Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nine Eighteen

Trying to integrate a lot of what I've been thinking about over the past week or so. In a way not unlike what Angela predicted, much of my initial return-to-mat success is tapering off as old habits from the spring and last fall start to creep back into my game. No time like the present to deal with them.

For one, I need to reorient my psychological reward system so that proper effort is rewarded more greatly than convenient achievement. In other words, keylocks are good, but kimuras and armlocks are better. Half guard sweeps are good, closed guard sweeps better and open guard sweeps ... well, talk about "make me wanna jump back and kiss mah-self ..."

So here's the list. From the top:

1. Stand to pass the guard. No more excuses. Get posture, grab a sleeve, fade back, step, stand and step back. If I don't have posture, then get it. Then start all over again. If necessary, PTMU. But "Get Up, Stand Up" is officially now job one.

2. Pass the half guard. I've got two solid half guard passes: the tripod and the reverse sit. I need to use them. Don't allow guys to tie you up for four minutes running in a half guard you know how to escape.

3. 360 drill. I've actually done a halfway decent job of moving through side control to Watch Dog to mount. I need to better incorporate scarf hold and north-south stages into my top movement.

And from the bottom:

1. SWEEP! SWEEP! SWEEP! For right now, let's focus on sweeping to regain top position. Sweeps out of closed guard (Saulo Roll, crossover, flower), sweeps out of butterfly/cobra guard, sweeps out of de la Riva guard (including with the Saulo hook), sweeps out of spider guard, sweeps out of half guard.

2. From the full or closed guard, I must break posture. Get a rear collar grip and, as I pull down, pull forward with my legs. Use that rear collar grip to help keep him low.

3. Hooks and hips. Let's keep the left foot either planted in the hip to set up swings with the right leg, OR butterflied under the guy's right thigh. We either want to push off with the left foot or lift with the left leg. The right leg will be either around the guy's back (in the first, Hilo guard, instance) and used to swing up under the guy's armpit OR will be used to block or scissor the guy's other knee/leg in a hook 'n' lift sweep to that side. Also let's not forget the de la Riva and Saulo hooks, as well as the vine guard for sweeping.

With regard to escapes, enough fooling around. I know exactly how to escape from rear mount (duck, shuck 'n' roll), side control (throat, swim, walk, knees, pull, boom), scarf hold (bridge in to get hips close before the belly roll), north/south (upa 'n' roll), mount (bridge and roll OR hipscape and knee up), and knee on belly (bridge and stuff knee into half guard). So what is my excuse for staying in these bad positions?

Don't answer that. One thing I need to get in the habit of doing is launching the escape as soon as I recognize the bad position I'm in. For the love of god, I need to stop leeting the guy "settle in" to his dominant position. I know I hate it when the guy is already escaping before I'm good and ready to keep him trapped. Time to serve up that same medicine.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Critical Thinking in Jiu Jitsu, Part V: The Guard

Here, after a little absence, is the latest installment of the "Critical Thinking in Jiu Jitsu" series over at On the Mat.

It is not Gumby's best written work, which I think has something to do with the complexity of the topic. But his focus on posture and his technique of reverse engineering (explained best in his "Hierarchy and Duality of Position" essay available here) alone remain worth reading.

Critical Thinking in Jiu Jitsu: The Guard

I've been thinking a lot about my guard, ever since my fairly pitiful effort last Thursday. And as it always happens, the jiu jitsu gods send along a little help in the way of Gumby's latest. Gumby's "homework" includes this assignment:
Assess your personal version of the guard. Figure out what your favorite grips and hooks are in the context of how you are going to break your opponents posture.

Which goes to the heart of what I've been struggling with guard-wise. What hooks do I want to use and for what purpose? What do I need to do to get the guy to react in the way I want? What position to I need to put my body, legs and arms (in that order) in order to make all of this happen?

One thing I've definitely decided on doing for the rest of the year is focusing on open guards, especially sitting/butterfly and spider (Tommy Gun). I think my legs are built more for hooking and lifting for sweeps than a lot of the swinging that makes up the great attacks from the guard (and not a few submissions). This means using a lot more hooks on one side and traps on the other. Load the guy's weight and then flip him over. If he won't come, then drive him back (code: Poosh tha Guy).

The other part of the hook strategy is to use double hooks and kick the guy out while pulling on the collar and sleeve. There's actually an abs routine that mimics this movement. If I break the guy down with this move, there are all kinds of attacks, from chokes to take-the-back, that I can use.

The point being this: I don't want to get so focued on my problems with the basic foot-in-hip closed guard that I forget there are other alternatives, especially when sparring. I only get so many opportunities a week to work on my guard and if I can find something that works for me right now, that will make the experience of fixing what I'm not so good at that much more enjoyable.

It's an extension of my Lloyd Irvin theory, a theory that makes more sense the more I think about it. If jiu jitsu, as Gumby was writing not too long ago, is about safety first, position second and submission third, then the first thing a person needs to do on the mat is figure out where he or she feels safest: on top or on bottom? The second thing is to figure out which position on the top or bottom is the most natural, most comfortable. The third thing is to figure out which way of finishing the fight, of getting the submission, is best from the position that has been determined to be the best.

This doesn't preclude learning about other positions. If anything, it is a perfect roadmap to learning everyposition. But what it definitely does is allow a person to achieve some level of talent in a part of jiu jitsu relatively quickly, a talent that, over the years, can grow into mastery while other part of his or her jiu jitsu game are allowed to improve at their own pace.

For me, the signature set was pretty easy: on top, side control, Americana. It is still the most comfortable, most natural way for me to finish a fight. But developing a talent with this set has also helped me develop a pretty quick "step" from side control (or Watch Dog, south-facing side control) to mount. That led directly to me determining that I need to learn more about how to maintain the mount, which I've gotten a lot better at. Developing this signature set has also helped me develop a halfway decent Americana from the bottom in closed guard, as well as the first few kimuras from side control that I've ever gotten in sparring. Unintended side benefits that have nonetheless become key parts of my game.

I've got a halfguard set that is starting to come into its own from the bottom. The twist--much more than the tackle--has been my main half guard sweep for the past few weeks. But I need to figure out a signature set for the full guard, and previous plans notwithstanding, that set may not originate with the traditional closed guard.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Omoplatas and Armlocks at the Shoulder

Was out sick on Monday and decided against training on Tuesday night. So my first class of the week was Stefan’s Wednesday night class.

We worked on the omoplata from the closed guard, one of Stefan’s signature moves. I’m trying to adopt and include the omoplata in my game because it seems to be one of the few hip movements in jiu jitsu that come relatively naturally—unlike the “swing” move in armlocks from the guard which is still something I struggle with.

A nice detail Stefan added was a move he showed us many, many months ago in a Saturday training. You enter the omoplata. But rather than just pinning down the guy by the waist, your reach over and grab his far leg near the knee or calf and roll him over in the direction of your knees.

It’s the same sort of roll someone might try to do to escape an omoplata. But as the one precipitating the move, you have time to get to the next step, which is to turn AWAY from the roll so that you are sitting on the guy’s chest with his arm trapped.

Be careful here, because there is a very tight shoulder lock right around the corner. Keeping everything tight, you want to slide off to the side so that you are sitting on the mat with the arm and shoulder still trapped. Squeeze the knees and lean back gradually to get the submission from the shoulder lock.

Thursday night was an interesting class. The first 90 minutes or so is all for beginners (though advanced students can participate, of course), which is followed by 30 minutes of pretty constant rolling just for advanced students. We finished the first 90 minute session with some specific work from the closed guard, and a lot of guys who didn’t roll in the first 90 minutes showed up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the second 30-minute session. That’s how it goes. But I always find it “interesting” to roll with guys who are fresh after I’ve been working for a good hour.

Rodrigo seemed a bit perplexed at the difficulty a number of us were having with the armlock from the closed guard he was showing us. Maybe more than a bit perplexed. I was no master of the move myself, which I think requires more hip dexterity than Rodrigo realized. And all the more so in a class made up largely of new and very new white belts.

Here’s the armlock. What you want to do in this move is to trap the shoulder of the arm you are going to lock. Once you do this, you have the option of attacking with an Americana type of armlock and then, if the guy moves to relieve the pressure, finishing him off with a more traditional armlock.

So, using an attack on the guy’s right arm as the example, Rodrigo had us plant our left foot on the mat, and scoot your hips just a little bit to the side. This, I should point out, was one of many points of difficulty insofar as too many of us were making the mistake of taking a big huge HIPSCAPE and sending our hips flying away from the guy. All you want to do is open things up enough so that you’ve got an angle on the guy’s shoulder with the leg on that side.

Once you’ve got your lock side leg up over the shoulder, you want to “swing” with your other leg up under the armpit, breaking his posture toward the lock side. This was problematic for me because I’ve been working so much on using the “swing” to set up the armlock from the closed guard in the first place that hitting the “swing” AFTER I’ve already got my other leg up on the shoulder seemed awkward.

If my lock side leg is up on the guy’s shoulder, then how do I get the leverage to swing my other leg up? Usually, with an armlock from the guard, you plant the lock side foot on the hip and push off against that hip to help “swing” your off leg up and over. One time when Rodrigo showed the move, he attacked with both legs at the same time—which in some ways only confused the issue for me. Doing both legs at the same time requires that hip dexterity I was talking about, it seems to me.

Maybe I’ve got the moves backward and Rodrigo did do the swing first. It would certainly be a lot easier to get your lock side leg up on the shoulder if you had already broken the posture with the swing ...

So I’ve got to work on it. There is no position where my guard game is more exposed than when I’m working from the closed guard. As the specific and advanced sparring revealed, I am still awful at breaking posture and terrible about moving my hips. One glimmer of hope came when I was rolling with George (good to see George in the gi, by the way). We were doing a closed guard specific and although George passed my guard about 20 times, I did switch up to a spider guard at one point which helped me ward him off longer than with my basic closed guard approach.

I’ll talk about that more later. I’m going to spend some time this weekend with Saulo’s instructional on the guard, as well as Peligro’s ,The Essential Guard. One thing I’m starting to be convinced of, though, is that I need to treat my guard game the way I’ve decided to treat my passing the guard game: very regimented, very simple and very consistent.

So in the same way that I’m trying to adopt a "Stand or Be Damned" approach to passing the guard, I think it’s time to adopt an "Open or Nothing" attitude when it comes to the guard. By that I mean opening my guard and switching to Tommy Gun, the vine guard, Hilo guard, or, if their base is rock solid, butterfly and Cobra guard.

I’m thinking that opening my guard and moving my legs more might actually help "trick" me into better and more natural hip movement. We’ll see.

Gracie Barra Seattle group photo the Saturday after next, the 22nd at the Tully’s location. Same day as "GATZ". I’ll have to break out my new Gracie Barra gi for the picture. Thankfully the new shiny red patches didn’t bleed when I washed the gi for the first time this week.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Saulo Closed Guard Sweep #2 Unplugged







Monday, September 10, 2007

Lost Ryan Hall Video

Ryan Hall in the Advanced Welterweight Division of the East Coast Grappling Championships

The guillotine--crossover--kickover triangle choke combination in the second match is especially nice.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Another Open Guard Sweep

Precious little to say about the jiu jitsu, or lack thereof, in last night's otherwise entertaining UFC event. So here's a nice De La Riva sweep that should be a nice compliment to Saulo's #8 "Oito" open guard and sweep.

De La Riva Sweep

Saturday, September 08, 2007

In Defense of Points

A popular refrain among jiu jitsu people, a compliment often granted a particular performance or performer, is that so and so “goes for the submission, not just the points.” The inference is that there are jiu jitsu people whose time on the mat is an endless and incessant quest for the holy grail of the submission on the one hand, and jiu jitsu people whose time on that mat is characterized by “going for points” on the other.

Maybe so, maybe so. But I think we are starting to see the discontents of this “go for the sub” at all costs mentality. These discontents are not showing up so much in the sport arena, but in mixed martial arts where world class jiu jitsu guy after world class jiu jitsu guy has come up short against tough competition.

In particular, I’m thinking of Alberto Crane’s performance against Roger Huerta in the UFC and, to a greater extent, Rani Yahya’s performance against Chase Beebe in the WEC bantamweight title match. In both instances, the jiu jitsu fighter had a clear advantage on the ground. And in both instances, the jiu jitsu fighter had numerous opportunities to gain and maintain control of the fight on the ground. Yet in both cases, the jiu jitsu fighter came up short, losing by TKO in the later rounds in Crane’s case and by unanimous decision in Yahya’s contest.

What characterized the jiu jitsu of Crane and Yahya, in my opinion, was “going for the sub.” Both fighters threw submission attempt after submission attempt—with an unfortunate focus on leglocks—at their opponent. From the bottom, from the side, from the scramble, wherever Crane or Yahya was positioned, there was some submission attack that could be launched. That is definitely to their credit, their encyclopedic knowledge of submission attacks.

But a mixed martial arts contest, a Vale Tudo match is not a spelling bee of techniques. I think back on the “Gracie in Action” tapes, the sampler videos of members of the Gracie family fighting challenge matches against various opponents. The recipe in those contests, like the Gracie streetfighting recipe, is almost banal in its simplicity: take the fight to the ground, secure dominant position, attack with submission attempts based on what the opponent gives you.

To me, it seems as if too many jiu jitsu fighters in MMA are forgetting the middle step, and are attacking with submission regardless of position. This tends to mean a lot of attacking from the guard. And while we have seen some impressive work from the guard recently (Diaz v. Gomi and Aoki v. Hansen come immediately to mind), the fact of the matter is that the guard is an inferior position relative to others such as the mount or rear mount.

This is all the more so in mixed martial arts. We can all remember watching Fedor plunge through Minotauro’s guard in their three contests. And while reasonable people can argue about how good Nog’s guard game is (Rickson Gracie, famously, was not impressed), if ever there was evidence that the guard, as good as it is, remains an inferior position to attack from compared to other positions such as the mount or rear mount, those contests between Fedor and Minotauro proved it.

Over-reliance on the guard—which arguably cost BJ Penn his fight with GSP and his rematch with Matt Hughes—is one problem of the modern jiu jitsu fighter in mixed martial arts. The other tendency is leg attacks.

What is it about mixed martial arts that turns talented jiu jitsu fighters into catch wrestlers? Obviously, if a leg lock falls into your lap, then you should exploit that mistake. But to attack the legs as a primary objective in a mixed martial arts contest is madness. As I have said in conversations about jiu jitsu and MMA, losing position is very expensive. And there is no surer way to lose position than to build a gameplan based on attacking an opponent with kneebars.

There have been plenty of close kneebar finishes: Stevenson v. Neer, Mishima v. Florian, Barnett v. Nog I, and now most recently Yahya v. Beebe. But the emphasis is on “close.” None of those leglocks finished the fight. In fact, I think Kevin Randleman might be the last top contender finished by kneebar in recent memory. Jiu jitsu fighters—who shouldn’t be preoccupied with kneebars in the first place as far as I am concerned—should pay closer attention to this.

Paulo Filho takes a lot of crap from some fans. But I’ll tell you what: Filho knows the importance of position before submission. Filho will take you down, pass your guard, mount you, and pound on you until you give him your arm or your back. That’s jiu jitsu 101 and while a number of people have professed this, Filho is one of the few to consistently approach his contests with this fundamental jiu jitsu in mind.

So what does this have to do with points? Compare two fighters. One pulls guard, and then begins working for submissions. The other takes his opponent down, passes his guard, takes dominant position, and then begins working for submissions. Which fighter is more likely to be successful—all else equal?

In my opinion, the second fighter has a number of advantages. Not only is the second fighter way ahead in terms of scoring (2 for the takedown, 2 for the pass of guard, 3 or 4 for the dominant position), but the fact that he is as many as eight points ahead puts tremendous pressure on his opponent to do something or risk losing the match. That pressure, that urgency, makes it much more likely for him to make a mistake and leave himself vulnerable to a submission attack.

Additionally, there is a psychological advantage. The second fighter's jiu jitsu is completely in control. He has already shown an ability to impose his game--in three different contexts--on his opponent. That's the kind of thing that can increase the sense of desperation on the part of the opponent, and make him that much more vulnerable to submission.

I haven’t seen it quoted, but apparently Mario Sperry encourages fighters to pursue this “point-oriented” approach to fighting—and for exactly the reasons I’ve suggested. The goal of fighting is to put your opponent in the worst position possible so that, in his desperation to avoid defeat, he makes a mistake. I’ve always said that the point of jiu jitsu isn’t to test your jiu jitsu. It is to put the other guy in a position to test HIS jiu jitsu. I’m reminded of the line from the movie, PATTON: “The point isn’t for you to die for your country. The point is to get some other poor son of a bitch to die for HIS country.”

And in the context of mixed martial arts, as in most fights, that test means putting the other guy on his back, not inviting your opponent to test how good you are from your back.

Obviously, if an opportunity to submit an opponent from your back exists, then sure, take it. But the more I watch MMA, the more I realize that jiu jitsu guys don’t necessarily have the time it takes for an opponent, particularly one content to attempt to strike from within the closed guard, to make a big enough mistake to get submitted. Obviously it happens. But the issue is one of probability.

In a sport with five minute rounds, with a bias toward “standing fighters up” when the action on the ground is not sufficiently chaotic, the jiu jitsu guy cannot afford, in my opinion, to lie there on his back waiting for the guy on top to make a mistake. He instead needs to change the game, by working more to take a dominant position, so that the biases and rules of the sport of mixed martial arts—which rewards takedowns and positional dominance as much or more than failed submission attempts—can work for him instead of against him.

Think about it: the most dominant jiu jitsu fighter, in sport jiu jitsu, no less, almost stereotypically finishes fights from a dominant position. Isn’t that lesson enough for the rest of us?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Cobrinha Sweeps = Rodrigo + Stefan?

There was a thread over at the jiu jitsu gear forum the other day asking if Ruben Charles, aka Cobrinha, was the most dominant black belt. What I know of Charles, other than his unbelievably cool nickname, is that he fought an amazingly technical match against Marcio Feitosa and has been one of the toughest guys around at the featherweight division (or “pena”), which is 154 pounds or less in the gi.

[Cobrinha v. Feitosa]

By comparison, competing right now, I would be “leve” or 167.5 pounds or less in the gi. I wouldn’t be a big “leve” or lightweight. But a five pound gi means weighing about 160 naturally (to be on the safe side) and that’s about as light as I feel I can maintain without having to “weight cut”—which I’m just not into.

Anyway, Cobrinha was described elsewhere in the forum as “Tinguinha on steroids” or “like a mini-Terere.” Here are some clips of both Tinguinha and Terere in action.



I’ve found a section of one of his instructionals, taught in Portuguese and subtitled in Japan where he uses some sweeps and setups from the guard that are very similar to what I’ve seen Rodrigo do and, in one specific part, Stefan, as well. The Rodrigo-esque aspect of Cobrinha’s game is the way he will grapevine an arm and then work to sweep toward that grapevined arm (either over to the side or in a backward roll).

The Stefan-like part is how Cobrinha typically wound up on top in position to do the same shoulder lock Stefan likes to do if the guy rolls out of the omoplata. It involves a sort of “sitting-step” in a backwards circle so that you wind up in mount and in perfect position for the shoulder lock. You can see how Cobrinha finishes with it in a number of these sweeps.

[Cobrinha instructional]

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Errata 1,2,3

1. The Scarf Hold Blues

Last night I spent another inordinate set of minutes struggling under Andrew’s all-too-effective (at least against me) scarf hold. Andrew’s positioning reminds me of exactly what Saulo talks about in controlling from the cross body. He is completely locked on my hips and, as such, doesn’t need to use his arms or his legs (much) in order to maintain position.

I’ve been struggling against this before. In fact, I was having a harder time that I wanted against Brandon’s scarf hold during our roll. Brandon may be no brown belt, but he’s a real-live judoka and that scarf hold is something near the beginning of the newaza playbook.

There are a couple of approaches, such as throwing the leg up and over the guy’s head and pulling him backward with it, that I could try. But the main thing I need to do is to bridge up and into the guy in order to get his hips (really, both our hips) off the mat. That will give me room to either reverse sitout with my near leg, or to get the underhook with my outside arm and work for the belly lock and roll.

Don’t waste energy struggling. Get yourself ready and do the escape properly. Bridge up and into him. Then pummel for the underhook or do the reverse sit-out to knees.

2. Hip Movement and H. Rap

I tried the arm wrap attack on Brandon last night. I was eager to try out the Jersey Shore stuff from closed guard, and when the opportunity came for me to take closed guard and go for the arm wrap, I went for it.

Unfortunately, Brandon simply leaned back and pulled his arm out.

What I need to do when attacking with the armwrap is to turn into the guy and move the guy’s shoulder downward toward the mat. The only way to do this is to hipscape out and turn into the guy as I’m wrapping the arm. That torques the arm at an angle and makes it much, much harder for the guy to be able to just straight pull his arm out.

3. "They pass with their hands."

I’m pretty sure that’s a quote from Marcelo Garcia talking about defending guard passes—especially against his “butt scoot” sitting guard, a guard I have adopted for training. One thing that has been unnecessarily frustrating has been the way I’ve let guys get grips and stand to pass my sitting guard. It’s been just terrible. Mostly I’m left to vainly try and stretch my not-particularly-lengthy legs out and trap them in half guard. Most of the time, this does not work—in part, because by stretching out my legs, I’ve given up an ability to be mobile and the guy can continue running around.

The solution? There are three really. One is to go for a single leg takedown. Another is to go for a front headlock and possibly a guillotine if I get my arm in deep enough. Last, you guessed it, ARM DRAG!.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Far Side Armlocks and Kimuras

Wednesday night with Stefan … we worked two moves from side control: the farside arm lock and the kimura in the event the guy is able to bend his arm out of the armlock. After that, we did a little specific sparring from side control—starting with the arm and without—before ending the class for general sparring. I rolled three times, I think: Brandon the Judo Guy, Andrew and Stefan.

A few key details with the far side arm lock, which has been a very difficult submission for me to finish with. Starting with the north hand on the collar and the south hand on the far side of the guy’s body checking the hip, the first thing to do is to trap the guy’s arm (assuming he makes the mistake of putting his arm on the north side of your head. If he put it on the south side of your head, then you would look to switch to Watch Dog and attack with bent arm locks).

Trap the arm by reaching around the arm with your north hand and grabbing your own lapel. Take your south hand and put it on the near side right by his hip. This is the block. In order for the block to work effectively, you have to put your weight on it. It might be better to think of it as a post.

That block or post will also help you lift yourself up and walk around to north-south. The farside arm lock is really set up from north-south. By the time you get to the far side, the arm lock should be pretty much ready to go.

Here are some very important details that Stefan emphasized. As you are coming around from north-south, put your “lock-side” knee right into the guy’s ribs as you roll him away from you. This will help keep him from rolling into you to escape the arm lock, as well as help set your legs up for a tighter lock. Another detail was to make sure your “trailing foot” was right by the guy’s head. You should almost be sitting right on his head (a point I’ll come back to in a later post) before you spin into the arm lock.

The kimura variation happens if the guy is able to slip his arm out a bit and bend it to avoid the armlock. In this instance, you want to reach down and grab the wrist and go for the kimura. Some details here include sprawling out your south leg and hooking your north leg around the guy’s head as you increase pressure on the lock. This will further immobilize the guy and make it harder for him to resist the submission.

Another detail was specifically for instances when the guy defended the kimura by grabbing his gi, or belt or whatever. What you want to do—and this would have helped GSP when he was trying to work that kimura on Koscheck—is to pull the arm in the direction their wrist is bent. That is the path of least resistance, for lack of a better phrase. Stephen Kesting has a slightly more elaborate procedure. But I like Stefan’s approach, which is both simple and commonsensical (read: easy to remember). So that’s the one I’m going with.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Closed Guard Lockflow from Jersey Shore BJJ

Much to catch up with. But I wanted to make sure I made a post of this fascinating attack series for the closed guard, especially no gi.

I really like the armwrap and clamp attacks, though I want to try and include more of these set-ups in general. I need to pay attention to the hip movement. I always feel like I can follow the hand and arm movement. It is the hip movement that I tend to miss.