Friday, December 7, 2007

TUF training with Andy Wang and Mac Danzig...

A few months back, my good friend and training partner Mike L called and told me that he'd been frequenting some underground training sessions in Santa Monica and that I should go. Well, my first question was how underground and the second question was who were we going to be training with. Both answers would leave me pleasantly surprised. First to the nature of the "underground session": It was only underground because none of us were supposed to be there and it was one of those, "hey my friend opened up the gym to us after hours" kinda things. Training would be Andy Wang who had at this point recently finished his season of The Ultimate Fighter and Mac Danzig who was soon to be blown up by the very same show. With that established, I immediately agreed and before you knew it, Mike and I were off to Santa Monica.

Prior to meeting Andy, I had only known of him through grappling tournaments and videos. I did not really know what to think of him and Im glad I got to know him a little bit before watching the show or his subsequent fights. What I did know was that he was a black belt under the Inoue brothers at Grappling Unlimited, was like myself a former University of Hawai'i student, and that he had a very open training philosophy. Upon arrival to his LA house (to pick him up for the carpool to Santa Monica), I learned that he was a very humble and likable guy as well. Andy talked a lot about winning and losing, establishing a mindset to succeed, and the very real topic of ring jitters and fear. Andy spoke honestly about everything and needless to say he left a very good impression. In addition, he was a UH fan, so he couldn't be all that bad.

When we arrived in Santa Monica, our destination was a very posh gym and we all were ushered quietly in through the backdoor. There was a thai boxing class that was just ending and Andy was going to take over for some of the students that stayed and others that also knew of the training. Before you knew it, Mac Danzig had arrived as well as some other North American and Japanese MMA fighters. I even met a really good wrestler whom I would later find out was Harrison Ford's son, Willard. This training was going to be good.

Now, being a strictly gi guy (I more or less just started gi less training when I started the blog), I was a little intimidated at first. There were a lot of yoked guys walking around lacing up their MMA gloves and shinpads and I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. However, once the class was under way I realized how fun the training was going to be and I immediately relaxed.

After self stretching and some very good pummeling/wrestling drills, we got into the technical portion of the class. As an instructor, Andy showed a complete lack of ego and he was always asking students to come up to the front and teach a class a move. He would then sit there and try to perfect the move the way the student had taught it and he was very sincere in this. Our first sets of moves were wrestling takedowns that Andy and Willard taught. I liked both moves, but it was clear to me that the wrestling was going to be very technical and that I would have to work on wrestling comfort. What Indy showed really stuck with me, he did a shuck to leg pick that was so nice. I really appreciate the yin yang of wrestling. Although to some it seems so strength based, but it is really about forced reactions just like jiu-jitsu and judo. It was incredible. Afterwards, some students volunteers taught some brabo chokes and the Rigan Twister (to be seen in my next blog entry with Rigan).

Next up we did some stand up wrestling and I had such a blast with the takedowns. I was paired up with Mike L and he was showing great technique, especially with his use of the wrestler's tie ups. My infant like judo skills did help me acclimate a little bit, but I was glad that Mike was so helpful with my movements. There were some really good wrestlers on the mat and it was just plain fun watching those guys go at each other. Talk about athletes. LESSON LEARNED: Get more comfortable with the wrestling game. Dave Camarillo once told me that to be good at standup with the gi, you have to do judo, not BJJ style judo. Likewise, I feel that to get my no-gi standup to a higher level I should also wrestle to minimize that deficiency. Also, as said earlier, wrestling was just a lot of fun.

Now, I should note that the pacing of the class was pretty high and the workout level was something beyond the average jiu-jitsu class. With that said, no one was getting hurt and everyone was focused without attitude. I did not see anyone talking about who they tapped or didn't, only training. LESSON LEARNED: It isn't the intensity that people should worry about, it is only the atttitude. Personally, I think just as many people get hurt by people with attitude problems at less intense schools than those with good training partners at their more intensive counterparts.

After the stand up training, we immediately went into ground grappling and this was just as fun and intense as every other aspect of the training. First off, I rolled with Mike L. and we both played around without going to nuts. We figured that we've rolled with each other about a million times and there was no point in expending ourselves. My next round was with a really tall former jiu-jitsu guy from Santa Monica that gave me a really hard time. He was tall strong and he gave me all that I could handle with his passing pressure. After our roll, we talked a little bit and shared some feedback with each other that definitely helped me out and hopefully did the same for him.

Mike L. training with Willard Ford

My next match would be with Andy Wang. After our feeling out phase, we dove right into it and it was a great session. Without over discussing the session, I do have to say that Andy Wang is a solid gi-less grappler. We traded a lot of positioning and I got the feeling that Andy actually enjoyed the movement phase of the ground game and he proved to be very good with forward pressure and the scramble as well. In the end, Andy got to either my side control or half guard and locked in a very tight head and arm choke. Afterwards, we got to talking and he told me that his game had been feeling really sloppy and that he liked to wear the gi every now and then to clean things up a little. He could have fooled me, all I felt was forward pressure with good movement. LESSON LEARNED: Andy is not a very big guy and definitely is not the athletic specimen, but when you roll with him you can see that he has the biggest heart in the building. I think these are the guys that have to push the hardest, but also get to go further than most. He has a never quit attitude and I really thought that this was contagious when you are around him. I was impressed.

Andy starting to pressure my 1/2 guard. Note: I am way to flat in this picture, therefore giving Andy even more options with the pass.

Here I am on my side more, but Andy has me over committed and he has good pressure, all he has to do is hop over to the other side to have my back.

Voila! Andy takes my back!

Following my roll with Andy and a second session with Mike L., I had my last match of the night with Mac Danzig. Mac was kind of sitting there after rolling and helping one of his guys, so I rolled the dice and asked if he would be interested in rolling. Mac was more than willing and he put on a very technical display of submission wrestling that is perfect for MMA or Grappler's Quest. While we rolled, Mac had really good attacks and when a position of his was almost passed or it seemed like he may have been in trouble, Mac had the uncanny ability to quickly reverse the situation as well my fortunes. Another great thing with Mac was that he was always willing to share his knowledge. After he caught me with an armbar, he quickly showed me how he likes to avoid it and how he caught me and then we jumped right back into it at full speed (or at least I was and Mac was at 60% speed!). For those that want to know what belt he is, I thought he felt like a black belt. LESSON LEARNED: I think for many jiu-jitsu guys who enter MMA, they should look at guys like Mac and Andy and ask themselves if they think they can win in the scramble. For instance, Mac knows he will and he takes that confidence with him to the ring. In addition to this, he has the technique to submit black belts in BJJ (he already has), so when you add his confidence in transition as well as the scramble, he becomes a real nightmare.

Feeling out Mac's open guard

Mac passing with good technique. Note: I am commiting a huge error here, I am only worrying about Mac's pressure/leg's while Mac is sinking in a great crossface control; I should be blocking the crossface.

Moment of glory, I almost hit one of my favorite sweeps on Mac. Oh yeah, almost isn't good enough, Mac scrambled out and subbed me for the effort!

Mac is just relaxing as I spaz pass. He is waiting for something...

Mac transitions into a beautiful Brabo/D'Arce choke while Andy rolls on in the center of the mat.

My closing thoughts on training with the TUF stars Andy Wang and Mac Danzig is that they were both all class and they put training above all else. These guys live for this stuff and you can see this in how they dedicate all of their time into getting more proficient and technical. Both were great guys and humble to the core. In addition, they are both sponges and that to me is the scary part. These guys are just getting better and better.

Mac teaching me how he defends some of his attacks!

Epilogue- After watching Andy on TUF as well as his other recent match, I am left a little frustrated. First of all, I do not think Andy has yet to live up to his potential and his last fights definitely have not been his best. That being said, I still think that he is all heart and he has the drive and spirit to go much further than he has. It is laughable that some feel they can ridicule a guy like Andy. He is a great guy and a consumate warrior. He'll be back and I think some people will be eating a little crow, perhaps crow burgers.

I'm finally back!!!

Sorry for all of the delays, but I have been up to my neck in busy work. Here's where the delays have been coming from: Been writing the Budo Blog and articles for (those guys have been great to me), slowly editing a tournament DVD for OTM (sorry guys - I'm a lagger!), and authoring a few books for Victory Belt Publishing. So far, I've been working on the new Dave Camarillo book and the Saulo Ribeiro book as well. Both books are going to set new standards for BJJ books IMO. So, with that said, I've been traveling and training a lot, but unfortunately I have not been sharing some of these stories. Well, that ends here.

I'm finally back to writing on here too! Once again, sorry to those that have been frustrated by the absence of new material.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Been MIA way too long...

For those that have been regular readers, you have my deepest apologies. A lot has been going on both jiu-jitsu and non-jiu-jitsu related. Fortunately, most are good things like surfing too much, training fairly regulary, and enjoying my family.

Well, I have a lot of blogs to share coming up and some of my recent training experiences have included no gi with Andy Wang and Mac Danzig, a series of private lessons with Rigan Machado (master of a million techniques), marathon rolling sessions with Johnny Ramirez, the Rillion Gracie seminar, training with Xande Ribeiro (one of the three most talented guys I have rolled with to date), and as of tomorrow - a private with Saulo Ribeiro. I have at least some pics for most of these and I'll try to get them up ASAP.

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I will be heading up to San Jose to train with Dave Camarillo for a week or so as we work on a new project together. I'm predicting sore elbows galore.



Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Best Roll Ever... Marcelo Garcia at Studio X NY

This is a bold proclamation, but I think I know why Marcelo Garcia and the new generation of Alliance students are soo good these days. It has everything to do with their approach to BJJ above and beyond technique alone. I learned about this during a recent private lesson with Marcelo Garcia at his newest home - Studio X NY.

When I first entered Studio X, I was immediately taken aback at how non descript the area was. You enter off of Third Avenue at a subtle staircase that takes you to the second level academy. Definitely a very metropolitan experience within the megalopolis of NYC. Inside, the academy was immediately familiar as the location to Marcelo Garcia's first No Gi series - the brick walls and mats said it all. The academy and matspace itself is not the largest, but the quality of its members and the enrollment is remarkable. As a first impression, I felt the academy just breathed high caliber jiu-jitsu.

A view of Studio X NY - the street side of the academy.

Another view of Studio X... (note: Marcelo was wearing one wrestling shoe due to a sore ankle)

As 10am struck, Marcelo Garcia was there - all smiles and ready to teach me the best private lesson ever. I introduced myself and we talked a bit about training, his past, and he answered some nagging questions of mine. To dispel some of the rumors, Marcelo told me that he had never taken wrestling until recently, but he did have one lesson on the armdrag from a wrestler when he was a beginner and that he forgot all about it until he was a brown belt. He continued by telling me that he does wrestle now and that it is "fun" to work the takedowns. Yeah, "fun". With that, we continued to discuss gi and gi less training as we warmed up on our own. When asked what he prefers, he replied, "both" - he justified it by saying that they are both fun and that is all that matters. This is one of the best perspectives I have ever heard on training. We often forget the reason why we are there in the first place.

Once we were warm, Marcelo asked me what I would like to cover and I told him that I have problems with people passing my butterfly and open guards. First I will get into the techniques: Marcelo showed me how he recovers guard from being flattened while in a "hooks" guard, an omoplata off of the transition, and we briefly went over the X-guard. Moreover, we talked deeply about positional control, when to fight, and sparring/competition strategies.

In terms of positional control, Marcelo used the X-guard as an example. I often have trouble with people dropping the forward knee when I am using the X-guard and it often feels like they are penetrating a hole into my chest while gravity assists them. Marcelo said that this was one of the most often used defenses to the guard and he showed me his posture for this - basically he cups the knee instead of grabbing the pant leg and he moves onto his hip to elevate his opponents leg. This posture was great for keeping their weight from coming into me and it also coincided well with Marcelo's next discussion on when to fight. LESSON LEARNED: Use your hip escape and posture to defeat the forward pressure and assist in coming up on the single. This is not to say that you cannot stay flat in X, just that this will automatically reduce the pressure from a potentially dropped forward leg. The X-guard is all about movement instead of laying like a dead fish (what I had been doing).

Here is an example of my posture before we discussed the X-guard. I am flat and Marcelo's posture is starting to come forward with pressure over his front leg.

This is the posture that Marcelo takes to defeat the forward leg. Marcelo Pointer: Always force your opponents' legs apart while in the X-guard. If this is done properly, his reaction will determine the sweep or transition for you to use.

I believe the next point that Marcelo covered gets to the detail of why he and many of his teammates are so dominant these days. Before every technique that Marcelo would cover, he would "test" my position and then create a drill for me based off of how I was moving. For example, Marcelo thought my hips were not mobile enough from butterfly, so he just set up a pummeling drill and kept flattening me - while I had to pummel back and get to my hip ASAP. With every other move Marcelo showed, he used some decent resistance and made me work for it. Doing these drills had me sucking air so hard and here is where Marcelo let me in on his training perspective. He told me that he likes to train hard. He said that doesn't mean being rough, but always trying your best whether it is drilling, working defense, or attacking. That means not playing a lazy guard, but being active and moving. In addition we talked about training lighter and he said it was good, but you have to go hard sometimes so you know what works in that environment. When I think about how he trained techniques, it was all about creating a very active drill where you FIGHT for the position with an opponent who is making things a little complicated for you. According to Marcelo, fighting is important in BJJ in that you should know when to fight vs. when to rest. After this session, I felt like my mindset and butterfly were already stronger. LESSONS LEARNED: I think this is the key to Alliance success: train and drill with focus. Create drills that simulate an area and go for it until you can accomplish the movement against pressure. This intensity and dynamic drilling was really new for me. This is very similar to Matt Thornton's "I-Method" or "Aliveness". Also, don't relax in bad positions - know when to fight and do not stop until you are out of danger. Man, an attacking game is tiring!

This is a pic of the drill we did, Marcelo would constantly pummel and flatten me with one underhook. I would then have to hip escape to my underhooked side and make posture to sweep while he tried to pummel again. This type of a working drill is what I see as the secret to his success. Additional LESSON LEARNED: Always pummel (from everywhere) and get used to pummeling early in your BJJ journey.

This is the omoplata off of recovering from being flattened. The secret of the technique is to push off of his hip with your foot while using straight arms and a frame to create distance. If you can recover an underhook once you have made distance you can recover guard, if not you can pull your leg over his arm and go into an omoplata as he resists.

In class, Marcelo also talked about the importance of experimenting. He said you have to constantly train your weaknesses and do so with focus to get them as good as your strengths. There's that focus again. In fact, Marcelo went as far as to say that his academy game is very different than his competition one and that he rarely does what he does in competition in the school - I found out how true this was when we sparred. LESSONS LEARNED: Focus on a well rounded game and here is where it gets tricky. You cannot focus only on winning in the school, you have to focus on improvement and drilling/sparring in a way that is conducive to this. This ability to experiment and try different things is what Marcelo said leap frogged his skill level (he also told us that he was the worst out of 4 friends who started BJJ together).

Speaking of experimentation, here's Marcelo setting up the Marceloplata.

With all this focus and determination, you would think that the training would not be fun or enjoyable; this could not be further from the truth. Marcelo loves BJJ and this is what ties the focus and determination to the fun. The focus is only on technical improvement, the enjoyment comes from the implementation. In fact, as our private was winding down, Marcelo asked if I wanted to spar and I was more than happy. Little did I know that Marcelo intended to roll for about 25 minutes straight and put me through my paces.

I wish this picture was on the other side, you would be able to see how much fun Marcelo was having as he tried to coach me out of the ever tightening cross choke while sparring. I didn't get out!

Marcelo playing a "watery" top game while getting me gassed in transition. All I could hear was, "C'mon Kevin, move, move!" I was ready to pass out.

Rolling with Marcelo is the best BJJ experience I have ever had. He tapped me over and over while coaching me throughout. He could instantly feel where I lacked pressure and he was able to coach the position while keeping his intensity up. It was such a great time. He caught me from about every position and his non-tournament game (closed guard subs) was as strong if not stronger than any black belt I have ever rolled with. He would pass me by keeping his hips heavy and I cannot even describe how futile I felt with him passing me to turtle over and over (but he would let me recover while saying, "Kevin, don't stop - KEEP WORKING!" with a happy inflection). The theme of Marcelo's game: Well rounded, versatile, and pure BJJ. LESSONS LEARNED while sparring with Marcelo: First of all, train to build endurance and when that endurance comes, you will find the points of when to relax. Next up, pass with pressure and hip switches against the butterfly hooks (kind of like how Feitosa flattens out like a coin). Marcelo's passing game is sooo smooth. Here's another point Marcelo gave me right after he choked me for the zillionth time, "Hide your neck when you cannot see the opponent, because the choke could be coming." His chokes were just like magic. One last lesson - do BJJ because you enjoy it, it should be fun. I think this is why Marcelo wanted to spar for 25 minutes, because this was his fun time.

Marcelo's pressure- note how Marcelo has totally ignored my right underhook, has broken free of it, and keeps his weight pressuring into me as I flatten out. My hook feels useless at this point; it felt like it was carrying a ton.

More on posture- I really need to master Marcelo's weight distribution passing. Here is an example of Marcelo switching hips and staying flat while passing.

Here's a cool pic that shows Marcelo crossing his legs and staying low to avoid me putting him into 1/2 or butterfly with my bottom leg. LESSON LEARNED: At this point he is not worried about my top leg pulling his leg into guard because his legs are crossed and his right leg is wedging into mine (with the support of his hip switch), preventing it from sliding under to recover.

This was easily the best BJJ experience I have had. I recommend to everyone to seek out their favorite competitors and instructors and take any lesson available with them. Trust me, you'll be happy you did it. For this experience I'd like to thank my good friend Dave Woodson and his wife Felicia, who financed the private as a surprise graduation gift (I was too cheap and I almost missed this opportunity- I won't make that mistake again). Life is good with good friends.

For more information on Marcelo Garcia or the incredible Alliance NY, check out and

For those of you like me with stubby thick legs, don't lose hope... long limbs are so passe.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

From cold to hot with Rani Yahra...

My experience with Rani Yahra has been one of awe, disdain, and later thoughtful introspection. First with the awe, I first heard of Rani through the pages of a Portuguese edition of Gracie Magazine (I could barely figure out what it said with my marginal Spanish) that illustrated the young black belt as a coming prodigy and a tournament virtouso. For those that do not know Rani, he has racked up a very successful tournament pedigree with Mundials gold medals, Brazilian and Pan American national titles, Grapplers Quest Championships, and a second place in the 2005 ADCC Tournament. I have seen Rani get beaten soundly by Leo Vieira and then come back the next go around to not only improve, but give Leo all that he had in a very lonnnng fight. He has beaten grapplers that I look up to like Johnny Ramirez and he has shown incredible technique throughout. With that said, my early view of Rani was that he is a very sound grappler that is just hardwired for BJJ.

Then came the disdain. Unfortunately this came through second hand sources and an outside perception of some of Rani's tournament antics. I felt that he had some kind of mean streak and an all around bad attitude. I read in several articles and heard from many a Brazilian that with Rani's skill came arrogance, a trait that I find incredibly off putting.

Here is where thoughtful introspection came into the game. I've often jumped to conclusions before, and my leap on Rani's character was just another one. When I was first offered the chance to come by OCJJ to train with Rani in his no-gi class, I was a little hesitant and I entered with a little unease. I had no idea if Rani was going to treat me bad because of former affiliations, a cocky mindset, or due to some strange chemical inbalance. What I got was a shock to the system (I'm sure most of you see where this is going so I'll get on with it)... Rani was a genuinly well intentioned instructor who is both friendly and focused on his students. I was wrong about my impression. Although it was and is undeniable to me that Rani showed some competition arrogance, I am able to look past his tournament game face and see that he is really a well intentioned guy. His instruction sets him apart from the norm and his courtesy was more than surprising.

Great attitudes and good people. Kevin, Rani, Randy, and Jason (with Jason's kid)

The diatribe and exhaltation end here- Rani teaches a bad ass no-gi class. Seeing that I have just recently began exploring gi less BJJ, it is all fascinating and I love the approach and the technical depth of no-gi BJJ. It really feels like a different game to me. Over the course of two classes, I feel like I got a foundational insight as to how Rani teaches, rolls, and executes the class at OCJJ.

In the first class Rani taught a lot about pressuring and passing the hooks guard when you are able to keep the opponent flat. The start up position consisted of pressuring into the hooks while using your hands to post on the chest or biceps to keep the opponent confined. Rani discussed that although you are somewhat supported by your opponents legs, it is important to bring your hips to the same level as your opponent's on a parallel line. Your weight comes forward and they lose the lever to throw you overhead.

The passes consisted of using a knee pinch to sway their legs and open a slight hole to drive the knee over their hook and into a knee up the middle position. Funny thing is that Shawn Williams just showed me this pass again by passing my guard about 7 times with the exact same pass a couple of days later. I guess it is a good one; it's all in the hips. The second pass was sitting back and explosively throwing their legs over the head while following by jumping to the side at the same moment as the leg throw. The third and fourth sweeps were from the guard where you sit up on one of their standing legs. Both consisted of sliding either inside or outside of the legs to hit single legs. The one where you slid inside felt dangerous, but Rani showed how safe it can be and how difficult it would be to take your back from the position (at first you feel a little compromised, but after it was all gravy). DETAILS LEARNED: You have to find a point of balance where you will not lose the position and the opponent has to bear your weight while passing. This allows you to fight without hands as Eric Goo puts it and Rani is definitely in line with this thinking. Also, learning to switch your hips in passing and sprawling is paramount.

What I liked even more than the techniques was that on both days, we would follow a really innovative structure. We would learn a basic position or transition (like the pressure position and feeling) and then we would drill that area specifically. Then, Rani would show another technique and we would also drill that one with resistance after doing it without. This did two things: it allowed us to see the move in a controlled position and it helped us focus on it while it was very fresh. At the end of the class we drilled from the guard while trying our best to move in and out of the days techniques with some fluidity. It was a very dynamic class and I was looking forward to the second review session.

The second class was equally as enjoyable, but this time we covered the harness grip from the turtle. I really need to rewatch Eduardo Telles' DVD set, because it would interest me to see how he defends the harness game (in fact, more than any other match, I'd love to see the harness man Marcelo Garcia face off against Telles' turtle). Rani showed how to secure the close hook with the leg ride and near side roll. Then we covered the far side hook off of the over the back roll. Next up we went over the forearm choke, the rear naked, and how to start a harness with the intention of getting the choke. We covered a lot of techniques that I have only seen from Shawn Williams and Marcelo Garcia, so Rani's stuff was obviously both relevant and at a high level. DETAILS LEARNED: Secure the harness and glue your head to the side of your opponent's. Use your rear leg to avoid the roll over by laying it over your opponent's butt and leg. Attack the choke by putting your hook in against a defensive opponent - he will either defend the choke or the hook - he will not be able to take care of both.

Rani's harness control position...

Either you defend the choke or the hook. Rani showing us some strategy against Kevin...

Positional sparring was equally enjoyable with a really cool sensitivity drill where we went hands free trying to slide into side control and feel the opponent's rolls. Very Rickson-esque/water jiu-jitsu. We also did a king of the mountain drill where the bottom person is in the turtle and the top guy is on the side. Once we were given the green light the top guy attacks the harness and tries to take the back, side control, mount, or get the submission while the bottom guy defends and tries to reverse (Telles style), recover guard, or compose 1/2. It is funny because I have never done this drill in class (but Jr. and I have practiced it on the home mats) and it so dynamic and fun. Great jiu-jitsu.

Try this harness variation to attack the forearm chokes and rear naked...

Next up we rolled and I got to go with a couple of the guys and we all had a good time. OCJJ is still a pretty new school and they don't have a ton of upper belts yet, but these guys are learning fast. I didn't know it, but my friend Kevin trains there and I've known him and his brother for a while now. It is always good to roll with old buddies. Both have great butterfly guards and are old school Joe Moreira guys. It was great to drill with him, but he was taking it easy because of the coming tournament. Hopefully he does as well as he should.

I got to roll with Rani on the last round of the second class and it was very humbling. He caught me about three times in a couple of minutes with chinstrap control to guillotines. It did not matter what position he was in, it ended the same way everytime. His level of control is crazy. It's funny because I have trained with one of his rivals, Marcio Feitosa, a bit and Rani is way smaller. Marcio is a lot longer (and naturally heavier) and for some reason I expected Rani to be the same. When it came to technique, Rani felt SOLID and controlled and submitted me just as easily as any of the A listers that I have had the privilige of rolling with. Because I only rolled with him for a limited amount of time, it is hard to dissect his game, but Rani has great pressure and technique. He controls everything and he sees your mistakes a mile away. I got tapped machine gun style. Look for Rani to make waves and finish at least top 2 at this year's ADCC (lets see how my fortune telling skills fair). He may even take it. LESSONS LEARNED: Fight the chinstrap better and start drilling a more dynamic guillotine defense for these no gi days. I have a large dome and it tends to get sucked into guillotines and cranks way too easily. I also need to do a better job at controlling the distance.

Rani's just getting started in this one...

Rani catching me in the same straight armlock that Johnny Ramirez catches me in...

This is a cool sequence showing how Rani postures through my guard...

One last thing about Rani's and OCJJ. Besides being a great guy and talented instructor, I think more top level guys owe it to themselves to check out Rani for this reason alone. Both of my classes have been reasonably sized and Rani teaches with a very one on one style. He can fix holes in your games and make you better. My second class was on the smaller side and I basically got a semi private with a world champ for free (using the free classes as arranged with the management). In addition, Rani dispelled my assumptions and proved himself to be honest and forthright; he made a fan out of a former detractor.

Good night...

For a full schedule of Rani's classes check out

Friday, April 27, 2007

Getting collar choked at NTT...

Sorry I haven't been posting much lately - I have had to make some very minor changes in my training regimen and have been looking for some new inspirations in BJJ. Well, I definitely found some in the oddest place - the Jiujitsugear form and Val Worthington's blog.

Well, we've been looking for more local places to check out in the Southern California area (I know it isn't THAT hard) and we stumbled upon the Newport Top Team out of Newport Beach, California. I recall reading a few posts from some of the guys a few months ago and not thinking too much about it, but when I saw Val's blog - I remembered that one of the guys looked vaguely familiar. Ends up Eric Goo, the instructor at NTT and younger brother to World Champion Kendall Goo, used to teach at the local Relson satellite under Todd Tanaka when I did my undergraduate work in Hawai'i. I never got to train with him, but I definitely remembered seeing him roll up pretty much everyone at the school one day when I came by with Haley. Before the story gets too long - I guess my point is that it is a very small world and the BJJ community is even smaller. With that said, I shot Eric an e-mail and I was off to train with him.

I guess I should introduce Eric. I do not know that much about him, but he is a good guy with serious and I mean serious jiu-jitsu skills. I know he has won his share of trophies and tournament medals and that he has been training for a lonnnnng time. It's funny, because here I am a purple and I was training under a purple belt who has been training for 12 years. I'll come back to Eric's skills and game later. Anyways, I'd really like to see him go against some blackbelts- I know quite a few that Eric would demolish and that is how good I think he is.

First, I'll get into the feel and vibe of the school. The place is in a super secret Mapquest unfriendly part of the Newport Back Bay that found me scratching my head and driving in circles until Eric gave me a call and headed me in the right direction. I guess they didn't teach me finding directions in college. When I got to NTT I was impressed by the matspace, it was a lot bigger than I had envisioned and there was plenty of room for rolling. Upon entry I met some of the guys - some regulars and some visitors; I was immediately happy to see some familiar faces from Tim's and I knew that Eric's would be an open and friendly environment. I also noticed that everyone seems like they are somehow from Hawai'i or have some type of attachment with the place. I got the impression that everyone was friends, but it wasn't the least bit intimaditing because everyone was putting out good vibes.

Joe and Keola...

On to the training, the first night I got there a little late and I got to work in on some 1/2 guard drills with the guys. Eric was really attentive and the atmosphere was very relaxed and comfortable. His guys were just working their basic 1/2 games trying to feel for balance , movement, and comfort in the position. I really liked how Eric was coaching his guys along and he was very involved at every step of the way. Next up, we just moved into some lighter sparring and I got to roll with a couple of blue belts, a white belt, and Eric. Once more, I'll come back to Eric later, but his guys felt very good.

Here's a training pic of Eric and Chris with Troy looking on. Unfortunately most of the pics from this night came out kinda spotty.

For the next session, Haley and I actually came down on time and we got to warmup on the mats before Eric arrived. We saw Chris from the previous night, but no Brad or Troy. While we were warming up I also got to meet Wen from the forums and I was looking forward to the chance to share some knowledge (or in my case spazz while he shares knowledge!). This was the Thursday afternoon class and after we briefly stretched and then warmed up with some partner triangle, armbar, omoplata combo drills; Eric then went right into an awesome class.

We focused on an omoplata game when the opponent tries to posture back to defend. Eric showed how to clasp the far arm when they sit back and then to attack either the lapel or the rolling sweep. What I liked the most about the sweep is that the opponent ends in a very compromising position where you can really put the pressure on his head and neck to get the roll over to side control. It was a great move. Next up we covered a defense by replacing your close leg (to the arm being attacked) with your knee to create a wedge lever that hoists your opponent up and back to get a reversal or at least avoid the sub. Very slick and the detail was something that you would expect out of a 5X Mundial Champ. Afterwards, we partnered up and had a nice day of sparring with plenty of partners to go around. Unforutnately I did not get to spar with Keola, but there is always the next time.

Chris and Keola playing around with the reverse omoplate control...

On to the sparring and some of the things that I picked up from some of the students. First of all, Eric is doing something right, because his students feel very solid. I've rolled with Chris a few times, and he shows amazing promise. The guy is only a whitebelt and he moves way beyond his mat time. He has already surprised me more than a few times. Joe feels like a tank and I have yet to sweep him and when he is on his back he fights well and never quits. His recovery skill is a very fun challenge. Troy is in the same camp.

Dueling asses... Haley thought this pic was funny so I had to include it! Seriously, Im trying to use the pressure thing that Eric was telling me about, but I think Im getting it wrong. If any of you guys can tell me whats wrong with my posture, by all means go for it (I'm on the left top).

Rolling with Wen was definitely a highlight. He is a complete blast to train with and he's a brown belt with ten years experience. He doesn't take training to the serious or grumpy level as I call it - you know, when everyone has to frown and look all hard/like sour grapes. Wen is a blast and he really likes the guard and 1/2 guard. He has a sweep that he caught me with a few times and he told me that it was his bread and butter. It felt a lot like one of the Terere or Galvao 1/2 butterfly sweeps. In addition, he like everyone else at NTT had a solid choke attack with the hand in the collar. I am learning a lot from these guys on how to keep that threat alive and most importantly a viable attack. Lesson learned from rolling with the infamous Wen? Have fun and watch out for those collar chokes. I took a private lesson from Shawn Williams today and he told me more of the same.... basically that the butterfly position is an ideal place to set up the cross collar and there are a ton of great chokes from there. I guess I should eventually learn to avoid that!

Wen's demeanor moments before lighting me up on 80%...

Wen Bravo (or is it Wen Schembri?) with Eric...

On to rolling with Eric and most importantly what I have taken from it up till now. Eric feels like a very experienced grappler. Like I said, he has been training for over 12 years and at this point, the belt is just a periphery. I would call his style smooth, technical, fundamentally sound, and now (thanks in part to a private that he did with his friend Kai Garcia) pressuring. When I pulled guard, Eric was patient - stayed out of danger, passed, and then pressured towards attack. He is working on pressure from all areas and I like this cerebral approach to BJJ. In fact, he gave some great pointers to Haley on keeping her butt down in the pass to really get the most out of the position. So far I've rolled with Eric a few times and I am already learning a lot. I am all defense all the time and he gets me with a mix of old school controls, pressure, and collar chokes. Did I say collar chokes? He has yet to step on the gas pedal, but he really hasn't needed to as of yet. LESSONS LEARNED: First of all, when you kill a leg during a pass, kill it! Don't leave your butt in the air or give him room to frustrate you. Second, shallow entry grips are great for a loop choke to collar choke combination off of their defense. Third, be patient in your position - if you rush things like I did, you might get swept. This does not mean stall, it just goes along with the first point. Fourth, attacks like Eric's collar chokes may slightly endanger the attacker from time to time, but more often they keep the attackee at bay. Eric has been able to consolidate many positions on me by forcing my attention to my neck. It is a great strategy.

Eric collar choking...

And again...

Like I said earlier, training here is great and more importantly it has been a privilege. The atmosphere is conducive to learning BJJ and there is zero politics. Very refreshing. Seeing that I am a betting man, I'll be putting some money down on Eric to take the Mundials this year if he enters. Any takers?

You can learn more about NTT by checking out the Jiu-Jitsu Gear Forum at I'll definitely be heading back, Eric is a great instructor and the place is a blast.

Keola, Eric Goo, and Chris...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I'm not lazy... Just busy!

I know, I know, I have been slacking on the entries, but really I have some good reasons and with that being said, let the excuse factory start its engines.

First of all, we still have been crosstraining and we have some great gyms to showcase. Recently, we have made return visits to Kama's and checked out Rani Yahra and Eric Goo at NTT. I had the pleasure of enjoying some very high level grappling at all and you should expect these entries up shortly - hopefully tomorrow for NTT.

We're also trying to update our technologies to provide the best possible experience and for posterity reasons as well. My camera lens got pretty mucked up and it has been hard to clean up. After all, I want to look at this thing when Im old and gray.

This week, we will likely return to NTT, roll with Johhny Ramirez at his place, drop in on Rigan's, and give Rani a proper review with pictures. I also have some plans to train with TUF contestant, Andy Wang with my friend Mike. So, expect a lot of articles shortly.

So anyways, here's what you should expect over the next few days - An NTT write up, a classic private redux - training with Marcelo Garcia at Studio X during the holidays, an in depth look at what Rani Yahra is up to, and a private look at jiu-jitsu virtuouso Johnny Ramirez.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Dave Kama's Jiu-Jitsu Voodoo...

For this week's Community Jiu-Jitsu trip, we decided to check out Dave Kama's at the behest of our training partner Al. Al has known and trained with Dave for years and has always talked of Dave like a hidden gem in Southern California. Well, last night, Jr., Dave C., and myself joined Al to see if it was all that it was cracked up to be. It was.

A little about Dave Kama... He is a Rickson Gracie blackbelt and his training lineage stretches back to BJJ's infancy in the United States. He has stories ranging from garage training with the Gracies and the Machados to challenge matches at the Gracie Academy. After class, we literally sat around for an hour listening to Dave share stories about the early days and how high the level actually was back then. His class is located out of an Irvine Racquetball club and is run by Dave and his brown belt Fernando. Not a lot of people go there and it is really a diamond in the rough. It appears that Kama has a club just for the enjoyment of training and well, training there is quite enjoyable.

A picture of brown belt instructor Fernando - This guy has been training longer than some first degree black belts!!

On to the nuts and bolts of the class. We started with some jogging, rolls, and breakfalls; then we transitioned into something that I found to be very special - an overlooked tool that more BJJers should utilize. We did calisthenics that were jiu-jitsu specific. Kama had us doing warmups that were completely leverage and base related. We did partner standing situps to practice base and bridge rolls to forward rolls for mechanics and leverage. Before every exercise Dave explained the grappling application of the technique and this was invaluable to mechanical understanding. The whole warm up felt very Rickson-esque and I enjoyed every second of it. I actually finished the warmup with my technical lift corrected (sit up to combat base posture) and I really felt like I understood more about body movement as it pertains to BJJ.

Next up we covered some different throwing drills. First we started with an O-Goshi belt grip and practiced entries to the bump up hip throw. Following the O-Goshi we transitioned into a Harai-Goshi leg reap throw from the same grip and practiced this all the way to the ground (Dave Kama thought I was a judo guy, but my breakfalls felt really lacking). I had actually never set up the Harai with that grip so it was very fun for me. The last throw was a single leg defense that was also very Rickson-esque. Kama showed us how to avoid the single by moving your leg back into a side sprawl and to just use your weight efficiently to prohibit their scoop. The leg that is being singled also kicks out as your hip comes through. It was such a clean movement.

In this picture, Dave C. is showing the leg movement against Jr.

After the takedown practice we did some takedown drills that I have not done since my last judo class. I think everyone should do this drill; it fosters creative throwing, technique, power, and cardio. Basically, three people stand in a straight line (one in the middle of the mat and the other two on the ends) and the middle person runs from side to side and throws the partners on the ends. Kama was very careful that we were all using good technique and throwing eachother with safety in mind. It is always a good work out and I had fun trying to work my seois (shoulder throws) and katagurumas (firemans carries). I noticed that once again, my breakfalls need more work.

For our ground technique we did another position that I would call Rickson-esque. It was a drill where both partners wrapped up their arms and started in the side control. The person on the bottom bridges slightly into the opponent, levels the hips slightly off the ground while swinging the hips, and finally bridges away from the opponent. The result: the opponent effortlessly rolls right over you without the use of your arms. This was very impactful as it showed me the proper bridging mechanics, the POWER of the upa, and the depths of BJJ.

This is the starting position. Both opponents must not use their arms until the movement is refined and note that the first bridge will serve the purpose to get the reaction back into you (hence bringing their weight forward).

Next up was sparring time! Dave partnered us up and asked everyone to roll at 80%. He told us that we should focus on technique, tapping, and moving with proper mechanics. The sparring was incredible here.

Al and Dave Kama were working some pretty cool choke, guillotine, and brabo combinations.

Dave C. working the open guard with Fernando. Fernando was rolling sooooo clean and technical all night - he is the epitome of the smooth roll.

Here I am rolling with our friend Jack who also happens to train with Dave Kama. It is good to see so much jiu-jitsu exploration in the region. I've been trying to get this type of open guard to work more as a transition point than a "go-to" and Jack was really helpful in his troubleshooting.

Rolling with Dave Kama was really fun. He played a lot with my guard and I learned a lot about pressure and feel. Dave's game is very basic and it feels like he just does everything correctly. He had great pressure and above that balance. I am really starting to see balance as the key to BJJ and life. LESSONS LEARNED: I asked Dave what I could work on and he asked me to roll again so he could evaluate me. He channeled the game so I could transition to different points and then he gave me two very good pointers. First, we discussed my open guard and the mindset of making the opponent feel uncomfortable. He had me restart with him in my triangle and he told me to really bridge my hips into the choke as I pulled him down. The combined pressures (knee squeeze, hip upa, and pull) took the fight out of him FAST. Otherwise, he was able to withstand the triangle and set up a defensive game. Secondly, he told me to add more pressure to force their options outside of the guard as well. He said light games are good for transitioning, but they become completely reliant on them. If you are slow for some reason, you will lose your position. Afterwards, I tried to crush him and he laughed! Super cool guy.

In this one, Dave and I are playing around and I'm trying to do the rigor mortis defense to the double under pass (making my body into a board). Dave liked my guard and I was definitely honored.

After this class, I was sure of three things: I will return to Dave's from time to time (he is very welcoming), Dave Kama has picked up on a lot of Rickson's game in his many years of training with him, and that I need to train with and roll with Rickson at least once in my life. Using Dave as a comparison point, I can only imagine all of the details that Rickson can show. I look forward to the day.

You can find Dave's contact information at I think it has his old academy address, but now he is in Irvine, not Laguna Niguel. Visit him, he's a bad ass.