Spring Retrospective

April was a weird month and May is shaping up to be also. Due to some medical outages I haven’t gotten to train as much as I’d have liked.

The big news: we’ve changed affiliations; we’re planning a trip out to the new affiliation head after I get my second round vaccine; we found a new gym location; we’re targeting late May to reopen the gym at the new location under the new affiliation; we’re going to require vaccines because navigating the county order without them is confusing.

The order has different provisions for gyms with group fitness classes than sports, but the sports section is under “Youth Activities” so it’s messy to determine which set of rules applies to us. There is, however, a provision about circumstances where everyone is vaccinated which effectively lets us just ignore the whole deal. On one hand that pretty well ties our hands to avoid having to navigate a precarious situation with the county health department. On the other hand it’s what we would have wanted anyway, potentially with exemptions for individuals who can show proof of positive antibody test for a case that was known to have happened within the last 8 months.

I’m super excited about the new affiliation. I think it will be really good for us. Chris and Melissa have already been super responsive and welcoming. We’ll be making the trip out to LA to get some training and evaluation in with them – figure out where we’re at and what the relationship should look like moving forward. Having an affiliate head you actively want to get dinner and chat with is, to me, invaluable. That’s the kind of relationship I want; where we can just rant and discuss jiu-jitsu and get ideas about how to improve and learn from someone who’s been doing it longer.

Progress stuff – I feel like I’m on a plateau lately. A big part of the reason I’m so excited to go to LA is to get some new perspective on what’s going well and what’s not so I can try to change things up as appropriate. Hopefully we’ll be able to open the gym a couple of weeks before that so I can do some debugging with other folks outside the pod in advance, but we’ll see how the next two weeks go. Personally, I’m ready and raring to get back into teaching classes and rolling with more people (who have been appropriately vaccinated). My second shot is next week so per the order I should be okay to join the larger group at that point. From a practical standpoint, I’ll be two weeks out from the shot at the end of May, but am still testing antibody positive in my regular blood donations (last result from April 25, next scheduled draw on May 23).

I gave blue his fourth stripe on his belt. He’s been ready for awhile; I just felt weird about it until I saw that he’s been a blue belt for four years already. The black belts approved of it too, so everything is kosher.

Training Notes: March 6

A few things stand out – the more time we spend practicing attacking certain submissions, the harder finishing them is becoming. Each of us is going through cycles of progress and plateaus and they seem to be time shifted (my progress is evident when purple plateaus and vice-versa). Rotational positional rounds where each person picks a thing to work on is working out well to see a variety of positions.

Purple and Blue have been playing a lot of “find the heel” (essentially positional rounds from 50/50 where the goal of each person is a heel hook). The result is that digging heels out when rolling is becoming crazy hard. We’re also all able to “eat” bad heel hook attempts because we’ve gotten a lot better at identifying what’s going to break our leg versus what’s just uncomfortable. My finishing rate with straight ankle locks has increased a ton while my heel hook finishing rate is declining (mostly from not being able to get my lat on the toes correctly because they’re defending well when I try to cover to dig out the heel). Leg control positions are also going better for everyone overall.

Wrestling is going pretty well for everyone. I don’t have great notes about this other than that finishing specific takedowns is getting harder as everyone gets better at timing them. We all definitely just have a handful of things we’re doing standing, but that’s pretty normal for wrestling in my experience – most folks just seem to have a small set of things they do well, and then a lot of things they can do well enough.

Passing is an area we’ve all been focusing on and it’s one of the areas that feels most frustrating for me. It’s hard to see the progress when you pass only for them to reguard. I think we’re all at a place where we’re better at playing guard than passing it. That at least means we can all be good partners for each other.

Blue is still working on turtle breakdowns. I showed him the basic ankle lock against a turtle from Sambo. He’s getting a lot better, but I can tell it’s kind of like passing for him – he’s not seeing the progress because when he breaks me down I just re-turtle. He’s doing a lot better with control, and it’s hard to wait to see the results when progress is happening against someone more experienced.

I tried to work on North-South chokes. Ugh. The North-South position is something I can generally control, but a single-minded choke attack just isn’t working out great. Blue was able to defend about 50% of the time which means I got a good round in there. Purple was able to defend 100% of the time, including when I thought I had the choke locked in, when I switched to a D’Arce, etc. Blue has larger lats than Purple so I think there’s potentially a body-type thing involved here, but I need more data points to debug against.

Early March Update

It’s been almost a year that we’ve been closed, but Order #13 now allows contact sports so we’re trying to figure out what opening looks like. That is, Pandemic Pod might be winding down and pod-based classes may be in the near future. May. We’re still trying to figure everything out.

In terms of pod stuff, Blue’s knee has almost completely healed. There are still positions we need to be careful with to not tweak it, but overall he’s able to do everything again. Blue’s current focus is attacking the Turtle. Purple has been thinking about MMA so we’ve been doing a lot of wrestling rounds and some passing work. I’ve been focusing a lot on passing again, but have been doing Turtle bottom and closed guard bottom as part of helping Blue/Purple. My latest job schedule means I don’t get to see White super often. Black ended up joining a different pod.

So, where do we go from here?

Me: I need to work on passing quite a bit. I’m struggling more than I should be without the gi. I’m also still struggling to consolidate onto Purple’s back in no gi when I get behind him and get his hips.

Purple: While wrestling is progressing, some work on chain wrestling and recovery is still needed. Like me, he’s also in a position where his guard is much better than his passing.

Blue: Blue is doing way better than he thinks, but needs to relax some so his movements can be more fluid. There’s a lot happening in timings and small details that really can only come with more experience.

White: TBD, but I want to evaluate her for a stripe at some point.

We work on those things, we keep making progress. When classes can reopen, I use my antibody positive status to take on a small group of folks as students for the times I can ensure I’ll make.

Another Pandemic Update

Purple is starting to catch on to wrestling. I’m needing to be way more active in defense and preventative offense. While I’m defending kimuras and chokes better, his ability to threaten with them is in no way waning. He’s doing a great job finding his own resources and fleshing out his own approach to everything. I honestly think he’s getting really close to brown belt levels of skill if he’s not there already. Watching the footage of rolls it’s pretty clear what I need to work on against him, but other than learning to break down a turtle it’s not very clear what he needs to work on against me other than just continuing to grow his wrestling.

Blue is still dealing with recovery. It’s not going nearly as fast as either he or I had hoped. He’s starting to get how to relax to do his snap down from a Greco stance. He’s also able to work leg locks on one side and back control as long as we don’t go belly down. He’s still making progress despite the injury which is admirable, it’s just slow because he still has very limited use of his leg.

White is doing better. We need to stop showing her a bunch of variations and focus in on just repeating the same content over and over again which is a challenge when she’s working with three of us who all have different advice. I also feel like we may have gone in the wrong direction after summer. Over the summer we were focused on trying to lay out a fundamentals curriculum and take her through it and see how it went (which by the way was super well). Since Blue’s injury it’s just become a lot of leg locks because Purple keeps leg locking her and then she’s going into leg lock entanglements with me. While I’m all for teaching folks the basics of leg locks from day 1, I don’t think this is the best investment in White’s time as much as focusing on a path to the back.

Goals for myself – keep working routes to the back, revisit half guard passing, work on foot sweeps in no gi wrestling

My goals for others – everyone needs to learn to attack turtle better. I shouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing with turtle.

Pandemic Pod Updates

White seems to be regressing without the regular training sessions with Blue as his knee is still healing. This makes me sad, but without taking focus off of Purple to focus on White there’s not going to be a lot of options to see improvement here short-term.

Blue is still injured, though making good use of the time to watch videos and has been repping standing concepts, basic back attacks, and some leg locks on the good leg. I’m struggling to find good ways to continue progress through the injury for them, but I’m confident they’ll come back in a better spot than they got taken out as long as they follow the advice of their PT.

Purple is doing really well emotionally and their game is shaping up super well. Threats are constant and I feel like the only times I get ahead are when I escape into a counter rather than escaping and then advancing position to a dominant spot. While my arm was injured (see below) Purple has been really good about doing slow paced rolls and attacking my neck or the other side.

My forearm has a really weird pain. I’ve confirmed it’s not a fracture, but the doctor didn’t have any other advice beyond to let her know if it still hurts in 4-6 weeks. I’m afraid it might be tendon inflammation based on how bad it hurts and that it’s made worse when I use that hand. I tried to stick to drilling and slow paced rolls where I kept my arm tucked into my body as much as possible. I’m finding I post a lot, which isn’t itself bad, but means I need to adapt to the injury more until it’s healed.

Black has not yet joined the group, but has received their first round of vaccine. It’s my hope they’ll be joining us when possible so I can get more perspective on what I should be working on myself and so any ranking that should happen based on pandemic progress can happen. Plus that will complete the infinity gauntlet – one of each color.

Belts Comparison

I’ve compiled all the measurements into one place with photos on a new page on here to compare and hid the individual posts that were just impressions. The posts still exist so I can reference them, but they don’t really serve a purpose. I’m likely to modify my Fundamentals Curriculum posts similarly to have them be pages/subpages rather than blog posts to be able to better reference them myself and have them exist separate from ongoing personal blog posts.

Pandemic Pod: Part 3

So, after our second big break due to rising case numbers and a county order encouraging us to stop even small group stuff, cases finally have come back down and a new order reverts us back to where we were. We trained again, it was great.

I was really hoping to have the CTRL Industries belt by now to be able to finish off the pearl weave comparison. Unfortunately, USPS confirmed today that they lost the package and would need me to provide more information (from CTRL Industries) to initiate a search request. I don’t hold this against CTRL at all since they did mail out the belt in a timely manner. It’s just been sitting in limbo with the post office since December 4. Even then, a missing mail search request is kind of a long shot this close to Christmas with massive USPS employee outages due to coronavirus. Having said that, CTRL has been awesome about helping me with this. Hopefully it’ll get resolved soon.

Notes from pandemic training:

  1. The kimura control from Dave Camarillo’s armlock series needs work on my part, but the purple belt is a relative kimura expert so I was at least able to vet the concept with him.
  2. A lot of the Kristian Woodmansee 50/50 stuff was really easy to integrate into a Ryan Hall based 50/50 game.
  3. Everyone surprised me with a very thoughtful gift – a 50/Fifty rashguard and a mug that says “World’s Best Basement Submission Grappling Coach”. I was surprised and need to think of something equally thoughtful.

Coaching Certifications

As I look at how I can better coach grappling I’ve found that there’s a lot of different certifications, courses, and materials. For a private gym, none of them are really necessary; that is, we’re not required to maintain an NCEP certification or something to legally operate.

Here’s a list of relevant organizations/sports with links for what I’ve found for classes for me. This is essentially a more detailed list than my post on Coaching Criteria Recommendations. Notably, I found a lot of stuff by searching what WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association) and other high school sports orgs use.

  • NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) – CIC and AIC Certifications
    • Fundamentals of Coaching ($35)
    • Teaching Sports Skills ($35)
    • Coaching Wrestling ($50)
    • First Aid, Health, and Safety ($35)
  • Human Kinetics Coach Education Center – ASEP Certification
    • Coaching Principles ($60)
    • Sport First Aid ($40)
    • Coaching Youth Wrestling ($19.95)
    • Coaching Wrestling Principles ($50)
  • USA Wrestling – NCEP Certification
    • Copper ($50)
    • Bronze ($80)
    • Silver
    • Gold
  • USA Judo
  • 3D Institute – Required for Silver and Gold under USA Wrestling
    • 3D Coaching Essentials Course ($20)
    • 3Dimensional Coaching ($125)
    • 3Dimensional Coaching Course For College Credit ($550)

So, yeah, just for coaching certifications there are at least three options for wrestling coaching that I could find between USA Wrestling, ASEP, and NHFS. That’s not to mention that colleges like UW Whitewater also offer certifications covering ASEP. If I had a ton of time and money to drop on these I’d probably do all of them to compare them each, but the reality is I don’t have a strong reason to get NFHS or ASEP certified at this point. Their courses seem great and cover stuff that even the NGB courses don’t, but honestly, the NGB courses and some supplemental first aid stuff from Red Cross seems sufficient for now. Still, it’s good to know these other ones exist if I want to get more into pedagogy.

Motivation

Where we’re at: Blue tore the meniscus in his right knee while trying to spin out of a leg entanglement, and then it got way worse when he was rolling with Purple after. His knee is jammed and surgery isn’t scheduled right now until later in the month. White hasn’t been able to train as much, so Purple and I have really just been training with each other the last few sessions.

Purple’s A-Game is based around the Kimura Trap. He uses it as a defense against passing by allowing you into the half guard and trying to get the far arm, a defense against the back take by Sakuraba-ing and threatening the Kimura as he forces his shoulders up which prevents climbing the back to recover it without the gi, and as an attack from top side or N/S. He’s really good at it, but after rolling together for years I’ve also managed a fairly reasonable Kimura defense, so more often than not it’s a useful tool for positional stalling but not necessarily a submission that will get finished. He’s been focusing on guillotine variants as means of passing and preventing wrestling up, which was shutting down a lot of what I was doing our first few sessions since I so adamantly like to wrestle up as a solution to guard. I’d say his guillotine and D’Arce system is a solid B-Game at this point and he seems to have developed it really rapidly. He’s effectively spamming it as a means of trying to headlock pass or to force me to retreat back to the bottom if I don’t more assertively fight it earlier.

Because I’ve been unable to wrestle up without having to deal with the choke it’s been easier to play a more down game which has meant a lot more back-side 50/50, trying to play deep half guard, and trying for back-takes from the bottom. Closed guard seems to be the antithesis of Purple’s passing right now so we’ve ended up in triangle positions a lot. Due to the flexibility of his shoulders and general comfort being choked it’s really difficult to finish a triangle on him when he’s resisting even when it feels clean; invariably it ends up transitioning into some kind of wrist or arm lock from the triangle position. Honestly, I’m okay with that. I don’t care to finish someone with one submission come hell or high water if it’s just not there.

After a lot of drilling, positional rounds, and general rolling I just don’t feel like we’re making progress anymore. I feel like without a wider pool of folks we’re just getting into the grooves we know the other person will form.

Purple wants to work stand-up and passing so we start standing and I’ll force him into some form of turtle or he’ll get in on a single and I’ll defend it by pushing on his head until I can do some silly positional transition. Even when he finishes a takedown, I just end up turtling until I can reverse the position or recover guard. Or we start from seated guard and Purple is working passing but when I can’t maintain I end up turtling and until I can reverse the position or recover guard. When I’m attacking on bottom it’s a lot of leg locks and Purple, while comfortable with the base defenses, gives me time to get into a complex entanglement where his defense just gives me a different attack.

When roles are reversed and I’m on top Purple will force a half guard position and I’ll try to keep my left arm safe in various ways trying to pass and he’ll insert his left leg as a butterfly hook to try to mitigate the pass or he’ll successfully get a Kimura grip on the left arm and I’ll have to deal with that.

We’ve been working out together since at least 2015. We know each other’s patterns. We know when we fuck up how the other person will catch us. We can try small adjustments to get around the known issues, but ultimately it’s a pretty straightforward arms race focused on just a couple of areas because we’re both experienced enough to adapt between and across sessions.

So long story short I feel like I’m plateauing and all the stuff I’d normally do – brand new game, different focus, teach new things; they’re not here right now because of the pandemic. There’s not a pool of less experienced folks for me to build up a different game against. There’s not a new area we’ll end up because we’re both good at forcing exchanges into areas we’re strong so even if I try to go off the rails he’s still a purple belt who’s on the verge of brown and can force it back to an area he can play his game.

It’s not a lack of a challenge or that rolling is unenjoyable, and I think that’s the hardest part to convey to people. It’s not just restrict yourself to some arbitrary win condition or add a blindfold, it’s that progress, even if it’s happening, stops being visible when you’re only working with the same small group who adapts to you as you adapt to them. I’m not really interested in going out and finding the competitions that are happening despite the pandemic, going to the schools that are in flagrant violation of the county order, or pulling in another pod to double the available folks. Having said that, a larger pool of folks is what I know to leverage to deal with this kind of stuff. It’s just a matter of staying motivated until we can train in big groups again.

Good Progress?

Positional always goes better and feels better than regular rolling to me. When rolling if I make a mistake there’s the need to correct for it by recovering and working the way back up the ladder, which has its own benefits overall but creates this difficulty in fixing the actual problem.

Back (top) – I need to work on grip fighting better. Purple belt got out with some difficulty, but I didn’t feel like I could honestly threaten a submission the whole time and he got out. I can consistently submit the blue/white belts but that’s not the metric I should be caring about. Goals for improvement are to start where I’d be recovering the position against blue/white to hopefully have longer retention and then work that into more dominant grip fighting for the sub. The focus remains the RNC.

Back (bottom) – I’m still falling back to escaping by getting my shoulders to the mat pretty often, and for as long as I’ve been doing BJJ that just shouldn’t be acceptable anymore. I’m actively trying to work on the hip sit style of back escapes as shown by Ryan Hall, Priit Mihkelson, and countless wrestlers – sit to a hip, clear a hook, control the leg or arm to keep them from following you and climb up to half guard top. Conceptually it’s really similar to what Saulo Ribeiro shows with the scoop defense and escape as well.

Mount (top) – Arm triangles.

Mount (bottom) – This is arguably where I’m the most comfortable in terms of bottom positions, but it’s always good to work on the basics. I’m so reliant on box frame and shrimp that I could use work on the other escapes for when it fails, but the box frame is easily the best mount escape I know.

Side control (top) – Back attacks and armbars. I need to work switching sides when they turn into me in general to help deal with cases where they try to reguard.

Side control (bottom) – Getting to turtle and wrestling up has been going well; I should spend some time just regaining guard again for awhile too.

Guard (bottom) – Just in general way more work needs to be done here. If I can be aggressive/assertive I can usually come up into a sweep or something, but I need this to be a downright dominant position even at slower paces for where I want to be.

Guard (top) – We’ve been spending a lot of time doing split squat (headquarters) passing and half-guard passing. That’s going well, but definitely needs even more work. I also should start playing with forcing the plow and distance passing in combination with it. The purple belt’s half guard remains super annoying to get around with the knee shield to one side and the kimura to the other. Dominant controlling positions are needed to consolidate and getting/maintaining them is a battle right now. I either need to prevent the battle or be so practiced that winning it isn’t even a question. More work is needed.

Standing – We’ll be doing standing as a position – when the other person gets into a grounded position we’ll reset. I’m rusty, but we need to do more wrestling and judo style drills.

Specific submissions – I’m comfortable enough in the spider web that I haven’t been working it a lot though it’s probably one I should circle back to in the future. 50/50, leg knot, and saddle will all be on the docket. I need to work leg lock defense/escapes, blue belt needs to work attacking/control.