Wednesday, June 30, 2010


The Crossface Control

Here is a short clip that we shot quite some time ago that relates to a type of control we refer to as Crossface. We take a quick look at some easy but effective ways to consolidate this advantageous position, which can be used to great effect both in submission grappling and MMA. The Crossface position can be viewed as a significant upgrade from regular Side Control. A little practise and this strategy will yield you great returns. We hope you enjoy it,
Best wishes
John & David video

The Hourglass Training Model

In the course of teaching martial arts, I have come across and developed many different training/teaching models. One of the ones I really liked, is what I call the Hourglass Training Model. I have also called this the ‘Five ways to catch a fish and one way to cook it’ model.
The most common model of teaching a technique is to instruct the student in one angle or position to apply the technique from, and then add variations on the technique, based on how the opponent reacts to it (Eg: if the opponent does this, then we do that, if he does that, then we do this, etc). In other words – teach the person one way to catch a fish and five ways to cook it.
The Hourglass Model embodies a very different approach. The idea goes like this:
I first instruct the student in a variety of ways to get into the technique, from as many positions and angles as are viable – and only emphasize the one finish to the move. This way I increase the chances of the student getting an opportunity n sparring to actually try the technique. Four different ways into the start of the technique means it becomes four times more likely that the opportunity will come up to at least, try the move. Once I see the student ‘hitting’ the move regularly on the mat, it then becomes time to show him/her the various variations on the finish (depending on how the opponent reacts). So the Hourglass Model puts the focus on increasing the students chances/opportunities to try the technique/move in sparring by increasing the amount of ‘entries’ or ‘ways in’ to the technique/move – rather than increasing the number of ways to ‘finish’ the technique/move. Hence the name ‘Hourglass’ – lots of ways in – before we emphasize lots of ways out (variations on finish). That is – we have now taught the student fie ways to catch a fish and one way to cook it. This will keep you fed, when it comes right down to survival. More ways to cook the fish – is just a luxury; ot necessary during the survival stage.
The more usual model is: one way in to the move – and lots of ways out (variations on finish); I call this the showerhead model. The big problem with the showerhead model is that if the student knows half a dozen variations on the finish part of the move/strategy – but he/she can’t even get a chance to try it in sparring – then ultimately, they won’t take ownership of the move at all – irrespective of how many variations of it they remember.
The Hourglass teaching model puts the emphasis on getting the student to the starting-line as many times as possible in the course of grappling/sparring. The more ways the student has in to the beginning of the technique, the greater the chances are that they will have the opportunity to try the technique. Ultimately, the more opportunities they have to try the technique, the more likely it becomes that they will be successful with it. The instructor has many roles, but one very important one is to create environments and opportunities for the student to experience success rather than failure. It’s all about success.

An example - the X-guard sweeps:

In utilizing showerhead model the instructor would teach the four or five main sweeps that the student can do from the X-Guard. The problem though, is if the student can’t even get to establish the X-Guard on the mat during wrestling, then the sweeps become purely academic. The student will not master any of them.

In utilizing the Hourglass model the instructor would teach the student four or five ways to establish the X-Guard in the normal course of wrestling. Once the instructor sees the student actually succeeding in establishing the X-Guard with regularity, he then teaches the student the four or five sweeps from there.
I trust this has you thinking,
best wishes

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


BJJ Basics - think about it ... again.

When asked this question, most BJJ practitioners I know, would probably answer ‘no’. Advanced, secret, cool, hot-off-the-press techniques – oh yes; that’s an easy one – but basics – ummm. Kind of boring right? Well, before you answer that question – I would like you all to consider this …
What if I asked you whether you wanted to eat spaghetti for dinner tonight? A pretty simple question – one that I bet all of you could answer without to much need for consideration. But let me pose a few more questions – (fear not – I do have a point) – was you IMAGINED spaghetti straight out of a can as you slumped on the couch watching Seinfeld; or was it a plate of angel hair pasta served up in the best restaurant in Tuscany, with the love of your life sitting across from you; or was it a hot and hearty plate of rosemary and basil pasta accompanied by a glass of your favourite beverage?
Whatever it was that you initially imagined, when I posed the question ‘do you want spaghetti for dinner tonight – I can probably safely bet that your mind leapt straight to n answer, and didn’t consider the infinite number of possibilities of how this spaghetti dinner could be presented.
And so it is the case when presented with the question on whether you would want to devote an entire day to the practice of BJJ basics. If you have been training for a while, you probably have a skewed idea/picture of what basics consist of. But that’s – like the spaghetti problem - just one single point of view. What if when I say ‘basics’, I am referring to the ten most important and game-changing concepts that someone like Rigan Machado considers to be the foundation of high-level Jiu Jitsu – would that change your mind? One would hope it would.
For those of you who have trained in BJJ for a long time now - do not overlook the Fundamental/Core Training program offered on the Fightpuzzle site. Do not be in a rush to skip over this and move on to the more advanced material - the deeper your understanding of the 'basics' the better you will be able to take ownership of the more advanced material.
I love studying and training the ‘basics’. After all, the basics, from a total novices point of view, and the basics from the virtuoso’s point of view – may be more than a little different. I love looking deeper – rather than broader. Remember, the virtuoso’s of the world are doing things, and sometimes (understanding things), that others are not. They have become masters of nuance – masters of the basics – when asked if they want to eat spaghetti for dinner – it’s worth pondering the possibilities.


Solving the Problem

Imagine you are neck deep in a swamp. The slime is lapping at your chin and your legs are knee deep in the sticky bog. Can you get out, and back onto firm ground, in a single step?
The answer is no! if it took you a dozen steps to make your way into the murky mire, then it will likely take you at least that many to make your way back out again. There are usually only one particular set of circumstances that will allow you to extricate yourself from a bog in one single step – and that is if you are only one step in.
One of the reasons that people have difficulty in extracting themselves from sticky situations, is they are looking for a single-step solution to a multi-faceted problem. Also, problems often look more unsolvable than they actually are because of our natural tendency to seek a one-step solution – a quick fix – and when we ask the question ‘CAN I GET OUT OF THIS NOW?’ (with a single act) - our 4 lbs of grey problem-solving hardware comes back with a resounding answer – NO! And so we see the problem as insurmountable.
And all of that is because we are asking the wrong question. If instead, we ask the question ‘CAN WE IMPROVE OUR SITUATION BY 5%?’ – the answer will almost always come back – YES! We can nearly always improve our situation by 5%. Having money troubles – don’t eat pizza or hire videos for a month and save the money. Now you’re 5% better off. Having relationship troubles – kiss your loved one before you leave the house and buy her (or him) a small gift for no reason (with the money you saved from your ‘pizza abstinence’ – 5% better off! And so on.
A couple of 5% improvements and the whole problem begins to unravel at an exponential rate. Because a problem at 75% strength so often seems very solvable – but a problem at 100% strength seems insurmountable.
Want to get out of side control – or pass an opponents guard – ask the right question. An initial speed-appraisal may fool us into believing that the problem is not solvable. But can we improve our situation by 5% - almost certainly!
Ask the right question.


Running the Checklist

Weaving order from the chaos of the fight experience is something that brings me joy and pleasure. Having my students participate in this ‘ordering’ process is something that I have found to be hugely beneficial to their learning experience.
Providing a means for the student to take a greater level of ownership of the learning experience not only makes my task as a teacher more enjoyable – it also produces a marked improvement in the desired outcomes of the class. There are a number of different teaching strategies that I have come up with to more fully engage the students in the learning experience.
One of my most powerful tools is my concept of ‘running the checklist’. The checklist is a road-map for the given technique or drill; providing the student with a concise and well-ordered pathway from the beginning to the end of a technique or drill. The checklist refers to the series of steps the student must take to negotiate this pathway. The words we use to describe each of these steps should ideally be short and descriptive (mono-syllabic if possible). I may well begin by describing the technique with as much use of language as is needed – but I will quickly reduce back to the use of monosyllabic descriptions of each stage of the technique – in other words, I start with my thorough description to build agreement and understanding but shrink back to my checklist as quickly as is feasible.
In having my students ‘run’ the checklist as part of their learning process, they get to tap into the sense of joy and flow that I myself experience as the designer of the class or teaching model. The student also experience a sense of early achievement as they successfully run the checklist and take ownership of the material.
Running the checklist also keeps the student involved in the process of the technique – it keeps them ‘in the moment’ and helps prevent them from making the very common mistake of over-focussing on the ‘goal’ or ‘end phase’ of the task. Staying in the ‘now’ – being ‘present’ at every step of the process – provides not only a better result, but a better level of ownership for the aspiring coach/instructor.
If the checklist is well-constructed, the instructor/trainer can keep the class moving through the process at the ‘speed of life’. Overuse of descriptive verbage during instruction can result in a hardwiring of the ‘pauses’ between each stage of the technique or drill. A well-constructed checklist will keep things moving at good speed and the students will more easily develop flow and continuity during the state of action.
Finally, the construction of a good checklist will make it more likely that the technique or drill will be reproduced more accurately at a later date when it is passed on or re-delivered by a third party. To develop the skill for constructing a viable checklist takes practice and work but it is very definitely a skill worth mastering. It will take your understanding, sense of ownership and ability to pass on what you have learned to others – to a whole new level.
Best wishes


In my view, after nearly 25 years of BJJ practise, I believe the two most important principles that underpin true mastery on the mat, are the principles of weight application and use of leverage. The thrust of this article is to shed some light on the less complex of these two principles – the use of leverage.
As with many of life’s most important secrets (please excuse the word), I think that most people do not appreciate the difference between knowing a word and understanding the real meaning and sub-structure that the word is meant to convey. For decades I thought I understood what leverage meant – and now I know that I did not. I knew the word, I could use it in a sentence (just like my school-teachers no doubt asked me to) but I didn’t get it – nor could I apply it on the mat, or in the larger landscape of my life with any measure of consistency. Even now I hesitate to say that I understand it; for one thing that I do understand is that there are many, many degrees of understanding, in any given subject. Nevertheless, I am happy to share what I have discovered so far, in the hope that others may surpass my own humble efforts.

Leverage (what the dictionary says): the mechanical advantage gained by using a lever; a physical phenomenon associated with the equilibrium or motion of objects; positional advantage; power to act effectively.

My own interpretation however, is not so much about the clinical definition, but rather an attempt at conveying the kind of understanding that allows for application in real life. I am very results-oriented and as such, I want my students (and readers) to be able to do something with the information that I am trying to share.

On the mat: To make use of the concept of leverage during grappling, we must first realise that the levers we are talking about here, are really the bones of our skeletal system; the spine, the scapula, the humerus, the femur, etc. Even if you don’t have a good understanding of anatomy (but as a martial artist you most definitely should) then it can help to think of the body as a stick-figure; pretty much as a child would draw it. Picture the spine (longest lever in the body), the shoulders, the hips, the upper arms, the lower arms, the upper legs, the lower legs; you get the idea. Once we can clearly picture this system of levers that lie hidden between muscle and flesh, we must then identify the ends of the levers and begin to develop an idea of how we can effect the movement of the body as we apply force to them. Again, picturing a puppet may help, push this way, pull that way, the puppet dances to our command; and so it is with people.

So far so good; the concept of the bones of the body as levers and how we can move it (or prevent it from moving) is not such a difficult thing to understand. The more challenging part of the trick is to develop skill in the many methods we can use to apply force to those ‘ends of the levers’, in the directions we need, to get the outcomes we want; that part takes time; in fact, I have met many people with over a decade of grappling training under their belts, who have yet to develop the essential habit of applying force to the ‘end’ the lever’. I’ll say it again; always apply force to the ‘end of the lever’. To do it properly, and with consistency, we must develop and understanding of ‘weight-application’, which is a far more difficult skill to master; if any are interested, I shall write more on this in a later article.

Off the mat: Now here is the true test of understanding; once we gain an insight into the power of leverage, can we shift that understanding and point it at other aspects of our lives? Can we point it at things like investment, time-management, building great relationships, etc? Are we spending a dollar to make a dollar or spending a dollar to make ten? Are we working 12 hours a day to sleep 8 and enjoy 4 or are we working 4, sleeping 8 and enjoying 12? Are we regularly doing the little things that our partners, wives, girlfriends, children and buddies appreciate or are we waiting until the moment of crisis before we scramble to salvage something that need not have suffered damage in the first place? Understanding that we can also achieve a lot for a little in our lives away from the mat is perhaps the best use of leverage we could hope for. As the legendary strategist and swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, once said (to paraphrase) – ‘to understand one thing is to understand a thousand things’. This is leverage at work.
I hope I have you thinking,

Notice what other people do not ...

‘Notice what no-one else notices and you’ll know what no-one else knows' - this skill is fundamental to taking your BJJ training to another level - and it is this fine attention to detail that underpins all the lessons we are offering on the Fightpuzzle site.
Taking ‘notice’ of things is at the very heart of natural and organic learning. Quick learners are usually quick ‘noticers’; developing a taste for nuance is something that will set you apart from the ordinary.
If we look at how a world champion (BJJ, golf, tennis, swimming, etc) performs, it can often be difficult to identify the things that he or she is doing that differentiates them from everyone else; but they are obviously doing things differently; we know this because they are getting a different result from the results that more ordinary people are enjoying. If we start with this premise: extraordinary people are doing things differently; then we can start looking, and looking closely, at what they are doing. It is only we observe with this kind of deep fascination, that we begin to notice the subtle, yet often powerful, ways in which extraordinary people differ from the ordinary.
Like any skill, the more we practise the art of ‘noticing’ the better we get at it. Coaches and teachers definitely need to nurture their ‘noticing’ skills; but this is a skill that can be taken from the mat and out into our daily lives; and as such, I feel everyone should nurture it at every opportunity. We urge all of our students to ‘notice’ – we try to instil in them – the habit of noticing, this way we can improve their ‘learning ability’ and not just their ‘doing ability’.
Take notice today – doors will open, opportunities will come to light and understanding will deepen.
Warmest wishes

Weight Application - Rule 1


My instructors used to tell me to put my weight on my partner. I thought I was doing exactly this but still I couldn’t seem to shut them down effectively. Over time, these thoughts occurred to me:

- I have a limited amount of weight to use
- That weight has to be somewhere
- Where, exactly was my weight, at any given moment?
- I noticed that much of it was dispersed on the mat itself
- If I took it off the mat it had to go somewhere
- And that ‘somewhere’ was in fact, onto my training partner

So there you have the first, most basic principle of Weight Application that there is. The more of your weight that you take off the floor, the more of it will ‘pour’ onto your opponent. And every ounce counts! There’s a T-shirt right there! EVERY OUNCE COUNTS! Look for your weight, you will find it on your elbows, on your knees, your feet, etc – try to get it off these ‘support points’ and it will flow onto your partner. When I began thinking in terms of getting my weight off the floor, rather than putting it on my partner, I became far more effective. Begin then, by asking yourself, where your weight actually is – at any given moment. Please pay attention to these few blogs, even through they may seem somewhat obvious ... I guarantee gains.
Best wishes all

Applying Weight - Rule 2

In taking our weight off the floor, it will necessarily pour onto our partner but with what measure of force? If we take our body off the floor and lie entirely on top of our partner, the weight will be spread over a large surface area and won’t count for much. The smaller the surface area through which we pour our weight onto our partner, the greater the measure of force we impart.
Our tendency is to spread our weight over a larger surface area than we need to and this results in less pressure. Think of your weight in terms of water shooting out of the nozzle of a fire-hose; the smaller the nozzle, the greater the pressure. As you take your weight off the floor, pour it onto your partner through a small contact point and you will begin to maximize the amount of pressure you can apply. The larger the contact point, the weaker the pressure – the smaller the contact point, the greater the pressure. This is very important.
Train smart

Applying Weight - Rule 3

As we take our weight off the floor and pour it onto our partner, through a small point of contact so as to increase the pressure, we will need to develop an understanding of where, on our opponent, we should apply our efforts. This is where there is a clear crossover of an understanding of leverage and an understanding of weight application. We need to apply our weight on the ends of the levers. Applying it in the middle of our partners chest (when in side control for example) will not serve to effectively prevent his shoulders from rotating as effectively as we could be applying the weight on point of the far shoulder.
Remember, it will help you to think of the bones as levers and the levers as bones; it certainly helped me. Take our weight off the floor, apply through a small point of contact on to the end of the lever that we wish to manipulate. This is crucial.
Train smart

Applying Weight - Rule 4

It is not always practical to do this, but when we can, it will significantly increase the amount of pressure we can apply to our partner. Your weight is a finite thing – you weigh, what you weigh – so how can we increase the amount of force that we can apply to our partner given that this is the case.
Imagine standing on your set of bathroom scales – we look at the numbers and they tell us we weigh exactly 80 kilograms (apologies my American friends) – it is what it is. There is one simple way to see the numbers go up, without having Marcelo Garcia jump onto our back, and that is to take off our belt (because we are still wearing it) slide it under the scales, grab and end in each hand and start pulling. By pulling upward, we increase the force that we are naturally applying to the scales.
Often we can create the same effect on our training partner. Be in side control, slide our top under beneath his shoulder blade (for example) and pull up strongly as we focus our weight down from above (using all of the principles I have previously discussed). By adding ‘pulling’, we can significantly increase the pressure we are applying to the end of the lever.
Train Smart

Applying Weight - Rule 5

This, the last my five principals of Weight Application – is in my view, the most difficult to take ownership of; the reason being that it changes for every technique and so it becomes a lifelong pursuit.
Applying our weight, by taking it off the floor and pouring it onto the end of a lever, through a small contact point is very, very effective; but we have a subtle very important consideration to take into account – and that is, the angle (vector) on which this force is applied.
Consider being on the mount position for example, and driving all of our weight down into our partner’s wrist to try to force it to the mat for our Figure 4 finish. If we apply our weight in a downward direction, it may be such that our partner doesn’t like it and so moves his forearm away from his body to alleviate the pressure but this is a strategy that is reliant upon him deciding to do that; if we are driving our weight in a downward direction, we are in fact, driving his wrist into his body, rather than driving it out into space and onto the floor. The angles in which we apply a force, greatly affect the outcomes we get. Levers can be moved in many different directions and by being very clear about what we are trying to achieve we can hone in on the correct angles on which to apply our weight/force. Push a see-saw sideways and not much happens, jump downward on one end and the other end flies upward. Think about angles – for every technique.
I hope this and the four previous posts have made you think more deeply about how you can more effectively apply your weight on the mat. These things took me a long time to understand and even now, I don’t claim full understanding – but the understanding that I do have has afforded me good results. I hope the same for you.
Best wishes


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