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Under-Hooks, Turtles, and Pandas (Oh My!)

(Originally published August 16, 2020)

I've been experimenting with Priit Mihkelson's stuff in class lately.  I don't know if I'm teaching it correctly... in fact, I'm sure I'm not.  How could I?  I've never met Priit or trained with him.  I've certainly never had the opportunity to demo the moves for him and ask if I'm doing them correctly.  But even if we're not performing the techniques 100% correctly, the core concepts seem to be extremely effective.  Whatever it is that we're doing seems to be working quite well. 

It's so different from what we're all used to doing however that it takes some time and practice to get used to.  For instance, most of us prioritize protecting the neck over preventing the underhook.  Priit almost seems to do the opposite.  He prioritizes underhook prevention, and leaves neck duties to what he dubs "the boxing shoulder".  At some points in his videos he even goes so far as to say, "I don't care about my neck."

At first this seems like Jiu Jitsu heresy.  But having gone through much of his material, it's making more and more sense to me.  We always talk about how we need to keep our elbows close in Jiu Jitsu.  Many of us default to the T-Rex position when things go horribly wrong for us and we're stuck on the bottom.  It's a nice posture to fall back to, regroup from, and fight back out of.  When you really think about it, you know that in order to get any kind of arm lock you need to occupy the space between our opponent's upper arm, and their body.  Hence, the under-hook.  In order to take and control the back position, you generally need to establish the seat-belt.  Again, the under-hook.

Really any time I've let a decent opponent get an under-hook on me I've ended up in trouble.  Like Priit is fond of saying, we give our opponents the under-hook and then we complain that Jiu Jitsu is hard.

Now that's all well and good, but what about protecting your neck?  It turns out the boxing shoulder, while not impervious, does enough to slow our opponent down that one has time to bring the hands in to assist if need be.  And if your opponent is really serious about attacking your neck with one of his arms, then that arm isn't threatening an under-hook.  Hence prioritizing under-hook prevention makes more sense than I initially would have thought.

We've played with these concepts in the Turtle position as well as what Priit dubs the "Panda" in class over the past few weeks.  So far everyone seems to have noticed a significant, positive difference.  Priit's ideas are easy to remember, and even easier to implement.

I love simple solutions to difficult Jiu Jitsu problems, and Priit's are some of the best I've seen in awhile.  If you haven't checked out any of his material yet, I highly recommend you head on over to YouTube and check him out.  You might even consider heading over to BJJ Fanatics and giving one of his instructional products a whirl.


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