Basics of Grip Fighting on the Ground

You’d think grip fighting would rank at the top of the “grappling fundamentals” list. When you grapple with someone, you have to grab them, and if they’re wearing clothes, those clothes are an ideal target for said grabbing.

Yet when I started jiu-jitsu, I remember my knowledge of grips lagging behind. I don’t want this to happen to you, and so although I’m hardly an expert on grip fighting, I’m going to list some of the principles I wish I’d known all along.

Because grip-fighting is its own universe, we have to narrow it down: this post will focus on grip strategy for when you’re on your back in guard, although a lot of the principles apply everywhere else in a fight or grappling match. Let’s talk about two crucial overarching principles first.

Control Inside Space: We’re more powerful when our arms are pulled in close to our bodies. This makes it easier to push and pull an opponent, harder for them to push and pull us, and creates a barrier to them striking us. This is why pummeling is so important in nogi situations and MMA — and the principle holds true when wearing the gi as well.

For a simple example, from your closed guard, try grabbing the outside of your opponent’s sleeves. Not only would your opponent be able to punch you pretty easily, you’re less able to control their arm movements. Now, pummel inside and put your hands on their biceps. The situation changes. I’m not suggesting the hand-on-bicep play as a preferred position: just trying to illustrate that if your opponent’s grip-fighting has allowed them to successfully control inside space, you need to address that.

Deny Their Grips First: An ounce of prevention is worth a 16 ounce can of whoop ass. I think Confucius said that, or Stone Cold Steve Austin. Whichever. If your opponent can’t effectively grab you, they can’t effectively grapple you.

Judo players are some of the best at this. I’ve watched Olympian and world champion Jimmy Pedro’s Grip Like a World Champion DVD several times, and I still feel like an high school student auditing a Ph.D class when I do. Pedro illustrates both of these principles in this short spot:

This second principle might seem self-explanatory, but its importance can’t be overstated. If they don’t get the grips they want, their game never gets going. As Jimmy Pedro says in the video, the more skilled person is always going to win given equal mastery of grips. But if you get into a situation where your grip is much more advantageous, you can win exchanges with opponents who are more skilled than you are. That’s powerful.

If we initiate our ideal grips, we can do double-duty: if I control the sleeve well, getting a deep grip and putting my knuckles on the back of my partner’s wrist, I can both get good control and prevent my partner from re-gripping.

Now let’s get into what grips you want. The attacks you prefer inform the grips you want, and vice versa. Let’s talk first about what we can do with grips when we’re in the guard.

Note: there are endless possibilities (and you’re welcome to share your favorites in the comments), but these are some solid fundamental grip options to begin playing with.

When We’re In Closed Guard, or They Pass From the Knees

Collar and sleeve: We reach for the cross-collar grip (deeper the better) with one hand. For example, my right hand would reach deep in my opponent’s right-side lapel. Then, my free (left) hand grips my partner’s same/mirror side, in this case his right hand.

This allows us some control of our opponent’s posture, since we can use the collar grip to prevent them from posturing up, and accesses powerful fundamental attacks like the cross-collar choke and the scissor sweep. Because we have control of one sleeve, our opponent can’t post that way, and so if we off-balance them in that direction, they risk losing top position.

Cross-grip on the sleeve: This powerful grip is the counter-point to the mirror grip. If I can grab my opponent’s right sleeve with my right hand, for example, I can turn that opponent’s body at angle that allows me to expose their back. If we get a good grip here, we can put constant pressure of a back attack on our opponent — which also sets up fundamental sweep options like the pendulum sweep, taking us to mount instead of the back.

I will often set up the cross-grip off of a grip break. Check out the Vicente Junior video  below for good grip break tips.

When They Stand To Pass Our Open Guard

If they’ve opened our guard and stood up, they have more mobility — but they also have a less stable base.

The answer to problems in jiujitsu is usually “move your hips,” so don’t think getting grips alone is going to save you here: you’ve got to engage your legs and hips and move. But a couple of basic grip configurations will help you get started.

Personally, I don’t do a lot of grabbing the collar when my opponent stands. Lots of people who are better than me do this, though, so don’t think it’s wrong if you wind up liking it! I just find that the collar grip is easier to break when people are standing, so since I have weak grips, I am more likely to grab a grip that’s tougher to break — like the belt. We’re not going to talk about belt grips here, but I use that as an example.

Two options that are good to start with, and also serve as jumping-off points for the more advanced open guards:

Sleeve and the heel/cuff of one pant leg: If I get a sleeve — mirror side or cross-side — this sets up fundamental attacks like my favorite sweep, the tripod sweep. I like to grab the heel of one leg, because it diminishes their mobility, and also because it allows me to play De La Riva guard. Even if you don’t do De La Riva guard, though, controlling their leg and stepping on their hip diminishes their mobility and allows you some control/attack options.

Double sleeve grips: Michael Langhi is magic with these. I like controlling sleeves because when we control sleeves, we control posts — where our partner can place their hands. If they can’t post a hand, there’s a good chance we can roll them over that direction and get on top.

Just like sleeve/heel grips are good entry points to De La Riva guard, the double sleeve grips are solid entries to the world of spider guard. When we have the sleeves, it’s a short jump to step on biceps.


But what if they get their grips before we get the chance to get ours? If they do get the grips they want, you can break their grips, of course. The great Vicente Junior, along with his black belt Lance Trippett, show some good drills for doing that:

Another option can be to re-grip, which Jason Scully shows from the top guard position here:

The more I learn about grips, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Grip fighting is a vast thing, and you won’t ever learn all you need to understand.

This post is intended to provide a framework for you to explore and to go down whatever rabbit hole of grip resources you choose — like any of the videos linked here. Check out this Reddit thread for more tips.


How to Prepare for your first IBJJF tournament

For one brief, shining, day, I was a Cub Scout. There are pictures. As it turned out, there were elements about it that I couldn’t abide (conformity) even though, paradoxically, I really liked the uniforms. Yeah, yeah, I’m a paradox.

The one shining lesson from scouting that has always stuck with me from those glorious few hours is simple: be prepared. With the IBJJF’s first trip to North Carolina coming up in a mere 10 days, I know that many Triangle Jiu-Jitsu students are competing with the federation for the first time. Others, presumably, are in the same boat. Hence, a quick post designed to help you not be nervous, not be flustered, not be scared, but to be … well, you know.

Much of this advice applies to any tournament, and I encourage you to check out my Getting Ready For Tournaments 101 post as well. There are particular aspects to IBJJF competition, though, that merit some attention. So even though we’re fewer than two weeks out, let’s start there and proceed.


Make sure you know the rules and scoring system, especially the legal submissions for your belt level. Note: the IBJJF has different rules than US Grappling or NAGA, so while there are overarching similarities, don’t go for that wristlock unless you know it’s legal.

Train hard. Work your cardio. Focus on the moves that you know are your best moves, that you’re most likely to need and use in the tournament. I’m a huge believer in high-rep drilling, so when the time comes, your body legitimately doesn’t know how to do the move any way but the right way. I do a drill called “Perfect Match” where I drill every move on my partner in order, as if the match went perfectly. Then I change my drilling based on circumstances that might occur (I end up on bottom, he gives me his back, etc.). But I drill my best 1-3 moves for each common position. This isn’t the time to learn new tricks, but to sharpen the tools you have.

Eat clean. Drink tons of water. Cut out alcohol, sugar and junk foods, especially if you’re close to weight.

This post isn’t about cutting weight — that could be an entire series — so I will only say two things about that. I don’t recommend cutting much, if any weight. I think you should compete at your natural weight, with you healthy. That means fueling your body with healthy food and lots of water. If you’re close to a particular weight class, though, and want to drop a few pounds, the single most effective method I’ve found is eliminating any beverages from your diet except for water and green tea. Drink a ton of water — I drink 1.5 to 2 gallons a day — until a few days before the tournament. This way you’ll be nice and hydrated, you won’t eat junk calories, and you can shed a few pounds easily without compromising anything.


Keep eating clean. You’re eating for performance. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth taking seriously.


A week out, it’s time to taper down your training. Some schools, including Robert Drysdale’s, have suggested competitors not train the week before the competition — that way, you’re hungry and excited and your body has recovered from the hard work it’s done. I don’t go that far, but I do mostly drilling and only roll light rounds, and then only with people I know and completely trust. This is another lesson I’ve learned the hard way: Don’t roll with that guy who sometimes goes too hard. Don’t roll with the guy you don’t know. You’ve put in time, effort, financial resources — don’t let an ill-advised sparring session jack you up 2 days before.

Personally, I drill light on Thursday, run through my perfect match, and then do nothing on Friday. If I’m close to weight, I’ll do yoga. (Hot yoga will take water out of you fast, but it might also deplete you if you’re not used to it.)

If you’re worried about weight, cut down on salt intake a few days before, and water intake 24 hours before. Note: be careful of ibuprofen. I’ve learned that hard way (after gaining four pounds overnight) that it’ll make you retain water. Otherwise, eat wisely, don’t over-exert yourself, and don’t take unnecessary risks.



* a bag of healthy food (fruit, nuts, protein bars) and water
* your ID
* at least one complete spare gi
* music or a book to get lost in if you like

Get to the tournament as early as you can. This isn’t because you’ll need to be there all day (although you’ll probably want to watch your teammates, too): it’s because you want to be familiar with the environment, acclimate yourself to the surroundings, and just get relaxed and comfortable. There will be many mats going, and it can be overwhelming. Give yourself time to get used to it.

Well before your division is called, if you’re close to the weight limit, go to the bullpen — an area blocked off with yellow barriers — there is a practice scale there. You can check your weight. Be sure to do so in your competition gi, so you can be assured of an accurate reading. This will give you an idea of how much food or water you can consume beforehand. If you’re thirsty, your teammates can get you water after you weigh in. More on that in a second.

The schedule will have a rough estimate of when your division will be called. Plan to be in the area an hour before, just to be sure: schedules change. When your division is called, you’ll go to the bullpen. Bring your ID with you.

When it’s time, the mat coordinator will call your name and check you in. Shortly after that, you’ll go to the line to have your gi checked. A worker will make sure your gi meets the IBJJF legal requirements for length and for patches. This is why you need a spare gi: they might disqualify your gi, or your belt, or make you tear patches off. This probably won’t happen, but it’s best to be prepared.

After they approve your gi, you’ll go to the scale. You only get one chance to weigh in, so be sure you’re on weight before you step on that scale.

Assuming you’re on weight, they’ll take you right to the mat that you’re going to compete on. Your coaches and teammates can join you there — and hand you water if you’re thirsty or get dry mouth.

From there, you’ll win your first match. You’ll get a break before you have to compete again. After that, if you have a second match, you’ll win that one too. This continues until you win your gold medal match, and decide to compete in Absolute (you have to medal to qualify for Absolute). Then you win Absolute too.

At least, that’s what I hope for you. Now go forth and have fun out there.

How To Start Your Podcast

Many of you know about the radio show and podcast I do with Trevor Hayes, the Cageside ConcussionCast. It’s a blast doing the show (although it’s a lot of work — more on that later).

Lately, a few people have asked me for advice about how to start their own podcasts. I wanted to put some solid podcast resources in one place for those folks, and also talk a little about my own experience podcasting. If you’re interested in doing one, my experience might help you — although frankly, how I’ve done it is a little atypical.


The first question you should ask yourself is: why do you want to do this? If you’re looking to make something cool to amuse yourself and friends, that’s a great reason. If you’re looking to learn new skills, or maybe to fill a niche that isn’t currently being filled, those are also excellent reasons.

If you are looking to make a career out of it, I won’t say “that is not a great reason,” but I will simply wish you luck. This isn’t me trying to discourage: I just think that, much like jiujitsu, podcasting is a journey that you should enjoy whether or not it ever translates into money dollars for you.
You do get the side benefit of being a VIP. And take a good look at that recording kit: we talk about it below.

You do get the side benefit of being a VIP. And take a good look at that recording kit: we talk about it below.

Alex Kapelman is a successful podcaster . He wrote this good primer on podcasting for AIR,the Association of Independents in Radio, which gives similar advice (He also likes the word “dope,” and so do I).

There are a lot of  different ways to make a podcast, from pure interview shows to storytelling shows with extensive editing. If you don’t have a lot of audio editing experience, maybe that informs which type of show you’d like to do.

Before you record your first show, plan out your first six shows. Will you have interviews? Who will they be? Will you have segments? Will these segments be occasional, or will they recur? Think of these first six shows as a season, and have some idea of your first season before you begin. In fact, plan out eight shows, because at least two ideas are going to fall through.

I’ll acknowledge that our show is changing and evolving all the time, despite having done it for (wow) more than six months now. This is my last piece of overarching advice: relax and don’t worry if these plans you’ve made don’t work out. You can change them. You’re doing this for fun and to learn, right?


Once you’ve decided that you’re going to do this, please also decide to do your research on technique, gear and storytelling. Transom has amazing training resources and gear reviews/recommendations. I love their Good, Better, Best series, which will help you decide on what gear you need to buy.  NPR’s free training site is also excellent.

It is easier and cheaper now than ever to create a show. You can get started for exactly zero dollars and make a show that sounds adequate-ish. You can also spend a few hundred dollars and dramatically improve the sound, but my advice is to do a few shows to be sure this is something you’re going to enjoy before you break out the credit card.

This is where my experience is unusual: Trevor and I began doing the show when local radio station WHUP opened. Come in and use our equipment, they said, and we’ll automatically upload your live radio show as a podcast. I kind of lucked into an easy situation where I got to work in a professional studio with excellent facilities and equipment, and didn’t have to learn any of the technical details.

Not going to lie: having top-quality pro equipment is really nice.

Not going to lie: having top-quality pro equipment is really nice.

This was great, because I didn’t have any initial capital investment and I didn’t have to learn much. The fact that we generally record the show live is also my excuse for every time anything goes wrong, and I love excuses.

But then, I travel a lot for work and jiu-jitsu, and I noticed that when I had to pre-record the show on my computer, it suddenly sounded way worse. Listeners were (and I was) used to the higher-quality sound, so the difference was pronounced — and I didn’t like that.

To be clear: when you first start out, I think it’s best just to use your basic computer or headphones mic at first, while you’re figuring out what level of commitment to this you’re going to have to the project. But having a good mic really improves the sound, and as my travel commitments increased, I just had to figure out how to make it sound less like shouting through a tin can.

After consulting with friends and reviewing the Good, Better, Best series, I decided to invest in a mid-level set-up. For recording live interviews, I use a H1 Zoom digital recorder (small! Cheap!) and plug a nice shotgun mic into it. This maximizes portability while minimizing expense, and gets quite good tape quality.

Me interviewing Charlie Brake and his awesome dog Crowley with the remote kit, while Trevor exudes radiance.

Me interviewing Charlie Brake and his awesome dog Crowley with the remote kit, while Trevor exudes radiance.

There are several terrific mic brands: I use an Audio Technica AT 8035 shotgun mic, which is very reliable, and you can find for $250. It’s better than the Nady and even a step above the Rhode, which is another nice sounding mic. I went fairly high-end and still managed to outfit myself for less than $400.

Also, my brilliant radio friend Bec Feldhaus-Adams once told me this about investing in gear: “Cry once when you buy it, and never cry again. Rather than being happy with a cheap mic and then crying continuously when you get crap tape. Cry once, my friend!”

Also, think about your recording environment: you want to minimize extraneous noise. There are many hilarious ways to do this, and here is mine:
Semipro tip: I often record under my blanket to minimize ambient sound. Actual pros will unplug their appliances.

Semipro tip: I often record under my blanket to minimize ambient sound. Actual pros will unplug their appliances.

What if you and the interview subject aren’t in the same place? Though it’s sub-optimal, I usually have the other person call me on Skype or Google Hangout. I open an Audacity file and just record straight to the hard drive. For shorter interviews, try this valuable trick. Simple and elegant and perfect, like a hip bump.


We talked a bit about recording technique: here are some notes on editing.

As I alluded to above, I like to use Audacity (free) and upload the files I create to Soundcloud (free, unless you produce a lot of material: I have Soundcloud Pro, which is $125 a year for unlimited uploads). Soundcloud creates an RSS feed for you automatically, which you can use to submit your show to iTunes and Stitcher if that’s something you’re interested in.

For editing purposes, I suggest you learn the basics: how to edit out profanity (coughFRANKIEPATCHEScough) and how to mix segments together. This is simple and straightforward.

From there, even a free program like Audacity has a host of filters, bells, whistles, foofaddles, and dingdoggies. You can sped a lot of time learning audio editing, and it’s time-consuming to do it well. I generally spend about 3 hours editing a remote podcast. Consider the additional hour (at least) of recording, and that’s a lot — especially considering I work full-time and try to train full-time, too.

Speaking of training, I just edited a bunch of audio on the train back from NYC. Good times.

Speaking of training, I just edited a bunch of audio on the train back from NYC. Good times.

While that editing process is actually fun for me, if you like ease of use and efficiency, Auphonic is a godsend. Finish recording, upload the file, they equalize the levels for you. There’s a considerable amount of free upload hours, and I’ve never had to pay — although the service is worth it, and if I ever exceed the free file size limits, I’ll pay happily.

Once you have a file that sounds good, upload it to Soundcloud, and bam — you have birthed a podcast. You’ve done the hard work, so now enjoy the fun part: going to a public library and setting every computer to play your podcast to boost the spins count.

Kidding: that’s why you get an intern.

There are roughly 1.21 million other tasks you can occupy yourself with (Logos! Promotion! Social Media!), and if there’s enough interest, I’ll do another post on that. For now, go forth and make great radio.