30/09/2012 – Leverage Submission Grappling Fundamentals 04 (Closed Guard)

Seminar #009
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.

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14/09/2012 – Gracie Barra Bristol

Class #468
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai ‘Geeza’ Holt, Bristol, UK – 14/09/2012

Some of you may have noticed this site was a bit intermittent a couple of days ago. That was due to the mass outage caused by a DDoS attack on GoDaddy. As it turned out, that’s a good thing, because all the media attention meant I learned quite a bit more about GoDaddy’s business practices. Previously, I’d just followed the advice of a friend who works in IT when it came to setting up a custom domain: I hadn’t realised GoDaddy were fans of the despicable advertising described here and here. Hence why I’ve now switched to a different company. So, thanks to the Anon hackers on that one. 🙂

Also, the GrappleThon is next weekend! Fundraising is going well, as we’ve reached over £1300, but I’m still hoping to get to my personal target of £350. So, if you can help, please throw some money towards a good cause, here. Remember, with JustGiving you can donate from anywhere in the world, so US readers can help too. ;D
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The theme for this fortnight is passing the guard: tonight focused on a few principles of passing posture, in a Gracie Barra Fundamentals class I last saw Geeza teach a little over a year ago. The self defence bit was a takedown from a headlock, where you turn your head towards them, grabbing their hip and pushing your other hand into the back of their knee. Step backwards and take them down into side control, basing out with your hands immediately. Shift a knee up to their head, stepping the other leg over and bringing it tight to their hip. Make a frame on their neck with your hands to push up and free your head, finishing with an armbar.

The main technique discussed proper posture in the guard. You begin in a poor position where they’ve already broken your posture, controlling your head. To recover your posture, first stay safe by clamping your knees and elbows to their hips. Put one knee in the middle of their butt cheek (if you bring it too close to the tailbone, they may be able to sweep you), sliding the other knee outwards. Circle your head out in the direction of that slid-out knee, returning to a good upright posture.

Grab their same side collar with each of your hands, then swinging your head like a pendulum, use the momentum to come to your feet. You stay in a sort of horse stance or crouch, your elbows resting on your knees, head slightly forward, pulling on their collars. This is a very stable position: it is difficult for them to sweep you from here.

To actually get the guard open, if they don’t open it already in order to go for a sweep, release one collar and raise up, tucking the elbow of the other arm inside their leg (to avoid offering them a triangle). Reach back with your free hand, inserting it by their locked feet. Turn your body and bring your arm under their leg, aiming to pop their legs open. Keep twisting and grab their far collar or shoulder. From there, you can move into the standard smash pass, driving through their leg until you can slip through to side control.

Sparring was the same as last time we did this lesson: the person on the bottom was just looking to keep their posture broken, while the person on top was looking to stand up with posture. Unfortunately for me, class was divided by height rather than weight, so there were quite a few guys my height or less, but about twice the width! ;p

So, that meant trying to escape their grip was an interesting challenge. With Arnaud, I tried to move into the tailbone break, but I think I misjudged and basically ended up ramming my knee into his balls. Admittedly effective, but for all the wrong reasons. So, I’ll need to be more careful with the angle of my knee next time, using leverage to open the guard rather than the natural instinct to protect your testicles. 😉

Underneath, I was looking to wrap up the head, possibly getting an overhook. That sort of worked, but I should have also attempted to establish a deep collar grip too. Knowing that your partner only needs to stand up to end the roll changes the dynamic, as normally I’d be quite happy to switch to open guard. This is therefore a good drill to ensure that you don’t give up your closed guard so easily.


21/05/2012 – USA Training Trip in November & GB Bristol (Opening the Guard)

Class #457
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai ‘Geeza’ Holt, Bristol, UK – 21/05/2012

For years now, I’ve been saying I want to go to the USA and meet up with some of the many awesome BJJers I’ve got to know online. I’ve always had five states in mind: California, Florida, Texas, Virginia and Oregon, based on the people I want to train with in each of those states. Canada is also somewhere I want to go (or rather, return to, as I went way back in 2002). I’m intending to visit all of them over the next few years, though I’ve no idea how long that’s going to take. My girlfriend wasn’t keen on doing a long haul flight this year, so I’m saving California and Florida: I think those are the two states she would most enjoy, possibly Virginia too, due to the landscape, sunshine and beaches (well, not so much Virginia on the latter two ;p).

That meant that this year, I’ve decided to go to Texas. My flights are booked, so I’m leaving on the 17th November, then coming back on the 30th November. At the moment, the only two places I’m definitely going are Dallas and Austin, with Houston being a likely third destination. So, if there are any BJJers from Texas reading this, let me know your suggestions. Though I should note I’m a bit weird in that while it would be fun to train with big names (Carlos Machado is the main one I’d like to check out), I’m a lot more interested in meeting fellow bloggers. 😀

Speaking of big names, well-known BJJ film maker Hywel Teague is looking for contributions to his first full-length project, where he will be interviewing several red belts. The amount of first hand historical knowledge these guys possess is unmatched, so if you want to help out (the film will be freely available online, by the way, so this isn’t a profit-driven project), go here.

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Getting back to training, tonight will be the only session I get in this week. That’s because it’s my girlfriend’s 30th. Every other evening is going to be dedicated to her instead. Should be fun, as I have a short trip planned, along with an outing to Phantom of the Opera (she’s a big fan, so this will be the fourth or fifth time I’ve been with her in the eleven years we’ve been together). Hopefully I’ll be able to get back into my Tuesday training pattern after that: there has been a lot more teaching recently rather than training. Of course, I do enjoy teaching, but it’s important to still get in some drilling and sparring time for myself too. At least I’m not feeling as run down as last week, meaning I should be back to normal soon.

Geeza focused on guard passing basics tonight, specifically opening the guard. He began with a drill he’s taught before, which tends to get a few laughs as it looks a little odd. The idea is to use cats and dogs as a guide for your back positioning. You’re on your 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, though not too pronounced. One hand is in front of the other, with each hand gripping both collars. Twist your hands so your palms face up, also using your skeletal structure to make a solid rod of your forward arm. If they try to grab your elbows and pull you forward, that forward hand can brace against the ridge of their sternum. If they keep trying to drag you towards them, they’re merely going to rub a raw red mark on their chest where your knuckles dig in. Which incidentally can make this a bit painful to drill more than a few times. 😉

You also want to make sure your head position does not shift further forward that your lead hand. Otherwise, they’ll have an easier time breaking your posture. They are eventually going to get frustrated and stop trying to yank you forwards by your elbow. This is when you shift to the more orthodox posture, turning your lead hand palm down, but still gripping both collars and keeping that skeletal structure in play. Your other hand presses into their same side hip: although this is difficult in practice, you want to use that to prevent them moving their hips.

Next, put your knee into their tailbone, then step back with your other foot. Aim to slide your hip into their linked feet, until you can break them open. As anyone experienced will know, this is tough, especially if they have long legs or are simply stronger than you. However, passing from the knees is ‘safer’, in that you’re less vulnerable to sweeps, though arguably you’re more vulnerable to submissions.

So, most likely you’re going to have to stand up. First you need to trap one of their arms, pressing it into their stomach. If you don’t, then there is a much higher danger of them controlling your legs and getting a sweep. Geeza likes to use his head as a pendulum, so he swings it one way in order to lift his leg on the other side. Twist your other leg and stand. From there, simply shake up and down until gravity forces them to open their guard. Geeza used the metaphor of shaking a ketchup bottle to get the contents out, which is apt.

We did a bit of specific sparring at the end, which this time was very specific. Starting in the guard, all the person on top had to do was open the legs, while the person on the bottom was supposed to just maintain their position, no subs or sweeps. It’s a good drill, as that enables the top person to really focus in on balance and the mechanics of popping open the legs. On top, I was generally able to open the legs by standing up and shaking, but I doubt I would have been successful if subs and sweeps were in play. I’m still leaning too far forward and I’m also continuing to grip too long on their collar, meaning my posture is hunched and weak.

On the bottom, I mainly just bounced my hips over each time they tried to insert their tailbone. I also took the opportunity to practice bringing them down as soon as they tried to stand up, by sucking my knees into my chest. Each time I did eventually get my guard opened, but it was as ever a good exercise. The more specific sparring, the better. 🙂


30/05/2011 – Gracie Barra Fundamentals

Class #400
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai ‘Geeza’ Holt, Bristol, UK – 30/05/2011

Mondays start with Gracie Barra Fundamentals, so there is often some kind of self defence element. Tonight, that was how to enter a safe clinch, stepping to one side and slightly forward, then stepping around to their side. Hug around their hips, pressing the side of your head into their chest. Put your leg behind them slightly forward, pull their hips towards you, then using your head and leg, bend their body over your leg and down to the mat.

There was another woman in class tonight, which was great to see: it would be great to have a strong female presence at Gracie Barra Bristol, so hopefully the club will continue to build up the numbers. Monica was already wearing a Zero G gi, as she had done a few months of BJJ in the past. Brand new members tend to be in the Gracie Barra gi they get with membership (must review that gi at some point, after I’ve spent a bit longer training in it).

The main technique tonight was opening the closed guard. Geeza had us start from a weak position, so they have already managed to get a hold of your head and pull it down to their stomach. Put your knee in the middle of their bum, moving your other knee slightly to the side. That should give you the base to move your head out sideways, though it can be easier said than done if they have a really firm hold. Return to good posture, sitting upright, straight back, one arm grabbing both their collars, the other pressing into their hip.

To open the guard, it was the classic option from the knees. Again, put your knee in the middle of their bum, then step up with the other leg. Drive all your weight through the arm you have into their hips, so that they can’t adjust in either direction: if they have the ability to move, they’ll be able to hold on to their closed guard. The other arm is by their chest, but only engage that fully if they try to sit up.

From here, aim to slide your hip bone along their shin, turning so that you end up becoming too wide for their feet to remain locked. Push on their knee or leg, then eventually you should be able to shift their leg off yours, pushing it to the ground ready for your pass.

Of course, this is also much easier said than done: I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to pass from the knees for years. My continuing inability to get this technique was borne out by the brief progressive resistance Geeza added, where from that held down position, we were to try and escape our heads and pass. We only had thirty seconds: with Monica, I couldn’t even get my head free. I was then with one of the teenagers, and though I could at least free my head, I still couldn’t get the guard open. I was trying Saulo’s method of stepping back in a circle, but I’m still not pinning their hips enough to create a suitable point around which to pivot.

Unfortunately I had to leave before the following advanced class, so I’m not sure if there were further guard passing insights to be had. Something I’ll have to ask Geeza, as I’ve wanted to work out this guard pass for a long time now, especially as I’m far happier going from the knees rather than standing (although on the other hand, that’s also a bad habit, as I still need to be more confident standing up to open). Either way, teaching guard passing in a month or two should be an interesting and productive challenge.

Geeza also made an interesting point about the closed guard in general. He said that you don’t want to be using closed guard too much in training, as it will eventually get opened, so you might as well get familiar with open guard. There’s also the point that you’ll normally need to open your guard in order to attack or sweep. Geeza suggested that only time you want to hold the closed guard is when you’re setting something up, or if you’re competing.

Lesson finished on a very good note for me. As we were walking out, Clayton mentioned that he had some success using the americana set-up I went through last Thursday, where you switch your base and lean back as they push into your neck, then twist back to drive their hand to the mat. Really cool to hear that a student was able to apply something I taught the day before. 😀


30/05/2011 – Gracie Barra Fundamentals

Class #399
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai ‘Geeza’ Holt, Bristol, UK – 30/05/2011

Mondays start with Gracie Barra Fundamentals, so there is often some kind of self defence element. Tonight, that was how to enter a safe clinch, stepping to one side and slightly forward, then stepping around to their side. Hug around their hips, pressing the side of your head into their chest. Put your leg behind them slightly forward, pull their hips towards you, then using your head and leg, bend their body over your leg and down to the mat.

There was another woman in class tonight, which was great to see: it would be great to have a strong female presence at Gracie Barra Bristol, so hopefully the club will continue to build up the numbers. Monica was already wearing a Zero G gi, as she had done a few months of BJJ in the past. Brand new members tend to be in the Gracie Barra gi they get with membership (must review that gi at some point, after I’ve spent a bit longer training in it).

The main technique tonight was opening the closed guard. Geeza had us start from a weak position, so they have already managed to get a hold of your head and pull it down to their stomach. Put your knee in the middle of their bum, moving your other knee slightly to the side. That should give you the base to move your head out sideways, though it can be easier said than done if they have a really firm hold. Return to good posture, sitting upright, straight back, one arm grabbing both their collars, the other pressing into their hip.

To open the guard, it was the classic option from the knees. Again, put your knee in the middle of their bum, then step up with the other leg. Drive all your weight through the arm you have into their hips, so that they can’t adjust in either direction: if they have the ability to move, they’ll be able to hold on to their closed guard. The other arm is by their chest, but only engage that fully if they try to sit up.

From here, aim to slide your hip bone along their shin, turning so that you end up becoming too wide for their feet to remain locked. Push on their knee or leg, then eventually you should be able to shift their leg off yours, pushing it to the ground ready for your pass.

Of course, this is also much easier said than done: I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to pass from the knees for years. My continuing inability to get this technique was borne out by the brief progressive resistance Geeza added, where from that held down position, we were to try and escape our heads and pass. We only had thirty seconds: with Monica, I couldn’t even get my head free. I was then with one of the teenagers, and though I could at least free my head, I still couldn’t get the guard open. I was trying Saulo’s method of stepping back in a circle, but I’m still not pinning their hips enough to create a suitable point around which to pivot.

Unfortunately I had to leave before the following advanced class, so I’m not sure if there were further guard passing insights to be had. Something I’ll have to ask Geeza, as I’ve wanted to work out this guard pass for a long time now, especially as I’m far happier going from the knees rather than standing (although on the other hand, that’s also a bad habit, as I still need to be more confident standing up to open). Either way, teaching guard passing in a month or two should be an interesting and productive challenge.

Geeza also made an interesting point about the closed guard in general. He said that you don’t want to be using closed guard too much in training, as it will eventually get opened, so you might as well get familiar with open guard. There’s also the point that you’ll normally need to open your guard in order to attack or sweep. Geeza suggested that only time you want to hold the closed guard is when you’re setting something up, or if you’re competing.

Lesson finished on a very good note for me. As we were walking out, Clayton mentioned that he had some success using the americana set-up I went through last Thursday, where you switch your base and lean back as they push into your neck, then twist back to drive their hand to the mat. Really cool to hear that a student was able to apply something I taught the day before. 😀


23/11/2010 – BJJ (Advanced)

Class #363
RGA High Wycombe, (BJJ), Sahid Khamlichi, High Wycombe, UK – 23/11/2010

Sahid continued with guard, this time from the top, beginning with a guard break. After you’ve got the initial double grip on the collar, use your other hand to block their attempts to grab your collar. If they reach for it, hold their sleeve and shove that into their hip. You can then lean over slightly in the other direction, then step up your sleeve-grip side knee. You’ve trapped their arm, so they can’t slip their hand under to set up sweeps.

Lean back in the other direction and step up your other leg in order to stand. Immediately move that leg back, as their other hand is free to try and underhook it. Grab their trouser leg on that side, then step backwards with your leg, pivoting around the sleeve-grip side foot. As you move round in a circle, wiggle your hips. This is surprisingly effective at dislodging their locked feet, as that rattling motion is very uncomfortable on the ankles and instep.

Next, you can move into a guard pass from combat base. Sahid emphasised that you don’t want to just sit there in combat base, but immediately drive your raised knee over their same side leg, pinning it. Put their other leg up on your shoulder reaching through for their opposite collar, crush their knee towards their face, then slip around to side control (so, the leg pin pass).

Interestingly, Sahid sat in combat base with both his knees pointing forward, rather than one forward the other to the side, with the back foot tucked behind. As he mentioned, that is probably part of the reason he developed a quick transition from combat base straight into a pass, rather than pausing in their guard (though either way, it’s a good idea to begin passing as soon as possible).

Sparring wasn’t as much about being squashed under side control as usual, so no more work on the running escape today. I still ended up there, naturally, where I need to be careful of my neck, especially quick people who are good at moving towards the back: there were a couple of times where I had to dislodge a grip I should have blocked earlier. At another point, I was able to lock in the triangle from under side control, and tried to focus on attacking their free arm: not much luck, however.

My next sparring partner had an injury to their leg, so we were going a bit lighter. I spent most of it on top in side control, looking to be slow and steady. He almost recovered half guard a couple of times, so I pushed the bottom leg with my foot to free myself before it was locked in (being careful to check his leg was ok in the process). I eventually moved through to the step-over triangle, but again couldn’t isolate that arm like I wanted, this time from the opposite position.

Finally I rolled with Callum, where I had a chance to work spider guard. I had the grip I wanted on one arm, but then spent the rest of the spar trying to get a hold of the other arm. My intention was to go for Braulio’s attack, where you push both feet into one arm, then open up and pull them into a triangle or armbar, but you need to get that second arm first. Still, I could at least keep the control, so that was something (although I continue to worry that spider guard may not be something I want to do long-term, given that at least one black belt has told me they don’t use it anymore because it’s knackered their fingers).


23/11/2010 – BJJ (Advanced)

Class #362
RGA High Wycombe, (BJJ), Sahid Khamlichi, High Wycombe, UK – 23/11/2010

Sahid continued with guard, this time from the top, beginning with a guard break. After you’ve got the initial double grip on the collar, use your other hand to block their attempts to grab your collar. If they reach for it, hold their sleeve and shove that into their hip. You can then lean over slightly in the other direction, then step up your sleeve-grip side knee. You’ve trapped their arm, so they can’t slip their hand under to set up sweeps.

Lean back in the other direction and step up your other leg in order to stand. Immediately move that leg back, as their other hand is free to try and underhook it. Grab their trouser leg on that side, then step backwards with your leg, pivoting around the sleeve-grip side foot. As you move round in a circle, wiggle your hips. This is surprisingly effective at dislodging their locked feet, as that rattling motion is very uncomfortable on the ankles and instep.

Next, you can move into a guard pass from combat base. Sahid emphasised that you don’t want to just sit there in combat base, but immediately drive your raised knee over their same side leg, pinning it. Put their other leg up on your shoulder reaching through for their opposite collar, crush their knee towards their face, then slip around to side control (so, the leg pin pass).

Interestingly, Sahid sat in combat base with both his knees pointing forward, rather than one forward the other to the side, with the back foot tucked behind. As he mentioned, that is probably part of the reason he developed a quick transition from combat base straight into a pass, rather than pausing in their guard (though either way, it’s a good idea to begin passing as soon as possible).

Sparring wasn’t as much about being squashed under side control as usual, so no more work on the running escape today. I still ended up there, naturally, where I need to be careful of my neck, especially quick people who are good at moving towards the back: there were a couple of times where I had to dislodge a grip I should have blocked earlier. At another point, I was able to lock in the triangle from under side control, and tried to focus on attacking their free arm: not much luck, however.

My next sparring partner had an injury to their leg, so we were going a bit lighter. I spent most of it on top in side control, looking to be slow and steady. He almost recovered half guard a couple of times, so I pushed the bottom leg with my foot to free myself before it was locked in (being careful to check his leg was ok in the process). I eventually moved through to the step-over triangle, but again couldn’t isolate that arm like I wanted, this time from the opposite position.

Finally I rolled with Callum, where I had a chance to work spider guard. I had the grip I wanted on one arm, but then spent the rest of the spar trying to get a hold of the other arm. My intention was to go for Braulio’s attack, where you push both feet into one arm, then open up and pull them into a triangle or armbar, but you need to get that second arm first. Still, I could at least keep the control, so that was something (although I continue to worry that spider guard may not be something I want to do long-term, given that at least one black belt has told me they don’t use it anymore because it’s knackered their fingers).