Inverted Gear Blog / Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
I played three different sports throughout high school – wrestling, track, and football – and I was fortunate to have amazing coaches in all three. Our football games (the kind with egg-shaped ball for our non-US readers) were on Friday night. On Monday, we reviewed footage of the game as a team.
During one of our film study sessions, we analyzed our opponent’s scoring plays from the last game. A new formation had confused one of our defensive players and he “froze up,” unsure where to go, and he stood still for a moment too long, reacting too late, and giving the other team enough space to score. Our coach said, “I’d rather have you make a mistake at full speed than hesitate. If you go the wrong way, we can correct that. If you stand still, we cannot.” This lesson remains true for BJJ.
Being unsure of where to go in BJJ is normal. The amount of positions in BJJ can be overwhelming, and the number of positions only continues to grow. It is normal to see lower belts completely stop when they get to an unfamiliar position.
One of the fastest ways to get better is to go the “wrong way” a few times. BJJ can be self-correcting this way. How many times did you get triangled as white belt before you realized what “both arms in or both arms out” meant? Stopping and refusing to move because you are afraid of making a mistake only slows down your development. If you go the wrong way and end up getting “punished” for trying, you learn an important lesson: don’t do that again.
Another aspect is when upper belts overdeveloped their “spider sense,” like the super power that lets Spider-Man know he's in imminent danger. Many times I’ve rolled with purple and brown belts that would be doing great early in our roll only to slow down and turtle up inside my guard because they knew I was setting them up, or felt it was a trap. Again, the answer here is to keep working through it. Can you reset the grips and start your pass again, can you back out, can you switch to a different pass? You have options, and most times stopping will only make matters worse as your opponent can just keep working whatever got you into trouble in the first place.
A final aspect I wanted to touch on is when you are on offense. Maybe you are in closed guard and are working on your triangles, but are shy about throwing your legs up. Or you are on your feet and hesitating on shooting that double leg. Fear of failing is scary, but you have to be at peace with failing a few times. Eventually you will figure out the timing and things will begin to work. But if you don’t attempt them, they will never improve.
So I invite you to start the year by failing. Whenever you get into situations you are not familiar with, try to work through them. Take some chances on a new technique you are working on. Try to pass that really tricky purple belt’s guard. You will be better for it on the long run.
In the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world the word “fundamentals” is often said reverently, and for good reason. There are many benefits to having a crushing mount, excellent closed guard, or perfect bridges. The classic BJJ progression of attaining top position through a sweep or takedown, then passing the guard to a dominant position and then finding a submission is an effective game plan. While you should have an appropriate ability to play that basic game per your belt level, there is also a benefit in investing time toward techniques or positions not often considered traditional or fundamental.
Wrestling coaches will talk about an addition to your core game as having a “bag of tricks” to reach into when there is only a minute left in a match and you’re down on points. Developing a skill set that is off the beaten path not only serves as a backup for when your “A-game,” it is fun as well.
There is a whole set of submissions I personally think of as “gimmick” submissions. This is not a way to put them down, but simply because they normally only work once and after that the counter or prevention is so easy and obvious that the technique is unlikely to work again on that same opponent. As an example, I put most of the submissions executed from the bottom of side control in this category. I have most certainly been tapped by some in my career, but I was able to adjust my game to take many of those submissions off the table very quickly. These “gimmick” moves are valuable because they thrive on surprise and thus can be a good addition to a “bag of tricks,” but these aren’t really moves to build an entire game on.
There are however far more reliable and repeatable attacks that you can mix into a bread-and-butter game to give it bit of variance. Some examples include:
While hardly considered exotic anymore, rolling back attacks are an excellent extra option for attacking a tight defense. Having a few rolling attacks from several different top positions is a good way to keep an opponent off balance during a match.
Leg locks are very much in vogue right now, and adding a few lower body attacks to your game can make you a significantly more dangerous grappler. Learning how to enter into a leg entanglement after escaping from a bad position can allow you go from down in a match to winning by submission in an instant.
The crucifix is a very viable alternative to the traditional back control. While you will not get your 4 points in jiu-jitsu scoring rules, the crucifix actually provides more offensive options as you can attack the neck and arm simultaneously. It might actually fill a technical gap that exists between your back attack game and your turtle attacking game.
For white and blue belts, the process of finding and integrating these twists can be challenging. The first place to look for some spice is your instructor. Every upper belt develops a personal game that can divert from the classic takedown/sweep-pass-submit blueprint. At the highest levels of sport jiu jitsu, the current metagame of guard play is to sweep directly to the back, bypassing the need to deal with an opponent's guard all together. Nearly every school with a competition-focused class will teach techniques that feed into this particular twist on the classic jiu-jitsu game plan. This is a widely taught variation, and all instructors have their own personal tricks and positions they are eager to pass on to their students.
Another source for twists are seminars. Learning from different instructors will expose students to new perspectives. There are also YouTube and video instructionals that can be excellent sources when looking for new aspects to add to one’s game.
These twists on the traditional path are what give an individual game their personality and make grappling fun. The best route is to experiment and see what fits into your personal game. These small additions will not only bring their own benefit but also make your core game more effective as well.
About the Author: T.P. Grant
T.P. Grant has written for Bloody Elbow, FloGrappling, and FloCombat. He is a brown belt with Team Redzovic and dabbles in Sambo and Judo as well.
Can you ever have enough solo grappling drills? I don't think so. That's why I filmed my favorite horizontal hip movements for you.
Detailed explanations for each drill demonstrated in the video:
The classic, universal BJJ warm-up drill. It goes by many names: shrimping, hip escapes, elbow escapes, ebi, eep 'scapes. Let's make sure you're doing it right.
- Lay flat on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and elbows bent, hands by your face.
- Plant one foot firmly and turn to the opposite side.
- Lift your hip by pressing your foot down and going up on to your shoulder.
- Shoot your hips back as you fold at the waist.
- Tuck your bottom knee up to your chest so it's not left behind.
Tip: Imagine a line on the floor under your shoulders. Your hips should scoot back that far.
Bad shrimping #1
This is usually caused by trying to extend and push the leg away, rather than planting the foot and shooting the hips back. Focus on lifting the hips up and back instead of pushing your foot away.
Bad shrimping #2
This is caused by laying flat and not turning your side and bending at the hips.Turn on your side more so you can put your weight into your shoulder and bend on the hips.
This are my favorite way to practice shrimping since it mimics side control escapes better because the head and shoulders also move backwards.
- Turn somewhat on your side and plant both feet.
- Bring your hips, feet, or shoulders back (you can start with any one).
- If you brought your shoulders back, then bring your feet back, then your hips.
- Find a rhythm where your weight shifts between each of those body parts to free up the others to move backwards.
Similar to sideways, but with less backwards head and shoulder movement.
Not truly shrimping, but useful for moving around on your back to find better angles to escape.
- Turn to one side and plant both feet.
- Walk your feet (without crossing them) either forwards or backwards.
- After a few steps, go flat to your back but continue to walk in the same direction.
This movement become useful in certain escapes and reversals, like the "shovel" movement used in some half guard sweeps.
- Laying on your back, do a side crunch to bring your shoulder closer to your feet.
- Lift your hips and pull yourself towards your heels as you shoulder walk.
- Throw your arms overhead to mimic tossing someone off you.
Tip: The key to this is shoulder walking from side to side as you use your legs to help out.
- Lay down, then angle off 45 degrees from the path you want to travel.
- Plant your outside foot and get on to the shoulder nearest the center line.
- Hop and swing your hips over the imaginary line.
- Repeat in the opposite direction.
Tips: You can also use the inside leg by turning the pinky toe side of your foot into the mat (this way is often harder to do). A good hip skip will have you "swinging" back and forth on your shoulders without your butt touching the ground much.
Backwards shoulder walks
Beginners often do this by accident when trying to shrimp. The movement is good to know but not when you're doing it by accident.
- Roll your shoulders from side to side to walk them backwards.
- Walk your feet in time with your shoulders.
Sit-up escape (tucking elbow)
- Shrimp like normal, but as your weight goes into your shoulder, tuck your elbow under you.
- Rock back on your elbow and shrimp again.
- Sit all the way up and get to your palm as you scoot backwards.
Sit-up escape (wide elbow)
Like the last one, but this time swing your arm out side to get on to your elbow.
Sit-up escape (crunch to elbow)
You skip shrimping by using a quick crunch to get to your elbow.
To be part of the Panda Nation you don’t have to be a medal chaser, like sambo wizard Reilly Bodycomb – whom we spoke to last time. Some of our sponsored athletes are regular folks with day jobs, who use jiu-jitsu to better themselves. Like Steve Pachon, creator of the iconic Inverted Gear panda.
A little over five years ago, purple belt Steve Pachon (31) barely made it through the warm-up of his first jiu-jitsu class, taught by his high school friend Nelson Puentes. But he stuck with it. Not only did he keep training, he was also a contributor to the rise of Inverted Gear – designing the awesome panda logo and the first batches of shirts and gis.
How did you find jiu-jitsu?
Steve Pachon: I remember being a little kid and watching the first couple of UFC’s with my family. I thought: what the hell is going on there? Years later I realized what that particular style was. The more I found out, the more I wanted to learn. But I was very concerned about finding a school that was right for me. I went to a few places and encountered a range of different attitudes. It was just hard to find a teacher I felt comfortable with, you know? Especially around these parts there are a lot of MMA schools with a roughneck attitude.
Where did you end up?
SP: It was a small school in a small town in central Jersey called North Plainfield Fight Club, under the Alliance flag. Nelson Puentes was teaching there; I think he was a purple belt. Funny thing is that I actually went to high-school with him. I was a senior, and he might have been a freshman or sophomore. As a matter of fact, we were on the pole-vaulting team together. I kid you not. He wasn’t always as big as he is now – Nelson was a once skinny guy. When we graduated we went our separate ways, and I had no idea he’d gotten sucked into the black hole of jiu-jitsu. So when I popped my head around the door and I saw Nelson teaching, we immediately picked it up. It was like we’d never lost touch. I signed up right away and never looked back.
What can you remember about your first class?
SP: One word: intensity. I was quite heavy at the time, around 230 pounds. So just the warm-up nearly ended me. It felt absolutely insane. There were so many people on the mat, I’d say about 95% of them were white belts, and nobody had any idea about what the hell was going on. Everyone was bright red, sweating, and dead tired. That was just the warm-up. It was extremely intense but I loved it. Of all the people in that first class only me and one other guy, Big Paul Mendes, kind of survived that initial first day and stuck around. We went up the ranks together as training buddies. But yeah, that first class was both terrifying and the best thing ever.
So you think you have to be crazy to stick with it?
SP: Definitely. You have to like a masochist that loves the pain, and then cries out for more. But it’s all worth it. I got about four stripes on my purple belt now. It’s a beautiful thing.
Tell us about the birth of the Inverted Gear Panda
SP: Well, I’d done a fair share of drawing growing up, and I went to school for graphic design. But I wasn’t really the school type. Don’t get me wrong - I always loved making art, but for me it was more of a hobby. The idea for the Inverted Gear panda originated because Nelson was completely obsessed with going inverted. He looked up to Roberto ‘Roleta’ Magalhaes, and all those guys developing the inversion game. The first ideas for a logo were actually Nelson himself going upside down. But it didn’t really translate so well. So instead we were throwing around the thought of using a funny animal, like a panda.
At first Nelson was kind of apprehensive but he warmed up to the idea. I remember we made up a few shirts for the students because we were going to a tournament. It was an inverted panda with Nelson Puentes Jiu Jitsu written above it. I think it was done in one night, messing around with a couple of ideas on my dad’s old computer. Well… Everybody wanted that shirt; it got a lot of response. I guess that’s when it clicked: ‘Hey, maybe we’ve got something here’. Then we designed a few t-shirts and the first batches of gis. It was never a super serious thing. After training on Thursday nights we would get together at his house with a few guys, have pizza, and talk about the designs. We were like a brain trust, kicking around ideas that people would be interested in. It all went naturally.
What was a role of the mysterious panda guard in all this?
SP: (Laughs) That’s one of Nelson’s special techniques. He would always talk it up like some sort of super-secret ninja move: ‘Dude, beware of the panda guard, you can’t get stuck in the panda guard’. It was basically a shin-in type of thing he was messing around with. The whole panda idea just stood for the type of jiu-jitsu that he promotes, and that has been passed on to all of us. A ‘just-have-fun-with-it’-type of jiu-jitsu.
Do you work as a graphic designer right now?
SP: Not at all. I’m a plumber and HVAC technician. I still draw occasionally, but I never went a hundred percent into it. For me, art was an outlet. I didn’t really want to deal with deadlines and serious stuff like that. It has to come naturally. For me, art and jiu-jitsu keep me sane. I work 60-70 hours a week, so I can only make it to class a few times a week, but I make those sessions count. Every roll and every minute in class is now that much more important to me, you know? If I didn’t have that release I would probably go crazy. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.
What was the hardest thing to learn about jiu-jitsu?
SP: Oh man. Everything. I’ve been training for five years, and I feel that just now I’m beginning to scratch the surface. I’m finally starting to build a diverse game. I guess right now the hardest thing for me is to not be so stuck in my A-game, which is the omoplata. I’ve been working on that game for so long that it’s kind of a trap. It’s ingrained in my system. I love and hate it at the same time. So the big challenge now is to move away from just being ‘That Omoplata Guy’. Sometimes you have to start all over again.
Do you enjoy competing?
SP: I’d like to compete more now that I’m comfortable in my game. But I often lose on points. I guess that has something to do with my instructor Andrew, who relentlessly beat me up for many years. Andrew doesn’t really believe in the points thing; he just hunts for submissions. So now, whenever I roll, it’s kamikaze style. I put myself in bad positions, I don’t get stressed out, and I look for ways to submit the guy later on. I guess that’s not the best competition strategy, but that’s okay. People have different goals in the art. I look at the overall picture: I train to better myself and to be happy.
What do you get out of all this?
SP: I’d say: mental stimulation. It’s fascinating what jiu-jitsu does to your mind. You feel invincible when confronting any obstacle that comes your way. It gives you fantastic problem-solving skills. Without even thinking about trying to solve the problem, it often just instantly happens. In life, I relate everything to jiu-jitsu. Something’s hard at work? I just think: ‘Well, yesterday I survived five minutes with Nelson, Greg or Dave. You know what, this isn’t that bad. I’ve had a monster trying to destroy me, and I’m still here today.’
It’s fascinating. I also love the physical aspect, even when I’m sore I feel great. And lastly, the comradery is something very special. The people I share the mat with, I love ‘em like brothers. Like my first instructor Nelson, and the guys I train with at Maximum Athletics: my instructors David Phimsipasom and Andrew Silber. And or course my first training buddy, Big Paul. Of all those people at the beginning we’re the only two left. Just me and him. Before, we were the nail, now we’re the hammer – sort of.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on the mat?
SP: Never give up. Whenever my instructors showed me a new move I usually sucked at it. But I always told them: ‘I’m going to eat s**t until it works’. And I would just constantly attack, attack and attack. And then all of a sudden the move started working! So now I tell the new white belts: ‘Find a move you like and follow it all the way through. Just keep trying, and eat s**t until it works – because it will.
Steve Pachon trains at Maximum Athletics in Dunellen, New Jersey. Follow him on Instagram at @stevepachon.
Daniël Bertina is a journalist and writer based in the Netherlands. He holds a black belt in BJJ under Marcos Flexa of Carlson Gracie Amsterdam. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @joyofirony.
A new year is upon us, and in gyms around the world a new crowd of well-intentioned members are getting memberships and trying to make a change in their life. Jiu-jitsu schools across the country will see an influx as well. While the jokes about how poorly these life changes go for the resolution crowd are painfully accurate, someone trying BJJ for the first time—regardless of the reason—is a huge opportunity for your school and for your team.
Instead of looking down on the resolution crowd, give them the welcome and support they might need to stick with the sport when that new gi smells wears off.
Let’s start with some empathy. Once you’ve training jiu-jitsu for a year or more, you might forget just how hard it is to get started. Walking in the door of a gym is awkward and uncomfortable, especially when everyone on the mat looks at you to size you up. I don’t care how friendly you say your gym is, I’ve never been to a school that doesn’t do this, and even after 10 years in the sport it still makes me want to turn around and leave.
So just showing up is hard. Now remember what it’s like to be out of shape and have absolutely no context for any of the technique you’re learning. In a few minutes, a new student is likely sucking wind and experiencing that painful sensation of not being good at something. If we’re honest, this is one of the big reasons why new gym sign-ups bail after a few weeks. It’s not just about discipline; it’s about facing and coping with a steady stream of uncomfortable truths. Quitting is just easier sometimes.
You can help though, even if you’re not yet a veteran student yourself. Here’s what to do:
For the love of Helio, smile and say hi. When you train regularly, you get a good sense for who the regulars are. If you think someone is brand new (and it’s typically obvious), get up out of your private little jiu-jitsu clique and introduce yourself. Putting a positive spin on the first few minutes of being in the gym can be a miracle for an unconfident new student.
Introduce a new student to other students. If you’re brave enough to introduce yourself to a new student, be a good ambassador and introduce that student to other people in the class. Super nice training partners are often very shy, but you can help open that door but just creating the opportunity for people to shake hands and exchange names.
Be patient and supportive. Being new sucks, and jiu-jitsu schools are notoriously terrible at teaching decorum and procedure. If your school has specific rules about where students line up or something similar, give the new student a heads up, and give them a friendly heads-up if they are getting something wrong. As long as you are kind about it, the new student will appreciate it very much and will be spared embarrassment.
Tell them about your first day. When you’re the low man on the totem pole, imagining the slick tough purple as someone who was once out of shape and terrible at jiu-jitsu can be impossible. Offer up a casual story about what it was like when you started to give the new student some hope.
- Stop the binge before it starts. A new student will inevitably ask what they should do to get better. Try to help them avoid the pitfall of going too hard too soon. Encourage them to pick up a training schedule that is sustainable, even if they want to train 6 days a week right off the bat. And also suggest that coming to class is the most important thing, more important than instructionals or magic jiu-jitsu-improving workout gimmicks.
Embrace the new student rush, and use it to help jiu-jitsu grow. White belts can be awkward and annoying, but we all started there, and bringing more of them in the door is the only way for your school to survive and for you to have good training partners. Be a part of the effort to keep the sport open and accepting by helping a new student when you can.