Leicester Shootfighters, (Submission Grappling), Nathan ‘Levo’ Leverton, Leicester, UK – 30/09/2012
I first began actively participating in online martial arts forums back in 2002, during my MA when I was still doing Zhuan Shu Kuan kung fu. I started off as part of the Tung-Fu message board, which had some cross-over with the much more influential SFUK: I think shortly before I joined, there had been some kind of troll influx from SFUK. After a few months, those trolls morphed into contributors, causing Tung-Fu to go from being a staunchly traditional martial arts forum to one relatively supportive of the then recent phenomenon of MMA (indeed, when we had a meet-up a year later, grappling taught by an MMA instructor was a major component of the day). I think it was around then I first encountered someone posting as ‘Levo’ online, a regular on SFUK.
That name popped up frequently over the years on various forums I frequented, either in person or as a reference, in places like Cyberkwoon, Bullshido and Martial Arts Planet. Almost always, Levo would be making some measured and intelligent argument about something in martial arts. I often found myself quoting him, like here, particularly in the days before I was seriously grappling myself. I often thought it would be cool to go train with this Levo guy, but never took the opportunity to head over to Leicester and check out his school.
It’s taken a decade, but I finally got round to it today. Levo is the internet handle of Nathan Leverton, a pioneer in UK grappling. Having spent well over a decade training numerous successful fighters in MMA, this year he’s decided to codify his experience into a system, ‘Leverage Submission Grappling‘. I heard about it earlier this year, so have been keeping an eye out on developments.
The reason it intrigued me back in January was mainly down to Leverton’s reputation. I expected that if he was creating a system, it would be technical, cerebral and for want of a better word, ‘grown-up’. That’s as opposed to something like 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu: though much of Eddie Bravo’s nogi system is viable if you are an experienced grappler with the requisite flexibility, I’m put off by the marketing approach and constant drug advocacy. Leverage Submission Grappling also has the advantage that it was advertised as fundamentals, which always perks my interest.
Today’s seminar is number four in a series of six proposed Leverage Submission Grappling seminars on fundamentals. The next one is on the 14th October (more information and booking details here), discussing side control, but I’ll be in Portugal. Seminar number five on open guard is the following Sunday, which I can’t make either, so I’m hoping I can make the one after that (which I should be able to, unless it is in November when I’m away in Texas).
Leverton’s instruction totally lived up to my expectations: intelligent, detailed and thorough. The breadth of his experience was immediately evident from his theoretical introduction, where he discussed how Leverage Submission Grappling draws on numerous grappling styles, from catch wrestling to judo to Brazilian jiu jitsu amongst others. It would be fascinating to chat with him at length about his background in martial arts, so hopefully I’ll get the chance to interview him some time, either for Jiu Jitsu Style or just for this website.
He started off with theory, running through a positional hierarchy in keeping with Brazilian jiu jitsu (i.e., the back, mount and side control are where you want to be, guard is neutral, whereas underneath side control, mount and the back are progressively worse). Of all the positions, guard was going to be the most influenced by jiu jitsu, given that BJJ is arguably the style which has developed that position the most.
First of all you need to know how to hold the guard properly. This might seem like a simple point, but as Leverton said, many people don’t use their legs as effectively as they could. Rather than letting your legs flop down so you’re resting on their thighs, you’ll achieve better control by gripping higher on their waist, pinching your knees.
Next you want to break their posture. As soon as they adjust a knee and start to rise, pull your knees into your chest to knock them off-balance. You also want to bounce your hips over if they start shifting their knee into the middle: I’m used to having a trouser leg to pull on to help with that, but the principle is the same in no-gi. Once you’ve broken their posture, clamp your heels down to help keep them there.
Most likely they will try and position their arms to maintain posture: in gi, that normally means one hand grabbing both collars and the other by your hip. In no-gi, there isn’t anything to grab, but they’ll still probably be pressing into your stomach or possibly your hips. Either way, you want to get those arms out of the way. Leverton went through the three basic options, which are swimming inside the arms and pushing them to the mat, then the opposite motion from outside, and finally the same elbow grab and pull I’m used to from the gi.
When you’ve brought them down, wrap up the head immediately with your arm. There are two main routes for securing that: first, you could underhook with your same side arm then link your hands, or secondly you can overhook. If you overhook, make sure you put your knee by your elbow to keep things tight. This concept of tightness was probably the overriding theme of the day, as you’ll see the further I get into this write-up.
Having established that grip around the head, Leverton moved into his first submission, a pressing armbar. For a fundamentals seminar it seemed fairly complex, but as Leverton explained, this technique also teaches several important principles that relate to various other techniques. Starting from your underhook, shift your arm from the head so that you’re instead gripping around their shoulder with both hands. Pull that in tight.
Open your guard and shift your hips out towards the trapped shoulder side. You’ll end up with one leg on top, the knee by their shoulder, while the rest of your leg curls down the middle of their back. Your other knee should clamp underneath the shoulder, pinning it in place. Next, you want to secure the end of their arm towards their wrist (‘stick theory’: to snap a stick across your knee, you hold it at both ends, not just one). To shift up the arm, you may need to push against their head with one hand to help your control.
Adjust your grip so you’re a little underneath their elbow, grabbing your own far shoulder. You want to be a bit past the point of where you’d apply the submission. If they pull their arm out slightly, you won’t lose the submission opportunity completely. Your other arm then moves up to join the first, so that both arms are crossed under their elbow and pulling into your chest.
Push your knees into them if you need to adjust that position on the elbow. Walk your shoulders back to stretch out the arm and lift your head up slightly, to create some space around their elbow. Finally, pull their elbow in towards that space you created by squeezing your arms and expanding your chest.
Leverton then progressed to the spinning armbar, which he noted was his preferred variation. According to Leverton, this is the judo approach and is more effective for nogi. The set up is to cup the inside of their elbow with your same side arm, elbow up. This is intentionally a loose grip, as you don’t want to tip them off that you’re about to go for the submission. Crunch your body so that less of your back is in contact with the floor, making it easier to spin.
Wedge the back of your hand under their same side leg, then open your guard. Kick both your legs up at the same time and spin, using your hand against their leg to help your rotation. Clamp your legs down, angling the leg by their head slightly outwards for control (so, a little like Adam Adshead’s tip on armbar control). Again, tightness is key, getting those knees squeezed on either side of the shoulder.
From here you can then sweep them into mount, which Leverton recommends: they can’t stack you from mount. Move your knees to the side to raise their bum in the air, then knock them forwards to go to a mounted armbar. Pinch your knees to raise their arm up, providing better leverage. Another handy tip is to pull their arm slightly off-centre, towards their legs. That makes it very hard for them to escape, even if you’re doing the Japanese armbar with the near leg tucked by their side rather than over their head.
The climbing armbar is more common to jiu jitsu and gi grappling, but as with the pressing armbar, it teaches you useful concepts, like climbing the legs. Control one arm at the wrist and elbow, putting your same side foot on the hip. Kick the other leg up into their armpit to bend them at the waist, swivelling to look at their ear. Bring your first leg over their head, then complete the armbar as before. That series of three techniques also revealed that my shoulder is worryingly tight: I was already close to tapping just from the set-up!
After a quick break (very useful for scribbling down some notes, or in my case speaking the main points I wanted to remember into my phone), Leverton moved on to the triangle choke. Ryan Hall’s name came up several times, which made sense as his instruction on the triangle is probably the best around at the moment (no doubt helped by the fact he has hundreds of competition wins via that submission).
Leverton discussed two set-ups, starting with the basic option Hall calls the ‘tap through triangle’. Grab their wrist and push that into their stomach (not the chest, as that’s a bit high, though there is a different set up where you push the arm right to their jaw). Open your guard and lift your legs over the top, then lock them in a ‘diamond’. A key detail is to then pull their head down, but into your belly button rather than your chest. It’s a simple point, but it made me realise that’s a big mistake I’ve been making up until now, and is probably why I get stacked so often.
If you can get straight to the triangle go for it, but if not, stick with a secure diamond rather than a sloppy half-locked triangle. From there, pull on your shin to lock up the triangle as normal, swivelling off to an angle if necessary. The second set-up was starting from an overhook, shifting your hips and bringing your knee through for a kick-through set-up, then finishing as before. Leverton includes the usual important advice about not pulling on your toes or locking over the toes, as that’s a good way to get injured.
Another useful point he mentioned on the triangle was to do with people tucking their chin into the ‘hole’ at the bottom of a loose triangle, meaning you can’t choke them. If that happens, simply twist their head so their chin is directed at your leg rather than that hole, meaning you can press your leg into their throat. This ‘hole’ may develop if you haven’t got their arm across: like Ryan Hall, Leverton also emphasises that you do not have to have the arm across the get the choke. If they bury their arm underneath your body, you can swim inside to pull the arm up into a pressing armbar position and either submit them with that or complete the choke.
After another break, it was time for the kimura, or as it is called in catch wrestling, the double wristlock. Leverton has trained with catch wrestling legend Billy Robinson, who has a somewhat negative view of jiu jitsu, especially the guard (you can get a flavour of that here). As a result, Robinson hates it when people call this lock the kimura.
The set-up was familiar, as you reach over the arm whenever they make the mistake of putting a hand on the mat. You can then lock up your figure four grip. There was a brief pause at this point to talk about grips. When going for the americana or kimura from the top position, you would use a thumbless grip, because if you use your thumb, that bends your wrist upwards. Without the thumb, you can keep your wrist and arm in alignment. However, from guard the grip with a thumb is fine, as there isn’t the same issue of your wrist being forced out of alignment.
Once you have that grip, shift your hips out as before, bringing them down to start attacking the arm. Push their arm a bit further than ninety degrees: as with the pressing armbar from earlier, you want to have some leeway in case they start to escape. A BJJ kimura is a little different from a catch double-wristlock, because the catch version brings their elbow higher, also using their own elbow to get counter-pressure. Leverton cited to famous example of Sakuraba versus Renzo in Pride 10, where Sakuraba was able to get an immense amount of control from the kimura due to that elbow positioning and counter-pressure.
The last submission was the guillotine. Leverton began with the standard variation, adding a little tip that as you bring your hand through, ‘hollow’ your chest to make it easy to cinch up. Once the hand and arm are in place, your chest returns to its normal position, which instantly tightens your hold and makes it tough for them to wriggle free.
A more effective variation is what Leverton referred to as the ‘Marcelotine’, named after Marcelo Garcia. I’ve vaguely heard of it before, but as I never use guillotines I hadn’t paid much attention. However, having now been shown it by a good instructor and drilled it, I’ll have to revisit that attack: definitely a powerful choke.
The difference with the Marcelotine is that firstly you grip is shallower. Insert your wrist by their jawline rather than deep into the throat. Grab your first hand with your second, gripping around the non-thumb side of your first hand. The elbow of your second hand is raised, bracing against their shoulder. To complete the choke, press on their shoulder with that elbow while you simultaneously twist your first hand back with your second, ideally right into the fleshy part just behind their chin.
Leverton then moved on to sweeps, starting with the high-percentage sit-up sweep, also known as the hip bump. This makes for a classic offensive combination with the kimura and guillotine. Rise up as you would for the kimura, except this time you push up off your other arm and reach right over their arm. Secure their tricep and whack them with your hip. This should cause them to fall off balance. Once you get your knee onto the mat, twist your upper body so that you’re effectively doing a take down.
The scissor sweep was going to follow, but Leverton decided that it just wasn’t effective enough in nogi, so skipped ahead to the basic double ankle grab sweep. As they stand up, maintain your grip on their head to keep their posture bent forwards. At the moment you let go and they try to reach an upright position, grab behind their ankles, open your guard and bring your knees together under their chest, then drive those knees into them. If they’re tall, you may need to push into their hips with your feet instead.
That should knock them over if they aren’t prepared for the sweep. Before they can react, come up on your hand, then bring your hips forward on that same side. It’s important you don’t try to move straight forward: your direction must be diagonal. Slide your knee on that side to the mat, keeping your hips low, also grabbing their head. From there, you could go to mount, s-mount, side control etc. It is an awkward position, so takes a bit of getting used to.
The last section was on closed guard from the top: in other words, passing. However, before you can pass, you need to be able to stay safe in the closed guard. First off, like Caio Terra says, you should be on your toes in order to drive forward. Leverton then showed the basic safety position, which I think I’ve seen in Saulo’s book. The idea is not only does this keep you safe, but it may frustrate them into opening without wasting much energy yourself or leaving opportunities for them to attack. Good tactic, a little similar to something Roy Harris does, except he stays a little higher.
In short, your head is buried into their chest, your elbows are clamped to their hips, which in turn are shielded by your knees. If they manage to overhook, rotate your arm out, if they underhook, turn your thumb up and pull straight back. Should they pop their hips over, block it with your elbow on that side then replace your knee. When they try to sit up, use your head to keep them down.
Similarly, if they sit up to the side, pummel your head back in to return them to their back. If they put a foot on your hip, kick that leg back, drop your hip to knock their leg off, then return to the safety position. Should they get frustrated at any point and open their legs, scoot straight backwards before they can re-close their guard and move into combat base, with a knee up in the middle.
If they don’t open their guard, then you can use a guard break from the knees. It’s reminiscent of Saulo’s DVD. Leverton mentioned he’d had trouble getting this to work for years: I’ve struggled with it too, so it was cool to get more details. Geeza taught a similar lesson on this position a while back. Geeza used the metaphor of cats and dogs as a guide for your back positioning. In that lesson, Geeza had us start on our hands and knees, starting in the ‘dog’ position: head raised, back curved down, chest up. From there shift into the ‘cat’, where you arch your back and dip your head slightly.
The application is posturing in somebody’s guard. Your back should be in the ‘cat’ position: Leverton called this ‘hunching your back’, which gets across the same idea. For nogi, brace both your hands against the bottom of their ribcage, with the hands turned outwards to avoid getting wristlocked. This uses skeletal structure (your straight arms, their ribcage) to prevent them from breaking your posture.
In order to open the guard, move one knee out to the side, then insert your other knee into their tailbone. Leverton emphasised that you must move your knee out first: if you just insert your knee, you don’t have any base. Your hand on that side will shift to their hip, making sure your shoulder is over the top to focus your weight into that hip. Once your knee is against their tailbone, move the other knee out even further, shifting your body towards that side to create an angle. Finally, hunch your back to pop their ankles open.
Alternatively, you can use a standing guard break. Trap an arm with both of your hands, pressing down firmly into their stomach, then raise your knee on that side. Bring your other knee in tight to their hip, so they can’t easily underhook that leg. Next put both your knees behind their bum and drag them towards you. If they try to raise up, sit backwards: this is uncomfortable and should stop their motion.
When you’ve secured that position, reach back with one arm and put your hand on your hip. Don’t dig your hand too deep, or they may be able to trap your arm against your side with their leg. Turn your body, using that twist to open their legs. You can also just push on their knee, depending how tight they’re gripping. Step backwards on the same side leg and open the guard, then immediately move into your guard passing posture.
Sadly I’m not going to be able to make the next two seminars on the 14th and 21st October, because that’s when I leave and return from Portugal. Hopefully the seminar on back mount will be a date I can make, as I’m really keen to get to that one (so, not the next weekend of October as that’s my mum’s birthday, or between 17th-30th November when I’m in Texas ;D). My back control is rubbish, so if I can learn how to keep it tight in nogi, that should help me tighten it up in gi too.
My meeting only took slightly over an hour, so had no problems making the train from Leamington. Very pleased to have been given the go ahead to do some work on Robert Lowell: I’ve been waiting about three years now! Means I can get diving into biographies, collected letters, critical studies and of course re-read the poems. Also great to move on from Peter Reading – he’s a very interesting subject to study, but I’ve been rewriting my draft on him for about a year, so definitely time for a change.
Jude took the class again today, so still no Felipe (though he was taking the juniors as usual – it hadn’t clicked with me until today that there was a difference between the kids and the juniors). Having run through the usual hip throws with a guy called Richard (sounded French, but not sure), Jude showed us the standing pass and a few counters. The first counter was the basic grab the ankles, put knees into stomach and push them over (like this). Despite it being very basic, I still have trouble getting the leverage, so probably need to focus on getting my knees tighter.
The second one was new to me. Person B looks for Person A to lean in close to them while standing up from guard. Person B then grips Person A’s elbows and pulls them forward, also pushing with the hips. The next step is for Person B to get their feet into Person A’s hips, which they use to elevate Person A and roll them directly behind them, coming up in mount. I had some problems getting my feet through, rolling my partner over with my legs still behind. While this worked in drilling, it was the wrong technique and would probably fail with more resistance, so need to be careful I don’t get into bad habits.
Jude also managed to fit in a third counter from a similar position. This looked very simple, but proved a lot more difficult to get – I had problems in drilling. Person B looks for Person A to over balance after standing up from Person B’s guard. Person B then pushes them forward and down, grabbing their right wrist with their left hand then left wrist with right, crossing them over. Next, Person B drops their legs and wraps them behind Person A’s legs, trying to push Person A’s legs together. Finally, Person B pulls Person A to one side and mounts.
I didn’t have any success in sparring, ending up in stalemates against Dominique and Bryant from the top. My passing is still really bad, which I think is because I’m still too worried about getting swept. I need to be braver and just stand up, so I can improve my posture and get familiarity with the position. The one plus point from the top I had today was armbar escapes, which I did twice against Bryant. However, I wasn’t able to capitalise and move into side control, as Bryant was able to quickly re-establish guard both times.
I was also swept by both Bryant and Dominique, although only once or twice each, if I’m remembering correctly. I attempted to work my sensitivity with Bryant, seeing if I could feel what he was trying to do. I avoided getting collar choked, but clearly not sensitive enough yet, as he then got a sit-up sweep on me.
I had a good opportunity against Dominique when she was in my half-guard, but my technique was missing something. I isolated her arm in the way Marcio showed me on the flower sweep (underhook the arm and push it next to her head), but it wasn’t enough to enable me to roll her over. Thinking about it now, I should have worked harder to get a leg around her leg, which would help in removing her base. I strained away at that for a while, but she was eventually able to move through into side control (might have even been scarf hold).
So things to work on are taking more risks on top and following through on armbar escapes. I also need to go back to trying a string of sweeps, rather than just going for one and then ending up struggling. Hopefully get a chance to improve in tomorrow’s session, and I should also been training on Saturday. Also got my Pancrase DVD (first event from back in 1993) through today – its all in Japanese (presumably the guy recorded it off Japanese TV), but while that’s unfortunate, it’s the fights that are important. Not to mention it was only £4, so not exactly pricey.
Roger Gracie Academy (BJJ), Felipe Souza, London, UK – 08/11/2006
Having been incapable of training since my intro class with Oli Geddes, there was no way I was going to miss tonight’s lesson. I even skipped ZSK earlier in the week to make sure the illness had a chance to lift. I was still feeling a bit sniffly this morning, and I could feel the vestiges of a fever as I slept on the way down to Marylebone, but seems ok at the moment.
I got to Westbourne Park far too early, as I’d been worried sod’s law would fuck me up by delaying the train down from Birmingham or something like that. Eventually got to the Academy itself at about 17:45, which gave me a chance to hear the children’s class. There weren’t seats available to actually watch it, so I went into my usual introvert mode of sitting quietly out of the way. I had thought Ben would be along again this session, but presumably he’s either come down with something or couldn’t make it this time round.
Class started with running round the mats. At various points, Felipe threw in some exercises, with one of the (presumably higher: I couldn’t tell) white belts calling out the numbers. 20 star jumps, 20 squats, 20 alternating arms and legs (sure that has a name, but can’t remember it), 20 lunges (as in pushing as far as possible with one leg bent, the other almost into a kneeling position), then a few exercises incorporated into running round the room (facing out sidesteps, facing in, knees up, heels to arse, sprints down one side of the room). The warm-up finished with breakfalls. In two lines, we went down the room over each shoulder, then from the back, and finally shrimping.
That meant it was time for the first technique, which turned out to be the same hip throw Oli had shown me in my introductory class. I was paired up with the only person in the whole class shorter than me (though I’m pretty weedy, so there probably wasn’t too much in it weight-wise), a woman called Dominique. She’d been doing this two months, along with her husband and two children, which was kinda cool – a BJJ family. The throw was next put into a ‘self-defence’ setting, which was a grab round the waist. This necessitated drawing the hips back and pushing the attacker away, then back into the hip throw.
Felipe followed up with work on the closed guard. Person A was on the bottom, holding the other in their guard. Person B stood up, holding onto both collars. Person A raised up their hips, squeezed their knees together and pulled on Person B’s ankles, aiming to push them over and get into mount (which I’ll call the ankle grab sweep – see below for how Rowan Cunningham shows it). This then switched to the counter, which was to have Person B hold a strong base (legs apart, knees bent) pushing forward with their hips maintaining a firm grip on Person A’s collars, circling their arm’s behind to break Person A’s closed guard, then forcing themselves down onto Person A’s legs until they’re effectively sitting on them. Finally Person B pushed aside Person A’s legs to move into side mount (video here).
While doing this, I realised that I’d misinterpreted last week: people weren’t taking a break, they had simply come to the end of Felipe’s repetitions. He tended to tell us to repeat 10 times on the more basic move, then 5 when it got more complicated. I preferred to get as many tries as I could, but at the same time I wanted to chat to Dominique: I don’t know anyone at class yet except Ben, so will be good to try and socialise a bit. Always makes it more enjoyable if you feel a part of the group and get on with your training partners.
Specific sparring was next, which this time was to have Person A on the bottom and Person B in their closed guard, as with the drill. The objective was for Person A to pass the guard and Person B to sweep. This proved rather educational: I’ve rolled before, but its been brief and spread over three years. Importantly, I’ve never rolled in a gi before, which made for a lot of changes. I spent most of the roll struggling against collar chokes from Dominique, as well as trying to free my left arm, which was crushed against my chest due to Dominique grabbing the sleeve.
Dominique gave me some advice on trying to defend, suggesting that I attempt to push my forearm into her throat to make her uncomfortable, and also use my arms to try and break the choke: I had been trying to use them to pass the guard, at which I failed miserably. I think what I should have done is resisted less and simply accepted I was in a collar choke, rather than straining uselessly – would probably have been more productive to tap out sooner and try the guard pass/sweep again, as I was supposed to be doing. I’ll have to concentrate more tomorrow.
I noticed that my left shoulder didn’t enjoy the roll much, so hopefully that isn’t going to flare up again. I also ripped some skin off my big toe, but I’m fairly used to that from ZSK – will see how my toes are tomorrow. Also ground my right knee into the mat, which resulted in slight mat burn. Again, will have to watch that, but I imagine these are all things that will come with conditioning, not to mention the experience needed to stop trying to put muscle in so much. That’s especially ridiculous on my part, as I barely have any muscle – I need to focus on technique, as there is no way I can rely on strength.
Also provides a small sample of BJJ’s effectiveness. Dominique has been training for two months, is not a big person and hasn’t taken martial arts before now. However, she was able to pass my guard with ease and had no trouble incapacitating me with the collar chokes. An untrained person of roughly the same weight (with a significant discrepancy in strength and size, no doubt things are different) has little chance against even a fairly novice BJJer, going by that experience.
The one downside I noticed to class (I was already expecting the helpless frustration, which hopefully won’t become a problem, especially once I’ve been there a few months) was that the changing room was way too small for the amount of people training. You basically had to queue to get to your stuff, then had to wait again for the showers, of which there were only three. An unfortunate side-effect of popularity, but perhaps like Oli said, the classes might be split up into an additional intermediate level to try and reduce overcrowding. We shall see.
I should be training again tomorrow, and I’ve got a friend’s birthday party on the Saturday, so can make another session then. For the moment, I’ll be making Wednesday and Thursday and the odd Saturday: quite a few social things happening over the next few weekends, which should translate to a fair few Saturday sessions.