The Nicholas Meregali project part 2: Toreando Passing


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.

  1. The Classic Toreando
  2. The Leg Lift
  3. 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.

Toreando System

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.

5 seconds in Leg Lift pass

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.

Leg was straight in that leg lift, still worked.

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.

The leg drag is combined with the high leg retention counter (more on this below)

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:

  1. Circling to the head
  2. Dealing with the high leg guard retention
  3. 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.

This time in slow motion with commentary.

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