Monday, September 20, 2021

The 32 Principles: A Review

A lot of folks have been asking me about Gracie University's 32 Principles program.  I own the first eight principles and have had some time to digest them, so I thought I'd take some time to give it a review here.

The 32 Principles (32P for short) is a digital product that you access through Gracie University Online.  If you have access to Gracie Combatives or any of their other courses, the user interface is exactly the same with one exception.  They allow you to download copies of the videos.  This feature is really nice for me because I travel from time to time, and it's nice to be able to watch the videos when I don't have access to the internet.

The videos are high quality.  It's easy to see all of the details and hear the instruction.  Ryron and Rener are some of the best instructors out there, and they break everything down for you Sesame Street style.  I always enjoy watching them teach.  They're informative and fun!

So on to the meat of it.  What do they teach on these videos?

Well, for this first installment there's an eight minute intro, and a two hour mini masterclass on principle centered learning.  Then there are videos for each of the eight principles.  And lastly there's a four minute Outro video.

The principle videos are anywhere from a little over 20 minutes to just under an hour.  They give you a definition of the principle.  Then they demonstrate the principle using some techniques from their online curriculum.  I feel like they do a very through job of this.  There's no way you're coming away from one of these videos without understanding exactly what the principle is that they're trying to communicate.

Next they talk about research objectives.  This is a new concept in video instruction.  They actually give you homework.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to look for the principle while sparring for at least the next few weeks.  

It's the old Reticular Activation System (RAS) concept.  You know how right after you buy a new car, you notice that same model all over the place?  It's like everyone else went out and bought the same car.  But of course they didn't.  You just happen to notice them more because you just bought one.  It's the same thing with the principle.  The idea is that after studying it, you'll see it all over the place.

Your research objectives are to find nine examples of the principle in action.  Three examples of the principle should be in what they refer to as, “As-is” Techniques, existing Gracie University techniques that already incorporate the principle.  

Three examples of the principle should be in what they refer to as, “Enhanced” Techniques, existing GU techniques that you enhanced with the principle. 

And three examples of the principle should be in what they refer to as, “Discovered” Techniques.  These are non-GU techniques (self-discovered or learned elsewhere) that utilize the principle.

Of course if you're not a GU student, or don't have access to any of the GU curriculum, I'm sure this would be just as effective using whatever curriculum and techniques your instructor happens to use at your academy.

In the final section of each video Ryron and Rener talk about how you should conduct a sparring exercise for the given principle. The top priority of course should be the inclusion of the Principle discussed during the video, with ample time spent after the session to discuss and dissect the implications of the principle throughout the roll.

Overall, I like the process that they've laid out for their 32P program.  I feel like this is a useful endeavor that would benefit just about anyone as long as they have the discipline to see it through.

After watching the first principle myself, I went to the gym and managed to concentrate on the first principle, connection, for the majority of my first roll.  After that I'll be honest.  I was over it.  Yep, there's connection all over the place in Jiu-Jitsu.  And while dividing it up into three purposes of connection (prevention, prediction, promotion) was interesting, it just wasn't enough to hold my interest throughout all but the first roll of the evening.

Even though my limited attention span didn't allow me to use the product the way it was intended, I still feel the information was useful and enjoyable.  I like hearing about how different people think about Jiu Jitsu.  And I'll probably give their "research" methodology another try at some point.  I geek out over this stuff.  

Bottom line, should you buy this or no?

Well, it depends.  I feel it bears pointing out that they originally intended this as their purple to brown belt course, but then decided to market it for everyone.  

If you're a brand new white belt with limited funds, I'd say your money is better spent elsewhere.  It seems like they're marketing this as if it's the only thing you need.  I think it was Rener who said words to the effect of, if he had to start all over again and learn Jiu Jitsu from scratch, and had to choose between all the techniques of their curriculum or their 32 principles, that he'd choose the 32P.

Hats off to Ryron and Rener because really do think they are awesome, but I would have to respectfully disagree.  If you gave me the 32P as my intro to BJJ, I wouldn't have known what to do with it.  I feel like you need to understand the basic framework and fundamentals of BJJ first.  Then the principles can help you.  

If you're a brand new white belt and have to choose between the 32P and say, Gracie Combatives, I'd say choose Gracie Combatives.  It's a brilliant intro to the fundamentals, and it's not like you're not getting any principles of Jiu Jitsu in that course.  It's chock full of them even if they don't explicitly spell them out for you.  

If you have enough money to get both Gracie Combatives and 32P, then you might consider getting both.  But start watching and learning Gracie Combatives first!  Then you'll have a framework with which you can better absorb the 32P.

If you've been doing BJJ for awhile, have a firm grasp on the fundamentals, and are interested in principle centered learning, I'd say give the first eight principles a shot and see if it's for you.

Good luck and happy training.  Hope that helps.


- Big Mike

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Why You Can't Escape Side Control

So you learned an escape from side control.  You learned how to shrimp and recover guard.  You've practiced this technique to the point that you can execute it flawlessly with a compliant training partner.  Your technique is a thing of beauty.  

But then you try it during live rolling.  And it doesn't frigging work.

You frame the neck and the hip just like you were taught.  You can feel the space that you've just created.  All that's left to do is escape your hips to make just a little more room to insert your knee at the hip line.

But then he switches his hips, pulls up on your elbow, and sits through to a broken scarf hold where his hips completely negate your shrimping escape.  

Or... he brings his cross-face arm over to the other side of your neck, switches his other arm to the other side of your hips and again, completely negates your shrimping escape.  

You come to find that different arm and leg configurations on the part of your opponent effectively changes the problem.  

Your escape fails because different problems (aka different side control configurations) require different solutions.

So you go back to YouTube, or instructional, or (and here's a crazy idea) your instructor looking for answers.  You break Side Control down into all of it's different configurations and learn at least one escape for each configuration.

You practice this handful of escapes until you can execute each of them flawlessly, without hesitation, the instance you fall into their corresponding configuration of side control.

You come to your next class more excited than you've ever been.  You make it through the warmups and the technical instruction, eagerly awaiting the rolling portion which is now upon you.

You pair up with your first rolling partner, slap hands, bump fists, and sit to guard.  You allow your opponent to pass.  You feign a feeble attempt at guard retention so as to not make it too obvious.

Now at last, you are ready to put your plan into action.  He grabs an underhook and cross face.  You go for your shrimp escape but just like before, he transitions to scarf hold.  You try your scarf hold escape, but he transitions to the reverse cross face.  And in this manner, he counters each of your escapes by transitioning from one form of side control to another.

Your escape attempts fail because a good opponent continually changes the problem before you have a chance to work a solution.

This effectively keeps him one step ahead of you.

So what the heck do you do?

The good news is you're almost there.  You're so money, and you don't even know it.

All you have to do is find a way to get ahead of the problem.  You know he's going to switch configurations.  He only has so many options.  You can predict which configuration he's going to based on which way he turns.  

Now all you need to do is start the escape for the configuration he's going for, as he is transitioning to that new configuration.  

That way you can start working the solution before he can finish giving you the problem.   

This is the only way I'm able to escape side control against guys who are really good. 

You have to make the current side control configuration just a little uncomfortable for the guy on top.  Just enough to make him want to switch configurations.  You know which configuration he's going for depending on which way he turns.  You start the escape for that configuration as he is transitioning to it.  That way you're halfway through the escape before he even gets there.  

I know this isn't the quick fix to all your side control problems that you were hoping for.  It takes some time, practice and studying on your part to get there.  

You have to know your escapes.  You've got to have them down cold so that you'll be able to execute them without hesitation once the pressure's on.  

Then you can start predicting where your opponent is going.  And that's when the magic starts to happen.  Your escapes start working.  It's like there's nothing they can do.  If they try to hold their current configuration, you escape.  If they try to switch to another configuration, you escape.  Your training partners start to think you can read their minds... 

because... 

well... 

you can... 

kind of.

And that is one of the most rewarding feelings in all of Jiu Jitsu.  Feeling that you're damn near un-pin-able mind reader.  Now you can go for all those fancy moves your instructor showed you without fear because you're confident in your.

Put the time and effort into this and I guarantee you'll be glad you did.

Hope that helps.


- Big Mike

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Big Mike Vs. The Odds

Having recently earned my brown belt, I've been reading some articles and watching videos lately about what to expect as a new brown belt. And it got me thinking about my own personal road to brown belt.

I'm a bit of a nomad. I've been moving around my whole life. I was a Navy brat. Moved around every two to three years growing up. I joined the Navy and became a helo pilot after college and continued to move around for the next 20 years. 

Now that I think of it, College was the longest I'd ever been in one place.  Man, those were some of the best five and a half years of my life!

But I digress...

Moving around tends to hamper your progress in Jiu Jitsu. Ryan Young over at Kama Jiu Jitsu said in one of his videos that if you're one who moves a lot, you can pretty much figure you're not going to get any belts from anybody. It's just the sad fact of it.

What was that? A fact. If you move a lot, no belts. No blue belt. Certainly no purple belt. And a brown belt? Impossible!

His rationale was that it's not just about whether you can beat higher belts in sparring.  Your instructor needs to get to know you as a person.  And that takes time.

I suppose that explains at least in part why it took me so long to get where I am today. I attended my first BJJ class in early 2001. I actually started studying BJJ from VHS cassettes (anybody remember those?) and practicing with my buddies back in 1997. So either way you slice it, I've been at this for at least 20 years now. 

Despite all the moving around, I was awarded my blue belt in 2008.  Then my purple belt 10 years later in 2018. And now my brown belt in 2021.

I would agree that moving around definitely factored into my lengthy time between promotions. Sporadic attendance due to deployments, work ups, and hectic flight schedules didn't help either.

I read in another article at BJJ Tribes that only about 5% of BJJ practitioners ever get their brown belt. I wonder what the percentage is on nomads like me getting there.

If my story were about someone else doing something other than Jiu Jitsu, I'd say they were crazy. Why wouldn't you just hang it up? Move on. Find a new goal. Clearly you're not cut out for this. 

I'd love to say that my stick-to-it-iveness had something to do with my own mental fortitude. But that would be a lie. It's not like I ever thought about quitting and just decided to stick it out through grit and determination. I just love Jiu Jitsu. I need it. Almost as much as I need air, water or food.  

When I can't train for any period of time, I get a little cranky. Robin (my beautiful wife) notices. She lets me know. 

"You need to go back to Jiu Jitsu. You're being an asshole." 

Sometimes she says it with the most adorable smile. Other times there's no smile. But when life gets in the way and I have to take time off from training, she's always there to keep me in check.  And she's right.  I NEED Jiu Jitsu. I'm ADDICTED.

My name is Mike Gorski.  And I am a Jiu-Jitsu-holic.

At this point I figure I'm at least in contention for world's longest road to black belt. Yeah, I kind of stacked the deck against myself initially with that whole being in the Navy thing, but I know I'll eventually get there. Not because of grit and determination, but because I just can't help it.  It may be another two or three or even 20 years, but I'll eventually get that black belt.

What's my point with all of this?  I suppose what I'm really getting at is that if you're feeling frustrated by similar issues I just wanted to let you know that I've been there. 

I've been judged by the color of my belt when it in no way conveyed my level of skill and experience. I've been treated like a brand new white belt upon showing up to a new gym, only to mop the floor with blue belts, and give the purple belts a run for their money.  

As a blue belt I've had purple belts in multiple gyms go to the instructor in shock because this blue belt dominated them or even tapped them out. 

I've had multiple instructors over the years say that I was not your average white belt, or not your average blue belt. 

But Ryan Young was right.  Most of those instructors never gave me a belt. But then again, there were others who did.

Don't get me wrong. There were times where I really thought I'd never get promoted. And it was really frustrating. Downright disheartening at times. But eventually I did get promoted. 

Thanks to Papa John Gorman for understanding the plight of military guys who train Jiu Jitsu, and giving me my blue belt.  And thanks to Dax Razzano for giving me my purple belt, and then continuing to work with me after I moved away so that I could get to brown. 

And while 20+ years isn't the most ideal timeframe to receive those three belt promotions, I'll take it!

Pretty much not going to get any belts from anybody? Eat that Ryan Young! 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you're experiencing anything like that, I've been there. And if I can get from there to here, so can you. 

Hang in there and keep training! Hope that helps.  


- Big Mike

Monday, June 21, 2021

Razzano Academy Visit

So I took a trip back to Bloomington Indiana last week to visit my instructor, Dax Razzano.  I wanted to give him a chance to roll with me so that he could give me an honest critique on where I'm at, and what I need to do in order to progress to that next level.  

My sincere apologies to all of my non-Jiu-Jitsu friends in the area.  I didn't contact anyone outside of the academy while I was there. This trip was all about Jiu Jitsu. Nothing else. I trained, ate, and slept.  I'll have to hit the rest of you up on another visit. I hope you'll all understand.

It was a six day trip altogether.  Minus the two travel days gave me 4 days, boots on the ground for training.

And boy, did I get a lot of sparring in while I was there.  A LOT of sparring!  All I can say is, thank God for Motrin, Yoga, and the Hotel swimming pool!  I can only imagine what these old bones would have felt like without them.

It was good to see all my Razzano Academy friends again.  Some of the white belts I used to train with are now blue belts. Some of the blues are now purple. So on and so forth.

And Dax has a reputation for being notoriously slow to promote people.  So you know those blues that made purple are no joke! I couldn't just relax and play around with them anymore like I used to. If I let down my guard for one split second they would capitalize!

Which brings up an interesting phenomenon in BJJ. I had an old Calculus professor in college who put it like this, "I know for a fact that I'm getting smarter.  I study.  I learn. I must be getting smarter. But I feel like I'm getting dumber.  And I think that the reason I feel like I'm getting dumber is that I'm finally getting smart enough to realize how dumb I really am."

While you're progressing, everyone else is progressing right along with you.  If you've been training for 6 months you may not feel like you're getting any better.  You may even feel like you're getting worse because you're getting smart enough to identify some of the mistakes you're making.

You don't realize you're getting any better until a new guy comes in who knows nothing about the ground game. And then you can finally give better than you get.  Then you realize that hey, maybe you really are getting better. Maybe this Jiu Jitsu stuff actually works!

But in a little town like Montrose, you don't have a steady stream of new white belts coming in. That can make it tough to gauge your own progress.

To make matters worse, lower belts tend to improve faster than upper belts.  When you start your Jiu Jitsu journey, you make progress in leaps and bounds.  You're learning new moves and concepts every class.  

As you get better, the progress is more like an inch here, a millimeter there.  You refine and tweak things as opposed to learning new earth shattering moves and concepts every class.

When you're one of the top dogs in your gym, you're still progressing, but not as fast as a brand new white belt.

So if you're gauging your progress based on how well you do against everybody else, it can feel like you're getting worse. As the blue belts approach purple, and purple belts approach brown, it gets tougher to submit them even though you're getting better every day.

Which brings me to the last day of my trip. I really wasn't sure what to expect. I tried to go out there with the motto of accept, don't expect.  Don't expect anything out of the trip other than an honest critique of where I am, what I need to work on over the next few months, and a plan as far as how to work on it.  Stripes or a belt would be icing on the cake. A happy surprise. 

Still it was hard not to fantasize about getting some sort of promotion the last day of class.  It would be a big class.  All my buddies would be there. Everyone would congratulate me.  Shake my hand. Lots of pictures, etc.

But the last class came and there wasn't a big showing.  Just me, Dax, and a white belt.  Dax tried to organize a special class just for me, but everyone was busy. Hey, it happens. I had already trained more than I thought I'd be able to this trip.

No matter.  We rolled for hours and had an blast!  Afterwards, the white belt left, and it was just me and Dax.  

Then he got that look on his face.  Like you get when you're about to break the bad news to someone.  Then he said, "Well...," in that voice you use when you're about to break the bad news to someone.

Now I've always been my own worst critic.  And  for the most part, I've figured out how to harness that and use it as an asset.  It drives you to work harder.  Study harder.  Find new and creative ways to improve both on and off the mat.

But at that particular moment in time my inner critic went into overdrive... "Crap. Was I that bad?  Have I not progressed at all?  Have I gotten worse?  Developed bad habits?"

I thought I'd improved.  I thought my open guard game had really blossomed since I left Indiana, It felt like that two months of only armbars really improved my submission game.  Granted my leglock experiment never really took off due to the broken toe, but playing on my back due to the injury gave me a chance to improve other aspects of my bottom game. 

Was he unhappy with the direction my game was developing?  What could it be?

Dax continued. "I guess we'll have to do this kind of unceremoniously."

"What's that?"

"Well, I ordered you a belt.  But it hasn't come in yet."

"... um... A purple belt with more stripes on it?"

Dax laughed.  "No, a brown one. But it's not in yet. I'll have to mail it to you."

We went out for a few beers afterwards.  We sat there and talked for hours about Jiu Jitsu.  About running a gym.   Teaching classes.  How to progress when you're the top dog at your school.  And a whole slew of other topics. 

In the end he told me the brown belt was an easy decision.  And that's a huge compliment in my mind. Because like I said, he has a reputation for being notoriously slow to promote people.  He wouldn't give me the belt if I hadn't earned it.

All in all not a bad trip!  I got to roll with my old Razzano Academy friends.  And I achieved my goal of earning that brown belt!  



Oh yeah... by the way... I re-broke that pesky toe of mine.  But honestly, I think the whole experience was worth it.  If I had to do it all over again, I'd still re-break that toe if it meant getting to roll with everyone and get my brown belt!

Take care, and keep training!

- Big Mike

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.