Inverted Gear Blog / Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Observations from a Two-Year Black Belt

I got my black two years ago, and I’m making it a tradition to write about what I’ve learned each year as a black belt. I’m amazed at how much I learned and improved over the last year, but I am even more surprised at how little I have actually trained. This is probably the least I’ve been on the mat since I first started jiu-jitsu. Between traveling, life, and business I still train about 5 times a week, but gone are the days where I log multiple double sessions in a week.

Some observations:

  • I still love BJJ. I am still thoroughly fascinated by it, but since I am not competing I just can’t justify a reason to maintain my old training volume. My body feels much better, old nagging injuries have mostly cleared up, and I feel much more productive. This blog is evidence of this new found productivity.

  • One issue I’ve run into is that I kept eating the way I had over the last few years. However, since I am burning much fewer calories, I started to add extra pounds. Things hit an all-time high when I came home from a trip to Europe in January for one of the Globetrotter camps. I was 232! This is the most I had ever weighed. It was time to make a change, after some reading and research I began the ketogenic diet. I am down to 215 and on the way down (I plan on writing a blog on ketogenic diet for BJJ soon).

  • My takedown work continues. I even got to compete in a sambo tournament during one of Reilly Bodycomb’s leg lock camps. I have put a lot of work into my grip fighting, and I can tell the difference on the way I am able to get much deeper when going for single or doubles and how is much easier to set up my throws and foot sweeps. I highly recommend on working on your grip fighting early in your BJJ career. This skill is often overlooked and it makes a huge difference in your stand up game, both gi and no-gi.

  • I have funneled my guard passing into one position: the folding pass. Everything I do inside the guards leads to that position. After tinkering with it, I have had great success and annoyed plenty of training partners along the way. The folding pass is especially useful against the new wave of open guard games. Collapsing the knees and settling into a top position lets me eliminate mobility, shutdown inversion, and force them to carry my weight as I slow the game down.

  • As far as my open guard goes, I abandoned almost all of the double sleeve grip techniques I used to use. I play very little spider guard and very little de la riva guard. If I end up in open guard, I mostly look for overhead sweeps, sit up into single legs, or force seated guard. If I can, I try to set my butterfly hooks. According to my training partners, butterfly guard is one of the most powerful parts of my game, yet I wasn’t actively pursuing it, so now I am hunting for hooks from full guard and for half guard, working my way into X-guard variations as well.

  • Closed guard is back in style! As I diet and as my training volume decreases, my cardio isn’t at the level it used to be, motivating me to play more closed guard. My approach has become to simplify my game to the point that everything I do either gives me the mount or the back, typically by starting with an armbar threat. It might sound odd for a black belt to go back to something as “basic” as an armbar from closed guard, but my renewed focus on the position has tightened up my technique overall.

  • Leg locks were the biggest hole in my game when I got promoted. Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to continue to work with Reilly. I have probably been to 5 of his Seminars now, and two training camps. Heel hooks are becoming more and more popular, and thanks to Reilly I have become not only familiar with them but very comfortable going for them and defending them. Understanding leg control positions has been the key to my finishes as well as my escapes. Learning these principles has allowed me to adapt a lot of Reilly’s material into an IBJJF-approved leg lock system. While I am a big fan of belly-down ankle locks and cross-body ankle locks, I have to admit that kneebars are still a weakness, so I’ll be looking more deeply at those in the next few months.
This has been a fascinating journey, and as I continue to train the more I realize there are so many things I need to work on. Not only is there is always something new to work on, but I realize there are old things I need to revisit and work back into my game as well. Not only will I receive the first degree on my black belt next year, but it will also mark 10 years since I started training. This has been an amazing journey, and even though my life and my attitude towards the sport aspect of BJJ has changed, I am still in love with BJJ as much as the day I started.

I’m looking forward to many more years of training, teaching, and helping spread this wonderful thing that has become a huge part of my life. I’m curious to see what I write about next year.
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Reflections on Polaris 3

Polaris 3 took place this weekend, and while I watched it live, I don’t think I would have been able to miss it even if I had wanted to. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were blowing up with all kinds of post about the event. R/BJJ had a mega-post and about twenty other post about the event. While most of the conversations were positive—great action during matches, slick transitions, and a Stockton Slap heard ‘round the world—a few negatives like lack of submissions in the main card, camera work, and the replay delay occupied a surprisingly large portion of the discussion. The event as a whole renewed debates about whether or not there’s enough community support for such events, whether jiu-jitsu piracy is justified, and what we as fans could reasonably expect from such events.

While we were a sponsor of the event, which makes me biased, I thought the Matt, Ben, Gareth and the rest of the Polaris crew did an amazing job. The format to me is fine. I don’t see a need for overtime rules or time extensions. Criticisms of the camera work and the replay taking a while to upload are fair criticisms but were hammered a bit too hard. Given how much Polaris has listened to the community before, I think it’s fair to assume that these won’t be a problem in Polaris 4.

The lack of submissions is completely out of their control. They set up the best match-ups possible and hoped for the best, which is really about all that promoters can do. There was something for everyone: a good mixed of local talent, Japanese standouts, American competitors, and Brazilian fighters.

Piracy, however, has reared its ugly head again. Polaris is a small organization, and like many other BJJ events before it, it struggles to stay out of the red. The distribution of pirated videos on social media hurts their PPV buys, and the old argument of whoever was going to buy the PPV did so the day of is ridiculous. While I understand how tight money can be as a struggling BJJ guy (don’t forget that Inverted Gear started in my mom’s basement), I remember a time we had to wait months for a DVD to come out so we could watch events. We have been spoiled lately with the amount of BJJ streams available.

If we enjoy watching what’s being offered and want to see more, we have to support the events. Otherwise, we will lose Polaris, like so many other events before this one. Remember Ultimate Absolute and PSL? I would bet a number of you don’t, and that says a lot about just how hard it is to do what Polaris is doing.

By not supporting these events, we not only risk losing the events themselves but also risk losing the idea of professional grappling altogether. How many great athletes are we going to lose as they make their move to MMA to actually make a living? I would love it if we ever get to a point where guys like Jacare, Damian Maia, Rodolfo Viera, and Kron Gracie can stay in BJJ.

Support BJJ. Stop sharing pirated material.

I’m already looking forward to the next Polaris. For three straight events they have put together great matchups with grapplers from the around the world. I know we’ll see more leg lock battles, more unexpected pairings of competitors (who ever thought that Tonon vs. Palhares would be at thing?), and more innovation from an organization that has already pushed the envelope of what a professional grappling event can be.

And Inverted Gear will be sponsoring it again. If we as a community don’t support these kinds of events, we are only hurting ourselves.

» Buy access to the Polaris Pro 3 PPV (available until Apr 17)

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What It Means to be a Brown Belt and How to Make Progress Towards Black

In part one of this series, I gave my best advice for newbie white belts and anxious new blue belts. Part two was for blue belts looking to level up to purple and purples figuring out how to keep progressing. Now I finally get to high level purple belts and brown belts on the verge of reaching black belt.

As a rank, brown belt can have a very wide spread in what that color represents. Nelson and I talked about this last time we trained together. Every belt can represent different things for different people, but it gets more pronounced the closer you get to black belt.

Consider these 3 fictional but common biographies:

Brown Belt #1: Started training BJJ as single 20-something, but now 40-something with a wife and kids. Originally got into BJJ because of first UFCs and dreamed of doing MMA, but couldn’t find good instruction for years while waiting for BJJ to come to his town. Now trains mostly for fun and to stay in shape. Can only make it to class 2-4 nights a week because of family and work obligations. Has a simple game with a few good tricks up his sleeve, but still has trouble with young competitors like Brown Belt #3. Always friendly with new students and supportive of the school, especially financially.

Brown Belt #2: One of the few women to stick with BJJ at her gym long enough to make it to brown belt. Few training partners her size that aren’t teenager boys. Lucky when a female brown or black belt drops in. Has to travel to women-only camps to get more experience with her peers. Competes when she can but has to juggle work and social life. Very dedicated but has trouble getting in solid training with people her size and skill level.

Brown Belt #3: Started training BJJ at 6 years old, wrestled in high school and college, 21 years old now. Competes as much as possible, trains 2 times a day, 6-7 days a week, plus strength and conditioning sessions. No real job beyond helping teach kids classes. Lives with parents. Aspiring to win Worlds and qualify for ADCC.

What being a brown belts means to each of these people is very different, and their instructor will have promoted them for different reasons. The idea that “the same” belt can mean different things for different people is often debated, mostly by lower belts who want the higher ranks to be a definite and unbreakable statement. In making a promotion, an instructor is making a judgment that considers many factors, including the person’s skills, knowledge, dedication, contributions to the school and the sport, their ability against people of similar experience, size and age, tournament performance, and much more.

All that said, in the dream world where we can hold everyone to the exact same standard, here is my best advice for soon-to-be-promoted purple belts and brown belts:

Nail down what defines you as a grappler. The early belts were mostly about filling in the blank spots on the map. This exploration continues through the middle belts, where the focus is usually on adding more techniques, and less on refining what’s already known. By brown belt, you should know what you like and don’t like. You shouldn’t need many more techniques. Own your favorite positions and techniques. Cut out the fat and fluff. You should have a gameplan that you can skillfully execute with confidence against competent opponents.

Sharpen your signature submissions. A solid brown belt should be able to threaten submissions from almost every position. You should feel like you can submit anyone, even the black belts, if given the opportunity. All those years spent developing positional control were so you could be confident once you want to end the fight. The submissions don’t need to be anything fancy (in fact, it’s likely better if it’s just the classics like armbars, chokes, kimuras, etc.) but they need to be sharp, clean, and instill a sense of inevitable doom.

Deepen your appreciation of the fundamentals. The experimentation that often defines the middle blue and purple belts can be fun, but often has people chasing the latest trendy techniques or flavor-of-the-month guard. There’s a time and place for that, especially if you’re a competitor, but they can be a distraction from developing what you will really use throughout your lifetime of training. With all of the experience you’ve gained since white belt, you may be surprised by how much you can gain from reviewing your basics with the desire to see the deeper concepts and finer details. This is especially important if you want to teach and pass the art on to your students.

Shore up your weaknesses. With black belt on the near horizon, this is one of the best times to fix any glaring weaknesses. This may be escaping from certain positions that you’ve gotten good enough to usually avoid. You may define yourself as a “guard player” or a “top game player” to the neglect of the other, and it’s time to develop the opposite skill set. For pure sport BJJ players, the commonly neglected skills are takedowns, self defense, and leglocks. Your weaknesses could also be physical conditioning or mental aspects like a lack of confidence or negative beliefs about yourself.

Stay dedicated and put in the work. The biggest “secret” is that there are no real secrets. Keep coming to class. Study and drill your techniques, keep learning new things, and reviewing old things. Become more efficient, more fluid, more dynamic, more solid. Direct your personal progress by what you do at open mats and during free sparring. Keep your nose to the grindstone, but keep your passion and love for the art alive.

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6 Tips for Taking Notes in Jiu-Jitsu

My confession: I have a terrible memory.

I carry around a notebook with me at all times. I have a notebook at work and one I keep in my purse. I am constantly writing down tasks I need to complete and errands I need to run. Over the past couple of years, I have started applying this habit in to jiu-jitsu. Admittedly I have not been as consistent with note-taking as I’d like, but when I am diligent, I see the results shine through in my training.

In jiu-jitsu, you learn such a wide range of techniques that it can often be intimidating. For many, recalling a technique immediately after it’s shown is a challenge (where does my foot go again?), but it is a universal challenge to remember everything you learn in class. Taking notes can help. Having experimented with this for some period of time now, I have found the following strategies to be the most helpful:

  1. Don’t try to write down everything your instructor says. If you do this, you’ll primarily be focused on writing and not watching and learning the actual material. Write down the position/sweep/submission and the important details.

  2. Know when to “shelve it for later.” If the technique(s) taught that day don’t make sense to you, make a note of it. You aren’t always going to catch on to everything taught that day. For example, my instructor once went through a full month of single leg X guard, and I was completely lost. This is because I simply wasn’t ready to learn it at the time; my mind was unable to comprehend the position well enough because I wasn’t familiar with it (or the prerequisite material) yet. However, a year later, I am obsessed with single leg X guard and am catching on to the smaller details much better as purple belt than as an intermediate blue belt.

  3. Consider drawing a rough sketch. One of the biggest mistakes I made in taking notes was that I didn’t write them down in a way that made sense when I went back to them. Drawing a quick picture can help you show the position and small details that might not come across with just words.

  4. Have a list of abbreviations you’re used to using. This makes note taking much faster. It’s far easier to write “DLR” than “de la Riva, or “slx” than “single leg x”. Make sure you remember what the abbreviations stand for!

  5. Always remember to put the date. Sometimes I’ll ask my instructor to show me a detail from “that move you showed last week.” Writing the date down makes it easier to ask others in this scenario, especially since some instructors have a structured curriculum that has a specific outline for each day.

  6. Use an app if a notebook isn’t for you. Many smart phones have built in notepad/note taking apps. EverNote is the only app I’ve used, but I prefer pen and paper.

Hopefully you find these helpful in organizing and remembering your thoughts in jiu-jitsu and beyond.

Have you tried taking notes in jiu-jitsu? How did it go? Share your experience!

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Polaris Pro 3: The Battle for Professional Jiu-Jitsu

The notion of pay-per-view jiu-jitsu is relatively new. Copa Podio and Metamoris were early adopters of the live stream model, and their efforts helped to inspire organizations like Polaris, Budo Videos, IBJJF, Flo Grappling, and the Eddie Bravo Invitational to follow suit. The collective goal is a simple win: Elevate professional jiu-jitsu closer to the height of professional MMA and boxing. If this is successful, the sport as a whole benefits from increased attention, and jiu-jitsu businesses as well as athletes would enjoy additional revenue.

Here's the thing. Running a professional grappling organization is really really hard.

For starters:

  • The logistics are complex. You have to set up a venue, book athletes and their arrangements, and also coordinate all of the technology necessary for a smooth live stream.
  • It’s expensive. Putting up the capital for a venue, hardware, and decent athlete pay requires some deep pockets or generous backers.
  • The market is still in its infancy. Yes, events have been streaming for a few years, but the sport isn’t that big yet. Energizing an audience to pay for an event is not easy, and the pool of potential customers is pretty small.

We are at a point in our sport where we have grown at such a rate that pay-per-view grappling events are even viable, but we aren’t to the point where we can take them for granted. If we don’t support these events now while they are in their early stages, we might miss out on what professional grappling could become. While most of us in the sport are reasonable enough to admit that professional grappling is unlikely to ever rival MMA or boxing—let’s face it, we are a niche sport—we do hope that the world class athletes in our midst could make a reasonable living for devoting their lives to pushing the envelope of grappling technique.

As it stands now, a professional grappler makes most of their money from sponsorships and seminars and very little from actually competing. A growing PPV market would help to boost the size of purses, but more than that, it would boost interest from sponsors and accelerate seminar opportunities. So while competing itself might not become a fulltime career any time soon, elevating the stage even a little bit can create a number of positive ripples.

At Inverted Gear, we are fans of pretty every grappling organization (except the ones that don’t pay their athletes), so when we encourage you to support Polaris, we are not saying that you should be against other grappling organizations. Not at all. Instead, we want to highlight the things that we think Polaris is doing right in the hopes that other organizations follow suit:

  • Athletes first. Nelson and Hillary got to travel to England alongside Reilly Bodycomb and spent time backstage with the other fighters. They reported that on the backend—the part of the event that few spectators ever hear about—fighters were taken care of and treated well. That’s a big deal.
  • Credibility. Speaking from personally experience, the folks behind Polaris are a class act. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Matt Benyon (best known for his work with Scramble) on a number of projects, including a cross-promotion for Polaris 2, and he has never turned away someone looking for help or reneged on a promise. His word is his word, and you never have to worry about the contrary.
  • Diversity. From the beginning Polaris has gone to great lengths to bring together a variety of grapplers, from different background, genders, and hemispheres. Polaris makes a deliberate effort to represent the grappling world rather than any single region or style.
  • Engagement. Polaris actively participates in and listens to the community. If you interact with professional grapplers on Instagram or Twitter or post in r/BJJ, you have probably talked to someone that works for Polaris without even realizing it. By staying grounded in the grappling community, Polaris not only creates the match-ups fans wants to see but also runs their business in a way that is transparent and responsive.
  • Quality. Polaris doesn’t skimp on production value. The event is run well and looks great, making you feel as though you got your money’s worth.
Again, I’m not saying that other events aren’t doing this (The Eddie Bravo Invitational comes to mind as another great event to keep your eyes on), but I can’t help but love Polaris for all of the work that they do. When Polaris Pro 3 airs this weekend, we’ll be watching, and we hope you’ll join us. Your participation will help to push the sport forward.
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