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Saturday, 30 November 2013

"Let's just flow roll"

I shudder when I hear people say it... a new round is starting and two students go to slap hands when one of them says "Let's just flow roll", urgh.

Why is flow rolling bad? Well, it isn't all bad but it certainly isn't rolling. During the full sparring part of a class, that's what you should do, full resistance sparring. Jiu-jitsu is fighting, that means you try to tap your partner and stop them tapping you. Now, there are different intensities to rolling, it shouldn't be flat out all the time, you are trying to learn and improve... but it should always be realistic, so that means you both resist each other's movements. Don't waste rolling time by doing anything other than full resistance sparring. It's the whole reason why jiu-jitsu really works in a fight and what keeps it from becoming just another nonsense martial art.

So, does flow rolling have a use? Definitely yes, but like most things there are right and wrong ways to do it...

I've already said that it's not a replacement for full sparring. It should be seen as a type of drilling, a time to improve your technique, reactions and "feel" for movements. Except for maybe in an advanced class, it's unlikely time is gonna be set aside for this in a regular lesson, so if you're going to do it then it's probably best before or after a lesson.

It's also important to flow roll correctly, and it's something that most people can't do... at all. I don't think it's worth finishing submissions at all when flow rolling, but you definitely shouldn't be trying to tap or control each other (that's full resistance sparring again). You and your partner have to be able to engage in a natural ebb & flow of one person taking control for a bit then switching over. So at any point one person is the attacker and one person is defending. The person attacking shouldn't be controlling any position ultra tight and the person defending shouldn't be trying to shut them down but should offer up different movements/options to be attacked. Then at some point the attacker should back off, which signals to their partner that they should now take on the role of attacker.

Your aim in these flows should be to improve your transitional attacks and learn what options you have during them. However, you can't start doing unrealistic stuff or get loose and sloppy with technique. This means that, like good technique drilling, you both have to judge the level of control you are using well at all times. You can't be too tight so that it just turns into normal sparring but neither can you be too loose that things become unrealistic... basically you need to work in the same was as when drilling technique; you don't try to stop each other but you don't let each other do stuff which wouldn't work under full resistance. This balance of realism should also be maintained beyond just a technique perspective... so if you try to hit a rolling armbar as your partner turtles, and you fail miserably, you should switch to defending while your partner starts to attack.

Due to all this stuff, I think flow rolling is something that white belts will struggle to do properly. I'm not saying it's impossible for them but to flow correctly you need a good knowledge of techniques from all positions, good movement and no ego at all. Most white belts don't hit all those marks, neither will some coloured belts though!

Flow rolling has it's place, but see it as a type of drilling not sparring and hopefully it will be another training method you can use to improve your jiu-jitsu!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Can jiu-jitsu be just a hobby?

Undeniable there are a lot of people who train jiu-jitsu all the time, and not only do they do maybe 5 or more jiu-jitsu sessions a week but they do strength & conditioning work and maybe cross-train in judo or wrestling as well. This is great and I love that jiu-jitsu means so much to so many people that they want to train this much, but it does lead to some people thinking that anything less than this level of commitment is worthless. I couldn't disagree more.

I think people should train as much or as little as they want. For some people it's a massive part of their life and they want to compete, win medals and progress quickly. But many people just do it because they enjoy it and it keeps them fit and healthy. Maybe they just train once or twice a week, that doesn't mean they should be seen as less committed or less a part of the team, they just have different circumstances, different reasons for training or different goals.

People talk about "jiu-jitsu lifestyle" (and really, I'm not even sure what that is meant to mean) but need to realise some people don't care about doing stuff to help their jiu-jitsu. Lots of people are happy training once a week, or even less frequently, and that's fine by me. I think everyone should be made to feel at home in the academy, no matter how rarely I see them. Not everyone is young with plenty of free time to train, plenty of people who love jiu-jitsu also work long hours, have a family and already have other commitments (taking kids to do activities is a common one which I know stops a lot of people training more)... I would hate for people like this to feel they are less important to an academy, or worse that they are a hindrance, just because they don't train a lot.

So yes, jiu-jitsu can be just a casual hobby for many people, even if it's a major part of a lot of people's lives. Some see it as a sport, some as a martial art, some just as a fun way to keep in shape... however people look at jiu-jitsu, I think they should all be welcome into an academy.

Friday, 22 November 2013

What's not ok to do in training?

Ok, so I'm gonna assume that everyone knows it's not ok to do stuff like fake tap, wear a smelly gi, purposely hurt someone etc... and I'll just concentrate on stuff I know has come up regularly in questions people have asked me over the years. The most important rule to remember is that you should try not to injure anyone in training, so it's always better to miss a submission than to crank something on. This really does fall into the obvious category though, I think.

So, what things do people think might be not ok in training? I've heard people consider stuff like shoulder pressure/head control, knee-on-belly, hip pressure from mount and similar all things which shouldn't be used much in training. Straight up, I find this CRAZY. All those things are good jiu-jitsu, they are the proper way to control people, you should definitely use them and learn to get good at using them. Just think about why you use those techniques; to allow you to advance position or secure a submission. If you just want to pin someone for a round (to get better at control, which is a fair goal at times) then pick someone tough... a 90kg purple belt pinning a 70kg white belt for a round with brutal shoulder pressure is uncalled for, but if they can do it to another purple belt it's fair enough. Similarly, if you have position on a higher belt then any amount of pressure is fine, if they don't like it they shouldn't have let you get the position or should be able to escape. The only thing I've ever told someone applying shoulder pressure to me is that they should apply more pressure!

That covers off applying pressure/discomfort. I just think, if it's legal under IBJJF rules it's definitely ok in training. Consider the difference in ability and strength/size when you roll as normal and you should be fine.

What about other stuff? "Illegal" submissions is a big one... most people consider the IBJJF rules to be the standard for what submissions are legal at each belt level. Personally, in training, I don't mind people doing any submission at all as long as they control it and always give their partner time to tap. If you can't control it enough to give them time, don't do it. If your partner doesn't seem to want to tap, tell them they need to because they are caught, don't just slam it on. If it's a submission they might not be familiar with it's always better to let it go than hurt someone. For heelhooks I would suggest only ever training them with a catch and release method, they are too dangerous to go for the finish in training unless you're rolling with experienced training partners who will recognise and tap to them.

Then there are submissions which are applied slightly "wrong". Stuff like having a gi lapel wrapped across the mouth not throat/neck. As long as you give due consideration to the level of your partner, I have no problem in submissions like this. At the end of the day, if someone has to tap they have to tap. These things can happen in competition so everyone needs to get used to it in training.

Beyond that I don't think there is much else which falls into this category. The only other things I've come across are a very small number of people who try to gain an advantage in training... wearing a really tight gi, or resting every other round etc... this isn't stuff which is that bad for other people, but it does show very weak character and a poor mentality of seeing training as competition.

So really, it's easy. As always, you should consider the level of your partner and any size/strength difference, and remember that above all else you should try to avoid injuring anyone. If you think like that, you can't really go wrong.

Thursday, 21 November 2013


This is the first blog I've written where I didn't train yesterday or today and won't be training tomorrow... I'm lying on my sofa with a swollen knee following surgery to sort out a locking issue due to a torn meniscus.

Before I went in to surgery I hadn't had an MRI done as the doctor said with locking it would definitely need surgery to remove loose tissue, so he would just go in and do whatever was necessary at the time. This meant I was looking at a best option of removal of loose tissue and cleaning up the damaged meniscus, and worst option of a full meniscus repair which would need suturing. So as I went into surgery and under anaesthetic I had no idea whether I'd be waking up to 6 months plus of recovery time, or as little as a few weeks. Scary thought.

Luckily, I woke up to find my knee was not in brace, just very swollen and bandaged. Result. Unlike last time I had anaesthetic (for a septoplasty) I didn't wake up and try to remove my oxygen mask, ending up hand fighting with a nurse... although when I recounted that story to the nurse she did explain that I had in fact woken up earlier and tried to get up, and it took four of them to hold me down. She said "You're quite strong for your size"... I said it's not strength, it's technique, haha. I'm just thankful that a morphine haze prevented me from wrist locking any of them!

Anyway, I now find myself housebound (I'm not allowed to drive for a while) and sitting at home all day for a week is not a prospect I find attractive! I don't know how people can sit at home all day, every day. It would drive me crazy. I only watch about three or four programs on TV, so I've caught up on all them on Sky+ today, but I do enjoy computer games... but although that entertains me, it would never give me any feeling of satisfaction that I'd actually achieved anything. With that in mind I've arranged transport to get me to a class on Saturday morning so I can teach a little bit, then I have transport on to a competition the other side of the country on Sunday where I'll be coaching and maybe reffing. The only negative about that is that I should be competing... but there is plenty of time for that in the future.

As much as I am desperate to get back to training, and I'm yet to compete at black belt, I am going to make sure I take my time and rehab my knee fully. I've suffered with the injury for about 3 years so the last thing I want to do is cause myself more problems. However, I know that saying I won't rush back to full training and actually following through on that are two entirely different things... but I will do my best to stick to it, no matter how tempting it is to jump in for a tough roll as soon as I'm back teaching.

With that in mind, I have set myself a plan of attack from here on;
1. Rehab... this should take a couple of months to full strength in the knee again I think.
2. Back to full training, and start to incorporate S&C to my routine (my son has started school so I have 2.5 hours free each day).
3. Get a load of black belt competitions under my belt.
4. Go to the European Championships in 2015 and take gold. I'll be senior age category by then, and plan on getting down to lightweight (which I've done twice before).

Right now, being at the start of point 1 it seems like the Euros is a long way away, but I know I've set myself a tough challenge so won't be able to slack off at all. Let's rock and roll!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

A tap is a tap

I always cringe when I hear people say they "only tapped because..." as if it somehow lessens a submission.

Ok, if someone hits a submission which is illegal (or presumed illegal in training) then it's a cheap move, but just tap and move on. There is no need to talk about or justify getting tapped.

But worse is the "I only tapped because your arm was over my mouth" stuff. Anything like that is just silly. A tap is a tap, it doesn't matter whether it was done because of smooth technique, fluke, strength, crazy flexibility, smothering... or for any other reason. If you couldn't escape the position and had to tap, it's a done deal. If you "didn't need to tap but..." then why did you tap? Fight harder to get out. If someone wants to just hold you still for a full round in training then try to get out the full round, it's good training for you and not every round is going to be like that. If you choose to tap, you tapped.

"It wasn't a choke, just his elbow putting pressure on my shoulder"... nobody cares, tell your mum when you go home.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Refine your technique

When you first start training in jiu-jitsu it's obvious that one of the main things you need to do is learn lots of techniques and build up knowledge of all the positions. Learning totally new techniques becomes less important as you become more experienced (although there are always new things to learn) but something which is important from day one is refining the techniques you already know.

So how can you go about refining techniques? Not just by repetition, but that does have it's place. Drilling with an experienced partner who can give you the correct situation to hit the technique in a realistic manner is the best way to do this. As long as you can perform the technique correctly, doing it at high speed (without becoming loose) will mean your reactions and movement will get better and better.

However, the best place to refine your technique is the place where you use it... in a full resistance situation. Obviously competition isn't really the best place to try to refine technique, although you certainly can if you want to (and there is definitely a place for it for some people... regular competitors with big aspirations), so this is going to be done in sparring. But exactly how should you go about it?

The most important thing is to try to take physicality of any sort out of it. So aim to perform the technique successfully without relying on strength, flexibility or speed. Now, it's impossible to remove these attributes totally... you have to move your body to perform techniques, grip strength is a big part of gi jiu-jitsu and if you are highly flexible it's hard to judge what is within the normal limit. There are ways to minimise use of attributes though;

- slow yourself down. The slower you perform a technique the more control you need. If you can take longer than necessary to do something then it shows that you aren't leaving any gaps where escapes become possible. Doing things slower will also help you become more aware of what people try to do to escape or prevent your attack; every time you move on in the transition think about what your partner/opponent is trying to do... what are you doing that prevents it? Where can you feel that they have movement and what can you do to to shut it down? Taking your time to go through these things in your head will really help you understand what are the most important aspects to the technique.

- concentrate on overall body position, especially your hips. Make sure you're always putting your hips in the best position possible, get fully onto your side if applicable... this should make sure you're never having to stretch and aren't relying on flexibility to put your feet where you want them.

- only use easy movements. If you need to forcefully push or pull to move a limb or reposition somebody then you're definitely using strength. If you can use your whole body with good leverage then most of your movements should be easy. Don't get me wrong, when people are fully resisting and are a similar level to you, this is very hard to do... but those are not the sort of people to refine your technique on.

So doing those things will help you concentrate on using proper technique not just physicality, but there is plenty more you can do to refine your technique...

Once you know a technique well you will know the points where escapes tend to happen and the technique can break down. So look at these points and work on them. Get to a stage where you've had a lot of people escape and then gradually release the control and pressure you have. This will help in a few ways... you will start to learn exactly how much space people need to escape and you'll learn all the different escapes which people use from there. Then by letting people escape you can work on ways to shut down the escapes or to counter them into different techniques or variations of the original.

Also look at each position or transition involved and think what other techniques involve similar stuff. Doing this can help you realise that there are better ways to move during the technique; maybe thinking of your hip movement during a rolling armbar will help you get a much better hip position and angle on your triangle from back control. You'll also start seeing new ways to transition into and set-up the technique; maybe your favourite back take x-guard is also possible off a guard pass etc

Finally, if you're working on a submission, try to constantly reduce the amount of pressure or movement you have to apply to get a tap. The reasons for this should be obvious.

Ok, that wasn't finally... something I haven't covered is that you need to pick who to try this on carefully. As I sort of touched on, if someone is able to give you a really tough fight they are not the best to try this stuff on. To start with you need to pick people that you can control fairly easily, but you want to make them as high level as possible so that you get good reactions to whatever you're trying. There is no point refining your technique on a 1 week white belt who will be doing everything wrong. Whatever level you start using to refine your technique (which will vary depending on your level) you should always look to advance to doing it on higher levels as you get better at it. This should, in fact, be a natural progression and is the very reason for refining technique in the first place... you get better at doing a technique by refining it on a white or blue belt, so then you can use the technique on blue or purple belts, then you can start refining it on them and so on...

So with these thoughts in mind, next time you're training pick a technique you know fairly well and see how you can work on making it even better. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The other side of competition

First off, apologies for my blogging being much less frequent the last few weeks. I've been busy organising a competition and with a few other things. Anyway, that means it's probably a good time to talk about organising competitions as I've seen lots of misconceptions posted online by non-organisers.

Something I see quite often is people saying "they must be making loads for just a day's work" about organisers. Two things people are failing to grasp with this is that organising a competition is much more than one day's work. From the moment registration opens you get people messaging you to ask questions (quite often questions to which the answers are on the registration page) and to check on entrants to specific divisions. Every competition I have been involved in organising I get numerous enquires from people who are in divisions which tend to have smaller numbers (black & brown belts, senior II, female, rooster, ultra heavy etc) asking whether they will get a fight. I always do my best to contact other fighters/instructors to find opponents, so this means sending out multiple messages and following up on them plus replying to people's responses. There are also regular messages from people asking to change division or notifying that they will not be competing. All these things need to be updated as soon as possible otherwise so many requests build up it's easy to miss some. On top of that there is the usual stuff; advertising and marketing the event to make sure it attracts a good number of competitors.

Then there is the more physical side of organising the competition... a venue has to be sorted and paid for. People often underestimate the cost of this, but consider that to run a competition you need to hire an entire hall, that could be the equivalent of 6-8 tennis/badminton courts or more... and you need them all day. That's nowhere near the total costs either, there are mats/scoreboards to hire, medical staff to pay, medals to buy, referees and officials to pay, food is usually provided for all those staff during the event, some venues charge extra to provide chairs or other things like barriers etc. All this adds up to a not insignificant total cost.

Now, that's not to say competitions can't, or don't, make money. They do, but it's probably not the sort of amounts which some people think, depending on entrance fee. Myself and my instructor run competitions with the goal of giving the competitors a great event to take part in and enjoy. Due to this we look to keep entry costs as low as possible (£25) and run a repechage system. The repechage means that when a competitor loses a fight they drop into a second bracket system which decides the bronze medal winner. This way, someone who suffers nerves/adrenaline in their first fight, or gets drawn first against the best fighter in the division, doesn't end up paying £25 for 10 seconds and then their day is finished. This is not the best way to maximise profits (it basically doubles the total number of fights) but it does give the competitors a better experience and much better value.

So on the day what do competition organisers do? Turn up and count the money? Unfortunately not. I have refereed at the competitions I organise from 9.30am to 5.30pm with only breaks to go to the toilet, while my instructor takes on the organisation role and sorts out any on the day bracket changes/weigh ins/absolute registration/recording of results etc, and also sorts out any other issues which arise on the day (quite often you get people ringing to say they are running late/can't find the venue). It's certainly not an easy day if you are an organiser and care about running the event properly.

Having said all that, sticking to a plan and putting in hard work should mean that the competition is a success. Things can go wrong, but most potential problems can be easily avoided with proper planning. But what if things do go wrong? The competition organiser has to take responsibility (although I have seen/heard many times when they don't "It wasn't out fault, the mats didn't turn up", "It wasn't our fault, the bracket sheets got lost" etc) and potentially refund entry fees. This could be especially costly to the organisers, which is something people don't consider when thinking of the money made from running the competition; risk and reward. A competition could end up costing money to run, that risk has to be balanced by the potential to make money (although greed is a different issue).

The work doesn't even stop when the last fight finishes. Then results have to be typed up and posted online (something which I think a lot of competitions should do much quicker), feedback has to be requested and acted on (although, again, a lot of organisers don't do this) and people may need to be contacted about things which happened at the competition. Then once that's all done it's on to booking the date for the next event and starting all over again!

So if you are looking to enter a competition and think it's expensive, consider what the competition offers for the entry price. Good competitions should have;
- repechage system
- good track record
- quick response to enquiries
- medical staff present
- knowledgeable referees

Some competitions will offer more; competitor t-shirts, custom medals etc, but I think the list above are the must-haves. If a competition can offer those things then, unless the entry fee is ridiculous, it should be seen as good value and I would highly recommend doing it.

I recommended competing in my last blog and now I'm recommending that you pick good competitions to enter. Do your research, ask your instructors/fellow students and invest your money wisely :)