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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a brown belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©2004-2016 Can Sönmez

28 February 2015

28/02/2015 - Private with Kev | Open Guard | Sitting Guard, Shin-to-Shin and Single Leg X

Class #630 - Private #020
RGA Aylesbury, (BJJ), Kev Capel, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, UK - 28/02/2015

Just a short one this visit, as my brother-in-law's flight getting delayed in the US, combined with a mortgage call they were dealing with, meant that the birthday plans for my younger niece got moved around. Rather than being able to train until 2pm, that meant I was needed back home for 12:00. Fortunately I'd already booked a private lesson, so could still get in about an hour of valuable training with Kev.

For this twentieth private lesson, I wanted to continue refining a path Kev had sent me down with an earlier private back in November 2013. I have always liked the tripod and sickle sweep combination from open guard, resulting in my open guard being built around those sweeps. My starting position was initially just sitting up with a stiff arm, based on Kev's lesson.

I've since been able to refine that, after buying Ryan Hall's Defensive Guard during a Black Friday sale. For me (and my friend Seymour agrees) it is easily Hall's best DVD set, which is saying something as his instructional sets are among the best on the market. I drilled my way through the DVDs with Chris last year and it's had a significant impact on how I approach seated guard.

Armed with the stuff I've learned from the DVDs, drilling with Chris and what I've been doing during open guard sparring, I ran through it with Kev. He suggested a few tweaks, plus some helpful additions for scenarios I haven't had much of an answer for (especially when they come in close to your shin). As a result, I've now got a coherent plan of action from open guard, based around that sitting guard position. As I'm finishing this write up on the 9th March a day after the GrappleThon, I've got details from rolling at that too (you can still support Equality Now and donate, here).

* Sit up, base an arm behind, grab their opposite collar. Keep a strong line through your shoulders and expand your chest, like Ryan Hall shows.

* Keep the foot of my raised knee outside theirs. If that knee starts to angle inwards, they can crush it down and pass, similar to the principle with knee shield passing.

* If they move to the outside of my raised knee foot, go for a collar drag and take the back. Remember to scoot around their near leg as you do.

* If they move to the inside, look for the loop choke, bringing your outside leg over their back as well. You'll tend to end up with the other knee pressing into their stomach, to clamp them in place as you go for the choke. Also, be sure to get the grip and pull down, rather than just flailing. I'm still tending to snatch at this choke rather than securing it properly, something I want to focus on.

* If they stay in the middle and with their head up, especially if they start to move backwards, ankle pick sweep them.

* If they come in close and they're standing, put your foot on their hip and move into the tripod/sickle combination.

* If they come in close and start to sit with their knee on the ground, shift into shin-on-shin guard. I've never used this, but basically, just put your shin in front of their same side leg. With your other leg, push on their knee. That will normally make them post their arm. Grab their sleeve, then simultaneously pull on their sleeve and lift their shin for the sweep. Even better, pass their arm under their leg to your other hand. With your passing hand, grab around the back of their gi, then in combination with your shin lift, sweep them. It's much the same as the basic de la Riva sweep I was taught at GB Brum.

* If you try the shin-on-shin sweep but they put their arm out of range, continue reaching for that arm. Make them think you are going for that, then switch your legs so you are hooking their rear leg with your forward leg. Grab the side of their knee and drive forwards, a bit like an ankle grab sweep.

* If they stand up from the shin-on-shin, move into single leg x and double ankle grab sweep. That one I'll need to review, as I don't think I quite got it. From what I remember, you lift up with your shin, pull their leg around (almost as if you're pulling mount), bringing your other knee behind their leg, just above their knee. You're still holding the foot (and collar, ideally I think), so can lift your hips and drive forwards to knock them over.

Interestingly, Kev said he's moved away from the nappy grip he showed me back in 2013, as it isn't high percentage enough when you're up against somebody who gets wise to it. Nevertheless, it's still a useful last resort: I haven't generally had a lot of success with it myself, though it worked pretty well last time I was in Bucks last November. I also got it a few times at the GrappleThon, although that was mostly during the long flow roll with Mike, so he wasn't putting up much resistance.
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As always, visiting my parents meant art, this time the day after training. My father took me along to the Rubens exhibition at the Royal Academy, which is titled 'Rubens and His Legacy'. I have to agree with some of the critics who reviewed the show. While I don't think it's fair to complain that there isn't much Rubens, given that "and his legacy" is part of the description, there is an issue with a number of the comparisons. An exhibition based around a work's influence on both contemporaneous and later artists is something I could enjoy, but it quickly becomes frustrating if the original influences being discussed aren't there in some form.

That was a recurring problem here. Often, the text would say "and the influence of blah blah painting by Rubens can be seen in the blah', but that original painting would simply be referred to by its name and date. Even if there was some small monochrome reproduction, that would have been something, but nothing at all means the comparison is meaningless (unless of course you already know the paintings in question well, so my father didn't mind). Sometimes there was a copy of the original painting, which was better than nothing but still disappointing. The rather sparse audioguide didn't help.

I can understand it's not always easy to get hold of paintings, but I think the exhibition would have been greatly improved if they focused on the paintings they could get and build it around that. So although there were lots of excellent paintings, it felt like I had walked into the middle of a film and missed the start. Having said that, splitting it into themes (e.g., 'compassion' for his religious art, 'lust', 'violence', etc) was a good idea, showing the range of Rubens work. The 'violence' paintings were particularly good, my favourite being 'The Fall of the Damned' (at least I think that was in the 'violence' room. Either way, it was cool). Sadly the original wasn't there (though the replacement they found at least gave a good idea), but with the magic of the internet I can reproduce Rubens' painting here.

26 February 2015

26/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Passing Knee Shield

Teaching #286
Artemis BJJ (PHNX Fitness), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 26/02/2015

First off, if their knee shield is high on your chest, it will be more difficult to push down. You can try shoving it down with your hands, but that not only exposes you to potential attack, it gives them a chance to move away and you might lose your passing opportunity. Try to use your bodyweight if possible. You then need to make sure they can't move their hips: in today's pass, I wanted to show how you can accomplish that by pinning either their lower or upper leg. You also want to block their upper body, in order to pin them in place. Finally, you need to get used to sliding over and past their upper leg while still maintaining maximum downwards pressure.

My preference is what Jason Scully calls the staple pass. To control their upper body, Scully puts his head down onto the mat by their armpit. His far arm has the elbow close to the mat, which is similar to Saulo's version that I've taught before, although Scully notes you can reach for an underhook. Also like Saulo, he takes hold of the lower knee with his hand to stop them moving: this accomplishes a similar result to what Dónal does, driving his knee across into their hip.

The 'staple' part is a little different. Similar to how you can circle back with your leg to add a brace for the half guard pressure pass, to beat the knee shield you can rotate your lower leg back to brace against the lower part of their bottom leg, in order to hold it in place. Cut your other knee across, basing the bracing leg out and stepping it forward. From here, it is possible to continue through and pass like Saulo.

However, Scully's version involves a change of direction. Shift your grip to their top knee, clamping that to the mat. Use that, your other arm and your head for base, then hop your legs over to the other side, establishing side control. It is much the same motion as in Kev's xmas guard passing drills a few years ago.
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Teaching Notes: I do this mainly with a sprawl when I use it myself, but added in the leg hooking bit, or 'staple' as Scully calls it, as it's a useful addition. Also, great turn-out tonight, plus our first female student on the Thursday! :)

To remind myself of bits from last time, I'll add in some older notes. I mentioned before that I emphasised that John's excellent theoretical framework for control in BJJ applies here too. I should also take another look at Dónal's version from back in 2013, where he drove his trapped knee through, into their hip. Dónal also flattened them onto their back. Then there's the Ribeiro method, I'll review that for next time too.

25 February 2015

25/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Knee Shield (Back Take)

Teaching #285
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 25/02/2015

BJJ Bristol Artemis Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - Half GuardA simple method for taking the back from the Caio Terra style high knee shield starts with your frame. Put your knee up by their chest, buttressed by your arm. You've got two main options for arm placement. If you put your elbow inside your knee, that makes it tough for them to crush your knee down to start their pass. Alternatively, you could put your elbow on the outside of the knee. That means you can reach across with your hand to their other shoulder, creating a frame comparable to the solid defensive frame from under side control.

For the back take, it's probably easiest to put your elbow on the inside, but that's just my personal preference. Kick your knee shielding leg forwards, out under their armpit. Into that gap, reach your hand through too. The momentum of the kick - combined with the sudden departure of resistance to their own weight and forward pressure - should enable you to 'dive' through that gap for the underhook, swivelling through to take the back.

Xande has some nice tweaks from BJJ Library on the standard knee-in-hip version, where your knee is much lower. He comes up on his elbow (reminiscent of Ryan Hall's sitting guard approach, stiff arming into their collar bone too), then moves into a 'bodylock', scooting in after he gets the underhook and locks both his hands around their back. From there he can use that bodylock to help adjust round to the back.
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Teaching Notes: I'm still working out what best to teach from the knee shield. I went with the main knee up by chest version this time round, though I'm still including my notes on Xande's version. I also ended up repeating a good chunk of what we did on Monday. I think that's a good thing in that it's useful to revise material, but I'm also still working out how best to cater for both Monday-only and Wednesday-only students. That's one of the challenges of having quite a few students who train once a week, while at the same time providing some development across the week for students who train multiple times a week.

25/02/2015 - Teaching | Women's Class | Triangle Choke

Teaching #284
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 23/02/2015

There are lots of ways to set up the triangle, which is one of the fundamental submissions in BJJ. The name comes from the 'triangle' shape you form with your legs, capturing their neck and one arm inside that structure. The basic process is:

1. Get their head and one of their arms inside your legs
2. Put your ankle behind your knee to 'lock' the triangle
3. Squeeze your legs into their carotid arteries on either side of their neck.

Of course, there is much more detail to a successful triangle than that, which I'll break down in the rest of this post.

For the first stage (entry), the simplest option is probably to grab both their wrists (or you could try their forearms) with your same side hands. Push their arm into their stomach, while clamping the other to your chest. You can then bring your hips up in order to fling your leg (on the same side as the arm you've pushed back) over their shoulder, locking your feet by the top of their back. The important thing is to clear that hand and arm you've shoved into their stomach, so that you're ready to move into the triangle.

If you can drive your knee into the inside of the arm you want to clear, that can work too: in Gracie Combatives, Rener pushes into their bicep/crook of their elbow with his knee, grabs the wrist, then kicks over to get into position. Alternatively, he also shows how you can circle your leg around the arm to get your leg past. There are many other entries and not just from guard: the triangle is possible from pretty much every other position in BJJ too, whether that's the back, mount or side control.

Once you've got their head and arm trapped between your legs, it's also helpful to move their arm across your body, though not essential. You can still choke them without that arm across, it just tends to be more difficult. Triangle expert Ryan Hall repeatedly states that it isn't necessary, because you're choking them by pressing their shoulder into their neck, not the lower part of their arm (remember, to choke you are pressing into both carotid arteries on either side of the neck. With the triangle, on one side their shoulder blocks the artery, the other is blocked by your leg).

He demonstrates how you can still choke them even if their arm is on the other side. Still, it isn't 'wrong' to bring the arm across, particularly if you are going for a choke where you're square-on, as per the traditional triangle method. The point Hall makes is that you should never prioritise pulling the arm across rather than controlling the head.

That's because controlling the head is absolutely key. Ideally, you want to pull their head into your belly button rather than your chest, to really break down their posture. If they are able to lift their head up, they can regain an upright posture. So, be sure you have some kind of control over their posture before you attempt the triangle. If they are sat fully upright with strong posture, you're going to struggle to get a triangle from there: a different technique would be advisable.

Once you have their posture broken down and their head and arm between your legs, you want to lock that in place. When locking your legs in this second stage (locking), you can sometimes move straight into a locked triangle. If not, especially if you have shorter legs like me, stick with a secure 'diamond' leg formation rather than a sloppy half-locked triangle. From there, pull on your shin to bring your ankle behind your knee, swivelling off at an angle if necessary. Be sure you don't lock over your toes: it must be your ankle. If your leg is locked on your toes, they have a chance to knock your leg off them. More importantly, if you press down while locked over you toes, you're in danger of injuring your ankle.

You might well find you need to adjust to get your legs locked. Opening your guard to do that is easier, which will enable you to push off their hip with your locking leg foot. However, be careful that you don't give them space to escape when you open. You can maintain control by grabbing the leg you have over the back of their head, meaning that you are replacing the control your leg provided with equivalent control from your arm. Ryan Hall doesn't like to unlock his legs at all, but then he has long legs.

You also need to have your neck leg right across the back of their neck, rather than angling down their back. If it is part way down their back, you are no longer pressing into their neck: their body will get in the way of your choke. Similarly, your locking leg does not want to be obstructed by their shoulder. You therefore don't want to see their shoulder once the triangle is locked in: try and get your leg past it, or simply push their trapped shoulder back a little, in order to get your legs more tightly on their carotid arteries. If they have a lot of shoulder inside your legs, that's a chance for them to drive forward and dig out some room to breathe.

Having locked the triangle, you now have two main options for the third stage (finishing). The traditional way to complete the choke is to squeeze your abductors (i.e., the muscles of your inner thighs) into their neck. At this point, you might also want to raise your hips and/or pull down on their head for some extra pressure. Other little details that can help are pulling your toes back to tense your calves, meaning more pressure on their carotid arteries. Angling your locking leg outwards can also help increase that pressure, a nifty tip from Mike Fowler.

The other main option, which again comes from Ryan Hall, is to instead use what he calls the 'stomp and curl' method. The reason for his preference is that he says this uses larger muscle groups than the abductors, which tend to be comparatively weak. First, he attains a perpendicular angle, meaning he is looking at his opponent's ear rather than their face. From there, he can now kick forwards with his neck leg (the stomp) while pulling down with his locking leg (the curl).

Perpendicular angles are good for smaller people too, as it makes it harder for the opponent to stack you (I'll talk more about stacking in a moment) because you aren't straight on. The easiest way to get a perpendicular angle is hooking under their free arm, then grabbing around your own knee. This also has the advantage of clamping you in place: should they try to square back up, you'll stay where you are as they move. There's a second benefit too in that they can no longer use that arm to create a frame by linking their hands, which they could otherwise use to press into your hips and make space.

You can also grab right under their body and link your hands, though it is unlikely you'll be able to get to that extreme position. Hooking under their leg is another option, but normally you won't have the space to do that. However, it is important to remember the leg grabbing option. That is the best way to stop yourself from being slammed when triangling, so should you want to use a triangle in a situation where slamming might take place, it would be very advisable to hook a leg.

You may find you keep getting stacked, particularly if you are square on. However, as Renzo Gracie teaches, even with that style of triangle you can submit a larger opponent. The key is preventing them from driving into you and curling your body. Renzo's method is to brace his arms against his knee and shin, something I was first shown by my old training partner, Howard. Should they continue to drive forward, all they are doing is extending themselves, which makes it easier for you to choke them.

BJ Penn teaches something similar, which he refers to as the 'triangle sprawl out'. This time, instead of straight-arming into your own leg, you're going to wriggle back, then come up on your elbows and finally your hands. From here, keep moving backwards until they are almost lying down in front of you, making sure your triangle lock around their head is still tight. To apply the submission, drive your legs down as your lean your upper body forwards.

Generating that habit of moving backwards to stop yourself being crunched up is a good habit in general for the triangle, whether or not you're going for the Renzo or BJ Penn finishes above. It is less of an issue if you have attained a perpendicular angle, but sometimes you might find you need to shoulder-walk back in order to get the space to create that angle.
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Teaching Notes: Nothing too much to add here, as this remains a relatively basic lesson on the triangle. I could add in details on switching to the armbar (I included the armbar side to side drill at the start), but perhaps next time. There is a core of students who have now been through this lesson at least once, so I think they will be ready by the next run of the cycle to take on board a bit more.

Of course, there will hopefully be some new students in the women's class by then, so I'll need to still keep it basic enough that they can pick up the technique too. That's something I'm learning to do in the mixed classes, especially as there are some people who only come on either the Monday or Wednesday, so the classes need to be adjusted accordingly. All part of building up a flexible curriculum. :)

23 February 2015

23/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Knee Shield (Maintaining)

Teaching #283
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 23/02/2015

BJJ Bristol Artemis Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - Half Guard
Having covered the orthodox approach to half guard, today I moved on to the knee shield, position also commonly known as z-guard. Using your knee, you can make it more difficult for your partner to move forwards against your half guard. It's also handy for creating distance, as well as nullifying the whizzer. If you use the leverage from your knee to square up your upper body by leaning back, that should help avoid the control they can generate with a whizzer.

For knee positioning, one option is to put it right on their hip, which means you can keep your feet locked. However, that also means you knee is quite low, so there is the disadvantage that they may be able to shove your knee to the mat and pass, particularly if you have the knee right across to the opposite hip (on the same side hip, there should be less danger). To enhance your control, you can try Xande's approach of coming up on your elbow while also stiff-arming into their shoulder (sort of like sitting guard). Another option comes from Jason Scully, who likes to get a tight overhook from that position.

To stop that, you could put your knee up high into their chest, like Caio Terra. As ever, there are pros and cons, as putting your knee up high may open up a gap between your feet. If you leave a gap between your feet, it is possible your partner may then be able to simply circle their lower leg around and free themselves. So, if you can't cross your feet, then clamp them together, to create a barrier to that leg-circling. Alternatively, clamp them onto your partner's leg, again to make sure there isn't a gap.

Whichever position you go for, the ability to control the distance means that one good option from the knee shield is recovering your full guard. Push with your controlling knee to square up your body, then pull out the other leg. You can often get that in transition, as your opponent tries to move around your knee. But be careful, as if they can crush down onto your leg, that can stuff your guard recovery. It's therefore important to prevent them from bringing their weight down, either using your knee (like Caio Terra), your stiff arm (like Xande) or the overhook (like Jason Scully).
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Teaching Notes: It's been a while since I've taught half guard and even longer since I went through the knee shield. I'm still working out the best structure, but tonight went relatively well. I could cut down on the amount of variations, though I think it's worth going through Xande, Scully and Terra's approach, as that can be shown without going into too intense detail. I could potentially have added in taking the back, but I'll leave that for Wednesday, I think. I might put in the scissor sweep too.

During the mini open mat afterwards, Rafal shared a useful escape he learned at SBG Dublin, in regards to the arm triangle. I don't often get put there and I rarely use that submission myself, so my options from it are pretty basic. The SBG Dublin escape involves 'corkscrewing' out of the arm triangle, turning in and then away to free yourself.

22 February 2015

21/02/2015 - Head Shave Challenge For GrappleThon | Artemis BJJ | Open Mat | Knee Shield

Class #629
Artemis BJJ (PHNX Fitness), Open Mat, Bristol, UK - 21/02/2015

With two weeks to go until the GrappleThon, the team total is at a healthy £1,150. I've decided that in an effort to boost my fundraising and spice things up, I'm going to add in a little personal challenge.

If I reach my £500 target by 16:00 on the 2nd March, I will shave my head and my beloved sideburns that same day. I've never been without them all my adult life, but some things are more important than discotastic facial hair. Equality Now is one of those things: so, if you want to see me bald and sans mutton chops, then head over to my fundraising page to push up my total, here. ;)

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It was all about the knee shield for me today, a position also known as z-guard. Using your knee, you can make it more difficult for your partner to move forwards against your half guard. It's also handy for creating distance, as well as nullifying the whizzer. If you use the leverage from your knee to square up your upper body by leaning back, that should help avoid the control they can generate with a whizzer.

For knee positioning, one option is to put it right on their hip, which means you can keep your feet locked. However, that also means you knee is quite low, so there is the disadvantage that they may be able to shove your knee to the mat and pass, particularly if you have the knee right across to the opposite hip (on the same side hip, there should be less danger). To stop that, you could put your knee up high into their chest, like Caio Terra. As ever, there are pros and cons, as putting your knee up high may open up a gap between your feet.

If you leave a gap between your feet, it is possible your partner may then be able to simply circle their lower leg around and free themselves. So, if you can't cross your feet, then clamp them together, to create a barrier to that leg-circling. Alternatively, clamp them onto your partner's leg, again to make sure there isn't a gap.

Drlling with Simon, I played with both versions. Xande has some nice tweaks from BJJ Library on the standard knee-in-hip version, as he also comes up on his elbow (reminiscent of Ryan Hall's sitting guard approach, stiff arming into their collar bone too). For the back take from there, I think I prefer Caio's version where he kicks the knee out then uses the momentum to duck under the armpit. However, Xande's bodylock method (where after he gets the underhook, he scoots in and locks both his hands around their back) is also interesting, especially as it seems to naturally lead into some sweeps if you can off balance them. Then again, it's meant for nogi. Also, I think I need to look some more at the entry.

After that, I went with a combination I first learned from Nick Brooks, then later saw taught on the Caio Terra DVD. Terra refers to it as the 'half guard scissor'. Nicks version is from the knee shield with your feet locked, which I personally find more difficult to use (as I always get my knee shoved to the ground), but may work well for those with longer legs, or who are simply better at this position. It could also just be a matter of angle.

Like I said, the reason you lock your feet is so they can't raise their trapped leg and pivot, bringing their lower leg through the gap between your feet. If you're using the Terra version, you'll still need to drop your knee so that it is across their stomach, as with a scissor sweep from guard. In either position, stay aware of the cross face. You can frame under your knee to help maintain distance, making it hard for them to bring their body down to go for the cross-face. With Xande's sitting guard style version, the stiff arm helps block them closing the distance.

For Nick's sweep, grip the sleeve of the arm with which they want to cross-face you with your opposite arm (i.e., the arm that would be on top if you were blocking with both hands). Your other hand reaches under their same side leg, grabbing the bottom of their trousers (not inside the cuff though, as that is illegal). Alternatively, Terra grabs the outside of the knee. In both cases, it is to block them posting out with that leg.

Pull their sleeve across your body so they can't post out on their hand. If you're having trouble getting that arm, push them backwards a little first to lighten their arm, then pull it across to the other side. To finish, you want to do a scissor sweep motion, except that instead of chopping their knee with your leg, you're pulling it in with your arm. It also means you have both legs to lift and drive, rather than just one. Make sure you maintain the grips you have with your hands: this is key.

I've been having trouble with that knee shield scissor sweep over the last couple of weeks. Bizarrely, it seemed to work better when I switched the grips to what feels counter-intuitive: grabbing their sleeve with my bottom hand and their knee with the top hand. However, looking again at the Terra vid, he does definitely grip the way you would expect. I'll have a play at the Monday mini open mat to iron out the kinks.

Either way, don't get over-excited and try and jump right into side control. Instead, a great tip from Nick was to just roll your hips over, staying low and pressed into them the whole time, hip to hip. As you are still holding their leg, they can't re-lock their half guard. You can simply move your trapped leg backwards to stretch out their leg, then circle it free, moving into side control.

You also still have that grip on the sleeve, which sets you up immediately for an americana. You have a number of options to secure the figure four, depending on how you're holding that sleeve. One way is to control their arm with the other hand to then re-establish a better grip on the wrist with your first hand. Another is to roll your hand forward or backwards to change from the sleeve to the wrist. Or you could try pressing your head into their arm, and use that to hold it in place while you get the proper grips.

There is a handy follow-up if they shift their base to prevent the sweep, which Terra calls the back roll (I can't remember if Nick had a name for it, but 'back roll' is a rational choice). For example, you've gone for the scissor motion, but they have pushed forwards to stop you, making it hard to complete the sweep. However, in changing their weight distribution, they have opened up an alternative.

Open up their arm with the sleeve grip, so that they move perpendicular to your body, using your leg grip to help (you may find the knee grip easier for this one, but experiment). This also means you can shift your knee shield so that they are balanced on the shin.

If you get it right, they should feel fairly weightless. Pulling the sleeve grip out and pass their head should help. All you need to do now is roll backwards over your shoulder, still holding on to that sleeve grip. As before, you'll end up in side control with the americana ready to be applied.

Be careful of your head. Lift it a little off the ground and look in the direction their head is pointing. You obviously don't want to roll straight back over your head, or you're liable to hurt yourself. So, make sure it is out of the way and you instead roll over your shoulder, like when you do a basic backwards breakfall during drilling.

I also went through some passing, with my favourite, Jason Scully's staple pass: I'll be teaching that one next Thursday. Pinning the bottom leg is good, but pinning the top leg over it is even better. Sprawling is important to make this work, leaving no space. I learned a good bit doing progressive resistance with Paul, who wanted to work on his knee shield pass. Analysing how I was able to escape. Any space, I found even a tiny space was enough to wriggle something in the way. I'm wondering if there is a way to get what Dave Jacobs calls a supine twist going in there, as that would help.

Finally, I continued playing with half guard. I'm still not comfortable with the waiter sweep, but the Homer sweep still works well. I would like to teach this stuff at some point, but I'll see how things go during the next half guard month.

19 February 2015

19/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Opposite Side Pass

Teaching #282
Artemis BJJ (PHNX Fitness), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 19/02/2015

Same class as yesterday, as there were different students present compared to Wednesday. I first learned this pass from Roger Gracie a few years ago, getting some further great details from Ed Beneville and Tim Cartmell's excellent book. Beneville and Cartmell refer to the position as 'inverted half guard', but I prefer Saulo's nomenclature from Jiu Jitsu University: he uses the term 'opposite side pass'.'Inverted' is mainly associated with being upside down in BJJ, so I'll stick with Saulo.

The orthodox method to pass the half guard is to get a similar 'super-hold' (as Xande calls it) as you would in side control, then use shoulder pressure to hold them in place as you bounce your leg free and slide through. That's what I taught earlier this month. With the opposite side pass, you're also trying to control their upper body. In Saulo's version of the pass, on p307 of his book, they already have an underhook. He therefore grips over the top of that underhooking arm, securing it by gripping the gi material by the small of their back.

Posting on his free hand, he then swings his free leg over, ending up sat next to them. He suggests grabbing their knee initially, then shifting to grabbing the far hip. If you prefer, you can grab the knee and maintain that grip, to prevent a counter they can try where they open their half guard then hook under your knee. They can then lift and drive through to the top position.

My personal preference is to start the pass by reaching under their head with the arm on the same side as your trapped leg. This may feel counter-intuitive, as normally that is the arm you would use to underhook, but that's because you're swinging over to the other side. This is effectively a cross-face on the opposite side, which you lock in fully once you're over to the other side, driving your shoulder into their cheek/jaw to prevent them turning their head towards you. It's also key that after swinging to the other side, you post firmly on your outside leg, angling the knee towards their body. This should stop them bridging into you and getting a reversal.

Finally, you need to extricate your trapped leg. The simplest approach is to push on their bottom leg with your free foot, extricating yourself from half guard and taking top side control. The problem with that is it reduces your base, so they might be able to capitalise and reverse you. Not to say it isn't possible, but it requires your cross-face to be really solid. A slightly safer option is to step the basing leg in front of their leg, using it as a wedge. That means it both blocks their movement but still provides you with base. Another possibility is pulling their leg towards you in order to help create the space to free yourself.

A slight variation on this pass comes from the Beneville book: if you can get this one, it's probably the tightest option. Before you swing over, open up their lapel on the free leg side. Pass the end of their gi to the hand you have under their head and feed it through. Push their head slightly towards the trapped leg side, then shove your head in the space you’ve created. You can use your head for base, along with your free hand if required.

After you've swung over, watch out for a counter they may try, which is to lift up your leg with their far foot, flipping you over. To re-counter that, immediately switch from holding the knee to hooking behind their knee with your arm. That should stop them lifting for the sweep. Alternatively, you can also do a big step over to the other side as they try to flip you to your back.
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Teaching Notes: The extra fifteen minutes on Thursdays meant I could run through a variation on the pass, which is useful but I don't think it's essential to teach. I'm a big fan of the two passes I taught this week and use them in combination to pass half guard. However, I'm wondering if I should be looking to expand my repertoire for passing half guard. Either way, I'll be moving on to knee shield next week, with some basic maintenance, a couple of sweeps and a pass to finish off February.

18 February 2015

18/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Opposite Side Pass

Teaching #281
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 18/02/2015

Today I wanted to take a look at a pass Ed Beneville and Tim Cartmell refer to as 'inverted half guard' in their excellent book, which I first learned from Roger Gracie a few years ago. In Jiu Jitsu University, Saulo uses the term 'opposite side pass', which I think is easier to understand. 'Inverted' is mainly associated with being upside down in BJJ, so I'll stick with Saulo's nomenclature.

The orthodox method to pass the half guard is to get a similar 'super-hold' (as Xande calls it) as you would in side control, then use shoulder pressure to hold them in place as you bounce your leg free and slide through. That's what I taught earlier. With the opposite side pass, you're also trying to control their upper body. In Saulo's version of the pass, on p307 of his book, they already have an underhook. He therefore grips over the top of that underhooking arm, securing it by gripping the gi material by the small of their back.

Posting on his free hand, he then swings his free leg over, ending up sat next to them. He suggests grabbing their knee initially, then shifting to grabbing the far hip. If you prefer, you can grab the knee and maintain that grip, to prevent a counter they can try where they open their half guard then hook under your knee. They can then lift and drive through to the top position.

My personal preference is to start the pass by reaching under their head with the arm on the same side as your trapped leg. This may feel counter-intuitive, as normally that is the arm you would use to underhook, but that's because you're swinging over to the other side. This is effectively a cross-face on the opposite side, which you lock in fully once you're over to the other side, driving your shoulder into their cheek/jaw to prevent them turning their head towards you. It's also key that after swinging to the other side, you post firmly on your outside leg, angling the knee towards their body. This should stop them bridging into you and getting a reversal.

Finally, you need to extricate your trapped leg. The simplest approach is to push on their bottom leg with your free foot, extricating yourself from half guard and taking top side control. The problem with that is it reduces your base, so they might be able to capitalise and reverse you. Not to say it isn't possible, but it requires your cross-face to be really solid. A slightly safer option is to step the basing leg in front of their leg, using it as a wedge. That means it both blocks their movement but still provides you with base. Another possibility is pulling their leg towards you in order to help create the space to free yourself.
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Teaching Notes: There is another option for this pass I can show, from the Beneville book, which I'll add in tomorrow. Chris had a good question at the end about how to counter this pass, which gave me a chance to go through the counter and recounter from the Beneville book. From playing around with it while Chris was on top, I found that getting an arm under their armpit and making a frame helped too. During sparring, I played with deep half, which was fun. I think that's definitely a useful addition (especially if you're using the arm shield half guard Braulio shows on EstimaInAction), but probably a bit advanced for the class at the moment. I might well show it next time I do half guard month though, depending what the student is like at that point. :)

18/02/2015 - Teaching | Women's Class | Armbar from Guard

Teaching #280
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 18/02/2015

For this fundamental attack from the guard, you first need to isolate their arm. Easiest way to do that is to grab their wrist with your same side hand, then also grab their elbow. Pull their arm across and pin it to your chest. You're then going to put your same side foot on their hip, clamping the knee of that leg to their shoulder (essentially you're trying to take away their space, as well as blocking them from easily pulling their arm backwards).

If they're wearing a gi, grab their opposite collar with your wrist-hand (keeping hold of their arm with your elbow-hand) and pull them down. If it's nogi, grab their head. Next, kick your other leg into their armpit, aiming to further break their posture and get your leg across their back. You're also going to use that to swivel your own body and get a better angle. From here, you can then push their head out of the way with your head/collar grip and bring your hip-pushing leg over their head. Squeeze your knees, lift your hips and pull down gradually on the wrist for the tap.

A common problem is that your partner will 'stack' you up onto your shoulders, making it difficult (though not impossible) to finish the technique. This is a common problem with the triangle too. To prevent that situation, push with your legs, as well as really knocking your partner's posture when you kick across with the armpit leg. You can also 'walk' back on your shoulders to recover a more extended position if they are squashing you. Finally, angling the leg you have by their head can help (like on Adam Adshead's old DVD), as that makes it tougher for them to push into you.
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Teaching Notes: The one extra bit I added was that it's possible to roll them through into mount once you're in a good armbar position, by grabbing and lifting their knee while extending your legs. I might also emphasise where you're establishing the fulcrum for the armbar: a common problem was that people didn't have the elbow far enough through in order to hyperextend it, ending up just bending the forearm instead. I didn't end up going through Sahid's handy drills this time round, but I'll include them here for next time:

To help with teaching this, my training partner Sahid has a useful sequence. It starts with drilling the leg positioning. In closed guard, your partner is going to put their elbow on the opposite side of your belt knot/belly button. Bring your leg on the same side as that arm up, so you can pin your knee against their shoulder. Your other leg kicks up into their armpit. Use that to turn your own body, also bringing their body down with the armpit leg. You can now bring your first leg over their head, keeping your heels pointing down (don't cross your legs).

Next, you're going to add in one of your arms. They aren't generally going to give you their arm, so you'll have to drag it across yourself. Reach across with your opposite side arm and grab slightly above their elbow. Still keeping your ankles crossed, lift your hips, then as you drop them, pull the arm across your body. You want to end up with their arm between your forearm and bicep, enabling you to clamp your elbow to your side while also pinning their arm. Your hand goes to your chest.

Step your knee up on their trapped-arm side, again pressing it into their shoulder. Make sure you don't raise that knee before you've pinned the arm, as opening your guard at that point may give them enough space to start escaping. Then finish as before, kicking your other leg up into their armpit, swivelling, bringing your first leg over their head and completing the submissions.

The third and final stage adds in a collar grip with your free hand (if they have a collar: if not, grab their head). Reach for their collar/head after you've pinned their arm, then pull them down. You can also use the elbow of that collar gripping arm to block the elbow of their trapped arm. That prevents them from trying to bring the elbow of their trapped arm to your other side hip, as that would scupper your armbar attempt.

16 February 2015

16/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Shoulder Pressure Pass

Teaching #279
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 16/02/2015

On top of half guard, your opening goal is to get them flat on the mat: there are passes you can do while they are on their side, but generally speaking it is much easier if their back is pinned to the floor. A simple method, drawing on the Ribeiro brothers, is to drive your free knee into their hip, block their head with your same side arm, then step your trapped leg up and away from you. Having generated some space, drive the trapped knee forwards as your return it to the mat, which should also help you drive your opponent to the mat as well.

If you are able to get the cross-face and an underhook, there is now the option of generating lots of shoulder pressure. This is my favourite way to pass the half guard: both Saulo and his brother refer to this as the 'esgrima pass', but I call it the shoulder pressure pass in the interests of clarity. Cross-face their head (if you can't get the cross-face, you can also use your own head), so that they can't turn in that direction. Put your own head on the other side (or your arm, if you're already using your head to cross-face), locking their head into place: your shoulder and head work together to form a vice. It should now become hard for them to move their upper body, because their head is stuck.

From here, come up on your feet so that all your weight is driving through your shoulder. Even if you're small, this should maximise your weight. I'm only 66kgs, but if I can get all of that weight against somebody's head, it becomes more significant. From there, bounce your trapped knee to wriggle it free (if you're having trouble and need additional leverage, rotate your free leg back to hook their leg with your instep). As soon as it is clear of their legs, twist in the direction of your cross-facing arm and put that knee on the mat. You can then kick their leg off your foot: some people prefer to kick the top leg, but I would generally go for the bottom leg. Turning your hips to the ceiling can also help if you're struggling to get that foot loose.
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Teaching & Sparring Notes: I think next time I'll make more of a point to go through that flattening out method I mention at the start. I wasn't sure if there was enough time to do that succinctly, but I think it's worth putting in. I'll also emphasise cutting across to other side with your knee. Although it's certainly possible to go straight to mount, IMO it's easier to cut across.

If they push your leg and move to recover guard, then it's probably best to switch to something else. That came up as Chris was doing it during progressive resistance. Asking him to do it to me, the natural counter felt like moving round to a firmer cross face as soon as he tries to grab the leg, or perhaps going for the arm. The next should be more vulnerable too if they're committing their arm like that, which reminds me to revise some chokes from top half guard.

I'm making a point of jumping in with specific sparring, now that my groin injury seems to be a lot better (I'm still wary of certain sweeps, but for the last couple of weeks I've been able to spar fairly normally). I was looking to pop under to deep half off Braulio's arm shield, but only managed it the once (during the later open mat sparring). Mainly I was grabbing the toes and going for that toe grab sweep. A number of times I went for the Bravo version, because my other arm was stuck. It's definitely a good simplified option to have in your toolbox, though the more complex version is safer if you can get it.

When free sparring during the open mat, I was looking for that kimura from Ryan Hall's DVD. He does a knee block to open the half guard, which seemed to work well, or at least kept me in place when they tried to sweep. I also went for the americana later on. I sometimes worry that it's a strength move (given that's long been the americana's reputation), but then I'm doing it on people bigger than me, so hopefully there is some technique there (although these are people less experienced than me, so that no doubt helps a lot too).

14 February 2015

14/02/2015 - Interview on NHBNews Podcast | Artemis BJJ | Open Mat | Half Guard

Class #628
Artemis BJJ (PHNX Fitness), Open Mat, Bristol, UK - 14/02/2015

Back when I first started listening to podcasts around 2005/2006, my initial choices were the Fightworks Podcast and No Holds Barred. They were both relatively new at that time (although in the case of NHBNews, it wasn't really 'new', because the radio show had been around for much longer. However, it had recently been relaunched in the 'new' format of a podcast). It's therefore pretty cool that I can now say I've appeared on both of them, having spoken to Caleb in 2013, then this Wednesday I also got to chat with Eddie Goldman. Yay! :D



Apart from peppering almost everything I said with 'absolutely!', that turned out fairly well. Main thing is that it hopefully drives more people towards the donation page for the GrappleThon. We're almost at £1,000 now, a quarter of the way through our target goal. As always, no amount is too small and you can donate from anywhere in the world. There should be a live stream again this year, as there's WiFi and Steve said he's up for bringing his equipment along. Coolness.

I went on a media blitz at the weekend too, in terms of sending out the press release for the GrappleThon everywhere. That should mean it pops up in a couple of places over the next week or two, depending how many news outlets are interested. I'll be putting the full pre-event press release up on the Artemis BJJ site too, probably in the next couple of days.
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I did more playing with half guard today, drilling a bit with Rafal, though I should have been a bit more focused. It's easy to slip into the "hmm, maybe this would work? Or perhaps this?" mode, which is fun but not constructive enough. Still, I went through more on the Braulio arm shield, along with the waiter sweep and trying that knee cut defence. I'm not entirely convinced by it yet (basically, from knee shield you hook your arm under the leg they're trying to slide over), but it's got potential.

In sparring, I was working against the lockdown which was fun. It's been a while since anyone has tried that on me (I don't seem to end up in half guard that often, although naturally I haven't been free sparring as much as I'd like given that it mostly get training from specific sparring in class). I was mostly just untangling my foot: I should try the more reliable scoot down to control their hips. I also need to be careful of my leg, especially if people are trying some of the esoteric Eddie Bravo stuff that tweaks the knee. I didn't feel threatened on that score, but nevertheless I need to keep it in mind.

As ever I looked for the kimura again, both from side control and then the back. Unusually the latter was more successful, using that to move into an armbar. Sloppy and I suspect force had a lot to do with it, but still, I'm glad the armbar is slowly becoming a part of my game. I doubt it will ever be a major part, but it's good to work on it more. I'd like to develop more chokes from side control and half guard, as that's more dependable than a joint lock. Perhaps I should teach one? That's normally a good way of refining my game, based on past experience.

Sparring with Tracey and Laura was cool too, finishing off the two hours by running through some pointers on the RNC choke set up with Steve (same stuff as that women's class a while ago). Next week is all passing, meaning that if I can get in some specific sparring, I'll be able to continue working on bottom half guard stuff. I therefore definitely want to revisit the kimura from under half guard, as I'd like to use that a lot more.

12 February 2015

12/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Whizzer Counter Roll

Teaching #278
Artemis BJJ (PHNX Fitness), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 12/02/2015

BJJ Bristol Artemis Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - Half GuardI continued with simple sweeps from underneath, teaching what Gordo (the guy who effectively created the half guard as a viable position) calls 'Plan B'. I don't think that's very descriptive, so I'm going with whizzer counter roll.

The situation is that you've managed to get the underhook under half guard, but they've threaded their arm through in what's called a 'whizzer'. That ruins your back take, but it doesn't stop you sweeping them. Indrek Reiland shows how you can still do the toe grab, or you can do a counter roll movement. With your free hand, push their knee outwards to disrupt their base: you can also underhook that leg if you prefer. Dive your body underneath them, putting your head into the gap between their arm and their leg.

Finally, bring your whizzered elbow back towards their head, aiming to clamp your elbow to your side (as much as you can in that position). From here you should be able to roll them over fairly easily. If you need some additional help, try tweaking their leg out like you do with the toe grab sweep.
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Teaching & Sparring Notes: Thursday classes end up in a different format to the two mixed classes at MyGym, for three reasons. Firstly the Thursday is longer, the mat space is bigger and there tend to be less people. I often fit in two techniques rather than one, so tonight also inluded the toe grab sweep in what became a general recap of Monday and Wednesday. I added in the Bravo version of the toe grab sweep for variety too, which was interesting to watch in terms of how the students worked through it. Initially they were saying "cool, that's simpler," because Bravo doesn't switch his grips. He gets the underhook and grabs the foot, then sweeps from there.

However, in progressive resistance, the students reverted to the grip switch, because with Bravo's method they couldn't get the leverage. Of course, they aren't starting from the lockdown, which makes a difference (though I did mention that too). The whizzer counter roll went smoothly as it always tends to, plus one of the students commented how they whizzer quite a lot (looking for the D'arce. Brabo? Whatever it's called, I get those mixed up all the time). So, useful when rolling with him at least. ;)

The smaller numbers on Thursday has the advantage that I often get to join in sparring, mainly during specific sparring. Rather than putting people into two king of the hill groups based on weight (like I do on Wednesdays, as that's the biggest class), Thursday it's a case of one person in the middle with everyone else switching in. I therefore practiced passing, using the pressure pass and reminding myself of the Xande cross-face alternative. If you can't get the cross-face, you can stick your head next to theirs and use that control instead. My neck was a little sore after class, though I'm not sure if it was me doing that wrong, or a sloppy escape out the back I did later.

Underneath, Braulio's arm shield worked well for me, to the extent that I think it actually fits better into my approach than the paw block. Keeping EstimaInAction in mind, I attempted to shift into deep half guard from there, but without much success (Braulio goes into the waiter sweep, whereas I prefer the Homer Simpson sweep: I wasn't getting either). Nevertheless, I felt considerably safer than normal, so I'll be sticking with the arm shield for the rest of this month.

Another type of shield caused more problems. I am not getting anywhere using the knee shield, in terms of sweeping. I know that there is a viable scissor sweep into back roll from here, as I've used and taught that in the past, but I must be forgetting a key element (probably to do with their weight distribution). I can get the position, then end up uselessly straining to move them with the sweep. Back take might be a good one to throw in there too, as that can work well off the knee shield. Braulio's version is very different to the kick and reach I'm used to, as he does something with the belt on EstimaInAction. Something to try I guess, though I don't like techniques that rely on belt grips (unlike the gi, the belt can loosen and fall off, so it doesn't feel secure).

11 February 2015

11/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Whizzer Counter Roll

Teaching #277
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 11/02/2015

BJJ Bristol Artemis Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - Half GuardThis week, I continued with simple sweeps from underneath. Previously I went through the toe grab sweep, so today I'm following up with what Gordo (the guy who effectively created the half guard as a viable position) calls 'Plan B'. I don't think that's very descriptive, so I prefer calling it whizzer counter roll.

The situation is that you've managed to get the underhook under half guard, but they've threaded their arm through in what's called a 'whizzer'. That ruins your back take, but it doesn't stop you sweeping them. Indrek Reiland shows how you can still do the toe grab, or you can do a counter roll movement. With your free hand, push their knee outwards to disrupt their base: you can also underhook that leg if you prefer. Dive your body underneath them, putting your head into the gap between their arm and their leg.

Finally, bring your whizzered elbow back towards their head, aiming to clamp your elbow to your side (as much as you can in that position). From here you should be able to roll them over fairly easily. If you need some additional help, try tweaking their leg out like you do with the toe grab sweep.
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Teaching Notes: This is what I followed up with last time I taught half guard, but I'm not convinced it is the best follow up. I'm not sure many people even use the whizzer, something on which this sweep is predicated. So, unless I notice a bunch of people whizzering, I think next time I get to this stage in half guard month, I'll teach the kimura from half guard instead.

Having said that, at least seemed everyone managed the mechanics without any issues, given this is not a complex sweep. You could argue that even if people aren't doing a lot of whizzering, it is good to pre-empt that control with this sweep. Or perhaps if I had a class on the basics of maintaining the top position in half guard it would come up? I'm going to run through two half guard passes next week: that might bring up some other useful points for me to keep in mind for the person on the bottom.

11/02/2015 - Teaching | Women's Class | Escaping the Back

Teaching #276
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 11/02/2015

The first rule of the back position is protect your neck. There are lots of ways of doing that, but my preference is the Saulo Ribeiro method. One hand is in your opposite collar, the other hand floats, ready to block their incoming grips. Don't reach too far with that arm or you'll leave space: keep it near your chest. Your elbows are inside their knees, ready to pop off their hooks if the opportunity presents itself.

Next, bring your knee up on their choking arm side (so, the arm that is reaching over your shoulder and trying to wrap your neck, rather than the arm coming under your armpit). Angle your knee inwards, to prevent them from rolling you back the other way: they will find it easy to choke you if they can roll you in the direction of their choking arm. In one quick motion, move your head forwards and simultaneously shove their head sideways (this is presuming they know what they are doing and have their head tight to yours for control). Look towards them, keeping your head and neck firm in order to stop them moving their head back into place.

Push off your leg and bridge back, aiming to get your shoulders and spine to the mat. If you aren't able to get your head past theirs, still push off your leg. Put your head on the mat and then grind it underneath their head. This isn't pleasant for either of you, but it is generally effective: preferably you can get your head past theirs in the gentler method above. If you can, clamp your arm that is nearest the mat to your side, aiming to trap their arm. To really immobilise them, see if you can use that same arm to grab their opposite sleeve/wrist, meaning you're using one arm to control both of theirs.

With your near arm, grab their trousers by their top leg (either by the knee or a bit lower). When you have the opportunity, switch to grip with the other hand. There are several options at this point. I like to either reach across their neck and grab the gi, or better, reach under their head, grip the far armpit then lock my shoulder into their head and shoulder. Either way, push off your free leg and turn to try and come on top. With your grip on the knee, stiff-arm so they can't lock their half-guard (if they do lock their half guard, this puts you in the opposite side half guard pass position, so proceed from there). Free your leg (pushing on their leg if you need to) and move into side control.
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Teaching Notes: When I previously taught this in the women's class, I was worried it was too complicated. Now that there is a core of women who have been training for a few months, that's less of an issue. As most of them have also been training in the mixed class, that all-important frame of reference is hopefully starting to build.

I think it's very important to know at least one back escape, plus I also want to teach something I'm confident is functional. The Saulo scoop is easier, but I have pretty much never used that in class because it's so rare that someone will have back control without some kind of upper body control (at least in my experience). I think everybody got the general idea, but the difficulty that cropped up a few times was the turn to the top. Getting out of the tight arm grip caused problems: it is something that I think can mostly be solved by learning how to put your weight onto them, driving off your legs.

However, like much of jiu jitsu, it's not an intuitive movement, so I need to work out a drill to help make it more familiar. A balance ball is the first thing that comes to mind, but I don't think there are enough of those around the gym to do it. I could give it a try next time anyway, though. Or some kind of two person drill for that, like the side control one where you swivel around to the other side maintaining pressure.

09 February 2015

09/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Toe Grab Sweep (Old School)

Teaching #275
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 09/02/2015

Continuing with our month of half guard, I progressed to sweeps from half guard. This week it will be the toe grab and the whizzer counter roll. To kick off with the toe grab, after recovering closed guard and taking the back this is probably the most fundamental offensive option from under half guard.

I call it the toe grab sweep, like Indrek Reiland does in his classic 'Functional Half Guard' video. Eddie Bravo's name for it - 'old school' - is common too, but his version is slightly less effective in my opinion, though it is similar. I was mainly following the way Jason Scully teaches it, over on the Grapplers Guide. I've also been taught it in the past, back when I was training at RGA High Wycombe with Kev.

So, the Scully version begins from the basic half guard position I taught earlier, where you're on your side using the kickstand leg positioning, with an underhook. Use your underhook to bump yourself down closer to their legs, curling your head into towards their far knee. With your non-underhooking arm, reach for their far toes. Grab them and then shove their heel into their thigh. Make sure you are grabbing their toes: if you grip their ankle or higher, they will find it easier to kick their leg back and scupper your sweep.

Bring your underhook arm down past their bum, then switch the toe grab grip from your non-underhook hand to your underhook hand. Bring your non-underhook elbow and then hand out for base, also turning to slide out your inside leg. Your outside leg tweaks their lower leg to further disrupt their base, then drive with your head and shoulder to move on top. Keep hold of the toes until you're past to side control. If they stay on their hands and knees, you can also just take their back instead.

Keep in mind that it is possible to get this sweep with various leg configurations. Eddie Bravo does it from the lockdown, 'whipping up' to get on his side after being flat on his back (interestingly, he doesn't switch his grip on the toes, leaving the underhook in place all the way through). My preference is to use the kickstand, as I find that provides the best base for getting on your side, but it's certainly not the only option.
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Teaching Notes: Another straightforward lesson. The main thing I need to do is decide on useful follow-ups. Watching EstimaInAction (which I'm reviewing over February), Braulio moves into deep half guard after trying for this. That is an option, but probably too complicated for the class at the moment, given it is mostly white belts. I'll have a think, perhaps there is a way to teach deep half that breaks it down into simpler elements, spread out across a few drills.

07 February 2015

07/02/2015 - Artemis BJJ | Open Mat

Class #627
Artemis BJJ (PHNX Fitness), Open Mat, Bristol, UK - 07/02/2015

I think today marks the first open mat where we've had two women attending, which is cool! Tracey has been a regular pretty much since we started the Artemis BJJ open mat at PHNX, so I'm really pleased that she had a chance to train with somebody her own size and weight for once. Hopefully this will set a trend for the future (and it all helps towards that 50/50 gender mix I'm aiming for).

There was some light sparring from side control for me, mainly to help one of the students work on their escape. I then had another relatively light roll with a visiting purple belt: I know he can go a lot harder than that, so appreciated the steady pace. It gave me a chance to play with various techniques, starting with the stiff-arm guard I've been using a lot recently. He was tending to step in close, which makes it harder to play the ankle pick/loop choke/collar drag combination I've been attempting to develop, but does makes the tripod/sickle sweep combination possible.

I continued to try and add in the Fowler 'unstoppable sweep' from last week, but couldn't get his weight sufficiently off-balance. When I got on top, I repeatedly went for the knee cut, focusing on controlling the feet and legs (particularly shoving one across, like how Donal showed me a couple of years ago). Holding on to the kimura was a useful thing to try out too (this particular purple belt is the one who gave me that advice in the first place), but as he's got a dodgy shoulder, I'm sure he was tapping earlier on that than normal (and rightly so: I like to think I never whack anything on hard or without control, but I had forgotten about that old shoulder injury).

Rolling out from the running escape sort of worked, but that's still a technique that needs a good bit of work. I look forward to refining that once we get to the month of side control. It's handy having a lot of guard practice over the three months of open, closed and half guard, but my favourite place to be is still either side control or mount. I feel like I've shored up my guard a bit in these last couple of months, so the back will be something else to look forward to (as along with guard that's what I view as my biggest weak point).

05 February 2015

05/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Maintaining, Back Take & Guard Recovery

Teaching #274
Artemis BJJ (PHNX Fitness), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 05/02/2015

In half guard, your first concern is to stop them flattening you out and starting their pass. They are generally going to want to establish an underhook on their trapped leg side, using the other arm to control under your head. In many ways, it is a similar position to standard side control. That will enable them to crush you to the mat, then exert lots of shoulder pressure to kill your mobility. Many of the same attacks from side control can also be viable from here, like an americana.

Naturally, you don't want them to reach that dominant position. Your goal is to get up on your side, with your own underhook around their back, on your trapped leg side. That is one of the main fights you'll have in half guard, so it is essential that you get used to working for that underhook.

If you can get the underhook, that accomplishes two things. First, it prevents them crushing their chest into yours, which would help them flatten you out. Second, it means you can press into their armpit to help disrupt their base, as well as help you get up onto your side. You can use your knee knocking into their bum at the same time to help with this too, as that should bump them forward.

For your leg positioning, the standard half guard is to have the inside leg wrapped around with your foot on the outside. Your other leg triangles over your ankle. This provides you with what SBG refer to as a 'kickstand': that outside leg is useful for bridging and general leverage. It's harder for them to flatten you out if you can resist with that kickstand structure.

After you've controlled a leg, got the underhook and onto your side, you want to block their arms. Almost a decade ago, Indrek Reiland put together an awesome video (made even more awesome by being free) about the fundamentals of half guard. The main principle I use from Reiland is what he calls the 'paw'.

By that, he means hooking your hand around their bicep, just above the elbow. You aren't gripping with your thumb: this is just a block, to prevent them getting a cross-face. Reiland emphasises that preventing that cross-face is the main principle. Therefore, if you can feel they are about to remove your paw by swimming their arm around, bring your underhooking hand through to replace your first paw with a second: this is what Reiland calls the 'double-paw' (as he says in the video, it's an approach he learned from SBG black belt John Frankl).

Similarly, if they manage to underhook your underhook, bring that arm over for a double-paw (this is also applicable from the start, if you're framing against their neck), then work to recover your underhook. Keep in mind with the double-paw that you need to make sure you don't leave space under your elbow. Otherwise, as Reiland demonstrates, they can they go for a brabo choke. Get the elbow of your top double-pawing arm to their nearest armpit, as that makes it easier to circle your arm around to their back.

From there, you have two primary options. First, try to take the back, by whacking your underhook into their armpit and simultaneously scooting down their body. Pull your paw arm back, so that you can base on that elbow, then base on the hand. That should give you the balance to reach around to their lat with what was your underhooking arm, as well as swinging your leg over their back too. Establishing a hook by digging the heel of that leg you just swung over inside their knee. Finally, get a seatbelt grip (one arm under their armpit, the other over their shoulder, locking your hands together) and roll towards your non-hooking foot.

If their base is too solid to go for the back, you can recover full guard instead. You still want the underhook: if you need to make space, keep bumping until you can at least get your elbow by their armpit. You can then use that to pry up some space, circling your arm around for the underhook. Switch your leg positioning so that your 'kickstand' steps over their leg, hooking underneath their lower leg with your instep. Keep your legs tight, or they will pull their leg free.

Curl towards their same side knee on your paw-arm side, until you can push it out with your elbow. Get the knee of your inside leg up past that knee, which will enable you to shove their knee back and free your leg. From there, swing both legs around their back and lock your ankles for closed guard. I like to also shift from a paw to an underhook around their arm, trapping it to my chest, but that isn't essential.
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Teaching & Sparring Notes: It's a slightly longer class on Thursdays, meaning it functioned as a recap of the week's techniques. I like being able to do that at PHNX, where it also makes sense as the people who come to this class often don't make it to many (or any) of the MyGym classes in St Paul's. I went through the usual selection, then had a good bit of time left over for some specific sparring and free sparring. My groin injury is getting to a stage now where I can roll relatively normally, though I still have to hold off on certain sweeps and transitions.

Still, it meant I could finally get in some proper rolling with Nacho, which was cool, as I've been looking forward to experiencing his game. It's an interesting challenge trying to both pass and control somebody who is adept at inverted guard, especially when they're constantly looking to take your back with a berimbolo. My counter at the moment is rather clunky, so I need to refine that more, though it did seem to just about work (although I imagine Nacho was going easy as he knows I'm injured). I focused on controlling the legs and feet, as well as establishing some kind of grip by those control points (so, head, shoulders and hips).

That repeatedly involved me getting a firm grasp of the gi lapel, digging my head and/or shoulder underneath a leg, then gradually crawling into place for side control. I wasn't able to hold if for long when I did get to side control (or more commonly, north-south, given the nature of inverted guard). That gives me some fun stuff to work on: maintaining on top is somewhere I generally feel fairly comfortable. It's good to be knocked out of your comfort zone, as I'm forced to think harder. I'm also gripping harder, which is bad, as that's not a long-term solution (i.e., my grips are already sore after training, so in ten, twenty, thirty etc years, it won't be viable).

04 February 2015

04/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Maintaining & Full Guard Recovery

Teaching #273
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 04/02/2015

In half guard, your first concern is to stop them flattening you out and starting their pass. They are generally going to want to establish an underhook on their trapped leg side, using the other arm to control under your head. In many ways, it is a similar position to standard side control. That will enable them to crush you to the mat, then exert lots of shoulder pressure to kill your mobility. Many of the same attacks from side control can also be viable from here, like an americana.

Naturally, you don't want them to reach that dominant position. Your goal is to get up on your side, with your own underhook around their back, on your trapped leg side. That is one of the main fights you'll have in half guard, so it is essential that you get used to working for that underhook.

If you can get the underhook, that accomplishes two things. First, it prevents them crushing their chest into yours, which would help them flatten you out. Second, it means you can press into their armpit to help disrupt their base, as well as help you get up onto your side. You can use your knee knocking into their bum at the same time to help with this too, as that should bump them forward.

For your leg positioning, the standard half guard is to have the inside leg wrapped around with your foot on the outside. Your other leg triangles over your ankle. This provides you with what SBG refer to as a 'kickstand': that outside leg is useful for bridging and general leverage. It's harder for them to flatten you out if you can resist with that kickstand structure.

Another key detail is to block the arm with which they are trying to cross-face you. Almost a decade ago, Indrek Reiland put together an awesome video (made even more awesome by being free) about the fundamentals of half guard. The main principle I use from Reiland is what he calls the 'paw'.

By that, he means hooking your hand around their bicep, just above the elbow. You aren't gripping with your thumb: reach your hand all the way around, so that your wrist is on their bicep. This is just a block, to prevent them getting a cross-face. Reiland emphasises that preventing that cross-face is the main principle. Therefore, if you can feel they are about to remove your paw by swimming their arm around, bring your other hand through to replace your first paw with a second paw: this is what Reiland calls the 'double-paw' (as he says in the video, it's an approach he learned from SBG black belt John Frankl).

Similarly, if they manage to get their arm under your underhook, bring your arm over for a double-paw (this is also applicable from the start, if you're framing against their neck), then work to recover your underhook. Keep in mind with the double-paw that you need to make sure you don't leave space under your elbow. Otherwise, as Reiland demonstrates, they can they go for a brabo choke. Get the elbow of your top double-pawing arm to their nearest armpit, as that makes it easier to circle your arm around to their back.

In the previous lesson on half guard, we took the back with that underhook. However, this time the scenario is that they're too heavy with too much pressure. As you've been flattened, you're going to recover the full guard instead. You still want an underhook, though that's harder to get when you're flattened. If you need to make space, keep doing small bridges until you can at least poke your elbow out past their armpit, on the side you're looking to underhook. You can then use that to pry up some space, circling your arm around for the underhook. Switch your leg positioning so that your 'kickstand' steps over their leg, hooking underneath their lower leg with your instep. Keep your legs tight, or they will pull their leg free.

You can effectively hold half guard with just the one leg that way, providing you with the opportunity to pull the other leg free for full guard. Curl towards their same side knee on your paw-arm side, until you can push it out with your elbow. Get the knee of your inside leg up past that knee, which will enable you to shove their knee back and free your leg. From there, swing both legs around their back and lock your ankles for closed guard. I like to also shift from a paw to an underhook around their arm, trapping it to my chest, but that isn't essential.

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Teaching Notes: I'm still playing with the structure for this lesson. Due to having extra sparring time on Monday, I thought that perhaps there wasn't enough material to fill up a lesson if I just did one technique, so vaguely had in mind two. As it happened, it took longer than I thought (probably because I answered a few questions) and I completely forgot to do the progressive resistance part. Not a major problem as that was pretty much covered during specific sparring, but it meant there wasn't that discussion of technique that I find really key to getting better. So, something to make sure I keep in mind: stick with one technique even if I think it will be too short, as I can always add in additional sparring, more specific sparring etc. The women's class is an exception, as that had a looser structure to the mixed class, but I think they will gradually start to align as the core of the women's class becomes more experienced (this is already happening to a degree now).

04/02/2015 - Teaching | Women's Class | Rear Naked Choke

Teaching #272
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 04/02/2015

The RNC is a fundamental technique to BJJ. Everybody with more than a few lessons under their belt knows that you're going to be looking for it, so they will immediately be trying to create barriers with their arms and hands. However, as this particular class has plenty of absolute beginners, I focused on the basic application before getting into the set-up.

So, to apply a rear naked choke (the reason for that name is that you aren't using the gi to complete the choke, hence 'naked'). Position the elbow of your choking arm under their chin. You don't want to leave any space, as the idea is to press into both sides of their neck. This will close off their carotid arteries and prevent the flow of blood to the brain. That is an efficient and safe way of subduing an opponent.

Reaching past their shoulder, you are then going to grip the bicep of your free arm. This is to lock the choke in place. It will normally be difficult to grab your bicep straight off, as your opponent knows that's dangerous. You can instead secure your initial arm by gripping the back of their shoulder. Stephan Kesting has a useful video on RNC details, where he talks about holding the ridge of bone at the bottom of the shoulder blade, using what he calls a 'tiger palm'. From there, switch to gripping palm to palm over their shoulder, dropping the elbow of your back-arm down along their shoulder blade. That will further help to lock it in position: as Demian Maia demonstrates, you can even finish the choke from there. If not, you can then do what Kesting calls the 'creep', wriggling that elbow across their back to cinch up the choke.

When you have managed to grip your bicep, make sure both your elbows are in front of their shoulders. In other words, your armpits are resting on their shoulders. The elbow drops straight down. As Nathan 'Levo' Leverton emphasises, this now means that both your wrists are hidden, making it difficult for them to strip your grip. It also makes the choke tighter, as both of your arms are directly by their neck.

Bring the hand of that bicep arm to the back of their head: a commonly used version is to press the palm into their skull, but there are various options, coming down to personal preference. Using the back of your hand against their neck is arguably better, as that may slip in more securely than palm down. Also, palm down is easier for them to grab, if they try to peel your fingers off their skull. Either way, when you're locking in the choke, don't reach your hand forward over their shoulder. If you do, then they can armbar you using their shoulder as a fulcrum. Instead, slide it behind the head.

Bring your head next to theirs on the bicep gripping side, to further cut off any space. If for some reason after grabbing your bicep you can't get your other hand behind their head, grab your own skull, using that grip to finish from there. Staying close to their back, expand your chest and squeeze your elbows together.

A common problem is that people will also tend to tuck their chin. Some people advocate unpleasant methods to force your way through to the neck in that situation. For example, Stephan Kesting has a list here: the results of that kind of approach (though Kesting does make a point of saying he is not fond of pain-based options either) can be seen in this video of a brutal Baret Yoshida match. That is not how I want my jiu jitsu to look.

My goal is smooth, technical, leverage-based jiu jitsu, causing as little pain to the other person as possible. As Saulo says in my favourite BJJ quote:

"You have to think that your partner, the guy that you're training [with], has to be your best friend. So, you don't want to hurt him, you don't want to try to open his guard with your elbow, make him feel really pain, because jiu jitsu is not about pain. You have to find the right spot to save your energy"

I strongly feel it is best to avoid hurting your training partners, for four additional reasons:

  • You're in class to learn, not to 'win' at all costs. Save the 'win' mentality for competition.
  • If you're always hurting the people you spar, eventually nobody will want to train with you, making it rather hard to improve.
  • Presuming you're in BJJ for the long-term, you're going to be spending a lot of time with your training partners. Therefore it would make sense to build a good relationship.
  • Even if you don't care about your classmates, everybody has a different pain threshold. So, the efficacy of pain-reliant techniques will vary from person to person. The efficacy of leverage does not: that's based on physics, not how tough somebody is.
There is a less nasty option you could try for opening up their chin, from Andre Galvao. If they really shove their chin down, this may not work, but it is worth a go. Twist your hand so that your thumb is pointing down, then as you slide the arm to their neck, twist the thumb back up to lift their chin.

If I find I have no option except something brutish (e.g., crushing their chin until they tap from pain or lift their head), my preference is to instead transition to a different attack, like an ezequiel, a bow and arrow choke or an armbar (which I'll be covering in later lessons). In my opinion, if I get to the point where force and pain are the main routes to finishing a submission, then my set up was poorly executed.

You can also try tricking them into giving you access to the hold you want, a handy tip I saw on a John Will DVD. For example, when you try to get an arm around their neck, a common reaction on their part is to grab your arm and pull it down. If you respond by pulling up, they will normally pull down even harder. This means that if you time it right, you can suddenly switch direction and swing the arm they are pulling down across your body. This should sweep their arms out of the way for a moment (try to catch both of their arms when you do this). Make sure your other hand is ready and waiting near their shoulder, as you can then immediately bring that other arm across their suddenly undefended neck.

Even better, you can take their arm right out of commission. With one of your hands, grab their wrist. Shove it down towards their legs, then step over that arm with your same side leg. When you then re-establish your hook (or pin your heel to their ribs, or put your leg behind their back), they are left with only one arm to defend against both of yours. If they've grabbed your wrist, twist your palm outwards, shove it down and out, then again step over their arm with your leg. Make sure you maintain pressure, so they can't simply swim their arm free.

There is also the method I learned from Dónal. Grab their wrist with your armpit hand. Drop to the choking arm side, twisting your hips to increase the range of motion for your leg. Shove their arm down, then swing your leg over your armpit arm. Grip your own shin with the armpit hand, then using both your leg and arm, get your foot to their spine to trap their limb.
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Teaching Notes: I added in some more details about maintaining the back this time, then after running through the basics of applying the choke, I went through my usual pointers on the set up. I think they had a bit of trouble understanding the grabbing your foot method, but the other two are fairly straightforward. I need to emphasise how you're threading your leg through, rather than just squishing it on top of the arm. In other words, the leg swings around from the outside then hooks inside. It isn't an intuitive technique, judging by how classes normally respond, so I could probably break that down a bit more next time.