Senpai and kohai

Senpai and kohai: One of the strongest elements of dojo instruction is the relationship between juniors and senior students. When i was beginning jiu jitsu I had three senpai, Ricardo Almeida, Matt Serra and Rodrigo Gracie. All three were world champions and all three were wizards on the mat whose every training session was downright inspirational to us juniors. It is natural for any beginning student to doubt the effectiveness of the techniques he or she is shown. When you first learn them, they seem difficult and convoluted- impossible to perform on a resisting training partner, let alone an actual fight. More than anything else it is the senpai who create that confidence by providing everyday living proof of the effectiveness of the techniques by using them successfully with skill and elan upon the juniors and beginners. Nothing builds faith in technique better than having them used upon you in a way that makes you feel helpless. This, more than anything else, creates the belief that it works, that you want to possess it and that if someone else can get to that level, then so can you - the three most important beliefs a beginner needs. When i build a room, I invest heavily in instruction of the class senpai. They will always provide much of the backbone of the training rooms ability to create a tide in which all can rise. Here, Nicky Ryan, outstanding kohai, watches his senpai, Garry Tonon, go through his shoot boxing drills - watching, learning, getting inspired in ways that will boost his own performance tomorrow. Photo @supersaiyanmagicalgirl


I teach jiu jitsu backwards

I teach jiu jitsu backwards: Jiu Jitsu always occurs in a SEQUENCE. The most common sequence begins by taking the opponent to the ground, then getting past his dangerous legs, then working through a hierarchy of pins that put increasing pressure on the opponent; and then finally, using that pressure finish with a submission hold. Most teachers of the sport teach in a way that reflects that fundamental sequence. Usually I do too. Most of the early lessons concern getting people to the floor, getting past the legs and working through various pins. Submissions are taught as the end of a long chain of events - the icing on the cake as it were. As such, the majority of training time is spent ON THE PRECURSORS TO SUBMISSION. I think in a standard class this approach makes the most sense for a wide cross section of students. When an athlete comes to me with ambitions to be a champion however, I teach very differently. I BEGIN WITH THE END GAME - SUBMISSIONS. I put an extreme emphasis upon THE DARK ARTS OF BREAKING AND STRANGLING. I look to create a student who has tremendous confidence in their ability to finish an opponent should they be able to get into a finishing position. THIS CREATES A MINDSET IN THE STUDENT TO HUNT RUTHLESSLY AND PERSISTENTLY FOR SUBMISSIONS AT ALL TIMES. If a student does not truly believe they are capable of breaking or strangling an opponent, how hard do you think they will push for the finish in competition? But if they truly believe they can finish anyone given the chance, THEY WILL FIND A WAY TO GET TO A FINISHING POSITION OR DIE TRYING. This creates a very different type of athlete, with a very different mindset and approach to the game. Rather than see submissions as an afterthought to a sequence, try to see them as the very soul of our sport and adjust your training regimen accordingly, even if just for a time - I am certain you will find it a fascinating and rewarding change.


Jiu Jitsu and humor

Jiu Jitsu and humor: Anyone who has trained for even a short length of time in jiu jitsu or any other combat sport will tell you that sometimes the grind can be rather taxing. All combat sports have a high attrition rate - jiu jitsu is no exception. I find that humor is probably the single best means of students bonding together and with their teacher. When I teach, I try to use humor as a means of making an important point memorable. We tend to remember something that made us laugh. I also like to see students joking about the game, themselves and each other after class - that’s usually a healthy sign that they are getting along well and building the camaraderie that is essential to a long lasting and unified room. Visitors are quite often shocked at the constant pranks, off color jokes, teasing and taunting that we engage in after class - almost nothing is off limits. Of course this is a serious game where the success is measured in the capacity to break peoples limbs and strangle them in a highly competitive setting - so during training time it has to be all business. Finding the compromise between work and fun takes time and varies from gym to gym. The value of humor to make important information memorable and to build camaraderie cannot be underestimated - but too, the danger of letting a room descend into a clownish atmosphere that can kill progress cannot be underestimated. Ultimately you will have to judge whether you have gotten the balance right by the results of the students and there retention of information and their willingness to stay in the program. When students think of their training as a fascinating, frustrating puzzle to be solved that improves them and their lives in a way that few others can, and brings a smile to their face when friends and acquaintances ask them about why they train - then you have probably found the right balance. Photo @stephaniedrewsphotography


Any given Monday

Any given Monday: Teaching the big Monday afternoon class at RGA is always a source of joy and pride to me. It began mostly as a no gi grappling class that had a strong element of MMA ground skills woven in. On any given Monday you could see a large number of MMA athletes mixed with jiu jitsu players working their skills in the floor. One day ace jiu jitsu photographer Luca Atalla was taking pictures at caught this fairly typical scene from years ago - Georges St-Pierre, the great Roger Gracie, Romulo Barral, Gregor Gracie, a VERY young looking Garry Tonon and his mentor Tom DeBlass, along with Shawn Williams and my dear Sensei Renzo Gracie, surrounded by sixty other people in the room. Everyone was getting ready for upcoming matches - some MMA (if I remember correctly this was prior to St-Pierre/Condit) some jiu jitsu - but it is great looking at these old images of the titanic wars that were fought every Monday as the athletes fought towards their goals. It has been my privilege over the years to watch so many of the greatest jiu jitsu and MMA athletes test the ideas and concepts I teach and give the best possible feedback that made it easy for me to see what was working, what was not, what could be improved and what should be abandoned. I could not have had a better group of people over two decades to develop ideas and theories and test them in such a harsh proving ground.


Teaching via heuristics

Teaching via heuristics: When I teach I try hard to find a satisfactory compromise between precise details, which are necessary for efficient application of techniques; and HEURISTICS - general “rules of thumb” that give the athlete a broad insight that guides the DIRECTION of their techniques. For example, I could sit in front of you all day and teach a thousand details on variations of ashi garami. Some would be of great value, many would have less value. However, none will have as much immediate value to you as a general heuristic that points you in the right direction in the overwhelming majority of applications and is simple enough to learn once and you will never forget it, you can use it tomorrow and it will never let you down. So if I say, “The athlete whose feet dominate the inside position will always dominate the ashi garami game,” this is a simple heuristic that I push upon all my athletes and which guides so much of their behavior in a simple and memorable way that can guide them for a lifetime. Of course, the heuristic must be backed up by technical details and a training program - but it’s the fundamental insight that can change more than behavior- it can change your way of thinking about the leg game and get you thinking independently about where to go from there. Here, Nicky Ryan shows the benefits of good inside positioning, a skill at which he excels, as he enters a variation of ashi garami in a tough session at RGA.


The four mechanical pillars upon which my approach to jiu jitsu is Based

The four mechanical pillars upon which my approach to jiu jitsu is Based: A huge part of my approach to jiu jitsu is based around what I believe are the four most important mechanical underpinnings of the sport. These are:

1 - The principle of LEVER AND FULCRUM
2 - The principle of the WEDGE (inclined plane)
3 - The principle of DIRECTIONALITY OF FORCE
4 - The principle of KUZUSHI (off balancing) Through the lens of these four mechanical principles I see most of the sport of jiu jitsu.

Everything I teach, every question I ask, and every answer I offer, will make reference to at least one of these principles. Lever and fulcrum are widely talked about. They are force multipliers that can make the weakest man strong. Wedges are used to immobilize and inhibit or direct movement (among other things) - think of a humble little door stop that can hold any door open even in a hurricane. With regards your own force, a fundamental measure of its efficiency and effect will be the degree to which you apply the force in the appropriate direction. So often we apply large amounts of force in the wrong directions, when a much smaller force in the right direction would have garnered much better results. Kuzushi (off balancing) refers to our capacity to move an objects center of gravity beyond its base of support and destabilize it to create openings for attack. Kano wisely saw the value of this in standing positions. One of my biggest goals is to extend its use into bottom position ground grappling where it can play a tremendous role in advancing our bottom game. I teach jiu jitsu as a primarily mechanical enterprise, backed up by biomechanical and tactical elements. In the future I will talk more about these critical notions. Show me any move in the sport and I will show you how at least three of these four concepts are involved in its operation. Once you learn to observe the sport through these concepts you will see a very different sport indeed. Three of these four mechanical underpinnings have been widely discussed for generations - but the principle of the WEDGE has never been emphasized in jiu jitsu. One of my primary goals as a teacher is to change this.


Techniques and principles

Techniques and principles: The underlying PRINCIPLES of jiu jitsu (and indeed, all combat sports) are as fixed and unyielding as the night sky, rooted as they are, in the unchanging strengths and weaknesses of the mind and physical body of man. The TECHNIQUES of jiu jitsu, on the other hand, change with the rapidity of the waters of a river, since they are the result of the restless minds of men, who endlessly seek out innovation, change and study in order to gain competitive advantage over each other. Excellence in jiu jitsu must always involve study of both. Once learned, the principles will provide the unmoving bedrock upon which your understanding of the sport will be based. Technique on the other hand, you will have to continually update and adapt as it evolves around you.


Doing time

Doing time: Whenever you start of a new enterprise there is a period where you have to start off at the bottom and “take your lumps.” A well run and progressive training program can shorten this time, but can never eliminate it. It is up to the athlete to work through it as long as necessary until his or her stint is over. I see this all the time, even in grappling. We all want new skills, but they don’t come overnight. There has to be several attributes in the athlete if he or she is to get through the frustration of the early learning process. First, patience, Second, resilience and third, faith. Patience to let time work it’s magic, resilience to take the early knocks and go the distance required, and faith that a program will create in time the changes needed to take you to your goals. All of us have to do our time. Not just at white belt, but every time we incorporate new techniques and tactics into our game. That ability to endure these times is the key to progress. Here, Garry Tonon does his time just a couple of months into MMA training with the formidable Jake Shields. Photo @supersaiyanmagicalgirl


Ryan brothers getting recognition

Ryan brothers getting recognition: This weekend the Flograppling awards for 2017 were announced. Squad standouts, Gordon and Nicky Ryan were rewarded for an outstanding year. Nicky Ryan won juvenile grappler of the year after double bronze at USA ADCC senior trials and going on to be the youngest entrant in the history of ADCC world championships at just sixteen years of age. Big brother Gordon Ryan won the award for best no gi submission of the year with his superlative guillotine variation upon the great Keenan Cornelius to win ADCC gold as part of the biggest medal haul in a debut performance in the history of the event. We are all so proud of these two brothers and deeply impressed by the dedication and hard work they put in to get these awards. Interestingly, RGA had two nominations for juvenile of the year. Fellow sixteen year old phenom, Rayron Gracie was also nominated. My sensei, Renzo Gracie, and I are very happy indeed to see the future of the academy so strongly represented by these two outstanding youngsters.


Rash guards - Part 2

Rash guards - Part 2: Now it’s time for a rash guard story that may change the minds of some of the vast numbers of rash guard doubters out there...I am an admirer of the great MMA fighter Jose Aldo - any time he fights, I’m watching. The night he fought Uriah Faber, I wanted to see it. I don’t own a television, so I suggested to a bunch of my students that we go to a sports bar on the upper east side of Manhattan and watch it live and watch the great man at work. As always, I was running a little late and came in wearing my usual attire and began looking around for our table. Now my students and I actively seek out every opportunity to prank/ridicule/make fun of each other, my general weirdness gives them lots of raw material to work with! The entire group of them had dressed in rash guards and Fanny packs! As I sat down there was a noticeable look from pretty much the entire bar as they all simultaneously asked the question, “who the f**k are these dorks and why are they dressed in those gimp outfits?” We all started laughing and started to watch the show. Out of nowhere groups of women started coming up to our table and asking who we were and why were we dressed like that? Were we a sports team? Cyclists? Triathletes? Lunatics? Morons? Suddenly our table was neck deep in curious babes and hotties and the Jose Aldo fight was completely forgotten Every single one of my students got multiple phone numbers and action out of that escapade! (I was the only failure ) The dudes at the bar were furious and could not understand how a bunch of dorks in wet suits who looked like they had beamed down from the deck of the starship Enterprise had gotten all the female attention So, who knows...maybe you doubters ought to give it a try...my rash guard system worked as well for my students as my leg lock system...perhaps it can work for you too!