Saturday, December 31, 2005

Jiu Jitsu Goals for 2006

My number one goal is simple: to vastly improve my guard game.

Eddie Bravo made a nice point in an interview with the folks over at Asked what beginners in jiu jitsu ought to focus on in the beginning, Bravo was certainly talking his book. But you can't deny the point:
TH: What is the most important position to master in Jiu-Jitsu in your opinion? Guard, mount , pass guard or side mount?

EB: All are important but mastering the guard first is most important to me. When you have a good guard you don’t mind being on your back and then your whole game flourishes. A lot of people won't bother mounting from side control because they are afraid of getting rolled. It is very easy to get rolled from the mount in the beginning when your mount isn’t good. A lot of people just stay in and work from side control. Its not as powerful as the mount but it seems like it because you have less risk of being rolled than from the mount. So once you get your guard together you’ll be able to improve your mount because if you get bucked off from the mount like you do when starting JJ, you’ll end up in your guard and will feel comfortable in that position.

I still don't like the idea of getting reversed. After all, a reversal costs points in a tournament setting. But I do think that mastering the guard would help a guy like me who still has a strong wrestling bias to begin to think of himself as a jiu jitsu fighter instead. Patience, defense, and using the opponent against himself are the hallmarks of jiu jitsu as far as I'm concerned. And all of those traits are further developed by focusing on the guard game.

A large part of this is being willing to take more risks in sparring. That's another thing Rodrigo has been exhorting us to do. "Better try it here than in a tournament." He couldn't be more right about that. Too many times when I've got someone in my guard, I just freeze up and try to maintain the closed guard uber alles, without aggressively trying a sweep or even a submission. That has got to stop.

I should pick a few closed guard sweeps--the scissors sweep that Joe (the White) uses so well will probably be one of them--and just keep working them the same way I've been working guard passes. My guard pass game isn't first-rate. But it is a lot better since I started focusing on getting tightly into the guard, securing good hand position, and standing up to pass (or, using the Saulo Ribeiro ground pass). So let's pick two more sweeps and start working them in 2006!

I like the "omoplata sweep" that I hit a little while ago when rolling with Arnell. Certainly if the guy stands up in my guard and doesn't move quickly to pass then I can catch guys with that sweep. I've got a "feel" for it, I think. So I don't want to include it in the "three sweeps for 2006" that I'm thinking about.

That's the main goal: improve my guard game. Work both closed and open guards. Work the spider guard. Work the butterfly and X-guards when things get dicey. But keep moving. There are at least four different guards--I need to make sure to spend at least a little time in each one every single night that I'm on the mat.

Friday, December 30, 2005

North South to Armbar

Another observation from 101 Submissions: Chapter Two was the armbar attack from north-south.

I want to study this attack because I'm looking for transitions out of side control. Knee on belly is one, but moving to north-south is another. And if I can get into north-south, then there should be a number of attacks I can launch from this position, and the armbar seems like a good one.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

More on the Triangle Defense

Begged off class tonight due to a persistant and ahem inconsistently productive cough. I'm doing "tape work" instead, watching 101 Submissions: Chapter 2 and being blown away by what you can learn about defending against even the world's greatest triangle chokes.

Not a single one of the fighters who tapped out to triangle chokes on the DVD used the counter that Rodrigo showed us. Not only did they not attempt the counter, but also they all made the same mistake.

The mistake? Bringing up the opposite (i.e., non-trapped side) leg in an attempt to lessen the choke.

Kneeing up on the opposite side actually makes the choke worse. All you are doing is driving your body deeper into your arm. By kneeing up on the trapped side instead, you begin to wedge your body between your head and your arm. Kneeing up on the trapped side is not enough. The triangle is an excellent choking attack. But kneeing up on the trapped side is fundamental. And the tape proved it.

What is nice about this counter--which I've called the peppermill--is that there is usually plenty of time to stop, focus on the trapped side and make a determination to take the fight into the trap instead of away from it. That is what all stacking is about.

I should add that grabbing the pants with the free hand is very important to keep the guy from turning with you as you move, knee first, toward the trapped side. You are working as if to pass his guard, stacking on the other knee and grinding with the advance knee, staying very tight.

Deep thoughts ...

If he is controlling your body, free your body
Attack what is nearer to your body than his

Use your legs to fight his body, not your arms
If he attacks your legs, defend with your hips

If he is choking your neck, attack his arms
If he shortens his arms, pin them against his body

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Back from Tucson

Back from Tucson yesterday. An excellent visit with the in-laws, but unfortunately both Rebecca and I were whacked by the local epidemic. I kid you not. Emergency rooms were filled and they were telling people not to come in with the sort of mysterious cold symptoms me, Rebecca, Rebecca's sister Wendy and brother Clay and apparently half the population of the Old Pueblo was displaying.

Feeling much better now. I put in three miles on the treadmill to break myself in before tomorrow night's class. I'll do another two tomorrow morning.

It's good to be back.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Sweeps and Leg Position

This is specifically for the scissors sweep. But it is a good reminder of how a little technical feature can actually be key to an effective technique.

When doing the scissors sweep, lay your down leg on its side, not straight up and down. This way, when you bring your up leg across the guy's chest, underhooking him with your foot and taking him toward the down leg (whilst gripping cuff 'n' collar, of course), you can make a stronger sweeping motion with the down leg.

It is a lot easier to slide your leg in the sweep with your hips open (i.e., leg on the side) than with your hips closed (i.e., straight up and down).

Friday, December 23, 2005

Armbar Defense

From inside the guard.

The trapped arm: Never cross over the mid-way of the guy's chest. Instead, grab the collar on the same side.

The free arm: Use this arm to block the leg that is trying to trap your head. That leg might come up quickly, so be ready to block the leg as soon as you feel the guy's weight shifting.

The block: Your hand blocks the guy's leg in a way similar to the hand position behind the head in the rear naked choke. You are blocking the second leg, the one that will go across your neck. Your hand should be between your face and his calf.

The legs: One knee up and one knee down.

The knee up should be on the same side as the trapped arm. This is also good as a general rule any time an arm is trapped. Move to crowd the guy on the same side that he is trapping, jamming him.

Bring the up knee around and down into his belly as you stack him on his neck and begin to work your arm free.

The knee down should be perpendicular to the "knee up" leg and tight on the guy's butt--under it is even better.

The stack: Drive the knee up into the abdomen as you rotate around his butt toward the side of the trapped arm.

Stay Tight! The more you extend you body, the more the guy can extend his legs and execute the armbar.

Drive the knee down under his hips as if to prop him up or support his hips. This will help stack him without the need to stand up.

From the full stack: You can either stack and pull your arm out, continuing to work around to the side until you have passed his guard.


You can bring the down knee around to the side and move the knee up (the one that was grinding into the abdomen) over the guy's head. Here, you want to straighten that leg out and swing it over the guy's head so that you are essentially sitting on the guy's head.

The armbar threat will be eliminated and his guard will be passed. You will either wind up in north-south or side control.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Thoughts on the Guard

What is the point of the guard?

The idea of the guard is to control your opponent’s body. Generally, you establish this control with your legs. In a closed guard, your legs are around your opponent’s body, controlling him by the hips. In an open guard, you are controlling other key parts of his body. For example, in the spider guard you are controlling both arms by gripping the cuffs and putting your feet in his biceps. This controls the opponent by controlling his upper body. In the modified spider guard, you are also controlling both arms by gripping the cuffs. But instead of putting your feet on his biceps, you bring him closer and press your knees against his biceps.

The butterfly guard is another guard worth mentioning—though it mostly appears to be a transition guard. Here both your feet between the opponent’s legs, right under his groin. At the same time, you pull his body close to yours. This guard is the epitome of keeping your legs between you and your opponent—because with this guard, that’s all you’ve got! That said, having your legs in this position does give you a lot of leverage to take the opponents over your back or over to one side.

The X guard is an exotic guard that Marcelo Garcia has used to great effect. In this guard you control the lower body by controlling the thighs and legs. Both feet are used as hooks on the same leg. Here is the description from with my notes in italics.

His foot is up on my right shoulder, not in the crook of my arm.

My right leg inserts through his legs and my right instep is nestled in the crease of his hip. My right knee is behind the plane of his body underneath the thigh of the opposite leg.

My left leg is positioned so that my instep hooks behind his right knee, pushing it away from me.

My right hand cups his leg, typically controlling it at the kneecap.

They add about the X guard that it is an effective move from the butterfly guard, as often the opponent will try and stand out of the butterfly guard, opening himself up to the X guard trap.

The idea of sweeping from the guard is two-fold: control the cuffs or the collar, and try and get the opponent’s weight on your hips where it will be easier to control him. There are three main options: taking the guy over your back, taking him to your right, and taking him to your left. All non-attacking moves from the guard should be geared toward one of these three objectives.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Stray Thoughts from Thursday

A couple of things I picked up from talking with Rodrigo after class on Thursday.

(1) It's all about movement of the body. The reason my arms and shoulders are so sore is because my upper body is doing all the work.

(2) Change the angles. If the guy in your guard is working you hard to your left, then you might be able to sweep him in that direction. Jiu jitsu is just judo on the ground.

(3) From Cindy: When under sidemount or half-guard, never waste your time or energy by hugging the guy on top of you. Always work to get your arms/hands between your body and his.

Also, "ass out" or hip escape when trying to fight off a sidemount or half guard pass. Joachim Hansen has that great reversal move where he hip escapes, then throws a leg over the back of the top guy. In one variation, you throw the leg up toward the head and use that momentum to drive you over. In the other variation, you throw the leg up toward the upper chest and use that momentum to drive you over into rear mount.

Cesar Gracie's tips on hand control are working wonderfully. Not only does closing the collar make it easier to control the guy's body when you are in his guard. But it also helps keep your elbow in. I've got more work to do, but I feel more confident about being in the guard because I'm finally getting what Cesar meant.

Also starting to do a lot better at automatically standing up to pass the guard. I want to be almost known for that. I'll still keep trying to work Saulo Ribeiro's on-the-ground pass for variation. But I'm fighting for upright position every time now.

(3) When in the "passing the knee" stage of passing the guard, underhook the body on the side opposite the one you are trying to pass. Keep your hips low and try to bring the opposite knee/hip over first, if you can. Also, try and overhook and pin the arm on the side you are passing to. It will help keep the guy from blocking your knee with his hand.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Spider Guard

Three techniques tonight, all working from the spider guard. The first was simply a drill rotating the feet, outside to in, to hook the arm by the bicep. We worked that both sides.

The second involves hooking the bicep, but then letting the top fighter into an opened guard. The end result was a sort of bicep cutter with figure-foured legs and reaching under to grab the foot-hooked arm. I can't remember the steps.

The third technique was a reversal into side control. You let the guard down as you did in the second technique. But then grab the pants of the far leg at the knee (or underhook that leg) and after scooting in close to his body, rolling him over your far shoulder.

As you roll, you want your knee to be right at his armpit, which will help pin him down after the roll. This is why you want to scoot in close before rolling over. That will keep you from getting too far away.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Fighting the Triangle

Here are the keys to fighting off the triangle choke.

Posture up.

Go to knee up on the side of the trapped arm. Bring the other leg up tight under the guy's butt.

Grab the opposite collar as deeply as possible with the hand of the trapped arm and bring forearm across throat. In sparring, it can probably be across the upper chest.

Bring the up knee down around the leg and into the abdomen or lower chest.

Grab the pants by the butt with the hand of the free arm. That will help you turn in the direction of the trapped arm and the grinding knee.

Stack and grind from here, working around toward the trapped arm side and stacking--without standing. It's more of a low stack and grind. I'm going to call it the peppermill triangle defense!

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Definition of Back Control

I introduce to you, Marcelo Garcia v. Renzo Gracie.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Tournament Recap

BJJ Tournament Record: 1-2
Next tournament: Copa 7 Northwest March 2006

Copa 6 Northwest: December 2005
Won 2-0 (takedown)
Lost in second minute by triangle choke

Copa 5 Northwest: September 2005
Lost in second minute by armbar


Felt very nice to fight at the 155.8 I weighed in at. Under 160 is definitely my weight, and I'm super glad I got down there. I still give up height at this weight, but I tend to have the strength advantage. If I can get the rest of my game up to speed, then 149-158 might work just fine going forward.

The week leading up to the tournament wasn't a walk in the park. But the diet cutting and sauna suit treadmill work weren't too strenuous. I went from 167 on my scale on Monday morning to 155.8 on their scale on Saturday morning. In the future, I'd rather do that over two weeks, maybe going from 165 to 160 in one week, then from 160 to 155 in the next week.

Great scene at the tournament. A lot of Southside Mamazinho guys were there--including some of the capoeira folks. Eliot, Arnell and Mario were there to watch and provide support. Tom, Jesse the White Belt and Jesse the Blue Belt, and Big Griff competed from the southside, as did Big Mike. Add me and you had six southside regulars competing.

I won my first match and lost my second to fall out of medal contention. The first guy was very aggressive, grapping my sleeves and jerking me back and forth. I was desperate to win a fight with Rebecca there watching, and couldn't figure out if there was a method to this guy's madness or not. I decided to just hang on and keep my balance, essentially waiting him out.

At some point in the stand-up we got body-to-body and I managed to take him down near the edge of the mat. It was a high hip throw of some sort. The guy landed hard and the throw drew a lot of gasps from people watching. I landed on top and managed to turn him into a sort of "scarf hold" by the edge of the mat.

One mistake I made was that I expected the referee to stop us because he was almost half off the mat. The guy I was fighting kept going, and I risked getting reversed. The ref dragged us back to the center, and we re-started.

Eventually the guy was able to get me back into his full guard. But time was running out. Thanks especially to the review I did the night before about maintaining good posture and using the collar to post and control the guy's upper body. Cindy was yelling for me to keep my posture, which echoed what Cesar Gracie had been saying in the previous night's homework. So I rode that one out to a win: 2-0.

My second fight was a little disappointing, in some ways a lot like my fight in Copa 5 Northwest. We circled a lot--too much. I was cautious--and more than a little arm sore. Also this guy was the complete opposite of the first guy I fought. He wasn't especially aggressive and tried to move toward his left (my right).

Eventually we clenched up and I tried a similar throw. This time we were too far off the edge of the mat and I didn't get credit for the takedown. Again we were restarted in the middle and the guy got me into his closed guard. I started out fine enough, but eventually got sloppy and got caught in a triangle.

It wasn't the tightest triangle in the world, to be honest. And it drove me crazy that I couldn't remember the counter to the triangle that Rodrigo had shown us just two days ago! I did remember enough not to stand. But I got confused trying to remember which knee to bring up (reminder: same side as the trapped arm), and what to do with the hands (reminder: one across the throat/upper chest and the other grabbing the pants). I also forgot the direction of the counter: grinding the up knee down into the abdomen and stacking the guy tightly upside down.

But I was tired and thinking too much about how exhausted I would be in the fight after this one if I won. In other words, I wasn't thinking straight about the fight. After a few minutes, I tapped out and lost the match.

I'd love a rematch with both guys in March. In both fights I got in that scarf hold position and didn't have a follow-up move. The obvious follow-up is side control. But I should consider going to north-south first--which should probably be easier from the scarf hold--then slip into side control.

I think there is am armbar from the scarf hold position, and a choke. I should look those up. The choke I think I can figure out. But I'm going to have to look in Rigan Machado's Encyclopedia to find that armbar ...

I figure that my next win has to be by submission and that in the second round the worst I can do is lose by points. That's my benchmark, at least, for steady progress.

All in all a great experience. Rebecca had a blast also, which was great. I can't say enough how wonderful it was to win my first fight in front of the minx.

I'm taking a week off from my cardio routine, though I'll go to class Tuesday and Thursday. Then I'll have a week and two days back on the routine before heading out to Tucson. I'll be back on Tuesday the 27th--I'm not sure if I'll go in to class or not. I took the 28th off for a little post-vacation holiday of my own. At the time, I thought it might be a badly needed preparation day for our move to Southern California. Now it will just be a day for further R&R chez moi.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Fighting the Guard

Last class before the tournament. We worked takedowns for a second night in a row (i.e., Tuesday's class). Then passing the guard and escape from the guard. It was a nice tightly focused class. The new blue belt, Jes, ran a perfect warm-up, by the way.

The most important thing in the class, however, were the counters to the triangle and the armbar that Rodrigo showed us. The other new blue belt, who also is called Jes, I think, caught me in triangle after triangle during our guard work. I know that my guard is pathetic and needs a lot of work. But I should be better at passing the guard, and knowing how to deal with triangles and armbars is a big part of that.

The main idea is that if you can fight off the attack, fine. But if you get caught DON'T STAND UP!

Standing up allows the guy to extend his legs in an armbar, and to get better leverage in the triangle choke. Like the counter to the kimura from the half-guard that Rodrigo showed a few of us after class, if you get caught then instead of creating space, you want to close the space, getting as close to the guy's body as possible--and hopefully making him uncomfortable by pinning his legs over his body so that his guard can be passed.

Fighting off the Triangle
This was the big one tonight, and I'm trying to remember how it goes. Basically, you want to do two things. First, maintain an upright posture. You do this by going to one knee, the "up" knee being on the same side as the arm that is trapped in the triangle.

Here's a fuzzy part. I think you want to reach other with the non-trapped arm and grab the hand of the trapped arm to lock arms around the guy's leg. You then lean in, pressing his legs back against his body, cheating slightly toward the "up knee" side.

Even if he is flexible enough to take the discomfort of having his legs pushed back, he will lose the strength to maintain the triangle attack. And as you loses the leverage, you gain leverage as you move toward passing his guard and moving into side control.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

All Omoplata All The Time

For some reason, I've been obsessed with omoplatas. I tapped Big Griff the other night using a crucifix, which is sort of a "double chickenwing" hold that is usually right there if the omoplata doesn't work.

Omoplatas are especially good against larger opponents. But there's something about that technique that I think I "get" in terms of the leverage and the physics involved. Especially considering that I'm still a big-time novice as far as working from the guard is concerned.

The omoplata also sets up opportunities for the kimura, which is slowly becoming one of my favorite arm attacks. Increasingly I want to use the keylock to set up armbars--as in: keylock attempt from modified knee on belly to armbar using the far leg ...

But the omoplata ... it is a reminder that legs are arms. And that the closed guard is just a form of double underhook. The guard game in Brazilian jiu jitsu is a lot like the pummelling game of Greco-Roman wrestling. I need to use my closed guard to get the guy off balance the same way I might try and pummell a guy off balance with double underhooks.

The omoplata seems like the most basic extrapolation from all of this. Here are some links to video and instructionals on how it is done.

Omoplata from mount

The "Umaplata" from Jacare

My favorite explanation of the omoplata.

There was a recent discussion about omoplatas in Grappling magazine with Renato Magno (November 2005). Here were some of his thoughts on the technique:
The omoplata is a shoulder lock that is used in Brazilian jiu jitsu, submission fighting and mixed martial arts. It is not a sophisticated technique, but it is very effective. Not only can you finish an opponent with an omoplata, but you can branch off or transition into a triangle, sweep, footlock or armbar. You can use it offensively or defensively, and you can use it in gi or noo-gi situations.

To make the omoplata effective, use your legs to break his posture. This way the opponent won't be able to stack you (when he folds you on the ground and puts his weight on you). Remember, it's important to always be on his side so you can go to his back or legs. This gives you much more options.

Once you are prepared to do the omoplata, you are atttacking at 90 degrees. Your hips have to move 90 degrees to do the omoplata. You also have to be real mobile on your back. You don't want to be flat. You have to be able to raise your hips from the floor because you have to get the legs up there. Hip mobility is very important.

"Passing the Knees"

Passing the guard involves creating space, opening the guard and then "passing the knees" before moving into, hopefully, side control.

"Passing the knees" means two things: holding one knee down on the mat and simultaneously avoiding the defense of the other knee/shin as the opponent rolls to his side.

This clip from Abhaya highlights a strategy for "passing the knees."

It was picture day at Gracie Barra Mamazinho. I was surprised how many of the guys from the South Seattle academy weren't there. Big Griff and Tom were the only guys I've seen at South Seattle a lot who were there.

Ivan Salavery was there, with a small black bulldog or something. Very cool.

I still prefer the South Seattle location. I don't know what commercial real estate in Ballard is like. But it would be nice to see them get some more space somewhere in the area.