A few of you guys mentioned that the video commentary from the part 2 was helpful, so I have decided to make this one text light and pass on most of the information in the video commentaries below.
Half Guard Passing Strategy
No matter how dynamic your passing is, it is incredibly dificult to prevent an opponent from wrapping both arms and legs around one of your legs at some point during a match, therefore all athletes must have some way of effectively dealing with the half guard.
Below I will outline some of the key features of NM’s half guard passing strategy.
The reverse cross face: When NM can lock on a solid crossface (CF) and underhook (UH) he will do so and pass in the conventional manner, however locking a CF on to a skilled opponent is really hard and while you are fighting past frames they will usually be recovering their legs. Instead NM will use the reverse CF. This is much easier to obtain than the regular CF and prevents the opponents head moving away, an important factor in the success of the Kimura.
Scoop grip on the legs: the Reverse cross face is great but does not prevent the opponent turning in and attacking the legs. To address this problem a scoop grip on the opponents top leg is used to control the direction the opponents hips are facing
Defending the back take: while using the reverse crossface, if the opponent can draw their bottom leg in front of NM, back exposure can occur. To prevent this NM’s free leg is in one of two places, the knee jammed into the opponents hip or the hip sprawled back on the opponents shoulder line.
The Lapel Crossface: the reverse crossface is a great spot to set up one of the best grips in jiujitsu the lapel crossface: With the reverse crossface holding the opponent in place, their lapel can easily be pulled out and the transition to the lapel crossface can be made. This grip combines the strengths of the CF and the UH while only requiring one hand to maintain, leaving the other hand available to free the knee, post or address escape attempts.
The toreando passing system outlined below is NM’s primary passing game. After an opponents guard pull, restictive grips are broken and double ankle grips on the gi are made. As NM is 6’4″ his legs well away from an opponents hooks in the basic toreando position.
With this absence of lower body hooks NM is free to circle in either direction. The opponent is prevented from establishing a guard and is forced into defensive reactions to the 3 main passing movements.
The Classic Toreando
The Leg Lift
The Leg/hip drag
He very rarely forces a pass, instead relying on direction change and the misdirection of frames to wear down opponents. When a frame is effective a direction change occurs.
The aim with all these toreando style passes is to get both of NM’s legs outside of the opponents legs, ideally with the knees pointing away.
The three passes outlined below can occur in any order and are used ambidextrously as NM circles to either side.
The Classic Toreando
If NM can create a favourable angle he will look to drop a knee on his opponents hip with the aim of flattening their hips before advancing position. This is usually used as the opening move to guage opponents reactions and begin the direction changes that put opponents under increasing pressure. It rarely ends up producing passing points by itself. The leg drag and Leg Lift being the more high percentage techniques .
The Leg Llift
The leg lift is a variation on the X pass that utilises double ankle grips and a bent knee, leg lift to get outside of the of the opponents legs. It often occurs when changing direction and circling back past the opponents centerline.
Its main purpose is to avoid the opponent establishing inside hooks by effectively shortening the leg and lifting it over searching hooks.
If the leg lift pass occurs during a direction change the opponents top leg is pushed down towards the mat to ensure their hips do not follow NM as he circles. You can see how the basic pass leads into a direction change leg lift in the exchange below.
The Leg/Hip drag
Mixed in with the Classic Toreando and the Leg Lift, is the Leg drag. From the toreando grips, the opponents ankle is dragged across NM’s centerline as he steps in forcing the hips away. This tends to force the high leg guard retention, a movement which NM is very efficient in countering (more on this below).
Once outside the legs NM will crowd the hips looking to force the flank position (leg drag with the legs squished together), but more usually finishes the pass by moving to the head while maintaing the near gi bottom grip. When he sticks the north south position the opponent can either turtle exposing their back or accept the pass.
Whenever an opponents guard retention puts NM’s arms underneath in a double unders or over unders style grip, he will often look to turn their hips away with the hip drag. Here the hips are rotated away due to the explosive posturing. This once again places NM’s legs outside of the opponents making passes and back takes more likely.
Toreando System Important Details
There are a 3 important features of the above passes that I wish to highlight in greater detail as I feel they are more nuanced and a vital component to the success of NM’s toreando passing system. They are:
Circling to the head
Dealing with the high leg guard retention
The knee cut as a passing checkpoint
We can see all three features demonstrated in the passsing sequence below.
Circling to the head
A common feature that we see in many of NM’s passing exchanges is circling to the head. He will maintain the nearside ankle grip and circle towards a north south position as opposed to looking to control the hips directly when he gets passed the legs. He will then attempt to trap the opponents head between both knees as he changes levels to a position I am struggling not to call the tea bag.
As only the top leg is controlled opponents can turtle from this position but the speed of their turn is reduced by the ankle grip. As they turtle they will be exposed to NM’s excellent seatbelt back attacks. Many opponents will concede the pass rather than give up the back.
We see circling to the head most often from the leg drag pass or when pushing the high leg down.
Dealing with the high leg guard retention
Due to this style of distance passing NM is often dealing with high leg guard retentions impedeing his progress. Circling to the head is a very effective method of clearing the high leg frame as the angle change negates the pushing power of the leg.
Probably the most effective counter to the high leg we see is using either arm to push the leg down and circle in the opposite direction. By pushing the high leg down the bottom leg is often trapped making subsequent high legs slower.
The knee cut as a checkpoint
The knee cut guard pass is probably the most high percentage guard pass in modern jiujitsu competition. Athletes like Lucas Lepri, Gustavo Batista and Romulo Barral have demonstrated its application at the highest levels of the sport.
NM’s use of the position is somewhat different. Instead of using it as a pass in itself he uses it as a staging ground for moving between his toreando and cross shoulder half guard passing systems.
If the toreando is considered long range passing, the knee slide would be medium range with half guard passing being short range. The ubiquitous passing strategy is to move through the ranges getting closer and closer until a pass is inevitable. NM often follows this strategy moving from toreando passing to the knee cut, before moving into his cross shoulder half guard passing system (detailed in part 3).
More unusal though is his tendency to move from this medium range knee cut to long range toreando passing. This strategy has an element of surprise to it as it goes against the established passing paradigm, but due to NM’s skill in toreando passing it is very effective.
When NM gets to a knee slide or other medium range passing checkpoint the opponent will often be framing away with their arms (usually pushing instead of making grip) while bringing their legs inside. This lack of grips and easily accessible legs creates the perfect opportunity to move away and begin toreando style passing.
The knee cut position also affords NM a position where he can rest and reassess. Toreando passing for 10 minutes would be horrible fun for both participants.
Putting it all together
While I could put all of this together into a compilation video illustrating the various themes covered, this passing sequence between NM and Muhamed Aly happily incorporates everything we have discussed. Although it doesnt end in an actual pass it is still magnificent.
The collar and sleeve guard has long been heralded as one of the best open guards to develop, especially if you are tall. The foot on the hip controls distance and combines with the cross collar grip to destroy an opponents posture. When an opponents posture is broken they become weaker and their movements are inhibited. The sleeve cuff grip ties up that arm, preventing it from being used in dismantling the guard and completely eleminates the risk of double under passes.If at any point the opponent’s elbow can be drawn inside the hip line omoplatas and triangles are available.
One of the most promenient athletes utilising this guard structure in modern competition is Nicholas Meregali. From here on referenced as NM.
The most interesting aspect of his use of this guard is the way in which he uses the upper body grips to control distance while his right leg switches from foot on hip to de la riva to lasso. When one of these hooks is established and an opening is created it triggers one of 3 distinct attack systems.
De La X system
Each of these systems are based around a couple of high percentage techniques and the counters to opponents common defences. The way in which NM is able to switch between these 3 complete systems with a simple low risk leg movement is a great strength. This right leg acts like a jab in, searching for openings while minimising risk. The opponent is kept of balance and the tempo of the bout is kept in NM’s favour.
The transition between the 3 right leg hooks is simple but forces different reactions from the opponents. The threat of the Triangle or omoplata forces them to posture up, which leads into the de la x. Anytime the opponent moves laterally the lasso system comes into play blocking the movement to that side while providing offensive options.
The CAS Triangle/omoplata System
This is used opportunistically and is a constant threat to opponents. They are often forced to maintain a solid elbow to knee connection in order to avoid being instantly submitted. To counter this NM places a block on the lower body (kick to the lead knee, pushing with the hamstring vs combat base or foot on hip) prior to aggressively pulling the upper body forward via the cross collar and a high pull on the sleeve. Once the elbow is drawn past the hip line the triangle is immenient.
The omoplata is a new addition to his competition game and only really started making an appearance in 2019. It may have came about as an option for when opponents turn away from the triangle thus creating a classic dilemma. Turn in get triangled to death or turn away and get swept with the omoplata.
De La X System
The de la x hook gives NM control of both the opponent’s hips and the ability to tilt them to either side, The bottom hook reinforces the deep de la x hook while preventing the common counters (back step, step over etc). The combined pulling action of the legs, supported by the upper body grips, loads the opponents center of mass on to NM and he can then direct them to either side, depending on which upper body grips are used.
It should be noted that NM is proficient in hitting the de la X on either side, This will be especially important when opponents hide their left sleeve, more on this below.
A number of upper body grips (double sleeve, collar and sleeve) can be used to facilitate sweeps but the sweeps themselves can be subdivided into those directed towards the rear arm grip and those directed towards the lead arm grip.
Rear arm Grip De La X Sweeps
The rear arm grip DLX sweeps are the hardest to stop and easiest to perform. By securing the far arm sleeve and pulling the shoulder forward NM guides the opponent towards the dead zone (area where posting is prevented). In the videos below note how NM’s legs are not straight when initiating the sweep action, there is usually a strong pulling action of the arms and legs preceding the actual movement. This loads the opponent’s weight onto their lead leg or on to NM himself facilitating a much easier sweep
Lead Arm Grip De La X Sweeps
The lead arm DLX usually involve a cross grip being taken on the opponents lead arm and the arm itself being dragged across the centerline for back exposure. See the clips vs Kaynan Duarte and Felipe Andrew below.
However if NM can pull the opponents center of mass forward enough to elevate them a tilt sweep similar to the rear arm sweep can be utilised to the lead arm side. This is particularly effective when opponents base their body weight towards the lead arm side to avoid the more commonly seen rear arm grip sweeps.
If the opponent counters the intial collar and lead sleeve grip by externally rotating their lead hip out of the Dela X hook, NM can use the collar and sleeve to push them over laterally.
If either the lead arm or the rear arm variations are countered by the opponent basing on their elbow or sitting back on their rear leg, a lapel single leg is the appropriate next move. NM’s outside arm passes underneath the opponents leg and grips up on the lapel high enough to affect their posture. The original sweeping action is then performed to force the opponents weight onto their hands unloading their legs, allowing NM to come up in a strong single leg position. A scoop grip usually follows to further elevate the leg to secure the sweep.
A shallow lasso usually comes into play vs forward pressure or when opponents circle. When there is commitment to the lasso position there is a grip change from the cross collar to the straight collar. The straight collar grip is useful for framing out the far shoulder during opponent’s passing pressure, preventing the far shoulder moving away and gaining access to the lasso leg and to be able to pull more of the opponents upperbody over their center of mass during sweep attempts.
There are two primary sweeps that are utilised, the de la lasso and the meregali sweep. If the opponent is in a staggered stance the de la lasso is favoured. When faced with a squarer stance the meregali sweep is utilised.
De La Lasso Sweep
The de la lasso is a effective in that it ties up the the same side shoulder and hip with one hook. The free leg is then used to circle round to create a more favourable sweeping angle and can be used in a bridging action when finishing the sweep.. The left hand often moves back to the cross collar grip or to the trapped ankle to help finish the sweep.
As opposed to coming up with a clean sweep the opponent is often dropped to a hip. Here successful completion of the sweep is determined by who can gain control of the bottom leg and deny their opponent the ability to rebuild their base
The Meregali sweep
The opponents hips are connected to their lassoed shoulder via the butterfly lasso hook. This prevents posting above the shoulder line while simultaneously breaking posture. The opponent can then be brought forward with their head being pulled below their hips, the butterfly hook extends guiding the opponent into the deadzone above the shoulderline.
Once more opponents often end up being dropped to a hip with the legs entangled. To finish the sweep NM will be dilligent in taking a grip on the opponent’s bottom leg, preventing them from building up a base and taking top position.
Vs Collar grip break
As so much of NM’s offence stems from the collar and sleeve grips, opponents have had some success in denying him these grips. As a result certain offensive contingencies have been developed.
Whenever the collar grip is broke the now free hand moves to the opponent’s far ankle and a DLR hook is established . The left sleeve grip is maintained and De la X System is ready to go.
Whenever the collar grip is removed the opponent now has posture and with it the ability to move more efficiently. The automatic switching to the ankle grip de la riva is a good call as it prevents the opponent utilising this newly won mobility while setting Rear arm grip De la X sweeps.
Vs sleeve grip denial/grip break
A number of athletes have tried to deny NM from getting the all important left sleeve grip with his right hand. When this occurs the focus switches to taking a cross sleeve grip with his right hand and establishing and ankle grip DLR on the opponents right side. Thus priming the deep DLX System with the lead arm.
Vs toreandos the lasso is used and plays straight into the effective lasso system. Defence immediately turns into attack, making opponents wary of commiting their weight forward. The extra momentum taken from the pass attempts assists in the execution of some very impressive meregali sweeps.
vs Head quarters
If the left leg is ever stuffed to head quarters the DLR reset is the go to movement. Note how the trapped leg never gets forced into less than 90 degrees of knee flexion, where the position becomes a passing checkpoint. Instead the opponent is forced to base above the shoulderline where they are vulnerable to the triangle or omoplata.
Vs opponent kneeling
Many opponents will kneel when the find them selves in NM’s Collar and sleeve grips. This prevents them getting caught up in the De La X and Lasso systems, but makes them more vulnerable to the triangle and omoplata system. The distance between the opponent’s shoulders and NM’s hips is greatly reduced when an opponents kneels and he no longer has to worry about combat basing knees impeding triangles
One addition to the triangle/omoplata system that only occurs in standing or combat base postures is the loop choke. This is the favoured attack when opponents are sitting back on their base and not engaging.The triangle and omoplata system, as detailed, above involves significant pulling. When an opponent hides their elbow behind the hip line and lean away from the constant pulling, NM will sit up and attack the loop choke.
With so many members of the jiu jitsu community releasing free content, in response to the old pandemic, now seems like a good time to watch a tonne of jiu jitsu.
While having a wealth of easily accessible information is great, its not hard to get swamped by it. I will outline a method I have used to internalise the information found in these resources. This is by no means definitive. It is merely a system I stumbled upon that works for me. The overarching concept of any information retention system like this is to find ways to force yourself to fully attend to the material you are viewing.
Obviously, to truly get the most from the instructionals would involve a detailed breakdown on drilling, positional sparring and the like. But we will leave that for another time when its a bit safer to be smearing yourself on other people.
So you have your shiny new instructional series what now.
Step 1) The Binge Watch
“Breaking Bad?”. Never seen it. “Did you see how GOT ended?” Nope. “You should get into Vikings”. Probably not going to happen.
I think I treat my first run through of a instructional series kind of like most people watch real TV shows. Its interesting, a bit relaxing and I will get a feel for the initial lay out and ultimately whether or not I think it is worth investing time in. This is the fun bit everything thereafter involves attention and effort so kick back and enjoy it.
Probably the best advice I can give in this stage is be liberal with speeding up the playback. When I watch something at 2-2.5x speed I don’t feel I miss a lot.
Step 2) Rough Note Taking
Instructionals are packed with jiu jitsu wizardry. This usually means you will be hit with a belt feed machine gun of information. It is up to you to decide what you record. Personally I only record new information that I have yet to internalise or have forgotten. If its a position I am particularly new too I will record everything in a step by step Ikea instruction manual style. If you are new to jiu jitsu this approach may be helpful.
The simple act of writing information down has a way of making it stick, even if you never review your notes again. What you are producing at each of these steps is not as important as the process involved in creating it. If you just looked at someone else’s notes you probably wouldn’t get a lot from the experience.
The way in which you record your notes will be very individual. Over time you will develop your own nomenclature and systems for doing it. The John Danaher instructionals have been great for introducing a standard system for describing positions, concepts and grips which fall outside the common positional parlance.
I particularly like “if your opponent is naive…”, versus “if your opponent is shite”.
Step 3) Systemising
Many instructionals these days are incredibly well thought out and structured.
The DDS guys, Lovato, Lachlan Giles and more and more coaches are putting their stuff together in a logical way which is super helpful for those trying to make sense of a particular aspect of the sport. You use the rough notes you created and try to build some sort of coherent structure.
Here is an overview of how I do it when watching guard based instructional.
How do I hold the guard and use it to maintain distance?
Which directions can I off balance the opponent.
What base positions can my opponent put themselves in while I maintain the guard. These will usually be kneeling, combat base, standing (head low) and standing (head high).
Primary Attacks from base positions.
What are the high percentage technique from each base position? You should try and have at least two techniques to switch back and forth for each base position.
how will you deal with your opponent attempts to dismantle your guard and the subsequent guard passes? You must be aware of what your opponent may try and do from the guard structure and have appropriate options to maintain or capitalise on their actions. This is a hall mark of a good quality guard instructional.
Entries and engagement phase-
. You will want to have guard pulls and transitions from other positions.
Getting to guard becomes easier when you are confident you can be effective from that position.
With Guard passing instructionals I do pretty much the same thing. If you replace the word guard with checkpoint you will get the idea. A checkpoint is a position where you can launch a variety of guard passes and your opponents ability to sweep, submit, get up or off balance you is limited. Think Knee slides, head quarters, double unders, flattened half etc. If you are in a guard you are losing, but if you are in a checkpoint position you are winning.
Step 4) Video Editing
I am not even sure this is legal but I find it super useful. I can take an 8hr instructional and turn it into a 30min visual reminder. I already have my notes so all I need is to see the main movements performed in a couple of different angles.
Over the course of video editing you will probably watch the whole series through a few more times. By engaging with the material actively in this way I feel that I retain information better as its really hard to zone out. And now If you cant recall something you now have a delightful video reference.
Stage 5) Match Footage
If the guy who is virtually instructing you is a competitor watch their footage and see how they apply their stuff on high quality opposition. With so many resources out there, one of the filters I often use is, whether or not the guy releasing the video series does what he is actually coaching. If Rudson Mateus releases a closed guard instructional I want to see it, did I buy Lachlan Giles Leglock anthology after ADCC? Yep.
Step 6) Flow Charts
This the final thing I do and takes the least amount of time as by now you know the material inside out. I take the systematised notes and redo them in an abridged mind mappy format. Its just another method to ram the information into your brain. Its also the first thing I look at if I feel I need to review.
So that’s what I do to get the most out of the instructionals I own. I have found it massively beneficial to my development, its time consuming but after all that effort its pretty hard to forget the most important parts. A year ago I did this approach with Gordon Ryan’s Systematically Attacking the Guard series and if I was given a test on it today, I am pretty sure I would ace it. That is despite the fact that I haven’t looked at any of the material I created in that time.
I hope this is helpful in some way and if you have any other techniques you use to get the most out of your instructionals please let me know. Hopefully we can all get back to sweating and breathing on each other while simulating murder soon.
You will have seen it everywhere on social media. Your favourite fighter is using it, Joe Rogan is into it and you can even find people adding it to their morning coffee. That’s right CBD or Cannabidiol, the other less fun substance in marijuana, is big news in our community. There are claims that it decreases inflammation, aids sleep, treats anxiety and may even cure cancer. Its not just you that gets to benefit, is your dog looking a bit anxious or arthritic? CBD YO!
Having been in the martial arts industry for a bit now and having seen various products make claims and gain popularity before dying on their holes, I was not entirely convinced by the testimonials from the many athletes being paid to market CBD products.
Does anyone remember those altitude masks (don’t replicate training at altitude), cherry super drinks (its tastes like Ribena but shit), spirulina (tastes like pond water) or magical butter coffees (won’t improve IQ, sorry).
However, after taking the time to look at the scientific research there appeared to be more potential to CBD than some of these other gimmicks.
CBD and Epilepsy
The promise of CBD products began its rise to “miracle cure all” status initially within the epilepsy community. It became apparent that parents of children with epilepsy where trying to help their kids by giving them CBD.
These desperate parent’s stories are truly heart breaking. Many had infants who where seizing hundreds of times a day, were barely conscious between seizures and had an extremely poor prognosis.
Some of these parents found decades old studies suggesting CBD may alleviate certain seizures. With nothing to lose the parents got in contact with growers in search of strains of marijuana with a high CBD content.
In some of these kids the results are incredible. Seizures that were in full swing often stopped and went away for weeks. Many of these kids had special needs but they could begin to have normal lives that didn’t revolve around the inevitable seizures.
It was very evident that CBD was having a dramatic physiological effect in the bodies of some of these kids with certain forms of epilepsy.
CBD the viral phenomenon
The narrative is compelling, a compound in a demonised substance is found to save kids’ lives. There was no way that was not going to go viral and if it works for epilepsy it must work for other things, right? Well that is what the companies selling CBD products would love to be true.
Now we have CBD products for everything, muscle aches, anxiety, insomnia and the ubiquitous cancer cure. It has been speculated that CBD works its magic by attaching to receptors in our bodies endocannabinoid system. This important system is involved in our immune response, emotional regulation and other processes. If CBD was binding to receptors in our endocannabinoid system this could explain such a diverse range of effects from one molecule.
The problem is that CBD does not actually bind to the receptors in our endocannabinoid system. Its doing something but not there.
So, we do not really know the mechanism of action, how it works or what it works for. Part of this is due to the vilification of marijuana (the substance from which CBD is derived). As a schedule 1 drug, in the US, getting permission to use the substance in clinical trials is extremely difficult.
With this lack of research there is little evidence to invalidate the CBD companies claims. We have a wealth of anecdotal accounts (possibly the worst form of evidence) that indicate where more research is needed, but when these anecdotal accounts are being initiated by social media influencers it is wise to be sceptical.
Is there any CBD in your CBD Product?
Probably my major concern with the products is the lack of regulation. There Is no government body checking what is in the products you are consuming. One US study showed 70 percent of tested products had labels that didn’t match the stuff inside. They either had too much or too little CBD. Perhaps more concerning, is that 1 in 5 of the products had some cheeky THC in them. This is the psychoactive chemical in weed that gets people high and gives them the munchies. It might account for some of the subjective effects like better sleep, relaxation or the desire to watch 6 hours of Teen Titans Go.
The “I don’t have time to read 800 words, McVeigh, give me the gist of it” summary.
Does CBD do anything?
Yep, in people with certain types of epilepsy and folk with certain neuropathic pain syndromes there is good evidence CBD can help.
Will CBD help with my training/recovery?
We do not really know yet. It will not do all the things the company’s marketing it say it will. Any time a new product comes on the scene and claims to treat a wide array of ailments its usually ballax, but CBD clearly is doing something in these epileptic kids. So, it has more potential when compared to the run of the mill trash products we see periodically.
Bottom line, if you think it is helping you, you can afford it and you are confident the company you are buying from is reliable, work away. There may be something to it and when the research is there to back up the claims, I might even join you.
You may have heard of “Deliberate Practice”. It is the gold standard method for developing expertise.
Anders Ericsson is the guy who coined the term and did all the research into expertise that has since been popularised in books like Outliers and Talent is Overrated. Unfortunately, for us, it requires a field that is already well established, where optimal training practices are known.
The Suzuki Method for learning the violin is one such form of deliberate practice. Follow the steps, do the work, under the watchful eye of a skilled instructor and after a prolonged period you will be an expert.
People have been playing violins for centuries and have had the time necessary to develop optimal practice, culminating in programs like the Suzuki method. Jiu Jitsu is a sport in its infancy (particularly no gi jiu jitsu) with a huge range of training methodologies. Some are excellent and some are not so much.
Although many coaches and teams are pioneering a more thorough systems based methodology and regularly producing world champions. We have a long way to go before we reach the deliberate practice level in the sport of jiu jitsu.
That being said the way in which you train or practice anything can be improved even without the established deliberate practice structure provided you follow the principles of purposeful practice.
Purposeful practice (deliberate practices unruly little brother) is defined by 4 principles that will enable you to consistently improve in any discipline over time. There will be a degree of trial and error involved as optimal training methods are developed but with time creativity and commitment to the four principles outlined below you never have to stop getting better.
4 Principles of Purposeful Practice
Always have an aim for the practice
The first step in improving in any field is often to identify the aim of the practice. If you are drilling in your own time you should make the effort to actually decide what it is you want to improve. If you are in a class structure your coach may state the aim and if not hopefully its self evident. Maybe you will be working on finishing the bow and arrow choke from the back or resetting your guard from the headquarters position.
Having an identified aim for the practice allows you to determine whether or not you have used your time well. If your aim is to improve your ability to recover half guard from side control and you were able to do so more effectively after the session you have evidence that you have improved.
Whatever the aim is there will be smaller components that comprise the overall goal. In our half guard recovery example one such component, which is vitally important, could be getting inside the cross face. Establishing set aims makes the game smaller allowing for more detailed understanding of positions and techniques. This is more effective than going through the motions and hoping to get better by accident.
This is pretty obvious, but unless you are giving what you are doing your full attention you are probably limiting your ability to improve. This is particularly common in group classes where the material may not be to your liking and you are with all your friends. There is a social aspect to jiu jitsu and its important but if your training partner wants to tell you all about some gym gossip while you are trying to figure out a crab ride sequence, they are inhibiting your ability to improve. Try to keep talk focussed on the task at hand.
Since having kids I have come to value my training time much more due to its scarcity. I can no longer spend all day in the gym training and farting around in equal measure. I come in with an aim for the practice and focus on achieving the steps that will allow me to complete the task… usually.
All this planning and focus is not going to help if you are doing movements incorrectly. This is why it helps to get feedback. You can get feedback from your coach, your training partners and yourself. When you are comfortable with a technique you have mental representation of how it should look and more importantly what it should feel like. What separates expert performers from the rest of us is often the quality of these mental representations.
If your mental representation for what you are working on is refined enough you will feel when you’ve done a bum rep and can alter accordingly. Feedback from training partners and coaches is also invaluable, some of the best guys I have trained with are constantly asking training partners how a movement felt, where was the pressure and how they could improve.
Gettting outside comfort zones
Living in the land of good enough is positively delightful, you don’t have to think that hard and you get to play your best stuff. The jiu jitsu hierarchy, and the social status engendered by that, makes tapping out to lower belts unpleasant for many people in gyms where that culture exists. This promotes the automated “A game” approach that preserves egos but kills improvement.
To improve your overall game, finding weakness and working on them is imperative. This will often mean letting people onto your back to work defence there or getting your guard passed while playing a new type of position.
It is important that you don’t get too far out of your comfort zone. If your training partner is a 100kg black belt and you are a 65kg white belt looking to develop side control escapes, this might not be the right plan unless you have spoken about your aims before hand.
Putting it all together
In our bow and arrow example we have established an aim. After rolling, a few of your training partners have noticed getting to the back might not be the problem but staying there and winning the hand fight is where you are coming up short.
With this feedback you have identified the main ways you lose the back and what is preventing you from completing the choke. You do some research and talk to your coach and figure out a couple of back retentions and hand fighting drills that may help. You drill these techniques until they become smooth, then work on several drills to improve retention and hand fighting.
Drilling with progressively resisting opponents bridges the gap between compliant technique practice and live rolling. After a few weeks of focused practice you have greatly improved your ability to finish with the bow and arrow choke. So much so that your training partners are bailing to mount rather than have you any where near their back. Maybe its time to start working on your ability to hold mount and finish from there?
Taking your training seriously and following the principles of purposeful practice will take your ability to murder hug folk to a new level.
Apologies for the click bait above, I know its terrible and I feel dirty.
So, you have been training for a while, you are a regular at classes, you do the techniques/drills and assume you are getting a little bit better every time you step on the mat. Its probably safe to say that most people doing Jiu jitsu expect this to be happening and this is what they pay for with gym fees.
As Jiu jitsu coaches we tend encourage the idea. Just turn up and you will get better. When you guys turn up and give us money, it allows us to continue doing the job we are passionate about and buy luxuries like food. Consistency and mat time are hugely important, but unfortunately they do not constitute the complete picture.
What we don’t want you to know is:
It is entirely possible to train for years and years without improving significantly.
Thanks to the popularity of Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, it is now culturally accepted that the more you train, in your chosen discipline, the better you will be. The 10 000 hour rule popularised by Gladwell posits that if you amass 10 000 hours in any discipline then you will have reached the expert level. This 10 000 hour rule is so ubiquitous it even has a Macklemore song. The problem is that it is wrong on several levels.
Let’s suppose you picked up on learning Jiu jitsu from watching the UFC. Getting elbowed in the head is not your bag but Jiu jitsu looks fun. You find a gym with a good reputation, buy a gi and watch an instructional on how to tie the belt, so it doesn’t look like a flappy dong.
You attend the fundamentals program for a while and you eventually get to the point where you sort of know what is going on and can join in with the sparring classes. You still aren’t very good but your more experienced training partners will let you apply techniques if they are performed correctly and you get your first taste of what the sport should feel like.
You are still fuelled by that initial motivation that got you going in the first place and you keep putting in the hours. Learning something new is fun and you are engaged in the process. The training partners that helped you in the beginning now must try harder to stop you applying techniques and the new guys see you as one of the more experienced athletes. You understand the main positions, concepts and have internalised your go to techniques.
Eventually with more practice you get good enough that training is fun, you can apply your techniques automatically and you understand the food chain, you know which training partners you can dominate, hang with and which will smash you. You have reached a comfort level at which you can turn up for practice and just enjoy yourself.
This comfort level can be reached at any stage of competency, but once you have reached this level and your performance is automated – you have stopped improving. You are doing the same positions every round and a lot of the time this works for you, but some of the more experienced guys have noticed you can’t remove leg lassos or struggle with knee cuts, and they use this knowledge against you. But this only happens with the purple belts and above and nothing works against them anyway, so you don’t let it bother you.
Training is tough, its satisfying, you are well on your way to clocking up hundreds and thousands of hours, but you aren’t improving.
It is important to stress that this is not an indication that you have reached some sort of innate, insurmountable plateau in your abilities. Everything that has been observed in the science of expertise indicates that such immutable limits do not exist. It is always possible to keep going and improving, unfortunately its not always easy.
For the past year I have been working on my guard retention which has been an area of weakness for me. It has been a brutal, ego crushing experience. The techniques are not as fun to drill as a bolo and I was murdered by everyone in the first few months. It still a work in progress but I am much better than I would have been had I simply played my automated, comfortable A game.
In the next few parts of this series we will look at how to specifically train with purpose in order to keep improving as an athlete. Remember improvement is always possible at any level, all it takes is attention, engagement and a willingness to make yourself do things that are uncomfortable….in a jiu jitsu context….not like weird stuff.
The more mobile a jiu jitsu athlete is, the more options there are available to them. There are no techniques that they cannot physically do and they can direct their development in the sport in whatever direction they wish.
Those of us with joints that do not work as nice, we may find ourselves restricted, mostly to that brutal half guard lifestyle with all gi burns and face smooshing that it often entails.
We will begin this series by focusing on the hips. You may not be consciously aware of it but the active range of motion at your joints will already be influencing how you train. If you find out you have wonderful hip external rotation on your right, well that is where you will be guiding your omoplatas. If you are an hip internal rotation ninja your knee cut passes will probably be quite scary.
I have never been great mobility wise. A severe lack of external rotation at my left hip in particular has always bothered me even when I was not consciously aware of it. Id rarely throw up a triangle or omoplata to that side and it felt as though I had a hole in my guard as I was unable to high leg effectively.
After attending a number of Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) Courses I felt that I could finally do something about it. FRC is a systematic approach to mobility development and joint integrity which is backed up by a scientific rationale that keeps the nerd in me happy. Its where I have robbed all the stuff below.
How to do it?
During the exercise descriptions below you will often be asked to irradiate. This is probably the single most important concept in the FRC stretching protocol and one that I did not fully grasp until around 6months of regular practice.
The concept goes like this. If you can generate a shit tonne of muscular tension around the joint you are trying to stretch the more pronounced the improvements in usable range of motion will be.
So whenever you are asked to irradiate:
1. Take a big breath and trap as much air as you can in your lower abdominal region.
2. Brace your stomach like you are expecting a body shot.
3. Allow the contraction to spread out from your stomach to incorporate the rest of your body as you gradually build up the intensity of the contraction.
4. Breath shallowly while maintaining the contraction and try not to poo.
The protocol for the stretchy bits or Progressive and Regressive Isometric Loading (PAILS and RAILS) works like this: Start in the 90/90 position pictured below, lean forward to achieve the initial stretch on the outside of your hip.
a. 60 sec of passive stretch focusing on deep breathing and relaxing into the position.
b. 30 sec PAILS contraction, irradiate and begin pushing your lead leg foot and knee into the floor. Imagine having scales under the foot and knee and you are trying to make these scales read as heavy as possible. Gradually build up to 80% of your maximal tension.
c. 15 sec RAILS contraction, while maintaining your irradiation attempt to increase the stretch depth/intensity by trying to make the imaginary scales as light as possible as your chest comes forward.
d. 15 sec passive stretch
e. Repeat steps a-d for 2 more sets.
Now we have expanded the joint range a bit we can start looking at gaining some more control with holds and lift off’s.
Side lying hip external rotation lift off’s
Assume the starting position and irradiate. Raise your foot by externally rotating the hip while keeping the trail leg knee in contact with the floor
Supine hip external rotation lift offs
Assume the starting position and irradiate. Lift the foot away from the knee focusing on driving external rotation through the hip
Internal rotation Pails/Rails
The protocol is the same as before
a. 60 sec of passive stretch
b. 30 sec PAILS contraction irradiate and try to lift knee while pressing ankle into the floor
c. 15 sec RAILS contraction attempt to lift foot from floor while bringing upper body closer to the trail leg
d. 15 sec passive stretch
e. Repeat steps a-d for 2 more sets.
Internal rotation lift offs
Assume the starting position, irradiate and lift the foot from the floor. If foot doesn’t move, lean forward until you can. You want to find the range where you can just about lift the foot from the floor.
Putting it all together
Your hips will probably feel weird and tired after all that. Lets now put our new found hip external and internal rotation gains to good use in the form of some more complex movements.
Standing Hip Controlled Articular Rotations (CARS)
4 reps both ways
Sit at the bottom of a squat for 1-2 minutes then rep out 10 low squats
I see the biggest improvements when I am doing this regularly, therefore for this experiment I would recommend we all try to do this 5-7days a week. Sometimes if my hips feel goofy I will reduce the intensity of the PAILS and RAILS but the other movements can be done everyday at a high intensity.
I also like to do hip rotation movements and CARS any time I have a a spare second. We will expand more on why this is a good idea in subsequent blogs, but for now give this a shot for a couple of weeks and let me know how you get on. If you have questions or want me to go through any of the movements catch me at The Griphouse.
I have had a few emails recently that have led me to understand that the path to becoming a competitive mma fighter, competing out of the Griphouse, is not as clear as it should be. One of the more common questions I get is “I want to be an MMA fighter, what classes do I do?”. We have a large timetable, a lot of different coaches, multiple classes going on at the same time and it can be confusing for those trying to decide how to proceed.
With this blog post I hope to cover the path for the athlete looking to compete in MMA representing the Dinky Ninja Fight Team.
The time to develop
Learning the fundamentals of numerous complicated combat sports takes a while. The bottom line is that if you are not able to commit 10-12hours a week to developing your MMA game. It is unlikely that you will compete representing the DNFT.
That figure is a minimum, our top athletes and those guys who got good really, really fast usually do a lot more.
The volume of training outlined above is tough on the body. There will be times when you want to miss a session, duck the tough spars or loss concentration during a technique class. It becomes easy to make these single occurrences a habit. Not every training session will blow your mind and by around Friday all of our fighters hate anything that involves them moving.
Becoming a fighter must become a part of your identity. You are making a commitment to the future, scarier, more dangerous version of yourself not to slack off.
A genuine love of the Sport.
You will only ever persist in improving in an activity that is difficult if you have a genuine passion for it. Novelty and excitement can get you through the first few weeks and months but you really need to enjoy what you are doing in order to keep going when it gets really tough. Joanne Calderwood was the lightest member of the pro team and once mentioned how much she loves fighting as it means she “gets to win a round of sparring”. It takes a lot of determination to keep going when you are constantly competing against team mates who are larger, more skilled or more experienced. When you start out you tend to be the nail and ball your sparring partners are hammers.
An absence of Ego and a desire to improve.
As mentioned in the paragraph above. When you start out it can seem as if everyone else is moving in fast forward. The stuff you are trying to learn your opponent does instinctively. Your team mates have more experience and it will be a long time before you are taking rounds from them. One way to stay sane and avoid falling into a pit of self pity is to concentrate on winning the small battles. You may not win the round but you can stop that single leg takedown a couple of times or land the cross counter on a decent opponent. Each one of these is an indication that you are improving and reinforces solid technical abilities.
The path of the MMA Athlete at the Griphouse
So if you can handle the above prerequisites here’s how you go about becoming a fighter
The back bone of your training should be the two MMA fundamentals classes Tuesday 6pm and Sat 1pm. These classes, coached by Dean Reilly and I (Paul Mcveigh), will introduce you to concepts unique to MMA. These are also the guys who will be putting you forward for bouts so let them know you are interested in competing and they will let you know when you are ready.
As well as these two classes, when you become comfortable sparring, the Friday 7pm MMA sparring class is added to the foundation and is now the single most important class in the week. This is the class where you will develop your own style and adapt techniques to work against resisting training partners in a chaotic environment.
Another hour of Muay Thai sparring will be a useful addition when you are experienced enough Mon 7pm or Thurs 11am.
Building on the Foundation
If you are a complete beginner it will be a little while before you are fully sparring so you have another 6-8hrs minimum of training to account for. Those with more experience can guide their training towards weaker areas but in general an equal distribution of wrestling, Muay Thai and Jiu jitsu works well. Our full timetable is available here the fundamental classes are geared to those new to the sports so feel free to round out your training week depending on your schedule.
Training week example (no sparring experience)
8pm Muay Thai fundamentals
6pm MMA Fundamentals
8pm Muay Thai fundamentals
6pm Jiu jitsu fundamentals
8pm Muay Thai fundamentals
12pm Jiu jitsu fundamentals
1pm Mma fundamentals
Training week example (sparring experience)
6pm Jiu Jitsu fundamentals
7pm Muay Thai sparring
8pm Jiu jitsu sparring
6pm MMA fundamentals
6pm Muay Thai fundamentals
7pm Jiu jitsu sparring
7pm No gi Jiu Jitsu intermediate
7pm mma sparring
12pm Jiu Jitsu fundamentals
1pm mma fundamentals
Total 13hours per week.
Before your first bout.
Prior to taking your first amateur mma bout we have a number of recommendations. We strongly believe that competition breeds excellent. Nothing can refine your training like competing in front of crowd. Mistakes are highlighted and strengths are noted. By competing in various formats out with the main sport of mma you can experience the stresses of competition but as it is not your main goal you can concentrate on the performance a little more objectively.
Compete in grappling tournaments
Grappling tournaments are great for destroying the ego. If there are 8 guys in your division 7 guys are going to lose at some point that day. Learning how to deal with a lose in a positive manner is a vital component to becoming a successful mixed martial artist. A defeat should drive you to be better and plug the holes in your game. Upon making the transition to mma one of our Muay Thai coaches Sean Wright entered many Jiujitsu comps to refine the grappling aspect of his game.
Compete in a novice striking bout
Over the course of an MMA career you will be hit a lot. Being comfortable in uncomfortable situations is vital for the mixed martial artist. By competing in a striking discipline you are helping refine offensive and defensive skills that will serve you well in MMA competition.
Get 5-10 inter club bouts
Inter clubs offer burgeoning fighters cage experience but in a relatively controlled environment. Opponents are often team mates and there is a crowd of people watching. However contact is controlled, shin guards are worn, submissions do not end the bout and technical proficiency is emphasised.
This is one step removed from competing and is a valuable tool to ensure the fighter is comfortable competing in the unique mma environment.
Be an asset for your team mates.
Probably the most important prerequisite. By the time you are ready to compete you will be an asset to the entire team. You will be able to hold pads and spar with the pro team guys. It may just be you in the fight but you have had an entire team of guys who have got you ready for this experience. You can call upon their knowledge and past experience at every turn.
The vast majority of those getting involved in MMA would be better off financially if they put the same hours into a minimum wage job. Many fighters, even successful ones, can come to the end of their careers with a catalogue of debilitating injuries and very little financial security.
If you are interested in MMA as a means to become rich and famous, things probably won’t go your way. Instead if you have a true passion for the sport and that passion is supported by a strong work ethic and the constant focus on gradual improvement you have got everything you need to be a successful competitor.
Many MMA coaches have long known how effective punching your way into a takedown is for those looking to bring an MMA bout to the mat. Striking an opponent forces them to cover up leaving their hips and legs vulnerable to attack. This is a MMA mainstay and something almost all fighters are proficient with.
Less common is the idea of using wrestling to create striking opportunities. Often a successful takedown is the difference between winning and losing a bout. Fighters have to respect these attempts and defend, often leaving themselves open to strikes as their hands come down and their levels change.
Many great fighters have utilised these principles and it seems to be a hallmark of the new breed of fighters, who have been trained in MMA from the start of their careers. As opposed to the first wave of athletes who were primarily strikers, wrestlers or Jiu jitsu guys. When you have the bigger picture in mind from the start you are less likely to pick up small but detrimental habits that can sometimes come from exclusively training in one of the component arts.
The true Mixed Martial Artist can blend the ranges seamlessly, striking into takedowns, punching into guard passes, attacking submissions to gain striking opportunities etc.
There are a number of athletes who do this well but as I have watched about billion hours of Demetrious Johnson footage and its all on my hard drive we will have a look at how he does it in the video below.
You can check out the other parts of our why we should all love and be more like DJ series in the links here