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.

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.


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.

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.