Sep 08

The Frank Cucci Seminar at Evolve Academy

The Frank Cucci Seminar at Evolve AcademyRecently, my gym expanded to a new location, and one of the events to celebrate the occasion was a seminar by Frank Cucci. He came up to support my coach, Mike Moses, because they have a long history. He’s also one of Mike’s original instructors.

I want share with you a lesson I learned from this seminar. It’s a not technical lesson though. Instead I’m going to focus on some concepts that bound everything together.


In the seminar, there were three sections. The first was self-defense, the second was mount attacks, and the last was Q&A. What stood out to me were the common links between every technique no matter where it was demonstrated.

Each of them followed a very similar conceptual progression. It went like this: Neutralize, Stabilize, Attack. Neutralize what your opponent wants to do, stabilize yourself, and then progress the attack. They all adhered to that pattern, but there was one exception.

Action and Reaction

Generally, when counters are thought of, it’s in the framework of: If my opponent does that, I’ll do this. It’s a reaction, but what if you could create a situation where the most logical course of action for your opponent is the one you want them to make.

Just take a moment and imagine that. Now think about all the techniques that you could improve if you could create those situations. That’s what I’m thinking about right now, and I was inspired by this seminar because I noticed techniques that worked exactly like that.

It was the one deviation from that neutralize, stabilize, and then attack progression, and only one thing changed. Then again, an argument can be made that the only thing that changed was your opponent’s perception.

Let me explain that.

In the seminar, there were several trap techniques. The pattern they followed was: Neutralize your opponent’s options, stabilize in a position that seems unstable to your opponent, and then attack once your opponent makes a choice from the few options you offered them.

In a sense, the goal is to entice them into the trap, and then never let them go. It’s an interesting way to think about Jiu-jitsu, isn’t it? Just imagine the possibilities if you could do the same thing with techniques you already know.

Sep 01

Apply This Simple Philosophy to Jiu-jitsu and You Will Benefit

It's Not That Hard to Do The Right ThingAt my job, I had an opportunity to speak to the owner of the company, and the best thing I took away from that conversation was a philosophy. I’ll share it with you because it’s quite simple, and I understood right away why the company made an effort to instill it at the cultural level. So I hope that you will too.

The philosophy consists of just three general guidelines:

  1. Do the right thing.
  2. Do it to the best of your ability.
  3. Care about what you do.

I look at those guidelines, and I believe that they can be applied to far more than just work. In fact, I want to give some insight on how they can be applied to BJJ to improve the learning process.

Do the Right Thing

At a basic level, doing the right thing in BJJ consists of showing up for class on time, paying attention while in class, and reviewing what you learned after class. It’s that simple really. It’s easy to do, but it’s also easy not to do, and I know that because I’ve failed at times.

You have to also always be aware of the fact that when you step onto the mat, you’re not guaranteed anything. The gym just offers you an opportunity to learn. It’s up to each of us to take full advantage of that opportunity. That means that you have to take personal responsibility for your own development.

The seed of that lesson was planted for me when I started training at Evolve. After that first class, I was physically exhausted because I was massively out of shape. I went up to my coach, Mike Moses, and I told him that I really want to do this but I didn’t know if I could. His response was blunt. He just said that if I seriously wanted it, I should put in work outside in order to improve my condition.

That made an instant connection between personal responsibility and martial arts for me.

Do it to the Best of your Ability

I’ve been teaching classes for a few years now, and one thing I consistently notice is the different levels of aptitude that people start with. Some pick up things fast and others don’t, but I don’t look at that as a sign of potential.

The beauty of Jiu-jitsu is that you can take the concepts and find unique ways to apply them that are consistent with your own physical attributes. It all starts though with learning the technique as it is taught to the best of your ability because you can’t effectively create until you understand the concept of it all.

Here’s a little story for you.

This week, I noticed a new student at Evolve. He was in a motorcycle accident which damaged his leg to such a degree that it had to be amputated at the knee. I’ve seen him in two classes but what I’ve noticed is that he has a passion to learn the art.

For example, I was teaching Thursday, and we were going over knee-on-belly transitions. On one side, he could perform the technique relatively well, but on the other side, he was having a lot of difficulty. He still tried a few times before asking for possible modifications. I like that, and I believe that more of us should have the same mindset when it comes to training.

As Henry Ford once said, “There is no man living that cannot do more than he thinks he can.”

Care about What You Do

In a way, this is the most important part. Every opportunity you get to train or compete is precious. Treasure it and try to get the most bang for your buck possible.  Go into class with specific goals and objectives. Think about how every effort contributes to your long term goals.

I once heard it said that greatness is the result of little actions compounded daily. The consistent effort we put in daily in the gym matters more than all the big accomplishments, and those accomplishments are the result of the consistent effort.

Jun 11

Reflection on The True Basics of the Half Guard

True Basics

Think about that question for a moment because there is room for debate. Right this minute, you can look around and you’ll find many different examples of how the position should be played. Like with almost everything in Jiu-jitsu, half guard is an expression of a person’s own unique insight and focus. So often there are variances in the technique or different concepts that are focused on.

One example I saw recently was a hour and half long instructional on Youtube. It focused on the importance of preventing the crossface, and the method for doing that was bear paw grips on the bicep of the opponent’s far arm. Almost all of the techniques and concepts focused on either preventing the crossface or using it to pass on top.

That’s where the emphasis was placed.

Now how my own half guard has developed has been totally different. I’ve never emphasized preventing the crossface because my prevention naturally happens as a result of how I attack from the position. The question is what concepts are really essential in order to effectively develop the position.

What I Saw

Let’s go back to the Functional Half Guard instructional by Indrek Reiland and Jorgen Matsi.

We’ve already discussed the emphasis that was placed on the crossface, but there was also a lack of emphasis directed towards the underhook. When you look at the video, you’ll notice that there are many times when the underhook demonstrated is quite shallow. That’s a hole that can be exploited.

Also in the demonstrations about how the bear paw can be used, his back hit the mat several times or he gave up the underhook in order to go double paw grip. To me, that’s fundamental concepts being broken, but that’s only because my perspective is different.

I value the underhook over the crossface.

What I Think The True Basics Are

At a basic level, there is one of two ways to attack from half guard. Either you dive deep and get under your opponent’s base then attack from there, or you dominate one side of their body and then initiate your offense.

That’s the goal, but there’s also a general to-do checklist.

  • Fight to get to your side and stay there.
  • Always fight for the underhook.
  • Off balance your opponent whenever possible and don’t let them settle.

All of those are things to keep in mind while you’re playing that underhook half game. Now I’m going to explain some alternative ways to prevent the crossface that aligns with those that checklist.

First of all, in order to be effectively crossfaced, a condition has to be met. Your back or your shoulder has to be on the mat. So if you use the elbow or hand of your free arm to post, it’ll make it easier for you to stay on your side and harder for you to be crossfaced. It’s also easier to shoot the underhook deep and use it to off balance your opponent. To be crossfaced, that post will have to be pulled out from under you first, and you can prevent that by hiding the elbow under you.

Secondly, how you control the underhook matters. Where you place your hand on their hand, what you grab, whether pull or push, all of those things matter. The underhook is an active tool. Use it to upset your opponent’s base and leverage. It makes it harder for them to effectively crossface if you push their upper away from you or force their torso to rotate.

The Point of All This

The intent wasn’t to criticize someone’s perspective on how the half guard functions. Instead, I wanted to give you a clear example of how methods can change while the goal remains the same.

Apr 07

Focus on the Seeds that You Plant


Recently, something significant happened in my life that will require me to make certain adjustments. It was unexpected and undesired, but I’ve been able to take a step back and really analyze the situation.

I realized that there were specific choices that I made that heavily influenced the outcome. So I’ve decided to take the reminder of that lesson and apply it to other areas.

One application, of course, will focus on Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

That’s the intent of this post.  I would like you to think about a simple question. What seeds are you planting every time you step onto the mats?

Ripple Effects

I’m going to take you back in time with me to my years as a white belt. Back then, I had training partners that destroyed me in the gym. It forced me to focus on small victories.

One of those early successes was just getting to half guard and being able to hold people there for significant periods of time.  It was far harder to get to closed guard, and my open guard was nonexistent.

I now look at that as a seed that was planted unconsciously because as I had success I wanted to build on it. It led to me developing a decent level of proficiency with the half guard. That’s just one example though.

Focus on the Seeds

At Evolve Academy, there’s a motto that’s emphasized:  Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes habit.  

Everything contributes to that process. The things that you do and say every day are habits that are forming, and they can be beneficial or detrimental.

If you recognize that fact, it becomes easier to focus on the seeds that will lead to the harvest that you desire whatever it may be.

Often in the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, it’s that shiny medal at the biggest tournament or that new belt that serves as acknowledgement of your growth. Both of those end results are worthless if you don’t put in the work though. It’s the effort that led to the accomplishment that matters most of all.

So focus on the work that you do day in and day out to improve.

Feb 02

The Real Reason That I Love Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

Why I Love Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

I recently read a book called Start with Why by Simon Sinek. It made me think about why I love Jiu-jitsu, and the answer I came up with surprised me because the reason has existed before I even knew what Jiu-jitsu was.

Through the Wormhole

Before I just spell it out, let’s go back in time. When I was really young, I received my first computer. It was a 386 or a 486. I forget which, but suffice to say that it was a dinosaur. I remember going out and getting games. Then I would try to load them, and often they wouldn’t work right away.

The reason for that lies in the fact that back in the stone ages memory was logically split into categories like conventional, extended, and expanded. Different games required certain amounts of memory in the different layers.

That’s where applications like memmaker came into the picture. It allowed you to play with the distribution of memory.

Sometimes, it got quite tricky, but I often had to engage in a little problem solving before I could even play games. I enjoyed the process almost as much as the reward though.

Figuring it all out was just fascinating.

Innovative Engineering

Another example happened recently. In fact, it was only a few weeks ago.

I went down to Virginia to support some teammates at their MMA fights. While there, I spent most of my time in the back with the team.

Between the fights there were significant periods of dead time, and during the wait my coach, Mike Moses, challenged us to figure out how his knife works.

It was a switchblade but it had a concealed mechanism for bringing the blade out. Even when he demonstrated, it wasn’t clear what was being pressed.

We all tried our hand at it. Most tried for a few minutes then decided to focus on something else. Even I took a little break after trying for like ten minutes.

I walked away and got something to eat, but then I came back and picked up the knife again. I looked at it from every angle that I could think of, but I still couldn’t figure it out.

That process continued throughout the night. I would walk away and then come back and pick up the knife. Every time, I was in the room, my thoughts tended to drift toward figuring out the solution, and I was actually disappointed when it was revealed.

How it all Relates to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

From those two examples, hopefully you now understand one of my underlying passions. My focus on coming up with unique solutions to common problems and understanding how things work and how to make them work better both stem from the desire to solve problems.

What Brazilian Jiu-jitsu gave me was the perfect outlet.

It’s an ever-changing puzzle with so many different pieces. It forces you to bring everything you have to bear. You have to use your mind, body and spirit to excel at this art, and all are strengthened in the process.

It’s simply problem solving in its finest form.

Every concept and movement is a piece of the puzzle, but learning the individual pieces simply isn’t enough. You have to learn how they interact with each other.

What makes it challenging and fascinating is that the puzzle isn’t two-dimensional. There is no one true solution. Each piece doesn’t have a clearly defined space that it must fit into.

Instead, the puzzle is multidimensional.

For example, one concept can be linked to many different movements to create a diverse range of techniques. The same can be said about linking movements to concepts.

Then on the next level, there is how techniques interact with each other. You have to figure out how to use them in combination to form effective attack sequences and loops.

You can’t forget to add resistance to the equation either. So there are counters, re-counters, reversals, and escapes.

It can all get quite complex, but there is a certain simplicity to it as well.

Mastering this art will be a lifelong pursuit. Even now at brown belt, I believe that there is still so much to learn. I’ve only figured out bits and pieces so far.

It’s a good thing that I love the process.

What about you? Why do you love the art?

Feb 01

Troubleshooting the Half Guard I

One of my ongoing projects is related to half guard, and today I want to look at one of the questions that I’ve received as a result of that project.  The question was:

My Half Guard question is about the cross face. I have gotten very comfortable with being able to control the bicep of the person on top, when it is coming straight for my chin and being able to rest in this position. However when my opponent skips the cross face and stops looking to scoop my head and squish my chin, and instead puts his elbow over my head, and then I get trapped between his elbow and his free leg. Any answers on how I can regulate this? I manage half guard pretty well til this happens and then they pass. Thanks

Some time has passed since this question was asked but even now I find it interesting. Intuitively, I feel that the transition to deep half is really easy once they pull you in with their elbow, but someone else is perceiving a problem in that same situation.

I wonder why that’s so, and I don’t want to assume that it’s because of a skill difference. I look at the question again, and I wonder what details aren’t included. For example, what form of half guard is being played? Who has the underhook on the far side?

Those are just simple questions, but there are all kinds of variables that could be in play that aren’t being highlighted. So what we have is a situation that isn’t completely defined.

Let’s assume that I won’t be able to get more information about the situation from the person who asked me the question initially. What would be best way to find a resolution?

Now generally prevention is often the best policy, but in this case, I’m not sure if we want to prevent it.  So the first step would be to answer that question. Is this a situation that should be prevented?

The only way to answer that is to test. Small variances within the situation have to be tested until you find a situation that is very disadvantageous for the person on the bottom. If it can’t be found, it means that there is no need to prevent the elbow coming over.

One day, I did a quick video after class to test two simple variances and prove that they weren’t threats.  You can see it below:

Those were just two possibilities. More exist, and I want to test them. Also help would be appreciated. If you had issues in any situation like this, let me know why.

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