Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mind = Blown!!

Sometimes you hear something and it completely changes your way of thinking.  In Jiu-Jitsu, you must always be thinking, re-evaluating your game and improving your weaknesses.

My instructor in Oklahoma, Giulliano Gallupi, said something to me once that didn't make a lot of sense at the time, but as I progress in BJJ, it becomes more and more mind blowing.  He told me "In guard, if you open your guard, you are playing Open Guard.  If your opponent opens your guard, you are getting passed."
"Of course." I thought at the time and dismissed it.  I didn't think deeply on what his actual meaning was.  What he was actually talking about was who has the initiative in the movement.  This is very important, because reaction time is always slower than initial action.  I also KNOW when the initial action is started.

Using the Open Guard/Passing Guard example, if I open my guard and place my feet on my opponent's hips I can then execute my next movement as my opponent is reacting to the opening of my guard.  I am one move ahead.  If my guard is opened by my opponent, I am reacting to the opening of my guard, trying to get to a spot where I can play open guard.  All the while my opponent is moving to pass.  My opponent is one move ahead.

Now let's apply this concept to escapes and sweeps.  In side control, I like to shrimp to my knees.

I then base with one arm down, opposite foot comes out to and the same foot as the arm down shoots forward to take butterfly guard.  This looks like a sit out, but instead of coming to the outside, you end up in half-guard.

Once there, I'll do the sweep of my choice.  If I have an underhook and an overhook, I'll go for the standard butterfly guard sweep.

If I have double underhooks, I'll start the roll over pass and if he bases with his arms, I'll take his back.

This all starts with my intention to escape.  I start the bridge and shrimp.  My opponent moves to retain side control, reacting to my bridge.  I scissor my legs and get to my knees.  As my opponent reacts to my change in position, I am already moving to butterfly guard.  My opponent now has to sit on his knees to counter the butterfly.  As he begins his movement, I have already selected, and have begun my sweep.  With the intention to escape, and getting to my knees I immediately was three steps ahead of my opponent who was still reacting to my initial shrimp.

Another excellent example is in the baseball bat choke from the bottom of side control.  In this movement, I ALLOW my opponent to pass.  BUT, I must make sure that it is ME who is controlling the initiative.

Here, Magid Hage sets his hands in guard, and baits his opponent to pass. He allows the pass to occur, on his terms, and springs the attack.

That is all well and good, however, this concept becomes more powerful when I am in the middle of defending my opponents movements.  I RETAKE the initiative by deciding when my opponent can complete the motions of his movements.  In these moments I move from being passed/attacked to becoming the attacker.
An excellent example of this is the "Ghost Escape".

In the first part of this video Kenneth Brown shows us the escape. The outside arm overhooks the opponent's outside arm. Bridge to make space, then the inside arm shoots underneath the body. Then you push on the body of the opponent while using your legs as a pendulum scissor movement. The momentum of the movement along with the push from the arm moves you in a circle and out of side control. The second half of the video demonstrates what I am talking about in this pass. The opponent begins a cut pass. They have the initiative, they have begun their pass, and have put their knee outside ours and have effectively stapled our leg to the ground. Knowing that the next movement will be the slide in to kesagatame, Kenneth recognizes that he will be passed and needs to take steps to recover the initiative. He moves to his side to take control of the sliding leg. At the same time he gets his ovehook, and moves his inside arm in to the push position. He then allows the pass to progress. Because he is in charge, he knows when the pass is going to occur. As the pass completes, he initiates his movement and is able to turn into his opponent in butterfly guard.

When you are training, who has the initiative? Are you playing open guard, or are you being passed?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How Not To Become a Crappy Black Belt

In BJJ you have various things that you need to be learning and doing at the various belt levels.  Your ability to learn and execute these things will determine your success in competition and in the gym.

As a white belt you job is to learn base and apply it to the basic movements of Jiu-Jitsu.  Whoever has the the best knowledge of base in a white belt competition will be able to overcome the majority of his opponents, because they will be able to execute their passes, set up submissions and counter the other guy's game.  Even if your opponent knows more than you do, if you have a better base you are much more likely to counter his movement.

As a blue belt your job is to deepen your knowledge of base and the basics, but add endurance and stamina.  Put two Blue Belts with equal base and knowledge in a match and the one with better endurance is going to win.  At Blue Belt you will be smashed and smashed and smashed.  You will need to learn how to defend and keep going.  You will learn how to attack and chain those attacks together.  Base is always important, but keeping your movement rolling is the key to success at this level.

As a Purple Belt your job is to develop a game.  You should already know what positions seem to work well for your body type.  The idea now is not to focus on those positions and drill so that you feel absolutely safe in those positions.  Then progress on to some very specific movement in those positions that you get some "signature" submissions from.  From there, instead of just looking to "escape side control" you are moving to escape side control in to a sweep/movement that will put you in to my game.  You see this in upper level matches, their movements are dedicated to directing their opponents in to their specific game.  

At Brown Belt you refine and solidify your game.  All focus is toward that game.  You explore new moves and other movements for the sake of defending them or using them to focus your game.  You hear the complaint, "You always use XYZ pass to XYZ submission."  Your drills are designed to put you in bad situations, so that you can escape, and progress directly to your game.  Your game movements are drilled to the point that even though someone may know exactly what you are going to do, they can't stop it.

At Black Belt your game is at the point where it is as natural as breathing.  Your flow is always, naturally, moving you into and around your game.  Your drilling is for the various "branches" of counters and movements of your game.  Instead of hitting XYZ pass to XYZ submission, you hit XYZ pass to XYZ submission, then flow seamlessly in to XXY submission because XYZ was blocked in one way or another.  This is natural movement, no thought was required to move submissions they just appear.

Where did I go wrong?  At purple belt, I didn't develop a game.  Sure I have positions and stuff that I really like and that are my "go-to" but...  I have too much fun with new positions.  I keep trying them, drilling them.  It means that my execution isn't where it should be.  A good black belt is able to teach the positions, but also has their specific game that is attuned to their use and their body.  A good black belt says "Ok, we are going to go over lasso guard to triangles." when their game is closed guard to top position to mount submissions.

My problem is that because I want to try so much stuff all of the time, I really have no defined game.  I get beat by those that do.  When I run in to someone with a specific, refined game, I get served early and often.  
So, what am I to do?  Well...  I need to build a game.  I need to focus on it.  I know what my game should be, I just need to take the time and drill dirll drill.  But...  I don't want to.  I want to practice all of the new stuff, while tying it together with the old stuff.  I want to drill  a cool way to get to the berimbolo off of a traditional half-guard pass, and I'll throw in a kneebar just for fun.
I am a hobbyist.  I'm 43 years old.  BJJ is not only my exercise and workout, but my decompression and fun.  I'm not competing anymore.  I really don't "have" to create and solidify a game at this point.  BUT...  If I do want to represent my school and my belt when I train other places, I do need something to execute... 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Confessions of a Crappy Black Belt

I promoted to Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on Saturday.  I am having lots of conflicting thoughts and feelings.
On the one hand, I feel that I deserve the belt.  I have been training for 12 years now, and I feel that I have put the time in on the mat, paid my dues, took the injuries, and that my knowledge level is on par with most Black Belts.
I know the positions, I know the movements.  I can teach and execute them.
I'm not pushing any innovations, but neither am I behind in the new movements.

I know the rule set and scoring for IBJJF and the other most common tournaments.  I can run a fight camp and make sure that the students in the class are ready to compete at their level.

Functionally, my technique is good enough to overcome all but the higher belts at my gym, and I have worked favorably against others at other gyms.  When young, strong, athletic, wrestlers with no BJJ experience to speak of come to the gym, I am able to hold them off and finish them.

I know that in the overall bell curve of BJJ Black Belts, I am not at the bottom of the curve.

But, on the much bigger other hand, I don't feel that my ability to apply technique is at the Black Belt level.  I don't "feel" like a Black Belt.  Of course, my promotion is not up to me.  It is up to my instructors.  Samuel, who runs the gym feels I am at the Black Belt level.  Rodrigo Medeiros, Samuel's instructor stated that he feels that my technique is at the Black Belt level and allowed the promotion.  But I don't feel worthy of the belt.

This is very different from my promotions to Black Belt in other martial arts.  I promoted to Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do not more than 4 years after starting.  The same for Hap Ki Do.  It is fun to note that I stayed longer at Blue Belt in BJJ than I did in training for Black Belt in both Korean Martial Arts.
Despite the time factor, the big difference between the Korean Arts and BJJ was that I was at a school with a lot of TKD and HKD Black Belts.  It wasn't something over the top to see and train with a Black Belt.  They weren't mythical figures who's technique was so much better than my own.
However, when I started BJJ, my instructor was a newly promoted Purple Belt.  Just having a Blue Belt was very very special.  The Black Belts I knew were directly from Brazil.  They were former world champions, trained by the Gracie family, at the Gracie gyms in Brazil.
These guys were top of the food chain in Brazil, and accepted the sacrifice of moving to a different country because they loved BJJ, and wanted the art to grow.

However, if I would have looked back at their gyms in Brazil, what would I have seen?  I would have seen that the majority of Black Belts would have been just like I am today.  Guys with jobs.  Guys who have been training for years, who have the technique, but do not, nor will they ever, have the ability of the guys who went to the U.S. to teach.  They are hobbyists.  Just like me.

So, while I don't feel worthy of the belt, and I know for a stone cold fact that I would get my clock cleaned by many purple/brown belt competitors, I am still a Black Belt representing the BJJ Revolution and Carlson Gracie Jr. gyms through Samuel.  I will do my best to represent them and be worthy of the rank bestowed upon me.