Unconventional Growth in Grappling & A Universal Theory of Guard With Chris Paines

I talk to Chris Paines who describes himself as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt who has never done Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He started training submission grappling somewhat isolated from the larger BJJ scene in Staffordshire, England but began attending BJJ Globetrotters camps where he met Priit Mihkelson. It was at these camps where he was graded up and awarded his black belt by Priit. The unconventional way he learned made him forced him to emphasise understanding the concepts behind grappling, which he describes as a machine of physics and biology through which using concepts the techniques can emerge. We discuss these conceptual ideas and specifically his universal theory of guard which has him focusing on control points and applying other lessons from wrestling that has allowed him to progress.

Episode Transcript

Sonny Brown: Chris, how are you today, mate?

Chris Paines: I’m good, thanks. How are you today?

Sonny: Good mate. Good. I’ve got in touch with you, actually the first time I think I saw you, it was a YouTube video from a seminar you did at BJJ Globetrotters, which had a nice click baity title of, I think it was something along the lines of This is How to Defend Everything or–

Chris: That one, yes.

Sonny: The title certainly worked for me. I clicked on it and I thought, “What is this guy going on about? How is what he’s doing, going to ever work.” Then luckily, I played around with it and I thought, “Oh, actually, there’s something to this.” Then it turns out that that was something that you had been working with Pritt Mihkelson on, and I ended up having a chat with him.

Then looking into your own stuff, I was very interested with the take that you had on teaching and learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and also with your involvement with the BJJ Globetrotters. Because I think you may have been maybe one of the first or you were ranked through them as well.

Chris: Both on and off I’ll give a brief background to my BJJ.

Sonny: Yes, please.

Chris: I’ve never actually done BJJ, I’m a Black Belt who’s never done it. I actually came through via submission wrestling 11 years ago. My coach just left after the first year, various reasons due to work and injury, et cetera. They said to me like, “Can you look after the club until we come back?” That was 10 years ago [crosstalk] there was no- all the techniques we had, there was no standard guards, there was no De La Riva, there was no Single Leg X. Here you had close guard, half guard, and butterfly.

If you stood up, you both stood up and you wrestled again, and that’s pretty much all we had. It was a neck cranks and heel hooks.

When I started to come in with stuff like lockdown because I was watching some Submissions 101, reading some 10th Planet books and that was about it. That put me pretty much in front of the whole group, quite fast because I had stuff that people hadn’t seen before. They just said, “Can you look after it until we come back?” I don’t think they’re coming back. I’ve been waiting for 10 years and they haven’t come back yet.

Even where I am, we’re quite fortunate in that Braulio Estima has gyms about 35 miles away from my gym. I don’t know if that is in kilometers, like 50 kilometers, but traveling there, like I could maybe go maybe once every three to six months due to work. I used to go to London for the same thing, maybe every three to six months go for like a single session. The main only reason we bought Gis because it was cold.

We were rolling around in hoodies and tracksuits and one winter, I think it hit -14 and inside the gym, Celsius. The water in the toilet froze and various other cold things, it was pretty horrendous. We were just a bunch of No-Gi guys who did heel hooks and neck cranks wearing Gis. Occasionally, may be every six months, three months a year, whatever, I’d go to a BJJ gym and learn like a sweep, then would come back and just do that sweep relentlessly.

My approach to Jiu-Jitsu was forced along the lines of figuring out why certain things happen. What is the common thread amongst sweeps? Why do chokes work? Why is there guard? If I could apply a concept of why that existed, then next time I go to a gym then teach like a sweep, if my concept is proved right, it’s like I’ve got the right concept. If I just keep using the concept, eventually I’ll invent the techniques that already exist.

BJJ is not handed down by some deity. It’s on a plinth or a tablet or something. It’s physics, it’s biology and we apply ourselves to the machine and we get turnings out the other end. If I understand the machine, I should theoretically get the same techniques out eventually. When I’m at Priit, and his very conceptual style of looking at Jiu-Jitsu as well, as in it doesn’t really teach this is a d’arce, this is a triangle, this isn’t a matter of understanding of what defense is. That just touched on everything I wanted to know about jiu-jitsu.

I called them round with his ideas, I looked into his– I was never like, if it was from a Gracie or from a Bravo or something, say that’s it, that’s gospel. It was only a case of if it works, I’ll get my blue belts and purple belts to teach you. One thing I say to them is, “I don’t care if you think if it’s wrong, it’s right for now.” As in what you’re doing works for you now. There’s obviously the versions of what you’re doing and bad details, but what you’re doing is right right now, and that understanding then you will always get better.

I see that as my way of looking at it as well and how I look at pre stuff, as in what I know works for now, there is obviously something better. I’m not the be all end, all of this technique. There’s always going to be bad details and different coaches and different black belts. I cant exactly have my blue belts and purple belts think that I am the end product when I’m still trying to figure it out. If I just apply myself to the machine and understand the machine, and eventually I’ll understand Jiu-Jitsu on that level.

The reason why I prefer that way is because Jiu-Jitsu is chaos. As a 95% of a role, you have no idea what’s happening. As in, it’s just mainly are happening around you. Hopefully something you kind of recognize happens when you can apply something you already know. If you understand the machine in various points in that role. Even when there’s chaos, you can apply the machine and get a technique to work in that scenario. That’s where the whole heart of defendant’s thing came from.

As in, if I can understand the concept of why defense works across the board, it doesn’t matter what’s happening in the chaos. I can find my way out and I think if I’d known that as a white belt, Jiu-Jitsu would’ve been so much easier. Instead of the hunted like ropes learn techniques I have to know. I remember having a spreadsheet back 11 years ago, listing of fight control defenses and guards and attacks and guards and I don’t know. A lot times, even today, a few people say, “I need to go on YouTube and look up three more fight control defenses. It’s like, “Oh, good God, this will take forever to learn.” I don’t know where you can learn Jiu-Jitsu this way, there has to be something more simple.

Sonny: Yes, I agree with you there. It’s funny that the idea of having that spreadsheet of just all the techniques, it seems like a good idea. Hey, if I just get everything written down, I’ll have a more complete understanding, but then it soon becomes unmanageable with how you’re going to do things, or how you’re going to actually achieve that. I just want to focus on just your background. Just one little bit more, so you’re actually from then a catch wrestling lineage. Would that be correct in saying, you said submission wrestling, but is that–

Chris: Yes. I don’t think it’s easy to use the word catch in the UK, if you don’t actually belong to the snake pit and that lineage. Calling it submission wrestling was just easier. Like if I understand it my coaches’ coaches were just basically guys who watched a bit of UFC and just wanting to hurt each other. There was no real solid technique behind what we did. It was actually here’s a double leg, has a close guard, and here’s a triangle. Just keep doing that until you win. I didn’t see De La Riva or open guard or Single Leg X. Maybe the first four years of doing jiu-jitsu or grappling per se.

I actually, prior to that, I came from a traditional jiu-jitsu background, like a Japanese jiu-jitsu, and I did I got my black belt in that. That’s why they, I was used to the idea of a list of techniques. Coming into it, that’s why every time I’d learned something, I’d write it down and create my own list because it didn’t exist. There wasn’t like a belt system or a syllabus. I created my own. Then once they left, I realized that I had no other real recourse for finding new techniques easily, figuring out the why I seemed to make a lot more sense than just having this dead list of techniques that will never be finished.

Sonny: Yes. Then, so for you putting out the- or figuring out, sorry, the why and the understanding or the machine as you’ve put it, how did that process take place as your traveling with BJJ Globetrotters to go to their camps and coming back home and putting that together? Was there an “A-ha” moment or was it a slow gradual process?

Chris: I don’t think it was an “A-ha” moment. I think it was a, it was very slow and gradual and, I was actually so I met Christian Graugart, the creator of Globetrotters just before he created Globetrotters. He’d already written the book and this was the end of 2012. I just bought it over that Christmas and I read it very, very fast. Then he said he was doing the seminar in the UK in Manchester or Bolton, shall I say? I was still white belt, obviously.

I went up and I want to go meet him after reading this book. We ended up catching a train together back to Manchester and he mentioned this idea of how because I said, we’re an independent gym. We didn’t really do BJJ or have any IBJJF connections. He said, he wants to create this network of independent gyms that could just train together. I gave him my email address.

Then about a month later, he emailed a bunch of us saying this affiliation is going to happen. “Do you want to be part of it?” Instantly I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, one caveat is anyone who wants to come and see, you can obviously train for free.” A bunch of the first coaches or in this chain email said, “If wants to come in, like meet me at my gym, they can stay for free.” That’s where the whole mat surfing idea came from.

Soon after that, since there was a bunch of us, you said, why don’t we all get together in my gym in Copenhagen and just train. The first Globetrotter camps we’re just in CSA and Copenhagen and there’s about 40 or 50 of us on the mats. There was no merch table or coaches from around. It was just the coaches from the gym doing a small number of classes in a day, like maybe five or six classes.

To say, to go from that in 2013 to the utter behemoth that is today has been quite weird. The first, the ability to go to the Globetrotter camps and see all these different ideas from these different coaches. Because the amount of times you’d see a class and then another coach would do pretty much the exact same class, but in a different way. Makes you think that there isn’t a fine, there isn’t a definitive technique. They’re all playing around the same concept. It just galvanized my ideas of, yes, don’t become beholden to a single way of doing a technique or a single technique in general, or list of techniques, understand the machine and you’ll be able to apply it to that situation and create variations on the fly.

Sonny: Yes. Which sounds like a much more efficient way if possible, to actually learn and teach things. Right? I guess the, if possible part is the difficult thing, because it’s not exactly laid out like that already. It’s something that you’ve had to explore and develop, I guess. What’s that process been like?

Chris: I think one of the first ones that actually really pushed me in the direction of it was the brilliant, I say brilliant DVD set by Kit Dale and Nic Gregoriades, probably at the end of 2013, 2014. They talk about this conceptual jiu-jitsu as well. They, in the height of Kit Dale’s fame. Again, it’s like this, it pushed my ideas further. Like this is a real thing. They talked about, I remember one of the specific ones was like sweeps about unbalancing about taking off fight legs off a table and creating a force on the diagonal and stuff like this.

Just some approaching concepts that way, but then I was also on the first instances as well was, there was a Ryan Hall seminar went to back in 2011, it was in the UK for the ADCC. He did a seminar as on his deep half system, but at one point he just threw this casual comment about core control in jiu-jitsu is based on being in between the person’s knees and elbows and say, if you want to start them, just connect your knees to your elbows. It was a throwaway comment. It was even put emphasis in the seminar to this idea, but that was like, mind-blowing, I’m just putting these two things together. I think it might have been mentioned in the Kit Dale-Nic Gregoriades DVD as well.

They’re all touching on this same idea. Just this number of coaches out there just saying there are concepts that cover everything. Thenmaybe look at different sweeps, I think, “Right. Going from what these two guys have said, removing the table leg and creating a brush off an angle and all these different ideas that they had, I was like, right. Well, that obviously there’s an idea here. If I look at the wleeps, I know, do these fit or can, or if I apply the idea, does my sweep work better?

Then it became, I go to a gym, I would learn a sweep and I was like, “Right. Does this fit the concept by–? No? Yes? Perfect.” Then it became a case of I mid roll because I have that my first year of training was involved in the drilling after that it became teaching and rolling. I didn’t really, I probably drilled a total of probably about 20 hours in the past 10 years. It was all developed on the fly as in, I try a technique and try and put the concept together as it happens.

I’d look at certain things that happen, like where that leg is, where my arm is, et cetera, and go, “Right. Well, if I apply the concept, will this work right now? Yes or no.” It was just that constant testing. It was never like an hour of the session was drilling. It was right and it’s just roll and roll and roll. As things happened, it just proved that the concept worked on after tweaked various aspects of it.

Sonny: So it’s very interesting that, yes, I guess you’ve been in a bit of an isolated situation and that’s allowed you to explore and experiment in a new direction than what is more common. If I got it right in thinking that you’re building up these ideas of concepts that can apply to moves across jiu-jitsu or grappling, and then you would go to another place where they’re teaching a concept and your not sorry, what you go to another place where they’re teaching a technique and as they’re teaching the technique, you’re thinking, okay, I’ve got these concepts that I know, what can I apply? What concept can I apply that will be applicable to this technique? Is that how you do it?

Chris: Yes, exactly. Yes. I’m seeing the end result of the answer and applying the equation to it. Then if I get, if they cause obviously these are black belts and I’m much more knowledgeable than I was. They’re thinking right. If my equation fits their answer, if they’re about to do, I think they’re about to do. Then my equation is correct. If not, I may have to tweak equation somehow, but most of the time it was, it was working out in the right way. It was right. I can then go back and the surface have to drill that one technique or whatever. I’d have just the concept I could then run with and then just carry on rolling as it was, and just keep inventing techniques. Eventually I was creating juices already existed and it’s quite interesting.

Like I was I’ve got pretty much concepts of concepts everywhere. Like I’ve got an overarching theory I’ve got, and I was going to private probably about six months ago and the guy messages me and he says, I won’t learn nothing. I was like, reverse octopus back control or guard or something insane. I was like, okay, I’ve never even heard of this. I had a quick Google of it on YouTube and yes, it was like, it pretty much was exactly what I expected. My guard theory to be, I think I actually already played it in certain places and I was like, right. Okay. The theory is correct again. I was like, well, you don’t need to learn this by teacher the concept, you will invent it yourself again or variations of it.

Sonny: Interesting. You’ve got those young men you save and then concepts of concepts that you’re refining, not the techniques, I guess, but you’ve spending time refining your concepts that can help generate those techniques from out of those concepts, which is an interesting way to look at it. Is that close to then?

Chris: Yes, that’s pretty much it. Yes, as in, it’s like the idea that if you give a million monkeys or whatever else a million typewriters, eventually they’ll create Shakespeare. As in, if I give a million white belts, these million concepts, eventually they’ll invent jiu-jitsu. Being from the traditional jiu-jitsu background, which is quite judo-esque with the throws and karate punches, et cetera. They did O-Goshi, they did Ippon Seo Nagi , and Koshi Guruma Then you look at catch wrestling and they’ve got the mare , which is pretty much Ippon Seo Nagi,.

I think, again, it’s something that Ryan Hall says is, “There are only so many ways of grabbing the human body.” You’ll eventually develop all these same techniques. It was like hip tosses, et cetera. I did some Icelandic glima, while on the Globetrotter council a couple of years ago and they had hip tosses, et cetera, and you think, “These are, you’ve got Japanese judo and Icelandic glima, thousands of miles and thousands of years of culture apart developing the same techniques.

To separate jiu-jitsu out and say, jiu-jitsu is a unique thing only to jiu-jitsu it’s not. Whereas it’s defined by the ruleset. We fight on the ground. If I just put two random people on the ground and left them there for a couple of years, eventually they’d develop jiu-jitsu. Given the concepts, they’d develop jiu-jitsu faster, even without teaching them a single technique, because there’s only so many ways a human being can be manipulated. As I say, it’s physics and biology. It’s a science.

Sonny: Very interesting and– I guess, would you be able to give us then an idea of one of your concepts, maybe the theory of guard that you just mentioned that can be applied?

Chris: Yes. The way I look at guard is if you were to picture, like a law of grappling when it comes to control. Wrestlers have been doing it forever. There’s three categories of control, there’s behind the head, in the armpit or behind the knee/in the hip.

That pretty much comes after it in wrestling. That’s your double legs, your single legs, throws, your snap downs, your head ties, everything. All you’re ever doing in wrestling is attacking those three categories of places with your weapons: two hands or two hands and a leg, if you have good balance, all you ever doing is getting a combination those things, and the more of those places you control of the five; one head, two armpits, and two knees, the more control you have of the person, the more likely you are to get a takedown.

That is no different to any guard. In taking out the Gi for a moment, we’ll come back to that. Half guard is no different to a single leg. Close guard is no different to having double-unders. Instead of having two weapons, like you are on standing with your two hands, on the ground, you have four weapons: you have two arms and two legs. It’s what makes guard so interesting in my eyes.

I think that, again, it was a Ryan Hall interview when he says, “Why does Roger Gracie do so well?” He says, “If you are better than the other person play guard, because if someone’s upright, they’ve got balance. They’ve got gravity, they’ve got mass, they’ve got all this mobility on their side. If you’re on your back, you literally have none of those things available to you. You have to try and even the fight with improving your number of weapons from two to four. That’s why you don’t just fight from side crawl. That’s why you bring your legs into the fight. That’s assuming that you are better than the other person, you can override these natural attributes.

If you can’t, play on top and don’t play guard ever. Going back to this idea that if you’re playing guard, you want to try and maximize control, and it’s no different to wrestling. As in, I want to increase my numbers as much as I can with these four weapons. You think that when you’re playing close guard, you all just getting double-unders. Then now, because you have your arms free, you can now control the back of the head.

Now you have three points of control and guard is using them and one in lost with how many of those control points you have? If you have five, if you have both their knees, both their armpits and their head wrapped up, they’re going nowhere. If you have three, so maybe close guard with a control of the back of the head. Again, it’s pretty hard for them to go anywhere. Two, yes, it’s now getting easily more likely they are to escape. If you have one, life is now hard. All I ever look at when I’m playing in guard then is if I’m in guard, I’m on the bottom, I want to increase my numbers as much as I can to five. If I’m on top of guard, I want to decrease those numbers down to one or zero and that’s my guard pass.

I’ll just look at those five points, and that’s again, going back to this idea of wrestling. If you don’t want to get single-legged, don’t let anyone control the back of your knee. The first thing you learn in wrestling is to pummel, why? You don’t want anyone in your armpits. If for some strange reason in jiu-jitsu, because you have these predicaments dilution, style of learning. As in he does X, I do. Y we can’t let people have these control points. We let people have close guard.

At no point in wrestling would you let someone have double under hooks. You’d die. You wouldn’t let someone sit with a single leg on you. You’d die. Yet we let people play close guard and half guard against us all day long and we don’t deal with those issues. If you were to deal with them like a wrestler, does pummel out, strip those controls to the back of the knee, the armpits, et cetera, then we’re passing. Why don’t we just learn that? I’m just learning a whole raft of guards and a whole raft of escapes. Have I made sense or have I just lost it there.

Sonny: No that’s made, it’s made a lot of sense. I was just thinking my wrestling coaches, he certainly doesn’t like seeing the way that jiu-jitsu players will just accept a half guard on bottom.

Chris: It’s like watching a wrestler just accept a single leg and go “Right, cool. I’m going to fight it from here.” That is ultimately bizarre to me. Actually, there’s a very good friend of mine, his name’s Darrius from Germany. He’s done all manner of different grappling styles. He’s a very good judo guy. One thing he mentioned to me was that when they grabbed the Gi in judo, is actually where the seam is in line with the armpit. Which is one thing I didn’t realize, and that’s the tightest part of the Gi. If you go like, two inches above and you go more towards the neck, it gets quite loose.

If you go two or three inches down towards the bottom of the lapel, again it gets quite loose, but right around the armpit, it’s super tight and it goes round the back. I thought it controls the armpit. Even with the Gi on, they’re still doing it. If you look at worm guard, if you look at De La Riva, if you look at similar gags, the rule applying this idea, even with, or without the Gi, as mad as Keenan system is, it works because again, you’re controlling the armpit with the Gi wrapped around your foot and the back of their knee.

If you want to start stripping worm guard apart, you pummel the leg out of the armpit and pressure out of the De La Riva hook and put into the back of their knee instead. You don’t need a list of techniques to escape all these different guards. You’re just saying, “Right, are there behind your knee?” Then what’s the first ecape you learn as a white belt from close guard? Drive your elbows into their thighs. Why? It gets them out of your armpits. The easiest escape from half guard is to just a push on the hip and bring your knee up. They’re in holding onto your ankle.

The first escape from De La Riva is to move you on the out and push it to the back of their knee, because it takes the control from the back of your knee, from similar advances to strip that feet from your hips. They’ve no longer got their hips controlling the back of your knee. It’s all there. It’s wrestling 101.

Sonny: That’s a couple of things have clicked for me there. Especially as you mentioned grabbing the gear as a means to control the armpit. That’s certainly a new way of looking at it for me. It really is, you’re just like knee pit control, armpit control behind the back of the head. Those are the five points. If we let people become aware of that, then no matter what situation they get put into, they can be thinking one, “What of those five points do I have control that I can clear out? Or two what points of my opponents of those, can I control?

Chris: Exactly. Well, you think of your half guard, it gets bad. Deep half is more of a control than regular half because instead of just controlling one knee, you’re controlling two. Or if you’ve got the dog, et cetera, you’re now controlling the armpit, but if you’ve got a wizard, et cetera. It’s all wrestling. If you control the back of the head, et cetera, you’ve now got three or four points control. If you can wrap the gear up around the back and get the far armpit, you’ve now got five points of control. I don’t see any difference between– guard is just like fighting a four-armed alien wrestler and how you try and cope with that scenario.

Sonny: Then that is your overarching theory of guard at a wider view. Is that, is that correct?

Chris: Yes. Like I said, I don’t consider anything have to be at an endpoint. I have what I have that is right for now. I always look for things that either improve my ideas or prove my ideas are working. Looking at in a more scientific way, but so far looking at all the, like I said, when I’ve got this reverse deli octopus or whatever it was, you wanted me to go through. I don’t care. It was the idea. I think you got a close guard and he pulled on the back of the shoulder and the back of the head then got an under hook on the leg.

I was like, “Well, yes, this is exactly what I’ve been saying. You’ve now got four points of control over him. You could have invented this yourself.”

Sonny: It’s a very interesting way to look at it that, yes, you could then using those principles, be able to come up with things that have already been invented by other people. I guess that is a common refrain in all of grappling. Nothing’s really invented, it’s just rediscovered or popularized by certain people.

Chris: Exactly, exactly I’d say about the whole glima and judo idea.There’s only so many ways of controlling a human being. If you grapple for long enough, you’ll invent the same things that have existed forever. People seem shocked when they see 60-year-old videos of judo and they’re playing De La Riva. It’s like, no it’s just again, it’s the laws of grappling, you are controlling the back of the knee. Of course it’s going to work.

Sonny: Then someone is coming into your gym that you’re running a class. How do you then take that overarching theory of guard that you’ve got there and apply that into a technique or just into a usable manner for someone? Is there a way that you go around that?

Chris: The lack again, I did jiu-jitsu not the normal way of say, do a triangle from close guard. Again, I had a meeting with Priit. He said it makes more sense to do stuff backwards. I could see that. Where I started to look at how I looked at jiu-jitsu anyway. We did have a beginner course where it was eight weeks long and every week they learned all these different concepts. They’d learn the behind the knee idea, they’d learn the don’t let anything in between your knee and your armpit idea.

Again, it was a slight segue side idea. If you look at any video of when Priit does running man, it’s no different to what– Again, a very good friend of mine, Charles Harriot showed me his ideas on shrimping, and a shrimp is just a closed side version of running man as in one direction, you shrimp on the other direction you’re running man but they’re both the exact same idea. I’m trying to get my knees and elbows to touch.

At that point, it made me realize that everyone, if they’re shrimping both ways up and down the mats, in theory, they’re doing shrimp and running man which is great. Again, I can’t prove that either that both of these things are to get someone out your knees and armpits by connecting those to your knees and your elbows back together again. I thought, well, why do I have to then like specifically only teach the shrimp? Why can’t I just say connect these two things back together again?

We had this idea of an eight-week course, they learn that idea. Don’t let anyone between your knees and your armpits, day one, day two this has guard theory and by the end of the guard theory session, I was watching people invent De La Riva, the beginnings of it. They’ll grab him behind the ankle and wrapping their thought behind you the person’s knee. I was like, do you guys have never seen De La Riva but you have just invented it. Fantastic.

If someone comes into the class, every concept gets drove relentlessly every single day. We’re certain we’re doing a triangle or a kimura or something. We’d start from the end. We’d do the triangle and learn all the finishing aspects of it and then go backwards. Go from just having control behind the head with your legs but that postured or something and then go from just the arm is trapped, but every step back you do, the person’s moving around a bit more. You’re just trying to find that end product.

Instead of learning five different setups to a triangle, you learn the end product of what you want. I want the arm trapped. I’m doing it from these control points of behind the head, armpits, and legs. It gives people their free rein to then play with their ideas and their body types and their personalities, et cetera. It goes back to the concepts repeatedly.

If we were doing a kimura, we do the exact same thing. It’d be start from the kimura from top control and then work backwards. I don’t differentiate. I don’t think there’s a difference necessarily between mount, side contro,l and North-South. I don’t separate them in my head. I don’t have a mount– I don’t teach mount. I don’t teach side control. I don’t teach North-South. The difference between any of them is in site control, you control in their armpits with one arm and one leg in Mount, it’s two legs and then North-South is two arms. You still the same idea I’m still controlling their armpits or does it put a different part of my body in their armpit?

The amount of times people are, how do you go from side control to mount? Well, simple. You just take your knee out or take your arm out but you need a– I don’t care how you do it, timing’s your own but that’s what you want to accomplish. Figure it out. Then we go back from there. You’ve got the kimura and then you go from these top controls and then every time you’d go back a step they’d offer a bit more resistance or a bit more movement. You’d have to get those controls, find the rest to set up your kimura and then rinse and repeat.

Sonny: I think there’s a lot of merit in that idea of teaching things backwards or just starting with the end product so that then people have a clear goal of what they’re working towards. It makes sense and also then as you do work the way back, people get to spend more time completing the steps towards the finished product rather than spending time repeating a setup that is not what they actually want to achieve. It’s just part of it.

Chris: Yes it’s one moment in chaos where they might get that set up. You’re setting them up to fail. They have two or three different selves in chaos that they can use but if I wait for chaos to align for it to work and it’s like again, how many times do you catch the submission and then you go, how did I get here? It wasn’t a specific cell. You just like, Oh my guard, I made a triangle, this is amazing. I want to just recreate the idea as in your body knows what it’s like to get a triangle or again, it’s how many times do you see people set up a triangle and then get to the end but have that lens the wrong way round or forget how triangle ends anything.

There’s a disconnect there. There’s a problem. You got people who can start triangles have never been a cell. You’ve got people who can do perfect setups who don’t have any idea to finish the triangle. Well, I’d rather, it’d be the first kind as in you just know what a triangle feels like and you can warp chaos together.

Sonny: Yes okay and then, I mean focusing in then on the idea of that warping chaos or controlling chaos, do you ever present people an idea of Oh, this is something I prepared earlier, like something that you’ve come up with or like a Danaher technique or a Marcelo Garcia technique and say hey, try this or is it all just letting the people tailor it to their own personalities? How does the interplay work between those?

Chris: I may go make sure techniques that or demonstrations of the concept but I wouldn’t teach it as you had drilled this technique. I’d show the concept, I’d teach the concept, then show the technique or a variation that someone’s come across of the concept in action but then go back to teach them the concept in general. Again, we don’t drill. I’ve always said I don’t want to– the idea of doing it for an arbitrary amount of time. You have to do 10 in two minutes. You have to stop after 15 reps or five minutes of doing this technique or some madness like that.

I’d rather you did it once than spend that entire however long just doing that technique, looking at the end of it. I looking at every single facet of it, talking about that, saying, “Right well, if you move this way, could you get out? No? Well, if you go this way, could you go out? No? Well, will this improve this grip or will this not improve this grip?” I want that kind of feedback.

Then, again, going back a level and try and get the resistance working and saying, “Right, well if you turned up on your side to defend this, could I still got this? No. I’m going to have to figure out how to stop it from turning onto your side first.” I’d rather that be the way of drilling instead of here’s this up, is, here’s the end product do that 10 times and then come back to me, I’ll show them, I said the end product of what some people have figured out before, just to show the concept in action. I don’t want that to be what they drill.

Again, one of my favorite ones is when I teach the guard passing session, privacy, et cetera, how much to pull off in the sun, not yet but I’m working on it as I say to people, right. This is the concept of guide passing and I type BJJ guard passing into YouTube and guarantee anything you find is going to have my concept in action. Yet you could spend forever watching all these YouTube videos or just some concept, and then they can go away with those tools and then watch all these videos in their own time, Danaher videos, Marcelo and go right. Well that here is the concept working now, renders them obsolete.

Sonny: Yes okay. Yes, it’s really just for you the main focus is always going to be on those concepts and the techniques are just a way to see the concepts in action?

Chris: Yes.

Sonny: Okay that makes a lot of sense. One thing I want to focus in on there is then your idea of your students giving that constant feedback to each other because that’s something that is not as common, I would say because it’s mainly should be the instructor giving the feedback but if students can give each other good feedback, then obviously that’s going to be a big benefit to everyone. How do you actually go about fostering that within your club?

Chris: The fastest that the show one of these ideas I’d show all the parameters of what wouldn’t necessarily be an action, as in I’d say to people.

If you’re going to do like a guard holding or something, like putting a guard into action, I’d want the person in guard to try and posture, try and stack, hand fight, et cetera. Could I get rid of your grip for this? I’d settle these different parameters and say, “I want to do this, I want to do this, I want to do this.” Again, if someone else is trying to get away from the idea of if people are doing just drills, the one person is dead practically for those 10 reps. You’re just going to do 10 triangles to him.

As soon as they switch off for those 10 reps, I would say, “Right, now it’s my turn.” I want it to be conscious, I want them to be giving feedback not just for their partner’s sake but for their own sake, as in I want them to have it done to them and for them to go right actually because I want them to not almost go like how to make– not in the same sense of I wanted them to only make their partner better, I want them to almost have their partner do to them what they do to someone.

If I was saying like we’re doing an Americana or something, I say to someone, “Right. I want you to be conscious of what’s happening during the Americana. I want to actually say to a partner, “What if you bring my arm this way? If it hurts more, all right, okay.” I’d love to do that next time for myself instead of just switching off of those 10 reps. It’s not just the person doing the technique’s sake. It’s for the other person’s sake.

That’s why I say this idea of, I don’t want 10 reps, I want it to be a constant conversation throughout that two to five minutes or whatever of, “What if you move my arm here? What if you move my arm here? Does that hurt more?” Not for that other person’s sake but for your own sake as in, “Actually, my arm hurts way more if it’s put here.” Right, okay, because you know your own body, and then you just have to replicate that on someone else.

Sonny: Yes, that makes sense. The idea of being present and mindful while you’re going through those– not repetitions but while you’re actually working on the concepts and techniques rather than– I’ve certainly been in the situation where myself is switched off while someone’s repping out a technique on me. You wait for your turn really.

Chris: Exactly. It’s then switching the role up a little bit as in it’s almost reversing the entire process in the sense of the person doing the technique isn’t the person learning? It’s you. It’s a frustration of my own over the years of I don’t know what I’m causing to other people because I’m not them, as in as much pressure as I can put through someone, I don’t know what that pressure feels like unless it’s done to me.

Whenever I go anywhere and I teach something, I don’t want to watch two people do it in front of me. I want the person who’s having the issue to do it to me. I then feel everything that should be happening. Almost at that point, I’m learning more than they are because I can go, “Right. My arm hurts a bit more if you move it this way. Could you move my arm over here? Yes, that really, really hurts now. ” I’m learning just as much as they are because I’m actually having it done to me for probably the first time. I can then take what I just learned from then twisting my arm and then use my own jiu-jitsu.

Sonny: It’s funny that you mentioned the way of knowing how much pressure you’re putting on someone because that’s something I’ve thought about myself just as a way to how I can actually explain that accurately to anyone. I’m thinking, “Oh, should I bring in like a scale one day and a medicine ball and we give people– they can see on the numbers where it goes up when they take their knees off the mat or something like that,” because it is a hard thing to actually get across just slowly lifting the knees up or elbows off the mat, that that will actually increase pressure.

I know it when I do it to people because maybe I can see the change of reaction in their face or their breathing pattern, and I’ve had it done to me as well, but to actually make that happen quicker for people to pick that up is a very interesting challenge that you’re trying to-

Chris: Yes, completely.

Sonny: -take on there. When you’re doing those things and the feedback is going on, we talked about personalities.

How much does people’s personality make that work or perhaps even not work with some people because I could see with your training partner, it becomes such a crucial part of the feedback process instead of the instructor who’s spent a lot of time doing this you. Your training partner might not have as much time giving that feedback. How do you coach that side of things and how do you cater to those different personalities?

Chris: It then becomes more of a culture thing as in when that understanding of your feedback isn’t just for their benefit, it’s for your own, as in you could be directing someone to a faster technique more correctly. At the same time, you are the full loop, as in if you can direct someone to do a technique that, again, like you said, people might tap just out of “I’m tired of this situation” tap when you’re drilling something as you drill a triangle, and they just tap because their head is in that triangle, I’d rather it be a case of I’d rather have someone put me in a triangle, and then if I was a student, and then direct them to hurt me more.

Just that culture change there as in it’s no longer a case of drilling just for the sake of drilling so you can get better, then I have my go and I get better. It’s a conversation as in we’re investigating these techniques. When the outcome isn’t reached between these two people to a full standard, that’s where I can get involved. I’m obviously walking around at this point, I’m getting my head stuck in triangles, et cetera.

It’s weird that I don’t get to drill, but if I demonstrate a technique, I’m not the one doing the technique. If a pair called me over and they say, “Could you show us that triangle again, please?” I’m like, “Okay, you do it to me.” I make them go through everything of twisting me up and choking me because I want them to then– I’m getting constant feedback throughout. I want that culture that it’s a conversation here.

The more feedback you give, the better you’ll be. The idea of, “I need to get my 10 reps in, just hurry up and do yours, please,” as long as I want to be the person on the bottom because I learned more. I want that to be the culture instead of, “No, you’ve had your minute and a half. It’s now my time for the minute and a half.” It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Sonny: Okay. It is a big change in culture from what a lot of people would normally be expecting. What was a big challenge that you’ve had to overcome while working your way out with that?

Chris: How do you mean?

Sonny: Is there anything that you try to implement to get people to do that that failed and you had to scrap or improve upon, or has it all just been a bit of a linear progression?

Chris: It’s more of a linear progression, but one of the best things that help is, again, this idea is like that we’re drilling without taking– Again, it’s directly from Priit. We were arriving in these directions but hadn’t got there yet, and it wasn’t until– Again, I met Priit at one of the Globetrotter camps back in 2017, and it was this first Globetrotter camp in Copenhagen.

As the couple of battles are competing at black belt at the time, and some of the UK competitions, and doing pretty okay, I saw this Estonian black belt and I thought, “You probably can’t even find Estonia on the map. Who’s ever heard of Estonia?” I thought I’d give this guy a bit of a run around when I got to the camp. Instead, he twisted me up and spat me out. I thought, “Right, I’m going to have to pay attention to what this guy classes.” His way of teaching was markedly different.

I said, “How much would it cost me to get you to the UK?” He came over and did one of his intensive weekends. He was massive into this idea of– One thing he does in his seminars is he will have you do the techniques quietly by giving no feedback after, and then he’d stop you and say, “Right, two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, talk about the technique. Just don’t drill, just talk.” I’d give feedback on that technique and say, “What worked well? What didn’t go well?” Then, once you’ve done that, do it again with that new feedback. They were a completely different way of doing jiu-jitsu.

Sonny: Yes, very different.

Chris: Then, once you’ve had this conversation, then have a conversation in the class. That’s one thing I should pick up, though I didn’t look at it even more, this idea of this more of a conversation aspect of doing jiu-jitsu as where– I did a tour of the US just prior to lockdown, as in North Carolina with Johnny Buck, one of his open mat sessions early one morning. The whole open mat was just people sitting against the wall asking questions of the last week. I did this in a row. What could I do here?”

Various people would pop up with their answers. I thought, “That’s brilliant.” I love this idea of it’s not you will sit down quietly listening to me. It’s, “Right, why does this work? Why didn’t this work? What pros and cons have we found from doing it this way? Can we get it better now? Can we work together and figure this out? Because again, it was a unique way I came through. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I never assumed that I was better than anyone. That’s why this came in at such the right time for me.

One thing, I went to Braulios for like one or two sessions, and it was you can’t train there unless you’ve got the gi on and the Gracie Barra — you can’t go anywhere else apart from Baja gyms mentality. If any of my students say, “I’m going to go train here tonight,” or, “I’m going to go train here tonight,” I was like, “Cool, please, can you just show us what you picked up of when you come back?”

We only get better if we were a team. I don’t know everything, unfortunately. I just got here first. I was always very pro other people traveling or pro people coming into the gym because I was like, “Right, cool. What do you know? Can you show us anything?” or if people traveled like, “Bring us back something cool.” That then just built an idea of since I started jiu-jitsu, it’s never been a case of, “I’m the black belt. This is the technique.” I was a white belt teaching a class. I was a blue belt teaching a class. Let’s all get together and figure this out together because it’s the only way we’re going to figure out otherwise. I don’t think we’ve ever changed.

Sonny: Okay, that’s interesting. That’s something else I’ve talked to a couple of other people, and they’ve been putting these isolated situations where they’ve had to teach, at that blue, purple belt level, but I’m sure there’s plenty of other people in those situations who have maybe just done what they have seen other people do, but it also seemed to have caused a bit of innovation in at least a few of the people I’ve seen. It’s very interesting. What’s Johnny Buck like? He seems like a bit of a character. Is he–

Chris: He is hilarious. His gym, it seems rough as hell. It doesn’t make sense, but they are the one of the nicer gyms I’ve ever been to. Johnny, every high-rank belt, every student was just the nicest person. The crack and the banter amongst them all was amazing. Again, he probably is a member of his online group, about a month or two before I went over. Every time a new person started, they got a welcome off everyone. They got invited to the group and everyone said hello to them, welcome to, such and such, and everyone wished them hello, or they’ve got a big board on the back of their wall where it’s like some whiteboard pens or whatever.

You write down like it’s a gratitude board or like an accomplishment board. You write down something cool you’ve done or thank someone for something they’ve done recently. I lost two pounds this week or I’ve run three miles. It doesn’t have to be jiu-jitsu based. It’s just something cool you did. That sense of community in a gym was just like– Johnny comes across as such, like I said, a wild character. For him to foster that kind of culture in his gym, I was like, “This is the nicest place I’ve been to.”

Like I said, I’ve been to Barra gyms where if you deviate at all from the technique that has been shown, you’re doing pushups, but in Johnny’s gym, it was like this is the nicest place in the world. Let’s all give each other thanks and gratitude for something we’ve done. He’s probably going hate me– if he ever listens to this, me saying Johnny Buck is the nicest man in the world. As much as the hard ass that he comes across, he’s so cool. He may never let me come back. [laughs]

Sonny: You might see the other side [laughs] after that.

Chris: Exactly. I might see the bad Johnny Buck.

Sonny: That sounds interesting, but it’s not that surprising, to be honest. Especially in this sport, it’s not the most uncommon thing to see people who can have an exterior of the roughest looking people you’ve ever seen. Then, they turn out to be some of the nicest people you’ve ever met. It’s one of the good things about this sport, that you do run into a lot of good people. I’m wondering just to maybe wrap things up, Chris, if we have a look over your learning experience, what’s the one thing that you wish that you could go back to yourself when you started learning that you could tell yourself that would help improve the speed at which you were learning even more?

Chris: If I knew the concepts I knew now, if I was told these, if I was just given the control concept of knees and elbows which is pretty much the how to defend everything video, if I knew that when I was at the beginning, I could have saved myself so much time. The hours I spent reading books and watching YouTube and all this kind of jazz, it was like I could have easily just saved myself so much heartache.

Peter says it very well when he teaches this infinitely better than I ever could. He says jiu-jitsu is suffering, as in you have so much at the beginning that you don’t know what is happening to you. It’s a horrible experience. That’s why the first thing I ever teach is, if you keep your knees glued to your armpits, you’ll be fine. Anytime you feel lost, just do that. I don’t care if you ball up or anything, at least you’re not getting submitted, but if you can just connect your knees to your armpits, you’ll be fine, and anytime anything ever goes wrong.

The amount of two-month white belts that I’ve had come through, I’ve competed on grapple fast on the same card as like Craig Jones and Lachlan Giles. I’ve had white belts who’ve been in for like two months who I can’t choke or submit because they just ball up. They just connect their knees to their armpits and they’re fine. Looking at that from their perspective, they’ve got the class black belt wailing on them and they’re surviving, nothing bad is happening to them. The only thing that’s bad happen to them is when they reach out.

Again, it’s something we’re all told on day one, keep your elbows close, but I just never was told how close. If I’d known that, if I’d known keep them so close, they’re connected to your damn knees and hips, I think jiu-jitsu would have been a lot easier for me.

Sonny: Yes, it is funny, those little things that maybe do get mentioned in passing, or even like the Ryan Hall comment that gets mentioned in passing that had that impact on you.

Chris: Even in passing, there was no emphasis on it. I spent so much longer playing the deep half stuff he showed than anything to do with the knees and the elbow thing. If I’d known that, that would have been infinitely more useful. One of the other things, again, it was Braulio’s first black belt, Chiu Kwong Man in Birmingham. He teaches Renegade jiu-jitsu. He’s got Tom Breese and a couple of really high-level guys in his team.

I did a couple of seminars with them, again, about five years ago. He said that everyone talks about the space between the knees and armpits. Again, they weren’t, but okay. I said, “No one ever talks about the space between the ass and heel.” He said, “If you can keep that one closed, there’s no other guards that will work on you. Again, like De La Riva, half guard, butterfly, none of those work if they can’t get in between your ass and heel.”

I was like “What? I can fix guard that easily?” Again, it goes back to that how to defend everything. If I’d just known those two things early on, I could have figured out jiu-jitsu a whole lot faster. The emphasis was on those two things.

Sonny: The emphasis and just knowing where to put those emphases is an interesting area because it seems to still be evolving in a way to shed light on some actual constants which are strange.

Chris: The emphasis in jiu-jitsu is wrong. There’s a guard passing video by Renzo Gracie, close guard pass video where he talks ages about where’s to grip on the gi. People spend so long on those stupid details. Do you put your fingers in the middle of the gi? Do you twist it left? Do you twist it right? Is your elbow flared? Is it crunched in? Is it pushed into the stomach? Can you push it on your whatever. That isn’t the important part.

He talks about various aspects of that for this guard passing video. Again, all he does is he connects his knees to his elbows and then climbs in the space between their knees and elbows. At no point does he talk about that being the crucial aspect of this guard pass. That was a passing detail that the guard pass doesn’t work if they’re not in this space.

Sonny: It’s fascinating that we can focus so much time on a technique like that. I guess that’s why some jiu-jitsu moves will go in trends where they can come in and out of trends, but the constant between it all would be those concepts that follow those things if those techniques are long.

Chris: Exactly. There’s also a new guard that comes out in some way. Again, they’re always iterations of the same damn concept. I’m sure that you think rubber guard again is just an expression of that guard concept. How can I control your armpits in the back of your head with the full weapons I have? Yet, all of a sudden, 10 years ago, everyone goes nuts about rubber guard. It’s like, “No, it’s the same thing again, or the half guard, or worm guard, or whatever mad guard that Keenan’s come out with recently, whoever knows what that is, which it is the same damn thing. You can’t really play guard without this concept, but why is no one talking about this is what’s happening?

Sonny: That’s a very good point. That’s why we’ve talked about it here and put some emphasis on it. I really have appreciated this conversation, Chris. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Chris: I loved it. Thank you so much. Hoping to have another chat in the future.

Sonny: For sure. If people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way that they can go about and do it?

Chris: If they just type Chris Paines, P-A-I N, so pain, E-S into Google, Chris Paines BJJ, they’ll find my Facebook, they’ll find my YouTube, they’ll find my personal website. Any of those aspects, if you will contact me via those, I reply relatively fast. I’ll happily talk to anyone. The amount of people who contact me and ask me questions and stuff, if I’ve got access to a video camera, I’ll record an answer. I’m very, very accessible if anyone ever wants to talk to me.

Sonny: Beautiful.

Chris: I’m just going to do some [crosstalk] .

Sonny: Hey, who isn’t, really, in this day and age especially.

Chris: It’s such a brilliant idea because I’d never done BJJ. I’m not from a lineage. I have no lineage. I’ve obviously got my black belt from Priit, but as far as the learning goes, there isn’t anyone above me. The linear thing falls apart. That idea that when in a style that puts so much emphasis on if it’s from Brazil or who’ve got that belt from who, which I’ve been asked that question numerous times and it drives me insane, just a simple idea that there’s some no-name guy from Stafford that people want to find out something from him. I’ll happily answer any question just because of that.

Sonny: Yes. It’s something that I’m running into a lot with people I’m talking to because there’s obviously that tremendous value in tradition that I probably don’t need to explain because it’s pretty evident that that seems to be the dominant force, that value of tradition, but then it’s the people that are going outside of that that can bring in some new creative ideas where I think a lot of value can actually be had. The mat is the truth, as Sakuraba has said.

Chris: Exactly. Everyone is equal on that mat.

Sonny: It’s very, very interesting stuff. Chris, thank you so much, and let’s do this again in the future.

Chris: Perfect. Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed it.