I love Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You found my BJJ blog!
Hello, fellow traveller
Thanks for visiting! I really appreciate you're being here. It's nice to know I'm not sending jiu jitsu musings into the void. Afterall, we jiujiteria/jiujiterio have to stick together in our obsession ;) - Meg
Sticking with fundamental techniques from the Gracie University BBS1 syllabus, this drill starts in the closed guard and ends in the side control. First, we look at the scissor sweep from closed guard. Next, we consider transitioning to the butterfly guard if the scissor sweep isn’t happening. Then, we look at the strong side and weak side sweeps from the butterfly guard, landing in side control. Finally, rather than moving to knee ride and submitting via the elbow cup armbar, we drill some basic variations of the Americana.
For clarity, please note that these video snippets do not purport to offer thorough instruction, nor are they intended to replace proper online or in-person training. However, if, like me, you are looking for inspiration for you personal at-home training maybe these drills can encourage your own practice. If so, yay! If not, thanks for stopping by.
And now, before you go any further, couple things to note. Firstly, I’d recommend doing each drill for 2-3 days, perhaps a couple times a day – for example, as a warm-up to strength and conditioning (I’m loving the online programming at Subversive Fitness, by the way). Consistency is key, rather than binging and burning out. Lastly, of course, you’re doing these drills at your own risk.
Days 1-2. Scissor sweep from closed guard
Suggested drill is 5 minutes per variation, alternating sides.
Days 3-4. Butterfly sweep
Building from the scissor sweep, let’s add butterfly sweeps to side control / knee ride to side control. Suggested drill is 5 minutes per variation, alternating sides.
Days 4-5. Americana from side control
Here, we’ll finish the sequence with a variety of fundamental Americana submissions from the side control. Suggested drill is 5 minutes per variation, alternating sides.
In order to, perhaps, help you while I help myself, here’s the second full sequence in my ‘train with me’ series. In the previous sequence we began in side control, moved to knee ride and submitted from there via the elbow cup armbar. So, this time let’s start from inside the side control. From there we can use the bump and recover escape to recover the guard. Then, we’ll work some posture prevention from the guard. Finally, we’ll submit from the guard with basic armbar and triangle set ups.
Again, I’ve confine myself to techniques within the Gracie University BBS1 syllabus. Moreover, I’m assuming a ‘greasing the groove‘ approach to training. Okay not strictly greasing the groove, but certainly inspired by that notion. In other words, frequent practices of well-defined movements, rather than blocks of longer sessions. If, like me, risk factors for you or your loved one have you off the mats during the Covid-19 pandemic, you might be tiring of the dummy and lack of fellowship. I hear you! While the current situation is unpredictable, overwhelming and exhausting, I’m doing my best to carry on in my many spheres of endeavour, including, of course, jiu jitsu. I hope you can too. This ‘drip feed’ style of training is working well for me and perhaps it’ll boost your engagement with your own training.
And now, before you go any further, couple things to note. Firstly, I’d recommend doing each drill for 2-3 days, perhaps a couple times a day – think between homeschool lessons, for example. Get that regular consistency by training a little, a lot. Secondly, what follows is intended as a fun sequence for your solo practice, rather than a course of proper online instruction. Finally, you’re doing these drills at your own risk, for the record.
Days 1-2. Escaping the side mount
Suggested drill is 5 minutes per escape, alternating sides.
Days 3-4. Posture prevention from the guard
Suggested drill is 5 minutes from the guard, repping each posture prevention strategy. Then, 5 minutes starting from the side control, escaping into guard and working posture prevention.
Days 4-5. Armbar and triangle from the guard
Suggested drill is 5 minutes from the guard per submission. Then, 5 minutes starting from the side control, escaping into guard and working posture prevention and then submitting (dealer’s choice!)
Training at home in the age of covid? Looking for drill snippets to work every day in a little and often approach? Me too. For the last year, I’ve focussed on short daily drills of 10-20 minutes. I find anymore than this with the dummy is too demoralising. Perhaps you’re in a similar situation. If so, join me in the first set of drills in an emerging series of ‘train with me’ snippets.
To begin with we’ll practice controlling the side mount. Then, maintaining the knee ride. Finally, we’ll progress to an elbow cup armbar from the knee on belly. I like building up attacks by combination or flows with position-control-submission. Here, I’ve confined myself to techniques within the Gracie University BBS1 syllabus, which includes a lot of the fundamentals. In this way I can force myself to make connections between techniques, in order to internalise and conceptualise the material more fully. So, if you’d like to join me, please read on for videos and suggested drills.
Before you go any further, couple things to note. Firstly, I’d recommend doing each drill for 2-3 days. Get that regular consistency by training a little, a lot. Secondly, what follows is intended as a guide for your solo practice, rather than a course of proper online instruction. Finally, you undertake these drills at your own risk, just sayin’.
Days 1-2. Controlling the side mount
5 minutes each side:
smart knee to cross chest
modified side to standard side control
Days 3-4. Maintaining the knee ride
5 minutes each side dropping to side control, integrating the side control flow from the previous snippet before returning to knee on stomach.
Days 4-5. Elbow cup armbar from the knee ride
Start from side control, drill your control from there. Then move to knee ride, and perhaps drop back to side control before establishing a solid knee ride. Finally, apply the submission.
10-15 minutes alternating sides.
Lastly, enjoy yourself! And for what its worth, spend more energy on celebrating getting all these great reps and less on missing the proper gym and you training partners.
Jiu jitsu practice is defined by its reliance on and respect for training partners. We are only ever as proficient as our training partners allow. Likewise, a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’. Typically this arrangement develops not only our craft but also our empathy and tolerance through fellowship, however it does not play well with social distancing. Moreover, those of us on this path often ‘need’ jiu jitsu to keep us happy/sane/functional. So, when forces beyond our control cut off our access to training partners, we’ve got to adapt, lest our spirits die.
Building a pandemic training routine
My family has been in lockdown for 10 weeks. During that time I’ve had some success building a home-based training routine. Firstly, my partner and I are both home-based workers, so while the longer-term economic disruption of the pandemic is worrisome, transitioning to a ‘quarantine lifestyle’ wasn’t a big change for us. While adding homeschool to the mix has been challenging, again our burden isn’t too heavy as we only have to manage one first grader. In fact, the boy and I have built a good working routine. We set up a desk for him in my office and we do our work together in the morning. By early afternoon I finish too and we head down to the playroom/gym in the basement.
Shelter-in-place jiu jitsu
I’ve had the opportunity to really get to know my grappling dummy. While ‘he’ can be boring, I am grateful for the mats I hauled to the US from London and his presence on them. Initially, I aimed for an hour at a time with him. That got old real fast. So, I modified my expectations and have gone for a little-and-often approach. Instead of a couple 1 hour sessions per week, I aim for 5, 15 minute sessions a week. In this way, I make sure I get regular jiu jitsu movement during the week. Moreover, I revise Gracie University lessons and train Jr Combatives with my son, every week. While clearly not where I’d like to be with my training – none of the current situation is about what we want – it is much better than sitting on my hands. Not to mention, it serves as a great warm-up for my strength & conditioning work.
Strength & conditioning
While jiu jitsu training has taken a serious hit, I have been able to significantly increase my strength & conditioning work to 5 times a week. Since I relocated to my home-town of Rochester NY, I’ve been training with Wolf Brigade gym. I’ve already discussed the benefits of their strength & conditioning program for BJJ, and it has certainly been essential to maintaining the stability of my post-ACL-op knee. In short, I have been younger; I have been leaner; but I have never been stronger. That’s 100% due to Wolf Brigade.
Though a local brick-and-mortar business, Wolf Brigade’s programming is available to everyone. One the one hand, there are 5 years of detailed training days on their website, free for all to use. Have limited access to equipment? No worries, the Wolf Brigade Public Assistance Project is a comprehensive training program that uses everyday objects as equipment. Finally, more recently, the gym launched its online training program at subversivefitness.com. Offering both a thorough video movement library and access to instructor feedback, individuals can practice Wolf Brigade’s instruction and programming from home. So, if you’re looking for a great, effective and safe training program to take you through the pandemic and beyond, consider Subversive Fitness.
Finally, I’ve started integrating mobility into my routine. My jiu jitsu instructor at Gracie Jiu Jitsu Victor, John Ingallina, is providing a lot of remote learning content from GJJ sessions on Zoom and Facebook Live to mobility tutorials on YouTube. While there’s lots of stuff you can’t do without a training partner, there’s many things you can, and working on your mobility and smoothness of motion are some of them. For me, John’s mobility sessions help keep me moving around on the mats, while also offering age-appropriate material when ‘playing Legos’ with my son 😉
To sum up, this is a really tough time. The full effects of this disruption are not yet known, even as the ripples are already seriously affecting peoples’ businesses and livelihoods. Indeed, our jiu jitsu and strength & conditioning communities are on the front-line of feeling the immediate economic effects. As a web developer for small businesses I’ve seen first hand how these past few weeks have negatively impacted hard-working people, as trusted clients can’t pay invoices, stop projects and – in some sad cases – have already started closing. I don’t have any answers. I hope you all stay well, protect the humans around you and come out the other side relatively unscathed. Jiu jitsu will be waiting for us. Let’s make sure we stay ready too.
Ryron Gracie, Super Seminar Gracie Jiu Jitsu Victor NY, 4-5 May 2019
I’ve been trying to write this post for a while. For months, I’ve struggled to find the words to explain the truths of composure in jiu jitsu as I understand them.
I know it when I see it. For example, in myself when I’m calm and inhabit the roll fully. And when I lose it and am goaded into fighting fire with fire. Or in the feeling of satisfaction when I chill in a ‘bad’ spot. I mean, hey, you’re just crushing me, I can wait all day for your attack. How about when fellows want so badly to grip my wrists as hard as they can, meanwhile over-extending their arms. Ah, or, my personal favourite, when my partner spins around on top, going side to side like a dervish and I’m just over here relaxing with my T-rex arms enjoying the compression. Perhaps they’ll decide to attempt something…
So, I know composure when I live it, and when I don’t. I know stillness when I’m inside it or fighting against it. I see the vulnerability of loss of calm and feel the power in myself or from others when we own our composure. Yet, I couldn’t find my way to making these intuitions into words.
Thus, perhaps you can imagine my gratitude to Ryron Gracie and my training partners at last weekend’s super seminar at Gracie Jiu Jitsu Victor. We enjoyed an immersive weekend of discussion and technique with one unifying theme: composure.
What’s Your Goal?
For years I’ve told myself that ‘survival’ and ‘not losing’ are key to developing my game. Indeed, these ideas are essential to my humble BJJ sparring tips. However, while there is value to this idea, Ryron and my fellows at the seminar helped me to see that this isn’t as far as it goes. This view is still brittle. Though ‘not losing’ may be more robust than hang-ups over trying to ‘win’ or avoiding ‘bad positions’, it is less sustainable than simply aiming to develop your understanding. Full stop. Just learn more. Revel in that. Of course, I have heard this many times from Dave Birkett, Marc Walder and John Ingallina. However, I was better able to receive this lesson last weekend.
In other words, if the mindset is ‘not losing’ or ‘surviving’, how do I feel when I do ‘lose’? Perhaps a bit defeated. However, if those ideas are subsumed within the wider goal to learn, that changes the whole picture. Now, I can look at a ‘loss’ with new eyes. I can consider things such as:
Did I control that position a bit longer than last time?
Was my transition to the next thing more or less effortless than last time I was there?
To what extent did I try to impose my will versus just be in the roll?
And this last point is where the past weekend’s seminar really helped to clarify my thinking. What I term composure in jiu jitsu, and what Ryron likes to describe as ‘being present’ and ‘being in the moment’. In other words, cherishing calmness in order to act less and respond more.
Composure and Jiu Jitsu
The challenges to composure in jiu jitsu are individual. Everyone’s journey is different. Each of us battles different triggers, fears and anxieties. We carry these onto the mats with us. Then, they whisper in our ears and goad us out of our stillness. Where we can overlap, however, is in our pursuit of stillness. Or in our endeavours to find comfort where there is none. To simply be where we are and react, without judgement of ourselves or of the interaction with our partners. To just be and develop our understanding.
For me, that struggle is greatest from a position of offence. Much of my time has been spent in the role of nail. That crucible has stripped away my fears of vulnerability on the bottom or in defensive positions. I can certainly be tricked into over-reacting. However, it takes at least an intermediate degree of smoothness and strategy to get me rattled. Otherwise, I’m quite happy to ‘safe hands’ under your side control for as long as you like. Or enjoy a cuddle from you on my back while I wait for your frustration to open the door. The same cannot be said when I’m on the offensive.
For instance, when I get your back I might hold my breath and rush headlong into my submission. Or I’ll see that arm come out on the side mount and spin too fast to maintain good control. I suspect larger people with more practice on the offence have a harder struggle when they have to stay cool on the defensive. I suspect too, that my smaller compatriots have a harder time keeping their cool and their egos and wills out of the equation when going for those submissions. So what can we do to move past our limiting desires to act, to force and to rush?
How to Develop Your Composure in Jiu Jitsu
Throughout the weekend, Ryron discussed ways to increase your composure in jiu jitsu, both through technique and informal group discussion. He had some great advice and I’ll share my takeaways. Note these are my understandings of Ryron’s words. I do not speak for him and any opinions expressed here represent my own understanding or lack thereof! So with that disclaimer… Let’s start with some concepts, then we’ll look at practical ways to develop composure in BJJ.
1. Remember what your goal is
To learn. Simple as that. There is no win. There is no lose. There is no destination. You’ve got one job: develop your understanding of this crazy beautiful art.
2. Be vulnerable
Allow yourself to chill in positions you don’t like. Or simply where you feel you need to rush or impose your will. Yes, you might lose the position in the process. What then? Smile and go again! How else will you fulfil your goal in step 1?
3. Be floppy
Likewise, be ‘floppy’. Or exaggeratedly relaxed when on top or on bottom. Stay cool. When it is time to react, GO FOR IT. However, hang loose and bide your time. In this way, your explosiveness can be used more efficiently through surprise and energy conservation.
4. Be still
Similarly, flop into a deep stillness. Bring yourself in close to your centre, wherever you are and just be. No need to rush to do you. Keep your composure and radiate that through your body. Soon enough they’ll give you your chance.
5. Be joyful
Finally, express your comfort in chaos through joy. Big man throw you off? Nimble boy wiggle out of your escape? Savvy dinky lady refuse to be baited? No matter! Remember there is no win or lose. There is no end point. Just a journey to know more. And when your partners help you see holes in the boat. Put yourself there again and again. Celebrate this cycle of testing, failing, learning and developing. Get all scientific method with this, yo! And let that process fill your heart to bursting.
What you can when you can, not what you want when you want.
These are some of the cornerstones of composure and jiu jitsu that Ryron shared with us. Now, let’s look at practical ways to practice these concepts on the mats.
Techniques to Illustrate Composure in BJJ
BJJ is yoga with choking.
Of course, Ryron illustrated the importance and effectiveness of being present, still and mindful through technique. Working through scenarios of positional control, escape and submission Ryron developed his message. This included the idea of ‘defending the position’. In other words, the idea that ‘defence’ includes consolidating and asserting your positional control, rather than rushing to ‘do something’. This is particularly the case from an offensive point of view. Let’s look at two scenarios:
1. Standard Armbar
So, you’ve landed in a classic two-legs over armbar. Do you rush to finish the submission?! Or do you practice defending the position? Taking time to defend the position risks losing it. Is it worth it?
Depends on your mindset. If your goal is to learn, hang out there. If your goal is to ‘win’ – or to arrive at an illusory destination of ‘success’ – then go for that sub, now! Consider, however, that if you practice defending that position, ultimately your ability to get there and apply the submission can only increase. As Ryron reminded us over and over, if you can hold the position for 45 seconds, you can hold it for 100. If you can hold it for 100, you have a 100% chance of getting the sub, or guard pass, or whatever. In other words, if you can control your need to ‘do something!’ and defend a position, the longer you wait, the higher your odds at ‘doing the thing’. Sure, it takes practice, but composure isn’t going to come overnight.
Therefore, when you land in that armbar, consider doing an assessment. Are your hips tight to the opponent’s back? Is your figure-4 locked up and the opponent’s arm glued to your chest? How about those hamstrings, are they active and helping to anchor and curl you into your opponent’s arm and back? Great! Now chill. Opponent tries to sit up! Ride the wave. When your back hits the mat, drive the opponent’s head down with extended hamstrings and get back to your starting position. Wait. Bide your time. Is the fight going out of them after a few more attempts to sit up and rip your tightly pinched and well-structured knees and grips away? Congratulations, victory is yours! You just owned that position. Take the sub now, or don’t, as the situation demands.
2. Thumb-in Choke from the Knee Ride
Let’s think about another offensive scenario: setting up a collar choke from knee-on-belly. You’ve made it to the top! You’ve got great controlling pressure with your shin across the opponent’s hips and your foot curled against their body. Your outside hand has a thumb-in cross grip on the opponent’s collar. The inside hand asserts itself – whack – on the opponent’s outside thigh. No need to rush into that choke. They will give it to you. If they try rolling to turtle, forearm pressure. If they try hipping out, surf along with heavy but relaxed pressure. Now watch. See how they focus more on their frustration over still being under that knee! Okay, they’ve tipped towards the inside. Go for it! Shoot the far hand into the collar drop both knees to the floor and apply the choke. Wasn’t it so much easier to let them get all flustered, forget about the choke and offer up their neck?
Chill on the Defensive
Your composure is just as crucial when in defence. For example, in the knee ride situation above, do you need to try to escape right away? No. If they are simply on you, seeking to dominate and control you, chill. If there is no attack, just a body on you, why bother? Battle their attempt to intimidate with your stillness. Similarly, side control. So many smaller players talk to me about their trouble escaping side control. Why bother? If they are making it that difficult by crushing you, find your T-rex arms, work your Safe Hands and sip breaths. Relax it is just pressure. How else can coal become a diamond?! When your opponent tires of not getting their way, watch that space under their hips appear. Go for it – retrieve that guard!
The moral of the story, as Ryron told it, was recognising you have no where else to be. Again, find comfort where there is none, and chill.
When Everyone Has Too Much Chill
Okay, but what happens when everyone is chilling in all their positions? How are we going to keep these rolls going and learn from them? Someone has got to make a move. Who should it be?
The ‘top person’, or the partner with an offensive advantage. For example, if your partner is controlling you from the side, chill. Partner in side control: defend that position with great control for 30-45 seconds. Then, it is on you to loosen the control a bit or start mounting an attack or a positional transition. So, top-person starts with 100% control, loosens to 60% and goes from there to find the level best for their partner. In this way, the defender does not violate the cardinal precepts of GJJ by flailing around for an escape when there’s a) no attack coming and b) tight control and little opportunity for manoeuvrer. Similarly, the attacking partner can practice defending the top position or setting up different attacks and so on. The cycle of learning keeps going.
On a Personal Note
The super seminar weekend had a special significance for me. In addition to being in a room with like-minded practitioners from all around the Great Lakes, I had the opportunity to test for my brown belt with Ryron. While nerve-wracking, it was a great pleasure to have that one-on-one time, with feedback tailored to my game. Above all else, it was a fun experience! Moreover, I have a better view of where to take my practice going forward. I’m pleased to say that I was awarded my brown belt on 5th May 😀
This promotion feels different. In 21 years of martial arts, this is the first belt that feels more like a way-station and less like an ‘achievement’. This was unexpected. It feels less like reaching a new rung on a ladder, and more like catching a (very slowly) swinging vine that will carry me down and up through the next series of learning curves. I am surprised by this feeling and I suspect it is related to the self-acceptance I’ve embraced as a BJJ part-timer. That’s not to say I am cavalier or casual about this. Rather I feel really happy and centred and ready to keep moving.
Lastly, I’d like to recognise my jiu jitsu families in the US and UK. Especially the people of Dartford BJJ and Marc Walder jiu jitsu, the late-great London Women’s BJJ Open Mat, Gracie Jiu Jitsu Victor – special shout out to my fellow morning class jiu jitsu bums and superb coach, John Ingallina – and Wolf Brigade Gym. I appreciate your support, counsel, practice and fellowship. There is no me without you. Let’s go!
Photos reproduced here by kind permission of Gracie Jiu Jitsu Victor