Traveling with jiu jitsu

Traveling with jiu jitsu: I always tell my students - when you learn jiu jitsu, you never walk alone , where you go, it goes with you. Kohai standout Matthew Tesla has a deep love of the Scandinavian countries and often travels there. This presents him opportunities to show our approach to the growing jiu jitsu community of these great nations. Recently Mr Tesla entered a local tournament in Sweden - The Nordic Open - featuring two divisions at 88kgs and 99kgs. He entered both despite being only 77 kgs himself. He won both divisions - eight matches in total, all via submission in the manner we prefer. Here is a fine standing entry to ashi garami followed by a nicely applied heel hook. Just as the martial arts monks of the old days walked the earth and took their skills with them to help those who needed it, so too, the modern jiu jitsu athlete must take his skills with him or her and help students wherever he visits if the sport is to grow and prosper.


The iron law of posture - FOR EVERY PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, THERE IS A POSTURE THAT MAXIMIZES YOUR ABILITY TO PERFORM THAT ACTIVITY WITH THE LEAST EFFORT AND MAXIMAL EFFICIENCY. In jiu jitsu and indeed, all efficient physical activity, EVERYTHING BEGINS WITH POSTURE. I assure you, ANY DEFICIENCIES IN POSTURE WILL COST YOU IN PHYSICAL EFFORT - as that cost increases, your performance will deteriorate through fatigue and the chances of your opponent successfully attacking will rise. If you are to make progress in the sport, you must make a deep study of the main scenarios you find yourself in and research the various postures that will form the foundation of success in those positions. The problem is that jiu jitsu is an extremely dynamic game - in just a short time there can be a vast number of different positions and scenarios and you must, if you are to maximize your performance, be able to switch seamlessly from one posture to another in response. THE INTERFACE BETWEEN POSTURE AND MOVEMENT PRESENTS A CHALLENGE IN LEARNING THAT WILL OUTLAST YOUR LIFETIME - it is oceanic in its scope and complexity - BUT IT IS THE ONE WHO NAVIGATES THESE DEEP WATERS BEST WHO WILL PREVAIL IN JIU JITSU. In the early stages of development in my students, I PUT FAR GREATER EMPHASIS ON POSTURAL INTEGRITY THAN INDIVIDUAL MOVES. A single move will always be of very finite value, but a posture-centric mindset will give birth to an infinity of well executed moves and create excellence far quicker than any given move. Here, ten year old Mikey Wilson and fifteen year old Nicky Ryan work their postural drills from seated butterfly guard, finding exactly how a given posture can improve or detract from their goals in that position - one in which they both already excel through this kind of training.


First - do no harm

First - do no harm: Students of medicine are often instilled with modern versions of the Hippocratic oath, which state that the basis of medical treatment is to first, do no (additional) harm to the patient on top of what he or she is initially suffering from. The same idea, with a little modification, is critical to success in fighting and jiu jitsu. In all combat sports - first - DO NO HARM TO YOURSELF FROM WHICH YOU CANNOT RECOVER AND GO ON FIGHTING. Fatigue and injuries are all part of competition, but CATASTROPHIC injury is a whole different thing. In this case the fight is over and no recovery is possible. Most accidental catastrophic injuries are the result of an athlete trying to avoid an undesirable outcome to a scramble/takedown/throw where uncontrolled moving body weight is involved. I always urge students to take the safe route of falling to their backs in a safe fashion in these cases - even if it means taking a position of disadvantage for a time or conceding points (or in Judo and some forms of wrestling - the match). The risks are tough for athletes to weigh - they want to maximize their chance of victory and are natural risk takers and they know that most of the time, injury will not be the result. The problem is that when injuries DO occur under these circumstances, they are horrific and fight ending. I prefer a safety first approach where athletes always defer to safe falling and then working out of whatever position they find themselves on the ground rather than subject themselves to massive physical forces to avoid a fall. Here a famous clash between Shogun Rua and Mark Coleman shows what happens when immensely powerful athletes crash to the floor in extended positions. Mr Rua knew that falling underneath Mr Coleman was undesirable and took the (understandable) risk of posting out an arm to prevent the takedown. However, the power of Mr Coleman's takedown completely broke the extended arm and the fight was immediately over. Pandemonium broke out in the ensuing confusion, but the result was clear. The original philosophy of the fathers of Brazilian jiu jitsu was survival first - victory second. In cases like this, their wisdom is apparent.


Big ambitions start small

Big ambitions start small: Very often I will be asked how athletes got to the high level of competition they currently work at. What many people are not aware of IS THE SMALL AND HUMBLE NATURE OF THE BEGINNINGS OF MOST GREAT ATHLETES. It is natural for them to make this mistake. Athletes are only noticed when they get to a certain level. All the myriad small, local trials and competitions they battled through to get to that level are unknown to the general public. This is the most natural and effective way for emerging athletes to work. START WITH SMALL, LOCAL CHALLENGES AND PROGRESSIVELY WORK YOUR WAY UP. So often I see talented athletes try to skip steps in the order of progression and end up with problems. People know the squad mostly through their success in high profile professional grappling events. Few are aware of just how many low level competitions against unknown locals they fought through prior to making it to the big stages. This was a very unglamorous but very necessary step in their road to success. The experience gained at the lower levels is of critical importance when fighting at the higher levels. So many times the squad would travel on their own dollar to obscure events in the tristate region to take on unknown opponents - all the while gaining competition experience and confidence that would one day provide the foundation to much greater goals. Many emerging athletes are in a rush to shorten this important start, or worse, bypass it altogether. Don't - do your time - gain your knowledge and experience and THEN move on. This is true also for non competitive jiu jitsu players. Make your goals in the gym PROGRESSIVE. Start with small goals and THOROUGHLY CONQUER THEM before moving on. In my experience, smooth progression in goals gains better long term results than giant leaps. Here a very young looking squad (I think Gordon Ryan is eighteen here) relaxes after matching victories in local tournament in New Jersey, one of a vast number that they entered around this time. It was at these local shows they laid the foundations of the game they took to the big stage


Kohai keep pushing forward

Kohai keep pushing forward: Kohai (junior) student, Oliver Taza had another outstanding performance at the Sapateiro Invitational event this weekend. He has four bouts - won all four by submission- including an impressive leg lock victory over EBI standout Josh Hayden. This was a real test test for Mr Taza, as he is a welterweight, but the event was for 195 pounders so he was a small competitor. This is exactly the kind of harsh tests the kohai must seek - it will give them the tough competition experience that is so valuable when fighting at the next level. Onwards and upwards" is the ethos in which the kohai must imbue themselves - that is exactly what Mr Taza is doing and that is why future success will come to him.


Seminar - Squad style

Seminar - Squad style: Today I went to teach our approach to jiu jitsu at the dojo of my close friend and Renzo Gracie team mate, Magno Gama in Astoria, Queens, New York. Mr Gama is one of Mr Gracie's original NYC black belts. He comes from the famous classes of the 1990's and came up with me under Mr Gracie, Ricardo Almeida, Matt Serra and Rodrigo Gracie. He was one of my favorite training partners and experimenters in the early days of the development of my leg lock system. He runs a great dojo in Queens New York where he teaches his talented students with passion and skill. Today I was ably assisted by Mr Eddie Cummings who wowed the crowd with some beautiful movements into leg attacks and triangle (sankaku) attacks. Mr Gama is an inspiration to his students. He came to America as a young man, found jiu jitsu, learned from one of its greatest teachers, took the great risk of opening up his school in one of the most competitive cities in the world, and through his talent and knowledge, created a body of dedicated students who impressed me on the mat today with their capacity to learn new skills. It was wonderful to see Mr Cummings demonstrate his mastery of sankaku- so often people think he only does leg locks - yet I watch him train every day and his triangle attacks are as good as anyone I have seen. Often students tell me that they cannot do triangle attacks because their legs are too short. Whenever I hear this, I use Mr Cummings as an example of an athlete with shorter legs who excelled in its use. Congratulations to Mr Gama on his incredible success with his school and the example of following a dream and through planning, hard work and patience - making the dream a reality


Orwell, war and jiu jitsu

Orwell, war and jiu jitsu: The great English writer, George Orwell, once defined warfare (he fought in the Spanish Civil war) as ninety five percent complete mundane boredom and five percent pure terror and fear. Those extremes are equally represented in jiu jitsu - though with TENSION and RELAXATION replacing boredom and terror. In sparring and competition, the majority of any given match should be fought in a state of relative physical calm and relaxation so as to conserve energy and create efficient movement. However, when the opportunity presents itself for a major advance or total victory - there must be a flip of the switch and total physical commitment to the move with big power outlays as long as it takes to get the job done or there is a possibility of follow up attacks should it fail. If it does fail, the switch must be turned off and a return to relaxed state must be made. This constant interchange between long periods of relative relaxation and short periods of maximal effort is a big part of jiu jitsu mastery. Learning to balance them is a great factor in determining your efficiency. Learning the physical skills of the sport is one thing - but putting them in the context of efficient pacing and tension levels is quite another. Here, Garry Tonon is seen in a moment of maximum tension as he applies a match winning heel hook on Zack Maxwell at a Metamoris event. The power of isometric tension and bodily extension is clearly evident here.


Appearance and reality

Appearance and reality: One of the best aspects of a life in the martial arts is the characters who surround us. A notable feature of many of these characters is the degree to which they appear quite harmless to the average person, but are absolute killers in reality. Most people put a great value on appearance as the basis of fighting ability, but if our time on the mat teaches us one thing - it is that appearances can be very deceiving! Sometimes appearances ARE accurate. Ryan Gracie looked like he could defeat an entire football team singlehandedly and could. However, his brother Renzo, my sensei, looks like a friendly fellow of average build who most people would overlook as a threat prior to fighting - yet he was every bit as deadly. I always remember the story of my student Eddie Cummings first trip to tristar gym in Montreal. Mr Cummings had been winning many local tournaments and was now in demand for seminars. I encouraged him to go to tristar - home of Georges St-Pierre, where many MMA fighters work out. On the day of the seminar, Mr Cummings arrived and saw the promotional poster in the wall. It featured a photo of him ripping a mans leg off and his nickname WOLVERINE SEMINAR" was used. Many people had come and now Mr Cummings went to the front desk and asked to go in to get changed into rashguard and shorts. The person behind the desk was used to MMA fighters with powerful physiques and Mohawks- he said "ok


Finding a match

Finding a match: One of the challenges in jiu jitsu is finding training partners with whom you have a good physical match and feel that you can move well together to learn and perfect the movement skills that will create progress in the sport. Imagine you entered a dojo where every single person was a massively muscular and strong three hundred and fifty pounds of athletic power . You are an average sized man. Learning would be a very difficult thing. In live sparring everyone would crush you and you would have a hard time practicing and perfecting the moves in such an environment- even avoiding injury would be a challenge. This is more or less the situation that most females and young pre-teens and teenagers often find themselves in. Their partners are so much bigger and stronger that they either don't apply strength at all out of politeness and concern (which makes for rather hollow training) or they go too rough and overwhelm the smaller student and crush their confidence, learning curve or body. One of the best matches to get around this problem which is particularly useful in a training room with low numbers of females, is to match young male pre-teens and teenagers with adult woman. This cuts the size and strength discrepancy considerably and makes for much more dynamic, realistic and challenging sparring for both parties. This method has often been used in Japan, where the female Olympic women's team often trains against a local boys high school team as preparation. Of course there are times when this is not necessary- some women have no problem whatsoever going with adult men in regular class and get their best results this way. Nonetheless, this matching of young, smaller males with adult females is often a useful training match to create good progress in many female athletes and young aspiring male athletes. It cures the common problem of size discrepancies creating sparring conditions that are either artificially soft or too rough and suppressive. Here, ten year old Mikey Wilson gets a great workout with Katya at RGA - both athletes get a good sense of unrestrained movement as they practice their strangling skills through a range of positions.


What a performance! There were quite a few outstanding performances among the many athletes at the recent west coast ADCC trials in California. One of the standouts was that of fifteen year old Nicky Ryan who competed brilliantly against very tough adult competition. Mr Ryan won every match he entered by submission except that against his team mate, Ethan Crelinsten, which he narrowly lost on points. Then he came back and win the last match for bronze medal by submission. It was not just the fact that he was submitting people - it was the manner in which he did it - excellent smooth entries, combination attacks into tight locks that showed early mastery of the game of control leading to submission. He he uses elements of our sankaku (triangle) system to get an impressive win. Sankaku is one of Mr Ryan's favorite finishes and you can see here he excels at it.