Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Other Way, Stupid...

Made some progress today, albeit small, in my goal to play more of a top game. Normally when I roll, I wait for the other person to move and then usually go to some form of guard.

Not today.

I refused to allow myself to go to guard at the beginning. If I was going to be in a dominant position, I needed to pass. And pass I did, for the most part. Also, I made it a point to pass the way Fabio pointed out that I wasn't passing.

Sadly, in almost every grapple, I ended up in guard again at some point. It is just freaking hard wired into my brain!! My body goes there against my will!! But I've been having more success with sweeps lately, so maybe I won't be such an anti-guard nazi.

Bad news is that in one of my grapples someone fell back for a heel hook and I accidentally rolled out the wrong way. I don't know what I was thinking. I had already rolled out twice before that day and had done it correctly. Guess I had some kind of brain glitch. Either way, I tweaked my knee a slight bit. Nothing major.

I must have had some kind of weird premonition that this was going to happen because I normally only wear a knee brace on the other knee but I went to the store yesterday and bought a second knee brace and wore it today. I was thinking that I was going to be rolling a lot harder than normal and I wanted to protect my knees. Unfortunately even knee braces can't protect against stupidity. ;)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

8 Weeks

I have 8 weeks to break my guard addiction. Why? I have finally bullied myself into competing at the Miami International Open IBJJF Championship on October 23, 2010.

Over the next 8 weeks, I am going to focus on a few key points that I need to improve on:

1) Take downs
2) Passing guard
3) Sweeping and coming up on top
4) Escaping side control and half-guard

Also, I plan to share this journey with you guys. At least once a week, I am going to try to video myself trying to do these various things and put it up here. Maybe the vast wisdom of the blogosphere will help me pinpoint areas where I need to improve.

I am going to ask a few of my good friends in class to help me work some of this stuff after each class. And, during rolling, I have to forbid myself to go to my guard comfort zone. Don't get me wrong, I think guard is great. But guard gets me no points.

The good news about this competition is I don't have to cut weight. I am right where I need to be to qualify for Light Weight. As long as I don't tank out on pizza I should be alright.

Here's to hoping I can make some progress towards being a top-game player! :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hold On For Dear Life!

Small class yesterday afternoon, which I always enjoy. More time for me to harass Fabio with questions. ;) He showed me a few really cool things yesterday. He had noticed a few mistakes I was making which were leading to my guard being passed and he explained what I need to do to fix them.

First, when someone gets my knees together and shoves my legs down to one side, they usually try to come around toward my front and then fit their hip in next to my side, flattening me out into side control. When they start to pass this way, I cannot go inverted because they are keeping my hip down. What I need to do is bring my elbow and bottom knee together, creating a wall and to hook their neck and head with my elbow.

Hooking their neck with my elbow is the big key. As they try to come around, I am hanging on their neck, so my body just turns with them. I have to keep as much of my body weight on my shoulder that is touching the ground as possible so that I can spin easily.

If they slip their head out from under my arm, I can go on all fours, trapping their arm and then sit out toward their head, putting pressure on them with the back of my shoulder. They go down and then I turn into them, toward their legs and establish side control.

He showed me lots of variations of this concept and now I have a lot of ideas to start playing with during grappling. I am itching to get back on the mat tonight and start trying these things. The only thing is, I have to catch the person's neck quickly as they start to pass, or else I won't be able to hang on them and do the whole turn-table spinny thing. I think it will take me a while to get the timing right. But I am still excited.

Also, Fabio pointed out something else that made me laugh. I was asking him what I was doing wrong with my guard passes. He watched me try to pass guard, then told me that I was doing exactly the opposite of the guard passes people were doing to me that were giving me trouble. If someone usually comes around one side when they're passing my guard, I automatically try to pass on the other side. It's like I'm avoiding the evil pass I don't like even when I am the one doing it! LOL

I didn't realize I was doing that. Fabio was like, "You know for yourself that the other pass works, so use it!" Yeah...sometimes I'm slow. :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Crazy Gi!!

I finally got my butt in gear and made a gi for Meerkatsu's gi competition. People have made some really cool gis. Go check it out!! :)

For more information about this crazy competition, visit Meerkatsu's Page or Tatami Fight Wear!

In other news, we've had some major plumbing leaks at the house and I've been wrapped up in moving furniture and jack-hammering up the floor. As we speak, I have a friend coming to take out my kitchen cabinets. Sigh...

But the bright spot of today is that I am having a private lesson with Fabio this afternoon! Woohoo! I'm going to ask about guard passing and sweeps from guard. I will let you know how it goes!

I have kind of been "cheating" an getting quasi-privates during every class by watching Fabio when I'm sitting out from rolling. I've noticed several things he does when he is defending his guard and I've tried to mimic them. They've gotten me instant results.

I mentioned a few of them in my previous posts, but here is one more: Fabio has a fifth appendage. (So THAT'S why he's so good! lol). It's his head. He uses his head in the most literal sense. Sometimes, he uses it like an extra arm or leg to pin something somewhere, or make space, or keep pressure.

When he is doing butterfly guard, I noticed that he always uses his head to keep space between himself and his opponent. For butterfly guard to work properly, you need a certain amount of space between you and your opponent so you can get the proper leverage to sweep. Fabio uses his head to keep that distance. And he does it in more than just butterfly guard.

I added that to trying to keep on one hip or the other (to stay mobile) and instantly my guard became a little harder to pass.

There are a few other things I noticed him doing in defense of his guard, but I don't understand them well enough yet to write about them. I plan on asking him about it in today's private. Happy rolling to all of you!!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The theme of the month...

...has been HIP.

Recently, I finally got it through my thick skull that I needed to move my hips more to defend against and attack bigger, stronger guys. The more intimidated I was by someone, the more I tried to hold them in my guard, which meant I was limiting my movement and thus killing any small chance I might have had in the beginning. The key there was also staying mobile on one hip or the other, never sitting square towards my opponent or flat on my back.

Last night, I learned something new about hip movement to add to the theme of the month. We've been working a ton of back escapes the last week and last night, we worked a technique to escape when someone has taken your back and flattened you completely out. They've swum both of your arms and are holding your forearms, pressing your body down with their hips.

Not a comfortable position.

Fabio told us that a lot of times people panic when they get in this situation and go wild trying to throw the person off. What usually happens when they do that is that they do not get out and they give up their neck or their arm in the process.

In that situation, your upper body is immobilized. Trying to push yourself up with your arms won't work. It will just expose your neck and arms for submissions. The part of your body that is still free to work is your hips and legs.

Protecting your neck with your hands, turn your hips to the side and use your bottom leg to push their foot up, keeping your hip and thigh glued to the mat. He described the motion as painting the mat with your hip. Make sure you keep your elbows tight during this. If you raise your elbows, you are exposing your arms for an armbar. Also remember to keep protecting your neck the whole time.

From there, you have several options of escape. You can keep pressure with your shoulder, trap their arm (the one they swam and held onto you with in the first place), reach around with the other arm and hold down their collar, turning into them with your hip glued to the mat. Or, when you bring their leg high enough, you can underhook the leg with both of your arms (even if they're still holding onto your arms) and bring the leg up and go underneath and around to their back.

In all of the escapes we worked, the key was hip movement. Once you got the hooks off, a big part of keeping them off was moving your hips in a way that they never came off the mat.

During rolling, I noticed the same principle is true when you're escaping the side control where you are kind of in the fetal position and they're trying to flatten you out or get your neck or get armbar. Escaping that with "the running man" escape, you need to "paint the mat" with your hip to keep them from getting their hooks in and taking your back.

Also, we did a lot of fast paced rolling yesterday. Fabio instructed us to go no-gi--which is rare at our school-- and then told us that, when he called out one minute, we should kick up the speed and move as much as possible. He said not to worry about submissions in the last minute of the roll, but just to move, move, MOVE!! I was exhausted by the end of class, but it was really fun.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Flow Rolling

Tonight, Fabio instructed us to grapple without going for submissions. We were to roll for positions only. Even further than that, he told us not to get into a good position and just hold. He wanted us to move. And keep moving. We weren't supposed to care about winning or losing. Try things, he told us. We didn't have to worry because we wouldn't be submitted, so we could get creative without any pressure.

It was so much fun!! I had done this a few times before, but it had been a while since I had grappled without even thinking about submissions. We were laughing and trying crazy stuff and just enjoying moving. I want to do this more often!!

What was funny was that I did completely different things than I normally do. I saw a whole lot more sweeps. And I did a lot of things on top that I normally don't go to like knee on belly. I also noticed that I got tired faster. We rarely slowed down or stopped moving. It made for some great cardio!

I think this has shown me that I am too focused on submissions. Hopefully I can find a few people that will roll like this with me more often! :)

Project Runway meets Small Furry Animal?

No need to call PETA. What I am referring to is a contest dreamed up by one of our blogger comrades, Meerkatsu. He's challenged us all to design our own "dream gi" and submit the drawing for a vote. The winner will have his or her gi specially made by a sponsor that Meerkatsu is in contact with. Sounds like lots of fun!

Check it out on Meerkatsu's blog!!

I'm off to go design my own! :)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Move It!!

It's funny to me how Fabio can tell me something and show me something over and over again and it still doesn't take. I understand the concept, but I can't seem to reproduce it in grappling. There's some kind of block. Then, out of the blue one day, something clicks and that little piece of the puzzle falls into place.

That's how it was this afternoon.

I had been having a lot of trouble defending my guard and was using strength, even though I knew that was stupid. I was trying to keep people in my guard. Fabio kept telling me I needed to move my hips. I didn't get what he meant. I thought I WAS moving my hips.

Then, this afternoon, I was sitting out during for one roll and watching Fabio go against another blue belt in the school. He was defending his guard for most of the grapple. He looked effortless while the blue belt was just scrambling trying to get around.

While I was watching, something clicked. I noticed the way he was moving his hips. He was never sitting facing his opponent straight on. He was always on one hip or the other. When his opponent tried to power through on one side, he'd slip out the other side and get his back, or hip out and return to guard, or go inverted and return to guard. Hip, hip, hip. Move, move, move. THAT'S what he had been trying to tell me!

What I was doing was killing my movement by trying to hold the person in my guard with my arms and legs. I was sitting on both butt cheeks most of the time, or worse, laying flat on my back with the person in my guard. It goes against my instincts to think that the way to control someone in a fight is to move. Normally, you'd think the way to control someone is to get them in a position and hold them there. But that's not BJJ. And it doesn't work.

How many times had Fabio or Ben explained this to me? I don't even know. But I couldn't wait to roll again and try it out. When I did, the difference was like night and day. Moving made it easier to stay in a dominant position. It wasn't the SAME position the whole time. But I actually felt less vulnerable. I felt a LOT more mobile to do different things.

After class, I told Fabio that I was finally beginning to get what he had been trying to tell me. He said he knew I would, but that this is how it goes. You hit a wall, get frustrated. The instructor can tell you what you need to do, but only mat time brings you to the place where you can FEEL it and understand it yourself. That's why a lot of people end up quitting. They get to a certain point, hit a wall, get frustrated and decide it's not worth the frustration. The people who stick it out and keep working are the ones who really love BJJ.

Hopefully I will remember this the next time I hit the wall. A friend of mine in class says I go through cycles like this in a regular pattern, every couple of months. I wonder if he's right. I should be able to find out from looking back at my blog. lol

Monday, August 16, 2010

Back Mount Escape

We worked an escape from when someone is choking you from the back. Not sure what the choke is called. One hand is over the shoulder, grabbing the opposite lapel. One choke is under the arm, grabbing the other lapel.

To defend, you first hook the choking arm with your elbow, behind their elbow, tuck your chin into the crook of their elbow and scoot down. Bridge back. Use your other hand to cup the same-side hook on your leg, then straighten your own leg, pushing the hook off. Immediately bring your hips up on the person's dislodged leg and hip out, turning into them. You're out of the choke by then, but, as you turn into them, you need to bring the arm that you were blocking their elbow with in to your hip so that, as you turn, it will be free. From there, you can establish side control.

Rolling was...vexing. Having trouble adapting to some of the guys I'm rolling with. I'm falling into my old habit of trying to combat strength with strength. A poor decision when you are smaller than 90% of the people you grapple. The main problem is when they are passing my guard. I am trying to keep them from passing by using strength. Doesn't work. When I relax and try to move, I feel like they pass faster.

Tomorrow, I am going to force myself to move more and not care about where I land. I am going to try things that I haven't tried yet because I was afraid of getting passed. I am getting passed anyway, so who cares?

I'll report in on how it goes.

Youth Week Craziness

I only trained once last week due to an intense week of craziness with a bunch of teenagers for my church's annual Youth Week. Lots of fun, but I missed getting out on the mat.

The one day I did train we worked a few submissions from the scarfhold position. You use your legs to either armbar or kimura or americana your opponent. I really love those positions, but I haven't ever been able to finish one from there. Usually, the person is able to power out, either because I am not applying them correctly or because of strength difference.

Fortunately, Fabio showed us a few transitions into a triangle for just such scenarios. :) That is one thing that both Fabio and Ben have emphasized since I started learning BJJ. Being able to transition between positions and submissions, and knowing WHEN to do so is just as important as knowing the individual positions and submissions themselves.

I haven't had been in the situation to try these out just yet, but I'm looking forward to having the chance tonight!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Beginner's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

August 1st marked my one year BJJ anniversary! Woohoo! It is hard to believe that one year has passed so quickly and that so much has happened in that time. I am still a beginner in the world of Jiu-jitsu, but I thought I would share some of the major ideas that I have learned in the last year, in regard to getting the most out of training Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Like I said, I am still a newbie, so take it as you will. :)

The first thing I did when I decided I was going to write this blog was to ask Fabio, my instructor, what he would say to beginners coming into BJJ. He knew what he wanted to say right away. Here are the basics of what he told me.

1. Don't think about the belt! Thinking about the belt will get in the way of you growing. Just think about learning.

2. Don't worry about doing the "right thing". No one knows what the right thing is when they first come in. You won't do the right thing. Don't worry about it. You need to try. That's how you learn what the right thing is.

3. Everybody's different. It's not about learning slow or fast. People learn differently and some people pick it up faster than others. But don't worry about how fast or slow you are picking it up. It depends on how much you move and how open you are to learning.

4. Nothing good comes easy. Jiu-jitsu takes time.

As for me, I am an uber nerd, so I have a lot to say about everything. ;) So here is my list of things that I learned about training BJJ that have helped me.

1. Jiu-jitsu is not about strength. It's not even about speed. IMHO, It's about control, leverage, balance and adaptation. If you are straining when you're trying to do something or if you are having to use a lot of strength, you aren't doing the technique correctly.

2. Relax while you're grappling. It seems counter-intuitive, I know. But you will not be able to move like you need to if you are tense and straining.

3. Don't worry about doing moves "fast" during drilling. Doing it fast does not prove that you are doing it right. In fact, you may miss important details if you are trying to go fast. If a technique works, it will work when you are moving in a relaxed, smooth way. Speed will come later, after your muscles are used to making the motions. That happens naturally, over time, with lots and lots of repetition.

4. Expect to be on defense a lot. For a long time. It doesn't mean you suck. It means you go to a school with people who know more BJJ than you. That's a GOOD thing. :) It means they have a lot to teach you.

5. Don't be afraid of getting in bad positions or of getting submitted. Try things. Learn what works and what doesn't. If you get into a bad position, use it as an opportunity to practice your escapes. Once you are in a bad position, relax. You are already there. Don't waste energy trying to explode out of it. Take a deep breath and start working your escapes.

6. In the same vein, don't look at your grapples in terms of "winning" and "losing". Instead, focus more on trying to take one or two things away from that grapple that you can learn from. That way, every grapple is a mini-lesson in and of itself.

7. If someone has a style that frustrates you, don't avoid them. Roll with them more!! This has been a huge thing for me. They are frustrating you because they are doing something that you don't know how to deal with. If you keep working, keep trying things, keep presenting yourself with that situation, eventually you will adapt to whatever it is they are doing. Think of that frustrating person as an opportunity to refine a certain part of your game that needs attention.

8. Don't worry when you feel like you aren't progressing. Everyone feels like that from time to time. It's normal. You ARE growing, even if it doesn't feel that way. You will notice it when you grapple someone who is newer than you. :)

9. If you want to get better "quickly" the best thing to do is to grapple. Get as much mat time as you can. There are no "secret techniques" or "short cuts" that can help you get better faster. Watching videos on YouTube and reading books are helpful, but they can't replace live grappling. The only way to progress is to put in the time on the mat.

10. Ask lots of questions to your instructors and higher belts. They will most likely be eager to help you.

11. Find one or two people who you can just "try stuff" with on a regular basis.

12. If you get an injury, give it time to heal. I know you don't want to sit out. It sucks. But you will be out longer if you don't give your injury time to heal and it becomes something that needs surgery to be corrected.

13. Don't talk crap about people. Don't brag. It's a fast way to lose friends and help from your training partners.

14. Go to tournaments. I hate them, because I put to much pressure on myself. But I still go because it is a good way to test myself, to see where my bjj is working and where it isn't. Don't wait until you're "ready" to go to a tournament. You're never "ready". At whatever level you compete, it will be a challenge. That's why it's so enlightening! :)

15. This last one is more of a personal learning style. For me, it is more beneficial to to understand the concept behind a move--why a certain move works--than to just memorize steps. BJJ rarely happens exactly like the technique demonstration. Grapples are fast moving and positions change quickly. If you understand the concept behind a move, you will be able to use that move in multiple situations, instead of just in the situation that it was demonstrated in. For example, if you learn an armbar from mount, try to understand why the armbar works. Then, you will be able to get an armbar in many other positions: from guard, from side control, etc. Details are important, but for me, concept is primary.

Anyways, that's my $.02 on the first year in BJJ. Hope it is helpful in some minute way!! ;) BJJ veterans and fellow newbies alike, feel free to add more to the list!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ye of Little Faith

I have been running into a frustration lately when guys hold onto my arms while I have them in my guard. Whether they are pinning my arms down to the mat, or simply grabbing and holding on wherever my arms happen to be, it's a really frustrating thing.

Ninety percent of the time, said guys are stronger than me. So just yanking my arms free is not an option. Sometimes moving them at all is not an option. I try to do the thing where you turn your wrist around in a circle to break their grips, but sometimes I can't even get my arms off the mat to turn my wrists.

I was talking to Fabio about it this afternoon and I told him I tried and it didn't work. He told me I was trying and giving up. I need to not only turn my wrist one way, but if they resist that way, turn them the other way.

I said, "But they're too strong."

And he shrugged and said, "Ok. Then Jiu-jitsu doesn't work."

That got me back peddling. He has explained to me before that, if someone has my arms pinned, fine. I can still move the rest of my body. If their weight is forward in my guard enough to pin my arms to the mat, I should be able to use my legs against them. I should be able to move my hips.

I can't move them. They are too strong. But I can move myself around them. That's what I have to try to remember.

Technique Today:

We worked on a sweep from butterfly guard. You have your opponent in butterfly guard and you hip out diagonally to one side, keeping your hooks in, but letting your bottom leg be flat against the mat. At the same time, on the same side that you hipped out, you swim the under hook and hold across the person's back. If they post out with their other hand, grab them at the wrist and pull their arm to your hip. This will make them fall on their shoulder. You drop onto your shoulder and onto the trapped arm. Hip into them, using your feet-hooks to bring them over.

Variation: If they sprawl when you hip out diagonally, take their back.