Composure

Composure: There are many important attributes that athletes must possess if they are to rise to the top echelons of competition. One attribute that I attach great importance to, but which does not get much attention in most people's minds, is COMPOSURE. The reason I value it so highly is because I see jiu jitsu first and foremost as PROBLEM SOLVING ACTIVITY. It is awfully difficult to solve complex problems in a state of mental exhaustion or chaos. Having a clear mind is the prerequisite to identifying a problem and searching for ways to overcome it. Many people identify combat as a battle of WILLS. The person who wants victory more will take it. Whilst I agree that there definitely is a contest of wills, the MEANS by which that contest is decided is typically through one persons superior ability to create problems for their opponent while solving those problems the opponent creates at a faster rate than the opponent can. This is best done by maintaining a level of composure that facilitates thinking, whether it be conscious thought, or semi conscious reflexes honed by training. It is thus of the first importance that in your gym training, you train this attribute of composure just like you train other attributes such as strength, speed, flexibility, tactical aggression or passivity etc etc. I often find students really struggle with developing composure. We all have natural instincts in stressful situations. In combat, these often push us in the direction of maximum effort/aggression in ways that preclude thinking/problem solving. The result is a short period of thrashing about followed by exhaustion leading to greatly diminishing performance as time passes. We all put great value on developing our physical attributes - but you may be pleasantly surprised how much more successfully you can use those physical attributes when you work equally as hard to develop your mental attributes alongside them. Begin with composure - for only then will your physical actions be governed by a mind that is calm enough to actively seek to solve problems rather than fight instinctively. Here, 15 year old Nicky Ryan shows great composure while hunting for another submission


Guard passing and submission only tournaments

Guard passing and submission only tournaments: Quite often I am asked if the skill of passing guard - the skill of getting past your opponent's legs and into upper body pins - is a worthwhile skill for someone interested in submission only tournaments. The idea here is that in a tournament without points scoring, it is not worth the effort of passing guard because one does not receive points for doing so. Accordingly, it might seem a better idea just to go straight to leg locks where there is some chance of outright victory via submission. My answer to this is very clear. It is definitely worth your while to work hard on your guard passing skills and apply them EVEN IN SUBMISSION ONLY MATCHES WHERE GUARD PASSING SCORES NO POINTS. The reason is simple - only when an athlete has well developed guard passing skills can he or she distribute their submission attacks OVER THE WHOLE BODY. The moment you limit your attacks to one part of the body (legs) you have become predictable and thus less likely to break through a skilled opponents defense. As a general rule, I prefer to see my athletes attacks legs predominantly from bottom position. When on top, I like to see them initiate with hard passing work - even in submission only tournaments - so that the whole body becomes a target, rather than half of it. This ensures that an opponent will find it difficult to put anticipatory defenses in place. An unfortunate consequence of the success of my students with leg locks in competition has been a misunderstanding guard passing skills are not necessary for submission only tournaments - this is, in my opinion, a major error. Here, Gordon Ryan works hard to pass the guard of one of his most formidable opponents, powerful world champion Yuri Simoes, in a submission only EBI tournament Photo by Blanca Marisa Garcia


Confidence may be a mental attribute, but it's birth is physical

Confidence may be a mental attribute, but it's birth is physical - the hours, months and years of training that create superior technique which leads to victory. The first victories will be small, unheralded gym victories, seen by no one other than yourself. As those small victories accumulate they will be replaced by ever bigger victories until an unshakable faith in your ability walks within you and people call it confidence. Yes - in its mature form it is a mental attribute, but never forget that its infancy was physical.


Coming back

Coming back: One of the toughest things for a professional athlete to deal with is coming back to his or her sport after an extended lay off/retirement. During that time off two things happen. First, there is an inevitable decline in the athletes performance without the incentive for growth spurred by upcoming competition. Second, the sport itself progresses forward in the athletes absence as new athletes uncover new avenues to victory. The combination of these two makes a successful comeback a very difficult thing - the longer the lay off, the tougher the task. An interesting feature of this weekends match between the great Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor was that Mr Mayweather was coming back after a two year absence. There were several moments where that lay off seemed to be evident as his overall movement quality was not as high as it normally is. History shows many examples of both success and failure in coming back. One of the great successes was that of the great Sugar Ray Leonard coming back after three years to take on the formidable Marvin Haggler. He took a controversial victory and showed it could be done even against the very best opponents. On November 4th at Madison Square Garden, George's St-Pierre will take on Michael Bisping after a massive four year lay off. Not only is the time off a problem, he will fight at a heavier weight class. This will surely be the most difficult comeback project I have ever been involved in. The success or failure of comebacks is often related to the amount of training the athlete has engaged during the time off, their motivation levels coming back in and the physical state of their health. Mr St-Pierre never got out of shape in retirement and has trained well throughout. He is very motivated to try the challenge of the bigger weight class. The two biggest problems will be his health (two major knee operations and recent eye issues leading to surgery) and the degree to which the game itself has evolved in his absence. Due to the relative youth of MMA as a sport, it changes and evolves with great rapidity. This will be a fascinating camp, played out among the warnings and inspirations of past comebacks.


Reflections on the big show

Reflections on the big show: As is usually the case, most people are focused upon the RESULT of the Mayweather/McGregor bout last night. The truth is, to anyone familiar with both sports, the RESULT was never in serious doubt - all rounders generally don't step into the domain of a refined specialist and beat them in that domain. The result was never the interesting feature of this bout. What IS interesting is the ramifications of the MMA vs boxing debate. As I have seen so many times in similar match ups in the gym, the MMA athlete did quite well early in the match and can create a competitive first few rounds. However, there is a dramatic difference in energy expenditure on the part of the MMA athlete versus the more efficient boxer. As such, there is an inevitable change over as the match progresses. Mr Mayweather was doubtless aware that this would occur and waited patiently for the mid/later rounds to switch from a passive game to one of forward aggression. What has become clear however, is this - ELITE MMA ATHLETES ARE CONSIDERABLY BETTER EQUIPT TO HANDLE A BOXERS GAME THAN BOXERS ARE TO HANDLE AN MMA FIGHTERS GAME. There is almost no chance an elite boxer could get to a tenth round with an elite MMA athlete. Even if the bout permitted kicks and elbows/knees in the clinch, the outcome would almost certainly be different. If takedowns and ground work were allowed it would be over in seconds - any one of the innumerable clinches in the fight would be an immediate takedown from which a boxer is extremely unlikely to recover. Mr McGregor may have (predictably) lost the bout, but he won something much bigger. He showed that the endless criticism of MMA in standing striking over the years is grossly exaggerated. At elite levels they are highly competent and can provide a good match for a time with even the best boxers in the boxers domain. The daring Irishman may have lost a bout, but he won the cultural war between boxing and MMA and showed clearly that he can do far better in their domain than they can in his. For the courage, self belief and skill it took for him to do that, he can always count me as a fan


Tonight is the biggest fight show of the year - a fight that has been dismissed by many knowledgeable pundits as farcical but which has nonetheless garnered more viewer interest than any boxing event in a very long time. On the face of it, this is a huge mismatch. Mr Mayweather is unquestionably the finest boxer of his generation and arguably of all time. He is both a master technician and a master tactician in the ring who has made the best boxers of his time look ordinary when matched with him. Mr McGregor is an an outstanding MMA fighter with an amazing penchant for proving doubters wrong. In truth however, this project would be the equivalent of having Mr McGregor compete in an IBJJF jiu jitsu tournament in a gi against say, Rafa Mendes - do you really think he would prevail against Mr Mendes under these conditions? My experience of watching very good MMA athletes spar against elite boxers in the gym is always the same - they are quite competitive for the first 3-4 rounds and do surprisingly well. Then around the 5th round the elite boxer begins to figure out the unorthodox or awkward movement and begins to employ ring craft tactics to tire the MMA athlete by making him work harder than he is, making him miss punches etc etc. around the 8th round a very noticeable shift occurs where the elite boxer takes over. I expect a similar pattern tonight- though probably taking less time, given the incredible skill level of Mr Mayweather. Mr McGregors only advantages are youth and size, but heavier punches are not much use if they are thrown at a target that can't be hit, and Mr Mayweather is as always, in fine shape and has never tired in a fight. I would consider it a fine victory for Mr McGregor if he survived 12 rounds and had some competitive rounds among them. Like most people, I love to see an underdog take on impossible odds and win, so my heart is with Mr McGregor, but my mind knows this is exceedingly unlikely. In a world of uncertainty I will offer you one certainty that I truly believe - however well Mr Mcgregor does in tonight's boxing match, I ASSURE YOU IT WILL BE MUCH BETTER THAN MR MAYWEATHER WOULD DO IN A REAL FIGHT AGAINST MR MCGREGOR.


Pioneer

Pioneer: Probably the most challenging assignment for a jiu jitsu coach is to go into an area that has no jiu jitsu background and start a program from the ground up to produce good athletes and a jiu jitsu culture. The fruit of that culture can expand the sport and over time, convert naive students into knowledgeable teachers who can in turn create new students and a sustainable expansion of the art in what was once a place devoid of jiu jitsu. My sensei, Renzo Gracie was a true pioneer. He came to the United States when there was almost no knowledge of jiu jitsu. I still remember him having to tell us in beginners class that being bottom mount and bottom guard position were not the same and that one was desirable and the other was not! Yet from those unpromising beginnings he forged a very large body of students that now sustain themselves and contributors the sport in ways that would have seemed impossible twenty five years ago. One of my favorite jiu jitsu pioneers is Mauricio Gomes, one of only a handful of men promoted to black belt by Rolls Gracie and father to the greatest jiu jitsu exponent of all time, Roger Gracie. He is in many respects, one of the fathers of BJJ in England. He and his son, Roger have produced a great number of talented athletes in a country that got a relatively late start in the sport of Brazilian jiu jitsu. Our recent trip to England was more than just a chance to catch up with Mr Gomes- it was also a chance to see just how far jiu jitsu has progressed on English soil. There are many more schools and students than even just a few years ago, and the level of skill is rapidly rising. Here I talk to Mr Gomes about his incredible achievements in Great Britain and his plans for the future. I have always said of British jiu jitsu, they may have started later than others and with fewer instructors, but the black belts they got, spearheaded by Mauricio Gomes, Roger Gracie and Braulio Estima, were the very best they could have hoped for. With these outstanding men at the helm and the rapid growth of the sport, I have a feeling English and European jiu jitsu will be a power house in a short time!


Strength begets strength

Strength begets strength: ADCC world championships camp. The squad is working hard on new skills. The slog of training is always at its toughest about half way through. Days just seem to blend into each other and the aches and pains mount rapidly. Much of what gets the athletes through is the camaraderie among them. Shared suffering is easier to bear than lonely suffering - but most important of all is a sense of purpose. Purposeless suffering will break in a man in a matter of hours- but if a man has a purpose that he holds dear, he can endure any conditions indefinitely. Keeping the athletes eyes open to their end goal is critical in these hard weeks where the body and mind are put to trial. Here, Gordon Ryan goes through another tough workout with teenage sensation and world champion, Rayron Gracie, son of Ryan Gracie. Both have a tremendous future the extent of which, like all of us, will be determined by their ability to cope with the pressures of training and preparation by remaining focused as much on where they want to be in the future as where they are now.


Roger and me

Roger and me: Last weekend the squad went to London to compete in Polaris grappling, winning all three matches. London is the base of one of my greatest friends in the sport, Roger Gracie, who, along with his great father, Mauricio Gomes, teaches jiu jitsu in England's greatest city. At Polaris, the squad met up with Mr Gracie and Mr Gomes in the warm up room as we got ready. I asked Mr Gomes if he would like to assist in cornering the squad - I have always found his insights very illuminating and instructive and he has a good calming presence about him in the hectic atmosphere before a match starts. Suddenly Mr Gracie excused himself and said he had to go. The staff of the show advised us that it was time for Oliver Taza to go out and begin his bout. Mr Taza was scheduled to fight the outstanding British black belt Ross Nicholls, who is widely considered the best British black belt and has won many British and European titles. Oliver is a brown belt (he should actually still be a purple Belt according to IBJJF Regulations) but trains very hard and has made great progress in a short time. Last time they met, Mr Taza won via heel hook. When we went down to the stage I was shocked to see Mr Gracie in Mr Nicholls corner - and Mr Gracie was equally shocked to see me in Mr Taza's corner!! Neither of us had any idea that the opponent was one of our students! We just laughed and wished each other luck. It was an unexpected honor to corner against the greatest jiu jitsu player of all time - the best part is that Mr Gracie's father was in our corner! It was a great match between two very impressive youngsters, arguably the best of the night. Mr Taza prevailed that night with positional play - he could not get a submission breakthrough against a much improved Mr Nicholls - but it gave me a wonderful coaching memory of cornering against one of my best friends with the help of his dad! Here we are laughing about the confusion afterwards and enjoying the rest of the show. In the near future I want to talk about Roger Gracie's online teaching platform - I sincerely believe it offers an unprecedented opportunity for students to learn the highest level jiu jitsu


Sometimes when you win...you lose

Sometimes when you win...you lose: Garry Tonon came back to the gym immediately for training after his victory in Polaris Grappling over the weekend - an admirable action to be sure. He had tired of his blonde frosted haircut meant to parody his rival Dillon Danis and tried to dye his hair black - unfortunately his hair dying skills do not match his grappling skills and today he showed up with blue hair!! Nice work champ #youmayhavewonthebattlebutdillonwonthewar