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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

25 October 2012

25/10/2012 - Teaching (Bullfighter Pass)

Teaching #077
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 25/10/2012

This abductor strain is still causing issues: my inability to train properly is getting a bit aggravating, but it does at least give me more time to write. While I was away in Portugal, there was some big news in BJJ: the inaugural Metamoris Pro. Unfortunately I was on a plane during the live feed, but I was able to catch the replay upon returning a couple of days ago. It made for entertaining viewing, though there were three major problems: no female matches, the 20 minute time limit and the constant marketing from Ryron and Rener. I'm hoping there will be women in the next event, especially as there are plenty of match-ups that would draw interest, like Kyra Gracie vs Ronda Rousey and Gabi Garcia vs Cris Cyborg.

The 20 minute time limit was annoying: without it, I am certain the Ryron vs Galvao match in particular would have ended very differently. If you think no time limits can't work, then you possibly aren't aware of US Grappling, who have been proving since 2008 that no time limits sub only is absolutely viable. Two of the co-founders have presented their views on the topic: Andrew Smith spoke recently about the possibilities of no times limits for a Metamoris-type event, while Chrissy Linzy made a more general comment on the history of US Grappling's sub only tournaments.

Ryron and Rener's marketing ruffled a lot of feathers, particularly as Ryron made an ill-advised statement that IBJJF medals were worthless. As he made that comment not long after getting a draw with somebody who has lots of IBJJF medals, it made it look like Ryron saw lying underneath Galvao for twenty minutes as somehow indicative of a devastating victory for Gracie Academy philosophy over the rest of the BJJ world. Unsurprisingly this was taken as an insult and did not go down well: there have been numerous responses to the behaviour of the Gracie Academy representatives at Metamoris, such as here, here and here.

In the course of their Metamoris coverage, the Fightworks Podcast recently featured Chris Kavanagh, a doctoral student at Oxford University who is running a study on grading rituals in BJJ. I've known him as CKava for a while now, meaning I was already aware of the survey due to a few emails he sent me a few months before. So, very cool to see it up and running: to fill in the survey, go to the aptly named

Finally, if you're in the US, check out the Women's Grappling Camp taking place from the 7th-9th December in San Francisco. You'll be training with one of the best female competitors of all time, Leticia Ribeiro: the main details are all here, on the Facebook page. I got an email from one of the organisers asking if I'd be willing to mention it on my site: as it's directed towards promoting women grapplers, I am of course happy to stick up the link. :)

Getting back to the class tonight, I kicked off with a drill for the bullfighter pass, as that is what I'd be covering in the technique section. I followed the method I was taught by Kev a while ago. Start by holding their knees. Step to one side, swinging your inside leg back. That grip on their knees means you can, at the same time, bring their near leg backwards and to the mat. This should enable your inside leg to swing through, moving to knee on belly. They escape and recover position using the open guard drill I've taught a before (again from Kev), after which you repeat, going to the other side. I'm particularly fond of drills that allow both people to work something, so hopefully it was helpful to the students. Still, I think next time I'll leave it out, because given the fact I have to include the Gracie Barra warm-up as well, that drill probably takes up time which could be better spent sparring.

For the technical portion of the class, I was focusing on a very basic open guard, where they've just got their feet on your hips. As with passing closed guard, you want to maintain good posture. To recap (as this goes for open guard in the same way it goes for standing in the closed guard), don't lean forwards too much. That could give them the opportunity to flip you right over their head, pushing on your hips. It also puts you closer to their submission zone.

Instead, you want to start upright, hips thrusting forwards. As when passing closed guard from standing, be careful of your foot position. They will be looking to establish some kind of control over your legs in order to go for a sweep or submission. Therefore you want to break any grips they establish. A simple option if they grip your heel is to kick your foot forward and circle it back. That works best against a heel grab, as if they get a good grip on your trousers, their hold will be tougher to dislodge.

To pass the open guard, it is advisable to grip on the inside of both their knees for control (though not everyone would agree on that: others suggest gripping lower on the trousers by their shin, knuckles facing forward, or even at the bottom of the trousers). The main danger is that they will try to loop their leg over your arm, which you can mitigate by gripping a little lower than the knee. If their legs are raised, twist your elbows in, so that your forearms are next to the inside of their lower legs.

That means you can then start to move their legs in several directions. Side to side will set you up for perhaps the most simple version of what is known as the toreador or 'bullfighter' pass (also called the toreana, toreada, toreando and matador, among other names. Google tells me the Portuguese for bullfighter is in fact 'toureiro'). The reason it has that name is because in this context, your opponent is the bull: your aim is to turn their legs into the red flag.

Like a matador (the reality of bullfighting is extremely unpleasant, but it works well as a metaphor), you're going to fake them out by going to one side, then the other. Thrust their knees sideways towards the mat, while simultaneously moving around to the opposite side. You want them to think you're trying to pass that way, then reverse direction and go the other way: switch as many times as you need, in order to trick them. As you move round for real, pin their knees to the mat. Some instructors advocate a slightly different grip, where you put one hand on the hip, still gripping the leg on the side you want to pass.

So, continuing the technical instruction, you can also fake them out by driving forwards, having bent your legs slightly (rather than just leaning forwards). The reaction you want is that they push back. Go with that motion, bringing them backwards, then use your weight to bring their feet to the mat. Straighten your arms to really focus your weight, staying on your toes. That should put as much pressure as possible into their legs, keeping them squashed down as you move around for the pass.

Similarly, you could try stepping backwards, then simultaneously sprawl and punch your hands into the ground. You want to get their knees into the mat, so they're turned to the side. To finish, pass around behind their knees, then shift to side control.

Alternatively, if they don't react, you can still pass after having driven their knees towards their chest. Thrust one leg forward, then step back, pulling the other leg with you. Drive that leg into the mat with a straight arm and your body weight, then pass around on that side.

Finishing the pass off can be difficult, if they manage to get arms in the way, hook your leg or something along those lines. If you're able to really glue their knees to the mat, it may be possible to walk all the way around. You could also get just slightly past their legs, then drop your shoulder into their hip, falling forward.

This will be the shoulder you have forwards: as you do that, be careful you don't bring your elbow outside their knee. Instead, maintain a solid grip throughout on their legs. If all goes well, that should enable you to use your weight to help immobilise them, bring your knee into their hip and settle into side control.


  1. Another option is to jump your legs to your opponent's side, almost like a cartwheel.

  2. Sounds interesting, but I'm not quite sure what you mean. Is it anything like this?

    I prefer the slow, pressure-based approach, so I pretty much never use the bullfighter pass, but it seems that there are certain variations where you can still use that slow and steady style (e.g., the bullfighter variation where you drive in, push one of their legs forwards, then step back as you pull their other leg back, passing to that side).

  3. As someone who has trained at three IBJJF schools but who shares R&R's philosophy, I actually enjoyed viewing an event that not only displayed but celebrated the defensive, patient aspect of jiu-jitsu, which is difficult to implement at competitions with point systems and shorter time limits.