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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

19 May 2013

Website Review - BJJ Library (Saulo & Xande Ribeiro)

Short Review: Both Xande and Saulo Ribeiro have respected DVD sets on the market, as well as arguably the best instructional book to date, Jiu Jitsu University. BJJ Library follows on directly from that work: video versions of the techniques taught in Jiu Jitsu University currently account for the majority of BJJ Library's content. Due to the youth of BJJ Library the archive is not yet extensive, though new videos are being added every day.

This site is ideal for people who are not looking for the latest flashy acrobatics, but instead want to develop a steady pressure game. Having said that, there are regular guest seminars from current luminaries like Leandro Lo, meaning more ostentatious BJJ will presumably be covered when somebody with that style is brought in to teach. You can sign up for a $25 monthly membership here, with other packages available.

Full Review: When I wrote about online training at the start of 2010, it seemed that the success of Gracie University had prompted many others to follow suit. Almost three years later, MGinAction (which I recently reviewed here) appears to have become the model others are trying to emulate. Cyborg, Paragon, Andre Galvao and the Mendes Brothers have all set up online training sites, among numerous others. Two other major names have entered the fray: Saulo Ribeiro and his brother Xande.

The main factor which will make it difficult for new instructional websites to break into the market is that MGinAction has such a large archive. As a result, the consumer may well think, "well, MGinAction has over 15,000 videos: nobody else comes close." The Mendes brothers can potentially compete, because they are trendy at the moment: not only are both brothers current champions, they are fashionable due to their popularisation of flashy techniques, especially the berimbolo.

BJJ Library has a different appeal. Both Saulo and Xande can boast lots of gold medals from the highest levels of competition. Xande is still active and retains his place in the tournament elite: he will be appearing again at Metamoris in a few weeks. You may well see the name Alexandre Couceiro Ribeiro listed amongst the Mundials medallists a few days before that.

Yet neither is known for their flashy style. Instead, they are valued for the solid substance of their technique and mastery of old school, reliable pressure. That too has an audience, of which I am a part. Personally, I have no desire to learn the details of the berimbolo, beyond a simple defence. I want that old school pressure. Therefore it is the brothers Ribeiro who most peak my interest, not the brothers Mendes.

The Ribeiro brothers' website does not yet have the incredibly rich labelling of MGinAction. In the description of each video there is a part that says 'tags', but for most of them it is blank. Having said that, plenty of thought has clearly gone into the organisation of the material: there are two main configurations to choose from, for a start. When you open the site, the default is the first tab at the top, entitled 'Library'. This shows all the content on BJJ Library, split by position in a menu on the right hand side.

You can also select the 'Curriculum' tab to see the archive broken down in an alternative arrangement. This is exciting if you own Saulo's book, because 'Curriculum' is where you will find videos for each technique featured in Jiu Jitsu University, corresponding to the same chapter and sub-chapter categorisation (with a few other related videos thrown in, such as the seven part '2 on 1 guard' series). Another benefit is that structuring part of BJJ Library as live versions of the book has provided the Ribeiro brothers with the opportunity to revisit those techniques. In the example below, I have clicked through to a video: the listing window remains in place on the right.

For example, my favourite defence to side control is the running escape. I first learned this from Jiu Jitsu Revolution 1, which was then refined by the sequel. Once Jiu Jitsu University came out, that shifted the focus of the escape again, this time emphasising the leg swing to guard. In 2013, there is yet another variation.

Saulo starts off his BJJ Library version with the same method as in the book, pushing off his feet into his training partner then swinging through to guard. There are a a few tweaks, so as I regularly teach this escape, watching that video earlier this week was useful for my most recent lesson. Saulo then does something entirely different, combining the running escape with a more orthodox approach. As soon as he gets his shoulder free, he walks his shoulders back and shrimps out to recover guard.

If it wants to keep up with its rivals, then the vidoes on BJJ Library will need to increase in number at a faster rate. As of Sunday 19th May, BJJ Library has a mere 203 videos, which is up from 192 this Monday. As far as I can tell, all of the videos are presently gi. This does not bother me personally, as I barely train nogi, but many others do: again, they will look to MGinAction, where a large proportion of the database is made up of nogi.

There is the argument of quality over quantity, but that initial proposition facing the customer - choosing between 15,000 videos on MGinAction and 200 on BJJ Library - must be dealt with. One of the unique features BJJ Library can offer to tempt potential subscribers is the Jiu Jitsu University curriculum, which benefits from the immense good will towards the book. Another is BJJ Library's growing range of guest seminars.

The Ribeiro brothers have already brought in some huge names, including Rafael Lovato Jr and Leandro Lo, along with an upcoming Terere session. According to a post by site admin Dave Kim on Sherdog, the intention is to get to a point where the site becomes a 'Netflix for BJJ', with hour long seminars from top level instructors every week. If that will be included in the standard membership it sounds appealing, but if not, the price per seminar will be interesting to see. Budovideos have been offering live seminars with a replay for a while now (although not on a weekly basis): generally they have cost between $10 to $20.

Currently, each seminar on BJJ Library is divided into short videos, which from what I've seen so far are shot as if they were a DVD: the instructor addresses the camera rather than a class, they show each technique from multiple angles and (generally) they wear a different colour gi to the person they are using for the demonstration.

The Lovato Jr series is an intriguing example. He has his own online instructional site, which received some bad press due to marketing practices. Appearing on BJJ Library gives him a chance to present his technique in a more neutral environment, freed from the unpleasant overtones of Lovato Jr's maligned marketing approach. He mentions his website twice, at the start of the first video and the end of the seventh, which is not intrusive (particularly as Lovato Jr's opening 'introduction' video, which is essentially an advert for his website, can be completely ignored because it does not contain any techniques).

Lovato Jr's teaching is excellent. He is a student of the Ribeiro brothers, so it is perhaps unsurprising there was a lot that I could see fitting well into my own game. The pressure passing system is relatively straightforward, with several elements that reminded me of what I've been learning from Dónal in his private lessons on guard passing. Dónal taught me a comparable passing start point to what Lovato Jr calls the 'headquarters' position. There are plenty of similarities between Lovato Jr's 'cross knee pass' and Dónal's 'knee cut', which I look forward to testing out in sparring.

Leandro Lo's introductory video to his seminar does not include any sales pitches (although that's mainly because Lo does not have an instructional site, as far as I'm aware). Lo speaks in Portuguese, but there are subtitles. If like me you're interested in learning Portuguese, that's a cool addition. The last word of the subtitles is occasionally a little obscured by the BJJ Library watermark, but it is just the end of the sentence.

After briefly explaining his background, Lo moves into teaching his variation of the bullfighter pass. I especially liked that at the end of his video, you get to see Lo working through the technique with Saulo and Xande, as they compare notes on how they prefer to apply the bullfighter pass. That's accompanied by a much longer video (almost eighteen minutes) on the same lines, in the BJJ Library section dubbed 'Lifestyle', presented as a 'behind the scenes' perspective on the Lo seminar.

The translation is occasionally somewhat unclear, though that is probably because they are being fairly literal, meaning the phrasing is unusual to English ears. For example, in the above screenshot, where the line is "You know, I open, I try to get some space and then do this, but if he will so strong". Then again, that is mitigated when you consider this is a far less formal situation than instruction, as you're basically watching a bunch of jiu jitsu people sat in a room chatting about technique. That necessarily impacts on the clarity of their language.

Unlike the videos on MGinAction, BJJ Library does not tend to cram a massive chain of techniques into each video. Instead, they are tightly focused, like three variations on the scissor sweep, an explanation of the running escape or how to finish the bow and arrow choke from the back. This is a matter of preference: some may plump for the convoluted combinations on MGinAction. Both make for a perfectly sensible instructional methodology.

The BJJ Library approach is a better fit with my learning style. When there is more than one technique in a video, it is normally different variations. To make a comparison, on BJJ Library, the descriptive nomenclature consists of titles like 'JJU 4-0, 4-1, 4-5, 8-1, 8-2 Side Control Survival & Escape', or 'Scissor Sweep 3 Variations - Low, High, Knee Push'. By contrast, on MGinAction, you can find the monster titles 'Frame Escape vs Underhook and Head Control, Guard Recovery vs Side Control, Bridge Escape vs North South, Guard Recovery vs North South' and '2on1 Control from Butterfly, Cross Arm and Belt Sweep from Butterfly, 2on1 from Butterfly to Back Control, Rear Naked Choke'.

There are similarities to Jiu Jitsu Revolution, in that Saulo still loves to talk. As a result there are several lectures to the camera, such as the video on side control survival and escapes. This combines multiple segments of Jiu Jitsu University, resulting in slightly over eight minutes of instruction. However, the first two and a half minutes are Saulo sat on his own, explicating his theories on side control.

The same thing happens in a video on mount survival, filling three out of the ten minutes. What Saulo says is certainly useful, but if you prefer less exposition in your instructionals, Saulo's loquacious tendencies are worth keeping in mind. Of course, there is plenty of Xande instruction on BJJ Library, giving a certain breadth of teaching style. A small number of non-seminar videos are taught by other staff at the two schools, but unlike MGinAction it is overwhelmingly the star names teaching right now (though in fairness, that is easier to do in 200 videos compared to 15,000).

If you've read my previous reviews of Saulo's material, then you'll know I generally enjoy his lectures: after all, he is responsible for my favourite quote in jiu jitsu, made during Jiu Jitsu Revolution. In regards to BJJ Library, Saulo makes some salient points in his two and a half minute discussion on surviving side control, stating that:

Before you escape, you've got to defend yourself against mount, knee on the belly and any kind of choke or any kind of situation that would make you tap. So, what's the message here? Don't try to escape and get into a worse position. Set yourself and take your time. The cross-side position is about taking your time. We can't have the mentality that is just for tournaments, we've got to escape right away. Man, you already let them pass your guard. You already allowed them to cross-side you. Take your time. You cannot allow something to get worse.

Many of the videos are not simply recordings of Saulo or Xande teaching class. For example, the six minute video based on JJU 36.01 (the bow and arrow choke) features Saulo and his demonstration partner on their own, teaching directly to the camera rather than any students. That can be seen in how the video starts, with the two sat next to each other in classic DVD fashion, followed by a "hey guys, today we're going to show you the bow and arrow choke," finishing with a look at the camera while they wait for the cut. Also in keeping with a DVD, Saulo shows the technique from multiple angles (although unlike a DVD, they are wearing the same colour gi).

Most of the videos I have watched have been from between three minutes to ten minutes in length, which is comparable to the selection I viewed from MGinAction. It is nowhere near as long as the videos from the blue belt stripe 1 guard chapter I bought from Gracie University, but then that's because Gracie University is not a typical subscription site. In fact, I would argue the subscription model fits it poorly, because the videos on Gracie University are very long and infrequent: you can still buy individual videos or chapters, as I did, which makes a lot more sense in the case of Gracie University. The subscription model works best when there are numerous videos appearing each day, as is the case with MGinAction and BJJ Library.

For those who are interested in self defence, there is a section on that too, taught by somebody called Phillip Wyman. I'm not sure if that will prove to be a one-off seminar series, or if the self defence section will be a growing part of the site. I presume the latter: it is not an area of BJJ that interests me from a practical standpoint (I discussed the issue at length during my Gracie Combatives review), but it is another indication that the audience for BJJ Library has some differences to the audiences for the Mendes brothers' site or MGinAction.

Like MGinAction, BJJ Library includes drills. At present, this is a series of sixteen Ginastica Natural warm-ups performed by Xande and Saulo, rather than lots of methods for drilling specific techniques. The latter would be a useful addition and perhaps will be enhanced in future. There are a few videos that include a drilling option to aid the technique: e.g., Saulo demonstrating the hip-bump/sit-up sweep.

Another feature the two sites share in common are sparring videos, which on BJJ Library are grouped under 'Rolling'. Again, I am not certain how much this part of the site is due to grow, as it consists of just one video at present, where Xande spars with Leandro Lo. It is only three minutes and again lacks the exhaustive labelling of MGinAction, so while you get to watch two elite competitors spar, there is not yet detailed tagging to tell you exactly which techniques are being used. What I would most enjoy seeing is some commentary from Xande and Lo discussing the roll afterwards, providing analysis of what they did and what they were looking to achieve. Roy Dean does this on his DVDs (e.g., No Gi Essentials) and it is fantastic: hopefully that format might be considered for BJJ Library in the future.

There is a forum (listed in the tabs on the main screen), which is just a basic vBulletin without a lot of content at the moment. Still, it looks as though the site admin posts on there regularly, meaning you should be able to present feedback and get swift answers to any technical issues with the site or perhaps video requests. On individual videos, as can be seen in the above screen cap, you can leave comments (although I do not know how interactive that will be, in terms of directly communicating with Xande and Saulo).

If I was going to join an online instructional website, my choice would be BJJ Library. However, that's because I'm a fan of Saulo and Xande's teaching and the old school elements of their respective BJJ games. I also thought Jiu Jitsu University was a great book with a brilliant structure, which therefore means I am really pleased to get the chance to see the pictures from the book come to life. The main challenges will be the (currently) small archive and the question of cost.

At the moment, you can sign up here for a monthly membership of $24.99, with the option of three months at $74.99 or a whole year for $249.99. That is comparable with other instructional sites. However, it is being advertised as a limited time offer: should the price significantly increase, that's a potentially dangerous path, as it would mean the MGinAction database - which will remain far more extensive than BJJ Library for the foreseeable future - becomes the cheaper option.


  1. At a recent seminar taught by both Saulo and Xande, they did a lot of recording for BJJ library. So I think in the future you will start to see how they teach it to groups of students, specifically lower belts. Which I think is also great because if someone is doing something wrong they later refine the technique with more instruction. BJJ Library is awesome. Great write-up!

  2. @Meghan: Thanks! Yeah, I'm hoping to be able to experience Saulo's teaching in person soon, as I'll be in California next month. It would be cool to fit in Xande's LA school too, but I don't think I'll have time.

    The lower belt teaching is what interests me most, as firstly I am always keen to refine the basics and secondly I'm equally eager to improve my own ability to instruct. :)