Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Belt Requirements

I'm a not a big fan of formal "belt requirements" or belt tests. I much, much prefer the way Gracie Barra does it, where you are "tested" by the way you train, spar and, for some, compete.

I think that's a much more holistic way of evaluating when someone is ready to move to the next level. Knowing how to do a certain technique on an appointed day is very different from watching a student use a variety of techniques properly in class, during open mat, at tournaments. I know that if I were an instructor, it would be the latter that would leave the greater impression upon me.

That said, I always find it interesting to read the belt requirements of academies that do have formal requirements and tests. It's sort of a way of seeing how well I "measure up" in basic technical jiu jitsu knowledge.

Here's one from Alliance Jiu Jitsu, academy of the legendary, original "Jacare": Romero Cavalcanti, 6th degree black belt under Rolles Gracie.

It was nice to see that I could handle the blue belt requirements no problem--and many of the purple belt ones, as well. And that's including the self-defense!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Injury Time Out

At least this time it's not my eye.
I was rolling on Friday. Got there a little late, due to work as usual. But I was pretty happy about polishing off a bunch of stuff in time to make the afternoon class.

Casey was showing us a guard pass, the one where you bait the guy into attacking with the triangle choke, then counter by stacking him, posturing and passing.

A couple of key details: make sure you don't lean over and are straight up with you go for the stack. Also make sure to put all of your weight on the leg to keep him pinned ...

After that we went straight into a guard pass/guard sweep gauntlet drill. I rolled with Stephen first and, after rolling for what seemed like about five minutes, he managed to get to his feet. Back in the line I went.

Next up was John. We went at it for a little while, then I managed to get to half guard. For some reason, I didn't go for my usual half guard pass. I had the underhook and figured that I might as well go for the other pass, instead.

That turned out to be a mistake. Just as I was scooting past John's guard, I felt him whizzer my right arm under hook hard and heard a ripping noise. My right arm went limp, and I sort of just rolled over as John reversed me.

I knew I was in trouble immediately. I sort of staggered off to the side and managed to get my gi jacket off. My right pec, shoulder and bicep were killing me. After a little while John brought over some ice and I packed that on right on the skin to take away the discomfort.

Long and short of it: I didn't bother going to the doctor, and tonight on Sunday it is feeling a lot better than it did on Friday. I was able to drive home and get some more writing in to finish the work week. But it was a lousy way to start a weekend I had really been looking forward to--especially with the continued instability at my new job.

I'm definitely taking a week off training to see how quickly my shoulder heals. There's a nasty looking bruise on my right bicep, up high. But there's no more pain when I touch it, so I'm assuming that a bad bruise is all it is. Most of the pain now is centered around where my deltoid and pec connect, as well as in my arm pit. Worst case scenario is a four-to-six week type of delay, but that would still allow me four-to-six weeks to prepare for the July event.

Like I said, though, I'm feeling better at a decent rate. There's one week left in this six-week period before the tournament on May 3rd. Then there's a four week period followed by a six-week period before the next gi tournament in July. I'm hoping to use the next week to recover, and then to spend the month of May (the next four weeks) in rehab, lifting weights, getting leander and more flexible, and losing some weight. If all goes well, come the next six-week, tournament-prep period, I'll be right as rain and ready to roll.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Paulao is Back!

Full disclosure: after Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, after BJ Penn, my next favorite jiu jitsu fighter in MMA is Paulo Filho.

Here is a link to a recent interview with Paulao, who had to pull out of a rematch with Chael Sonnen (see above) due to medical and personal issues. Paulo explains what he has been up to, how his recovery has been, and what is next for him and his career.


--Here's a nice interview with world class jiu jitsu fighter, Demian Maia, after his victory by submission in the most recent Ultimate Fighting Championships.

I wanted him hitting me, but not to get hurt. This was because I needed to make him open gaps for my submission or for his mistakes. But this was a risk. I want to fight 10 more years, and punishment affects the future. On a few occasions, you need to jeopardize yourself to see how you react. I reacted well, in my analysis, but at the same time I saw that I don't need to take punishment.

--More changes at work look to threaten the nice training pace I've been able to put up over the past month or so. It seems like every time I start to figure out how to most efficiently arrange my time, I get less time to work with. We'll see. I'm grateful for the gains I think I've made over the past month, the biggest leap in skill in months if not years. But I'd be even more grateful if I were able to keep it going for the balance of the year.

--I'll probably spend some time on this later. But in the same way that the underhook and the sticky paw grip are key for the upper body when defending your half guard, I think getting small and switching your legs are the most important parts of the lower body when it comes to being on the bottom in half guard.

I used to rant about the importance of the outside leg in the half guard. I didn't know the half of it. As my half guard sweeps have improved exponentially over the past four or five weeks of focused training, I've realized just how important the outside leg is--both as a hook as well as a trap.

This is still my focus from the guard for 2008. I hope to have a clearer sense of specifically what sweeps I'm doing when by the end of June, so that I can spend the rest of the year learning how to set the sweeps up and how to recounter.

You know that the jiu jitsu is getting good to you when you think to yourself, "Wow, it's been awhile since I was on the mat" when it was only yesterday when you last trained. Good times, these days, on the tatame.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Near Leg

A lot of what Rodrigo has been showing us in the past few days has a common theme of attacking the near leg. We've learned attacks from both half guard and sitting/Cobra guard lately, and all of those attacks/sweeps focused on that near leg.

The half guard work, which was the most recent, focused on getting small from the bottom, head on the hip, and immediately going for the far ankle as you shoot in and putting the basic coil on the near leg.

Controlling that near leg is key to a lot of nice sweeps from the half guard. And what is key to controlling the near leg from an offensive standpoint is your outside leg.

In the tackle sweep that Rodrigo showed us the other day, you switched the trap on the near leg and then rolled your lower leg out behind you (much like Rodrigo's side scissors drill) going belly down.

And that day I finally hit the Bravo Twist Back sweep it was because I finally figured out that I had to trap/pin the near leg with my outside leg--again, switching the coil on the leg--and then pivoting off my inside leg.

Today in sparring, I must have hit the kimura sweep three times. Just fabulous. And that also involves attacking the near leg, this time hooking it with my outside leg in a half butterfly.

It was a really nice Friday class today. It was 50% drills and 50% sparring. The drill was alternating takedowns at about 25-50% for two minutes. Then alternating guard/pass guard for four minutes each. I can't remember how many circuits we did and even though both Steven and I mashed toes during some point in the standup (I'm still limping around the house), it was a great Friday-type class.

I'm really loving specific work. Knowing that I'm going to be working my guard, for example, for the next 5-8 minutes regardless of whether I get my guard passed or I get the sweep makes it easy to experiment without fear that you might not get another chance to work your guard over the remainder of the sparring session. And of course, the worse your guard is--i.e., if you mostly like to work from the top--the less you spend working on it in sparring. So specific work is really helping me open up and improve my guard game.

I was even doing that Saulo open guard, the reverse de la Riva at one point, and was amazed at how much control I had. I need to start to work the actual sweep into the guard. But it was nice to see and feel its effectiveness.

And before I forget, I also tried the Jeff Glover half guard brabo counter to the knee through pass. I didn't go for the brabo, at all. But that "Royler guard pass" has been such a killer, that I was grateful for the first part of the counter, the follow-the-arm-between roll under just as the guy is finishing the pass. It worked perfectly.

Having some very good times on the mat, which I attribute to a lot of home study, but mostly to regular training. I'm averaging 3.5 trainings a week for the past month, which is a really nice clip. I can feel myself "feeling" my jiu jitsu emerge bit by bit. I'm actually started to develop "a game."

The goal is to figure out what that game looks like at the black belt level, and keep working until I get it there.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Brabo Counter to the Royler Half Guard Pass

When it comes to the half guard, the Royler pass is the one pass that I have the most difficulty defending.

So many thanks to Jeff Glover for this excellent counter to the Royler half guard pass--a counter the results in a brabo/anaconda choke.

I'm going to be posting a lot more of Jeff Glover over the next few days. There are a few things in his game--namely, his half guard and brabo/anaconda choke attacks--that I think I can integrate into my game fairly easily.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Professor BTT

Not really, but I did help Bryan teach the Monday class today.

Ironically enough, Bryan had led the class of about five or six white belts in the crossover sweep, my favorite sweep. Because there was a new guy, Bryan switched to work specifically with him, and asked me to show them the scissors sweep, my least favorite sweep.

It was nice to teach it, in large part because it gave me a great opportunity to practice it. It's really a great, versatile sweep that works well out of the open guard. And I think the minutes spent today teaching it have convinced me to make it a bigger part of my open guard game.

I remember Shaka sweeping me with open guard scissor sweeps all the time. Lately, Stephan has been catching me with them more often than anybody else.

Pretty good training (Rodrigo was out sick). Definitely implementing the standing guard pass, including two PTMUs (one against a significantly larger sparring partner) that resulted in total guard passes. I need to be serious about this whenever I'm confronted with someone who just won't open his or her guard: stand. Stand. STAND.

John Howell got his purple belt the other day--apparently in the same "surprise!" way that I got my two stripes. John is a long, Jesse-like grappler with some incredible ink. I thought he felt like a purple belt when we sparred for the first time months ago: solid fundamentals, not a lot of wasted movement ... You can really see and feel the signature of guys (& gals) who are destined for higher levels.

I'm looking to train at least four times this week, if not another five of a kind. Today's weigh-in was sub-perfect at 162.2, but I did manage to get to sleep at 10 p.m. Sunday night, which was a record early number. I think more than anything else right now--more than additional cardio, additional resistance work, additional supplements, additional circuit training--getting at least seven hours a sleep a night will make a tremendous difference in everything.

Ultimately, that means hitting the sack at 9:30 in order to guarantee seven hours. And I'm working on it. But getting into bed last night at 10 was something I've been thanking myself for ever since.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ghosts of Jiu Jitsu Past Yet to Come?

During sparring on Friday, I got two far side armbars. Let me repeat that, because I have never successfully executed a far side armbar in sparring. Never as in ever. But Friday, I got two of them.

Not only that. But I circled to the left to get one. And circled to the right to get the other.

Good for me, right? It gets better.

Working out of half guard, I get a near-perfect Eddie Bravo Twist Back sweep. I say "near perfect" not because I landed in side control, avoiding the half guard and getting into a dominant position. I say "near perfect" because the only thing I didn't do was pin the ankle of the leg I was hooking.

Still I got the sweep almost effortlessly. Two points, side control and everything.

Eddie Bravo's Twist Back is, like the far side armbar, another technique that I have never successfully executed in training. I've managed some twisting sweeps--I spend enough time in half guard that I'm bound to get a twist sweep of some sort every now and then. But to have the leg and foot coordination to pull off the Twist Back ... well, that was something that had eluded me forever. Until Friday. And I hadn't been focusing on any of this stuff. I just saw the opportunity and, pretty deliberately I'll admit, moved what needed to be moved to get into position. And then executed the move.

Very "Oh ... okay ... do this ... and this ... and this, like ... this!"

By the way, there were also a perfect flower sweep to mount and a nice half guard pass to mount that deserve mention in this context.

But what did I spend all day Friday after training thinking about?

All day the only thing I thougth about was how embarrassed I was during sparring with one guy, when I sat and hid in his closed guard for at least two minutes, barely trying to pass.

I had my excuses. And I'm not going to bother repeating them here. What's important was that I felt haunted about that all night Friday. I felt like I had to get back on the mat as soon as possible to redeem myself for my terrible two minutes. I hardly thought about any of the very, very good things I had accomplished on Friday: the armlocks, the sweeps, the passes ... Whenever I thought about jiu jitsu, I thought about hiding in the closed guard, barely trying to pass.

It's always good to keep in mind your mistakes, the things that you do that you shouldn't do, on the mat. But I've always believed that is it as important, if not more so, to focus on what is working, what is going right.

Something will always be wrong with your game. Unless you are perfect, there will always be a weakness. And, all things considered, focusing on weaknesses in an effort to improve them is an outstanding thing. I know because of my terrible two minutes on Friday, I'll be standing to pass the guard like my life depended on it for the next several weeks. That's just how shame works.

But that shouldn't diminish--as it was all day Friday after training--some of the things that I didn't just do correctly, but did for the first time ever in real training. Thinking about it a little over a day later, I can't believe how nicely that Twist Back sweep worked, or how "okay" it felt crawling into that far side armlock.

It reminds me of hitting that butterfly guard sweep out of nowhere the other day--minus the bad vibes.

You've got to have both. You've got to be annoyed--shamed--enough by your mistakes to do what you have to do to stop repeating them. I've started to take that attitude about getting submitted by triangle choke--which may be a signal that, stop the presses, I should start developing a triangle choke attack of my own. I need to take that approach toward opening, if not passing, the guard.

But I've got to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. And one thing that is clear is that the more time I spend on the mat, the more techniques that I've always struggled with or been too intimidated to try are not only starting to appear, but are working on the first try.

No point in getting used to it. But I shouldn't be surprised if other "previously unseen" techniques start flying out of my gi as long as I keep up the accelerated training pace.

B.J. Penn Interview

Not a new interview with B.J. Penn, but one of my favorites.
Penn: My game has hundreds of moves, and I do all kinds of advanced stuff, but I call what I do “advanced basic.” I take the most basic moves and make them as advanced and as strong as possible. For example, if I’m grappling and I’m on bottom, I’m either going to sweep or submit you or stand up. If I’m on my back, I’ll try a submission. If that doesn’t work, I’ll move on to sweep, pass your guard, mount, choke or armbar you. Anything that happens in between those moves, I’ll take, but this is the way I try to go every time. When I’m fighting, I come in, punch you, grab you, put you down, pass, mount, choke, armbar. That’s the game plan.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Moments Not Missed

I am unashamed in my apprecation of Rickson Gracie. Not appreciating Rickson Gracie, not wondering why he is so widely regarded as having the most superior jiu jitsu in the world, is like not appreciating Joe Louis or Michael Jordan or Lance Armstrong.

These four--Rickson, Joe, Michael and Lance--are (and were, in the case of the late Mr. Louis) not just great. They are great players who figured it out, who discovered the combination to the safe of excellence in their discipline and were able to successfully pick the lock again and again at will.

So I'm reading Gracie Magazine tonight, an article about Rickson's unbelievable son, Kron. And I come across this passage: Was getting the submission in every one of your fights the result of this daily effort?

Kron: I think it's the result of the technique my father's been teaching me since I was a kid. There's a difference between the Jiu-Jitsu you see going around and the way it should be done. Jiu-Jitsu was always about the submission, the detail of seeking out the easiest route to the submission is what my dad taught me.
Helio talked about Rickson's timing. Kron talks about his father's efficiency. Of all the stories I've read about Rickson, the one that impresses me the most is his fight against Sergio Penha (click here and scroll down to question #21.) In that match, Rickson is down by nearly 16 points. But he manages to pull out the win by submission.

It reminds me of what impressed me immediately when I saw Royce Gracie for the first time some 14 years ago (!). The ability to survive, to avoid taking punishment. And not just for the sake of avoiding punishment (a worthy goal, but ...) Instead the point is to avoid punishment for long enough to be able to position yourself to take a dominant position and get the finish.

My favorite Rickson quote: "During fights there comes a moment without fail when an opponent makes a mistake. That moment cannot be missed." That's where timing and efficiency meet. Doing only what is necessary, but exactly what is necessary, as soon as it is necessary to do so.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Butterfly

Today at training, I actually hit a near perfect butterfly guard sweep, my first one ever in real, non-specific sparring. It went so well and so effortlessly that I'm almost afraid to try it again.

Almost. I've been telling myself that I need to work more on my butterfly guard to give me more options between full and half guard. I've been toying with some open guards, both Rodrigo's de la Riva guard and Pe de Pano's cross guard (or my variation of it).

But I've made it a mission to develop a butterfly guard game in 2008 (and to "master" my half guard game). And the fact of the matter is that I haven't been practicing it nearly enough--even when we are doing guard specific sparring.

After today's success, I suspect all of that will change. I'll probably get passed to death, just like when I was working the Cobra guard. But that's all in the process of figuring this thing out.

Right now, I just want to focus on the basic sideways hook sweep. There are a couple of other sweeps that I want to work on eventually. Right now, though, I want to get comfortable attacking and being aggressive with just one or two sweeps from the butterfly guard.

As an aside, I'm also determined to "master" the lapel choke this year. It's such a classic and if you're going to train in the gi, why not become effective with the lapel choke?

A good day on the mat--though it actually felt as if it ended a little early. It won't be a five-day week this week--I took Tuesday night off. But I'm looking to be back on the tatame Thursday and Friday to finish off the week.

Crazy. By week's end, I will have trained more in the past three weeks than I did in the six weeks preparing for the Revolution tournament in February!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Two. White. Stripes.

White stripes, all right. Two of 'em. At the black end of my blue belt.

I was sparring with someone, I can't even remember who. And I knew that my belt was slipping off. Not quite getting in the way just yet. Rodrigo told me to give him my belt and to just keep going. And honestly I thought he was just trying to get my belt out of my way (even though, of course, he'd never done that for me or anybody else that I ever saw). It wasn't until I glanced (half-blind since I can't see without my glasses) over at where he'd put my belt back on the mat that I even suspected what he'd done.

So there you have it: a two stripe blue belt on April 7, 2008.

I had a pretty good training today. I think I've finally figured out how I'm going to have to attack with the triangle choke. And I'm doing a better job than I was at the end of last week at standing to open the guard. I'm actually starting to feel dominant with my basic standing guard opener against guys my level or lower. I need to stick with it.

Rodrigo has us drill side control escapes, which was really nice insofar as I've started to rely on that gator roll reversal instead of the basic side control escape. It was nice working with JM, a two or three stripe white belt, who I got to show my side control escape technique to. It made it easier for me to remember what to do correctly.

I don't like how I'm reacting to being in bad positions: knee on belly, mount, rear mount ...I need to develop a three-count attitude to get out of these bad positions immediately, before points are scored, so to speak. Not getting submitted is great. But the point is to escape and, at least, recover guard. And that really needs to be a priority this year along with--if not ahead of--everything else.

It was really something to train five days last week. I'm going to set myself off on that pace again this week and see what happens. I've got a lot to work on, some specific areas that I really, really want to improve this year. And the more mat time I can put in sooner, the farther along I'll be.

I think the perfect time to train your hardest is when you are farthest away from both your last competition and your next one. For me, with events in February and July, that means April and May are the months for five-day-a-week training when I can do it.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Building My Butterfly Guard

It seems like these days "butterfly guard" increasingly refers to butterflying your legs, but allowing your back to be on the mat. What used to be called "butterfly guard" is now more often than not is referred to as "sitting guard."

Butterfly guard. Sitting guard. Cobra guard. Whatever. It's what I need to integrate into my guard game in 2008.

Paul Greenhill of The Wise Grappler talks about how you need to divide the moves you see in instructional videos into YES, NO, and NOT NOW categories. I'm going to take that approach with Kesting's butterfly guard DVD.
In terms of training, I modify all of that a little with an additional category: ALREADY. "Already" is something that I've been relying on, but not really perfecting or working to make an almost unstoppable part of my game. It's where my bread and butter (or these days, my meat, fruit and vegetables) are.

So right now, my guard plan looks like this:

ALREADY: Half guard, King Crimson
YES: Butterfly/Sitting/Cobra guard, Rap Star
NOT NOW: X-guard
NO: Traditional closed guard

This weekend, probably Saturday night, I want to spend some time picking out three sweeps from Kesting's butterfly guard DVD that I think I can incorporate into my game immediately, per Greenhill. The basic side sweep from the butterfly guard is going to the top of the list, in all likelihood. And there are at least two others that I have in mind. But only three for now. And I I'll need to work on these three every single time I spar or do specific drills.

I'm having a hard time attacking from the butterfly guard. I'm thinking that by focusing on just three sweeps, I can figure out what set-ups and attacks will work best. The biggest problem with my guard is that it is too defensively-oriented. And the more I open my guard, the bigger a problem that defensive aspect will be.

Five in Five

Five days. Five classes.

I may have paid the price for my mini-marathon training this past week. Late after Friday's class, I was countering a front roll/flip out of my butterfly guard by rolling with in and ending up in mount.

I ended up in mount. But also ended up twisting my left knee in the process.

It's a little sore early Saturday night. But I can walk fine, so I'm hoping its just a little sprain or something. I'm thinking of when I twisted my right knee a while back trying to fight my way out of a triangle choke using CC Grinder. It hurt for awhile, and I wasn't able to do some Cobra guard/Sitting guard moves with my right leg flat. But it's better now. So I'm hoping whatever is ailing my left knee will go along the same path of healing.

A great number on the scale post-class: 155.4. That's half a pound off the Revolution featherweight limit of 154.9. I was fairly strict with my diet this week, but not as strict as I could be. And the five consecutive days of training definitely helped strip the pounds off. But it was an absolutely great number to see, and I'm completely confident that I'll be able to make 154.9 come July.

I'm still going to see if I can get to 149.9 by the end of the month. That will require some work. But I'd like to give it a shot and see. I'm looking less and less likely to actually compete. But I do want to train at a "competition prep" pace to see what it will be like in the six weeks leading up to the Revolution event in July.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Three days. Three trips to the academy. It's been a wild and atypical pace for me this week and I'm hoping to make it even wilder by training Thursday and Friday.

(video apropos of nothing more than the word "three" and my love for King Crimson, greatest closed guard sweep/submission series ever)

I won't pretend that anything amazing is coming from it. I haven't uncovered any great secrets that separate my jiu jitsu from, oh say, Mario Feitosa's. But some of the things that I've always been pretty good at, like the crossbody, the americana, and the half-guard, are starting to feel very, very comfortable.

I like the way I'm switching from side control to Watch Dog, and the Watch Dog half guard pass is becoming more and more my go-to move from the half. I've also really started to nail my counter to the Watch Dog half guard pass when people try it on me. I've had some very good, consistent success with it.

I still haven't really figured out how to set up the americana from the bottom consistently (though the sticky paw grip plays a nice role). And I've got to make a serious reassessment of my guard game and decide if my guard really should be more sweep-based with a focus on open guards.

In this, I really need to pay strict attention to how Rodrigo rolls. We are very similar in physical attributes: about the same size and strength, probably similar conditioning, neither of us have incredible flexibility or manic speed ...

Rodrigo very rarely plays a Roger Gracie type of closed guard. Instead, he works with a lot of sleeve and collar, sleeve and knee grips. With the legs, there's a lot of de la Riva and butterfly hooks. Even his half guard is open and "upright"(compared to mine, where I end up fighting from a flattened-out position even when I get the reversal). He keeps the knee of the non-hooking leg up, much the way Saulo recommends in his instructional on the half-guard.

An interesting aside: Rodrigo was sparring with Shawn, the "new" brown belt I've seen coming during the days for the past few weeks that I've been coming during the day. Rodrigo was talking about his use of the DLR. He pointed out that he didn't just want to hold, or control the ankle. His goal was to make that leg light, and force the guy to put all of his weight on one leg--making him easier to sweep. Rodrigo did this by lifting up at the pant cuff, instead of just cupping the ankle. This also makes it harder for the guy to kick his leg free.

One great thing about all this mat time is that I feel like I'm trying things all the time. Old things are starting to click and new things are starting to make sense. I'm not sure how long I'll be able to keep at this pace, or when a new project from work will intrude. But so far so good.

The Scale: 158.8

A little more caloric restriction than was probably warranted (half a grapefruit, some bacon and black tea), but it was nice to get a good number. I'm putting some calories in post-training, and may have a salad or something during Ultimate Fight Night on Spike at 7. But it's starting to look like I might make that 156.6 mark by Friday, after all.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

2008 Pan Am Results

Alliance took the team title, with Gracie Barra and Brasa taking second and third, respectively. The black belt standout was Andre Galvao, who won both his weight class (medium heavyweight) and the absolute. Honorable mention would have to go to Kron Gracie, who submitted all eight of his opponents en route to winning first place in his weight class (middleweight) and in the absolute.

Complete results are here.

It sounds like an incredible event. The Pan Am dvds are getting better and better, and I can't wait to get a copy of this one and see, especially, Kron's fights.

That reminds me ... I need to buy another copy of the 2005 event since Tomas has disappeared into thin air. I do still have his Bibiano Fernandez DVD, which isn't exactly a bad trade when you think about it ...