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 www.ocjj.com.

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