Month: November 2008
On Wednesday I was able to attend another morning class. Bless the holiday season. We worked on escapes and sweeps from side control. I was working with a pretty big guy as a workout partner. He is about 6’3 and he told me he weighed 225 pounds. He told me that he mostly rolled and has never really trained BJJ. (I found out later he does MMA.)
Class was pretty uneventful until we rolled. We started from our knees and I was able to secure side control after a short intense struggle. From that I quickly transitioned to mount by sliding my knee across his belly and after seeing he was a little strong for an armbar or a Kimura I sunk in a Knuckle choke for the tap. He tapped almost as soon as I applied pressure.
After I got off of him, he immediately sat up and said, “Wait a Minute! Is that legal?” He then looked in the direction of Smiley and asked, “Is that legal?” Smiley told him as long as it’s not on the windpipe then it’s a fair choke. Then he said, “I’ve never seen that choke in MMA.” Smiley went on to state that the gloves would make it a difficult choke to achieve.
On our second roll he was out for vengeance. To be blunt, he achieved a tap with a rear naked choke. I thought about this for a while because although taps happen, I think that there were a series of mental errors that I made that led to my tap. Some before I even hit the mat. Since there are always a lot of relatively new guys who come to the academy a lot of the rolls become ego related. Once they are tapped their only mission in life is to tap out the person who tapped him. They become really aggressive, use all of their strength and go all out. As I have endurance to go quite a few times when dealing with a calm and relaxed grappler, especially higher belts, I notice my breathing becomes labored in these sessions. I need to develop higher cardiovascular endurance specifically for those moments.
Next, in these sessions I may have to stick to achieving a top game in these types of grappling sessions because if I relax and let them achieve side control or mount then it becomes a firefight. My mistakes were as follows:
He amped up his intensity – I relaxed after I achieved the tap
I let him sweep me from a mount – I underestimated him after our first roll (mistake)
He asked for a break to take off his top – I left my gi on (mistake)
He attempted an ankle lock and then a heel hook – once again I underestimated him and had to work feverishly to get out of it.
I open my closed guard and he quickly passed – I caught him in a lock-down and let it go without him breaking it.
He was able to get to my back – I am pretty good at defending so I didn’t think I was in danger. I didn’t factor his strength into the equation. I realized afterward that when I grapple big or small guys I disregard their strength or aggressive tendencies because I think I can work my way through it.
Anyway, I showed him how to do the choke at the end of class and later on I laughed about him making me tap. This is what BJJ is all about.
I have been a fan of Malcolm Gladwell for a few years now. Since he wrote, The Tipping Point, I have anxiously awaited every book he has written, Blink and his most recent, Outliers. In fact, my subscription to the New Yorker was due to Gladwell being a writer for the magazine.
His latest book is what has driven me to this post. In Outliers he discusses the concept that it takes 10,000 hours to reach elite status in most professions. He illustrates this in a number of ways by giving profiles of Bill Gates, Mozart and a fascinating study of German piano players at an elite music university. He puts forth a pretty convincing argument. Further, Gladwell is not the first to claim this as psychologists and social scientists have argued the same point.
However, Gladwell offers a twist. He states that none of the success that our “greatest” achievers have accomplished could have taken place without a bevy of supporters along the way.
Which brings me to BJJ.
I have to admit, I think about Jiu-jitsu throughout most of the day. I am still able to function in my daily life but I understand what BJ Penn talks about when he said it was all he could think about for years. But I have not put in 10,000 hours of practice. Not unless blogging, thinking about BJJ, learning from Youtube videos and my King of the Cage fetish counts.
In fact, I did a calculation of all of the classes that I have taken since mid-year 2004 (totals do not include Judo training). Grand total: 205 classes in 4 years. Let’s just say 2006 was a bad year. I averaged about 1 class per week for four years. When combining the 60 minute and 90 minute classes it averages to 243 hours of class training. If I add the hours of strict individual BJJ training due to my Jiujitsu365 project then it rises to 301 hours.
Three hundred hours of BJJ training. It was a sober realization.
In reference to Gladwell’s other assertion, there has to be an extensive network to support the person striving for excellence. In the case of a young person training for some goal such as sports (music) there must be transportation provided, coaches, mentors, financial support, leagues to play in, equipment galore and an infrastructure that supports the goal (i.e., tournaments, summer camps, recitals, competitions).
This applies to Jiu-jitsu as well. I recently read the introduction to Marcelo Garcia’s book, X-Guard, and it talked about how he received an invitation as a high school student to move into an academy and train as much as he liked in exchange for helping to instruct. He talked about how he trained four times a day and also taught classes. He wrote that it doesn’t matter where you train if you take four classes a day.
Garcia is absolutely right. Training four or more hours a day for about 8 years will easily get you to 10,000 hours. Throw in classes that he taught which helped hone his technique. What about the sponsors that paid him so he didn’t have to worry about a job. This also explains why most people never become better than their instructors. Now compare Garcia to most of us for whom, unfortunately, BJJ is not our first, second, third or even fourth priority. You may get a number like mine of 300 hours in 4 years.
Barring the top-notch elite athletes of BJJ, who wins out in the BJJ support lottery? I would say:
People in BJJ rich areas such as California
High school and College students (without jobs)
People who have academies with morning classes and night jobs
People with a Jiu-jitsu school within 15 minutes of their home or office
Individuals whose school offers multiple classes
People who have part time jobs
People who decide to make it their life’s work
People who have family members who are fluent in the art and willing to work with them
2nd Generation BJJ players
This is just a list I ‘rattled off.’ However, there are counterpoints in my and other people’s favor. The majority of the population doesn’t have my 300 hours of BJJ training and not everyone wants to be a world, national or even local champ. Some do it for stress release, self-defense or the love of martial arts.
Thinking about how Gladwell’s Outliers argument affects BJJ doesn’t dampen my spirit. It just makes me more focused. It means that I have to continue to figure out ways to train more often and in a more precise fashion so I will get the most out of it. It means that I will have to rely on alternative methods such as visualization and creative ideas such as Jiujitsu365. Besides, MMA has taught me that skill and technical ability is great but heart and a never give up attitude is just as important.
* Gladwell reported that in the study of piano players no person who was considered an elite performer cited practicing less than 10,000 hours. Further, no one who was considered average (but good) reported practicing even close to 10,000 hours (they averaged 2000 to 3000 hours). “Elite performers” had to put in the time. I actually think this is great for grapplers to know.
Last Saturday I attended open-mat at Jacksoville Gracie Jiu-jitsu School, an academy operated by Luiz Palhares. I had a real good time. In all there were four of us. I asked their names a couple of times so I could remember, but I can only remember one now; Joe who was a purple belt and who also assisted Prof. Palhares during the seminar held where I train. The other two guys were striped blue belts, Professor Palhares’ son, a real nice guy and another who showed me a few special techniques I will discuss in a moment. (Sorry about forgetting your names.)
The guys were casual and laid back, which has always been the case when I have visited someone else’s academy and one of the reasons I appreciate BJJ as much as I do. The first thing that struck me is that they were very technical. They were working on a technique involving pulling your opponent’s arm past your head in guard which can lead to a sweep or an armbar. After that we started rolling.
Professor Palhares’ son (blue belt/one stripe) invited me to roll and before I knew it I was involved in a death match. We weren’t wild, but he had a style which involved standing up constantly, spinning around for position, knee on belly, etc. Since we had on the gi I also had to deal with the disorienting effect of someone constantly tugging on my collar or sleeves. One thing I have always remembered though is that it is okay if a person establishes one grip but never two. So I kept spinning on my back and breaking his grips while trying to defend and mount some sort of offense. Since he played a standup and “slightly” acrobatic game I was able to get a few sweeps and takedowns from the bottom. I would say I lasted for a good five minutes or so before being tapped.
Next I rolled with the other blue belt (two stripes), who was about 6’1and said he weighed 225 pounds(Correction: His name is Steve). Since he had a torn miniscus, we rolled light. He offered a lot of technical advice while we were rolling. He coached me through a sequence for escaping the mount that I hadn’t tried before. Although I knew the techniques, I have never used them in combination. He also took me to the side and showed me a defensive technique for “older guys.” He said it was designed for guys over 40. But since we were both 35 I guess he thought I was old enough. I am definitely adding it to my game. Since I am not a fan of Muscle Jiu-jitsu, this will surely come in handy.
It is always great to train with guys who have totally different games. I had quite a few epiphanies and had the distinct feeling that my level of play has risen. Here’s what I learned:
I can stand up when sparring (for guard passes, knee on belly, etc. ) It’s obvious, but I don’t do it.
I need to start using combinations.
I need to start using grips to my advantage since everyone else does (especially since I have taken Judo).
A defensive technique for older men (I didn’t give the name of the technique so older guys can keep whatever advantage they can:)
I was able to attend a morning class for the first time in three months. It was awesome. I love being able to train early in the day. It was five of us including the instructor (Smiley) so it seemed like taking a private instructional. We worked on the finer points of a scissor sweep, butterfly guard sweep and an armlock from Kesa-gatame. At night there are a lot more people to roll with, which helps in learning how to deal with a variety of styles but nothing beats more personalized instruction.
The guy I was partnered with the entire time thought I was new so he kept trying to instruct me in each position before I even began to set up. He kept saying, “Good job!” and “There you go!” even though he appeared to be new. I am trying to adapt the technique that Slideyfoot suggested which is just smile and let my rolling do the talking.
When we rolled he started off seated while I began from my knees. As he tried to sink in his butterfly guard I passed to gain side control, switched to twister side control and then gained the mount. He tried to shake me off but I grabbed his arm and sunk in an Americana for the tap.
On our second roll he started off on his knees and I decided to start in the seated position. I was able to reverse him and then I tried to work on trying to obtain the twister. I gained twister side control again and I pulled his leg over to try to lock it in for the grapevine. But he was able to spin out and he ended up being able to jump in for the Kesa-gatame we worked on earlier in class. When I twisted toward him he was able to jump into a mount. He tried to go for a choke and then an arm bar, but I was able to upa and push him onto his back when he turned for the armbar. I rose to my knees as he was on his back and then the buzzer sounded.
Last night I was finally able to return to BJJ class. I am trying to sort through a BJJ plateau and scheduling issues. I am glad that the holiday season is coming up. Since the semester is ending early next month I will be able to attend a lot of morning classes.
Carlos put us through a lengthy warm-up last night; running, light sprints, rolls, crawls, hand stands. Afterwards we worked on three variations of single leg takedowns. We followed this up by working on variations of the scissor sweep, one of which leads to the triangle.
Before the rolling session, we played a game called “King of the Hill: Takedown Style.” Essentially, you stay in as long as you defeat your opponent. Once you have them down on the ground, you must either hold them in side control or mount for 3 seconds or submit them. If neither person has control for 3 seconds or can gain the submission in 10 seconds, you have to go again. After three tries both people are out and two more people go in. Needless to say, this can be very taxing.
The first guy I went up against, I grabbed both of his arms with overhooks and performed an outside leg trip. I landed on him in the mount and held him for the three seconds for the win. Then I went up against Paco who I understood was the reigning champion. I did the same trip but we ended up in a scramble and he jumped to his feet. I secured the overhooks and locked his arms again but this time I turned in for a hip throw. I pulled off the throw but we kept rolling and we ended up with him being in side control and a quick mount for the victory.
On my next turn the guy I faced the first time was on to my trick and when I pulled him close he pulled on my lower back and I fell backwards. He tried to quickly gain the a control position but I fended him off and pushed him until he landed on his hands and knees. As I was climbing onto his back he grimaced and fell back and said that his cup clipped him (He was okay).
Next I faced Paco again and we battled back and forth 3 times before he attempted an armbar and left himself wide open for side control. I held him for the required 3 seconds for the win. Before that though I had scored a trip where I pulled his right leg in the air and tripped him with an inside leg sweep. During one exchange they had to stop us because he shot in and we were flying toward the newly constructed wall in the gym. All of the instructors and quite a few of the guys complimented me on my throws and the subject of Judo came up at the end. So the cat is out of the bag now.
What was really funny about the entire night was that the first guy I faced told me later what he was going to do to me before our match ended prematurely. He told me how he was going to “grab my arm” and twist it like this and “push me here” and how we were close to the metal shelf so he had to “hold back” and how he took me down. He’s a good guy, but I found that hilarious. I always have plans for my opponents but they also have plans and it almost never works out just as I thought.
It’s my birthday and I just spent all day celebrating. I am finishing the night by watching UFC 91. This is the last thing I will do that’s BJJ related until tomorrow, which will be the one year anniversary of Jiujitsu365 and my project. Oh yeah, I also bought Eddie Bravo’s “Mastering the Twister” today. More about that in a later post.
Thoughts on the fights:
Demian Maia vs. Nate Quarry: I knew Quarry was in trouble when he said that his game plan for the fight was to stop Maia from taking him down with his fists and his hips. How many guys can stuff takedowns an entire fight? Once Maia took him down it was like watching big brother versus little brother as he quickly submitted Quarry for the choke.
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Josh Hendricks: Oh my goodness!!! Gonzaga is still a monster. It was like watching rams butt heads. I am going to be honest with you though. Even though Hendricks has won his last ten fights I think this fight was an easy way to put Gonzaga back into the ‘mix.’
Matt Brown vs. Ryan Thompson: It is hard commenting on the newer fighters. The UFC runs through these guys. I remember Matt Brown from TUF, barely, so I rooted for him. Brown provided a solid performance for the win.
Dustin Hazelett vs. Tamdam McCrory: These guys fully committed to their strikes. Hazelett’s kicking ability saved him at the beginning of the round and then the omoplata saved the day.
Also, what’s up with the mountain man look in MMA these days? I watched an old King of the Cage last night with TUF’s Kyle Kingsberry and he took the beard look to an entirely different level. I think the IFL guys had the best beards though. I guess if you don’t have to shave, you don’t have to.
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Jeremy Stephens: It looked like Silva threw Stephens to the wolves with the choice of dos Anjos in the first round. Anjos has strikes, takedowns and Jiu-jitsu. Stephens has heart though and pulled it out with that vicious uppercut. I hope we get to see dos Anjos again.
Kenny “Ken Flo” Florian vs. Joe “Daddy” Stevenson: First of all, Bruce Buffer gets too excited. Kenny Florian definitely outclassed Stevenson in standup, but you could see that rear naked choke 10 seconds before it happened. What was Joe the Grappler thinking? (Sorry..)
Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Couture: As I turned 35 today, I have an investment in Randy Couture. However, my father who is in his late 50s looks (mostly) like he is in his late 30s, early 40s. So I think I will be okay.
But I’m worried for Randy this time out. I hope I’m wrong. Technically, Couture should win but Lesnar’s size and strength gives me the jitters. They need to create a new division (235 to 265).
1st round: Wow! That was the first time tonight that I jumped out of my seat. Couture proved right away that the fight would be even.
2nd round: Man….. Lesnar’s meat hooks clobbered Couture with what looked like a grazing blow. Also, I think the referee waited too long to stop the fight. But what can you do?
Jorge Gurge vs. Aaron Riley: It’s difficult to watch Gurgel’s fights. A Black belt that plays to his weakness. His punches looked like slapping blows. Why wait until the second round to take the guy down?
Alvin Robinson vs. Mark Bocek: A grappling fest. Bocek was impressive with his RNC victory.
If you are a regular reader, then you know that I conducted a 3 month study on “street fights” and “ground fighting.” The results were published in the September 08 issue of Black Belt Magazine and was titled “Grounded in Reality.” (You can also read my analysis of the research here.)
I am now conducting research on people’s experiences in BJJ and other grappling arts. I believe that there are a lot of great stories out there and hope to explore in-depth why BJJ is so captivating. I have contacted some of you personally and have been very pleased with the responses you have provided.
This survey is open to all grapplers. So If you would like to participate in this brief survey (6 open-ended questions and 8 demographic questions, i.e, age, belt rank, etc.), so you can share your experience with others, I would be grateful to hear from you. Also, feel free to share this information with others.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Please place BJJ Study in the Subject Line so I can give it prompt attention and send you a survey.