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.


Get That Funk Out Of Your Gi

It finally happened. I was That Guy.

One of my most beloved gis is my first Toro. It fits great, is comfortable, has just the right amount of wear so I look like neither a first-day guy nor a slob, and it has my team and affiliation patches on it. It was my regular competition gi for a long time, and some of my favorite tournament memories happened in that gi. I still train in it regularly.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when it finally got the funky gi smell. I know because one of my training partners informed me of this in the manner of De La Soul:

Granted, this dude has scent powers comparable to Daredevil or Willy the Nose from the McGurk Mysteries. Still, the lesson was clear. If I wanted to keep using this righteous gi, I had to be a considerate training partner.

I’m a pound-for-pound sweating champion, so I try super-hard to stay on top of the standard BJJ hygiene practices — deodorant, regular showers, nails clipped, teeth brushed, etc. — but my “body as a temple” attitude had to extend to my gi, too. So I returned to a tactic that I’d used for months but gotten away from after I ran out of it. I want to tell y’all about it.

This embarrassing incident caused me to go back to Odoban, which is a product you can get for $10 at various home improvement retailers. They use it in fire restoration, so you know it’s powerful. Throw a little bit of it into the load of laundry and your old gi comes out smelling fresh. I’d used it before (for similar reasons), but had slacked off until being duly chastised.


I am not sponsored by Odoban and have not received any compensation for this unsolicited endorsement, although if y’all want to ship a case to the Dirty White Belt Mansion in historic Durham, NC, I promise it’ll get used.

We all know who That Guy is. None of us want to be him. I was him for a session. Don’t let this happen to you!

5 Great Creative Gis

My name is Jeff, and I’m a gi addict. I make no apologies for this. The more gis I have clean and ready, the more opportunities I have to drill and roll — and because I train a lot and work a full-time job, reaching the bottom of the rotation happens a fair bit.

A good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gi is a functional piece of art. The function is most important, most would agree — the fit, the feel, the comfort and durability. If we’re honest, though, we have to admit that the art part matters as well. Clothing that looks good is more appealing than clothing that looks bad, whether you’re going to grip up on it or not.

I admire the way some designers are able to bridge the gap and make something that both looks good and works well. I thought I’d shout out five designs that I think are innovative without going too far afield, beautiful without being garish, and arty but still meeting the basic needs of the jiu-jiteiro.

Two caveats before I start: most of you know that I design gear for Toro BJJ, so I’m going to exempt Toro gis from consideration (even though I’m really stoked about the next Toro number, which we just got a sample of and will come out later this summer):

Coming soon to a fight shop near you.

Special preview! Coming soon to a fight shop near you. Get excited.

Second caveat: everyone has different taste. Some people rock tailored suits and some people opt for hoodies and flip-flops. I’m not a snob, and am a firm believer in letting people like what they like. My own tastes certainly influence this list. I hope and expect that people will post about great gis that I missed.

These gis I’ m about to list are all from different companies, were released at different times and have little in common other than I don’t own any of them (and, y’know, my birthday is in October). Friends of mine own each of these, though, so I got some insight into the quality of each release from them.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are five creative gis that I think are awesome.


5. “Furinkazan“, by Muae

It's bigger on the inside. Or at least better.

It’s bigger on the inside. Or at least better.

Printing directly on the inside of the gi is a bold innovation, and the image selection is terrific. It looks sharp at first, and on repeated washing, fades into a historical look. I’ve seen it on Ze Grapplez, and can testify that the art continues to pop long after the first time you roll in and wash it.

The decision to do this type of sublimated printing, coupled with the image choice, impressed me a lot when this gi came out. I still haven’t seen anything quite like it.


4. “The Wave,” by Scramble

Classic on the outside, a different kind of classic on the inside.

Classic on the outside, a different kind of classic on the inside.

If you want to talk about historically significant artwork, Hokusai’s “The Great Wave” has to be mentioned. This BBC podcast explains why: Hokusai’s magnum opus was really a metaphor for the changing  world, the fusion of culture that happened after Matthew Perry’s gunboat diplomacy forced Japan to open up to the West.

Plus, to this day “The Great Wave” is still visually striking. That’s why it was such an inspired choice for Scramble to modify the image for use on an internal rashguard. Not only does it look fantastic, like the original image, the Wave gi is a merge of the old (classic white gi) and the new (flashy gi with internal rashguard).


3. “The Heavenly Kimono,” by Meerkatsu



Your artwork doesn’t have to cover the entire inside of the kimono in order to make a statement. Witness this inaugural gi offering from prominent BJJ artist Seymour “Meerkatsu” Yang, whose offering is a worthy successor to his Heavenly Footlock and Heavenly Wristlock shirts.

Besides looking great, the thematic consistency between the differing types of apparel is really cool. (It’s also admirable how much of Yang’s work in this vein benefits charities).


2. “Wu-Tang Killa Bee Series,” by Enzo Kimonos



If you aren’t down with the Wu, I don’t even know what to tell you. Even if innovation in music isn’t your thing, the logo image is iconic, and placed on the front skirt of the gi like this adds the right amount of flash. It’s distinctive but not ostentatious. (Now, the interior of the gi, that’s a different story).

It’s also a cool idea to merge BJJ, a niche community with passionate devotees, with Wu-Tang, a defined subculture that has considerably more followers. As a proud nerd, I’m always interested in where unusual affinities collide (Doctor Who and jiu-jitsu, anyone)? Making this collision happen deserves some dap.


1. “The 47 Gi,” by Ronin

47 ... Ronin. I see what you did there.

47 … Ronin. I see what you did there.

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of John Smalls. I must confess I didn’t know he’d done the art for the 47 Gi by Ronin Brand until a friend bought it. Smalls illustrated 47 common techniques for the interior of this kimono, and the results are as nice as you’d expect.

One distinction I’d make between this kimono and the other interior-print gis I’ve listed: instead of one big art piece, this has smaller segments that serve a larger unified theme. That’s different, and different is cool.

There you have it: five gis that I think reflect thoughtful and creative design. A final note related to gi commerce: people at my gym are very fortunate, since we share space with Cageside Fight Shop. Not every school is lucky enough to have a local martial arts gear company nearby, and the good folks that work there are awesome about letting you try on a bunch of gis to see what fits you best.

Trying on a gi before you make the order is something I totally recommend. dangerous, in that it feeds the gi addiction, but also excellent, because there’s nothing worse than dropping $100+ on something you’re excited to train in only to find that it fits like rented suit. Support your local fight shop, folks.



Toro Gi Preliminary Sketches

Yesterday was my birthday. As a present to myself, I spent the evening pulling together some concepts for the new Toro BJJ gi. I’ve kicked around ideas with a trusted friend or two. Before I get too far down the road, I want to put some out for people to see and talk about.

Hence: I’d love to get feedback from you, whether in the comments or on Twitter, Instagram (where I’ve posted earlier drawings) or via email.

THE CONCEPT: The gi is going to be inspired by Okinawan art and culture. Okinawa is my favorite place on earth, a beautiful area with a rich history and the kindest people I’ve ever been around. As the birthplace of karate, it also has a rich martial arts history, so this seems like a natural fit. (There’s another piece that makes the fit perfect, as you’ll see below).

Names I’m considering for the gi include the Toro Uchina (the name for Okinawa in the indigenous language, uchinaaguchi), the Toro Ryukyuan (before it was colonized by Japan, Okinawa was known as the Ryukyu Kingdom), or the Toro Haisai (“hello” in the Okinawan language). Right now, I’m leaning toward the Toro Uchina, so let’s go with that for now.

To start with, I drew a ton of artistic elements. Although I want the final gi to be simple and uncluttered, I wanted to have a lot of different options to choose from.

Here are a couple of preliminary sketches I posted to Instagram of the gi’s proposed layout:

gi concept drawing Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 6.11.05 PM

I like the traditional look of a white gi, so that’s what we’re going with. It’s going to be a 450 gram pearl weave gi in the Toro style. That much is just about decided. But what art we use and how we situate that art is what we’re in the process of deciding.

Let me show you a few things, and tell you a little bit about what I’m thinking for each of them.

THE BACK EMBROIDERY PIECE: This is just a quick rendering for a back piece. It’s two bulls locking horns in Okinawan style bullfighting, with the kanji for TogyuOkinawan style bloodless bullfighting.

Okinawan bullfighting is like sumo in terms of both rules, moves, and that the grand champion is called a Yokozuna, so there’s a grappling connection. More importantly, there is a “Bull” connection. Obviously, Toro means “bull,” and is reference to both the bullfighter pass and the fact that Toro is based in Durham, North Carolina — the Bull City. All of this seemed to indicate what the main piece of art should be.
Here’s a preliminary rendering, without text:

We will  probably put the Toro slogan in the circle around the piece (“Live to Roll, Roll To Live”). We could also do something else specific for this gi, like the slogan in kanji or katakana.

[You might notice that the bulls locking horns forms a third bull’s-head shape as well. Could do something with that.]

I drew another bull design that was a little more abstract, but it wound up looking like Ferdinand. I’ll post it if anyone wants to see it.

THE COLORS: You might ask: why these colors? They are taken from the Kingdom of the Ryukyus’ flag, which will also have a place on the gi:


It’s also a cool flag, no? I love the iconography, so I plan on putting a treatment of the flag in at least one place on the gi, most likely the front of the skirt below the belt.

Two other notes about this: there will be grip tape around the skirt of the gi that draws on the red-and-black bottom part of the flag. I think this will give the gi a simple but elegant color scheme. And I plan on contrast stitching using the blue.

SHOULDER EMBROIDERY: All around Okinawa, you see guardian shi-sa dogs.  These lion-dogs are protectors of the home. Aside from being culturally significant, they’re visually very cool.

Traditionally one of the dogs has its mouth open and another has its mouth closed. I’d like to have one shi-sa on each shoulder, facing forward. I took a common design and tweaked it a little:

ShiSaopenmouth Shisamouthclosed

I was considering doing a full-bodied shi-sa doing a horizontal pose like you see here, but I like the faces. What do you think?

THE PANTS: I do want to keep the pants simple, and there are two possibilities I’m kicking around. I’d like to do a stylized map of the Ryukyu Islands and incorporate that into either:

* A rectangular Toro logo at the top right portion of the pants; or

* Just an outline of the islands that would be placed at the bottom right shin, so it would be distinctive but still IBJJF legal.

This would be similar position to the embroidered Toro logo on the company’s “Blue Steel” pants offering. Note also the contrast stitching on this model. I’d like for the Uchina to keep some consistency with the existing design of Toro, but also break out into a few new directions.

The island outline will probably be the next drawing I do and post for reaction.

FINALLY, I WILL PROBABLY NOT GET TO DO THIS, BUT: Sublimated printing on the interior of a gi is expensive to do. However, I really like what some companies have done in this vein. Putting art pieces on the inside of a gi keeps the gi looking clean and uncluttered outside, but provide art opportunities for inside. It’s like having a secret. Plus, you get to add fun elements without having the gi look too busy.

Examples of this include the Scramble Wave, which uses an internal rash guard, and the Muae Furinkazan, which just prints on the inside of the gi. I’d prefer to do something like Muae gi, for two reasons: I personally don’t have a lot of experience with internal rash guards, and the Muae print looks very cool as the color fades (check out the pictures in that link). I think either of my ideas would look good after fading as well.

My two ideas: either a growing banyan tree (found throughout Okinawa’s forests) or a coral reef scene (the Ryukyu Islands are some of the most biodiverse in the world, and contain more than 400 types of coral and all manner of fantastic aquatic species).

Again, this stuff is pretty expensive, so I probably won’t get to do it. Unless, you know, the people demand it. If you’d like to see what the banyan tree or reef scene would look like, I could draw and post those, too.

FINALLY: Other potential ideas for design elements included drawings of some Ryukyuan castles, which are beautiful and diverse in appearance; a stylized rendering of an Okinawan proverb about food being medicine for life, but applied (of course) to jiu-jitsu; and numerous cool indigenous animal species like the Okinawa dugong, Yanbaru kuina and Iriomote yamaneko. At this point, I haven’t found a place for any of these, and probably won’t, because I want to keep the design simple. But I wanted to mention them in case they spark any ideas. (I might try to work one into a re-design of the Toro embroidered patch on the jacket lapel)

Also, nothing is really set in stone. I really love thinking about this gi, and would love it if I could get some help from you. So let me know what you think, whether it’s in the comments, on Twitter, on Instagram or in person. Thanks for reading.

I Am Designing a Gi

Folks, I have great news. I get to design the next gi release from Toro BJJ!

This is something I’m very excited about. I’ve done a lot of writing in my life, but I’ve only focused on the visual arts over the past few years. New ground is always exciting. I’ve been having a blast thinking up concepts for this kimono.

Besides, I’m a huge fan of my Toro gis. I have both the “Blue Steel” and the “White Gold,” and they’re durable, comfortable and stylish. Toro is a relatively new brand, but one that already has some quality products. It’s gratifying to have the opportunity to explore what the next step for the Toro line looks like.

Here’s the upshot: I’m going to need your help!

I’m going to be posting concepts and drawings here and on my Facebook page. I’d love your feedback on what you like, what you don’t, what you think generally makes a great gi, and what specifically you’d like to see out of this one.

To get the party started, I’ll spill the tentative plan. The gi is going to be inspired by my favorite place in the world, a place I used to live: Okinawa. It’s a place with a rich martial arts history, of course, but also one with an incredibly rich culture, environment and history. You can’t capture all of that in a gi, so you have to make visual choices — which is where y’all come in.

I’ll keep you posted with the specific elements that may go into the gi. In the meantime, think about what makes a great gi! If you need some visuals of your own to guide your hand, Meerkatsu had a design-a-gi contest that has templates. But you could also just look at your own gis and figure out why you like the ones you like and hate the ones you hate.

I’m grateful to the Toro folks for giving me the chance to do this, and couldn’t be more enthusiastic about getting started. I’ve already started drawing: watch for some design ideas here soon.



The Mink Gi

Two quick facts: first, my gym shares a space with Cageside Fight Co. Second, I’m a huge gi nerd. I don’t buy many, but I covet a lot of them, especially the ones with innovative fabric.

(I buy most of my gear from Cageside — they don’t pay me to say this, but they have great products at great prices with terrific service. Plus, their Genesis gi is right up there with my Moya as my favorite kimono, and it’s much less expensive.)

Bamboo is one of the fabrics of the future. It grows quickly, so it’s sustainable, it’s super-soft (I have bamboo sheets) and it’s also durable. But only Lucky makes a bamboo gi at this point as far as I know. Since Boomer (Cageside’s owner) makes gis, I asked if he’d ever considered adding a gi made of bamboo to his line.

“I’ve considered making a gi out of mink,” he deadpanned. A droll wit, that Boomer.

Hence, I had to do this:

No animals were harmed in the making of this Photoshop.

Looking back at this one, there are definitely things I’d fix about this Photoshop — it’s one of the first ones I did when learning the program. But I still chuckle looking at it, and that counts for something.

For the record, I would totally buy a bamboo gi. I would jump all over a hemp gi. But no, I would not actually buy a mink gi.

At least one of my training partners would, though.


[Edit: And here’s a quick close up on the gi, which should give all you fake fur entrepreneurs out there some fashion concepts to work with.]