The jiu-jitsu mindset.

Last night I got to roll with one of my instructors, James.

This is always a humbling experience and I’m quietly (unless he reads this) convinced that he chooses to spar with me right at the point that I am starting to regularly get submissions on others, just to remind me that I am still a very small fish in a big pond. It’s good though, as it reminds me to relax and focus on technique rather than speed or strength. I usually last about 3 minutes this way, until my body takes over from my mind, and I’m thrashing around again like a mad person. (At least I last 3 minutes now, instead of going mad from step 1, so I guess that’s some progress..;-)

Afterward we had a chat and spoke about this. He reminded me about getting comfortable under different positions, relaxing and waiting for the opportunities and not being so repetitive as to become predictable. One thing he said which hit home was this, “get comfortable under knee on belly, if you don’t get comfortable with it, you wont learn how to escape properly. You may get choked a few times, but so what, at least you are learning how to escape the position.”

Now someone who does not do Gracie Jiu-Jitsu might read this and go, “What? get comfortable under knee on belly, but that’s three points I would loose in a competition!!!! No ways”

And there’s the catch. If you are doing jiu-jitsu and you are sparring and worried about points, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. I guarantee you, an attacker on the street doesn’t care about how many points he gets, he just wants to take you out.

Which brings me to another side of the coin. As much as we do practice Gracie Jiu-Jitsu for self-defence, there is the competition aspect, which for a lot of us is the only way we get to compare our skill and technique against a live (non-friendly, and by that I mean someone who is out to either submit or beat you) opponent. So where do you draw the line, between learning to defend yourself against a street opponent and learning to prevent the loosing points?

Well, I’m of the opinion that, either way, focus on the street opponent. I’d rather loose each and every competition bout I enter that get beaten up in the street because my mindset was in the wrong place.To me, self-defence over-shadows all else. So thats where I need to keep my focus.

As for the competitions, well, I guess I’ll have to keep on practicing until I get to a point where loosing points doesn’t matter and I win by submission only each and every time……

Taking a step backward to move forward

Lately Gary and James have been focusing on some of the more basic elements of jiu-jitsu. Getting back to basics, as it were. Revisiting elements of the Gracie combatives, working on basic things like maintaining position and not being to attached to a technique or submission.

Sometimes in the heat of sparring and day to day training we forget how important these basic elements are. Often we spend too much focus on trying to learn new “cool” techniques, which only distract from the basic foundations of jiu-jitsu.

This was something that was really impressed upon me when Ryron Gracie visited the academy recently. Apart from being such an awesome ambassador of his family’s art (and being able to toy with everyone that he rolled with), his key focus was always the basics. Things like perfecting the clinch, take-down, maintaining mount, upa escape, elbow escape.

He didn’t teach anything new, but focused on perfecting the tools we already had, like a master woodworker would take an apprentice and show him how to perfect the first wood joint he learned on his first day.

We forget that in the day to day training we don’t often review these techniques enough, taking time to ask our instructors for advice and ways to improve our use of the technique. This is the only way we can get to a point that these techniques become second nature, that in effect they become as natural as taking a breath or blinking.

So I am glad that we are training in this manner. It allows me to take a step back and revisit the roots of my training, while at the same time being able to move forward by improving my natural ability to use these techniques as a base for the other “cooler” stuff.

Updates and videos.

So the Renzo Gracie invitational is over and I didn’t do half as well as I intented. My consolation is the fact that I was knocked out of the first round by the eventual 1st place winner, he spent all his time defending my submission attempts and only won due to points from one successful side mount. For me jiu-jitsu is more about the self defence than sport competition, so I can live with a loss on points.

I did learn a few things about myself and my game, I need to still improve my fitness levels and I need to work on preventing side mount, but other than that it was a great day.

For now I am happy to patiently wait for the Ryron Gracie seminars that are being held by the Academy. It is going to be awesome to meet and train with someone from the Gracie family.

Finally, here are some clips of Gary and James from the Academy, talking about Gracie Jiu-jitsu and self defence.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Cape Town

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu self defence

Ryron Gracie to visit South Africa.

I just heard that the guys at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Cape Town are arranging to have Ryron Gracie visit the Academy later this year. What awesome news. To actually have a third generation Gracie and Helio Gracie’s oldest grandson visiting our academy is such an exciting event.

If you have ever watched any of Ryron or Rener’s video clips, you will have seen how natural Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is to them, they are born into it, and for them its like eating or breathing.

I am very excited to learn from (and maybe even roll with, oh please oh please oh please) Ryron Gracie. 2009 is shaping up to be an amazing year for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Cape Town.

Random musings…

Tournament preparation.

The guys over at Renzo Gracie Cape Town are holding a tournament at the end of March. So we are currently in “major tournament prep” mode. It brings a different side out to the guys I train with, and that makes sparring all the more interesting lately. Personally I am taking the opportunity to be able to compete with other jiu-jitsu players and see how well I have learned the lessons taught to me.

Martial Arts Instruction

There was a forum thread recently over on Bullshido about a local Martial Arts Academy and validity of the instruction, specifically related to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. You can take a read in your own time, but for me the most important bits of knowledge to be taken from that conversation are the following:

  1. Always check an instructor’s background.
  2. Make sure you are getting what you are paying for.
  3. If it looks like bull and sounds like bull, it probably is bull.

The passing of a legend

Grand Master Helio Gracie :  October 1, 1913 – January 29, 2009

It is with great sadness that I learned about the passing of the legend himself. Helio Gracie changed the world of modern Martial Arts and I’m sure his passing will be felt by thousands (if not millions) around the world.

Rest in peace grand master, your legacy will be imprinted on this world forever.

Working for escapes.

I am physically bigger than most people and it is often a simple thing to merely power out of a hold than to use pure technique. I try as much as possible to avoid this and therefore if I find someone I am rolling with is putting on a hold and the only way out is to use power I usually concede the submission. It was pointed out to me, however, that this can lead to bad habits while rolling.

I guess its just as easy to go the other way entirely, to give up the need to try and work out an escape merely because the hold is being applied very well and you cannot see any other way out besides strength. What you would then miss is the opportunity to look at the current position and see if there is a way out that you haven’t perhaps thought of as yet and try it out.

This ties in again with the idea of relaxed sparring. If your opponent is intent on applying the hold with as much power as possible it is difficult to have the time to look for an escape, even if you do not know a specific one at the time. Merely having that extra second to assess the situation could mean the difference between giving up and a successful escape.

All this was lost on me last week however, as I felt that I had let myself (and my instructor) down by merely giving up on an escape. Fortunately I think he realised this and was kind enough to come over and have a one on one chat with me about it.

Never underestimate the power of a positive chat about your jiu-jitsu with your instructor, it can sometimes mean all the difference in the world….

Thoughts from the week that was.

Finer Details.

A few months ago an issue of GracieMag contained an article of 101 “back-to-basics” type pointers of jiu-jitsu. There were quite a few truths to be learned therein, some which I have incorporated into my jiu-jitsu, others which reminded me of simple details I had forgotten. The point is, there is no limit to the amount of detail you can continue to learn or rediscover about techniques you think you have long since mastered.

This was made all the more real to me last week when I found myself performing a technique on someone that I had never trained with before and I was suddenly not able to achieve the submission I was so used to. Was there a problem with the technique, was it the person, the way they were positioned, their strength?

No, it was simply that I had forgotten one of the finer details of the technique. Once rectified, the submission came on as quickly and successfully as before. I was reminded of the article mentioned earlier, and how so very important it is (at my stage at least) to keep practising and reviewing the techniques I know to improve my knowledge and ability to successfully apply them.

Sparring Partners.

More recently I had the opportunity to spar with the second of my two instructors, someone I have not really had a chance to roll with in the past. As I know the two of them have trained together for many years, I (in my limited knowledge) expected the experience to be fairly similar, besides the obvious fact that I would be tapping every minute or so ;-). I was interested to discover the experience was completely different than I had expected and was challenged with a different scenario entirely.

This made me realise the importance of taking every opportunity to roll with as many different partners as possible, as each one has something new to teach, be it someone who has been in jiu-jitsu for many years or someone who has just started. Every experience on the mat has a gem of knowledge to be mined, as long as I am alert enough to find it.

Training without training.

It’s good to be back. The feel of the mat, speaking jiu-jitsu with fellow students, the awesomeness of the rolling. The Feastive season is over and I am training jiu-jitsu again, and its great!

Something that I spent some time doing in the off time was thinking about the previous years sparring and techniques learned and trying to find where my weak points are. I pictured the techniques in my brain and then thought about the next logical series of movements, trying to analyse and improve my jiu-jitsu technique. James has always spoken of visualisation and how it can be as good as the real thing, but I had never really tried it out.

To my surprise I found that it did indeed pay off. I found myself able to switch from one postion to the next without having to think to hard about it. It’s almost as if the time spent thinking about the techniques had trained my brain to react more quickly under the pressure of a live opponent.

I’m not saying that I am now suddenly brilliant, but I can definately see an improvement. I think I may do some more research on this.

On a less technical note, our first class of the year was a great one, Gary allowed us to roll for pretty much the entire class. Awesome way to start the new year!


Gary, one of my instructors at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Cape Town, posted an article on the Academy’s facebook group.

While I’m sure the article is meant in a light hearted fashion, there are some truths to be learned here.

Reading this made me think of how we train in jiu-jitsu. My instructors are always reminding us to relax while sparring and try to be in a learning mindset. Being the (alpha) males we are, this is usually a difficult concept and one that many people take some time to learn. The reality of the situation is that in relaxing ourselves we are opening our minds up to the essence of the technique and really learning how to apply our skills in combat.

This was made all the more real to me recently. As much as I try to roll with as many different people at the Academy, there are one or two people that I tend to try and roll with regularly. Generally these people are a higher belt ranking and I like to roll with them to practice my defence against more advanced opponents. There are however one or two people that are at a similar skill level that I often roll with and this gives me a good opportunity to work on offensive techniques, without always being on the defensive.

Recently I have noticed that one chap has really started relaxing in his sparring. Whether this is due to someone mentioning it to him or simply his becoming more confidant in the techniques I do not know, but I can really feel how his sparring technique has become way more focused and less worried about using simple power in his defence. This then allows me to also be more relaxed and focus on technique.

What really surprised me however is how easily this person is now able to counter my offensive techniques. It’s almost like his mindset change now allows him to pinpoint the chinks in my game and be able to use this to effectively counter my attacks. This forces me to realise how much I (still, to my utter dismay) rely on strength to maintain a position or technique and therefore I have to look at what I am doing wrong and correct it.

So in relaxing he not only improves his jiu-jitsu, but also forces me to improve mine.

Talk about a win-win situation….and I didn’t even have to do anything to benefit from it.