Jan 23

Building a firm foundation in a non-ideal environment

Behold this message that came in on the book of faces recently from Mike Lamarche:

“I come from a small town in Ontario where jiu-jitsu is a couple hours away. Our dojo had open up and we kind of do self training also video tutorials from out affiliate Chino Jiu-jitsu. I just wanted to know from your opinion, what would be a good foundation of things to know and learn in my situation.”

I like questions like this.

Right off the bat, it shows that Mike is really thinking about how he can improve even in a situation that isn’t ideal for learning the art.

He’s in a small town. There’s no high level instructors around. And he can only depend on video and trial and error.

It sounds hopeless, but it’s not.

In fact, it can be an opportunity.

First though, let me answer this question.

My philosophy about building a good foundation is that you must start with a focus on movement. No other aspect of the game can restrict you or unleash your ability like movement can.

Generally, when I look at people struggle with technique, it’s not because they don’t know what to do. It’s because they can’t figure how to tell their body to do what they want, either because of physical limitations or motor skills.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It just means that you’ve discovered something that can be improved on.

And the best place to start that development is the shrimp, bridge and roll. Those three movements form a large percentage of the game on the bottom. And they can be easily drilled with or without a partner.

Then when you expand out from there, you have to find more and more drills that will allow you to replicate and improve movement.

That’s the best way to build a firm foundation.

Now here’s why it’s an opportunity:

Once upon a time my coach, Mike Moses, told me a story about what it was like training twenty years ago.

At the time, he was in the same situation as Mike Lamarche.

There were almost no high level instructors in the area and learning opportunities were slim. He had the bug though. He wanted to learn, but most of his instruction was coming from someone who was a blue belt at the time.

So they didn’t have access to a lot of technique (dark times, indeed). But, every little bit of knowledge they found was drilled ad nauseum.

He became really good at a small subset of the game, a true specialist, and that was enough to start absolutely ripping through the competition scene.

Quality over quantity.

Take what lesson you want from that.

But know this, improving movement through time and effort is the key to building a firm foundation.

And for more tips, tricks and stories that will help you expand your game, sneak into my newsletter:

Jan 22

On the unwary, the danger of the lapel sneaks up fast

If you would like to explore lapel trickery to a deeper level, there is a place you can go:

Jan 20

A lot of work went into learning how to granby

More than eight years ago, I got my grubby hands on Chuck Anzalone’s Tornado Guard instructional (now out of print and hard to get). And it was filled with all kinds of inversions and roly poly guard tricks. But I couldn’t do any of them.

Hell, every time I tried to granby, it was like a baby falling flat on his face while learning to walk.

I really wanted to hit those techniques though, so this is what I did:

For a period of about a month, I practiced rolling at home. But I created progressions that focused on the stickiest portions of the movement for me. For example, I could never complete the last portion of granby roll.

Over and over again, I would just flop down on my back half way through the movement.

That was my sticky point.

So started at that half way point by rolling back and touching my feet to the ground (if you can do this, you can granby). Then I worked just on spinning diagonally to my knees.

And I just kept progressing from that point as I reached milestones.

It only took me that month before I was able to invert and granby roll, and back then I was about 290 lbs. It didn’t matter though because practicing in a systematic way led to improvement.

And that’s a principle that can be applied to any thing.

Find the sticky point in a movement or technique, and then isolate it and work only on that small piece until you conquer it.

And when it comes to the granby in particular, the sticky points are generally found in two places:

  • Lack of flexibility (you can’t roll up on your shoulders enough and your feet don’t come anywhere near the ground)
  • Lack of motor skill (you’re unable to keep your hips in the air throughout the movement ie falling over halfway through)

For the lack of flexibility, it’s going to take time. I had a unfair advantage in that area. I wasn’t naturally flexible there, but in those days, hanging out in that position used to be a part of the warmup, so I gained that flexibility over a period of a few months.

If you have motor skill issues though, check out this video (in it, I break down several of the progressions I once used):

And just for fun, this is the series of attacks that inspired me to want to know how to granby:


Jan 19

An ezekiel choke straight out the pits of hell

Jan 18

Granbying through the universe

In some far flung corner of the interwebz, a video of mine has resurfaced. I stumbled upon it by chance, and the very first thing I noticed is that small changes had been made. It was clearly not in its original form.

Know what though? I’m not even mad.

In fact, it’s interesting.

That video was made to demonstrate some of the movement progressions I used as a white belt to learn how to invert and granby. And even in its new form, it’s still performing that function.

But let me share a little story with ya:

The first medal I ever earned from the Pan Ams was at blue belt. I won four tough matches and then lost in the finals. But before I ever made it to that last match, the granby saved me from a negative spiral of events.

It happened in the first match.

The score was tied, and I was playing guard. I saw an opportunity, and I struck. I shot the triangle, but he was ready and he started to smash pass right away.

I felt the control slipping away as my knees were pushed to my face, and I bailed to turtle. But right then, I immediately granbyed (if it’s not a word, it is now) back to guard, and I swept him shortly afterward.

Without the granby, that would have been a dangerous situation (clock chokes, backtakes, smashing, oh my).

More importantly though, I looked into his eyes, and I saw frustration. That was an immediate confidence boost, and he never had another chance in that match. I swept. I passed. I mounted.

And even back then, what came next was a foregone conclusion.

The ezekiel slipped in as smooth as silk.

And it was a wrap.

Mastering movement is one of the keys to unlocking the game. If I can give you any advice that really matters, it’s this:

Do not assume that you can’t do something because it’s difficult. That’s especially when it comes to movement. Some techniques will require you to perform movements that aren’t natural for you. That’s fine. Just because they aren’t easy, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be developed. And if you have trouble doing any technique, it’s either because you’ve forgotten crucial steps or more work has to be done to improve your ability to do that movement.