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.

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.

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.