Monday, September 28, 2009

dealing with the 10%

Had a good training session today with TO. His defense and calmness is at such a level, that it shuts down submissions. I wrote about the 10% concept a while back and he definitely personifies that. It takes a lot of discipline to not reach out and try to grab what seems right in front of you. Many times I’ve thought I had a triangle or some other submission and burned myself out trying to finish it.

Today I found myself working on two ideas that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. The first idea is the tug of war. It’s basically where you pull the rope just enough to get the other guy to give a mighty tug then you let go just as he’s pulling his hardest and he falls on his butt.

I’ve found this idea works well with bigger and stronger guys. I am not going to be able to stop their movement, but with barriers that are solid enough, I can usually tell where they are going to go. I give enough resistance to make them really push, then suddenly no resistance. The important thing here is to have a follow up in mind that you can start working on right as they’re moving into the position they were just fighting for. The cool thing is it can make you seem much faster than you actually are because you’re timing their movement.

The second idea has a subtler element to it. Let’s say I get a triangle on someone that appears to be on pretty well. The legs are figure foured but maybe their elbow is glued to my hip and I can’t spin to a more perpendicular angle for whatever reason. The temptation has always been to power through this and just crunch down, pull the head and squeeze. Sometimes this works and other times it doesn’t. Many times I can’t really tell why it does and why it doesn’t.

What I’m realizing though is that submission attempt is leaving other submissions open. The arm with the elbow planted on the hip is strong in preventing itself from being pushed across his body. Even if you bridge up and push, a good player is expecting and waiting for this. But it you bridge and scoop under the wrist instead, he now has a new problem. That firmly planted elbow is now an anchor for me to move his wrist towards that direction and start working a kimura type lock. Now if he releases his pin on the hips I now have a much easier time pushing it across the body.

I like the idea of steadily making my opponent’s options worse and their life more complicated. Good defense can shut down one attack, but it almost invariably opens up another one. My goal is to start seeing what those other attacks are and start working them. It may leave the original attack open or it may make yet another attack option appear. This may only be something I can do against people closer to my own size but it’s like a smaller chain of subission attempts.

Setting up the foot on hip guard

We’ve been working on the foot on hip to elbow lock and omoplata combos. This is something I’ve been thinking about lately and a part of my game that needs a lot of work. I feel like I’ve set the stage a little by working on getting an angle on my side as well as constantly looking to base out on my elbow and slide back.

The biggest hurdle I’m finding right now is how to actually get the overhook. Once I get that position, my training partners are wary of the overhook. But after watching some video footage today, I think I need to tie in the butterfly guard and sword guard to lead into this position. In those two positions, I find it much easier to get the over hook so I think it makes sense to start trying to feel those transitions.

The cool thing about this sit out guard is it’s constantly messing with my opponent’s posture. And every time you’re messing with the posture, you’re also threatening submissions. And furthermore, I think every time they become wary of a submission, there is a sweep right there. For whatever reason, this guard has never been something I’ve exploited very much, but right now it seems to fit in perfectly with everything else I’m doing.

Got to work on some wrestling drills on Friday with MB. By the end, he had the timing down perfectly and I realized how limited my knowledge of wrestling really is. I’m going to keep at working on timing and set ups as I think it’s the best formula for me.

His guard pass defense has gotten really good as well. I still have the conflict within myself as far as how much do I force the pass through verses learning to flow from pass to pass. I think I need to set up the next pass better if I’m going to move from side to side. I get myself stuck in one pass that I may be able to force through but I may not and either way I really have no choice from there.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some mount escape ideas and other things

Have had some good training sessions with JS, MB and TO over the last few days. Really working on my conditioning hard in the gym, then making my jiu jitsu more of a calm flow.

Have mainly been working mount and mount escapes. Trying to look at this as just another area where it is a combination of techniques and reactions to reactions. One thing that is coming to mind is the idea of taking things step by step.

One issue I’ve noticed with JS that certainly applies to me as well is that of the Mickey Mantle idea. That ball's going out of the park, or he’s striking out. At times, my mount escapes have been like this. For a long time it was only elbow escaping to my left side. At other times, I had a decent bridge, but if that didn’t work, I was right back where I started.

With my mount escapes (and side mount for that matter) I want to make sure that every move is making progress and chaining with the last one. I think this is a little different concept that trying a lot of moves.

Before I would try one move after another, but I would be coming back to a neutral point of being on my back in between efforts. What I’m attempting to do now is have each move be a natural continuation of the move before it.

So if the opponent has a tight mount with good head control, I could control the arm holding the head or just press down with my head to trap their arm and trap their foot. I’d bridge up and over at a 45 degree angle over the shoulder.

But this usually won’t be enough to get them over, but it should be enough to get to my side. I’d look to continue with the framing, maybe moving to an elbow escape, or maybe moving onto my elbow and pulling my hips back from here with my legs straight. There are a lot of options, but the main thing I’m thinking about is to not bridge, then just end up right back on my back.

I'm really liking the concept of getting up on my elbow, not only for mount escapes, but also side mount escapes and open guard. I feel like there’s suddenly another dimension of movement, which gives me better offensive angles.

I need to start working the full game again soon. I like many of the side control aspects, along with some really cool collar chokes my instructor showed me today. Again the concept of circular motion and moving out of the tidal wave’s way is something I keep considering.

Tomorrow is my rest day but I look forward to continuing these ideas and also to start working on my wrestling but with the same sense of flow and sensitivity.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

No gi back control, passing and guard work

Had a great time training today.

The flow on guard passing is not there yet, but I am stopping short of forcing what is not there. There where a few chances, looking back, where I could have switched sides but the sensitivity isn’t there yet.

Did see some good possibilities on getting the back. Ended up in an interesting situation from the back where my right lower leg was on the crook of both his arms towards his hips. I found that rotating my hips to my left made it easier to get that leg straight. From there could get the left hook in as well.

Also from the back, when the opponent want to shuck you off and you have your right hook in I found that my hooking the inside of his left leg with my left hand while basing out with my right and pulling to rotate my hips clockwise, I had some pretty decent hip control.

Additionally when opponent rolls, I’m working on rolling with him while keeping my hips underneath his on the bottom. With each roll there is a moment in time that you can get the forearm under the chin.

For open guard seeing how getting up on my forearm, after getting on my side is a great offensive weapon as it inherently make it harder for him to control my hips. Really noticed it opening up a lot of possibilities.

Little details but felt like some big changes.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Getting back to it

I haven’t trained at all since the seminar, so it was almost two weeks before I finally got to take the new belt out for a spin. I was a little self-conscious for a moment but soon it was back to work as usual.

Working on guard passing. I realize how stale this part of my game has gotten. And also how much it’s become a power game. Now there are times when a good crush is probably necessary, but I think it has some downsides as well. Most notably, I tend to get tired when I’m driving my weight into someone.

So working with JS today, I wanted to have a more flowing pace. I tried to make a conscious effort to feel where I could mix up some passes and most importantly switch up from side to side.

I also am trying to work on rotating all the way around the head after passing. One key thing I was shown is when the opponent is on his side, to put your weight on his shoulder. You’re not trying to drive into him and flatten him out, you’re just inhibiting his movement.

I really want to get more precise with this aspect of control. I’m not looking to switch into a looser style of playing, I merely want my control to be on the essentials of what stops someone from moving where they want to go, rather than just crushing them completely.

Another aspect of passing that I’m going to really work on is going to my right. Sometimes I feel like the reverse of Zoolander as I can only go left. Going to my right confuses people as most don’t pass that way. And I find that doing things on the opposite side often make you aware of opportunities you just don’t see when you’re on autopilot doing things on your strong side.

Case in point today was there were some moments when I was standing and getting ready to try a slice through Judo Marc style pass. I realized I could just lift and kick my foot out instead as JS was anticipating my foot coming up since my knee would go down so he wasn’t clasping my foot tightly with his legs.

I think slowing the pass, but not going at a slow pace, but more a true flow, will help me see these opportunities. My guard passing has had a lot of tunnel vision to it over the last year or so. I need to look at it, like I try to with open guard, where different attacks appear and work well in combination. With passing a lot of times, I force the issue. I really want to work on doing what they give me rather than forcing something.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Journey to the Black Belt

My attitude and reasons for training have changed quite a bit over the years. Each belt level was a very distinct phase for me in terms of attitude and training habits.

White Belt

I was actually a white belt longer than any other belt. It was the most frustrating and depressing belt for me as well.

At first, my reasons for training were I wanted to “learn how to fight”. This wasn’t particularly motivating, as I really didn’t want to fight anyone. I just didn’t want them to want to fight me.

I’d start training then stop over and over again. I went just enough to get frustrated. I’d see maybe a little skill start to develop, but with the first mishap, injury or frustration, I’d quit for months then have to start the process over again.

My thoughts about my skill went up and down depending on my tapping verses getting tapped ratio. Since I wasn’t showing up consistently, I had to relearn things and was frustrated to watch people pass me by.

And since I got depressed about always being tapped out, once I missed class and knew coming back would be even harder, I’d show up even less.

This happened for years at two different schools.

But I started to make some good friends at my second school, which motivated me to want to show up more.

Although it’s debatable whether I was there more to hang out than to actually train, I started getting reasonably proficient at a few techniques.

I was embarrassed to be a white belt for as long as I was, mainly because telling people I was a white belt felt chumpy. Again, I was still trying to impress on people that I was well on my way to becoming a fighting machine, so “white belt” made them reply, “Oh, you’re just a beginner”.

So for me, getting the blue belt was a huge deal.

Blue Belt

I felt the most competitive with my classmates at this belt . There are white belts that have a lot of skill coming in and can quickly challenge you. At the same time you have purple belts in your sights as well.

The focus continued to be “winning and losing” rather than working towards getting better. I frankly didn’t know the difference between the two.

At this point, I liked talking about jiu jitsu much more than actually training it. I had friends that were really good, which made it tough for my ego to take. It was easier for me to just hang out with them socially than to train with them.

As a result, I really lost focus on jiu jitsu. I just trained in various garages with my friends. Without real guidance, I was just always looking for new techniques and secrets rather than being honest about the cause of why I wasn’t any good.

This lack of responsibility led to me quitting altogether for well over a year. I still had a competitive mindset but wasn’t willing to do the work necessary to progress.

Purple Belt

But in the back of my mind, jiu jitsu continued to irritate me. Part of me wanted to believe that the problem was what I’d been taught. Secretly I thought maybe my former instructors’ style of jiu jitsu just didn’t work anymore.

I found a new teacher who espoused this idea that traditional jiu jitsu was outdated . He had all these techniques that people were calling “cutting edge”. Because of this, I decided to give jiu jitsu another shot. I figured with my newfound knowledge, I’d finally be able to hang with my old friends as a jiu jitsu equal.

Of course, I was repeating another variation of the same mistake, and my old friends would crush me every time. I was trying to get better by using tricks and things they hadn’t seen rather than really dealing with problems.

Strangely enough I really couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t very good. I really blamed things like not being athletic or “natural” rather than really asking myself if I had ever really worked on jiu jitsu.

Sure I had trained with some good people and watched videos and learned the motions of some techniques. But I had never worked on patterns, thought about principals or worked on developing combinations of attacks. In short, I had never studied the game.

It was at this point that I was lucky enough to move to Austin, Texas where two important things happened in my training: I met William Vandry and I hurt my knee.

Meeting William was important as I finally had a teacher in the true sense of the word. It’s not to say I hadn’t learned a lot from other people, but William was the first person to be able to analyze my game better than anyone ever will and tell me step by step what to work on.

Hurting my knee was important as it forced me to spend three months watching every class. I quickly realized how little jiu jitsu I knew. I could roll with people and pull some moves off, but when I sat back and watched people train, I couldn’t tell what they should do half the time, or what their options were or what I would do.

So I started to mentally spar. It was almost like a video game where I would choose one person and try to figure out what they should be doing at every moment. Then I’d switch to the other person. Sometimes I’d just take what was happening as a whole and predict what I thought was going to happen. And other times, I’d mentally put myself in there and see what I’d do.

I did this day after day. I still do this now and I still don’t think I’m good at it, but it’s a little better than it was.

So the purple belt started off thinking I’d found the secrets and ended up truly admitting how little I knew but finally being okay with that.

I was also able to stop worrying about looking good. The danger of being a purple belt is worrying about people’s opinions of your skills. In my mind, if your instructor knows what you’re doing, that’s all that matters.

Brown Belt

I was really happy to get this belt. It was the first one I really felt like I had earned and more importantly, I felt like I was beginning to learn how to learn.

Two new training partners came into the fold who were and are vital to my progress. I think it’s always important to have people that serve as litmus tests. In order to develop new angles and variations of techniques, I’d first try to get them on beginning students. After meddling around with that for a while, I’d start working up the ranks. If I could start pulling the technique off consistently, I knew there was something there.

But they were never officially part of my arsenal until I could work them on the two litmus tests. They helped me really deal with problems in my game, rather than just scrambling through them. I was able to hit the rewind button over and over until I was satisfied that we’d come up with some answers.

I had taken notes sporadically through the years but starting this year (2009) I did them consistently. Doing this really helped me keep my head in the game regardless of whether I was out of town or injured. In fact, I knew as long as I stayed in decent shape and kept reviewing my notes, I could make progress even with breaks in my training.

I also started blogging, which kept me accountable to other people to continue with my thought processes. Plus when people had questions I couldn’t answer, it made me reevaluate my conclusions.

There was definitely a bullseye on my back with this belt. But this was also the first belt that I felt responsibility. I could see people listening in when I’d explain a technique to someone. And having someone really listen to your advice and then take it is a great motivation for making sure you know what you’re talking about!

Black Belt

September 5, 2009 is a day I will never forget. While I cringe at much of the time wasted, I am confident that I can teach someone to learn much faster and better than I did. And in many ways I think that is the point of life: to make your mistakes and pass on what you’ve learned to the next generation.

I’ve said before, that feeling like I understand jiu jitsu is like seeing a mirage in the desert. At some point I had to learn to enjoy the walk fully knowing that the mirage will always be in the far off distance.

I have so much more of my game to work on. There are many principals of structure and movement that I want to explore. I have toyed with the idea of one day opening up my own school but for now my energies are on making myself a better martial artist and doing everything I can to make the people around me better.

I never want to protect this belt, but I will always honor it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some Saulo thoughts and other things...

Had an exhaustive training session with TO on Monday and needed a few days off to deal with some injuries and just general overtraining.

Still thinking about the concepts of staying off my back. I’ve been watching some Saulo footage and thinking about the concepts of his running escape. It seems like many of those moves are predicated by a bridge then whipping the far leg over in the direction you want to go. There’s a lot of power in that structure and it makes it hard to pin someone.

It’s interesting as a few months ago I was working on a lot of offense from being flat on my back. I still like those half guard sweeps and the finesse involved. But it’s still ultimately a passive game. And while it’s good to be calm when crushed and flat on your back, it’s probably a better idea to develop systems for rarely getting to that point to begin with.

I like the structured use of the shin and knee from the shin guard. From the sword guard it’s my forehead underneath the guy’s chin along with my arm pushing his collar bone. From the transition from almost getting past, it’s elbow to knee, looking at my watch and extending up. More and more I’m seeing how the far arm when the opponent is passing is the one to focus on. If I can get a shin or even a hand on that I can start to get space.

If I’m head and arm side controlled, I’m going to start exploring the running pass. I feel confident in my back control defense and think it’s a better option than being pinned.

This style is a little more tiring than some of the other methods I’ve been using but it also tires out my opponent much more. I’m using more methods to make the other person uncomfortable and motivated to move. It’s then a matter of figuring out where he will move and what I will do when he gets there. If I time this right I’ll be reacting to his reaction which should always give me the jump.

All of this advice was given to me many times by my instructor and as always it takes time to really listen.