Recently, FTW was in Charlotte, NC. Since that’s HQ for my school we had a ton of guys on the card that night. I was going to make a post on the FB members page for our school but I thought many of these lessons might be more broadly applicable. It was a pleasure to be there and once again our small school caused some big waves. A few consistent ideas seemed evident to me from coaching and filming nearly 20 people I roll with regularly that night:
If you can, keep it standing. So much of modern jiu jitsu is agreed upon interactions. One guy pulls guard, another steps in. It’s important to work your stand up game. You don’t need to be awesome at takedowns. It take serious explosiveness and years of reps to be good at takedowns, but it takes exponentially less time to be good at defending them. Remember your three defenses – hands, hips, and head. Keep distance and hand fight, don’t accept tying up. Learn the movement of a nogi uchi mata, it’s unorthdox and resets a scramble into the possibility of a headlock well. If you get taken down briefly, don’t accept it. Tripod up, control the hands and Granby or GTFO. I’ve seen plenty of high level wrestlers be blown away by jiu jitsu standing defense. Finally, if you are going to do takedowns, make sure the propensity to get subbed on the way down is low. Think knee taps, duck unders/throw bys, ankle picks, double legs with your head in the middle. And as always, arm drags.
It’s happening again, we see it all the time, particularly in our sport. Guys filling up giant trashcans and filling them with bags of ice. They swear by it. And who can blame them? Every guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast does too. You can’t blame them either. At the elite level of any sport everyone is doing everything they can do maximize their recovery. But let’s not forget about Michael Phelps’ imprints of concentric circles at the last olympics where he had been “cupping” before his events (as was the fad for entire swim team).
But in a world where the worlds strongest men and the best big wave surfers insist on immersing yourselves in ice cold water to maximize sport recovery, what does the actual science have to say?
From Sun Tzu to George Washington, quotes on military and fighting tactics often exemplify the old adage that “the best defense is a good offense.” The meaning behind this quote has been used to justify the premise that overly aggressive tactics and constant attack is the most effective form of engaging in all forms of battle. This can be applied to war strategy such as in preemptive attack or at the individual level to justify a primarily offensive strategy.
The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. – Sun Tzu
In man-to-man combat though (outside of lethal close proximity scenarios), and especially in loosely relevant modern day sport (like our own), this adage is often misconstrued and in fact, not the most effective way of winning. You’re familiar with examples of this.
We see this in Mexican boxers. These guys are known sluggers who are going to chase you down even if they take a bit of extra damage. Chavez (mexican) got beat by De la Hoya (mexican but raised stateside) who got beat by Pacquiao. All fights lost by those who were initiating and not the better counter attackers. And we all know know who beat De la Hoya and Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr, a master of fight avoidance.
George Washington wrote in 1799: “…make them believe, that offensive operations, often times, is the surest, if not the only (in some cases) means of defence”
We see this in American wrestlers. American wrestlers are taught to move forward unrelenting in their attack. This builds a crazy level of baseline cardio and an extremely hardened mentality that launches beginner grapplers into at least the intermediate division of most submission grappling tournaments. And it should. But where do we see this strategy falter? Historically, it’s been at the Olympic level. The Soviet Union was the most dominant, so what were they doing? Why did and do American’s lose to modern day Russians? Ding ding, you guessed it. Defense. Kenny Monday beat Dave Schultz but Satiev made him look like he was in middle school. Most recentlyrecently, Sadulaev beat Snyder by tech fall.
Welp, after an insane weekend with many upsets and some amazing rolling, I feel that it my duty to share some insight on what can be gained from watching a weekend of competition with the worlds best grapplers (in nogi). So what did we learn?
Any day can be your day.
Most people had hardly even heard of Craig Jones, and unless you’d seen Kit Dales instructional or perhaps watched all of the EBIs (he barely lost to Vagner Rocha in the semis), it’s not likely you would have. Nonetheless, this is a man who largely plays the saddle or inside sankaku position (almost identical to the DDS guys-I’d show you a specific breakdown but with Flo’s insistence on not sharing footage with me I can’t ). Below are some of his own tutorials. Jones was relentless with his leg lock attacks even looking like he tweaked Lo’s knee at one point on an inside heel hook. He rolled like he had nothing to lose and his leg attacks created enough of a scramble at one point to take Lo’s back and finish with a RNC. Keeping up his momentum he flying triangled the still great Murilo Santana in his next round.
The following is a list of people of world class athletes (competitive at the adult level) that I’ve trained with (we’re talking more than a few rolls) and what I’ve learned from them. Like most of us I don’t train at a famous BJJ gym, but I’ve trained with some really good guys and have recently been reflecting upon what I’ve learned from them.
About three weeks ago, I woke up and thought I was having a heart attack. I was pouring sweat. I was extremely disoriented. I had my fiance call 911. I have a pulseox beside the bed (I’m always curious about my heart rate), my heart rate was 120. The room was spinning. I was freaking out. Medics came, turns out I wasn’t actively dying. “We can take you to the ER if you want.” they said. “No thanks.” I replied. I wasn’t about to wait 6 hours in an ER if I wasn’t dying, I hadn’t been to the doctor in 20 years. Long story short, I have some friends that are doctors and after a bit of convincing from them I went to a general physician, who sent me to the ER anyway. A few MRIs later, it doesn’t seem like I had a stroke. Turns out, after nearly half a lifetime in contact sports, I got a concussion. In fact, probably a couple close together after lengthy discussions (I was laugh-crying regularly at movies and shows on TV, and kept training anyway).
I thought I had to be knocked out to get a concussion but neurologists say 80% of concussions are just a quick change in acceleration/deceleration. Of all sports, not something I expected to happen in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. We don’t get punched in the head. We don’t run into each other head on.
In any case, when you’re an athlete and you’re injured, it’s tortuous. After all, you’re the type of person who stays busy, obsessed with improvement, with the hope of accomplishing goals. Your body atrophies and you lose your cardiovascular ability. And most of all, you’re pissed off because of it.
So what can you do when you’re injured? Do you desperately attempt to simulate some abbreviated version of any relatable activity to your sport? Do you watch as much footage as possible so that you return with a new and better strategy?
The last thing my wrestling coach would always say to us before we stepped out on the mat was “Get after it!” I have to confess, for years, I never really knew what “it” was. Or rather I did know what “it” was, but couldn’t go after it. You see, I’ve been a reactive grappler for most of my life. In wrestling, I wasn’t great at shooting, but I had good takedown defense. My aim has always been to shut down the game of others, to tire them out, then dig deep towards the end of the round and try to finish with a win. I don’t know why. Probably because deep down inside, I’m just damn lazy. It takes a long time to get good at this style of grappling, but once you do, it’s extremely efficient. There are plenty of counter wrestlers that have been decent, but you’re hard pressed to name any of the best modern bjj players that aren’t uber aggressive.
You’re headed home on Friday from work listening to another story of how political unrest is spreading throughout the country. This might be the weekend you think. You’re ready.
Scenario 1: You’re resting calmly in your bed in the center of your million dollar compound. You hear your perimeter alarms going off. You engage your security system. You check the camera feeds on your phone. Your weapons are stockpiled. You’ve got food for months. A solar powered generator. A collection of antibiotics. “Let’s do this.” you think to yourself.
Scenario 2: You’re sitting on your toilet scrolling through your newsfeed and you hear something falling down in your kitchen. “What was that?” you wonder. “Maybe the dog.” you think. Suddenly a guy with a revolver comes walking in. You’re stunned. “Where’s my gun?” is your last thought as you take a bullet to the head.
Scenario 3: You wake up hearing some loud noise coming from the other end of the house. You’re in a fog but you’re freaked out enough to reach for the Glock in your dresser drawer. A large masked figure walks into your room with level IV armor. Your pull the trigger. Damn, it jammed. Your wife looks over at you in horror. Bullet to the head.
The first time I paid attention to Erberth Santos was in this highlight video of him doing jumping back takes. It only takes a few reps of this move yourself to learn how hard it would be to hit against someone decent.
I was impressed. I looked him up. Oh yeah, I remembered this guy. He’d won brown belt Worlds, and Pans, and Brazilians. At his weight and absolute. He was TLI, which only made him scarier. I knew he was climbing the ladder of the 1%. I thought “it’ll take a while.” But when I saw him break Pena’s arm I was like “damn.” He lost that match because Pena toughed it out. I knew then one day Pena would be due for some payback. And he was.