Friday, December 29, 2006

Full speed ahead

It's that time of year again.

2006 marked my introduction to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

I was given a good foundation to begin my training, which should allow for a smooth progression to the next stage.

With all things, it always comes back to fundamentals.

My cousin told me that in actual competition, the only moves that work against people at your own skill level are the basics. RNC, arm lock, triangle, etc. There are plenty of flashy and complicated moves, but pulling those off in the clutch probably won't happen.

It's the base that needs to be strong.

My goals for my training in 2007-

-get up to tournament shape
-compete in tournaments on a regular basis
-apply fundamentals and continue to develop my own gameplan and philosophy
-stay injury free
-train hard, but don't burn out
-get a blue belt before the end of the year

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Out Again

Alas, the toe injury is going to keep me sidelined for at least a week.

I don't think it's broken, as it's already healed quite a bit since yesterday. I was hobbling around on one foot yesterday, but today I was able to actually put some weight on it and walk around to some degree.

Quite disappointing to get injured, but that's one of the necessary evils of combat sports. Could be a lot worse, I suppose.

Time to focus on the mental part of the game.

One closed door opens up another....

Friday, December 15, 2006

Banged up

The cost of training every day-

constant muscle soreness, fatigue, and nagging injuries.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it feels like I got in a car accident.

Yesterday I hurt my big toe when I landed on it awkwardly (I hurt the OTHER big toe the day before too). Hopefully it's just a sprain...

I'm getting into tournament shape, so hopefully these setbacks subside and I can resume my pace.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

One Step Ahead

I realized something that should improve my game by quite a bit. A few of my training partners have mentioned it in the past, but lately I've discovered its importance.

Normally, when I have someone in my guard I just defend until they open and pass- either through a guard break or after scrambling through one of my failed submission attempts. This is the moment that has been defining most of my matches lately.

After opening my guard, they generally slide to my half guard, which is eventually passed and I end up side controlled. From here I am quite defenseless, and usually end up falling victim to some sort of armlock or choke.

The key is that THEY are the ones opening my guard and controlling the game on their terms. I am simply clinging on and resisting until the very last moment, when I decide "OH CRAP, better try something else!" but by then it's usually too late.

If I were to modify my approach and CHOOSE to open my guard while flowing into a half guard sweep or at least favorable position, this should give me that extra split second that's needed to actually execute a successful sweep or escape. Otherwise I'm just a sitting duck.

In Jiu Jitsu, those split seconds are often the difference.

So, I'm beginning to ANTICIPATE the next move.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Mini Victories

My theory worked out well tonight.

I focused on playing the top game- passing guard, working side control, and flowing through moves against some of the larger opponents.

The major breakthrough of the night-

I happened to catch a purple belt in an arm bar from mount. I passed his guard with a 101 pass and slid my knee through his half guard, and then planted my hand to block his hip escape. I then went to knee on stomach while grabbing the back of his head, and he pushed into me with his arms while snaking his hips away from me. I flowed around him while trapping his arm, and caught him in the fully extended arm lock before I hit the mat, and he tapped. After that, he managed to control the hell out of me and put me on my back at will for the rest of the match.

Ha ha, at least I got him once, though.

Small things like that make me feel like the focus is paying off.

Thoughts against larger opponents

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: Theory and Technique, the intro claims that Jiu Jitsu provides the solution to the fundamental problem of martial arts- How do you control and defeat a larger, stronger, and more aggressive opponent?

Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, I had this idea that people who knew karate and tae kwon do were invincible killing machines. If I learned anything from Daniel San or Ernie Reyes Jr, it's that a couple classes of martial arts would have you knocking out legions of goons in no time.

I remember back in grade school this idea was shattered when kids who were supposedly black belts in tae kwon do would be turned into a sniffling mess by some random scrub who landed a haymaker. Now, if you're going to spend all the time practicing those stances and blocks in class, shouldn't they at least give you the ability to defend yourself? Clearly, these martial arts weren't doing the job. They would work in a controlled environment when everyone was playing by the same rules, but that all goes out the window when an actual confrontation happens on the street.

In the early 90s, I found the answer when watching Royce Gracie in UFC 1. These hulking opponents had no idea what the hell was going on when Royce took them to the ground. Each and every opponent ended up giving up his back and getting choked out or made some other critical error due to an inexperience in grappling. Royce escaped each match barely even breaking a sweat, manhandling these kung fu masters with the greatest of ease.

Clearly, if someone was not aware of the principles of submission grappling they will almost always get destroyed on the ground. It's like a fish out of water, for real. Those spinning roundhouses and tiger uppercuts aren't going to work too well when you're trapped on your back or getting choked out.

The evolution of MMA shows us how important grappling is to the sport. Nowadays, submission grappling is a prerequisite to competing in MMA. Everyone is aware of it.

So, the fundamental problem gets complicated. How do you defeat larger and stronger opponents who are ALSO well versed in submission grappling? Particularly if you are at about the same skill level.

I've been struggling for the past week with this question. I still have yet to find the answer, but several concepts have revealed themselves through my ruminations.

Something occurred to me- I always end up pulling guard against them. I see them charging with their hands stretched out like a maniac, and I elect to just flop to my back and pull guard rather than trying to match them in strength or fight against their force. Perhaps its because it's a comfort zone, or perhaps they are just coming at me with too much momentum, but for whatever reason I will ALWAYS end up on my back within a few seconds of starting a sparring session.

Now, this isn't an overall bad strategy, but when an opponent's main objective is to stack me and smash me down all crazily, I think I might be taking the wrong approach. Rather than allowing them to get on top (and more than likely stay there), I am going to experiment with trying to avoid pulling guard altogether. If I end up there as a result of getting swept, that's fine, but I think a big part of my problem is because I keep falling into the same patterns and expecting something different to happen.

I can fight from my guard alright, but I think I might be better off if I try and be the one controlling the action rather than reacting to what someone else is throwing at me. At least for now.

New approach- arm drag, arm drag, arm drag!

I'm going to try and take the back or at least get the takedown from the knees, electing to take the more offensive approach against these larger opponents.

Going back to the attributes post from yesterday: while these larger opponents might have one up on me in strength, I more than likely am a few steps ahead of them with speed. Gotta experiment today and see where this takes me.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Sensitivity, Timing

I've been reading a few articles by Roy Harris, and came across one on physical attributes in BJJ. I found this article quite eye opening, as it broke down the various components of one's grappling game:
Attributes like speed, power, strength, explosiveness, body mechanics, timing, sensitivity, awareness, accuracy, footwork, distancing, agility, line familiarization, flexibility, balance, coordination and endurance are what bring life and vibrancy to your techniques.
Many of these attributes can be developed through training. The obvious ones are strength and endurance through aerobic and anaerobic exercises, which can easily be done off the mat and incorporated into one's daily routine. I've been doing this for the past few months and noticed a significant jump in my jiu jitsu game.

Before I started training, I hadn't really done any serious physical activity other than working out at the gym and jogging occasionally, so I had to develop my strength so I would be able to hang with the people in my gym. I began doing kettlebells and other anaerobic exercises while supplementing my diet with loads of whey protein, and within a few weeks I felt like a completely different person.

While strength and conditioning are important for grappling, one must also look to develop the other skills through mat time and practice. As I've been grappling with different sets of opponents with different body types, styles, and skill levels, I've noticed that I have to alter my game plan depending on who I'm matched up against.

What really caught my attention in the article was the discussion of sensitivity and timing.
Sensitivity could best be described as having the ability to feel and read pressure. During a grappling match, there is a constant barrage of pushing and pulling motions every millisecond. If one were to repeatedly engage force against force, they would soon tire. The competitor with the most strength, power and endurance would more than likely win the match. (That is, taking into account that the two competitors are equally skilled.) However, if one person had the attribute of sensitivity working for them, they would immediately recognize a pushing motions on the part of their opponent and use this motion (pressure) against him by pulling him off balance.
This applies broadly to many areas of BJJ, but I'm starting to think about it in regards to reading an opponent. If I can feel an opponent pushing one way, driving him another way could open up sweeps, escapes, etc. I've been neglecting this area, or at least not realizing how important it was to my progression. If anything, learning to read opponents and situations will do just as much(if not more) for my grappling game as outside conditioning. I think that's really what separates the alright grapplers from the more elite grapplers- the ability to read an opponent and predict what they are attempting to do and shut down that aspect of their strategy. What I would like to be able to accomplish is to take away an opponent's main offense and defense, forcing them to work from an area that is both unfamiliar and uncomfortable- they will be off balance both figuratively and literally. I assume that if you combine sensitivity with technique, you are going to be expelling a lot less energy while controlling and dominating an opponent.

Similarly, timing is also something that I hadn't really focused on until this article-

Timing can best be described as the ability to know when to perform a specific technique at the appropriate time. It goes way beyond just knowing a technique. Timing means you know when to employ a technique. It means you have the ability to see a very small, fast approaching window of opportunity to employ a specific technique and you confidently take that opportunity to boldly employ the technique like you were destined to take it. That is great timing.
I was trying to figure this one out last week, as there were several windows of opportunity that I wasn't able to take advantage of due to lack of awareness/reaction time. It was only afterwards when I was replaying the situation in my head that I realized that I could have done X,Y, and Z to neutralize my opponent, take a more dominant position, or execute a submission. That's another new thing I'm working with- visualization. The idea is that if I visualize myself executing a certain move a few times in my head before I actually try it, I should be able to pull it off fairly easily. Thus, the mental game is picking up as much as the physical game, and I'm beginning to work out scenarios in my mind and grasp the bigger picture.

So, with this new awareness I'm going to try and develop my game in new ways. Of course, it all comes with mat time and experieince, but now I can focus on training myself philosophically during class rather than just focusing on technique, etc.

Closed guard thoughts

I've been working on closed guard for the past month or so, and I feel like I've developed a pretty good base to work around. My main goal is to break the opponent's posture and always have at least one point of control- an overhooked arm, control of the head, a sleeve, a head and arm, etc. From here, it makes it difficult for them to posture up and break the guard. When the opponent is struggling to free the controlled limb/head, it opens up opportunities for submissions or sweeps. In theory it's a good plan, but it rarely ever works out like that.

Lately I've been struggling against larger opponents in my guard. Specifically, when they extend their arms and attack the collar while stacking me and driving all their weight down from standing. I've been told to switch to butterfly guard or open my guard to kick them back, but I've found it difficult to neutralize someone who has 50 or more pounds on me, especially when they are going full speed.

Two main plans come to mind-
1. Get better at spinning armlocks from the guard. At least be able to threaten with the armlock so the opponent won't be able to collar choke me from MY guard. Even if I don't get the armlock, I'll cause them to abandon their plan and get frustrated. I think I don't like to try the spinning armlocks because it potentially results in my guard being passed if the armlock is unsuccessful. I guess this also leads me to the whole idea of working on my open guard game, which is a completely different discussion.

2. Switch to butterfly hooks and launch them over my head. I think this is largely a momentum thing, and it would be a lot easier if I anticipated them trying to drive into me.

One piece of advice that keeps coming up is to never let a larger opponent settle their weight on you. I guess I have to find ways to apply this to my closed guard game.

Friday, December 1, 2006

No Gi

Trained No Gi today.

I find I have a significant advantage, as I am able to fully utilize my speed and avoid being grabbed and controlled to some degree. Perhaps the people I'm training with are also less experienced in No Gi training, as the gym only does it one day a week, so they are unfamiliar with the mechanics of it. Control points are different, and those who rely on collar grabbing/sleeve holding are left defenseless once their guard gets passed.

Then again, playing a loose game with No Gi also leads to even less control, as I find myself relying far more on athleticism than technique. Gotta focus on slowing it down.

I'm leaning towards concentrating more on techniques that work for both Gi and No Gi grappling. Arm locks, guillotine choke, RNC, triangle, etc. Should keep it solid for both styles.

I told myself that I was going to focus on open guard today, but that pretty much went out the window when my opponents were pulling guard all day. I abandoned that plan and decided to work on attacks from knee on stomach as well as general top control. Perhaps next week.

All in all, feeling a lot better than yesterday. Much quicker, a lot more energized, just a lot more in the zone. I plan to roll every day next week in order to get my body back in shape. Gotta up the food intake and make sure I'm fueling myself properly, though. In previous cycles, I'd up the intensity and frequency of my training without correspondingly upping my nutrition, and I found myself weak and fatigued all the time. Thus, I'd be killing any gains made due to lack of proper diet and rest, which was completely counterproductive to my intentions.

Can't overdo it. I have a tendency to go too hardcore when I begin new training regiments, only to find myself burnt out and drained. Gotta pace it, yo!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

First Day Back

Two posts in a day?! Craziness.

Today was the first day back to training after a two week hiatus. The Thanksgiving holiday threw me off a bit, and in the middle of the week I ended up catching a cold that kept me away from the mat. Two weeks of eating like crap, no physical activity, and weakened stamina due to the illness. Should be interesting trying to train again, right?

Needless to say, today was exhausting. After class I felt like I was going to throw up. Coughing, dry heaving, light headedness, you name it. I drove home with the windows open to partially suppress the nausea (freezing air can't be good for the post-sickness), and then went upstairs and laid on the ground next to the bathroom in fetal position in case my stomach didn't obey me. I'm recovered now after some liquids and a long shower, though.

A rant-

One thing that sort of annoys me is the tendency of some white belts to spaz out and get flaily every time we roll. As soon as the time starts, they freak out and start going full blast like we are in a duel to the death. An ego thing, perhaps? As if getting tapped would be the end of their life and put shame on their family. Damn, we're just white belts. Calm down, buddy.

My main issue is the higher rate of injury when rolling with people who are out of control. Last month I got armlocked by someone (same person headbutted me today and cut my lip) who decided to arch back and extend fully with all of his might. Would have ripped my arm off if I didn't tap. Had to wear a brace for a week and go really light with the training.

Once a submission is locked in, apply pressure slowly while anticipating the tap, but never spaz out and try and kill someone with it. This isn't kumite. [Bolo Yeung] *points, glares, and slices finger across neck threateningly*I break you like I break your friend [/Bolo Yeung]. People have lives and all outside of this, and injuring someone due to negligence is just unnecessary.

I've been going in cycles lately with the style and pace of my game. A few months back, I accidentally choked someone out and realized that I was being too aggressive (partially his fault, though- he thought that flexing his neck was a good defensive strategy for defending a fully locked in rear naked choke). Nevertheless, I took the experience as a sign that I needed to slow down and concentrate more on the technical side of the game rather than relying on athleticism and speed.

Lately I've tried to work the defensive game moreso, and when going offensively I try and work a slow pressure game over the speed game that probably suits my body type better. The plan is go slowly and leave no holes or openings while maintaining technical dominance and turning the tempo up when I see an opening. Two different styles, but I feel like working on both will make my game more well rounded overall.

I have to get my body used to rolling every day again. After maybe two weeks of that I'm going to add in outside conditioning three times a week, eventually ramping up to point where my body was a few months ago.


So, here it is.

Back to the world of online blogging.

My intention is to document my progress in training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is mostly for myself, but if someone happens to get something out of it, then at least I contributed something to the sport in a small way. If anything, I hope to encourage others to also document their training, share tips, and approach the sport from an analytical and constructive angle.

Hopefully the regular updating of this blog will coincide with my progress in the martial art, as I will be able to reflect more deeply and analyze my journey.

A little background info-

I began training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in August of 2006, a few months after graduating college. I had always taken interest in the sport, and intended to begin training in 2002, but a rigorous school schedule and a "student budget" prevented me from doing so.

Like many people, I was first introduced to the sport after watching Royce Gracie's unexpected domination of each and every opponent he faced in the early UFCs. Me and my older cousin rented a few tapes, and shortly after we began practicing moves on each other. Nothing formal, but every time we saw each other we would practice moves we saw from videos, not really having any idea what we were doing. Arm bars, rear naked choke, guillotines, and whatever else we could figure out. Rolling around in the grass, smashing each other's faces in the know.

He started training formally, and six years later he is a purple belt.

I moved in with him after graduating college, and began training every day. Initially, I was getting destroyed by every single person in the gym. Tapping me out at will pretty much. That's to be expected, I suppose, but eventually I overcame the early months of being beaten up every day in class. I'm not sure when it happened, but something just clicked one day and my skill level jumped up a few notches over night. Probably a combination of conditioning, strength training, and personal instruction- but I was soon able to hang with people who mostly outweighed me and had been training for a few months longer.

I moved back home a few months after that and began training at a new gym. I've been there a few weeks now, and there's a pretty good group of people there that should help my game progress. However, with the move to a larger gym, I have to take it upon myself to seek out information and proactively improve my game: watching videos, reading books, looking at forums, etc. It's easy to get lost in the cracks at a large gym, as there are so many people that the instructors can't always give you the attention you need.