Why BJJ Lineage Matters

Without a fighter from Japan and a few Brazilian pioneers, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Without a black belt from Vermont, I wouldn’t be competing at high-level tournaments. Without a select handful of dedicated people, I would be a completely different person than I am — a less happy, less tough person leading a less fulfilled life.

That last paragraph is about my lineage in jiujitsu, the teachers that have trained me. We think about that a fair bit in the martial arts.

Interestingly, a new guest article on JiuJitsu Times purports to not see why lineage matters. While I see where the author is coming from — yes, in a fight or a tournament match, no one cares who your instructor is — the piece wildly misanalyzes what lineage is and why it’s important. Continue reading


Datsusara Gear Bag Core Review

I love gear bags. A great bag is the ultimate marriage of function and form.

When my trusty Cageside mesh bag (a perfect fit for me, since I could use it for scuba diving as well) finally gave up the ghost this fall, I was in denial. I kept lugging it around until I almost lost several pieces of gear through the ever-growing holes. That bag was tough: I’d carried it around the world, exposed it to saltwater, and generally beat it up until it finally couldn’t take any more.

The timing turned out to be perfect. Because I needed a new bag right before the Pans, my mom got me the Datsusara Gear Bag Core, one of two new releases from the company, for my birthday.

If you feel like exploring all there is to know about the Core, check out Datsusara’s 5 minute video tour. If not, let me give you the capsule summary: this bag is fantastic. It’s huge, but light, well-organized, and versatile — it’s not just a great grappling bag, it’s luggage you can take on vacation, jiu-jitsu or not.

Let me take a step back. For just going to class, maybe the bag you select isn’t super-important. You can always just tie your gi up in a belt and sling it over your shoulder. But when you train a lot, and when you travel to train, it makes life a lot easier to not worry about how you’re going to fit that extra gi, where your mouthguard is, or where you set your nail clippers.

The Core solves a lot of problems, all in one. Let me list them in order.

1. This bag will fit all of your stuff in it. This thing is so huge that I’m curious about the demographic that buys the larger version, the Pro. I mean, I’m a little guy, but look at my attempt to re-create some of the stuff I took to the Pans in this photo.

In case you can't decide between your white, black or blue gi ...

In case you can’t decide between your white, black or blue gi …

Look at all of that! It includes three complete gis and vale tudo shorts for wearing under said gis; belt; three complete no-gi uniforms, including full spats; bathroom scale; Sambazon smoothie and protein bar (no fresh fruit in the house today, sorry); water bottle; ibuprofen; notebook and pen; mouthguard; Leatherman tool with nail clippers; headphones, media player and e-reader for those boring times between matches.

That’s plenty to meet your needs when you travel for a big tournament, go on vacation and want to have plenty of gear, or do a training camp where you have three sessions a day. Right? Well, the Core doesn’t just fit all of that stuff, it fits all of that stuff easily.

No stuffing required.

No stuffing required.

All of the major gear fits in the main pouch without any effort whatsoever. I’m talking about no rolling, no stuffing — you just set your mountain of gear in there and it fits easily. also notice that there are two large side pockets that I didn’t have to touch for this: for vacation trips, that’s where your boring real-world clothes can go.

The bottom is wide enough to accommodate even larger scales, so you can bring your own weight-check apparatus when you travel to compete. Believe me, this is a major help, and even if you’re habitually on-weight, your teammates will thank you.

2. The pockets make it easy to organize your stuff. If you’re like me, you don’t like having to dig through everything to find out where the rattle of your ibuprofen bottle is coming from. Don’t worry: there are tons of pockets with intuitive size and spacing, so there won’t be problems designating where your mouthguard, nail clippers, media player and other stuff goes.

Four pockets on the side.

Four pockets on the side.

Even if (like me) you’re Obsesso The Clown in terms of tourney prep, this bag will cater to your crazy. There’s probably a pocket for that stupid good luck charm you have that doesn’t work. There certainly is for your notebook, pain reliever, snacks, mouthguard, clippers, and whatnot. Especially the whatnot.

Easy access mesh pockets on the end for beverages.

Easy access mesh pockets on the end for beverages.

3. You don’t have to worry about getting your gross wet gear mixed up with your fresh gear. This is huge, and is actually the best part of the bag for me. I’m chronically prepared to train, so I like keeping  extra gear everywhere. But it sucks to step out of an excellent session and have some sweaty gear that either must sit open in your car, smelling up the joint, or go back in your bag, contaminating your fresh gi.

The Core comes with an internal Dry Bag where you can stash your stanky stuff. Also, this is cool: it has a gi bag-style design, so it’s easy to wear as a mini-backpack. At the Pans I used the main Core to house all of the gear I’d need for the weekend and the Dry Bag as my day pack, where I put my wallet, keys, ID, mouthguard and whatever else I thought I’d need in the bullpen.

De-stinkifying my gis since last month.

De-stinkifying my gis since last month.

A tiny quibble is that the Dry Bag is really only big enough to fit one gi and related garments, so if you’re training a couple of times a day without going home, you might have to pack it in or leave some nastiness out of the bag. But in that case — or if you’re a huge human who wears an overcoat or something when you roll — you can always designate one of the side pockets for spillover.

4. It’s the little details. I haven’t said anything about the fact that the bag is made of hemp, which is durable and has anti-microbial properties. It’s not that I don’t think that’s important — I pre-ordered The Green Gi, after all — but the other stuff actually impressed me enough that the fabric is relatively low on my list of things I like about the Core.

Another nice touch: a lot of larger bags skimp on the shoulder strap, which makes the bag no fun to carry. Not so here. I lugged this thing all over New York City, and it was very comfortable every step of the way.

[Arnold voice] "Strap in." [/Arnold voice]

[Arnold voice] “Strap in.” [/Arnold voice]

Convinced yet? Great! … I probably should have mentioned that the first run is sold out. But Datsusara says “there is another larger batch coming later this month and should be shipping by the first week of November.”

Note: I’ve never worked for Datsusara in any capacity, freelance or otherwise, and this is actually the first of their products I’ve used. I just dig the bag.


PRODUCT: Datsusara Gear Bag Core
PRICE: $109.95
ON A SCALE OF 1-10: 9.5 (I’d give it a 10 if the Dry Bag was a little bigger).

Felipe Costa says just keep training

Felipe Costa never won a major tournament from white belt up to brown belt. He was promoted to black belt right before the world championships (Mundials). He lost in the first round.

The next year, he won the Mundials at the black belt level.

What changed? The guys at Open Mat Radio asked him that in a wide-ranging and excellent interview.

Felipe’s answer is simple, but really inspiring. It sounds cliche, he admits, but many cliches have their roots in truth.

I saw so many people — and I still see so many people — giving up every day. Because they train a little bit, and then they don’t have the result they expect right away — and they already gave up. If I had to give up, I would give up on my yellow belt! I have always had the mentality of trying again and not getting discouraged. …

It’s gonna take time for you to achieve what you want. Very few people do it at the first try  … if you’re going to give up on the way, you’re never going to reach what you want.

It’s a great way of saying “just keep training,” from a guy who knows. He lived it.

While they’re training, we’re training. When they’re slacking, we’re training. When they give up, we keep training.

Felipe Costa’s whole interview with Open Mat Radio is interesting, inspiring, and available now on their site (or you could subscribe through iTunes, which I recommend).

Technique Prevails: Mendes Brothers and Durinho Seminar

This weekend, I was fortunate to attend a seminar in Charlotte at Fernando Loor BJJ taught by the Mendes Brothers and Gilbert “Durinho” Burns.

It’s pretty rare that you get three world champions teaching a seminar at the same time, and I was especially excited because Gui Mendes competes at my weight. Whenever you get the chance to learn from a guy your size who happens to be the best in the world at that weight, you have to take it.

Predictably, the seminar was packed. About 50 people attended, including multiple black belts. If you’ve seen any of the Mendes’ technique videos, you know how absurdly detailed they are — everything these guys do, they do for a reason. A technique that you see someone else show in 2 minutes takes them 10 minutes, and it’s not because they’re padding the time. All that additional information comes from the countless hours they’ve spent thinking about how to optimize the technique.

In person, they’re even more impressive. Rafa and Gui encourage you to ask questions, and no matter how esoteric the query, they have an answer for you. “Why do you put your hand there?” “If I put my hand here instead, it would be easier for a big guy to smash, for these three reasons.” Stuff like that. There are many reasons these guys are the best, and they were all on display.

Put it this way: my notes from the seminar are 2,000 words long, and I’m sure I missed a bunch of details.

The Mendes Brothers have a reputation of trying a lot of innovative techniques, but I can also report that I successfully worked one of the things they showed into rolling yesterday against a very good training partner. That says something about their teaching ability, since it usually takes me a month or two to work seminar techniques into my sparring.

Enough of that, since I’m not going to talk about the specific techniques. I am going to talk about the last 40 minutes or so of the seminar, though, which is where Rafa, Gui and Durinho rolled with all of us.

I’ll explain how it works, and then give the two reasons I think it’s an awesome idea for seminar-givers to implement. Everyone gets in a line, and when one of the three instructors is free, you jump in with one of them. You get three minutes with them or until they submit you, whichever comes first.

Hey, I did something right! … and it still worked out how you’d expect.

I got to roll with Gui, which was exactly what I’d hoped for (and big thanks, Hameed, for helping me rig the line). You don’t need me to tell you how good he is, so I won’t (but he is, and his top pressure is heavier than any dude our size has a right to).

What I will say is that he’s great to roll with. I watched him adjusting his intensity to the skill level of his partner. Mostly, he’d just stay five percent or so ahead of you. If you did something good offensively, he’d let you work it; if you defended one of his attacks correctly, he’d move on to something else. Let’s be real, this is a guy who could get pretty much whatever he wants on you, however he wants it, so that was really cool of him.

After tapping me with a wristlock from a mounted triangle position. Really fun 3-minute or so experience.

This leads me into the two reasons I think this is a great practice for seminars. First, it’s obviously really fun and rewarding for the attendees. If you want to learn from someone chances are you want to roll with them. It’s a learning experience and also just a fun story to have, no matter how it ends up.

But the second reason, I believe, offers some insight into the Mendes Brothers. These are guys that think all the time about optimizing their training. That’s why they’re the elite: they’re constantly working on ways to get better at jiu-jitsu.

Now, normally, when upper belts roll with me, they’re basically doing me a favor. They’re not going to get as much out of the experience as I am, from a learning perspective. And when you’re a world champion, it’s not like sparring with a random blue belt is going to teach you anything new.

However, rolling for 45 minutes to an hour straight, against people of varying skill levels and sizes — that’s likely to be a great workout, if nothing else. Also, having to adjust from me (a 145-pound old guy blue belt) to one of the next guys in (a 200+ pound black belt) is likely to present interesting challenges.

What I’m saying is this “line of rolling” isn’t just fun for us participants, it’s a way for Rafa and Gui to get some training in while they’re teaching. Maximizing your time like this demonstrates intelligence and efficiency — and isn’t that really at the core of jiu-jitsu?

Besides the excellent instruction, the Mendes Brothers and Durinho were all very cool, too. At Hameed’s request, Durinho even gave him the distinct honor of a post-seminar judo throw. I have pulled the photos together into this animated GIF for your amusement.

You Gonna Get Thrown (you might have to click on this to make the animation work)

Bottom Line: This was a great experience. If you have the chance to take one of these seminars, don’t balk at the asking price: it’ll be worth it.

Kurt Osiander Seminar

“Hey everybody, I’m Kurt,” he said. “I curse profusely, so if you don’t want your kids to hear it, get them the fuck out.”

These were the first words Kurt Osiander said to the 80 or so people that gathered in Southern Pines for Kurt’s first East Coast seminar.

If you know Kurt, you likely know him from his glorious Move Of The Week videos. They confirm his self-assessment as a profane individual — and also show that he is a hilarious one. That’s why he’s inspired numerous memes employing the quotes from the clips.

What sometimes gets lost due to Kurt’s charisma: the dude is a badass. He’s a third-degree Ralph Gracie black belt, which means his toughness and technique are both at legendary levels. If you’ve been around jiu-jitsu for any amount of time, chances are you’ve heard stories of how the Ralph Gracie guys go after each other in training, and Kurt’s contemporaries include beasts like Dave Camarillo and Luke Stewart.

Most important for me, Kurt’s style is similar to the style I’ve been taught: it’s fundamental, not flashy, and based on positional dominance. Some seminar material is so different from your game that you struggle to understand the concepts (or at least I do): this was more like taking an advanced class on material you’ve seen before.

And what an advanced class. The seminar was four hours long, which made it ridiculous value at $60. Although my brain was full by the end, I would’ve done another session the next day.

I’ve already talked about Kurt’s rhetorical strategy, so I have to tell the tale of the one kid who stayed. The place was packed (there must have been more than 80 people there), so Kurt had to walk around a lot. He wasn’t always near where you were. I was drilling with my partner next to the brave youngster, a guy who must have really cool parents.

He was probably 10 years old, and was drilling the S-mount armbar when Kurt walked up. At first, he didn’t notice Kurt, because he was so intent on getting the right position before falling back for the finish. When he saw the huge man with the long hair looming over him, his eyes got as big as dinner plates. He stopped drilling just for a split-second.

And Kurt looks at him and says: “Well, don’t fuck it up now, bro!”

“You! Yeah, you! Don’t fuck this up while I’m watching!”

I am happy to report that the young fella executed the technique perfectly, and seemed to be having a blast at all times. The rest of the crowd all looked like they were getting a lot out of it too, and there was a lot of talent in the room: tons of upper belts.

Despite the four hours of mainlining hardcore jiu-jitsu, one of my teammates and I wanted more, so we split a private lesson with him. I really wanted to work my guard passing, and he showed me several details I was missing on my favorite passes. I also asked Kurt for ideas on how to chain passes together, and I think his tips will really help.

At the end, I asked Kurt to pose for a picture with me where he was doing Simple Choke from Knee on Belly. The results were predictably spectacular, since Kurt isn’t shy about mugging for the camera.

I didn’t notice until afterward that we were both wearing Shoyoroll gis. Given Kurt’s famous catchphrase, how could I NOT make this parody advertisement?

Shoyoroll, feel free to use this ad. No charge! I wouldn’t say no if you sent me a gi, though.

Taking a private with Kurt is worth it just for the stories. The techniques are also  awesome, of course — but you’ll get your money’s worth in more than one way. That’s all I’ll say about that.

Plus, afterward, we took him out for Orange Mocha Frappucinos*:

I can’t believe I did this. You may have to click on the image to see the animation.

The bottom line: five hours of first-rate instruction (and even better entertainment) with a uniquely charismatic individual. It was one of the best jiu-jitsu weekends I’ve spent in a long time, and I’m looking forward to training at Kurt’s place when I make it back to the West Coast sometime.

*This may not have actually happened. Although I could see the gasoline scene happening in a different context.

DVD Review: Caio Terra’s Modern Jiu-Jitsu

The bad thing about a vacation: you miss class. The good thing about a vacation: you get to spend more time with instructional DVDs that you neglected when you were training regularly.

(Also, you are on vacation. That’s also a good thing about a vacation. But never mind that for now.)

I own a lot of instructionals, and one of my favorites is Caio Terra’s Modern Jiu-Jitsu. It’s a four DVD set of more than 140 techniques, all of which I had watched before this trip. Since repetition is key to my learning style, though, it’s really helpful for me to revisit stuff I’ve watched before.

And the Caio DVDs are a pleasure to revisit. Let’s get the two most obvious points out of the way: first, Caio’s technique is spectacular; and second, this DVD is beautifully filmed.

Just check out this screenshot from Modern Jiu-Jitsu:

The soft light of this DVD takes me on gossamer wings to BJJ Valhalla.

Compared to this screenshot from Caio’s 111 Half-Guard Techniques DVD:

Great DVD content that looks pretty good.

111 Half-Guard Techniques is a great DVD, too, and it doesn’t look bad. But compared to Modern Jiu-Jitsu, it’s no contest. I think the next step in BJJ instructionals involves improving production values. There are a lot of amazing instructors out there, but very few of them are producing materials that look this good.

As good as the product looks, the actual instruction is even better. Modern Jiu-Jitsu is aimed at beginning- to intermediate-level BJJ players, which makes it perfect for me, but I’ve heard higher-level guys say they learned a lot of details from this material, too. That’s not surprising, because Caio does some very fundamental techniques in a slightly different way from the standard method.

Sometimes, this will leave you wondering “I wonder if that will work for me.” Many times, it will leave you saying “Wow, I can’t wait to try that out in rolling.”

You can see an example of the techniques on the DVD here.

If you pay any attention to competition jiu-jitsu, you know you can’t argue with Caio’s results. For a guy like me — a smaller person who tries to be detail-oriented — his DVDs are top-notch.

Plus, Mobile Black Belt has the product on sale, so you can get it for cheaper than I did! Run, don’t walk to your Internet browser, buy it, watch it again and again, and come back leaving a comment thanking me later.

Also, if anybody from Mobile Black Belt winds up reading this: when are Caio’s iPhone and iPad apps coming out? If they’re anything like Modern Jiu-Jitsu, they’ll quickly become a part of my collection as well.

“Hey, Jeff, would you mind reviewing my DVD? I could really use the support from some random blue belt on the Internet.” “Sure thing, Caio. Let’s be best friends.”


PRODUCT: Caio Terra, Modern Jiu-Jitsu
PRICE: $129.95 for 4 DVDs, or $34-95-$44.95 for individual DVDs
ON A SCALE OF 1-10: 9

Lovato’s new site: July 4

Rafael Lovato Jr. is one of only two American black belts to win the worlds in the gi. So what better date for his new online instructional site to open than July 4?

He’s also a terrific instructor, as you can see from the embedded video at the link. I’m a little sad that I won’t be back in the states for another month (the Internet is too slow here to access the site), because guard passing is going to be my main training focus when I get back. The site is called “Ultimate Pressure Passing System,” and I imagine it’s relevant to my interests.

Chances I check it out when I get home: 100%.