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.


2Old said...

GREAT write up. How do we get him to the West Coast to teach a seminar and give some private lessons....

DJ said...

Marcelo is grea teacher and humble guy. I had him teach a seminar at my school and taught his taking/securing the back and X Guard sets ups,,

great blog of your experences.

Chris said...

Yes! Stubby-leggers of the world unite!

Hey Kevin, it's Chris Andrade from Gracie Barra. Just wanted to drop a note and say awesome entry and that I miss seeing you around at class. Tuan told me you guys get together on Fridays sometimes to roll. I'll see if I can meet you there.

Drop me an email if you can to keep in touch.