Blue Belt

Insights and Catching up with my posts….

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Friday’s Class (12th March) – I was 10 minutes late to class this day. But it didn’t matter because Carlos (brown belt 1 stripe) was leading everyone through one of his 35 minute warmups. On this day we worked on halfguard.

I rolled with Carlos at the end. I tried to work an uchi mata but he countered and took me to the ground. When I tried a tomoe nage I couldn’t get foot placement and ended up being dominated and tapped. I was able to score two takedowns at the end though. I trapped his left arm, used my left foot to block his right leg and fell backwards while twisting to the left. The first time I landed on top, he scrambled, escaped and submitted me soon after. On the second takedown he rolled over me and sunk in an inverted armbar.

Open Mat (13th March) –  On this day I was joined by Art and Andrew (all of us are blue belts). Art showed us a rolling toe hold that he uses. It is a very sneaky move as I have seen him tap people with this technique a few times and had no idea what he was doing . Soon afterward he and Andrew rolled for about 10 minutes. After Andrew rested for a while we rolled for about 10 minutes as well.

It was a solid open mat.

Friday’s Class (19th March)

Drill: We jogged and shrimped for the warm-up. Drill consisted of a throw which calls for sweeping out the back leg on the far side of your partner or opponent. If the person nails you with it then you are going down quickly and you better know how to fall.

We also worked on establishing a head and arm choke by starting out on top in half guard and we worked on taking the back from half guard from the bottom and securing a submission as well.


I rolled with John (Blue Belt) and we stalemated. I constantly tried to secure chokes while he tried to sweep me from butterfly position. I was able to pass his guard for a few seconds but he recovered and repeat step 1.

I also rolled with Tyson, who is a new white belt. I submitted him with a head and arm choke and one that escapes me.

My next roll was with Joe (white belt with heavy blue belt tendencies). We started on our knees. He foot dragged me to my back and I played guard the entire time.  I tried to work my spider guard sweep and DLR guard but Joe wasn’t falling for any of my ploys. We had a scramble where I had the opportunity to get up but I stayed down because I need to practice my guard. After we rolled Joe told me his main goal was not to let me get on top. He succeeded.

*One major thing that I noticed on this day is that the skill level of the entire Academy has increased significantly (At least with the daytime group, but I suspect it is the same with the nightime classes.) The types of guard that we play, the escapes, the combinations being used, etc. I saw Vick (white belt with/stripe(s)) escape a triangle, perform a variation of a pancake pass, establish side control, go to knee on belly and then sink in a north south choke. I am scared of quite a few of our white belts and the skill level of everyone is increasing at an insane pace.

Open Mat (20th March) – I was alone on open mat last Saturday. 😦  No problem though. I drilled for about 45 minutes on my own. I practiced throws, guard passes, spider guard sweeps, De la Riva guard, DLR guard sweep,  choke from mount, escape from turtle position, bridges and forward and backward rolls. I did 10 reps (5 to each side) for each technique).  Near the end Carlos (Brown belt Instructor) and some of the other MMA guys (Polar Bear, Cedrick and a guy whose name I should know) came in and passed the time until their MMA class started.


Interesting Guidelines to Purple Belt

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I know that many people who read this blog are blue belts or are close to becoming one. I happened to bump into the Alliance’s (in Atlanta) requirements for promotion to Purple Belt yesterday. It is pretty interesting. I always like to quantify what it takes to get to the next level and even though we all train under different guidelines I think this is probably a good tool to use.

ALLIANCE BJJ (Atlanta) – Home of Jacare, Cobrinha and Chris Moriarty (Alliance’s Blog)

Purple Belt Requirements (other belts – click here)

On average, 3 years of training with a minimum of 360 classes plus passing the following test. Belt promotions are always at the discretion of the head instructor. Factors such as above-average class attendance, natural ability, or competing could possibly shortened the time to purple belt, while a poor attitude, bad temper, or a lack of common morality outside the school could lengthen it.

Throws and Takedowns
One leg throw
Four hip throws
Two double legs
Two single leg

Two ways to defend the guillotine standing up
Two ways to defend the headlock standing
One way to defend the headlock on the ground
One way to defend the guillotine on the ground

Passing the Guard
Five different ways to pass the guard and get side control

Two sweeps from the half-guard
Two half-guard passes

Sweeps from the Guard
Five different ways to sweep your opponent

Two ways to escape the mount
One way to escape the side-mount
One way to escape the rear-mount
One way to escape the knee-on-belly

Five from the mount
Two double attacks
Three from the side-mount
Two from the back
Two from knee in the belly
Five from the guard

*These requirements are posted on Alliance’s Website – Links are above.*

Promotions, New Gi and New Mental Approach

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First things first:

Congratulations to Professor James Smiley on his promotion to Black Belt! I am a little late, but I finally had a chance to say congratulations on Friday when I went to train. Also, congratulations to Art (promotion to Blue), who is a training fanatic and who I doubt will remain a blue belt for long.


We drilled a takedown and practiced sweeps from a modified butterfly guard position.


I bought a new gi and it’s been a while since I have worn a full Gi to class. It presented a few new training challenges for me as I am used to my old reliable Judo gi with the much shorter sleeves.  But it also taught me a valuable lesson as well. Let me explain.

In my first roll (didn’t catch his name), I rolled with one of the guys who didn’t have a gi. In the past I used to take my top off when rolling with these guys because they have material to grab onto and the person wearing the gi has nothing. I am not that proficient in using the gi as a weapon yet so it offers me no advantages to wear one against a no-gi opponent. When grappling him I was able to counter his attempt at a leg trip and then I obtained side control. I held the position for a while and then decided to transition to another position as I wasn’t able to gain a submission. I eased up and he secured closed guard.

That’s when the fun started.

I spent the next few minutes breaking his grips on my sleeves and collar and attempts at arm-bars while I had nothing to grab onto. I had to make sure I was square with him at all times, posture up as much as I could and make sure he couldn’t obtain any angle. At one point I baited him with an arm in order to snatch out my arm but I forgot I was wearing a gi so I spent the last 2 minutes defending his all out attempt for an arm-bar. I need to continue to learn how to defend and use my gi as a weapon, but I am not going to do it with people who don’t wear a gi.

My next roll was with Cedrick. I rolled with Cedrick probably a month or so ago. He’s about two months in now and he had on his gi. Cedrick attempted a sacrifice throw and ended up on his back with me standing up looking down at him. He attempted to use spider guard but I was able to pass and gain side control and then gain mount. He is a big guy so I couldn’t get a quick Knuckle choke. I also tried an Ezekiel Choke and an Americana. He was defending well and I had the mount for a while so I decided to switch positions. As I decided to spin out to side control he clamped a lockdown on me. Then we spent the next 7 minutes or so with me in his lockdown. I couldn’t break the lock. In no gi, I can usually use a couple of tricks and get out pretty easily. The gi complicated things for me. He had no intention of letting it go either.

Joel told us we had been wrestling (or stalled) for over 10 minutes and after a couple more minutes Cedrick suggested we restart, which was fine with me. (We didn’t re-start though.)

I learned two things from those rolls. First not everyone is interested in exchanging and working from different positions. Many are going for the tap (as in my first roll) as long as it takes or are willing to hold you in one position for the entire time if it keeps you from advancing. Why should I be so willing to exchange positions and put myself in danger of being tapped if others don’t follow the same model? I don’t fault them at all. I also don’t blame it on them being relatively new. It has dawned on me that the higher belts (purples, browns and blues) don’t give up their dominant positions when they have them. They will work for the submission until they get it and that is precisely what makes them higher belts.

I have given up dominant positions many times after I knew that I could hold it for a long time in order to be fair and to be conscientious of my training partner. Also after training with giants who were 6’6 and who outweighed my by 30 to 70 pounds I know that it is not cool to smash your opponents in training to the point where they question if they want to continue. But at the same time, being conscientious has often put me on the defensive when I didn’t need to be and the same generosity is not always extended. I think my new approach will be to not give up position and work for the submission.

I also rolled with Professor Smiley twice. I was able to avoid being tapped the first round. We started halfway through it so I was able to escape being submitted. I was lying flat on my stomach with both arms behind my back when the buzzer sounded though. On our second roll I boarded the Tap Train but I could see that the daily drills that I have been working on at home has helped. After our roll, Prof. Smiley showed me how to escape an omoplata by standing up and another way to pass butterfly guard.

Good class.

First night back as Blue: Threats and Neck Cranks

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Bear with me everyone as I process this experience (Blue belt promo) for my memories later on. Tuesday was my first night back since the belt change. Admittedly, I felt a little different. I don’t know how though. Of course there were congratulations when I walked in and throughout class but there was also something else.

I overheard a White belt, who will rename nameless, say to one of our Purple belts, “I am going to test that Blue belt out.” I was shrimping at the time and believe it was in jest. But, I figure this is similar to the feeling of having a target on your back. I also had a new guy purple belt, who I just met that night, say something about not taking it easy on me.

I really enjoyed the drill as we worked on a self-defense throw, first from our knees, then standing. Then we worked on the scissors sweep, a 5 step mount escape and a flow drill combining the scissor sweep and mount escape. Last, we drilled the baseball choke. I have seen people pull it off on videos and I have watched a couple of demo videos but that was my first time drilling it. It’s a sweet move, but our instructor let us know that if it doesn’t work you can end up trapped under your opponent.

I rolled with a new Blue belt to our club (whose name I forgot). He pulled out the spider guard on me. I was able to defend but we spent most of the time with me in his guard and him trying to pull me into him with my sleeves. Then I rolled with the White Belt who ‘threatened me.’ I was able to keep dominant position and eventually gained the mount for the tapout.

Next, I rolled with the new Purple Belt. He has a game slightly similar to our instructor but he is about half the size. Since he had a similar game I knew a few of his plans ahead of time and was able to jump to step 3 in the process of me getting tapped out. He tapped me out with the same neck crank that Smiley uses. My mission is to never get tapped with that submission again and to tap early if I even think it is that submission. The guy is much smaller than I am so it just reminds me of the effectiveness of BJJ. Finally, I rolled with Juan (who practices just about every discipline in the academy). I was able to gain positional dominance but he is crafty in escaping positions.

All in all, I have come a long way but have even farther to go.

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How far is that from a Black Belt?

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Mom: How was your weekend?

JJ365: Good! All went well. Oh, yeah, I was promoted to Blue Belt this weekend.

Mom: Oooh, Congratulations! How’s your shoulder?

JJ365: Thanks!  It’s fine.

Mom: Are you still going to the doctor? You should still get it checked out.

JJ365: I’m feeling fine. I may have it looked at when I get a check up. (No plans for a check up./Just trying to change the subject)

Mom: (to father off phone: He was promoted to Blue belt this weekend.)  Your father says good job!

JJ365: Tell him I said thanks!

Mom: Ok. —  So how far is that from a Black Belt?

JJ365: Uh, um about 4 or 5 years.

Mom: Oh.. (slight disappointment in voice)

And there goes the scenario for many conversations I’ve had about my practice of BJJ over the years. Many of my relatives and friends do not understand why I would go someplace where someone would, as I have heard it described, “beat on me.” Or as my mother-in-law says “Karate class.”

Is Bakari still taking that Karate?

Tell your mom I am not taking Karate.

Or when my father-in-law found out that I was still practicing BJJ after all these years, (he was talking to my wife on the phone) he asked what belt I was.

When my wife told him I was a white belt (at the time) I heard a noticeable pause on the phone and then he changed the subject. If I wasn’t present I’m sure the conversation would have gone something like this:

Father in Law (F-I-L): He has been taking BJJ for four years and is still a white belt?

Wife: (fumbling over response) Uh, well he used to take no-gi and now he’s taking it with the gi.

F-I-L: No-gi, gi? (quickly changing the subject) Uh, Okay.

My wife even calls it Judo sometimes but I forgive her because we were an item during my Judo days and I used to scoop her up from her dorm when I would leave practice.