Inverted Gear Blog
The notion of pay-per-view jiu-jitsu is relatively new. Copa Podio and Metamoris were early adopters of the live stream model, and their efforts helped to inspire organizations like Polaris, Budo Videos, IBJJF, Flo Grappling, and the Eddie Bravo Invitational to follow suit. The collective goal is a simple win: Elevate professional jiu-jitsu closer to the height of professional MMA and boxing. If this is successful, the sport as a whole benefits from increased attention, and jiu-jitsu businesses as well as athletes would enjoy additional revenue.
Here's the thing. Running a professional grappling organization is really really hard.
- The logistics are complex. You have to set up a venue, book athletes and their arrangements, and also coordinate all of the technology necessary for a smooth live stream.
- It’s expensive. Putting up the capital for a venue, hardware, and decent athlete pay requires some deep pockets or generous backers.
- The market is still in its infancy. Yes, events have been streaming for a few years, but the sport isn’t that big yet. Energizing an audience to pay for an event is not easy, and the pool of potential customers is pretty small.
We are at a point in our sport where we have grown at such a rate that pay-per-view grappling events are even viable, but we aren’t to the point where we can take them for granted. If we don’t support these events now while they are in their early stages, we might miss out on what professional grappling could become. While most of us in the sport are reasonable enough to admit that professional grappling is unlikely to ever rival MMA or boxing—let’s face it, we are a niche sport—we do hope that the world class athletes in our midst could make a reasonable living for devoting their lives to pushing the envelope of grappling technique.
As it stands now, a professional grappler makes most of their money from sponsorships and seminars and very little from actually competing. A growing PPV market would help to boost the size of purses, but more than that, it would boost interest from sponsors and accelerate seminar opportunities. So while competing itself might not become a fulltime career any time soon, elevating the stage even a little bit can create a number of positive ripples.
At Inverted Gear, we are fans of pretty every grappling organization (except the ones that don’t pay their athletes), so when we encourage you to support Polaris, we are not saying that you should be against other grappling organizations. Not at all. Instead, we want to highlight the things that we think Polaris is doing right in the hopes that other organizations follow suit:
- Athletes first. Nelson and Hillary got to travel to England alongside Reilly Bodycomb and spent time backstage with the other fighters. They reported that on the backend—the part of the event that few spectators ever hear about—fighters were taken care of and treated well. That’s a big deal.
- Credibility. Speaking from personally experience, the folks behind Polaris are a class act. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Matt Benyon (best known for his work with Scramble) on a number of projects, including a cross-promotion for Polaris 2, and he has never turned away someone looking for help or reneged on a promise. His word is his word, and you never have to worry about the contrary.
- Diversity. From the beginning Polaris has gone to great lengths to bring together a variety of grapplers, from different background, genders, and hemispheres. Polaris makes a deliberate effort to represent the grappling world rather than any single region or style.
- Engagement. Polaris actively participates in and listens to the community. If you interact with professional grapplers on Instagram or Twitter or post in r/BJJ, you have probably talked to someone that works for Polaris without even realizing it. By staying grounded in the grappling community, Polaris not only creates the match-ups fans wants to see but also runs their business in a way that is transparent and responsive.
- Quality. Polaris doesn’t skimp on production value. The event is run well and looks great, making you feel as though you got your money’s worth.
I have been refereeing on and off since I was a purple belt. I probably average about one tournament per year. My wife Hillary and I met at a tournament when she was refereeing, but that's a story for another time (but still a really good story).
Anyway, Hillary and I spent this weekend in Virginia refereeing a local tournament. We were originally planning on heading out to California for Pans, but we had been traveling a lot the last few months and decided against getting back on another flight. When one of our referee friends reached out and asked us to come down to Virginia and ref, we saw it as a good excuse to visit some friends without switching time zones again.
Big tournaments are great. I love the big stage of multiple day tournaments, but small regional tournaments held at high school gyms will forever hold a special place in my heart. They bring me back to the times when I was a lower belt traveling up and down the east coast to compete almost every weekend.
This weekend, I got to watch BJJ from 10 am until 6pm, and I came out the other end with a few observations:
There were more female competitors. All of the women’s divisions that were held in my ring had plenty of competitors. This was great to see. I remember my female BJJ friends would struggle to get matches at regional tournaments. Even cooler was the fact that the ladies had some of the better takedowns I saw all day, both very good wrestling and judo style takedowns. Not sure if this was a regional thing, or a side effect of having Ronda and Meisha on TV for the last few years.
- The open guard of blue belts and teenagers was ridiculous. I witnessed an impressive display of open guard, both de la Riva/bearimbolo and X-guard combinations that personally I was miles away from when I was a blue belt. It’s going to be exciting to see some of these young guys down the road.
We need to do more to educate people about verbal submissions. I had two separate incidents of people screaming during submission attempts. Both people were completely unaware that this counts as a tap. One even argued with me that it wasn’t a tap because he didn’t scream “tap!” but an “ahh!” which is actually a battle cry. Not joking. A battle cry. This has already become one of my favorite stories.
Takedowns and sweeps could use some clarification. Many times over the weekend I had people screaming at me over points. Most of the disputes came from sweep scrambles when the bottom player would get countered when he came up to finish a sweep which is explained here in the IBJJF rulebook:
3.4 Athletes who, in defending a sweep, return their opponent back-down or sideways on the ground shall not be awarded the takedown-related two points or advantage point.
Also when people would be “taken down” from turtle, which is explained here:
When the opponent has one or two knees on the ground, the athlete performing the takedown will only be awarded points if he/she is standing at the moment the takedown is carried out. An exception may be made under circumstances addressed in item 3.4 and respecting the 3 (three) seconds of stabilization.
These two rules, which are somewhat hidden in the rulebook, are important because they deal with situations that both come up pretty often, and bring some clarity to what can be really chaotic back and forth battles for position.
- Refereeing is hard. Paying attention to so many things for that long period of time is tough. Everything gets a bit hazy toward the end of the day. While I tried to do my best, I am sure I missed something somewhere. Maybe I was late on giving points, or maybe I missed an advantage. You never truly know how hard refereeing is until you do it.
Unless you are letting out a battle cry. Then battle cry on.
Photo credit to Mike Calimbas.
At the end of “Advice for Newbie White Belts and Anxious Blue Belts” I promised a follow-up for higher belts. Here's my advice for you blues and purples who want to keep making progress.
Looking back on it, the path through white to blue belt is fairly straightforward: come to class, learn new techniques, drill, spar, call it a night, and repeat. You’ll never get away from this general structure, but as you rise up through the ranks, especially into purple belt, the old routine can feel stale. The progress comes slower. You feel like you’re getting less out of the “here’s today’s technique, now drill it” approach. You may have felt you got more of your instructor’s attention as a beginner, but now you’re being left to figure it out by yourself.
The middle belts can be an awkward stage, but here’s my best advice for pushing through to the next level:
Take greater ownership of your personal development. In this modern age, this can mean watching instructional videos for specific techniques or studying match footage of your favorite competitors. Without going digital, taking ownership can mean setting goals and working towards them each time you train. Your goals could be to focus on specific techniques, positions, guards, submissions, etc. When you walk into the school, already have a clear idea of what you are going to improve that day, regardless of whatever happens in class.
Train combinations of basic techniques with a focus on timing and momentum. Most of the progress as a white belt comes from learning new techniques where you previously knew none. The problem is that this approach stops working once you have more than enough techniques for most positions. Now it’s time to refine the moves you already know, using the experience you have gained from years of live sparring. Set up drills to develop your ability to flow between techniques and positions to take advantage of timing and momentum. An analogy is that white belt is where you learn your alphabet and basic words, blue belts are building their vocabulary and learning grammar, and purple belts are expressing themselves in full sentences and paragraphs.
Develop your personal style, but stay open to new additions. By now, you should have a good idea of the positions and techniques you like. Have you ever taken the time to really lay out your gameplan? You’ll never get good at everything, but you can start by getting good at what comes naturally. Your gameplan should be adaptable (or rather you may need multiple gameplans) so you can handle problems like an opponent with aggressive wrestling, high pressure guard passing, tricky and flexible guards, sneaky footlocks, etc. When you identify a weakness in your gameplan, now you know the next goal to set.
Set handicaps when training with less experienced partners. Once beginners stop being a challenge, it can be easy to go on autopilot with your “A game” to get some ego-satisfying taps so you can lay your head down on a pillow that night with a smug smile on your face. Set a goal of only using specific techniques or positions, or putting yourself in bad spots so you have to defend and escape. Try this extra ego-destroying mode: don’t tell the lower belt know what you’re doing, let them feel like they really earned the position (instead of just laying there like a dead fish), and don’t say “Oh, I let you have that, so you know” if they tap you. Just smile and say “Good job!” and go on to the next round. (You can always smash them tomorrow if you really need to.)
Reevaluate your reasons for doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Years have passed since you first walked on to the mats. What were your original reasons for joining a school? Did you want to learn self defense, or lose weight and get in shape, or have a competitive outlet after leaving high school or college sports? Your life has likely changed since then -- have your broader goals changed too? Many people will achieve (or abandon) their original goals, but still keep training because they simply enjoy being on the mats, even without any specific goals. Not everyone is training to be a world champ, but you can always try to be better than you were yesterday.
Last year, on Friday March 13, 2015, I had my very first major injury. I originally wanted to write a small Facebook post to acknowledge the milestone and the people who helped me get through it all, but thinking back to that day there were so many more firsts to remember: my first match at black belt, my first submission only tournament, my first tournament representing a new team, my first time being carried off the mat because I couldn’t walk, my first loss due to injury, my first trip to the ER in an ambulance…
Wait—my first trip to the ER!
So this time last year, I still did not know what exactly was wrong with my leg except that it hurt. It didn’t work properly, and I just wanted to cut it off. The only thoughts going through my head were from my super fight only days earlier. I kept replaying the short 30 second time span: I opened with a takedown, creating a scramble that landed me in her closed guard. I immediately posted my hands in her armpits and jumped to my feet to break her guard, a jiu-jitsu 101 move that I can do with confidence on just about anyone.
But even with the basics, shit happens.
As soon as I straightened my legs to open her guard, this horrible cramping sensation hit me, followed by muscle spasms from my lower back all up and down my right leg. The spasms wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t control my leg let alone bear weight on it. But I didn’t want to quit.
Jared (owner and leader at BJJ United) and Nelson were in my corner. It was the first time I was representing BJJ United. The whole team was there, and it was the first match of the sub only event. I didn’t want to let myself down. I didn’t want to let the team down. And I couldn’t move my stupid leg.
My first thought was to be embarrassed: My coaches had seen me do this break to a pass over and over again. They must think I’m hesitating or going crazy. We trained for this, Hillary!
I finally yell back to my corner, at the risk of a verbal DQ, “I can’t move my leg!”
My opponent even respectfully asked, “Are you OK?”
Right there. I probably could have and should have stopped. But all I saw was red. I couldn’t shake the cramp away. “It’s just a cramp. You can do this. You can win this,” I said to myself. So I pushed forward somehow. I passed her guard and took her back. I should have finished the match right then. But no, I couldn’t control the right side of my body from the waist down. Somehow the match went on for six minutes. She mounted me and I had to tap. It was embarrassing. I let everyone down. I wanted to run away and I couldn’t even crawl.
Nelson carried me off the mat. I couldn’t sit, and I couldn’t stand unless I held my leg up. It wouldn’t straighten or bend on its own. I needed his help to support the leg, so he couldn’t drive me to the hospital.
None of the responders could say what the problem was. They could only speculate I pulled my hamstring. There wasn’t much swelling or bruising to be seen yet. When we arrived at the ER, there was no orthopedic on duty so after a few hours that seemed eternal, I left with some scripts for muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, a phone number to call on Monday, and no rhyme or reason as to what actually just happened to me.
Can I shake this in a few weeks? Just some RICE, right? Wrong.
After asking around we got the name of a good sports medicine guy. The sports doctor scheduled an ultrasound and MRI. My hamstring was torn. Almost, but not completely off the hip bone. The muscles had retracted about 2 inches, so surgery looked like the only answer. He sent me to an awesome orthopedic doctor who was not eager to slice-and-dice our way back to health, however. Instead, I was referred to an amazing PT, named Meredith, who really cared and worked hard to get me back. She really took the time to understand what I did before the injury and even looked into the weaknesses that could have caused it. She was just as determined as I was to get back to normal and train again.
For instance, Nelson and I had already signed up for the first US BJJ Globetrotters Camp in September and I did not want to miss it. So I set a goal to be back on the mat at least drilling by May and rolling by August so I could be ready for camp.
The biggest part of my healing process at PT was the ART (Active Release Technique) she would use on my leg first thing, every session, two to three times a week. A lot of friends and those whom were familiar with soft tissue injuries asked “why not electrotherapy?”
The hell if I knew, but it made me curious, so I asked Meredith, and she replied that it wasn’t necessary. The movements of the ART really hit the injury at the core. My tear was located right where the hamstring meets the bottom of the hip bone and therefore went really really deep and was hard to feel and find from the outside. The ART treatment renewed my flexibility, strength, and range of motion in accordance with stretching and strengthening exercises.
I had a lot of homework to do on my own too. At least a half an hour morning and evening of specific movements and stretches were necessary to meet our goals. Then Meredith would take measurements and record my progress every few weeks. Homework was equally as important as making every appointment. And although my hamstring may or may not have re-attached itself, all the scar tissue that developed during therapy stayed flexible because I kept it moving every few hours every single day.
Eventually I graduated to dynamic stretching. The first time I tried to jog I nearly fell flat on my face. But eventually I got there. She started applying resistance and weight training and the difference from only a few weeks prior was astounding! My left leg (the healthy leg) was stronger than ever and my right leg could barely curl 5 lbs on a leg curl machine.
Nelson and I had plans to visit San Francisco and Las Vegas during this time, and finding a gym was tough, but Big Panda was very good at reminding me to do my homework as well as creating resistance when we didn’t have weights.
That brings me to another huge and final component to my physical healing process: Having the right attitude. I walked in there day one and told Meredith I’m here to get better. I couldn’t train, so I saw it as my exercise. The endgame was just being able to train again. So on days where I couldn’t go to PT, or I didn’t have gym access, or maybe I did make it to PT and I was just tired, sore, etc, I didn’t make excuses. I did what I could and always tried my best. I still ate right, and made sure to get a good night’s rest because I was still in training. It was a different kind of training, but it was no less important.
As my body was healing, mentally I was still very hesitant. I had so many doubts but my coach Jared really taught me about the mental game. He kept me in the gym and on the mat, constantly reinforcing that I could do it. I could beat the injury if I wanted to. Along with some awesome teammates and jiu-jitsu buddies, I was able to adapt and overcome - the motto at BJJU.
My husband now fondly calls me a “triple threat.” I started to slowly drill last summer and can actually now roll and train jiu-jitsu again with confidence. In January, I learned to snowboard in Austria at the Winter Globetrotters Camp. Then I learned to surf at the inaugural Rollin’ in Costa Rica Camp earlier this month. Nelson, if you would have told me a year ago, injury or not, all this was going to be accomplished, there certainly would have been some reservations. But you believed in me, and I am so thankful we did it together. I am especially thankful for all these firsts and the new found strength and determination that has blossomed from it all.
If you’re out there recovering from an injury: chin-up. You can get through this and come back stronger than before.
Watch Hillary demonstrate the 5 bridges every grappler should practice:
The bridge is one of the most valuable skills in a grappler's toolkit. A well-developed bridge can be used to escape or reverse positions, take down your opponent, or avoid being taken down yourself.
However, not many BJJ players devote much time on developing a powerful bridge. They may do some bridges from side-to-side during their warm-up, maybe a few upa drills and then off to class.
But by taking the time to develop a strong bridge you’ll not only make your hips and legs stronger, you’ll make every aspect of your game much better as well.
For example, bridging mainly develops the muscles of the posterior chain -- the gluteals, hamstrings and spinal erectors -- but they also do a wonderful job of loosening up the anterior chain, mainly tight hip flexors. This is not only important for bridging movements, but your sprawls and hip escapes will get stronger and more efficient as well.
Having great technique is very important. Having great technique in combination with greater strength is an even better asset.
For the purpose of this article, and to add some context, I divide all movements into three broad categories for athletic development:
- General Physical Preparation
- Directed Physical Preparation
- Specific Physical Preparation
Thomas Kurz, author of “The Science of Sports Training” provides these definitions:
1. General exercises are those that develop general fitness that's non-specific to an athlete’s sport. The purpose of these exercises is to harmoniously develop the whole body so it can withstand further specialization.
2. Directed exercises prepare an athlete for sport-specific exercises. Directed exercises combine certain traits of general and sport-specific exercises.They involve the same muscle groups in the given sport and use the same energy system. Also, their dynamic characteristics are similar to the sport-specific exercises but the exact form of movement is different.
3. Sport-specific exercises are those that directly contribute to the improvement of an athlete’s sport-specific performance. Most (but not all) sport-specific exercises consist of elements of competitive actions.
Thomas Kurz also has a fourth category called competitive exercises. These are the actual techniques of a given sport. Think armlock or triangle.
Of course, there is always be some degree of overlap regarding these exercises. I would list the following exercises in the video below as directed exercises.
Please take the time to explore these movements. They may seem simple at first but as you progress though each drill the complexity and range of motion increases, creating greater demand.
You should be able to perform these drills anywhere, and as you progress and get more efficient, adding an external weight is always an option.