Friday, December 4, 2009

Personality and YOUR BJJ Game

Does your personality shape your BJJ game? I believe it does, and several things that I have been reading and questions by my students have compelled me to write this post.

Several students have asked me about them having problems because they have preferences for certain positions and techniques, but are having difficulty setting up and even attempting other techniques and submissions.

Furthermore, there is an interview by Ryan Hall, master of the upside down guard, who has won multiple medals with his triangles, who suddenly believes in giving up the guard completely!

Lastly, I was hearing an interview with Renzo, who got offended when one of his students went to train at Rorion's gym and was turned down because they claimed that Renzo didn't teach the real Jiu Jitsu

Renzo Interview (audio interview)

He was also a bit pissed that Relson claimed Roger Gracie, although trained in Gracie Barra is the only one from there who practices pure Gracie Jiu Jitsu, because he only uses the conservative moves like Helio did, and none of the fancy new stuff.

Personality and your game

I watched this TED video on Youtube months ago, on personality and why some people will be conservative politically, and others liberal:

Though not directly relevant, the gist is that all of us are not born with a blank state. Some of us are more conservative, and others are more risk taking

This will be noticeable in your BJJ game as well, which was my answer to my students.

The risk takers are the ones whose main game is their open guard, and have a preference for armbars, triangles and oma platas.

On the other hand, the conservative BJJ players are the ones who prefer to be on top at all times, is very conservative positionally and would rather go for submissions that do not give up position like chokes, figure fours (americanas and kimuras) and ever wristlocks. Even if they do go for armbars, it would be when everything is fully secured, no room to escape. If they do have to go to their guard, it will be a closed guard, snug and tight.

This is especially noticeable at white belt and blue belt level. As this is the point where everyone starts building their game from scratch, and whatever they are comfortable with based on their personality, will become their A game.

As most BJJers hit purple belt, this is where they either round out their game or become extremely focused on their A game, and hide their weaknesses.

But when two purple belt or higher grapple with someone of equal level as them, their A game comes out again.

Ryan Hall's Change of Heart

This is how I interpret Ryan Hall's BJJ midlife crisis as well.

Firstly, I do agree with him that top game is best if both players are equal. However, I am not certain if it is the best for HIM

He is obviously a superior player, with a high risk taking style. But by changing his game may not be suitable for him, as he might not have the attributes for it, but more importantly, he may not have the personality for it.

He might end up a mediocre black belt who specialises on a top game that doesn't suit his personality.

On the other hand, it might very well be that like most of us, we were liberal politically as a uni student, but grew more conservative as years go by, and this really is the style that would suit him after all.

Who knows, but he is a top notch competitor, and I for one am curious to see his transformation, for better or worse.

What about the World Class BJJers then?

Yes there are BJJers who are world class, but apparently have no preference. They can do it all, like Rickson, Rigan, Jean Jacques, Roger, Marcelo Garcia etc. How do you explain that? On the other hand there are other world class BJJers who only specialize and play a limited and "safe" game, the ones that fight like Helio ie Rorion, Royce etc.

First and foremost, most of us are not Gracies. We havent' been training since we were kids, and will probably only have one game all the way to black belt. These guys have been doing BJJ since before they could walk.

Thus we only live ONE lifetime doing BJJ, while these guys have lived several lifetimes worth of BJJ by now. They have built their game, broke it down and reinvented it many times over, while we are still working on our first game.

But how come some of these legends are so versatile but yet remain world class in all games and positions, while others only specialize in a very limited way? I believe this can be explained by looking back at the history of the different gyms and their philosophies

History and Style of the Gyms

I believe that the original game that was thought by Helio and his brothers is the exact way Royce and Rorion fights. The style is very safe, very conservative. It is said that Helio doesn't have all the fancy guards, only a closed guard!

Then Carlson came along and started emphasizing on strength and endurance on top of technique. His gym split from Helio's and he went out on his own developing his own champions. His philosophy of Jiu Jitsu continues today through his students in the Brazilian Top Team and American Top Team.

Then came Rolls Gracie. He was the first that went cross training with wrestlers, samboists, judokas etc. He was the first to introduce the triangle to BJJ and the first to start playing with the open guard. His influence cannot be understated.

The people who were thought by him and influenced by him include Rickson, the Machados, Carlos Gracie Jr, Jacare (founder of Alliance), Mauricio Gomez (father of Roger Gracie) etc.

When he died, his school was continued by Carlos Gracie Jr and Gracie Barra was born.

Thus Roll's influence and philosophy of Jiu Jitsu can be seen by their variedness of their students

From Gracie Barra, you have all 5 Machado Brothers, Renzo, Ralph, Pe De Pano, Roleta, Nino Schembri, Ricardo Almeida, Braulio Estima and Roger Gracie

From Alliance you have Fabio Gurgel, Cobrinha , Leo Vieira and Marcelo Garcia

From Rickson you get his own guys and Royler's guys through Gracie Humaita.

Of course these are all great champions, many of them are so varied and they are known by certain aspects of their game.

But there are some, like Rickson, Rigan, Jean Jacques, Renzo, Roger etc who seem to transcend games based on personality. This is again, because they have experienced many lifetimes of Jiu Jitsu. They no longer have a conservative game, nor a risk taking game. Its all the same to them.

But for the rest of us mere mortals, we make do with the best we can that hopefully fits our personality type.

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Movement and Flowing

I have been emphasizing movement and flow the last few months, and will continue to do so the next year or so. The objective is to get comfortable in our own skin, improve coordination and balance, build muscle memory and functional strength and stamina using movements that you use in grappling, not lifting weights or other isometric exercises that may or may not benefit our grappling.

Takedowns & throws
I started initially by ensuring a good takedown base, by implementing takedown training as a warm up, giving my students 20 minutes or so takedown practice every class. Takedowns are important, and the confidence to shoot will only come from practice, which regrettably I have to admit, I didn't concentrate on for years.

The objective is for my students to gain confidence and have at least ONE "go to" takedown, one takedown that he is confident in and use like his second nature. Like a favourite standup combination. This will be useful in a competition, or if need be on the street. By then it is too late to decide which takedown in a few hundred to apply, you must already have your favourite.

Movement drills
I have been implementing animal movement drills for warmup and warmdowns the last couple of months, not with the intention of it being a workout, but a warmup/down. Get the body comfortable with moving a certain way.

Here are a few examples of animal movement drills on Youtube, my current students will be familiar with most of them:

Animal drills, the majority of them demonstrated

Andre Galvao mixing animal drills with tornado rolls, throw drills etc.

I will be implementing with these animal drills, tornado rolls, wrestling shoots and sitouts etc for warmups and warmdowns.

Light Rolling
Lastly, and I have been trying this for years with varying success, I will want to continue pushing for the technical "light" roll.

I first started with just generically telling my students to roll light. Some more experienced students got it, others did not. The issue is, how light is light? If you let them go too easily, we started seeing unrealistic WWE escapes (rolling backwards out of back control to a backwards mount???) and slightest push reversals which IMO does not benefit the students technically

I then tried letting my students take turns, similar to what the CM guys in the gym call the "tennis drill" these days for their standup sparring. This is where one student will attack, then the other will defend, then the first counter, and the other counter again. This worked to a certain extent, but it gave an unrealistic sense of timing, and the student being countered against flopped too easily.

Then I started trying out what I call "cops and robbers". One person will continuously attack, flowing from one attack to another, but only using 50% weight and strength, while the other will be flowing from one escape to another. This again did benefit the advanced students, but the beginners had a hard time understanding it and implementing it.

Then I started my "Taking and keeping initiative roll" by one student lying down in a reverse scissors position. Not exactly a guard, but with the other person between the legs, its more or less a neutral position IMO. Again varying levels of success. The advanced student will eventually take and keep the initiative, the lower skilled student will end up underneath.

I will try another approach in the coming classes, I call it my "three second initiative roll". This means one student will take the initiative for 3 seconds, the partner does not flop but try to stay where he is, then the other partner goes for 3 seconds for his escape/attack/move. If one person can only do one move within that 3 seconds, so be it, if he can go 2-3 moves, good too. The objective is to stay light, but flow as much as you can within your 3 seconds.

This overcomes the common problem of when do you start your counter attack? If he is passing your guard, do you let him pass all the way to a control position, or do you work your counters to guard passing before he gets a control? The above drills I attempted always have this issue, when do you initiate your counter without discouraging the lightness of the roll and making the roll competitive and tight.

Here is a great example

Fabio Gurgel and Leo Vieira rolling light.

Notice that they are not clamping down, but there is a distinct rhythm, not so much each take a turn, but roughly a 3 second initiative each one takes once they hit the ground.

No doubt these are world champions, at the top echelons of BJJ mastery. But thats the objective, and the goal. 

Have fun! And remember to "Play Jiu Jitsu, not Fight Jiu Jitsu"

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BJJ and Injuries

Injuries are part and parcel of doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu simply because of all the dynamic sparring we do, and the realistic damage the submissions we do can cause.

In BJJ, I would divide the injuries to minor and major injuries. The minor injuries like sore fingers from mat burn, gripping too hard, bruises all over your body or even cauliflower ears are common. They are minor and in some cases easily preventable (for example by wearing earguards and mouthguards and other protective gear, or learning how to grip). 

I will focus more on the major injuries that will require time off the mats, or even surgery. Major injuries are the main reason serious BJJ exponents never last to black belt, or won't be practicing BJJ till their old age. 

Unless you partner someone malicious and out to hurt you, nearly all major injuries are by and large mostly caused by accident. However that is not to say that most of these cannot be prevented, and seriously most of it is down to the instructor, and the culture of the gym set by the instructor

The most obvious and common way is that the instructors must teach and enforce the principle that you should take care of your training partner while grappling, and that you should respect the tap. Respecting the tap means letting go of the submission the moment your partner taps, not letting go when you think your partner should tap or only when they feel pain.

Another common way to avoid injuries in the gym by the instructor is by banning certain moves that are too dangerous to be used in active sparring. Sure, they should teach you those moves, to recognise them and learn how to apply and defend against them. But there are some submissions that does not give you enough time to tap, or causes injury before pain is felt. Moves like heel hooks and neck cranks IMO cannot be used in a dynamic spar without eventually causing a serious injury. 

However, in recent times, more and more injuries are caused by the very nature of the training. In this, I mean the gyms who are overly competitive, train conditioning for hours, and roll till they puke. It is not wrong to train hard, and it is not wrong to be competitive. However, it becomes a problem when the training and mindset is overboard and there starts to be too many injuries. I have met so many people in person and on the net who have had to retire because they broke their necks, have to fuse their spines or their knees too damaged to continue training. 

Let me add a caveat, that choice of gym depends on your motivation and ambition. If you are intending to be a full time professional MMA fighter, or full time world champion BJJ competitor, perhaps these gyms are better suited to take you towards your ambitions faster (that is not to say the other more gentler gyms wouldn't). Be aware too that many a professional MMA fighter and BJJ competitor get seriously injured too. 

From Bas Rutten's interview at mmafanhouse:

You’re actually younger than Randy Couture. Is there any chance that you could fight again?
No, there’s not. My knees are a mess. I have no cartilage in both my kneecaps. Zero. Bone on bone. It’s really bad. There’s nothing they can do, except surgeries, until that stem cell stuff. People think a knee replacement, but you can’t do a knee replacement. You can have the best surgeons on the planet, which I already went to, and they say, “Bas, it’s a really bad problem.” …

I can’t do any ground work anymore. If I bike, I have to have a bike with a high seat. I can’t run at all. If I jog half a mile, I can’t walk for five days. It’s so bad sometimes when I walk down my driveway I walk backwards.

Do you think that 10, 20, 30 years from now, we’re going to see a lot of former MMA fighters with serious, long-term injuries?
No. Everybody is training smarter. I have so much explosive power that what happened with me is my training scraped my kneecaps up. People like Randy Couture are training smarter. If you train smart, you’re OK. I was a maniac. I went balls-out every training.

On the other hand, if you are a doing BJJ on a part time basis, meaning you have a full time job, and intend not to be injured so that you can go to work, and you intend to practice BJJ your whole life, then perhaps you may need to reconsider your intensity of training. 

Many of these gyms are run by champion BJJers and market themselves as hardcore gyms. The instructors think that such training made them champions, it should work for their students too. However, many of these BJJ champions became champions in their 20s. Oft times, now that they are instructors in their own gyms, their students by and large are not kids in their 20s. If their students are 30 and above, and their training is too intense, look out for the injury rates there. 

Furthermore, I put it out there that generally, most champions are champions not purely because of hard work alone, they are genetically gifted too. For example, the average Brazilian Top Team champion is strong as hell, and while it is no doubt they produce many champions, the same type of training will cripple the average person.

Hardcore and balls to the wall training have their place. For example if you are training for a competition, you should increase the intensity of the sparring and training to peak for the competition. But you cannot train like that year in and year out and throughout your BJJ career. And even if you do train for competitions, principles such as respecting the tap and protecting your partner should still be followed. 

How do you identify such gyms that will cause you injury? Well, first and foremost how do you feel training there? Do you feel as if every practice spar is a fight to the death? Is the instructor and are the students constantly injured? Do they allow moves like heel hook and neck cranks during regular sparring?

The Machado's have a saying, that you "Play Jiu Jitsu, not fight Jiu Jitsu". Jiu Jitsu should be about having fun. BJJ should be fun. You should feel no bother about tapping than if you conceded a point in a game in a sport, or you lose playing a video game.

Lastly, here are some well respected Black Belts, on the same topic:

Pedro Sauer

Keith Owen

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003. 

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fitness & BJJ

There are sports where warmups can be identified to be useful, for example leg stretching for running/jogging.

In my opinion, BJJ is more akin to swimming. Its a whole body activity. You don't jog before going swimming. You do laps as warmups before a swimming race. Maybe at most you stretch muscles that normally ache when you swim before swimming.

That is why currently for cardio, I make my students do takedowns for 1/2 an hour rather than skipping or running. Why? Being a BJJ class I think if you are going to do a workout, you might as well pick up some skills doing it. So while skipping gives you good cardio and make you good at skipping, I would rather my students get good at takedowns and improve their cardio. Same cardio workout, different skills practiced.

Instead of situps, replace it with armbars/triangle/omaplata's from guard. You'll get a good stomach workout in addition to getting better at armbars etc.

Also, the best way to improve grappling stamina is simple. Grapple! There are guys who can run marathons, can skip for hours, or can swim 300 laps in the pool. But they can't last 15 mins on the mat with a good blue belt. Why? Because those exercises, while it does keep you feeling fit, does not give you grappling endurance. They do however give you the mental toughness to tough it out when you think you have run out of steam. Ultimately however, I believe if you only have a limited amount of time, 2 hours of grappling will benefit you more than 2 hours of running in terms of grappling endurance.

Being that I only offer BJJ classes twice a week, and open mats on Saturday, I personally feel that this is the best use of the time in classes.

If you are training BJJ nearly every day of the week, then running, skipping and all kinds of conditioning training is useful to add on to your BJJ training. This is because you may suffer from burnout or suffer repetitive movement injuries from grappling too often, using your same movements all the time.

However, as we only offer grappling training 3 times a week, then I believe it is best to concentrate on techniques so that your body will memorize those techniques, and hopefully provide sufficient workout doing these techniques.

I have heard of students who boast on how tough their warmups are. However, can you or anyone do this several times a week, every week for years with no goal? If your goal is tournaments, yes you can do this as you build your fitness to peak at the time of your tournaments. But if you don't it will be impossible to mentally do this indefinitely.

The reason I say this is, unless you are a fitness trainer or a professional athlete, there will come a point in your life where you may not be able to train your fitness anymore. It may be because you got married, have a child, or even job or financial constraints.

This happens to even top athletes who retire, they grow fat and out of shape (have you seen Mark Kerr lately or any ex Lion's Den fighters?). It is a reality of life. Thus, to me it is best to give my students something they can keep, good technique.

The gym that I teach at KDT, has an excellent fitness training class already for those who want the extra training. But in my class, I prefer to concentrate on what I believe is my main responsibility to my students who pay me.... teach BJJ.

Ultimately I believe BJJ should give you the skills that last, even if/when you grow old, get fat and lazy, or for whatever reason you no longer are able to do intensive fitness training.

While it is true, that the fit and strong grappler with 5 moves who train like mad for competitions may beat the average joe grappler, who has a more complete game, but does not train in fitness, in the long term the average joe grappler will be able to have a longer lasting game, as he does not rely on his fitness and strength, which is temporary, but technique which lasts his lifetime.

However, I do indeed run my classes differently from other instructors, and the primary reason is to instill the skills in as little time as possible to my students. My recent blue belts on average have gone from white to blue belt in roughly a year, and they're good blue belts too!

Alternatively, I can take a page from my student who trained in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Their classes go 4 hours in 48 degree celsius heat, with 1 and a half hours of that a grueling workout!
Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003. 

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Motivation in BJJ

What keeps you going in BJJ? This question applies to both how you keep yourself motivated instant by instant on the mat, and also long term, how and why do you keep doing BJJ in the long run?

On the mats, when you roll, how do you keep going? Some people use anger to motivate themselves, some get an adranaline rush while grappling from both aggression or fear.  Some thrive on the competition, love making their partner cry uncle, others on the mental and physical challenges that BJJ presents you with. 

The reason this is important is because this will effect the long term longivity of this art to the individual. For many of us who are not full time martial artists, who have jobs and intend to or already have families, our motivations change over time. 

If you rely on aggression, on anger, on competition, on needing to prove yourself the alpha dog on the mats, these fires WILL dim when you get married, when you have children, when you face other family or personal changes that require more of your attention.

If you are seriously injured, this will determine whether or not you will return to the mats after your injury, or decide its not worth it. When you get older, and you don't heal as fast, whether or not you are willing to day after day roll with younger, fitter, stronger and possibly more technical guys who are gunning for your tap.

Whatever your answer is, will determine how you train, why you train, whether or not you'll invest in any particular training or direction, and ultimately whether you will continue training the rest of your life. 

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003. 

Monday, August 17, 2009

Purple Belt

I graded my long time training partner Rich Hudson his long overdue purple belt a couple of weeks ago.

Which brings me to the question what is a purple belt? I am sure my numerous blue belts would want to know what my requirements are and what to strive for to attain the next belt level.

The generic answer to this is that "to be a purple, you have to be able to beat or fight at the same level as a purple". However the problem is both the purples I've graded, Rich and Vince are so far better than my blues, that it is hard as a blue to measure yourself against them.

Traditionally in Brazilian gyms, you get the next belt level when you win tournaments regularly. If you keep winning tournaments in your belt level, it is pretty obvious you should get to the next level. I have heard further that some gyms have the facilities whereby in order to grade, you have to fight an MMA fight within the gym.

However, for us here, this is not an option. That being said, with cheaper travel, and more tournaments in the region, this may be an option for many in the future, who knows?

On the other hand, I know of gyms that have 3 hour gradings, where you have to demonstrate technique upon technique, with the last hour saved for rolling.

What about my requirements? I have broken it down to several categories that I think are essential to be a purple belt.

Grappling Ability

The most first and obvious qualification for a purple belt is that s/he should be obviously better than the majority of blue belts out there (yes, I take into account there are some sandbagging 10 year blue belts). This can only be determined by rolling, no short cuts. 

Have a Complete Game

If my simple requirement for blue belt is that the student must have a game (eg a guard game, or a top game), then a purple belt must have a complete game, meaning s/he should have a game in most common positions. Quite a few of my blues are getting there.

Build your own game

As a blue belt, your instructor will tell you, you need to work on your guard, or your passing etc. But a purple belt should be able to be self taught. That is not to say that you stop learning in class (as we are always growing in BJJ) but that you do not need your instructor to spoon feed you anymore. You have enough technical ability to form your own game, and add and build it yourself. Of course you can ask and learn from your instructors, but the growth and direction of your game is up to you, not your instructor.

I have heard many times that the jump from blue to purple is perhaps the biggest jump after white to blue, and I suspect this to be true.

Blue belt is where probably the majority of all students who ever step on the mats ever reach up to. Many quit at blue for a huge number of reasons. But if you reach purple belt and above, I believe thats when you're dedicated to the art for life. 

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003. 

Friday, July 3, 2009

Tap or I Snap!!!!

Tapping is an important part of learning BJJ. Even the best black belts have tapped a thousand times on their journey to become the best. Tapping keeps you from getting injured, and keeps you honest, knowing that you have been cought. 

In a BJJ class scenerio, it is never the objective to intentionally injure your training partners. However, there are some people who will never tap, and will hold out hoping that you will let go. What do you do? Let go? Or snap/put them to sleep?

In my early days of teaching, I more or less kept quiet on the subject, and it seemed that my students started letting their opponents go even when the submission is tight, they never applied it. 

However, the last few years I have let it be known clearly that I believe the other opinion is correct. If your opponent does not tap, you put them to sleep/snap

This is not to say that you intentionally go out to hurt your opponent. But when you get your submission, apply it slowly, but with clear intention that you will continue to sink your submission in deeper and deeper until something snaps, or your opponent goes to sleep. 

Learning to tap has to be learnt at your own home gym. Its no use being known as the tough guy in your gym because you don't tap, and end up seriously injured when visiting other gyms. Going to sleep, or a tweaked elbow for a week or two is not a big price to pay for such an essential lesson to be learnt. 

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mental Aspect in BJJ

In BJJ, more important than physical conditioning, more important than how many or what techniques you know and more important than speed, strength or any other attributes you may or may not have, is the mental aspect of BJJ.

By mental aspect, I am not talking about whether or not you are an aggressive player or defensive counter attacking player or whether or not you can handle pressure in an MMA match, BJJ competition or even real life street fight. Those mental aspects are too complicated, rely on too many factors and too individual to cover in one post, and different coaches, psychologists and other so called mental performance specialists all have their own differing opinions on the subject.

What intend to post about is the second to second mental attitude as a BJJer you should take in every grapple with every opponent, no matter if you are grappling the newest and most helpless white belt, to grappling Rickson Gracie.

John Will once told me the difference when wrestling someone like Rickson, Rigan or John Jacques, compared to anyone else is not simply that they are technically excellent, but that they are always pushing the buttons, holding the reins or forcing the issue. It seems simple enough a concept, but took me many years to assimilate this into my game. Its only now that I try to do this to everyone, in every position that I am in.

What does it mean?

It means that in all positions, you must always keep your opponent on the back foot. Keep your opponent always on the defensive mentally, although you might not be in the best position to attack.

If you are on top, you should crush, smother, suffocate, irritate, attempt multiple submissions, and completely scatter your opponent's attention to the wind.

If you have guard, never EVER let your opponent get comfortable enough to even start thinking of initiating a pass. Thus you disrupt his balance and posture endlessly, making him forever adjust, force him to defend sweeps, your getting to his back, and submissions. As the guard player especially, you have to keep attacking until he cracks (you sweep, get the back or submit). The moment you stop keeping him on the back foot, THEN he will initiate a pass.

If you are in your opponent's guard, even if he is a good guard player, and you are being pushed to the limit defensively, especially against a good open guard player always give a threat of a leglock. This does not necessarily mean dropping backwards at every opportunity, but for example, grab the ankle as if you are going to for an ankle lock. When he defends that, thats the time you can go for your pass.

If you are underneath, especially against BJJ players, you never let him settle in any position. No doubt its tiring, but you must always be initiating an escape, blocking his positioning, and forcing him to chase after you to get position, all at the same time avoiding easy "obvious" submissions. Easier said than done, but although its tiring, forcing him to fight for position is better than defending from a good solid position and defending submissions.

Lastly, especially against players who are undoubtedly better than you, you just have to bear in mind that even black belts go for basic submissions. So while you defend against the obvious chokes, arm submissions and even leg locks, if possible do something that is not obviously going to give him a submission, yet even if futile, make him mentally defend. For example if under a knee ride, one handedly grab his foot as if you are going to initiate a toe hold. It might not do anything, but it hopefully will force him to think of defending, and that few seconds while he is not attacking, is where you might escape.

Not ground breaking stuff, but a reasonable goal to try an achieve. If you can do all that on a constant basis, you will be a nightmare to roll with, and thats good Jiu Jitsu!

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fight a Boxer, Box a Fighter

I am a firm believer of variety of techniques

I have attended classes and seminars by high level BJJers. Many of them will tell you the same thing, that they only teach and believe in the basics, because its what works for them. Unfortunately, most of these guys, being high performance athletes can do their moves to anyone, because they are typically big strong guys.

There are no basics that work for everyone. One thing I have realized teaching in Malaysia, is that the students here come in all shapes and sizes. My lightest student weighed in at 40kgs and my heaviest 120+kg.

There will be moves that work for the lighter one that won't work for the heavier one and definitely vice versa.

There is an old saying "Fight a Boxer, Box a Fighter". This exact phrase is used by John Will and Gene Lebell as their basis of their success in their individual autobiographies. This is the reason how they climbed to the top in their fields (John in Silat, Gene in Judo).

What it means, is that you use techniques that your opponent is unaware of, not good at or unprepared for. You don't go head to head with a particular technique, strategy or game if your opponent is better than you at it. 

Every technique, there is a counter. So if you do basics only, the counter will quite easily counter it. Furthermore, different instructors have different ideas what the basics mean. Even a simple technique, say armbar from mount, 10 black belts will give you 10 different emphasis on the same move. So most instructors will say learn the basics, but more often than not, they are all talking about different sets of techniques.

To me the beauty of BJJ is the variety of moves. I try to teach as many games as possible, and the techniques that make up those games, although perhaps physically or attribute wise, I am not able to play those games at a good level.

Roleta's Helicopter Sweep

Thus I have students who play rubber guard as their primary guard, and one particular blue belt plays a mean upside down guard with triangles and oma platas as traps. My purple belt plays a mean Z and De La Riva guard, and another blue belt plays primarily half guard.

The De La Riva Guard

Does that mean that these guards (or othe techniques) are useless and we should only learn "the basics"? Eddie Bravo, Ricardo De La Riva, Gordo and many others would take offense with that.

Eddie Bravo's Rubber Guard

In a class I typically teach my students perhaps 4-8 techniques for a particular position. That is not to say I expect them to remember all of them. In fact I expect them to remember only those that fit in to their game.

This is my montessori way of teaching BJJ. You pick and choose what you want to learn, and how fast you want to learn is up to you.

Two of my students messing around with the twister

BJJ first and foremost requires intelligence. As instructors, I believe our place is to show you the way, give you the tools, but it is up to you which path you take, and the level and direction of your growth. We help you develop your game, answer your questions the best we can. But at the end, there is no "best" game that everyone leans. There is a best game for you, that only you can develop.

There's always the flying rubber guard!

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003. 

Don't Worship the Move, Learn the Flow

Coming from an traditional martial arts background, there is a tendency for martial artists to "worship" moves.

This is even more prevalent for Asians, and this can be seen my the numerous kung fu movies in the market. In many of the movies, there is always the hero or bad guy spying on the master, learning his secret Buddha Palm that the students are not taught. And this move is used by the hero at the end to save the day, or the bad guy uses it to destroy the master, whereby the hero has to find an even more powerful move.

In the martial arts circle, many practitioners too fall into this trap. It is all too easy to start labelling this move and that move is attributed to this or that martial art, and giving more importance or less importance to that move based on the art its attributed to.

Unknown Comic Book

History's Greatest Disciple Kenichi

While labeling a move, attributing it to a martial art is not wrong per se, names are useful after all for communication and describing the move without demonstrating it. However, it becomes a mental barrier when your move that your instructor taught you is the only way to execute it, and you think that move is the be all and end all. 

I remember a story from either my instructor John Will, or another BJJ Black Belt instructor (my age is catching up with me), on when he was teaching a BJJ seminar hosted by a JKD school. The students told him that they knew all about armbars, so he asked them to demonstrate. One by one they demonstrated an armbar, but at the end of the move all of them strangely used one hand and pointed a finger to the roof. He couldn't quite figure out why all these JKD guys were doing that until one of them showed him a picture of how Bruce Lee does it.

Its a funny story, but it goes to show how worshipping a move made by someone you revere basically makes the move less effective than it should be. 

Specialization is not the problem. I have had fellow training partners who were experts in a particular choke, experts in armbars, experts in escaping and a particular sweep etc. The problem is the people who try to emulate this, thinking that thats the way to go.

Truth be told, there is no magic move that can finish off all your opponents. For every technique there is an counter, and a counter to the counter, and so on and so forth. So even if you have can do a technique textbook perfect, if your opponent knows you are going to execute that move, and knows the counter, there is a good likelyhood he will escape. 

There are also those with freakish abilities. I've encountered a student who is nearly immune to chokes, at least 3 students whose shoulders can rotate more than 90 degrees for kimuras and americanas, a student whose ligaments are flexible enough to hold out in a fully extended armbar and kneebar. 

What I have discovered as I go up the belt ranks, and watching better grapplers grapple and grappling them, is that their flow is different. No doubt blackbelts have each their own ways to making certain techniques work for them that don't work for us. But more importantly, it is their flow, their timing and their "in between" moves and positions that make them better. 

Unfortunately, those are the things that are hardest to teach, and learn. So most instructors cannot teach this, and most students will have to learn it the hard way. 

So the next time you watch or grapple someone better than you, don't just look at the techniques performed, but look for the flow, the timing, the "in between" moves and positions. For example, analyse why some black belts can do "BJJ No Nos" in bad positions and yet stay safe from submissions, small moves that they do in between positions, so that their opponent cannot recover. Study combinations that work for certain people, and why certain black belts escape a certain way, and not the normal way you were thought.

So remember the old saying: "Its not the size of the boat, but the motion of the ocean".... oh wait, thats for something else......

Sam Wee is the head instructor for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at the KDT Academy (, Malaysia and has been teaching BJJ since 2003.