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.

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.

Mount-ober:Session two

Wednesday was my second session in October, where attacking in the mount is my focus. Here are some more lessons I’ve learned.

For lessons 1-2 click here

Lesson #3- 100% of the shots that you don’t take, won’t go in
I’ve quickly realised that I’m not willing to pull the trigger on submissions. For example, I got into mount and worked into a deep cross collar grip on my opponent. From there, I reached over to grab a palm-down grip on the other shoulder to put on the choke. However, I only went towards the shoulder at 30% pace. I was thinking, “Surely, he’s going to stop this”. Sure enough, he did. Would he have stopped it if I’d gone at full pace, with full determination? I don’t know. But I do know that he was able to easily stop the 30% attempt. I didn’t actually take the shot.

He brought an arm up to defend, so I grabbed the elbow, pushed it across into the underhook, moved my legs halfway into place and thought, “Surely, he’s going to stop this”. So, what happened? Well, my prophecy came true. He stopped it. Would he have stopped it if I’d gone at it 100%? I don’t know. I didn’t take the shot.

So, can a shot that’s never taken hit a target?

The answer is, no. It can’t. Because it never left the gun.

This links into lesson 4

Lesson #4- Don’t be scared to jump… especially when you know how to land
I rolled with my coach last night. He let me pass his guard (he rewards proper technique. If you try to muscle through a pass he’ll shut you down and sweep you. If you use proper technique he’ll allow it, even though he knows full well how to stop it. It’s quite nice of him, really). I get into side control, switch base to face his legs, and pull his far knee towards me so that I can switch to mount.

Then I just froze. I sat there looking at his legs.

After a few seconds he says, “So… are you going to go to mount, or what?”

I froze because I was thinking, “He’s setting me up for something. He’s going to put me right back into guard if I try to go to mount”. But, let me think about it for a minute. I’m in side control without an underhook, and not a ton of control over the bigger, stronger, more technical, more experienced opponent. Would I actually rather stay there than attempt a switch to mount and maybe get caught in half-guard (which I have always been confident in passing)?

Risk vs Reward

If I stay in side control until I know I can get mount (when would I know that anyway?).

Risk = losing side control and ending up in full guard. Being swept would probably be the worst case scenario. Considering I’m pretty comfortable on the bottom, and confident in being able to sweep, I’d say this ins’t a huge risk. But, just staying there till mount presents itself would give me:
Reward = absolutely nothing, since I didn’t have a controlling side control anyway. I’m not attacking from there, so there’s no insentive.

Now, what if I’d just taken the chance and attempted mount?

Risk = getting caught in half-guard on the way through. I’ve always been confident in my ability to pass the half-guard. Esspecially if I get caught coming through from side control because I tend to be able to gain some kind of head/shoulder control in transition.

Reward = mount…

Risk vs Reward points (overwhelmingly) to attempting mount instead of just sitting there.

Finally, I’m comfortable on the bottom because of my last two months of work (escapes in August and guard in September). So, attacking on the top shouldn’t worry me at all. I should be attacking liberally when I’m up there.

My fear of jumping into transition and submission isn’t rational.

And that is the glory of being able to fight off your back. It frees your top game up to be fast, flowing, and attacking.

So, I will be doing a lot more of that for the rest of the month.


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.

In the Ground

There are some nights that BJJ is just frustrating.

At class on Monday I went in deciding that I was going to play my bottom game, focusing on my escapes. In my last post I talked of letting people blow past my guard in order to develop into an escape artist.

It’s not at all fun.

I’m one of the smallest guys at my academy. We tend to attract big guys for some reason. The not-quite-as-big guys we have tend to not like little guys running around too much. They’re like the paranoid mother at the play ground with her kids. They can do whatever they want as long as they’re not moving… at all. There are 3 or 4 guys that just pass guard and hold on for dear life.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you some of my discoveries in my pursuit of establishing the roots of my BJJ life.

1- Escaping and survival are much easier when you’ve got someone’s back.

Duh, right? Whenever I fight a large guy (which is a relative term, and relatively everyone is large compared to me) I become determined to take their back. I figure it’s the best way to stay out from underneath them. However, it completely goes against my game plan of escaping the bottom so I need to avoid that temptation.

2- The basic escapes (bridge-hip out- knee in to guard, and bridge-hip out- to knees) seem to work the best. Another one I was trying was a kind of sit-up escape when they have both arm over the far side of the body. I got caught in two head-and-arm triangles from there.

3- Survival is the key to escapes. When I forced escapes against more skilled opponents I got caught. However, when I got into solid survival posture, and forced them to make a move, escapes presented themselves.

4- If you’ve had a bad day at work, and are in a bad mood heading into training, don’t spend the night working escapes. It makes you want to kill things.

5- If a guy just wants to lay on top you kind of just have to let him, unless you’re stronger. Lesson here is, start the escape before he establishes control, or bring a pillow.

I personally don’t understand what anyone could hope to learn from holding down a little guy in side control for 5 minutes. I mean, I’m not paying for a cuddle. That’s when we have to start bringing out ‘munter’ moves like the forearm to the throat, and the thumb dig into the chest, and pretending like you’re going to throw up kind of stuff.

6- Believe in the technique. If you’ve bridged and don’t hip escape its just wasted effort. If you hip escape and don’t attempt to get the knee in it’s just wasted effort. If you attempt to get the knee in and don’t follow it through into guard it’s wasted effort.

It’s the same with any move really. I love the hook sweep from butterfly guard. If I fight to get the hooks in, fight for the grips, fight for the position, and don’t follow through with the move… yeah, you guessed it, wasted effort.

Believe in the move!

Wayne Gretzky once said that “100% of the shots you don’t take won’t go in”. That’s true in BJJ as well. 100% of the moves you don’t fully attempt won’t work. Escapes are no different. Just go with the technique until it’s actually stopped by your opponent.

7- Finally,  a plan is better than a… no plan (?).

I’m starting to see that I need a plan for each hand position. That plan could be another escape, or a way to get back to the one you want. If I lose the underhook I need a plan. If I get blocked I need a plan. If they switch base I need a plan. If I don’t have a plan I’m always going to be behind in the game.

So, next class I’ll be back underneath.

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