Put some venom in it!

Put some venom in it! Most of my job is getting performance increases in Jiu Jitsu athletes. By far the biggest part of that job is increasing skill levels and improving tactics. As such I put a high value on technical nuance and sophistication among the people I teach. This is reflected in class where praise is usually directed to the pupils making the gains in technical performance. Most of our sparring tends to be very controlled with a big emphasis on excellence of execution. Nonetheless when it’s time to shine on the big stage one has to go beyond technique and start talking about INTENTION. When you have to derive maximum performance from a given move there is an ineffable element that comes from the intensity of intention that you bring into the move. There is a BIG difference between sparring with someone who is calmly going through the mechanics of a heel hook versus someone who comes at you with the real intention of breaking your leg. Mental intention creates a unity of purpose in your body that creates a more powerful physical action. You don’t want to train all the time with this, since training is more about physical refinement, but it’s nice to add it into the mix periodically to see how much more more venom you can add to the moves you practice every day. Here, Garry Tonon puts some venom into an arm drag - a move he practices every day in a relaxed fashion, but the extra spice added here turns it into a powerful vortex that took his opponent to the mat in the blink of an eye. Technical perfection plus hard intention creates an unstoppable and intimidating move.

Who is on top of who?

Who is on top of who? If you look at this picture it seems obvious that Jake Shields has top position on Gordon Ryan. A deeper look at closed guard reveals that in fact, the bottom players HIPS are actually on top of other fellows hips and legs. The top player certainly has UPPER BODY top position, but as long as the top player remains on his knees, the bottom player has LOWER BODY top position. This has tremendously important ramifications. It means that any sweep from this position will result not only in a reversal, but a reversal to MOUNT, since closed guard is simply an upside down mounted position. It also means that any submission you can apply from mount, can be applied from bottom closed guard. The major upper body submissions of Jiu Jitsu are NEUTRAL WITH REGARDS TOP OR BOTTOM POSITION - all they require is that your HIPS BE ABOVE YOUR OPPONENTS HIPS. As such closed guard is a potentially devastating position for upper body submissions whilst your opponent cannot even get started on upper body submissions until he gets his hips and legs out from under yours - a clear tactical advantage for the bottom player. In a grappling match (less so when striking is allowed), Never underestimate the power of top hip position - even when your opponent has the more superficial upper body top position. Learning to value the remarkable power of top hip position from closed guard bottom is a big part of your journey to develop a devastating bottom game in Jiu Jitsu.

The most readily available move in the sport - front headlock

The most readily available move in the sport - front headlock: Jiu Jitsu is a sport that prioritizes getting close to your opponent and getting to grips with him. As such there is a a lot of aggressive forward movement towards an opponent and a lot of level changing down to get under your opponents defensive arms and get a hold of him. This results in MANY opportunities to take a front headlock upon your opponent. In fact I would venture to say that front headlock is probably the single most available move/hold in Jiu Jitsu. It offers immediate control of the head - the most valuable part of the body to control when you want to restrain a powerful foe. It leads immediately into some of the best submissions in the sport - all guillotine variations and many kata gatame variations such as Darce and Anaconda strangles. In addition it leads naturally to the back - king of all attacking positions - along with many fine takedown opportunities. It is equally effective in both standing and ground grappling and it is equally effective as a defensive move and an offensive move. If you get into a serious grappling match with a good opponent for more than two minutes, I GUARANTEE at some point there will be an opportunity for a front headlock - it’s almost impossible to engage in grappling without either conceding the opportunity or being presented with the opportunity. As such you have two duties towards the front headlock. First, you should invest the time into developing a strong front headlock of your own. Second, you should have some strong and trusted defenses to the move given the very high likelihood you will have to fight out of it pretty much every time you grapple. Craig Jones took the time this year to vastly improve his front headlock skills in the blue basement and it showed at the ADCC World Championships where he used it extremely well en route to a silver medal with a seventy five percent submission rate! You must work this position and come to understand it’s incredible potential and value.

Failure and success

Failure and success: A moments reflect reveals that THE VAST MAJORITY OF SUBMISSION ATTEMPTS WE MAKE IN THE COURSE OF OUR JIU JITSU WILL END IN FAILURE. For every time we successfully apply a submission hold we typically fail more than ten times. It’s easy to get discouraged. It can even happen in the midst of a match. You have a favorite move - you try it several times and fail each time. It’s easy to say to yourself that this opponent is impervious to this form of attack and stop trying and move on. Understand that in most cases it is only the imperfections in your the application of the move that resulted in that failure - not the move itself or your opponents defenses. When you experience failure, don’t immediately assume this opponent can’t be beaten by this method. Instead, try to asses on the spot how good your attempt was and what deficiencies lead to the initial failure - so that when you attempt it again you are doing a better job. If we just repeat the first failed attempt, you can only expect a second failure. But if you quickly assess what made the initial attempt fail and change those elements on the second or third attempt - you have a great chance of getting the breakthrough even after several initial failures. Here, Garry Tonon unsuccessfully attempts a heel hook variation in his bronze medal bout at ADCC. It would have been easy to quit heel hooks and attempt other forms of attack. Rather than just give up on one of his strongest weapons, he assessed what was wrong the first time and came back with a better second heel hook that won him a medal! Never tell yourself “this isn’t working.” Rather, ask yourself, “why didn’t that last attempt work?” The former leads to defeatism, the latter to confidence and success.

Juniors on the warpath

Juniors on the warpath: Much of the focus of my posts is on the actions of my senior students as they provide an excellent example for you all in terms of long term training goals and performance increases. However, it is often the path of the juniors that is closer to most people’s daily experiences as many of you are fairly new to the sport and still in the early days of your journey. After all the attention on the seniors at the ADCC World Championships recently, this weekend some of the juniors stepped up at a local grappling competition - here is talented youngster Demian Anderson showing excellent form with leg entries from top and bottom position and showing how they can be used both for position advance and submission, using outside ashi garami as the means of controlling his opponents legs. Always remember that it was at this level that Garry, Eddie, Gordon and Nicky began five to seven years ago and grew from there. Keep working hard at whatever level you currently are - keep your mind on technique and tactics, your energy on your workouts and your vision on your dreams!

Closed guard - angle is everything

Closed guard - angle is everything: The closed guard is one of the most representative of classic Jiu Jitsu among of all the major positions. Even if you don’t favor it yourself, you can be assured that other people will often use it on you - so the more that you know about it the better - no exceptions. One of the main routes to success from bottom closed guard is ANGLE. It is difficult to perform any kind of successful offense without first getting misaligned with your opponent. You must make a habit of constantly misaligning yourself if your are to become a threat from bottom. Your opponent will seek to counter by re-aligning himself to you. In that action/reaction exchange of alignment vs misalignment if the game of closed guard. Your hips are the basis of the position and you want yours out an angle. This might be something as a small shift to one side that creates enough space to enter a triangle, or it could be a turn far beyond ninety degrees that enables you to spin and rise into an arm bar. In almost every case, some form of misalignment to an angle will be required to generate attacks. Remember always that there is a world difference between being on the back vs being FLAT on your back. It’s tough to be effective when you are flat on your back in bottom position - but the simple act of constantly shifting your hips from side to side and gaining angles big and small will help greatly to improve your offensive potential from this great position.


Time: Of all the critical factors that go into success in Jiu Jitsu the one that gets talked about the least and yet which probably ought to be talked about the most is the effect of time. There are three main ways in which time plays a decisive role in outcomes. The first is SPEED OF DECISION MAKING RELATIVE TO YOUR OPPONENT. Your job is to make better and faster decisions than the other fellow. If you can do this consistently you will almost always win. You want to solve the problems he creates for you faster than he can solve the problems you create for him. The second is the time lag between MAKING A DECISION AND ACTING UPON IT. We all constantly second guess and procrastinate. You don’t have to be the fastest man out there in a physical sense, but the faster you can go from DECISION to ACTION the better you will do. The world is full of people who know what they ought to do but delay pulling the trigger - that’s why failure is so prevalent. The third way in which time plays a role is more pertinent to competition. HOW MUCH TIME IS LEFT IN THE MATCH? This will heavily influence your choice of technique and tactics. Make sure you have techniques that are divided up by how much time it takes to execute them and there is considerable variation in this regard. Here, Gordon makes a quick time check on the clock as he enters a strong attacking position. This will determine our selection of technique - in this case, lots of time so a time consuming but very high percentage moves such as a rear strangle is appropriate - and in this case, an excellent path to victory.

Many people go out on the stage THINKING they are going to win - only a few go out KNOWING they are going to win

Many people go out on the stage THINKING they are going to win - only a few go out KNOWING they are going to win. Your job is to train in such a manner that over time you become more like the latter and less like the former. Your first steps involve developing a clear understanding of all the means by which you could possibly lose a match and making it impossible for an opponent to make them happen. Once you know an opponent has no means of scoring on you - the act of winning becomes a lot easier.

A man out of balance is easy to attack

A man out of balance is easy to attack: Attacking and scoring in Jiu Jitsu on someone your own level is never easy. Understand this: THE DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY ASSOCIATED WITH ATTACKING A SKILLED OPPONENT IS DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL TO THE STRENGTH OF HIS POSTURE AND BASE. If you can break his posture and base by upsetting his balance - the attacks come MUCH easier. Whenever you play bottom position, always seek to get gravity working in your favor by constantly attacking your opponents base of support. My favorite way of doing so is foot techniques - in particular foot sweeps (ashi waza). Well applied foot sweeps from bottom position can make your opponent miserable and make it very difficult for him to settle down into strong passing positions and at the same time, greatly facilitate your favorite attacks. Ideally you want to create a situation where he finds it very difficult to stand in front of you and is reduced to stumbling around like a drunk on roller skates while you are able to dart into your favorite moves. Here, Gordon Ryan uses foot sweeps to beautifully off balance a training partner. After the stumble there will be a momentary opportunity to go easily into attack and score. Take it and win!!

Unlocking the power of closed guard

Unlocking the power of closed guard: Probably the single most iconic Jiu Jitsu position and the one that we all started with is closed guard. While mount and rear mount are the most dominant positions, there is nothing really surprising about their dominance. If a total grappling neophyte saw them he would intuit very easily that they are superior positions conferring great advantage to the player in the attacking position. But if that same neophyte saw a closed guard and you tried to tell him that the bottom closed guard player had a tactical advantage over the top player - he may well call you a fool - after all, he is in bottom position in a situation that looks more appropriate for the bedroom than winning fights. Yet the bottom player assuredly doesn’t have a tactical advantage in a grappling situation from bottom closed guard. As long as the guard is closed, the top player cannot engage in any serious positional or submission attacks. All he has are a few very low percentage options that are very likely to be strongly countered by a good bottom player. He cannot initiate any serious positional or submission offense until he first opens the guard. The bottom athlete on the other hand, can immediately begin attacking from closed guard with some of the best submission and positional attacks in the sport. There is a powerful asymmetry here between the top players inability to do much until he first opens the closed guard versus the bottom players ability to attack very strongly from the same situation. Learning to gain faith in this tactical advantage is a BIG part of your early development in bottom game Jiu Jitsu. In time you can make yourself a nightmare to anyone trapped inside your closed guard - to the point where opponents fear it almost as much as your mount or rear mount. That journey begins with understanding and trusting in the tactical asymmetry in attacking opportunity between top and bottom player in closed guard. It may not be obvious to the neophyte - but one day your ability to exploit this will identify you as an expert!