Dec 14

The Problem with Most BJJ Instructionals

The Problem with Most BJJ InstructionalsYou look around and you will see many BJJ instructionals put out by renowned Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners. Often, they have high production values and they’re filled with content. Most of the content is even great.

However, there’s generally a focus on quantity over depth and enjoyment.

This has led to hours and hours of content, and it’s actually difficult to absorb it all. You have to work quite hard to reap a significant benefit from the investment, and that’s not even counting the effort that will be required to drill.

No, right now we’re just focusing on the effort required to just sit through those hours upon hours of demonstrations and explanations.

Most of the instructionals follow the same format. There’s a short introduction, then a random set of small sequences is shown. There’s rarely a larger narrative. Instead, it’s just an assortment of marginally connected pieces.

Of course, there are exceptions, but the bulk of the BJJ Instructionals follow that pattern.

What we’re going to do here is compare and contrast. I’m going to highlight a few different formats that I’ve seen. Hopefully, we can find aspects that can be taken from each in order to find a better way to make learning BJJ from video more effective and enjoyable.

A Few Different Formats

  • Caio Terra’s 111 Half Guard Techniques
  • Vince Quitugua’s Lost Secrets of the Half Guard
  • Royler Gracie’s Competition Tested Techniques

These instructionals were chosen because they have significant differences in format. Those differences lie mostly in how technique is taught and reinforced.

Compare and Contrast

111 Half Guard Techniques

This instructional has almost nine hours of content. That’s the main thing that separates it structurally it from most other BJJ Instructionals. I simply can’t think of any other instructional offhand that compares in the sheer amount of content.

Beyond that, it has the basic format. There are sequences shown in specific situations, and the method of teaching is exactly like it would be if you were in a class.

Lost Secrets of the Half Guard

The Lost Secrets is about an hour and half, but the content is highly focused. You can clearly see the larger lesson that is being taught and reinforced.

It starts off with transitions into the positions from multiple situations. Then it has a core lesson that focuses on two techniques and the many adjustments you can used to make it work through resistance.  After that, the focus shifts to alternative options for similar situations.

It’s a contained lesson rather than an assortment of parts.

Competition Tested Techniques

There’s roughly about four hours of content on the whole set. Not all of the material focuses on technique, but that’s where it really shines. It gives you different types of stimulus which makes learning from the set an enjoyable process.

Let’s focus just on the instruction method though.

The explanation is split off from the demonstration, and it’s done by voice-over. So you have a situation where Royler is just focusing on demonstrating the technique from multiple angles, as someone else explains what’s going on. It reinforces the lesson by allowing you to see the same technique performed multiple times within a short timeframe. Then it’s further reinforced by seeing a slow motion demonstration and footage of the technique actually being used in competition.

Major Points of Difference

You look at these three examples and you can point out at least one thing each that can be considered a meaningful difference.

  • Quantity – 111 Half Guard Techniques has a significant quantity of excellent technique.
  • Depth – Lost Secrets of the Half Guard has a great level of focus on a specific situation.
  • Enjoyment Competition Tested Techniques is enjoyable from start to finish because of the instruction style and the bonuses.

Building a Better Mouse Trap

Video has advantages and disadvantages. The first step to figuring out how to improve the process is to realize that.

Alright, so let’s break it down.


  • Repeatable.
  • Not limited by time.
  • Content can include anything.


  • No interaction and feedback.
  • It’s a passive form of learning.

Let’s see if we can think of a solution to those disadvantages real quick. We’ll start with the lack of interaction and feedback. Of course, it’s not possible for an instructor to walk around and suggest small things you can correct when you perform the technique as the video plays.

It would be amazing if it was possible though. A shame it isn’t.

One way to work around that problem would be to attempt to predict common issues. Not only the issues that arise from an opponent’s reactions but also the problems that center around poor understanding of the body mechanics required.

Hmm, here’s a quick idea:

  • What if in addition to the regular instruction there was another video in the set that broke down all the techniques by their core movements? It would be conceptual groupings of techniques based on the movements you have to develop to master them, and it would include drills to help with that endeavor.

Now what about the issue with the passive form of learning? Again, that’s another hard problem to deal with, but what helps is to make it enjoyable by breaking up the pattern.  Competition Tested Techniques did that really well by throwing in biography, slow motion, competition footage, and other bonuses. Also Aurelio Gallegos Jr’s section in Secrets of Our Success was great because he included examples of him applying the techniques against resistance.

Different types of stimulus are great because it makes it easier to keep the attention focused. Another good example of this is Jeff Glover’s Deep Half Instructional. He played it really lighthearted, with jokes and obviously ridiculous techniques. It made it fun to watch and you learned some great technique in the process.

Right now, we have an clear advantage over previous generations because of the sheer amount of information that’s available. One fact remains the same though. It’s still the primary task of all instructors to make knowledge easy to digest and utilize.

Dec 05

Are You Willing to Look Like a Fool

Are You Willing to Look Like a Fool

That’s a question that you should ask yourself if you’re serious about mastering anything

But who wants to look like a fool? We all want to look good. We want to impress. It’s hard to let go of vanity. It’s also hard to let go of habits that you’ve already formed.

There’s a parable highlighted in Mastery that illustrates that point.  George Leonard describes a situation where a person has a cup of milk in hand and a quart of milk on the table within reach. In order to attain the greater quantity of milk, the person will have to let go of the cup.

It’s in that transition where you will look like a fool.

You’ve let go of the cup, but you haven’t yet attained the quart. Who knows how much time will pass between those two points. To be great though, you can’t be content with just being good.

Let’s Go Deeper

I’m in that transition right now. There are areas in my skill set where I’m confident, and I have a high degree of success when I force matches into those situations.  There are also areas where I’m not confident.

There’s a choice present in situations like that.

You can either hold on to the cup and just focus on what you’re already good at, or you can let go of it and strive to learn new things.

For me, I’m trying to let go of the cup, and I’m going to look like a fool at times in the process. I’m going to get swept, my guard is going to get passed, and I’m going to get submitted.

None of that matters.

All that matters is the commitment to the process.

Gear Shift

So are you able to answer that question yet? Oh, you know the one in the title of the post.

Are you willing to look like a fool?

Oh, still thinking about it? Alright, I’ll give you a little scenario.  Imagine for a second that you’re rolling with a lower belt and your instructor is watching you. You can feel his eyes on you, and he’s watching with intense focus.

In that situation, would you be willing to work on something new? Or would you revert to your A game in order to impress?

It depends, right?

Hopefully, this little expansion on a fundamental concept can help you make that decision. Just remember that there’s nothing wrong with looking like a fool sometimes if your goal is mastery.

Dec 04

What Lies Just Beyond the Horizon

Take a moment and look at this picture.

Do you see how the sun’s light just breaks through the clouds? Or maybe the contrast between light and shadow reflected off of hundreds upon hundreds of hills?

Perhaps you even see something that I simply can’t. That’s quite likely actually.

The key thing is that you can see everything in the picture. You may focus on different things, but there’s nothing stopping you from experiencing a sense of wonder at what nature is capable of.

Now what if you were at that location, but there was no light? It was pitch black, and you could barely see anything in front of you.

Would you be able to appreciate it then?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. It depends, right? The main factor would be whether or not you’ve already been there or you’ve already seen what’s possible.

The Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Connection

On the first day, when a person steps into a gym with the slightest inclination of training, it can often be like that pitch black environment.  Wondrous sights and possibilities exist around them, but they can’t see it.

It’s too dark.

Often that initial period is difficult. They’re introduced to countless new movements, and some of those may feel quite unnatural initially.

It’s that period where most people quit.

The shame is that they often do it right before dawn. Right before the light of the sun breaks through the clouds. Right before they hit their first breakthrough and received a true sense of what they could possibly achieve.

A shame, indeed.

The beauty of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu lies in the possibility of creating your own expression of it. It’s when you make that shift from simply trying to memorize to attempting to innovate. It’s when you bring your own insight and mix it with tried-and-true concepts and movements in order to create something that is truly unique.

But the only way to get there is grind through all the obstacles thrown in your path.

Dec 02

A Conceptual Blueprint for Preparing to Teach

A Conceptual Blueprint for Preparing to Teach

If you teach or want to teach, you have to do more than just regurgitate information. The best instructors create experiences that are rarely forgotten.

You might’ve even had such experiences yourself, especially if you’ve been training for a good amount of time. It’s in those moments when you pay absolute attention because you made the decision that the information was extremely relevant to you.

The question is how do you create such experiences when you teach? To answer that, I want to offer you a suggestion.

I recently read a book called As We Speak: How to Make Your Point and Have It Stick. It focuses on the many different aspects of effective communication, and for some odd reason, it just happens to be well-written too.

One section of the book focuses on a conceptual blueprint for preparing content. We can apply that to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instruction, but let’s start with defining the blueprint itself.

The Conceptual Blueprint

At a fundamental level, there are three components in the blueprint:

  • Outcome – Define your outcome. What do you want to achieve?
  • Relevance – Find the relevance. Why should they care?
  • Point – Clarify your point. What’s your message, in one memorable phrase?

Those three components can then be expanded into an outline where you write out the following information:

  • Who will be in your audience.
  • The outcome you desire.
  • The knowledge you want your audience to learn.
  • How you want your audience to feel.
  • Reasons why they should care
  • The central message in one clear statement.

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Application

Now we’re going to use that conceptual blueprint to outline a class, just as an example. Let’s get started!

Who is listening?

  • BJJ Basics Students (Mostly white belts)

Step I – Outcome: By the end of this class, they will….

  • Understand the concept of the triangle and how to effectively finish it.

In order to achieve this they need to know:

  • The four stages of a triangle choke as a foundational concept.
  • The importance of attacking with the hips.
  • How to control angles and posture in the position.

In order to achieve this they need to feel:

  • Confident that they will be able to master the submission in time.

Step II – Relevance: Why should they care?

  • Because the triangle is not only a submission, it’s also an effective position where you can launch many attacks.
  • Because the concepts you learn from developing an effective triangle can applied all over the place.
  • Because the triangle can be found in all kinds of positions.

Step III – Point: What’s your message in one sentence?

  • The triangle is a strong submission that can be used in many effective attack sequences and loops.

Give It A Try

I highly recommend As We Speak. It’s worth studying because effective communication is valuable in all areas of life. I only showed you a small sliver of what you could learn.

I just wanted to give you an example of how knowledge can be applied.

It’s entirely likely that you may read this book and focus on something entirely different then apply that knowledge in a way that I never imagined. That would be a wonderful thing if it happened.

Nov 30

Transitions between Half Guard and Closed Guard


Half Guard Transition to Closed Guard


  • There are two different grip combinations that you can use for this transition. The one I showed is cross collar/far sleeve. The other one that you can use is far sleeve/far knee. I recommend the first grip simply because there are more options off of it.
  • For the transition, it’s essential that your bottom leg is mobile. In order to create that opportunity for yourself, you can use your top leg to elevate their hips like a forklift. That will allow you to bring the foot out easily.
  • Once the foot is out, go foot to the hip then shoot into closed guard.

Closed Guard Transition to Half Guard


  • The grip combination is cross collar/far sleeve.
  • The initial entry is just like the scissor sweep. You shrimp your hips out to one side and bring your knee across your opponent’s body. Then you can either go for the sweep or switch things up and go half.

Transitional Armbar


  • If you’re thinking about this, it’s really important to bring whichever arm that has the sleeve grip back until your elbow is near your side. Your arm will be more structurally strong in that position. It will also make it harder for your opponent to pull their arm back.
  • Also it’s nice to push the cross collar grip into their shoulder. It helps to keep the arm exposed and it compromises their position to some degree.
  • Now in the transition from half guard into closed guard, you’re just skipping closed guard altogether and rotating around for the armbar. That’s the easiest way to think of it. All the common guidelines about closed guard armbars apply.


Generally, the focus in these transitions is more on grip dominance than in timing. Your opponent can help you though by leaning forward, which will free your leg for you.


The first piece of this is the transition from half guard to closed guard. I picked that up from Jimmy Harbison at a seminar he did with JT to help fund the Team Lloyd Irvin Kids Program. It was a great seminar, and I remember everything he taught that day.

After that, I reverse engineered the technique to come up with the transition back to half guard. Also in the process of playing with both transitions, I started to see that armbar possibility.

Nov 28

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Teaching Experiment II

Recently, I taught a class at Evolve Academy. I had a simple vision. I wanted to create a focused lesson that reinforced the technique in different ways.

What we’re going to do here is go back and try to highlight what was good and bad about that approach.

Class Structure

  • Free Form Drilling – 10 minutes
  • Technical Instruction and Practice – 25 minutes
  • Situational Rolling – 25 Minutes

Free Form Drilling

The warm up for the class was just drilling. There were no conditions set on it. They just grabbed partners and worked on whatever they wanted back and forth.

There is a reason that I do that in this particular class. The main one is that at least a good five minutes after class starts there will still be students trickling in. One factor behind that is that there is another class right before this one, but there is a parking lot that separates the two classes.

They could all do better on rushing over though.

Anyway, there’s clear benefit to drilling but in this case it didn’t help reinforce the lesson. That is something that can be addressed.

Technical Instruction and Practice

There was one technique taught. It was split up into two parts. In addition, there was also a drill shown. It focused on maintaining the dominant position that the technique required.

The first part of the technical instruction focused on establishing the grip and details about applying pressure. Then the second part was all about execution and finishing.

Situational Rolling

Let’s set the stage.

There was a set position, and we were doing one minute rounds with 15 seconds in between for resets. Also the initial form of rotation was top-bottom-out.

Basically, someone would come in on top. Then they would have another round on bottom. Then they would be out.

The key advantage of this format is that there were many opportunities to work the technique against resistance.


In hindsight, I think it would have been a good idea to show the drill first and use that as the warmup. Then progress from there.

Overall though, it was a good class structure that really focused on teaching a small subset of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

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