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.

Distance learning the Danaher Grappling System with Luke Martin

In this episode, I talk to Luke Martin from Sydney West Martial Arts. Luke is an instructor I have personally trained with, and for the last few years, he has been pursuing ways of bringing the world-class Danaher grappling system into his gym. Despite being based on the other side of the world, for years he has taken weekly online private lessons with Jason Rau and gives many practical tips on how he has been able to pass along these teachings to his students. He also has a podcast called the Heat locker where he has interviews with Jason Rau and other students of Danaher’s from his most recent trip to the Blue Basement in New York City.

Developing Intuition with the School of Grappling

In this episode, I talk to Andy from the School of Grappling. The School of grappling Instagram and website has many great articles that look at statistics of MMA and ADCC grappling exchanges and how to use systems and heuristics to improve your grappling training. Here we discuss his fascinating ideas about teaching and developing intuition/instincts for grappling.


Sonny: Welcome to episode number three of the Sonny Brown Breakdown, a podcast where we will discuss the training, teaching, health and education of mixed martial arts. In this episode, I talked to Andy from the School of Grappling, where we discuss his fascinating ideas about teaching and developing intuition and instincts in your grappling training. Now let’s go to the podcast. Just give you a bit of background I came across your stuff, I believe it was on Instagram. I first saw the School of Grappling Instagram account and I was very intrigued by some of the ideas that you’re putting across, some of the posts you’re putting up, lots of work you’ve been putting into it, researching the statistics of ADCC and MMA, and I thought you had some excellent ideas and I thought it’d be great to get you on how to chat. And so, I’m just wondering, you know, with your School of Grappling page, what’s the overall idea that you’re trying to impart into people with School of Grappling, and just a bit of your own personal background with grappling and also your education background?

Andy: Okay, first of all, what’s up guys? Yeah, I think I’ll start with my background first and I will not go too much in depth because I actually think what I’m talking about is way more important and way more interesting than I am. I’m basically just a physicist. I like to really analyze stuff. Obviously, that’s why I did all the statistics and I have 20 years of grappling expenses, it all started with judo. And some of you may know, some of you don’t, that in judo the rules changed a lot over the last, maybe 10 to 15 years and they got more and more restricted and competition got more and more specialized. So, I felt like I needed to go and learn something else. And probably like everybody I watched the UFC and I saw this whole Gracie story unfold and thought like, like, huh, just BJJ seems to be the shit. So, I started BJJ and sadly, I really got a bit disappointed because I felt like I went from one specialist thing to the another and because the stuff I learned in BJJ was literally nothing like grappling in MMA at this time. It’s like, all these rules and so much got pulling the key stuff got weirder and weirder. So, I focused more on No-Gi grappling because I felt like this is a little bit closer to real grappling. Because like I said, I wanted to go to something which includes more than judo and not from one specialized thing to something different, which says specialize in another direction. So, I started moderating No-Gi and first, all the leg lock stuff when it came about and then I realized, ah, that’s still not kind of all grappling has to offer and still doesn’t really look like, like grappling in MMA at all. 

So, I studied a lot of wrestling, especially folks style wrestling, coach wrestling in the USA and then slowly, I felt like huh, yeah, now things get more like grappling. If you include all the stuff from judo, all the stuff from jujitsu, from No-Gi jujitsu and a lot of wrestling, I felt like this is actually what grappling is about, if you combine all the stuff. And this is kind of also what I tried to do with my page, I want to move the grappling community a bit more together because I feel like all the sports specialized in different directions like judo, jujitsu No-Gi jujitsu, submission only, Sambo, wrestling, freestyle wrestling, all this stuff. Everybody’s specialized and actually that’s a good thing, I feel like, because that’s needed if you want to progress in a certain direction, but I feel like my role or what I’m trying to do is to bring it back together again to say like yeah, you know what, in the end, it’s all grappling and maybe it’s fun and we can all learn if we take look at it all and not just focus on our own stuff. That’s like the first thing I tried to do with School of Grappling, also the cultural side and the historical side, because for me, grappling is a sport, obviously, and that’s a really important part. Not so much in martial arts, like Parag Mickelson, also says, I think that’s not so important. But it’s also important for culture and stuff like this. I always felt like the Greeks showed how important this kind of sport like grappling or 05:41 [inaudible] can be on the society. Also, like if you take a look at Mongolia, for example, people just meet in the field and they grapple and they get like huge honors and thousands of, watches and all the stuff and yeah, that’s always interests me, like, the cultural side also. 

And another thing I’m trying to do, is obviously all the statistics stuff I do, because I feel like yeah, many cultures have people in jujitsu, mostly, but also wrestling and judo, they all show stuff and claim stuff. But actually, most of it or some of it really is not supported by evidence at all. And I think smart people already knew this. So, for example, a lot of things you’ve seen in my statistics, I feel like don’t really show new stuff for the smart guys, it proves that they were right, what they felt was anecdotally right at the time. Yeah, the third part and maybe the part which is dearest to my heart is, I want to really educate people how to learn grappling or jujitsu, because I feel like, grappling, it lost so much in the last years, but teaching to not feel like yeah, the way people coach and teach in, jujitsu and judo, especially, not so much in wrestling, I feel like it’s really not up to date. 

Sonny: Yeah, that’s certainly one of the things that drawn me to your work. And like you mentioned at the start there that you know, looking to combine the different grappling arts of judo, wrestling and jujitsu and I know one thing I’ve seen, you use the hashtag a lot on your Instagram page of, wrestle, jujitsu and linking that into how things are being taught in jujitsu, like to just basically discuss what your current thoughts are on the state of pedagogy used in jujitsu as a whole and just, you know how you think things are currently being taught or work, how it can be improved? And what your what thoughts are on this at the moment?

Andy: I want to start off with saying, I will be speaking about jujitsu, but I felt like the same is true for judo, especially because they’re both a sport, but they’re still kind of martial artsy. So, they didn’t make the jump like wrestling and reached the point where it’s just a sport but there’s still so many components of martial arts and I feel like that’s a bad thing actually. Because I feel like most people, competitors and coaches, they focus too much on techniques and that’s really a modern thing. I feel like they, there’s this misconception that you have to learn just enough or the right techniques and if you just know more techniques than the other guy, or the right ones, then at some point you will become skillful or become a master of your art. So, naturally, coaches who believe this like, okay, I just have to collect all the techniques that work and if I know them better than somebody else and I can do them better then I’m skillful, I’m a master and I will win lots of competitions or train. Good people and yeah, if that’s the goal, naturally, you will focus on teaching techniques, obviously, and I think that’s really bad because yeah, we will reach that point soon. 

So, then some smarter guys, I feel like, especially Ryan Hall, or Rob 09:59 [inaudible], they introduced the jujitsu community to concepts and principles. So, basically what they are saying is, yeah, look, nobody can remember 10,000 techniques but you don’t have to, you just have to know, like, the underlying concepts and principles behind the techniques and then you can basically just come up with the exclusive technique at the time. And I feel like that’s a really, really, really big improvement to the first method. And it’s a method I also use a lot. I think concepts and principles are really, really important because if you know concepts and principles, you can come up with heuristics or rules of thumb, which help decision making in really complex situations. They’re way faster than techniques because you don’t really have to think that much. And that’s actually how I tried to transcend even that because, if you want to remember techniques, you actually have to do a little bit of thinking. And that’s a bad thing because everybody knows fighting or grappling, you have to make decisions really, really fast and you have to multitask, and a lot of things are going on. 

So, what concepts, principles or rules of thumb do, they really, really lower the amount of thinking you have to do or the stuff you have to know. But actually, if you take a look at how really, really good math masters of any kind, it can be sports, it can be cooking, can be music, it can be arts, painting, anything, if you take a look at them, you realize most of them don’t think at all. They reach to the point where they just do stuff, intuition, with their intuition. And that’s actually something I have studied a lot. And I feel like that’s what I bring to the table. I say, yeah, techniques, sure they are important, but we shouldn’t focus on them at all. And I say concepts and principles, they are also important, they’re actually much more important, and they are still a big part of my method. But the end goal should not be to teach techniques or concepts or to develop a sense of intuition in each student you have. And if that’s your goal, and you’re you really say, that’s the premise I start with, then naturally all your training and all the classes you design look completely different because you have a different goal. And that’s basically, the starting point of my whole method and why I think most people have it wrong with all this technique stuff. 

Sonny: Okay, that’s, a fascinating way of looking at it. And I really, like agree with the angle being to train people’s intuitions because that’s whenever you’re going against the good grappler that’s, you can tell that they’re not thinking, they’re just moving. So, my question would then be, if, you know, we’re shifting away from techniques to training concepts and principles, to maybe build that intuition, then how do we actually go about you know, working out what these principles are for grappling, which ones are the ones to teach that we should use and you know, how do we not just fall into the same trap of technique collection and just transfer that into say concept collection and figuring out which ones are the best to use and how to go about that?

Andy: Yeah, I don’t really use concepts and principles that much. And I tell you why because I think they are important for some people. For me, for example, I’m a nerd, I like to think about stuff. And, for me, concepts and principles have a lot, especially because I mean, I’m a physicist, I really, really know all this level of stuff. And that’s simple stuff for me so I can really work with it. But I also came across many, many, many, many, many students who aren’t like that. They just are really good movers; they like to move. They are a lot more embodied; they don’t think as much. And actually, I think, to attain intuition, you don’t need concepts and principles. They can help for some people, but you don’t need them. And actually, I think that’s, if you really think about it, if you think about some, I don’t know football players, basketball players, grapplers, fighters, for me is what, always was pretty obvious that they are not that smart. And they really don’t understand the concepts, and they really don’t understand the principles, at least not in an explicit way. But for some reason, they just move so masterfully, they always do the right stuff. They, but they do it without much thought. And I think a really good example for this is in MMAs, Tony Ferguson. I think if you would discuss concepts and principles with him, yeah, that wouldn’t go. But he still always knows what to do in the situation when it arises. And I think that’s the point, that’s where I want to go, what I want to reach in my students. I want to develop this intuition in everybody because I feel like this is literally the highest form of mastery. 

And another thing I want to talk about in this, actually everybody is a master. We always think, when we think about mastery, we think about stuff like sports and cooking or craftsmanship. But if you think about the stuff you do every day, most of it is intuition. If you, I don’t know, if you cut a cucumber, if you turn the lights on, if you open the door, all that stuff, you don’t think about it, you just do it because you experience the stuff so often and you actually have some sort of, you are emerged in a task, you know, it’s like, this is the stuff, you need to do it for living. So, you naturally, I invested, and I think that’s something which lacks, if you just tried to copy techniques and stuff. Yeah, I don’t know if that was a big tangent. 

Sonny: No, no, that explains a lot for me. So, you’re saying that, you know, we don’t necessarily need to explicitly teach concepts to people, like they don’t need to be able to know, to recite the concepts back to us, or the principles, you know, they don’t need to be able to write them down, what they are, but we should be teaching in a way that they just, that they intuitively pick up those concepts and principles through practice, is that?

Andy: Yeah, exactly. And I think like, what’s really important for me, is, I want to get across that, there’s no dogma, it’s, everything is just a tool. I still use techniques; I still use concepts and principles. And so, for example, if you realize some students, they need concepts and principles, then use then for God’s sake. And but also, you realize that many, many, many, many great athletes really, really work with this stuff because they’re just not that kind of a guy, you know? So, what you said is absolutely correct. The goal is to develop intuition through exercises I tried to design. Because like, actually, what intuition really is, that’s up for debate. Many people believe it’s, and that’s something I also wrote, it’s something like an unconscious, heuristic or implicit rule of thumb in our body, which we can use without thinking about them. That’s more like the stuff of 19:12 [inaudible], I talked about the psychologist. And, but there are many people, especially philosophers who actually believe, nah, intuition is something completely different, it’s just, yeah, then stuff gets really complicated if you look at it from a phenomenological, psychological, philosophical side. 

But what everybody agrees on is that the only way you get intuition is first in experience, stuff you personally experience yourself. And so, what most coaches do I feel like is a try to teach in a way where they, either try to convey their own experiences and that’s not a bad thing. I mean, they want to help the students obviously. What’s even worse is when coaches try to convey stuff, they didn’t experience themselves, so this is like the Bullshido Mcdojo style, like you have a script Master, he tells you do x and a and b. And so, you just mimic the stuff and teach your students and they mimic you. And so, it’s basically an evolution of mimicry over generations. And I think this is actually the worst thing you could do. And what most coaches do, and I do too, from time to time, because I fail, is they try to convey their own experiences. And I feel like this is actually wrong. You have to realize that in order for your students to really learn, to really get a grip of something, they just have to experience it themselves. I feel like a really good example is, I personally, when I was a child, I really like to play with dangerous stuff like fire knives and so on and my mother always told me, don’t do this, be careful, don’t play with knife and stuff like this. And I always felt like yeah, whatever, I don’t care. Until I once, I cut myself really bad, I still have the scar on my left hand. And from this day on, I really was careful with knives because I experienced something myself and I made an error. And obviously, I don’t say every kid should cut him safe but what I’m saying is if you want to really remember stuff, like really remember stuff, you have to connect it to some perception and action or experience you had yourself at some point in your life. And the more of experiences which resemble similar situations, the better you get those similar situations. Yeah and I feel like many people now could maybe say, oh, yeah, so he’s arguing, just roll all the time. And yeah, I think like, you can actually maximize the amount of experiences you get in a certain timeframe. And that’s basically my method.

Sonny: Okay, that’s an interesting way of looking at it. I think it makes sense. Like, you know, you can tell someone that you know, you better have both arms in or both arms out when you’re in someone’s guard, or you’re going to be at risk of a triangle choke. You can explain that but obviously, they’re going to understand it a lot better if it actually happens to them and they’ll have that that deeper understanding, which makes a lot of sense. So, then what would your ways of conveying that intuition or helping your students build that intuition, how do you go around go about doing that?

Andy: So, for example, there are many ways, I think you could either start by, that’s a bit more, if you give more guidance, for example, let’s take something everybody can relate to. Let’s say you want to work on back control, okay. So, what you could do, you could basically start with the technique, like most coaches do, so you maybe work a certain series of moves, for example, yeah, the guy turtles, you get a seat belt, you insert the first talk, you’re breaking down, you insert the second hook, then you trap his arms and you choke him, right. So, you show them, you explain, maybe, the important concepts and stuff. And then you let them, and actually, I feel like this whole repetition thing is just stupid because either I really work with smart people, but I feel like if I show them a really, a sequence like this, everybody can do it after three times, five times, ten times, but there’s no need to do it like 100 times. So, when I have the feeling like, buddy, gets the technique kind of, or the sequence, I say, alright, let’s move on. 

So, the next goal would be to say, okay, now everybody has like, an idea what to do. They don’t, they cannot do it perfectly, and they aren’t masters at it at all, but they have a goal in mind, and that’s really important. So, now we start with little mini bearings or games, like you break it down, so you work certain skills. For example, you tell, you say, listen, okay now, you know what the goal is, let’s start with the seatbelt and we do a little game, just try to get both hooks in. So, then the people can play with it, a person gets a seat belt, then they play around. I also tell my students, kind of regulate the intensity, if you know the guy doesn’t get it at all, maybe do a little bit of less resistance. If you feel like he gets the hooks in too easy, do a little more resistance. So, it’s not so much sparing in the sense of fighting, it’s more like playing. I want people to play around with a certain situation. And maybe they do it like five minutes. One guy, five minutes, the other guy and I feel like it’s always really, really interesting if you try that yourself, how fast people learn small little details, if they just repeat the task again and again and again and they fail, they fail again and they try something else. They come up with little details, if I would have shown them all these details in the technique before, they would have been overwhelmed, but this way, they just do it intuitively because they try. 

So, for example, after that, I would do another game and say, okay, and now the stuff from back control, and one guy tries to escape and you just try to hold him there, so no chokes, nothing. So, you just work on the control for example. And then one guy tries to escape and then what I often tell students, so for example, if you want to work your, keeping him in bear control, I say, okay 20 seconds, you go hard on him, don’t let him escape. And then after that, give, the other person a chance to work his escapes. So, then you lower the resistance a little bit so he can get out, but with a lot of struggle, so it shouldn’t be easy. And so, and then you can progress like you train sub-skills of a certain skill, you develop game for it. And at some point, if you feel like people get competent in these parts in the sub skills, not in the whole sequence, but in a certain sequence. For example, then use start adding the sequences together, sorry. The easiest thing would be, okay, goal, you start with seatbelts, your goal is to get a rear naked choke, right? So, that would be another game. So, you don’t start in back control but with a seatbelt. And you can get, develop games, however you want, if you know what you’re doing, it’s basically simple. You just define a goal, you define certain constraints like, yeah, don’t do this, don’t do that. And, but the important thing is, I will always want to work with a task. So, it’s not like I tell my students, do this. I don’t tell them at all what they should do, I tell them, solve this problem. And how you solve this problem, actually, I don’t care. But the trick is, the constraints of the of the task or the game are set so they will do the right stuff, right?

So, that’s a bit trickier. It’s like the goal is to get them somewhere, to do something, but you don’t, you’re not allowed to tell them how. So, you have to design games and stuff, which forces a certain behavior after some time, but the point is, they themselves felt acted and they made decisions and they gained experiences because they acted and perceived and it’s not like, the coach showed me, right. And that’s more like a guided approach when I have something in mind, like, a control, for example. But actually, you can also do, sometimes you don’t even need that. So, for example, how I teach the wrestling stance, right, is I felt like if you want somebody to teach him footwork or stance, and you say, tell them, yeah, you stand with this foot in front and with this width and you bend a little bit, but not too much, and then your arms should be like this. And a thing like stands can get really, really, really complicated really, really quickly. Because a new student has to think about all this stuff. So, what I like to do, I like to let them play a game. And the game is really simple. It’s like, you have to touch the knees of the other guy, so if you would do that, only this rule, and this goal, so touching the knees of the other guy and defending. Then obviously people would stand really, really bend forward and that’s actually what happens. If you try that, if you play this game, people will stand really bent forward. 

So, I introduced another rule. And I said, okay, so if the hands or anything, but the soles of your feet touch the ground, you lose the point. So, if you make the other guy touch the ground with anything but his feet, you get a point. So, what, and when you have these two rules, you actually realize people will automatically have a certain stance, which give them mobility because they have to defend people tapping their knees, but it also fixes the bent posture because if they’re been too much, well, people just snap you down and your hands touch the floor, right, or your knees. And what I really realized is that with this game, I can teach a beginner who never did martial arts, maybe not a perfect, but a decent and functional stance in like two minutes. And they don’t have to think about it. It’s just like, they had a task, they had a goal and they self-regulated themselves to achieve that goal. without much thought, it’s just like, oh, fuck, he tapped my knee, I better do this now, oh fuck, I touched the floor, I better don’t stand that bend forward and stuff like this. So, it’s nestled in experiences, right? And I’m always amazed how far, how fast I can teach a stance like this, it’s mind boggling.

Sonny: Very interesting. So, that’s, I mean, it sounds like it’s, you know, a form of say, just positional sparring, but not really. Because, like, I think sometimes I myself, will, you know, if I teach a half guard pass, I’ll make sure students you know, do some starting rounds in, you know, from half guard. But I know even in that case, that’s like a simplified version because, you know, sometimes they’ll start there and then they won’t ever be able to use the past that we’ve shown. So, you’re kind of focusing on, like setting the right constraints and you know, making the right set of rules that the students will have that level of failure to enable them to learn the moves, or the techniques, enough, in a faster way. Is that kind of close?

Andy: Yes. Yes, that’s close. I think like, if you don’t think so much about sparring or rolling, think about it like games, right? A game has rules and goals. And so, that’s all you need. You need rules. You need goals. If you actually use the term game, for some reason people automatically are more flowy, they aren’t that tense, right? If you tell them guys, we’ll play a game, they just play. But if you tell them we do position of sparring now, people for some reason, you can do the same stuff, but if you tell them, it’s sparring now, they will be a lot more tense, and it will be more ego and stuff. So, I feel like it’s a little bit of gamification, right. And I think that’s a really important part because then people think like, yeah, I’m not working a competition situation, no, I’m just playing a game. If I don’t get a point, who cares, right?

Sonny: Yeah, that makes sense in just to, you know, the gamification making it enjoyable and playful, because I’m thinking, say we show, passing or just opening close guard, it’s one thing to, just put people in someone’s guard, say we’ll open their closed guard, that’s the role of the sport and open the guard pass. But we know that’s very difficult for anyone to pull off against a completely hundred percent resisting opponent, it’s going to be hard whereas at certain times it might take minutes at least to actually pull that off. So, I think that makes sense what you’re saying to figure out ways that we can reduce that bigger action, open guard and pass it down into smaller little chunks. Would you say like–?

Andy: Yeah, absolutely.

Sonny: To work out the smaller parts of that and then make games out of those.

Andy: Yeah, I think the important thing is like, I mean, we are coaches. So, hopefully we know which stuff works and which doesn’t. So, it’s not like I’m sitting there and I’m just like, trying to. It’s not like, I just see what comes up. I always have stuff in mind prior, right? So, I know what the behavior I want to see is, but I have to find ways to kind of trick people into that behavior. I don’t tell them; I want you to do this. But I set the constraints in a way that they will automatically do it after some time, because there’s only two- or three-ways stuff actually works. So, for example, one thing you can achieve that is by like you said, making the tasks smaller and smaller. So, if it’s too abstract, it’s like, for example, you start and have no grips or anything and you tell them people sweep the other guy. That’s like, a fairly complex problem right there, maybe 1000.

Sonny: That’s a pretty common way currently of doing it, right?

Andy: Yeah, absolutely. But if you want people and that’s fine for advanced students, if you know half guard, that’s fine, right? But if you want to teach half guard, let’s say something I really focus on in half guard is I tell people, okay, for example, you start with an under hook. You already have your hooks switched, like in the Quota Guard from Lucas Lake right. And now the goal is to build up to a dogfight. No, it’s not a sweep, it’s just almost too easy, it’s like, I mean, you haven’t known the neat twist, or the hooks switched. So, you just have to build up to a dogfight. And that’s the goal is to build up to the dock, find the roots, well, you start in this position and then people will actually succeed at it because it’s not that complex anymore, and that’s really important. People have to succeed a lot of times, but they also have to experience some failures. So, it’s a balance of the tasks shouldn’t be too easy, but it shouldn’t also be too hard. 

So, for example, if people get that, I can get them to building up to a dogfight I do another game where they start in the dogfight and I tell them okay, now you guys are both stuck in a dogfight now. Sweep the other guy and take his back and the other person should defend or escape, then we can do another game. For example, you start in half guards, and the game is, the top and the bottom guy, it should pump the floor under hooks. So, it’s just if you get to on-hook, you get a point start again, you get an on-hook, you get a point start again. So, it’s like you can, this way they can fight for a certain goal in one minute. I don’t know how many times you can come in and pump in one minute, maybe five times each, depending on how good you are. 

And then after people made all these games, so they made many experiences, getting an under hook, switching the hook, building up to a dogfight. What do I do when I’m at a dogfight? If people have succeeded in the small tasks, then we can do positional sparring from half guard, because people actually, they already had some complexity and some resistance but in a way, where they could handle the resistance and complexity because it wasn’t overwhelming, right. And you can do that step by step, you don’t have to go from I get an under-hook to half guard sparring. So, you can, what I like to do is, I do many small parts. And then I take two parts together, for example, getting an under hook and switching the hooks for the neat with for example after Lucas Lake Guard, then I do build to the dogfight and sweeping from the bug dog fight is a new sparring again. So, you kind of chunk things together again until the big picture arises. I don’t know if you get what I mean.

Sonny: Yeah, that does make a lot of sense. So, I’m looking at it from the perspective of, we could have, positional sparring being common, already, but this is, figuring out the ways, what you’re suggesting is more than just positional sparring. And it seems like it’s, the ways to break it down. So, there’s even, the micro positions or the little micro battles and building out a way up from there.

Andy: Yeah, and the point is, for example, it’s always still a task, right. I don’t tell them, okay, I show you know how I build up from half guard to get to the dogfight and I put my hand here and then I make space. I push it forward so I can get my bottom knee out and stuff like that. I don’t, yeah, maybe I give cues for some people who need some help. But it’s not like I tell them mimic me, it’s like, that’s your start, that’s your end. Figure it out, right. And people will figure it out. If the task is small enough, people will figure it out, I can guarantee you, if they don’t figure it out, it just means the task is still too complex. So, you have to make it smaller.

Sonny: That makes sense. So, it’s interesting. It really links with that building then of concepts, just through this chunking it down, this gamification and making it smaller, because, I mean, there has been discussion in the Grappling community for a while, like what’s better, you know, technique or drilling or concepts? And it seems like you’re putting forward the idea of it’s not a binary choice. It’s not it’s not drilling or concepts. It’s another option of gamification that kind of combines both of those elements together where you’re doing the reps over, but you’re doing the reps of the concepts in time.

Andy: Yes, I feel like this is like some buzzwords or sayings like this repetition without repetition, right. Or like another really smart saying, I forgot who said it right now, it’s, don’t repeat the same solution again and again, but solve the same problem again and again. That’s basically it. I feel like it is reading in jujitsu. It’s more like, okay, here is the perfect form, right? It’s like, some guy with a black belt shows you the perfect technique, the perfect form of something and then you try to mimic it and mimic it until it looks exactly like that. And I think that’s catastrophic. And also, that’s not how wrestlers drill, drilling in wrestling for some reason, probably because it’s a bit more dynamic on the feet. It’s not that rigid, that’s this rarely. If wrestler drills, it’s always a little bit more playfulness, a little bit more activity from your partner. It’s not that fixed, I feel like, at least that’s my experience. Yeah.

Sonny: Okay. Yeah. So yeah, that importance of you making it playful and making it fun while getting those repetitions in of the repetitions is just solving the same problem, not a set way to actually solve it. And that’s interesting, because that I think people will like when you say it, kind of understand, that makes a lot of sense. But I don’t think there’s many people out there who, explicitly have come up with a set of games for Grappling, that is like the okay, these are all the little games that can be played. I think that’s a very unique way of looking at things with a lot of avenues to explore.

Andy: Yeah, that’s the point because I actually want to encourage people not to mimic myself, because that’s actually the thing I’m fighting against. Right. 

Sonny: Okay. Yeah.

Andy: I want to give people a sense, like, okay, that’s how I do stuff because I have a different goal. And if you understand what I’m saying, you can come up with all kinds of games, yourself, and even depending on the XX want you to write if you’ve trained for IBJJF it would be different games, if you’ve trained for MMA it would be different games, but the point is, nest your learning in tasks and in games and not in the wrong sense of perfection of a certain form, because I feel like this literally does not exist at all. And that’s just what much martial arts lead into, I feel like it’s like this real Zen like or Eastern notion of the perfect form and practicing the one kick 1000 times and all this just kind of romantic view about martial arts. And if you take a look at a real fight at a real match, the whole stuff is dirty, the stuff is messy, but it’s functional, it just works. And if you try to get perfect at one move, what I argue is that means you invest too much time in getting really good at a really specific time thing, which means you probably suck at many things.

Sonny: That could be positive could be possible too. So, I mean, that idea of the perfect form if we want to, you know, if we look at the top people in the sport or,  sometimes in MMA as well, like the names that come to mind for me is,  like a George St. Pierre, Marcella Garcia or any of John Danaher students really is these guys at the moment would probably, say like, my gut feeling is that their technique is just, they’re getting by with superior technique or, their techniques are that much better I still, you know, maybe that’s just the way that you know, with the conventional way of thinking, but when we look at the results that they’re currently getting, they’re still the ones winning. So, I guess the traditional way of thinking would be that, okay, well, they’re the ones winning, we should copy their techniques that they’re doing. If we still get a lot of success with that, what’s the harm you think in, in taking that route?

Andy: So, what you’re saying is like, this guy’s master certain techniques, so why shouldn’t we just focus on these techniques right?

Sonny: Yeah, well, you know, just copy the–

Andy: I mean, there’s some point to it. Actually, yeah, I don’t, like I said, it’s all tools. It’s not like I say, I don’t teach techniques, because I only want to intuition, that that’s not right. Because I feel like it really depends on many, things. For example, that’s a really big criticism I have for the community, how they think about learning and coaching. For some reason, they always think that competitors are really good learners or teachers. Because I personally feel like because intuition, and if you train twice a day, six times a week, you will get this intuition no matter what you do. Let’s take a look at some of these guys. They train obsessively for years and decades. Of course, they will be fucking awesome, great loss fighters. Of course, that’s not the point, the point is, like me, I have a lot of people, they work full time, they are lawyers, they are engineers, they train twice a week for one and a half hour. They cannot get to that level of GSP or Marcello Garcia. Well, they don’t get there anyways, but they don’t get there with the same way people learned it right, because of the sheer amount of sacrifice they made, the sheer amount of work they put in. What I’m arguing is, if you train twice a day, every day for five years and you are not great at what you are doing, you must really suck.

Sonny: Yeah.

Andy: So, that’s not my standard. My standard is like, I teach people who train twice a week for two hours. Because that’s actually the hard problem of coaching in my opinion

Sonny: Yeah, well the majority of people are going to be in that situation, which is a good point, most people don’t end up competing, most people are training for fun so that I can see how that will then cater, if we’re making those games, and the smaller game making,  and those smaller games and making it fun, that’s actually going to cater to a wider audience and then the competitors if they want can, you tailor it more to them if they have to go down a different path.

Andy: And the other thing is like, I speak out of my ass. And maybe that’s a bit arrogant to say, but somebody buy DVDs, or instructions I watch of high-level competitors. And I feel like, dude, you don’t understand what you’re talking about. And obviously this guy would wreck me. I mean, I’m a hobbyist also, this guy would kill me on the mat. But not because he understands the biomechanics, the concepts, the principles better, not because he’s a better teacher, not because he’s a better learner. Because he made a sacrifice I did not make, the sacrifice was training full time every day, and sacrificing a lot of things. Many people are not willing to sacrifice, and I think we always have to keep that in mind, that’s a big part of getting good at anything. That’s what I was arguing with the intuition anyways, it’s just you experience, right.

Sonny: Yeah, that makes sense. So, like, I’ve had the thoughts before that, you know, obviously the people training, at Danaher would probably if they are training full time, they’d probably be just as good if they go on any of the other top coaches if they’re that committed. And I mean, there’s probably some people I think in everyone’s gym where you just think, well, okay, this, person will probably be good no matter where they go, because they’ve got that commitment to training and  they’re putting in the hours and, they’re going to be good no matter who they’re training under. And I guess then that that makes sense that they’ve learnt not so much how to be able to repeat those techniques or concepts or principles, but they’ve just learned through hours and just that repetition of solving problems and failing to solve it. 

Andy: Just think about it, if the average class, let’s say, just to simplify stuff is one-hour technique, drills and repetition, one hour rolling, okay? So, if we just assume that these guys learn nothing in the first part of technical training, if they train twice a day, six times a week, they still have 12 hours of rolling every week. That’s the amount of rolling that hobbyist maybe gets in a month or so. Right. So, we should not over value the way these guys train. Obviously, not all of them, I know for a fact that many coaches out there are doing good work, right. I’m not saying, I have figured it out and the community sucks. I’m saying, what I see is that many people who do it kind of wrong, but some still do a good job, obviously. For example, I listened to a lot of podcasts of Damien Maya lately, and actually seems like he’s doing stuff fairly common to how I do it. And he actually said, in a podcast, I think it was, I don’t remember when the podcast was, but he actually said, the way he teaches now is completely different from how he learned and he uses a lot more of the stuff I’m talking about a little bit more of many positional sparring, playful, aiming stuff like this. And that I felt like was really interesting, like the guy who many argue is the greatest grappling, MMA and who obviously achieved this point. By the way, he trends argues that he doesn’t teach the way he learned in the beginning. Right.

Sonny: And I think that’s the area of interest is that, you know, a few people are talking about and is coming to the forefront because, it is this, you know, like a change from how everyone was taught which, my gut feeling is that I guess how the Jujitsu was originally taught, was really people were keeping secrets, and it was still, this secretive arms, I’ll show you this and but don’t show this, this is the secret move. And that’s, from that martial arts background, I think where the idea is you just have to have the secret weapon and they never–

Andy: Yeah, it’s like that, this notion that the master or the Sensei, he knows something you don’t know. And I feel like this is just plain false. Like, if you take a look at great musicians, they just have so much experience that they played so many years. They just act intuitively; they just have the skill. It’s not like they have a trick in their sleeve, right. It’s embodied in their being, it’s like, they care so much, it’s just part of who they are. And I think like, it’s important that we have to realize if we, our students want to achieve this kind of mastery, we all have to learn that it’s not about knowing certain things. It’s just about immersing ourselves in the task, getting familiar with all the situations that arise again and again, experiencing it over and over again until we get a kind of embodied sense of the situation, right.

Sonny: That makes a lot of the comparison with music because I was thinking then it’s kind of like, when people start jamming in a band and you’ve seen when a solo ends or something and the guitarist will just look at the drummer and they have that connection of just putting in the hours being able to sense just know and sense what’s going on.

Andy: Yeah, and the goal basically is, like I said, people like Damon, Maya, Marcel Garcia, Gordon Ryan, all these people, they have the experience because they trained so much, obviously, and probably, I don’t know, but I guess the training at the basement of Ghana is also very good. So, the combination of good training and experience of course, they are really good. 99% of the Jiu-Jitsu community are not people who train all the time. It’s like, how do I get this? How do I increase the experience they get? How do I find a mix? How do I find a way? So, they don’t have to practice for 10 years straight until they are somehow competent. How can I increase all this? And that’s what I’m trying to do. It’s not like I’m trying to skip stuff, it’s not like I’m saying, yeah, I just have to teach them the right techniques. No, I’m saying it’s a process, they have to get the experience, they have to develop sense of situations, they have to get intuition. But how can I speed it up a little bit? How can I make these experiences a bit more powerful? Or maybe how can I get more experiences in a certain timeframe? Or maybe how can I give them the right experiences, right? It’s like, I mean, I feel like I’m an experienced dealer. I give them experiences, which help them to get better, and I maybe somehow can guide their learning by designing a practice which gives them more experiences and the right experiences. So, they can learn faster, but there’s no shortcut.

Sonny: Yeah, yes, certainly, still no shortcuts. But, I agree with what you’re saying and if we go to the concepts, verse drilling debate that happened, I was always thinking, Well, you know, if you have someone who trains twice a week, just a regular person, as well as a hobbyist, then drilling might be a more efficient use of time and that, just get some reps in here, some of the basic foundational moves, just rip it out, use your two hours a week in the most efficient time, in the most efficient way, but I think it makes sense that breaking just that drilling down even further to that, not drilling techniques but drilling and repeating those experiences. It makes a lot of sense to how people can pick up. 

Andy: And another thing, I think it’s really important, it’s not like a master. And that’s the word I use a lot because that’s what I’m interested in, right, mastery. And of any kind, because you can actually learn a lot of a lot about mastery in combat sports, if you take a look at mastery in music or whatever, it’s like, not everything you do is intuitive, right. There are still situations maybe where you experience something new, while you have to rely on these concepts or principles by your aesthetics. Maybe if you are in a match, or in a fight, there are strategic and tactical elements you have to think about. So, what intuition also does is, it frees up your mind. If you don’t have to think about the stuff you do all the time, then you have more time to think about maybe not more important, but the stuff that is special to the situation, the strategy, the tactics. Maybe a problem arises you’re not familiar with so you can think about your aesthetic or your rule of thumb, but and that’s why I still teach them right.

Sonny: Yeah, I like that way of thinking about that intuition. So, you’re not spending that time thinking that’s what another jerk have made in the past, while you’re thinking, say someone’s thinking about a concepts, will it be too late, have I already hit the move that I’ve drilled 1000 times? But if it’s an intuitive thing, then that makes sense that you you’re not thinking about a concept or principle. It’s just when you–

Andy: Yeah, and I mean, I found it somewhat, I read how far Philosophy and Science, and I say that as someone who studied both, drifted away from everyday life, right, people can relate to a lot of these things. And that’s what I’m saying, is just to think about what you do every day. The stuff I’m talking about you experience from the moment you wake up, if you drive in a car, driving a car. I mean, in Germany, everybody drives with gear, right? So, you have to do a lot of stuff. You have to shift the gears, you have to look at the traffic, you do all this stuff, it’s incredibly complex. But you don’t do it by consciously thinking about it. And if you would, you would probably do a crash, because you drive the car you don’t think about it, you do everything right. You listen to music, you talk maybe to your wife who’s sitting next to you, and you do all the stuff without much conscious thought, it’s not like a new thing. This is the natural mode of how most people do most of the things they do in life. And, for example, if I’m a scientist, if I work scientifically, that’s a really small part of my life. It’s a method, it’s a tool, it’s a technique, it’s not what being a human is really about. We’re not robots, we’re not like, yeah, this is my perfect system algorithm. It’s like no, we are mostly actually Intuitively with almost everything we do.

Sonny: And it makes sense that we are changing the train from an arms race or collection of techniques to just that inbuilt experience and more time for intuition. I think that’s a very interesting way of looking at things and I think we can explore that a lot more into the future. I think there’s a lot of room to discuss this even further, but it’s been a fascinating conversation. Is there anything you’d like to finish up on, that we haven’t touched on?

Andy: Yeah. Of course, I feel like what we didn’t touch today, but maybe we’ll do at another time if you like, is the whole notion of systems and system thinking. Because what I don’t want people to think is like, this guy doesn’t teach any systems, this guy doesn’t teach any techniques, and that would be wrong. I just feel like the overall goal for me is not to teach a technique or a certain system, I still use them and actually, systems are some. The other thing I’m really interested about, it’s the one thing, is all this intuition and mastery stuff, the other thing is systems. So yeah, I still use them, I can already say so much. It’s not all intuitive, but a lot of things. 

Sonny: Beautiful. That’s, if you’d be happy to come back on we do a part two, I think that’s a perfect lead in to, to have another discussion about the systems, because we’ve had a great discussion here about intuition.

Andy: Yeah, for sure sounds fun.

Sonny: Excellent. So, just finishing up, is there anything you would like to or just mention how people can get in touch with you or how they can follow you. And I know you’ve got a couple of projects in the works you might want to mention.

Andy: Yeah, so obviously, my name is Andy, my tech on Instagram is at School of Grappling. I mostly do stuff there, I have a Twitter account, but I don’t really get Twitter, it’s not for me. So, I basically just use it to share some interesting links, since you cannot share links on Instagram, which is really bad. And I also have a homepage, schoolofgrappling.com, where it’s more like, in addition to the stuff I write on Instagram, where I can maybe get more in depth, write bigger articles, embed some videos and stuff. And I will probably do more in the future on my homepage. And the next projects, yeah, just, you will see,

Sonny: We will see, well hopefully everyone’s interested now after–

Andy: I can already tell you that. I feel like the ADC studies I have done, right now, I’m not that interested in Jiu-jitsu or doing statistics for jujitsu. So, I’m currently focusing a lot on Grappling and MMA.

Sonny: Okay, yeah, because that was something else that you’ve done a lot of with work on statistics, and maybe we’ll save that discussion for next time.

Andy: God’s willing

Sonny: And maybe we can do a third one as well. 

Andy: Yeah. I’d love to. It’s been very insightful, insightful conversation. Because Yeah, I really feel like this is something that it’s pushing boundaries in that there’s a lot more to, to develop because as you said, it’s not the way things have generally been taught in the martial arts as a whole. So, it opens up a lot of room for development. And that’s exciting. So, yeah, thank you very much for having this discussion. And we will make sure that, we will chat again and about systems. And thank you very much.

Sonny: Yeah, thank you guys. Thanks for listening. See you.

Narrator: And that concludes this episode of the Sonny Brown Breakdown. Please leave a review of the iTunes Store and check out, sunnybrown.net, that links to all my social media. Thanks

Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – How to get better faster!

Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – How to get better faster!

Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Why the change?

If you are looking to improve, you need to become a self-reliant learner.

Typically we only spend a few hours each week in class, and this is simply not enough to progress in the sport! You need to spend time outside of class learning!

Prepare your mind to learn

  • Try to be in a happy, accepting state.
  • Try to not be negative about what has been going on in your day
  • If you need sleep and can afford to get more rest, SLEEP! If you have bad breath and that bothers you, BRUSH! If you have little pet peeves, which are bothering you, FIX THEM. The more that you have to keep your brain from wandering to the better!!!)
  • You must do something calming yet slightly active for exactly 10 minutes before class. If you do warm ups, then this is a good start but consider walking on the treadmill for 10 minutes and listening to music before you start your training. Stretching and listening to music is also good.


Establish an emotional connection

Why do we want to do better?

  • Competition
  • Exercise
  • Weight Loss
  • Self defense
  • Social Interaction
  • Learn a new skill

Establishing an emotional connection makes you learn faster. Think of all the subjects in high school that you didn’t want to learn. They were the most difficult ones for you while others that you enjoyed seems to be easy.

What style do I learn best?

  • Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.


Visual (Spatial)

  • If you are a visual learner, use images, pictures, and other visual media to help you learn. Incorporate as much imagery into your visualizations as possible.
  • Use mind maps. Use color and pictures in place of text, wherever possible. If you don’t use the computer, make sure you have at least four different color pens.
  • Diagrams can help you visualize the links between parts of a system, for example, major engine parts or the principle of sailing in equilibrium. Replace words with pictures, and use color to highlight significant and minor links.
  • Use BJJ books and try to recall the step by step images in the book


Aural (Auditory-Musical-Rhythmic)

  • Use sound recordings to provide a background and help you get into visualizations. For example, use a recording of you or the instructor talking through the techniques step by step. If you don’t have these recordings, consider creating them while training or writing them down and recording them after class.
  • Use mnemonics and acrostics, make the most of rhythm and rhyme, or set techniques to a jingle or part of a song.


Verbal (Linguistic)

  • If you are a verbal learner, try the techniques that involve speaking and writing. Find ways to incorporate more speaking and writing in techniques. For example, talk yourself through techniques or use recordings of your techniques or combos for repetition.
  • When you read content aloud, make it dramatic and varied. Instead of using a monotone voice to go over a procedure, turn it into a lively and energetic speech worthy of the theater. Not only does this help your recall, you get to practice your dramatic presence!


Physical (Bodily-Kinesthetic)

  • If you use action, movement and hands-on work in your learning activities. Having someone do the technique to you first is going to be your best option. Also drilling the move and going through details.
  • For visualization, focus on the sensations you would expect in each scenario. For example, if you are visualizing the feel of the gi collar or sleeve. Where your weight needs to be. Often you will feel yourself have to move around while visualizing.
  • Keep in mind as well that writing and drawing diagrams are physical activities, so don’t neglect these techniques. Perhaps use big sheets of paper and large color markers for your diagrams. You then get more action from the drawing.


Logical (Mathematical)

  • If you are a logical learner, aim to understand the reasons behind your techniques. Knowing more detail behind your techniques helps you memorize and learn the material that you need to know. Explore the links between various methods, and note them down.
  • Think of concepts
  • Also, remember that association often works well when it is illogical and irrational. It doesn’t matter how logical two items are together. You have a better chance of recalling them later if you have made the association illogical. Your brain may protest at first! So think about giving concepts or techniques funny names.
  • You may sometimes over analyze certain parts of your learning or training. Over analyzing can lead to analysis paralysis. You may be busy, but not moving towards your goal. If you find, you are over analyzing stop! Take what you have and start doing. Often people try to take in a whole system of techniques and its tough to digest.


Social (Interpersonal)

  • If you are a social learner, aim to work with others as much as possible. Try to hit as many classes as possible. If this is not available, then consider forming your group with others at a similar level. They don’t have to be from the same school or class.
  • Role-playing or slow rolling is a technique that works well with others, whether its one on one or with a group of people. Drilling with training partners in a slower scripted grappling session works great!
  • Mind maps and systems diagrams are great to work on outside of class. You can even use sites like Mind Mup to create them and share with your friends. Allowing them to add info or make changes.


Solitary (Intrapersonal)

  • Use books, DVDs, blogs and other media to learn as much as possible then ask questions of your instructors to help clarify gaps in your learning.
  • Align your goals and objectives with personal beliefs and values. If there is misalignment, you may run into issues with motivation or confidence.
  • Keep a journal of techniques, thoughts and feelings about the classes you attend.
  • When you associate and visualize, highlight what you would be thinking and feeling at the time you made the journal entries. You may want to do most of your visualization and association in private.


Phases of learning process

  • LEARNING PHASE: This is the initial phase. Generally this is when an instructor is showing you a technique for the first time and you are just beginning to start to learn it. Try to watch the instructor carefully and break the move into 4-5 small chunks. Write them down if you want.
  • RE-ITERATION PHASE: Begin to drill the techniques. Try to replay the steps in your head. Saying them under your breath if you want to.
  • REPEAT: Repeat the above steps for all the techniques
  • DO: Try to put yourself in the situations you learned that class
  • RETAINMENT PHASE: At the end of rolling try to recall each step of each technique you learned in class. Then later that night when you are going to bed do a mental check to see if you can remember the techniques you learned.
  • RE-DO PHASE: The next day in the morning commit a few minutes to trying to remember the techniques you learned. Using as many senses as possible to recall them. Saying them out loud or writing them down will help too. The last part is to work them into the next grappling session you have along with the new techniques you learned that day.

Block Vs Random Training

Block Training

Blocked Practice is what you see in gyms across America. These are all of the ‘traditional’ practice techniques that we thought were best. Block is when you work on one particular skill or technique at a time – think drilling 100 arm bars at a time

Random Training

Random Practice is a motor learning technique that creates a random and highly variable environment for development. Rather than focusing on just one skill or technique at a time. This will combine a number of techniques and skills in a random fashion


Block Vs Random in BJJ

We already do this!

The great part is most gyms already are setup this way. You first learn via block than random. However you as a person need to make changes to make sure you are getting the most benefit from it!

Block Training

  • Technique Learning
  • Situational Drilling with no variables

This is still necessary in my opinion. You need to learn the skill in an organized fashion first. Concentrate on learning the technique and establish links to previous techniques or ideas.

Random Training

  • Live Grappling
  • Slow Rolling
  • Situational Drills with changing variables

When rolling try to put yourself into positions that you are still learning or have just learned to refine the new technique. Don’t always rely on tried and true techniques. Allow yourself to fail.

So what are you saying?

During the ‘extra’ batting practice sessions:

  • Each player in the Block Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a block pattern (15 curveballs, 15 fast-balls, 15 change-ups)
  • Each player in the Random Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a random pattern (curve, fast-ball, fast-ball, change-up, curve, etc…)
  • Two acquisition tests were performed to measure progress during the six week experiment. At the end of the acquisition phase a random transfer test was performed where all the players received 45 pitches and the number of ‘quality hits’ were measured.


I don’t believe you! Show me stats!

A study was done looking into the effects of Block vs Random Practice on shooting a basketball. Students were divided up into two groups. One was trained in a block fashion (shooting the same shot repeatedly) and the other in a random fashion (shooting a variety of different shots). During the transfer test the experimenters measured the students’ success on their first shot attempt (a very game-like measurement because in a game you only get one chance to shoot a given shot). The results were again consistent with other experiments and field tests looking into the effects of Block vs Random Practice.



I need more!

During the ‘extra’ batting practice sessions:

  • Each player in the Block Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a block pattern (15 curveballs, 15 fast-balls, 15 change-ups)
  • Each player in the Random Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a random pattern (curve, fast-ball, fast-ball, change-up, curve, etc…)
  • Two acquisition tests were performed to measure progress during the six week experiment. At the end of the acquisition phase a random transfer test was performed where all the players received 45 pitches and the number of ‘quality hits’ were measured.




Lizard Brain – Amygdala

“The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny.    ― Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe.

The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away. It likes a vendetta and has no trouble getting angry.

The lizard brain cares what everyone else thinks, because status in the tribe is essential to its survival.

A squirrel runs around looking for nuts, hiding from foxes, listening for predators, and watching for other squirrels. The squirrel does this because that’s all it can do. All the squirrel has is a lizard brain.

The only correct answer to ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ is ‘Because it’s lizard brain told it to.’ Wild animals are wild because the only brain they posses is a lizard brain.

The lizard brain is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.

The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.”

So how does this affect my learning in BJJ?

  • This is the part of the brain that tells you that you shouldn’t do this technique because you will look dumb in front of the group if you fail.
  • This is also the part of the brain that tells you that you shouldn’t grapple with the people that are better than you because you are afraid you will lose.
  • This is also why many people choose not to compete even if it would help their learning process.

Show me a video!

Watch all of this guys stuff! They are really good!! Watch Trevor Ragan

How do I fix it?

  • Don’t try to fight it. You will lose. Acknowledge it and decide to do the opposite of what it says.
  • The lizard brain hates change. So make things random. Are you normally a guard player, try to get on top and be a top player for a bit. If you are a top player be on your back.
  • Treat your sense of fear and anxiety as a benchmark for things that you need to work on and get excited about making improvements there.
  • Everything is pretty scary at first. Driving a car, riding a bike and the first time you grappled, but once your lizard brain got over the fear it became old hat and now you barely think about it.

Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.

While the concept is strongly tied to animal psychology and behavior, it can also apply to many situations involving human beings. When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change.


Learned Helplessness in BJJ

A great example of this is how they train elephants. When they are young they tie an elephant to a tree. The elephant tries to break free but is too small to break the tree. After days it gives up. Then when the elephant is bigger and could actually break the tree it doesn’t believe it can so it doesn’t even try.

How does this translate to learning in BJJ? Well when you first start you are often tapped out several times. This establishes a helplessness mindset. The great thing is that being aware of this helps you stay out of this trap. Everyone is human! Once you acquire enough skill you will be able to beat that person. The higher skilled practitioners are not unbeatable. He or she might just be right now with your current skill set but tomorrow is a different story.

Three stages of learning

  • Cognitive Stage- During this initial stage of motor learning, the goal is to develop an overall understanding of the skill. The learner must determine what the objective of the skill is and begin to process environmental factors that will affect their ability to produce the skill. The teacher must do their best to provide an optimal environment for learning, which may mean removing large distractors.  During this stage, the learner mostly relies on visual input and trial and error to guide learning.
  • Associative Stage – During this stage, the learner begins to demonstrate a more refined movement through practice. Now that the learner has had some practice and has identified various stimuli that may occur, they can focus on “how to do” moving on from the “what to do” in the first stage. Here, visual cues become less important and proprioceptive cues become very important. Proprioceptive cues refer to the learner focusing more on how their body is moving in space and what input is being felt from their joints and muscles. The more practice, the more proprioceptive input the learner receives to aide learning.  Therefore, the more practice the better!
  • Autonomous Stage – During this final stage of learning, the motor skill becomes mostly automatic. Progression to this level of learning allows the learner to perform the skill in any environment with very little cognitive involvement compared to the first stage.


Learn more about the stages

Over Researching

Don’t get in this habit! This happens when you first start and you want to know everything about everything! Your brain can’t process all that data at one time. You have to cut it up into bite sized chunks. No more than 30-40 minutes learning. As far as a technique number no more than 4-5. Then get into the art of doing! Once you feel you have really learned those skills, do the next 4-5. Allow your brain to digest the information that you have just fed it.

Also get specific! Don’t say I want to learn more from guard. Say you want to learn 4 sweeps from full guard. This will narrow down your dataset and help you master certain positions.

Research – Do – Analyze your mistakes – Research – Do – Reanalyze

Failing to get better – Do’s

Failures, screw-ups, and unknowns help you build resilience and character, give you insights about your work, yourself, and others, enrich your experiences, test your emotional intelligence, and add to your knowledge and skills. To gain the most from them, you could practice the following dos and don’ts on how to respond:

  • Feel and Reflect: Fully experience the emotions that come with failure before you jump to the next thing. You owe it to yourself to process the feelings (e.g. sadness, fear or anger) without getting overly attached to them. Speeding up and keeping yourself busy can cause you to miss out on vital lessons. To reap the nuggets, reflect and take a close look at what went awry. Did the mistake arise from a well-intentioned error of judgment or just plain carelessness? Reflecting on what didn’t work helps you learn from your mistakes and get on the right path.
  • Claim Appropriate Responsibility: Blaming yourself for events that are outside your control or constantly rescuing others signals that you’re taking on too much responsibility. But step up to the plate when your involvement truly matters. Think about your role in the situation and decide what you can do differently and better, going forward. Acknowledge your limits. Do you need more training? Is your workload too much for you to cover?
  • Admit and Reframe : When you acknowledge your misstep, you free up your energy to refocus on next steps. Get real about what constitutes success–dedicated work and true grit, coupled with mistakes and uncertainty.
  • Take Effective Action :Forget the word “try.” Set out specific action steps that you must take. If you fail to complete them, regroup and reset. Although trying is better than not trying at all, it gives you wiggle room to avoid committed action. When you focus on doing, you drop the drama associated with trying.

Failures, Screw-ups, and Unknowns | Dyan Williams

Failing to get better – Don’ts

  • Blow Off Failure and Move On Too Quickly: Failure can trigger painful emotions. It can derail you, raise your self-doubt, and heighten your anxiety. It often brings unnecessary stigma and shame. To take the edge off, you might dismiss your failures as trivial or reinterpret them as successes. But adopting an unrealistic, Pollyanna attitude has serious drawbacks.
  • Blame and Make Excuses: When you don’t take ownership of your actions and choices, you miss out on the chance to correct course. Blaming others or external events can give you a sense of control, but makes it harder for you to effect change. While clueless colleagues or a poor economy might be contributing factors, dwelling on them doesn’t change much. Chastising yourself also adds barriers to bouncing back.
  • Deny and Cover Up: Ignoring and hiding your mistakes cause you to miss out on the valuable lessons they provide. You are bound to repeat them if you don’t shed light on them. Denying your role in the failure or that a failure occurred thwarts improvement. Find a supportive group or create a learning organization where goof-ups are openly discussed.
  • Give Up Easily :Stretching and growing involves facing uncertainty and having setbacks. If you are not willing to move beyond your comfort zone, you might feel safe, but surely limit your opportunities. While quitting is not in itself a bad choice, you want to make sure you’re not simply succumbing to fear of failure. This kind of relinquishment leads to regret.

Embracing failures doesn’t mean deliberately seeking it or creating a lax work environment. It’s not a call for reckless conduct and disregard of standards. Fear of failure can be healthy when it protects you and doesn’t paralyze you. Failure and mistakes have real consequences. Do what you must to avoid or minimize them.

Failures, Screw-ups, and Unknowns | Dyan Williams

Mistakes are feedback

To make mistakes proper feedback you need to categorize the mistake into one of three categories.

  • Fluke – Try not to lump everything into this category, but sometimes they happen. You get flying triangled in 10 seconds. That kind of stuff…. things you know how to defend but it just happened. Don’t worry about these. Keep positive, laugh it off and move on.
  • Error in the Process – Your technique was off. You left your arm out of position and you got armbarred. Ask your training partner what you could have done better then try to fix it. Use it as a tool for further learning.
  • Having no information – You are a new white belt and you got swept from De La Riva…. You have no idea what de la riva is… How can you be mad at making a mistake you have no knowledge about. Your mind has built up no memories of this position so it will fail. When these start to come up. Learn about that position. Ryan Hall is a great example of this. No one was doing 50/50 guard and he tore through people that had no clue about this position. So don’t blame yourself, learn about the position and combat it next time. Also don’t get mad at the position or the person doing it to you. Its a learning tool…they are preparing you for when it might happen in competition

Ask Why.. then why, how & what.

Ask yourself why you are doing a technique this way. Why are you are putting your hand on the collar? Why should my weight be here instead of there?

Understanding why will help you better understand every technique. Then you can start to form concepts and generalities that you can use to simplify your game.

If you want to go even further ask yourself Why, How and What. If you don’t know why you do something.. have you really learned it? This concept comes from Simon Sinek.

Don’t know why? Ask the instructor… They don’t know? Research it online

More videos!!

Becoming a self reliant learner

Use additional resources like:

  • Youtube
  • Books
  • DVDs
  • Magazines
  • Seminars
  • Podcasts

Much of these tips will overlap but with a few small differences


What you will find is everyone has generally the same idea on techniques for some of the smaller details will change. This is normal and most of the time both people can be right they are just doing the technique slightly different.


  • Question your source! Only get videos from people you have found to be good teachers. I will include a list of my subscriptions at the end.
  • Watch one technique or an idea then search for that same technique to get a different perspective. Do all the steps then do the next technique. No more than 4-5 techniques at one time.
  • Online watch a few videos and only watch something that you can conceptualize. Basically if you are new hold off on Berimbolo. Not to say that you can’t watch it, but it should merely be as fun activity rather than trying to actively learn
  • Write the name of the move down. Then take step by step notes on how to do it. Splitting it up into about 5 parts. I use my phone to take notes so I can access them easily. Evernote is a great app for this.
  • Say the steps out loud. Then try to visualize the video in your head and follow along.
  • Watch the videos again and see if you missed any piece of info. Yes it will take longer but I would rather have you learn a few techniques well, over learning a bunch poorly.
  • Then before class watch the videos one more time. Then try it in rolling. Lastly compare what happened to the video a last time. Often videos include small changes to make for defenses.


I actually prefer books over videos, but I think that is due to my learning style. The nice thing is that you can bring books with you.


  • Again question your source! Only get books from people you have found to be good teachers. I will include a list of my authors at the end.
  • Read one technique or idea. Do all the steps then do the next technique. No more than 4-5 techniques at one time. Write the name of the move down. Then take step by step notes on how to do it. Splitting it up into about 5 parts. Even though the technique is already written down, you should explain it in your own words.
  • Say the steps out loud. Then try to visualize the pictures in the book in your head and follow along.
  • Read the technique again and see if you missed any piece of info.
  • Only read and remark on about 4 techniques. Anymore than this and your mind starts to wander. Your brain will also reject it because it seems like a lot of work. To do all this for multiple techniques.


Ah DVDs I have hundreds of them!!! This is not the way to go. It lowers my bank account and I haven’t even cracked open half of them. So please take it from me. Buy one set. Go through it systematically then sell it online and buy another set. For this its a combo of Youtube and book theory.

  • Usually DVDs come in sets of 3, 4 or 5. Find the one with the most relevance to you! For example if you suck at half guard maybe pop in that DVD in even if its really the 3rd DVD. Unless it is teaching a system over the course of those DVDs.
  • Watch one technique Do all the steps then do the next technique. No more than 4-5 techniques at one time.
  • Write the name of the move down. Then take step by step notes on how to do it. Splitting it up into about 5 parts. I use my phone to take notes so I can access them easily.
  • Say the steps out loud. Then try to visualize the video in your head and follow along.
  • Watch the videos again and see if you missed any piece of info. Yes it will take longer but I would rather have you learn a few techniques well, over learning a bunch poorly.
  • Then before class watch the videos one more time. Then try it in rolling. Lastly compare what happened to the video a last time. Often videos include small changes to make for defenses.

Magazines and Podcasts

I love listening to podcasts and reading BJJ magazines, but this is not where I choose to learn technique. With these take a lighter approach to the learning process on these. Listen to podcasts and read magazines for more of the lifestyle of BJJ instead of techniques. It also helps you learn who some of the better instructors are and the big names in the sport. Many of the magazines have technique sections, but often they are very complex speciality moves to look cool in the magazine. If you are a high rank person give them a shot! If you are a low rank person read them over and try to get the concept of the technique. This will help you later when you start getting into more complex techniques.


Man! I have a love, hate relationship with seminars. They can be great and they can be terrible. I have probably attended 40+ seminars in my day. Most are 3 hours. Don’t expect to remember everything! If you can take notes… do it.. If they will let you video tape for sure do it… but often people won’t let you.


  • Take notes
  • Realize that you wont remember it all
  • Do the move the way the instructor asks…(Often you will encounter instructors that do things differently. For instance on armbars some people will say to always grab with your elbows and some will say to always grab with your hands. Do it their way while you are at their seminar.
  • Try your best to lock in the moves you like
  • Again if you can video tape it. If they won’t let you … ask if you can videotape yourself doing the move on your phone. Dont disturb the seminar by talking through the video. Just rep the move


There are a few things thats can help you learn just by changing your mindest.

  • Have positive expectations about class and about learning- If you come in with a great attitude you are more open to learning.
  • Anticipate the next move – When your coach is teaching, listen but also try to anticipate the next portion of the technique. This will get you in an inquisitive mindset. If you are right great! If you aren’t it’s much more likely to stick because it disrupted your current thought pattern
  • Accept feedback – If someone tells you that you are doing something wrong try to listen to them. Maybe they are right, maybe they are wrong but give what they are saying a chance. Again if you go in with a negative mindset you will never believe what they are telling you.
  • Focus on the positives – maybe you didn’t get the entire technique right or maybe you couldn’t pull it off live. I am willing to bet that you got certain aspects of the technique right. You just need to go back research more, then test more.

Carol Dweck – A Study on Praise and Mindsets

Ashley Merryman: Top Dog – The Science of Winning and Losing



Don’t let randomness change your attitude. Say you hit a particular move 50% of the time. One day you are doing the move live and you fail 5 times in a row. Often this will send someone into a negative attitude. Then your average will actually get a lot worse. Chances are over time you will hit the move 50% of the time but don’t allow random spots of failure change your mindset. Chances are you will get it the next 5 times.

That being said, you should go back and see if any other variables were at play. Was the person better defensively, was your timing off, did you forget a step. Take it as a learning tool and not something you failed at.

Boost your learning outside of BJJ

  • Do mental puzzles – This is a fun one to do with BJJ too. Try to figure out as many different way you can get to a certain technique or combo. Try to figure out if you can do moves from other positions. Also take stock of all the techniques you know from a certain position. If you can only think of a few, you probably just found your new early for learning.
  • Visualize and Walking Meditation – Pretty much every day I walk the dog and listen to music. This allows my brain better time to process. Often you will feel like you were on a 5 minute walk and it will be 40 minutes.
  • Eat right – Not only is it good for your body and learning in BJJ but its good for the mind.
  • Get some sunshine – Your brain needs vitamin D and melatonin
  • Get rest – Many researchers believe that rest is the most important part to learning. It is what locks it into your long term memory.

Become a teacher

When you are a white belt I don’t suggest this, but it your are a Blue or higher this is a great way to learn. It really makes you figure out techniques. The why that I was talking about earlier! Once you have the why, it makes the doing part a lot easier. Teaching also helps build up your confidence. The more confident you are the less likely you are to feel ashamed if you make a mistake in front of the group.

Don’t recreate the wheel

One of the best ways to get better is to research a person rather than a particular  position or technique.

Try to find someone roughly your same size. Read up about their training and their style. Try to copy it at first then make it your own. Copy someone that is already in  the spot you want to be in. They have created a training plan already you just have to follow it.

20 hours not 10,000

Most people have heard the idea that you have to do something  for 10,000 hours to master something.  This seems pretty daunting but it has been shown that you can become fairly proficient at something after just 20 hours.  Especially if it is very specific.

Essentially about 20 minutes twice a day or one 40 minute session for a month.

So do you want to get better at submissions from butterfly guard? Spend two 20 minute sessions per day learning about submissions from butterfly. After a month you should be really good at submissions from butterfly. You have to be specific though and you can’t double up on skills and expect great results.


Mind maps

Use them!

Have two mind maps

1) Techniques that you know

2) Grappling system complete with all the defenses you have been presented with. So say one of your submissions from guard is armbar. Standard armbar. Then on your mind map some of the children of that armbar on your mindmap should be all the defenses you have seen so far and the counter to those defenses. This map will be massive but will also help your coach come tournament time. It will lay out all that you plan to do and your reactions to thier counters. Try to also do it in a way where a counter can lead back to another point much like a flow chart.

Rolling is great for testing these. If a new defense comes up. Get excited. It’s another to add to your mind map and you get to research how to combat that one!

Types of sparring partners

In live rolls you will mean 5 types of people. Here is how you should handle each one!

People way worse than you – Work your new and unrefined techniques when going with these partners. Allow yourself to try new things and don’t use your “A” game

People slightly worse than you – Try to work on more of your refined techniques mixed in with a few new tricks. Use some of your A game

Your equals – Use your main go to techniques and log the mistakes you found

People slightly better than you – Work on some of your defenses and try to impose your “A” game on them. Allow yourself to fail in new positions

People way better than you – Work on your defenses. Still try to out technique your opponent but realize the real learning is coming in your defenses.

Flow rolling with a purpose

In my eyes there are two types of flow rolling.

Flow rolling

1) Both people grappling with little to no resistance. Both are trying out new moves, having fun and just seeing where the roll takes them. This turns into an almost active meditation state and is great for having fun and learning new areas of the gym.

Flow rolling with a purpose

2)  in the second situation one person goes in with the idea of drilling a specific set of techniques. Their partner helps them to get in these situations and allows them to do the move that they wish to do. Then they begin to add small amounts of resistance at those particular moves and presented different defenses to those particular moves. So you will continue to grapple just like your flow drilling but actively trying to put the main trading partner into those positions they want to learn.

Final thoughts

  • Be specific in what you want to learn – example I want to learn 3 sweeps from deep half guard
  • Be random in the way that you learn the techniques. Learning one technique then learning all the defenses and variations of that technique so nothing surprises you.
  • Use more senses – Hear, Watch, Write it out, say it out loud, recreate it on video
  • Get much needed rest
  • Ask why – if you know the why you are much more likely to understand how
  • Bring a positive attitude everytime to class and your learning
  • Don’t allow yourself to slip into learned helplessness
  • Become a self reliant learner
  • Take failures as learning tools
  • Have fun

Resources on Youtube

Books to read

The X-Guard: Gi & No Gi Jiu-Jitsu
by Marcelo Garcia

The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Globetrotter
by Christian Graugart

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Theory and Technique
by Renzo Gracie

The Complete Guide to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu
by Rodrigo Gracie

Encyclopedia of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Volume 1
by Rigan Machado

Drill To Win: 12 Months to Better Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
by Andre Galvao  .

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: The Path to the Black Belt
by Rodrigo Gracie

Jiu-Jitsu University
by Saulo Ribeiro

Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu: Revolutionizing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu
by Dave Camarillo

A Roadmap for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu
by Stephan Kesting

Passing the Guard (Vol 1): Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Details and Techniques
by Ed Beneville

The Grappler’s Handbook Vol.1: Gi and No-Gi Techniques: Mixed Martial Arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Submission Fighting
by Jean Jacques Machado

Strategic Guard: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – Details and Techniques
by Joe Moreira

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: The Closed Guard
by B.J. Penn

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Submission Grappling Techniques
by Royler Gracie

Roll On ! – Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – How to get better faster!

Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – How to get better faster! – For Source Click Here

ISKA No Gi Grappling Video – NSW Open 2014

ISKA No Gi Grappling Video – NSW Open 2014


U83kg ISKA No Gi Grappling

U83kg ISKA No Gi Grappling

Competed in my first ISKA tournament in the u83kg ISKA No Gi Grappling division. Had 3 Matches nd won them all by submission to take out 1st place. Was a good day out and never a dull moment as ISKA has so many different forms and styles all going on at once it really is quite spectacular.  The martial arts tricking divisions were particularly impressive with the level of athleticism on display.

All three of the matches are in the video below.

Peace, love and raging water,
Sonny Brown