Skip to content

The IBJJF London Open would have been today. I’m still pretty devastated about not being able to do it. One of my team mates went, and he had a good day. He should have been in a round robin, but one of his opponents pulled out (Rayron Gracie, whose mother was attacked a few days ago, so it’s completely understandable that he wouldn’t have wanted to travel to the UK to compete) but he still had one other opponent, and he won that match to take Gold. As I’m writing this he’s waiting to do the absolutes.

I wish I could have been there, but I suppose it’s good that I wasn’t competing, because I’m working Scottish Grappling tomorrow. I’m on the train to go there now, and I am pretty tired as it is! I’m still looking for my next target, though, and one of my other team mates reminded me that the UAEJJF does a few tournaments in the UK now, and that I should probably keep an eye on those.

It turns out I’d have a division at UAEJJF on the March 10, so I think I might try and do that. I’ve been in lazy mode for the last few weeks, fooling around in the gym and not really eating sensibly, so it’s important that I get back on track.

Doubly so because one of the guys at the gym is doing a Sports Science degree and wants to track the effects of weight cutting on performance athletes. He needs several people at different weights, and was hoping that I’d be up for being the ‘light person’. I don’t normally need to manipulate my weight to be on point to compete, but he’s asked me if I could try and maintain a loss of 500g a week for a few weeks just ‘for science’.

I’m curious, and I’ll get to have some fancy lab tests done if I agree, so of course I’ve said yes!

I’m going to start tracking my weight this week. I’ve downloaded Libra for my phone, which is a weight tracking scale that helps you track trends rather than freaking out because your weight fluctuates with water retention, hormones, etc. Libra – Weight Manager is a free tool, and it’s really easy to use. I’ll be weighing myself every day, and on Tuesday I’ll start a 500 calorie deficit (I can’t start Sun/Mon because I’m away from home and have no idea what foods will be offered at catering at the tournament or at the SSE course on Monday).

I suspect that following a calorie deficit will impair my performance so I’m going to try to meal plan a little bit. Lots of protein and lots of vegetables. Oats, limited fruits, and cutting down on bread. I give it two weeks and I’ll be screaming for pizza! I will, of course, post any results I’m allowed to share on here.

Artemis BJJ are hosting a 24 hour Grapplethon at their gym in Bristol. The event is in aid of Womankind Bristol, a women's therapy center.

I'm not from the area myself so I very much doubt that I'll be able to make it, but if anyone reading this is based in or near Bristol, check out the grapplethon page for more information. It's a great cause!

Speedy and Ritu organised a seminar recently with Dan Strauss, AKA the Raspberry Ape. The seminar was focused on Guillotines. He's been very busy this year touring the country and has done dozens of seminars on the guillotine choke.

The seminar was three hours long, and very detailed. It was hosted at Universal Martial Arts, which is in a large industrial unit, and it was cold! It's a tough building to heat at any time of the year but considering it was miserable outside it wasn't fun waiting for the seminar to start!

Dan Strauss says that he never does warmups at his seminars. In fact, he asked someone else to lead a warmup this time around so that we could at least get enough blood flowing to be able to think. Sadly, that didn't really work out, and we all ended up feeling rather cold again as soon as we stopped moving.

It didn't help that the seminar was incredibly detailed. We started off by drilling cupping the chin and the back of the head, and just doing that over and over, until we were able to cup both at the same time. Then we moved on to 'roll the shoulder' to make sure you can't see the nape of their neck... that's how you know that the guillotine is tight. Then we focused on 'pulling' the person's head down instead of just lying back and losing the head as we went for the guillotine.

Once we practiced getting the guillotine from different positions, we moved on to the 'thrust guillotine', which involves supporting the choking hand with your other hand and 'stabbing' up into the neck. The idea is that even if the other person tries to pass your guard to free themselves, they'll just push their own weight down onto the thrusting hand and choke themselves. By trying to escape, they're making it worse!

Dan Strauss is quick to emphasize that the guillotine is not a strength move. Which sounds funny coming from a guy who is pretty darn big:

He's got an interesting philosophy about chokes, though. He reckons that chokes, if you get the technique right, are easy to finish. Lock the choke in properly with not too much effort, and it might feel bad for the other person. Start slowly adding pressure, and even if they aren't ready to tap yet, they're going to get worried... "how much worse could this get?" The more pressure you add, the worse it gets for them.

The reason a lot of people don't tap in competition is that people squeeze with all their might for a second or two, then relax, and the person in the choke thinks "Well, I survived last time, I can gut this out." The next time you squeeze, it won't be as tight, and then the next time it will be even less tight as your arms slowly burn out. It's better to just not give away how much power you have, then they're more likely to tap!

I don't use the guillotine much myself, but I did enjoy the seminar and I'm definitely going to play around with this stuff in the gym.

Marc Walder is my coach's coach's coach. He is based in Essex and we don't get to see him often at all. In fact, the last time he came to Newcastle was in 2013 to give Ian (my coach) his black belt.

This time, he came to teach some self-defense techniques, and also to promote Tyrone Elliott, Speedy's son, who has been training BJJ since he was tiny. It was a well-attended seminar with people from all of the Origins in the north turning up for it.

Marc Walder is really big on self defense, so he focused on some basics - escapes from grabs, a self defense armbar technique from someone pushing/shoving you, and a way to stop people from picking you up. He also did some side-control techniques to stop people from being able to hold your head and secure the crossface. It was simple stuff, but incredibly effective.

After that he shared some of his thoughts about self defense, and about competition. I'm a very competitive person so I found some of what he said was a bit alien, but it was an interesting perspective.

I run into Marc Walder from time to time when I'm competing in the south and he's always been very friendly and helpful. It was great to finally get to learn from him. Hopefully it won't be four years for the next visit!

This weekend we hosted the UKBJJA referee's course. This marks the third time that I've done the course. The first time I traveled up to Glasgow, where it was hosted at The Griphouse, and run by Dewi Coles.

The second time, Dewi came to us, and we hosted a course in Arch 3 King Edward Bridge. We had trouble getting the numbers for that course, which is a shame considering that it's a great course for both competitors and wannabe referees, but it was a great course all the same. Dewi does a good job of making it interactive and keeping it interesting. That's quite impressive when you consider that the IBJJF rules manual is longwinded, and not particularly interesting.

This time, we hosted the course at Arch 5 Westgate Road. We attracted some more attendees from other local gyms, and ran through a quick version of the course with Marcelo Coppa. His way of delivering the course was less interactive, and he "taught to the test", which is something I have mixed feelings about. The test is mostly multiple choice and filling out tables, so it's a good way to ensure a high pass rate, but people were getting bored sitting through three hours of talking about jiu jitsu. Live examples keep it fun.

Marcelo definitely knows his stuff, and he was able to confidently answer some tricky questions, which is good. I came away having learned a few things (e.g. about getting flattened out on your back in half-guard being worthy of an advantage). One of the guys I train with attended the course, after having done a class... during Ramadan. He's strict about Ramadan too and doesn't even touch water during the day, so his brain must have been fried!

I passed the test my first time and haven't been resitting because I don't intend to ref. I still enjoy getting updates on the rules and it's nice to see people from other gyms too. The plan is to host one of these courses every year, to try to build up a stable of qualified referees, although so far almost everyone who has attended the courses has been an 'interested competitor' rather than someone who wants to work tournaments as a ref!

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.

New guys often ask me how often they should be training, and whether it's worth training if you can't come in several times a week. That's one of those tricky questions that doesn't have a set answer - because it really depends on your goals.

I train with one person who averages three sessions a month. They have stuck to that training schedule for the last five years, though. They are still a white belt, and they're plugging away slowly - but they haven't quit. They're still coming in, they're having fun, and they feel like they're learning, which is what really matters.

I train with other people who do 2-3 sessions a week, and some who, like me, train daily. I also train with a guy who just got his black belt. He trained daily from white through to purple, then had "life" happen to him, so he was making it in once or twice a month if that. But, he kept showing up when he could. It didn't help him progress at BJJ, it didn't help him keep his timing much - BUT, it meant that when he was ready to come back, he felt like he'd never left. He didn't show up to a new venue and a room full of people that he barely knew, and have to re-integrate himself into the gym.

How Often Should You Be Trying to Train?

If you're brand new, then it's a good idea to set reasonable targets. If you go "I am going to train as much as I can" then you're going to end up coming 4-5 times a week for a few weeks, burning out and getting injured. Ideally, you should try to train consistently, whatever "consistent" is for you.

  • Once a week will give you slow progress. You will find it hard to remember things from class to class and building muscle memory will be slow going, but it is still worth doing. Pay close attention and make the most of your mat time!
  • Twice a week will let you progress twice as fast as you would if you were attending once a week. You'll retain more information, and you'll build up some muscle memory pretty quickly. Many people maintain a schedule of twice a week long term, and steadily get through the belts.
  • Three times a week seems to be the sweet spot for rapid progress, but still having a life outside BJJ. It lets people heal between sessions, it offers rapid progress, and it is the schedule that a lot of local/casual competitors stick to.
  • Four times a week is a serious commitment, and it's what some of the more serious competitors do. You will progress very quickly, but you will have to start taking nutrition and rehab/prehab seriously. Your significant other/boss/non-training friends might start getting annoyed with you.
  • More than four times a week means that you're in diminishing returns territory. It's worth it if you love it, but think carefully about the sacrifices you're making to train that much. If you're training for a competition then you might want to up your schedule to as much as you can handle for a month or two in the run up to the competition - call it a "training camp", but training like that without goals in mind could lead to burnout.

Multiple Sessions Per Day

The most serious competitors train 2x a day, or more. If you're going to do that, then you need to drink lots of water, sleep lots, and have your nutrition on point - otherwise you will get injured. It's hard to "spar hard" twice in one day, so pick your training partners carefully, and maybe make one session light drilling and the other sparring.

Coping When You Can't Train

The challenge for many people is accepting when they can't train. If you were a 2-a-day, 5x a week person and now your schedule is down to 2-a-week, then you're going to see your peers catch you up or pass you buy. That can be frustrating.

As cliche as it might sound, you should be focusing on your own journey. The fact that Joe got a darker belt doesn't mean that your skills are diminished. Pete's achievements, or lack of them, don't take away from you. Indeed, if they're getting better that just means you have better partners to come back to once you can train more. Focus on your priorities. If BJJ is a priority for you, then find a way to arrange your life so you can train - even if, in the short term, that means making something else a priority for a while.  If BJJ is no longer a priority for you, then why do you (hypothetically) care about someone else's progress enough to get frustrated about it?

A random training pic with - where did these guys all go?In the time I've been training, I've seen so many people start and quit. Indeed, this photo from 2015 features a lot of missing people. I know one guy in the picture went and opened his own gym, one left town to go to University, one went back to his home country, and another is away teaching English as a Second Language abroad, but I don't know if they still train. I have no idea  about the others. Did they get promoted elsewhere? Did they change arts? Who knows. Most people don't make it to blue belt, and the vast majority of people who make it to blue don't make it to purple. All that matters really is that you keep training. Even if it's not as often as you used to, you're still making progress.

Be patient. Train hard, tap early, and have fun.

I competed a lot when I was a white belt, but not long after getting my blue belt I got injured, and had to take a year out of competition. The following year I competed just once, and then the year after that I managed a decent run of competitions but my performance wasn't what I wanted it to be.

The gym I train at and help to run has had to move several times over the last few years and it's been stressful finding new places and taking care of mountains of paperwork. I'm hoping that this will be the year that I can truly get stuck in to training with competing in mind. Instead of just showing up and going through the motions.

I'm looking at doing ten competitions this year, including going abroad for one. My first one will be in April, which should, in theory, give me time to get in decent shape. I fully expect to do terribly, because I always get anxiety in my first competition back; but it will be worth it to be on the other side of the table for a change.

If you're competing, I hope your training goes well and you smash it on the day.

I'm a BJJ Blue Belt training at Origin BJJ Newcastle, under Ian Malone. I've been training (consistently) since September 2013 and I compete as often as I'm able to. I've tried several times to start a BJJ blog, but I've never been happy with the domain name, and not had much to blog about. I was inspired to register this domain name by a Reddit poster who said that blue belt is the 'unnecessary turtling' phase, because you start playing with open guard and then end up having to turtle a lot because you keep getting your guard almost passed.

That holds true for me, and I like the domain name, so here goes!

I'll be blogging about my competition plans, general BJJ tips, training and lifestyle stuff. The usual. Hopefully it'll be of some use to people who are just getting started in BJJ or who are looking for a bit of motivation.