13 May 2013

Website Review - MGinAction (Marcelo Garcia)

Short Review: By far the largest database of any online BJJ instructional site currently available, MGinAction gives you full access to the jiu jitsu of an elite competitor. The comprehensive labelling system is impressive, with a range of learning options, such as 'drilling', 'discussion' and 'in action'. There are numerous playback options, including 'mirror image', several speeds and full-screen. However, Garcia will not always be the one teaching, though his assistants are undoubtedly capable. This is also just footage from class, so there are rarely multiple angles and sometimes both demonstrators wear the same colour gi.

I also disliked the way that videos were almost always techniques in long combinations rather than individual moves. While that makes sense in terms of how the technique would be applied in practice, I found it distracting when I was looking for specific details on a specific technique. Still, there is the option of a free week-long trial (which is easy to cancel before you get charged), so it is worth taking a look, here. It will set you back $25 a month at the moment, with annual options that come with various perks (e.g., a week's training at Garcia's academy, if you can make it to New York).

Full Review: Due to another instructional site asking me to review their content, I decided it was about time to collate my notes about MGinAction and put up a review, in order to prepare a comparison. In the case of MGinAction, I'm relying on what I saw over a week during Christmas 2012, when I signed up for the trial (being a BJJ geek, I did not do a whole lot else other than watch MGinAction for those few days). Before getting started, I should therefore note that six months down the line, there will be considerably more videos on the database and other things may potentially have changed as well.

Arguably, the success of MGinAction has prompted an explosion in online BJJ instructional websites, with numerous other elite instructors and competitors following suit (for example, Andre Galvao, the Mendes brothers, Draculino and the Ribeiro brothers, whose site I'll be reviewing next). MGinAction was not the first example of the genre: Jean Jacques Machado has had an online instructional site since around 2006 and the infamous Gene Simco was another early pioneer. Yet it was not until 2009 that the concept of teaching jiu jitsu online went mainstream, with the arrival of Gracie University. Rener and Ryron made a huge splash in the online BJJ community due to their high quality instruction coupled with the still extremely
controversial decision to award belts based purely on video submissions from distance-learning students.

MGinAction (which certainly does not award rank) was unique at the time it was launched, because unlike the earlier examples, it presented the complete game of an active elite level competitor. Marcelo Garcia is regularly described as the best pound for pound grappler in the world, his peers a very select group of people. Another unusual element to MGinAction is the close involvement of co-founder Josh Waitzkin, who combines several disparate achievements: he was a high level chess player, a BJJ black belt, a tai chi push hands champion and the author of The Art of Learning (which I haven't read, as I'm put off anything that smacks of self-help, but the title at least indicates somebody interested in pedagogy, a good trait if you're heading up an online instructional site).

The content of MGinAction consists of videos filmed of Garcia and his instructors teaching classes at his academy. This is as distinct from Gracie University, which records videos specifically for the online public, rather than class recordings. Although given that MGinAction has now been around for several years, the instructors presumably teach with their online audience in mind as well as the students they are teaching in person.

This also means that the videos are not optimised for viewing in the way a DVD would be, or indeed the videos on Gracie University. You do not get multiple angles, the people demonstrating are not always wearing different colour gis (which can make it hard to distinguish which limb becomes to which person) and there is not much in the way of close-ups, although to be fair to MGinAction, they do zoom in every now and then.

Marcelo Garcia fans should also keep in mind that it is not always Garcia himself teaching. Much of the instruction is done by his assistant instructors, who of course are also very capable, but they lack that star power. Sometimes there is an interesting guest instructor (Fabio Gurgel appeared in one of the videos I saw), but unfortunately there was not a specific label for the instructor. That would be useful, as often you may find you prefer a particular instructor's style.

The biggest single advantage of MGinAction is the sheer number of videos. The selection is enormous: during my trial week in December 2012, you could choose from a total of 14,356. There are numerous categories, which can be drilled down in increasing detail. The broadest distinction is between gi and nogi: if like me you are not especially interested in nogi, then it is worth keeping in mind that a large proportion of MGinAction is nogi (which reflects his approach to BJJ). You can also select the position, top or bottom, which subcategory (e.g., sweeps), then the specific technique.

As you can see if you click on the picture near the top of this review, there are yet more sub-divisions available. In the tabs along the main window on the left, there is 'Fundamentals', 'Advanced', 'In Action', 'Sparring', 'Drills' and 'Discussions'. Each time you click on a label for a particular technique or category, the MGinAction database will split the results into those categories (though quite often several of them will have a '0' in brackets, depending on the breadth of your chosen label).

The demarcation between 'fundamentals' and 'advanced' is somewhat unclear, but that's a problem with BJJ in general, not MGinAction specifically. If I take the cross choke from mount as an example, the version I watched under the 'advanced' label used a set-up where you bait them into half guard to finish. The 'fundamental' video to which I compared it started off the same, including the detail on pushing their defending hand underneath your chest, but did not have that bait finish. Presumably there is either somebody making the decision that one technique is advanced, or perhaps something much more straightforward: e.g., the advanced techniques might be the ones filmed in the advanced class as opposed to the fundamentals class.

'In Action', justifying the name of the website itself, is a short clip of the technique being performed by Garcia in sparring. The video will begin a few moments before Garcia actually applies the technique, then stops immediately after he has landed it (meaning each video is just a few seconds long). It is fascinating to watch the same technique being hit over and over again, on a range of belts and sizes. If you are trying to research a particular technique in depth, this is a potentially handy addition to your learning resources. It is also a very impressive exercise in categorisation on the database administrator's part.

'Sparring' is similar in that you get to see techniques in action, but these are longer, wider-ranging videos of several minutes. They also include a few celebrities, as nothing on the mats appears to escape the camera at the Marcelo Garcia Academy (which from a viewer perspective is really cool: I am assuming that visitors who find themselves filmed sign some kind of disclaimer to allow their footage to be used). As with everything else, you can pick out rolls that feature particular techniques by clicking on the one you want listed. Given the dynamic nature of sparring, that means each sparring video has many, many labels.

A 'Drill', as you would expect, is a drill for practicing a particular element of a technique: e.g., countering a double-ankle grab sweep by kicking your leg free and stepping it back. Again, these videos tend to be short, as a drill does not normally take very long. This section is ideal for instructors looking to build a well-structured lesson where everything flows together, moving from the warm-up straight into the techniques. It would also be useful for students with access to an open mat, who want to work on technique rather than just sparring the entire time.

'Discussions' presented perhaps the most intimate look at the academy of all the videos. In the examples I watched, whoever was holding the camera appeared to be wandering around in an open mat setting, where Garcia was sharing some tips with two purple belts. That evolved into a discussion, with several students sitting around Garcia questioning him about the intricacies of a particular technique. I am not sure how useful it is as a learning experience for the viewer, as although Garcia obviously has lots of useful advice, it is largely just him talking, rather than visual demonstrations of what he is saying. Either way, it is a great way to feel that you are right there with Garcia in his school.

There are several helpful playback features on MGinAction. My favourite was the 'mirror image' option, which flips the video, making it easy to work the technique on both sides. There are also more standard controls like adjusting the speed, looping and expanding to full screen. That's in addition to a toolbar which adds in further functionality, including the ability to queue videos into a personal playlist.

Unfortunately there is no option to download the videos, so you have to have an active internet connection: to date, the only instructional site I've seen that offers that option is the Grapplers Guide, much to Jason Scully's credit. As I have a limitation on my downloads and bandwidth (admittedly my fault for getting a very cheap internet package), I can't watch too many streaming videos before I hit my download cap. I also prefer studying a small number of techniques over months or even years, which is why the subscription model is not one that has tempted me so far: I still prefer DVDs. Although I did buy some videos from Gracie University, as they've combined the payment methods by also providing an option to buy individual lessons as well as a subscription model.

Very occasionally, there will be mislabelled videos on MGinAction: for example, 'Guillotine from Side Control, North South Choke from Side Control' popped up under gi but is a nogi video. That long title is typical of MGinAction, where almost all of the videos appear to be extended combinations rather than individual techniques. On the one hand, that is positive and reflects the importance of chaining techniques in your training. On the other, it can be annoying if you are looking for instruction on something specific, then have to dig that out from underneath five other techniques. It may also be irrelevant to what you're looking for: say you want some advice on taking the back from mount, but the video you find only shows you how to do it after you escape side control.

Having said that, if you did a search on 'taking the back' or just clicked the label in question, you will be rewarded with an extensive list where you are sure to (eventually) find what you need. I liked that the titles are thorough, encompassing all the techniques in the video. Although it can look rather clunky on the screen, it tells you exactly what you're going to get when you hit 'play'.

I should note that the actual instruction also tends to be good, with a few 'what if' details, grip variations and little tweaks, such as grabbing their hand and stuffing it under your chest if they try to block your collar choke. I was a bit disappointed that I found it difficult to find videos for maintaining positions, as there wasn't really a label for that. There was a label for grips, but not for simply how to hold a position. I would have found some in-depth discussion on maintaining position useful. If the videos do in fact exist, they were sufficiently buried that I could not find them.

Strangely, some standard techniques did not appear to be on MGinAction: I couldn't find the ezequiel choke from mount. However, I suspect that is an issue of terminology (and possibly spelling: I've seen it written as both ezequiel and ezekiel, among other variants), which when it comes to instructional sites becomes an irritating problem. The only other option is to try and search through every other choke from mount to try and discover whatever Garcia calls it. Other videos I certainly did find and they were also of immediate use to me, such as Garcia's take on the stiff-arm escape (which he calls the 'elbow push') from side control.

If you ever want to cancel your subscription, the process was simple. I did not have to jump through multiple hoops to get to the right screen, as MGinAction is refreshingly free of the obnoxious marketing nonsense that has unfortunately afflicted certain sections of the online BJJ world. All you have to do is select 'cancel subscription' from 'Update Account Information' on 'My Page', which is precisely where you would expect it to be.

For those who want to emulate Marcelo Garcia's game, there is no better resource. The database is huge, there is plenty of detail and you get an unprecedented ability to drill down further, thanks to the 'In Action', 'Sparring' and 'Discussion' clips. The amount of categorisation is amazing, although there is the odd mislabelled video. More angles and making sure the instructor wore a different colour gi to the person on which they're demonstrating would have been helpful, plus there is sometimes an issue with terminology, but that isn't MGinAction's fault.

The big question is whether or not you have the time, money and inclination to sign up to a monthly subscription site. You're going to need decent bandwidth, as there is no option to download the videos (though I'm sure there are programs that will do that for you). You also need to make sure you can dedicate some serious time to exploring the techniques: to make this worth your monthly subscription will necessitate a lot of study. Finally, you need to be a fan of Garcia's approach to BJJ: if you enjoy butterfly guard, x-guard, particular types of choke and nogi, then you'll be very happy.

If you are only interested in refining basic techniques, then you will still probably find much to like on MGinAction (particularly as due to the huge archive you are virtually guaranteed to bring up at least one video related to what you're looking to work on), but other sites could be a better fit. I don't want to have to extract the technique I want to study from a bundle of other techniques and I want to keep things as simple as possible. Hence why I personally was much more excited to get the chance to check out Saulo and Xande Ribeiro's website, BJJ Library (review now up here), but that is just preference.

The MGinAction trial is free and fairly generous (it may have changed since I did it, but I got a whole week), so if nothing else I can recommend trying it out to see if you find it useful. You'll be charged $25 a month, with annual subscription offers too that come with perks, the most exciting of which is the chance to train for a week in person at Garcia's academy (though that does of course require you to make it out to New York).

I should mention that I know of one person where I train who has massively benefitted from MGinAction: the positive impact it has had on Mike's game is obvious whenever you roll with him. I'm hoping he'll stick up his thoughts about MGinAction in a comment to this post, as I know he has been using that site for much longer and in far greater depth than I ever could in just a week.

Update May 2013: Mike has added his lengthy response in the comments to this post, with plenty of useful info. Thanks Mike! :)


  1. If you're looking for more instructional sites to compare to I'd recommend taking a look at Marshall Carper's Artechoke in a Can. There's not a lot there yet, but it's free and he does a nice job of mixing videos and textual explanation.


  2. I'm not really looking for more, as I think having MGinAction, Grapplers Guide, Gracie University and BJJ Library is enough for a comparison, but I did like Carper's video about how Marcelo Garcia maintains the back. If his other videos are as good as that, definitely a site I'd like to take a look at (particularly as it's free).

  3. Thanks for this. I've been wondering about MGiA and have just never gotten around to even a free trial. The $25 seems pretty reasonable to me, especially compared to some of the rates of instructional DVD series.

  4. MGinAction is good and definitely worth a free trial, but I think you may actually prefer BJJ Library, as IIRC you're a fellow Ribeiro fan, Megan? Just finished my review, here.

  5. A fair and balanced review Can. I'd be more effusively positive myself (I'm Mike by the way, hi everybody!) but I'll try and quell my inner Marcelo fanboy for a moment and add useful comments.

    My favourite thing about the site, which you touch on briefly, is the In Action tab. Specifically I love the Load page to queue button, which is also found on the Research Suggestions panel when you are watching a video. In fact, as time has passed I've found myself using this functionality more than searching through instructional to answer questions I have about techniques. I think that when Josh designed the site he was right on the money with considering the In Action function to be the big selling point.

    It is fair to say that the categorisation between advanced and fundamental is not exactly clear. I believe the split is from the classes in MG's academy, which is why the majority of the fundamentals are from Paul and Henrique and the vast majority of the advanced lessons are from Marcelo. I actually think this split makes good sense as Marcelo's strength is definitely in explaining strategy, mindset and combinations, whereas Paul and Henrique are better at clearly explaining technical details. It's worth noting that Henrique is an ibjjf No Gi Worlds champion in his own right, so a high level competitor. I'm not sure of Paul's competitive record but I do think he is the best teacher of the three when it comes to technical details, I tend to think he teaches bjj like an engineer while Marcelo teaches bjj more like an artist (and it goes without saying that having both options is best). There are also a few videos, posted relatively recently, from Johnny Hendrix on wrestling (Hendrix is a NCAA National Champ - a pretty big deal in wrestling - and a top UFC fighter) which I thought were fantastic as an insight into wrestling basics that have great value for bjj but are mostly unknown to juijitsu players.

    I take your point that it can be a bit of work to find videos that are very specific on the execution of a single technique. They do exist however (for example, an advanced video posted yesterday on the North South choke is 12 minutes long and contains only one setup and only one tag) and when found it is easy to save them to your own collection for future use. In the ten months I've been a subscriber I have slowly built up my own hierarchy (you can nest them) of 20 odd collections, containing the vidoes I've found most useful on certain subjects. On my lunch breaks from work I often head to starbucks and spend 30 minutes reviewing these, using their wifi, on my phone.

    On the subject of gi and no gi, to be honest I don't think anyone that wants to focus on only one of these should feel put off. There are, I think, only three techniques that are regularly taught on the site that rely on being one or the other: The guillotine (marcelo's version is really tough to get in the gi), the Cross arm and Belt sweep (gi only) and the bow and arrow choke (gi only). There are a few other things that come up now and again but those are the only ones that come up with frequency I think.

    The last thing I would mention is the forum on the site. I've used this frequently for help, there are some talented people on there that will point you where to look in the database if your question is too broad for a specific answer (every couple of weeks it seems someone new asks what to do when an opponent stands in your butterfly guard!) or provide excellent insight on specific questions. Also maintained on the forum is a thread with links to all of Marcelo's sparring sessions with other black belts and one with all his sparring sessions with female grapplers. Additionally, if a question comes up that none of the forum regulars have a good answer for it will often get asked to Marcelo and the response fed back. In some cases I think this has even influenced what is taught in class and subsequently appears on the site, a great bonus!

    Man I have waffled on. Hope this will all post in one go!

  6. Awesome! Thanks Mike, that was exactly the kind of response I was hoping for: there is no such thing in my world as writing too much. ;)

    Out of interest, what would you say is the percentage split between what you've learned and found regularly effective from an actual physical class and from MGinAction (if it's something you can put a figure on)?

  7. Honestly I'd struggle to put a percentage on it. It's hard to remember exactly what I was doing before I started using the site as my overall level of understanding has improved so much in the last year. I'd say my game from neutral positions (guarding or passing) is heavily influenced (80%+ maybe) by MGinAction but my top control/back attacking is very much straight from in person classes (~90%). Escapes are 50/50.

  8. Interesting: these days a lot of what I do is research based, but then in my case that's almost always refining stuff I already use (e.g., that side control gi choke I taught recently). The private lessons with Dónal have had a big impact too.