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

13 September 2012

DVD Review - 50 Common Mistakes To Avoid In BJJ (Adam Adshead)

Short Review: In this set, Adam Adshead looks to teach concepts and principles through the structural overlay of 'common mistakes'. Though it would benefit from more angles, the material is well taught and broadly applicable, best suited to white belts and fairly new blues. The majority sticks with fundamentals, particularly closed guard, the back and side control, with nothing especially fancy that is liable to confuse beginners. It's currently available for £29, once you dig past the various Lloyd Irvin style 'special offers' and 'limited time only'.

Full Review: Like the subject of my last review, Adam Adshead (who I had the pleasure of meeting last year) is also a brown belt and therefore brings up the same questions. With so many high level black belts releasing instructionals, a brown belt needs to offer something special, or at least unusual. Adshead has managed the latter, as 50 Common Mistakes to Avoid in BJJ takes a conceptual approach (which is fitting given that Adshead, an ex-music journalist, once wrote a blog called Conceptual BJJ, sadly now defunct).

Again like Faggella, Adshead has also decided upon the Lloyd Irvin business approach, with the standard squeeze page slathered in italics, testimonials, different colour fonts, large arrows, 'limited time' offers and even nagging messages asking you to sign up to email lists. That is not something commonly seen in the UK and it's a marketing strategy I strongly dislike, but I can't deny its record of success [Update Aug 2013: Since the start of this year, there have been numerous other reasons to avoid that marketing approach regardless of any perceived efficacy, given the disturbing revelations which have emerged about TLI, which is the BJJ team most associated with the style]. Perhaps as a brown belt it is necessary to use those kind of tools to sell a DVD, as you can't afford to be too picky with your marketing.

The main comparison to 50 Common Mistakes to Avoid in BJJ that springs to mind is Demian Maia's Science of Jiu Jitsu, which also sought to tackle the instructional challenge through principles and concepts rather than the typical catalogue of techniques. The entirety of Adshead's DVD is in the gi (though much of the advice would be true for nogi as well), with Adshead in black easily distinguishable from his uke in white.

Adshead is a native English speaker, which automatically gives him an advantage over instructionals headed by a Brazilian, as English is their second language at best. On the other hand, Adshead has a regional English accent. Speaking personally, I found that refreshing to hear on a BJJ instructional, but as Cheryl Cole knows to her cost, Americans sometimes struggle with the exceptional variety of pronunciation to be found back in the Old Country. It is therefore possible some non-UK English speakers may have difficulty with Adshead's Northern lilt, especially as he is quite softly spoken.

The structural choice indicated by the title is interesting. At times I wondered if it could have gone further, such as grouping several of the mistakes under "don't play flat on your back" (there are at least three that could fit within that category). At others, it felt like the mistakes were too specific to fit within the purview of 'common'. However, in general I think the idea was a good one and worked well. It is far easier to keep in mind broad concepts as opposed to the intricate details of single techniques, particularly as a concept can apply to a range of situations rather than "if they do this, you do that" responses.

Adshead kicks off with a quick introduction to his DVD, noting that it is intended for both beginning and advanced students, as well as instructors looking to improve their teaching. Adshead has also adopted a useful element of previous instructionals, adding a number to the corner of the screen: I'm not sure who first came up with that innovation, but it is one I mainly associate with World Martial Arts releases (e.g., Saulo Ribeiro's excellent first set).

As per the DVD title, there are fifty mistakes, each of which takes roughly two minutes to describe. The full name of the mistake appears in text at the start, which is handy. 50 Common Mistakes to Avoid in BJJ is spread across two DVDs, though as they are quite short at fifty-two minutes and forty-three minutes respectively, I wonder if they could have been squashed onto one.

50 Common Mistakes to Avoid in BJJ occasionally suffers from a very common issue in instructional DVDs: extended lectures delivered by somebody sat down in front of the camera. The majority of instructional DVDs still follow the "point a camera at me while I talk through the technique" method. This isn't necessarily a bad option, but it frequently means that when the instructor wants to discuss a technique in more detail, they'll end up stopping their physical demonstration and delivering a static lecture.

There are two far superior options. The first is to make sure you have a good lapel mic, then give the same talk but continue to actively demonstrate while you're talking. The second is to mix in some footage with voiceover, if you can't give the same lecture while demonstrating: this is something Roy Dean has done on several of his DVDs. However, I would assume that requires a greater investment in editing equipment and the like, which is presumably why it isn't more common.

Another slight flaw is the lack of multiple angles for each mistake, which again could be a question of cost. To refer to Roy Dean a second time, his Blue Belt Requirements is the gold standard for this, with every technique demonstrated from at least four angles. It could be argued that sometimes numerous angles and slow motion replays are redundant, but occasionally an alternate angle is essential to highlight grips, leg position, direction of rotation and so on.

The first few of Adshead's eponymous mistakes are the most conceptual, in that they apply to a broader variety of positions. Adshead discusses weight distribution, not letting your opponent settle or secure strong grips, along with common errors for breaking grips and the dangers of over-reaching (e.g., when trying to pass or looking to escape). After that, the DVD falls into a pattern of grouping several mistakes from the same position, though the number of mistakes varies.

That grouping starts with three mistakes related to maintaining your closed guard, such as letting your opponent open your guard on their own terms, followed by a brief note on staying off your back in butterfly guard. Adshead then moves on to three mistakes from half-guard, before getting into some submissions from the guard.

I found myself querying the thirteenth mistake, which was pulling the head to finish the triangle. I don't think that can legitimately be called a mistake, as in certain situations pulling the head will indeed finish the triangle. It is also something many instructors include when teaching the triangle as a key detail. Most importantly, de-emphasising pulling on the head potentially might confuse beginners into thinking that posture control is not important.

Having said all that, Adshead acknowledges that if you've set up everything correctly pulling on the head can complete the submission, so it is mainly a matter of phrasing rather than teaching. Yanking on the head with all your strength is certainly something beginners should avoid, as that is liable to injure your training partners. I'm not sure I could claim it will actually prevent you from finishing a triangle, but it will almost certainly make you very unpopular in class.

The triangle is then joined by the kimura and the armbar. Adshead has an interesting tip on the latter, which reminds me of certain details on the triangle. Rather than finishing the armbar with both your feet pointing in the same direction, Adshead recommends angling the leg by the head outwards. This is both reminiscent of Mike Fowler angling the leg for the triangle (to tighten it up) and Ryan Hall's advice on gripping higher on the head when controlling posture, as that provides much better leverage. In Adshead's armbar, you're controlling their posture with that leg rather than your hands.

Unusually, Adshead also includes a brabo choke. Relative to the triangle, armbar and kimura, I wouldn't class the brabo choke as a common technique, particularly from the closed guard in the gi. Nevertheless, it's good advice, which then moves on to the much more common cross choke from guard.

Next up is passing, which comprises five mistakes (although two of them are oddly categorised as 'closed guard top' rather than simply 'passing' or 'passing closed guard'). I can cite a personal example here of how the DVD can be useful for instructors: thanks to watching 50 Common Mistakes to Avoid in BJJ prior to a class, I found it easier to recognise the mistake a white belt was making when sparring me. I could therefore tell him that, as Adshead advises, he needed to stop trying to fight my legs with just his arms when attempting to pass. The first DVD then closes with three mistakes from the feet, discussing pulling open guard along with double and single legs.

The second DVD of 50 Common Mistakes to Avoid in BJJ opens with five mistakes from side control, the last of which brought to mind a Caio Terra point about closed guard. Terra notes that when you're in somebody's closed guard, you should stay on your toes, rather than resting on your insteps. This makes sense in terms of mobility and being able to drive your weight forward, though personally I tend to worry about my toes getting twisted as a result. The advice also applies from side control, as Adshead demonstrates in mistake number thirty.

His focus then switches to escapes, with five suggestions on improving your ability to free yourself from side control. In mistake thirty-four, Adshead refers to 'twister side control', a term I've only heard from Eddie Bravo. I would call what Adshead does here reverse scarf hold, but then as I've discussed before, terminology in BJJ is extremely varied, with numerous names for the same technique.

It's back to a couple of submissions after that, with some good basic points on the americana and far side armbar from side control, before moving into three mistakes from mount (including an escape). There is then a long succession of mistakes from the back, taking in both standard back control (what the IBJJF classes as a 'back grab') and the turtle.

The forty-third mistake on proper grips for the seatbelt/harness caught my eye, because this is another point of divergence among instructors. Adshead prefers the John Will method, where the hand you have by their armpit protects the hand of the arm you've brought over their shoulder. Will's reasoning makes sense, as he argues that this means when somebody pulls off that covering hand, you can simply bring your shoulder arm up to their neck to initiate your choke.

Adshead then progresses to the clock choke to begin his discussion of the turtle. It's followed by four other mistakes when attacking that position: leaving your far arm in, not putting your weight on them and finally not moving around the front. If you do move around the front, you're liable to get taken down, as your legs are then in range of their grips. That's closed off by some details on escaping the turtle by rolling back into guard.

The last mistake, somewhat strangely, is how to maintain knee ride. This would have made much more sense earlier on, grouped with the material on side control. It's sensible advice, but I was confused as to why it was separated out until the end. The DVD closes with a message from Adshead, thanking his instructors and noting that you can contact him with any feedback. That was a nice touch, as it helps personalise the material (though the Lloyd Irvin marketing unfortunately does the opposite).

50 Common Mistakes to Avoid in BJJ is listed on the website at £39, which for less than two hours is a little expensive. By comparison, Roy Dean's DVD sets are normally $45 (£28), like the excellent No Gi Essentials. In classic Lloyd Irvin style, Adshead's set is currently available for a more reasonable £29...but for "a limited time only!" Anyone who has seen products sold using the Irvin model will be very familiar with umpteen "buy now before the price goes up!" and "but wait! You also get all this, at £x value!" provisos.

Marketing aside, Adshead's material is good, so white and blue belts shouldn't be disappointed. I would say that 50 Common Mistakes to Avoid in BJJ is generally suitable for beginners, with a few tips that could also help blue belts.

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