Inverted Gear Blog / T.P. Grant

Adding Spice to Your Game

In the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world the word “fundamentals” is often said reverently, and for good reason. There are many benefits to having a crushing mount, excellent closed guard, or perfect bridges. The classic BJJ progression of attaining top position through a sweep or takedown, then passing the guard to a dominant position and then finding a submission is an effective game plan. While you should have an appropriate ability to play that basic game per your belt level, there is also a benefit in investing time toward techniques or positions not often considered traditional or fundamental.

Wrestling coaches will talk about an addition to your core game as having a “bag of tricks” to reach into when there is only a minute left in a match and you’re down on points. Developing a skill set that is off the beaten path not only serves as a backup for when your “A-game,” it is fun as well.

There is a whole set of submissions I personally think of as “gimmick” submissions. This is not a way to put them down, but simply because they normally only work once and after that the counter or prevention is so easy and obvious that the technique is unlikely to work again on that same opponent. As an example, I put most of the submissions executed from the bottom of side control in this category. I have most certainly been tapped by some in my career, but I was able to adjust my game to take many of those submissions off the table very quickly. These “gimmick” moves are valuable because they thrive on surprise and thus can be a good addition to a “bag of tricks,” but these aren’t really moves to build an entire game on.

There are however far more reliable and repeatable attacks that you can mix into a bread-and-butter game to give it bit of variance. Some examples include:

While hardly considered exotic anymore, rolling back attacks are an excellent extra option for attacking a tight defense. Having a few rolling attacks from several different top positions is a good way to keep an opponent off balance during a match.

Leg locks are very much in vogue right now, and adding a few lower body attacks to your game can make you a significantly more dangerous grappler. Learning how to enter into a leg entanglement after escaping from a bad position can allow you go from down in a match to winning by submission in an instant.

The crucifix is a very viable alternative to the traditional back control. While you will not get your 4 points in jiu-jitsu scoring rules, the crucifix actually provides more offensive options as you can attack the neck and arm simultaneously. It might actually fill a technical gap that exists between your back attack game and your turtle attacking game.

For white and blue belts, the process of finding and integrating these twists can be challenging. The first place to look for some spice is your instructor. Every upper belt develops a personal game that can divert from the classic takedown/sweep-pass-submit blueprint. At the highest levels of sport jiu jitsu, the current metagame of guard play is to sweep directly to the back, bypassing the need to deal with an opponent's guard all together. Nearly every school with a competition-focused class will teach techniques that feed into this particular twist on the classic jiu-jitsu game plan. This is a widely taught variation, and all instructors have their own personal tricks and positions they are eager to pass on to their students.

Another source for twists are seminars. Learning from different instructors will expose students to new perspectives. There are also YouTube and video instructionals that can be excellent sources when looking for new aspects to add to one’s game.

These twists on the traditional path are what give an individual game their personality and make grappling fun. The best route is to experiment and see what fits into your personal game. These small additions will not only bring their own benefit but also make your core game more effective as well.

About the Author: T.P. Grant

T.P. Grant has written for Bloody Elbow, FloGrappling, and FloCombat. He is a brown belt with Team Redzovic and dabbles in Sambo and Judo as well.

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The Ultimate Guide to Drop-In Training

The holidays are upon us! This time of year can often be stressful, and this is true for grapplers as well. The holidays often mean travel and thus a disruption of our favorite method of stress relief: training. While I look forward to seeing far-flung family members on Christmas, I often find myself dreading missing out on training. The solution to this problem is simple: Pack your gi and visit a local jiu jitsu school.

Visiting other schools is a great experience that every jiu jitsu student should indulge in, but this can also be a stressful experience, so here are few tips to make visiting schools as smooth and enjoyable process as possible.

Know the Rules of the Academy: This is the most important one. If nothing else, know and follow the rules of the school you are visiting. I personally reach out ahead of time when planning a visit, and one of the things I ask about is mat rules. If I forget to ask ahead of time, I talk to the class instructor before rolling for the first time. When you do roll, remember that this isn’t the time to take your personal stand against a particular rule set you don’t approve of. Their house, their rules. If heel hooks are a big part of your game but you end up attending a gi class where they aren’t allowed, then work on a different part of your game. Respect the school enough to follow their rules.

Socialize: When you visit a new school, it’s a good idea to show up a little early. You’ll need to sign a waiver, pay a mat fee, and be shown where to change and put your shoes. So you’ll likely have a bit of time before class where you will just kind of hang out as the regulars drift in. Don’t just awkwardly sit there until class starts, though. Walk around and introduce yourself. This might be difficult for the less outgoing grappler, but you already have one big thing in common with anyone at a jiu jitsu school. Talk to people before class, swap social media information, hang out after class. This will make the visit about more than just the rolling and make it easier to come back because you’ll remember feeling welcome.

Remember You Are Not Representing Your School: Visiting schools can be a lot like doing a competition. You will feel some nerves rolling with new people at a different school, it can expose you to other grappling styles, show you holes in your own game, or even show you aspects of your game that are progressing positively. One big difference between stopping in for a class at an academy and getting on the mats at a tournament, however, is mindset. Don’t put stress on yourself that you need to ‘defend you rank’ on the mat by tapping out every lower belt and dominating those at the same belt level as you. Don’t worry about how your rolling is reflecting on your school. It is a class, and for the day those people are your training partners, not your competition.

Keep an Open Mind: Part of seeing different styles is that they will do things that are familiar to you but are also slightly different. Don’t dismiss it as ‘wrong.’ Work the technique being taught in class. By all means if you have a technique that compliments something being taught and you find a tactful way to share it, do it. The sharing of knowledge is always a positive, but be sure to do it in way that doesn’t feel like you are trying to hijack the class from the actual instructor. Keep an open mind and you might learn something new you can take home.

These are the basic rules I set for myself when I visit a new school and it has led to friendships, new perspectives, and an ever-growing network of gyms I consider a home away from home. I hope that you get to enjoy this part of the jiu-jitsu experience as well.

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In Defense of Points

There is never a shortage of things to argue about in the grappling community. It seems like whenever we aren’t rolling on the mats, we’re taking sides on one debate or another. One of the most recent and heated discussions has been about rule sets, specifically pitting the concept of submission-only competition against rule sets that award points. Avoiding taking sides is difficult, but I am going to attempt to avoid feeding into the dichotomous nature of the larger argument. To put it plainly, I think both point and submission only rule sets are worth having.

Submission-only events have gained a great deal of traction in recent years, largely for the action they provide and the finality a submission offers to viewers. So while I love submission-only events and have competed in them myself, I feel the point system deserves a defense.

The free space to express grappling that submission-only creates is excellent, but alongside that free space should exist a slightly more structured environment that emphasize some aspects of grappling that submission-only tends to leave behind, such as positional control and takedowns. Left to its own devices, the metagame of submission-only could easily evolve into a game where position matters very little. While aggressive submission hunting is good to have in one’s game, it is important to remember what set Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu apart from other grappling arts was its emphasis on positional grappling.

Before you get up in arms that position always matters, consider for a moment the rise of leglock-centric gameplans, many of which have gotten attention for their performances in submission-only match-ups. In those matches, we see a great deal of guard pulling and a relentless hunt for heel hooks, oftentimes with little interest shown in advancing top position.

While it is something of a trope in modern jiu-jitsu to invoke the argument of “in a real fight,” it is important to remember that jiu-jitsu competitions are a martial sport and as a result should keep a foot in the basic concepts that made it a successful martial art in the first place. The mount, for example, isn’t highly sought after in submission-only because in no-gi few submissions can result from there, but is scored very highly sport jiu-jitsu criteria because of the value it provides in combative situation.

This keeps the art grounded in the realities of not just submission grappling but also the inclusion of strikes to a lesser degree without the need to actually pummel each other on a daily basis. The basic philosophy of jiu-jitsu is well represented by its scoring system: a takedown occurs, the bottom fighter looks for sweeps, top fighter looks to pass, both try to attain a dominant position and then a submission.

Submission-only gives grapplers a chance to explore and evolve outside that game, playing in concepts like limb control; using kimura grips, the crucifix, or leg entanglements to control and then submit their opponents. The point system allows for exploration and evolution within the basic philosophy. The advent and growth of pressure guard passing or the berimbolo sweep, for example, likely would not have occurred without point competitions. And as reviled as the berimbolo is by those in the jiu jitsu community that focus on self-defense, no matter the rule set some sport specific strategies will develop, submission only is not immune that.

The tendency of submission only competitors to sit straight down and not even seek to contest takedowns and to utterly sacrifice position, such as Sergio Hernandez pulling North/South against Eddie Cummings in an effort to avoid leg locks at EBI 7, make perfect sense in the context of submission only, but are strikes against the idea that submission-only results in the most “realistic” style of grappling.

Submission only and point tournaments serve as balances to each other, creating different arenas for experimentation. This is not to say point systems are above critique. There are very real problems with the rule sets used by many point tournaments. The rules have been largely static for years and point tournaments have fallen prey to creep of athletes learning to game the system in the same spirit that submission-only competitors game their rule set. As a result the rules of point tournaments are badly in need of reimagination to encourage a more aggressive style of grappling that is grounded in the root philosophy of jiu-jitu.

First, advantages need to be done away with. The need for a tie breaker is very real, but creating a ‘minor point’ system has given athletes a path to victory in a match without actually achieving a successful technique in a match. The intent of advantages is understandable. In a match where both athletes are aggressively seeking dominant positions and submissions, advantages reward the more active, aggressive grappler. But now it has become a common strategy in closely contested matches to rack up advantages and then prevent points from being scored, meaning that the athlete’s best strategy might be to prevent activity rather than pursue it.

Removal of advantages would force athletes to once again focus on finding submissions and accomplishing actions worthy of points. There is still the possibility of stalling, but that can be addressed by harsher stalling penalties. Negative tie breakers are very useful as penalties as well, which is why disadvantages still have a role to play. An increased use of disadvantages in the face of stalling and a shortened process for actually penalizing a staller with negative points would help address the possibility of stalling or passivity in matches.

Other tweaks could be made, such as a minor penalty to pulling guard to encourage slightly engagement on the feet or shortening black belt matches from 10 minutes to 6 minutes. Some of these steps have been taken by some point tournaments; Copa Podio has 6 minute matches and aggressive stalling penalties, FIVE Grappling did away with advantages, and the ADCCs have very open submission rules as well as penalties for pulling guard. The results have been highly entertaining point matches that reflect a more complete style of grappling than those in more restrictive point rule sets.

We need both formats, and both formats can still be improved. Revamped point rule sets working alongside submission-only competition would create an excellent pair of laboratories for jiu-jitsu to develop, grow, and evolve as a sport whilst staying true to its martial roots.

About the Author: T.P. Grant

T.P. Grant has written for Bloody Elbow, FloGrappling, and FloCombat. He is a brown belt with Team Redzovic and dabbles in Sambo and Judo as well.

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The Fading Art of BJJ Takedowns

“Jiu-jitsu is what works.”

These words, spoken to me by my first instructor Adem Redzovic, echo in my ears even today. It was an inclusive statement that to me captures the essence of jiu-jitsu. There is no static list of techniques but an ever-growing art that is constantly pressure tested in the crucibles of sparring and competition. Applying techniques against live resistance is one of the key traits that separates the effective martial arts from those that aren’t.

So it is always surprising to me that it is the norm in jiu-jitsu schools to dead drill takedowns but then to rarely, if ever, start sparring sessions on the feet. It flies in the face of the central idea that you can’t truly know a technique until you’ve done it for real. Drilling takedowns gives some familiarity with the techniques, but a student who only ever starts standing a few times a year doesn’t know if they can actually apply them in a live setting. Regardless of whether your goals are to be an MMA fighter, a BJJ competitor, or just a hobbyist martial artist, this approach sells yourself short. How can one claim to be a grappler if they struggle to take down even a mildly athletic person fresh off the street?

Jiu-jitsu sparring used to start on the feet. There are many videos of the older generation of Gracies and BJJ black belts rolling in the gym and starting on their feet. So what happened?

The most commonly cited reason to start on the mat is injury prevention. But anyone who has trained more than a few months knows that injuries are part of combat sports. Yes, training takedowns can result in injuries, but ground grappling and submissions can lead to injury as well. The key is knowing how to train this range safely by picking the right partners and progressively increasing the difficulty and intensity of your takedown practice.

Remember that regardless of your belt rank in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, if you haven’t sparred more than a few times on your feet, you are effectively still a white belt at stand up. You’ll try to muscle things, you’ll be too tense, you’ll miss openings, and make all the usual beginners mistakes all over again. Much like in your early white belt days on the mat, being tense and awkward in stand up can lead to injuries. But this is where you learn arguably the most valuable skill: the ability to be comfortable while being thrown and landing safely. As you gain experience in being taken down and train with more experienced takedown artists, the risk of injury actually decreases so long as the proper training environment is established and maintained.

Overcoming this phase and establishing a good training environment is done by building the fundamentals of a solid takedown program.

First pick your training partners well. When looking to start a new aspect to your training in your gym, establish a culture by picking the people in the gym who already reflect that culture you hope to promote. You want partners who can dial back their intensity and focus on learning rather than winning in the gym.

When you practicing takedowns, it is the entries that should get the most repetition. In a basic training routine, a common practice would be to do the entry four times with the fifth repetition ending in the full throw, with higher impact throws being done on to a crash mat. This helps build the muscle memory of the entry while saving your training partner’s body from repeated falls. It also helps a novice uke become comfortable with the takedown before having to take his or her fall. In the early stages of learning takedowns a beginner level student should always know on which repetition they will be thrown and what takedown will be used.

When moving into live takedown training, start out at low intensity, possibly assigning one partner to be defensive while the offensive partner works for a specific chain of takedowns. As you move towards full on stand up sparring, it is important to keep in mind that many injuries that occur from takedowns are the result of fighting too hard against a takedown. It is not unlike the white belt who fights against submissions with all their power only to end up getting injured because once their defenses break the submission comes on even stronger. When starting stand up training there will be a temptation to resist too hard, especially when you are only focusing on the takedown and not the follow-up mat work. Remember that for jiu-jitsu players the takedown is only one aspect of our martial art. It is often better to accept that you are being taken down and try to win that transition to ground rather than fight it.

One of the real benefits of stand up training is that the transition from standing to ground creates opportunities that jiu-jitsu players are experts at taking advantage of. Submissions, guard passes, back takes, and reversals can all come quickly in the moments after a takedown, but it takes familiarity with the transition to exploit.

Being a complete grappler means working on developing all aspects of the game, including takedowns. How can one feel like a creditable grappler if you would struggle to take down an athletic new student fresh off the street? But with time spent starting on the feet you can turn this situation from one of mild dread to one that you could comfortably dominate, not only taking the opponent down but using the takedown to quickly find a dominant position or submission hold.

When beginning your takedown practice, you don’t have to jump in all at once. You can start by devoting one night a week to starting from your feet.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing stand-up at your school, find a credible judo or wrestling academy in your area and trade in one class a week of jiu-jitsu for stand up. If this is a route you take, remember that you are starting over in a new martial art and need to keep an open mind. How many students of other martial arts have you seen wash out of jiu-jitsu because they were unable to open their minds to what was being taught? Don’t be that guy. Some of the best ground grappling techniques I’ve learned were from judo and sambo, but at first glance my jiu-jitsu experience shouted at me that it was wrong. Keep an open mind and adapt the technique later.

This cross-training will be time well invested. Your overall game will improve, and it will likely spark an interest in your training partners. To change the attitude toward takedown training in BJJ, it will take spreading the new practices, one training partner at a time, but the results are worth it.

About the Author: T.P. Grant

T.P. Grant has written for Bloody Elbow, FloGrappling, and FloCombat. He is a brown belt with Team Redzovic and dabbles in Sambo and Judo as well.

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