Inverted Gear Blog / Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Meet the Pandas – ‘Positive Mind Tricks’ – Chris Ulbricht

In our previous showcase of members of the Panda Nation, we spoke to videographer and purple belt assassin Kyvann ‘Guapinho’ Jimenez. In this episode, we introduce black belt Chris Ulbricht, owner and head coach at Garden State Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and occasional Tekken aficionado.

Chris Ulbricht (26) got into the art by accident. He wanted to learn Capoeira – the original Brazilian martial art, but he got confused and ended up on a BJJ mat somewhere, learning the upa-escape in his jeans and shirt. It was the best mistake ever. After earning his purple belt, he dropped out of college to train BJJ full-time, and has been on the path of improving himself through martial arts ever since.

You’ve just won your match at Fight To Win, a submission-only event. Do you like that ruleset?

Chris Ulbricht: Honestly, I like pretty much any kind of grappling or jiu-jitsu. I compete sometimes, but it’s not a huge thing for me. Competition is more about setting a goal that I can lock down on. I run a school full-time, so preparing for competition forces me to work on my own mental space. It helps me to control my thoughts and develop myself as a person and instructor. So whatever the rules are, I enjoy the challenge. When Nelson Puentes and Hillary Witt of Inverted Gear came to my school a while ago, I fought in the RDojo Sambo League, which is a small round-robin sambo tournament – also very cool. I try to compete under all sorts of rules: submission only, gi, no-gi. It’s just another day out there grappling. It’s truly a pleasure to have a life in which most of my challenges are self-created. 

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You do this for a living?

CU: Yeah. I wear a lot of hats. I’m the owner and head instructor at Garden State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. So I run the business, teach classes, and I compete as well. It’s a lot of running around, but I love it. I’ve been in business for about four years now.

It must be hard to track your own development.

CU: Yeah, but I want to chase my goals while I’m still young and in my prime. Fortunately, I have a lot of great training partners at my gym, so just showing up for my classes I get good training in. If there’s a will, there’s a way. There are plenty of black belt instructors around that only have blue and white belts to roll with who still do really well at major tournaments. So in my opinion, owning a school is no excuse to get lazy (laughs).

I guess the big trick is to stay sharp mentally.

CU: Definitely. That’s something that I’ve realized in the past year or two – how much of the game is mental. At a certain point, we all know the same stuff, or at least enough to be aware of what’s happening in a match. It really comes down to that mental ability. I was reading a book yesterday called Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack, and it was a huge breakthrough for me. Mack says (I’m paraphrasing): if you tell someone to stand on a chair for a hundred bucks, everyone can do it. But if you put that chair on top of a skyscraper, most people won’t be able to handle that pressure. It’s the same with competition. When you know you’ve trained 2-3 times a day, and you know your techniques and conditioning are sharp, competition shouldn’t be a big deal. But people stress out and think it’s something different when you step on to the competition mat. It shouldn’t be. Standing on a chair, or standing on a chair on top of a building should feel like the same thing. 

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Take me back to the first time you encountered BJJ…

CU: I’ve always had an interest in martial arts. I’m embarrassed to say I wanted to be a cool pro-wrestler and do acrobatic martial artsy stuff, like cartwheels, flips, and crazy jumps. So I wanted to learn Capoeira and become Eddie Gordo from Tekken. Somehow, I think I got confused about the different Brazilian martial arts, and I ended up at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by accident. Bear in mind I was still a kid, like 16 or 17 years old. When I went to check this place out, the instructor was just about to start a class. I jumped right in, straight off the street, wearing jeans and a button-down shirt. We did simple things like mount escapes and he let me go live for a bit. From that day on, I was hooked

You were training in street clothes? That’s crazy.

CU: Yeah, I guess. It was a Karate school that also offered some jiu-jitsu classes. Eventually there were some issues with that place, and the instructor wasn’t really into teaching anymore, so I only trained there for about six months. Then I met Jason Scully, and he’s been a part of my journey from that point on. I consider him as one of my big mentors.

How did you progress through the ranks?

CU: I got my blue belt from my first instructor Dave Lentz, then I got my purple belt from Jason Scully, and I got involved with Jared Weiner of BJJ United. After a while, I moved to Maryland for two years to be part of Team Lloyd Irvin – which was an intense experience. When I got back I started training at a few places, including going back to BJJ United to train with Jared. A few of months after I got back I got my brown belt from Jared. He’s also the one who eventually promoted me to black belt, but I’ve always stayed in contact with Jason who I consider my first instructor. My journey has been kind of circular. 

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Is you school affiliated with any of those people?

CU: Nope. We’re rogue. Actually, I’m a big proponent of that. I stick to the mentality of BJJ Globetrotters. Jiu-jitsu is great, but I think sometimes people add more on to it – business, politics, hierarchy, and strange affiliation scams. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t experienced any of that with any of my instructors personally, but I have seen a lot of friends and school owners deal with that nonsense. I think it’s important to remember that we’re just people who like to train. Sometimes those ‘other’ things ruin relationships. In my school, I let anyone train with everyone. I believe the more you run your school like a dictatorship and try to control people, the more they’ll want to go elsewhere. If you treat people well, they’ll want to stick around.

What was your biggest challenge in learning jiu-jitsu?

CU: Dealing with this fact: The more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know. At blue and purple belt, I felt I had all the answers jiu-jitsu could pose. I thought: “Yeah, just do the kiss of the dragon, take their back, and choke ‘em out – duh.” But as you get deeper into the art you realize the subtleties like weight distribution, hip control, and how much the fancy stuff relies on deep basics. Through the course of my training, many times I felt I hit a plateau. The further you get along the more you have to learn. Sometimes that felt like moving backwards. I was just climbing higher up the hill, and then realizing the hill was infinitely higher than I thought. It’s a strange thing to deal with.

Can you describe your game?

CU: I play like a heavyweight, kind of. My big examples are Bernardo Faria and Lucas Leite. I like to use half guard to get on top, pressure pass, and then grind my way to mount and the submission. In the beginning, I was “that” flashy inverted guy. But then you go against people that are extremely good and tight, they can slice through any open space, so I shifted my focus on establishing a tighter, more controlled pressure game. One of my Brazilian coaches used to say: “Make ’em feel DEPRESSURE!!!” I love that expression. It’s its own thing. Depression brought on by jiu-jitsu pressure. That’s what it’s all about. 

Take us back to your most memorable competition…

CU: About two years ago I did a Grapplers Quest All Star No-Gi Tournament. In this tournament I realized there’s always an escape, and there’s always a way to win. If you can conceive a way to win in your mind, then you only need a fraction of a second. So, in my first match I won with 10 seconds left on the clock. The second match I won with 15 seconds left. I lost the third match, but that was okay. The lesson was learned. It thought me a mindset that there’s always a way to win, on the mat and in life.

It sounds corny, but that’s something you have to experience to believe.

CU: Yeah, it’s a physical thing that you have to discover. Sure, there’s plenty of information out there that can help guide you to it, like sport psychology books and good coaches that have been there themselves. But I agree that “Just believe in yourself, there’s always a way to win” kind of sounds like a platitude. But you have to live through it. 

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Do you have a background in sports psychology, or something similar?

CU: Yeah! Actually, no! (laughs). I took a single high school class on that subject and spent one semester in college. While I was doing my first year of my associate’s degree I quit and moved to Maryland to train BJJ fulltime. Around that time, I was teaching jiu-jitsu and competing a lot. My dad had been a musician growing up, and I think he kind of regretted not giving it a full shot himself. He’s still a hippie – make sure you put that in the article. But he said: “Go, give this your all, and follow your dream. If you ever want to go back to school, you can always be the creepy old guy in the back of the classroom.” So I did. People told me back then: “If you leave school now, you’re never going back.” They were right (laughs).

Well, it worked out. You run your own business now.

CU: I think college is a great for some people, but I’m very glad that I decided to do something else before I committed to that path. After I came back from Maryland, I was sure that I wanted to pursue jiu-jitsu for life.

Can you explain why?

CU: Jiu-jitsu is an extremely fun way to develop yourself as a person – physically, mentally, and spiritually. You’re learning the value of hard work and comradery, while dealing with people from way different backgrounds. An 18-year old skateboarder can become best training partners with a 45-year old doctor. I think jiu-jitsu can help you see the world from a different perspective.

Then there’s the real self-defense aspect. Some people get into jiu-jitsu to help them defend against a psycho knife killer stalking them in the shower, which is the least possible thing that’ll kill you. What will get you is obesity. You’re actually defending yourself by working out, being healthy, improving your physique, and lowering your stress.

Furthermore, once you add some goal-setting to your jiu-jitsu – whether it’s competition, getting to your next belt, or losing weight – you’re on a path of subduing negative thoughts by positive affirmations. By believing in yourself. That’s a skill that will help you in all areas of life. And lastly, on the micro level, you can also just focus on working on making your De La Riva guard better. See, there’s a lot of levels to it. That’s what keeps me going.

Who inspires you?

CU: I admire Marcelo Garcia, not only for his competition prowess and his contributions to the technique, but also for the kind of school that he has. I try to visit his place every week, and the way he runs the room is what I want my own academy to be. They train super hard, but when you walk in you feel so welcome. Positive intensity, that’s what I want in jiu-jitsu. Gianni Grippo is also a good friend of mine and a positive influence. Then there’s Jason Scully, he’s helped me a lot. Whenever I feel myself getting pulled into the classic competitor, instructor, and school owner mistakes, he’s there to offer advice. And of course, my father has been a great motivator to chase my dreams – that’s a given. I also have to credit Nelson Puentes and Hillary Witt for encouraging me to build a community.

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How did you get hooked up with Inverted Gear?

CU: I started training with them, when Nelson was running the school in North Plainfield. At the time, I was really into no-gi, so they called me no-gi Chris. I loved training there. Then they moved to another location, and I followed them, and we all ended up at BJJ United. It’s funny how our paths kept intersecting. At first, I was just wearing their gi’s because I liked them and I wanted to support their brand. The sponsorship kind of happened naturally. They came to my school for a couple of Reilly seminars, and we did the BJJ Globetrotters USA Camp last summer. Nelson has also helped me with different opportunities and he exposed me to different aspects of jiu-jitsu.

There’s something in improv-comedy called the “Yes! And…”-principle. People also use it in business for brainstorming purposes. Whenever someone says something, you’re supposed to say: “Yes! And…” - then you add something constructive. You never dismiss whatever the other actor throws at you. I think positive people in this world are “Yes! And…”-people. Inverted Gear is run by ‘em. It’s great to be a part of that tribe.” 

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Chris Ulbricht owns and runs Garden State Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (www.centraljerseybjj.com). He loves to have visitors at his academy, and is available for seminars and workshops. He can be reached on Facebook, or at Gardenstatebjj@gmail.com. You can also follow Garden State BJJ on Instagram at @gardenstatebjj

Daniël Bertina is a journalist, writer, and BJJ black belt based in the Netherlands. Follow him on Twitter & Instagram at @joyofirony.

 

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The Orbit of Jiu-Jitsu Techniques

In even a single year of jiu-jitsu, a student will see a wide range of techniques. At two classes a week with an average of two techniques shown per class, a student will “learn” 208 techniques. Then factor in the odd private lessons, a seminar or two, instructional material, and the casual exchange of tips and tricks that happens at any generic open mat, and you quickly end up with a volume of material that’s just not practical to learn all at once.

The result is that a lot of techniques are left to the wayside, and even the newest jiu-jiteiros adopt a pattern of looking for the moves that they “need.” They naturally want a technique that solves a problem they have when they roll, or they want the technique that elevates their performance by building directly on top of the game they have.

As far as jiu-jitsu goes, all of this is pretty normal. The opportunity that many jiu-jiteiros miss, however, is that they rarely return to the techniques that didn’t make the cut the first time around. And if they do return, it’s because an instructor forced them to in a class (which is a nice stroke of luck for the student, that he or she happened to be in the right class at the right time). 6 months, a year, or two years later, that one technique you passed on drilling extensively could be the linchpin for a game-changing development for you.

The technique that doesn’t seem useful today could be useful in the future.

I say this because I was just reminded me of this fact, and that reminder has me going back through what I can recall from previous classes and seminars to see what else I might be missing. For me, I have been working on my butterfly guard for a few years, and a long time ago I learned an overhead variation of the sweep that just never seemed necessary to me. My bread and butter sweep would either do the trick, or something in my recounter arsenal would mop up the problems I had.

Then I come back from an injury, and suddenly I’m faced with the exact scenario the overhead variation was designed to address. For whatever reason, I didn’t see it often enough before (perhaps my rusty technique means I am making mistakes and allowing it to happen), but now that technique matters.

If I had discarded it completely—which means that I declared it eternally useless and thus not worth recollecting any fashion at all—I would be missing an opportunity to expand my game. Fortunately, I made a mental note of it when I first saw it, so when it made its return orbit I could take advantage of the opportunity.

I don’t have a mega memory that makes this easier for me, but I do a few things as a student that might help you catch a technique you’ve already seen when it’s orbit crosses paths with you again:

  • Identify why a technique would be useful. Even if a move is not a fit for you right now, figure out what situation the technique is best for. It doesn’t matter if you don’t encounter that situation often enough to warrant drilling the technique a lot now, but making that mental observation of “This technique would be good if I start finding myself attacking with front headlocks” is a more positive association than “I don’t need this.”

  • Give every technique a sincere drilling effort. If you tell yourself a technique is useless, you might be inclined to drill it half-heartedly during the class or seminar where you are learning it. Even if you see no clear place for it to fit in your current game, still put the same amount of enthusiastic and thoughtful repetitions into the move as you would with any other technique. Doing the technique with attentiveness can help you recall it later.

  • Context matters for memory. When you learn a move, take a second to mentally observe who is showing you the technique. A year from now, that observation might help you track down the instructor or training partner who can remind you of the details you need.

  • Be a more general student. Having a specific game you like to play is normal for advancing jiu-jiteiros, but try to be a bit more academic about your learning. By that I mean spend time outside of your narrow area of study and maintain an active interest in learning other types of games. You don’t need to master them or even drill them all that much, but exposing yourself to positions you never intend to play (at least right now) will help you identify things you’ve seen before, and will also help your defense down the road.

  • Play the flashcard game when you watch competition footage. When you watch matches, challenge yourself to identify what a competitor is attempting do with their technique or what their options are from a certain position. By trying to predict what a competitor will do next, you force your brain to scroll through the options you have stored away—even if they aren’t ones you use—to figure out the possibilities.

You will hopefully be in this sport for many years to come, so while we can’t hope to remember everything we have ever learned, these tips should help you to recall a few helpful techniques from your own personal archives. You never know when a technique will come rocketing back to relevance, but if you make an effort to be ready for that to happen, your jiu-jitsu will greatly benefit.

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Five Steps to Jiu-Jitsu Expertise

Want to be good at jiu-jitsu? That puts you in illustrious—and sometimes obsessed—company. Thousands of people are striving for the same thing, all over the world. Numerous theories about learning can help explain the process by which people go from being unskilled at a technique sequence, to becoming somewhat skilled, to becoming ever more skilled. Research and best practice remind us that different people require different types of inputs and supports for learning.

That all sounds impressive, right? Lots of big words and concepts and whatnot. Here is the truth, though: When I try to learn a new technique, it feels like I flounder around for days and weeks and months and lifetimes, convinced I will never be able to execute it on even the most collaborative partner, let alone a resisting opponent. Somehow, though, I make progress, to the point where over time, moves I once struggled with become go-tos.

It used to seem like a mystery, how I went from not being able to jiu-jitsu, to being able to jiu-jitsu a little bit, to, over time, being able to jiu-jitsu better and better. One day I could not pull off a move, and the next day I was all about it. But with the benefit of hindsight, I have realized that the reason it seemed like an on-off switch was because I was discounting many steps in the process, steps that did not look like progress to me because I was still “losing.” I started to realize that before I could effectively pull off a technique, there were conditions that had to occur first, and those conditions tended to follow a set pattern. Here is what I discovered about how I learn jiu-jitsu techniques:

First, I am exposed to a technique in class and drilling. The nature of the technique dictates how much context I will have for it. If it is a variation on a technique or sequence I am familiar with, I will have a pre-existing structure for understanding it. If it is something I have not seen or experienced much, I will have less understanding of how it works and how it fits with other things I already know. If I am at the beginning of my jiu-jitsu journey, I will have very little context and very little experience contorting my body into the necessary positions, which means that old learning curve will be steep.

Second, I encounter the opportunity to set up the technique during live rolling but do not notice. It is not until class is over and I am going over the live rolling in my mind that I will recognize that missed chance. Believe it or not, though, this is progress. Want to know how I know? Because I can almost guarantee that there were many earlier training sessions during which the exact same opportunity presented itself and I never realized it, not later, not ever. The fact I recognized it at all is a step forward.

Third, my recognition synapses kick in more quickly, and I notice during the roll that the opportunity presented itself. I have still missed my window, but this time I missed it by seconds or minutes as opposed to hours or days. I may even miss an opportunity to execute a different move because I am in the process of realizing I missed the first one. Again, it may not feel like progress because the result is the same, or even worse, but my brain and body are slowly coming into sync. Like the raptors in Jurassic Park, I remember.

Fourth, I notice the opportunity to set up the technique, actually set it up, and fail. For the first time, the opportunity to apply the technique I have been drilling makes itself plain at the exact moment I need it to, shining like the pearly gates. I go to work—and still end up on the losing end of the exchange. I miss a detail or wait a split second too long, or on the flip side, I rush it. My partner counters effectively, and I come up short again. I rage inwardly for the umpteenth time because I did not “do it right,” though yet again, this is a step forward: I did not earn points, but I scored the advantage.

Fifth, I notice the opportunity to set up the technique, set it up, and succeed. This is the pay dirt step. The step where I look around and say to myself, “Where the heck did that come from? Did it really happen?” The step where it seems like I pulled the move out of some part of my anatomy. I felt this exact way the first time I ever took the mount during live training. I had side control and clumsily threw my leg over my partner’s body, expecting I would be stopped mid-throw. But I got on top, and if I had been in a movie, the soundtrack would have swelled and the camera would have zoomed in on my disbelieving face. I looked around and saw that the view was breathtaking. I realized I had no idea what to do next, and then I got reversed. It was the best reversal of my life.

It is lovely to have that out-of-nowhere feeling step five brings, but since it often takes so long to get there, it is also nice to have a sense of the steps that come before. I have learned that when I am aware enough to realize I “failed,” it means I succeeded. Then the goal is to succeed a little more successfully the next time.

That is the process I follow for becoming an expert in jiu-jitsu. Of course, there is also a sixth step: I repeat the steps for every one of the thousands of techniques I want to learn.

Do you notice yourself “failing” as part of your learning process? Post your observations to comments.

About Valerie Worthington

Here, in no particular order, are some of the things that define me: parents who are psychologists, a childhood spent in the New Jersey suburbs except for a year my family spent in Germany, studying English literature and learning theory, always trying for the funny--not matter how self-deprecating, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art I have been training for almost 20 years. I travel a lot and enjoy snacks just as much. I am reasonably intelligent, but this is undercut by my love of irreverence and childish humor. I am also the author of Training Wheels: How a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Road Trip Jump-Started My Search for a Fulfilling Life.

 

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5 Years at Black Belt

Last week was the five-year anniversary of my promotion to black belt, and next month marks my thirteenth year in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on my journey through BJJ, how it has evolved, and share what training and teaching is like as a black belt.

Here are the personal projects I have worked on since earning my black belt:

Learning the modern leglock game.

Interest in leglocks, especially heelhooks, has exploded with the popularity of events like EBI with alternative rulesets. I always liked IBJJF-legal straight ankle locks, but with Nelson’s influence, I have joined Team Reap. For the past two years, I have attended Reilly Bodycomb’s 3-day RDojo winter leglock camps. Nelson is always showing me the latest tweaks, and many of my students are going out to learn leglock systems and bringing the knowledge back to the school. Heelhooks are not as dangerous as I was always warned, and they can be trained safely if everyone playing with them is educated properly.

Keeping up with the open guard vs guard passing arms race.

Sport BJJ is an eternal battle between open guard and guard passing. It has been that way as long as I can remember. Staying current on the metagame is a constant endeavor. What guard is popular this season, and what’s the counter? Is this one worth learning or will it disappear in a month?

At this point, it’s safe to say the berimbolo is real. “Old school” curmudgeons harped on it getting you killed on the streets, but it has won enough gold medals to prove itself. You need to know how to do it, if only to coach your competitors. If you cannot stop the berimobolo, a feisty purple belt will put you on your butt and leg drag/crab ride combo to your back like his lunch money depends on it.

Worm guard and similar lapel wrapping trickery is real too, but I only have so much mental bandwidth and I have spent none of it on learning that. I’ve seen it work, and it has worked against me, but I have never really got into messing with lapels like that, and I still have no plans to.

To quote Reilly, who was quoting Ryan Hall, “I’m not a vampire.” -- I’m not going to live forever and never sleep, so I have to pick what is worth my time and not worry about learning everything.

The old school is new again.

Coming up the ranks at my original school in FL, I was known as the “new technique guy.” I watched every instructional DVD I could and knew every unique technique that hit YouTube. At the school where I teach in PA, roles are reversed; I am known as the “old school basics guy.” That’s because I mainly teach fundamentals classes and my mid-2000’s style is now considered “old school.”

As much as I want to say I have kept up with the modern game, when it comes down to it, my best techniques are still basic ones I learned as a white belt: bull fighter pass, collar and sleeve open guard, tripod sweep, butterfly guard hook sweeps, etc. The good news is these all still work, and you can blend them with the new school. Despite all the leg drags I have drilled, I still dive into bull fighter passes, though I may end them with a modern twist by redirecting and rewinding to the leg drag position.

Filling the huge gap in my takedown training.

Coming from a pure sport BJJ background, my takedown game was severely underdeveloped. I have a distinct memory of being a purple belt preparing for comp. At the start of a stand up round, I decided “I’m not pulling guard today!” After a brief awkward grip fighting exchange, my coach scolded me -- “What are you doing? Pull guard already!” -- which I did and it worked. From then on, I became the typical guard puller.

After my first RDojo camp, and having Reilly in my ear all weekend, I decided to start from standing every round (without pull guard) and dedicate time every practice to takedown training. This was tough at first because, honestly, a decent high school wrestler was better than me in pure stand up. Nelson has helped me a lot with this and I am making slow but steady progress.

Developing a daily joint health routine.

You do not get to black belt without injuries. You can tell BJJ is rough on its practitioners just from the sheer volume of “hey, should I see a doctor for this?” posts across every message board. BJJ instructors rarely have sports or fitness education outside of their BJJ background. Most instructors do not know how to injury-proof their students, and most students don’t know how to do it for themselves either. Nothing is going to prevent 100% of injuries, but you can reduce the odds if you educate yourself and stick to a regular routine of joint care.

Functional Range Conditioning is the best system for this I have been able to find, in terms of comprehensiveness and scientific backing. Last November, I attended the FRC certification, and I have been working on learning and applying the whole system ever since. I have BJJ black belt Samantha Faulhaber from Move Well Philly to thank for giving me a lot of guidance.

Do yourself a favor and find a FRC/FR trained coach or physical therapist. Finding FRC was the best thing I’ve done for my joints since starting BJJ.

There’s always something else to work on.

That sums up the major projects I have embarked upon as a black belt, at least in terms of my personal approach to BJJ. If you found something I said interesting, please leave a comment because I love to hear from readers!

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Three Years at Black Belt: Still Learning

I got my black belt three years ago. For the first and second anniversaries of earning my black belt, I wrote blog posts about what I had learned in year one and year two. Time flies, but Panda Nation seems to enjoy hearing about my black belt adventures and just how much learning occurs after black belt.

So here’s the third edition!

My training has been inconsistent. Hillary and I have been traveling a ton for camps and seminars and a bunch of stuff in between. Sometimes we only come home for a week or two before heading out again. My time at my “home gym” has been minimal, so I haven’t gotten to spend as much time in the lab as I would like. I have, however, been able to train with a ton of great grapplers and pick up a few tricks along the way, so it’s a tradeoff.

Even with an unusual training scheduling, my work on leg locks continues. I keep finding new spots to attack my IBJJF-approved game of tripod ankle locks and cross body ankle locks. Last year, I had a goal of working on my knee bar game. After some trial and error, I am a lot better at them. I have collected a few entries that I can hit consistently, mostly from the bottom when opponents defend sweeps or while defending some passes. I have a lot of success with controlling both legs while attacking the knee bar and being able to switch to the toe hold on the free leg when they defend.

Also, since moving to the Allentown area, I get to work on heel hooks a lot more, and my timing and proficiency has gone up with those as well.

A big part of my work on leg locks is linking them with upper body attacks. I have been working on coming up to dominant positions off my leg attacks. If I go for a foot lock and my opponent starts pummeling and re-engaging the leg attack, I am a lot better at coming up into a passing position. My friend Reilly recently changed the way I did the cross body ankle lock: by posting on one arm it is much easier to rewind into the leg drag, so that’s also been on the practice plate thanks to the last R Dojo camp.

When I start to pass, whether I’m coming up from a leg lock attack or not, I have been looking for the folding pass. This has been my project for a few years now, and I’ve made a good bit of progress. Now that my training partners know what I like though, opponents have started playing with wider hips to prevent the fold, so I have been working on different set-ups for my knee cut when this happens. My passing proficiency has gone up, and I get to back step into leg locks when my opponent overcommits to defending the knee cut.

From standing, I been playing a lot more with front headlocks to set up takedowns. Front headlocks are one of the highest scoring takedowns in wrestling. They were so strong that rules needed to be changed and a shot clock added because competitors were refusing to shoot in fear of the front headlock. In a gi and no-gi context, it’s underutilized since many of us choose to jump on guillotines from the position. I have been working on getting the position and breaking my opponent down and then spinning behind, double legging when they pop up, and various chokes once my opponent is broken down to his knees. This new emphasis on the front headlock has made my singles and doubles more successful since my opponent's posture changes as I keep attacking their head.

On top of everything else, I have been working more and more on the Bernardo-style deep half guard. It’s great guard to play when I am tired and I need to tie up an overzealous lower belt while at a camp or traveling. It also feeds very well into my strong passing position to further slowdown my opponent.

This is what I been working on over the last year. A few of these items I have been working on for the last three years now, but I am always finding little details to refine them and add to them.

What have you been working on?

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