Three Years at Black Belt: Still Learning

I got my black belt three years ago. For the first and second anniversaries of earning my black belt, I wrote blog posts about what I had learned in year one and year two. Time flies, but Panda Nation seems to enjoy hearing about my black belt adventures and just how much learning occurs after black belt.

So here’s the third edition!

My training has been inconsistent. Hillary and I have been traveling a ton for camps and seminars and a bunch of stuff in between. Sometimes we only come home for a week or two before heading out again. My time at my “home gym” has been minimal, so I haven’t gotten to spend as much time in the lab as I would like. I have, however, been able to train with a ton of great grapplers and pick up a few tricks along the way, so it’s a tradeoff.

Even with an unusual training scheduling, my work on leg locks continues. I keep finding new spots to attack my IBJJF-approved game of tripod ankle locks and cross body ankle locks. Last year, I had a goal of working on my knee bar game. After some trial and error, I am a lot better at them. I have collected a few entries that I can hit consistently, mostly from the bottom when opponents defend sweeps or while defending some passes. I have a lot of success with controlling both legs while attacking the knee bar and being able to switch to the toe hold on the free leg when they defend.

Also, since moving to the Allentown area, I get to work on heel hooks a lot more, and my timing and proficiency has gone up with those as well.

A big part of my work on leg locks is linking them with upper body attacks. I have been working on coming up to dominant positions off my leg attacks. If I go for a foot lock and my opponent starts pummeling and re-engaging the leg attack, I am a lot better at coming up into a passing position. My friend Reilly recently changed the way I did the cross body ankle lock: by posting on one arm it is much easier to rewind into the leg drag, so that’s also been on the practice plate thanks to the last R Dojo camp.

When I start to pass, whether I’m coming up from a leg lock attack or not, I have been looking for the folding pass. This has been my project for a few years now, and I’ve made a good bit of progress. Now that my training partners know what I like though, opponents have started playing with wider hips to prevent the fold, so I have been working on different set-ups for my knee cut when this happens. My passing proficiency has gone up, and I get to back step into leg locks when my opponent overcommits to defending the knee cut.

From standing, I been playing a lot more with front headlocks to set up takedowns. Front headlocks are one of the highest scoring takedowns in wrestling. They were so strong that rules needed to be changed and a shot clock added because competitors were refusing to shoot in fear of the front headlock. In a gi and no-gi context, it’s underutilized since many of us choose to jump on guillotines from the position. I have been working on getting the position and breaking my opponent down and then spinning behind, double legging when they pop up, and various chokes once my opponent is broken down to his knees. This new emphasis on the front headlock has made my singles and doubles more successful since my opponent's posture changes as I keep attacking their head.

On top of everything else, I have been working more and more on the Bernardo-style deep half guard. It’s great guard to play when I am tired and I need to tie up an overzealous lower belt while at a camp or traveling. It also feeds very well into my strong passing position to further slowdown my opponent.

This is what I been working on over the last year. A few of these items I have been working on for the last three years now, but I am always finding little details to refine them and add to them.

What have you been working on?