Inverted Gear Blog / Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A Visual Guide to Hand-to-Hand Grips in BJJ

A reader of the Inverted Gear blog recently asked me if I could do a series of posts that define BJJ terms, much like a visual dictionary.

With the aid of my hand model Nelson and the power of GIFs, let's look at the right and wrong ways to do hand-to-hand grips.

Gable Grip

Somewhere along the line, BJJ took to calling this palm-to-palm configuration the "Gable grip," after the famous wrestler Dan Gable. The wrestlers who I have asked about it do not use his name, for what that's worth. This is sometimes mispronounced as the "cable grip." You see this grip used ubiquitously, from bodylocks to defending armbars to attack with straight armlocks--any time you need to put your hands together to do a technique.


Butterfly Grip

A variation on the Gable grip is to reach further across and grasp your forearms. The goal is to have the bends of wrists hook against each other to add to the strength of the grip. You see this used when a grappler gets double underhooks and wants to close the circle of their arms extra tight, such as in Greco throws or half guard.


Mistake: Thumb Out

The most common mistake made with the Gable grip is leaving the thumbs sticking out. This weakens the integrity by putting strain on the fingers and wrists and leaving a gap between the palms. To feel the difference for yourself, try both ways and fight yourself to keep the grips while pulling your arms apart. 


Gokor Grip

A variation on the palm-to-palm grip is to stick the thumb between the index and middle finger. You will find this sometimes used in moves where it is important to bring the elbows together without the grip slipping apart, such as Darce chokes and Japanese neckties. I first saw Jeff Glover teach this. Nelson credits Gokor, so we went with that name. If you know a better nickname, please tell us. Update: We're told this is called the three finger grip or the Lebell grip, after grappling OG Judo Gene Lebell.



When an opponent is too big for your arms to wrap enough to go palm-to-palm, you may be able to hook fingers-to-fingers in a s-grip. You can also use this when defending armbars, but make sure the arm that is being attacked is turned so the palm is away from you.


Seat Belt Grip

The seat belt grip is used most commonly from back control or the front headlock, as well as anklelocks and guillotines. As a rule, you want to hide the "choking" hand under the other hand so you make it harder for your opponent to grab and pull away, and to reinforce the choke or footlock when you go for the submission..


Mistake: Grabbing the Fingers

Don't make the mistake of grabbing your own fingers and squishing them. This puts too much strain on the fingers instead of the stronger wrist and forearm.


Interlaced Fingers

I cannot think of a single use of this grip* but new students will sometimes do it not knowing any better. Nelson and I included it here because we get infuriated when we see it in grappling.


*Okay, I can think of a single use:

Enjoy the combination of text and GIFs to explain BJJ? Then check out Artechoke Media, where Nelson and I both have released entire instructionals built around them with everything also taught in videos too. Nelson just released From Chile with Love and I made Mastering the Crucifix.

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My New Instructional: From Chile with Love

About a year ago, I started to work on an instructional with the crew over at Artechoke Media. It has been an amazing experience. After nearly ten years of grappling, I felt I had a unique take on certain positions that I felt could benefit some grapplers, so breaking them down and diving deep into them was a fascinating process. The product has been out for a bit, and It’s gotten positive reviews from people I really look up to. If you haven’t checked it out yet, maybe you will be interested by end of this blog.

The book starts with takedown section, my takedown game has been deeply influenced by time cross-training and competing in wrestling, judo, and sambo. I have been fortunate to train with excellent practitioners on all three disciplines. In the instructional, we focus on a series of takedowns set up from Russian grip, my favorite single leg finishes, and a few details to make Seoi Nage throws work better in BJJ contexts.

The next chapter explores how I set up the folding pass. I have been working on this pass since I was a purple belt. We explore how to set it up to attack different guards, how to maintain the passing position once you get there, and three different finishes. I believe this pass should be in everyone’s arsenal as it matches up really well against the modern jiu-jitsu game, which is full of inversions and lapel tricks.

Then we flip the script and breakdown closed guard, starting with the armbar which is the basis to everything I do from the position followed by attacks from the 2-on-1, which mirrors principles we studied in our takedown chapter. Back takes, sweeps, and sweeps against standing opponent are explored alongside some omoplata attacks to give us a different and dynamic angle of attack.

From there, we transition into shin-on-shin guard. I felt this position does not get the recognition it should. It’s an amazing launching place for different sweeps, changing levels into takedowns, or transitioning into leg control. Yet again, the principle of committing multiple resources, a leg and an arm against a leg in this case, come up.

Finally, we cover some esoteric half guard positions. Half butterfly and reverse half guard are only used by a handful of practitioners but to a great degree of success, and I believe they deserve a spot on anyone’s game. These have become my go to sweeping positions against an opponent on his knees.

You can check out the instructional here, and you can browse the first chapter for free (18 videos and some 36+ GIFs). I hope you enjoy it and find a spot in your game for some of the techniques. I am really proud of this work, and I am looking forward to making a no-gi version sometime in 2018.

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On Suicide in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Community: One of Those Stories I Wish Nobody Had to Write

I know I am not alone in feeling sad when I hear about someone taking his/her own life; indeed, sad is an understatement. It is extra surreal when I find out the person in question trained. It would be nice if the effects of jiu-jitsu were so magical that people who train never experienced depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. Then those of us who are evangelical about it would feel that much more justified.

But jiu-jitsu is not magic. I know this because of the too-frequent reports of people in our community acting on their suicidal ideations. I know this because of the work of groups like Submit the Stigma and the more informal but equally well-intentioned efforts of people like me who try to be forces for good in the world. And I know this because of my own experiences with anxiety and depression.

I am fortunate because in my case, a combination of meds, coping strategies, and support from family and friends ensures that, while I do still go to the dark place, I do not go as often, and I do not stay as long. Whatever suicidal ideation I experienced never got past the very vague what-if stages, and is now, for me, a thing of the past.

So, I cannot say I fully understand, but I can say that I have felt so null and void at times that That did seem like an explorable option. I know I am not in a hurry to get any closer to being able to understand, because what I experienced was dark enough.

If there are things I can do to help someone feel less like That is their only option, I want to do them. I do not know how to prevent suicide, and so sometimes even believing I could help in some way feels presumptuous. I have realized that all I can do is what feels right, based on what experts tell us, my own experiences with depression, and my beliefs about the kind of person I want to be. I know others feel a desire to help too. I know this because of the Facebook postings I see after news circulates of a suicide, in which the poster entreats others who are feeling down to reach out.

If I am any indication, one challenge I remember from times I was at my lowest is that the thought of reaching out for assistance was another thing I was unable to make myself do—and therefore, in my mind, another way I was a colossal failure. I (still) retreat when things get bad, primarily because during those times I do not have the energy to do much else. When I was at my worst, I do not think I even realized I needed help; it was usually when I came out of a particularly bad patch that I was able in retrospect to recognize how rough things had been. In other words, it was the times when I probably most needed help that I was least likely or able to reach out.

Fortunately, there are resources for people like me who want to be proactive in providing support to those experiencing depression but are not sure how. If you want to learn more, here are just a few of those resources:

Perhaps these sites can help us recognize people who experience depression like I do: as a heaviness that makes them want to fold into themselves and cut off interpersonal contact. Of course, some people who are feeling symptoms of depression may have the capacity to reach out, and if they do, I am glad so many people are willing to be available to them. And there are also many hotlines for them and the loved ones who may be concerned about them. Here are just a couple:

These hotlines are staffed 24/7, and people who are considering suicide or who fear that someone they know is doing so can get routed to the nearest crisis center for support.

Another moving tendency among those of us left behind is to enumerate all the many amazing qualities of the person, to bear witness to just how large a void his or her absence leaves in our lives. When I was in the depths of my own depression, I could not fathom that I was loveable or valuable in any way. The “depression machine” in my brain (as my psychiatrist terms it) was very good at convincing me that any evidence I could come up with on my own was sketchy at best and ridiculous at worst.

For this reason, I clung desperately to bits of positive feedback from other people, any evidence I could collect that I was a worthwhile person. Reflecting on how important those kind words were to me when I was at my most vulnerable has made me realize that perhaps it would help someone if I paid it forward, that maybe sometimes people do not see in themselves all the good things others see in them. Particularly if I suspect someone of having a hard time, perhaps telling people how much I appreciate something they do, say, or are could make a difference.

I recognize it is impossible to control people’s behavior. Placing too much emphasis on what we can do to help prevent suicide might make us feel overly responsible or hopeless ourselves. There may be absolutely no overlap between my experience of depression and that of others, so this conversation may not resonate at all with some people. But even though all those things may be true, I cannot think of any downsides to being more present with others and to making sure the people—friends/family, acquaintances, and strangers alike—who make my life better know it anyway.

At the very least, I will have a fuller experience of my own life and the people in it, and at best, perhaps some people will rethink their plans for long enough to get the support they need to make a different choice. Though I am not always successful, I try to act with compassion and non-judgment, and to be kind. Maybe you do the same. Perhaps we will never know that our actions made a difference in someone’s life, but I am willing to take that bet.

What are your thoughts about how we, individually and as a community, can show compassion and support for people who are experiencing suicidal ideations or suffering from mental health issues? Please post your thoughts and experiences to comments.

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This Technique Doesn’t Work

Usually—and I have been guilty of this myself—this thinking is rooted in frustration. After many attempts to learn and apply a technique and failing, you give up on a move. Unfortunately, many fundamental techniques get this treatment. I was inspired to write this article in the first place because the scissor sweep is one of these misunderstood techniques, yet we recently saw Ricardo Evangelista hit one on Leandro Lo. Other techniques that get this treatment include Americanas, sit-up sweeps, and even the mount position as a whole.

Side note: mount often frustrates students to the point that they don’t bother taking it in pure grappling matches, opting instead to work from side control and north-south.

Side side note: I too once lost faith in the Americana until Matt Kirtley spent an entire weekend hitting it on me every 15 seconds.

As I attempt to behave like a more mature instructor, I’ve revisited how I think about and how I teach techniques that commonly frustrate students. In addition to some modifications to class structure, we cover the following discussion points:

1. The right technique in the wrong situation will almost always fail. Even when you are able to execute a movement with technical proficiency, if you use it to solve the wrong problem, you may start to believe the technique itself is to blame. This is more common with new students, but it happens with experienced grapplers sometimes as well. If one of your attacks is not working, perhaps you should think more critically about when you are applying it. You might find that a key detail of your opponent’s positioning is off.

2. Timing is important too. Even if you use the right technique for the right scenario, subtle nuances in timing can mean the difference between success or failure. Especially in sweeps, a few seconds of hesitation can result in your missing the window you needed for success. If you incorporate some trigger drills into your training, you can refine your ability to recognize an opportunity more rapidly and thus execute closer to the ideal moment.

3. You might be bringing a knife to a gun fight. Even if you are using the right technique at the right time, you can feel as though the technique is failing if your offense is simply not as good as your opponent’s defense. This experience is most pronounced when there is a huge disparity in skill level (blue belt vs. black belt), but you can encounter this problem within your own belt level and not realize it. If you have only spent 20 hours on your de la Riva guard but your training partner has spent 60 hours passing de la Riva guard, you may lose a dozen micro battles that can be easy to miss. Keep practicing your technique, and gradually apply it against better and better defenders.

4. Consider the larger context. Sometimes, your ability to effectively apply a technique is tied to the bigger picture of how you grapple. Certain styles of grappling lend themselves more strongly to certain techniques, so you may find that some techniques just don’t fit into the game plan you are trying to play. If you try to shoehorn in a technique that takes you too far from you’re a game, it can feel as though that technique is not very effective because you don’t have the right techniques to set it up and to capitalize on where it takes you.

Jiu-jitsu technique can be strange sometimes. For as scientific as grappling as feel—playing strategy and tactics with very precise applications of leverage and movement—the artistic aspects of it can lead to strong opinions of what techniques you should and should not use. When you start to develop those sorts of opinions, challenge yourself to be more critical of those feelings so that you don’t miss out on a potentially powerful option for your game.

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Meet the Pandas – ‘Open Your Mind & Kill Your Demons’ - Ro ‘The Show’ Malabanan

The Panda Nation abides. As we continue our series Meet the Pandas, we shed light on the many awesome Inverted Gear athletes. Last episode focused on black belt speed cyclist David Phimsipasom of Maximum Athletics. Now we like to introduce Ro Malabanan: master of the sweet science, general manager at Overthrow Boxing, and jedi apprentice under Marcelo Garcia.

As a teenager, brown belt Ro ‘The Show’ Malabanan (39) got beat up often for being a ‘pretty boy’. After becoming a boxer and breaking some ribs here and there, he found Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to channel all his negative energy. The art kept him sane, while everything in life was falling apart.

Was boxing your first martial art?

RB: Yes. I started training off and on when I was around sixteen, but I didn’t really take it seriously until I reached my early twenties. Then I started doing some entry level fights, and also some USA-sanctioned events here in New York. I’m originally from the Philippines. I moved to this country when I was nine, and I have been a proud New Yorker ever since. Now, I’m the general manager of Overthrow Boxing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

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When I think of the Philippines, I think of stick and knife fighting. Did you get any exposure to that?

RM: Not at all, but it’s on my to-do list. After I got the hang of boxing, I did a little bit of Muay Thai. Now obviously I’m deep into jiu-jitsu. Recently, I’ve been working a lot on pistol and gun tactics.

I saw a pretty intimidating picture of you, armed with a shotgun.

RM: (Laughs) I wasn’t sure that posting that picture was a smart play, so I sent it to Nelson to double check if it wasn’t too violent – because I was wearing an Inverted Gear shirt. But before I knew it he’d already put it out there, so I guess he was cool with it. Yeah, I’ve been dabbling with guns over the past ten years. It’s a thing that me and my buddies got involved with. I just love shooting. 

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Can you explain what attracts you to guns?

RM: They require great focus because they’re scary as hell and you genuinely have to respect their power. Secondly, there’s a level of clarity and presence of mind you need in order to hit the target. It’s fascinating. Especially pistols take a tremendous amount of balance, composure and footwork. Some people go fishing for their peace and quiet time. For me, shooting guns is my moment of zen.

What made you want to get into martial arts in the first place?

RM: That’s a funny story. Growing up I was labeled a ‘pretty boy,’ and I got attacked often. Other kids would also pick on me because I was from another country – even my buddies liked to beat me up. Growing up as a Filipino my parents forced me to focus on school work, academics, and family – martial arts just weren’t a part of that world. But all of my friends were street guys. We used to do backyard brawls for fun, and I would get the sh*t kicked out of me. At a certain point, I had enough and found a boxing gym in Brooklyn. So one day, I sparred with both of my friends and... Well, they didn’t get the upper hand. I accidentally broke one of my friend’s ribs with a body shot. After that, I never looked back, and I began to use boxing in my personal training business. I loved the self-discipline that was needed to improve in the sweet science. It was a lot more fun than just counting reps.

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How did you stumble into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

RM: It was at a time in my life when things were going downhill fast. The recession of 2008 totally
decimated my income, and I lost everything. I remember a moment when I was training Muay Thai, and I looked at the bag, thinking: “What the hell am I doing? I’m so tired of this. I need a change.” Later on, I met a guy at my boxing gym while I was preparing for a fight. We sparred, and right away I noticed how tough he was. Afterwards, he brought up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and he invited me for a class at Codella Academy in Staten Island, ran by Michael Codella (a Renzo Gracie black belt). Right when I’d gotten sick and tired of the striking world, I met that BJJ guy. Call it divine intervention or serendipity, but I’ve been doing it ever since.

Did you know about BJJ before?

RM: I hate to say it, but back in the day I used to watch the UFC and other MMA events, and I thought it was kind of silly. I saw Ken Shamrock sitting in Royce Gracie’s closed guard, getting heel kicked for about an hour, and nothing else happening. So my initial perception of the art wasn’t that great. Frankly, I thought it was kind of, you know… gay (laughs). But life has a strange way of taking you to new places and opening your mind.

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Once you actually got to roll with someone who knew BJJ, you got manhandled, right?

RM: Actually, one of my buddies (the guy whose ribs I broke) gave me my first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ‘experience’ ever. He was trying to teach me a position, but wasn’t having anything of it. I said something like: “Whatever bro, let’s just fight.” So I tackled him, and right away he caught me in a guillotine. That scene repeated itself three or four times. Honestly, it was great fun. In my first proper class at Codella Academy, I was paired up with another white belt named Mike. He had just a little bit more technique. I remember him totally dominating me, and tapping me out with an Americana. It was his first day too, but he had watched some stuff online. It showed me that in jiu-jitsu even a little bit of knowledge can go a long way. It was mind-blowing. Mike was just an out-of-shape, middle aged guy…

Was it hard for you to pick up the art?

RM: Very, very hard. On the floor I lost all mobility, and I was like a fish out of water. Everyone destroyed me. It was just my stubbornness that kept me going.

Can you describe your path through the belt ranks?

RM: Right after I got my blue belt at Codella Academy, I faced some serious challenges in my life – which I won’t get into. It was a very dark time. The situation forced me to move from Staten Island to Manhattan, and the commute made it very difficult to keep training at my old academy. In Manhattan I tried to register at the Renzo Gracie Academy three times. But for some odd reason, each time I showed up on each separate occasion, there was an event being held and they couldn’t sign me up. Maybe it was a hint from above, so I thought: “To hell with it, let me google what’s around here.” As it turned out, Marcelo Garcia’s was only a few blocks away. I quickly found my home there. Marcelo promoted me to purple and brown belt. He truly became my mentor and role model. 

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What do you remember about your arrival at Marcelo’s?

RM: When I first got there I still had the vague thought of one day getting into MMA. That was the plan, but I was getting smashed left and right – which wrecked my confidence. As my fight date started to get closer I also separated my ribcage, so that prevented me from fighting at all. Once I healed up, I decided to do the sensible thing and just stick to jiu-jitsu. I even put boxing on the back-burner and went to Marcelo’s multiple times a day, barely sustaining myself. Looking back it was a very interesting period. Losing my business and having to start all over again really killed my ego. And I had a tremendously large ego before (laughs). You know that saying: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear? Well, I was definitely ready to learn. I had all this built up anger and negative energy, and under Marcelo’s guidance I was able to channel everything into jiu-jitsu.

Did you enter any tournaments?

RM: At first I tried to use my rage as fuel for competition, but that kind of backfired. I was just way too wild and angry. I would do crazy things with complete abandon, and my opponents would shut me down with technique. It took me a long time to overcome my inner demons, but I kept trying and finally managed to turn it around. Things started to click in 2015. That year I had a great run. I entered every tournament I could, and I won gold at the No-Gi Pan-Ams and the No-Gi Worlds (Masters 2). It was all thanks to Marcelo and being around his brown belt ‘dream team’. I modeled myself after those guys, and tried to copy their demeanors – how their carried themselves at the tournaments. The Marcelo Garcia Academy had a special energy which just lifted me up. It still does.

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Can you elaborate on that?

RM: At the absolute lowest point in my life Marcelo made me feel accepted for who I was, and at the same time I felt his belief that jiu-jitsu could change me for the better. It’s hard to explain. I’m sure he had his own inner demons to overcome, and he made me feel I had that power too.

How does jiu-jitsu translate to life?

RM: How does is not? It’s kind of hard to put into words. As a white belt I didn’t know anything, it was a new beginning. Life events made me very insecure and I became a pretty reckless individual. As a blue belt I started gaining a little bit more confidence, but it was a false sense of confidence. I had an inflated ego and did really stupid things – like getting into street fights. As a purple belt I came to realize that I was part of something bigger. Training wasn’t just about me. I was representing Marcelo Garcia, and the shenanigans I got up to in my past weren’t acceptable anymore. That’s when I got my act together, started training smarter, I became more disciplined and I stopped partying every single night (laughs). Now, as a brown belt I’m thinking about where I want my jiu-jitsu to go. It’s no accident that my professional career is also growing in the right direction. I’m finally figuring out who I am, what I want to be known for, and what I want from life. So yeah, there are a lot of things I take away from jiu-jitsu.

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What is the one thing that keeps you for coming back?

RM: Growth. When I was younger and insecure I always looked outside for life advice. I got involved with personal development programmes, I bought dozens of self-help books, and I went to seminars – all that stuff. The goal was always to grow as a human being. But I think that jiu-jitsu encompasses everything that you should look for in personal development. The physical, mental, social and spiritual aspects all come together. The art allowed me to truly grow as a person. So I think that’s why I stuck with it. Thankfully I was too stubborn to let it go.

Ro Malabanan is the general manager at Overthrow Boxing (Williamsburg), Follow him on Instagram: @rotheshow

Daniël Bertina is a journalist & writer based in The Netherlands. He’s also a 1st degree black belt under Marcos Flexa of Carlson Gracie Amsterdam. Follow him on Instagram: @joyofirony

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