24.5.12

BJJ / Grappling tips: How best to learn BJJ / Grappling: Listen to my actions and see my words

The best way to learn BJJ, grappling or any other activity is to focus on the details of the fundamental skills. The more we understand grappling details, the better we understand the whole picture and the reason for that is because everything is connected in BJJ. If you do the first three moves correctly, there is a higher probability that what you do after that will be good too.

My strongest memory of enhanced learning is from spending a lot of time with my karate instructor sensei Siamak back at the Gothenburg Kanzenkai. On one occasion, we were practicing lead leg inwards foot sweeps entry to punches (ashi barai to gyaku tsuki) and I just couldn't get the sweep to work. I was bashing the hell of my partner's leg (to his dismay) but I just couldn't get it to budge. I asked sensei over to watch and correct and very quickly he realised what I was doing (or rather not doing). Simply, my angle of entry was a little off (I searched the internet for pictures to demonstrate what I'm saying and these two are the best I could find)

This is the angle I was coming at

this is the correct entry angle

While that technique did become my favourite attack (and I still use it, even in BJJ), it's what he said afterwards that was one of the most important lessons I've had in martial arts and learning in general:

"You must always try to steal the most amount of knowledge from all your teachers. We as instructors always strive to share as much as possible, but there will be times when a move or detail gets missed. We are only human. You must not only watch my actions and listen to my instructios, but also listen to my actions and see my words"

Translation to BJJ speak:


Listen to my actions: Thanks to friction, actions in martial arts (gi BJJ more so than nogi) make an inescapable and distinct noise. A shuffle, a thud or sometimes a rustle. When the instructor says: "do A then B then C" but when she demonstrates you can hear a clear rustle between B and C it usually means there was a tiny move or vital detail that the instructor (accidently or otherwise) missed out: A small step or hip escape that gives you that vital angle to make the sweep effortless, a soft tapping sound just before the cross punch that indicates the non-punching lead hand patted the opponent's guard away to clear the path.

See my words: Visualise, visualise, visualise. how would the instructor's words translate in 3D? When she says: "insert your hands deep into the gi lapel to make the cross choke from guard effortless", close your eyes and imagine what a really deep grip looks and feels like. Now open them and see what the instructor is showing. Do the two images match? If not, what appears to be the difference and why? Is it something you could have percieved using the "Listen to my actions" method outlined above? Adjust and learn, just like learning to strum a chord on the guitar.

I think you get the point but because this learning method, dare I say "learning secret", made such a huge difference in my learning / teaching of BJJ, Karate and all other fields, that I would like to demonstrate with an example.

In the video below, esteemed martial artist and 4degree BJJ black belt Mr John Will teaches the finer details of the rolling arm bar. This fine piece of BJJ instruction is from his DVD: "Mastering Armbars" which he made with his good friend David Meyer and fellow Machado jiu jitsu Black Belt. You can buy it here and here



Did you enjoy that? The reason I chose this clip (with John's permission of course!) is because he is a fantastic instructor. He believes in the finer details of BJJ and shares as much as he can everytime he teaches. He is very generous with his instruction. But even someone of his experience and BJJ pedigree will sometimes move without telling you he just moved. He's not trying to hide anything from you (nor is your instructor) but he's done the move so many times before that that small detail becomes automated*. It's now for you to find it. The example I'm talking about here is what happens on the 12th second of this rolling armbar instructional. John's instructions from the 9th to the 17th second are:

"I grab the leg, pull it around over my head, *rustle rustle* throw the left leg on top and even though I haven't...."

Did you hear that *rustle rustle* that happened during the 12th second? Can you tell what it is?

It's that vital (but tiny) hip escape that John does to the left that facilitates a smooth transition of his left leg from under David's head to on top of it. Try it with or without the hip escape and you will notice a huge difference in ease of motion.

"Obvious!", some of you might think. But If I had a penny for everytime I saw an armbar fail** because of inefficient angle I'd be rich.

People, especially beginners, give up on BJJ techniques when they don't work. "It's not for me. It doesn't suit my game" you hear many white belts say.

Hmm. I bet you'd think differently if you paid more attention to the details that make BJJ the sweet science it is.

Again, thanks to John for allowing me to use his material.

*not to mention, it's right there for you to see :o)
**Once you understand the value of this angling move, you will start looking for in all your armbars from every position (what John calls "The second level of leverage". More on that in a future post


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Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

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