Kesa Gatame: My Home, My Hero.


There’s been a lot I’ve wanted to blog about lately. Working with people brand new to grappling. Working with experienced grapplers who are new to submissions. How excited I am that after Wade’s gym moves to Lodi we’ll be gaining one of the best guys I know for wrestling (if I remember correctly he was 88-5-0 in three years of high school wrestling). It’s hard to come down to one topic.

Saturday we had a purple belt visit. His name is Ed. He’s two weight classes above me with a strong wrestling background. To me he represents how BJJ takes someone who’s so naturally a top-game player and turns them into a guard-game player. He has a great guard. He doesn’t have great flexibility or speed, but he plays very well off his back. Ed schooled me. Having said that, kesa is so sweet.

When I talk to most BJJ guys about kesa they think I mean kazure kesa gatame (underhooking the far  arm). I do not. I mean kesa gatame (head-lock variation of the scarf hold). I gave up kazure kesa for kesa against Ed. He made note of it. I didn’t lose the position by doing it. Most BJJ practitioners would call it crazy. If anyone tells you one is better, here’s the breakdown: Kazure is easier to hold initially and it’s considered harder to escape. Kazure offers more armlocks. The headlock form of kesa applies more pressure to your opponent, to the degree that if you learn to sink the pin in on two levels they will lose the ability to breath. This headlock form also allows for quick chokes and a switch to the arm-triangle (kata gatame). Even if they escape their arm, with their head I can trap them and transition to one of my grip variations. This weekend was an experiment in the keylock variation where you hold an Americana on the arm with your arm still trapping their head. It seemed to work well.

The trick to a solid (headlock) kesa is to know how to transition. I used to do drills where when someone bridged I’d go to mount, and if they bridged again I’d go to kesa (a great defense against the “umpa”). If they bridge too well or defend the mount you just keep switching sides of kesa. Your grips get funny but it’s not too hard to do (kazure works well for this drill until you learn the grip switches). I should do these drills more. Have your partner lay down, take kesa, have them slowly bridge you, switch your hip and jump to mount or the other side. Slowly ramp up the pace/intensity of the bridging. It will only work if they bridge earnestly. You shouldn’t have to work other than the hip switch (they will lift and bump you over them). If they go backdoor, know how to switch to side-control. If you can do both of those transitions, kesa is golden.

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