Saturday, May 21, 2016

Jiu Jitsu Concepts and Principles

Unrelated to this article or myself ... except that I'm a Judas Priest and Jiu Jitsu fan

I thought a bit more about Kit Dale's concept-based approach and talked to a guy (Dan, purple belt from Langes) who has trained with him and is a friend of his.

According to Dan, KD's whole "No Drilling" thing is a misrepresentation of what he actually does. He teaches techniques and has his students practise them until a reasonable facility is gained. But then you try and slot it into live training against resisting partners, as opposed to drilling it from the same position without resistance hundreds or thousands of times.

Someone with a significant internet presence apparently got a hold of this and twisted it into "Kit Dale says you should NEVER learn or drill techniques". KD apparently decided to make a joke out of it, which led to the "No Drilling" signs in his gym, etc.

In my opinion, FWIW, KD's videos are more about how to train and coach Jiu Jitsu, and included what I would regard as principles of strategy and tactics, as much if not more, than the principles of physics and kinesiology which should underlie effective Jiu Jitsu. Don't get me wrong, I trained several times this week, watched instructors teach, and saw and employed effective use of KD's principles such as the Fisherman, The Corkscrew, The Porcupine, Open and Closed Chain, Hip-Centric Movement and more in their demonstrations of techniques for practice by the class. I found a better way to set up a half guard pass after a particular sweep combo by employing the Hip Centric Movement principle while training on Sunday. This is great stuff and it works and makes sense, make no mistake. I have trouble fitting all the principles together into a unifying framework, but that is probably due to my own shortcomings rather than any fault of Messrs. Dale or Gregoriades.

I have done a bit more internet research and found another concept based approach which I feel suits my brain and Jiu Jitsu aspirations a bit better. A way to help answer the questions "What makes techniques actually work?" and "What is the most effective way to perform a given technique, and why?" from any position and under potentially infinite possible variations of your and the opponent's positions, relative sizes, etc.

This approach comes from a black belt from Vancouver, Robert Biernacki, out of Island BJJ. He has collaborated with Stephan Kesting of GrappleArts on a few projects,

It has five basic elements:
  • Base
  • Posture
  • Structure
  • Frames
  • Levers


Many would describe base as a stable position from which it is difficult to move you. However, in this context it is more than that.

Base is a platform from which to apply or absorb force. You should be able to both resist your opponent's force while in base, and also push back on them from a strong base.

The "combat base" position - kneeling on shin and up on the other foot - by this definition is not really being in base, as you can be pushed backwards to the rear corner where the knee is down. However, the sitting guard where one hand is posted behind you can be regarded as a base position, as you can both push your opponent away, stop him coming in, pull him in, or stop him running away with a collar grip from here.

From combat base you would need to either come up on "live toes" on the back foot which would enable you to drive forward, or post on the hand on the side of the back leg ... which basically puts you in the aforementioned seated guard.

The position of a hand, elbow, or foot often makes the difference between being in base and not.


Posture is correct spinal alignment for the most effective application of force.

If your spine is bent or at the wrong angle, you cannot properly access the entire anterior or posterior chain and apply that force to your opponent. You are also more prone to injury, physical manipulation or submission.


Structure is correct alignment of the skeleton for applying and absorbing force. Arguably posture is a subset of structure.

You must keep your elbows close to your torso if you do not want them separated from it. Conversely, locking your arm, elbow and shoulder straight allows you to use skeletal alignment to push or keep an opponent away, where a bent arm would require use of the musculature, be able to handle less force, and would be much less stable and more tiring. Any action where you need to come up on your elbow or hand, like a sitting rollover sweep or elbow push escape, requires the supporting arm's elbow, shoulder, and/or wrist to be locked out at a proper angle to prevent the opponent from knocking you back down.

Flexibility is a useful attribute to have, but you should never use extreme flexibility as a substitute for proper posture or structure. To do so is to place yourself at risk of injury. There should be a way to do things that does not require your body to potentially violate its structural integrity. (Apologies to Eddie Bravo, Gumby, etc.)

In essence, your techniques are unlikely to work effectively if your base, posture or structure are compromised. Also, if you opponent has good base, posture and structure, you are unlikely to be able to make anything work against him. Your Jiu Jitsu should involve ways of working to compromise his base, posture, or structure, or preferably two or all of them, so that you can then apply your techniques.

In my own experience, if I can't make a technique work, it is because I was doing something to compromise my base, posture or structure in my technical execution. Also, if I want to improve my execution of a technique, I should seek to maximise my use of correct base, posture, and structure.

Frames and Levers

A frame is where you use a part of your body to push an opponent away or keep him (or part of him) at a distance. Correct structure is mandatory for effective use of frames.

A lever is a force multiplier. Using parts of the opponent's body as levers requires finding and using the ends of the lever. Most armlocks involve using his arms as levers, in one or two parts. Most effective takedowns involve working the levers of the opponent. Levers can be used to either move or immobilize on opponent or parts of his anatomy.

Ineffective attempted use of frames, or to put it another way, poor structure, can often allow the limbs involved to be exploited for use as levers by the opponent (the head can be regarded as a fifth limb in this case, as anyone who has been guillotined trying a double leg takedown will appreciate). Leaving your feet hanging purposelessly out in space with an opponent in your guard can allow exploitation of them for a pass or leglock. Not keeping your elbows tight to the body during a single or double underhook pass is to invite the opponent to counter the pass and re-guard by using the elbow push escape.


Guard is not so much a sweeping platform or a submission platform, but a means of managing the distance between the opponent and yourself.

There are three basic types of guard
  • Clamp-based guards (closed guard, half guard, single leg X guard, etc.)
  • Frame-based guards (spider guard, inverted guard, foot on hip, shin to bicep, etc.)
  • Hook based guards (butterfly, X, etc.)
Other guards are hybrids of these, e.g. de la Riva is a combo of hook and frame, as is lasso guard, de la Spider, etc.

Frames are used in guard to keep or push them away, hooks to pull them in or stop them moving away. Some leg positions can perform the functions of both hook and frame.

Videos and Articles

This (below) is three parts of a seminar. Robert Biernacki explains the aforementioned concepts in the first 15 minutes or so of the Part 1 video. The rest of the seminar is about de la Riva guard and worth watching if that is an interest.

This is part 1 of an 11 part series on 50/50 guard and a nice way to pass it to leg drag. There is also a bonus video on an interesting closed guard pass. He goes over the principles in part 1. Worth watching the lot as there is some great details on 50/50, heel hooks and how to pass. If you have autoplay turned on on YouTube, it will take you through all the videos in sequence.

He also has a YouTube series on guard retention and another on John Danaher style leglocks and ashi garami. Finding these is left as an exercise for the reader (contact me if you can't find 'em and want to).

Some other concept-based BJJ ideas and links from Reddit:

Chris Haueter's conceptual approach to BJJ strategy:

Rule 1: Be the person on top.
Rule 2: When on top, stay on top.
Rule 3: When on bottom, have an impassable guard.
Rule 4: Never forget Rule 1 (avoid the seduction of the bottom guard)
See more at: (interesting video on Jiu Jitsu development - NSFW - though Kurt Osiander leaves him for dead in the profanity stakes)

John Will also has espoused some great principles, as in this example


I have always held to the view that Jiu Jitsu was infinite in its possible technical expression.

Looking for a grand unified theory of everything, a conceptual base for all of Jiu Jitsu and every aspect (fundamental physical principles that make techniques work, strategy, training methods, ...) looks like it might be the same. There are probably as many conceptual approaches as there are people that have thought deeply about it. Like techniques, you have to work through them and find what fires your imagination, and what works for you ... I guess.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Kit Dale's "The Art of Learning Jiu Jitsu"

These are some thoughts based on reviewing Kit Dale's recently released video "The Art of Learning Jiu Jitsu" with some reference to his earlier collaboration with Nic Gregoriades called "Beyond Technique".

KD's video is in two parts. The first is footage of a seminar he conducted in Melbourne. The second is of him talking to the camera about some concepts, and demonstrating them on a partner.

As most know, KD is not a fan of high repetition drilling as a way to become proficient at Jiu Jitsu. Instead, he prefers a randomised approach with lots of specific, live training.

While conceptually this is open to challenge, the results he has achieved (competing and winning at the top levels of sport BJJ, and going from white to black belt in less than four years) demand serious consideration of his methods.

I am not sure how much of this I agree with as yet, though obviously I wouldn't bother writing it up if I didn't think it had value. In any case, I think at a higher level the message is to discover what works for you, and that involves critical thinking about the material presented. I'd hope KD himself would agree.

Procedural vs Declarative  Learning

Procedural learning involves muscle memory. High repetition practice so that the body learns to reproduce a particular movement or sequence of movements automatically. 

Declarative learning is experiential training based on a concept, involving conscious thought and evaluation, trial and error.

Procedural Learning and Muscle Memory

According to KD to put a technique into muscle memory requires 3000-5000 repetitions. Opinions vary, but according to KD, if you took the many areas of Jiu Jitsu (takedowns, sweeps, guard passes, the various control positions, various guards etc.) and each of the various techniques from there and tried to drill an individual technique 1000 times every day, it would take over 500 years to drill everything to this level.

So drillers have to specialise rather than become well-rounded. Becoming a specialist means you become predictable. This then will require you to force positions and techniques to overcome strong defences, which leads to you having to do extra strength and conditioning, supplements, PEDs etc. All this training long and hard takes a toll on the body. KD says he hates S&C as he is naturally lazy and always looking for the easiest path.

Worse still, while putting a technique into muscle memory takes 3000-5000 reps, unlearning and relearning it differently takes significantly more reps, maybe 10000-13000 reps. So bad luck if you don't practice it right the first time around.

KD's Alternative approach

Most sports and martial arts are 10% physical, 90% mental. But most train 90% physical, 10% mental. KD suggests we spend most of our efforts on training the mind rather than the body and muscle memory.

Not thinking in BJJ is not BJJ, it is doing kata or dance routines. But - We are overcomplicating things in Jiu Jitsu (and most other MA).

We look for the basic concepts underlying all sweeps, all guard passes, etc.

Rather than learning to applying a specific technique from a specific position, we learn to apply these concepts from any position. The why is more important than the how.

We teach ourselves to dynamically solve grappling problems faster and faster through experiential learning. For example, we start in our partner's guard, and attempt to pass. Slow and easy at first. Our partner tries to counter our passing attempts, and we try to adapt to his movements and counter them in our continued attempt to pass. This is hard at the beginning, but it becomes easier as we continue to practice.

We train your minds to process the information more quickly and to becoming better and faster at solving grappling problems on the fly.

Think not "what did the professor show me from here?' but "what can I come up with, what can I create from here?"

Finite technique cannot control the chaos of jiu jitsu, especially when you add in different body types, different opponents with different ways of thinking, and different reactions.

Don't want a network of pathways you can navigate from A to Z. Want a 4WD to get anywhere from anywhere. (Me - not actually sure that is a great analogy).

Like maths, as the variables of the problem change so too must the solution. At a high level you rarely get the sweep or pass the first time, you have to keep adjusting as he tries to counter. Also, the faster you change the variables, the harder he will find it to keep up and you already have a solution to your side of the changed problem... (Me - in class, perhaps you can do this with a slow metronome and gradually speed it up?)

Experiential learning comes from trial and error and is to large degree unique to the individual.

Have students do position-specific training but make them change guard types or passing positions so they don't get too comfortable in one particular position. But don't tell what you told them to work on to theirpartners - otherwise the partners can just take positions that will nullify that particular guard, etc., If they know what their partner is trying to do, their reactions will not be honest.

Start unengaged (no grips, passer standing out of range) as this is more realistic.

The more mistakes you make, the more you learn. Lose your ego. Relax, experiment, do not get upset if something doesn't work. Try to work out why and fix it, or try something else.

There are significant parallels between this approach and Matt Thornton's concept of Aliveness.

An Example Concept

Every sweep has three important elements:
  • take away a post
  • control his weight/posture
  • use a leverage point

With a hooking sweep from butterfly guard:
  • overhook his arm and trap his wrist in the armpit (take away his post)
  • Grab his belt and pull him off his base (control his posture)
  • Use the hook to lift his leg and the other foot to push off the floor (leverage points)

To stop the sweep, take those elements away. If he gets my post, I'll take my weight away to the opposite side. If he gets both, stop his pivot point (in the hooking sweep, pin his feet together and keep them off the mat).

Relaxation, and Poker Face

If you tense up, he will know something is up, so relax. Relaxation means less telegraphing also.

Have a plan, but act like you are confused, indecisive and don't know what you are doing, look around, look at your coach, he will relax and plan an attack. Make him feel confident. Attack him between the relaxation and the attack.

Relax, he will relax. Act like you have no idea, he relaxes. Than attack. Attack him between his relaxation and attack.

Poker face - if he is attacking, act calm and like you are strong and in control. He may stop his attack because he thinks he is having no effect even if he is close to finishing or passing. If you start panicking or thrashing about, he will crank it on harder.

Sun Tzu - make him think you are strong where you are most vulnerable, and weakest where you are strongest.


Timing is more important than technique - an example is "lucky punch" ko's by inferior strikers. Gonzaga vs Crocrop.

Sound technique may not work if the timing is wrong. But even inferior execution can work if the timing is right.

We require lots of specific, live training to work these things out. Lots of in the hole drills from various positions with different partners.

Areas of Training

The Pareto principle says that 80% of results come from 20% of your actions - find that 20% and amplify it.

According to KD, Competition BJJ consists  using your guard to sweep or submit, or passing the opponent's guard. So a competitor should train way more of those aspects rather than mount, escapes, back control, etc.

KD claims that when he was rolling training in America and Brazil with top guys like Andre Galvao and Keenan Cornelius, he would do his best to keep the rolling in those areas to gain the most benefit from his training time with the best guys in the world. If his guard got passed, he would give up a submission ASAP so as to be able to restart on one side of the guard. He would save his training of other aspects of Jiu Jitsu (escapes, submissions from top, etc.) for non-elite level guys. 


The hardest part of passing is consolidating the finishing position, not getting through the legs.

When passing, try to get your finishing grips before passing the legs - using the hands to pass the legs and then switching to the upper body gives him time to recover.

With the toriandor pass if he blocks the upper body grips get the kneeride instead. When he pushes on the knee, switch to get your grips on his upper body.

Size-specific Jiu Jitsu

Certain techniques work better or worse depending on the builds of yourself and your opponent.

Toriandor passes work best  for the taller guy passing the shorter guy, same with spider guard foot on hip guard and closed guard.

Taller people have a structural advantage keeping the shorter opponent at distance. The shorter person may be unable to get decent grips if the taller person is fully extended.

Smaller people need to use close-in guards where they can get right underneath the opponent - hooks, half guard, X guard (single leg and double leg), and passes that keep them close to the opponent. The shorter person will find it easier to get himslef or his limbs into tight gaps that a larger person would struggle with.

Manage the distance to give yourself the advantage.

More Thoughts

Trying to apply this may take you backwards somewhat at first, you have to go from muscle memory to using your brain. Going from preset patterns and solutions supplied by others as opposed to coming up with your own solutions. 

You learn to analyse the situation, formulate a solution, attack with the solution. Observe, plan, attack. OODA loop (Observe, orient, decide, attack - look it up!).

You learn to "express yourself honestly" through your techniques, per Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do. Self expression as opposed to performing a prearranged dance routine. Feel the music, let the music move you.

To be an athlete, you can train hard, work S&C, drill lots. To be a martial artist, you need to create and innovate.

Do you know Jiu Jitsu moves, or do you understand Jiu Jitsu?

Most of these principles come from successful business models rather than any Jiu Jitsu instructor.

Predefined technique can be a base to get beginners started, but just show them the key points and let them innovate. Encourage them to relax and flow.

If you want to be better than the pack, you have to go outside the pack.

Industrialised vs organic education.

Learning how to learn.

The more info you have the easier it is to absorb new information. We learn and absorb and remember information by association with our other knowledge.

Part 2

KD discussed the following  concepts. I don't think it is right to try and write up the contents of the video here.

Movement and Posture
Block training vs randomized training
Attribute cycling
Structuring training for best memory retention - spaced training, interweaving
Acquisition of timing
Avoiding common mistakes by misleading actions
How much time to spend on certain positions
Psychological warfare
Enhancing memory
Game development
Dealing with nerves
Goal setting

Concepts from Beyond Technique

Transitional Pressure
The Fisherman
The Quadrant
Post, Posture and Leverage
The Porcupine
Nullifying the Guard Pull
The Corkscrew
Weight Distribution
Collapsing and Inserting Structure
Double-barrel Shotgun
Open and Closed Chain
Removing Leverage
Spinal Torque
Size Specific Strategy
Border Patrol
Loading the Spring
The Pendulum
Takedown Postures
Hip Centric Movement

My training bud, Lange's brown belt and pro MMA fighter Sonny Brown, did a great write up of these.

Do not attempt to systematize that which is organic - Nic Gregoriades allegedly quoting Friedrich Nietzsche (I couldn't find any such Nietzsche quote on the web - I'd be grateful if anyone can point one out)

Art is the expression of the self. The more complicated and restricted the method, the less the opportunity for expression of one's original sense of freedom. Though they play an important role in the early stage, the techniques should not be too mechanical, complex or restrictive. If we cling blindly to them, we shall eventually become bound by their limitations. Remember, you are expressing the techniques and not doing the techniques. If somebody attacks you, your response is not Technique No.1, Stance No. 2, Section 4, Paragraph 5. Instead you simply move in like sound and echo, without any deliberation. It is as though when I call you, you answer me, or when I throw you something, you catch it. It's as simple as that — no fuss, no mess. In other words, when someone grabs you, punch him. To me a lot of this fancy stuff is not functional. - Bruce Lee

Friday, May 06, 2016

Xtreme Doorway Gym by SMAi - Product Review

The Xtreme Doorway Gym is sold by Sports Master Athletics International (SMAI).

My Jiu Jitsu coach Anthony Lange had to buy his in a two for one deal and was kind enough to let me have the extra one. I can't imagine many people would want two - once assembled it is very easy to move between doorways. Unless you want to do simultaneous workouts with a partner or something - though that wouldn't necessarily be simple depending on the design of your house or apartment. Strange marketing strategy (unless, perhaps, they have a huge oversupply). But, what the hell.


It comes in a flat pack box. Made of steel with some rubber for padding. It probably took me twenty minutes to put together - about eighteen of which were getting around a problem with the nuts and bolts that hold it together. The holes in the steel bars are recessed, so the bolt heads and the nuts, which are flat on one side and with a curved half conical shape on the other, can go into the recesses, and also so the bars sort of dovetail into each other to stop them moving after assembly.

At least I think that's the way it's meant to work. I found it IMPOSSIBLE to thread the conical side of the nut onto the bolt. I could thread it the other way, but it would only tighten so far by hand. The issue was some sort of coating on the inside of the nut on the conical side.

I ended up threading the nuts on via the flat side, and with a screwdriver and pliers forcing the bolt thread all the way through the nut so either the paint on the thread or the coating on the nut were suitably worn away. I then took the nut off again, and then, and only then, was able to thread the conical side of the nut onto the bolt. I was then able to assemble the Xtreme Doorway Gym. It required a bit of elbow grease with the aforementioned pliers and screwdriver, but not so much that anyone contemplating doing pullups on the thing would find the task too onerous.

I had another very minor hassle putting in the two little screws holding the main crossbar together - the holes were very slightly out of alignment. But this was workable.

As I explained, the fiddling around with the bolts took by far most of the assembly time. Other than that it was trivial. I'm probably making the bolt thing out to be a lot bigger than it actually was.


You need a standard doorway with a strong architrave. No other type of door will do. It is designed for private use in your own home, and will be of no use in many commercial gyms.

The hooks go on the same side of the doorway to the door itself, and the main crossbar then leans on both sides of the opening on the other side of the doorway. You can't use it on a double doorway or have the hooks on the other side of the opening from the door.

Provided the architrave is strong, gravity will lock the bar securely in place. Especially if you are hanging on it. My architrave on the downstairs toilet door - try it first on a place where messing up the paintwork on the architrave or damaging it won't be a catastrophe - creaked rather disconcertingly the first time I tried it, but once I kept the faith, hung on, and lifted my feet from the floor into empty space Indiana-Jones-and-the-Last-Crusade style, there were no more noises and it felt quite strong. you can't hang full length and have to hold your feet up unless you have a very high doorway indeed.

Putting it up and taking it down is very fast and easy. No issues provided your architraves are sturdy.

The unit has padded handles to allow close grip chin and pull ups, and also parallel grips with the palms facing each other - I particularly like this as regular straight bars cause problems for my Jiu Jitsu afflicted elbows and shoulders. You could do wide grip chins but there is no padding grip for them, and you could not grip wider than the insides of the doorway, which isn't very wide. This doesn't bother me, wide grip chins are anathema for the A/C joint separations I have in both shoulders.

Some more padding on the bottom bar might have been useful, but mainly for protection of the vertical architraves and paintwork rather than for exercise variety.

At time of writing I have a damaged elbow and cannot hang with straight arms. I did isometric holds at the top position for 45-60 seconds, for which the unit was fine, very solid. I would not want to test the limits of my architraves trying kipping pullups, but I would never do these anyway with my shoulders - slow and deliberate is my speed at this stage of life.

The unit can supposedly act as a pair of pushup handles and be used for dips as well. Personally, I don't see the advantage of pushup handles unless you are training for some sort of gymnastics. Dips I feel I can do more effectively on a corner of my kitchen benchtop or using two chairs back to back.

According to the pack, you can also hook the unit to the bottom of the door and hook your toes under one of the bars to do situps. Not the best way to do situps according to many. Might be useful for working the tibialis anterior for your Jiu Jitsu hooks, perhaps.

What is more interesting is that you could hook your *heels* behind the closer crossbar, and use that to put tension on your hamstrings and glutes to perform Janda situps, a very tough abdominal exercise.

Realistically? It's a friggin' pullup bar. They just throw that other stuff in in the hope of selling it to people who can't or won't do pullups.

I'd give it 3.5 to 4 stars out of 5. It'll do the job.