BJJ / Grappling Tips: Focusing on the Fundamentals Fosters A Truly Gentle art

When you hear the words Jiujitsu, BJJ, Gracie Jiujitsu or even grappling, what images come to mind?

Most uninitiated would probably visualise Hollywood Karate-esque pyjama fighting. Those who have witnesses Mixed Martial Arts events such as the UFC or Bellator may envisage that a jiujitsu mat is full of brutes wrestling each other to submission and, finally, those who have had a taste of the art will describe what they know to the level they know it with the grappling vocabulary they possess.

But the truth is that while Jiujitsu is a martial art and a thriving combat sport, it’s only as violent as the instructor teaching it. My own personal journey has lead me to favour brain over brawn, even though I fully appreciate the importance of athleticism and physicality. I am a self-diagnosed Martial Arts Geek, but I also love pushing the boundaries of what my body can do.

Making the best of what we were born with

When planning and / or delivering a private lesson, a group class or a seminar, I try to stay true to three rules:

BJJ / Grappling tips: Jiu-jitsu works, always!

Positional sparring is a fantastic way to sharpen your execution of a technique. Way more important than Free Rolling and that's not just my opinion. It's the opinion of practically every single world champ or Gracie family member I have ever interviewed.

For those not familiar with the term positional sparring: The instructor introduces three triangle fundamental escapes (for instance) then you drilled them in isolation (against progressive resistance) and then you roll, but every roll started from inside your partner's triangle set-up position. This is an excellent way to learn fast and learn well!

BJJ / Grappling Tips: How to Open and Pass the Closed Guard

My teacher Professor Eddie Kone recently released a beautiful video on "How to Develop Pressure in Jiujitsu" and the geography he chose to demonstrate these concepts was inside the closed guard. Developing and maintaining pressure is something we spend a ton (pardon the pun) of time and energy on within EKBJJ, no less so when passing the guard. Here's professor Kone's video on the subject:

Once you use these concepts to keep your opponent under physical and mental pressure and the legs are opened, your main choices to pass are:

  1. over the leg,
  2. under the leg and to a lesser extent...
  3. around the leg

BJJ / Grappling TIps: The Value of Planning

If your training, and indeed any activity you pursue, is important to you, and I assume it is otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this, then you need anticipate obstacles and to plan ahead.

There are times when I know I have a lot on or will be travelling and know that that will interfere with my ability to train. I have on many occasions emailed ahead to a club or two in where I'm going  and secured me a session or even a private. Not only will I experience training at a different academy and with different people games and energies, but also I can pride myself in the fact that once again I achieved a win-win and I couldn't have done it without planning ahead.

One such an occasion was when I visited my brother in Nottingham a few weeks back. I knew I'd be staying three days so I contacted Gracie Barra Nottingham and arranged a drop in on the night I arrived in Nottingham but also a private lesson with Professor Victor Estima which I would do an hour or so before catching my train back to London. I made several new jiujitsu friends (and even ran into some old ones!) and had an incredibly rewarding private lesson with one of the best in the world.

BJJ / Grappling Discussion: Is Your Jiu Jitsu Pure?

A discussion about “Pure Jiu Jitsu” was brought to my attention yesterday. I must admit that the discussion itself didn’t really teach me anything I didn’t already know but it made me think.

The central question raised was: What defines Pure Jiu Jitsu? This situation is not unique if you look at many traditional martial arts. A family member(s) (usually the eldest son or brother or even most senior student) ends up "inheriting" responsibility for the art and feels, in a lot of cases, rightly passionate about preserving what they learnt and inherited. You see this in Karate (Wadokai v wado ryu or even ITF Taekowndo vs the WTF version), Jujutsu (Iwama ryu v Aikikai) and even weapon arts (family-based ryu or schools vs curriculums by the Budokai. I'm not agreeing with it, I'm just saying that it's a natural thing.

If I was to create a system (of any kind) and spent a very long time teaching the ins and outs of it to someone (especially blood related), then they will see my passion for it and may develop a feeling that they need to preserve it after my death, rather than open it up and develop/expand it. That is human. This is not even to mention the perceived financial advantageous of a monopoly!

On the other hand, you will often have a group of people who are more passionate about the art itself and how it can enrich people's lives. They respect what those who created it/discovered it/formulated it did but are more excited by the prospects that the future holds and they realise that for the art/system to thrive and expand, it needs to evolve and stay up-to-date. They form committees and they created federations and they bring in democratic regulations. That too is human and of course welcome.

Which way to go then? Well the beauty of it is that it's up to the instructor, as long as he or she is honest, it all adds to the art and by being honest, I mean honest in all your communication with your students and the public. If you focus on preserving techniques that were meant to deal with a set of circumstances (be it sword attacks, BJJ competition or Vale Tudo) and you tell everyone that that’s your focus then great. If they like it, who’s to stop them/you.

The original question (What defines Pure Jiu Jitsu?) is really just a trap. A trap of attachment and measurement. “Pure” simply implies that something/everything else is “impure” which we have come to feel is something negative, turning the question into, in essence, marketing. The word is not the thing. If you want to know the thing, go roll. Don’t power your way thru, leave your ego outside and flow with the go and you will experience the thing and no one will be able to take it away from you or make it “impure”, whatever the hell that means.

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BJJ / Grappling Tips: Training When Ill...

A week ago, I thought I was falling ill with something. I felt at worst in my throat on Friday and am on the re-bound now. But it all got me thinking.

Grapplers are obsessed with training that it is not uncommon to see individuals putting in long workouts the day before a competition or when they are ill.

I believe the reason is that athletes fear losing the benefits of long periods of training by taking time off, no matter how brief. Professional athletes from all sports go through periods where they train more or less intensely but the recreational, part-time grappler always feel that if he misses one session then the next time he hits the mat he will be light years behind. The fact of the matter is if you have been training regularly for a year or so then a brief break (*) from exercise because of illness will result in minimal, if any, performance set backs!

Do you want more good news, the (*) period mentioned here is further extended if you, instead of going cold turkey, reduce your sessions to a lower frequency. So if you used to train 2-3 times a week and went thru a period where you could only do 1 session per week, the universe will not stop revolving!

Should I or Shouldn't I?
The main questions you need to ask yourself are: