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

18 December 2016

18/12/2016 - Neil Owen Seminar

Seminar #022
Artemis BJJ, Neil Owen, Bristol, UK - 18/12/2016

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I signed Artemis BJJ up to the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Globetrotters affiliation some time ago, as I like the independence that grants me. Our club is not under anybody other than me, although I'm personally under Kev Capel from RGA Bucks (and have been since 2009). Being part of BJJ Globetrotters has a number of advantages, but perhaps the biggest is networking.

This seminar marks the fruition of that networking, something which is set to continue through into 2017 and beyond. We have already hosted one fellow BJJ Globetrotters instructor, Ana Yagues, but I've known her online for several years due to blogging. Neil Owen is somebody I've never met before, though I was aware of the name due to Brian Lister (a friend from Bullshido, who I met at the Oxford Throwdown a few years back now). In an interesting twist of fate, Neil happens to be the business partner of one of the teachers at the Leuven Globetrotter Camp, Chad Wright, who like me is very active on social media.

Chad sent me a message on Facebook asking if I'd be interested in hosting Neil (they run Infinity BJJ together, mainly based in Australia, but they have expanded to various other countries) for a seminar. Naturally I jumped at the chance: Neil has been training since the mid '90s, among the original pioneers of BJJ in the UK. He has an easy-going personality that meant he was a pleasure to deal with, something that also carries over to his teaching style.

Neil had asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted to work on. If you've been following this blog, you'll know that open guard has been my focus for a couple of years now. I sent Neil the recent sparring videos I've been putting up on Instragram, resulting in one of the most useful seminars I've ever been to. I'm very pleased Neil is going to be coming back (on the 19th March), where we can hopefully do the same thing. :)

The seminar began with a quick demonstration of various passes you might do off a standard kneeling guard break. Grab both their collars with one arm, then raise up very slightly to bring your knee into their bum. Push into their other knee with your arm to open, then move directly into an underhook pass (which Neil calls the 'bully pass').

Your arm goes underneath the leg you didn't push down for a single underhook pass, or swim both arms under for a double underhook pass. Alternatively, you might go for a knee slide, bringing your other knee into their thigh and stepping out with the other leg, then cutting through. If you put the same side shin over their thigh, that leads into the various leg pin pass options.

Should you prefer to stand up after opening their guard, a whole other set of options become available. Grab inside their knees and bullfighter by kicking your leg back and stepping through. Neil's favourite is the over-under pass, which effectively combines the single underhook with a bullfighter variation (as you underhook one one leg, while shoving the other back between your own legs).

We drilled all of those, to get familiar with the passes. That laid the groundwork to then learn how to defend against all those passes. In terms of moving from closed to open guard, put your foot on their hip (not near their hip, their actual hip bone) as soon as they get close to opening your guard. You're cupping their hip bone with the arch of your foot. That provides you with some distance control, along with enough time to shrimp out a little with your other foot. You also want to lean back slightly, to help bring your same side elbow back for base.

Once you've come up on your elbow, insert your free hand deep into their opposite collar. Go from your elbow to your hand, make it easier to shrimp a little more, squaring up to them. You're now ready to establish butterfly guard and go from there, making sure you are wriggling back on your bum to stop them shoving you down.

As Neil then demonstrated, you can use that to block all the passes he showed at the start of the seminar. It was a brilliantly taught sequence with a bunch of great little details. Even better, because it was so well targeted towards my game (given Neil had kindly watched those vids I sent him), this is going to perfectly set me up for both practicing and teaching in February (as that's open guard month). :)

If they bring their hands back to your knees after the guard has been opened and you've set up your open guard, it's likely they are going to stand up. Your basing hand switches to grabbing their same side sleeve. As they stand, swing out your other leg. This means all your grips are down one side of their body: you're grabbing their collar, their sleeve and also pushing into their hip. Neil called this 'classic open guard'.

That position can lead into triangles and omoplatas. You also want to be on your side, maximising the control you have with your grips. If they attempt to pass in that direction, it will be next to impossible for them to pass. If they go the other way, they are chasing your swung-away leg, also leaving their trailing arm vulnerable to the aforementioned omoplata. At any point, you can square back up by bringing that free foot to their hip, arm, chest.

Neil then ran through his theory of pass 'zones'. The bullfighter is out at Zone 3, while the knee slide comes in a little closer at Zone 2. Finally, an underhook pass is Zone 1. The smaller the number, the harder it is to prevent the pass. To succeed in their pass, they need to maintain their grips all the way round. Do not accept side control: if you lose the grip with your foot, you still have the sleeve from earlier. That's enough to recover your guard.

Stiff arm that away from you, returning to a sitting guard position. They cannot pass until they free that arm. Of course, you aren't going to wait there. You'll look to square back up and recover your guard long before they wriggle their arm out of your grip. If they insist on the pass, you might even be able to roll them right over the top. The only downside to this for me is the grip asks a lot of your fingers. I could try it with a pistol grip I guess, that's much easier on the fingers, but also easier to break. Maybe even gripping the wrist, just enough to recover my guard?

From a passing perspective, Neil discussed how you want to separate the elbow and knee. Therefore from the bottom, you're looking to keep those in tight. Hence why some people will work on getting the flexibility to put their knee into their armpits. Progessing to spider guard, if they break off one of your feet grips, swing it straight in to a de la Riva hook. Your same side hand will grab their foot, or the trouser leg. Keep your toes up, pulling your knee in. It's important to pull them in, because as Neil pointed out, the DLR hook only works on a bent leg.

In an effort to pass DLR, they may grab your knee, pushing it down and straightening their arm in the process. Keeping the arm straight, push your bum back to knock off that DLR hook. This puts the passer in Zone 2, ready to go for the knee slide. Do not buckle your knee sideways: step the other leg across, sink down to put your heel right on your butt.

On the bottom looking to recover guard, bring your ex-DLR knee across their hip to block. Neil noted that the important part here is not the knee, it's adjusting your upper body to line up against your knee. In practice, that means bringing your shoulder and head back, putting you almost perpendicular to the passer. Bring your bottom knee out, then square back up to guard.

The next scenario was countering the double underhook pass. They want to control your hips and either take them out of action (getting underneath them) or connect their hands to put those legs on their shoulders. Your defence is the same for both. Immediately grip both their sleeves and flare your legs. Push into their biceps, using that to try and create space by shrimiping. You'll also need to walk backwards on your shoulders.

If they really try to fling your leg, you can switch to the stiff arm into their sleeve, like Neil showed earlier. Should they manage to lock their hands, instead of grabbing their sleeve, stiff arm into the back of their elbow. You can then proceed to recover guard in much the same way as the stiff arm into their sleeve from earlier.

To finish, Neil demonstrated an over under pass, his personal favourite. Essentially, it's a combination of the bullfighter and the underhook pass. He explained how he does not buy into the idea that you can only pass on your feet, a trend which he feels is in part based upon the speed, balance and athleticism of elite competitors rather than the average grappler. He (like me) prefers to be in Zone 1, with a close connection.

Crouch, set, engage, like you're going into a rugby scrum. One arm goes under, the other over, so be careful of the triangle. You must control their bottom leg between your legs, to make certain they can't set up that triangle. Your head goes to their far hip, driving your shoulder across their stomach. You now have the option of either moving into mount or to side control.

As Neil believes this is the best pass, it stands to reason that to counter the over under is difficult. The option he suggested was to grab their armpit on the side their head wants to go. Do that before they get their head in position, keeping your arm tight, which will also block them getting their head to your hip. Twisting your knee inwards and kicking your leg, wriggle your hips out until you can pull your opponent away to your other hip, using your armpit grip. If you have long legs, that becomes much easier, as you can put your foot on the ground. With short legs (like me), you end up manically wriggling your knee and hips, an awkward motion to master. But then as Neil said, it is a tough pass to defend. Focus on defending the underhook element of the pass.

Rolling with both Neil and his black belt James (from Infinity Martial Arts Chesterfield) was good fun. They both took it fairly easy, letting me work through positions. I was trying the slow motion seoi-nage to avoid James taking my back, lots of gripping and elbow wedging from me to try and avoid his hooks. With Neil, he is not only much better but a lot bigger than me, so he was taking it especially light. Tried to put some of what he had taught into action, such as the knee shield where it's about leaning back with head rather than relying too much on the bracing arm. Another interesting thing he said during drilling, he doesn't rely on that so much from sitting guard, posture should be doing that job. So more like what I've seen from Graugart and I think Scully too?

Tasty pie afterwards, had a great long chat with Neil about UK BJJ history, particularly up North, along with how he and Chad have developed Infinity Martial Arts. Look out for the relevant episode of the Artemis BJJ Podcast, I'll have that up in the next month or two. :)

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