A fundamental distinction in joint locks - linear and twisting locks

A fundamental distinction in joint locks - linear and twisting locks: Joint locks can be divided into two broad families. The first are linear or straight locks. Common examples are juji gatame (armbar), ude gatame (straight arm lock) and hiza gatame (knee bar). These locks are probably the clearest and simplest examples of lever and fulcrum in the entire skill set of jiu jitsu. The second family are the twisting or rotational locks. Common examples are Kimura, Americana and heel hook. In general these locks tend to be more complex in nature. Often the relationship between lever and fulcrum is not so obvious and the forces involved are rotational. Athletes can have favorite moves, but I have always believed ALL athletes most excel in several linear and several rotational locks (you can’t only excel in linear or only in rotational). This is because very often the main escapes from a linear lock lead very naturally into a twisting lock and vice versa. Being able to switch mindset from linear to twisting and vice versa in the blink of an eye is thus very important. In addition, linear locks tend to work best on straightened limbs, whilst twisting locks generally work best on bent limbs - when you excel in both, you will be able to attack regardless of the extension, or lack of, in your opponent’s limb. Once students are made aware of the different nature and demands of these two families of joint locks, I find they usually have no difficulty working with both - but they should always be aware of the important mechanical differences between them in order to maximize their use of them. Here, I teach one of my favorite twisting locks - Kimura - to the students of Columbia University and run them through the various factors that enhance performance with this incredibly versatile hold.


A remarkable role model

A remarkable role model: A sad week at RGA headquarters in New York City - one of the most prominent and successful athletes and teachers Rafael “Sapo” Natal, will return to Brazil for a time to take care of family. Mr Natal’s story is one that should inspire anyone looking to work towards a dream. He learned jiu jitsu from his primary sensei, Draculino and came to NYC when he wanted to transition to MMA so he could work with Renzo Gracie. Working hard in a new country with new language and new culture is never easy, but Mr Natal attacked his goal with everything he had. In a short time he won a dedicated group of students and got into the worlds premier MMA organization, the UFC, where he had a very distinguished career. Mr Natal was beloved by students and workmates alike for his enthusiasm and drive and success. He always radiated an easy going charm while pushing people hard to do their best - his own example was a fantastic demonstration to the students. Last night he gave one of the most emotional and heartfelt goodbyes the academy has ever seen. What an honor to have worked alongside this outstanding young man for so long. He worked so hard and gave so much. He went through a long, complex and painful eye surgery after an injury. I never heard him complain, never saw him waiver from his goals - I only saw him work harder and inspire others to do the same. I am sure fate will bring him back soon to NYC, but I truly admire his decision to put family before self and get that done before he returns. Wherever fate takes him, the entire RGA staff and student body will always remember him as a real mensch - a true jiu jitsu man who represented himself and his team with distinction and honor. Wishing you the best @rafaelsaponatal from NYC


New challenges

New challenges: The ideal grappler would be one who was equally dominant in both gi and no gi competition, and could even do well in MMA. Obviously such a project is a long term one. Some of the squad members are making first steps in those directions. This weekend, Oliver Taza entered the Canadian Nationals at brown belt and won gold. Here he uses a variation of one of our favorite leg entry set ups, the reverse X guard, to enter into the legs and quickly finish an IBJJF legal knee bar (heel hooks are illegal in this format). It is a nice example of cross over between two different rule sets. Good to see Mr Taza making waves in gi competition while still striving towards his main competition goals


Alma mater

Alma mater: I had the pleasure of going back to my alma mater Columbia University to teach a jiu jitsu seminar yesterday. It was wonderful to see the amazing progress the students have made under the direction of club leaders Andrius Schmid and Jason Yang. Back in the 1990’s the club was started by Christian Barry, Matt Serra and myself. The sport was so different then! Mr Barry advertised the first class as “Brazilian fighting jiu jitsu and Vale Tudo” with a picture of a vicious fight from mounted position. Almost one hundred people showed up for the first class - every angry nut job and lunatic came out of the woodwork of Columbia and showed up in the wrestling room. The entire class immediately descended into a chaotic mass sparring session as dozens of repressed academic types with some kind of obscure martial arts background/fantasy went berserk on each other in a mass rage/ warfare scene that was pure comedy gold! Next class five bruised and scratched people showed up and the Columbia jiu jitsu club was born! Time has worked its magic and now it is a very big and well run club - I had a great time showing the gifted students there elements of the squad’s Kimura system and its links to other subsystems we routinely use in competition. It was wonderful strolling around the campus afterwards and reflecting upon the great influence of my dear mentor, Isaac Levi, my Ph.D supervisor, and his insights on research programs that I use every day - albeit in a context very different from what he expected. In the end, learning is learning, no matter what the context. I am so grateful to be able to take the gift of great teaching and mentoring I received and give a small amount back to a new generation of students, despite having completely changed paths in life.


Leg locks in MMA

Leg locks in MMA: I am often asked in whether leg locks are effective MMA competition. My answer is always the same - ANY OF THE MAJOR TECHNIQUES OF THE VARIOUS COMBAT SPORTS CAN BE APPLIED SUCCESSFULLY IN MMA IF PERFORMED WELL AND AT THE APPROPRIATE OPPORTUNITY - AND THEY CAN ALL FAIL IF PERFORMED POORLY OR AT AN INAPPROPRIATE TIME. The quality of the APPLICATION is far more important than the choice off technique (within reason). Tonight, Emmanuel Vera, a very talented junior member of the squad, took his leg locking skills into the cage and won his fight in just thirty seconds via Achilles lock. Great to see him training hard and getting the reward of victory. I have always studied and taught jiu jitsu with the notion of application to a real fight in the background. It is great to see some elements of our work getting seen in the context of MMA. Fine work by Mr Vera who continues to impress with his work ethic and results.


Angles for strangles

Angles for strangles: Nothing beats a strangle from the back to demonstrate clearly the founding principles of jiu jitsu. Positional control that renders even the most dangerous opponents relatively harmless, a submission that can go from fairly gentle all the way to rendering someone unconscious or worse in extreme cases, and one which a smaller person can reasonably expect to apply successfully against a much larger and stronger foe. The first question is always - how do I get there? It all begins with angle. In the most basic cases I MUST BE ABLE TO GET OUTSIDE MY OPPONENTS ELBOW - EITHER BY MOVING HIS ELBOW OR BY MOVING MYSELF AROUND THE ELBOW ( usually both at the same time). This will give me the angle I need to initiate a movement towards my opponents back. A common problem I see here is that students will gain an angle by successfully getting outside an elbow, but then hesitate and lose that momentary opportunity. A phrase that I often use with my students is this - if you can SEE the back, then you can TAKE the back. The most common ways you will be able to see your opponents back in a combat situation is if you get outside his elbow (eg an arm drag) or over his head (eg snap down) or inverted spin around or through his legs (eg berimbolo). As you enter these, or any equivalent move, there will be a moment where you can see the back - even just a small part of the back - and that is where you must move decisively and with purpose. As you spar, LOOK FOR THAT VISUAL CUE that signals opportunity and take it. Of course you will fail sometimes when you first try - that’s normal - but in time the visual cue will be followed by successful action and you will prove to be a dangerous opponent who can literally see opportunity and take it. Remember always that EVERY SUCCESSFUL PHYSICAL ACTION BEGINS WITH THE MENTAL ACT OF RECOGNITION OF OPPORTUNITY, WITHOUT WHICH THE ACTION NEVER WOULD HAVE EVEN OCCURRED. In time you will learn that you can take the back without even seeing the back - but at the start this is the single best way to get students going beyond angle and getting all the way to the best position in the sport. Photo @supersaiyanmagicalgirl


The Yerkes - Dodson law

The Yerkes - Dodson law: My entire approach to training athletes and preparing them for competition is based around a well known and very simple law described and tested around a century ago by two eminent psychologists, Yerkes and Dodson. Using rats as experimental subjects, they looked at arousal/stress levels imposed upon rats as they tried to learn skills. The results agree well with our basic intuitions in the matter. HUMAN PERFORMANCE AT ANY GIVEN TASK WILL VARY ACCORDING TO THE AROUSAL/STRESS LEVEL, FOLLOWING A PARABOLIC CURVE WHERE LOW AROUSAL WILL RESULT IN LOW PERFORMANCE. PERFORMANCE WILL RISE AS AROUSAL RISES, UNTIL A CRITICAL POINT IS REACHED WHERE AROUSAL/STRESS HAS NEGATIVE EFFECTS RESULTING IN LOWER PERFORMANCE LEVELS. We all have a basic sense of this. When we are apathetic and uninspired, we typically perform tasks poorly. As we become more stimulated by excitement, anticipation, we rise in performance. However, when stress levels reach into fear, shock and extreme nervousness, we fall down the other side of the curve into lowered performance. Subsequent research into the Yerkes-Dodson law revealed that simple tasks are less negatively affected by rising stress/arousal levels. Complex problem solving tasks are heavily affected by rising stress/arousal - as stress rises, performance drops significantly. As a coach, I must be mindful of this as I teach different aspects of the sport. Problem solving is usually done in a relaxed informal fashion after class. Simpler Tasks involving more straightforward physical effort are coached with more stress and arousal. Interestingly, as even complex tasks become more familiar to a student, they are less affected by stress/arousal. Occasional stress tests on a student will show me very clearly how well they have familiarized themselves with a given movement that I want them to excel in. It is well worth your time to familiarize yourself with this basic law of performance and look to see its effects upon your own performance and methods by which you train yourself to improve that performance level.


Divide and conquer

Divide and conquer: When practicing jiu jiu jitsu, ACTIVELY SEEK TO DIVIDE YOUR OPPONENT’S BODY AND USE YOUR WHOLE BODY TO CONTROL AND ATTACK SEGMENTS OF HIS BODY. This is one of the most fundamental directives of the sport. One of the very best ways to begin investigating this principle is from bottom half guard. A central feature of most variations of half guard is that THEY EFFECTIVELY DIVIDE THE BODY IN HALF AND SEEK TO USE YOUR WHOLE BODY TO CONTROL AND FIGHT HALF OF YOUR OPPONENT’S BODY. Here, I am working aspects of half guard control and positioning with my good friend, Tom DeBlass. You can clearly see that the very nature of the position creates a situation where half of his body is engaged by all of mine. Making this way of thinking central to your game is a key to your future progress - ALL GOOD JIU JITSU IS BASED UPON IT. If you don’t know where to start - BEGIN WITH BOTTOM HALF GUARD, as it is a very clear expression of the principle and has tremendous applicability to everyday training and sparring. Use it to learn the critical notion of selecting a part of your opponent’s body and through grip, movement and connection - owning it.


New directions

New directions: Exciting news today - Gordon Ryan signed an exclusive contract with the rapidly rising @acb_jj promotion from Russia. This team has done an amazing job of gathering the elite talent pool of current jiu jitsu and putting on first class tournaments around the world both gi and no gi featuring the best athletes in the sport in tournaments and super fights. Mr Ryan will compete initially no gi and then move to gi matches. This represents a major move for Mr Ryan as he will no longer to be able to compete in a wide array of different organizations as he has done his whole career thus far, but @acb_jj puts on many shows so he is hoping to keep his usual high volume of performances this year. The promotion has an interesting show format featuring ADCC and IBJJF rules, but with the twist of five minute rounds and no guard pulling in first minute. Should be very interesting! Mr Ryan is slated to first take on the very talented ADCC gold medalist Vinny Magalhaes. We always regarded Mr Magalhaes as one of the very best opponents the squad faced in EBI - should be an amazing match between two great world champions!


The return of the newly crowned champion

The return of the newly crowned champion: New featherweight EBI champion Jon Calestine came back today to see his old friends at squad headquarters RGA. He told us all the remarkable story of his victory. The whole adventure began on very short notice as his senpai Eddie Cummings had to pull out at the last minute due to an extremely severe flu. Mr Calestine has only resumed training recently after a severe shoulder injury last year and was quite clearly the smallest and lightest competitor in the field. He spent the week in LA alone and was then told to be ready to compete just two days prior to the event. His friend and mentor Matthew Kaplan had to fly out at the last minute or he would have had to compete without even a cornerman! Despite all the confusion and far from ideal preparation, he stepped up to the plate and delivered a near flawless performance in the true tradition of the squad - gold medal performance with blitzkrieg leg lock attacks to win the matches, the belt, the crowd and the shekels! It was so great seeing him return today and getting an ovation from the more than eighty athletes at the big RGA Monday afternoon class that produced so many squad members and sit next to other squad EBI champions and swap stories of success. Hats off to this talented young athlete who trained so hard, got the opportunity and ran with it! Here, “JC” proudly shows his EBI belt off to the entire class after a tough session. It was an inspiration to everyone in the room to be around that kind underdog success story and of course, wonderful to see a friend and team mate back in the basement telling us the whole tale and laughing about old times and talking technique. For all of you, my dear readers, you could not hope for a better example as you push towards your own goals and dreams, of a young man who trained with purpose and passion until when fate offered a chance - he had the skills and confidence to step up and shine!