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.

Training Notes

A minor hand injury from posting onto a cat toy during no gi on Saturday made gi on Sunday really difficult. I had to do a lot more hook gripping than I like to.

Myself: I want to work more on back escapes, entering into back control, and finishing chokes. Purple belt’s feedback for me was to take the arm bar I have rather than insisting to finish the triangle I can’t get the angle on through his defense. Really, what I want is more positional with a focus on the back. Standing I’m rusty as all heck and still very tentative about the space and mats. Guard and half guard are going well enough, though I still don’t like being on the bottom nearly as much as on the top. I’m getting passed a fair amount still but almost always getting to a safe side control or turtle to recover from.

Purple: Because the purple belt only joins us every two weeks progress is hard, maintenance is easy. We’re going to try to structure the times he’s with us better. I’ll give this more context below. He’s started integrating a guillotine that lets him change angle and makes wrestling up an almost dangerous prospect against him. I’m honestly thrilled to see him chaining another submission with his existing kimura trap game.

Blue: The blue belt’s goals seem to be to do better against the purple belt and myself more regularly during rolling. He’s been taking on most of the responsibility of a structured curriculum for the white belt which has kind of fallen off as the white belt knows the basics at this point and just needs more experience.

White: I’m not sure what her goals are right now. I think positional would benefit her more than instruction or rolling. She knows the basics, but just hasn’t internalized them yet.

We’ve kind of fallen into the trap where we’re just friends who are rolling and helping each other test stuff out at this point as opposed to having targeted training. I think that’s okay if it’s what people want, it’s recreational. I think for growth it’s non-ideal, especially with such a small pool of people. We won’t get the natural growth that comes from a deep/wide talent pool that shows you what to work on and forces you to come up with answers. Rather, we need better structured training if we’re to get better. I’m going to try to push for more positional for the next few sessions, with a focus on a 50% win-rate predicated on starting position. That is, if I’m on the white belt’s back, she should get to start half escaped if that’s what it takes to bring my efficacy down to 50% and I should be working on reclaiming through an escape or setting up against a defense. If the white belt is on my back, she should get arms trapped already if that’s what it takes to bring my defense/escape efficacy down to 50%. Obviously we’ll each be starting differently with each person due to the skill disparities, but that’s probably a benefit as we’ll have chances to try early and late stage defenses and offenses for these situations.

Purple Belt Check-Up

The purple belt should be able to join us every 2 weeks right now. There’s a chance the group will be shifting as circumstances change. Having said that, it was a good weekend for training. Getting even one new person in can really illustrate that even in grappling echo chambers can happen – you show a technique, you show a counter, you show a counter-counter, but when someone has a reaction you haven’t been working against to prepare for you need to scramble. The purple belt brought a very assertive headlock-oriented game which was good; it’s not something we’ve been working with or against a lot.

If you know me, you know I tend to do a lot of leg locks generally, but because of an injury I sustained a few years ago I have a self-imposed limitation to not apply heel hooks in training. It’s not that I don’t feel I can do it safely, or that I ask others to not do them to me; it’s more a mental block and a fear that folks won’t recognize when to tap. The purple and blue belt have both asked that I start heel hooking them so they can better understand where they’re in danger because heel hooks are allowed in the no gi divisions they regularly were doing before quarantine. I’m trying to oblige them.

The study of the back has generally gone well. Even against the purple belt I felt better than I have been in the past with that specific facet of my game. There’s still a long ways to go on it though. I’m not using my head enough to open the space for the choke. I’m not establishing a controlling enough straight jacket. I just need higher levels of resistance to work against until I’m dominating it.

The study of arm triangles hasn’t fared as well. Finishing D’Arce/Brabo chokes in particular is still a struggle though kata gatame and Anacondas are better than they’ve been in the past. The North-South choke yet alludes me. I’ve been getting closer based on feedback, but I can’t consistently force the chin where I need it with my arm or lat. I’ve been trying both arm-out and arm-in for it.

Arm locks and leg locks are as they’ve always been – the most reliable submissions I can personally perform. Passing is going better though I feel I need more work against better knee shields. Playing guard is what it is; I feel stifled by not having a large enough mat space to stand up and force a wrestling engagement when someone is passing. So much of my guard work is threatening coming up onto a takedown so they have to engage given that threat. I’m trying to work alternate options, but it’s one of those areas that will be hard to measure success in until we can have larger groups again.

As the purple belt knocks off the rust, he should present new challenges for everyone, myself included, which can only be beneficial to all of our growth. I’m concerned with the current state that we may need to put the quarantine bubble on pause though. Case numbers are rising very fast lately and some members of the group may have their circumstances change in the coming weeks.

Quarantine Progress

Blue belt – moving more fluidly, making smaller mistakes, not yet dominating positions to force errors that lead to submissions. Submission attempts are still reaching in a lot of cases.

White belt – doing better, has basic answers for each position, needs to learn how to slow everything down to think it through. I think the biggest growth here isn’t going to come until there are more folks to roll with because the other two of us don’t provide enough variety. This is a heavy reminder that folks who just do privates often end up over ranked. We see the white belt as doing better, but then something will happen that shows how much more ground needs to be covered. Real evaluation for rank requires seeing someone struggle against a variety of people. When you just see someone’s progress working with you it gives a false sense that they’re further than they are.

Tomorrow will be my first session with a purple belt since quarantine started. We’ll see how that goes.

Pandemic Problems

Due to a family member of mine being exposed to someone who tested positive one week followed by my quarantine buddy having a roommate be exposed to someone who tested positive we haven’t been able to train anything the last two weekends. We both have negative PCR tests for everyone in our households so it was maybe being too safe, but I’m more glad we waited until we both tested negative after those events. I know there are folks who feel having a quarantine buddy is an undo risk. I’ve been called part of the problem even taking steps like this and only having a quarantine buddy because we can both otherwise severely limit our interactions with others and potential exposure risk both to ourselves and from us to the community.

It’s frustrating not being able to train. It’s even worse watching as the rest of the world has opened back up. Globetrotters just had their Iceland camp and videos are already up. As I watch Europe all I can think is “that could have been us.” The response to coronavirus in the United States has been abysmal. The executive branch of my state tried to put a reasonable response in place, a bit too late, but they tried. The legislature and courts stripped the Department of Health of their power to do anything in the face of the pandemic. It was left to municipalities to handle instead. We opened up too quickly because we were hopeful. We waited a long time to get a mask order. The mask order is being challenged by a few local businesses that feel this is a right to choose issue while the state is putting out record numbers of new cases per day.

I’m sick of the dumb fucking memes about how the homeless population hasn’t been completely wiped out by a virus that has hospitalized almost 1 in 10 infected in Wisconsin because the true lethality of the virus won’t be realized unless those who need care end up overburdening the health system as we saw in Italy and are currently seeing in Texas. I’m sick of people politicizing the response. I’m sick of the people around me looking at outcomes per an exponentially growing number of cases rather than outcomes per resolved cases. Wisconsin just had 1000 new cases yesterday. It will be around a week before we see how many of those new cases are hospitalized. It will be the next two weeks before we have any data on how the mask order, which is already being challenged by a few local businesses, will effect the spread of the virus here. And that will be only here in Dane County because the mask order is municipal. We are one of 7 counties (out of 72) that have a downward trajectory in new case numbers. Folks talk like there was already a peak even though we still seem to be in an increase overall and it’s too soon to say if our downward trajectory will last.

At some point I want to actually evaluate all the cool content that came out of the Iceland camp videos, but for now I’m just incredibly worn down by the way the virus is spreading through our community and how it doesn’t seem like it needed to be like this looking at the places that are already open without 1000 new cases per day.

Grip Training

There are a few exercises I strongly recommend for lower arm strength for grappling:

The reality is, we do a lot of gripping, especially in the gi. Lower arm strength (fingers, hand, wrist, forearm), not only in the muscles but also in the tendons can be a huge boon. This shouldn’t replace learning how to grip properly or that you should be comfortable death gripping for 5 minutes. More strength tends to mean fewer injuries. Will your grips be harder to break? Absolutely, but that’s a terrific side effect as opposed to an explicit goal if I’m being honest.

There are plenty of other lower arm exercises like hammer curls, wrist rollers, using fat grip adapters, holding/lifting with hubs, the list goes on. Those things can be a lot of fun and you can find great advice for them on r/griptraining if it’s a hobby you’re looking to pursue, but I think the above is a reasonable list of things to work on for grappling. Ultimately it comes down to some form of pulling/hanging/brachiating, levering, grippers, and extension bands. Four exercises that can easily be added to your workout or done on rest days to help make your lower arms healthier and stronger.

What Makes a Purple Belt?

I asked Mike what he thinks the blue belt should work on to get ready for purple belt. He had two overarching concepts: 1. Movement, fluidity, and smoothness 2. Setting positions.

Movement is one of those things that’s easier said than done. Mike had suggested wall drills and flow drills. Since this particular blue belt struggles a lot with hesitation and overthinking, the reality is I need to push him harder during rolls, maybe even to the point of smashing just to reinforce that he needs to pull the trigger. Luckily he knows he doesn’t need to be nice to me so he can be more tenacious. Still, I need to really think about what will improve his fluidity and movement. There are a lot of drills I used to do explicitly to improve my movement like yoga ball drills and wall drills. I’m hoping he has a yoga ball to work on some of them.

Setting positions feels like one of those super easy things to work on by comparison. He needs to learn to not only hold but dominate the classical positions and then smoothly move into the submission positions from them. Once in the submission positions, he needs to practice thinking about them as positions themselves so the actual submissions stop being the effort. He’s currently looking at triangle, juji gatame, Saddle, and back control for these submission positions. Honestly, it’s a start. I’ve seen folks get promoted to purple belt with less than those four.

These things, along with developing his RNC as his favorite submission, are the focus for now. Once we can do standing, there’s also going to be that. I’m thinking of “encouraging” the white and blue belt to work the throws of the Celtic wrestling styles from a fixed collar and elbow grip to get them a sense of timing and basic competency with foot sweeps so we can use those to set up all the other standing things.

Quarantine Training Progress

I have two quarantine buddies and mats in my back yard. One individual is a blue belt, two stripes, promoted over 3 years ago now. In my opinion he’s close to but not quite ready for his purple belt. My current goal for him is to get him ready for purple belt by March 2021. I’ll talk about why that date below. The other individual came in as a fresh white belt, she’d only attended a handful of classes previously. We’re joking about trying to get her to be a blue belt by the time the quarantine ends. At the rate the US is going, we may have that kind of time.

These two train together additional days beyond the 1-2 days per week I’m available during quarantine. This means I can show them a drill or concept and they can spend multiple sessions per week drilling it so when I see them again we can evalaute how it went and any questions before moving on to the next thing. I essentially get to speed run a class one day for them to get a week’s worth of content out of, plus the blue belt has a vast video library to reference so I can say “look at Priit for this turtle thing, he’s got good details” and the blue belt can watch and work those in for them, again, texting me if he has immediate questions, but also with the cushion that I can help evaluate and recommend the following weekend.

So that’s our setup. We do around an hour of debugging, Q&A, and positional study and then 30-60 minutes of rolling with evaluation between rolls where something significant comes up. I get to work on my things, they get to work on theirs. There’s a sense of improvement where the white belt has made tremendous progress; our initial goal was for her to become a competent training partner for the blue belt, and I think she’s exceeded that goal by a long shot at this point. We’ve gone through the conceptual stuff with her from all of the units in my previous posts except for standing in the interest of safety and space. We’ve started delving into our favorite beyond the basics topics. She’s getting a passable leg lock defense, she’s consistently taking the back if you make a mistake, and once on the back she can capitalize in a way that most blue and even some purple belts struggle to. However, she’s limited to two training partners, and we can only give her so many reactions between us. She’s going to need exposure to a larger pool of people to make the next big leap. She’s doing really well for the circumstances though.

March. In March 2018 I got promoted to brown belt, two instructors got promoted to black belt, and the head coach got promoted to first degree black belt. A cycle has pretty well been established. In March 2021 two instructors will go to first degree black belt, and the head coach goes to second degree black belt because time in grade. I don’t know if I can get ready for black belt by then due to the quarantine and a lack of direction, but my goal until then is going to be to get anyone I’m working with as close to their next belt as possible. The reality is, promotions are going to happen in March simply due to the time in grade system for black belts; for those of us not yet on the TIG system, it’s going to be a big crunch or a longer than average wait. The US may well still be in quarantine by then if neither of the current Phase III vaccine candidates pan out and we keep half-assing a quarantine just well enough to delay the virus’ spread but not well enough to stop it. Should that happen I’ll need to have serious conversations with the black belts to find someone able and willing to at least evaluate these two. Without a larger pool to measure them against I can’t really be confident of where they are without a more experienced eye helping evaluate.

The last thing is, as noted, I am hoping to get ready for my black belt as close to March as I can muster. I’ve been reviewing a lot of video content to go back over the basics and working those higher level details into the drills I’m doing with my quarantine buddies. I can’t say it’ll be enough. Other than improving my chokes and my passing, I don’t really have any clear direction on how to get better other than just improving my details in general. It’s hard to get the kind of feedback rolling with a white and a blue belt I could get rolling with black belts. I’m thrilled to be fortunate enough to have quarantine buddies who can be safe outside our time together so we’re at a low risk of catching coronavirus from each other, but it’s disheartening to be where I’m at. At least two schools in town are violating the orders designed to limit spread of the epidemic. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t constantly tempted to go to one to get the work in I need for black belt. I’m just trying to remind myself regularly that living family matters more than racing to the proverbial finish line in an artificial hierarchy.

Curriculum Planning – Fundamentals of Standing

Grappling, regardless of if we intend to speak of wrestling, judo, Sambo, jiu-jitsu, or others, is fundamentally about learning to move in good posture and establishing angles that permit you to more easily attack while making it more difficult for your opponent to defend and/or counter attack. When your posture is taken out of alignment, you struggle to generate power and it becomes easier to move you around. That’s why kuzushi isn’t enough, you also need to be in good position to execute a throw or takedown yourself.

There are a few skills I’d emphasize for standing

  • Falling
  • Posture/stance, and moving in stance
  • Gripping/ties/contact – this is fundamentally about not extending and building frames we can use to create and maintain angles
  • Level changing & penetration steps
  • Defenses
  • Triangle points and vectors
  • The mechanics of specific throws & takedowns

Falling is hopefully self-evident. Before I throw you, you need to know how to fall.

Posture and stance are mostly just learning about back alignment and showing people how bad posture makes for an easy takedown or throw.

Gripping is insanely nuanced, so I tend to just talk about making the initial contact with the non-dominant hand or head and preventing the power hand from forming an effective grip.

Changing levels is pretty straight forward, but requires practice so folks do it by bending their knees rather than relying on hip hinging alone. Penetration steps are essentially moving while level changing and understaning the distance we need to enter for takedowns and throws.

Defenses are hands, head, hips, and funk. Gonzalo says “tricks” instead of “funk”. I debate which term I like more, but the flashy stuff should come after an understanding of layered defenses.

Triangle points are the notion of finding a point on the ground that forms an isosceles triangle (ideally an equilateral triangle) and putting them there. This applies to every throw and takedown I’ve ever learned. The triangle point moves as they move, so it’s important to be able to track it as we move such as in a rotational motion. I’ve heard triangle points used both for where to put their center of mass and for where to point the vector you’re controlling to take them down (see Scott Sonnon’s Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force for the concept of these vectors). For beginners I think it makes more sense to stick to the center of mass, but the vectors are useful for intermediate understanding.

If you understand all of the above concepts, learning specific techniques is largely a formality of understanding the mechanics of the technique and practicing it. It doesn’t really matter what throw is taught here. Single leg takedowns, double leg takedowns, and sweep singles are the bread-and-butter we do for wrestling. Matt likes to try to teach foot sweeps, but I favor hip throws and trips for beginners as they aren’t as dependent on a good sense of timing for the most part, but can be enhanced by it as folks get more confident in their standing game and develop a sense of timing for themselves.

Curriculum Planning – Fundamentals of Closed Guard

Opening (Top)

There is no passing closed guard. You open it and then pass open guard. Standing ways of opening are more reliable than opening on the knees. Roger has talked about it, Keenan has talked about it, Danaher talks about it in Passing the Guard: BJJ Fundamentals – Go Further Faster. Yes, we all learned opening on the knees. Yes, some guys have good success with it like Saulo Ribeiro. However, I think we see more success from people who stand to open guard. That’s not to say we need to abandon opening on the knees entirely, but just that I don’t want to spend time on it in a fundamentals class.

Stacking is useful for standing up and for just generally shutting the closed guard down. I actually like the method of getting to the log splitter by stacking forward, controlling the hips to get the knee set, and then sitting back.

Offense (Bottom)

  • Side scissors (arm drag)
  • Top lock
  • Clamp

Rather than specific submissions, I’m hoping to focus on these advantage positions. Triangle, arm bar, back take, sweeps, whatever, they become almost trivial from solid advantage positions in the same way that passing open guard is easy once you’ve established an advantage. That’s not to say submissions and sweeps won’t be covered, but that they’ll be framed from these positions.

Considered But Will Not Be Done

Sao Paulo Pass – I just feel like there’s a lot to unpack with this one, and a lot of people make a lot of mistakes that give up their back. It’s high risk compared to the standing passes noted above.

Collar chokes – they work, but most of the setups are shenanigans.