BJJ Turtle

This last weekend I did my first full Saturday in over a month – a full judo class followed by a full BJJ class. Needless to say, I got my ass handed to me. Which is good. That’s how I get back in shape. That’s how I learn. That’s how I get rid of the techniques that don’t  work and reinforce the ones that do.

In judo we worked on sasae tsurikomi ashi. There isn’t much to note other than it was a big class and I still suck at footsweeps, but I’m slowly getting better. In BJJ we worked on pressuring the turtle and taking the back when uke tries to roll. Thales called it “core position” instead of “turtle”, but we were on our elbows and knees, ergo turtle. The first thing I took note of was that everyone in BJJ does turtle completely differently from judo. They don’t tuck or ball up. It’s very easy to hook with your arms and legs wherever you want to because they’re in a position closer to the referee’s position from wrestling. It made turnovers, chokes, and armbars very easy as the person on top and defending surprisingly hard as the person on the bottom. The way people tried to roll from the bottom was very different from what we learned in judo or the Granby roll you see in wrestling – it was much easier to stuff by basing or to take their back as they did it. They were essentially rolling over the near shoulder or to the side instead of arching up and using the leg to kick the attacker over into reverse kesa. The judo roll caught people off guard when I didn’t know I was supposed to roll the other way because it worked even when they based or tried to take my back. The use of the leg helps prevent them from getting a hook in for taking your back and gives you more leverage for flipping them over even if their legs are sprawled out. Overall I feel like the turtle I learned in judo is better for me, but that might just be because when I look at the turtle being taught in the BJJ classes I see easy submissions and no way of defending. It certainly isn’t the stalling position from judo, but at the same time,  it’s just as susceptible to the quarter nelson turnover.

Rolling felt good even though I got tapped a lot. Or rather, rolling felt good because I got tapped a lot.

I’m A Solid Purple Belt When It Comes To Tapping

Dan and I were discussing leglocks per the recent post. He agreed that the number one problem is that people don’t know when to tap. He proceeded to tell me he was a solid purple belt when it came to tapping. Knowing how to tap and when to tap is a big deal, but we kind of just throw people to the sharks in letting them figure that out.

I’m going to be referencing some other blogs, so before I go any further:
John Torres’ blog post: Part 1 and Part 2
Jiu-Jiu’s blog post: The Safe Word Is Tap

Julia’s post called out a quote from

Leg submissions are deceptive because your opponent won’t necessarily feel pain until it’s too late and something is torn or broken. Unlike muscles and tendons, cartilage and the ligaments in the knee and foot are not well innervated. This means they do not have many nerve endings in them so there is little pain until they tear. You just feel pressure on the joint before the tear, then comes the pain.

When I read that my jaw dropped. To me, that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of when you’re supposed to tap for any submission. Waiting until you feel pain on a joint is the equivalent of waiting until you start drifting out of consciousness for a choke. The difference is that instead of possibly evacuating your bladder and bowels in your pants, you’re possibly going to end up in a cast for 6-8 weeks.

The Anatomy of a Submission Hold

All submission holds have a few things in common. For a wrist lock tori isolates your wrist, then he begins application. As uke this feels like nothing, then pressure, then some pain with the pressure, then worse pain as the pressure suddenly gives as the wrist breaks. For a rear naked choke tori isolates your neck, then he begins application. As uke this feels like nothing, then pressure in your head, then you fall asleep, and then you hope tori lets go of the choke so that your brain isn’t deprived of oxygen for too long because that has some very serious side effects like death.

That pressure in your head is the indicator that the choke has gone south and you’re not getting out. How much pressure you can withstand is all about knowing your own limits and being able to recognize when the choke is something you can escape and when you’re past the point of no return.

I have some features which are mixed blessings. My elbows bend backwards to about a 115 degree angle. It looks pretty gnarly. People do arm bars the wrong way so I get the full extent of this range of motion. That means I have more time to escape. It also means my elbow is at severe structural risk before I feel pain. When my arm hurts during an arm bar it’s because damage is already being done. Just like a choke, for me an arm lock is about recognizing the amount of pressure and knowing my own point of no return. Because of my extreme flexibility, all submission holds really have only three stages: ensnarement, pressure, bad shit happens.

What does it mean to tap?

Tapping can refer to literally tapping on your opponent, yourself, or the mat to signify defeat. It can also refer to calling out one of the accepted terms for defeat – “tap”, “matte”, “stop”, etc. For our purposes, it means doing as much as you are able to to alert your partner or opponent that you’re done.

If you’re on the wrong end of a joint lock, physically tap, but also call out “TAP!”, and don’t give some petty ‘I don’t know if a fly just landed on me’ tap, slap like your joint depends on it (it does depend on it by the way). If you’re being choked or strangled and can’t call out, tap hard, try to tap on your opponent, and concede that you did tap if they let up before the referee calls a stoppage. Being that guy who taps and then keeps going afterward makes you the kind of person that deserves to have the joint broken. If both arms and your voice are tied up (i.e. jigoku jime from crucifix) tap clearly with your feet.

As tori, if your partner says something or you suspect they tapped, stop. It doesn’t matter if they get out. It doesn’t matter if you lose the greatest submission of your life. If you even suspect that they’re in trouble, stop and ask if they’re okay.

When to tap?

One of my biggest qualms with tapping when you feel pain is that we end up in the situation where pain is muted a lot. You step on the mat for competition and your heart starts racing, the adrenaline hits you, and as you start doing an activity that uses almost every muscle in your body the endorphins start to kick in. Waiting to feel pain in this situation is asking for trouble even if you don’t have gloriously messed-up joints like a certain someone. You may be waiting for something that just isn’t coming, or is coming too late.

This is what’s meant by “tap early”. You need to learn to recognize a bad situation and tap before it goes from bad to worse. Waiting for it to be so bad that your options are hope they give you long enough to tap or accept a broken arm is not acceptable behavior for an uke. We talk a lot about not being a dick and not breaking someone’s arm, but at the end of the day, it’s uke’s job to keep himself safe. It’s tori’s job to apply the technique. Not being a dick doesn’t mean not breaking someone’s shit when they’re too stubborn to tap. It means giving them the chance to tap before you break it. In class is different, but in competition you should plan to do any hold to completion.

The second part of the phrase is “tap often”, and this is one a lot of people have trouble with. “Tap early” can apply to competitive bouts – some hardware from a local tournament is not worth having the bone reset and 8 weeks in a split. “Tap often” is really only about training. It’s about a sense of humility and an understanding of safety. I don’t have to be in dire straights to tap. If my calf cramps up during class I’ll tap. If I’m just too tired to go on I’ll tap. If you bent my arm and I know that I don’t have a chance of escaping I’ll tap. Yeah, it’s a disservice to a partner that needs to learn how to actually apply the joint lock, but it’s also my well-being and I reserve the right to tap to anything I damn well please. After all, I’m the one who’s conceding.

The Take Away

“Tap early, tap often.” and don’t rely on pain to be your cue. It should be pressure and knowing your own limits. This is why leg locks are no more dangerous to me. All the warning signs are there. At some point instructors started conditioning people to tap later than they should. Hubris, thy name is “Ouch.”

New Additions

Since I made the decision to clean up I’ve added on a few articles, cleaned up my pages, and built the basic outline for the sections I plan to include. The next few steps will be to migrate the reviews, add more pages to the DIY section as I improve my home gym to account for my recent decrease in available time to train, and clean up the old posts.

As always, any feedback you may have is greatly appreciated. I’d love to know what you think and what other areas you’d like to see. I still have not been able to find the time to record any technique videos, but that remains something I’d like to add in the distant future.

Cleaning Up

I’ve decided I want to present information on here in a slightly different format. As a result I’m going to be cleaning up the old posts I think are worth keeping and removing a bunch of others.

I’ll be adding in new sections which break out reviews, tips, and guides. The goal is going to be to create a site which is easier to navigate than the old blog format and provides more meaningful information. I’ll probably keep a blog section where I make semi-regular posts about training, but I’m going to try to keep reference material separate. As posts get a lot of traffic and I feel enough shame for my poor grammar, constant typos, and to account for research I’ve done since writing the post I’ll break them out and add them to an articles section.

Please pardon the construction. I’ll be playing with it for awhile so there will be the occasional blank or nonsensical page to see what I like. I apologize in advance to anyone who’s following me if WordPress blows up your mailbox everytime I make a new page or section.

Leglocks: The Controversy

When I went to start writing this morning I had what I felt to be three very solid ideas for posts. The first was the difference between Game and Flow, but as I wrote out a post it ended up just being a proclamation of my short-comings and how I do not have any semblance of a well developed game regardless of the number of matches I win as I roll on instinct with little to no planning. The second was writing up how competition is the dog’s bollocks, but writing about the most effective means of training and telling a group of active competitors how great a competitive environment is for fostering growth felt like a dead horse to avoid beating. The third is this post about a conversation I had after practice with Mosquito last night.

When you roll no-gi there’s no way to tell a white belt from a brown belt. Everyone’s wearing their own rashguards and shorts. I’d say next to nobody wears their assigned IBJJF uniform. To be honest, I like that because it lets me blend in. I’m not the out-of-practice blue belt who’s an easy target for a skilled white belt who needs to reaffirm his belief that he’s ready to be ranked. I have to start playing with people to determine their skill level and the result of how they respond allows me to properly gauge how hard I should go and what I should focus on – I don’t get to see a white belt with no stripes and assume this guy has no experience. I have to ask or just roll, and I choose to just roll and see what they do.

Mosquito asks how it’s going and my response was “I’m loving toe holds today.” He told me to be careful. Being careful isn’t foreign to me. Being more careful with a knee bar than I would be with a keylock is. So after class I asked Mosquito what should be allowed in no-gi since the IBJJF has one set of rules, but we don’t all play IBJJF. A rule set is determined by the interests of the governing body and the IBJJF disallows a lot of things that local tournaments allow (kani basami, reaping the knee, heel hooks, spine locks, etc.). The response was more eloquent, but I’m going to paraphrase: Do to people what you would want them to do in return. There are no techniques we don’t allow. The general “don’t be a dick” rules apply, but there’s no ban on reaping the knee and taking the easy toe hold or the reverse toe holds that I kept finding myself with last night. It’s definitely a slide backwards for me – using leg locks means I’m not focusing on the fundamentals. I’m taking the easy way out and finishing things I know people don’t know how to defend.

That was the crux of the rest of the conversation – when and how do you do leg locks in an environment where people don’t know the correct way to defend? I talked with Mosquito about how I don’t feel leg locks are more dangerous fundamentally. He noted that there weren’t a lot of guys in Brazil doing and defending leg locks. When I asked about reaping the knee he said it was dangerous, and I disagreed citing Metamoris allowing the reap and ADCC allowing the heel hook without us seeing the instantaneous injuries we’ve come to expect from these techniques that were banned for safety reasons. Sambo also allows both, but we see more injuries from a certain rolling arm lock that we actually practice in class. It’s a hard thing to provide concrete evidence for – the sports that still allow all the techniques are generally considered more brutal.

So here’s the controversy – we’d need concrete data to support which techniques to allow and which ones to ban. Since the banning of techniques have come over a long history we theoretically have this built in, but rules are fundamentally geared toward the interest of those in power. Saying “we saw a lot of injuries from this so we’re taking it out.” is a lot harder to swallow than “with p < 0.05 we noted that this had an injury rate 36% higher than the baseline technique of juji gatame (cross arm lock).” My proposition is simple – someone should provide a large scale tournament which allows everything we would consider reasonable, and document the injury rates and success rates of all submissions. I’d expect the percentage of injuries will not vary with the techniques which are allowed so long as competitors are made aware beforehand that the rules are “everything goes”.