Gi vs No Gi

Let me preface this by saying, this isn’t a discussion of which is better or a recommendation that you need to do one, the other, or both. If forced to chose between gi and no gi, chose what you enjoy more. If doing both means more mat time, more mat time is better than less mat time, don’t be afraid of the modality you haven’t done before.

Most of my tenure in jiu-jitsu has been spent in the gi. Third Heaven had MMA classes that were no gi, but jiu-jitsu was pretty much always gi when I was there. Same at Wade’s. Fight Prime is the first time I can recall having a regularly scheduled no gi class that I attended. No gi was okay, it was a thing I did to get more class time, but I don’t really remember enjoying it as much as the gi. At Foundations, with Mike, is when I think I really fell in love with no gi. Late last autumn I did gi again for the first time in years. I now have a perspective on transitioning between them in each direction.

Jiu-jitsu, fundamentally, is about angles and frames. You need to build structures to manage distance, prevent getting taken in directions you don’t want to be taken, and compound the forces you’re applying. Some folks will talk “wedges” too – I think those are valid, but they’re fundamentally still a structure you’re building to apply a force in a specific direction, so I’m going to lump them in with angles and frames. Regardless of practicing gi or no gi, you will need to build frames and make angles.

The gi allows you to reinforce frames against cloth anchors. To defend an armbar you can grab your lapel and have a tight acute angle in your elbow that will be difficult to break and they’ll have to manage to break your grip not against your own hand where the mobility of your other arm can come into play, but against your jacket where the thickness of the fabric, how tight your jacket fits, and how you’re gripping it are the big factors. These reinforcements are what allow you to slow down a larger, faster opponent in the jacket using grips. The additional hand-holds and higher friction mean even someone who’s relatively new can get a grip and have a stiff, straight arm managing distance pretty effectively between them and their partner. The increased friction and grips generally mean you need to have a solid defense too. You’re unlikely to slip out even when sweaty, so prevention is more important than response as a rule of thumb in the gi.

No gi does not tolerate frames reinforced artificially by the uniform. Rather, the natural handles of the body such as the hips, lats, and traps must be used if you’re seeking to directly control the torso. Frames must be reinforced against yourself, your partner, or the ground – features which are available regardless of if you’re wearing a jacket or not. However, this means it’s much harder to learn to control that bigger, faster partner. If you’re not creating angles with your body and reinforced frames in the direction they’re trying to go they can really make use of their physicality. Getting to a good position fast matters more in a roll because if not, you’ll likely gas yourself just keeping yourself safe. When you hear folks talk about no gi being less technical, that’s what they’re referring to; the pace is generally faster than no gi by necessity because you need to move yourself to build frames to slow your opponent down and if you or your partner are not adept at building those frames efficiently then being more physically gifted than them is worth more. You also need to be on point with your attacks. Things get slippery and folks can slip out, you need structures blocking movement in those escape directions.

That speed is the thing I struggled to most with when going from gi to no gi. I had a grip-heavy game from years of gi and judo and being so married to those artificially reinforced frames. Folks will often talk about not being sure where to grip or what to do with their hands transitioning either gi to no gi or no gi to gi, but that takes all of a couple days to figure out and it’s a pretty straightforward question to answer in most cases. The speed and having to build frames with your body though, that’s a skillset that while you can learn in gi, no gi will absolutely force you to learn unless you’re the bigger, faster guy. Learning to deal with that speed made me more technical. It’s not that no gi is inherently any more technical, you should be making frames with your body and blocking escape routes even in the gi, it’s that I could cheat and use the gi so as to not have to learn those skills until no gi forced me to. Plenty of people who learned and use those details in the gi have no trouble at all transitioning to no gi.

Going back to the gi, the thing I struggled most with was how annoying grips could be. Years of not having to actively grip fight meant I wasn’t preventing grips for a couple of weeks when I went back to the gi. I just wasn’t used to having to. I could still get my positions, my grip strength was still there when I wanted to get a dominant grip and just hold it, but getting 90% to what you want and then having to deal with a grip you didn’t prevent en route can be disheartening. You know you can do this thing, you do it all the time in no gi. And those grips allow for more efficient economy of movement sometimes. Being able to grap a sleeve at the cuff and push off of it lets you both redirect your partner and lift yourself. It’s possible, but difficult in no gi where blocking and lifting are generally the best you’ll be able to do, so there are things that are more optimized for the gi to relearn. I’d argue these things tend to be “win more” effects – effects that help you win faster or more decisively, but that rarely, if ever, change the actual outcome. You’ll have to deal with your partner’s grips, but there’s nothing about the gi that forces you to use the gi grips, your no gi game will still work and if it’s honed should still work well; it just might not work as well as if you also took advantage of the lapels and sleeves.

Gi and no gi don’t need to be that different. Grips and different chokes being available is honestly all that really changes on an inherent level, and as discussed, those are relatively minor things. The notion that either is more technical is silly – both require you to use technique to overcome physical differences and both allow for you to do so provided you’re learning the right stuff. They just require different focuses if you’re playing optimized games where you take advantage of low friction in no gi or grips in the gi. As to which beginners should do first, I think you’ll learn better defenses in the gi, but you’ll learn to not rely on artificially reinforced frames in no gi, so it’s honestly a horse apiece.

Footnote: Recognizing that you may not be hip to Northern Midwestern idioms, I’ve included a link for what “a horse apiece” means rather than using a different phrase. If you’re not from Wisconsin, you now have a new way to describe when two things are more or less the same. You’re welcome.

Coaching vs Instructing

I said I might talk about this a bit, and then low and behold it came up on r/judo. Not everything that’s said there applies to BJJ – there’s no NGB giving NCEP certification for BJJ coaching in the US that I’m aware of, but it’s an interesting perspective and I agree with most of what was said. Still, as I mentioned in the previous post, NCEP certifications can be applicable and helpful to coaching any kind of grappling. I personally categorize folks as practitioners, instructors, and coaches.

Practitioners are everyone who’s practicing the grappling art in question. If you’re showing up to class and participating, no matter your other role(s) in the class, you’re a practitioner. The base goal of a practitioner is to improve their ability to execute the skills. Everyone, no matter what role, should be continuing to learn and improve their grappling skills to some degree. Whether that’s developing a deeper understanding, better timing, learning how to adapt it as you get older and more broken down, whatever, you continue learning the skillset.

Instructors are people who teach. If you show techniques as part of a formal class setting, I’d call you an instructor. Not all instructors need to be black belts or even high level practitioners. Not all instructors need to be able to execute what they’re showing in a live environment. Never feel like just because you’re teaching you have an obligation to be able to tap everyone who’s learning from you. Generally an instructor needs to really understand their game and the techniques they’ll be showing. You need to know it well enough to explain it in simple terms, show details that provide value, answer questions, and debug as folks struggle to perform what you’ve shown. It’s hard, and we’re all always learning how to teach better, which to me should be the goal of an instructor on top of their goals as a practitioner.

Coaches have higher expectations than instructors to me. Notably, instruction can stop with the how to do a technique, it can be all martial art. Coaching means understanding and helping with the sport side of things too. What does a good plan for weight management look like? What’s a reasonable lifting plan? What should periodization of comp practices look like leading up to a competition? Do you know how to corner someone during a match? Are you making sure your athletes have what they need to succeed mentally, physically, emotionally? Can you evaluate someone’s game and help them figure out where to grow next? Do you make the effort to be there for the athlete and try to coach them? Do you evaluate their matches and help them make gameplans? Coaches have to learn a lot of different areas to be effective, and their goal is ultimately to learn as much as possible to help their athletes.

I know plenty of good practitioners who would be lousy instructors, and plenty of instructors who are lousy as coaches, but I don’t know a good coach who’s a lousy instructor. There aren’t magical demarcations though. It’s not like only coaches care about the competitive success of the athletes they work with, or that only instructors help others learn. Ultimately, which of the three groups someone falls into will be what they aspire to do and want to call themselves. However, we can use these metrics to determine how good they are as that role and to try to figure out where we should be improving. I’d also advocate moving through the levels – don’t try to coach if you can’t teach, and don’t try to teach if you don’t know how to do.

Coaching Criteria Recommendations

This is a list of certifications/courses I recommend for coaching at a grappling gym. This list is targeting a US audience, but it’s probably worth looking into what kind of equivalents are available in your area. Hopefully you’ll agree that none of these are bad skills to have on-hand.

  1. SafeSport – a class that’s designed to help identify abuse and give guidance on how to address it. This is required by all NGBs that are members of Team USA, so if you’re getting certified as a judo or wrestling coach you’re already required to take this. It’s $20 if you don’t belong to an NGB.
    Caveat – this isn’t a silver bullet that’s going to fix abuse and I don’t want to bill it like that. You’ll find negative stuff about SafeSport if you look into it [1], [2]. I don’t want to discount any of that. Understand the shortcomings of SafeSport as a system, it’s still a good class for learning the signs and patterns of abuse. Still encourage victims of abuse to report their experiences to law enforcement and kick shitty personalities out of your gym.
  2. HEADS UP – materials designed to help increase awareness around concussions including helping you identify one and what to do if you suspect an athlete has one. This one is free for anyone, and again is required by all the NGBs that are members of Team USA. I’d recommend encouraging students and parents to take this too.
  3. An NGB coaching certification – note, these are on how to coach, not technical aspects of what to teach. They don’t indicate how good a grappler someone is, just to what extent they’ve studied coaching. However, they do cover stuff like training periodization, skin infection identification, and nutrition so I’d still say they’re immensely useful content.
    1. USA Wrestling NCEP Certification – USAW offers Copper, Bronze, Silver, and Gold certification levels. Copper is designed for folks coaching athletes 5-12 years of age, but also is the real intro to how to coach, I’d strongly recommend it for anyone coaching a kids class, but also anyone who’s interested in Bronze. Bronze is designed for folks coaching athletes who are 13 and older, so it’s still helpful for how to coach adults, but since wrestling is so geared toward a scholastic environment a lot of it will require some thought on how to translate it to a school that’s teaching hobbyist adults. Silver and Gold are for folks who are interested in improving their coaching skills to an advanced level. I’m hoping to get Silver sometime, especially as most of the its requirements are things I’d recommend anyway. Copper and Bronze can be completed entirely online which is cool.
    1. USA Judo Coach Development Program – I’m not certified in this, but all the judo coaches at Madison Judo are to the best of my knowledge. Looking at the overview this seems to be roughly equivalent in content to the wrestling coaching courses. The levels seem to be the same Local, Regional, National, International levels we have in the judo refereeing system and are managed by the state-level bodies as far as I can tell. The major disadvantage I’ve seen for these is there are no online offerings.
  4. CPR/AED Certification – you can get this through organizations like the Red Cross or AHA’s Heartsaver program. It’s better to know CPR and never have to use it in class than need to use it in class and not know it, plus this is required for USAW’s Silver level.
  5. First Aid Certification – generally this is more intense and goes beyond CPR/AED classes, covering things like how to dress wounds, treat burns, potentially how to splint a fracture. If you’re not a medical professional and tend not to have one around the gym to help, this can be really useful. You can generally pick this up the same places that offer CPR/AED certifications. NGBs tend not to require this because sanctioned events have to have medical personnel onsite and a lot of school sports programs will have a trainer or nurse available to deal with injuries, but let’s also agree it never hurts to better be able to help assess and treat an injury.
  6. Bloodborne Pathogen Training – okay, this is maybe a bit paranoid, but I had to take it when I was working at a hospital and it’s proved pretty useful. Knowing how to clean blood, what PPE you should be wearing to do so, and what to do if you’re exposed is hopefully overkill for you, but hear me out – blood happens in grappling and you don’t know what diseases other folks have. The Red Cross offers this as well as CPR and First Aid.
  7. Applicable belt rank – it has to be said. Each martial art has a minimum rank that’s expected before you know enough to teach, but if you’re a wrestling coach this probably seems silly. As a wrestling coach you’ll also have a pretty quick route to blue belt generally, which can be helpful knowledge to have for how to modify wrestling techniques to BJJ or Grappling contexts. Even for Sambo all the coaches I know have ranks in judo and/or BJJ.

Beyond these kind of classes, I’d also recommend going out and hitting up seminars, networking with other coaches in your area, and reading as much as you can on the subject. I picked up Dan Gable’s book for my USAW Silver book report when I get around to working on that set of criteria. Instructing is different than coaching is different from practicing, but we tend to expect the folks at the head of class in our grappling gyms be good coaches, good teachers, and skillful practitioners, so it’s important to keep working on all three aspects. I’ll probably talk about how instruction differs from coaching at some point in the future because a lot of people conflate the two.

The New Online Paradigm

Instructors are fallible. The entire pretense of a seminar is that a different instructor will likely be able to show you something different, and probably better, than what your instructor has shown you. Sometimes there’s a thing your instructor doesn’t know well, or there are deeper details that a more experienced instructor could/would show you. In most cases it’s pretty likely that a student’s growth will be limited by their instructor’s ability to help them. Instructors know that and every one I know works actively to keep learning themselves so they can keep helping their students improve too.

We’ve always had videos. The old Vale Tudo tapes that Justin used to talk about. The DVDs Marcello would sell at around $200 per series ($800-900 for all four series white to black). The Reilly Bodycomb videos to try to learn leg locks. These things were super important ways to get knowledge at a time where a lot of schools were against training multiple places and getting a seminar for a topic your coach wasn’t interested in would be a hard sell. The thing is, as the community has opened up way more and seminars have become way more prevalent, the importance of videos hasn’t decreased. If anything, they’re even more valuable today.

Videos tend to come in two flavors – series on specific positions/techniques and series designed to be more holistic. If I’m being honest, most of the holistic series I’ve seen are rough. They show super basic techniques, with minimal details and they blow through them pretty quickly. A lot of them feel like scattershot of techniques too. They present a bunch of good techniques, but with little to no discussion about when to attempt which or how to chain them. It’s the drilling without rolling model where you’ll figure it out with experience. Some of them probably took an attempt at it, but with so much content it’s hard to recall any given one that did so really well. Even Saulo Ribeiro’s Jiu-Jitsu Revolution, one of my all-time favorites to go back to for details, feels like a collection of techniques rather than a system. As I think back, I feel like that’s how jiu-jitsu has been taught to me for years too – here’s a technique of the week, maybe with some reference to the previous week’s technique, and maybe a context where it happens and 1-2 other things that pair with it, but making a full game out of that is left to the student to pick and choose their favorite techniques and link them. Specific videos are better because of the expectations – you already know where you’re working from – and most of them present chains explicitly for the one thing you’re watching them to get better at. But then you’re still cherry picking your favorite ones to build your own game, and not all of them pair well, some will even be contradictory.

John Danaher’s Enter The System and especially his Go Further Faster series feel different. He talks a lot about theory and philosophy to set you up (maybe even too much). He’s repetitive to the point of it becoming a meme. He talks incredibly slowly to the point that everyone I know watches his videos on 1.5-2x speed. But those things help retention. I can barely tell you what details Bernardo Faria shows in his Foundations Of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I remember feeling like he was showing the basics, he was showing good details for them, but I don’t have anything I really walked away from it with. Danaher’s system is different. He’ll show a minor thing that feels revolutionary, and he’ll hit on it again and again and again, progressively adding in details and showing it from various angles so you can really see what’s going on. The funny thing is, other than resolution increasing, video production quality hasn’t seem to come that far. Voices still sound echo-y and shadows can be a bit wonky on a lot of instructionals. The first release of Danaher’s leg lock series was riddled with audio problems that led to a reshoot. I don’t think he makes better videos in terms of quality than anyone else’s videos on Fanatics, Digitsu, or BudoVideos. But there’s something different about the pedagogy. He shows chains for each position in the GFF series and each submission in the ETS series. He talks about how the positions relate so if you had all of GFF you wouldn’t just have scattershot, you’d have a true system for positional advancement. His details are memorable because of how they’re presented. It is somehow a better video series than most of those that came before it. It feels like a polished, more updated version of the old Ryan Hall videos in a lot of ways.

None of that is to not to knock the value of the old videos, or downplay how essential it is to have an experienced coach who can give you in person help and correction, or even the benefit of position/submissions-specific instructionals. But I do think we’re in a new period for BJJ after the release of these series though. Everyone now has access to levels of detail to a degree that, for a lot of the techniques, I never learned in over a decade of practice. There’s a presentation of pedagogy that will likely change the way a lot of us teach as we become more savvy to it. There’s content from a coach who’s training top-level athletes that shows details a lot of us are going to need to know to be able to even keep up with our students as they buy these. I don’t want to fanboy out all over videos that have been out for awhile, but the amount of attention they get is warranted. Maybe as an advanced practitioner you’ll see them and just be annoyed by the repetition and how even at 2x speed you’re watching 5 hours on a position, and maybe they honestly have nothing to offer you personally; however, as I’m delving into them and trudging through the hours of content, I’m finding a lot of the details that I’ve been missing to make things work, and a lot of the “black belt details” to steal Justin’s phrasing that I feel like are what I’ve been missing to really have a mastery of these techniques.

We’re seeing an explosion in video content. It’s not just Danaher, and I’m sure other coaches will be putting out insanely good content. Ryan Hall is always teasing his “Spaceballs 2: The Search For More Money” and I’d love to see updated versions of his content after seeing his updated 50/50 series. As students, picking the right instructionals will probably be the secret to faster advancement in jiu-jitsu. As instructors, we’re going to have to up our game and keep up with at least the best of the new stuff, since we’ll never be able to keep up with all of it. There’s a new paradigm for how to see techniques, and we’re going to have to adapt.


I’m in a highly privileged position – I don’t promote folks; I don’t have plans to promote folks; the classes I teach are not an appropriate environment to even consider promoting folks in; Mike as head instructor gets to deal with that. Having said that, I still need to consider when to mention to Mike that someone is doing well and should be evaluated. Ranks are probably the most baffling aspect of jiu-jitsu, even as someone who’s been doing this for over a decade.

Ranks matter. They matter in competitions where they’re an approximation of skill for dividing folks. They matter in class where our position in the hierarchical line is effectively a status symbol within the group. They matter because we make a big deal about them when someone gets promoted – clapping, cheering, congratulating them. They matter because we all have expectations for people of a given rank that causes us to be upset when someone who doesn’t meet those expectations has been promoted or when someone who far exceeds them is still competing at a rank lower than we would expect (i.e. sandbagging). Those expectations drive impostor syndrome and you end up with skilled folks who explicitly don’t want to be promoted because it could be called into question if they’re “legit”.

Ranks are made up non-sense. They’re subjective to the instructor and any personal expectations or hang-ups you have are your own. There’s no objective test that everyone agrees on that if you pass you’re a blue belt and if you fail you’re not. They don’t represent who can beat whom, how much someone knows, or how long someone has been training – they’re at best proxies for those, and those are hopefully things that are considered when an instructor is promoting, but they’re not guarantees. Not all black belts have been training for over a decade. Not all black belts will be super knowledgeable in a given area of grappling. This is the pretense of the “ranks don’t matter” speech that you’ve either given or received at some point when discussing that controversial promotion.

Ranks are a useful tool. Hierarchy and stratification are useful tools. Having a new student be able to walk into a class and know the darker the belt the more likely that person can help answer a question is super useful. Having a system where you can know when you have been deemed to have enough experience to teach and potentially evaluate others for ranks is useful for maintaining the system. Having relatively accurate approximations of skill for the purposes of competitions is useful, and let’s face it, helps bring in more money by making the events accessible to a larger pool of people. Ranks give people relatively short-term goals to focus on and stripes (as a sub-rank) let instructors give someone a physical representation that they’re making progress to help them emotionally when they don’t feel or can’t see the progress they’re making.

We attach a lot to ranks; way more than they’re probably intended to represent, but that’s the rub – they mean what we let them mean, what we make them mean. We are emotionally invested, for better or worse. That’s why we tag our flair on reddit. That’s why we invest in the nice belts. That’s why everyone will be impatient when they join BeltChecker. Ranks are baffling – 1.5″ of stitched fabric determines who you compete against, what your place in the hierarchy of the gym is, what others knee-jerk expect from you, and how seriously someone is likely to take your opinion online, but what constitutes which color you wear is entirely subjective.

For the record: I think a blue belt is someone who can demonstrate chill and an application of the fundamentals; a purple belt is someone with enough knowledge of the fundamentals to confidently teach and begin debugging their own grappling; a brown belt doesn’t necessarily know all of grappling, but has an answer for any given situation and is just missing some details before they have a mastery-level knowledge; a black belt is someone who has a mastery-level knowledge. Those are all very purposely super broad. I don’t give a shit if you can demonstrate 1000 techniques if you can’t show chill when rolling. I’m also not in a position to promote, so I can be entirely wrong and everything will still work out fine.

Craig Jones Passing

One of the videos I’ve picked up from Fanatics while under quarantine is Craig Jones’ How To Pass Guards Quickly and Easily By Using Leg Attacks To Setup The Guard Pass. The TL;DR: it’s short, but really good. I’d strongly advise you know the concepts for passing and the details for finishing leg locks before you dig into it though.

The series is set up as 12 techniques spanning two discs/parts (six each). To be honest, it should have been cut as one as each disc/part is only about 35 minutes. Having said that, it’s one of the best passing series I’ve seen for no gi. The 12 techniques pair very well to address various situations from the initial entry/attempt, creating a robust passing system rather than just a couple of passes that pair well and a heel hook if they try to stop you. As someone who enjoys this style of passing and already uses leg attacks as the secondary attack to create a dilemma, I really like these techniques in particular. Craig’s presentation of them is on par with his other instructionals. Nothing really revolutionary, but he’s a pretty good instructor.

Because it’s so short, I’m much happier having picked it up as a Daily Deal and with a coupon than paying the full $47 it normally costs. As a Daily Deal it ran $23.50, and with coupon I paid just shy of $14. If you can get it for under $20, it’s a steal. I’d confidently recommend it any time it’s under $25 in any event, and if you really liked Down Under Leg Locks it may be worth it to just pick up with a coupon rather than waiting for it to go on deal again.

Belt Duration

In 2013 Aesopian published the results of his gi survey. We finally had definitive numbers we could point to in terms of how long it took to get to each rank on average. Those numbers have been the ones the online BJJ community has seemed to lean on for the last seven years to answer that question. BeltChecker has its own stats now too. Unfortunately, I don’t have the raw data for either, so I can’t do a proper evaluation, but here’s a table comparing the two sources:

AesopianBelt CheckerBC #Difference
White -> Blue~ 2 years2y 11m 6d>2679~11 months
Blue -> Purple~3 years3y 1m 24d17270
Purple -> Brown~2.5 years3y 1m 10d1141~6 months
Brown -> Black~2.5 years2y 10m 8d710~4 months
White -> Black~10 years12y 0m 9d710~2 years
Table of data from Aesopian and

A couple of notes

  1. Aesopian didn’t give any hard numbers, so these are roughly the numbers from looking really hard at his graphs and what numbers he does say.
  2. The number of BeltChecker users counted are me manually adding the number of verified folks at or above the given belt at the time I pulled these numbers. I included it because knowing the sample size matters. We don’t have it for the Aesopian data unfortunately. Also, the white to blue could also be misleading as BeltChecker has it as time as a white belt, which could include the youth belts they have (grey, yellow, orange, green). There are only 36 individuals with youth belts on BeltChecker though, so I don’t think it could have skewed the data too much if at all.

If we add up the BC data for individual belts, we’d expect the white to black average to look something like 11 years, 11 months, which is pretty close to the 12 years calculated from black belt profiles, so I think this pool of folks is at least internally consistent with how long it seems to take. So, at least in 2020, it looks like it now takes around 12 years to get a black belt. It would be interesting to get the raw data to see if the average has just increased by 2 years in the last 7 years, or if there’s something in the data that would explain it. Notably, I’d love to see if there are differences in the BC data between folks promoted as of 2013 and the folks promoted in the last 7 years.

Even if you think belts don’t matter – this is an interesting thing to evaluate as a coach. How long on average do students take to get a given belt under you? Does that change over time? How do they compare to averages, including as averages change over time?

50/50, A Comparative Review

Let’s talk about 50/50. It’s not my leglocking position of choice because it’s theoretically symmetrical, benefiting the individual who knows the entanglement better. There’s stuff the person on top can do and stuff the person on bottom can do. I may be sour on it because after messing up a Victor Roll the last time I competed we ended up in 50/50 rather than the saddle, and it didn’t end well for me. But folks in the gym have been really into it since ADCC last year, so it’s something I’ve been looking into more.

Before we proceed a quick disclaimer – none of the links are affiliate links. I’m not that fancy. They’re just plain links to where you can buy the products. I do not know, nor has this post been endorsed by either Ryan Hall or Lachlan Giles. This post is just my impressions and opinions after watching the 50/50 videos from each while on quarantine.

Lachlan Giles released Leg Lock Anthology: 50/50 after his stunning ADCC 2019 run. Last year also brought us Ryan Hall’s Modern 50/50 as an online offering. I’ll be briefly summarizing the kind of content each offers, comparing the approach to 50/50 each provides, and giving my impressions of each of them as pieces of instructional content.

Lachlan’s instructional is an 12 hours 18 minutes over 8 discs. While 50/50 is discussed in some fashion throughout the set, the fourth disc (1 hour 23 minutes) is the bulk of the discussion of 50/50 as a guard, while the rest of the discussion tends to be 50/50 as a leglocking position. This is on message for the set which is primarily a “leg lock anthology”. The rest of the series is an insanely detailed look at leg locks from various positions and entanglements with a focus on the inside heel hook. I feel that most of Lachlan’s qualms with the reaping position come from trying to finish from Postion 1 of the leg knot series rather than advancing to Positions 3 or 4 where there is more secure control over the leg and the ability to mitigate the free leg, but given that few people are playing the leg knot these days and how much easier the inside heel hook is to finish compared to the outside heel hook, I don’t think it’s consequential. Lachlan’s approach to 50/50 is very much to be the person on bottom. He addresses options from standing, but makes it clear that standing in a 50/50 puts you in quite a bit of danger of sweeps, back-takes, and even just getting elevated a couple of inches for the heel hook. In terms of presentation, Lachlan demonstrates the technique while explaining, then walks his uke through performing it so you can see some debugging, and then a clip with no sound of Lachlan performing without explanation is shown for each technique with the end of each DVD having a nice summary of the techniques and concepts covered over its duration.

Ryan Hall’s instructional is 5 hours 2 minutes broken up over 69 individual videos. Riddled with jokes about 90s culture including Ghostbusters and Pogs , Ryan seems to have had some fun making the video series. This is a pleasant change from how dry other instructional videos can be. Whereas Lachlan spends easily 11+ hours on leg locks and their defense, Ryan spends surprisingly little time talking about the heel hook. He talks about safe leg positioning throughout, but only six of the 69 videos (about 42 minutes) are on the heel hook finishing, and two on defense (about 17 minutes). The remaining 4 hours cover options for both top and bottom with a conceptual framework and linking 50/50 to other positions such as crab ride. Yes, heel hooks are sprinkled throughout, but with an attitude that even a bad heel hook is still a heel hook so don’t worry too much about it. Ryan’s emphasis is heavily geared toward being the person on top whenever possible, owing largely to the discussion of MMA tactics throughout the series. While the series spends far more time on attacks from the bottom, these are generally framed as options you have if your partner is taking the initiative of remaining on top. In terms of presentation, the individual videos are relatively short which makes them easy to follow and digest. Ryan explicitly has his uke describe how things feel, which I don’t think I’ve seen before. It’s a nice touch since, as he emphasizes, things that are right don’t always look too terribly different from things that are wrong, so knowing what the mechanism is and how it should feel is important for drilling it with someone else who also has limited experience. I think Ryan’s series presents a better instructional for someone to pick up and start working on with a friend in this regard.

These two series conflict pretty starkly in what they advise for 50/50. Ryan explicitly advises against the extraction technique Lachlan covers as an advanced escape. Lachlan explicitly details how to recover a heel hook from the positions that Ryan describes as safe when he talks about going to the leg drag. However, their concepts for what to do on bottom are remarkably similar, with Lachlan also covering the back-side 50/50 that Ryan advocates for finishing the heel hook from. The difference largely seems to be in whether being on top means standing (which Lachlan sufficiently shows is a generally bad idea) or being in a the defensive position Ryan shows (which Ryan sufficiently shows is generally good). Ultimately they’re both good in their own rights, and it seems likely that each expert is glossing over some things that they didn’t feel like covering. Both are accomplished in using the 50/50 at high levels of competition, though with different focuses.

So, after watching both, which would I personally recommend as a 50/50 instructional? Ryan Hall. It’s got my style of humor, it’s emphasizes a top game, and it’s more focused on the position. Having said that, it’s not a great leg lock instructional. For that, I’d go for Lachlan’s set. My goals are just having fun in the gym and maybe competing at a local level though. If your goal is MMA, maybe listen to Ryan. If your goal is sub-only tournaments, maybe listen to Lachlan. If your goal is IBJJF tournaments, probably ignore both of these and go pick up Kristian Woodmansee’s 50/50 guard (Digitsu, Fanatics) – I haven’t watched it yet, but his videos on YouTube are good and his series doesn’t seem to focus on heel hooks. There’s also cost to keep in mind. Lachlan’s is $147 normally, and if you’re not in a rush you can pick it up even cheaper as a Daily Deal (plus Fanatics is always running coupon codes if you look around). Ryan’s is $199 and I haven’t found any way to lower that cost shy of piracy (I do not advocate piracy). Given that Lachlan’s can be half the cost for over twice the content, if you’re hard-pressed to only buy one, I couldn’t fault you for picking Lachlan’s.

Belts & Belt Checker

There are a few big aspects of BJJ ranks that I have a major problems with. The dependency on lineages, the way we enumerate black belt ranks, using ranks to separate competitions to the extent that folks aren’t allowed to compete up, the very notion that there is a “blue belt world champion”, the lack of standardization in expectations; I could go on.

Black belt rank enumeration is probably the easiest one to gripe about. A “third degree black belt” in any other martial art refers to the third rank of black belt – a sandan in judo terms. Ordinals are not indices and I die a little inside every time someone refers to something as “zeroth” – that literally means it’s before the first in the series, which by definition means the first isn’t the first. Yes, arrays start at 0, but no, counting does not. A black belt followed by a first degree black belt makes no sense. There are bigger fish to fry though.

So many folks are outside the purview of the IBJJF and we accept ranks not registered with the IBJJF as a community, so it’s influence really isn’t on the level of being a universal governing body. And while JJIF (with UAEBJJF) and SJJIF would each love to lay claims to being the official governing body of BJJ as a sport, neither of them have enough clout in the community to make those claims. You probably had to go to Duck Duck Go to look up SJJIF while reading this to verify I didn’t just think there was a sub-body of JJIF, if you even knew about the JJIF. There’s no one body you can go to and check out most folks ranks, or that can advise on what the criteria for ranks should be that we all accept. There isn’t a system for a promotion board in the area that signs off on all ranks and vets instructors’ ability to evaluate and promote.

Instead, we’re reliant on the concept of a lineage. Helio taught Rickson who taught Luiz who taught Thales who taught Mike who taught me… Except that falls apart really quickly. I trained all four stripes of white with Justin, almost all of blue belt under Wade, the later part of blue belt and about half of purple belt with Thales and Mosquito, the rest of purple and all of brown so far with Mike. A lineage doesn’t really reflect who I’ve learned from. Similarly, while Thales promoted Mike to brown and black, Mike was a purple belt long before, so Mike’s lineage and now mine, are a reflection of only the last couple of years of training Mike did before being promoted to black belt. And then there’s the whole situation where due to politics the head of an affiliation promotes someone at a specific school even though they’ve never met them. There are enough people that there needs to be something else. Lineage, in my opinion, is a system that’s rapidly losing its meaning.

Enter – Christian’s attempt at a BJJ rank database. It’s not perfect, even the concept has its own flaws, but it’s something. It’s not the IBJJF; there is a route to validity even if you’re coming from an unrecognized background; it integrates with platforms like SmoothComp so you can see competition history; it even has features for you to note other experience like judo, Sambo, or wrestling if you’re clever about it so folks can see why you might have only been a one year blue belt. I don’t think it solves everything, but it’s nice to have an earnest alternative that’s largely based around the reality of BJJ – you’re a black belt if someone who is a black belt says you’re a black belt – in this model the community can check your work and the people who know you personally can vouch for your skills. And it’s public. You can see who voted for me and who I voted for. isn’t going to revolutionize BJJ, but I think it’s a good project. If you found this blog because you know me, I encourage you to sign up, fill out your profile in full, verify your identity, and start getting voted on. It will take time to be verified, but be patient. If we can have something where everyone shows their work publicly, we can move beyond the lineage system to something that better reflects the who, how, and why that go into rank without having to scrap together a governing body and promotion board; but it’s only going to work if enough of us adopt it that the votes mean something and people only speak to the folks they know.


I started this blog in 2012. I deleted everything and started trying to plan a fresh start in 2017. Then life got in the way. I just couldn’t be arsed to bother blogging. As the coronavirus has me trapped inside and the closest thing I can do to grappling is watch instructionals, I’m going to give it another crack.

What’s different this time is that rather than being a blue belt in 2012 who thinks he knows leg locks, I’m a brown belt in 2020 who knows he doesn’t have a high level game and have way more exposure to other styles of grappling. What’s the same is that everything I say is going to be limited to my opinion and current understanding, so no promises that it’ll hold up years later or even be correct right now.