Friday, May 28, 2021

Summer Lull


 
I was talking to Jason the other day about class attendance.  It seems that there are certain predictable ebbs and flows throughout the year.  One of which is the predictable lull of attendance is the last week of school and/or first week of summer vacation.  
 
During the last week of school students are busy cramming for finals.  Parents are busy making sure their kids are studying for their finals.  All of which makes all aforementioned parties far too busy to make it to Jiu Jitsu class.
 
After finals are over, families want to take vacations.  Singles want to get out and about, blow off some steam, and... well... mingle with other singles.  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?

This usually lasts for a couple of weeks.  Then once everyone's gotten everything out of their systems, they come back to Jiu Jitsu class.
 
But during this time of cramming and post exam revelry Jiu Jitsu classes are pretty bare.  Not too many studs around.  
 
There is an upside however.  If you're one of the dedicated few to make it to class during this lull, sometimes you'll be the only one in class.  Usually when that happens, your instructor will ask you if there's anything particular you're having trouble with or want to work on.  It's basically like getting a private lesson for free!  
 
Other times it's just you and one or two other students.  Same deal here.  Your instructor asks if there's anything you guys have questions about or want to work on.  If you come prepared with an answer, it's the next best thing to getting a private lesson... and you get it for no extra charge. 
 
I've had some of my best training sessions during these lulls in attendance.  They've been a huge source of those aha moments.  You know, the ones where you come away saying to yourself, "Ooohhh, so THAT'S how it works!"  There's nothing better than a little one-on-one, individual attention from your instructor to get you through those sticking points.   

So my advice for you during these times of low class attendance is this.  Go out.  Have fun.  Blow off some steam by all means.  But do yourself a favor and make it to one or two classes when nobody else wants to attend.  Come prepared with some questions in mind.  I think you'll be glad you did.
 
Happy training!


- Big Mike

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Broken Toe Guard

So my broken toe has been healing slowly but surely... well at least slowly.  I THINK it's getting better.  Not wanting to miss too many rolling sessions, I've had to do what we all do when we're broken and still want to roll... modify.
 
I started out by teaching a whole lot of closed guard.  It turns out I get up on my toes a lot more than I thought, in a lot more positions than I would've guessed.  Turns out that kinda hurts even when you're just demonstrating moves with a broken toe.
 
I find that closed guard is relatively safe though.  I can keep my broken toe relatively out of play pretty well when my ankles are locked behind the other guy's back.  
 
I gradually eased into positional sparring from the bottom guard position.  Stayed away from getting too spider-guardy if my opponent opened the legs, and pretty much just allowed the pass for awhile.  
 
Once I became comfortable, I decided to start experimenting.  I pulled out one of my old instructionals, The 92 Double Sleeve Guard by Jay Wadsworth.  It's a snazzy little guard where you cross grip the guy's sleeve, grip around the tricep with the other hand, put one foot on the hip, and the other knee across the chest... or something like that.  It's great for frustrating bigger guys who like to smash you by the way.
 
Anyhow, when Jay demonstrates it, the leg of the foot that goes in his opponent's hip stays bent.  And his off leg stays in contact with his opponent's torso kind of like a knee shield.
 
Any time I'd try it however, would always end up canted outward with my off leg flapping in the breeze.  I was never able to bring it in like a knee shield like Jay does.  It worked well enough to keep my opponent off balance, but I was unable to use all of the moves Jay showed in the DVD since... I wasn't really in the 92 Double Sleeve Guard.
 
Anyway, since my injury I've found myself butt scooting around with the leg of my injured toe  way out to the side.  This naturally leads to my jacked up version of the 92 Double Sleeve Guard with me on my side, my hip checking leg ramrod straight, and my off leg (with the broken toe) straight up in the air mostly out of reach of my training partner.  
 
I've found that people want to grab that leg, usually at the knee.  When they do, it's relatively easy to swivel my shin up over the top of their forearm, and wedge my heel in their bicep.  My toe stays relatively safe when I do this.  From there I kick into his bicep and my leg falls naturally between their neck and shoulder forming the one arm in, one arm out positioning which happens to be the fundamental prerequisite for a triangle submission.
 
It's a ridiculously goofy looking guard... but it seems to work well enough so far.  In fact I'm not sure what people are more frustrated by... the fact that it seems to be working so well, or the fact that it looks so dumb.  But hey, if it's stupid but it works, it isn't stupid.  Right?  
 
I've dubbed it "The Broken Toe Guard."  Perhaps one day I'll release an instructional on BJJ Fanatics, and become rich and famous because of it.  Well, maybe moderately well off and Jiu-Jitsu-famous anyway.
 
Until then, happy training!

-Big Mike

Friday, April 30, 2021

Broken Toes and Closed Guard

So I broke my toe a couple of weeks ago.  We were in the 50/50 position going for leg locks, and my toe got caught in my buddie's gi.  

Snap!  

"Dude, I'm sorry.  Are you okay?"

"Yeah.  I'm fine."

"I thought I broke it."

"Nah.  It'll be fine."

"I'm pretty sure I heard it snap."

"No, I think that was just the snap of the gi.  It'll be sore tomorrow.  But it's not broken.  It'll be fine."

It wasn't fine.  The next day it swelled up... swelled?  swole?  The next day it was swollen pretty bad.  Black and blue.  Puffed up and painful.  The whole nine yards.  

I've been walking with a limp for the last two weeks.  My plan of only going for leg locks for the next two months is pretty much kaput thanks to this little injury, but that hasn't stopped me from making it to class.

Figuring out what to teach with a broken toe was somewhat challenging.  We had been working through our tournament strategy, but it turns out I use my toes a fair bit for those techniques.  

I figured I could teach some techniques off my back.  Maybe some escapes.  But it turns out I use my toes a lot when working escapes as well.  I like to bring my toes to my butt when I bridge, Marcello Garcia style.  It usually works really well for me... but not so much with broken toes.

So I settled on going old school with little closed guard.  My broken toe stays pretty safe locked behind my training partner's back for the most part.  Depending on what submissions or sweeps I go for, I can keep myself out of trouble pretty well.

Closed guard is one of those things I feel like everyone needs to know.  But I also feel like I have to be sneaky about teaching it.  Everyone wants to learn the flashy new guards out there.  And there are so many of them now.  I worry sometimes that people will find the good ol fashioned closed guard... well... too old fashioned.  

Thing is it still works.  I was reading the other day how Gordon Ryan was using it after his leg injury to dominate everyone in the blue basement.  I figure if it's good enough for the King, it's worth teaching every now and then.

Back in the late 90's/early 2000's I played a lot of closed guard.  Back then I had trouble hitting submissions from closed guard and mostly went for sweeps instead.  But my understanding of the position has improved since then.  

Instead of just going for random techniques from there, I start by attacking my opponent's posture.  Basically, I grab their head and pull it down.  Once I've broken their posture, I'll go to work on their structure, isolating one of their arms from their body.  I'll trap their other arm as well if possible.

It turns out that once you've broken your opponent's posture, isolated one arm, and trapped the other one, it's relatively easy to sweep or get a submission from there.   

So far the response has been pretty good to what I've been putting out.  Everyone is having success with breaking posture and structure from closed guard.  And from there even our white belts are able to improvise techniques once they achieve these goals.  I love it when white belts are able to apply what I teach while sparring.

Lock up closed guard.  Break posture.  Break structure.  Then everything's easier.  Give it a try and let me know what you think. 


- Big Mike





Saturday, April 10, 2021

Here's what BJJ will NOT do for you

 

It's always been my dream to open up my own gym.  I'm not in a position to do it just yet, but that doesn't stop me from researching, planning, dreaming, etc.  Every once in awhile I look at BJJ school websites to get an Idea what I want mine to look like someday.

Number one, some of the best gyms I've trained at have had the worst websites.  Barely more than some contact info and a little about the instructor.  The schedule pages were often outdated or broken.  Some websites don't even give you enough info to be able to find the gym.

Some of these guys are top notch instructors, but a lot of people out there will never know it because they take one look of the website and figure that a second rate website equals second rate instruction.

There are also plenty of professional looking websites out there put up by less than professional instructors.  You obviously can't judge an instructor by his website any more than you can judge  a book by it's cover.  That's why I always like to try out all the BJJ schools when I move to a new area before I decide where I want to train long term.

One of the things I've noticed with the snazzier looking websites out there is that they all tend to make similar claims as to the benefits of their particular school and/or martial art.  These claims include but are not limited to:

  • Self Defense
  • Health
  • Fitness
  • Weight Loss
  • Strength
  • Cardio
  • Flexibility
  • Self Confidence
  • Self Respect
  • Concentration
  • Self Control
  • Better Grades In School

In short, you will not only learn BJJ.  Their program will turn you into a Zen Buddhist master with a 4.0 GPA, and 6-pack abs while curing everything from baldness to cancer!

Unfortunately it's just not true.  I'm here to tell you that while I've met folks who've made incredible transformations after taking up Jiu Jitsu, I've also met some overweight, and/or out of shape BJJ black belts along the way as well.

Yes, BJJ can help you lose weight.  But it can't do it for you.  If beginning your Jiu Jitsu journey motivates you to make some tweaks to your dietary regimen, then you may find the numbers on your bathroom scale moving in the right direction.  But if you keep on eating Twinkies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and second dinner, and second lunch, etc.) then you're probably going to be disappointed.  They say you just can't out exercise a bad diet.  Turns out you can't out Jiu-Jitsu a bad diet either.

Same thing goes for just about every other benefit on that list.  There are folks out there that embody everything on that list, and they're awesome at Jiu Jitsu.  But correlation does not prove causation.  Again, consider the fat, out of shape black belt who will still mop the floor with you come sparring time.

BJJ training will not magically make you lose weight, gain muscle, develop six-pack abs.  It won't make you smarter, or focus or concentrate better per-se.

A BJJ school is a wonderful laboratory for working on those traits.  But you have to make a conscious effort.  It doesn't magically just happen because you come to class.  And any website or marketing that advertises otherwise is... well... quite frankly it's false advertising in my opinion.

If you're thinking about starting BJJ, don't do it for all of the supposed benefits you see on all of those websites out there.  Do it because BJJ is fun!  It's physical chess.  It's a way to test yourself against another human being.  It's a real life video game where brains really can defeat brawn.  Where leverage beats strength, timing beats speed, precision beats power, and hard work beats talent.  The more you play, the better you get.  You get good enough, and you can defeat giants!

If that sounds good to you, then play Jiu Jitsu for Jiu Jitsu's sake.  Maybe it'll motivate you to pick up some of those other benefits along the way.  Maybe it won't.  But I for one think it'll be worth it either way.  

Happy training!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Review: New Wave Jiu Jitsu: A New Philosophy Of Positional Escapes by John Danaher

 


I love my wife...  Let me say that again...  I LOVE my wife!

We just celebrated our anniversary.  16 years baby!  I still remember the first time I saw her.  It feels like it was just yesterday.  I lived on the second floor of an apartment building.  I happened to be looking out the window as she pulled up in her car.  She had one of those white lab coats on.  (She was going through the nursing program at the time.)  Her blonde hair reflecting the Florida sun made sort of a halo effect.  She literally looked like an angel... and then she smiled.  It was love at first sight.

But I digress.  The point is, my beautiful wife who must truly love me seeing as she's put up with my jiu jitsu obsession over the years, gave me John Danaher's new instructional as an anniversary present!  (Thank you Sweetheart!)  So I thought I'd review it here.

The new series is called New Wave Jiu Jitsu: A New Philosophy Of Positional Escapes.  The overall concept behind it is this.  Traditionally when we're trapped on the bottom of a pin, we're content to escape to a neutral position.  Think shrimp and recover guard.  

Danaher believes we can do better.  Instead of escaping to a neutral position, what if we could escape to a dominant position?  Or better yet, a position where we are threatening our opponent with a submission?

What if your opponent has worked hard to sweep you, get on top, pass your guard and mount you, only to end up on the receiving end of a leg entanglement with you threatening a leg lock?  Imagine doing all that work, winding up in what jiu jitsu law says is a dominant position, and getting not just bumped off, but submitted!

That is what Danaher aims to do with this set.  He lays out a game-plan to go from being pinned to being on the attack.  Then he gives you the specific techniques required to accomplish this from your usual pinning positions: mount, rear mount, side control, knee on belly, etc.

Like the rest of his instructionals, he starts out with theory.  He goes into his new philosophy of escapes, what the new game plan is and why.  I suppose you could skip it if you wanted to dive right into the actual techniques, but I've always found his thought process fascinating so I didn't.  There's some good info in there, and he demonstrates a fair bit of the system.  I feel like it primes your brain for what is to come.

The volumes that follow cover escapes from mount, rear mount, knee on belly, side control, turtle, and more.  As advertised, most of the escapes wind up with you in fine attacking position, usually attacking the legs Danaher Death Squad style! .  Others end attacking the arms or neck... but end attacking the legs when your opponent backs out in an attempt to defend their arms and/or neck.

If you already have his leg lock set, I feel like there's enough new material here to justify the purchase.  It is a bit pricey, but there always seems to be another BJJ Fanatics sale right around the corner.

I would say get this one if:
  • You want to take your escapes to the next level
  • You've been wanting to delve into leg locks, but hesitate to give up position to do so, or
  • You're just a huge John Danaher fan.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Chains and Candy


One of my old instructors used to teach in chains.  For instance, he'd teach us the Upa Mount Escape which lands you on top in closed guard. We'd practice it for a few reps. Then he'd show us a guard pass. But we wouldn't just rep the guard pass. We'd do the mount escape followed by the guard pass so it flowed together like one big technique. Then he might add a transition to mount. Then a submission, say straight arm lock from the mount. Then the arm lock escape. These chains would be anywhere from 4 to 7 moves long depending on how quickly everyone was getting each move. 

I always enjoyed learning this way. It helped me see connections. It also helped me to establish an overall sense of flow, and get a better overall picture of the game as a whole. 

One day a buddy of mine (we'll call him Joe) made a comment to our instructor after class. Joe told our instructor he enjoyed the chains, but by the time he got home sometimes the only move he could remember was that first one in the sequence. 

Our instructor smiled. "That is okay Joseph. I will tell you a little secret. The first technique I show you is the only one I really want you learn." 

"But what about all of the other ones? Why would you show them to us if you didn't want us to learn them? I mean, isn't that just a big waste of time? Wouldn't it be better to just focus on the techniques you actually want us to learn?" 

"Ahh, yes. In Brazil it was not uncommon to practice a technique over 50 times. But nobody has the patience for that anymore. You see, if I asked you to drill the move even 20 times you might do it, but you would get bored. After a while, you might even quit my school and go train somewhere else." 

"So instead I have to trick you. I ask you to do the first move a few times. Then after I teach you the second move, you do the first one a few more times because they connect in a chain. Then a few more times with the third, and so on. If someone asks a question and I take a little time to answer it, maybe you get a few more repetitions on top of that."

"All the moves after the first one are like candy.   By the end of the lesson you don't even realize how many times you've practiced that first technique!  You've been so focused on the candy!  If all you remember when you get home is the first move, then I'm happy.  Eventually, when you see that lesson again you'll already know the first move, and maybe then you'll remember the second when you get home."


And he was right.  All the benefits of training those sequences were real.  But until he spelled it out for me, I never realized how many reps of that first technique I was getting in.  I was completely distracted by the candy!

Makes me wonder what other little psychological tricks were being played on me by my instructors over the years...

What's your favorite instructional technique?


Saturday, February 27, 2021

Review: The Battle Tested Half Guard by Bernardo Faria

Back when I started training Jiu Jitsu in the late 1990's and early 2000's, everybody was playing closed guard. I was no exception. Most gyms (like many today) started on their knees, and since I wasn't a wrestler I'd just pull guard from the get go. 

It didn't take long before people got really good at stuffing that guard pull. Then any time I tried to pull guard, I'd end up in bottom side control. Which really sucked because I wasn't very good at escaping side control yet. 

While I couldn't pull guard anymore because people were too good at stopping it, I found I was able to pull half guard pretty easily. People didn't view half guard as an offensive position yet back then, at least not at our gym. It was also easy to get to from bad positions like bottom mount and side control.

At first all I could do with my half guard was stop the guard pass. But eventually (with the help of some books and instructional DVDs) I was able to off-balance my opponents, and even sweep once in awhile. While everyone else was playing closed guard, I was racking up hours spent in bottom half guard.

I got pretty good at half guard over the years. Eventually half guard became my go to guard, and a dangerous guard at that. It's a guard that is easy to pull, easy to recover, and easy to maintain

Then this deep half guard thing started becoming popular. I did some research on it and even picked up some DVDs on the subject, but nothing really clicked.  

Then I discovered Bernardo Faria's Battle Tested Half Guard instructional on BJJ Fanatics. My wife Robin got it for me some years back. It really is my favorite half guard instructional of all time. 

 

Let me start by saying what it is not. The Battle Tested Half Guard is not an exhaustive encyclopedia on all things half guard. Bernardo makes this clear up front. He's a big fan of specialization. The idea that you don't need to know every possible technique from every possible position. You just need to know a few techniques from any position you might find yourself in.

That's where this set really shines. Lots of folks these days film a collection of unrelated techniques, and slap a label on it with words like "system" or "blueprint" because they know it'll get people to buy it. Bernardo doesn't do that.

You can't tell from the title, but this is Bernardo Faria's complete half guard system.  And it's a complete system that you can use. Work through the modules. Memorize the techniques. Practice them on a partner. And you will have a fully functional guard that will give the toughest opponents all kinds of wonderful problems. 

He doesn't give you every technique ever invented for half guard. But rather gives you a handfull of techniques from a handfull of half guard positions that all work together like a well oiled machine. He essentially answers every possible what-if-my-opponent-does-this type question within the system.

I love instructional products like this because provided you take the time to memorize and practice the moves, you can snap an entire system onto your existing game in a relatively short period of time.

I watched the DVDs over a weekend and was able to implement the system on Monday. Was I perfect? No. But I was able to sweep most people. And the ones who gave me a harder time? I was able to go back to the DVDs that night and find answers to the problems they were giving me. The next day I was able to sweep the more difficult guys too.

The crux of Bernardo's system revolves around deep half guard and what he calls single leg half guard. He shows you how to get there, what to do from each one of those positions, and how to go back and forth between the two. He shows you what your opponents are going to try to do to beat your half guard, and how to counter each one of those techniques. 

He also has an entire volume full of him sparring from the half guard position. It's narrated by the man himself. So not only do you get to see all of the techniques in action, but you get a glimpse into his thought process. It's also interesting to note that he uses no techniques during the sparring matches that aren't covered in the earlier volumes. It really is everything you need to be successful from half guard.

Once you've digested Bernardo's instruction, it's like you're a mind reader. You know what your opponent is going to try before he trys it. And when he does, you know exactly how to counter it. If you're a blue belt, and you internalize this stuff, you won't make you a black belt in BJJ. But it will make you a feel like a black belt when someone is in your half guard.

Another thing I like about Bernardo's style is you don't have to move like a Marcelo Garcia or anything to pull it off. Bernardo says his style is really good for older guys and I agree. You can be really clunky with it, and it just works. You really don't have to be fast, or strong, or graceful. It's just really simple Jiu-Jitsu that works really well. 

If you've ever been interested in developing a half guard game and didn't know where to look, do yourself a favor. Head on over to BJJ Fanatics and pick up The Battle Tested Half Guard by Bernardo Faria today. It just might make the half guard your new favorite position!

Monday, February 22, 2021

How To Inspire Fear With Your Butt-Scooting!

We don't say bitch or bitches in our household anymore.  It's been replaced with fish or fishes.  

You see, a few years ago we were playing cards. Offering up a fair bit of smack talk.  And our youngest apparently had a pretty good hand. Her brother said something mouthy to her which I can't recall. But then she slammed down her winning hand with authority, looked him dead in the eye and said, "Well drop you... Fish!" (Complete with head jiggle of course.) It was so darn cute that it stuck, and we've been repeating the phrase ever since. 

We're also big fans of  the phrase, "Suck it, Fishes!" The phrase, "Suck it!" of course comes from our favorite family TV show. If you're a fan, I don't need to explain the connection. If not, you probably wouldn't understand.

Connection

Speaking of connections, we went over establishing connection during class tonight. Why the heck would you waste time on that, you might ask. All you've got to do is just reach out and grab the other guy, right? Well, it's not quite that simple.

Have you ever played the old king-of-the-hill style pass or sweep game? One guy sits in the middle of the mat, plays guard and tries to sweep. He's the king of the hill (or the bull in the ring... I've heard it both ways). Everyone else takes turns trying to pass his guard. If the king of the hill gets the sweep he stays in the center and remains king of the hill. If the passer passes, then he becomes the new sweeper (aka king of the hill) and the old sweeper is out.  

Most folks will try to pass standing. This makes sense because it makes you more maneuverable. Standing passes also have a better track record in competition.

Generally speaking, you'll find it's easier to pass and become king of the hill than it is to sweep and remain king of the hill. Part of this is because you get tired after awhile. But the other part is it's generally easier to pass than it is to sweep. This is why we always want to be the guy on top. It's also why we work so much on our sweeps... you know... so we can become the guy on top.

We teach and practice guard passing techniques all the time. We also teach and practice sweeps all the time. But we rarely go over techniques to establish a guard while butt-scooting versus a standing opponent. It's just not that sexy I guess.

The key to butt-scooting offense

Anyhow, the key to remaining king of the hill in this case is to get good at establishing meaningful connections.  No, I'm not talking about networking and relationships.  I'm talking about physical connections. (Get your mind out of the gutter!)

But seriously, connections are key. Whoever establishes useful connections while denying their opponent any useful connections generally wins the exchange. 

Well that sounds well and good, but how do we use that? Here are three things you can go for when you're the butt-scooting king of the hill.

  1. A collar grip (I prefer the cross collar)
  2. A sleeve grip
  3. A grip on the leg

Generally speaking, at least one of these will be open for the taking... unless of course your opponent is running away from you... because they know you're a butt-scooting badass.

The Collar

Say you get good at establishing the cross collar grip. From there you execute a collar drag and take the back or wind up on top of side control. You run that play successfully for awhile, but eventually folks in your gym catch on and start protecting their collar. What to do?

The Sleeve

Well, what are they protecting their collar with? Let's say for the sake of our thought experiment that they protect their collar with their hands. Then you go ahead and grab one of their sleeves. 

Once you control one sleeve, you can extend you leg on that side without worrying about it getting stuffed. You can put your foot in his hip, or establish a De La Riva hook, or a lasso on that side. 

If he grabs your other leg with his free hand, you grab that sleeve with your free hand and kick to pop that grip off. Voilla! You've established two grips on him. He has no grips on you, And from there you can transition to pretty much whatever guard you want.

You run play number two successfully for awhile as well. But eventually folks catch onto that one too. So now they keep their collar and sleeves away from you by standing upright. What to do?

The Leg

Now his ankle is literally ripe for the picking. You grab the ankle with one hand, push into the hip with the other, and get on top once he topples over. 

Of course if you're a leg locker or an X-guard player, there are some great ways to get to the X or Single-Leg X from leg grips as well. But those are a little more difficult to describe so maybe we'll save that one for another post.

Conclusion

So there you have it. Three targets. Collar, sleeve, and leg. 

Once I started using this game plan, my sweeping percentages went way up in pass or sweep games where you start without any connection. 

Put a little time in with this concept yourself, and it won't be long before your training partners will be very wary of engaging your seated guard. The you too can say, "Fear my butt-scoot, Fishes!"

 

Happy training!


- Big Mike

Sunday, February 21, 2021

How to get the most out of a private lesson

I had my private Zoom lesson with Dax yesterday. First of all, it was nice to see some of the old gang. He had a couple of guys there to help out. One to be his practice dummy and another to hold the camera. 


Any time you train with Dax you can expect to have your mind blown, and this was no exception.  He went over 18+ techniques near as I can count.  At least a dozen of them were specifically geared toward what he saw on the videos of me sparring. The rest were based on questions that came up over the course of the lesson.

Some of the techniques were things I know I've seen Dax teach in class before, but had forgotten about.  Some I just wasn't ready to pick up the first time around but this time they just clicked into place. Others were completely new. All of them were directly applicable to my game at this point in time.

That's the great thing about private lessons. It's Jiu Jitsu custom designed for you at your particular point on your Jiu Jitsu journey. They're pricey, but so worth it if you can afford them. There's no better way to accelerate your progress.

How do you know you're ready for private lessons?


Some folks say that private lessons really aren't worth it until you reach a certain level. They feel that you have to have a basic understanding of the fundamentals, and some experience applying those fundamentals in sparring before you can fully appreciate the value communicated through private lessons.

Try telling that to the Gracie family. In the original Gracie Academy in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s, they only taught private lessons for a period of time. A student would come in, there were several instructors, and they only taught private classes. They did this because the order in which you learn techniques can greatly affect how long it takes you to master the art. A student was permitted to join group classes only after they had a firm grasp of the fundamentals. 

They only switched to an all group classes model when they had gained so many students that it was no longer practical to teach them all via private lessons.

Rener Gracie says that, if he could choose the journey for a newer student today, private classes would give them the most amount of comprehension and the greatest understanding of the art in the least amount of time possible.

So the bottom line here is that if you train Jiu Jitsu at any level, you're ready for private lessons.

How do you prepare for a private lesson?


Your instructor will probably ask you what you want to work on.  You should probably have an answer ready for him. You could begin with whatever questions pop into your head, but consider this... What position do you find yourself in the most?  
  • On the Back trying to Submit
  • Top Mount trying to take the Back or Submit 
  • Top Side Control trying to Mount or Submit
  • Top Guard trying to Pass
  • Bottom Guard trying to Sweep
  • Pinned trying to Escape

This is a simplified list of positions, but it'll work for our purposes.  If you're a newbie, you probably don't find yourself mounted on top of your opponents very often.  You probably find yourself pinned good amount of the time.  It doesn't really do you any good to focus on guard passes at this point if you can't even escape a pin, right? The basic idea is this, wherever you find yourself the most during sparring, that's probably what you need to be working on.

When your instructor asks you what you want to work on, you tell him that you find yourself on the bottom of side control more often than not, and just can't seem to escape. Or maybe your escapes and sweeps are fine, but you just can't seem to pass the guard. You get the idea.

Another thing you can do is record footage of you rolling, and send it to your instructor a week in advance. Thanks to this little strategy Dax was able to analyze my game and come ready with some things to work on. This is so much easier to do than it was 20 years ago. If you're reading this blog, chances are you have a cell phone with a camera on it. Just bite the bullet and ask a buddy to record a few of your rolls. 

But wait a minute Big Mike! My instructor watches me every day in class. Shouldn't he already know what I need to work on? Having taught classes for a little while now I've gotta say it's tough to watch all the sparring matches going on at the same time. And that's if I'm not rolling that day for some reason. I've had students come up to me after busy class, ask me how I thought they were doing, and I couldn't even remember who they rolled with. That's why I try to get around to rolling with everyone. But it takes awhile. Your instructor just can't roll with everyone every class. So giving him some tape to watch goes a long way.

Now that I think of it, even if your instructor rolls with you, he can't read your mind. If you're technologically savvy you could narrate the footage of you rolling, explaining to your instructor just what you were thinking at each point during roll. You can point out the mistakes that you notice, what moves you are going for and why so that he has a better idea of which holes in your game are systemic, and which are just brain farts. This can only make your session more productive.

What to do during your lesson


Take notes.  There's nothing worse than paying for an hour of private, personalized instruction, only to forget all of the techniques the day after.
Don't be afraid to drive the lesson to some extent. If you need to see a technique second, third time, don't be afraid to ask. 

If your brain is getting full ask to stop and review what you've learned. I had to do that yesterday myself. After 40 minutes, I was afraid that if I learned one more technique, one of the others was going to fall out of my left ear hole!  So I asked if I could just run through the ones we'd went over so far.  

You could ask to record the session. Your instructor may or may not go for the idea. Not everybody's okay with seeing themselves all over the internet. If your instructor values his privacy, no big deal.  But if he says yes, a video is worth a thousand notes! Just don't be a douchebag and post it on the internet afterwards. At least not without your instructor's permission. You paid for that instruction and the video. The rest of the internet didn't.  

What to do after your lesson


Review your notes. Go through the notes you jotted down during your lesson. This will help keep you from forgetting what you went over.

Add to your notes. If you're like me, you write everything down during a lesson. There's just not enough time. So you write down just enough to remind yourself what you went over. After the lesson go back and fill in the blanks. Add in as many details as you can remember.

Make a clean list of all the techniques you went over. If they have names, use the names your instructor uses. If they don't, make up your own names for them.  

Make flashcards. Write down the name of a technique on a flashcard.  On the other side write down the individual steps of that technique. For example:

Upa Mount Escape
  1. Trap the arm
  2. Trap the leg
  3. Bridge and roll
  4. Base and posture
Chair fly all of those techniques at least three times each. In other words, sit down in your favorite, comfy chair, close your eyes, and imagine yourself performing the technique by the numbers. If you get confused or miss a step, check the procedure on the back of your flash card.

Once you get the hang of this, you should be able to go through 10 techniques 3 times each in about 10 minutes. Do this every day for the next 2 weeks and it'll hard-wire them into your brain. After about two weeks you'll have these down. If you haven't been hitting them while rolling in your group classes by that point, you will be soon!

Conclusion


So there you have it.  Big Mike's little guide for getting the most out of your next private lesson. When you feel like you're in a good position to do so, talk to your instructor and schedule that private lesson. I think you'll be glad you did.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Dax Razzano

I've got a private lesson scheduled tomorrow with my old instructor, Dax Razzano.  He's out in Bloomington, Indiana so we're going to do it over Zoom.  Isn't technology amazing by the way?  That would've been pure science fiction back when I was a kid. But I digress.

I'm really excited about my lesson with Dax. I've been moving around every 2-3 years for my entire jiu jitsu career, and never really thought about going back to train with, much less get promoted by one of my old instructors. One gym was just as good as another to me, and home has always been where you hang your hat. But I've been a purple belt for awhile now.  I'm getting that itch to bump it up to the next level. I thought about going up the road to one of the bigger cities and training under one of their black belts. I was talking to Robin about it (my beautiful wife), and she asked me, "If had your choice... If you could get promoted by anyone you wanted, who would it be?"

And that gave me total clarity on the matter. I didn't have to think. It had to be Dax.

 

I've been doing this a long time. Over 20 years. I'm no slouch at this. I'm a big guy. And Dax is little compared to me.  I outweigh him by 80 pounds. And with all that said, he threw me around like a rag doll when I got to Bloomington. Literally. There's still a hole in the wall at Razzano Academy from where he threw me into it! (Don't worry. It was drywall. It didn't hurt, but I did feel bad about the hole I made.)

Dax is a big fan of arm locks, which is perfect for me right now since I'm still on that arm locks only experiment for a little while. Dax just seems to catch arm locks from everywhere. He even catches them from butterfly guard. I know.  I've seen techniques in books and video instructionals where guys catch arm locks from butterfly guard before. But Dax is really the first guy I've rolled with who actually catches them in practice on a regular basis. You really have to watch your arms when you roll with Dax.  

He also has this unique blend of Wrestling, Judo, and Jiu Jitsu that I've yet to encounter anywhere else. He likes to say that any one of those three doesn't make any sense without the other two. And the way he blends those three together is just this beautiful, terrifying thing to behold. It's like watching deadly grappling voodo/black magic!

I recorded some of my rolling sessions on video before my surgery and sent them to him so that he could get a sense of where I'm at.  It's been about a year and a half since I was in Bloomington. He said he thought I looked really good, but that there were a few places where I had some attacks available from mount but just didn't seem to capitalize. I feel like this is where a good coach can really help your game. Can't wait to see what he's got in store for me! 

By the way, if you ever find yourself in Bloomington do yourself a favor, drop by Razzano Academy for a training session, and tell him Big Mike sent you. It's a great place to train, and I promise you won't regret it. While you're at it, you can ask him to show you the hole in the wall. It's still there.  

Happy Training!


- Big Mike

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Review: Feet To Floor Volume 1 (Fundamental Standing Skills) by John Danaher

Awhile ago I wrote about my frustrations regarding fact that the last installment of John Danaher's Go Further Faster Series had no takedowns.  I was really looking forward to seeing Danaher's take on takedowns, and was consequently disappointed when it didn't come to fruition in the final installment of the series.

I was pleasantly surprised when they announced he was coming out with a whole new series on takedowns. I of course bought Danaher's Feet To Floor: Volume 1 the day it was released.  But as you may have heard, Danaher's material is rather dense.  It takes me a while to watch and digest all of it.  

Let's talk packaging

I bought the digital version.  I used to shun the digital online versions of these things.  I liked having the physical DVD.  I'd make an MP4 version so that I could have a backup and play it on my laptop when I was traveling.  But I finally jumped on the bandwagon with the whole digital thing.  

I think the chapter breaks are what did it for me. The chapter breaks allow you to quickly find the section you're looking for.  Although in a Danaher DVD, one chapter can be 30 minutes long. And no, I'm not exaggerating.

I also like the fact that I can download a copy, save it to a thumb drive, plug it into my big screen TV and watch it in style.  Unfortunately there are not chapter breaks on the thumb drive version.  If BJJ Fanatics could figure that one out, I'd be in Jiu Jitsu Instructional Heaven.

Like most BJJ Fanatics products, this one is professional quality.  Great resolution.  Great camera work. Great audio.  No issues there.

How about the content

The first time through, I will say I felt a little disappointed.  It felt like just another collection of unrelated takedown techniques to me.  They weren't bad techniques mind you.  Just seemingly unrelated.  I was hoping to get a unified takedown system.  

The second time through, his gripping strategy made more sense to me.  What grips to go for and why they are advantageous. I know, I know.  It's not like he doesn't spell it out for you in the instructional... over and over and over and over again. It's just that I didn't fully appreciate it the first time through I guess. The second time through it clicked into place for me.

I decided to play some grip-fighting games in the gym after that.  It turns out the grips Danaher recommends are relatively easy to get once you take the time to understand and memorize his grip-fighting strategies.

One of the things I really like about this set is that the first two takedown techniques aren't just limited to the stand-up game.  You can hit the collar drag and ankle pick from the seated guard.  So if you like these two, you can practice your takedowns even if nobody starts standing in your gym.

After connecting all of that, the section on off-balancing started to make more sense.  He takes some techniques that could be used as throws or takedowns in and of themselves, but demonstrates how to use them to set up the collar drag and ankle pick.  So you're not expecting to get the first technique, but rather the second or the third. Kind of like a... wait for it... a system!

Here's a breakdown of what's covered:

  • In Part 1 he gives an overview of the series.  He talks about his criteria for takedown selection for Jiu Jitsu.  Then he gets into the first two essential skills of the standing position, Stance and Grip Fighting. (2 hours, 30 minutes)
  • Part 2 - Just when you thought you knew everything about standing grips, Danaher spends another two hours on the subject. (that's 2 hours)
  • Part 3 - Skills 3-5 of his 6 Essential Skills (Motion, Kuzushi, and Position).  Then he gives an overview of his 5 Minimum Requirements.  (1 hour, 21 min)
  • Part 4 - Now we finally get to the first takedown! This one is all about the Collar Drag Takedown.  How to do it and how to set it up. (2 hours and 21 minutes)
  • Part 5 - This one spends a fair amount of time on the Ankle Pick (over 2 hours), but eventually moves into other takedowns as well. Namely the Knee Pick, the Double Leg, and Single Leg Takedowns. (3 hours, 18 minutes in all)
  • Part 6 - Danaher spends an hour on a wide variety of snap downs.  My favorite is the Seoi Snap.  It's low risk, works really well for me, and sets up the collar drag beautifully for me when the guy manages to remain on his feet.  After snap downs he moves into takedowns from the rear body lock. He spends an inordinate amount of time warning you not to sit on your opponent's knee, but I have to say I agree with him.  I've seen folks doing this in Judo class.  And it seems like no matter how many times the instructor tells people not to do it, there's always that one guy who just doesn't get it.  And then the ambulance gets called... but I digress. (2 hours, 40 minutes)
  • Part 7 - Here he talks about Takedowns for Self Defense, including his 9 Golden Rules for Self Defense Takedowns.  Essentially these are his Takedown selection criteria for Self Defense.  (1 hour, 14 minutes)
  • Part 8 - Finally you get to learn Takedowns for Self Defense.  Danaher's favorite of which is the High Single Leg.  (2 hours, 13 minutes in all)

Usability

This isn't something you can just pick up, watch, and hit in class the next day.  Like most of Danaher's material, this stuff is very dense and there's a whole lot of it.

The downside is that's over 17 hours and 30 minutes of excruciatingly detailed instruction.    I'm going to be working on this for awhile.  He says in the videos that his goal is to get you to the point where you can take down opponents of your own size and skill level within three to six months.  While I haven't nearly mastered all of the material yet, I do feel more confident in my stand-up game.  

If you're the type of person who can patiently watch and sift through 17+ hours of material with explanations that are laid out like a college nuclear physics/quantum mechanics textbook on video, then this set will absolutely be worth it to you in the long run.  Pretty much just like every other Danaher product.

If however you're one of those guys who've tried to watch some of Danaher's material, but just couldn't make it 15 minutes without screaming at your television/computer monitor for him to just get to the point, then you might want to skip this one.  Perhaps you could buy it as a gift for one of your more patient, cerebral friends, and then ask them to translate the Cliff Notes version for you.

Conclusion

For me this set was definitely worth it. I've got more than enough material to work with for awhile. I've already seen some improvements from incorporating some of the ideas contained therein.  And I'm confident with enough time and hard work that this will be of great benefit to my stand-up game. If you've been on the fence about this one, I hope this review helps. Head on over to BJJ Fanatics and check it out!

Take care, and happy training!

- Big Mike

Saturday, February 13, 2021

How To Get Better At Armlocks

Right before my gallbladder operation, I stumbled onto a method which got me way better at hitting arm locks.  The experiment was supposed to take a couple of months, but that darned gallbladder had other plans for me.  Still, I made enough progress in a week that I thought it might be worth writing about.

Enter The Roy Harris Plan

I've been a purple belt for almost two years now, and was doing some thinking about how to get to the next level. I came across an old article written by Roy Harris.

He has a talk with his purple belts when he thinks they're about a year out from getting their brown belt. He'll tell them that for the next two months they're only allowed to go for arm-bars. No chokes. No leg locks. Only arm-bars. 

Once the student is done with his two month journey, then he's only allowed to go for leg locks for the next two months. Then two months of only chokes. Then a month of only attacking the right arm.  So on and so forth.

Everyone in the gym catches on pretty quickly that you're only allowed to finish with arm-bars.  This makes it even tougher on you.  After all, it's a whole easier to defend a submission when you know which submission is coming.  So you're forced to get creative with your setups.

This sounded like as good a plan as any so I thought I'd give it a try. I was only able to do it for a week before my gallbladder surgery, but are the top ten things I've noticed so far:

  1. I tend to use chokes to set up arm locks.
  2. Attacking one arm can set up the other.
  3. One arm lock can set up another on the same arm.
  4. Chokes are everywhere!
  5. It's easier to hit arm locks from top positions.
  6. If I can isolate an arm, I have an arm lock.
  7. My new favorite position to hit arm locks from is side control.
  8. There's really no safe position for your arms on bottom side control.
  9. Hunting arms from side control makes it far easier to mount.
  10. Grip breaks are key 

I tend to use chokes to set up arm locks. 

I had no idea how much I use chokes to set up arm locks. Initially I found myself going for a choke to set up the arm bar. Then I remembered I'm not doing chokes, followed by this long awkward pause on my part. It eventually got to the point where training partners would chuckle a little every time I'd start digging into the collar. Once everyone figures out chokes are off the table, it gets a whole lot more difficult to get the arm. You have to find other ways to set up the arm lock.

Attacking one arm can set up the other. 

When my opponent defends one arm, a lot of times they'll leave the other one open for attack.  For instance, when I attack my opponent's left arm from mount he'll sometimes roll to his left side to defend.  When he does this, he'll often open up his right arm to attack.

One arm lock can set up another on the same arm. 

Other times when someone defends an arm lock, that arm will be open to a different type of arm lock.  For instance, when I attack the left arm with an Americana from mount, sometimes they'll point their elbow toward the sky.  From there I can turn to the left and switch to the straight arm lock.

Chokes are everywhere! 

An unexpected side effect of all this is I'm noticing all kinds of opportunities for chokes. Honestly, it's driving me nuts! Have you ever found yourself wanting that thing you know you can't have? I think it's kind of like that. I'm noticing chokes all over the place. Now it could be that everyone in the gym is just leaving their neck open with me since they know I'm only going for arm locks, but I think there's probably more to it than that. I suspect that when it's time to switch to only chokes, this two months of arm locks will end up being more helpful than I would've thought.

It's easier to hit arm locks from top positions. 

Honestly, I've never hit a whole lot of straight arm locks from guard.  It's never been my thing.  I'll hit Kimuras and omoplatas, but not a whole lot of straight arm locks.  And now that I'm only going for arm locks, I prefer to just sweep, pass, and work for the arm lock from there.  You have more control.  You have gravity on your side. It's just easier to isolate an arm and go to work without having to worry about getting your guard passed in the process. I'll take an arm lock from guard if my training partner is careless, but otherwise I'll just take the sweep.

If I can isolate an arm, I have an arm lock. 

Any time I can wedge something in between my opponent's upper arm and his rib cage, I have an arm lock. I may not always know which arm locks are available to me at that point, but there's always one available to me at that point.  And if I'm able to think about it long enough, I can usually figure it out.

My new favorite position to hit arm locks from is side control! 

I used to hate side control. Especially when I was a blue belt. I had a hard time controlling it against wrestlers. Had an even harder time finishing from there. Mainly I'd just mount from there. As a result I got pretty good at mounting.  And my mount was better than my side control. Not anymore! It's just too easy to isolate an arm from side control.

There's really no safe position for your arms on bottom side control. 

After playing this way for a week, I've come to realize that I have a way to isolate an arm from pretty much any arm configuration my opponent chooses. 

Hunting arms from side control makes it far easier to mount.  

Once people realize that isolating the arms is the key to staving off arm locks, it's soooooo much easier to transition to mount. I was pretty decent at it before, but now people are so focused on keeping their elbows glued to their rib cages that it's easier than ever. Although side control is such a target rich environment now that I only transition to mount to add a little variety to my game.

Grip breaks are key. 

I always had difficulties finishing from the straight arm lock position. I would finally get there, but then my opponent would establish an annoying collar grip, S-grip or figure-4 grip to defend.  And against a bigger, stronger opponent I just couldn't break it. I've attended classes where we'd learn grip breaks, but I'd either forget them the next day, or they wouldn't really work for me during live rolling and I'd have to switch to something else. Often times they'd be so focused on defending the arm lock that I'd be able to switch to a choke and get the tap. But that's not an option for me right now. Luckily, I took some time prior to this whole experiment, researched different grip breaks, found a handful that actually work for me, and memorized them. Now I kinda like it when they grip up to defend that armbar. There's a certain satisfaction that comes with breaking those grips.

Conclusion

They say necessity is the mother of invention. By limiting yourself to only arm locks for the next two months, you force yourself to find new ways to get that arm. If jiu-jitsu is creative problem solving under pressure at its finest, then this takes it to a  If you're a mid to advanced level player and want to get better at arm locks you might consider giving this little experiment a try. I've seen a significant improvement in just a week. It might help you too.

 

Happy training,

 

- Big Mike

 

P.S. If you're interested in reading a little more about Roy Harris and his ideas, be sure to check out his book, The Jiu Jitsu Answer Man.