Holiday Gift Guide: 2016

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with jiujitsu and have been for years. On the podcast this morning, Betsy O’Donovan — someone with a wider array of interests, a bigger brain, and two stripes on her white belt — joined me to provide a different perspective on what would make great holiday gifts this season.

She came up with a bunch of ideas I hadn’t thought of — and you still have time to get it done! Listen to the show for details, or just check out this list, with links where available.

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This year’s shopping list:

Gis: Everyone wants a new gi. The is a high-value item that comes with substantial personal preference involved, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t suggest Toro BJJ’s Jeff Shaw model gi. As we say on the show, though, there’s no way you showing up with a gi for the grappler in your life makes that grappler sad.
Flip Flops: You need these for the gym. Don’t be that dude who tries to walk in the bathroom in bare feet! We offered four options for excellent flops, including the pair I wore into the studio despite it being December, the Rainbow hemp sandals. You could also get the classic Brazilian Havaianas, or one of the various sets of belt rank sandals. Another project I can personally vouch for because I own ’em are Combat Flip Flops, a veteran-owned company that produces awesome sandals out of recycled material and uses the money to fund girls’ education in Afghanistan.
Private with your instructor / favorite practitioner: Want to play it safe? Buy your friend a private with their instructor, the person who knows their game the best. Want to take a chance? Figure out what big-name jiujitsu athlete they’re a huge fan of, and make a private with that person happen.
Custom mouthguard: Gladiator Guards makes the best custom mouthguards. It’s a big up-front investment compared to a boil and bite, but so worth it, from a comfort, fit and safety perspective. Plus, they keep your tooth mold so if you lose it — or run in through a dryer like I did — it’s easy to replace.
Gear bag: I’ve reviewed the Datsusara Core Bag Pro on the blog before, and it’s still my standard recommendation. There are a lot of gear bags out there that fit different lifestyles, though. One commonality: we all need the ability to drag stuff places.
Sports massage: Who doesn’t want a massage? No one, that’s who. Take it up a notch by getting your friend one at a sports-focused practitioner’s spot, and make your BJJ body feel better.
Nutrition plan & attendant supplements: On the note of making your body feel better, nothing does that like good nutrition. Why not spring for a nutrition plan with a show guest like Sophia Drysdale or Eric Uresk? If your pal is already on a plan, how about funding them with great supplements like Amnutrition or Vega Vegan Protein and Greens?
Online Site Subscriptions: I’ll always recommend two online sites based on my experience with them. Marcelo Garcia’s site is awesome, and so is the Mendes Bros. You get tremendous instruction, drilling suggestions, technique breakdowns and amazing sparring sessions featuring the best in the world. And it’s delivered right into the privacy of your own home. A non-instructional option: a subscription to FloGrappling. Besides watching superfight events, If you like to watch your friends compete at IBJJF events, it’s the standard.
Tournament registration fees: Maybe your friend wants to compete but needs an extra push, or extra cash, or help with logistics. Sign them up for a tournament, like US Grappling’s tournament in Raleigh in January!
Endless sports bras and pony tail holders: If you’re a lady, you probably need sports bras. If you’re a lady or a longhaired dude, you probably need the ability to hold those luxurious locks in place. Betsy recommended a few brands for each, including Champion’s line of sports bras, and Goody’s Ouchless pony tail holders. You can hear her specific tips for how to find out what your partner likes if you listen to the show!
If you have other ideas, please leave them in the comments. In the era of drones that deliver everywhere, there’s still time to get these to the people you care about in time for Christmas. Happy shopping, and happy holidays!

15 Quotes From Moby Dick That Are Actually About Jiujitsu

I first read Moby Dick at a young age, too many years ago to admit. I first realized that the book is actually about jiu-jitsu just this week.

Herman Melville’s opus chronicles a titanic struggle between an otherworldly whale and his human arch-nemesis. Although ultimately the whale teaches Ahab to laugh and love again through the healing power of sea chanties — sorry for the spoilers — the novel is really about obsession.

The most powerful passages from what is, to me, the most American of novels, hit on these themes: there is power in passion and commitment, but also danger; the beautiful corners of life can also be terrible, and that terror has substantial interplay with the beauty; and finally, we’re drawn as human beings to perilous pursuits, but there is peril in ignorance and comfort as well.

Moby Dick is about a subculture of diverse, intrepid people who share an extreme life experience that only a small fraction of human beings ever will. Their journeys take them spectacular places, far out of each individual’s comfort zone, and are marked by the knowledge that nothing really serves as a substitute. Like I said: it’s about jiu-jitsu.

If this makes sense to you, you’re probably a nerd. If this really makes sense to you, you’re a nerd who trains. Either way, you’re in the right place.

I could’ve easily picked the top 100 passages from Moby Dick that speak to the jiujitsu lifestyle. Upon the advice of my attorney and life coach (a 10-year-old hound dog named Penny), I’ve whittled it down to 15. Here goes:

 

1. “…the great floodgates of the wonder-world swung open…”

The narrator of Moby Dick, who goes by the name Ishmael, speaks with awe and wonder of being at sea, using this phrase to describe his perception.

Remember the first time you hit a move cleanly on someone who was trying with all their might to stop you? Or: remember the moment when you first chained two or three moves together? For me, executing my first scissor sweep was like watching an angel came down from heaven and play the entirety of Led Zeppelin IV.

When you’re in the flow, the whole glorious world of possibility opens. This is what it’s like when Ishmael goes to sea, or when many of us hit the mats. We open the great floodgates of the wonder-world.

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Learning shin on shin guard from Michelle Nicolini opens a lot of doors.

 

2. “…to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

The most rhetorically powerful speech of the book is also its most direct reference to grappling. These climactic epithets Ahab shrieks at Moby Dick always fire me up — and make me think of those gnarly death rolls in the final round of a tournament.

Ahab could really cut a promo, even on a marine mammal. I think more people would love Moby Dick if they produced a version that included just his venomous speeches. I mean, just read that passage again: it’s as if the Spartans at Thermopylae had a speechwriter that wrote for an academic version of Ric Flair. If they boiled down Moby Dick to these speeches, it’d be like Thomas Jefferson’s version of the Bible: lean and mean.

 

3. “It is not down on any map; true places never are.”

The cannibal moral center of the novel, Queequeg, is a native of Rokovoko, “an island far away to the West and South.” But you can’t find it. Because it’s not on the map.


Speaking of jiujitsu is a journey is common — because it is. Your instructor might show you a move, or teach you a concept. It’s up to you to perfect that move for you, or internalize that concept. That takes time, and effort, and commitment.

It also takes faith. If your instructor could tell you “do these three things, and you’ll be an expert at guard passing,” it would make life a lot simpler. But no honest instructor would do that. You’ve got to pursue that yourself, trusting that walking the path the right way will ultimately lead you to the destination.

Jiujitsu is the truth. That’s why there’s no roadmap.

 

4. “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

This is Ishmael describing in vivid detail how turbulent his life would get between trips to sea. In the book, the sea provided a release valve for all that pent-up aggression.

One of my friends used to get into a lot of street fights. He’s trained in several martial arts, fought, competed, and generally run the gamut of training options. Once he told me that jiujitsu in the gi is the only art that ever made him a better person.

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Don’t walk around knocking hats off of people, or beloved mascots: train.

We all know people who can only simmer down their blood by training. If you’re reading this, you can probably name a dozen people who are sanest and calmest immediately after class.

Maybe you’re one of those people. I am.

 

5. “There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.”

Sometimes in class, you’re a step late to every move. Sometimes the people you usually submit get away, the people you usually dominate positionally give you hell, and the people who usually whoop up on you lay the smack down even worse than normal.

Sometimes a meme of you getting choked ends up everywhere on the Internet. Life is funny!


6. “I try all things, I achieve what I can.”

One of many “words to live by” lines in the book comes from the maybe-unreliable narrator, Ishmael. When he tries to describe the whale, he confesses it’s not his area of expertise, but he’ll give it a shot.

You have to do this in jiujitsu: you might know you can’t pass your instructor’s guard, but try. Fail. Fail again. Fail better. Try everything. Achieve what you can.

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Sometimes, you can win the worlds. But on your way to achieving one thing, don’t forget to keep trying all things.

 

7. “There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.”

Ishmael says this after he’s been staring into a fire, reaching a near hypnotic state.

The reality is this: sometimes, you should feel bad. Ego isn’t always the enemy, and disappointment is a natural fact of jiujitsu life. There is always someone better than you, and sometimes you have a tough day of competition or a night where everything you try gets shut down.

I’m not going to tell you not to feel bad when this happens. Disappointment is the source of strong motivation. There is wisdom in the woe that comes from a bad result.

In Moby Dick, Ishmael acknowledges that people with strong will — those with souls “in the mountains” — can profit from woe and gloom. This is the way we transcend the ordinary. Don’t let it drive you crazy, though, lest you end up on a boat with some nutjob, or in an emo band.

 

8. “Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure.

 

Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks.”

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When you walk into a jiu-jitsu gym, you might think you know who the baddest people are just by looking at them. You’re often wrong.

Like the sea under the surface, jiu-jitsu is subtle, and the deadly creatures come in all shapes, sizes, genders and ages. Like the sharks in Moby Dick, the mat animals are treacherously hidden until it’s too late to avoid them.


9. “Ignorance is the parent of fear.”

This is how Ishmael feels about bigotry: that lack of exposure to cultures like Queequegs leads people to make unfounded assumptions, resulting in anxiety — which perpetuates the lack of awareness that leads to fear in the first place.

This is how I feel about leglocks.

 

10. “Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me, and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-labourers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules.

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Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally, as much as to say,—Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill humour or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.”

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Who doesn’t love a good head squeeze? We squeeze each other’s heads with our arms, we squeeze each other’s necks with our legs. Then, like the sailors on the Pequod, we squeeze hands afterward in a gesture of friendship and comity.

… and in that passage, Ishmael is talking about whalers breaking up the lumpy spermaceti that is found in the whale’s head and sold. What did you think he was talking about?

11. “To enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.”

Life is a struggle between hardness and softness. You don’t want to be completely hard, because it stops you from enjoying existence. You don’t want to be completely soft, because you’re unprepared for what life throws at you.

Jiujitsu is fun. Jiujitsu is hard. Hard training necessitates discomfort, which prepares you for other forms of discomfort.

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You’ll never stop being uncomfortable. You will learn to embrace the discomfort.

 

12. “For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught – nay, but the draught of a draught.”

The week Grandmaster Helio Gracie died, he was working on a new choke. Think about that. He’d constructed this art over his whole long life — and was still working on innovations at the end of it.

You’re never done doing jiujitsu. Ever. The power of the art is that you’ll never finish. There is — like the open sea — always more to explore.

This is the source of the blog’s name, too: training jiujitsu means you never stop learning.

 

13. “I am past scorching; not easily can’st thou scorch a scar.”

Stuff like this happens to you in jiujitsu. Are you really going to be scared of a conversation with your boss after this?

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14. “All my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.”

Ahab’s admission of his own lunacy rings true for me. I think meticulously and constantly about the best practices for improving at jiujitsu. I review scientific research about nutrition, body and brain health, and the process by which we learn complex tasks.

I do this so I can take part in things that strike the people who don’t train as, well, nuts.

Once, during a hard session preparing for a friend’s fight, we had five upper belts and one white belt taking part. It was summer in North Carolina and the temperature had cracked 100 degrees with the type of humidity associated with a steam room. The sweat was flowing like water and the action was non-stop. The wet air made it tough to breathe.

The white belt was young and in good shape: at least as good as any of us, and maybe better. But he was struggling, and after each drill or sparring round he’d look around at each of us in disbelief. I wasn’t sure what he was looking for — I was using all my mental resources to follow instructions and not fall apart, in that order — until about 20 minutes into the training.

He walked to the door, and opened it, letting in a fresh burst of air. Then he walked outside and shouted back at us:

“You guys are crazy!” It was clear he was leaving.

Without looking up, all five of us instinctually replied: “See ya.”

We kept training. He shook his head in disbelief and I don’t think I’ve seen him since.

If you want to improve, these are the things you do. It’s the correct means to a mad end. Here’s the thing: no one who doesn’t train has to understand.

15. “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”

This one is better left out of context. It’s just a good rule to live your life by.

We have no idea what our futures include. If they include jiujitsu and laughter, I think we’ll all be all right.

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The Engineer and the Artist

In life and in jiujitsu, we have different needs at different stages on the journey.

While I was in New York competing, I had the chance to spend a week training at Unity Jiujitsu. Part of this was to get ready for the tournament, since Unity has excellent tough, technical training. Another reason had a bit of a more long-term view to it.

I always try to take advantage of the chance to train when I travel, and I try to soak up as much as I can. if you learn the same technique from 10 different black belts, you’ll often learn 10 different techniques — all of them correct. Seeing how great practitioners do things, even if it doesn’t wind up being how you do things, can only help you.

The impetus for this post: I’ve taken private lessons from many outstanding instructors, and two of the best were from Unity instructors Murilo Santana and Ana Lowry. What struck me about these two sessions, though, aside from how much I learned from each, was how very different their approaches were.

Awesome seminar with Murilo and Ana at Chapel Hill Gracie Jiuitsu. I am told the photographer was very handsome.

Awesome seminar with Murilo and Ana at Chapel Hill Gracie Jiuitsu. I am told the photographer was very handsome.

Continue reading

Who To Watch Saturday at the Worlds

Tomorrow, I’ll be glued to the IBJJF stream watching the black belt finals. Today is going to be a great day of jiujitsu as well, but it’s more haphazard: you sort of have to seek out the matches you want to watch. Using the IBJJF big board, I tracked down a bunch of matches I’d like to check out.

Some of these folks are my friends, some teammates of friends, some are just awesome athletes and I want to watch them, and most fall into all three categories. Anyway, here’s the matches I don’t want to miss, and if you’re watching the stream I hope this helps you find some good stuff.

Jen Whitcomb, 1:00 PDT/4:00 EDT, Mat 12
Tony Casarez, 12:10 PDT/3:10 EDT, Mat 1
Joseph Lee, 12:42 PDT/3:42 EDT, Mat 1
Maia Matalon v. Maria Malyjasiak, 1:30 PDT/4:30 EDT, Mat 11 <— This one is going to be really good. 
Murilo Santana, 3:33 PDT/6:33 EDT, Mat 1
Luiza Monteiro, 5:10 PDT/8:10 EDT, Mat 7
Rafael Machado Mansur (PSLPB Cicero Costha), 9:20 a.m. PDT/12:20 p.m. EDT Mat 3
Yago de Souza, 11:50 a.m. PDT, 2:50 EDT Mat 9
Kaynan Casemiro Duarte (PSLPB Cicero Costha), 2:58 p.m. PDT/5:58 PDT, Mat 9
Wellington Luís Sebastião (PSLPB Cicero Costha), 10 a.m. PDT/1 p.m. EDT, Mat 7
Paulo Henrique Bordignon Miyao (PSLPB Cicero Costha), 3:54 p.m. PDT/6:54 p.m. EDT, Mat 12
Eduardo Alves de Inojosa (PSLPB Cicero Costha), 4:05 p.m. PDT/7:05 p.m. EDT Mat 10
Igor Gregório Schneider (PSLPB Cicero Costha), 12:40 p.m. PDT/3:40 p.m. EDT, Mat 11
Matheus Silva Santos (PSLPB Cicero Costha), 2:41 p.m. PDT/5:41 EDT Mat 11
José Tiago da Silva Barros (PSLPB Cicero Costha), 5:06 p.m. PDT/8:06 p.m. EDT Mat 12
Leandro Lo Pereira do Nascimento (PSLPB Cicero Costha), 5:18 p.m. PDT/8:18 p.m. EDT, Mat 8

Three important things:

1. It’s possible I missed people: the IBJJF interface is weird. Apologies if so!

2. The IBJJF changes stuff around, so it’s important to double check at the big board link: http://events.ibjjf.com/…/appli…/orderfight/index.php…

3. You can also check out the brackets for matches you may want to watch: for example, if Murilo Santana and Victor Estima both win, they’ll meet tomorrow morning, and wow is that going to be good. Please post matches I missed/people you want me to find match times for in the comments!

Self Defense Vs. Entertainment

I have many thoughts on how the systems we create affect the outcomes we get in life. Jake Whitfield has written a long post that you need to read. Among other things, it’s about how fighting for entertainment (as we see in pro boxing and MMA) differs greatly from self-defense.

Jake encapsulated a lot of my own thoughts better than I could, so I won’t spoil the rest of the post. Check it out.

Metamoris Needs Women

I love Metamoris. I buy every PPV. And I’m excited for Metamoris 6. That said: we’re gonna be 36 matches into Metamoris with only one women’s match having happened? We’ve got to fix that.

Can we get Beatriz Mesquita on the card? Or Luiza Monteiro? How about the legendary Leticia Ribeiro, who I have photoshopped here? Hannette Staack? Whether you want to go with the best current competitors or with legendary folks, or a blend, you could easily fill a card with *just* excellent women’s matches.

Metamoris Needs Women

Or, how about this: they declared Josh Barnett the Metamoris Champion after he won one match. Michelle Nicolini v. Mackenzie Dern was awesome on Metamoris 2: how about declaring Michelle the champion and having her defend the belt against Tammi Musumeci in a rematch? Dern deserves another match, and I’d love to see Luanna Alzuguir, Penny Thomas, and/or Kyra Gracie, just to name a few.

Like Mars, ‪#‎metamorisneedswomen‬. Book it.

Early Morning Drilling

Everyone loves to roll: sparring against a live, resisting opponent isn’t just what makes jiu-jitsu so effective at preparing for real life situations, it’s also fun and unpredictable and exhilarating.

Not everyone loves to drill. I can understand this. It’s repetitive by nature, and usually features movements you’ve done thousands of times already.

This is also its value. Repeating those core movements over and over means you can do them instinctually when it matters. Part of the power of jiu-jitsu is that technical knowledge gets you out of bad spots before you get into bad spots. If you’ve drilled enough mount escapes that your body automatically goes into one even before the guy has secured the mount, you’ve maximized your chance of success.

If Galvao does it, it probably works.

If Galvao does it, it probably works.

Even the people that don’t enjoy the process of drilling recognize, usually, its benefits. I’m one of the lucky few that actually enjoys drilling. It’s more than recognizing the practice’s value: I actually enjoy seeing the movements get smoother. One of the best teachers I know says “slow makes smooth: smooth makes fast.” It’s gratifying over the time I spend drilling, even if it’s just a few minutes, to see the movements become more ingrained.

I like drilling so much that, for the past 6 months or so, I’ve been doing 6 a.m. drilling two or three days a week. This is a way to get mat time when there are no classes scheduled (and, to be honest, when my girlfriend is asleep). I’ve noticed tangible improvements: I hit moves I never used to hit, and I know moves I never used to know, even if I can’t hit them yet.

These guys still drill basics. But don't worry, bro, I'm sure your upa escape is perfect.

These guys still drill basics. But don’t worry, bro, I’m sure your upa escape is perfect.

These are some reasons I think drilling is so important. I’ll close this part by pointing out that Rorion Gracie and Fabio Gurgel still drill the basics. If they do it, why shouldn’t we?

Now, let’s talk about drilling method. There are two common problems that I try to avoid.

First, there is the time issue. Virtually no one who loves jiu-jitsu has as much time on the mats as they would like. It’s tempting to use what limited time we do have to do what we enjoy most — and for most people, that’s rolling. This isn’t bad, necessarily, but it’s important not to crowd out vital drilling time.

Rolling is certainly necessary to improve,  but I like to have time set aside to really focus hard on correct technique. As much as I love rolling, when I’m 9 minutes deep into a sparring session with a huge guy on top of me, I don’t always hit the details I need to. Drilling helps counteract the tendency to get sloppy in those moments.

That’s why I started doing the 6 a.m. sessions. I didn’t have the time to do what I needed to, so I asked my instructor if he’d mind. Luckily, my instructor is awesome, and completely understands the mat addiction. Best, now I have specific time that is set aside just to do drilling.

There is one other risk that I try to avoid, though, and Roy Marsh hints at it in this post. It’s very tempting, given limited drilling time, to hit only the cool new moves. Fancy attacks that are popular in sport tournaments can crowd out the basic moves that help build a solid foundation.

If Andre Galvao and the Beastie Boys agree on something, you can take it to the bank. Drilling is good.

If Andre Galvao and the Beastie Boys agree on something, you can take it to the bank. Drilling is good.

I noticed this tendency in myself when I learned berimbolo. I’m a flexible guy, and spinning underneath guys is really fun! There’s nothing wrong with that, in my view. Where it starts to go wrong is when you do that stuff to the exclusion of the core movements and techniques.

Here’s how I personally counteract that tendency in myself. I make lists of what I want to work on. In the mornings, I drill with a partner for an hour: we set a clock for three minutes, and each of us gets to drill whatever we want for those three minutes. Then we switch. So, for example, I would do three minutes of hip bumps on him/her; then he/she would choose a technique (say, a scissor sweep) and do three minutes of those on me.

Depending on how on time people are, that usually gives me time to drill between 8 and 10 techniques. I make a list of everything I want to work on, and I divide those techniques into categories.

Each 6 a.m. session, I try to do the following: 

2 Standing Self Defense Techniques
2 Basic Bread-and-Butter Ground Techniques on Bottom (from the Blue Belt Curriculum)
2 Basic Bread-and-Butter Ground Techniques on Top (from the Blue Belt Curriculum) 
1-2 Takedowns
2 New Techniques I Want To Incorporate (usually from seminars I just attended)

Our school emphasizes the self defense curriculum, so it’s important to get work in on those items. To give you an example, during a given session, I might drill these things:

Two-hand collar grab with hands apart
Two-hand collar grab with hands together

Arm bar from guard
Triangle from guard

Knee slide pass
Stack pass

Single leg

A guard pass Dave Camarillo taught at a seminar last week
A De La Riva sweep from MendesBros.com

This gives me a good mix of the basic and the new. It helps me ingrain the fundamental movements, but also makes sure I don’t forget the new stuff I just learned at a seminar by an amazing visiting instructor. It helps me work out the kinks in techniques I think I know, and figure out the core elements of techniques I know I don’t.

There are ways you can mix and match, too: for example, I might do 90 seconds of collar grab with hands together and then 90 seconds of collar grab with hands apart. It’s all a matter of comfort level and goals.

This is far from the only way to do it, of course. I’ve been lucky to be around a lot of incredible black belts and world-class competitors, and many of them have different training methods.

But they all believe in drilling, and that’s why I do too.