Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Well, That Depends...

We worked on sweeps from guard last night at the Women's Class, specifically on what do do when someone who is in your guard raises a knee. Depending on where their weight is positioned, you go for a different sweep. If their weight is centered over your body--if they are leaning into you trying to stack you--swim the knee, block the opposite arm, and take them over on the blocked arm side. If their weight is back--they are sitting in their base--you pull the ankle toward you and hip into them.

While we were drilling, a lot of "what if" questions came up. What if the person is a lot bigger than you? What if they post here? What if they do this when you do that?

Steph and I fielded most of the questions individually, but eventually I brought them back in and told them that with sweeps 1) The person will generally not know exactly what sweep you plan to use 2) If they do know, and are resisting it in some way that stops you from doing it, you should not force the sweep, you should use that opportunity to do something else that takes advantage of their position/weight distribution/vulnerabilities, etc. I told them that if one thing doesn't work, you switch to another thing. I told them that I know that they haven't learned all those "other things" yet. Neither have I. But that every time they come to class, they will learn more things they can do and they will learn to switch between techniques.

One of the girls asked, "How long will it be before we can do that." (she was referring to being able to switch between techniques).

I told her, "Well, that depends on how willing you are to experiment during grappling. Most people come into bjj wanting to 'win' every grapple. Because of that, they only try things that they know will work. But if you can let go of that pride, you can start experimenting with leverage. Jump. Try to sweep. Move in a way you haven't tried before. If you end up in a bad position or get submitted, its no big deal. Learn from it and try again."

I also told them not to take "failures" personally, like I did when I started. If something didn't work, I got frustrated and felt crappy about myself. But down the road I realized that bjj is a matter of trial and error. If something doesn't work the first time, that doesn't mean I am incapable. It means my technique needs tweaking. So, you should keep experimenting and asking questions until you learn to make it work.

The best part is I think they got it. We did regular grappling, flow rolling and the game where you untie the bow from the person's back (since we've been working guard) and I noticed there was a whole lot more laughter and experimenting happening. It was really fun!

My own experimenting with leverage has been really fun. I definitely haven't had a "breakthrough" or made some huge leap of progress. But I am enjoying every class and learning little things here and little things there. The best thing is, the vast majority of the people I train with have the same mind set of moving and trying things, and they help me learn and (in many cases) let me move more than I would normally be able to so that I CAN try things.

One minor victory (well, it's probably a major victory if you are one of my training partners) is that I have been accidentally hitting/kicking people much less in the last few weeks. I don't claim that I haven't done it at all (baby steps, people!) but there are a lot fewer bruises with my name on them at this point.

Now watch, I'll go into class tomorrow and accidentally give someone a black eye. ;)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Unconventional Methods

I tried to get creative at the Women's class on Thursday night. I knew that the older girls who normally come weren't going to be able to make it. I had a class of two 6th grade girls. Both girls show a lot of promise and really enjoy bjj. I wanted to cater that night's class to them: what I thought they needed to work on the most. But bjj is hard work and I also wanted to try to make the class fun for them, so we tried a couple of games.

First, for technique, I taught 3 mount escapes. One they had already seen and two new ones. The hip out, the upa roll and the upa roll/hip out combination. The girls are small--we're talking maybe 90lbs soaking wet--and, as you can imagine, being able to escape mount is crucial for them.

But when I split them up and told them we were going to do timed mount escape drills, they were looking pretty long in the face about it. So, I decided to try to make it a game. I told them they had 2 minutes to escape the mount five times. If they could both do it, I told them I would take them to this place in town called Rita's Italian Ice and buy them each a small gelato.

It is amazing how quickly their motivation returned.

I wouldn't normally do this, but I have a soft spot for kids (I used to be the youth pastor at the church where one of them goes).

Anyway, they each had to escape 5 times in 2 minutes. Man did they work hard! I was impressed to see them putting their hands in the right spot and using their legs. They did great. Needless to say, they accomplished their goal!

The other thing I wanted them to work on was learning how to get a resisting opponent into their guard so that they could use some of the positions we had taught them in previous weeks. Usually, when newer people grapple, they are thinking more about submissions--either how to use them or escape them--than they are about positions.

So to make them think about how to get the other person in their guard, Stephanie and I tied our belts on backwards and told them that their goal for the next 5 minutes was to untie our belts. I told them they needed to think about what position they needed to get Stephanie and I in so that they could untie the belts. They also went once with each other, with both of them having to untie the other person's belt behind their backs.

I can tell you there was a lot of laughter and creative grappling that happened. It was really fun and I think it made the girls think a little more about what they needed to do to get a person into their guard.

We had normal grappling to wrap up class. There was a torrential downpour going on outside, but the four of us drowned rats made it to Rita's and basked in gelato paradise. All in all, it was a pretty fun night. :)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Don't Move Them, Move Yourself

I couldn't train this week, so I sat out and watched a lot on Monday night and Tuesday afternoon. Even last night, at the Women's Class, I didn't grapple, but watched the girls. It is amazing how much I learn whenever I get opportunities to watch other people experimenting during rolling.

I had been watching Fabio a lot and, as usual, the people he grappled were breathless and sweaty at the end of every grapple, while he seemed untaxed. During the rolling, they would be going nuts trying to pass or get hooks or go for some submission. Sometimes, it would look like they might get something, but then Fabio would shift underneath them and next thing you know, he's slipped out of their grasp or swept them over.

I didn't even realize that something had clicked while watching Fabio these past few days until last night, when we were doing more flow rolling drills in the women's class. The goal of the drill was to not stop moving for two minutes. If you get on the bottom, you don't stop. You keep hipping/moving until you get out. And if you're on the top, you avoid holding , but try to keep the flow moving.

At one point, a couple of the girls had stalled with one sprawled in side control and the other struggling to get out. She was pushing up on the other girl. Because of the way that the top girl was sprawled, she had the upper-hand, so to speak, with leverage. There was no way the bottom girl would be able to get out just trying to heave the top girl off.

I kept yelling out things like , "Hip! Hip! Keep moving!". But I think I had yelled those things so many times that both girls were ignoring it. lol So I yelled out, "Don't try to move her! Move yourself!" Instantly, the girl stopped pushing and started hipping. This created a scramble and got the flow roll moving again.

After I had said it, I realized that that is one of the big reasons why Fabio is so efficient during his grapples. He doesn't try to move the other person, really. He moves underneath them and either slips out to one side or gets their center of gravity off balance so they go over.

Learning HOW to move this way is what I think is going to be my obsession in the years to come. So much of learning how to move can only come from the experience of being underneath and trying different ways of moving to get them off their base or slip out from underneath them.

I'm really excited about experimenting with this concept. It's been kind of ruminating around in my slow brain these past few months, but I feel like I see what my goal is, now. I am looking forward to putting more pieces of the puzzle together over the next years.

Yeah, I know. I am such a nerd. :)

Also, right after I posted this blog, I went and read Liam's blog. He took the idea of learning by watching other grapplers to the next level. Check it out.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Move It or Lose It

The Women's Class was really fun last night. We did something we used to do at Summerlin a lot, and that Fabio has taught us several times in Lakeland, that I have missed: boxer vs. grappler. Ok, we didn't actually do any punching. But we started working on techniques to deal with a boxer vs grappler situation.

Last night's technique was dealing with what you can do when someone postures up or stands up in your guard to punch you. If you are in a fight and someone is in your guard, you want to break them down and keep them in close to you, working to set something up. But if they are able to posture up or stand up in your guard, then you need to react to keep from being punched in the face.

First, what we worked on was getting wrist control and creating a barrier with the knees. To create the barrier, you brace your knees against their sternum--knees pointing in, using your feet to brace on the outside of the ribs.

You want to fully rise up on your hips, keeping control of the wrists. That takes away their reach--they won't be able to reach your face because their arms will not be long enough to span your thighs and torso.

Next, if the person breaks wrist control and postures back to punch you, be prepared to open your knees as they come down, using your leg on the same side as their punching arm to bring them into you and push them off center. As they come down, you use your arm that is opposite of their punching arm to grab around their neck, trapping their head and arm between your head and arm. You hip out a little bit to the side (not creating space, but moving around their body) and finish the head and arm choke.

We also worked on transitioning to the back in the event that you are unable to finish the head and arm choke for whatever reason. The key idea I focused on when moving to the back is not dropping your feet to the floor when moving around someones body. Use the body and your leg muscles to move from the side to the back, making sure that you go hips and butt first, with your head and shoulder to the mat.

When you come up to the back, you should still have the head and arm choke.

We also worked the head and arm choke from mount.
A video of the head and arm triangle from mount.

When we finally got to grappling, we had a few rounds of normal rolling and then we did something a little different. We introduced them to flow-rolling, but with a little twist. Each girl would pair up with someone and have a two minute grapple. During that two minutes, the object was to never stop moving. Each girl started out with 10 points. If at any point during the match they stopped moving, they would lose a point. The person with the most points at the end of the grapple won the round.

The idea was to get them used to moving when they find themselves in a bad position, instead of freezing or giving up. Granted, when you get into a position and you're not sure what to do, you sometimes stop and think. Spazzing blindly is not the best option. But I wanted them to get used to using the tools they have. For example, the second they got under mount I was yelling "Hip, hip!" or "Sweep! Sweep!". Right now they only know two mount escapes and two sweeps. But they were able to go to those techniques by memory in the heat of the moment.

They did awesome! We have come to the end of our first month of the Women's Class and I am so pleased with how all the girls are doing! Hopefully in the next month will be even better. :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Advice for Beginners in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Stiff Arming, Holding and Muscling

Sometimes, Jiu-jitsu seems to require us to move in exactly the opposite way than what seems logical. We have to work against what many of our instincts tell us and train our bodies to move in more effective ways.

One example of an instinctive habit that has to be broken in order to do bjj well is stiff-arming. A good example of what I mean when I say stiff-arming is what most people instinctively do when someone gets into mount and puts all their weight on you. For most people just starting out, their reaction to all that weight is to push the person off of them and try to keep them off with stiffened arms. Another time when I really notice it is when a person's guard has being passed and they are trying to keep the person from getting into side control by pushing them away with their arms, using all their strength.

There are a number of reasons why this is not the best method to get out from under someone. I'll outline the ones I can think of. If you have any to add, feel free to post them:

1. When your arms are completely outstretched, they are vulnerable to attack. This is especially true when you are under someone mounted on you, but it is also true if you are under someone's side control. Stretching out your arms to try to push someone off is like handing them an armbar on a silver platter.

2. The stiff-arm will wear you out. If you are pushing someone off of you, or holding them at bay with all your strength, you are losing energy that you could be using much more effectively. You can tell if this is happening by the feeling of having "jello arms" or "heavy arms" after you just spent thirty seconds trying to push some heavy dude--or dudette--off of you. Those feelings of muscle exhaustion happen after you've put them through a sustained contraction. Simply put, you deplete your muscles of their energy.

3. Stiff-arming is ineffective. After all that energy exertion, most of the time you will find that you either were not able to push that heavier person off of you or that you ended up having your guard passed and are caught in side control. The reason why is that your arms vs someone's entrie body weight is not really a fair match up.

Another common instinct that has to be overcome is holding. Holding happens usually when a person doesn't know what to do and is worried about either losing control of the other person or are scared of what the other person might be trying to do to them. So, for example, when starting out, you might be worried about what the other person has planned, so you grab onto their wrists and hold on for dear life, using your strength to keep the other person from moving their arms. Or, if you happen to get into a bad position, like bottom mount, you might respond by latching onto the persons arms or neck, using muscle to hold them so they can't try to submit you. It can even happen when you get into a dominant position, like side control. You hold onto them as tight as you can because you don't want them to escape.

The same general downfalls that apply to stiff arming, also apply to holding.

1. Whenever you are holding onto someone with all of your strength, you have committed to that position and other people can use it against you. While you are expending all your energy trying to hold him, he is working underneath you--getting underhooks, slipping a knee in, setting up a sweep.

2. Again, you are depleting your muscles and tiring yourself out.

3. Holding only works if you are stronger than the other person. If a person--bigger or smaller than you--knows more technique, they will be able to use your holding against you, like in the video I posted. So you will have wasted your energy.

Stiff arming and holding are both examples of what people who pracitce jiu-jitsu call "muscling". If you are wondering whether something you are doing falls under that category, here are some tell tale signs you can check to see:

1. If you are doing something with so much force that you are using all your strength and you can't breathe easily, then chances are whatever technique you are trying to do has gone awry somewhere and you are now trying to make it work out of sheer strength and will power. That might get you somewhere with smaller people. But people your size or people who out rank you will overcome that.

2. If you don't know what to do and so you are using all of your strength to try to keep a person off of you, that's using your muscle instead of technique.

3. If someone is trying to submit you and your only way to escape is to try to rip your arm out of their grasp like the hulk, that is muscling. Again, you might be able to pull your arm out if the person is smaller, but if it is someone your size or someone who ranks higher, chances are that your arm will end up barred.

If you are a stiff armer or a holder, don't worry. Everyone who does bjj starts out doing these things. We don't know what else to do. As you start to learn more and the number of techniques and concepts you understand increases, the less muscling you will do. You will replace your instincts with new, more effective ways to move out from under heavy people. You will learn how to do escapes that don't rely on brute strength and how to do submissions that don't drain every ounce of life out of you while you're applying them.

Like so many things, it just takes time. As a beginner, the best thing you can do is to try to not rely on your strength. Focus on figuring out what the problem is (ex: that you are under mount) and ask your instructor what techniques you need to learn to get out from under mount (ex: hip out or an upa roll).

At first, you will feel like you are getting squashed and submitted all the time. You might think the techniques aren't working and be tempted to fall back on strength. But keep working on the little details, and through trial and error find out how to make those techniques work for you. As you add more and more tools to your toolbox, you will start to find out that you know what to do when someone gets into mount and you won't have to rely on the instinctive urge to try to push them off of you. You will re-train your brain until your instincts line up with the techniques you are learning in class.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Leverage and Sweeps

In the last few months, I have been focused on trying to figure out more about leverage in grappling. Seeing as I am smaller than most of the people I grapple, being able to sweep someone when I get into a bottom position is pivotal (no pun intended. ;P).

I know it will take me years and years of training to really figure out how to use leverage masterfully. It's one of those things that you can only learn by trial and error--seeing an opportunity, trying it, tweaking it, figuring out why it worked (or didn't work) and what other positions you might be able to use it in. Playing with leverage has become one of my favorite things to do because it's such a puzzle.

One thing I have learned is how important it is to bring the person's weight on top of me. It seems so opposite of what reason would tell me to do. I want to get OUT from under this person, not pull them MORE on top of me. But in order to sweep someone larger than you, you have to get them off of their base in order to take them over. Otherwise, they will be too heavy or strong and won't budge. The way to get them off of their base is to bring them on top of you. Then, you can block their posts (arms or legs) and take them to whatever side you are aiming for.

A key detail in this that I am noticing is that hipping--and being on your hips--is key. For example, if I am in bottom halfguard and I want to sweep someone, I first need to get on my side. Being flat on my back when I am on the bottom in any position is not good. Even when I am working guard, I should never be just laying flat on my back.

After I get onto my hip, using the mobility I now have with being on my side makes a huge difference in whether or not I actually can get a sweep to work. Sometimes that means I have to hip in order to get more underneath the person and bring their weight on top of me, getting them off their base.

Here's a rule of thumb that I am going by recently with sweeps: If my arms and neck are straining, or if a person feels very heavy when I am trying to sweep, I haven't gotten them off their base yet and chances are I need to hip in underneath them more.

The other things about moving my hips while sweeping is that I need to be mobile and switch hips sometimes. If you try to sweep a person in one direction and they post, you have to be ready to take them in the other direction. That means switching which hip you are on. If nothing else, switching directions like that creates space and usually starts a scramble. If you don't get the sweep, you still might have created enough room to hip out to one side or take the back or return to your guard.

What details do you focus on when you are trying to sweep from the bottom?