Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 21/05/2013
Couple more GrappleThon.org updates I wanted to mention, on the press front. Firstly I did an interview with a new(ish) website, here. Secondly, BJJ Legends Magazine put up an event report I wrote: it's particularly cool how they are happy to leave in all the links. Don't forget, you can still donate to the Bristol GrappleThon 2013 and the upcoming Bakersfield GrappleThon here. :D
Tonight I wanted to cover one of the two submissions I attempt most often from side control. I'm not sure what it's called: I've seen 'lapel choke' and 'tail choke'. I first learned it at RGA Bucks from Matt Burn (such a good name for a BJJ instructor!) back in 2010 I think I'm going to refer to it as a 'north-south tail choke', unless somebody knows a better term. As ever, BJJ terminology is rubbish when it comes to standardisation. ;)
Continuing my structure from the last few lessons, I began with a basic version of the north-south tail choke, adding in details later. You're in the classic side control position with an arm under the head. Open up your gi with your far hand. Punch that inside their arm, then feed the gi lapel you were holding to your other hand, which is behind their head. Once you have the gi in place, get a firm grip: you may want to keep on feeding it further to make it even more secure.
Cinch it tight to their neck, straightening the arm you have under their head. Put your free hand on the floor by their same side hip, to stop them following you (always a good idea if you are transitioning to north-south). Keeping your upper body low, walk your legs around towards their head, as if you were going to north south. At the same time, move your head towards their near hip: they will probably tap before you get there, but if not, keep going until you can put your head next to their hip. If the submission still isn't happening, make sure you're keeping your arm straight and pressed into their neck, so that your gi lapel digs into the other side of their neck.
Bringing in some more details on the north-south tail choke, the first thing is you want to try and hide what you're doing. Ideally your gi will have already come a bit loose during sparring. If not, you could try switching into a reverse scarf hold type position to obscure their view, then pull out your gi lapel (although that does mean you'll then have to try and re-establish orthodox side control).
To be even more sneaky, hold the end of the gi lapel (this is where it starts to look like a 'tail') in your same side hand, so it is less obvious to your opponent. You can then just keep your hand near their far arm, waiting for the opportunity to punch it through. Another thing you can do, as in Dónal's version, is to twist up his gi to make it into more of a rope (Geeza suggests twisting outwards, like you were taking off a jacket, so that it doesn't unravel as you apply the choke). This gives you what is effectively a rope, which should make the choke noticeably more effective at digging into the carotid arteries: keep in mind the choke is around the back of the neck and side, not the front or the throat.
Of course, anybody with a bit of experience will realise something is up if you're pulling out your gi and trying to pull it around their head. There are a few ways you can try to trick them. Wrapping the gi tail around their arm may make them react by pulling their arm free, which puts the gi tail by their neck right where you wanted. If they keep their arm in place, you could try going for an americana. Once you go for that, they'll may bring their arm out, meaning that the route to their neck is again clear.
A nastier option comes from Fabio Gurgel over on MGinAction. When I hold side control, I reach under the head, grip the far armpit and press my shoulder into their face, so they can't turn towards me. Gurgel puts his shoulder in their neck instead. To relieve that pressure, a common reaction is to push with the arm, which again opens up a route for punching through that gi tail. Another Gurgel tip is for finishing the choke: if you're having trouble, step through so you can put your knee by their head, using it as a wedge.
You can either sprawl as you move around, or you can raise your bum in the air to drive your weight through a smaller area (keeping in mind this will make you more vulnerable to their legs as they try to recover guard and defence). If you need some extra pressure when you're in that finishing position, Dónal likes to move his choking arm elbow across, which seemed to be a useful way to finish off a stubborn opponent.
Teaching Notes: I'm keen to work more subs into my mount and side control, as while I can generally maintain the position on lower belts, I often get into a 'stare at them' situation. The north-south tail choke is something I try regularly, as is the americana, but I need some combinations from side control. I was originally intending to start off with the step-over choke, as I watched a good video on it from BJJ Library (it's something I first learned from Tran years ago), but decided to stick with the basic and detailed versions of the tail choke.
Next time, I might move a couple of details to the first section, like keeping the arm under the head straight as you move around, rather than bending it. That's a key detail which is worth including: I only realised I hadn't emphasised it when I saw a lot of people keeping their arms bent as they moved around. Many people also weren't going on their toes to maximise their pressure. That's something else I'll look to highlight next time I teach this choke. There's a bunch of cool options from Roy Dean on Brown Belt Requirements I'd like to play with in sparring too.
I got in a good bit of practice on my side control escapes. Mike continues to improve, as now he has come up with a nice counter to my running escape, grabbing the leg and trying to take my back. I had a brief go at the stiff arm, but I keep giving up on that too early: I always feel like my arm is exposed. With a couple of people I was ending up under a sort of scarf hold, but failed to rock forwards properly to reverse the position.
My groin injury is also STILL acting up. I was using my leg to escape a few times, pressing into biceps and heads, so clearly my abductor did not enjoy being used that much. It should be ok for my US trip, but annoying nonetheless, as it limits what I can do and how much I can train (not that I ever train a lot, but it would be good to at least get back to two training sessions a week on top of the teaching).
BJJGrrl: BJJ for Women
jnp's Grappling Principles
21 May 2013
19 May 2013
Short Review: Both Xande and Saulo Ribeiro have respected DVD sets on the market, as well as arguably the best instructional book to date, Jiu Jitsu University. BJJ Library follows on directly from that work: video versions of the techniques taught in Jiu Jitsu University currently account for the majority of BJJ Library's content. Due to the youth of BJJ Library the archive is not yet extensive, though new videos are being added every day.
This site is ideal for people who are not looking for the latest flashy acrobatics, but instead want to develop a steady pressure game. Having said that, there are regular guest seminars from current luminaries like Leandro Lo, meaning more ostentatious BJJ will presumably be covered when somebody with that style is brought in to teach. You can sign up for a $25 monthly membership here, with other packages available.
Full Review: When I wrote about online training at the start of 2010, it seemed that the success of Gracie University had prompted many others to follow suit. Almost three years later, MGinAction (which I recently reviewed here) appears to have become the model others are trying to emulate. Cyborg, Paragon, Andre Galvao and the Mendes Brothers have all set up online training sites, among numerous others. Two other major names have entered the fray: Saulo Ribeiro and his brother Xande.
The main factor which will make it difficult for new instructional websites to break into the market is that MGinAction has such a large archive. As a result, the consumer may well think, "well, MGinAction has over 15,000 videos: nobody else comes close." The Mendes brothers can potentially compete, because they are trendy at the moment: not only are both brothers current champions, they are fashionable due to their popularisation of flashy techniques, especially the berimbolo.
BJJ Library has a different appeal. Both Saulo and Xande can boast lots of gold medals from the highest levels of competition. Xande is still active and retains his place in the tournament elite: he will be appearing again at Metamoris in a few weeks. You may well see the name Alexandre Couceiro Ribeiro listed amongst the Mundials medallists a few days before that.
Yet neither is known for their flashy style. Instead, they are valued for the solid substance of their technique and mastery of old school, reliable pressure. That too has an audience, of which I am a part. Personally, I have no desire to learn the details of the berimbolo, beyond a simple defence. I want that old school pressure. Therefore it is the brothers Ribeiro who most peak my interest, not the brothers Mendes.
The Ribeiro brothers' website does not yet have the incredibly rich labelling of MGinAction. In the description of each video there is a part that says 'tags', but for most of them it is blank. Having said that, plenty of thought has clearly gone into the organisation of the material: there are two main configurations to choose from, for a start. When you open the site, the default is the first tab at the top, entitled 'Library'. This shows all the content on BJJ Library, split by position in a menu on the right hand side.
You can also select the 'Curriculum' tab to see the archive broken down in an alternative arrangement. This is exciting if you own Saulo's book, because 'Curriculum' is where you will find videos for each technique featured in Jiu Jitsu University, corresponding to the same chapter and sub-chapter categorisation (with a few other related videos thrown in, such as the seven part '2 on 1 guard' series). Another benefit is that structuring part of BJJ Library as live versions of the book has provided the Ribeiro brothers with the opportunity to revisit those techniques. In the example below, I have clicked through to a video: the listing window remains in place on the right.
For example, my favourite defence to side control is the running escape. I first learned this from Jiu Jitsu Revolution 1, which was then refined by the sequel. Once Jiu Jitsu University came out, that shifted the focus of the escape again, this time emphasising the leg swing to guard. In 2013, there is yet another variation.
Saulo starts off his BJJ Library version with the same method as in the book, pushing off his feet into his training partner then swinging through to guard. There are a a few tweaks, so as I regularly teach this escape, watching that video earlier this week was useful for my most recent lesson. Saulo then does something entirely different, combining the running escape with a more orthodox approach. As soon as he gets his shoulder free, he walks his shoulders back and shrimps out to recover guard.
If it wants to keep up with its rivals, then the vidoes on BJJ Library will need to increase in number at a faster rate. As of Sunday 19th May, BJJ Library has a mere 203 videos, which is up from 192 this Monday. As far as I can tell, all of the videos are presently gi. This does not bother me personally, as I barely train nogi, but many others do: again, they will look to MGinAction, where a large proportion of the database is made up of nogi.
There is the argument of quality over quantity, but that initial proposition facing the customer - choosing between 15,000 videos on MGinAction and 200 on BJJ Library - must be dealt with. One of the unique features BJJ Library can offer to tempt potential subscribers is the Jiu Jitsu University curriculum, which benefits from the immense good will towards the book. Another is BJJ Library's growing range of guest seminars.
The Ribeiro brothers have already brought in some huge names, including Rafael Lovato Jr and Leandro Lo, along with an upcoming Terere session. According to a post by site admin Dave Kim on Sherdog, the intention is to get to a point where the site becomes a 'Netflix for BJJ', with hour long seminars from top level instructors every week. If that will be included in the standard membership it sounds appealing, but if not, the price per seminar will be interesting to see. Budovideos have been offering live seminars with a replay for a while now (although not on a weekly basis): generally they have cost between $10 to $20.
Currently, each seminar on BJJ Library is divided into short videos, which from what I've seen so far are shot as if they were a DVD: the instructor addresses the camera rather than a class, they show each technique from multiple angles and (generally) they wear a different colour gi to the person they are using for the demonstration.
The Lovato Jr series is an intriguing example. He has his own online instructional site, which received some bad press due to marketing practices. Appearing on BJJ Library gives him a chance to present his technique in a more neutral environment, freed from the unpleasant overtones of Lovato Jr's maligned marketing approach. He mentions his website twice, at the start of the first video and the end of the seventh, which is not intrusive (particularly as Lovato Jr's opening 'introduction' video, which is essentially an advert for his website, can be completely ignored because it does not contain any techniques).
Lovato Jr's teaching is excellent. He is a student of the Ribeiro brothers, so it is perhaps unsurprising there was a lot that I could see fitting well into my own game. The pressure passing system is relatively straightforward, with several elements that reminded me of what I've been learning from Dónal in his private lessons on guard passing. Dónal taught me a comparable passing start point to what Lovato Jr calls the 'headquarters' position. There are plenty of similarities between Lovato Jr's 'cross knee pass' and Dónal's 'knee cut', which I look forward to testing out in sparring.
Leandro Lo's introductory video to his seminar does not include any sales pitches (although that's mainly because Lo does not have an instructional site, as far as I'm aware). Lo speaks in Portuguese, but there are subtitles. If like me you're interested in learning Portuguese, that's a cool addition. The last word of the subtitles is occasionally a little obscured by the BJJ Library watermark, but it is just the end of the sentence.
After briefly explaining his background, Lo moves into teaching his variation of the bullfighter pass. I especially liked that at the end of his video, you get to see Lo working through the technique with Saulo and Xande, as they compare notes on how they prefer to apply the bullfighter pass. That's accompanied by a much longer video (almost eighteen minutes) on the same lines, in the BJJ Library section dubbed 'Lifestyle', presented as a 'behind the scenes' perspective on the Lo seminar.
The translation is occasionally somewhat unclear, though that is probably because they are being fairly literal, meaning the phrasing is unusual to English ears. For example, in the above screenshot, where the line is "You know, I open, I try to get some space and then do this, but if he will so strong". Then again, that is mitigated when you consider this is a far less formal situation than instruction, as you're basically watching a bunch of jiu jitsu people sat in a room chatting about technique. That necessarily impacts on the clarity of their language.
Unlike the videos on MGinAction, BJJ Library does not tend to cram a massive chain of techniques into each video. Instead, they are tightly focused, like three variations on the scissor sweep, an explanation of the running escape or how to finish the bow and arrow choke from the back. This is a matter of preference: some may plump for the convoluted combinations on MGinAction. Both make for a perfectly sensible instructional methodology.
The BJJ Library approach is a better fit with my learning style. When there is more than one technique in a video, it is normally different variations. To make a comparison, on BJJ Library, the descriptive nomenclature consists of titles like 'JJU 4-0, 4-1, 4-5, 8-1, 8-2 Side Control Survival & Escape', or 'Scissor Sweep 3 Variations - Low, High, Knee Push'. By contrast, on MGinAction, you can find the monster titles 'Frame Escape vs Underhook and Head Control, Guard Recovery vs Side Control, Bridge Escape vs North South, Guard Recovery vs North South' and '2on1 Control from Butterfly, Cross Arm and Belt Sweep from Butterfly, 2on1 from Butterfly to Back Control, Rear Naked Choke'.
There are similarities to Jiu Jitsu Revolution, in that Saulo still loves to talk. As a result there are several lectures to the camera, such as the video on side control survival and escapes. This combines multiple segments of Jiu Jitsu University, resulting in slightly over eight minutes of instruction. However, the first two and a half minutes are Saulo sat on his own, explicating his theories on side control.
The same thing happens in a video on mount survival, filling three out of the ten minutes. What Saulo says is certainly useful, but if you prefer less exposition in your instructionals, Saulo's loquacious tendencies are worth keeping in mind. Of course, there is plenty of Xande instruction on BJJ Library, giving a certain breadth of teaching style. A small number of non-seminar videos are taught by other staff at the two schools, but unlike MGinAction it is overwhelmingly the star names teaching right now (though in fairness, that is easier to do in 200 videos compared to 15,000).
If you've read my previous reviews of Saulo's material, then you'll know I generally enjoy his lectures: after all, he is responsible for my favourite quote in jiu jitsu, made during Jiu Jitsu Revolution. In regards to BJJ Library, Saulo makes some salient points in his two and a half minute discussion on surviving side control, stating that:
Before you escape, you've got to defend yourself against mount, knee on the belly and any kind of choke or any kind of situation that would make you tap. So, what's the message here? Don't try to escape and get into a worse position. Set yourself and take your time. The cross-side position is about taking your time. We can't have the mentality that is just for tournaments, we've got to escape right away. Man, you already let them pass your guard. You already allowed them to cross-side you. Take your time. You cannot allow something to get worse.
Many of the videos are not simply recordings of Saulo or Xande teaching class. For example, the six minute video based on JJU 36.01 (the bow and arrow choke) features Saulo and his demonstration partner on their own, teaching directly to the camera rather than any students. That can be seen in how the video starts, with the two sat next to each other in classic DVD fashion, followed by a "hey guys, today we're going to show you the bow and arrow choke," finishing with a look at the camera while they wait for the cut. Also in keeping with a DVD, Saulo shows the technique from multiple angles (although unlike a DVD, they are wearing the same colour gi).
Most of the videos I have watched have been from between three minutes to ten minutes in length, which is comparable to the selection I viewed from MGinAction. It is nowhere near as long as the videos from the blue belt stripe 1 guard chapter I bought from Gracie University, but then that's because Gracie University is not a typical subscription site. In fact, I would argue the subscription model fits it poorly, because the videos on Gracie University are very long and infrequent: you can still buy individual videos or chapters, as I did, which makes a lot more sense in the case of Gracie University. The subscription model works best when there are numerous videos appearing each day, as is the case with MGinAction and BJJ Library.
For those who are interested in self defence, there is a section on that too, taught by somebody called Phillip Wyman. I'm not sure if that will prove to be a one-off seminar series, or if the self defence section will be a growing part of the site. I presume the latter: it is not an area of BJJ that interests me from a practical standpoint (I discussed the issue at length during my Gracie Combatives review), but it is another indication that the audience for BJJ Library has some differences to the audiences for the Mendes brothers' site or MGinAction.
Like MGinAction, BJJ Library includes drills. At present, this is a series of sixteen Ginastica Natural warm-ups performed by Xande and Saulo, rather than lots of methods for drilling specific techniques. The latter would be a useful addition and perhaps will be enhanced in future. There are a few videos that include a drilling option to aid the technique: e.g., Saulo demonstrating the hip-bump/sit-up sweep.
Another feature the two sites share in common are sparring videos, which on BJJ Library are grouped under 'Rolling'. Again, I am not certain how much this part of the site is due to grow, as it consists of just one video at present, where Xande spars with Leandro Lo. It is only three minutes and again lacks the exhaustive labelling of MGinAction, so while you get to watch two elite competitors spar, there is not yet detailed tagging to tell you exactly which techniques are being used. What I would most enjoy seeing is some commentary from Xande and Lo discussing the roll afterwards, providing analysis of what they did and what they were looking to achieve. Roy Dean does this on his DVDs (e.g., No Gi Essentials) and it is fantastic: hopefully that format might be considered for BJJ Library in the future.
There is a forum (listed in the tabs on the main screen), which is just a basic vBulletin without a lot of content at the moment. Still, it looks as though the site admin posts on there regularly, meaning you should be able to present feedback and get swift answers to any technical issues with the site or perhaps video requests. On individual videos, as can be seen in the above screen cap, you can leave comments (although I do not know how interactive that will be, in terms of directly communicating with Xande and Saulo).
If I was going to join an online instructional website, my choice would be BJJ Library. However, that's because I'm a fan of Saulo and Xande's teaching and the old school elements of their respective BJJ games. I also thought Jiu Jitsu University was a great book with a brilliant structure, which therefore means I am really pleased to get the chance to see the pictures from the book come to life. The main challenges will be the (currently) small archive and the question of cost.
At the moment, you can sign up here for a monthly membership of $24.99, with the option of three months at $74.99 or a whole year for $249.99. That is comparable with other instructional sites. However, it is being advertised as a limited time offer: should the price significantly increase, that's a potentially dangerous path, as it would mean the MGinAction database - which will remain far more extensive than BJJ Library for the foreseeable future - becomes the cheaper option.
14 May 2013
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 14/05/2013
Quick update from GrappleThon.org: it looks like there is going to be a Grapplethon in California on the 8th June. I'm waiting on further details so I can hopefully publicise the event, but for now I've added it to the events schedule on GrappleThon.org, here. The fundraising for the GrappleThon in Support of RapeCrisis is continuing, with a current total of £8,611. You can still donate here. Oh, and if you haven't already Liked the GrappleThon Facebook page, that's here. :)
Last time I spent a good while on the running escape as a survival posture. Today I originally wanted to focus more on the actual escape techniques, but then caved in to the easy option and just repeated the structure from last time.
Kicking off with those tips on the running escape as a survival posture, I first pointed out the importance of blocking their arm from reaching through past your hip. Ideally you want to block that by jamming your forearm to your thigh, so that you elbow is by your hip. This will need to be mobile, as they will be trying to wriggle past.
Putting your arm under your knee can work too, depending on your flexibility, but be careful of reaching too far under your leg. It may leave you vulnerable to them collapsing your leg on top of your arm, trapping both limbs (unless you're flexible enough to get your heel right to your hip, which should be a strong enough structure to prevent that).
If they do manage to get their arm in, dig it back out using your elbow and knee. You can also drive your shin into the crook of their elbow and recover your position, or potentially try and recover guard by spinning off that leverage point (Beneville calls this the 'shin in elbow trick' in his book). I should note that it is possible to escape while their arm is through (Marcelo teaches it that way, IIRC), but personally I find it much tougher when they have that arm through.
The second survival tip is being very careful of their attempts to take your back. Especially if they have an arm through and can reach your opposite hip, they will try to lift you up and slide their leg underneath. That will then help them to put in their hooks and take the back. If they do start to take your back, block their second hook with your elbow and knee (in the same way you were blocking their arm), hopefully setting you up to either get back to the running escape, or perhaps starting a pass off the back escape. Blocking the first hook with your hand is another possibility, but that could potentially leave your neck vulnerable.
Which leads into the third point: protect your neck. You are relatively safe in the running escape, but if they can reach a hand past your neck and grab a collar, that's dangerous. If you feel their hand beginning to sneak past your shoulder, immediately dive your head into your lower armpit. It is a strange position, but that motion should close off their route to your neck. This isn't somewhere you want to stay very long: just enough to prevent that choke set-up.
Moving on to the actual escape, saulo's version in Jiu Jitsu University (p69), which begins by making a little space and turning to the survival posture, links directly to his knee on belly escape. I normally just teach that knee on belly escape as a drill for my open guard maintenance lesson (e.g., back in October), as the swinging motion is a useful skill to learn. However, in his book, Saulo uses that motion to recover his guard from under side control, rather than the swivel he uses in Jiu Jitsu Revolution 2 (he does a much quicker version in his first set, Jiu Jitsu Revolution 1).
Saulo has a little tweak to this guard recovery option, which I noticed on his new instructional site, BJJ Library (review forthcoming). It may be he did this previously, but it was highlighted on the running escape video I watched last week. In the past, I have used a wide base, securing my weight on my shoulder and two feet. The way Saulo did it in the video was with a much narrower base, pushing off with his feet straight from the running escape position rather than stepping out to wide the legs. He also makes more of a push with his hips into them, staying close, rather than a swing. If you can manage to push them with your hips, that leaves less space for them to move right into the double-underhooks pass.
Be careful to time your escape, staying sensitive to their weight distribution. If they are driving into you with lots of pressure, it will be hard. A good moment to attempt the escape is when they are looking to attack or transition to another position. Often, there will be a brief moment before they start when they take their weight off you. That is the time to spring the escape.
It is possible that the person you are training with won't often use near side grips from side control. Speaking personally, I tend to go for the orthodox grip under the head and the far arm. That doesn't mean you can't use the running escape, it simply means you have to put yourself into position, forcing them to use near grips. All you need to do is make enough space that you can turn away and curl into a ball.
Teaching Notes: I at first wanted to try and include the 'new' version of the running escape I'd watched (or new to me at least), which Saulo calls the 'quarter escape' on BJJ Library. However, I decided I really didn't understand that technique well enough, particularly after practicing it right before class. But to mention it here, it combines the orthodox escape method with the first part of the running escape: you don't actually spend any time in the running escape posture, so I decided to teach this one first, as it is a sort of pre-emptive escape with less of a middle step. As soon as you are able to clear your shoulder, immediately shrimp out, turning towards them. This is not a typical shrimp, as you walk back on your shoulders to recover your guard.
Pushing with the hips helps, though lots of people were getting knocked over in drilling (which is unlikely to happen in sparring). I think it was a good idea to add in a more thorough discussion of the defence to the stack pass: though it doesn't quite fit into a side control escape lesson, I think it makes sense as that would be my main worry when trying the leg swing guard recovery. Of course, as Jeff Rockwell (or was it jnp? Maybe both of them) taught, the way they can stop the guard recovery more simply is by anticipating your swing and jamming their head by your outside hip.
I'm not sure I saw anybody use the second option at all, which I mentioned briefly (basically, you turn into guard) so I don't think I'll bother including that next time. Instead, I'll focus more heavily on the leg swing. Although I still want to keep trying the turn in sparring, so I can work out the kinks. On that score, I annoyingly found my stupid groin injury flared up again: it's just refusing to go away! Grr.
Next time, I think I'll include the turn at the start, coupled with the survival tips. I can then focus purely on the leg swing guard recovery in the second option, which should make for a more streamlined lesson.
13 May 2013
Short Review: By far the largest database of any online BJJ instructional site currently available, MGinAction gives you full access to the jiu jitsu of an elite competitor. The comprehensive labelling system is impressive, with a range of learning options, such as 'drilling', 'discussion' and 'in action. There are numerous playback options, including 'mirror image', several speeds and full-screen. However, Garcia will not always be the one teaching, though his assistants are undoubtedly capable. This is also just footage from class, so there are rarely multiple angles and sometimes both demonstrators wear the same colour gi.
I also disliked the way that videos were almost always techniques in long combinations rather than individual moves. While that makes sense in terms of how the technique would be applied in practice, I found it distracting when I was looking for specific details on a specific technique. Still, there is the option of a free week-long trial (which is easy to cancel before you get charged), so it is worth taking a look, here. It will set you back $25 a month at the moment, with annual options that come with various perks (e.g., a week's training at Garcia's academy, if you can make it to New York).
Full Review: Due to another instructional site asking me to review their content, I decided it was about time to collate my notes about MGinAction and put up a review, in order to prepare a comparison. In the case of MGinAction, I'm relying on what I saw over a week during Christmas 2012, when I signed up for the trial (being a BJJ geek, I did not do a whole lot else other than watch MGinAction for those few days). Before getting started, I should therefore note that six months down the line, there will be considerably more videos on the database and other things may potentially have changed as well.
Arguably, the success of MGinAction has prompted an explosion in online BJJ instructional websites, with numerous other elite instructors and competitors following suit (for example, Andre Galvao, the Mendes brothers, Draculino and the Ribeiro brothers, whose site I'll be reviewing next). MGinAction was not the first example of the genre: Jean Jacques Machado has had an online instructional site since around 2006 and the infamous Gene Simco was another early pioneer. Yet it was not until 2009 that the concept of teaching jiu jitsu online went mainstream, with the arrival of Gracie University. Rener and Ryron made a huge splash in the online BJJ community due to their high quality instruction coupled with the still extremely
controversial decision to award belts based purely on video submissions from distance-learning students.
MGinAction (which certainly does not award rank) was unique at the time it was launched, because unlike the earlier examples, it presented the complete game of an active elite level competitor. Marcelo Garcia is regularly described as the best pound for pound grappler in the world, his peers a very select group of people. Another unusual element to MGinAction is the close involvement of co-founder Josh Waitzkin, who combines several disparate achievements: he was a high level chess player, a BJJ black belt, a tai chi push hands champion and the author of The Art of Learning (which I haven't read, as I'm put off anything that smacks of self-help, but the title at least indicates somebody interested in pedagogy, a good trait if you're heading up an online instructional site).
The content of MGinAction consists of videos filmed of Garcia and his instructors teaching classes at his academy. This is as distinct from Gracie University, which records videos specifically for the online public, rather than class recordings. Although given that MGinAction has now been around for several years, the instructors presumably teach with their online audience in mind as well as the students they are teaching in person.
This also means that the videos are not optimised for viewing in the way a DVD would be, or indeed the videos on Gracie University. You do not get multiple angles, the people demonstrating are not always wearing different colour gis (which can make it hard to distinguish which limb becomes to which person) and there is not much in the way of close-ups, although to be fair to MGinAction, they do zoom in every now and then.
Marcelo Garcia fans should also keep in mind that it is not always Garcia himself teaching. Much of the instruction is done by his assistant instructors, who of course are also very capable, but they lack that star power. Sometimes there is an interesting guest instructor (Fabio Gurgel appeared in one of the videos I saw), but unfortunately there was not a specific label for the instructor. That would be useful, as often you may find you prefer a particular instructor's style.
The biggest single advantage of MGinAction is the sheer number of videos. The selection is enormous: during my trial week in December 2012, you could choose from a total of 14,356. There are numerous categories, which can be drilled down in increasing detail. The broadest distinction is between gi and nogi: if like me you are not especially interested in nogi, then it is worth keeping in mind that a large proportion of MGinAction is nogi (which reflects his approach to BJJ). You can also select the position, top or bottom, which subcategory (e.g., sweeps), then the specific technique.
As you can see if you click on the picture near the top of this review, there are yet more sub-divisions available. In the tabs along the main window on the left, there is 'Fundamentals', 'Advanced', 'In Action', 'Sparring', 'Drills' and 'Discussions'. Each time you click on a label for a particular technique or category, the MGinAction database will split the results into those categories (though quite often several of them will have a '0' in brackets, depending on the breadth of your chosen label).
The demarcation between 'fundamentals' and 'advanced' is somewhat unclear, but that's a problem with BJJ in general, not MGinAction specifically. If I take the cross choke from mount as an example, the version I watched under the 'advanced' label used a set-up where you bait them into half guard to finish. The 'fundamental' video to which I compared it started off the same, including the detail on pushing their defending hand underneath your chest, but did not have that bait finish. Presumably there is either somebody making the decision that one technique is advanced, or perhaps something much more straightforward: e.g., the advanced techniques might be the ones filmed in the advanced class as opposed to the fundamentals class.
'In Action', justifying the name of the website itself, is a short clip of the technique being performed by Garcia in sparring. The video will begin a few moments before Garcia actually applies the technique, then stops immediately after he has landed it (meaning each video is just a few seconds long). It is fascinating to watch the same technique being hit over and over again, on a range of belts and sizes. If you are trying to research a particular technique in depth, this is a potentially handy addition to your learning resources. It is also a very impressive exercise in categorisation on the database administrator's part.
'Sparring' is similar in that you get to see techniques in action, but these are longer, wider-ranging videos of several minutes. They also include a few celebrities, as nothing on the mats appears to escape the camera at the Marcelo Garcia Academy (which from a viewer perspective is really cool: I am assuming that visitors who find themselves filmed sign some kind of disclaimer to allow their footage to be used). As with everything else, you can pick out rolls that feature particular techniques by clicking on the one you want listed. Given the dynamic nature of sparring, that means each sparring video has many, many labels.
A 'Drill', as you would expect, is a drill for practicing a particular element of a technique: e.g., countering a double-ankle grab sweep by kicking your leg free and stepping it back. Again, these videos tend to be short, as a drill does not normally take very long. This section is ideal for instructors looking to build a well-structured lesson where everything flows together, moving from the warm-up straight into the techniques. It would also be useful for students with access to an open mat, who want to work on technique rather than just sparring the entire time.
'Discussions' presented perhaps the most intimate look at the academy of all the videos. In the examples I watched, whoever was holding the camera appeared to be wandering around in an open mat setting, where Garcia was sharing some tips with two purple belts. That evolved into a discussion, with several students sitting around Garcia questioning him about the intricacies of a particular technique. I am not sure how useful it is as a learning experience for the viewer, as although Garcia obviously has lots of useful advice, it is largely just him talking, rather than visual demonstrations of what he is saying. Either way, it is a great way to feel that you are right there with Garcia in his school.
There are several helpful playback features on MGinAction. My favourite was the 'mirror image' option, which flips the video, making it easy to work the technique on both sides. There are also more standard controls like adjusting the speed, looping and expanding to full screen. That's in addition to a toolbar which adds in further functionality, including the ability to queue videos into a personal playlist.
Unfortunately there is no option to download the videos, so you have to have an active internet connection: to date, the only instructional site I've seen that offers that option is the Grapplers Guide, much to Jason Scully's credit. As I have a limitation on my downloads and bandwidth (admittedly my fault for getting a very cheap internet package), I can't watch too many streaming videos before I hit my download cap. I also prefer studying a small number of techniques over months or even years, which is why the subscription model is not one that has tempted me so far: I still prefer DVDs. Although I did buy some videos from Gracie University, as they've combined the payment methods by also providing an option to buy individual lessons as well as a subscription model.
Very occasionally, there will be mislabelled videos on MGinAction: for example, 'Guillotine from Side Control, North South Choke from Side Control' popped up under gi but is a nogi video. That long title is typical of MGinAction, where almost all of the videos appear to be extended combinations rather than individual techniques. On the one hand, that is positive and reflects the importance of chaining techniques in your training. On the other, it can be annoying if you are looking for instruction on something specific, then have to dig that out from underneath five other techniques. It may also be irrelevant to what you're looking for: say you want some advice on taking the back from mount, but the video you find only shows you how to do it after you escape side control.
Having said that, if you did a search on 'taking the back' or just clicked the label in question, you will be rewarded with an extensive list where you are sure to (eventually) find what you need. I liked that the titles are thorough, encompassing all the techniques in the video. Although it can look rather clunky on the screen, it tells you exactly what you're going to get when you hit 'play'.
I should note that the actual instruction also tends to be good, with a few 'what if' details, grip variations and little tweaks, such as grabbing their hand and stuffing it under your chest if they try to block your collar choke. I was a bit disappointed that I found it difficult to find videos for maintaining positions, as there wasn't really a label for that. There was a label for grips, but not for simply how to hold a position. I would have found some in-depth discussion on maintaining position useful. If the videos do in fact exist, they were sufficiently buried that I could not find them.
Strangely, some standard techniques did not appear to be on MGinAction: I couldn't find the ezequiel choke from mount. However, I suspect that is an issue of terminology (and possibly spelling: I've seen it written as both ezequiel and ezekiel, among other variants), which when it comes to instructional sites becomes an irritating problem. The only other option is to try and search through every other choke from mount to try and discover whatever Garcia calls it. Other videos I certainly did find and they were also of immediate use to me, such as Garcia's take on the stiff-arm escape (which he calls the 'elbow push') from side control.
If you ever want to cancel your subscription, the process was simple. I did not have to jump through multiple hoops to get to the right screen, as MGinAction is refreshingly free of the obnoxious marketing nonsense that has unfortunately afflicted certain sections of the online BJJ world. All you have to do is select 'cancel subscription' from 'Update Account Information' on 'My Page', which is precisely where you would expect it to be.
For those who want to emulate Marcelo Garcia's game, there is no better resource. The database is huge, there is plenty of detail and you get an unprecedented ability to drill down further, thanks to the 'In Action', 'Sparring' and 'Discussion' clips. The amount of categorisation is amazing, although there is the odd mislabelled video. More angles and making sure the instructor wore a different colour gi to the person on which they're demonstrating would have been helpful, plus there is sometimes an issue with terminology, but that isn't MGinAction's fault.
The big question is whether or not you have the time, money and inclination to sign up to a monthly subscription site. You're going to need decent bandwidth, as there is no option to download the videos (though I'm sure there are programs that will do that for you). You also need to make sure you can dedicate some serious time to exploring the techniques: to make this worth your monthly subscription will necessitate a lot of study. Finally, you need to be a fan of Garcia's approach to BJJ: if you enjoy butterfly guard, x-guard, particular types of choke and nogi, then you'll be very happy.
If you are only interested in refining basic techniques, then you will still probably find much to like on MGinAction (particularly as due to the huge archive you are virtually guaranteed to bring up at least one video related to what you're looking to work on), but other sites could be a better fit. I don't want to have to extract the technique I want to study from a bundle of other techniques and I want to keep things as simple as possible. Hence why I personally was much more excited to get the chance to check out Saulo and Xande Ribeiro's website, BJJ Library (review now up here), but that is just preference.
The MGinAction trial is free and fairly generous (it may have changed since I did it, but I got a whole week), so if nothing else I can recommend trying it out to see if you find it useful. You'll be charged $25 a month, with annual subscription offers too that come with perks, the most exciting of which is the chance to train for a week in person at Garcia's academy (though that does of course require you to make it out to New York).
I should mention that I know of one person where I train who has massively benefitted from MGinAction: the positive impact it has had on Mike's game is obvious whenever you roll with him. I'm hoping he'll stick up his thoughts about MGinAction in a comment to this post, as I know he has been using that site for much longer and in far greater depth than I ever could in just a week.
Update May 2013: Mike has added his lengthy response in the comments to this post, with plenty of useful info. Thanks Mike! :)
07 May 2013
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 07/05/2013
The 2013 GrappleThon went really well, with over £8,500 raised so far: full write-up here, in case you missed it (my donation page will stay open for several months too, if you'd like to donate but haven't had a chance to do so yet ;D). I also decided to finally do something I've been considering for a while and set up GrappleThon.org.
The idea is to not only give me a place to put all my GrappleThon related material, but hopefully encourage other people to set up their own GrappleThons, perhaps even internationally (to which end I also wrote a quick guide to running a GrappleThon, based on how I've done it: obviously not the only way, but may be of some use to people who aren't sure how to start). It would be awesome if one day there were multiple GrappleThons a year in lots of different locations, all raising money for charity and bringing the BJJ community together. :D
I've done quite a bit of work on the knee cut pass with Dónal, as he's taught me multiple private lessons on the topic. I therefore wanted to try and condense that into a class, as I continue to find it useful to teach techniques I'm working on myself. There was a good range of different body types tonight, which is always handy for establishing the important elements of a techniques.
To start off, I tried to teach a basic version of the knee cut pass. Rather than going through the numerous details I gleaned from Dónal and trying the pass out in sparring, I tried emphasise three key details: your initial grip, cutting your knee across and establishing control of the upper body.
The basic idea is to step between their legs in open guard, with one leg on the outside. Although I didn't go into depth on the grips, I did mention Dónal's tip about gripping halfway down their shin, then curling your knuckles down to take out the slack. That makes it easier to punch downwards and pin their leg to the mat. Cut your inside leg across their thigh, then get control of their upper body. I prefer an underhook, though there are various other options: again, I didn't go into detail. Pull up on their arm and shift into side control.
After some progressive resistance, I added in some of those nuances to the knee cut pass. Again, grab low on their same side trouser leg with your shin hand, knuckles forward. The elbow of you other arm stays inside your other knee: drive that into the back of their other leg. Keep squashing forward until it your other hand can safely (i.e., without getting triangled) reach high on their same side collar, pulling back towards you as much as possible. You want to curl their body, so their shoulders are off the ground. This makes it much harder for them to sweep you.
Drop into a relatively low crouch, legs apart for base. They will probably have a foot on your hip at this point, on the side where you're trying to get your shin behind their leg. Turn your leg inwards slightly, pressing into their foot, then swing the leg back and over. The grip is important here: you're going to roll your knuckles down so that they are pressing into the shin, straightening your arm. This provides a firm control. Another grip option is to shove straight down into their ankle with the space between your finger and thumb, trapping their leg under you.
Next, you're going to cut across their thigh (still on the leg you just stuffed with your grip), using your opposite knee. As you do, also be sure to yank them towards that side with your collar grip, again to prevent sweeps. Drop in low, trying to secure an underhook, also keeping your head in tight. To get the underhook, put your elbow on their side, then circle your arm around, rather than diving straight for the underhook. You can also just maintain your grip on their collar.
Either way, it is essential that you have your elbow inside. You don't want them to either be able to bring their arm inside for an underhook, or insert their knee in front of you. If they can manage the knee or the underhook, the pass isn't impossible, but it makes it a lot more difficult to finish.
When you've pinned their leg with your shin, you can switch your grip from their leg to their arm and pull up. From here you'll slide through as normal. To secure your position, walk your hips back before you settle (there is a good Mendes brothers video on this), getting your hips underneath them to shove their legs out of the way. That's when you can then solidify your side control.
Teaching Notes: I like using a structure that has a simplified version at the start, then goes into depth later: if you've read this blog before, you'll know that's how I write my reviews. In the context of a class, that means a basic technique followed by more advanced details. I'm still considering how best to do that, so will keep working on it when I come to teach this lesson.
The feedback from students was that they seemed to like having a chance to practice a simple version first, though I think I could be more coherent in that first section. At present, it was an attempt to teach the technique by chopping out lots of the details, focusing instead on what I thought were key elements: initial grips, sliding that knee across and getting the underhook.
Mike reminded me of a handy little detail, putting your head next to theirs for control. I do something similar for half guard passes, as per Xande's method, but I hadn't thought about its applicability to the knee cut pass. Something I could include next time. He also mentioned I could perhaps emphasise the importance of angle (I think? I may have forgotten, as I'm writing this a good while later: hopefully he can remind me if he reads this ;p).