Friday, October 29, 2010

Yea, Whitebelts!

We were talking about working new techniques into our games the other night, especially various open guard set-ups, sweeps, and subs. The problem with almost all open guards (spider, De La Riva, etc.) is that until you get really good at them you generally get passed and smashed pretty easily by anyone close to your skill level and above. Jeremy made the observation that one of the things that helped him move from purple to black (and really develop all the inverted bendy twisty stuff he does) was the fact that almost everyone else he had to roll with at that time were white belts.

How does a white belt help a purple belt advance to black belt you may ask? Jeremy explained that he got to "play" with everything, try it in all sorts of permutations, and really get a fairly deep understanding because he was working in a relatively safe environment full of white belts. Side Control and Geogette both wrote great blog posts about this very issue too, so condering this a trifecta of planetary alignment - I have to add my two cents.

As we advance, rolling white belts is one of the those essential things we all need in order to experiment with techniques and set-ups and learn to "trust" our jiu jitsu. Being able to roll in an environment where the "cost of failure" is not high encourages us to experiment, explore, and develop in new directions.

There are so many techniques that made me look like an uncoordinated idiot the first time I tried them. After drilling them enough to understand how they are supposed to work it is always a challenge to integrate them into my game. If every roll was a fight to the death I would always stick to the stuff I know best and never grow. Rolling with less skilled partners let's me "play" with the new stuff without getting my head handed to me.

As upper belts, our responsibility in return is to bring the white belts along for the ride. No game is fun unless everybody gets to play. You don't need to smash a white belt everytime you work your game. You may control and lead (and be relatively frustrating) and this builds the white belt's base and defense,  but they also need to work some offense too. We should be feeding them openings and set-ups, letting them start from advantageous positions, teaching a little bit as we roll, letting them try something again that they almost got. In other words, making sure they get to play too. Saulo Ribeiro says that when an upper belt visits his academy, he places a lot of weight on how he sees them treat his white belts.

All that said, I am thankful for all my training partners. It is great to train someplace that has a good mix of belts. I see a continuum from white to black of what we get to learn from each:

> With complete rookies we get to throw techniques with impunity. This is our "safe sandbox" and we can play freely. (Although we still have to watch for spazzing.)

>> As they get a little better we still get to throw up whatever we want and there is more true resistance and base. If we muck it up we can still "force it," but we don't worry too much (they are still no threat) and we reset and start over.

>>> As they are about to be promoted to our level, we can still work new stuff into our game - but if we are not careful or don't take them seriously they will be all over us - and we might have to revert to our "A game" to survive the moment and regain control.

>>>>When they reach our level it can be like "unstoppable force meets immovable object." Sometimes one comes out on top sometimes the other, but trying new stuff usually gets shut down pretty quickly. But this is where we get to see if our "A game" is up to snuff.

>>>>>When somebody is better than us we can see how a technique is supposed to work, how it feels, and how it is set up effectively. We learn to capitalize on any mistakes they might make and learn to really watch out for the slightest slip - our sensitivity goes way up.

>>>>>>With somebody much better than us we can go back to throwing up anything we want just to see what kind of new pretzel shape they will invent with our bodies and learn from where they effortlessly poke holes in our "A game."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

American Jiu Jitsu?

After Jake Shields appearance and win (not a dominating win but a win nonetheless) in this last weekend's UFC 121 there has been a lot of discussion of his grappling prowess and what he calls his "style" - American Jiu Jitsu.

Although this match was not his best (the drop to 170 took its toll), it was interesting to watch his game - going for the takedown, seemingly not worried by guillotine attempts, easily mounting another fighter with a very good ground game.

Shields calls this American Jiu Jitsu, based on his background as both a collegiate wrestler and a BJJ blackbelt. It has an emphasis on the high pace and pressure of wrestling with the skill and technique of jiu-jitsu. Or another way to put it is an emphasis on takedowns and top-game from wrestling and subs and sweeps from BJJ.

Calling his style American Jiu Jitsu has some people cheering and other people seriously bent. The cheerleading side says it is great that he is bringing more takedowns and top pressure into jiu jitsu, the naysayers claim he isn't really doing anything new and therefore doesn't deserve his own style name it is just BJJ.

My take is that calling what he does American Jiu Jitsu is as legitimate as any other style name in martial arts. Very rarely can a "style" lay claim to inventing something new. What is different between "styles" is where they choose to put an emphasis or use their training time. Such as TKD emphasizing kicks vs. many other styles of karate or Judo emphasizing throws vs. BJJ emphasizing ground work.

A good Judo guy is going to know plenty of ne-waza but his throws are going to be better because that is his emphasis - a good BJJ player is going to know throws but his ground game is going to be better because that is where he puts his time.

AJJ is saying that they spend more of their emphasis/training time on wrestling/takedowns than a typical BJJ school (and I don't think they really do any gi work at all). It is all about where you spend the limited amount of training time you have. A style/name is just a convenient label that let's people categorize things and let's the label's creator/owner differentiate himself and market more effectively.

Visually it might look like this (don't critique the artwork I took like 5 minutes ;-)):

There are only so many hours in the day and you have to divide your time up somehow.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Strength and Conditioning in BJJ - Sunday Workout

Tonight's post is brought to you courtesy of Gladiator. I was trying to be lazy and ignore the fact that I needed to have a deadlift day. But as I'm trying to do my best imitation of spudus supinus, remote in hand, Russell Crowe starts taking on the Roman Empire and I'm all "Glaaaadiaaatoooor!" And suddenly I felt the urge to do antisocial things. I quickly channeled these urges into a force for Good instead of Evil and proceeded to eat raw meat and move heavy objects.

I wasn't going to write about this workout as there is not anything particularly interesting or fun about doing deadlifts. But these S and C posts seem to be some of the most popular so I will try to include them a little more often (but this blog is not going to be my training log). Also, as I mentioned in my last post, the basic compound exercises (deadlift, squat, and some type of overhead press) should be the core of the strength part of your workout.

If you are not doing some form of these 3 exercises you may be "working out" but you are not "training" for strength. Learn how to do these lifts with good form and don't let your ego get in the way and you will see the benefits on the mats in just a few months. These exercises suck - they are hard, but the juice is worth the squeeze.

I plan on posting more general info on Strength and Conditioning for BJJ in the coming weeks. Why, because:
  1. as I already mentioned these posts seem to be very popular.
  2. if you go to a bodybuilding forum you'll get some warped info (different "sport" different objectives).
  3. if you go to a powerlifting or other type of strength forum you'll get some warped info (different "sport" different objectives).
  4.  if you go to some of the popular mma sites you can find some good info but the examples are generally for fulltime athletes - I will try and show examples for a motivated "average guy" focused on BJJ/grappling (and a little bit of mma).
  5. if it provides a little inspiration to get you started if you're not doing any S and C (some is better than none) or improves the value of the time you spend on S and C then good karma comes my way.
And on to the workout:
Deadlifts (approximately 2 minutes rest between sets)
   1x5 at 135 lbs.
   1x5 at 185 lbs.
   1x5 at 205 lbs.
   1x5 at 225 lbs.
   1x1 at 255 lbs.
   1x1 at 275 lbs.

Reset the bar for Clean and Press (note press not jerk)
   1x5 at 95 lbs.
   1x5 at 115 lbs.
   1x5 at 135 lbs.
(The first 2 sets I was trying to move the bar as fast as possible and didn't really stop in the clean position, they were almost a snatch with a press to lock out instead of a drop back under the bar.)

   2x10 each leg Wrestler Shot Level Changes then a step back into a full lunge (with 50 lbs vest)
   3x8 TRX Inverted Rows (with 50 lbs vest)
   2x15 TRX "atomic" pushups (pulling knees to elbow on alternating sides)

"Strength and honor." ~ Maximus Decimus Meridius

Friday, October 22, 2010

Strength and Conditioning in BJJ - Wed Workout

This is the second post titled "Strength and Conditioning in BJJ - Wed Workout." I don't just workout on Wednesdays, that's just the day this workout happened this week.

5 minutes medicine ball (15 lbs) throws with a partner
20 Kettlebell swings (16 kg)
20 Kettlebell clean and press (16 kg each hand)
20 Kettlebell bentover rows (16 kg)
20 Air squats

This workout was a light "all rounder" before class. I normally like to end a workout with ballistic or plyometric exercises like the medicine ball throws but I decided to grab a partner before they could run and hide :-).

For the throws start about 6 feet apart and use a two-handed "chest pass" to throw the medicine ball back and forth with your partner. Approximately every 5th pass - back up one step. When you reach the limits of how far you can "chest pass" with control on both the throw and the catch, come back to the 6 ft. mark and start again with a two-handed "overhead pass." Continue swapping between chest and overhead passing until the 5 minutes is up.

If you don't have a partner you can throw the ball "overhand" straight up and alternate it with "underhand" throws catching it yourself.

The rest of the workout is fairly self explanatory. You can do this workout for time, but I prefer to make sure I always keep kettlebell exercises under control and don't try to rush anything. On the air squats you can use the kettlebells in a "clean position" for extra resistance or add a jump at the top of each squat. For me, I was concentrating on getting my rear down as low as possible and making sure I had a good "stretch" through my knees and hips.

This weekend I should have a deadlift day which in and of itself is pretty boring so I probably won't blog anything about it. I'm saying something about it here so that you know it is important. If you can only do one "barbell" exercise it should be deadlifts. Also note if you are rolling a lot (1hr or more 3 or more days a week) or doing a lot of "conditioning" oriented exercises you won't be able to lift as heavy as when you are only training for strength. For example, right now with all the rolling I am doing I would  be lucky to pull a max over 300 lbs. but if I was just strength training I should be able to pull over 400.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shrimpin' Ain't Easy

Last week was a return to basics. For most of the week we spent the majority of the time on hip movement. Explosive shrimping up and down the mats, one-legged shrimping, top leg only shrimping, bottom leg only shrimping, shrimping with hip elevation at the end, etc., etc.

It was eye opening to me to realize how lackadaisical my hip movement had become. Small technical movements are fine but sometimes you need to move your backside from point A to point B with a certain amount of enthusiasm. After regular classes and some extra mat time I think my body is in a permanent curve and weekend barbecues make me strangely nervous :-).

All that shrimping was combined with some frame and grip basics to escape from side control and other "life sucks" positions as well as preventing the pass. The beauty of all this hip movement reeducation was it's immediate and almost universal applicability when rolling.

When I think about how much I got schooled this last week on something as simple as shrimping it makes me wonder if I will ever get a grip on this jiu jitsu thing and then I remember this quote from Roger Gracie ~ "Jiu jitsu is simple, you just gotta do it right." So I guess I'll keep trying to do it a little more "right" everyday.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Strength and Conditioning in BJJ - Wed Workout

Had a light week last week getting ready for the Nashville BJJ Open. This week has been a lot of extra mat time so no heavy lifting days. Wednesday's workout was once again very simple but if you try it you will hate like it.

5 rounds for time with NO rest between exercises and NO rest between rounds:
     10 Burpees (full Burpee with a pushup and jump at the end)
     5 Pullups (pullups, not chinups, and each rep should begin from a dead hang)

The only place you can "rest" is at the hang of your pullups. DO NOT let go of the bar. If you can not do 5 pullups each round without having to drop off the bar, do as many as you can and immediately move on to the next set of Burpees. In other words, if you drop off the bar your set is over - keep moving at full speed into the next round.

The first set is relatively easy. But each successive set becomes more "interesting." If you are going as fast and hard as you can (the start of your Burpee will look like a solid sprawl, the pushup will be almost plyometric, and the jump will look like your basketball dunk) you will start breathing deep by the second set and this should give you a new appreciation for the dead hang pullups.

On the other hand, you can loaf your way through this routine and wonder what the big deal is.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Game Plan

I have a love/hate relationships with tournaments. I enjoy seeing old friends, I like making new friends, I love seeing some outstanding jiu jitsu, and if some vendors/sponsors show up it is great to see new gear. Are you feeling the love?

On the other hand I hate hanging around all day on a set of uncomfortable bleachers for what might be a single roll. At 49, I hate that there is never anybody remotely close to my age to roll with (unless I want to travel to the Pan-Ams) so my matches wind up being "aggressive" rather than "technical."

So it is always with some mixed feelings that I decide to compete. I put all that aside this last weekend to compete in the Nashville BJJ Open/BJJ Grand Prix Tournament. The event itself was outstanding - well run and a lot of fun. Great refs, great competitors, great location, Vendor/Sponsor Casca Grossa was there with lots of toys. If you're in the Southeast you should definitely check it out (the next one is already in the planning stages).

My participation however was not as outstanding. In typical "why doesn't anybody over 30 ever compete" fashion I didn't see many older participants and none around my weight (oh well). I'm not sure what bracket I was in - they called my name, I ran over to the mat and never thought to ask where I wound up being placed. In my finals match I was paired against a 24 year old blue belt who had a few pounds on me (maybe I should have actually cut a little weight instead of eating pizza the night before?).

I had a game plan of some things I wanted to try in this competition: I wanted to work for a takedown instead of pulling guard and I wanted to work my open guard. These were things that I wanted to try in competition because they are not my bread and butter - in other words this wasn't my "A Game." When I saw my opponent I had a brief moment to reassess that plan - since it appeared that I was outclassed on youth, speed and strength should I punt the plan and go with my "A Game" (since we all know that old age and treachery beat youth and skill)? Nah, that would be wussing out. A plan is a plan (or is that really "a plan is just a wish in a party dress").

Anyway, we shake hands and start to go for grips. For my takedown I try for the Power Kouchi Gari and got stuffed (actually it felt like running into a brick wall). This failed attempt left me vulnerable to several possibilities and as he tried to power through me I pulled guard. Not just any guard mind you, I'm sticking to a plan, I tried to pull open guard (working into spider guard). I got one sleeve and foot/hook on his bicep, but I couldn't get my grips for the other side. I tried to get my other foot to his hip to make space, but he caught it before I could get to his hip pushed it down to the mat and started to pass. My one spider hook was useless without some corresponding control on the other side so I tried to transition to De La Riva  but it was too little to late.

I spent the rest of the six minutes pinned under a grinding side control. Well not the entire time. He would move to mount and I would work him back into half guard but I could never get deep and wound up getting smashed back into side control several times. He tried a variety of head and arm and breadcutter chokes but they were not truly dangerous (but they did hurt like hell - I think he expected a pain tap).

It takes a pretty big skill gap to make up for advantages in strength and speed. Obviously my skills were not enough to bridge the gap. So much for plans. At least I contributed a silver to the team effort.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quote of the Moment - See First

"See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting. Most scientists forget that." ~ Douglas Adams

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lucas Lepri Seminar Notes

I attended a fantastic 2 day seminar last weekend of Oct. 25th and 26th with Lucas Lepri at Brentwood Brazillian Jiu Jitsu in Nashville. I'm not going to try and breakdown the details of all the different techniques we learned as much as hit some high points and share some of my impressions.

First bit of coolness: After teaching each day, Lucas made it a point to hang out and roll - and not just roll a couple of guys, he rolled everyone there from white belts to black belts both days. I was especially impressed with the time and energy he spent on the white belts, letting them work and feeding them opportunities and gently correcting their position/technique - without a trace of ego or condescension.

Second bit of coolness: While rolling Lucas had a big smile on his face almost the entire time. You can tell he loves Jiu Jitsu and he just can't keep it all inside.

One thing I noticed immediately when rolling with Lucas is that he moves aggressively with pressure but he is light on his feet and can change direction at any moment - his base and balance is exceptional and he is cat quick. There were several times when I was on the bottom I felt like I was being "surfed" (almost like balance ball drills); and that was with him taking it easy on me and probably going about a quarter speed. (If you watched Lucas in the highlight video of my last post, you can see how quickly he can move and capitalize on the slightest mis-step of an opponent.)

On day one we covered a variety of sweeps and submissions.

We worked a basic Butterfly Sweep - one grip on their sleeve the other grip on their belt. Lucas emphasized having both feet/butterfly hooks in before gripping so you don't telegraph which side/hook you are going to use. Then as you grip, pull the arm across, pull in and up on belt, drop one leg back and down so you can roll to your shoulder (going to trapped arm side). Roll to the side on your shoulder - not to your back (head should go to the outside of their knee) and lift with your hook. Keep the arm and secure side control.

We also did a series of back takes from a Flower Sweep setup (p.114 in Saulo's book for reference) covering a range of "what-ifs": Attempt the Flower Sweep and they post with their free arm. Change your grip to the outside sleeve of their posting arm and use it to help you scoot out and up to take the back. Over the series of back takes we worked with a common theme of finishes - setups for Bow and Arrow, Arm and Collar, and Ezequiel Chokes.

Playing "what-if" from the same set up - they trap your leg as you try to come up to the back. Use your trapped foot as a hook on their hip, spin and post your hand on the mat and push across their hips using your hook to break him down onto his side with you in top side mount. Finish with your choke of choice.

Next "what-if" from the same setup - they trap your knee hard with their arm and thigh and you can't free your hips/leg at all. Shoot back down onto your shoulder and reach under his posted arm and around his neck for an Ezequiel. (Ezequiel note - reach deep into your sleeve and make a clenched fist - don't bend your wrist to follow your other arm or let your fingers loosen as your bring your other hand around for the choke.)

Then we worked similar back takes from a De la Riva Rollover Sweep (p.167 in Saulo's book) - they post their free arm, you trade grips to their posting arm and reach up and take the back. Then De la Riva to sit up guard into a Classic Sweep (p.172 in Saulo's book) variation. As you reach your arm through to wrap around their leg, grip their lapel or belt instead of trading grips to their arm, push their arm down and back between their leg, as they post their opposite arm, trade your grip to their posting arm and take the back.

We continued with back takes from an opponents Knee Cross/Cut Through pass. As they attempt to drive the knee across you use your inside leg to hook tightly behind their knee stopping the cut through, grab their opposite sleeve and push it back between their legs while lifting with your hook for a sweep. If they post with their free hand you sit up, change grips to their posting arm and then use it to help you swing your hips out and reach up with your opposite hand for the back and go for a choke.

The second day of the Lucas Lepri seminar was similarly full of jiu jitsu goodness. We worked passing the open guard (Spider, De La Riva, and reverse De La Riva). 

Against Spider Guard Lucas showed a method of clearing one hook from the arm and maintaining control of the leg, then pushing their opposite leg (that still has your bicep hooked) to the mat and stepping over and sitting through to break that hook and take side control.

 He also showed a cool way to clear a "lasso" hook by stepping back and then bringing your knee back in to clear the hook.

Against De la Riva you turn your trapped foot to the inside (eliminating the control of the DLR hook) and use pressure on the hip with one hand and knee with the other hand to cut your hips out and around his legs and then hip switch back into side control. Other passes against De la Riva and reverse De la Riva used similar knee and hip controls.

Another pass had you step with your knees together and cut your opposite knee under their legs while using a lapel grip and controlling their legs (and thus their hips) with your forearm/elbow on top in a variation of a smash pass. Sorry for the poor verbal imagery but I could write a book and still just be scratching the surface of the details.

Some last cool observations from chatting with Lucas before and after the seminar: Lucas is one of the most pleasant people you could ever meet. His competition schedule is grueling with an event almost every month. While he could drop weight into a lighter division he prefers to compete at his (very fit) walking around weight about 170 lbs. (which makes sense considering his schedule). Off the mat training he emphasizes stretching, recommends lifting, and doing additional cardio (he likes spinning). Finally, as much as we tried to convince him that Nashville was a great place to live, he loves being based in New York.

 (you can check out more pics at the Brentwood BJJ Facebook page)