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.