both your legs up at the same time and spin, using your hand against their leg to help your rotation. Clamp your legs down, angling the leg by their head slightly outwards for control (so, a little like Adam Adshead's tip on armbar control). Again, tightness is key, getting those knees squeezed on either side of the shoulder.

From here you can then sweep them into mount, which Leverton recommends: they can't stack you from mount. Move your knees to the side to raise their bum in the air, then knock them forwards to go to a mounted armbar. Pinch your knees to raise their arm up, providing better leverage. Another handy tip is to pull their arm slightly off-centre, towards their legs. That makes it very hard for them to escape, even if you're doing the Japanese armbar with the near leg tucked by their side rather than over their head.

The climbing armbar is more common to jiu jitsu and gi grappling, but as with the pressing armbar, it teaches you useful concepts, like climbing the legs. Control one arm at the wrist and elbow, putting your same side foot on the hip. Kick the other leg up into their armpit to bend them at the waist, swivelling to look at their ear. Bring your first leg over their head, then complete the armbar as before. That series of three techniques also revealed that my shoulder is worryingly tight: I was already close to tapping just from the set-up!

After a quick break (very useful for scribbling down some notes, or in my case speaking the main points I wanted to remember into my phone), Leverton moved on to the triangle choke. Ryan Hall's name came up several times, which made sense as his instruction on the triangle is probably the best around at the moment (no doubt helped by the fact he has hundreds of competition wins via that submission).

Leverton discussed two set-ups, starting with the basic option Hall calls the 'tap through triangle'. Grab their wrist and push that into their stomach (not the chest, as that's a bit high, though there is a different set up where you push the arm right to their jaw). Open your guard and lift your legs over the top, then lock them in a 'diamond'. A key detail is to then pull their head down, but into your belly button rather than your chest. It's a simple point, but it made me realise that's a big mistake I've been making up until now, and is probably why I get stacked so often.

If you can get straight to the triangle go for it, but if not, stick with a secure diamond rather than a sloppy half-locked triangle. From there, pull on your shin to lock up the triangle as normal, swivelling off to an angle if necessary. The second set-up was starting from an overhook, shifting your hips and bringing your knee through for a kick-through set-up, then finishing as before. Leverton includes the usual important advice about not pulling on your toes or locking over the toes, as that's a good way to get injured.

Another useful point he mentioned on the triangle was to do with people tucking their chin into the 'hole' at the bottom of a loose triangle, meaning you can't choke them. If that happens, simply twist their head so their chin is directed at your leg rather than that hole, meaning you can press your leg into their throat. This 'hole' may develop if you haven't got their arm across: like Ryan Hall, Leverton also emphasises that you do not have to have the arm across the get the choke. If they bury their arm underneath your body, you can swim inside to pull the arm up into a pressing armbar position and either submit them with that or complete the choke.

After another break, it was time for the kimura, or as it is called in catch wrestling, the double wristlock. Leverton has trained with catch wrestling legend Billy Robinson, who has a somewhat negative view of jiu jitsu, especially the guard (you can get a flavour of that here). As a result, Robinson hates it when people call this lock the kimura.

The set-up was familiar, as you reach over the arm whenever they make the mistake of putting a hand on the mat. You can then lock up your figure four grip. There was a brief pause at this point to talk about grips. When going for the americana or kimura from the top position, you would use a thumbless grip, because if you use your thumb, that bends your wrist upwards. Without the thumb, you can keep your wrist and arm in alignment. However, from guard the grip with a thumb is fine, as there isn't the same issue of your wrist being forced out of alignment.

Once you have that grip, shift your hips out as before, bringing them down to start attacking the arm. Push their arm a bit further than ninety degrees: as with the pressing armbar from earlier, you want to have some leeway in case they start to escape. A BJJ kimura is a little different from a catch double-wristlock, because the catch version brings their elbow higher, also using their own elbow to get counter-pressure. Leverton cited to famous example of Sakuraba versus Renzo in Pride 10, where Sakuraba was able to get an immense amount of control from the kimura due to that elbow positioning and counter-pressure.

The last submission was the guillotine. Leverton began with the standard variation, adding a little tip that as you bring your hand through, 'hollow' your chest to make it easy to cinch up. Once the hand and arm are in place, your chest returns to its normal position, which instantly tightens your hold and makes it tough for them to wriggle free.

A more effective variation is what Leverton referred to as the 'Marcelotine', named after Marcelo Garcia. I've vaguely heard of it before, but as I never use guillotines I hadn't paid much attention. However, having now been shown it by a good instructor and drilled it, I'll have to revisit that attack: definitely a powerful choke.

The difference with the Marcelotine is that firstly you grip is shallower. Insert your wrist by their jawline rather than deep into the throat. Grab your first hand with your second, gripping around the non-thumb side of your first hand. The elbow of your second hand is raised, bracing against their shoulder. To complete the choke, press on their shoulder with that elbow while you simultaneously twist your first hand back with your second, ideally right into the fleshy part just behind their chin.

Leverton then moved on to sweeps, starting with the high-percentage sit-up sweep, also known as the hip bump. This makes for a classic offensive combination with the kimura and guillotine. Rise up as you would for the kimura, except this time you push up off your other arm and reach right over their arm. Secure their tricep and whack them with your hip. This should cause them to fall off balance. Once you get your knee onto the mat, twist your upper body so that you're effectively doing a take down.

The scissor sweep was going to follow, but Leverton decided that it just wasn't effective enough in nogi, so skipped ahead to the basic double ankle grab sweep. As they stand up, maintain your grip on their head to keep their posture bent forwards. At the moment you let go and they try to reach an upright position, grab behind their ankles, open your guard and bring your knees together under their chest, then drive those knees into them. If they're tall, you may need to push into their hips with your feet instead.

That should knock them over if they aren't prepared for the sweep. Before they can react, come up on your hand, then bring your hips forward on that same side. It's important you don't try to move straight forward: your direction must be diagonal. Slide your knee on that side to the mat, keeping your hips low, also grabbing their head. From there, you could go to mount, s-mount, side control etc. It is an awkward position, so takes a bit of getting used to.

The last section was on closed guard from the top: in other words, passing. However, before you can pass, you need to be able to stay safe in the closed guard. First off, like Caio Terra says, you should be on your toes in order to drive forward. Leverton then showed the basic safety position, which I think I've seen in Saulo's book. The idea is not only does this keep you safe, but it may frustrate them into opening without wasting much energy yourself or leaving opportunities for them to attack. Good tactic, a little similar to something Roy Harris does, except he stays a little higher.

In short, your head is buried into their chest, your elbows are clamped to their hips, which in turn are shielded by your knees. If they manage to overhook, rotate your arm out, if they underhook, turn your thumb up and pull straight back. Should they pop their hips over, block it with your elbow on that side then replace your knee. When they try to sit up, use your head to keep them down.

Similarly, if they sit up to the side, pummel your head back in to return them to their back. If they put a foot on your hip, kick that leg back, drop your hip to knock their leg off, then return to the safety position. Should they get frustrated at any point and open their legs, scoot straight backwards before they can re-close their guard and move into combat base, with a knee up in the middle.

If they don't open their guard, then you can use a guard break from the knees. It's reminiscent of Saulo's DVD. Leverton mentioned he'd had trouble getting this to work for years: I've struggled with it too, so it was cool to get more details. Geeza taught a similar lesson on this position a while back. Geeza used the metaphor of cats and dogs as a guide for your back positioning. In that lesson, Geeza had us start on our 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: Leverton called this 'hunching your back', which gets across the same idea. For nogi, brace both your hands against the bottom of their ribcage, with the hands turned outwards to avoid getting wristlocked. This uses skeletal structure (your straight arms, their ribcage) to prevent them from breaking your posture.

In order to open the guard, move one knee out to the side, then insert your other knee into their tailbone. Leverton emphasised that you must move your knee out first: if you just insert your knee, you don't have any base. Your hand on that side will shift to their hip, making sure your shoulder is over the top to focus your weight into that hip. Once your knee is against their tailbone, move the other knee out even further, shifting your body towards that side to create an angle. Finally, hunch your back to pop their ankles open.

Alternatively, you can use a standing guard break. Trap an arm with both of your hands, pressing down firmly into their stomach, then raise your knee on that side. Bring your other knee in tight to their hip, so they can't easily underhook that leg. Next put both your knees behind their bum and drag them towards you. If they try to raise up, sit backwards: this is uncomfortable and should stop their motion.

When you've secured that position, reach back with one arm and put your hand on your hip. Don't dig your hand too deep, or they may be able to trap your arm against your side with their leg. Turn your body, using that twist to open their legs. You can also just push on their knee, depending how tight they're gripping. Step backwards on the same side leg and open the guard, then immediately move into your guard passing posture.

Sadly I'm not going to be able to make the next two seminars on the 14th and 21st October, because that's when I leave and return from Portugal. Hopefully the seminar on back mount will be a date I can make, as I'm really keen to get to that one (so, not the next weekend of October as that's my mum's birthday, or between 17th-30th November when I'm in Texas ;D). My back control is rubbish, so if I can learn how to keep it tight in nogi, that should help me tighten it up in gi too.

29 September 2012

29/09/2012 - Gracie Barra Bristol (Dealing with Frames & Gi Tail Choke)

Class #471
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Dónal Carmody, Bristol, UK - 29/09/2012

Normally Geeza would be heading up this class, but he and a large number of students are away at an internal comp over at Roger Gracie HQ. I haven't trained much this week, so wanted to fit in another class. It was also a good opportunity to see how much my injured leg can handle. The warm-up caused a few problems: breakfalling seems to be painful on the one side, and I'm also having some issues with a few stretches. Definitely time to check in with a physio.

Dónal's innovative warm-up drill for tonight was to do with protecting yourself as you spun through into turtle, very useful if like me you're fond of the running escape. From lying on your back, turn like you would with the running escape. As you turn, bring your arm across and put your hand by your neck, palm facing out with your fingers extended. The arm you use is the one nearest the floor as you turn, reaching to the opposite side of your neck.

This is to block them reaching for your collar: if your hand is lower, they will still be able to reach over the top. On the same side as that shielding palm, your other hand swings out down by the hip, so that they can't insert a hook as you turn away from them. It's worth remembering that your knee on that side as you initially turn will need to be tight too, to prevent them getting the other hook in, but in the context of this drill you were already too far for them to go that route.

In terms of technique, Dónal asked the class if there was anything in particular people wanted help with. Luke suggested dealing with frames with side control, though that's also applicable to passing the guard. If somebody is framing into your shoulder, which they'll commonly do in order to create space to shrimp back to guard, the solution is fairly simply. As when somebody is straight-arming into your hip, dip your shoulder towards them. The aim is to put pressure into their wrist, which will normally make them bend their arm.

With the same arm as that shoulder, scoop under their legs and move forwards, dropping your weight into them. Due to that scoop, you should be able to drive their knees together on the other side of the mat. Trapping them with your weight will make it very difficult for them to recover, but be careful you don't bring your weight too low. If you're way down by their legs, they will be able to sit up with their upper body. So, you want to be more towards the middle.

The second technique was some tips on the gi tail choke from side control. I think Dónal has taught something like this before, as I remembered him showing the first part, where you twist your gi outwards to create a rope. From side control, pull out your gi, so that you can bring the gi lapel nearest to their legs over to the far side.

Ideally, you want to get that gi tail right against their neck on the far side. However, anybody with a bit of experience will realise something is up if you're pulling out your gi and trying to pull it around their head. Therefore you'll need to be a bit sneakier. Matty Burn's tip from when I first learned this was to hide the gi in your fist then punch it through. Dónal suggested that even if they do realise what you're doing and bring their arm in the way, you can keep shoving the gi through anyway.

Bringing that gi around their arm will often make them react by pulling their arm free. You can then immediately get the gi tail to their neck before they can readjust their defence. If they keep their arm in place, then they're leaving themselves open to an americana. Once you go for that, they'll probably bring their arm out, meaning that the route to their neck is again clear.

To finish off the choke, feed the gi tail to your other hand, under their head. Move your head to their other hip, either staying low, or bringing your hips up for additional leverage (however, be careful if you do that to maintain downwards pressure into their torso, or they may be able to use the space to escape). You other arm needs to be driving firmly into the other side of their neck as you move around, leading to the submission.

In sparring, I was trying to go a bit lighter to avoid straining my leg any further. Fortunately several of my favorite training partners were there, who I know I can rely on to stay controlled, like Luke and Dónal. I'm still finding myself defaulting to spider guard when I want to keep things light: I'm not sure if that is aggravating the injury, though I didn't notice any twinges when pushing forwards into a bicep.

Berry has an injured wrist, so for that round we did one-handed sparring, like in the open guard drill. It's also a useful exercise, particularly from positions like the back, where normally I would rely more on grabbing with my arms. Only having one hand free forces you to think more carefully about your weight distribution and pressure when on top.

I had a chance to try out the gi tail choke later too, though I wasn't twisting it out, which I should have attempted, rather than just doing the technique like I always do. I did find that lifting the hips was a useful method when I didn't have as good a grip as I wanted with the gi tail, because I hadn't fed it through very far. Being able to generate a bit of extra leverage by raising the hips meant that the shallow grip was sufficient.

Mount continues to be a no-submission zone for me, except for occasional sloppy ezequiels. I'm looking forward to the next fortnight on mount, as I'd like to dedicate my lessons to going for the cross choke. Every time I'm in mount, I find that I'm sitting there maintaining it, often walking an arm up underneath their elbow, but I can never effect any kind of threat from there, apart from the ezequiel (though even that will normally be stunted: I'll get an arm partway through, then stop as the only way I can finish with that limited purchase is force, which isn't something I'm interested in practicing).

27 September 2012

27/09/2012 - Teaching (Roy Dean Lockflow from Side Control)

Teaching #074
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 27/09/2012

I meant to train on Tuesday, but ended up doing something with my gf instead, then I basically overslept on Wednesday rather than my intended power nap. It would appear I still haven't quite caught back up on my sleep since the GrappleThon (which is still taking donations, by the way. ;D)

Anyway, it's been a while since I showed some submissions, so I thought I'd go back to one of my early lessons from last year. That begins with an americana from that strong, orthodox side control position I've mentioned before. To start, you need to isolate their far arm. Often the set up is that they've pushed their forearm up towards you (which is why from an escape perspective, you don't want to be shoving up with your arm and trying to benchpress them).

Go with it a little, then turn back towards them, driving their arm to the mat with your bodyweight, head and hand. You can increase the power by switching your legs as you move back, then switching again as you return your weight towards them. Alternatively, you can simply turn your body slightly as they push, with the intention to get enough space to go for their wrist, then push it to the ground.

There are different arguments regarding gripping their wrist using your thumb or not. Some feel that having the thumb there provides better control, and that is the instinctive way of holding something. However, most BJJ instructors I've seen describe gripping for the americana advocate a thumbless grip, so that all of your fingers are over the other side of their arm.

That's the direction they want to escape, so that's where you want your strength. It also means you can really push down, rather than squashing your own thumb. Then there's the point Kev at RGA Bucks makes, which is that he feels the thumb can act as a lever for their escape.

Support your hand with your head if you're having trouble pushing their arm to the mat (Cindy Omatsu is showing it from mount in the picture, but same idea). Also be sure to keep their arm away from their body, so they can't grab their belt or gi. The aim is to put the arm at right angles. Another handy tip is to get your elbow into their neck. That means they can't turn towards you to relieve pressure on their shoulder and begin an escape.

Finish by 'painting' the floor with their knuckles, moving their hand towards their legs, lifting their elbow off the floor. You may need to adjust the angle of their arm, depending on how flexible they are. Make sure you don't give them space by their shoulder, or they can relieve the pressure and perhaps begin an escape.

Next, I wanted to progress into what I call the Roy Dean lockflow, as he is the person who taught it to me during one of his seminars (it's also on his DVD, Purple Belt Requirements). A couple of blue belts at that seminar mentioned Lloyd Irvin calls it the Kimura mousetrap, so you might be familiar with it under that name. No doubt Irvin has an associated obnoxious marketing campaign about how YOU could WIN TOURNAMENTS if you ACT NOW, but fortunately it hasn't spammed my inbox yet. ;)

If they start to slip their arm free from the americana, you don't want to simply go for the same thing again. It is of the utmost important that you combine techniques in BJJ, instead of viewing them in isolation. That goes for escapes as well as attacks. What I wanted to show was an example of that, using the americana as a starting point.

You also want to avoid meeting force with force if possible. So instead, as they slip out, go with it, letting them straighten it out. However, this sets you up for another attack, as you can get a pressing armbar from here. Slide your figure-four grip up their arm, so that you have one hand around their wrist, with one of your arms a little in front of their elbow. That means you've created a fulcrum, so you can press their wrist down to apply a jointlock.

Roy Harris, Dean's instructor, has a whole DVD on bent armlocks. For the transition to the straight/pressing armbar, he advises moving your weight forward, so your chest is over their elbow. Harris also puts his arm in the crook of his elbow, raising his other elbow off the ground to get the pressure. You may need to twist their wrist to get their thumb pointing up, in order to create the right leverage on their elbow.

Possibly they manage to slip out of that as well, meaning their arm begins to bend in the other direction. Don't worry, you can still keep attacking. Clamp their arm to your chin using your own arm, then switch your free arm. You can now apply the kimura. If you need extra leverage, turn to your side and base out.

For even more leverage, step over their head and lift them slightly off the floor. Keep in mind that if they slip free of that, you can go back to the pressing armbar and americana: hence why this is a lockflow, because it should be continuously available as long as you maintain control of the far arm.

I saw an interesting variation from Dean Lister on BJJ Library, as part of that Roy Dean lockflow. On the straight armlock, he grabs the meat of the hand, points their thumb down, then simply pushes the arm towards their head. Looks interesting, so I'll have to try that next time I teach that same lockflow.

24 September 2012

Equipment Review - Q5 Amass Whey Premium Protein

Short Review: Q5 Amass Whey Premium is easy to use and tastes ok when mixed in a smoothie (the option I used was two bananas and some water along with a scoop of Q5 Amass Whey Premium). I wouldn't particularly recommend just mixing it with water, although the taste is bearable.

As far as I could tell it did aid recovery, but I should note that I am almost completely ignorant of supplements and don't do any exercise outside of BJJ. I therefore found it difficult to tell if my recovery had in fact improved or not. At £35 in the UK or $50 in the US, Q5 Amass Whey Premium is not cheap, but you may or may not feel that extra cost is justified by the fact it is produced in New Zealand rather than China or India, given the difference in the dairy production process. Available here.

Full Review: I am far too lazy to be a body-builder. While it's a fascinating sport which takes an incredible amount of dedication and discipline - I would still say that Pumping Iron is the greatest sports documentary ever made (though I guess the fictional elements in Pumping Iron complicate its status as a documentary) - it doesn't take long before I get bored lifting weights. So, when Q5 Labs got in contact with me about reviewing one of their supplements, I did what I always do in that situation: direct them to Will Wayland over at Powering Through. As you can see from Will's reviews, he knows his stuff.

However, Q5 were still keen to send me something despite my protestations of ignorance, so I said that now I'm past 30 I wouldn't mind help with recovery. I was a bit surprised to receive a big tub of whey protein: this is a product you've almost certainly encountered if you're involved in any type of exercise. It tends to come in massive tubs of white powder, provided by an equally enormous range of different companies. Googling 'whey protein' brings up almost 18,000 shopping results.

I had assumed whey protein was meant for beefy guys who wanted to get even beefier. The tagline for Q5 Labs, 'Stay Alpha', fits with that image: 'alpha male' isn't a term with good associations for me (I associate it with aggression and laddishness), which further demonstrates that I'm probably not the target market for this kind of product. Regardless, my assumption that whey protein is mainly for strength goes to show how little I know about supplements, as whey is supposed to help with recovery too. According to a piece by Suzanne Christiansen:

For the body to return to its optimal condition following exercise it needs to go through a three-pronged process of rehydration, refuelling and reconditioning. Whey protein is considered a superior high biological value protein for muscle recovery, as it contains a high natural concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are necessary as building blocks for the synthesis of new muscle proteins.

That all sounds beneficial, though as she's writing for a dairy industry publication, bias is more than likely. There is a small chance that you may have issues with your liver when it comes to taking whey: friends of mine have mentioned that they stopped taking whey protein due to that concern. Given that none of these friends were scientists, I had a quick look around to see if there was anything to back up those worries. According to this, combining whey protein and creatine can be dangerous, but it looks like just one case, which isn't exactly conclusive. Nevertheless, if you have liver problems, then that's probably something to look into.

Whether or not your liver will have genuine problems with whey, there are some warnings noted on the product itself. Right on the tub, it says "if you are pregnant or nursing, consult your healthcare practitioner before taking this product." Also, if you have any issues with milk, then you'll also want to be careful, given another part of the Q5 Amass Whey Premium tub says "contains milk and soya". Click on the picture to see a full list of ingredients.

The Independent mentions another potential note of caution, though this is more about proper usage rather than anything detrimental about the product itself:

the links with muscle tone and weight loss exist only when exercise is fairly intense, consistent and includes resistance work (such as weight training) and aerobic work of a reasonable intensity (running or cycling with fast bursts).

Digesting protein in amounts that exceed your body's needs will lead to weight gain. And we already eat too much, with men typically getting 88g and women 64g of protein a day above the recommended daily allowance (RDA)

Moreover, there's an interesting quote in The Independent from sports dietician Jennifer Low, who says:

If you opt for whey protein shakes… above your normal diet, then you will gain weight if you are not increasing exercise. Natural foods such as milk offer a complete health package of protective nutrients that you don't get in supplements.

A 200ml glass of semi-skimmed milk contains 3.6 percent protein and about 20 percent of this is whey protein.

The New York Times had this to add, discussing supplements in general:

Male-oriented fitness supplements are not hard to find, but they are hard to figure out. Top-selling products like creatine, whey powder and nitric oxide are widely available under many brand names at drugstores and chains like G.N.C., but they are also minimally regulated, with a majority going untested by the Food and Drug Administration.

And that, sports medicine doctors say, points to the problems: there is little or no uniformity among products, the labels are confusing and the ingredients are arcane. Often, the main active ingredient is simply caffeine.

Of course, neither of those are peer-reviewed science journals and I'm not a scientist. However, scanning through the list of more reputable academic articles which didn't contain too many long chemical terms I don't understand, it appears several studies support the idea that whey is healthy. I've put up the references at the end for those of you who do have the relevant scientific background to fully understand those findings. Titles like 'Whey protein enhances normal inflammatory responses during cutaneous wound healing in diabetic rats' and 'Dietary whey protein decreases food intake and body fat in rats' would seem to indicate positive benefits (at least for rats ;p).

From what I gather, whey is a by-product of cheese. There are also several types: the two I see most often in advertising and on the net are whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate, but there's also something called whey protein hydrolysate, which is much more expensive. Another industry magazine, Prepared Foods, gives the following definition:

Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and whey protein isolate (WPI) are obtained by reducing the amount of non-protein components through selective membrane filtration. Sweet whey is the whey obtained from the production of Cheddar-style and Swiss-style cheeses, while acid whey refers to whey that comes from the production of either ricotta or cottage cheeses. Acid whey has a slightly lower pH, which can make it more useful in certain applications with a savory flavor profile, such as snack foods and salad dressings. Other whey ingredients may feature a reduced-lactose or reduced-mineral content.

In addition to whey being great for rats, looking around the internet and newspapers, there are all sorts of other claims about its benefits. The most extreme is that whey might help prevent cancer: The Independent article claims an Ohio State University study found that whey protein boosted glutathione, which is apparently "known to help control cancer-causing free radicals." It also notes that Susan Fluegel at Washington State University found it could reduce blood pressure. The main alleged benefit is building muscle, hence why adverts for whey protein are particularly ubiquitous in magazines with pictures of muscular men.

Whey has a long history: The Independent says it was originally recommended by Hippocrates, while this site cites Galen as another advocate. Much more recently, it became popular with body-builders, then in the last couple of decades, whey protein has become mainstream. The Independent notes "the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow are consuming whey protein shakes as part of their detox regimens".

In Beverage Industry magazine, there's a jargon-tastic quote from Starla Paulsen, who says: "while still popular amongst sports enthusiasts, protein beverages are also consumed as a weight management product or simply as a wellness beverage. Because of this move towards the mainstream, consumers are also demanding higher quality beverages with improved flavor and mouthfeel, as well as nutritional value."

Speaking of taste and 'mouthfeel' (which the internet tells me is a real word, in use since at least 1951), the Q5 Amass Whey Premium I had was described as 'vanilla'. Mixing a scoop of it with some water results in something that doesn't taste great, but it also isn't face-scrunchingly horrible. If you're not careful to mix it thoroughly, the 'mouthfeel' is a little unpleasant, as there will still be little bits of congealed powder in the drink.

You don't need to worry about measuring it out, as a scoop is included. I didn't actually realise that at first, because the scoop was buried in the powder. I was initially using a spoon and had assumed the hard thing I kept hitting was compacted powder. It was in fact a scoop. D'oh.

From my experience taking Q5 Amass Whey Premium over the last few months, the best option is throwing two bananas and some water into a blender then adding a scoop of the whey protein powder (no doubt there are much more complex options, but I found that one cheap, easy and quick to make). The vanilla tastes pretty good alongside the bananas, and because it's been through a blender you don't get that congealed powder at the bottom.

I also tried Q5 Amass Whey Premium in some porridge, mixing a scoop with the milk beforehand. That also worked ok, although I don't know if the heat has any kind of negative impact on the whey protein. The taste wasn't especially different from when I normally have porridge, though I think the vanilla helped with the sweetness (I would usually dump a load of sugar on the porridge. No, I'm not a very healthy eater. ;D).

It is difficult for me to judge if it has been of major impact to my recovery. I have had some soreness in my legs and fingers as normal, which possibly was a little reduced, and I've definitely got some soreness by my groin. In my case I tried taking Q5 Amass Whey Premium at various times of the day to see what happened, but the recommendation is to take it within an hour after exercising. Still, I did find a two hour Zumbathon I did a while back quite easy and had no soreness, but then I'm used to dancing around like a crazy person.

The real test was the 24 hour GrappleThon, which is why I delayed this review until after the event. I wanted to see if taking Q5 Amass Whey Premium in the weeks leading up to the event and directly afterwards would help my recovery. I am a bit sleep deprived, obviously, but all things considered I'm not feeling especially sore today, which is the day after the event. My calf was slightly sore in the morning, but nothing major: I had no difficulty doing my usual 20 minute cycle to work, which is up some steep hills.

Speaking of the GrappleThon, my fellow GrappleThonner Seymour mentioned a good point as I was gluggling down a big glass of Q5 Amass Whey Premium augmented smoothie. To buy a 924g tub (which it states will provide 30 servings) is £35 in the UK or $49.78 in the US, which is quite expensive. What is the difference between Q5 Amass Whey Premium and a cheaper alternative? The product description provides some potential answers:

I know you’ve tried lots of protein mixes, so have I. My favorite used to be the red jug at Cheap-Mart. If I was there for something else I’d grab a tub for $26 and call it good.

But that was before I knew that most of the big brands source their whey from China and India to keep costs low. Both places are known for weak regulations, suspect food ingredients, rampant environmental pollution, and terrible working conditions. China in particular has a history of adulterated dairy products.

That's why we source 100% of our whey from New Zealand, home to some of the purest dairy production facilities in the world. New Zealand has strict laws in place to protect the quality of both the dairy products and the health and welfare of the animals. Growth hormones for cows like rGBH are completely outlawed, same with antibiotics.

It's certainly true that China and India don't have a reputation for fantastic working conditions, though I know just as little about economics as I do about science. Whether or not it is true that the methods used in New Zealand are vastly superior (I suspect that they are, but I don't know enough about dairy production facilities), then you may feel that is not an unreasonable justification for spending a bit more on your whey protein. You can buy Q5 Amass Whey Premium Protein here.


'Why whey is shaking up the food market', The Independent, 8th September 2012

Barnes, Gail, 'Positively Protein', Prepared Foods, 1st June 2009; Vol. 178, No. 6, p. 41-44

Christiansen, Suzanne, 'Exercise is the whey', Dairy Industries International, 1st December 2010; Vol. 75, No. 12, p. 30-33

Ebaid, H., Salem, A., Sayed, A., & Metwalli, A. (2011). 'Whey protein enhances normal inflammatory responses during cutaneous wound healing in diabetic rats', Lipids In Health And Disease, 10235.

Fuhrman, Elizabeth, 'Whey protein builds on success', Beverage Industry, 1st April 2011; Vol. 102, No. 4, p. 62-64

Hulmi, J., Lockwood, C., & Stout, J. (2010). 'Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein', Nutrition & Metabolism, 751

Roosevelt, Max, 'When the Gym Isn't Enough', The New York Times, 14th January 2010

Wright, Rebecca, 'The Nutraceutical beverage market: thirsting for new ideas', Nutraceuticals World, 1st July 2011, Volume 14; Issue 6

Zhou, J., Keenan, M., Losso, J., Raggio, A., Shen, L., McCutcheon, K., & Martin, R. (2011). 'Dietary whey protein decreases food intake and body fat in rats', Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 19(8), 1568-1573

23 September 2012

22/09/2012 - Meningitis UK Charity GrappleThon

[This is the write-up of the 2012 GrappleThon. For the 2013 GrappleThon, go here]

If you're following me anywhere online, you'll almost certainly have seen me babble about this event over the last few months. I started thinking about doing a marathon grappling session after watching the grapple-a-thon held by the Martial Arts Planet gym in Ontario, Canada a few hours before I got promoted to purple belt, in March last year. After starting full-time at Gracie Barra Bristol later that year, when I moved to Bristol in May, I was waiting for the academy to get a WiFi connection. As soon as it did, which I think was around a year later, I could put my plan into action.

First I needed to ask Geeza if he was happy for me to run the event at his school, then check with my various contacts in BJJ about the possibility of t-shirts and prizes. Seymour 'Meerkatsu' Yang (who I have known online for a good few years now, but only met a few times) and Tatami Fightwear both responded immediately. Seymour generously provided the fabulous design at the top of this post, which Tatami put onto some t-shirts. I was particularly pleased that Seymour was able to make it down in person: as he's a popular figure in BJJ (who has recently opened his own online shop), I was hoping that his supporters would get behind the event too.

Thanks to various people around the web and the impressive efforts of the MUK Press Officer, we managed to get the GrappleThon a hefty bit of coverage. Obviously I've posted about it in various places, like here and here. Seymour has been active too, mentioning it here and talking about how he came up with his awesome custom design here.

Facebook has been another good place to share, like here, here and here. Other sites have also kindly put up some details, like Martial Arts Unltd, Gi Freak, BJJ Board and Southern Jiu Jitsu. We also got a mention on episode #39 of the Inside BJJ podcast, which was cool. The charity itself put up a press release here, then finally there has also been a bit of local press, here and here as well as national coverage in the October 2012 issue of Martial Arts Illustrated.

Once I began announcing the event in class, a steady stream of GB Bristol students started signing up (it won't surprise anyone familiar with my geeky tendencies that this was through an online spreadsheet ;D). Geeza and Dónal got behind it too, making announcements in their classes, along with adding a mention to the group emails Geeza regularly sends to all members of the club.

The difficult part was pinning people down to a specific time, as I was very keen to ensure that we didn't run out of people: e.g., everybody arriving on Saturday noon and forgetting about the early hours of Sunday. Unsurprisingly there were a few people who pulled out, but fortunately their absence was filled by the considerable number who hadn't put themselves down for a slot on the spreadsheet. That additional influx was thanks to Geeza and Dónal's class announcements, which meant we had a total of forty-four people over the course of the GrappleThon. :)

By the time of the GrappleThon, the spreadsheet was relatively full even with those gaps from people having to drop out. On the day, numbers were even better, with an average of at least eight or so at any one time. Several people stayed for much longer than they put on the spreadsheet, or popped in and out, like Steve. Nevertheless, there were still a few quiet spots. Between around 4am and 6am, it was beginning to look like the handful of tired, injured or sleeping grapplers remaining would have to cover a good three hours worth. We were therefore thrilled when first Andrew walked in, followed a bit later on by Sam and then Andre.

As the donations began to mount up on JustGiving, the last part to sort out was the stream over on JustinTV. I tried a couple of different webcams, which worked, but the quality wasn't great. Steve stepped in at this point: with the help of his technical wizardry and horde of gadgets, the stream jumped up to excellent quality, although that did of course depend on your home connection.

Seymour arrived at my house on the Friday, ready to go the next morning. I had a great big box of t-shirts to carry down, along with a backpack loaded with gis, cereal bars, collection boxes, meningitis information, laptop paraphernalia and spare pants. Yes, spare pants: sitting in underwear sodden with sweat for several hours is not pleasant. Hence why I had four: I brought two with me, then my gf brought another two when she dropped by to visit around 8pm. ;p

During the event, I was mainly acting as the administrator, sat behind a bank of laptops. From there I could check the stream, respond to the chat room, post Twitter and Facebook updates, but perhaps most importantly, manage my lovely spreadsheet for tracking how many spars each grappler had racked up. During the planning stages, I instituted several competitions for the GrappleThon, which I hoped would both help motivate people in attendance and also encourage maximum donations.

The first competition was for the Meerkatsu designed t-shirt. I was impressed that they arrived exactly when Gareth from Tatami had said they would: if their customer service is that good for a charity event, it must be brilliant for paying customers. To earn one of them, you had to donate to Meningitis UK by 9am on the Saturday, which most people did via JustGiving (though there are a few who prefer to do it offline, and have done very well. I'm looking forward to updating the total once those sponsorship forms come in! :D). I had some 'standard' Meningitis UK shirts to give out too.

The second competition was to see who could spar the longest, hence the spreadsheet. That proved to be a successful concept, as I think a number of people were tempted to stay on longer to either get the highest total of six minute rolls, or at least beat somebody else's total (one girl was even motivated to try out BJJ for the first time, having come down with her family to watch her brother: she ended up with 16 rolls!). Maeve took this a step further: on her fundraising page, she announced that for every £50 she raised, she would spar another hour, in addition to the two hour slot she'd already agreed. That meant she had the difficult challenge of sparring for six hours.

Now, most people would probably break that up over the twenty-four hours, perhaps heading home for a sleep in between. Not Maeve. She sparred pretty much non-stop. When she finished the sixty rolls, she was still full of energy. In fact, I reckon she could have done sixty more! Brilliant performance: you can watch the last few minutes of it here. Almost the entire stream is still available for playback, here, although I'm not sure how long the videos stay up on JustinTV after the stream has finished. Even if they do go down, Steve has all of them downloaded: we'll hopefully have a highlight video sorted at some point.

Along with Maeve, there were several other people gunning for the title. Andrew Wormald was the early leader, who ended up with 60.5 rolls (the 0.5 was because Geeza was keen to go one better than Dónal: otherwise they would have been tied). Seymour made it to 60.5 as well. Young Louis Horne (I may have that surname wrong) was also in the lead for a long time with 42 rolls. That's an even better total when you take into account Louis is only ten years old. Yet the eventual champion was Kyle Chesmore, who was there for most of the day, spreading out his 63 rolls. Well done champ!

Speaking personally, I didn't spar all that much by comparison. My total at the end of the twenty-four hours was 31 rolls, meaning I had sparred for just over three hours. In one go, that would have been a lot, but I spaced it out across the whole event. There were two longer stints, including an hour long roll with Maeve (thanks Deidre! ;D) and thirty minutes with Andrew to give everyone else a rest during a quiet period. Those were the exceptions: most of the time I just occasionally jumped in. I wanted to be ready to take up the slack if needed, so I tried to maintain an even lower intensity than normal. It also meant I could pose for random pictures, like the one below with Gem. Hooray!

The third and final competition is a simple one: who can raise the most money. In order to be fair to people who are fundraising offline and therefore have to chase their supporters to claim the pledged cash, the deadline for this one is October 22nd. So, if you are supporting an individual fundraiser, you can still help them win if you pop over to JustGiving (if they have a page: most of the fundraisers did, but there were a couple of exceptions). And remember, JustGiving works outside the UK too. Incidentally, although I'm not taking part in that competition, I'm only £10 off my personal target, if anybody wants to help me reach it. :D

Seymour has done a write-up too (here), for which he has loads of good snaps (the ones in my post almost all come from GB Bristol member Bruno): if you check out the Meerkatsu Facebook page, you'll see a few of them. Also, considering I'm quite sleep-deprived at this point, I'll probably need to update my post for mistakes and typos anyway. ;p

There were several people there who had direct experience of meningitis. For example, Martin was hospitalised for a month with viral meningitis, which still affects him today: he rolled for forty-eight minutes. People kept coming up to me to talk about uncles, sisters and cousins who had either survived meningitis or sadly passed away. That demonstrates how many families are affected by the disease. Hopefully the money we raised at the GrappleThon will help make sure those stories become less common.

If you would like further information on meningitis, take a look at the Meningitis UK website. You'll want to pay special attention to the symptoms: meningitis can kill in less than four hours. Speed is of the essence, so see a doctor immediately if you have even the smallest suspicion that you or somebody you know might have contracted meningitis.

Update 26th Sep 2012: Steve has put together a few highlight videos. He's got more on the way, and once I get hold of the main footage I'll most likely throw a few up on Facebook. To start with, here's one of the beginning and end, with a bit of the middle:

Then here is a speeded up version of Maeve's mammoth sixty rolls (three hundred and sixty minutes!):

Class #470
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai 'Geeza' Holt, Bristol, UK - 22/09/2012

In regards to the actual training, it was essentially an extended open mat. Geeza kicked things off at 09:00 by running through some flow drills, while the first pair were sparring in front of the MUK banner. Like I said above, I did thirty-one rounds of six minutes, but spread out across the whole event. About half of that was with two people, due to an hour long roll with Maeve and a thirty minute session with Andrew.

I had a chance to practice clearing an arm from the back with Marcus, putting what I teach into practice. Pulling up when they are grabbing an arm to get them to pull back down worked initially, as I could sweep the arm down and bring my leg over the top. However, I wasn't able to get it behind the back, meaning it was rather less secure by Marcus's hip and stomach: IIRC, he eventually worked his arm back under.

A number of times over the course of the GrappleThon I was looking to get past somebody's knees while in their guard, due to some variation or other of the knee-shield/z-guard. I am still tending to flop down and aim to slide past the knee, but that relies too much on them making a mistake rather than pro-actively working around the knees.

I'm also continuing to be far, far too passive with spider guard. This is my default guard, especially when I want to be lazy (which was all the time at the GrappleThon, because I was worried about blowing all my energy early on). I can get into spider guard, pushing on the arms and hips to keep them away. But that is about it: I have been shown sweeps from there, the details of which I normally forget.

The same goes for closed guard, where I'm stalling too much, either in a high guard, a 'normal' closed guard with tight head control, or an overhook. I did land a few triangles, but that's heavily mitigated by the fact I mostly rolled with white belts and was almost always fresh by comparison to my training partner.

On top, I managed to maintain the position ok. My focus was locking down in top half guard, mount and side control by reaching under the head and gripping the cloth by their far armpit. That way, I can use my shoulder to immobilise them on one side, while pulling tightly on the armpit-cloth stops them moving on the other side. Their legs are still a danger, but if I can get that upper body trapped, I can at least stabilise.

However, as with spider guard, I'm just maintaining and not submitting. On the other hand, I did go for more submissions than normal, with a few kimuras and that nifty little gi choke Matty Burn showed me a while back (although I wasn't really feeding enough of the gi tail, so the subs were a bit sloppy).

I also had a play with something I learned more recently, from Kev, who in turn learned it from Felipe Souza. I don't normally find myself attacking the turtle all that often, but I had a few opportunities during the GrappleThon. So, it was time to pull out the clock choke, but not the typical one. I suck at the typical one. IMO, Felipe's version is a great deal easier to apply: in basic terms, after you've got the collar grip, you just brace your free elbow on the other side of their head, drop your weight and move through.

Sparring with Seymour was cool, because we haven't rolled in a while. I think I was still a blue when we last sparred, but I'm not certain. Either way, Seymour noted afterwards that my game seems quite different, as I now clearly prefer the top: back when he rolled with me as a blue, I was in guard, but not really doing anything with it. It's good that my top game has improved a bit, but looking back I unfortunately can't see all that much has changed with my guard (possibly my spider guard is slightly harder to pass than it used to be, but not by much). I've said it before, but I need to refocus on getting some reliable sweeps in guard.

Annoyingly, there seems to be something amiss in the inner thigh of my left leg. It has been feeling tight for a while now. I thought it was just sore, but as it feels like it's been that way for ages, could be time to check in with a physio. Still, the only time it really hindered me was when I was looking to practice the windscreen wiper sweep: whatever injury I've got makes that technique awkward.

Special mention to Tony, who as always was an awesome training partner. Very relaxed, controlled and technical. Like last time I was playing around with gi grips, seeing if I could do anything with them, without much purpose. Tony has a lovely double-knee sweep that is hard to pass, so it was an interesting challenge to try and avoid that. The only time I managed to pass it was just swinging my leg off as fast as I could, so that's not a reliable method.

GrappleThon Aftermath

The fundraising has continued since the GrappleThon, meaning that the total donated, as of 11th February 2013, was £3,015! :D

Aside from this write-up, other participants wrote up their thoughts too. I've already mentioned Seymour's summary, then there is also Rich's post. We got a mention on BJJ News too, linked here and here.

We've also had further press coverage, starting with the Meningitis UK site, here. Martial Arts Illustrated also followed up with another story in their November 2012 issue. Seymour namechecked us in an interview he did with the German site, Grapplers Paradise. There is also a short report in Issue 11 of Jiu Jitsu Style, plus a brief mention during my article on 'BJJ: Martial Art or Sport?' in the same issue.

20 September 2012

20/09/2012 - Last Class Before the GrappleThon!

The video channel will go LIVE at 9am British Summer Time this Saturday: the main streaming site is here

Main GrappleThon donation page here.

After several months of planning, the GrappleThon is taking place this weekend, starting at 9am on Saturday 22nd September 2012, running through to 9am 23rd September 2012. The idea is that we'll have at least one pair sparring the entire time: the whole event is going to be streamed live on, hence the embedded video above (if you’re reading this between 9am on Saturday 22nd and 9am Sunday 23rd, simply click play on the video to tune in the live feed. Similarly with the chat, you can leave us a message on there and we’ll get back to you :D).

The main aim is to raise money for Meningitis UK. Most of that is coming via JustGiving, so if you'd like to contribute, pop over here. One of the various advantages of JustGiving is that you can donate from anywhere in the world. So, no excuses to help a worthy cause! ;)

Teaching #073
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 20/09/2012

Getting back to class tonight, it's my first class in mat two, now that the new class schedule has started. From now on, mat one on Thursdays will be a nogi class, while I'll be in the smaller building next door and up the stairs. So, please keep supporting the Thursday gi class if you want to see it continue! ;D

Today I wanted to take a look at a pass Ed Beneville and Tim Cartmell refer to as 'inverted half guard' in their excellent book, which I first learned from Roger Gracie a few years ago. The orthodox method to pass the half guard is to get a similar 'super-hold' (as Xande calls it) as you would in side control, then use shoulder pressure to hold them in place as you bounce your leg free and slide through.

With inverted half guard, you're also using that cross-facing shoulder pressure. For this pass, you will start off by controlling their head, where you have a broad choice of grips. Option one is to reach under their head with the arm on the same side as your trapped leg: that may feel counter-intuitive, as normally that is the arm you would use to underhook (it will make sense in a moment). Option two, still with that trapped-side arm, is to grab their opposite shoulder.

Option three is grabbing the back of their gi. Option four comes from the Beneville book: if you can get this one, it's probably the tightest option. Before you swing over, open up their lapel on the free leg side. Pass the end of their gi to the hand you have under their head and feed it through. Push their head slightly towards the trapped leg side, then shove your head in the space you’ve created. You can use your head for base, along with your free hand if required.

Whichever hold you've gone for (there are more, but we'll stick with four for now), the next step is to swing your free leg over to the trapped-leg side, so you're lying next to your opponent. This is where that grip and shoulder pressure comes in, as if you don't have one of those grips, they would be able to simply turn towards you and take the top position. If you've gone with option two, in the process of swinging over, you'll bring your arm across their throat. That is therefore probably the least pleasant of the four options.

You need to be careful of their leg, as you don't want them to bridge. Grab their far knee to keep them in place. You can then kick their other leg off and free your foot. At this point, watch out for a counter they may try, which is to lift up your leg with their far foot, flipping you over. To re-counter that, immediately switch from holding the knee to hooking behind their knee with your arm. That should stop them lifting for the sweep. Alternatively, you can also do a big step over to the other side as they try to flip you to your back.

18 September 2012

18/09/2012 - Gracie Barra Bristol (Knee Cut Pass)

Class #469
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Dónal Carmody, Bristol, UK - 18/09/2012

The GrappleThon is THIS WEEKEND! It will be streaming LIVE from 9am British Summer Time on the 22nd September (i.e., this Saturday). Meerkatsu, me, GB Bristol and a few friends from other clubs will be rolling around in front of the camera, so you'll get to watch us getting steadily more knackered (or possibly hyped up on energy drinks...) I'll be sticking up more details in my Thursday post, as that will be the last post before the GrappleThon (though I'll also back-date a review I'm about to post too, as the GrappleThon will be a good test of the product in question ;D).


After the tight focus of the previous fortnight on the triangle, the current fortnight on guard passing has been a bit more open, with several different guards in the mix. Tonight, Dónal was looking at a classic guard pass, the knee cut. At the point we join the technique, the guard is already open. Put one knee up, placing your same side hand on their same side hip. Your other hand pushes into their other knee, shoving it to the floor.

Slide your raised knee diagonally over the thigh of their leg you just shoved to the mat. Once you're able to press your knee into the mat (if there is any space, they may be able to wedge an elbow underneath and mess up your pass), you can switch the hand that was pressing into their knee to instead grab their same side arm, either by the sleeve of the tricep. Dónal split the technique at this point, making sure everybody had a chance to drill that entry.

He then progressed to the finish. Your first hand, which was earlier blocking their route to your back, will now also slide forward, looking to get a deep underhook past their same side armpit. Slide your knee forwards, until you reach their upper body. Their sleeve/tricep arm should be held firmly, while your underhooking hand can now reach all the way to their shoulder and grab securely.

From here, you can yank them towards you with your underhook. Getting a deeper grip that gets to the shoulder rather than just controlling their arm results in a far more powerful pull. You're then going to step over their head, keeping their arm pinned to you, swivelling into an arm bar.

This will be the 'Japanese armbar' position, with one leg over their head and the other foot tucked by their side, so you'll need to also grab their trouser leg. If you don't have that leg, you're vulnerable to the hitchhiker escape. You also want to pinch your knees together.

There was enough time for several rounds of sparring, which went much the same way for me each time. I kept finding myself either in a sort of open guard or closed guard. I am over-focusing on looking for submissions from closed guard at the moment, so need to remember about sweeps too: perhaps the Rey Diogo sweep off Andre Anderson's DVD.

The main submission I've been trying is that deep grip collar choke. I'm able to get in the super-deep grip, but I think my second grip is too loose at present (apparently you don't need a very deep second grip for this variation, but clearly it still needs to be tighter than the one I'm currently getting).

I also tried to get a triangle from the overhook guard/arm-wrap position, but I didn't deal with the stack properly. I got into that classic small-person situation of legs around that back with one of their arms in, but completely squashed so unable to get any angle. I should have been shoulder walking back, and I also should have maintained better head control. I switched to grabbing my shin at one point to adjust, but that wasn't enough to stop them from posturing up.

With Tony I played around with the gi, pulling out his lapel then pressing into it with my feet. I wanted to see if I could get any control that way and disrupt his base, but the position he got into seemed to negate it. I'd like to do more with the gi tail, given that I almost never train nogi, so it would be good to take more advantage of all that cloth.

14 September 2012

14/09/2012 - Gracie Barra Bristol

Class #468
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai 'Geeza' Holt, Bristol, UK - 14/09/2012

Some of you may have noticed this site was a bit intermittent a couple of days ago. That was due to the mass outage caused by a DDoS attack on GoDaddy. As it turned out, that's a good thing, because all the media attention meant I learned quite a bit more about GoDaddy's business practices. Previously, I'd just followed the advice of a friend who works in IT when it came to setting up a custom domain: I hadn't realised GoDaddy were fans of the despicable advertising described here and here. Hence why I've now switched to a different company. So, thanks to the Anon hackers on that one. :)

Also, the GrappleThon is next weekend! Fundraising is going well, as we've reached over £1300, but I'm still hoping to get to my personal target of £350. So, if you can help, please throw some money towards a good cause, here. Remember, with JustGiving you can donate from anywhere in the world, so US readers can help too. ;D

The theme for this fortnight is passing the guard: tonight focused on a few principles of passing posture, in a Gracie Barra Fundamentals class I last saw Geeza teach a little over a year ago. The self defence bit was a takedown from a headlock, where you turn your head towards them, grabbing their hip and pushing your other hand into the back of their knee. Step backwards and take them down into side control, basing out with your hands immediately. Shift a knee up to their head, stepping the other leg over and bringing it tight to their hip. Make a frame on their neck with your hands to push up and free your head, finishing with an armbar.

The main technique discussed proper posture in the guard. You begin in a poor position where they've already broken your posture, controlling your head. To recover your posture, first stay safe by clamping your knees and elbows to their hips. Put one knee in the middle of their butt cheek (if you bring it too close to the tailbone, they may be able to sweep you), sliding the other knee outwards. Circle your head out in the direction of that slid-out knee, returning to a good upright posture.

Grab their same side collar with each of your hands, then swinging your head like a pendulum, use the momentum to come to your feet. You stay in a sort of horse stance or crouch, your elbows resting on your knees, head slightly forward, pulling on their collars. This is a very stable position: it is difficult for them to sweep you from here.

To actually get the guard open, if they don't open it already in order to go for a sweep, release one collar and raise up, tucking the elbow of the other arm inside their leg (to avoid offering them a triangle). Reach back with your free hand, inserting it by their locked feet. Turn your body and bring your arm under their leg, aiming to pop their legs open. Keep twisting and grab their far collar or shoulder. From there, you can move into the standard smash pass, driving through their leg until you can slip through to side control.

Sparring was the same as last time we did this lesson: the person on the bottom was just looking to keep their posture broken, while the person on top was looking to stand up with posture. Unfortunately for me, class was divided by height rather than weight, so there were quite a few guys my height or less, but about twice the width! ;p

So, that meant trying to escape their grip was an interesting challenge. With Arnaud, I tried to move into the tailbone break, but I think I misjudged and basically ended up ramming my knee into his balls. Admittedly effective, but for all the wrong reasons. So, I'll need to be more careful with the angle of my knee next time, using leverage to open the guard rather than the natural instinct to protect your testicles. ;)

Underneath, I was looking to wrap up the head, possibly getting an overhook. That sort of worked, but I should have also attempted to establish a deep collar grip too. Knowing that your partner only needs to stand up to end the roll changes the dynamic, as normally I'd be quite happy to switch to open guard. This is therefore a good drill to ensure that you don't give up your closed guard so easily.

13 September 2012

13/09/2012 - Teaching (Passing Half Guard)

Teaching #72
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 13/09/2012

The class schedule is being shifted around at Gracie Barra Bristol, meaning that Thursday is now no-gi night in the main gym, with my class moving out to mat 2 (the smaller building up the stairs, where GB Bristol used to train while we waited for the main gym to be built). We'll see how that goes: if people continue to support the gi class, then it will keep on going, but if the numbers are low, I imagine Geeza will discontinue the Thursday gi class. That would be a shame from my perspective, as I enjoy teaching, but it will come down to the students voting with their feet. Can't argue with democracy. ;)

Tonight was therefore my last night teaching on the main mat, covering off some half guard passes. On top you are looking to get head control and an underhook, similar to top side control. If you can't get the underhook, keep your elbow close to their hip, so they can't underhook you. Sprawl back on one leg, so you are dropping your hips and putting maximum weight onto them. You also don't want to be too high, as that may give them space to shrimp and recover full guard.

If you are able to get the cross-face and an underhook, there is now the option of generating lots of shoulder pressure. This is my favourite way to pass the half guard. Drive your shoulder into their head, which should cause them to turn their head. Your head goes on the other side, locking their head into place. It should now become hard for them to move, because their head is stuck.

From here, come up on your feet so that all your weight is driving through your shoulder. Even if you're small, this should maximise your weight. I'm only 66kgs, but if I can get all of that weight against somebody's head, it becomes more significant. From there, bounce your trapped knee to wriggle it free. As soon as it is clear, twist and put that knee on the mat. You can then kick their leg off your foot: some people prefer to kick the top leg, but I would generally go for the bottom leg.

If that doesn't work, you have several options. You could try circling your free foot backwards, to hook over their inner thigh: in Xande's version of the pass from the picture, he starts off with that hook in place. This should help to press down on their thigh to make some space, in order to pull your trapped leg loose. Alternatively, you could try to distract your opponent, by attacking their upper body: for example, go for a bent armlock. If you can get them to start worrying about the submission rather than keeping their legs locked, you may be able to work the pass more easily.

Sometimes they might have got up onto their side, going for their own underhook. If you aren't able to establish your underhook, use a whizzer instead. From there, drive into their chest with your own, in order to flatten them out. You can then crossface, and work to get your underhook.

If they keep blocking your cross-face, as I taught last week, then you can just use your head instead. Bring your would-be cross facing arm towards their leg, putting your head on the same side. Trap their skull with your own, pressing towards them. Like earlier, you again then come up on your toes, slide the knee through, put it on the mat, then secure their leg to get free.

If you find that you keep getting stuck in the lockdown, don't worry: there is a simple method for working back to a standard half guard. First off, you can avoid the situation by making sure your lower leg is curled back. That will put it out of reach for the purposes of a lockdown. You can also just bring your foot close to their bum. If it is too late for that, grab their hips and shift downwards. Keep shifting backwards until you can circle your leg out of their lockdown, then move back up. Again, make sure your leg is curled out of reach, or they'll be able to put you right back in the lockdown.

Alternatively, Ed Beneville includes this option in Passing the Guard. Move down and put your head on their hip, trapped leg side. Move your free leg back, driving your hips down. Reach under their upper legs, then lock your arms together. When you've taken out all the slack in their lockdown, put your head on the other side. Shift your chest down, then kick back with your trapped leg (or simply straighten it, depending on how much purchase they still have on your leg). Pass from there by moving around, making sure to keep their hips locked to the mat, driving your shoulder into them..

This can also work from a standard half guard. Shifting down to their hips and wrapping under the legs is safer, but slightly less effective. The more risky, but also more powerful option is to bring one arm inside. The danger there is that if you're sloppy, they might be able to work for a triangle.