Last weekend we hosted a seminar with Seph Smith at the gym. Seph was Ryan Hall's first black belt, and is also the guy who is the demo dummy in all of his videos. He's been on the podium at IBJJF tournaments, and is a NAGA superfight champion too, so he's a legit competitor in his own right, so it must get kind of frustrating for him to be known as "Ryan Hall's demo dummy", but he certainly didn't show it even though throughout the seminar people kept taking the conversation back to that subject.
Seph knows how to party. Some of the lads took him out for pizza and karaoke the night before. I couldn't go out for that part, so the lads decided it would be funny to message me in the middle of the night to say that they had "lost Seph". If nothing else, that meant we were all a little tired on the day. The seminar was quieter than I'd hoped, but that meant we all got some one on one attention.
Still, Seph hosted a great seminar. We covered some half-guard stuff, and some reverse De La Riva. I picked up some useful drills for retaining half-guard, and got another reminder to keep my elbow on the inside (I have a bad habit of putting it on the outside, which is a weaker frame). We did a nice back take from an attempt at an over-under pass, and a rolling back take, as well as a sweep from deep half.
It's the Details that Matter
It's the details that made the seminar. One thing I learned about the back take was that it's important to control your opponents leg, and to keep your ankle in the crook of their knee. If they can switch so their ankle is in YOUR knee, they can reverse the back take.
The reverse De La Riva section of the seminar covered a sweep and a single leg. Again, the details helped a lot. I've always struggled with sweeps from RDLR, but something Seph said about loading the person's weight up on top of you really helped to make it easier to get the ofter the shoulder sweep. Instead of feeling like I'm pulling on a dead weight, the sweep just worked.
With the technical stand up to single leg, I've always known that you have to stretch the person out to make their rear leg weightless, but again, hearing the stand up explained as "you come back, then go forward" was a massive help.
1000% Harder to Arm Triangle
I'm hard to head and arm triangle so people at the gym asked for some tips. Seph showed everyone how to finish the head and arm triangle. Two of the guys at the seminar have managed to pull it off in sparring now. The half-guard framing works really well for avoiding getting put into a head and arm triangle in the first place, however, so everyone got something out of it.
Train Techniques as Systems
We have a brown belt competitor, J, that trains with us who teaches techniques in a chain - so he'll do "ankle pick to knee slice pass to knee on belly, then choke". Seph likes to do things in a similar way. He says "drill techniques as a system". If you just drill a takedown, or just drill a pass, then you're going to be too slow. You won't be able to stay ahead of your opponent. If you drill, say, the back take from an attempted over-under pass, then go straight into a rolling back take from that, assuming that your opponent will attempt to sit back to guard as you go for the back, then you're going to be fast when you do it in sparring. It makes a lot of sense, and it's something that I'm trying to incorporate in my drilling now.
Are Seminars Worth It?
I'm a cynic when it comes to seminars. I don't skip regular classes to go to them. I think they're a lot of money (even this one was £30, and that's quite affordable compared to some of the higher ranked black belts) and I think that they're quite risky. There's usually a lot of people on the mats, so you never know if you're going to really get much time with the instructor, or whether what they'll show is applicable to your game. Of course, if you love guillotines it makes sense to go to a Raspberry Ape guillotine seminar, but not all seminars have a clear, advertised theme.
If the seminar isn't at your gym, you never know who you'll get as a partner either. I got really lucky and got paired with my instructor for the first half, and with a long-standing blue belt for the second half. That blue belt is a lot bigger than me, but he's a really good partner, so I was exhausted by the end of it but at least I got to do all the techniques. I know people who have travelled to go to a seminar and got "clumsy guy with a stinky gi" and not really had a chance to learn anything.
Overall, I think that if you've got the money to do seminars, then they're worth it as a meet and greet for famous black belts and high level competitors, and you have a good chance of picking up some wisdom along the way. If you're lucky enough to train at a gym that hosts them regularly, then you have a better chance of having a good experience.
If you don't have a lot of money, then it's a tougher decision. I like to spend my funds on competing, and to just hit every regular class. Some people may prefer to meet as many high level practitioners as possible in seminars but compete less often. Some people may be in a position where they can afford to do both - or neither, and just do classes. It's all good. After all, it's all jiu jitsu.