Thursday, June 30, 2011


The ever so controversial topic of belts is unavoidable at any academy. People want instant gratification, yet in BJJ belts take a really long time to get. On top of that, the criteria for promotions are much different in every school.

Some also don't require competitions, and some do... What's the deal?

In my opinion, after going through the phase of desperately wanting my next belt... I've come to realize that it is FAR better to be the guy that is amazing at one belt, than the guy who sucks at another. I've seen plenty of people who get promoted almost out of pity, and are unable to perform up to standard.

On a competition level, I feel that students should be trying to compete at least enough to have some sort of statistical way of looking at how he/she does in an even playing field. (And also to learn what to work on)

On a technical level, I feel the following criteria should be met (minimum) for each belt level.

White: Escapes from every single position, a basic movement from every position, and one extremely solid sweep.

Blue: Begin to develop a system of sweeps that flow into each other. This on top of the fundamentals of guard passing.

Purple: Begin to develop a very specific game based on the strongest moves in the arsenal. Guard passing should now be a complex system of attacks that flow into each other, and transition into favorable positions. The guard should be the same way. This is where a certain level of Finesse can be seen.

Brown: I am not here yet, but I feel that this is where people focus a lot on being fast during the transitions, finishing submissions or chaining submissions from every position, and control. As I read in another article... a brown belt isn't "weak" anywhere.

Black: Beginning of the elite competition. All the prior skills are used to build a gameplan for either BJJ/MMA. Every match is about being several steps ahead of the opponent and imposing a gameplan. The depth of skill at this level is the greatest.

Now an awesome technique from the 50/50

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Types of opponents

I was browsing a forum, and one member (irishman301 from jiujitsu forums) mentioned something very interesting.

Not all of your opponents are going to be the same when you roll in class. To quote the post, the following will cover the entire spectrum of people you will be rolling with.

1.) Same weight and same level (best training partner for tournaments)
2.) Lighter and same skill level (you have an advantage)
3.) Heavier and same skill level (you have a disadvantage)
4.) Same weight and more advanced (you have a disadvantage)
5.) Lighter and more advanced (depending on skill disparity, it may go either way)
6.) Heavier and more advanced (you have a huge disadvantage)
7.) Same weight and less advanced (you have an advantage)
8.) Lighter and less advanced (you have a huge advantage)
9.) Heavier and less advanced (depends on skill disparity, it may go either way)

If you were to ask Marcelo Garcia, he would respond that he plays the same exact game against everyone. Which really means: 100% of his moves work against all opponents regardless of weight.

However, he is also considered one of, if not THE most technical grappler on the planet. Looking above, it seems that the "more advanced" category for him is very minimal.

In the long run, I believe that improving your skill level to the extent where you also don't have a lot of people more skilled than you is the goal. However, until you get to that point, you should be able to clearly identify what kind of opponent you are rolling with and adjust accordingly.

When you have an advantage, you are able to open up your game and practice new movements with less of a penalty.

When you have a disadvantage, you will get punished for every mistake you make. Tap if you get caught, and learn to tighten your game.

Now a legendary match between Marcelo Garcia and Renzo Gracie

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Are tournaments important?

A lot of people ask the question, should a BJJ black belt have to compete to get to that rank?

When dealing with the issue of standards, in this case, belt levels... there are always going to be discrepancies between academies.

i.e. A blue belt from one gym may be significantly better than a blue belt from another gym.

Some gyms may not require any type of competition to get a belt, whereas another school may require many tournament victories to get promoted.

When it comes down to it, competitions (and winning) are extremely hard and require a lot of sacrifice. On top of that, strength and conditioning, strategies for the tournament, and discipline to eat healthy and cut weight properly are also prerequisites.

When you have an instructor or team mate that has succeeded at difficult tournaments, it speaks very loudly about not only their skill, but their ability to achieve very difficult goals. And in my opinion, this puts a competition proven black belt above one that doesn't compete.

You wouldn't go and learn from a professor with no college degree, so in BJJ why is it any different?

Keep the standards high, and test yourself!

now a hook sweep technique

Monday, June 27, 2011

Variation in training partners

One thing that can be discouraging is rolling with the same people all the time. It happens at most gyms, and makes training seem a bit repetitive.

It is almost like a breath of fresh air when new training partners visit, or new members join. The fact that the new person's style is different, as well as the fact that they are unfamiliar with your style creates much different training scenarios that you will have to learn.

When you roll with the same person over and over again, both people tend to learn each others styles and become better and better at defending moves from each other. Eventually, if the people are close enough in skill (or have a big size disparity), then matches begin to stalemate much more often.

One remedy in my opinion is to remember that drilling is a huge part of learning BJJ, and use every opportunity whether it is live rolling or just drilling moves to your advantage. Perhaps start in a bad position against someone less experienced. Maybe even do it against someone MORE experienced for an added challenge.

Variation even in the smallest degree, helps a ton!

now an awesome sweep from Roletta.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


What exactly is sandbagging?

It is when someone far more experienced competes in a division that is meant for beginners. It is a practice that is looked down upon by the entire BJJ community, as it mainly goes against the spirit of testing yourself each time you go out there.

I believe if you are not trying to push yourself to your fullest potential, and only want to rack up wins against less experienced people, you are cheating yourself.

Do yourself, and your potentials opponents a favor and don't sandbag.

Now no gi sparring between BJ Penn, and Leo Veira.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


So, one thing that happens a lot (to good students too), is over training. The mentality of more = better influences us throughout our lives, and BJJ is no exception.

And often times, when you look at the elite BJJ competitors, you will find out they train much more than the average person. But I believe copying them right away may not be the best idea.

Everybody's body is different and reacts differently to workouts. My coach discussed a couple things that he felt were the pre-requisite to training like a professional grappler:

1) Nutrition
2) Proper rest

The way I interpret this is as follows:

If the ultimate goal is to push yourself to your absolute highest potential in this sport, then every single opportunity for an advantage must be sought. This means, anything that you eat should be towards the goal of nutrition for strength/endurance (and not for taste).

The same applies for resting... if you are planning on training 3 times a day, then you should also be able to allow proper time for your body to recover before working out again and risking injury. If this isn't possible, then remove a training session and work your way up.

Now an amazing match between Lucas Lepri and Augusto Tanqinho Mendes

Friday, June 24, 2011

I am nothing without my team

One thing that some people sometimes take for granted is how important having a good team is. These are the people you see the most assuming you train seriously. When they are killers, you have no choice but to get better.

Whether or not you are the leader or a member of the team, I believe it is important to try and support each other in and out of the gym. In reality, the BJJ team resembles a small military unit very well: When one person is discouraged or causes a problem, the morale of the whole team goes down.

So the next time you are in the gym, remember to look at all the other members of the team as an extension of yourself! The team is only as strong as the weakest link, so make sure that link is strong!

Now a video showing what "unstoppable pressure" really means.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Open guard techniques

Today, a short video from JT Torres (Lloyd Irvin black belt). He shows a high level arm drag from the open guard that leads to a couple sweep variations.

Although you are starting from a sitting position, both end up on the feet where you complete the sweep.

The sweeps actually are finished exactly like you would in wrestling, so here is one instance of where having a good wrestling base helps a lot!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Not good enough?

It is no surprise that in today's society, most people expect instant gratification given the advancement in our technology. We've pretty much become accustomed to getting what we want whenever we feel like it.

The idea of grinding out something for a long period of time seems almost archaic, but really can be seen as a very long term investment.

Getting tapped out by all of your training partners in BJJ class can definitely do a number on your ego, make you lose confidence in moves/positions you once thought you were good at. However, the main point is to look at the big picture (elite black belts of your weight class) and know that whenever you feel like you are "good", there is always someone out there who will smash you. Not being complacent and always being hungry for improvement will serve you well in the long run!

now a highlight video of serious guard passing

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

lose the ego at the door

"Lose the ego at the door" is a saying that I've heard time and time again. It was written on the wall of my old BJJ academy, and is advice that is passed down consistently from more experienced BJJ coaches to their students.

How important exactly is it to lose the ego and why should people do it?

For me, the main benefit of doing so results in a willingness to experiment in class.

Instead of worrying about always tapping out everyone I roll with by playing a tight game and essentially drilling what I already know, I try out positions and strategies that will ultimately let me defeat higher level opponents in the future.

A great example is the person at the gym who is amazing at one submission. It may be a foot lock, a guillotine, or something else. This person always goes for it, and just worries about tapping out everybody with it. This is at the cost of sweeping, guard passing, and transitional positions/set ups.

Although his technique is refined through so much repetition, when higher level opponents easily defend that one move, that person's entire game is such down.

A lot of people go through this phase, but some people get stuck in it longer than others, mainly due to the ego. So leave the ego at the door!

Now an awesome way to take the back from half guard.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Good training partners

All of the top bjj competitors have at least one thing in common, which is a solid group of people to train with. Although bjj isn't considered a team sport due to the 1 on 1 nature of the matches, the training involved until that point relies heavily on the team.

So how does one go about being a good team mate?

I believe it comes down to supporting your team mates in any way possible, even if it is something as little as showing up to their matches.

In class, one good way to make sure the whole team is benefiting is variation in training partners, and adjusting your game plan to help out your training partner.

By this, I mean having an equal amount of "A" game training for tournaments, and also just drilling movements you are not comfortable with yet (but need to work on). Getting tapped in training especially by your team mates is a natural part of improvement, and without it, you can not get better!

now a highlight of one of the mendes brothers.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fixing the weakness

how does one fix a glaring weakness? As pointed out in an earlier post, I feel that it is an issue of identifying the weakness first.

"Where did I get stuck?"
"Where did I have no answer?"

The answers to these questions seem to be appropriate guidelines for what to do next.

Sometimes the issue is as simple as just NOT doing a bad-habit during a match (giving up points while you are already winning).

From what I've seen, the majority of the reason why beginner/intermediate students get stuck are because of a lack of focus on escapes and guard work.

What do you think?

Now a video of Michael Langhi, one of the top guard players in his weight class.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

High level/low level?

When people talk about private lessons, I also take a look at what skill level they are currently at.

I believe that when someone is too new to bjj/grappling, they benefit about the same from a private lesson as they do from normal training. (Meaning a private is just not worth it at that point in their training).

As the student becomes more intermediate/advanced, they are able to notice little intricacies in technique and also perform techniques with much greater precision.

Also, something that occurs is that the student is able to watch an elite grappler, and just an average grappler, and tell the difference right away. Being able to see exactly how the elite grappler sets his moves up/performs differently is crucial when taking a private lesson (in my opinion).

Other than just pure experience, I feel that spending a good amount of time watching matches either online or in class helps tremendously with this.

Now a highlight of Rodolfo Vieira, one of the dominant up and coming heavyweight grapplers

Friday, June 17, 2011

Failure? I don't think so

Bjj is not a team sport, everybody knows that. In a competition, it is always one on one. Just like wrestling, boxing, fighting, etc. There is always one person who wins of the two. But in reality, I feel that both people are benefiting through the match.

Yes one person suffers a "loss" on his record, but the loss really emphasizes what needs to be worked on in the gym.

My very first tournament match I lost because I got stuck in half guard, and then got ankle locked right after.

My grappling game took a huge turn after that day, as I focused almost primarily on developing a better half guard. Oh, and 90% of my victories were also by footlock for at least a full year.

I still have much to work on, but even to this day I emphasize the half guard first for all of my students!

So if you ask me, I am very very glad I lost that match in that way.

Now a slick way to take the back from half guard/reverse de la riva

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Basics? What does that even mean?

In bjj, a lot of people emphasize the basics over fancy new techniques. However, when an elite black belt performs the basics against other elite black belts, what is the main difference compared to when a white belt does it?

I believe that at a certain point, when a grappler is considered "advanced", they are able to perform all techniques with near perfection. The only thing that stops them from landing the moves is getting into the proper position, which leads me to my next point.

Set ups. The elite grapplers are excellent at attacking in chains (making the opponent worried about different moves) to such a high degree that they can land the basic moves as a response.

So in reality, basic moves need complex set ups. Get to drilling!

Now a highlight of Lucas Lepri, one of the best current leve grapplers

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Women in bjj

Last week, in my bjj class there was one session where we actually had more girls in class than guys. Since I began training, this was the first time it's happened.

So this post is for all of the girls out there that are training bjj!

Often times I hear complaints about how they are the lightest in the group, or that there are no other girls to roll with.

Knowing what I know now, I can definitely give out at least a few pointers.

1) Guys are stronger than girls on average, but if you aren't lifting weights do not even think about complaining about strength.

2) You may lose because you are smaller, but even for the little guy/girl, a lot of it has to do with technique. Even my technique after 7.5 years isn't perfect, chances are you still have a lot of technique to perfect.

3) In class if you do not take Bjj seriously, people will not take you seriously either. think about it.

4) The most accurate way to measure progress is through a lot of competition matches against people of similar skill/weight. So instead of concerning yourself about losing in class, just prepare to face someone just like yourself in tournaments as many times as you can!

Now TWO highlights of two top competitors

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Evolution of the sport

If you look at bjj 10 years ago, and compare it to the bjj of today, you will find two different sports pretty much.

The average level of athlete is MUCH higher nowadays, and the techniques are much more developed as well.

On top of that, most of the champions of today have far far better wrestling ability as well due to cross-training.

Some examples of "new" developments to bjj that differ from the classic system are:

the 50/50 guard
Inverted/tornado guard
Eddie Bravo's "no gi" system (which a lot of people hate on)

There are many more things out there, and more to be discovered.

Personally, I think it is foolish to NOT study everything, because even if you don't use it... at least you can defend against it.

Now, a match Joao Assis and Jeff Monson

Monday, June 13, 2011

Breaking plateaus

It is inevitable, but plateaus happen during training.

But if you look at the phenoms that dominate competition and blast through the ranks in a matter of 3, 4, or 5 years, something very different is happening. Are they better learners? Do they have better instruction? Surely something in their training differs.

In my opinion, I believe it really comes down to examining the weakest part of your game.

Watching matches of yours taped on video help the most in this regard (especially matches you lost).

An expert/instructor may watch the match and conclude that you did everything wrong and should change even basic strategy (which you may not have even known until asking)

Someone less experienced may point out just one flaw.

Regardless it is important to get everyone's opinion/advice and adjust accordingly.

Asking "where did I get stuck in this match" and "where did I have no answer to what my opponent did" often times leads to a very quick answer in terms of what to work on next (and breaks plateaus).

Now a video on guard passing by Vitor Shaolin Ribiero

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Playing your game

In tournaments, my coaches have always told me to play my game.

To a beginner, that may sound a bit confusing though. What exactly does that mean?

Personally, I feel that this is contingent on the competitor being actually good at a handful of moves. Afterwards, you can try your hardest to score points or win by forcing the opponent only to face that part of your game (until the rest of your game strengthens).

If you are not excellent at a few moves, you can NOT "play your game" in a tournament.

In a Lloyd Irvin article I read online many years ago, they said that he makes all of his best guys drill positions/moves 3000 times before they can move on to the next one. Doesn't matter how long it takes, but they have to put in the reps. And when you watch videos of amazing competitors like Ryan Hall, Mike Fowler, JT Torres, etc, they all execute certain moves with black belt expertise (often times way before they actually were black belts)

So next time you are in training, remember how important drilling these moves are!

Here is a highlight of Pablo Popovitch, Abu Dhabi Champ!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Style vs Style

At the beginning, most people who begin bjj have a very similar style to each other (just learning fundamentals).

But very quickly, people will realize that they tend to prefer playing a specific type of game that may or may not work well for other people.

Many things determine this:

Body type
Wrestling/judo background

My opinion on this would be to learn as much as possible and to develop a system around your strongest moves. (i.e. if you play de la riva guard, have 3 or 4 moves you can do from a failed sweep attempt that can be launched right away).

Eventually when you become a black belt, you will not have just a system that works around one area you are strong at, but you will be strong at most positions. In a way, it is rinse and repeating the above process for different positions.

now a video of Marcelo Garcia grappling Ben Askren, notice the difference in their styles.

Friday, June 10, 2011


There are many different tournaments for bjj out there, and they all have slightly different rules/point systems.

For example, if you compete in NAGA, they allow dangerous leg locks in every division for no gi (including beginner division). They also award points for submission attempts, which is unique to their organization.

Also, depending on the tournaments, passing the guard varies in rewarding you 2 or 3 points.

Little things like that can definitely change the outcome of a match, and should be prepared for.

However, sometimes the rules don't quite explain whether or not obscure techniques are banned (and often times get updated after they assess the situation better).

Many years ago, one of my team mates was able to choke out his opponent using his belt in a tournament and won that way.

Yes you heard right: he used his belt like a hitman would choke out someone to kill them!

Subsequently afterwards, they changed the rules to ban this technique.

check it out:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Takedowns and tournament strategy

So after someone new begins bjj, they inevitably ask the question "when are we going to work on takedowns?"

The curriculum varies from school to school, but really to answer the question, it is not emphasized much in bjj (much like groundwork in judo).

The heart and soul of bjj is grappling on the ground, learning the intricacies of all the positions. Even the rules of most bjj tournaments do NOT penalize you for simply pulling guard and forgetting about takedowns.

My opinion on the matter is this:

It is already hard enough to get good on the ground, so when you go to bjj... focus on ground work only.

Assuming that is all you have done, in tournaments, be smart and PULL GUARD to utilized your strongest moves a.s.a.p.

When you get to the point where you feel like you need to add takedowns, understand that it will take an even greater investment in time and seek out the best wrestling or judo instructors to learn how to do it right.

now a video of some of the craziest wrestling ever

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Being the little guy/girl in training

So, at the other end of the spectrum is the little guy. I've certainly been the smallest person in training and understand this position fairly well.

The big guy doesn't get punished for making mistakes as often, so he can feel more comfortable trying out new moves, however the little guy gets punished each and every time he makes a mistake.

Initially, this is frustrating to no end (and is the reason why a lot of people quit). However, in the long run, this helps the little guy/girl develop a game that is highly technical that will work on any opponent of any size (given a big enough skill gap of course).

Here is a video of Rubens Cobrinha Charles, one of the all time greatest lightweights .

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

highest learning curve

bjj has a pretty high learning curve in my opinion. It is similar to wrestling/judo/boxing/muay thai in that way. And because of this, many people quit when it gets tough or they plateau.

Personally, I was the very worst one of the bunch when I began bjj in 2004 at college. Although compared to the world class competitors of today, I feel insignificant, I also feel that I made huge improvements and learned quite a lot about my own capabilities.

I've heard the saying "A black belt is simply a white belt that never quit", and definitely feel that there is some truth to that.

Above all attributes (athleticism, speed, strength, etc.), I would value the determination to train consistently above it all. Just my 2 cents.

Now here is an amazing no gi match between Wilson Reis and Justin Rader

Monday, June 6, 2011

Being the big guy

I personally have not had this issue that often, but being the "big guy" in training definitely makes things difficult.

Getting technical is easier for smaller guys mainly due to the fact that they LOSE when they make mistakes.

Bigger guys can begin to rely on strength when they make mistakes and often times can get away with them.

Other than bringing in other big guys to train, I think the best way for a big grappler to improve the fastest is for him to study the way an elite grappler (that is also big) moves from all positions starting from the guard.

Then the next step is to throw away the ego, and roll with everyone in class without using strength.

Believe it or not, a big guy with a developed guard is one of the most difficult things to deal with.

and now here is a Roger Gracie highlight. Probably the greatest heavy/big grappler of all time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

bjj for the streets?

This is a topic that is brought up constantly. A lot of martial arts claim that they are for the streets, but what does that mean?

First and foremost:

Getting into a fight on the streets, where its possible your assailant has a knife or a gun is just STUPID in my opinion.

But, going along those lines, what people really mean by that is fighting someone unarmed if its a life or death situation.

Let me repeat that: LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION

Assuming you actually care about your life, you would be dumb to use techniques that were considered 2nd best or 3rd best when a better option was available.

This means only training something that has been PROVEN to work statistically.

And yes, this eliminates most traditional martial arts that have been defeated with ease in sanctioned MMA fights (And vale tudo fights). If there were a circuit of literally fighting on the streets that were recorded statistically, I would look at that instead, but mma/vale tudo seems to be the closest thing.

Next would be the issue of mixing multiple disciplines up. What is the best way to fight if the fight is standing? What is the best way to get the fight to the ground? What is the best way to fight when on the ground?

This is a very methodical approach to how to train for fighting, and when you look at the evolution of fighters through trial and error, the answer is pretty clear:

Muay Thai
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Every single successful fighter nowadays trains the above 4 with equal emphasis on all the disciplines. The sub-par fighters are the ones who lack in an area.

now a video!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Which videos to watch?

There are a lot of internet videos floating around. Even though it is good to spend time watching as many instructional videos as possible, it is better to be smart with that time.

Which videos should be prioritized in terms of studying?

I think the following criteria should be met:

1) The person demonstrating the moves must be of a similar body type to you.
2) The person demonstrating the move must be the most accomplished in his field (credentials).
3) The set of moves being demonstrated should fit into where you are in the curriculum.

So to make a long story short,

Tall lanky guys, study the best tall lanky guys.
Short stocky guys should study the best short stocky guys.

Oh, and here is my favorite guard pass

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Getting started

So, let's get started.

Currently I teach brazilian jiu jitsu and also am a student at the same time. I feel quite fortunate in that I found what I am passionate about so early in my life.

At the time of this post, I am a purple belt with 2 stripes and 7.5 years of very consistent non-stop training.

One thing that became much more important in my eyes is the best way to teach someone brand new in bjj.

What is the best curriculum/order in which to get them prepared for tournament success as fast as possible?

In my opinion it is:

1) escapes from everywhere
2) guard work starting with half guard and open guard
3) passing and takedowns
4) transitions
5) submissions

It is a simplified view of a very complex system, however I believe that in my opinion, proficiency in that particular order yields the fastest results.

And btw, here is a very technical back take from deep half guard.