Inverted Gear Blog / Sambo
We like to give some insight in what drives our sponsored athletes, and why we are proud to support them. Previously, we talked to Eric Sian, Guam’s first world champion grappler. For this installment of Meet the Pandas we speak to Reilly Bodycomb: sambo champion, leglock wizard and all-round badass grappler.
Reilly Bodycomb (32) has been leglocking people into submission since 2005. He became famous for his own dynamic, take-no-prisoners grappling style – honed by his instructor ‘Sambo’ Steve Koepfer at New York Combat Sambo, his excellent coaching ability, and his willingness to share his leglock knowledge in various instructionals. Reilly’s been on a tear this year, winning gold at the Sambo Nationals, the Sambo Pan-Ams and the Dutch Sambo Open – among others.
How did you fall in love with sambo?
Reilly Bodycomb: When I stepped on the sambo mat at New York Combat Sambo, around 2005, it wasn’t the first time I’d experienced grappling. At the time I was a karate instructor in Brooklyn, and I had done some jiu-jitsu and judo before. So I would roll pretty consistently in our school and at various other gyms. However, it was my first time encountering a particular class structure that wasn’t traditional. A sambo gym is run closer to a wrestling or boxing club. There’s no bowing, no rank and no formality. That was both interesting and foreign to me. It turned out to be something I’d been looking for all my life, but just didn’t know it. I really liked the openness, focusing on what works best for your body type. Now, in retrospect, I realize that is not a universal characteristic of the sport. There are some gyms that have a more narrow perspective, as I found out during my travels. But New York Combat Sambo really had this open-minded attitude. One of my favorite things about training there, was that we went really wide with the rulesets. I was able to compete in sanshou kickboxing, MMA, combat sambo, sport sambo, freestyle sambo and submission grappling.
So it wasn’t your first time grappling, but did you get your ass kicked?
RB: I can’t remember (laughs). I had my first taste of getting absolutely crushed and dominated by a grappler several years before, when I went to train at an MMA gym. Like every other striker trying grappling for the first time, I got stuck underneath someone and couldn’t get out. That’s when I had that big revelation we all experience at the start of our journey: “Wow, this stuff really works! I have to learn more!”
Aside from the mindset, what else attracted you to sambo?
RB: My coach Stephen Koepfer taught striking and grappling combined in almost every class. You had gloves, shinpads and sometimes a jacket on. Grappling was mostly taught and discussed within the context of a real fight, so with strikes. There was a universal approach to sambo that I really appreciated. The fundamentals of the art – as they were taught by Steve – were a combination of striking and grappling. Everything was synched. So that gave me a great base to explore other arts. You often see the reverse in a lot of modern jiu-jitsu gyms, where striking is not addressed at all, or only reserved for higher level students.
Sambo seems to place a lot of emphasis on developing general movement first, specific technique second. What are your thoughts on that?
RB: Steve learned that from his coach Alex Barakov, and it’s a very effective approach. We focus on a lot of flowing movements, rolling and tumbling. But they serve a specific purpose. When I teach class and I warm up the room, I’m showing how to do rolls in a way that can be used combatively. For example: when you practice forward rolls across the mat and you’re posting out your hand, you’re not rolling in a way that you’d ever use in fighting. Because when you’re rolling in a fight, your hands are probably busy grabbing the jacket or hooking a leg. Same thing if your forward roll is taking you far across the mat. Sure, that’s nice for a warm up, but that situation won’t really happen in a fight. You’re more likely to kind of roll back or invert in the same spot, like when you’re attacking a kneebar from standing. Another example, our backward rolls are primarily used to train our entries for sacrifice throws, it’s not just rote repetition. We place a great emphasis on weaponizing our rolls.
So that’s where your spectacular sliding, jumping and rolling attacks come from?
RB: Exactly. Those dynamic entries don’t feel dangerous to me. When I’m teaching I realize just how important that stuff is. At a glance rolling leglocks seem crazy and unorthodox, but once you have fundamental body control and awareness, those dynamic entries are totally reasonable. During my career I’ve hit those moves consistently, now my students are hitting them too. That’s no coincidence. If you teach those fundamentals correctly they are transmittable. You just have to train them a lot in order to be able to pull the trigger when you see the opportunity. Those moves not only effective in a real fight – they also look awesome. It’s not just dancing. Luckily I found the right coach to help me develop that aspect of the game. The very first point I ever scored in a sambo match was a flying scissor takedown. It became clear that I had an aptitude for this. Being more dynamic was what actually felt easy to me.
You’ve been on a tear this year, winning a lot of competitions. What’s gotten into you?
RB: My ideal vision is working towards a fast-paced, dynamic, stand-up oriented grappling style. I want to be technical and well-rounded, and that means taking a lot of information from different sources – like jiu-jitsu, wrestling or judo – and then pouring that through a sambo filter. For me, the most important thing is to be a dynamic martial artist. It’s way more important than being just a ‘sambo guy’. Sambo just happened to be the best vehicle for the way my brain works, and how I can express what I think is cool in martial arts. I want to win on the feet, get the takedown and not get thrown myself, and/or winning dynamic entries to mat work. On the mat I want to submit my opponent as fast as possible. If I can’t, then I’m getting back to my feet quickly. That’s my lens. I figured the best thing would be to return to the sport that enforces that particular mindset and behavior. So this year I decided to push hard into my root sport. I went full circle. It’s kind of cathartic.”
Is there one win or tournament medal that’s especially important?
RB: Actually, there are three. When I fought in MMA in 2007 I won by double leg, mount and ground & pound. After that I stumbled into the sport of submission grappling, and I noticed there was a massive skill gap when it came to heelhooks. So I was able to win a bunch of grappling tournaments with heelhooks because people weren’t familiar with them. It’s not that I was super good or anything, at that time there was just a skill gap – which is obviously closing now. For a couple of years I went deep down the rabbit hole of leglocks, and I developed all sorts of dynamic entries into the heelhook. Around 2013, while my wife was pregnant with our daughter, I really wanted to win another MMA fight, but this time using a leglock. It was important to me to check if I hadn’t wasted my time, developing a skillset that would only work in submission grappling. I went to work with the help of my friend and BJJ black belt Colin Murray, and sure enough I was able to win a MMA fight by heelhook, before my daughter was born. That was a true pressure test of what I’d been working for all those years.
Furthermore, this year I won the sambo Pan-Ams. To enter that tournament you have to win your county’s nationals – which I did, and that was the first tournament that gave me an international sambo ranking. Americans don’t show up on that board easily. Seeing that gold medal elevate me to fifth in the world at 68 kg was truly amazing.
And winning combat sambo in Holland for the first time, again this year, was huge. Last time I fought under that ruleset was in 2006, I lost and didn’t do it again for years. I did fight MMA in between, but still it was super scary to put myself out there again. I was in a foreign country with just my Belgian friend Wannes De Roover. For some reason it was a really violent tournament. A dude got knocked out cold right in front of me, and had to be carried off the mat. I thought: “Man, WHY am I doing this?!” I imagined waking up in a Dutch hospital somewhere. Thankfully, in the first match I manage to suplex the guy and pin him for four points, so that’s an eight point technical win. In the second match I pulled off a sitting armbar-triangle combination. I won that tournament and came out pretty unscathed, while people around me were dropping like flies.
What keeps you fascinated about the art?
RB: I like trying to find areas of the game that don’t come natural to me, and that I can develop into strengths. Like throws and takedowns. In 2010 I fought in NAGA and I got taken down by a really good wrestler. People said: “Of course, he’s a former D1 wrestler”. But I thought to myself: “I never want to get taken down again!” When I discovered there was such a big hole in my game I got super angry, and I started to work on my takedowns and throws. Nowadays when I face a good wrestler I feel I HAVE to take him down, not just roll underneath him for the heelhook. There’s so much territory in grappling that still I have to explore.
At 32, is your body is still functioning?
RB: No (laughs). My back is very bad and I had surgery on my elbow, and it all just keeps getting worse. I definitely walk around like an old man most of the time. This year was the first time I actually went to see a chiropractor and I started to so do some mobility work. Yeah, I might also look into yoga.
Leg attacks in submission grappling have become really popular. It must be cool to see that they’re here to stay.
RB: Yeah, it’s very interesting to see the progress, and I think I had a part to play in that. At the same time it makes me want to focus on something else. Now I just love throwing people. This year I hit my first total victory throw in combat sambo. That’s when you throw the opponent squarely on their back while remaining standing, it’s the sambo version of scoring ippon. I’d never done that before. You see, my interests shift a lot. I guess that’s the grappling-hipster in me.
If you had to pick: fighting or coaching?
RB: I’ve always been more of a coach than a fighter. I always dreaded competition because, honestly, it’s not really fun. Competing in martial arts was less about me trying to win, and more about making sure that the material I was coaching was legit. That’s why winning combat sambo or in MMA was so important to me. It’s obviously not the same as fighting in the UFC, but it sets me up to have a little bit more confidence when I’m helping someone compete at a higher level. All athletes hit a wall at a certain point. But if you’re successful at transmitting information as a coach, you can keep going.
In conclusion, tell us about the RDojo Sambo League you’re setting up with Inverted Gear.
RB: Sambo offered me a different viewpoint to look at grappling. However, the art is not really accessible to people (in the United States, at least). I wanted to create a way for people to actually experience sambo. Not just by learning individual techniques in a seminar setting, but to actually get on the mat and try out the rules. The RDojo Sambo League is a nationwide series of in-house tournaments that use slightly modified sambo rules, which are more accessible to jiu-jitsu practitioners, while still keeping the essence of the art intact. The league has a round-robin format so people get several matches. We thought it would be a cool way for people to experience the game in a friendly environment. That way they get to hone new skills, which they can apply to their own combat sports. And no, there will be no belt divisions. You just go for it.
Follow Reilly Bodycomb on Instagram @Rdojo.
For more info on the RDojo Sambo League visit www.Rdojo.com/league
About the Author Daniël Bertina
Daniël Bertina is a journalist and writer based in the Netherlands. He holds a black belt in BJJ under Marcos Flexa of Carlson Gracie Amsterdam. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @joyofirony.
My friend Reilly Bodycomb won the Sambo US Nationals a few weeks ago. One of the perks for winning was securing a spot on the US team at the Panamerican and World tournaments.
The Panamerican was held in Paraguay this year. Since Reilly doesn't speak much Spanish besides asking for a cold Coca-cola, he asked me to come along to be his translator and guide. I've always been intrigued by the idea of going to a large sambo tournament, and I had never visited Paraguay, so after some planning, I booked two flights out of JFK and we were off in an adventure.
After nearly missing our flight (since we were too busy playing Magic: The Gathering to hear that our gate had change), we made it to Sao Paulo for a short layover, then we were on our way to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay.
Asuncion was an interesting place. Their currency is the guarani, and it took a bit to get used to local prices because $1 USD equals 5580 guarani. Thankfully, most places accept dollars, but the locals are strangely obsessed with any imperfections on the bills. Any rips, stamps, or writing on the bills were deemed unacceptable. This made the line for arrival visas pretty long as custom agents shared this same dollar bill obsession.
After clearing customs, we met representatives from the Chilean and Mexican sambo federations at the airport. We shared a bus that had been arranged by FIAS and made our way to the hotel, where we were greeted by a giant sambo banner in the hotel lobby.
After checking in, we did a bit of exploring around town. We quickly learned that Paraguayan drivers don't slow down for anything, so crossing the street became an exercise in survival.
One of the first things we noticed was the popularity of terere, the herbal drink (not the BJJ black belt.) Downtown had a vendor at just about every corner who would prepare the mate tea with some extra local herbs.
Bundles of medicinals herbs, or yuyos as the locals called them, are added to cold water and put in thermos to cool, then this ice cold concoction is poured into a container with mate tea with a straw that's used to sift the solids. It seemed that 3 out of 5 people were drinking this at any time of day.
As the rest of the US team arrived, something became clear: I was the only Spanish speaker traveling with them. Since most hotel staff do not speak English, Spanish became my superpower and my burden as I became the unofficial team translator.
Friday night I was able to escape from my translating duties and sneak out to Checkmat Paraguay. Profe Guillermo Hansen has an awesome set up on top of a lifting gym. On Fridays the various Checkmat affiliates in the area get together for an open mat. I was greeted by a mixed group, and was surprised by the high level of the room. A few of the lower belts and many of the upper belts had an impressive understanding of the bearimbolo/crab ride game. After defending my back for about an hour, we took a picture and I was given a ride back to my hotel by a local purple belt, but not before enjoying some post-training terere.
The sambo tournament began on Saturday morning. Team USA had some hard fought wins and few team members made it to the finals. For some strange reason, the finals weren't until after the opening ceremonies, which were held in the middle of the tournament. During the ceremonies you got to see the 22 countries that sent delegations to the tournament, which was very impressive. Reilly and the rest of the athletes weighed in around this time, then we headed home for the day.
On Sunday, Reilly competed and put on an impressive display of groundwork, winning with three submissions in three matches: armbar, ankle lock, and armbar. It was great to see my friend fulfill one of his goals. It was also amazing meeting the rest of the team and cheering them on as they won their respective divisions. Team USA won the team title for the men and took third in the female divisions. There were some amazing matches, and I highly recommend you check out the feed from FIAS once it becomes available. Reilly is working on a Team USA highlight as well.
After the tournament ended, we walked to beautiful steak house to celebrate. Since none of the waiters spoke English, my superpower was called upon yet again as I was tasked with ordering for 20 people. I was able to manage it and many a steak were had.
Monday morning we traveled home. On the plane ride I got to thinking about how amazing it would be to see a similar set up for a jiu-jitsu tournament: all the Panamerican countries represented by one athlete in each division, at a tournament held in a different country each year. This would be great for the development of BJJ in South America. Contrary to common belief, BJJ in South America is still in its infancy outside of Brazil. Most countries only have a handful of black belts, and many academies are run by lower belts. Maybe one day we will see a tournament set up this way. I'll be the first one on the plane to it if we do.
Over those days, I shared an Airbnb rental with Nelson and Hillary as well as Reilly Bodycomb and his grappling Pokémon Elliott Hill. We ran several Magic drafts and debated late into the night about medieval battle tactics, but I’ll write about that another time.
The Rdojo camp had a major focus on leglocks (big surprise!) but also went into wrestling offense and defense, kneeride and top game, and a widely varied open-ended Q&A session. The entire camp was filmed by Jason Scully for the Grapplers Guide so it’s available if you want to see it. (I’m a dummy in a few techniques, so you could say I’m pretty famous.)
Each day of camp was divided into blocks where we’d be focusing on a certain topic, like reaping ankle locks, Reilly’s top rock series, defending and attacking heelhooks, etc. It was clear the Reilly had given a lot of thought to the progression of techniques and positions so that each would build the on last, and no one would be confused by needing to know too much about something that hadn’t been taught yet.
At the camp, I had the pleasure of finally meeting Brian McLaughlin, who I remember from his blue belt days, back when he put up photo instructionals on BJJFighter.com. It’s both fun and awkward to meet someone after only seeing them online for a decade. Brian was great to train with and very eager to ask questions to milk the camp for everything it’s got, and we all benefited from it.
What I appreciated most was the constant live training of the positions and techniques. For example, if we had all been working on the ankle locks from the reaping position (or whatever name you want to use: leg knot, saddle, game over, the reaper, etc.), Reilly would have us get into it then countdown from ten. For those ten seconds, the attacker had to wait and just control while the defender tried to escape. At zero, the attack gets to find the tap, if they still can. Similar live drills were used throughout for every position.
Running these positional games for boogeyman positions like full on reaping anklelocks, heelhooks and inverted heelhooks had the benefit of removing the fear that most IBJJF-based grapplers (such as myself) have for them. It helped that Reilly had lead with teaching heelhook defenses and escapes and making sure we all knew when to concede and just tap. But once you’ve spent three days doing all manner of leglocks and heelhooks, and no one--not even the beginners--are getting hurt, it makes you realize “okay, so maybe reaping won’t make my heart explode.”
There was also an in-house sambo tournament with Sambo Steve dropping in to coach his guys. Beforehand Reilly ran a small clinic that did a good job explaining the rules and basic tactics of sport sambo. You may remember Nelson’s post about competing in this.
The camp also marks the first time I wore a kurtka, an event that’s on record in Elliott Hill’s “John Wick” instructional video.
After the camp, Reilly asked if I would write a review and I said I would. While I’m sure he didn’t want me to take four month to do it, because I did I can give a more definitive review. If you’ve been to enough seminars, you know how often a seminar ultimately doesn’t give you more than a new Facebook profile pic. How much does the seminar actually change your mindset and future training?
In that regard, this is one of the most valuable seminars I’ve ever been to. Here are the changes I’ve made to my teaching and training since the camp:
- I added a new no-gi class to the schedule at Zombie BJJ PA (where I teach) where reaping and all leglocks are taught and practiced. We are also training for submission-only without IBJJF points.
- I now include takedowns or takedown defenses in most classes before we get to groundwork. Personally I am working on my gi and no-gi takedown game, which I had neglected for years in true BJJ fashion.
- To that end, I now start every every round of sparring from standing and have forbid myself from pulling guard. I’m encouraging all the students in my classes to do the same.
- I am still working on material from the camp, and I’m shopping for a kurtka so Nelson and I can start Sambo Saturdays when he completes his move to my corner of Pennsylvania.
If you have a chance to attend one of Reilly’s camps or seminars, you should do it, especially if you want an escape from all the rules lawyering you have to do with IBJJF-focused training. His system is well thought out and comprehensive and he will go out of his way to make sure you get the most out of it.
Don’t get me wrong: I love guard passing and sweeps as much as the next jiu-jitsu guy, but I there is a special place on my heart for takedowns, especially big throws. I have competed in Wrestling (high school level) and judo, but this weekend I finally competed in sambo. Competing in sambo has been on my bucket list for a long time. I have been telling myself I would jump on a tournament for years now but never pulled the trigger. This weekend, I was at a camp run by my friend Reilly Bodycomb, and on the last day of camp he held a small in house tournament.
I was out of excuses.
Let’s rewind. My friend Dave got me to join a wrestling team when we were in high school. I wrestled my Junior and Senior year. We were a small team that struggled to fill all the weight classes. Takedowns were the aspect of the sport that attracted me the most and what I wanted to master the most. I watched Cael Sanderson and tried to emulate his wrestling style, emphasis on the word “tried.” I was not a good wrestler. I wish I had started sooner. Somehow I managed to make it to Regionals my senior year, and I most remarkably got the most takedowns in my team.
Fast forward to when I started training in BJJ. I trained at a judo/karate club in Cranford, NJ. Again, I stepped on the mats because of Dave’s encouragement. My original plan was to train jiu-jitsu with him in the morning twice a week, but I soon realized I was missing out on a big opportunity. The judo instructor was Yoshisada Yonezuka, legend of the sport. He was a Japanese champion, one of the few 8th dans outside of Japan, and was a coach for the Olympic team in ’88 and ’92. I couldn’t pass that up!
I started training judo two to three times a week, especially on the nights where we had an hour of newaza (ground work) before the regular judo class. My love for takedowns made it easy to fall in love with judo throws even if I was on the receiving end for many of them.
In my first judo class, Dave and I were the only white belts on the mat. Everyone else? Black belts, and a few them were ranked in the US and aspiring to make the 2008 Olympic team while others had already been there and done that. I was a young athletic kid, but having a 50+ year-old toss you again and again humbles you quickly.
As I progressed, I worked on the classic Japanese throws—seoi nage, uchimata, osoto gari—but I started to incorporate fireman’s carries(kata guruma) and pick up variations as well.
It’s a twisty road, but this where I started to develop an interest in sambo. Searching for throws on YouTube exposed me to eastern European grapplers. Many of them were Russian judo players, and it was a short hop to diving down the rabbit hole of sambo. While my love for takedowns is stronger than ever, I fell out of love with the judo scene as the rules continued to change, making many of my favorite techniques illegal.
Dropping into a sambo competition as a longtime fan brought me back and it reinvigorated the passion that I had in those early years. The sambo game as a whole is beautiful to watch and a blast to take part in. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find Sambo tournaments in the US. Hopefully more BJJ guys will get out of their guard pulling comfort zone and give a sports sambo tournament a try. Maybe this way they can become more popular.
Because oh man am I jonesing for more takedowns.
The term “cruzada de perna” was added to the CBJJ rulebook in 2006. It is eventually translated into “knee reaping,” entering just about every BJJ players vocabulary not much time later. The rule change trickled down from the IBJJF, which at the time was the only major host of world-class tournaments before they expanded to host “opens” all over the world in smaller regional formats.
Many grapplers today were not around when you could go for a footlock and not worry if your foot crossed over the knee reaping line. Knee reaping has been around for almost ten years at this point, and I believe this one change has had a great impact on the sport than any other action the IBJJF has taken in its history.
The rule had a huge impact on the reputation of leg locks as a whole, from toe holds to heel hooks. If your foot crossed that line, game over. This was one foul you couldn’t come back from. Were you attacking with a perfectly legal kneebar but your opponent twisted to escape? Were you countering your opponent’s leg lock attack and looking to establish your own control? Tough luck. You had to play within a narrow sliver of the leg lock pie.
Outlawing reaping was reportedly to increase safety—never mind the fact that sambo curriculums all over the worlds teach reaping to children, and there is no epidemic of knee injuries in Russia that I’m aware of. I’ve been unable to find any data on the number of injuries that could be associated with reaping prior to the 2006 ruling or how many matches have ended in reaping DQs since the rule change. Anecdotally, however, I’ve seen more matches end because of this foul than any other.
Some matches stand out in my memory: Davi Ramos was dominating a match but was DQed while trying to finish a footlock. Joao fell into a similer trap at Worlds while working for a 50/50 footlock. He instinctly adjusted for additional leverage and his foot slipped across the reaping line. And who can forget Terere’s comeback match during the Europeans? He was in the finals, facing off against Calasans and got called for reaping.
I’ve been fortunate enough to train with a wide range of competitors around the world. I love learning from arts outside of jiu-jitsu: sambo, judo, collegiate wrestling. If there is a different way of approaching a problem, I want to see it. I want to understand it. Along the way, I’ve trained with grapplers who don’t hold back from reaping because they aren’t trained to avoid particular regular positions.
My conclusion: Reaping is not more dangerous than takedowns or armbars.
We could get hurt falling just as easy as being reaped, but we learn how to fall. We learn what’s safe and what’s dangerous. And we drill. We must also learn how to roll and accept the reap and how to escape it without putting pressure on our knee. Yes, this is possible. Our brothers and sisters training sambo have been doing it just fine for years.
Jiu-jitsu has grown exponentially in the last ten years. Many things have changed, and our attitude towards footlocks is at a critical turning point. We are seeing a surge of popularity in the leglock game, especially as submission only formats like EBI and Polaris give grapplers the freedom to focus on the finish (isn’t that why we train?) with minimal rules to stunt their creativity. Yes, leglocks were looked down upon for a long time, but it’s time reevaluate.
We should never have to hear a referee say “parou” because of reaping again. It’s time to evolve.