Sunday, February 21, 2016

John Will seminar 21 Feb 2016 - collar grip guard, single leg X guard

Seminar held at Rick Spain's gym in Surry Hills.

Collar grip with the seated guard

He is on his knees in front of you. You are sitting up on your L butt cheek, R foot on the ground, R knee bent and pointing straight up. Your L leg is bent with the L foot tucked behind the R foot near your butt. You are posted on your L hand. You do not sit with both feet even in butterfly guard - you only want to give your opponent one possible knee to grab rather than two. Your R hand is in his R collar, not too deep, as you do not want him to be able to weave his head under your arm, and you want to be able to push and keep him away. To me, your fist pushing on his collarbone seems about right. Lock your arm at the elbow to keep him away ... at first.

He moves to your L - track

He starts moving on his knees around to your L, anticlockwise. Just track him by adjusting your position to continue facing him, keeping him away with the fist in the collar.

He moves R - drag

As soon as he changes direction to move back the other way, move your hips to the L and pull his face to the ground on your R using the hand in the collar, like an arm drag. A decent wrestler will try to stay on his knees. if he does so, get side/back control on his R with a seat belt grip. Don't try to get your hooks in  until you get upper body control, it is too easy for him to scramble for an escape. If he falls over and rolls to his back, try for side control.

He moves back - punch

From the hand in the collar starting position with him on his knees, you feel him pull back. Drive forward rolling over your L shin, punching him back and to the L with your R fist and tapping his R knee with your L hand to roll him over his R shin and hip and put him in side control.

He stands up - ankle pick

You feel him start to stand. Keep pulling down hard on the collar to keep his head down as he stands and use that pull to come up to your knees. If his R foot is forward, the pulling on the collar will keep it in place with weight on it, just where you want it to ankle pick his R ankle with your L hand. Hand at the heel of the foot, end of the lever. Cael Sanderson.

He sits there - butterfly sweep

He sits there, not moving. Pull/jump yourself in using the collar so your feet go between his knees. block his R elbow with your L hand in a slap or pak sao motion, preventing him from posting with that hand. Sweep him to your  L with a butterfly sweep, mindful of going to side control rather than mount and avoiding half guard. The pull/jump in and slapping the elbow should have you already falling to your L into the sweep.

He sits there - catapult sweep

Pull yourself in using the collar again, but this time you head goes to the R and both feet go into the space between his R armpit and R hip with your knees more or less across his torso. His R arm should be in a good position for you to grab the sleeve with your L hand. Move your head around to his L side and grab his L pants cuff with your R, coming up on your R elbow. Your L shin should be in his R elbow/bicep, your R shin across his hips. Pull your L hand toward your L hip, roll off you L  and rock your L knee out to your L toward the mat, pulling him forward off his base and onto your R shin. Your R thigh should be on your chest, he should be suspended in mid air on your R shin, held up with your hand grips. Now drive your R knee and shin directly forward and away from you, throwing him onto his back. Allow him to pull you up, rolling over your L shin to kneeride. Do not release the grips.

Setting up other guards/grips/sweeps

The main idea here is that pulling him onto your guard can facilitate you getting the grips you need for a particular sweep, rather than having to handfight for them with him in a strong base. You should be able to apply this idea/principle to a variety of different guards and sweeps.

He stands up and tries to back away - pull him into Single Leg X guard

First, the single leg X position.

Single leg X guard.

Learn by having your partner stand over you with his feet near your armpits. Wrap your L arm around his R ankle with an overhook grip. Lift your hips and get your L heel in front of his R hip bone with the toes pointing out. His R foot is next to your L hip. Your R knee goes between his legs, the R foot hooking around the back of his L thigh. Pinch you knees together and keep the R hook tight around his thigh. His foot should feel well and truly stuck to the floor. Drop your legs back down, then switch to the other side. Keep alternating sides. Or do one side at a time to become familiar with the movement and position on that side, then switch. Your partner may want to protect his groin with his hands lest you accidentally kick him there.

(Marcelo Garcia - no one does it better)

Setting up the single leg X guard from the collar grip.

You have the seated guard with collar grip and him on his knees as before. He stands up and starts to back away. Drag him toward you with the R collar grip, lifting the R knee so he cannot get mount. Get the correct grip with your L arm on his R ankle first, then lift your hips and get the L heel on the hip and the other leg controls. It can be hard to get a good overhook if you get the legs in position before you get the grip.

Single leg X guard - sweep and footlock

If you can grab his L ankle with your R hand, you can do a back sweep from here. If you can't grab his foot, Pinch your knees together on his R knee and drive then to the floor on your L. Keep the L heel on his hip. Once he hits the floor, Keep the overhook and leg controls. Lie on your L side, try and get your L fist up toward your sternum,  lie on your L shoulder and put your L ear to the floor. Arch back, putting extension pressure on his foot and ankle (plantar extension). This should get you the footlock.

Aside on footlocks

The above footlock is IBJJF legal. However in IBJJF competition rolling the other way (toward the leg not being footlocked) is illegal and will result in disqualification. This is related to the rules about reaping the knee. Rules aside, rolling the other way is arguably more effective nd also allows an easy transition to the heel hook (which is illegal under IBJJF but is legal in many other rules sets like the Eddie Bravo Invitational).

Dean Lister would not advocate pinching the leg with the R knee and foot as it allows the possibility of a counter heel hook and prefers hooking the other leg (per the video if I can find it - I found it!). However this is only possible if the guy can sit up, which should be very hard for him if you get on your side properly. Dean Lister has a whole leglock philosophy worth investigating.

Single leg X guard - sweep and prepare to pass

Set up the single leg X guard as before. Sweep by pinching the knees as before. As he falls, push him away slightly with your R hook so as you can bring your L foot back toward your butt without him landing on it (which would mean you couldn't get to the top position easily. To stop him getting up, hook his L leg with your R foot and pass it to your R hand. Keeping his R foot in the air, come to your knees, taking the weight on your L elbow, using it as a post. You should end up on your knees holding both his feet off the mat in a "wheelbarrow" control.

Don't rush to pass here and end up in a scramble or worse. Work through positions of safety deliberately and methodically.

Your partner "grows a tail" and prevents the sweep

You have set up the X guard and are trying to sweep, however your opponent manages to use his free R leg to step around and keep his balance, in effect "growing a tail", like how kangaroos use their tails to balance. Take your L foot off his hip, put it on the floor, and move your body anticlockwise so you are in a position to use your R hook to lift/kick him him directly overhead, pushing on the floor with your L foot. He should post on the gound over your head, allowing you to come out the back door. Keep hold of his R foot with your L arm and spin over it to come to your knees. If all goes well this will also spin him onto his back for your sweep points. Keep hold of his foot at all times until you are on your knees and ready to consider your next move, probably a pass.

Here's a vid of Marcelo Garcia's single leg X guard game. It's no gi, a different setup and a couple of different variations, but I reckon half the people in the world who use this guard based it on this video. No one does it better.

Some caution

You need to be careful with the collar grip with some of the techniques, as some transitions may allow your opponent to snatch a quick armbar or triangle if you are not prepared for such. The starting position itself can be vulnerable to a flying triangle. Seriously.

Learning, practicing and drilling techniques

It is important when learning a new technique to start working through it mindfully and slowly. Avoid drilling techniques with intent, speed, and excitement too early. The emotional investment in such practice means that you will hardwire that technique so much deeper, "marrying" the technique. You do not want to hardwire or marry mistakes and poor technique. Get it right before drilling it with intensity. And remain open to potential improvements. If you do an upa the same way at black belt that you did when you first learned it on your first or second lesson, you are unlikely to have come to any real understanding of that technique. Be keen to break a technique down into more and more steps, and make those steps more and more efficient,

The root technique

The complicated and spectacular techniques one sees world champions do, especially on highlight reels, are often highly specialised and the result of a more simple and fundamental move that someone first learned, then it got countered, then a counter to that counter was developed, then a counter to the counter to the counter, and so on. What you want to learn from those guys in the "root technique", that on which all the exotic variations are based, and which is usually simple and pretty high percentage. Also, most techniques and guards were developed for a reason, and you need to understand that reason.

For example, X guard was developed because a good butterfly guard player was getting countered by his opponents continually standing up to try to nullify his hooks. He would have got the position and then developed a simple sweep from there, most likely the leg-split sweep. Many of the other moves came about as counters to a guy trying to remove the top X guard foot, the bottom foot, putting his knee on your chest, etc. Those other moves are not fundamentals, though, they are more specialised for specific situations, whereas the leg-split sweep will work against anyone without fairly detailed knowledge of the X guard. If you don't understand the butterfly - X - leg-split base of all the other techniques, though, you won't really understand where and when they should be used.

De la Riva guard was developed because guys learned to stop the basic foot-to-hip open guard by sensible elbow positioning when they stood up. De la Riva is arguably a fundamental way of dealing with people on whom you can't get a foot-to hip open guard and need another option.

There is a sweep from here, not all that dissimilar to the single leg X guard sweep above, which is used to set up the berimbolo. But if you do that sweep and the guy just lies there, you don't need the berimbolo, you just go to mount. Only if the guy starts trying fairly hard to get back up after the sweep, is the berimbolo a necessary option, and his efforts to counter (within limits) make it easier. The berimbolo also worked a LOT because it provides a surprising and unconventional pathway to the back to the uninitiated.

The point is to understand the fundamentals and how and why they evolved down these various more exotic pathways, and where the root techniques are on here which were developed to deal with specific problems. You'll learn more if you get a champion to tell you how and why he got from a fundamental movement to the flashy technique he used to win the Worlds, and the various steps he took from the beginning, rather than just getting him to show you the end product.

(Most of the above is my riffing off what I remember of what JW said. Valid though, I think)

Evolution and Jiu Jitsu:

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Steve Maxwell's Jiu Jitsu for a lifetime / Mobility Conditioning for Jiu Jitsu and MMA seminar 6th February 2016

The seminar was held at Woolloomooloo PCYC. The Jiu Jitsu program there (Jiu Jitsu Commune) is run by John Smallios, a brown belt under Steve Maxwell. It's a good place to train, no politics, all welcome, not expensive.

I attended last year's seminar with the same title at the same place. While the title was the same, and there was common material presented, the emphases and the details of the subject matter were quite different.

Once again, we discussed breathing in detail.


Many people in the first world use clavicular breathing, using the top of the chest. The muscular associated with clavicular breathing is designed through evolution for emergencies only, at fight-or-flight time. Breathing this way increases adrenalin keeping one in a panicky, hypervigilant state, perhaps a reason why many tend to snap at minor transgressions in traffic and similar. Associated with adrenalin and this mental state is the stress hormone, cortisol. Prolonged hightened cortisol levels can lead to muscle wasting and fat retention, neither of which athletes, especially those in later years, want. You only use the top portion of your lungs, which is grossly inefficient and will lead to poor endurance and quick gassing.

The high incidence of clavicular breathing may be associated with the excessive sitting and limited movement opportunities presented by modern workplaces, and more importantly, school classrooms. "Sit down! Keep still! Be quiet!" Kids would be healthier up and running around.

The other types of breathing are intercostal (using the musculature around the rib cage) and diapragmatic (using the diagphragm and breathing into the bottom of the lungs).

Intercostal breathing is better than clavicular, but still not the ideal breathing pattern for humans.

All healthy babies come from the womb breathing with the diaphragm. It requires civilization and education to change the natural breathing patterns.

Muscular and mental tension and relaxation are closely associated with breathing. Breath governs tension. Tension restricts mobility and range of movement (ROM). Tension and poor mobility lead to injury and, over longer term, other health issues.

If you want to stay relaxed while practising Jiu Jitsu, avoid injury and gassing out on the mat, you need to get very familiar with diaphragmatic breathing.

We want to avoid invoking the Valsalva mechanism, a sort of spasmodic forced exhalation against a closed glottis, often betrayed by gasps or grunts as people try to lift weights that are too heavy or with poor form. This is a dysfunctional breathing pattern, and you are more or less going into a panic state here.

As most jiu jitsu people have found out, the sudden all-out explosive escape maneuver only works if you get it the first time. Your second and successive efforts after initial failure rapidly degenerate in effectiveness. The experienced practitioner will instead look to escape gradually with a series of smaller maneuvers. You gradually "corrode" their position bit by bit, as my instructor Anthony Lange says. Keep your breathing regular, stay relaxed and move smoothly and you will avoid panic, spazzing out and getting caught and/or injured. More on breathing patterns for exercise and sport below.

If you are lifting heavy weights or pursuing goals different to those involved in practising Jiu Jitsu or other physical endeavours to an advanced age, you may have to use different breathing patterns and violate some of the rules above. However, you should be doing this consciously (i.e. not with an involuntary Valsalva freakout) and realise that what your are doing might be impressive and what you want to achieve, but is not necessarily good for your health.

The Price of Adaptation

Pursuing any endeavor related to the body (e.g. hypertrophy, becoming a powerlifter, running ultramarathons, etc.) has a price attached. Becoming a world class bodybuilder or powerlifter usually results in a shorter life span. NFL American football players, the highest paid, biggest, strongest, fastest athletes in the world, have an average life expectancy of 64 years. Dan Gable, the greatest wrestler of all time, won Olympic gold and a multitude of other titles, trained like a demon, but at age 67 has had double hip replacements and is basically a cripple. Dan John, the world renowned strength coach, had a total hip replacement in his early fifties. John Danaher has had a hip replacement. Even everyone's legitimate Jiu Jitsu hero, Rickson Gracie, has eight herniated disks in his spine. There is a price to pay. Competition jiu jitsu attracts a price like everything else.

On the other hand living to an advanced age in good health having achieved nothing and done nothing is not necessarily all that great either.

The point is not that your shouldn't strive for greatness in a sport or discipline that you love. The point is to understand that there will be a price, and that the way you play sport or train may need to change as you get older if you wish to continue it into advanced years. And to make those decisions consciously, having considered all the facts.

Check your breathing style

Just stand up straight and have a partner lightly place their fingertips on your clavicles (collarbones). Breathe normally without trying to change the way you breathe. Your partner should not press hard, as that may disrupt your normal breath. If you are breathing diaphragmatically your partner should not be able to feel your clavicles move. If your clavicles move up and down, your breathing is clavicular.

To test for intercostal breathing, your partner should place their fingertips on the side of your ribs.

To test for diaphragmatic breathing, your partner stands to your side and touches around your belly button at the front and a palm on the back at the same height. If you are breathing well diaphragmatically your partner should feel your stomach move in and out with each breath, but also some expansion around the lower ribs at the back ("breathing into the back").

Learning and practice of diaphragmatic breathing

Lie on your back and place a light object on your stomach - a shoe, mobile phone or notebook are all fine. Relax and breathe deeply without straining so that you inhalations cause the object to move up and down with the cadence of your breath.

Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor in a straight line so you can rest your forehead on them with good neck alignment.

As you breath in pretend you have a bladder beneath your stomach and push it into the floor using your stomach with each inhalation. Stay relaxed. Just move your stomach. "Crocodile breathing".

In Steve's experience some women may have difficulty with this as they are taught to pull their stomachs in in an effort not to appear or feel fat.

Pilates teaches breathing similar to this, and do many exercises where the abdominals are contracted but the diaphragmatic breath is still performed by "breathing into the back", expanding the rear rib cage. Pilates was a niche training systems for dancers before it became generally popular, and dancers are very conscious of keeping a "line" in their body which predicates holding the abs in according to Steve. After an injury I had a very good physio with a Pilates backgroung who took me through many rehab exercises where I was contracting my abs but breathing into my back. In Steve's opinion this is not the best way to breathe. But it has its uses - knowing how to breath into the back will be useful if a 100 kilogram guy has knee ride driving his patella into your solar plexus.

Measuring your breathing efficiency and progress

Count the number of breaths you take in one minute. Just breathe normally, no trying to set particular numbers or anything. Less than 10 is pretty good. Rickson and some yogis breathe about 3-4 times per minute. If you're breathing around 20 you shouldn't be doing any hard workouts like Jiu Jitsu.

The control pause - breathe normally, then after an exhalation pinch your nose with your thumb and index finger of one hand with the palm over your mouth. Time how long it takes before you feel a significant urge to breathe, often accompanied by an involuntary contraction of the muscles around the throat. Most people are around 20 seconds, Steve's qigong teacher who attended the seminar managed 60 seconds. Freedivers and others who do extensive work on breath holding may get up to 90 seconds and beyond.

Breathing training

Steve advocates the Buteyko method ( ) and recommends the book Breatheology ( ). 

He did not really go into breathing training in detail in this seminar. However it was pretty well covered in the seminar last year ( A free Youtube video of some Russian methods is included.

He also has a Breathing Control Workout video on his site ( for USD $9.95.

Roll in Jiu Jitsu carrying aa sip of water in your mouth, to learn to breathe through the nose, using the diaphragm, and how to stay relaxed.

Shaking, shivering, turning

These are a sequence of exercises designed to help relax and reinvigorate the body. They are based on the Pilates derivatives gyrotonics and gyrokinetics (

Stand relaxed. Let your arms and shoulders go limp.

Shake by rhythmically and quickly bending your knees slightly, maybe a couple of times per second. Let your arms hands and fingers go limp and be shaken by the movement. Let shoulders, head, neck everything go loose and relax and be shaken out by the movement on the quads.

Shiver by ... shivering. The shivering movement is much faster. Get the legs, arms, shoulders, everything into it, trying to progressively relax.

Turn - rotate the torso from side to side, the arms are limp and are whipped around like spaghetti by the movement.

These movements work well before training to loosen up, between rounds of exercises or rolling during training, or after training to relax. The effect are similar to those obtained standing on one of the vibrating platforms you find in some gyms.

Breathing patterns with movement

Anatomically based breathing (or was it anatomically related breathing?) - exhale when the body compresses, inhale when it extends. So - exhale when hinging at the waist, inhale when coming up and arching back. Or a 2 count - exhale when hinging, to inhale at the top, exhale when arching (a smaller compression), inhale coming back through vertical.

Performance Breathing - for stronger exertions one breathes out with the exertion, e.g. exhaling while performing a pushup.

Burst breathing - for longer, sustained efforts where a movement or contraction lasts longer than a single breath, use fast breaths into the diaphragm through the nose, and out with a popping sound with the lips through the mouth. Also a good breathing pattern for recovery after oxygen debt from rolling or other exercise.

Exhalation while stretching - take yourself close to a maximal stretch, then contract the muscles you wish to stretch while inhaling or burst breathing, then exhale, with a sigh or "Ahhh" sound and let all your muscles relax, seeing if you can eke out a bit more stretch at the same time. Repeat. PNF stretching, but the importance of breath to releasing tension is emphasised.

Tension restricts mobility and range of movement (ROM). Breathing is the key to lowering tension and increasing mobility and ROM.

Walking massage

Lie on the floor face down, head turned to one side. Relax. Your (shoeless) partner gently steps onto your feet, kneading and massaging the soft tissue with his feet, then moves up to the calves. Then hamstrings and glutes. Stay off the joints, only step on the soft tissue. Your partner can move on to the back, taking care to step only on the muscles next to the spine and not the spine itself. and gently on the neck, even the muscles around the temples. Then triceps, forearms, hands and fingers. The walker can support themselves on a wall or piece of furniture if they feel they may have difficulty with balance,

The massagee should try and relax with the pressure, keep their breathing regular, feel for the spots that are sensitive and try to allow the pressure to help them relax and release.

You can also do this on the front of the body, quads , biceps, etc. Steve told a story about sharing a hotel room with Jeff Monson. Jeff would get Steve to actually walk on his stomach as it helped relieve his back pain. Restrictions and obstruction of free movement of your internal organs may also be prejudicial to your health, and perhaps alleviated by such massage.

Mind and body

Body structure, alignment and mobility are a reflection of your state of mind and thoughts.

Neck issues may result from an inflexibility of thought and a closed mind and attitude.

Shoulder issues from a sense of onerous responsibility.

Heart problems may indicate problems with expression of love, or anger.

Knee problems may come from a fear of aging and moving forward, stubbornness

Back problems may come from feeling unsupported

Pelvis -  lack of creative self expression, jammed up, related to sex and procreation

Spinal health and flexibility is a primary concern for free movement into advanced years.

Resting heart rate and overtraining

Overtraining is not uncommon amongst committed jiu jitsu players who also do additional strength and conditioning.

The best indicator of overtraining is a variation on the resting heart rate.

To determine you resting heart rate, count your heart beats for one minute upon waking first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Count for the full minute rather than taking it for a short period and calculating from there. Do that for seven days and take the average.

Check your heart rate every morning thereafter. If your heart rate is five beats per minute higher than this average, you are likely overtrained. Do not do any hard exercise (rolling, running, lifting weights etc.) this day. Just walk, work your mobility and breathing.

Getting a cold, constant muscle soreness and niggling injuries are also indications of overtraining. No hard work for you today.

Drills and exercises for postural problems

Drill to fix kyphosis ("forward head"), a common problem for jiu jitsu players and office workers alike, were covered in detail in my notes for last year's course. These include head nods and head turns from the Sphinx posture, and baby rolling.

Lordosis is an exaggerated curve in the lumbar spine. Check first by standing back against a wall, with heels and shoulders touching. Measure the lumbar curve by seeing how far the back curve away from the wall.

To fix lordosis, lie on your back on a flat surface, no pillow. Try to flatten your lumbar spine to the floor by tilting the pelvis and engaging the abs. Try to flatten and elongate your neck to the mat at the same time. Do this for a minute or so. Check against the wall again, and you should find some reduction in the lumbar curve.

The drills for fixing kyphosis and lordosis are not a one-shot deal. They need to be performed regularly, up to several times per day.

Twisting Reach Exercise for opening the chest and shoulder

Lie on your side. Bend your hips and knees at 90 degrees as if sitting in an imaginary chair. Your bottom elbow should be slightly in front of your torso so you are not lying on it. Breathe out, reach up and over behind you towards the floor with the straight top arm,  turning your head up and over to look behind you, leading with the eyes. The upper torso can turn with the movement but both knees should remain together and on the floor. Move slowly, breathe and relax into the stretch of the shoulder, chest, and rib areas. Stay there for a period and perform several times each side.

Your attitude to your sport and supplementary exercise

In many sports, injuries are inevitable, jiu jitsu being only one such. There is however no reason for exercise, strength and conditioning to injure you. Your exercise program should be safe and should build you up, not trash you. Olympic lifting is a sport and is highly technical. A jiu jitsu athlete does not need to do Olympic lifting - the technical demands mean that the risks of injury outweigh the likely benefits. Explosive exercises do not develop explosiveness. The same benefits come from slow careful and deliberate weight training without the associated risks of fast ballistic movements. One cannot selectively recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers, the musculature and nervous system are no so fine tuned. Many training programs and methodologies will work, but some are more effective and less risky than others.

Jiu Jitsu is the Arte Suave, the gentle art. We should be learning to move with a minimum of tension. Steve told a story about trying to teach Royler Gracie some kettlebell exercises; Royler was a difficult study because he had great difficulty introducing the necessary tension throughout his body to move the kettlebells properly. Royler said something along the lines of "this is trying to teach me to do the exact opposite of what Jiu Jitsu does".

Much has been made of Rickson, and his breathing and movement training. Steve witnessed him wrestling and tapping out over 70 seminar participants in a row, including military personnel and professional athletes, without ever appearing out of breath.

Steve also advocated the use of a "ten second rule" espoused by a Hawaiian Rickson student, where if when rolling you have had hold of a grip on an arm, collar etc. without sweeping, submitting or improving your position somehow, release it and move on to  something else. As you get older, you need to stop fighting tooth and nail to keep a position, stop your guard from being passed, etc. If the pressure is too much, just let it go and work defense. Tap early, tap often. Breathe, Exhale. Relax.


The seminar I attended a year ago was heavy on drills and exercise and light on theory. This was the opposite. You can buy the videos from Steve's site of the material from last year's seminar plus additional information fairly cheaply, if the particular mix was not to your liking. My notes from the seminar last year are available. Steve has quite a few videos available, at pretty good prices in the video instructionals market. There's also a load of free stuff he provides on YouTube, some of which I linked to in my notes on the previous seminar.

I continue to find Steve and his material highly interesting and inspirational.