Inverted Gear Blog / Nelson Puentes

Acroyoga for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A few months ago my friend Stephen Goyne was at a camp in Chicago we were teaching at. After one of our training sessions, he started showing us acroyoga poses, emphasizing three he recommended for post-training recovery. We lucked out because in addition to being a BJJ black belt, Stephan is also an experienced acroyoga instructor.

I had seen videos of acroyoga floating around the internet, and it always look interesting, but I never had the chance to try it. After some instruction from Stephen, we started doing acroyoga at the end of our training sessions. My hamstrings have never been more flexible, and it has helped Hillary's back and shoulder issues.

The main poses we worked on are here are folded leaf, high flying whale, and low flying whale. In this video, Stephen takes us through these poses after a training session at his gym Bay Jiu Jitsu in Berkeley, CA.

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I Panda, Therefore I am

Stoic philosophy has been gaining popularity over the last few years, with books like The Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way conquering the New York Times bestseller list renewing interest in the works of stoic philosophers like Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius (among others). What is stoic philosophy you may ask? Before I tell you, you may be surprised to find out you are already a stoic. Do you endure hardship without feeling or complaint? Do you avoid worrying about things outside your control, and concern yourself only with the things that you can? If the answer is yes—even if you only manage this thinking on the mat—you are well on your way to following stoic philosophy.

Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century BC. Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be, how brief our moment of life is, how to be steadfast and strong, and most importantly, how to stay in control of yourself. Stoicism has been practiced by kings, presidents, artists, writers, and entrepreneurs. Recently, NFL teams have been added to their mental training.

So how do we apply these set of 2,000 year-old principles to the martial arts we know and love? I can think of many areas but I would like to start with the following?

I run into practitioners, both competitors and hobbyists, that worry and become incredibly stressed over things they have no control over, all the while neglecting things that they do have control over and could be benefiting from. I have seen everything from anxiety over what their bracket looks like to the point of stressing weeks before tournament-day and checking who signs up in their divisions multiple times a day. Then they start dreading fighting this or that competitor in their first match because he is Brazilian or is from a rival team or has a longer competition record.

Meanwhile, they neglect things they can control like a steady training schedule, picking the toughest guys in the room to roll with, not sitting out during sparring, and eating healthy. For the hobbyist, many times they complain about training partners, how a guy they started with is improving faster than them and will get promoted before them because he comes to class more often, effectively comparing themselves with a 19-year-old with no job while they are in their mid-thirties with a career and a family.

You do not need to immerse yourself in Greek philosophy to benefit from stoicism.

Can you identify what you are in control of in your training? Do you have a clear idea in your mind of what you want to work on every time you go into class? Are you taking ownership over your training? Do you drill mindlessly new technique shown in class and never attempt it during sparring?

Stop worrying about things outside of control and focus on what you can control. This simple principle can transform your training and make you a better grappler.
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Bringing the Greenland Gi to Life

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a few major countries occupy the spotlight. Brazil, of course, tops the list, but the U.S. receives a lot of attention as well. Japan is often in the conversation for obvious reasons, but it doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the first two. And recently, we’ve started to see a little bit more love for Russia’s contributions to grappling, but that is still relatively small.

For the rest of the world? Well, they often become footnotes in the culture of BJJ. Designers and gym owners are quick to reference the major BJJ countries in artwork and in products, but the smaller scenes, where jiu-jitsu has just recently started to blossom and make a difference in the communities there, are overlooked.

That’s one of the big reasons we love traveling with BJJ Globetrotters. We get to visit these great jiu-jitsu communities and meet people that might never be on the cover of a magazine but are doing amazing things for their students and training partners and have incredible stories to tell.

Greenland is one of these places. The people who call Greenland home are hardy. The country is rugged with difficult winters and short-lived springs. With limited natural resources, even basic foods like beef need to be imported. And like many native groups, Greenland has its share of social problems and challenges that are made even more difficult by the sometimes harsh environment.

While I spent time with friends and great people I couldn't help but feel desolate. Roads ended at the city limits, and the only ways of reaching other towns was skimobile, boat, or plane. Alcoholism and suicide are huge issues there. We were warned that the government is trying to fight by incredibly high alcohol tax.

It’s not all bleak though. The local culture is rich, and the injection of BJJ has brought some new hope as well. After apologizing for his poor English, a gentlemen we promoted to blue belt on the last day of camp told us how he has been struggling with alcohol abuse since he was 12. And now in his 20s, BJJ is the only thing he has found that helps him stay sober.

The sum of these experiences laid the tinder for a new gi, and we needed a certain globetrotter to create the spark.

Once you have done the legwork of perfecting your cut and sizing, designing new gis is pretty straightforward. You pick the weave, pick the color, decide on stitching and accents, and choose what patches or embroidery go where. With a talented designer, you can do complete this process in a few days, and any subsequent changes are made after the factory produces a sample.

That’s how it works most of the time. The gi I am about to show you had a similar design process, but instead of it taking place inside an office or coffee shop, we were on a boat off the coast of Greenland on a whale-watching trip. I never thought I would ever be in Greenland, much less design a gi there. It all started with a message from my friend Christian Graugart.

He was arranging a trip to visit an old student that had started a BJJ school in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, and wanted to bring some black belt friends with him. A few brave souls volunteered, and after some serious flight searches, we ended up in Nuuk. I wrote a blog about our epic layover in Reykjavik here and the Greenland trip here.

If you haven’t heard about Christian, he literally wrote the book on BJJ travel and nowadays spends his time planning amazing BJJ camps all over the world. Hillary and I have been to 9 out of 27 of the camps, and are trying to hold on to our top 10 standing in the camp high score list.

Christian usually makes camp gis and suggested that we make a collaboration project. His biggest stipulation: We had to have an inverted polar bear.

Most of the design work was done aboard that boat while we waited on whale sightings. Weave was an easy choice. It’s usually pretty cold there, so a 550 GSM pearl weave felt right. Both of our gis usually have shoulder embroidery, so those were a given. We used the polar bear art done by Hillary instead of the usual panda and incorporated Christian’s BJJ Globetrotters logo. For the ribbon, we got Christian’s usual designer to etch the epic landscape was saw from the boat. For the final detail, we took inspiration from the colorful national outfit as a shoulder liner for the inside of the gi and added the Greenland flag.

This was a unique design experience. And as we prepare to launch it tomorrow (7/14/2017), we are excited to report that the fledgling gym we visited in Nuuk has doubled in size since last year. We are sending the guys from Nuuk some uniforms for their club and sharing with you the story behind the gi. There are thousands of powerful jiu-jitsu stories that have yet to be told, and in future gis with Christian, we hope to tell at least some of them.

The Greenland Gi

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Cross-Pollinating Grappling Rules

My first grappling love was wrestling. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo soon followed, and in the last few years I have added Sambo. I watch most jiu-jitsu PPVs (can’t wait for Polaris 5) and most major IBJJF tournaments. I live in North Eastern Pennsylvania, so we get to see great wrestling at Lehigh University and at local high schools. On the Sambo front, I watch my friend Reilly Bodycomb compete, and a year ago I was in Paraguay as the unofficial translator for the U.S. team for the Pan American games. For Judo, I still follow the career of a few of my old training partners from my time at Cranford Judo, both of which are national team members.

So you could say that my love for grappling is pretty serious.

The reason I tell you all of this is that very often when I hear talk about the problems with BJJ rules the IBJJF system which has become default for the majority of tournaments. We seldom look outside of BJJ to see how we might improve competition rules. While they might not be BJJ, other sports have had to address similar issues, whether those issues were tactics abusing the current rules or safety issues, especially for kids matches.

Here are some of the rules I would like to be implemented in some form:

1. Standardized resetting positions. Every major tournament seems to generate some sort of controversy surrounding a reset position. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has evolved, and the advent of the post-modern BJJ games has made restarting positions increasingly difficult. We are not just looking for who had half guard or closed guard anymore. Some of the berimbolo positions or lapel guard positions are incredibly complicated, and it is incredibly hard for a referee to look at the position for maybe fifteen seconds and then recreate it perfectly, match after match after match.

Folkstyle wrestling uses standard positions: one neutral, one bottom, and one top. We can take a look at the FILA grappling rules to see how these look in a grappling context. If the action rolls out of bounds, we could use a standardized open guard position, for example, to restart the match.

FILA Submission Grappling's Reset Positions:

2. Lift to stop. A video of a teenage competitor injuring his neck after being lifted by his opponent has been making the rounds on social media. Thankfully, he is expected to make a full recovery. Much debate has been made about how the match should have been stopped, or how we need to train with those situations in mind and be prepared for slams. How about we borrow a rule from Judo and Sambo instead?

If you are locked in a submission and you lift your opponent, the action stops. You are then reset standing. This puts emphasis on performing submissions in a way where it is difficult for your opponent to lift you, instead of relying on the rules to keep you safe. If a standing reset is too much to ask for BJJ, but how about a restart from open guard? While this rule is not necessary for purple and above—ADCC already allows slams—but it could be a great way to protect both young and new competitors.

3. Kneebars and ankle locks legal at all levels. Ever since the 50/50 guard entered the BJJ metagame, this issue has occurred at the lower belt levels: One opponent goes for a legal ankle lock and the other opponent changes the angle, turning the legal ankle lock into an illegal kneebar. The result? One person gets DQed and then a bunch of people shout and argue in Portuguese. This happened at Worlds this year.

The competitor in the blue was DQed as it was deemed a legal technique and the competitor in black argued he was trying to transition to 50/50. Now with the way the game is headed I think it would be beneficial for everyone to allow both kneebars and ankle locks at all belt levels, and get rid of the silly reaping rule, as reaping positions will result from escaping kneebars. Sambo has allowed both ankle locks and kneebars, and contrary to popular belief these are no twisting leg locks allowed in sport Sambo, and they don't seem to have an issue with injuries many BJJ players fear so much.

These three rule changes won’t fix every problem in BJJ competition rules, but they will help. Our sport is evolving rapidly, and our rules should follow suit. If we insist on ignoring the latest developments in technique and strategy, our dated rules might actually hurt competition growth in general.

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Top 4 Beginner Sweeps

Due to an injury to one of my friends, I have found myself pitching in covering the fundamentals classes at his academy. Even though at one point I would teach about 4 fundamental classes a week, it’s been a long time since I taught a class of mostly fresh white belts. Most of my time teaching has been the odd advanced class at my home gym or mixed groups at camps or seminars. Thinking about what is best to teach raw beginners is a welcome change of pace.

I went back and thought through what my favorite moves were at lower belts and also recalled what approaches worked best when I had my own beginner’s program. I created a list of what to teach, covering four or five moves for sweeping, escaping, passing, and submitting.

When I teach beginners, I like to start by covering sweeps. The sweep game is a great place to start for white belts because the small victory of going from the bottom to the top is rewarding, and it gets them thinking more about base and timing early on in their careers.

Any move I teach beginners, including sweeps, must meet the following criteria:

  1. Simple
  2. Develop movement patterns that will be needed for more advanced moves.
  3. Are not attribute dependent (long legs, strong, flexible, etc.)
  4. Able to rewind to a safe position if the move fails, like closed guard for example

The sweeps I chose for this criteria were the following:

Scissor sweep: I often introduce this sweep first because it starts introducing concepts of unbalancing, or kuzushi if you want to use fancy Japanese terms, and it also introduces a transition from closed guard into an open guard attack.

Headstand sweep: I think this sweep is crucial at the lower levels. If your open guard is not developed, you need a way to deal with someone standing to pass. To this day, this is one of my favorite closed guard sweeps.

Arm across sweep: Bringing the arm across and going for the pendulum sweep introduces what I like to call unfair gripping. Understanding the principles behind this sweep opens-up more advanced guard and control concepts.

Two on one back take: I will throw this one on the sweep section even if it does not mee the IBJJF definition of a sweep. Many times when attacking sweeps paths to the back open. The mechanics behind this one greatly help new students, especially when collar and armdrags come into play.

The beauty of fundamental sweeps like these is that even if you are not a beginner, returning to them can help you to enhance your game or unlock new, high-percentage paths for your techniques. And when you start teaching—even if it’s just covering the odd class or answering questions during an open mat—having some ideas of what might be best for beginners will help you to lead the next generation of jiu-jiteiros.

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