Body Tension

Body Tension: Your ability to judge when to relax your body and when to lock it tight in maximal tension is a critical factor in your development in the sport. Tension in the body is absolutely necessary WHENEVER YOU ARE TRYING TO INHIBIT THE MOVEMENT OF YOUR OPPONENT. In most other cases it is undesirable, as it costs you greatly in endurance and efficiency of movement. The clearest examples of a time when you want to shut down your opponent’s movement is during the application of a submission hold - so unsurprisingly, this is a time when there ought to be considerable tension locking your body into the hold until the application is complete. This explains why failed submissions, particularly in long combinations, are among the most tiring aspects of a match. Learning to keep your body relaxed when you want to generate movement, and then switch to maximal tension when you want to lock the opponent down and complete a given move is a big part of your shift from beginner to expert. Jiu jitsu is a typically played out as long cycles of relatively relaxed periods interspersed with short bursts of maximum tension as critical moves are attempted. Just make sure those periods of great tension are kept short and spaced apart or you will quickly exhaust yourself. The most dangerous part of maximal tension is the natural habit most people have of HOLDING THEIR BREATH UNDER TENSION - be very careful - once you go into oxygen debt it is very hard to get out of debt under the stress of a tough match. Monitor your breathing careful and keep breathing even when your body is fully locked in a deep submission hold. Here, Georges St-Pierre shows an excellent degree of body tension as he locks in a tight inside heel hook in an inside sankaku variation of cross ashi garami. Notice that although his BODY is exhibiting strong tension, his FACE is not - this is usually a good sign that breathing is uninterrupted and that the tension is being applied in the correct places.


The iron law of competence and context

The iron law of competence and context: One of the most commonly asked questions I receive runs like this, “I love what the squad does in grappling competitions with leg locks, but would those leg locks work in MMA?” There seems to be an odd conception among many people that leg locks are somehow DIFFERENT from all other grappling techniques insofar as they are workable in grappling, but unworkable in fighting. I never hear people say for example, That arm-bars work in grappling but don’t work in MMA, or Darce strangles, or half guard passes etc etc. Here is a point so important it ought to be written in large bold letters on the wall of every jiu jitsu academy in the world - THE COMBAT EFFECTIVENESS OF ALL THE MAIN MOVES OF JIU JITSU, INCLUDING LEG LOCKS, IS NEVER DETERMINED BY THE MOVES THEMSELVES- THEY ALL WORK WELL - BUT RATHER BY THE COMPETENCE AND CONTEXT IN WHICH THEY ARE EXECUTED. The truth is, ANY jiu jitsu move can result in catastrophic failure if applied incompetently or at the wrong time or on the wrong person. This is just as true of arm bars and strangles as it is of leg locks. Worry less about your technique selection and worry more about your technique execution - do you perform it well? Do you select it at the appropriate time and against an appropriate opponent? Do you make the necessary adjustments to lessen the danger of striking technique being used as you apply it? Do you have a realistic follow up if it should begin to fail? These are the more important questions. Here, Outstanding MMA fight Joao Zeferino, who has trained regularly with the squad for a long time, shows great execution of heel hooks in MMA at WSOF lightweight Grand Prix in 2015, submitting to two opponents in one night, including MMA legend, Jorge “Macaco” Patino with fine technique well adapted for the different pressures of the cage


The higher you go....The higher you go in the sport of jiu jitsu, the less you will concern yourself with the standard techniques of the sport. Your first challenge when you begin jiu jitsu is to develop strong skills in the basic operations of the game - to develop skill in the basic MOVES. So for example, you work hard to develop a good arm bar, a tight triangle, a reliable elbow escape etc etc. By the time you get to a good level you will come to realize that in the majority of cases, THERE IS NEAR UNIFORMITY IN THE ABILITY OF MOST ATHLETES TO PERFORM THE BASIC MOVES OF THE SPORT. If you watch the current world champion perform a basic move, say for example, an arm bar from closed guard, there is little to distinguish it from a local black belt. At the higher levels, IT IS MUCH MORE ABOUT YOUR ABILITY TO OUTPERFORM OTHERS AT THE SET UPS AND PRECURSORS TO THE TECHNIQUES RATHER THAN THE TECHNIQUES THEMSELVES. Among competent black belts, EVERYONE has a strong arm bar, a strong kimura etc. What makes one stand out from the others is mostly about the small and subtle skills and tactics that enables him or her TO GET INTO A SITUATION WHERE THEY CAN ACTUALLY APPLY THAT MOVE. Due to the fact that the vast majority of your opponent’s defense to any given move comes from the integrity of his stance, the single most important skill at the higher levels becomes THE ABILITY TO SUBVERT, NEGATE AND DEGRADE YOUR OPPONENT’S STANCE - only then will you be able to actually apply the basic moves of the sport. Beginners must focus on moves, but as you gain in expertise, YOU MUST SHIFT YOUR FOCUS TO BREAKING YOUR OPPONENT’S STANCE AND STRUCTURE - only then will the opportunity to apply those moves arise. My teaching reflects this fact - moves are taught in great detail, but always embedded in a coherent system of preliminaries that make them work in competition.


Learning from a distance

Learning from a distance: You guys know I am a firm believer in the possibility of a mentor having a massive influence on the direction of your life even in a short meeting - Dean Lister played this role in my leg lock development - for me, he provided the spark from which the current leg lock blaze burns. I am also a tremendous believer in the power of self starting, independently minded individuals to see information from a distance and USING THAT AS A STARTING POINT, GO ON TO MAKE INCREDIBLE PROGRESS ON THEIR OWN OVER TIME. That is why I am so enthusiastic about teaching seminars and making instructional videos - I truly believe in their ability to make a difference in your grappling life. Here is an amazing example all the way from Australia. A few years ago I went to visit family and taught some impromptu leg lock seminars in Sydney and Melbourne - turn out and enthusiasm was fantastic. A young man named Jeremy @jeremypaulskinner came to one of them and impressed me with his movement and thirst for knowledge. Since then he went on to greatly develop his game, based on seminar notes, watching the senior squad members in action and most importantly, his own hard work. Now he teaches alongside Craig Jones at @absolutemmamelb Here he is the recent boa super 8 tournament in Australia demonstrating a perfect rendition of a classic squad maneuver into cross ashi garami utilizing double trouble to completely control his opponent into a fine finish! What a fine example of long distance learning married to hard work and initiative to get super results! Great to see this and I hope it drives you to be confident that an initial help can be the impetus to create something great within yourself and get you to your goals and dreams. Well done, Jeremy!


Stay compact

Stay compact: Probably one of the biggest problems beginners in jiu jitsu face is that of extending their bodies at times that make them very vulnerable to attack. Most of the fundamental postures of jiu jitsu, particularly the defensive ones, involve CONTRACTION of the body - spine rounded, elbows and knees tucked in tight. Learning to trust in this contraction as the best means of slipping your limbs INSIDE your opponent’s limbs as the most high percentage route to escape and evasion is a big step for the beginner in jiu jitsu. As you progress the problem will change from that of GETTING TO a safe contracted posture to that of MAINTAINING this strong posture throughout the course of a long tough match against a skilled opponent who is doing everything he can to subvert that posture - either way, learning and fighting to keep your limbs in tight at the appropriate time will be a constant theme of your training. Just as a good boxer constantly keeps his chin tucked, shoulders high and rounded to protect his jaw and elbows in tight to protect his torso when in danger; so a good jiu jitsu player puts his or her primary effort into sound defensive structure before anything else. Here, young Nicky Ryan presents me with a wall of knees and elbows that prevents me exploiting the angle I have gained. His well rounded spine will give him the mobility he needs to quickly recover his legs and square up to me so that he can immediately shift from a defensive cycle to an offensive one. Posture before all - and in defense - when in doubt - contract and pull everything in tight. Photo @supersaiyanmagicalgirl


Changing the leg lock game

Changing the leg lock game: Probably the single biggest influence on the leg lock game that myself and my students had was to promote the idea that the leg lock TECHNIQUES employed by an athlete were not as important as the overall SYSTEM of tactics, supporting techniques and mechanical details that actually make the basic techniques work repeatedly against skilled opponents; so that the standard leg lock techniques are seen as being only as good as the support system in which they are embedded. They say it takes a village to raise a child - well, similarly, it takes a system to land a heel hook. If that was the biggest influence - there is another that could well be a strong second place. When i first began a serious study of leg locks almost twenty years ago, the overwhelming majority of leg attacks were done from top position as a means of attacking someone who was playing from guard position. Thus leg locking was seen as contrary to spirit of jiu jitsu, which always strongly emphasized passing guard first and submissions second. The few people using leg locks at high level scored all their greatest successes from top position or standing position. What I did was to push the leg locking game from bottom position. Many popular and proven guard positions such as butterfly guard, X guard, half butterfly guard etc are based on inside position that can easily be adapted to ashi garami based leg locks. Using these inside control based guards as a starting point, I added the notion of kuzushi (off balancing) from guard position, rather than the standard idea of sweeping from guard. This forced opponents to base out wide with arms and legs and made entries into leg locks from bottom position very easy. You can clearly see that among all my students, the vast majority of their leg lock entries are from bottom position. This nullified the old criticism that leg locking was a bad idea because it would result in loss of top position if it failed. It also meant that people stopped seeing leg locking as a weapon to be used AGAINST guard position (anti jiu jitsu) and started seeing it as I do, as a weapon used FROM guard position that only makes jiu jitsu stronger.


How much can I really learn from a video? Quite often I am asked whether someone can learn technique from video instruction. An interesting insight into answering this question comes from my demonstration partner (Uke) in the new version of my leg lock instructional video. Placido Carl Santos was a great partner to film the series in Boston, where he trains with my black belt student, Travis Stevens. This weekend he entered a local grappling tournament and won via...leg lock! A very nicely applied heel hook sequence that he learned by having it demonstrated on him by me during filming! It is a good example of how I believe video instruction can greatly help a student and provide new directions in their mat work. Now, let’s be clear - watching a video and then doing nothing will do little to help you improve performance. What is need is TO GAIN INSIGHT, TECHNIQUES, AND TACTICS THAT IN CONJUNCTION WITH YOUR OWN PRACTICE CAN HAVE A DRAMATIC IMPACT ON YOUR SKILL LEVEL OVER TIME. Think of it as an extra teacher or mentor. Just as even the finest teacher/mentor will be unable to help you if you do not put time and effort into your training, neither will a video instructional. However, if you take that video as a teaching resource and work hard on the material i am extremely confident you will get great results. I base this confidence on my experience as an instructor. I was very fortunate to begin my training in the 1990’s with one of the best senseis in the world, surrounded by world champions, so I never needed outside help, but I knew MANY people who lived in other parts of the country with no teachers. They learned almost entirely from video instructionals and many had excellent results. Nowadays I often see visiting students come by RGA and exhibit skills they tell me they learned from online courses and demonstrate very good skills obviously learned from the various champions whose video courses they follow. Wonderful to see Placido show how he learned from being there at the filming of the video and wishing the best to the all long distance video students who follow their favorite jiu jitsu teachers spreading their message to a wider audience!


Handicapping yourself to make yourself better

Handicapping yourself to make yourself better: One of the most valuable methods of improving your skills is to handicap yourself in same way that forces you to adjust in some way that encourages skill development in other critical areas. I usually find that most beginning students are HAND and ARM dominant in almost every aspect of the game. This is a natural consequence of the fact that most tasks we perform in everyday life are predominantly performed with hands and arms. However this usual hand/arm bias is not acceptable in jiu jitsu. Trying to perform the moves of jiu jitsu with hands and arms quickly leads to fatigue and failure. THE SOURCE OF ALL POWER AND ENDURANCE IN THE HUMAN BODY IS IN THE LEGS AND HIPS. Only when you become leg and hip dominant in the performance of jiu jitsu moves will you excel. In the case of heel hooking, a simple test for me as a teacher as to whether or not a student is performing the move predominantly with legs and hips is to make him or her perform the heel hook with ONE HAND. This immediately forces the student to properly apply legs and hips in the move - they cannot compensate for failures in hip and leg work with their hand strength. When you can easily submit an opponent with a single handed heel hook, breaking an opponent with two hands is easy work. There are MANY ways to use this simple training principle in jiu jitsu. Use it often. It will teach you a LOT about how the other parts of your body are involved in any given move. When you remove the handicap and come after your opponent with full force they will feel the jump in performance you have made.


Re-release of LEG LOCKS

Re-release of LEG LOCKS: ENTER THE SYSTEM: Today BJJ Fanatics puts out the new and greatly improved version of my leg lock instructional video showing the complete approach to leg locking as it was taught to my students and used so brilliantly for so long by all of them. The first edition had some problems with audio quality so I completely re shot them and added almost two hours of new bonus content along with faster delivery of information. My intention is to change the nature of video instruction in this ENTER THE SYSTEM series. Instead of showing a few random moves I want to put out longer videos that package a complete set of moves IMBEDDED IN A CONCEPTUAL AND TACTICAL FRAMEWORK THAT ALLOWS YOU TO ACTUALLY GET THEM WORKING IN LIVE SITUATIONS IN A SHORT TIME. Because the videos are longer they can can function as a learning resource for years to come rather than be a “flavor of the month” superficial input. In addition you actually get FAR more minutes of instruction per dollar spent than a conventional video - twelve hours for two hundred dollars vs two hours for eighty dollars. The production quality is outstanding this time. It is free for anyone who bought it already and anyone buying now will also get the original as well for free. Hope you all enjoy the new look video and I look forward to seeing the skill level of leg locking massively increase around the world over the next few years!!! There is a link above in my instagram bio if it is something you are interested in.


Knowing what you want to do

Knowing what you want to do: Imagine a Genie came to you and said he would give you both a tremendous blessing and a tremendous curse. You ask him what the blessing is and he says, “ I will give you all the skills to accomplish whatever you want in life!” You are overjoyed at this wonderful news and the powers it will give. Then you ask, “So what’s the curse?” He replies, “ You will have no ability to decide what you want to do.” Will you ever accomplish anything with those new incredible skills of yours? No - not a thing. SKILLS CAN ONLY BE IMPLEMENTED WHEN YOU HAVE A NOTION OF WHAT YOU WANT TO DO. That is, A SENSE OF DIRECTION IS A NECESSARY PRECURSOR TO SKILL IMPLEMENTATION. So often I see people teach and learn jiu jitsu as though it were only a set of skills. THOSE SKILLS ARE ONLY AS USEFUL AS YOUR ABILITY TO CLEARLY IDENTIFY WHAT YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH. It is worthless to teach skills without giving an athlete a general sense of direction so that he or she can actually put them into operation. That is why I always imbed skills in general tactical plans. The best way to do this is in short and simple sequences that give order and direction to the skills. So for example, in ashi garami based heel hooking skills, there are four basic tasks arranged in a sequence that are necessary for the successful completion of the move. First, you have gain entry and connection to the opponent’s legs and hips. Second, you have to expose the heel. Third, you have to negate the various lines of resistance, usually by undermining the defensive potential of the secondary leg. Then last, break the opponent. When the athlete is absolutely clear conceptually as to what needs to be done - he or she will naturally exhibit the skills they have trained to get it done. CONFUSION AT THE LEVEL OF DIRECTION WILL ALWAYS PARALYZE THE STUDENT AT THE LEVEL OF EXECUTION. Here, Gordon Ryan has clearly formed a solid connection, exposed the heel of Keenan Cornelius, compromised resistance by interfering with secondary leg - all that remains is to go for the finish. Crystal clear sense of direction creates quick and positive action- one without the other is worthless.