Full Review: I first met Nic Gregoriades on my first day of jiu jitsu, back in 2006 when he was a brown belt. Since then I've had the pleasure of benefitting from his instruction twenty times over the last eight years, mainly when he was a regular teacher at the Roger Gracie Academy HQ in London. Gregoriades has also been running a well-written website for a number of years now, the Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood, along with various videos and podcast projects that have helped raise his profile since then.
For his first book, Gregoriades has gone the self-publishing route, presumably for more control over the end product. The days when most BJJ instructional books were published by Victory Belt seem to have passed, though DVD sets are still making an impact (such as the recent releases from Ryan Hall). Yet there are also a growing number of people self publishing in BJJ, such as Gregoriades, Christian Graugart and Mark Johnson. In a possibly related trend, a new independent publisher hit the scene recently, Artéchoke Media: I'll be mentioning them again later.
The BJJ instructional book market has arguably been overshadowed by Saulo Ribeiro's excellent Jiu Jitsu University, released six years ago. It would be difficult to equal that book in terms of straightforward technical explanation, though there are a few (such as Ed Beneville's series or Marcelo Garcia's Advanced BJJ Techniques). Gregoriades takes a different approach: he isn't looking to present a comprehensive technical overview of BJJ, like Saulo's book, or a close analysis of a more specific area, like Beneville.
Instead, Gregoriades attempts to follow in the footsteps of Marc Walder and especially John Danaher, whose Mastering Jujitsu sprang to mind as I was reading The Black Belt Blueprint. Like Danaher, Gregoriades begins with theory and concepts instead of techniques, but he goes even further in moving away from simple technical breakdowns. That can be seen from the section headings: 'Before You Start'; 'The Framework'; 'Concepts'; 'On The Mat'; 'Invisible Jiu Jitsu'; 'Improving Off The Mat'; 'The Jiu Jitsu Lifestyle'; 'Further Resources'.
Gregoriades gives the reader some excellent advice in his introduction: "Keep in mind that reading books and watching videos about jiu jitsu is not doing jiu jitsu. Just as you will never learn to swim if you don’t get wet, neither will you become a jiu jitsuka if you don’t get on the mats and train." That should be stated in every BJJ instructional. A worryingly high proportion of beginners look for a shortcut and forget this point, instead developing immense reference libraries, full of books and DVDs they either never read/watch or simply don't understand.
I also very much liked Gregoriades' view on what he calls his 'method', which he describes as "not necessarily the ‘best way’ or the ‘only way’, but merely ‘a way’." There are a few otherwise brilliant instructors who lack such refreshing flexibility. He goes into detail on that point as the 'Before You Start' (nine pages) section begins:
"In jiu jitsu, as with any discipline, there are several different styles and approaches to the teaching of the art. I am not claiming that my method is the best, only that it has worked for me. During your own jiu jitsu journey I implore you to continue questioning. When you dogmatically commit to a belief or method without questioning it, your growth will inevitably come to a halt."
He also promises to help the reader "become their own teacher," following the theory of teaching someone how to catch their own fish as opposed to handing them one you caught earlier. Though this is a laudable goal, it can also be a risky proposition in the context of jiu jitsu. Numerous beginners try to circumvent the long path to competency by fixating on an alleged magic bullet, ignoring what their instructor is teaching in class. In BJJ there are no magic bullets, but that does not stop eager beginners from seeking them out.
Rather than beginning with any technique, Gregoriades gets down to the practical matters that need to be dealt with before you can begin the learning process. You first have to find a school and buy the necessary equipment: although there is the option of turning up in shorts and a t-shirt, most will eventually want to buy a gi. Gregoriades has a selection of gi recommendations, but as gi preference is very individual, any experienced practitioner will probably have their own quite different list in mind.
Much of the list comes down to personal taste, but the one point where I would disagree is Gregoriades' insistence that you should not use a judo gi for jiu jitsu. I can see his point in the long term and especially if you want to compete, but for a beginner, I regularly suggest buying a judogi as a cheap alternative when you're still deciding if you want to stick with BJJ. I wore a judogi for many years and never found it detrimental to my training.
Generally speaking, The Black Belt Blueprint is heavy on text. There is normally at least one picture to help the reader, but that contrasts dramatically to works from Saulo and Beneville, which cram pages full of photographs to explain a single technique. Gregoriades has also taken on the ambitious goal of appealing to all levels. A conceptual approach is one possible method to appeal to both ends of the skill spectrum, but it is a considerable challenge to strike that balance of keeping veterans interested while at the same time staying simple enough for novices.
Gregoriades runs through each of the major positions, where he discusses their strengths and weaknesses, your objectives in those positions and some straightforward tips for the person on the bottom and their opponent on top. Just like Saulo and Royce in their books, Gregoriades is unimpressed by half guard. He believes it is overrated, as "no matter how good you are from that position, you will always be at a disadvantage against a strong top player."
Moving on from the nuts and bolts of technique, Gregoriades launches into a section he calls 'the Three Pillars of a Black Belt.' I found myself disagreeing with the first part, though this comes down to personal approaches to jiu jitsu. In what proves to be a recurring theme throughout the book, Gregoriades emphasises the importance of 'attribute maximization.' He makes the point that "you need to maximise your attributes if you want to maximise your jiu jitsu." That is entirely distinct from the route I have tried to take, which is to develop a game relying as little as possible on physical attributes, so that it is still functional as I get older and my attributes decline.
Having said that, Gregoriades is not wrong: as he goes on to say, a stronger, fitter individual will possess a considerable advantage over somebody who may be technical but is weak and out of shape, whatever techniques they prefer to use. If you develop your physical conditioning that will undeniably make you a more formidable opponent, but it is not something I personally focus upon at all. Then again, I am not a competitor: it is in the tournament that those physical attributes really start to count, where especially at the higher levels a small advantage can be the difference between victory and defeat.
The second and third pillars are less likely to rile weaklings like myself, covering conceptual understanding and technical knowledge. Gregoriades then presents one potential route through the belt levels, suggesting goals for each stage: again, whether or not you agree is going to come down to personal preference. My favourite is the progression laid out by Saulo Ribeiro in Jiu Jitsu University, whereas others might prefer the older article by Roy Harris, name-checked by Gregoriades here.
Part three of The Black Belt Blueprint investigates 'Concepts' (twenty nine pages), opening with a topic close to Gregoriades' heart: breathing. Like many in BJJ, Gregoriades has long been in awe of Rickson Gracie, the mystical figure we saw in Choke back in the '90s, destroying his competition while simultaneously adopting the persona of a spiritual guru. Breath control is a key part of Rickson's system, something I experienced first hand at his seminar last year. Gregoriades also believes in the importance of breath control, illustrating this section with a picture of Rickson.
Gregoriades advises returning to the source of Rickson's breathing prowess, yoga. In the last few years Gregoriades has become an enthusiastic proponent of yoga, a mission he continues with his book. Different styles of yoga are described later in The Black Belt Blueprint, along with their specific benefits. To help the reader better understand his points on breathing control, Gregoriades includes a link to a video. He does this frequently throughout the book, which you could argue is an advantage of an eBook: you can click the link and immediately load up the video.
Personally, though this is just my own preference again, I would rather have read further descriptions in the text, as I find it distracting to have to switch to a different medium. I also wonder if those links are going to remain live. They are mostly from TinyURL, so should stay active, but with any redirected URL there is a certain risk it could go down (TinyURL might go bust, change their terms of service, etc). Then again, that is just as true of any other link, plus TinyURL has the considerable advantage of being short. It also means Gregoriades can link to a specific timestamp in the video without the hassle of an unwieldy web address.
Artéchoke Media has developed an option that might develop into a superior method, embedding animated gifs into the text. So far, they have produced one free sample eBook to test out the method, '3-D Jiu Jitsu'. Currently, they are having their cake and eating it by including an embedded video too. If someone is able to produce an offline eBook that also features animated gifs, that could be a real step forward in the instructional book market.
Following his discussion of breathing, Gregoriades fleshes out a number of different concepts, such as angles, contraction and head movement. I was reminded at points of John Palmer's "control point theory", eloquently explained by Gregoriades. This conceptual section is probably the strongest of the book, broadly applicable across jiu jitsu. For example, the 'B.O.S.S.' principle (standing for 'back or side and shoulder'), referring to putting them on their back if you're on top and getting onto your side and shoulder if you're on the bottom.
The fourth part of the book is titled 'On the Mat' (twenty five pages) and is the closest Gregoriades comes to a typical instructional volume. He runs through a few techniques he feels are important, switching to the standard sequence of full-colour photos to bolster the text. It remains easy enough to distinguish the demonstrators, with one person in a white gi and the other in blue. Gregoriades kicks off with a series of fundamental movements, like bridging and shrimping. I would quibble with some of it (such as his suggestion to drive through your heels when bridging instead of pushing up off your toes), but then I'm only a purple belt.
Next is Gregoriades' selection of essential defensive techniques. Guard recovery and turning to the knees under side control makes sense, as does the elbow escape under mount, but a standing guard pass seems out of place. Then again, you could argue that's defensive in the sense you are escaping the guard: I presume that's the reason for its categorisation here. As with the movements, Gregoriades includes a series of photographs to help the reader understand the technique, step-by-step.
Logically, he follows it up with essential attacks, comprising the straight armlock from guard, cross-choke from mount, scissor sweep, bow and arrow, then finally the triangle. The visual representation changes, as each attack is illustrated by just one picture. That might not be an issue if the accompanying text was more expansive, but it does not always add a great deal to the picture. For example, for the cross-choke there is no description of how to actually apply the technique at all. Gregoriades simply says it is high percentage, it requires balance along with patience and Roger Gracie uses it really well. You are unlikely to glean much detail about the cross-choke from that explanation.
Gregoriades does then link to an eight minute video, but again, I would have preferred some pointers in the text. The description of the straight armlock is similarly brief, followed by another video link. For the scissor sweep, the breakdown is longer, finished unusually with an exhortation to check out YouTube to find a suitable video. Perhaps this section is not meant to be instructional, but merely seeks to advise the reader on which techniques they may want to focus upon if their time is restricted. The section finishes off with an examination of grips and a short primer for competition preparation.
The fifth part of the book, 'Invisible Jiu Jitsu' (eighteen pages), is where Gregoriades indulges what you could call his 'alternative' leanings. Ever since I've known him, there has been this element of 'New Age' to his thinking and practice, which has continued to crop up in his podcast projects like London Real and recently The Journey. The tagline of the latter indicates what I'm talking about: "The Journey is a bi-weekly podcast conceived with the intentions of sending positive messages out to the world and raising the collective vibration of our planet."
In The Black Belt Blueprint, this outlook can be seen in the encouragement to develop awareness through internal and external 'focus exercises', as well as the highlighting of meditation as an essential means of further developing that awareness. Speaking from experience, I know that this is something Gregoriades likes to include in his classes as well, based on the lessons I've taken with him over the years. Though it is not to my personal taste, it's worth considering. Gregoriades also doesn't spend too much time attempting to convince the reader that they should try exercises like meditation, as opposed to the aggressive proselytising of an Eddie Bravo on a pot rant.
Gregoriades lays out a brief conditioning program consisting of three exercises: hindu push ups, kettlebell swings and the 'tri dog' (swinging your back leg up into the air with your other foot and both your hands on the floor). He then goes into depth on yoga, his favourite supplement, spending several pages discussing why he has dedicated a considerable portion of his training outside of BJJ to various forms of yoga.
He also finds the time to talk about nutrition. I'm not aware of any qualifications Gregoriades has in this area, so for serious consideration of your diet I would strongly recommend a professional, but from my uneducated perspective the advice seems relatively sensible. For example, he suggests cutting out sugar from your diet and eating lots of fruits and vegetables. I'm less certain about intermittent fasting and not eating dairy, but then I say that as someone who absolutely adores cheese. I could probably give up everything else, but not cheese. ;)
Moving into the seventh chapter, 'The Jiu Jitsu Lifestyle' (fifteen pages), Gregoriades muses on the nature of jiu jitsu, sharing some of his thoughts on efficiency, refinement and perception, drawing on his own experiences. That then shifts to a more hard-nosed discussion of competition. The same tone continues through a look at injury prevention and the dangers of overtraining, along with some advice about training and competing in Brazil.
To complete the book, Gregoriades has some Further Resources (sixteen pages). This is a collection of books, DVDs, schools and websites (including my own, which was kind of him). The academy list is interesting, as Gregoriades states at the start that these are schools he personally vouches for, either because he has trained there or has some personal connection to the instructor. His closing 'about the author' section gives you a flavour of what Gregoriades is like:
"It became clear to me that jiu jitsu is a ‘spiritual trip’ - a journey of self-discovery. It takes you to the very limits of your physical and mental capacities and constantly teaches you how to find your way through the world with more efficiency and composure. And most importantly, it helps you connect with your fellow human beings and find new ‘brothers’ that you never knew you had."
While I don't take anything spiritual from jiu jitsu, I found myself strongly agreeing with his description right at the end of the book, where he writes about the Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood. He says that jiu jitsu is a "way of connecting people" and that he seeks to "foster unity within the community of jiu jitsu practitioners and martial artists." I agree and follow a similar goal, through events like the GrappleThon. Jiu jitsu is indeed a wonderful way of bringing people together.
My main criticism of the book would be the price, a hefty $39.95 for an eBook. Even for a large, glossy, full-colour print volume stuffed with photographs, that's at the higher end of the market. Jiu Jitsu University is able to charge that price, but it is twice the size and far more extensively illustrated than The Black Belt Blueprint, as well as being a physical volume. In stark contrast, the Kindle eBooks by Kid Peligro, such as Secrets of the Closed Guard, are less than £7. Having said that, The Black Belt Blueprint is advertised as having a 100% money back guarantee, though I'm not certain of the conditions. You can download it here.