Friday, April 27, 2007

"The Strategic Acrobat"

I remember many, many months ago a student asking Rodrigo who he thought the best jiu jitsu guy was out there. Before he could answer, a couple of people shouted out some of the usual suspects: Marcelo Garcia, Jacare, Roger. Rodrigo acknowledged that he thought that Roger Gracie was probably the best from top to bottom, beginning to end. But added that he thought that Leo Viera, also known as "Leozinho," was somebody who needed to be considered in that group also.

I had never heard of Leo Viera. But after getting a hold of the seven-DVD set of ADCC 2005, I tried to make up for lost time. Viera is an under-66 kilo competitor (i.e., about a 145-pound limit) and has won his weight division in the last two Abu Dhabi competitions. He is also very accomplished with the gi.

Here is an interview Gracie Magazine did with Leo that was initially published back in February 2007. There are a few choice excerpts--such as Leo saying that he coaches a "start out winning on the scorecards" approach to being a "strategic finisher".

But one excerpt is especially worth highlighting insofar as Leozinho brings it up more than once.
Has Vieira the athlete changed with the appearance of Veira the coach?
Yes, in one aspect that I suffered to learn. It was with my defeat at ADCC 2001 that I learned. After that loss to Leo Santos, I started to see that, if there are rules, the strategy will prevail. The fighter can go in with all the desire and technique in the world, but that will only be an addition. After I realized strategy was so fundamental, I changed my thinking and way of fighting and managed to go unbeaten in my weight division since.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Notes on the Half-Guard: Outside Leg Uber Alles

It only took me a few minutes of studying the snapshot of Jean Jacques Machado working half-guard against Dean Lister's pass to see a few things that I've been ranting and raving about when it comes to the half guard.

The pass that Lister uses is really a guard opener. Jean Jacques basically has Lister's leg figure-foured, and Lister is using the leverage of his outside leg to press down on the locking leg, Jean Jacques' inside leg.

The problem is one that I've been spotting in half-guard work: relying on the inside leg to keep the guy's leg trapped.

The only time this seems like a good idea is if you are going for the Ichiro sweep or the Jeff Glover take-the-back move (the Glover Split?). Otherwise, you want to use your outside leg, with your foot pressed down or near the mat, to trap the leg, and use your inside leg to either come up on that knee (for a tackle sweep) or to use to help escape your hip out for a twist sweep.

Even then you've got to be careful not to get flattened, which is far more likely if you are using your inside leg to trap the half guard rather than the outside leg. Using the outside leg makes it much easier to take-the-back, tackle or twist, but most importantly, it helps keep you on your hip and better able to react to changes in the movement from the guy in your half guard.

Jiu Jitsu Solitaire

This AVS DVD player I installed on my PC lets me take snapshots from DVDs, something I could never get Windows Media Player to do. With that, here's the latest installment of Jiu jisu Solitaire featuring, once again, the half-guard!

This is a superfight between Jean Jacques Machado and Dean Lister from ADCC 2005. Machado works from the half-guard and butterfly guard with overhooks for most of the first half of the match. This picture comes from the second half, just as Lister is starting to wear down Machado's guard.

This half-guard pass is a common one, one that I've had to deal with a lot when working from the half. I've been looking for a good picture of it to study and this one is as good as any I've found.

Monday, April 16, 2007

On Teh Shelf

I've decided to take a break. After another bout of eye injuries left me missing work, sedated in the dark, I've decided that clearly my eye has never fully healed from the original injury back in October.

I was pretty optimistic earlier this year when the doctor suggested that my continuing problems had to do with dehydration. That explained why I would sometimes get a scratched cornea even when I was pretty sure my eye hadn't been hit or even brushed.

So I upped the water as directed, started gobbling fish oil pills like M&Ms, and dropping droplets of artificial tears in my eyes all day and during breaks in training. When I accidentally got kicked ("heeled" to be specific) in my eye shortly after the new treatment approach, I shook it off as just a little irony: sure, the main problem is dehydration. But I'm still going to have to be ready to take my knocks--even in the eye.

But that last eye poke at GB Seattle in late March really put me over the edge. I stopped training and sat on the sidelines talking with Mike and trying not to look up as I waited for my eye to click back into focus. Things got worse over the course of the evening and Friday morning, I couldn't see and the pain was splitting. Sitting under the bright lights of the office and staring at a computer screen was out of the question.

I was better by late Friday evening, and through the weekend. I didn't train that Monday, partly to give my eye more rest and partly to save myself for Cindy on Wednesday. Wednesday came and though there were a few times when I'd feel contact, like when I got armbarred from the mount and felt the leg pressed across the top of my face, I managed to roll the whole evening and went home very glad for the training. I'd been feeling more than a little misanthropic given some family stuff ("extended" family, I should add), and that evening at Demon seemed to really do the trick.

I woke up Thursday with my eye on fire. As bad as it was, I know the drill by this time. Call in, unleash the co-codamol, turn out the lights, cover your eyes. And wait.

By Thursday night I was feeling better. Made it into work Friday a little hazy, but good enough to go.

In retrospect, I was probably fading all day. I was ducking into the vault (the office used to be a bank; the library is in one of the vaults) to escape the lights ever ten minutes or so. I'd write in the dark, and then slip back to my computer and quickly type up whatever I'd hand-written in the vault.

By about 2 p.m., I was losing it fast. I had a couple of hours to burn, so I was luckily scheduled to leave at about 3:15 p.m. I thought about having Rebecca come pick me up. But my eye felt like that scene in La chein andalu where they drag that razor across the woman's eye right after showing that image of the cloud slicing through a full moon. I had to get out of there.

Driving home was one of the stupidiest things I've done since my irresponsible 20s back in Arizona. I had one hand over my eye, tears streaming down my face as I'm closing the other eye for a few seconds at a time when on familiar streets just to keep the razor feeling from shooting through my head.

Fortunately I made it home in one piece (hell, fortunately I only live 15-20 minutes from the office!).

It was a bad day, and my eye felt as bad as it ever had been. I ended up missing work on Monday and it wasn't until relatively late in the day before I could open my eyes without pain.

So I'm climbing on the shelf. I can't afford to keep missing work, and I can't keep taking these shots to my eye. The only thing that makes sense is that I just never gave it enough time to heal in the first place. When I went back to the doctor the first time after a week, the doc told me that it looked as if it had healed up. I took that as an "all clear" to resume training. Might have been my bad on that one.

I'm giving myself a month. A month where I don't have to worry about missing work, a month where I can let my eye heal, relubricate, whatever the hell it needs to do in order to get better. A month to make more than a few glasses of lemonade out of the current basket of C. x limon that have been delivered to my doorstep.

My goal is to be back on the mat, non-contact, by the first week of May, and doing contact work by mid-month. I've got the rest of my life to get to where I want to in jiu jitsu (a third degree black belt by the time I die). Losing a month or so here or there is little more than a speed bump.

It does bug me that I'm not able to continue working with Cindy as she prepares for Abu Dhabi. One of the things I'd hoped would happen when I started training was that I'd get to play the role of training/sparring partner for the younger and/or better teammates who were stepping up to face the toughest competition in the sport. It's fun, and for me it's even a little flattering that more advanced teammates think of me as a serious student of the art and worth making a (small) part of their preparation.

So it sucks that this first great opportunity is shot. That, more than anything else, bugs me about climbing on the shelf for a few weeks. But in the end, it's a move I've got to do until I've got some sense that the mean season of the eye is over.


My convalescence training schedule for the few weeks of mornings.

Jiu Jitsu Tabata / Berardi

Jiu Jitsu Tabata / Beaster



Jiu Jitsu Tabata
20 seconds work / 10 seconds rest

hip splits
arm drags
leg lifts
hip bumps
drop steps

6 rep / 3 set circuit / 1 minute res

upright row
deadlift high pull snatch
dumbbell thruster
deadlift high pull snatch
side lunge
reverse lunge
calf raise + shrug

24:00 minute treadmill cardio / 250:75

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Plan Your Trade ...

... and Trade Your Plan.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Histoire de l’oeil

An inadvertent eye-poke a week ago Thursday and a follow-up pop or two on Wednesday night while training with Cindy over at Demon Jiu Jitsu and I’m back in the dark, missing classes and missing work.

I’m lucky to work in an office where my absences this year haven’t caused too much controversy. I’ve got the sick time, so it isn’t so much a matter of that. But sick time is one of those weird aspects of 21st century employment in America: just because they give it to you, doesn’t mean they don’t mind when you use it. Even if the work output remains the same—or, as is often the case with me in my current gig, increases—during a health-related absence, there is a “Being There” quality that most employers seem to prize above almost everything else.

So I’m here Friday morning, squinting and blinking my way through the first few hours of the day—grateful both for the fact that I’ll be able to leave a little early (courtesy of extra time spent at the desk earlier in the week) and that the weekend is only a few hours away.

Much of this overshadows some interesting discoveries I made Wednesday night about my half-guard game—discoveries that were largely confirmed after watching some more ADCC matches since then. Most important of these observations is a basic one: use your outside leg to hold the half-guard in place, not the “center” leg.

By using the outside leg mostly to “overhook” the guy’s leg when in half-guard, you accomplish a couple of important things. The most important of these things is that it helps keep you on your hip rather than flat on your back, which is a likely result of using your center leg to hook “inside-to-outside.”

Another problem with using the center leg to try and trap the guy’s leg is that it doesn’t allow your hips to move effectively, again making it easier for the guy on top to flatten and stretch you out. Theoretically if you’ve got the center leg in place, it can become the first hook if you are able to move to the back. But most of the time I see guys trying to keep their half-guard in place by using mainly the center leg aren’t trying to take the back, they are hanging on for dear life, often figure-fouring the guy’s leg in attempt to stave off the pass.

Figure-fours can be effective. I’ve seen guys like Anderson Silva use figure-fours to lock up his closed guard. And figure-fours from rear mount are increasingly common. But the problem with figure-fours is that they completely monopolize the legs. There’s nothing else you can do with them—unless you release the figure four. In my opinion, figure fours are great “holding” patterns before moving on to a more constructive (and traditional) use of the legs.

The idea of using the outer leg primarily when in half-guard is that it both allows you to easily shift your hips to the outside (i.e., plant the center leg and elbow escape) or even to come up on the inside knee as when doing the Old School sweep (which I was able to do more effectively than ever Wednesday night—albeit not so much against Cindy!).

Twists also go better with the outside leg overhook than the center leg hook. I’m still getting the hang of it; you want to make sure that the foot of your outside leg stays pinned to the mat so that the guy’s leg doesn’t slip out, allowing hip to hop easily into side control. But if you do it right, then by the time you need to worry about moving your outside leg, you’ve already ducked down, controlled the leg on the other side, and are likely turning the guy up and over into the twist. And there are really only two options for the guy to be able to stop the twist: either bracing with an arm or a leg.

The arm threat is usually eliminated by the overhook you’ve got on the sweep side. The leg-brace threat is eliminated by the overhook you’ve got with your outside leg. Get your grips (overhook the arm, underhook the leg—or grab the pants at the knee), plant the center leg and, with your outside leg trap set, pivot and elbow escape off the center leg and twist the guy over. Don’t release the outside leg hook until the guy is well on his way over the top.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Half Guard Hell

Here's a picture of what lurks in the nightmares of every half-guard player: the sit-out.

Xande is a little ambivalent about whether he wants to hook the head with the outside arm or throw his upperbody over; he does both while working to pass the half-guard in this ADCC match. The key thing I want to focus on are his hip and leg positioning. What is the best way to control his hips, and then exploit his position for the sweep?

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Art of Jiu Jitsu, Part 2

"Meu Jiu-jitsu é arroz com feija, na tem muito movimento ninja"

Counter to Scissorhands

A treasure trove of techniques and tips, MMA Library is ...

Guard Pass from Scissor Position

From here, the trick is to raise your hips--almost a full pike position--and walk around to the sweep side and move into side control. Keep the pressure on the legs and the grip on the sweep-side sleeve as you come around.


A small point, but a point worth remembering and emphasizing came up as someone in one of the forums was trying to describe a bicep slicer move that he kept referring to as a “keylock.”

The post spurred my interest because (a) the guy who posts is a serious trainer in jiu jitsu so what he has to say is usually worth reading and (b) his query was titled “keylock from the guard” which is, for better or worse, one of my most effective submission attacks.

But the move described was too complicated for most others to follow, leading to cries of “simplify!” within only a few responses. As one poster put it:

there is only a small place for these type of moves in an elite game, when was the last time you seen marcelo, glover, fowler, jacare, or roger win a match with thses types of moves, STICK TO THE BASICS AND DRILL THE sh*t OUT OF THEM!

And still yet another:

The upper echelon bjj guys typically aren't trying for flying submissions, crazy setups, or anything like this. They use the stuff that you learn in your first six months of training. Armbars, triangles, RNC, etc. The difference is that they see these submissions from any position.

Marcelo wins with chokes and the occasional armbar. Roger wins with the same stuff. Jacare wins with ankle picks and kimuras. Attack the neck. Attack the arms.

It’s the equivalent of having a good jump shot and a solid to-the-basket move in basketball. Sure, there are a lot of fancy maneuvers out there. And with the NBA playoff season getting near, we’re sure to see a lot of them. But if you’ve got a dependable jump shot, and can take the ball to the hole, you’re going to do just fine (offensively at least) on any court you walk on to.

The same is true with jiu jitsu. The way to get to “roll-with-anybody” status is to have the best possible foundation of basic moves. I was thinking about this I was going over my half-guard work. I realized that there are really only three basic things I want to do from half-guard: tackle, twist or take-the-back. When I’m in half-guard, I need to be constantly keeping this in mind: is he vulnerable to the tackle? Is he vulnerable to the twist? Is he vulnerable to getting his back taken? 1-2-3, all the time, rifling those options through my head as I test the guy’s balance and reaction.

Like Marcelo said, stay on the attack. I was watching some of the Ultimate Fighter season three marathon yesterday and heard repeatedly “don’t just hang out!” The point was don’t just sit or lie there. You might think you need time to rest or to think or whatever. But you are also giving your opponent time to rest or think or whatever. Keep the pressure on and keep the attack on.

And one way of being able to do that when you are tired is to keep your attack sequence simple—as opposed to some huge, complicated mental puzzle that you’ve got to unravel every time you find yourself in a new position.