Inverted Gear Blog / Nelson Puentes
Becoming a black belt world champion may be the loftiest goal one can shoot for in our sport. However, this goal is not for everyone. If this is your current goal, I don’t want to shoot down your dream. This article is not for you. If you are busy with work and can only train a few nights a week, are a BJJ hobbyist, busy mom that loves training, or like me, a mat rat (or panda) that has no interest in becoming a world champion this article is for you.
My BJJ instructor/role model/life coach Kevin Sheridan used to sit us down once a year, usually in January after Sunday class, and we would spend an hour on goal setting. We did this every year, I can honestly say this was one of the best things Kevin ever did for me and his other students. Over the course of the years, everyone that put the time into our little meetings achieved much more than the ones that opted out. Let me share some of the most popular ones in no particular order:
I will go to BJJ practice X number of times a week. This is one of the most powerful goals you can set, especially if you struggle with consistency. I find that three times a week is the magic number for improvement. Although it seems easy, you would be surprised how many people I saw choose this goal and struggle to meet it.
I will lose X number of pounds. Weight loss is a pretty common goal. I had many students lose upwards of 50 pounds in about a year. Many times weight loss goals were tied to competition weight classes, so someone walking around 195 would set a goal to make middleweight or 180 with the gi on. Many times this goals had a specific deadline like a tournament. If you choose this goal, don’t cheat yourself. Make the weight a week before the tournament through dieting. Don’t go full UFC weight cut on us and make the weight through a sauna suit and water manipulation.
I will not close my guard for a year. This was my goal in 2009. I had just gotten my purple belt and wanted to improve my open guard that Kevin kept smashing. At this point, closed guard was strongest part of my game, and I completely abandoned it for a year. I forced myself to play open guard. Unless we did specific drills or sparring from closed guard, I did not play closed guard for a year. The first few weeks were rough as guys that I usually handled were suddenly getting around my guard, but I slowly improved. By the end of the year, open guard was one of the strongest parts of my game. You can apply this concept to anything, I had training partners start every roll from side control for a year for example
I will go for an armbar every roll. My friend Andrew did this and it sounds easy, but after a week or two when your training partners catch on to what you are doing you, it becomes much more challenging. They will become hyper-aware of their appendages and you will have to become more crafty with your armbar attemtps, setting them up different ways, looking for them in different positions. I am currently working on a similar goal, and I have been going for a cross-body ankle lock on every roll for the last 3 months.
Talking about goals in terms of years might sound like an unmanageably long stretch of time. In jiu-jitsu hours, it ends up going by quickly. At the same time, having a year-long goal does not mean that you stop learning everything else, but it does give your training a consistent direction that will drive your overall progress much more effectively than working on one concept for a month and leaving it behind.
What goals are you working on? How is it going?
Have you heard about open source software? Its core promise is that its source code is freely available to anyone to use or modify. Let’s think about Brazilian jiu-jitsu as software. As I write this article, there is an amazing wealth of information at my finger tips. I can go on Google and chances are I can find an instructional for any sub, sweep or pass I can think off. This was not always the case! Before Youtube soared to popularity and the advent of paid membership BJJ websites, our access to this kind of information was very limited. For the early American pioneers of BJJ, the only access they had was going to Torrance, CA and learning from the Gracies. Can you imagine being an East Coast white belt during those days?
Access to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu knowledge is amazing now. There are academies everywhere, great books on the subject, a plethora of monthly magazines, and more technique videos that you can possibly watch in one sitting. Whatever you are on the market for is covered. Self defense? Check. Basic closed guard? Check. Escaping side control? You got it. It's very possible for a group of guys without access to an instructor to get together to train and learn jiu-jitsu. Is this optimal? Of course not, since it will take much longer for them to improve and get to a blue belt level than if they had formal training at an academy, but it’s possible and that is amazing.
Now, the most interesting part to me is the second part of the open source promise: the ability to change the source code. Whenever innovation happens in jiu-jitsu, that is precisely what’s happening -- we are changing the source code.
As jiu-jitsu progresses more and more, its source code is altered. We change how we do things, even basic things like where we put our hands during back control. The over-under seat belt control was not always the norm. For a long time, double unders was used as it gave better control because you could grab both lapels. Marcelo popularized the seatbelt during his early ADCC runs. Something we now take for granted was once considered revolutionary. Looking back at the history of BJJ, you can find many examples of this, such as the darce/brabo choke, half guard, open guard, and even the basic triangle choke.
No-gi becoming popular has changed things as well. Eddie Bravo has his own grappling software, and guys like Reilly Bodycomb, Ryan Hall, and Garry Tonon have changed the way we look at leglocks. In the gi, things like the berimbolo are a staple of competition jiu-jitsu, whereas five years ago very few people knew what it was.
I remember training and competing 8 years ago when x-guard and deep half guard were the new things. Before Marcelo popularized it, many people have never seen this position before. Fast forward to 2015, I can pull up any of the thousands of videos on Youtube and get a pretty good idea what I need to do. If I want to go a step further, I can sign up for www.mginaction.com and learn from the man himself.
Most new students take this for granted. I remember seeing Wilson Reis pulling off some trickery from deep half guard in a local Grappers Quest back in the day. I was fascinated and wanted to learn it. I asked my instructor with no luck. I asked my friend that trained at different academy, but no luck. There were no instructionals available on it at the time. So I went to Youtube in all of its grainy low def glory and watched all the matches I could find of Wilson Reis, Jeff Glover, and anyone else that played half guard. It took a while, but with the help of my instructors and training partners, I got a pretty good idea and started to hit sweeps from there. I look at old matches now and I see I made a bunch of mistakes that I have cleaned up since then. But that’s how it used to be! Now you can ask most blue belts and purple belts and they have a pretty good idea how to get into deep half guard and sweep a few different ways.
The forward progress of jiu-jitsu is incredible in the digital age. We're past the days of making fun of "Youtube jiu-jitsu." You can watch a live stream of the top competitors in the world competing, and see a breakdown of their gameplans by the end of the same day. The explosion of high quality online instruction and the open exchange of techniques puts the source code of BJJ at your finger tips. You just need to get on the mats and use it!
It has been eight years since the time I took my first Brazilian jiu-jitsu class. Deciding to train Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and sticking to it, has been one of the most fascinating and life-changing experiences of my life. My life would be radically different now if I never tied that white belt around my waist. Not only would I be lacking super sweet ninja moves, and not only would my circle of friends and career path be different, but I would never have met my wife. Eight years later I cannot imagine what my life would look like if I didn’t train.
I wasn’t much into sports growing up. I grew up in Chile and during my childhood the only sport that seemed available was soccer. I didn’t have much interest in soccer - my sister being picked before me during our neighborhood games may of have something to do with this. My family moved to the United States in 2001, opening a world of possibilities. During high school I was part of the football, wrestling and track teams. Once I graduated high school and decided not to pursue college wrestling, something was missing. I tried rugby, got into Olympic lifting, but nothing filled the gap that wrestling left. One day surfing the net I stumbled on footage of ADCC 2007, which had taken place in Trenton, New Jersey, about an hour from where I lived at the time. I was fascinated. I showed my friend Dave, one of my old wrestling teammates, and started talking about maybe trying that grappling thing out.
A few weeks went by and one Friday night I get a call from Dave at 1 AM. He was getting out of work, and someone at work told him about a grappling tournament in NJ in about a month. He gave me the website and the next day we signed up for Grapplers Quest. This was before ever taking a BJJ class. After visiting a few schools we started training with Dave Ellis who taught BJJ out of the Cranford Judo club. We would train BJJ in the morning then supplement with a few judo classes at night. After about 4 weeks of training we competed. Dave won his division and I took third.
After that first tournament I was hooked. Other than injury lay offs I have trained just about every day, sometimes twice a day, for the last eight years. I am truly thankful for what BJJ has given me, and I am looking forward to more training, tournaments, camps and meeting more amazing people through the sport.
It's been a year since I was promoted to Black Belt by Fabio Clemente and Kevin Sheridan. As cliche as it sounds I’ve learn more in the last year than I did in years prior to the big promotion. I moved to the North Philadelphia area shortly after being promoted, and for the first time since I was purple belt, I got to be a student again. Big thank you to Jared Weiner, Emily Kwok, Phil Migliarese,Jason Frawley and Alex Britto for letting me and my wife Hillary to train at your schools. We really appreciate it.
Here are the biggest things that I’ve learned over the last year. I think a lot of the applied to many BJJ players so wanted to share.
My takedowns needed work, a lot of work; I am a brown belt in Judo and wrestled in high school. I think I have a better understanding of takedowns than most pure BJJ players. However, I very rarely worked on them. When I started training at BJJ United, Jared starts every round from the feet, most guys there very rarely pull guard. First few weeks there were rough! I was out gripped, timing on my shots were off, my sprawl needed work. And my cardio felt awful. A year later I feel much better, timing is back, and I’ve been developing few things that I can consistently both gi and nogi.
My game had become very grip dependent. When I started getting ready for nogi pans, I started working one more of a sit up guard and x guard game, which was rusty, I had been working lots of De La Riva and Spider guard. Biggest hurdle was passing. It took a lot of drilling to feel comfortable passing again, I had spend about two years, my whole tenure as a Brown belt, working on leg drags and x passes. I now have more of a folding/smash pass passing style, still incorporating the x passes and leg drags.
I didn't realize how much work my leg lock game needed. I think this is the area that I experienced the most growth over the last year. IBJJF wise I added Estima locks to my game, which not only added an awesome submission to my game, but made my passing better. Non IBJJF wise I was able to train with Reilly Bodycomb. First at a seminar at 50/50 bjj, where I spent the weekend getting heel hooked by Reilly, Ryan and Seph. This was a huge eye opener, I had a basic understanding of heel hooks, I even won a few NAGA matches by heel hook. But this guys were miles away! Reilly has a great approach, I highly recommend it if you can ever make one of his seminars or training camps. You can check out his stuff at www.rdojo.com
Hope this is some help to someone. And helps people realize that while getting your black belt may be your goal, is by no means the end of your journey.