Rolling with Others and how I think about it later


Last night I had the privilege of joining a different school for a night of training. I am from Wellington, but am in Whangarei for a week. There is a club up here, so I decided to bring my Gi and have a roll.

This reminded me of something that, I believe, should be foundational to everyone’s BJJ life:

Whenever you have the opportunity, train with new people.

After 2 years at the same place you tend to have a pretty good understanding of everyone’s game. You naturally learn counters, and counters to counters. You discover strategies that work against different opponents. You know what positions to stay away from and what positions you can enter freely without consequence.

When you head off to another school, and hop on the mats with people you’ve never met before, you have to go through the entire discovery process again.

For example, from last night I’ve figured out the following:

– Against opponent A I cannot let him get to the top position. If I do, I won’t get out and will likely get submitted. I also have to be posture-focused while in his guard because he likes to attack from there. I also have to play a sitting hooks guard against him rather than a laying hooks guard (so I’d be attacking with my arms rather than my legs). This is because he sprawls on the hooks which exposes my legs.

These things mean that when I roll against opponent A, I have to look for underhook sweeps and drags from the guard. I have to use an early escape plan.

Since I spent the entire spar on the bottom I don’t yet know what works when on top. So, if we rolled again I would look to test that out.  My hypothesis is that he would have quite a physical bottom game where he looks to break posture. So, I would try to play a busy top game looking for underhooks and collars along the way.

– Against opponent B I cannot allow him to gain side control, because it takes more effort to get out of side control than it does to not allow it in the first place. I was defended while there, but he stayed busy, and kept attacking. Again, I didn’t have a chance to test the top. He also sprawls well on the hooks.

Similar to opponent A (probably because they train together) I would have to play seated looking for underhooks and drags. I would look to just play top and stay busy. I would defend sweeps, so as not to give up position.

– Against opponent C I can play a bit more, but need to be willing to work my way out of things. He defeats lazy-jitsu. He plays a very tight, grabbing game. Top would just be slow and steady, working towards better positioning. He is a north-north top player (someone that just keeps pressing forward) so a laying hooks guard is fine.

I would look to play more east-west in the guard and attack a lot with the legs, with drags and scissors sweep thrown in. My top game would be all about dominating staying clear of arms (so that I don’t just get stuck and have to waste energy working out), and using knee-rides and transitions. Since he likes to grab I would look for arms and opportunities to transition into submissions, rather than trying to work towards submissions.

– Against opponent D I can play a lot more. This opponent rolls, and scoots and flows. Grips, foot placement, blocking with shins and simply countering slight movements is the game are all important. This opponent doesn’t hold position, they advance while looking for spaces to attack. I get to play a lot, and give up position, and try different things, but I have to always be on because submissions could come from anything. There are no resting (mentally)positions against these kinds of opponents.

I would look to play even more against this type of opponent. Why? Because it’s fun.

The best reason to roll with others is that is tells you, very clearly what’s missing in your foundational game. I get to ask the question, “What, when I roll against someone I’ve never met, is a hole in my game?” I can now take these things away and create new triggers for my techniques. I can broaden my game just enough to fit the new things in without making it too big.

This is a great practice that every practitioner should do as often as possible.

Thank you to the folks I rolled with last night. Thank you for helping me grow my game. See you next time!


New Years Resolution

It’s almost February but for me, it’s the start of the year.

In my work, January is a bit of a write off. There’s always the final bits of Christmas and New Years holidays. This year I got back to work just in time to head away for an 8 day camp where I was teaching. No time for BJJ. I got back from camp and spent the next week packing with my family so that we could move a week later. Then, we moved. After all that I really needed a week of recovery. So, it’s now the 29th of January, and I’m just now ready to get back into BJJ.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Resolutions. However, I am a fan of resolutions in general. So, I’m going to make some for BJJ.

I’m a 3 stripe white belt and have 12 months of BJJ under my belt. Now, I feel like it’s time to really focus my training.

2012 BJJ Goals

#1-  Drill every day. This is my number 1 goal because I think it might be the most important. I started drilling a bit at the end of 2011 with a few others and found it to be fantastic for my game. Great fitness, great for getting techniques deep into you, great for simplifying your game (because you can only drill so many techniques, therefore you can only have so many techniques in your arsenal), and great for keeping that BJJ rhythm.

I plan to do this by grabbing the mats my coach is so graciously letting me borrow, finding some space, and planning an hour of drilling into my schedule.

#2 – Stretch for 30 minutes every day. This is my number 2 goal because flexibility is an amazing thing to have in BJJ. It’s also just great for the body.

#3- Take my nutrition very seriously. This is number 3 only because 1 and 2 were already taken. However, I see this as just as important as the previous ones.

My plan is to adjust my diet is simple. Less sugar and salt. More fresh, raw foods. More water. Easy, and vital to being able to perform.

#4- Create a solid gameplan. I want to think a lot more about my gameplan this year. There are so many hours of mat time I killed last year ‘just rolling’. Just rolling is fine, but there’s so much more to gain if the rolling has focus and direction. I’ll do this through a process.

Focus on a specific part of my gameplan during sparring.

Analyse the outcomes.

Adjust the gameplan.

I’ll be keeping track of my drills through a drill sheet. I’ll be checking off the days that I spend 30 minutes stretching. I’ll be keeping a log of what I eat and drink. And, I’ll be mapping out my gameplan and keeping a sparring journal.

Bring on 2012!



Last night was my first roll of 2012. It felt great to get back onto the mats in a new year. I had two weeks off from jiu-jitsu over the holidays and that two weeks provided me with some good things.

1- A chance to rest my body from a year of training.

2- Some time to think deeply about what techniques are included in my game.

3- An opportunity to map out my gameplan.

Number 1 was great because I had a few bumps and bruises that weren’t healing. As anyone else that does BJJ knows, we pretty much always roll with some kind of injury. Since most of us are at least slightly addicted to the game we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to rest when we’re hurt. We usually just figure that if we end up losing whatever limb it is that’s hurt we are better off without it. After all, less limbs probably make escapes easier… right?


Number 2 was great because it allowed me to simplify my game. I didn’t go away and gather more information. I went away to narrow things down.

I’m not sure if I’m the only one with this issue, but when I’m heading to class every week during the year I end up processing so much information. Most weeks are introductions to new techniques. Even without thinking about it I end up adding them into my gameplan. By the end of the year I find that my gameplan map is a lot wider than it should be.

I’ll explain. In all things there’s width and there’s depth.

Width is all the moves. There is soooo much width to jiu-jitsu. There’s closed guard, butterfly guard, deep half guard, z-guard, x-guard, DLR, side control, switchbase, headlock, reverse switchbase, kneeride, mount, and so on and so on and so on and so on. There are positions within positions.

Then, there are armbars, cutting armbars, figure 4s, keylocks, americana, omoplatas, monoplatas, gogoplatas, enough chokes to… well… choke a mule, and all sorts of other ways to hurt your friends.

Then you’ve got sweeps and reversals and escapes.

With all that, it very easy to create a very wide game. A game that has a huge number of positions and attacks within those positions. However, all that creates is a ‘jack of all trades- master of none’ fighter.

Then, there’s depth. This is the thing that all great fighters have in common. Watch Andre Galvao, Marcelo Garcia, Roger Gracie, and all the other greats. They all have simple gameplans consisting of a few moves that are understood at a really deep level.

Roger Gracie makes the most of the Single Underhook Pass, Scissors Sweep, and Cross Collar Choke from Mount. He uses basic jiu-jitsu at a depth that years and years and years of mastery of a single thread within a single subject creates.

Then, look at Marcelo Garcia. He has a depth to his Hooks Sweep from the Butterfly Guard that has no rival. He focuses on that sweep and figures out how to get it from anywhere. All his escapes put him in positions to transition directly into the sweep. He adds variations and counters to counters. He’s added depth to the Hooks Sweep.

So, I simplified my gameplan over the holidays. Now I have a map of what I want to do from any position. It’s simple, with just 3 or 4 options, all based on a priority scale.

Last night, in my first roll of 2012, with my new, simplified gameplan, I felt pretty good. I was able to concentrate on the real basics of jiu-jitsu. Things like grip fighting, underhooks, posture, weight distribution, anticipation, and creating set-ups. I was computing those things because I wasn’t having to compute a hundred different moves instead. I was able to focus all my attention on getting back to where I felt dangerous and adjusting to the reactions of my opponent.

As Josh Waitzkin puts it in his fantastic book The Art of Learning, I was ‘making smaller circles’.

Number 3 was a natural follow on from number 2. In fact, I’ve probably already talked about it since it works so closely… in fact, I probably should have only had 2 numbers.

Lesson learned.

Keep rollin’ (DMX styles)


Understanding yourself is a key to understanding your game as a jiu jitsu practitioner. It’s one of the greatest things about the art. It’s just as alive as you are. It reflects it’s user. It adapts to who you really are.

With all the teaching out there today it can become more an more difficult to know what your natural style might be. There are a lot of people learning someone else’s game. We watch the latest world champ, get his DVD, and model our game cometely on him. The problem with this is that it doesn’t always reflect your personality.

Our entire society refelcts this. More and more rules are being applied to expressions of art. Other people’s rules. Rules are okay. They usually come from an established truth. But, when truth is used to hinder the discovery and expression of further truth… well, we just start to become bored and struggle with our chosen art. The struggle is that we’re not expressing who we really are through it. At that point, it’s no longer art.

It’s copy and paste.

So, here’s a practice to try out:
Go into sparring without any kind of gameplan. Don’t hold on to submissions. When you see one, grab it, lock it, then let it go. Don’t hold a position without activity, but don’t just abandon them lightly either. As much as you can, follow your instincts. Don’t stop to think. Just roll. Let go of all thought. Just roll. If you get caught, tap. You’re not aiming to win here. Just roll. You’re aiming to get a feel for your natural game.

When the session is over, go back and think about what felt right and what felt forced. What felt natural and what didn’t. What felt like instinct and what felt like programme.

I have done this over the last year in jiu jitsu. I have also done this over the last 20 years playing sports and video games. I have discovered my natural game.

Tight and patient.

I think defensively. I protect first. I naturally limit options for the opponent, and anticipate action. When I see what I’m looking for I test it. If it’s good I’ll take it. If it’s not I’ll toss it back. I wait until the right moment instead of forcing.

My natural game is to slowly back my opponent into a corner taking an inch at a time until I’m ready to cover that last metre.

Because of all that, my natural game also involves a lot of movement. In BJJ I’m constantly adjusting to the reactions of my opponent. They move an arm, I move a leg. They lean forward, I shift to the side. They sit up to attack, I hip out.

The vast majority of my taps have come from counters because the opponent didn’t have any other options but to play into what I’d set up. Or, slow and patient work from a dominant position.

It’s important for me to note here that I haven’t played my natural game for some weeks now.

I’ve felt off. I’ve been in a jiu-jitsu funk. The reason for the funk has been that I haven’t been playing my natural game. I’ve been trying to play someone else’s. That’s lead to me ending up stuck underneath most of my opponents, not holding top when I do get there, and trying to force things (which usually starts the cycle of underneath and loss of position all over again).

So, I’m going to find my calm, do a bit of clear minded analytical thinking, and get back to my natural expression of art instead of attempting to copy and paste someone else’s personality.

Float Like a Butterfly

Shout out to all the little guys!

Over the last week or so I’ve read a lot of stuff about little guy BJJ.

Being 5’6” and ~70kg (155lbs) puts me in the little guy category in my academy for sure. There are a few of us there, but we’re definitely out numbered by the big folk. Our gym seems to have it’s fair share of big men. Because of this I have had to be very aware of the kind of game I play when sparring.

Don’t let them get a hold of you- Float like a butterfly

This may sound odd at first. I mean, we’re grappling. We literally hug each other for the vast majority of techniques. That’s taken into account when this rule was established. So, I’ll explain.

Often, from head-to-head I’ll start in a seated guard position (see Marcelo Garcia for an amazing example of a seated guard). While here, I am in grip fighting mode. If someone grabs a foot I rip it away. If someone grabs a collar I rip it away. If someone pushes my shoulders I scoot to deflect the pressure. I scoot in and test the hooks. I fish for arm drags and underhooks. I scoot away if I’m not getting what I’m after… breathe… I scoot to the left. I scoot to the right. I jump up to combat stance. Fish, hook, shoot a single, grip fight, sit back down, scoot, pull, push… you get the idea. Basically, I never stop moving. Why? Because I can’t let bigger opponent’s dictate where the game takes place. I can’t let them get a hold of a leg or a collar or a sleeve. If they do, I’m stuck.

It’s the same in closed guard. I attack an arm, I attack a collar, I attempt a sweep, I attack another arm, I arm drag, I scoot to create a new angle, I attempt another sweep, I push on a hip, I pull on an arm, I push on a shoulder, and most importantly, I never let my opponent get comfortable when in my guard. I move and move and move and move… breathe… and move and move and move. Why? Because if I just close my legs and hold on I lock myself into their game. I give them permission to dictate how the fight goes. As the smaller fighter (most of the time) I will lose that fight. But, if they can’t catch me, they can’t beat me.

When passing the guard I never settle for one pass. Rule #1 for me is to never let an opponent close his legs around my back. That’s not safe for me. Big men can muscle sweeps on little men. I can’t allow that. I keep moving. I grab a leg. I push on a hip. I hold an arm. I move back. I stand up. I step in. I step away. I shoot a knee through. I pull back and get double underhooks. I push knees to the ground. If I get stopped in a pass I give up on it and reset, or transition to another pass. Pull the legs, push them, shoot around, grab a collar, overhook a knee, push a hip, stand up, kneel, combat stance, stand up again, step through… breathe… never stop moving. Never stop testing. Never just get stuck on one pass. If they get a hook I fight it. If they grab a collar I fight it. If they sit up I push forward, or kneel, or think about doing a front flip over their head but decide not to because I would probably break my neck. I never stop moving. Why? Because if they get a hold of me I lose my advantage. They can’t attack what they can’t catch. They can’t pin down what they can’t get a hold of. It’s my game (which might be the most important attitude for little guy BJJ).

When in side control I test submissions. If I don’t have what I need I transition to mount. No mount? Kneeride. If that’s not there I go to north-south. If I can isolate an arm I go to side control to attack. Mount? Kneeride? Rinse, repeat. I don’t stop and hold someone down and slowly work on an arm, or hold on tight to their head. That locks me into them and allows them to use their weight and size. My game is constant movement. When I stop moving I am playing their game.

From mount I tend to stay very light. I ride mount rather than hunker down and hold mount. I lift my legs. I throw out baits. I attack collars. I attack arms. I turn. I twist. If I lose position I bail quickly. If I get one deep collar grip and need them to move an arm to get the other I just let them roll me. If they roll me they usually don’t defend their collar at the same time. I’d rather finish a collar choke than hold mount. Mount is full attack mode. One after another after another after another… breathe… after another. My game isn’t holding on for dear life. That’s them. My game is changing angles and attacks. If they’re having to defend they’re not escaping, are they?

Underneath it’s the same. From side control I’m always looking to escape. If a big man decides to just hunker down, and I know I’m safe from submissions, I’ll take that time to rest. But, once he moves, I attempt an escape. I shoot for a mile with every inch he allows. If he’s moving I’m moving. He doesn’t get to rest up there. He doesn’t just get to apply weight.

I don’t stop moving. That’s not to say that everything is super speed. I can take it nice and slow. I can inch my way along. But, my natural game is fast and flowing. I don’t stop moving.

As a smaller fighter I would say that this is the biggest reason that I’m able to compete with bigger opponents. Movement, and lots of it. On the days when I don’t move, I tap a lot more often.

So, if you’re small and you find yourself constantly stuck against bigger opponents I would suggest spending a couple session in constant movement. See how it feels. See how they react. See how things open up.

Float like a butterfly.

Mount-ober: Session four

My last training session didn’t actually bring with it any specific lessons. Mostly, I just found that I was still making the same mistakes, although slightly less. It’s progress, but I won’t be fully satisfied until I’m not making those mistakes at all.

If you’re wondering what I’m going on about read this, this, and this to see the lessons I’ve picked up so far in my training focus on the mount.

In today’s blog I would simply like to make an observation, or two.

My focus is attacking from the mount position during sparring. I’ll lay out my current game plan and make note of the things that I find interesting.

From Head to Head the Arm Drag is what I’m looking for from standing/kneeling starts. From standing I would likely look for a single leg as my second option. From kneeling I usually look to (1) Arm Drag, (2) Pull Guard, or (3) Collar/Neck Drag. This is where those usually lead to:
Arm Drag to Back/Turtle Top/Guard Top
Pull Guard to Guard/Half Guard
Collar/Neck Drag to Turtle Top/Back

From Guard Top I look to pass the guard (obviously).

From Turtle Top I look to pull over and attack the Back.

From the Back I look to scoot around to Mount.

From Closed Guard I look to sweep into Mount (Scissors Sweep, Hip Bump Sweep), or scoot around onto the Back.

From Open Guard I look to sweep (Hooks Sweep, X Guard Sweep). Usually I end up either in Side Control or Guard Top.

From Half Guard I have been looking to get deep and scoot out the back door to the Back.

From Side Control I either look to switch base and Mount or transition to North/South.

From North/South I look to take the Back, or go to the other side into Side Control.

Now, that all looks pretty simple and straight forward. Here’s what I’ve observed from this game plan.

I have developed a Guard to Mount game.

I would say that I’m in one or the other 80% of the time, if not more. I believe a lot of this has to do with the previous month I spent working in Guard. It didn’t make me some amazing guard player, but it did get me very comfortable there. It also made me confident in my ability to get back to top once I am in guard. The previous month was spent on escapes, so I’m still rather confident getting out of trouble once I’m there.

When I do get to Mount I am not worried about getting rolled back into Guard. So, if I get a deep collar grip and have to give up the upa in order to get the other grip in, I’m happy to do that, and finish it from Guard. I’m comfortable and confident there.

In fact, in my last four sessions I have only finished once in Mount. All my other taps have come from a setup in Mount and a finish in Guard. Triangles, Armbars, Guillotines, and Cross Collar Chokes. All are set up in the Mount position initially. In order to lock them in I have been allowing the opponent to roll over into Guard. If they’re turning me, they’re not protecting their necks or arms.

If I don’t get the finish I let go and look to sweep back to Mount, or climb around to the Back.

Back to Mount. Mount attack. Finish in Guard OR restart.

This was not expected, but it has become welcome. It’s part of learning to embrace my natural game.

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