Monday, October 30, 2006

Standing in the Guard and a Triangle Choke Escape

It kills me that I can't do three gi nights a week. We've added a gi night, but it's on Tuesday. I'd like to start hinting about moving it to Thursday--especially if Sean Wilson is going to be doing a wrestling class on Friday nights. That way you could have no gi on Tuesday and Friday nights, gi on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

I set up my Monday, Wednesday, Thursday training schedule before they went to no gi on Tuesdays and Thursdays over the summer. As long as they were only offering two nights of gi anyway, my schedule worked out perfectly--plus the bonus of a third of my training being no gi.

But now I'm missing a night of gi training that I could really use--especially since I'm really not interested in competing no gi anytime soon (I've told myself I'd pump up the no gi training after I get my purple belt ...). There's not a lot I can do about it--Rebecca even set up her tutoring schedule to take advantage of my not training Tuesday nights. But I hate telling Mamazinho that I'm not going to be there Tuesdays for more gi training ...

This Tuesday is different because I'm flying to North Carolina for my grandmother's funeral. She was a great woman, and many of my fondest childhood memories involve summers at her house in East Spencer. But I particularly want to be there for my mom. I've been quite the prodigal son, brother, nephew, cousin, etc. in many ways--some deliberate, some not so much--since I moved out West in 1989. It will be a good thing to be back with the Family on an occasion like this--even if for not much more than 24 hours. It will be good to see people I haven't seen in more than 20 years.

Back to training Thursday night, though--Northwest Airlines willing. Tonight Mamazinho had us working on some standing guard pass drills, emphasizing that "strong legs" are important in guard passing. We worked a couple of drills that involved jumping into guard from standing, lowering the guy (an anti-slamming drill, I guess), then picking him up in that same classic Gracie Barra pass that Cesar Gracie starts out with in his instructional. We didn't even work on pushing down on the knee or other "guard opening"--just focusing on getting used to lifting body weight, which can be intimidating when you are tired in sparring or competition.

From the bottom, Mamazinho had us attacking with armbars when the guys stands you up in guard. Trap the extended arm. Step on the hip on the side of the arm you are attacking. Chuck under the opposite arm with the other leg, then throw the "step" leg over the head and extend the hips to lock the arm.

It's probably worth remembering that other options from here include Mamazinho's Feitosa Swing sweeps ...

I was working with Jason, a purple belt who surprised me by telling me that he weighted about 180. I'm a terrible judge of size--probably because I equate height with weight. Anyway, he was a good guy to work with because while it looked like he was learning some of what Mamazinho was telling us, his skill level was such that you could watch him figuring it out in the minute or so we drilled each technique.

We also learned another triangle choke counter and escape. Generally, you want to posture and control the hips by grabbing the belt or the pants and pulling downward toward the mat as you throw your chest out and your shoulders back. And there's that other triangle choke counter that I've been working with over the past several weeks ...

But Mamazinho's counter had you attack with a sort of thrusting choke while, controling the hips as above, you stand and walk in the direction of your trapped/thrusting choke arm, twisting your northside hip into the thigh as you grind the bottom guy down.

Details ... to set up the thrusting choke, use your free arm to feed the collar to your trapped arm. You'll use a palm down grip, and bring the collar across his neck as if you'd thrown a punch at his jaw.

Details ... controlling the hips is essential. Otherwise, the guy on the bottom can twist and twist, resisting the pressure. It also makes you vulnerable to armbars, omoplata sweeps and the original triangle you were trying to escape from. Reach under and grab the belt. Or the pants. Or the bottom of the jacket. but CONTROL THE HIPS.

Details ... as you walk around toward your thrusting choke, work to get your outside knee beyond his inside leg. That shouldn't be too hard. But from here, make sure you lower your weight, forcing the bottom guy's locking leg (as opposed to the choking leg, which is on the far side) to straighten out and unlock. When Mamazinho did it, the knee of his north side leg was almost on the bottom guy's face. It's a real "smash pass."

That might have been the technique of the night. I didn't do too bad in specifics or sparring--though I spent more time fighting off a winding choke from the 1/2 back from Lindsey than I would have liked. Much better at standing to pass the guard--at least in the beginning. Tommy made the point after class that he believed in standing to pass the guard in no gi, and wasn't too concerned with where your hands were ... biceps, shoulders, armpits ... His point was that the worst they could do is the double ankle underhook sweep, and even then the worst that could happen was probably a scramble. Something to keep in mind ...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Nog's Inverted Americana

Here’s a nice transition from the far side kimura from side control to a sort of shoulder lock that seems to work a lot like the Americana. It’s from Big Nog. I've been wanting to post something about this move for awhile ...

You start out trying to lock the far side kimura. Maybe you can’t get it because the guy straightens out his arm. Maybe you can’t get it because the guy keeps his arm tight against his side—maybe grabbing his gi or even his own shorts in no gi. Since you can’t get at the arm—or, more accurately, can’t control his elbow—this transition lets you move to the best nearby alternative target, the shoulder.

To do the shoulder lock from the kimura grip, you want to first slide the hand that is clasping the back of your wrist—the northside hand—deep underneath his arm to clasp high up on your bicep. It’s just a quick move—reach to where your bicep and your side delts meet. From here, more or less at the same time, you want to release his wrist with your southside hand and grab the elbow of your northside arm. Keep it nice and tight because you’re going to move.

Crawl to crawl to north/south. As you get to north/south, sit out with the leg that’s underneath you (the same way you’d sit out in scarf hold). The knee on your sit out should almost be touching your elbow/shoulder lock. Slowly, under control, tilt the north side of the lock—the side that is closest to you—upward. It is almost as if you are doing an inverted Americana.

The video of the technique is available at in their Tip of the Week section. But you’ve got to be a subscriber ($5/month) to see it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Three from Knee on Belly (Plus a Counter)

Mamazinho has been working us on attacks from knee on stomach this week. A basic armbar, a collar choke in the event the guy tries to escape from the armbar attack by turning into you, and a nice baseball-style choke with a transition to north-south that I definitely need to think about using. He introduced these three on Monday, and we worked them again on Wednesday.

I keep thinking there was a fourth move from knee on stomach that he showed us last night. But nothing is coming to mind … Oh yeah, it was a counter to the collar choke for the guy on the bottom.

He also showed us the proper side control position, as well as the best way to enter. Proper side control is the under-the-head grip on the collar and gripping the inside pant leg by the hip. The gable grip across the upper body isn’t a bad transition position, but it makes it easier for the guy on the bottom to slide a leg under and get you back into half guard—as Lindsey did to me repeatedly during our side control specific drill Wednesday night.

What’s also interesting is that the proper side control position makes it much easier to transition to knee on stomach. It doesn’t “lock up” your body like the front, over/under gable grip positioning.

As far as legs go, you want the knee of the south leg in the inside hip and the north leg to be straight out behind you. This keeps you weight down, and checks his ability to elbow escape out (because of the hip block).

To enter knee on stomach from this position, you reach up with the south hand and grab the belt, keeping the south knee in the hip. From here, push up and hop the south leg knee into the abdomen. Once you get there, you can return your south hand to the pant leg by the hip while you look for a submission opportunity.

The basic armbar from knee on stomach is straightforward enough. Take your south side hand and switch the grip on the collar, replacing the “hold” grip with a deeper, choke grip. With the free, north hand, reach down and grab the near arm. Pull that arm away from you across his upper chest and move your north leg over his head. As you sink back into the armbar, make sure you keep the choke grip on the collar and use that grip to pull the guy into you.

That last point is worth remembering. Mamazinho often mentions pulling the guy toward you when doing an armbar.

The collar choke from this position is especially for instances when the guy tries to turn into you to avoid the armbar, or just to escape. What you need to do is to walk around with your outside leg to help keep the knee on the stomach as he turns. At the same time—remember you’ve already switched to the choke grip on the collar with your south side hand—you want to reach over with your north side hand and grab either the collar or the material near the shoulder. Lower your body—abandoning the knee on stomach if necessary—and squeeze your elbows together to finish the choke.

The north-south forearm choke variation is very nice. It also looks like something you can pull off quickly and really catch the guy. From the knee on stomach position—but before switching to the choke grip—you want to use the baseball choke grip, with your south hand “above” the north hand on the collar. Keep your body down so that the guy can’t armbar you while you are trying to choke him—the best way is to put your forehead on the guy’s far pectoral.

What you want to do is to get the forearm of that south arm down across the throat as effectively as possible. As you do that, you want to move to north-south in a counter clockwise position. You can crawl there or hop there (as I have been doing). But the choke really comes in as you lower the forearm and begin to move. By the time you get to north-south, the choke is probably almost finished.

That is what we learned on Monday night. Wednesday we went over this again (which was excellent!) and Mamazinho added the counter I mentioned. If there is a catechism that I should get to know, then it might be “choke attempt from top is countered by armbar.” I’ve run into this syndrome over and over again: from the counter to the can opener to the escape from that “pin” I mentioned a little while ago. Basically, the guy on top is giving you his arms if he makes the mistake of not keeping his body low. So you’ve got to take advantage of it.

If a guy’s got you in knee on stomach, then your outside leg should still be free. But what is key to making the armbar counter to knee on stomach effective is being able to get your inside leg between you and the other guy. Working with Kevin last night, it seemed like this was the main trick to making the armbar nice and tight. To do the counter, you elbow escape out to give yourself some room. Then throw your outside leg up and over in front of his face, while wedging your inside leg—knee first—into his armpit. The inside knee wedge looks a little like the same sort of knee wedge you use in the scissors sweep, only with the inside leg instead of the outside one.

Of course, you want to control the wrist, but if he is trying to choke you, it shouldn’t be too hard to trap his arm.

I missed out on a great opportunity to try this counter when doing side control specifics with Lindsey. He caught me in knee on stomach twice, and my brain just didn’t make the connection when he went for the choke. More about this in the next Errata Chronicles … but it really typifies what drives me crazy about my jiu jitsu: I don’t adopt/incorporate new techniques into my game as quickly (and as thoroughly) as I should. I was telling myself that since I manage to get to side control so often, I ought to make these three attacks that Mamazinho showed us the center of my top game. Too bad it is no gi tonight. I’m in the mood for a little redemption in the kimono …

What Weariness Hath Wrought ... And Not

"If you are tired you're not strong. If you are tired you're not fast. If you're tired you don't have good technique. If you're tired you're not even smart."
--Dan Inosanto

That's my sig on every post at every jiu jitsu/mixed martial arts message board I subscribe to. I was impressed during my last visit to the doctor for my eye injury when the nurse described my low pulse as "athletically low." It's nice to think that if I never get anything else out of jiu jitsu training, the fact that it's helped clean up my diet and put me in the best shape I've been in since my senior year in high school will remain much appreciated.

Weariness dragged down my performance at last night's training--a particularly uncomfortable moment in Jeff the White's closed guard with Mamazinho exhorting me to pass. Uncomfortable because if I died tomorrow, "smart guy, couldn't pass the guard" would be a legitimate epitaph for my tombstone. Uncomfortable because all four of my tournament losses in the past year have come because I was unable to pass the guard. Uncomfortable because I know that guard passing needs to be a priority for me, as a top player, and because I think I've broken down what I need to do to be able to even think about passing the guard.

But, there's this:
"If you are tired you're not strong. If you are tired you're not fast. If you're tired you don't have good technique. If you're tired you're not even smart."
You could argue that my problem isn't so much in passing the guard as it is in opening the closed guard. But even then the fact that I've been submitted in tournaments from the guard (three armbars and one triangle) suggests that even when the guard is open to attack me with a submission, I'm not exploiting that moment to pass. I've got to do better here. I'm pretty confident that I can roll with anybody within a weight division or two at my skill level if I pass their guard. But I've got to pass the guard to get to the promised land.

I guess that means, in a sense, I can't blame weariness. It wasn't exhaustion that kept me from passing the guard in tournaments--or at least not as much as it seemed to last night. One of the things I've got to remember about jiu jitsu is that technique allows you to not be as strong, or as fast, as you might prefer to be. Of course, as Inosanto rightly points out, being tired attacks the mind as much as the body, making it harder to think straight.

But technique is still that "rope ladder" across a chasm of adversity--whether that adversity comes in the form of an opponent's superior size, strength, speed or endurance. I rolled with Pete (?) a big white belt (at least two bills) who I did some no gi with before. He murdered me in no gi and last night he caught me with that thrusting choke that I never use but probably should. But I was able to reverse him once or twice, and that certainly wasn't because I was stronger. It was that basic "Gracie Brothers" pole vault, bump and roll escape from mount that did it--and continues to be my best tool against the mount. Pure technique gets me out from under more often than not. And I can't lose faith in that.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Errata Chronicles

Last night I was rolling with a new guy. So new, in fact, that he didn’t have a gi. He was a fairly athletic guy, maybe 170-180 or so, with a little wrestling background. I tried to show him a little bit about passing the guard, holding down the biceps, standing up and then sitting down into a combat base, but I’m not sure how much good I did. After a few minutes, I said, “well let’s just wrestle around for the workout.”

I mostly tried to keep him at bay with my guard. He was a little “energetic” as most new guys are, and his hands were waving around like crazy—which had me a little preoccupied with the possibility of getting poked in me bad eye. I put him in half guard, switched to full, and let him roll around a little. At one point Mamazinho was urging me on, to sweep him probably, but I was tentative about being aggressive—fearing that he might get even more “energetic” and that then I’d really be wondering where his hands were.

I found myself stacked, with the new guy holding my shoulders down by gripping the corners of my gi jacket. I had a hard time getting out of this position—I think I went for the armbar a little late and somewhat sloppily that led to a scramble and me putting him back into guard. At some point I also remember him working hard for a keylock that wasn’t especially tight, but had me working to defend it.

Errata 1. If a guy is pinning your shoulders down in your guard, then your counter isn’t too much different from when a guy tries to can opener you from inside your guard or tries to choke you from inside your guard: ARMBAR.

It’s a little easier with the can opener and choke because his arms are close to your head already, making it easier to trap an arm and pivot around for the armbar. If the guy is pinning your shoulders like last night, then you want to move your head over close to one of his wrists, trap that arm, and move into the pivot. The key detail here is to move your head close to one of the arms. If he’s pinning your shoulders down, then it should be even easier to trap the arm because his own bodyweight will help keep his arm in place.

Errata 2. This happened with the new guy Kevin during side control specifics. I’ve got a good sweep from the keylock defense. But the trick to really make it work is to get the guy to extend himself over my body, to get his weight over on the side of the submission attempt, before rolling him over to that side. This is especially a big deal with guys like Kevin, who is no taller than me but probably weighs close to 200 pounds. You can’t just pull that kind of weight—or at least you shouldn’t have to in jiu jitsu. You’ve got to find the leverage, get him further over the fulcrum than he should be for good balance.

I think the way to do this is to straighten out the arm. Maybe not so much that the guy gives up on the keylock altogether. But enough to make him chase it a little bit by reaching over your body and overextending himself. That should help get his center of gravity over your center of gravity, making it much easier to reach behind the inside armpit and, elbow escaping away from the submission, rolling the guy over your outside shoulder.

BJ Penn and Leo Viera Training Footage

Some of the best guard work I've ever seen in training. The fact that I'm more or less in between these two guys size-wise is another plus. Two top jiu jiteros working their game, and having a ball.

I need to watch this more and more. As I wrote in a post at the jiu jitsu gear forum, seeing these two reminded me of Mamazinho's guard that time I rolled with him. All hips, thighs, calves and hooks ... So many ways to trap and limit the top guy's movement. BJ's flexibility doesn't hurt. But you can still do a lot of this even without having gumby legs ...

BJ and Leo.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Back on the Mat

Tonight was my first class back. I only worked out once (last Saturday) while I was out with the bad eye--actually, not quite true since I worked out last Tuesday after Monday's training ... Anyway, the class was very white and blue, with a new white belt Kevin who reminds me a lot of the other white belt Kevin. I worked Mamazinho's drills and techniques with him: armbars from mount, armbars from guard, plus three moves from knee on stomach: an armbar, a choke against an elbow escape from knee on stomach, and a north-south choke with a baseball choke grip that was very nice.

I'll give myself a C+ for the effort tonight. I wrestled well during the side control specifics, but still am not using my technical escape (throat / swim / walk / flat / pull / boom!). I can't even call it a mental block. I'm just being an ass about it.

I tried to focus on my grip work, per my most recent gameplan. Secure the collars, then work for a sleeve. Get a foot in the hip, preferably the sleeve-side foot. A little hamstring flexibility won't hurt with regard to that foot in the hip. I tried to work that with Jeff early in our sparring session and it wasn't long at all before my hip and hamstrings were starting to ache.

So I backslid a bit and used far more closed guard than I'd wanted to. But a good showing on this count on Wednesday could make up for that. There's a lot to get used to.

I'll prop myself for my first clock choke submission. I fumbled around a bit before I got it--which only served to remind me that you don't have to rush. I had plenty of time to get that choke in--even with the petit freakout of trying to remember the essentials of the move.

So until I try it the next time and get my back taken, call me Ismael.

My rolls with Clint are becoming predictable. I pull guard and get an armwrap on his right arm. It's a pretty good one. But I can't get the inside collar well enough. After a sweep that's much like a scramble, I get him in side control and can do nothing. He recovers to full guard and triangles me.

I need to work the arm wrap series. I don't get in that position often, but it happens, and I need to better able to capitalize on it than I have. I've got the basic arm wrap to choke, but there's an other arm armbar and, more importantly, an omoplata that I think I might have actually been able to use effectively tonight.

I also need to remember to step on the arm wrap side hip. That will drive the lower body away and the upper body closer, giving me a better angle on the choke, the inside armbar and the omoplata.

No training tomorrow night. I'll make sure that tomorrow I post the three techniques Mamazinho showed us tonight.

Not a bad first night back. Nothing spetacular. We'll see what the rest of the week brings ...

Friday, October 20, 2006

30-minute Jiu Jitsu Nooner, OR

The High Noon Jiu Jitsu Club ...

I was trying to imagine an extra, 30-minute jiu jitsu class I could take at lunch 5x a week in some ideal world ...

6 minute warmup
M: bodyweight DB complexes, three sets
T: "jiu jitsu complexes", three sets
W: ab focus
R: "jiu jitsu complexes", three sets
F: bodyweight DB complexes, three sets

3 min drills
MWF: throws (M: trip-based, W: shoulder, hip-based, F: double and single legs; arm drags)
TR: armbar from guard, armbar from mount

6 min specific
M: rear mount
T: guard
W: side control
R: guard
F: rear mount

6 min spar
6 min spar

3 min stretch (I'd make it an organized stretch since it's the best time to do it and nobody spends as much time stretching after a workout as they should, etc.)

It's more of a training than a class, I guess. Most blue and purples could easily lead a session like this. I also thought about making Friday a "no gi" day, but whatever. The idea is how nice it would be to be able to get a booster shot of jiu jitsu every week (every day!) without committing weekends or more weekday nights.

I think a 3x a week evening schedule is enough for steady improvement. But ideally 4x a week, somewhere around nine hours, seems more of the minimum if you've got a little ambition--or a lot of impatience. I don't want to begrudge the time I've got; if it weren't for the Tully's location being so ridiculously close to home in the first place, I might have wound up training judo in the ID. Of course, now I'd drive to Everett if I had to for jiu jitsu (as one of our purple belts does)--at least twice between Sundays ...

But as it is, squeezing the week for another two or three hours would still be pretty damn sweet.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

My Privates

Due to the runaway popularity of both the Lloyd Irvin Privates and Gazzy Privates threads at the Jiu Jitsu Gear Forum over the past week, I thought I'd write a bit about my idea of the ideal private session.

In a perfect world, I'd do a private session once a year--like a birthday present to myself. But I wouldn't ask to see new techniques. I would want to spend at least a quarter of the time--maybe more--explaining how I see jiu jitsu, what I think I want to do, what I think I can do successfully.

In the final analysis, what makes jiu jitsu an art and not a science is that while jiu jitsu has its encyclopedia of techniques--the mastery of which would make any jiu jitero hard to handle on any mat, anywhere--the fact of the matter is that we are human beings, not cyborgs. We respond to certain ideas, ideas of what we can do, better than others. Some of those ideas are obstacles to be overcome, to be sure. But many of them simply reflect a reality that our growing understanding of jiu jitsu has slowly begun to grasp--as it applies to the practioner personally.

It's so easy to sit back and let a thousand techniques cascade through your brain--and there aren't many better hours spent than those doing so courtesy of jiu jitsu remixes, submission compliations, full fight coverage ... But I think the maximal use of a black belt in jiu jitsu is to have him or her help you fix your thinking, to show you where you are "getting it" and where you are still uncertain or just plain lost. That way you are more likely to be able to fix yourself down the road, rather than trying to remember a couple details of a technique that somebody probably could have showed you sometime after a class ...

Sure, if I have a problem area, a technical problem area, then show me one or two ways to fix it. But privates aren't cheap. It seems like a gestalt approach is the best way to grow out of the private session experience: What kind of jiu jitero am I? How can I be a better version of that?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sweet Spider Web Armbar to Spider Web Omoplata

From Fabio Gurgel's instructional ...

Fabio Gurgel: Greatest Jiu Jitsu Techniques

Mamazinho's Feitosa Swing

Here's what I've got in my notes from Monday's gi class on the sweep Mamazinho was showing. I call it Feitosa Swing, but reading Tommy's blog makes me wonder if it is really a de la Riva guard technique at root.

Version 1. Cuff and same side collar.
1) Feitosa swing out. Inside foot in hip.
2) Grab inside cuff and pass cuff between guy's near leg and grip with outside hand (behind him)
3)Inside hand grabs far collar
4)Sit in (escaping your hips to the outside), rotating your far shoulder into the guy and pulling on the far collar, taking the guy face down. Use the trapped arm to keep the inside of his body in place.

Version 2.
Sometimes the guy will step into you when you set up the Version 1. sweep. In this case, you want to roll him back over the inside shoulder.

1) So instead of grabbing the far collar, hook under the far leg at the knee.
2) Roll back and into his lower legs on your inside shoulder. You'll be ducking low in front and between his legs in front of him.
3) I think a key to this roll is to focus on pulling the trapped arm through with a "unsheathing the sword" action. I think that helps get you rolling in the right direction.

I want to double check the rolls on this. Generally in jiu jitsu, you'd rather be pulling than pushing. And I think the rolls as described are faithful to that idea ...

Monday Bloody Monday

Well, my cornea injury from August apparently never healed properly. According to the two eye doctors I visited on Thursday and Friday (big ups to the missus for carting my half-blind ass around Renton and Redmond all day on both days), the cornea healed with a sort of flap of loose tissue that was being increasingly irritated every time my eyelid moved.

The long and short of it was that the loose eye tissue had to be scrapped off, and a new "hole" cut so that my cornea could have a second shot at healing properly.

As I wrote to Tommy in a probably incomprehensible e-mail, as painful as it was on Thursday and Friday (and most of Saturday), eyes tend to heal pretty quickly. By late night Saturday I was feeling a bit better and by Sunday morning was in good enough shape to watch (albeit behind sunglasses) the Seahawks come back against the Rams.

I won't be training at all until next Monday. And even then I'm going to have to be extremely careful about the contact, not letting anyone get anywhere near the eyes. I stopped by Tully's Monday night to let Rodrigo and Mamazinho know what was up, to thank Tommy for checking in, and just to see how my jiu jitsu family was doing. Monday was a nice big class, but a bit of a bloody one as Michelle got part of her big toenail ripped off and Tommy took a shot to the mouth that bloodied his gums or lip. Hopefully, both injuries looked worse than they were--even in my blurred state I could see more red that I wanted to.

Mamazinho had the class learn two sweeps that were similar to ones Tommy showed us way back in what I think was the first class I ever took that he taught. The Feitosa swing-out, is how I think of them collectively, and they are for use against someone who stands up in your guard. I took notes Monday night, but don't have them right here so I'll have to add them later or make a separate post. Essentially, the sweeps have you sitting up around the guy's "post" leg, taking the arm on that side under and between his legs and then either grabbing the far collar and sitting in to bring him to the mat, OR--if he steps into you or forward to keep his balance, underhooking that far leg by the knee and shoulder rolling him into the sweep.

A little tricky, but I tried the move on my own when I got home so I'd remember how it basically went. I want to make sure I understand the rolls involved in each sweep, so I'll be sure to ask upon my return on Monday (though there's a good chance I'll stop by on Thursday just to see what everybody is up to).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Damn Your Eyes

Another training session, another shot in the eye.

I first felt something strange after Thursday's no gi training. I couldn't pinpoint when it happened, but by the end of the night my vision was blurry in my left eye and it was tearing up a bit. I didn't remember getting poked specifically, but by the time I got home it was clear that something was up. The usual photosensitivity, watering and feeling that "something was in there" reminded me of when my cornea was cut a few months ago. Fortunately, over the course of the evening the sensation went away.

But after last night's practice, the sensation is back--if not with a vengeance then at least with more than a little bad intent. I vaguely rememeber rolling with somebody--probably Jeff the White--and feeling gi material whip past my face during a scramble. I think that's how I got my cornea cut the first time rolling with Angela. Sitting here, my left eye still sees a little blurry and I'm not about to be smiling into any flashbulbs soon. But hopefuly by day's end things will be back to normal.

There's not a lot you can do to protect your eyes when you're rolling. After the first time, Rodrigo mentioned that it has happened to him a few times, so I'm not going to feel like some colossal outlier or anything. And I'm not going to pretend that there are other injuries I'd rather have (though I'd settle for anything I could tape up instead). It will be nice to have the night off to give my eye a chance to get its act together.

Last night's class was a C for me. We did a new takedown drill where everybody lines up and you take down each person in turn. I'm still paranoid about throwing people after that guy I threw who ended up with a torn ACL, so I compensated by being over aggressive with double legs and low singles. A lot of guys were throwing people, including some big time shoulder throws, and I'll admit that I'm almost surprised that nobody got hurt. About 50% of my takedowns in retrospect were more like tackles than proper form takedowns, but at least people were landing on their asses not on their shoulders as was the case with some of those throws I was watching last night. I was out for weeks because of a groin injury from a bad breakfall, and I kept thinking this drill was the "best" chance to reinjury my abductors in a long time.

Anyway, lessons for the next time: ease up on the Ray Lewis routine. Try the osoto gari (large outer reaping) throw and maybe the arm drag (Tommy put on an arm drag clinic during his turn). Mamazinho seemed to like it when I tried the snap down set up with the sleeve and collar, and following it up with the double leg. I just need to be more under control--and to learn how to avoid falling into guard with the takedown.

New techniques included a sweep from the closed guard and a take-the-back from the closed guard. Then we did some specifics. I worked with Michelle on the new techniques and with Jeff the White for the specifics.

The sweep from closed guard was a little tricky. You set it up like a scissors sweep, but instead grab the oppposite cuff and pull the guy across your body. As you do this, you roll your hips and put your legs in the scissors sweep position. Keep a hold of the cuff, but take your collar/choke hand and reach back behind the guy and grab the belt. Here's where it gets interesting. As you pull the guy toward and on top of you, you want to lift your inside leg (the one that has the shin pressed against the guy's chest) and open it out while pulling the guy over. He should land "behind you" in a sense. Keep control of the cuff/sleeve the whole time.

The take-the-back variation is for when the guy's base is too strong, or if the guy maybe is too heavy to lift with your leg. Here you set up the position the same way as the above sweep. This time, you take your lower leg and kick out the nearby knee of the guy while simultaneously taking your inside leg and hooking it over their back as they collapse to the mat from the kickout. Keep control of that cuff to help stretch the guy out as you move to the back.

Sparring wasn't bad ... nothing great. I was able to pass Jeff's guard once or twice, mostly by waiting for him to open his guard and then underhooking the far arm, pressing down on the knee on the other side and working to half-guard first. When Jeff was in my guard, I really couldn't do much. I need to look back on my notes. I've been so focused on my inadequacies with regard to passing the guard and finishing the match from the top, that I've neglected work on my guard game.

I need to make the spider guard triangle/omoplata combo that Tommy showed me a default. I've had a hard time breaking down guy's posture and opening up the guard will give me more opportunities to attack. From the closed guard, I need to work on my four basic setups from long ago.

Rolled a little with Jim the White, who was game but pretty exhausted. My keylock was working pretty well last night in general--it really has become my "pocket" submission (though I need to work on different ways to set it up from different angles), especially against bigger guys with stiffer, less flexible shoulders (Bruce and Joe, for example, have been especially hard to catch with the americana). Rolled a little with Tommy after class and typically, was too tentative. I need to stand up against his open guard and work some of the techniques Rodrigo showed us months ago to pass the knees. With Tommy, I feel like a fish on a line when I try and pass his guard on the ground. It's only a matter of time before I'm flopping around on the deck, reeled in and ready for the fillet knife.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

True to My School

I’m having a hard time getting going with work stuff—the market seems to be having a post-“new all-time highs in the Dow” hangover. There aren’t really any interesting stories, other than the continued collapse of commodities and their stocks. Maybe something will pop up later in the day. It’s as if the bears have said, fine, you want your new highs? Go for it. And the bulls have already more or less exhausted themselves in trying to push the market even higher. It’s the day after Christmas and, as any eight-year old will tell you, half the toys are already played out.

Monday was a great class. I was running a little late because of the dogs. As soon as I got in, Mamazinho asked how I did at the tournament (he was at another mat). So I told him the story. He said something about working on a counter, and I was pretty appreciative that he asked.

So we get into training. Mamazinho has us working some basic stuff from the guard. First, a sweep that involves hooking the leg when the guy tries to stand and sweeping him in the opposite direction. He also showed us an armbar that goes right along with the sweep. Mamazinho likes to control behind the elbow, at the tricep with the opposite hand when setting up the armbar. I’d been planning to start focusing on armbars from the guard after the tournament and, once again, Mamazinho seemed to be reading my mind in showing us this technique.

From here, Mamazinho shows us another variation. Sometimes when you try and sweep the guy using this technique, the guy will reach behind your head to try and maintain his balance. If the guy tries this, then you want to roll your body into and over that arm, clasping your hands right above the elbow for the inverted armbar. It’s not quite an inverted armbar, but calling it that helps focus on turning your body.

Then, a really classy move from Mamazinho. He told everybody that I’d had some trouble in the tournament and he wanted to show everybody how to deal with it. He had me come out in front of everybody and explain how I got caught in the armbar. Stefan the Brown worked with us on this one. I explained how I got caught and then Mamazinho showed everybody what to do. The keys are to first keep the guy from being able to extend his legs and body by stacking him and crunching him in tight. At pretty much the same time, you want to protect your arm by grabbing your collar. With your free arm, wrap around the guy’s head as you bring your inside knee up under his butt to keep him tipped over and stacked. Stack him good and tight.

Now, you are going to want to yank your arm free, BUT when you do this it is crucial to keep the rest of your weight on the guy to keep him stacked tight. Otherwise he will extend his body and might still be able to armlock you (which is what happened to me). Once you’ve pulled your arm free, work quickly to pass to side control or even to use B.J.’s technique to roll the guy into getting his back taken (I’ll post that technique a little later).

Like I said, really good stuff and I felt really appreciative that Mamazinho would stop class to show everybody what happened. I had a good attitude coming into class, and that just put me over the top. I was very, very grateful for that.

In other news, I worked hard on standing up to pass guard. Some mixed success, but I’m going to force myself to work on standing guard passes if it kills me. As I wrote recently, I can’t expect myself to do something in a tournament that I haven’t practiced regularly and persistently in class. So if I’m going to improve my standing guard pass, I’ve got to try it at least ten times in sparring. Hell, I should even look for opportunities to get into guard just for the opportunity to practice it.

Tommy sent me a nice article from Gracie Mag that also hits on some themes that have been holding me back. Essentially the article is about developing a predator psychology, the sort of cold, calculating aggression that we see out of natural predators like sharks and tigers in the wild. The article also hit on a point that I think has been a particular problem for me:
“Many athletes go into such detail that their thinking becomes paralysis by analysis. The mental predator must remember to keep things simple and in perspective. No attack by the shark or the lion is ever bigger in their mind than any other. We as athletes often make the mistake that an event is too important. This self-increased pressure on an event again adds to indecision, stress and opens the door for an opportunity for defeat.”

The article was by Martin Rooney, conditioning coach for Team Renzo Gracie. He’s got a website at that I should check out. In any event, you only have to read some of my pre-tournament posts to see what some of my psychological flaws in this area were. I think that ironically some of the positive things Rodrigo said awhile back got in my head, making me think that I had to perform in outstanding fashion to live up to what he thinks my potential is. That’s the kind of thing I have to be careful of—not to get too far ahead of myself.

But the main thing is the specific technical work day-in and day-out at Tully’s. I’d give myself a “B-“ for Monday night’s training—mostly on the basis of my improved guard passing attack. I need to make sure I make the most of the practice over the next three to four weeks so that I’ve got the confidence and lack of indecision I’ll need to perform well at Copa 8 on November 11th.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly about the 2nd Pacific Northwest Jiu Jitsu Championships

I’m working on a link to the results page … As soon as one is up, I'll post it.

The Good: Griff did very well. Lindsey and Robert both did well in the 172-184 division, as did Jeff. The t-shirts were pretty cool; free for all competitors.

The Bad: The tournament was terribly run. Some of us (white belt 149-158 and 172-184) showed up at 9 a.m. and didn’t get a first fight until 3:30 p.m. That may happen in some of the big regional tournaments, but this was inexcusable for a small local tournament like this. Some of the things that seemed strange in the beginning (i.e., running gi and no gi simultaneously) only became more macabre as the day dragged on. Can somebody explain to me why purple belt absolute finals are taking place before two white belt divisions even have their first matches? It seemed as if the kids were fighting all day long. According to Rebecca, there was plenty of grumbling by the kid’s parents, and I don’t blame them.

It’s very simple. First, don’t run no gi and gi at the same time. Maybe they were afraid of people doing both and opting out of the gi finals in order to “save themselves” for no gi competition. I agree that sucks. But I’m not convinced that this was a good way to handle it. Second, if you tell people to show up by 9 a.m. to register, then you need to make sure that everybody gets a fight before noon. I don’t think that’s asking much. I can’t think of anything more annoying than for somebody to have to wait from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (as I did), wondering for hours when they are going to fight, then get a fight, lose, and go home because the event is pretty much done at that point. At least if you get a fight in the first hour or so and lose, you can relax and enjoy the rest of the competition. Terrible, terrible planning as far as I’m concerned. The only people that should be fighting six hours after the competition begins are people fighting for first and second place.

The Ugly. In a word, me. I lost by armbar from the guard. It was eerily like my first fight ever a little over a year ago. We start standing, locked up. I try to snap him down, and get a pretty good snap. Then I manage to get double underhooks and try to twist him down (instead of getting a good reverse pivot and throwing him Greco style). Nothing doing. He’s had enough of that so he pulls guard (very well, I might add) and we go to the mat.

Okay, here we are in the fucking crucible. I try to get control of his hand to go for the handcuff, but he feels ridiculously strong. I know that’s my lack of fuel talking. He’s working very hard to get control of my arms and I’m on the defensive, trying to regain my posture. Rodrigo is yelling from the sidelines behind me to get the collars and the sleeve and stand up. Eventually, I do that, picking him up from inside his guard. So far, so good. I get the obligatory “don’t slam him” warning.

Here’s where I really fucked up. As Rodrigo pointed out afterwards, you’ve got to be patient at this stage. You’ve got to wait for the guy to tire of trying to hold on. Then bring your legs together a bit, and push down on a knee—stepping back with the leg on that side if need be. Instead, I rushed it, tried to shake him off (which used up too much energy) and then eventually returned to the mat in his guard. He kept going for the armbar and eventually got it. I tried to stack him, and was actually doing okay defending it and looking for an opportunity to yank my arm out. I tried at one point, but got stuck, and that was just the opening he needed to sink the armbar in with about a minute left.

I was pretty upset about the loss, losing again from a simple technique inside the guard. But I know a lot of the emotion behind the loss also came from the lousy experience of the tournament (see “The Bad” above). I felt like I waited around all day for a nothing performance. Rodrigo came up to me afterward and said some encouraging things—as well as rightfully scolding me for not doing the proper standing guard pass. I appreciated that a lot—Mamazinho hadn’t said a word to me all day, so it was nice to hear from somebody before or after. I know I’m not always the easiest guy to rap with, but six hours in that damn gymnasium … you figure a little “howyadoin?” wouldn’t have been too much to ask for …

Whatever. Like I said, a disappointing day on almost all counts save for those mentioned (see “The Good” above). I’m very glad that Jeff won in his first tournament and glad the Griff had the success that he did. Tommy and Clint both lost their blue belt matches—Tommy’s in particular was suspect and ended in overtime. So that sucks. But at least they got to fight before noon.

Back to training tonight. The Copa 8 NW is six weeks away. Here are a few rules for the road to the next event.

  • You can’t do in competition what you don’t do in practice. I drew up a lot of plans going into the tournament, but many of the ideas were things I’d figured out “intellectually” in the last week or so. That’s not going to work. I need to spend the next six weeks specifically working on my gameplan so that it is ingrained in muscle memory, not just “brain” memory.
  • Three words: Standing Guard Pass.
  • Muscular endurance. I don’t think this was the issue so much in this fight. But one thing that will make me more “willing” to do standing guard passes will be stronger legs. You don’t need to have Marcelo Garcia’s thighs do to a proper standing guard pass, but it doesn’t hurt to know that when you go to stand, the effort will be minimal. I’ve worked up a new workout routine using dumbbell complexes that should help me maintain a high level of output during training, as well as preparing me for specific techniques.
  • Flexibility. Something else that wasn’t a factor, but that I want to improve over the next six weeks. Groin, hip, quads and hamstrings are the most important areas. I need to hit them everyday—training or no training—no excuses.
  • Work from the bottom. Three for three on “that wasn’t a factor, but” … I did tell myself that I wanted to improve my attacks from the guard in general. I’ve got a sense of setting up triangles, but armbars from the guard are a non-starter. Let’s try armbars from the guard every practice from now and until November.
  • DIET. I want to work my way toward 150 for the next tournament. My caloric restriction was nothing too severe for this one. But I weighed 157 at the weigh-in the night before which was too close for comfort. Ideally, I’d get down to about 150 with about two weeks to go, then easy up a little and let my weight drift up to the 155 range.

    That’s the plan. I’m not bothering about my top game, even though it is also vulnerable to the same sort of “mind over body” problem as every thing else. I need to PRACTICE my top movement, particularly reversing out of keylocks and kimuras into armbars. Improving my work from rear mount is also a priority.

    There is a certain relief after a tournament in any event. It's a chance to start over with a new training regimen, new determination and new focus. But I've got to take advantage of it. The first four weeks after a tournament are more important in many ways than the last two before the event. Like Rickson Gracie says two weeks out from his Pride fight in the movie Choke, the time for hard training is over. I need to bust my ass now, so I feel familiar and confident come November.

    My record, for what it’s worth, is now 4-4 in five events over the past year. A perfectly average “freshman” season, I suppose. The question is whether or not I improve from here. I know what I need to work on—which is also a point of self-aggravation. Working on my flaws—and not having a consistent guard pass is lethal for a top player—is the only thing between me and the great blue.