Monday, August 31, 2009

Training Day: Monday

Huge class Monday - maybe 30 folks or more, with half of them very, very new. Lindsey led the warmups, but Rodrigo was there to teach the class.

After some stand-up (the Machida) for about 10 minutes we went into the instructional, which was more work out of and against the sitting/butterfly guard. We continued working on passing the sitting guard by grabbing the knees and leaning in with the shoulder, the "stiff-arm toreano" so to speak. The guy on the bottom's job was to rotate, with one hand planted behind him, keeping the guy from getting to your side.

We also worked on an armlock from the sitting guard when the guard passer sits down and traps your legs. The trick is to get one leg out at a time, then to underhook the guy's arm with a yoke grip, pulling on that arm and strteching him out with a foot in the hip. Slide your head along the length of the arm to keep the pressure tight. Rotate toward face down to put on the pressure for the straight armlock.

Tatame was interesting to say the least. Rodrigo got more than a little concerned about the some of the sparring by the blue and even purple belts in the first group. Without naming names, Rodrigo was mostly worried about the example being set for all the new folks - like I said, I can't remember the last time I saw so many new students at one class. "If somebody didn't know better, they would think you guys were really fighting," he said.

Yikes. Fortunately, I was in the second group, matched up with Connor. I decided it was an excellent opportunity to continue working on the kind of "deep practice" I've been reading about in Daniel Coyle's book, The Talent Code. I focused exclusively on standing to pass the guard and, rather than commit to passing, I committed to trying to avoid being swept and maintain at least a minimum pressure for the entire time without pause.

The idea is to habituate myself to standing against the guard: discover where the hooks go and how to defeat them, learn where and how my balance is most likely to be tested, explore how different avenue for passing actually open up (instead of me forcing them). I should be able to make the guy on the bottom work hard - too hard - to deal with my passing pressure. My jiu jitsu is largely an attrition game, where the goal is to induce a sense of despair and inevitability as I go for the sweep or the pass or the finish. And in the long run, I think I'm going to have more success in passing the guard and creating this pressure if I attack from standing. So I might as well get used to it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Training Day: Saturday

Saturday training turned out to be an open mat. Rodrigo got an opportunity to go to Portland to see UFC 102, so he had Pete open up the academy for about seven or eight of us who showed up to train.

I spent almost the entire time rolling with Ro. It was one of the best open mat training sessions I've had in a long while. I got a chance to really focus on not so much standing to pass the guard, but more just standing to test my balance, my grips, how to step and apply pressure. I swear, if I could spend two hours every Saturday in a nice, extended, focused medium speed training like that I'm convinced it would do amazing things for my jiu jitsu. No doubt whatsoever.

Both Connor and Alex were there on Saturday and a part of me misses getting a chance to roll with either or both of them. That said, I can't get over how productive my training with Ro was. Lately I've been thinking about the idea of passing the guard like the idea of takedowns. In other words, how to I get the guy to give me the position I want, the guard that I want to attack as opposed to the guard I don't want to attack. So on Saturday I was 100% standing guard passes, with an attitude of trying to force the sitting guard response.

I've got two main ways of attacking the sitting guard. I like the right grip on the collar with a pull and a left grip on the same side knee as a starting point. I'm either looking to backstep, swiveling my trapped leg in out and around his leg if I can, or to rotate clockwise, stepping up with my left leg and getting the angle on him. That angle should give me a shot at an underhook on the far side and a nice move to the half guard if not mount.

The big danger to avoid, and Ro was doing a good job attacking this vulnerability, is your free hand (left in this case). You don't want him to have control over that arm, at all.

Very nice training, like I said. And 153.4 on the scale afterwards, to boot. Next week starts a little pre-training cardio to get myself ready for the 8 Weeks Out. I've decided to add in another three week block to my training, but I'm not sure if I want to focus on lactic or alactic conditioning. The problem with alactic work is that I don't have access to enough iron to be able to really do the max effort phase of that kind of conditioning.

Actually, I've started to think that in the same way that Joel explains MMA as a aerobic-alactic sport, I think jiu jitsu may be more along the lines of aerobic-lactic. While there is room for the explosiveness of alactic conditioning, it seems to me that jiu jitsu operates more under a situation where it is rare that any sort of max effort can be applied (because of the ominpresence of gi grips). This both slows things down and intensifies them - making lactic and isometric work more important than they might be for both the MMA athlete and the no gi submission grappler.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Training Day: Friday

Friday's instruction, among other things, has added a new routine for my conditioning work. Rodrigo showed us a butterfly guard counter - my favorite one, the Wallid Ishmael one - that will fit in nicely as a number #3 butterfly guard drill (with #1 being the hook sweep drill and #2 being the sit 'n' kick counter to the hook sweep.

Details. Bring the guy's heels in as tight as possible against his butt before attacking with the pass. Put your head down to the mat on the side of the leg that you are going to kick back. Rodrigo emphasized really opening up the hip and turning to your side rather than trying to jump/hop your way over. I was working with Alex and when he turned it up a little, I had a hard time getting around his hook. It may be his guard - and it may be that I'm just not opening up enough on the turn.

By the way, the warm-up was the Machida takedown. Really, really starting to enjoy this one. Combined with the Jacare, I think it's definitely a keeper.

More details: Kick the leg open and back. As you do this, pinch in with the ground knee to make it a little easier to bring your kicked knee back down to pin the opposite leg and the ankle.

From here, you want to step over the knee with your pass side leg. Actually, it's more of a knee over than a step over, in large part because you want to make sure that your knee is tight against the guy's hip after you've brought it up and over. It is a very tight little move.

Grab the gi collar or hook the head - just be sure to keep your elbow in tight. With your other hand, reach down and cup the ankle of the inside, trapped hook as you pass all the way around the leg/knee. Alex recommended grabbing the gi of the other leg underneath the ankle as a way of keeping control of that potential hook, and that made sense.

My tatame was a little rough. I was able to do some good collar and sleeve work from the guard, focusing on putting the sleeve-side foot in the hip rather than the other way around. And I'm focusing more and more on armlocks from side control - both the spinning and walkaround. But I got caught under Bryan's mount late in our session and couldn't get any kind of escape going. As with the guard pass, I need to do a better job of picking an approach and refining it. I have a bad habit of wandering from solution to solution when trying to solve a new problem instead of just mastering a certain rule.

Started to feel a little more winded than I would have liked. But that might be more a credit to Bryan insofar as I felt pretty okay during my second roll with a white belt I didn't recognize. Still I'll be glad when this week off is over and I can get back to boosting things cardio-wise.

On that note I managed to completely map out my conditioning program for the 8 weeks leading to the November Revolution. I've had to make some significant changes, but what was great about it was the 6-week "trial camp" I did provided me with lots of data to work with in term of different exercises, drills, durations and intensities. I'm really looking forward to it.

I fell asleep at about 9:30 p.m. the other night. I can't remember the last time I fell asleep that early. One thing I think that can really be a difference maker this fall is getting the rest I need. A 9:30 p.m. lights out would give me that coveted eight hours a night. Crazy as it sounds given my historic nightowl-dom, it might be worth thinking about.

Flashback: Demian Maia Interview Before the Sonnen Fight

On the eve of Demian Maia's greatest challenge as a mixed martial artist, I wanted to bring back this outstanding, 90-minute interview he did with the guys from Tagg Radio (currently MMA Junkie Radio).

Demian Maia with Tagg Radio

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why Jiu Jitsu Will Never Die

A Mendes and the 50/50
Winner of the South American tryouts for the ADCC 2009, featherweight Rafael Mendes saw one of his inventions, the 50/50 guard, become easily the most bombarded of the year. Bombarded both in theory and in practice, with Alliance coming up with counter-attacks especially for it, to untie the knot the position has become.

But he doesn’t want to hear of controversy. In preparation for the ADCC 2009, Rafael commented to about his training, new inventions and even praised the antidotes for the “dastardly” guard. But the counter-attack, as he himself reveals, is already in the works.

If you're not already thinking about the jiu jitsu ecstasy that will be the War of the 50/50 this year at the ADCC in Barcelona, then think again.

Kesting: Competition in Jiu Jitsu 101

A great interview on the role of competition and competing in Brazilian jiu jitsu with Stephan Kesting of Grapple Arts and David Meyer, Machado black belt and author of Training for Competition: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Submission Grappling.

BJJ & Submission Grappling Competition: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know!
We cover a TON of ground in this interview, ranging from why you might want to compete at all, to physical conditioning for competition, to specific strategies you can use against certain types of opponents.

This is one of the best interviews I've ever done. There is so much good information here that it'll be very useful for anyone who trains in BJJ or another grappling art, even if they don't compete.

And all the better to be listening to this now, almost a month away from the GB Invitational and more than two months out from the next Revolution. It is stuff we all know to some degree or another. But it's a great conversation to be able to sit back and listen to, nonetheless.

Jeff Glover's Marcelo-like Guillotine

Note the snapdown on the head. Glover goes for the guillotine a couple of times before they spill out of bounds. He waits for the guy not just to go head-to-head with him, but for the guy to be leaning forward. The guy doesn't realize that he's sticking his neck out, but he is. And when Glover gets the arm under the chin and then snaps down on the head, the guillotine is perfectly set. Very fast.

Need More Maia?

Who doesn't these days? Here's another interview/profile on Demian Maia from

'Great' Threat Awaits Maia at UFC 102
Nate has a lot of good features as a fighter and deserves all respect,” Maia says. “He has a good stand-up game, is very aggressive and strong, has endurance and is also a black belt who has a dangerous guillotine. In theory, he is the biggest challenge of my career, but a fight is always a fight. I may take him down and submit him, but, theoretically speaking, he is the most complete fighter I’ve ever faced.”

Tomorrow I'll repost that unbelievable, 90-minute interview that Demian Maia did with MMA Junkie radio earlier this year.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Amaury Bitetti Interview with GracieMag

A Chat with Amaury Bitetti
Portal das Lutas – What is different about the Minotauro to fight Couture compared to the one who lost to Frank Mir?

Amaury Bitetti – The difference is that in the other fight he was injured and I think he wasn’t as focused as he is now. This time we did a lot of work and I’ve even been telling him to not overdo it in training. Now it’s time to rest, assimilate what he’s trained and brush up on some details based on what may happen in the fight. Rodrigo likes training a lot, but in this final stretch things have to be done in such a way that he won’t get worn out and will be more objective.

PDL – And what’s the word on the fight?

AB – He has to keep in the middle of the ring. The fencing is Couture’s place and he can’t get taken there. To work on the ground, the middle of the octagon is where it’s easier to sweep or go for submissions, triangles and armbars, which he does really well. At the fencing the guy circles and pummels well, so he’s dangerous. We’ve told him that, Anderson Silva was there too and agreed. We have to make things as hard as possible for Couture and not use force, just skill.
I'd love to see a Minotauro victory, but I think Randy is the favorite for good reason.

Randy has struggled against larger submission wrestlers like Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez - neither of whom have especially impressive striking. Potential advantage: Nog. Then again, Nog's striking has been suspect against non-K-1 caliber strikers like Heath Herring and Frank Mir. Couture outstrikes both those guys. Potential advantage: Randy.

One thing I've always disagreed with people about is that Nog's best jiu jitsu is off his back. I think he's more effective working a sweep game and getting to the top - as most jiu jitsu players in MMA tend to be. Randy is very confident ground-n-pounding from the half guard. There may be an opportunity to trap Randy in his own comfort zone.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Among the fondest memories from my desperado days in Tucson was playing batucada on the picnic tables of the Chicago Bar out on Speedway Avenue just after midnight with a group of Brazilian exchange students from the University.

Totally organic. Totally spontaneous. Summer in Southern Arizona at its best.

Training Day: Tuesday

A relatively modest sized class today - given the turnout on Monday. There were also about three new (pre-gi) folks and a purple belt visiting from Ralph Gracie's academy who I did drills with (but did not get to roll with).

The instructional started with the Machida takedown from standing. Here, we just focused on the entry, without taking the guy all the way to the mat. As my partner from Ralph Gracie pointed out, the Machida provides entry for the Jacare (and vice versa, I'd add). The funny thing is that I had just seen that combination done in on Arte Suave, which I just got in the mail from Budo Videos.

The rest of the instructional was focused on sitting guard. We've been working on sitting guard - both for the gi and no gi - for the past week. Here, Rodrigo had us palm the mat relatively deep between the sitting guy's legs. With your other hand, you stuffed the other leg at the knee and dropped to put your chest on the outside of the knee, pressuring in. We drilled it going both ways - unsurprisingly, my better side was going to my left.

We did some specific sparring - guard/pass guard - and then some general sparring. I got to roll with Scott, Benny and Lance - as well as a talented blue belt I've seen around but whose name I can't recall. I feel like I might be leaving one roll out. But it was a pretty full night all thing considered. I had plenty of cardio left at the end of the night, which is a testament to the conditioning routine I've been on for the past month and a half.

155.6 on the scale post-train. A perfect number with more than two months to go. My assumption is that if I can stay within 2% of my target weight (which would mean a maximum of 158), then the simple increase in activity during my training camp will take care of any weight issues. My thinking is that I should be regularly "making weight" after every training session once the 8 weeks starts (September 13).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Training Day: Monday

Lindsey led the warm-up tonight, but Rodrigo was there to lead the class. The instructional was more work out of sitting guard, particularly for the guy on the bottom. Rodrigo had the top guy work on controlling the pants at the knees and, in stepping around to the side, changing levels to lower the shoulder into the guy and putting his back on the mat. To avoid the pass, Rodrigo has the guy on the bottom stiff-arm the forward arm - the arm that is most forward on the side the guy is trying to pass on - and then move the hips back and away. Use your free hand and arm as a post to help you move.

I worked with both Jason/Garcia and Lindsey, particularly with the second move, which was a counter to the guy closing his knees around your legs if you are in a sitting or butterfly guard. The trick here was to get double sleeve control, then quickly pull your left leg out. Put your left foot on the hip and use that as a lever to get your other leg free.

From here, Rodrigo had us attack with the same armlock that we used last week on Thursday. Dive in and underhook the guy's left arm with your head very close so that you get a good trap. Only after you have the trap set should you slide back and turn your body in toward the guy, bringing your outside knee up, over and tight under his armpit to keep the armlock tight as you lean back and your head slides back along his arm to his wrist.

A pretty good night of sparring on Monday. I got to work with some smaller folks, which allowed me to really open up as I have been needing to for weeks if not months. With August fading, I'm starting to get a little of that "summer's almost gone" angst about my areas of improvement. But my thinking is that I'm already competitive at my current level and, with some extra work and focus on my weak spots like passing the guard, there's every reason to think that that competitiveness might eventually work its way toward putting me on the podium with some hardware and points for the school.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Demian Maia: The Road to UFC 102

Here's a feature on UFC contender Demian Maia published at MMA Weekly.

Demian Maia: Getting Better All the Time
By all accounts, Maia has a great setup in his home city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, meaning it’s not the hot and sweaty hell of many Brazilian dojos. He has ample training partners to draw from, including high-level wrestlers often elusive to jiu-jitsu centered schools like his own. But that comes with a price. Like other MMA stars that run their own gyms, there are many distractions to take away from training. The solution: Wand Fight Team in Las Vegas, where strength and conditioning punisher Rafael Alejarra teamed up with Wanderlei Silva to focus Maia in the final month of training.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Training Day: Friday

A very small class on Friday afternoon - I think there might have been six of us, including some afternoon regulars like J.M. and Pat. But no Bryan, no Steve, no Jaime ...

Rodrigo had us working on guard-pulling fundamentals. Grab the collar with your right hand. Grab the same-side sleeve with your left. Step on the hip with your left (sleeve side) leg and fall back with your other leg out to the side free and ready to deploy. Pull hard on the sleeve and control with both hands.

After drilling this for some time, we added a sweep. The technique in the sweep was, from double hand control on the sleeve, switch to a cross grip (right hand right sleeve). With your left hand cup the near ankle and with your free leg, hook behind the other ankle.

To sweep, pull on the sleeve and ankles while pushing with the left/sleeve-side foot in the hip. Come up all the way to the top.

I had to leave before we started free sparring. But I did get in three stand-up sessions with J.M., Pat and a tough new white belt. I did so-so, getting a few trips, but unable to do any of my go-to moves. Pat came close to catching me in an arm-in guillotine. I forgot the escape (a problem since fixed) and was able to pike up to relieve the pressure. Still I couldn't get out and when I reached up and touched Pat's arm, he thought I was tapping and released the pressure. He's got a good guillotine and I'm looking forward to getting attacked with it again so I can see if I've got my escapes figured out.

A good way to end the week - though I hate having to rush out at the end. My new mantra for Year Five of my jiu jitsu journey is to stay late after class when the jiu jitsu riches are often most abundant and the arte suave vibe at its most intense. That's pretty much impossible to do on Fridays, given my schedule. But it is the plan every other time.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Training Day: Thursday

Rodrigo lead the no-gi class. I saw Cindy for about a minute as she dashed past. I'd been meaning to get back into the rhythm of her Thursday no-gi sessions, but that will have to wait for later in the month. Strangely enough, it turns out that she never left (or left and came back) because she was up on the mat when I left, hobbling, for the night (more on that later).

We started with the warm-up and some pummeling - quite a bit of pummeling, actually, with some calisthenics (mostly pushups) added in between. It was good work and I felt very solid cardio-wise working with Frank, a smaller white belt that I've trained with a little bit over the past several weeks.

The main lesson for the day were two attacks from the sitting guard. They were basically designed to deal with a potential passer either attacking with elbows closed or open.

If the elbows were closed, then the attack was a sweep. You bear-hug the guys arms as high up under the arms as possible and then, depending on the side he gives you, hook sweep him in the direction he is already moving.

If the elbows are open, the attack was a straight armlock. Here, you slid in quickly, underhooking the arm at the shoulder with the same side arm and reaching over the top with your opposite arm and clasping your hands in a gable grip. Importantly, you want your head to be as close to the grip as possible so that you can trap the arm early. If you get the trap, then all you need to do is fall back and to your side, slowly sliding your head along the arm until your head reaches the bend of the wrist. By this time, you should be on your side with the attacked arm in front of you and your outside/top leg's foot in the hip. It looks a little like Rickson's take the back move from Saulo's book.

Make sure you slide your hands also so that they are right by the elbow when you apply the pressure for the armlock.

Not a bad day on the mat. I was doing some good work from half guard. Nothing special. But the heat and the workout eventually caught up with me and my left calf cramped severely after I had just done my hook sweep counter to the crossface. It was as bad as any cramp I'd had in awhile and pretty much took me out of training for the day.

Iron Lion Zion

This is actually what's going through my head as I'm trying to get through the push-up part of the pummeling/push-up start of training Thursday night. Much thanks to Mr. Marley for that. But for the evening's overall cardio performance, I've got to give it up for this guy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Granby Roll Sweeps

I wish he'd show another angle because it is a little difficult to see his leg work and exactly where the grips go. But nice stuff, nonetheless.

First They Came for the Grapplers ...

Unbelievable news.

Illinois Passes Draconian Restrictions on Grappling Tournaments
Mandatory physicals are standard for mixed martial arts. However, submission grappling competitors in Illinois must now also submit the results of an EKG, chest x-ray, CT/MRI, drug test, blood test and eye examination to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation before competing. The cost of getting these examinations is too high for most amateur competitors and is relatively unheard of for grappling competitions.

"Every Day is a Fight" - Renzo Gracie

"The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps".

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Contra 50/50

You've gotta love the spirit of articles like this in Gracie Magazine

Alliance Cracks the 50/50
After Rodrigo Comprido defended his point of view in stating that Jiu-Jitsu players should be able to pass guards of all kinds and deal with any situation on the ground (the athlete is against prohibition of the position), Gurgel announced the antidote to the position came from one of his better purple belts, Ricardo Mesquita. Thus the master claims the solution will soon make its appearance.

Training Day: Tuesday

Kind of a zombie training tonight ... I never really felt entirely there - at least not until my calf seized up like a stone just as we started sparring (but fortunately after the specific guard/pass guard work). I was moving through the motions - and not doing a half bad job in most respects. But it just wasn't jelling mentally.

It's the kind of thing I usually expect to happen on a Monday - which is one reason why I've become such a big fan of training on Monday: to get the rust and funk out of my system. Like I said, it was a strangely positive physical experience: technique was good in a number of instances and my cardio continues to surprise me with its improvements. But my brain was all feedback and white noise.

The class was mostly focused on avoiding the toreano pass by stiff arming the passers inside arm and, with your other arm posted behind you for support, escaping your hips away. There was also a turtle move that Rodrigo showed us. But I don't think we ever really got all the way to the sweep.

Then again, maybe we did and I was totally nublado about it.

As anti-climatic anniversaries go, tonight's training was about perfect. I got a massive calf cramp immediately after a half guard sweep and ended up having to cut training about two sparring sessions short. I'm especially annoyed because I drank about 40 ounces of Gatorade in the hours before training and took a potassium/magnesium pill beforehand, as well. Didn't seem to matter.

I cramped up a bit Monday night also, but managed to ride it out. I thought I could again tonight, but the cramp was hard and immediate when it finally came on strong.

I'm going to try and seriously bump up my water consumption for the next month or so and see if I can avoid this kind of thing. It totally shuts me down for the session and even though it tends to happen late when it does happen, I could have really used some more training.

I'd planned to take tomorrow off and train Thursday and Friday. Not so sure about that now.

Celebration Day

Today marks my fourth anniversary in Jiu Jitsu. I started training at Gracie Barra Seattle under Rodrigo Lopes on August 18, 2005.

What? You were expecting Kool and the Gang?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Training Day: Monday

ATM in effect once again - nine weeks in a row.

Lindsey was back leading the Monday class. He was out last week with the birth of his first son.

We started off with what he called a "Simon Sez" warmup that was a mix of calisthenics and stretches with typical emphasis on isometric strength in pushups. He also threw in a long set of triangles, which he hasn't always included.

The emphasis was a bit more training-oriented than instructional. We focused on escaping the back, with Lindsey showing us preferred approach of grabbing the ankle or foot and pulling in to help get control of the leg that you are going to remove.

It was good practice - as I wrote a little while ago, escaping rear mount is one of my critical weaknesses to work on for the rest of the year. I still struggle to complete a good technical escape. But I'm doing a better job of breaking down and identifying my escape plan.

To finish off, after doing some rear mount specific work, we spent a lot of time working on passing the guard. Ironically, I didn't get any practice passing and instead spent about 20 minutes working my guard. I was pretty much scissor sweep city when I was successful - bailing out to half guard when the sweep or defenses were starting to fail. I also like some guard replacement I was able to put together during one session - not something that happens every day.

A good night of training and a perfectly legit 158.0 on the scale afterwards. I was having a lot of good success with the bow and arrow choke from the back - something I'm going to have to keep in mind.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Training Day: Friday

A relatively light training week for me, skipping one out of my four conditioning sessions and only training three times this week. It's probably a good thing that only training three times a week feels a little like slacking.

Got to class a little late, but in enough time to get in on the main drill, which was another move from sitting guard. Here, the move was to sit up and wrap a leg and an arm around the knee-up leg, using your inside arm as a post behind you.

The sweeps were as you might imagine. There was a sit-out sweep, where you kept the leg pinched and turned your hips outward. To get leverage to finish the sweep, circle around toward the back.

The other main sweeps were variations on collar/sleeve pulls with a knee block. Rodrigo also showed us a sweep where you scoop the free leg if he brings it up high to balance or attack. The sweep has you scoop the leg, load it on your shoulder, and X-guard hook your legs on the other leg. Another sweep had you do a sort of backroll which I tried once with some limited success.

Not a bad day on the mats. It felt a little abbreviated for some reason - though that might just be an aspect of Friday training. Nothing in particular stood out. Top control remains good and the basic half guard game is still solid. I had a nice guard replacement moment during one session - something I'm not always able to pull off.

Would love to make it on the mat tomorrow but I don't see how I can swing it. Four times a week really is the right number, it seems, and a part of me feels like I came up a little short in terms of improvement this week. Not way short. But not quite where I wanted to be halfway through August. Fortunately, there's plenty of time to make that up.

The Greatest Women's MMA Match in History?

Hard to argue the point. My money is on Cyborg. But mostly I'm just hoping for an exciting fight with both fighters executing at their best.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ask burien top team: Beyond Blue

Just got my blue. Advice from higher belts?

"I think there are two stages to being a blue belt. In the early stage, your goal should be to reward your new sense of confidence with greater than ever risk-taking in training. Everything you can think of trying: different types of guards, different passes or sweeps, different submissions and takedowns, you should try. Being a blue belt is a lot like being a teenager. You're supposed to do crazy things.

The second stage of being a blue belt comes when you realize that are you starting to head toward someone who is truly serious about jiu jitsu. You've got two stripes and are thinking about the possibility of making it to the next level. It's the difference between being 15 and practicing for your driver's license on the one hand, and turning 18 and having to think about college or a full-time job. There's still plenty of time to mess around. But play should start to feel like has some purpose or direction."

Ask burien top team: Making blog post magic out of message board musing since 2009.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Load the Jump

Passing the guard while standing has become my version of the Jump Program from The Matrix

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Training Day: Tuesday

Tuesday Rodrigo had us working on a sitting guard escape against a person standing. There were two moves: the first was a return to standing and the second was a sort of "double Fugitive" sweep. Of the two, the sweep was a lot easier for me even though even there it took a little while.

The return to standing move was essentially the same as the sit2stand movement in my matwork (TM) drill set. I had a hard time doing back and forth and alternating sides when drilling the move with Alex. But I think that's just a matter of familiarity breeding coordination if I practice the move more.

The second, Fugitive-like attack was a lot easier. Here, the trick was to attack with the first hook with the leg that is flat on the ground on the side. If you attack with the front foot, trying to hook with the leg/knee that is up, you run the risk of the guy collapsing his weight on your knee and passing to your back.

We also did that crossover sweep drill that I first remember Stephen doing when he was teaching while Rodrigo was on vacation a few months back. Here again, I can credit matwork (TM) for helping me do well with this drill, insofar as the crossover is another of the routine's nine moves.

Tatame wasn't bad. I worked the basic half guard game with some success, the "move of the day" in the crossover went well, and I found a nice entry to the katagatame from side control that I really, really, really want to work on. But I struggled again with the Flat Pass and am starting to once again feel just-shy-of-existential feelings about passing the guard. I've got another two weeks to maximize August in the way I'd hoped to, and because I'm not feeling myself starting to coalesce around a basic UNDERSTANDING of how I want to pass the guard, I'm starting to feel a little panicky.

Hopefully, I'll be able to train on Friday and start to carve out something that makes sense. A part of me thinks I should be working to bait guys into giving me guards that I feel very comfortable passing, and a part of me thinks I should just take a basic attitude toward passing the guard and impose that attitude consistently and relentlessly. To a large degree, the latter is what I'm doing/focusing on now with the Flat Pass and the 101, especially the 101 out of the squat. But I'm still having problems.

With the Flat Pass, the big mistake I'm making is allowing the guy's legs to be too far up my body when I make my dive to the side. This makes it easier for them to snake their leg up under and attack with omoplatas and gogoplatas. Both Alex and Jason (Garcia) have been lethal with these attacks because of this mistake I keep making. The ideal time to attack with the Flat Pass is when the closed guard is low, not high. Pin the bottom leg to the mat with the hips, not the chest.

The 101 has suffered from dissuse. I just need to cut that out. Like a lot of things in jiu jitsu, there's a moment in the 101 when it feels like it is a terrible idea, then a moment where you realize, "hey, this is working!" Unfortunately, I've got a tendency to hang-out in that bliss of standing-without-being-swept for too damn long instead of taking the initiative to open and pass the guard as soon as I have restored my balance on the feet.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Training Day: Monday

Lindsey led the warmup. Jumping jacks, squats, pushups, chokes, L/R obliques, his special tempo pushups, hip splits and then some stretching.

Rodrigo started us working with the takedown I'm calling "Machida." We worked on that for about eight minutes. After that we worked on guard passes. The first was a spider guard pass we'd done before. You get caught in the spider guard. Stand up. Step back with your right foot to make the guy sit up and take some of the strength out of his legs.

Circle your right hand under the ankle to break the grip.

Step forward with your right foot and bring your knee down against the back/inside of his outside leg. Step through with your left foot and push forward with your stomach and hips to remove the spider grip on your left hand. It's a sort of Fowler, only your knee doesn't go all the way through to the mat. Just enough to pressure him and keep his legs pinned back.

Reach through with your right hand and grab the collar and pull him tight. Backstep with your right leg to pass the guard.

The second pass of the spider guard has you step back only to get caught in a de la Riva guard. To pass this guard, let's say the DLR is on the left leg. Again, step back to get your momentum, then as you step forward with your free and outside leg, you want to turn in to the guy, going perpendicular.

This will both break the DLR hook and allow you to push the leg that still has a spider grip on your right hand over across his hips and fold it down and away from you. Drop down to back/side control.

Good moves - and moves that I'm in the season to be cultivating. I really think that what stands between me and the faixa maroom is consistent guard passing. If I could bring my guard passing to the level of my half guard (or, at least, my half guard at its best), I think that would almost do it.

Some nice things about the tatame and the specific work (guard/pass guard). I'm doing a better and better job of creating the reaction I want, baiting guys into going for the first move and then attacking with the second move - the one I really want. The thing with jiu jitsu is that you can't really "fake" like you can in boxing or striking arts. The guy has to feel a very credible threat to his left or he won't over commit resources to a defense - an overcommitment that makes it possible to attack the other side or from the other direction.

This is a classic example of something that I've really started to understand when it comes to the half guard, am just picking up when it comes to takedowns and am still searching for when it comes to passing the guard.

I did have some success with the Jack in the Box pass (Jack pass, for short). I've been thinking about strategies where instead of knowing how to pass every guard in the world, you learn how to bait guys in to using the guard you are most comfortable in passing. I've had some interesting success baiting guys into using butterfly guard against me - a guard I really feel fairly comfortable attacking. So maybe there's something to that worth thinking about.

Speaking of the butterfly guard, I've decided to go for it and make the butterfly guard the "other" guard to go along with my half guard. It's mostly in response to what's been the most effective counter to my half guard sweeps: the bear hug pass. I'm thinking that sitting up quickly into a butterfly guard and going for the hook sweep as they commit to trying to pass might be a strategy worth trying. That and the choke as they over commit their hands to hugging my legs.

On another note, I can definitely see how my conditioning work over the past few weeks is starting to pay off. I'm feeling much less fatigued during training compared to earlier in the year. Tuesday is a conditioning day off. So far so good.

Get Hip

I've got a bad habit of confusing control of the legs with control of the hips. Rolling with Scott tonight - who earned his blue belt today, by the way - I was stymied by the fact that I seemed to constantly be battling his legs to pass his guard. The problem was that by not controlling his hips, he was constantly able to redeploy his legs, regrouping from whatever block I might have been able to put up and attacking again to replace the guard. Rodrigo pointed this out a week or two ago when Scott and I were training and it's something that I think I really need to focus on this month as I try and put together a Unified Field Theory for passing the guard.

I realized that one reason my Royler/knee cross pass fails is because I'm not getting control over the hips by putting my weight on them and forcing my knee outwards rather than toward the head. My toreano issues have to do with what I said at the beginning in confusing leg control and hip control. The leg rope stuff Saulo talks about? That pass hasn't ever been happening for me, in part because I have a hard time balancing as I lean forward to use my shoulder to keep pressure on the hips as I either swim forward or circle back.

If recognizing a problem is the first step toward solving it, then there's still plenty of time in August to get done what I want to get done. That new takedown from Rodrigo was a complete gift, giving me a nice one-two takedown attack that feels very natural and both caters to my ability to change levels pretty quickly (now, of course, to apply that little talent to guard passing ...) and avoids my phobia of reverse pivot throws. So I've really got one project for the month and there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to handle that.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday Afternoon

After spending the middle third of the 1980s trying to make it as a teenage, hotshot post-punk guitarist, one of the first thoughts I had when I heard Soundgarden's "Let Me Drown" back in the early 1990s was "now I know why I'm not a rock star."

Looking back over my last few training sessions, it is clear why I am not a jiu jitsu phenomenon, either. I am definitely having some productive moments when I have the advantage, working on weak spots or new techniques like the cross half guard Rodrigo showed us that I was able to attack with on Friday. But I am not doing nearly as well in the survival and escape categories when I am overmatched in size, skill or both.

Truth told, I'm actually doing well in the survival level. What I am failing to do is consistently pursue a strategy for escape or a strategy for both opening and passing the guard (beyond the Flat Pass, at least). Fortunately, the dharma that is jiu jitsu provided me with just what I needed in last Friday's instruction - not unlike the way that one guard pass the Rodrigo showed us the Friday before the last tournament would have been the ideal way to pass the guard of my first opponent in that competition.

I'm feeling a little ego-sore about my jiu jitsu, which one of the reasons why I decided not to train on Saturday despite the rare opportunity to do so. Now is a great time to really get saturated in technique as the solution to problems like passing the guard or countering the bear hug pass of the half guard (hint: sit up and hook sweep or sit up and attack the neck) or escaping mount and rear mount. I think I'm slowly putting together a Unified Field Theory for myself when it comes to passing the guard, which would be pretty epic (as the kids say) in terms of taking my game to the next level.

That and finally going ahead and adding the butterfly guard and sitting guard to my half guard in a more proactive way to deal with the fact that more and more people are avoiding my half guard with strategies that provide for other opportunities to attack.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Penn Chokes Out Florian

What can you say about B.J. Penn? The best analysis of his fight with Florian, or at least the most articulate, came from MMA Mania's Performity Picks' Eric Foster who noted:
I've written before about overvaluing recent fights as one of the classic mistakes in MMA handicapping (see my MMA Wagering Guide series of articles), and I'd caution people evaluating this fight to put Penn's recent loss against St-Pierre in the proper perspective. In fact, I would go as far as to say that fight at 170 pounds should essentially be irrelevant to handicapping this fight. St-Pierre demonstrated in that fight that modern MMA has evolved to the point that the days of a smaller fighter using technical superiority to overcome a larger, stronger opponent are essentially behind us (see: Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir at UFC 100 for an exclamation point on the concept).
I think that is the key point. Sometimes experience teaches us badly and there was ample opportunity for "bad education" in watching BJ Penn get dominated by GSP. I'll admit that I had a hard time shaking the image of that epic defeat. But it was and remains near impossible to doubt B.J. Penn at 155.


Friday, August 07, 2009

Training Day: Friday

This is how I know I was destined to learn jiu jitsu.

Last night I'm thinking that I need to decide on some fundamental thesis for passing the guard, some paradigm that I can fall back on in any situation, the same way I have developed a paradigm from the bottom (half guard) and for takedowns from standing (ankle picks and trips).

I consider the leg rope, the toreano and the knee cross. For a variety of reasons, I settle on the knee cross and begin mapping out the basic passes I need to learn.

So what does Rodrigo end up teaching for the Friday class? The Knee Cross pass.

Rodrigo had us to the technique as a conditioning drill, in part, and combined the basic Royler style knee cross pass with that "hop step" that he does to avoid the leg. Specifically, Rodrigo had us grab the off-side collar with a same side grip and a grip on the pants at the knee with a same side grip. Step through with the inside leg (collar grip leg) then, as you step forward with the outside leg, hop your inside leg up and back and then down and around into knee on belly.

It's a basic coordination to develop through practice. What I like about the grips is that you can go for either #1 or #2 from the same basic posture.

Tatame was the best of times and worst of times. At times, I was able to work my collar and sleeve guard, work the choke and the straight armlock. But at other times, I got taken out of my game - particularly my half guard game, when I tried to pull the guy back on top of me to work my main sweep instead of transitioning to a different guard to take advantage of his new positioning.

This last point is something I'll really have to work on because more and more people are refusing to engage me in the half guard and instead are trying to pass with bear hugs and other retreats. Rather than trying to pull them back into place, I need to be sitting up and attacking with either a hook sweep from butterfly guard or a straight Cobra guard tackle.

156.0 on the scale after training. That's within 1% of the lightweight limit which is a perfectly fine weight so far out. Very nice to get a fourth training in this week. I need to avoid being a little dissuaded about the knee cross. I still think that it's my best bet for now. Most importantly, I need something I can try for at least a month exclusively to see if it will fit or not. That will still leave me with plenty of time to make a change if today's move of the day turns out to fall short of being my move of tomorrow.

2009 Mundial Trailer from Budo Videos

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ask burien top team: Starting a BJJ match

What's your strategy when you begin a BJJ match?

"The beginning of the match is about the only part that I do well. I've gone 0-5 this year after being up 2-0 or 4-2 in four of those five matches until the final few minutes. All my points are either off ankle picks or pulling half guard and getting a quick sweep.

I'm not especially aggressive. But I try very hard to control the space to avoid getting pulled into guard because passing the guard is my weakest area. I'd rather not start off the match that way if I can avoid it."

Ask burien top team: Making blog post magic out of message board musings since 2009.

The 50/50 Guard: Smart, Stalling or Self-Inflicted Wound?

GracieMag will be coming out with an article on the controversial 50/50 guard used by Atos JJ black belts like Raphael Mendes, who used it to defeat the great Cobrinha at the World Professional Jiu Jitsu Cup.

Here's the post with the video of that match. First video. Mendes is in blue.

On the first glance, the 50/50 guard is a sort of hip grapevine. You can see instances where Mendes locks his ankles and instances where he locks his legs, half guard style (Kesting calls it the "leg triangle") to the outside.

You can see how bewildered Cobrinha is by the end of the match when he realizes he's been beaten by this kind of jiu jitsu. And the talk is whether or not the 50/50 is a legitimate guard style or "just stalling." I'm tempted to argue that it is neither.

I don't mean to say that it is illegitimate. But I do wonder if the 50/50 Guard represents the "best practices" of the guard player in the same way that other "alternative" guards like the spider guard, half guard and butterfly guard do.

I see Mendes using his grips to help keep Cobrinha's leg trapped between his two grape-vining legs, for example. This seems very inefficient to me. Any time you are using your hands to supplement what you can't accomplish with the strength of your legs is not likely to be a very good time.

I don't think that "best practices" means that a guard has to have an equal share of submission and sweep possibilities. But the guard does have to have a nice variety of one or the other. I'll grant legitimacy to the rubber guard, which is more a submission guard than a sweeping one, in the same way that I grant legitimacy to my beloved half guard, which is more a sweeping guard than a submitting one.

The 50/50 seems to have very few submission opportunities. I don't see the leverage for a choke or for attacking an arm. You are so deep hip-to-hip that the idea of attacking the knee or foot or ankle seems tricky. And the one sweep that Mendes seems to get on Cobrinha basically results in them being in the same mutual 50/50 like position (it's hard for you to be in the 50/50 and the other guy not somehow be at least halfway stuck in it himself) only with you being angled a bit more on top.

Enough to get reversal points - as Cobrinha learns to his great alarm. But does anybody want to spend 8, 9 or 10 minutes like this? Maybe going back and forth?

I don't think the 50/50 is stalling. It is a strategy of picking a side, locking your opponent's body, and trying to use your angle to put him off balance. What I don't like about the 50/50 fundamentally speaking is that it involves locking your body to lock your opponent's. And that doesn't get anybody anywhere. It's like guys who use the body triangle from the bottom in guard. (Actually, I take that back. Nothing is worse that the body triangle from the bottom in guard ...)

The 50/50 also speaks to another sin of the lighter weights (light feather and below typically), one of obsessive guard pulling. There are almost no takedowns in jiu jitsu below lightweight (approx. 167 in the gi) which leads to these weird simultaneous guard pulls. So a part of me sees the 50/50 as a curse that the smaller guys - whose jiu jitsu virtuosity is often without peer - have inflicted upon themselves with their relentless guard-playing obsession.

In any event, I'm looking forward to getting my copy of GracieMag and reading the debate. I'm even more looking forward to seeing how the top guys begin to figure out ways to pass and defeat the 50/50 as jiu jitsu continues to evolve.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Training Day: Wednesday

My first time taking the no gi class with Rodrigo on a Wednesday. I got there a little late, and missed most of the pummeling part of the warm-up (I did my aerobic power routine on the sidelines and joined in when it was time to do individual work like squats, push-ups, crunches, sprawls, etc.)

I felt great. I was operating on little more than a handful of cherries. But according to something I read somewhere, people who wake up between 5 am and 6 am reach their second anabolic peak around 11-12 (the first one comes between 7 and 8 am). I'm not sure what all it adds up to - but it seems to be a good time to train.

We worked on a new takedown off the over/under clinch. It was similar to the inside-to-outside sweep takedown from Tuesday, only without the grips of the gi. The main difference is that you don't get a grip behind the back with the no gi version and that it seems like you need to settle for landing in guard rather than the half guard with the "big step" of the gi version.

The other technique we worked on was a guard recovery - two of them actually. The first is the "running escape" out of side control where you step, roll and sit. The second was a back roll that set up the opportunity for both the kneebar and taking top position in his guard. I had a really hard time with this escape and counter and will probably just drop it unless Rodrigo teaches it again. It just didn't feel like it fit with what I do.

Tatame was very good. Good energy etc. I was able to work the Jacare top game with the kimura finish a couple of times. I like the fact that some of the video I've been studying over the past few days has started to show up in my jiu jitsu sparring: back control with the lapel grip and transition to side control to avoid being put back in the guard, and today with the kimura from side control/north south.

There are a few other things I want work on - like passing the inverted guard and escaping rear mount. And my Main Project of getting a coherent guard passing strategy remains a prime objective for August (and beyond). But a very nice mid-week on the mat.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

DEFCON 1: Escaping the Rear Mount

My ability to avoid being choked from rear mount has morphed into an inability to escape rear mount.

Here's a blog post that includes a clip of Gustavo Machado showing a few different ways for dealing with rear mount.

I've gotten into a bad habit of not sticking with technical strategies against rear mount, and instead have been essentially flailing away. Defending, sure. But wasting a lot of energy and not getting anywhere. I'm not taking guard passing from the top of the August Book. But making my counters to the rear mount automatic will be a very, very close second.

Training Day: Tuesday

We started off with the ouchi gari-like takedown that Rodrigo had us working on from Monday. I was doing some "kata" with it before class and should be able to add it into my conditioning routine as another jiu jitsu-specific drill.

I'm calling that takedown "Machida" for now. Very Lyoto like, IMO.

The move of the day were two sweeps from half guard. The half guard involved both a cross grip on the sleeve and a same side grip on the pants at the knee. The first was a tackle in the event that the guy sat back on his heel in response to your pulling and pushing action (critical).

The second was a twist/backroll in case he comes forward with his momentum. Here you want to make sure that you kick your crossbody leg (my left leg most of the time) when you kick your other leg. That's what really elevates the guy and makes it easier to control him as you roll over your sleeve-grip shoulder and pull then push with your knee grip as your reach the top and begin to roll over.

It also helps to focus on the fact that you are going to do the full backroll. When you reach the midpoint of the sweep, there's a temptation to transition to something else or scramble. And while there are opportunities there (Rodrigo showed us a few back-takes as examples), until I get the 1-2-3, it's probably a better idea to stick with the roll.

Insofar as I've made half-guard my home, I really owe it to myself to put this in my August Book. Now is the time to start trying to implement things that will ultimately be part of the gameplan this fall and beyond. And anything half guard is worth spending at least a few weeks on to see if it fits.

Jake Shields on Submission Specialization

I've always had a weird aversion to Jake Shields. I think it's connected to that wrestling self-loathing thing I talked about before. Whenever I stop and actually watch Jake Shields roll, I see a version of my own game - though a version "turned up to 11" (to steal a line from This Is Spinal Tap). We both have a love for jiu jitsu as jiu jitsu - as the clip below makes plain on his part - but both of us have a jiu jitsu with plenty of wrestling blood in its veins.

In any event, Jake is now officially on my list of fighters I'll be rooting for from here on out.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Training Day: Monday

Rodrigo led the class instead of Lindsey on Monday. He introduced a new takedown based off the lapel grip that I really like as a play off the Jacare/ankle pick takedown.

The takedown is a sort of ouchi gari, inside-to-outside, foot sweep. From the lapel grip, you reach behind him with your free hand and get a grip on his belt. If you were closer, you'd be able to attack with a hip throw.

You can play from here, pushing and pulling him, getting him to walk. The attack comes when you step forward with your outside foot and then slip your inside leg in a semi-circle, inside-to-outside around the ankle of his near leg. Your foot should never leave the mat and you should come down to your knee on that leg as you complete the half circle sweep.

As you do this, you want to be close enough to push against him with your shoulder. Don't give him any space. Circling with the leg correctly will do most of the work to get him off balance. Moving forward with the shoulder helps finish the job.

Importantly, as you take him down, step high and long with your outside foot. Your goal is to end in half guard, which isn't too hard if you make a big step. It's like a deep lunge step and I was surprised that this was the least difficult part of the technique for me to get right (keeping close early with the shoulder pressure and fully circling the leg are the hardest right now). Keep your lapel grip to force him back to his back.

A very nice takedown - and one that will probably replace (or at least join) kouchi gari. Actually, what it will probably replace is that ushiro ashi barai that I like a lot, but am more than willing to swap out for this one that Rodrigo has already studied and shown us live.

The other technique we worked on was taking the armlock from mount. Here the key detail was the Lean. This was how you got the ability to lighten your leg, as Saulo puts it, as well as keeping the arm pinned. One thing I really struggled with when trying to attack with the armlock from the mount was when the guy managed to rotate and keep me from getting what Eddie Bravo calls the "spider web" from a perpendicular angle.

There is actually a drill that will help with that mobility. I'm doing to see if I can include it on my aerobic power day (Sun/Wed) when I focus on drill-specific conditioning.

Speaking of which, I've figured out that I have very weak hip flexors to go with my relatively weak quads. Half of my problem with some of the core routines that Lindsey and Cindy have us do in their classes is that my hip flexors are too weak to keep my legs up. I never even get to the point where my abs are fatigued with some of these calisthenics.

So I'm working on something to fix that (i.e. inverted sit-ups, decline leg raises, wall sits). Interesting that both Lindsey and Cindy are big into biking, which I bet is extremely hip flexor intensive. I haven't been on a bicycle in years. But you know what they say.