Shorter Ladders

Jiu-Jitsu is great because we get to spar every time we meet. That means that you get a lot of opportunities to experiment because you get a lot of opportunities to test your new thoughts.

My newest thought was that of making my technical ladders a bit shorter.

The Scissors Sweep is still my go-to sweep against a kneeling opponent. When I’m rolling, and have simply had enough of being on the bottom, I set up the Scissors Sweep. That technique goes something like this.

Closed Guard with the left hand gripping the opponent’s right sleeve and the right hand gripping the opponent’s collar.

Open your guard putting your left leg down by the opponent’s right leg and bringing your right knee across the opponent’s belt line.

Pull your opponent down with your collar grip. Pull up over your head, or across your body with your sleeve grip. Sweep to your right with your left leg an guide the opponent over with your right leg.

Follow your opponent up into the mount.

That’s a longer ladder than I want to have to climb every time I want to sweep. So, I want to shorten the ladder. Here’s how I’ve gone about doing it.

I look for a cross sleeve grip.

The opponent’s posture has to come forward and I have to eliminate the post on the side I want to sweep to. I realised that if I’m able to get a cross grip I can pull my opponent’s arm across his body. If I do it right it also brings him forward. This takes the steps of getting the grips, and breaking the posture and puts them into one step.

I don’t bother with the closed guard.

I usually play a seated guard looking to establish butterfly hooks. However, I also quite like to put my feet on hips and knees when the opponent is kneeling. If I establish a cross sleeve grip I tend to go straight to a hip/knee placement because I’ll look to either arm drag across, or sweep. Instead of having to open my guard, then get my feet in place I simply place my feet very close to where I want them to end up. This effectively cuts the leg placement process in half.

I have also started to bring my right leg, knee first across the opponent’s chest. I create a hook under the opponent’s armpit. This acts as a knee shield (similar to the z-guard) to help keep space, a barrier against around-the-leg passes to my right, and a placement that adds itself very well to the scissors sweep.

So, I develop a guard system around the knee shield with a cross sleeve grip all aimed at the scissors sweep. That systems means that the sweep is always two steps.

Pull my opponent’s arm across and towards my right shoulder as I push on the opponent’s right knee.

Follow over into mount.

Shorter ladder.

My current other options from that guard are:

– Armdrag to back transition

– Triangle if they try to underhook the right leg

– Omoplata if they try to overhook the right leg

– Figure 4 if they pull arm free and post

– Guillotine if they pull the arm free and come forward with the head

I’m also looking to develop a similar system when I can’t get the cross sleeve grip but can get the cross collar grip, which has presented itself as of late.




Accepting the Bottom

“I don’t like leaping around the whole spar. I prefer to get solid grips from the bottom, think carefully, keep them away with my legs, then hopefully sweep to the top and progress with a slow, steady, pressure game. Obviously it is important to still move, e.g., with things like side control transitions. I just don’t go very fast.” – Slideyfoot

I was left with the above comment on my last post. It acted as a great reminder to another aspect of my gameplan against bigger opponents. It’s what I call, ‘Accepting the Bottom’.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was an adaptation of early (pre-olympic) Judo. It was adapted by a small practitioner. He saw what worked so wonderfully in Judo and tweaked things just enough to make it work for a 135lbs guy. One of those tweaks was the Guard.

The Guard was one of the biggest breakthroughs in BJJ (to say nothing of the impact on the rest of the martial arts world).

One thing that Slidey pointed out was that he likes to get solid grips from the bottom, maintain proper spacing, and attempt to sweep to top.

Well, that’s my game too. But, that only comes with an attitude of accepting the bottom.

When I first started I hated being on the bottom. When I got there I would struggle and push and fight. I found that I was always exhausted. My arm would be fatigued. My neck would be sore. I would feel defeated.

Every week my coach would say that small guys at our gym (remembering that we have a lot of bigger men there) tend to get really good off their backs because they always end up there anyway. It took about 9 months for that to sink in for me.

When I started most guys were okay with me playing a top game. They would see me (a new guy) as an opportunity to work on their bottom game. They would pull guard and let me do my thing. After I got better and started putting together a submission or two less and less guys would allow me on top. As I started solidifying mount and back control even less people would let me on top. Now, the only people that let me take top are the guard players, or the ones that are specifically working on the guard. I’m finding it harder and harder to get top, and maintain it. Bigger opponent’s just refuse to let me run around up there. It stared to become a real struggle. I couldn’t figure out what had changed, and what was so wrong with me.

Then, I decided to spend a month working on my escapes. The month after that I spent working on my guard. Those 8 weeks completely changed my game. Not just in ability, but in mentality.

I learned to accept that I’m going to most likely end up on the bottom when I’m fighting bigger opponents.

I would start fights by looking for grips and pulling guard. Like Slidey, I use my feet to push on hips and arms and maintain space. I pull and push with my grips. I keep moving. I look for a scissors sweep. If it’s not there I might attack an arm. I might push for another sweep. Sit up- hip bump sweep- guillotine- arm drag- scissors sweep- attack, attack, attack. 

My aim is to sweep. Submission are usually set-ups for sweeps. If I get a tap, it’s a bonus. But, I want the sweep. Why? Because, the acceptance of the bottom doesn’t mean that I want to live there. I still want top. But when I didn’t want to be on the bottom I would never attack. So, people didn’t have to worry about my guard. Before I had accepted being on the bottom I wasn’t willing to attack from there. I wanted to get out. I would escape from guard rather than use it.

Once I accepted that I would be on the bottom I realised that I was saving a lot of pushing and pulling. That means that I’m saving a lot of strength.

This acceptance has turned what I once hated into a significant part of my gameplan. Embracing the bottom is the best thing I’ve ever done in my short BJJ life.

I had a roll this morning and I really, really wanted to be on top the whole time. I’m now very tired and quite sore. Did I end up on top? Not really. Did I get to attack at all? Not really. Did I still spend all my time on the bottom? Yeah, but this time I wasn’t looking to get comfortable, sweep, and attack. I was looking to escape. Did it work? No.

On the way home I thought about it and was given a great reminder that a simple acceptance is half the preparation.

If you know the storm is coming you can defend. If you’re insistant that the storm isn’t coming you’ll probably end up in an armbar… put that on your Facebook status.


September is over. That means that I’m no longer in ‘Guard Month’. So, what did I learn?

Activity is key

If you want a solid guard, activity is the number one thing you can do to help. Maintaining guard is more about keeping the opponent too busy to pass than it is about having some magical, inpenitrable wall.

Even in gaining the guard position got interesting. People knew I was going for the guard and would start, from head to head, in their defence of it. So, I had to come up with new ways to get into guard. The number one way was activity.

Grip fighting, submission attempts, sweep attempts, etc, etc.

I just keep going from one thing to another. A key to this key is not to let myself get occupied with one thing. If I see an arm on the mat I switch to a figure 4. If they block it, Iquickly switch grips to a sweep. If they block that I change angles and attempt an armbar. If they block that, into a tringle, back to a scissors sweep, into butterfly guard, attack the collar, threaten the sweep, attack the posted arm with a figure 4, sweep attempt, guillotine attempt, armbar attempt, armdrag, closed guard… it just keeps going and going and going.

When I did this I found that my opponent’s just didn’t have the time to pass the guard. They were stuck, not because of control or strength, but because they had to defend what was being thrown at them.

Constant activity was the best guard maintainence.

Attack with everything.

When in guard, you’re not able to use your weight to control your opponent. However, this makes it so you can attack with your arms and legs.

If I have grips with my arms (collar and sleeve, for example), then I attack with my legs. Armbars and triangles from guard are leg attacks. Omoplata is a leg attack. Arms control, legs attack. Most sweeps are leg attacks. Arms control legs attack. So, if I have the grips I want, I attack with the legs.

If I don’t have the grips I want I use the legs to control. I push on hips, knees, feet. I hook under legs. I get shins across people to keep distance. While I’m doing this I’m attacking with figure 4s and guillotines and lapel chokes and whatever else I can get my hands on.

Then, it starts to become a process of slowly gaining what I want. So, I want the cross lapel choke from guard.

I get blocked on the way to the deep collar grip, so I grab the sleeve instead. Then, I use my feet to push on the hips to help mess up posture. Then I get a hook in, which they decide to fight against. While they’re fighting that I slowly work my hand up the collar until it’s nice and deep.

I can’t just go in and attack with the other hand. That usually gets blocked. So, I keep that sleeve grip and push for some sweeps or armbars. They defend by ripping the arm away. When they do that I just reach up, get a deep palm-down grip, close my legs around them, and pull down for the choke.

Activity leads to openings.

So, the big lesson I learned in my month spent in the guard is that activity is my key to a sucessful guard.

What’s in store for October? 

Well, I asked my coach what he thought I should go for. His immediate answer was, “Getting to mount and finishing”. So, that’s what I’ll be working on in October.

Sweeping with Scissors

The last week has been spent studying the scissors sweep. Basic rundown is:

– Closed Guard. Left hand gripping opponent’s right sleeve. Right hand cross collar grip.

– Open legs. Hip out slightly to the right. Bring right shin across opponent’s midsection. Left leg flat on the mat outside the opponent’s right leg.

– In one motion pull up with your left hand, down towards you with your right, sweep in with your left leg, and guide over with your left shin. Hang on for the ride into mount.

Simple. In fact, in the Will/Machado school it’s known in the white to blue belt syllabus as the ‘basic sweep’.

In my first 8 months of jiu-jitsu I maybe pulled that basic sweep off once. I’m pretty sure that one was an accident too. So, I’ve decided to work on it until I get it. Here’s what I’ve discovered in my last week.

– Still closed guard. But, I’ve adjusted my mindset in the guard. When I’ve closed my legs around the opponent I attack liberally with my hands. When I open my legs my hands turn into the control and my legs become the attacking weapons.

– Cross grip instead of the standard grip. That means that my right hand is getting a grip on the opponent’s right sleeve. My left hand goes up to get a collar grip. This has drastically changed my effectiveness with this sweep. It’s not any harder to obtain. It also assists with the armbar from guard, which opens up a whole array of other attacks. My left hand is the collar gripping hand. Again, there isn’t much difference between a right hand cross collar grip and a left-handed one.

I find the collar grip very important to my game. I like the cross collar choke. I use it to dictate posture. I find it works wonders if people are being tentative about giving up the sleeve grip. One way to get their wrist where you need it is by putting on a choke. They either bring a hand up to defend, or get choked. If I have my left hand deep in the collar, bring my right up, get a decent grip, and pull towards my right the opponent usually has to post on his left hand and defend his neck with his right. When he brings the hand up I simply take the sleeve.

– My shielding leg is now a lot more active. I bring it in under the armpit instead of just straight across the belt line. This does a couple of things. 1) It acts more as a barrier until it’s used for the sweep. I keep the knee up until I’m ready to bring it down and across. This allows me to disrupt any pass attempts, and keeps the opponent ‘at bay’ until I’m ready to snap down the posture for the sweep. 2) It gives me the freedom to feel where it needs to be, usually determined by the weight, build, and centre of gravity of my opponent. I start window wiping it down the torso until I feel like it’s in the right spot. 

– My sweeping leg has become a lot more active as well. Remember that once I open my legs my hands become the control. That means I am attacking with my legs.

That brings me to another mindset change.

If I was boxing, and was determined to throw a right hook, and I threw that hook but it was blocked, what would I do? Would I just keep following through with that hook until in got through? No, I would bring it back and find another way in. I would change the angle and throw it again. I would set it up with a jab. I would wait and use it as a counter. I would not just keep pushing on the block until it got through.

So, why do we do that with jiu-jitsu? If we don’t get the sweep right away we just keep pulling and pushing in the hopes that we’ll somehow muscle through their defences. My mindset on techniques, especially sweeps, has changed. If I get stopped at any point during the sweep, I pull it all back and start over. I change the angle. I set it up with something else. I wait until I can use it as a counter. I don’t just try to muscle through.

That brought me to a revelation about my sweeping leg. I don’t just have to sweep with it.

The mechanic of the sweep is that I’m using that sweeping leg to block, or take out the base. The post is being eliminated by my cross grip. Leverage is being applied by my shielding leg. Posture is being broken by my collar grip. But, what if they still keep their base?

Well, what’s worked best for me is to actually just start scooting further and further to my right. I do this until I’m at quite an awkward angle. That makes it so they have to come back towards me with their base. To do this they have to apply their weight to that right knee. The second I feel them do this I simply put my heel to the knee and push.

Post is gone (because it came with me as I scooted around), posture is broken (because of the collar tug), leverage is applied (because my shielding leg is what’s helping create the awkward angle), and then once the base is kicked out…


So, because I understand the mechanics of a sweep I can figure out how to make them work for me, in my game.

The sweep that I got once in 8 months has, in one week, become my go-to move from the guard.

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