Inverted Gear Blog / Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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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Refereeing Observations: Battle Cries and Verbal Taps

I have been refereeing on and off since I was a purple belt. I probably average about one tournament per year. My wife Hillary and I met at a tournament when she was refereeing, but that's a story for another time (but still a really good story).

Anyway, Hillary and I spent this weekend in Virginia refereeing a local tournament. We were originally planning on heading out to California for Pans, but we had been traveling a lot the last few months and decided against getting back on another flight. When one of our referee friends reached out and asked us to come down to Virginia and ref, we saw it as a good excuse to visit some friends without switching time zones again.

Big tournaments are great. I love the big stage of multiple day tournaments, but small regional tournaments held at high school gyms will forever hold a special place in my heart. They bring me back to the times when I was a lower belt traveling up and down the east coast to compete almost every weekend.

This weekend, I got to watch BJJ from 10 am until 6pm, and I came out the other end with a few observations:

  • There were more female competitors. All of the women’s divisions that were held in my ring had plenty of competitors. This was great to see. I remember my female BJJ friends would struggle to get matches at regional tournaments. Even cooler was the fact that the ladies had some of the better takedowns I saw all day, both very good wrestling and judo style takedowns. Not sure if this was a regional thing, or a side effect of having Ronda and Meisha on TV for the last few years.

  • The open guard of blue belts and teenagers was ridiculous. I witnessed an impressive display of open guard, both de la Riva/bearimbolo and X-guard combinations that personally I was miles away from when I was a blue belt. It’s going to be exciting to see some of these young guys down the road.
  • We need to do more to educate people about verbal submissions. I had two separate incidents of people screaming during submission attempts. Both people were completely unaware that this counts as a tap. One even argued with me that it wasn’t a tap because he didn’t scream “tap!” but an “ahh!” which is actually a battle cry. Not joking. A battle cry. This has already become one of my favorite stories.

  • Takedowns and sweeps could use some clarification. Many times over the weekend I had people screaming at me over points. Most of the disputes came from sweep scrambles when the bottom player would get countered when he came up to finish a sweep which is explained here in the IBJJF rulebook:

    3.4 Athletes who, in defending a sweep, return their opponent back-down or sideways on the ground shall not be awarded the takedown-related two points or advantage point.

    Also when people would be “taken down” from turtle, which is explained here:

    When the opponent has one or two knees on the ground, the athlete performing the takedown will only be awarded points if he/she is standing at the moment the takedown is carried out. An exception may be made under circumstances addressed in item 3.4 and respecting the 3 (three) seconds of stabilization.

    These two rules, which are somewhat hidden in the rulebook, are important because they deal with situations that both come up pretty often, and bring some clarity to what can be really chaotic back and forth battles for position.

  • Refereeing is hard. Paying attention to so many things for that long period of time is tough. Everything gets a bit hazy toward the end of the day. While I tried to do my best, I am sure I missed something somewhere. Maybe I was late on giving points, or maybe I missed an advantage. You never truly know how hard refereeing is until you do it. 
Please give your refs a break. They are not actively trying to screw you. They have probably just been standing for hours on end, under pressure from competitors, parents and coaches. It’s not easy, but someone has to do it. Next time a ref misses something at a local event, cut them a break. Lots of us don't do it for the money but as a way to give back to the sport we love so much.

Unless you are letting out a battle cry. Then battle cry on.
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