Sep 10

A New Way to Look at the Near Arm for Control and Passing

How often do you find yourself elevating your opponent’s near elbow when passing the guard or maintaining side control?

If you’re like me, the answer is a lot, but how significant is it? Where does it rank in the hierarchy of control mechanisms? I wanted to discover the answers to those questions, so I started doing experiments.

Giving Up the Underhook

The first experiment was from the bottom of half guard. The goal was to identify how much effective control does the underhook give an opponent when I’m on my side with the other elbow firmly hidden under my body.

This is what I noticed:

  • As long as I kept my elbow under me, it was difficult to flatten me out.
  • Even without the underhook, I could still off balance and threaten sweeps.

Focusing on the Near Arm

In the second experiment, I gave up the underhook again but this time from the top of half guard. My focus was entirely on the near arm and keeping it elevated.

What I observed was this:

  • Controlling the sleeve is not enough. It was still possible to bump and threaten my back if their elbow touches the mat.
  • If the elbow is firmly controlled and elevated, it is easy to maintain control and pressure.
  • I could still pass without the underhook.

Near Arm ControlWhy Does it Work

Fundamentally, elevating the elbow accomplishes two objectives:

  • It separates the elbow from the body, which isolates and weakens the arm.
  • It limits range of motion, which makes it easier to keep an opponent flat on their back.

Both of those aspects aid and assist you in control and passing, but the second one is the most important piece. Just by keeping an opponent flattened out, you restrict their options.

Now I wouldn’t recommend that you abandon the underhook. It still serves many useful purposes, but I want to elevate the importance of controlling the near arm. So play with it and see how far you can stretch its applications.

Aug 29

The Fatboy Triangle (It Will Make Your Finishes More Lethal)

fatboy triangle

Several years ago, I learned this technique from Roberto Torralbas during a seminar he taught at Crazy 88. It was immediately relevant to me since I compete at Ultra Heavy, and I ran into a lot of guys who had no respect for triangles. I wanted to change that.

If you’ve ever had the desire to accomplish the same thing, this will help.

A Common Scenario

You’ve been paired up with someone bigger and stronger than you. They try to muscle you and put pressure on you in every position but eventually you’re able to pull them into closed guard.

Once there, you frustrate their attempts to open until finally they decide to bait you by breaking one of the cardinal rules. They reach back and shoot one hand between your legs, which is the perfect opportunity to triangle, but they don’t care. They don’t respect your triangle, and they believe that the pass will be even easier if you try.

I’ve been there. I remember those situations. It’s frustrating to not be able to finish the triangle when the perfect opportunity is given. The angle adjustment on the Fatboy Triangle finish is what made a difference for me.


The Fatboy Triangle Finish is a solution to two specific problems in jiu-jitsu.

  • The inability to properly lock the triangle because of leg length, flexibility, or opponent size.
  • The inability to finish the choke quickly because of lack of sufficient pressure.

In essence, it is a method of applying compressing force immediately to eliminate most possibilities of escape. I can’t take credit for the name or the technique, but it fundamentally changed how I finish triangles, and I have had incredible success with it.

The Full Version

The version that I was originally taught focused on performing the choke when it was impossible to lock a proper triangle. It was made for shorter grapplers who have always struggled with the triangle because of their physical attributes.

The only requirements is that you keep your opponent’s posture broken and get your ankle at least to your calf. Then these are the steps that make your opponent’s head feel like it’s about to pop off:

  1. Angle the ankle of your top leg as far out as possible. That will rotate your knee in, which closes off the space and drives their shoulder into their neck.
  2. Grab the shin of your bottom leg and pull as close to you as possible. That closes off more space and helps to keep their posture broken.
  3. Press your other hand against the knee of your bottom leg. That increases the compression even more.
  4. Crunch in using your core. That adds yet another level of compression.

Effectively, those four steps allow you to compress the neck from all four sides.

The Smallest Adjustment

Personally, I very rarely use the full version because my attributes allow me to lock the triangle easily against most people, but the I consider the angling the ankle out to be essential regardless. It has made all my triangles from all angles far harder to deal with, and it has allowed me to finish triangles that others might give up on.

In Motion

Above is a quick video I did after class. I know that there is a fair amount of background noise, but it will give you a concept of how the technique works, and I will make a better video at a later date.

Jul 27

3 Concepts to Focus on When Passing Half Guard

3 Concepts to Focus on When Passing Half Guard
In a few weeks, I’m going to be teaching a seminar at Ground Control on passing half guard, so I am in the process of planning and organizing the class structure. My ideal process is always to start with the concepts and then teach techniques that demonstrate how those concepts can be exploited.

As I continue to work on that though, here are a few of the concepts I plan to focus on.

1) Flatten your Opponent.

Most attacks from the half guard depend on your opponent being on their side. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule but if you can significantly limit their offense by keeping both of their shoulders on the mat.

To give you an idea how that can be done and to reinforce the concept, here’s a video from Xande Ribeiro:

The most important takeaway from that video is the reason behind the technique because you can accomplish the same objective with different methods. Some examples are crossfacing, stiff arming the chin away, grabbing at the collar and stiff arming the far shoulder, pulling the near elbow to the sky, and the underhooking the far arm with head pressure.

The goal is to shrink your opponent’s options to the point where they cannot throw anything unexpected at you, and if you make a conscious effort to keep them flat, it will increase the probability of you accomplishing that.

2) Control the Space

This is a concept that applies to every position in Jiu-jitsu; the ranges dictate what is possible.  In half guard though, I think it is especially important because it is so easy for the balance of control to be shifted with small alterations in positions.

For example, when I was a white belt, the whole idea of preventing the crossface from the bottom of half guard was very prominent on the forums and such. But as I developed my game, I noticed that I didn’t need to focus on using paw grips to prevent it. Instead I could just shoot super deep on the underhook and glue my head to their chest. It made all my attacks from the position stronger, and it naturally took away the possibility of a crossface.

So if you switch the perception and look at it from the top, a difference of inches made it significantly more difficult to flatten an opponent with the crossface.

That’s one example but the key is to learn when you have to play tight and when you have to play long, and it will depend on your opponent’s position relative to yours.

3) Control the Near Arm

One of the first lessons I learned about half guard is the importance of fighting for the underhook on the same side as the trapped leg. From the bottom, it’s still crucial if you’re playing the underhook half guard game, but from the top, you have more options.

Let’s take a step back first though. What does the underhook accomplish? It helps you flatten your opponent and prevents your back from being taken.

If you pull up on the elbow of the near arm or push it across their body, what does that accomplish? It helps you flatten your opponent and it makes it hard for your back to be taken. Now if you underhook that arm and drive your head into the space between their far shoulder and head, what is accomplished? The same thing.

Those three grip configurations accomplish the same objective and they can reinforce each other. That’s why the double underhook situation is not fun on the bottom. So don’t forget about the near arm when you focus on passing half guard.

Dec 21

Debate on What Defines an Advanced Technique

debateRecently, on the site’s Facebook page, I had the opportunity to have a philosophical debate with Josh Vogel about Jiu-jitsu. It started in response to a post about curriculums, and the topic focused on how basic and advanced techniques are defined and if such a dividing line exists at all.

With Josh’s consent, I’ve included that debate here verbatim with some white space added for readability. Also I recommend that you check out his site and the Sloth Report. I learn something new every time I visit because it’s obvious how much time and effort he has devoted to the study of the art.


Josh Vogel
Kenneth Brown


JV: Nice post. I disagree somewhat in that I do think that there are beginner and advanced techniques and I do think it matters what content is taught at what point in a curriculum. When you are teaching the general public, beginner techniques are ones that prepare you physically for more complex actions and actions that demand more out of your body.

The idea of progression is important in all physical activities for these reasons. Learning X guard doesn’t make much sense until you first learn ways to get to x guard, such as learning how half guard or butterfly guard work. Learning the traditional straight ankle lock as a gateway leg lock is another example of this.

If you learn a straight ankle lock early in your Jiujitsu career, you can spar and compete with it right away. It prepares you for a lot of the leg, knee and hip work that you will use when you attack the legs in other ways like doing heel hooks, toe holds and sometimes knee bars. (which aren’t allowed in competition and some sparring until brown/black belt level, or Advanced/Expert divisions in No gi tournaments) and it gives you an understanding of some of the positional components of doing foot locks, but in a simplified manner. Hope that makes sense I’m still waking up haha

KB: We agree about the importance of progression, but everyone doesn’t start from the same point, and the path they take is never a linear line.

For example, for many years it was extremely difficult for me to do some techniques that are considered elementary. I had a specific range of motion issue that interfered with the performance of those techniques, but I was able to do techniques that were considered advanced.

For that reason, I consider all technique to be advanced. The basics are found instead in the concepts and movements that form the foundation of all technique. We teach concept to increase understanding and paint a picture of a Jiu-jitsu that is open to everyone no matter their attributes. Then we teach movement to lessen and remove the limiting factors that can inhibit the execution of technique.


JV: Nice, I agree with people not starting at the same point. However, there are a certain core of techniques that can be applied for most people without severe physical limitations. With severe physical limitations, of course there are exceptions and modifications to be made. I think that in a lot of cases, doing the foundational techniques can help with developing the range of motion or strength needed to perform the techniques.

For example, a lot of people lack the wrist and grip strength necessary to perform a solid x choke from the guard in sparring early on. By practicing the x choke from the guard, you start to develop this ability over time. It’s not a quick fix, like learning some other choke that might be easier to apply, but it’s a progressive development over time. This is not to say that you shouldn’t learn a game that works for you early on, but there are some techniques that should be put in place as developmental tools.

With the idea of teaching concepts, I agree to a certain extent. I am of the philosophy that the biggest enemy of progress for beginners is confusion, so it’s better to give a simple technique from every position with a brief explanation of the concept behind it at first. People tend to go over board with the conceptual stuff a lot and that can be very abstract for new students to absorb.

KB: That’s the thing. I believe that the techniques that form the certain core you speak of is completely arbitrary.

For example, what is the fundamental difference between a cross choke from guard and x guard sweep? Both techniques can be used as development tools. Both techniques have many levels of depth, and no situation on the street or in a tournament will start in those positions.

What I’m rejecting here is not the idea that certain techniques can be used as a foundational base to teach Jiu-jitsu. What I reject is the idea that those foundational techniques have already been set in stone.


JV: Gotcha, to a certain extent, I think some of the techniques are arbitrary. I think certain positions are not arbitrary though. I would place learning closed guard before x guard in a curriculum for sure, but whether you teach a guillotine, a kimura or an x choke as attacks from the closed guard might be closer to arbitrary, but I would still stay close to that group of techniques.

The difference between the x choke and the x guard is that the x choke from the guard is predicated on movements that aren’t too far removed from familiar movement patterns that people have used or seen in some form in their own lives outside of the world of jiujitsu. I would teach an x choke from the guard to beginners much much more often than an x guard sweep because the closed guard isn’t too hard for new students to grasp, nor is it too hard to figure out how one might get there.

You get knocked down, you wrap your legs around the opponent. The legs don’t require any gymnastic feats to be able to cross your ankles behind someones back. Just cross and hold on tight. The x choke would lend itself well to beginners because it doesn’t risk anything positionally, so a beginner can try it pretty early on in sparring a whole bunch of times and if they fail, they can try again because you don’t open up much and in failing, you don’t expose yourself to a counter attack or a pass (the same way that an arm bar from the guard or a triangle from the guard will).

It’s fairly simple to get the gist of on a coarse level and not confusing to try. The counters are fairly simple at all levels, so it’s easy to track what happens in that game. The x guard is not a position that is familiar to beginners in any way. It doesn’t look like anything they have seen in a fight and it doesn’t look like anything they have ever used in any other grappling/ fighting/wrestling/tousling around as kids kind of situation. It is not a natural movement pattern. It’s not easy to relate to. It also requires a back ground in half guard, x guard or some other unfamiliar positions in order to get to the x guard in the first place. It requires more skillful foot and leg work than most beginners are capable of (it takes time to “educate” the legs for a lot of people) and it requires unfamiliar usage of the arms and legs to control another person.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I believe that the techniques that beginners should learn are ones that are closest to natural movement patterns. Covering your face and clinching when someone is hitting your. Under hooking and doing trips, or doing tackles/double legs rather than learning complex gripping patterns that lead into nuanced throws.

If someone knocks you down on the ground, wrap your legs around them rather than trying to manipulate their body into such a position that you can hook both legs perfectly on the insides of their thigh while controlling their opposite leg with your arm, keeping them stretched out, etc…Gross motor movements before finer ones. Stuff that people can try right away in sparring under the adrenaline and stress that beginners usually experience.

I don’t think the techniques have to be set in stone, but I think that the guideline of following naturally occurring movement before movements that are not found as often in natural settings is important. Grabbing someones head in a guillotine like movement is pretty universally understood. Perhaps that’s a better example than an x choke even. If there is a technique even more natural and simple than that, then that’s the one I would go with.

KB: We aren’t that far from each other in thought. When it comes to learning, I believe in the importance of early success in order to inspire interest in delving deeper into the art.

But my current focus is on breaking technique down to its concepts and movements, and I consider movement to be the limiting factor on how easily technique can be learned. but once you conquer the movement the path to techniques that are considered advanced open up.

In my personal experience, a range of motion issue prevented me from sitting in posture on top of closed guard for many years, but I taught myself how to granby within two weeks. That meant that many closed guard passes were extremely difficult for me while I could invert quite easily and do many techniques that required that movement.

Also I’ve developed a very effective method of applying the ezekiel choke from mount. For sometime I’ve been trying to transfer that technique to others in full, and over time I keep finding little things that I do intuitively that must be communicated. The movements involved in that technique are simple, but there are many of them, and the adjustments are quite small. So I don’t consider it basic, even though someone somewhere does.

Then recently, I assisted with a class where the closed guard armbar was taught to class with many first day students. There were seven distinct movements in the technique, and the new students were having trouble with the hip movement and remembering the sequence. This is a technique that is considered basic, but I think that’s only because we view it through the lens of our own experience. I know personally I lost count of how many times I’ve done that armbar a long long time ago.

I’m saying all this because people have different attributes and different backgrounds. What’s natural for one person isn’t natural for another. I think that’s important to acknowledge as we try to share our love for the art with everyone that we can.

Also thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I consider a idea challenged to be an opportunity for that idea to be further developed.


JV: No problem, thanks for discussing this with me! I love talking about this stuff and I’m a big fan of learning through challenging ideas and having my own ideas challenged!

I can see what you mean with your example of the closed guard vs the granby roll. Without presuming too much, I think that’s a good example of an extreme situation because most people that I’ve come across don’t have those range of motion issues in their ankles , knees and hips. In that case, I would teach a closed guard break that allows one to lean far forward and to drive off of their toes, rather than being flat on the tops of the feet (unless the issue is hip flexion).

I agree that everyone has different movement qualities because of transfer from prior sports/work activities, or from injuries or just mental preferences. However, I do think that natural movement is mostly the same for everyone. Of course injury or other limitations will alter which movements are accessible.

They are movements that don’t require extreme ranges of motion, are relatively safe, are patterns that an active person will have used or seen fairly often in their normal outside of jiujitsu lives. So a kneeling pattern, a standing pattern, a crawling pattern are all natural movements that you see in daily life, and are also part of most guard passing.

What you said about the armbar is interesting. I feel the same way in the sense that it has many moving parts and could be considered “advanced”. However, I think the difference lies in to who you are teaching it to. When I teach an armbar from the guard to a white belt, I teach a basic version with as few steps as possible. I highlight the most important elements, while taking care not to overload. I provide a template.

As they develop experience with the technique, I fill in technical details that they haven’t figured out to solve the problems they are coming across. I would still say that learning the template for an armbar from closed guard is basic because it’s one of the easiest ways to teach an armbar from your back, rather than say…teaching how to armbar someone from bottom of half guard, which would require many more steps.

All this being said, I think a basic curriculum with specific moves and positions is important for white to blue belt level, but after that I don’t think this model applies as rigidly. That’s when I think exploring your own style becomes more of a thing

bar45Oh, and if you have any thoughts on this question, feel free to share them. It would be appreciated..

Dec 15

Structuring a Curriculum for Competitors VS the General Public

Structuring a Curriculum for Competitors Versus the General Public

Why so serious?

Right now, I’m working on a large project, and some of my teammates are assisting by sending me any random jiu-jitsu questions that they can think of. This post was inspired by one of those questions because I received one that just didn’t fit my project at all, but it was fascinating on its own merits. So I’m going to share that question in its entirety and then walk through my thought process on it.

The Question

John Doe is a black belt opening a school. Explain how you believe the curriculum should be structured. Are there differences between structuring it for competitors vs the general public? How would the structure affect the business and inspire creativity in expressing the art?

Choice of Focus

First of all, what’s in the curriculum matters very little. I reject the idea that there is such thing as basic or advanced technique. There are just techniques that work and those that don’t, and our task is to find techniques that work for us then figure out ways to make them work better.

What matters more is how and why you teach. For example, my coach once said that his goal isn’t to teach people how to fight, instead he wants to inspire the development of character through the martial arts. That’s the vision he has for his academy, and the curriculum should be a reflection of that.

My vision is different. I’m far more focused on personal expression and growth. So if I had an academy, I would say that my goal is to inspire others to view the mat as their canvas and movements as their paint strokes. I want them to see that they can take this art and create something that is uniquely their own, and I want them to progress in that journey consistently.

For that reason, I believe that a choice doesn’t have to be made between competitors and the general public. If the goal is to create an environment that encourages all students to create their own unique expression of the art, competition becomes only one option for achieving that end.

When Competition Matters

Competitors warrant no special treatment, but competition does have specific benefits for students, if they view it with the right mindset.

First of all, you have to reinforce the idea that the result matters far less than the process. No matter what the result is, the true benefit isn’t attained on the podium; it’s attained before and after they step on and off that mat. What matters is what they have to become in order to achieve the result they desire, and failures are just temporary setbacks, if they never stop moving forward.

If they approach tournaments with that mindset, there is nothing that can be lost, and like a rising tide the whole gym will be elevated. So competition should always be accessible and encouraged but never required, and the willingness to strive for victory should always be more worthy of praise than the result.

Business and Creativity

The business of jiu-jitsu can never be ignored because if you can’t convince people to exchange dollars for your services, you can’t keep the lights on. Again though, I believe what you do is less important than why you do it, and I credit [easyazon_link asin=”1591846447″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”bjjcanvas-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]Start with Why[/easyazon_link] for that belief.

One of the arguments the book makes is that customers buy why you sell not what you sell because it reinforces the image of who they want to be. A good example is the Apple commercial series that aired some years ago. In it, the Macintosh was represented as a young hip guy while the PC was an older stick-in-the-mud. The intent of those ads was to create the impression that Apple is young and hip, and you can be too.

That imagery has been a part of Apple’s brand for decades. I’m not sure about now, but in the past, Apple was all about challenging the status quo and being a rebel with a cause. That was their why.

My why is to inspire growth and creativity, and key to that is early successes. Why? It’s because you can’t get to growth and creativity until you get past the steep hill that stands before you on your first day. The steepness of that hill is different for everyone but the small things like performing a technique right for the first time matter because it proves that you can learn.

That’s what I mean by early successes.

So any curriculum I develop will be focused on creating those early successes that encourage you to continue on. In my mind, progress is sexy, even if each step forward doesn’t cover much distance. For that reason, I prefer to focus on depth over breadth.


I have avoided the question of how curriculums should be structured because I don’t believe that there is a definite answer. I say that from the perspective of someone who has visited many gyms. Not once yet I have walked into two different gyms and seen the same exact structure.

How Jiu-jitsu is taught is a reflection on the gym and why it exists. It tells you what their purpose is and what they wish to accomplish.

So I can’t tell anyone how to structure a curriculum. All I can focus is how I would do it, and my focus would be early success, growth and creativity. So here are some things I would like to do:

  • Create a basics class focused on chain drills so that students would not only learn basic techniques but also how to start chaining those movements together.
  • Select a concept or movement every week, and then spend the whole week demonstrating how the concept/movement applies to jiu-jitsu in as many different situations as possible.
  • Create a class focused on Q/A so that everyone can troubleshoot and brainstorm scenarios as a group.

Now those are all ideas that I want to test but they are all a reflection of my why. So they represent the brand I want to create. That makes it personal, and it makes it art.

Nov 02

A Shift in Focus Can Help You Learn Jiu-jitsu Quicker


In Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, there is no one true path to mastery. You don’t have to have a certain body type. You don’t have to be young. You don’t have to be athletic. You can start at any level and travel as far as you desire. That’s why it’s such a beautiful art.

The issue lies in conveying that it is an art. Technique doesn’t work exactly the same for everyone. We all have different attributes, and some of us even have handicaps.Those differences must be acknowledged, but they are not obstacles to growth.

The obstacle lies in focusing solely on technical instruction.

Consider this. If I wanted to teach you how to paint, would the best method be to show you stroke by stroke how to replicate one of my paintings? Yes, in time, you may intuitively piecing together the underlying concepts through diligent practice, but is it the best method?

Add on to that the fact that many aspiring painters will fail to replicate even the most basic work over and over again. That’s not because they don’t have the potential to be great. They just haven’t done anything quite like painting before, and there is a wall that must be smashed before the world of possibilities becomes visible.

What If the Focus Changed

There are common elements that bind all technique together. I call them building blocks. One of the best examples is the shrimp. It is just one movement, but learning that one movement can give you a head start on learning and creating countless techniques.

Another example is the mechanics of a blood choke. When you understand that cutting off blood flow to the brain by blocking the carotid arteries is all that a choke requires, you can apply that concept in many ways. It is the foundation of learning, improving, and creating technical chokes.

Concepts and movements are the building blocks of technique.

Often, those building blocks are not focused on. Instead, we focus on the end result. In the grand scheme of things, that means that one piece of the puzzle is focused on instead of the glue that binds many pieces together.

What if the focus changed though?

What if a building block was singled out and focused on with technique being taught only to demonstrate relevance? How would that affect learning in the long time? Just imagine if you had been given a sense of how the grand puzzle pieces together at an earlier stage in your development. How could it have sped up your progress?

Actually don’t answer that. Instead experiment by doing the following:

  • Take every new technique you learn and break it down into its core concepts and movements.
  • Make a list of the concepts or movements that you see in more than one technique.
  • Link the positions that you want to become better at with the concepts and movements that apply to them.
  • Focus on mastering the movements and understanding the concepts that have the most applications to the style you want to create.


On the teaching side of the equation, I put this idea into practice at Crazy 88. I taught classes Monday and Wednesday that both focused on the mechanics of chokes. The goal was to introduce and reinforce the concept, while also highlighting the possibility of troubleshooting your own technique.

Every technique shown was geared towards that purpose. For example, I taught the anaconda choke. It’s an arm triangle variation, and that means that one side of the neck has to be cut off with your opponent’s own arm. It’s one reason that those chokes can be difficult to get right.  All explanation and troubleshooting was done from the conceptual angle. So the idea was just constantly reinforced.

In the end, I was confident that even if they took nothing else away from the class, they had that concept. In fact, it cemented it in my own mind as well.  Since then, I’ve just been seeing chokes all over the place.

Issues and Opportunities

It is easy to teach how you were taught. The same can’t be said about reducing technique to bits and pieces and demonstrating how it can be put back together.

Take the shrimp for example. It has wide applications in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, but can you think of twenty techniques that use it as a core movement right now? I couldn’t. I know they exist, but I’ve never taken the time to focus and identify it when I use it.

Many movements and concepts are like that. They are extremely relevant to the development of skill but they receive only a basic level of focus. The challenge in changing that lies in analyzing all the technique you know to identify the building blocks.

It will be a daunting project, but just imagine how much you will improve as a result. The video below will help you as well because it reinforces the significance of conceptual focus.


Since this article was written, there has emerged a new instructional that focuses on conceptual instruction. I have it, I like it, and I recommend it. Beyond Technique will help you accelerate the rate of your growth, and I hope that this style of instruction becomes a new trend in our art.


Older posts «

» Newer posts