Dec 11

When you’re ready, jiu-jitsu awaits

Nowadays, if you asked me about my passions, Jiu-jitsu would number near the top of the list. It wasn’t always the case though.

There was once a time when I looked at the art and saw only the potential negative of close personal contact. I couldn’t see the fun and effectiveness of it all.

So even though, I trained in an environment where it would have been easy for me to learn, my interest never peaked above the baseline. And that’s despite the fact that teammates urged me over and over again to give it a try.

The catalyst that changed everything was a tournament.

Mission Submission

It seems so long ago now but in the fall of 2007, I got the chance to get a front row seat as countless individuals displayed their passion and drive for the art on the mats. And it started with a simple decision.

On one particular night, a request was made for volunteers to help with the tournament, and I said yes.

Then when the day arrived, I made my way to Mechanicsville, VA, and once there, we went over basic expectations and I was assigned to work a table. That entailed keeping track of time, points, and advantages for each match and organizing the brackets.

It can be dull or fascinating depending on the match in front of you.

What it offered me though is the opportunity to see passion on display. I was also really curious about the level of focus I saw when some of the grapplers were warming up. The whole experience made that world interesting to me.

I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to compete.

At that point, I was ready.

Start When You Feel Like It

Just looking through the lens of my own experience, I understand that the prospect of training jiu-jitsu is daunting. There’s a lot of physical contact. Injuries are possible. Training can be hard and physically demanding.

But in the midst of all that, one thing shines through. It’s FUN, and as you have fun, a lot of amazing things happen in your life. From my own experience:

  • It significantly improved my physical condition almost through osmosis.
  • It gave me the opportunity to express my fascination with problem solving on a physical level.
  • It increased my inner fortitude and strength.
  • It gave me the opportunity to meet and build relationships with a lot of amazing people.
  • It is a form of self expression for me.

That’s a short and incomplete list, but it’s what I choose to focus on right now. It should give you a sense of why I believe that jiu-jitsu is beneficial though.

That belief at times has made me wish that I had started earlier, but it happened when it did because I wasn’t ready before.

I can appreciate that now.

Nov 26

Grip like a world champion

In competition, all matches start on the feet, and it’s illegal to pull without contact. That means that the grip battle is an element of every match.

It’s also happens to be an area of study that is often neglected. I know I’ve neglected it, but there’s no time like the present to rectify that. That’s why I’m studying Jimmy Pedro’s Grip Like a World Champion DVD. It hones in on that topic like a laser, and it introduces elements of the grip battle that are uncommon in Jiu-jitsu.

Recently I spent some time slowly dissecting the material, and these are my notes. My goal in sharing is to help anyone else that is interested in the topic. And even if words aren’t enough to help you visualize, maybe it’ll inspire you to take advantage of all the other resources that are available. For example, Jimmy Pedro is still selling this DVD on his site and Rhadi Ferguson focuses on the topic..


  • Stance
    • The leg you have forward dictates your power hand. So for example, if your right leg is forward, your right hand will be your power hand, and you will use it to initiate most of your throws.
  • Movement
    • If you play left, always keep your left leg forward.
    • Always maintain at least six inches between your feet as you move.
    • Only cross your feet during the initiation of an attack.
  •  Grips
    • Lapel and Sleeve
    • Cross Lapel and Sleeve
    • Double Lapel
    • Double Sleeve
    • Cross Sleeve and Back
    • Russian Grip (Collar and Belt Over the Back)
    • Power Grip (Upper Back and Sleeve)
    • European Grip (Tricep and Collar)
    • Belt Grip (Sleeve and Belt Under the Arm and Around the Back)
  • Grip Breaks
    • The Pop Off (Same Side)
    • Pop Off to Cross Sleeve (Opposite Side)
    • Two Handed Pop Off (Opposite Side)
    • Circle Sleeve Break (Same Side)
    • Tear Away Sleeve Grip Break (Same Side)
    • The Circle and Tear Away Sleeve Break (Same Side
    • The Lapel Snap (Opposite Side)
    • The Slap Away (Same Side)
    • Wrist Shrug Break
  • Tactics
    • Against Same Sided Opponents
      • Objective
      • Standard Gripping Sequence
    • Against Opposite Sided Opponents
      • Objective
      • Gripping Sequences


One thing that is really interesting about Grip Like a World Champion is the emphasis on how the situation changes depending on stances. If you play left handed and your opponent is a lefty too, you’re mirroring each other and you have a certain amount of good options.

On the other hand, if your opponent is a righty, you’re opposite, and that is a different situation.

It hammers in the idea that you have to pay attention to stance because it will determine how you must play the game.


Being mobile without unintentionally changing your stance is an attribute is shared between a wide variety of martial arts. You have to be able to move forward, back, lateral and circular all while maintaining stance.

It’s always good to be reminded of that. Repetition is the mother of skill.


The lapel and sleeve grip is the most common combination I’ve seen in Jiu-jitsu, but we don’t have to be limited to just that. Personally, I like the cross sleeve/back and power grips a lot, and I’ve had success with them.

The other grips are interesting though, and once you start thinking about grip variations, it opens up a whole new world of possibility.

Grip Breaks

GLWC4 (From this point on, I’m going to assume that you’re right handed. It will make these notes easier to explain.)

  • The Pop Off (Same Side)
    1. (Your opponent grips your lapel with their right hand.)
    2. Grip their right sleeve with your left hand and pull to remove any slack.
    3. Strike their grip at the wrist with your right hand while keeping your back straight to break.
  • Pop Off to Cross Sleeve (Opposite Side)
    1. (Same principle as the first Pop Off.)
    2. Snap the hand away from your body at a 45 degree angle while maintaining a strong back.
    3. Pull sleeve across your body and grip their back with your right hand.
  • Two Handed Pop Off (Opposite Side)
    1. (Your opponent grips your lapel with their left hand.)
    2. Pop the grip off with both of your hands while keeping your back straight.
    3. Secure their sleeve then establish dominant grips.
  • Circle Sleeve Break (Same Side)
    1. Bring your left thumb to your shoulder to increase the slack in the gi.
    2. Make a circle with your left thumb from the outside.
    3. Bring it back inside to your chest.
    4. Rip away.
  • Tear Away Sleeve Grip Break (Same Side)
    1. Gain control of their right hand.
    2. Bring your left thumb to your shoulder to increase the slack.
    3. Quickly pull your left hand away to break the grip.
  • The Circle and Tear Away Sleeve Break (Same Side)
    1. Attempt the circle sleeve break.
    2. Tear away immediately if the circle break fails.
  • The Lapel Snap (Opposite Side)
    1. Establish lapel grip with your right hand.
    2. Grab your opponent’s left wrist with your left hand.
    3. Push your right shoulder in.
    4. Circle your opponent towards your left and pull their grip across to break.
  • The Slap Away (Same Side)
    1. Slap their left wrist to break the sleeve grip while bringing your right thumb towards your chest. (Usually done right after your opponent breaks your sleeve grip.)
  • Wrist Shrug Break
    1. Arch the hand of your trapped sleeve backwards,
    2. Then use that hand to push down on your opponent’s wrist while straightening your back and stretching away to shorten your gi.

Opposite Stance Tactics



The opposite stance battle is a fight for inside control. Whoever controls that inside space is more dominant and has more options.

It’s harder to completely neutralize a power grip though. That may be the reason why more time was spent focused on countermeasures for this type of battle.

Gripping Sequences

  • Lapel and Sleeve Grip (Ideal vs opposite sided opponents)
    1. Always take the initiative and set your lapel grip strong to control the inside space.
    2. Your lapel grip should allow you to control your opponent’s shoulder.
    3. Don’t put two hands on the gi until the lapel grip is set.
  • Low Lapel Feed to Inside Control
    1. Grip the lapel low with your left hand and feed it to your right.
  • Wrist Block to Inside Control
    1. As your opponent reaches, block their left hand with your left then establish a power grip.
  • Power Grip (Well suited for shorter opponents)
    1. Reach out and grip your opponent with your left hand.
    2. Pull them in.
    3. Bring your right hand inside their arms and up high to establish the grip.
    4. Keep your opponent’s head against your shoulder so that they don’t have space to operate.
  • Cross Sleeve Grip (An unorthodox grip that throws people off)
    1. Pull the sleeve grip across the front of your body.
    2. Bend opponent over and use your head for control.
    3. Grip the back with your right hand to lock in the control.
  • Cross Lapel to Capture the Sleeve
    1. Pull your opponent toward you as you circle towards your left.
    2. That will bring their right hand closer to you.
    3. Capture it and then establish your preferred grips.
  • Defending Elbow Over to Regain Inside Control
    1. (Your opponent brings their elbow over the top and inside of your right arm.)
    2. Drop your right shoulder to bring your elbow under theirs.
    3. Bring your left hand up to hit their wrist as you pop your arm straight to take back inside control.
  • Closing the Door to Maintain Inside Control
    1. Use right elbow to block your opponent from establishing a power grip.

Mirror Stance Tactics



When it playing against someone that mirrors you, the primary objective to prevent them from grip your gi with their power hand. So if you’re a righty, the focus is on controlling their right hand.

If you can’t do that the second best option is to use your left hand to post against that right shoulder. It’s a form a distance control, and it will make it harder for them to grip you.

On the flip side, your opponent has the same goal as you. So you have to keep your right arm in a strong position until you’re ready to establish your grips.

So the mirror stance grip battle is relatively simple. It’s a fight for the establishment and maintenance of power grips.

Gripping Sequence

  • Standard Sequence
    1. Post your left hand on their shoulder.
    2. As your opponent reaches with their right hand, block it.
    3. Grip their right sleeve and push it down and away from your body at a 45 degree angle.
    4. Establish your power grip

The Full Map


Want to hear something crazy? All that came from a 31 minute video….

Nov 24

An overview of three recent seminars

Recently, I had the opportunity to teach three seminars in three different states within a week. I’m extremely grateful, and that’s the primary reason behind this post. It’s a review of what was covered, but it will also contain conceptual lessons for all enthusiasts of our art.

If that sounds interesting to you, this is what we are going to focus on:

  • Mind maps of each seminar.
  • Overviews of the structures.
  • A few breakdowns of technique.

Wrightson BJJ Seminar

The topic of this seminar was mount attacks and transitions, so the goal was to give a tightly bound system that reinforced itself.  I also wanted to introduce the concept of chain drills and incorporate it into the instruction in order to increase the retention rate of knowledge.



  • Light warmup (running, moving sit-throughs, reverse bear crawls).
  • Chain drill buildout (armbar mount drill – armbar escape, transition to mount).
  • Cross choke variation.
  • Variations paths to the armbar and triangle.
  • Link it all back into the chain drill.

Brutal Cross Choke

I learned this variation only once, but I’ve never forgotten it because it blew my mind. Once I saw it, I discarded every other variation I had and then I improved on it by merging it with a better initial grip entry. I’ll attempt to explain it in words.

  • You want to establish a cross collar grip first (obviously) but your opponent knows that so they defend by keeping their elbows tight to their side and blocking the path to their neck with their hands.
  • Slide your grip in low (below their elbows and four fingers in) and connect that elbow to your side. That connects that arm to the strong muscles and mechanical structure of your back.
  • Drive forward with your upper body, and that force will allow you to drive your arm through until you can press your knuckles against the mat. This is only possible because your arm is reinforced by your upper body.
  • Once the knuckles touch the ground, drag your elbow across your opponent’s body and drop your weight on it. That will drive your elbow right into the side of their ribs (psh, let em suffer), shift your weight towards the side where your base is strong, and turn your hand so that the palm faces up (an excellent position for the choke).
  • Pull them in and really drive that elbow into them harder. It not only makes the situation extremely uncomfortable for them, but their head will raise off the deck. That allows you to feed the second grip by going thumb in behind the neck.
  • Then rotate the second grip around, pull the elbow tight and slowly destroy all possibility of escape.

Wrightson BJJ is located in Towson, MD, and one thing I’ve noticed every time I’ve visited is how close knit community is. For that reason, I think it’s a great place to train.

Guardian Education Fund Grapplethon Seminar

The topic of this seminar was half guard tweaks and tricks. I know a little bit about that but I had limited time so I had to condense a lot.




  • Chain drill buildout (kneetap, dope mount transition, elbow escape to half)
  • Getting back to offensive position from being flattened.
  • Grip variations that neutralize the overhook and crossface.
  • Recounters to common kneetap counters.

The Grip Variations

I’ve spent a lot of time studying different half guard games, and there was a time when active prevention of the crossface was considered essential. For example, it was common to see single and double paw grips on the crossfacing arm. I never developed that game because I learned early that the threat of the crossface lied in distance (between your head and their body) and hip mobility (their ability to twist their hips and shift weight), so it could be passively neutralized.

  • Dental Floss: Pull out their far lapel and pass it to your underhook hand behind their thigh. The main benefit of this grip is that you create small invisible barrier of distance that will prevent your opponent from ever establishing control after a knee cut. It’s also give you incredible leverage over their hip and neutralizes both the overhook and crossface.
  • Far Lapel Around Back: Pull out their far lapel and pass it to your underhook hand behind their back. Then pull your elbow in tight. The main benefit of this grip is that it glues you to their body, making it difficult for them to steal the underhook back from you. It also immobilizes their hip, which also kills the overhook and crossface.
  • Hip Hug: Grip low on your opponent’s hip and pull your elbow in tight. This is a no-gi variation of the far lapel back grip. It performs the same variation, but it’s harder to maintain.

The Guardian Education Fund is focused providing access to training for military and law enforcement personnel. This grapplethon was hosted at Capital MMA in Alexandria, VA, and I got in some good training there. I just wish that I had been able to attend for a longer duration. I’m curious to see if I can hang in there for 12 hours or more.

Evolution Fight Academy Seminar

The topic of this seminar was chain attacks from guard, but the mind map for this one is crazy because the material covered deviated from the plan. I intended to focus on closed guard, but there was a lot of interest in other topics, so we flowed with it. And this mind map reflects not only what was covered but also the initial intentions.



  •  Light warmup (running, moving sit-throughs).
  • Chain drill buildout.
  • Offensive loop from closed guard.
  • …..We’ll just call it Q/A.

The Flavio Canto Choke

I learned this recently, and once I saw it, I had to see it again. At first sight, it had my full attention, and I’ve been showing to everyone because I think it’s incredible.

Here are some video examples of the choke. Play with it


In those two videos, there are slight variations in how the choke is shown. They also differ slightly from the way I learned, but fundamentally, you can see how the choke works. It’s similar to a loop choke but the leg is used to reinforce the grip instead of your other arm. It’s sneaky though because that collar grip seems so harmless.

What I’m focused on right now is figuring out different entries that can be linked to other attacks.

Evolution Fight Academy is located in High Point, NC. The gym is mostly focused on MMA, and they have a record of accomplishment. I’m also especially thankful to Larry Kidd because he went above and beyond to make the whole experience great for me.

Nov 20

Advice for white belts: ask these questions

Being a white belt is hard. You get smashed in the gym, and at times, it can seem that you’re not improving.

As a community, we lose a lot of people at white and blue belt. That’s why I’m trying to put myself back in those shoes and visualize what I would do differently if I had to do it all over again.

That’s the impetus behind this post because these are the questions that I would ask more often.

Am I doing this right?

In many class environments, the instructor is not able to pay attention to every student. That means that if you perform a technique incorrectly, it might not be noticed and addressed. In that situation, you might be able to self correct, or your partner may be willing and knowledgeable to help.

Those two possibilities exist, but it’s best to ask for help. You never know. It’s possible that a crucial detail may have been forgotten in the initial demonstration, and that might be the one piece you needed.

The willingness to ask and the appreciation of assistance will help you not only to improve your technique but also to build relationships within your gym.

How does this feel?

On one level, we learn technique by acquiring technical understanding, but on another, we learn by gaining intuitive sense. When we drill, we have the opportunity to learn more than just the technical steps, and it starts with asking this question.

The goal is to get valuable feedback from your partner while you’re drilling. For example, if you’re doing an armbar from closed guard, there are several points where you can develop a better sense of how the technique must be performed.

One is when you get the elbow across your center line by either moving it or moving yourself around it. If your partner can pull the arm back across, then you have something to address. You’ll only know that though if you ask your partner to give you light resistance at different stages of the technique.

Can you drill with me after class?

If you made a habit of staying after class for at least five minutes, you would gain more than four additional training hours a year for every day of a week you train. So if you trained three days a week, it would add up to thirteen hours. That compounds over time, and you can also increase the minutes to speed up the process.

It also helps you develop the mindset that you’re responsible for your own training. No matter your environment, instructors, or training partners, you have the opportunity to improve your experience. You just have to take advantage of it by asking the right questions and pursuing knowledge as a lifelong goal.

Can I apply this in any other situation?

Everything in jiu-jitsu is interconnected. It’s helpful to think of it as a complex web or a multidimensional puzzle. If you learn one piece, that knowledge becomes more valuable as you learn how it connects to everything.

It also becomes easier to learn.

That’s why black belts can generally learn any technique faster than white belts. It’s because they’re building on a foundation of prior knowledge, and the more associations that exist between old and new knowledge, the easier it is to learn the new material.

So to acquire that ability to learn jiu-jitsu at a faster rate, you want to start piecing the puzzle together for yourself. It starts with learning how concepts and movements can be applied broadly and how positions and techniques connect to each other.

What should I focus on?

Your instructor has a specific criteria for what is considered basic technique. It may differ from anyone else’s, but you’ll have to ask to find out. Also what you may need to work could be different than anyone else.

For those two reasons, it’s helpful to have two types of discussions with your instructor.

The first is an initial discussion after you’ve been training for a few weeks. Make a quick list of what you’ve learned so far and ask what else has to be added to the list in order to gain a firm foundation for learning.

Every three or six months, make a list of the positions and techniques that you want to improve on. Then review it with your instructor.

These are quick sessions but they accomplish some specific goals. The first is that it demonstrates that you’re serious about learning and that you’re taking personal responsibility for your development. That will pay dividends down the road. The second is that the feedback you receive will give you increased focus and clarity. And the third is that the whole process will help you speed up your learning.

Ask these questions. You’ll be surprised by how it changes your experience.

There’s no doubt of that.

Nov 12

3 strategies for making drilling more effective and enjoyable

Drilling is boring.

At a certain point you will mentally check out, unless your external motivation is so strong that you can push through the tedium. Why does it HAVE to be tedious though?

The answer is that it doesn’t.

There are variables that you can change about your training method to not only make drilling more effective but also more enjoyable. We’re going to go over three of them in this post, and let’s start with listing them:

  1. Spread drilling out into smaller chunks that can be easily absorbed.
  2. Break down technique into its individual pieces and drill those in diverse applications.
  3. Create a chain of interconnected techniques that loop continuously.

Spaced Drilling

Drilling for long periods is no different than cramming for a test. It may seem effective in the short term but it’s merely an illusion. When you sit down and absorb great quantities of information, it’s like grabbing handfuls of food and stuffing your face at a feast. It might seem like you can take in a lot, but that’s all coming right back out.

It’s better to space out learning.

For example, I once conducted an experiment. The goal was to learn a six part drilling sequence for passing the half guard in the shortest amount of time possible. So after classes, I drilled the whole sequence once daily for a period of roughly two weeks.

The result was that the mechanics of every movement became cemented in my long term memory. Also if I had continued, there is no doubt that the improvements would have continued as well.

The whole process of forgetting and recalling is crucial for learning, and that’s why teaching is so effective as a learning method.

That experiment is something that you can do as well. All you have to do is:

  • Choose anything that you really want to learn.
  • Create a mindmap or notes listing its core elements.
  • Review your notes thoroughly then forget about it for a few days.
  • Drill it without review and notice any issues that arise.
  • Review afterward and then repeat the process in a few days.

That’s a system for learning anything. Apply it to your training and take note of the results. Also if you have more time, really diversify your training by creating concurrent projects. The fewer common links between each project, the better it will be for you in the long term.

I also recommend Make It Stick and How We Learn, if you’re interested in delving deeper into counter-intuitive learning strategies that work.

Rearranging the Puzzle

If you look at jiu-jitsu as an intricate web filled with countless interconnections, you notice that there are different levels of depth. On one level, you can look at how positions to connect to each other. Then on another level, you can find links between different techniques.

We’re going to go deeper than that.

What we’re looking at is how individual components within a technique can be associated to entirely different techniques, and we’re start off with an example.

3 Methods of Making Drilling More Effective and Enjoyable

This is a basic breakdown of the movements, concepts, and grips involved in one technique. Now let’s assume that you can do everything right but there is a weak link in the chain. You have to really work to do the granby roll right, and it isn’t as smooth or as quick as you would like it to be.

There are two things that you can do in that situation to improve:

  1. You can drill that specific movement by itself.
  2. You can find techniques that you already know that also use that movement. Then work on those in addition to the first technique.

Granby Roll Drilling Web Example

That second option is a method of disguising repetition. It’s also how most people learn jiu-jitsu on an unconscious level, but you would get more benefit from making the process a conscious effort.

Another way to think about this is that you are using techniques as mnemonic devices to reinforce and learn each component on a deeper level. It’s a method you can use to interweave your own unique web of knowledge.

Chain Drilling

Chain drills are a sequence of techniques that loop continuously, but there are two conditions that must be met in order to create a good one.

First, there has to be more than one technique in the loop, and second, the positions must switch after each full iteration. For example, if you’re on bottom of closed guard, you will sweep to mount, your partner will then escape to closed guard. That is an iteration, and once it ends, the positions are switched.

You can take this idea and go wild with it. That’s exactly what I did after I learned it from one of Nic Gregoriades’s videos.

Creating chain drills will force you recall knowledge that seemed forgotten, and it will make the connections between techniques real for you. Then incorporating them in your training will disguise repetition, and it will make drilling something that you can stay mentally engaged in for a longer period of time.

Those are the main benefits, and that’s why I have been incorporating them in my classes whenever possible.

Below are some examples of a few that I’ve used. Feel free to use them.

Closed Guard Chain Drilling Web

There are five chain drills here. The only one that may be confusing from the visual representation is that last one. It links to the first four to offer you the choice of different combinations to finish the last links in the chain.

For example, let’s say that this sequence of events happened:

  • You threatened with a legit triangle from closed guard.
  • Your partner stacked you, killed your hips, and then slowly rotated into a pressure pass.
  • You escaped back to closed guard.

From that, point you can link up to any of the other four chain drills because they all follow the same progression. All four are sweeps to mount and then escapes from mounts.

Grapplethon Outline and Drilling Web

Wrightson Seminar Outline and Drilling Web

The fun really starts when you increase the number of techniques in the chain. Right now, the longest chain I have is six techniques, but you can easily exceed that number. And as the techniques in the chain increase, the drill moves closer to simulating a tightly controlled roll that can be repeated many times.


Drilling can be fun, and it can be effective. That’s possible, and you can accomplish it by spacing out learning, focusing on individual components, and drilling techniques in chains.

Go wild with it.

Also if you love the art and want to discuss it, join us at Creative Jiu-jitsu and on Facebook.

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