Two Paths

two-pathsShow up.
Learn 3-5 techniques.
Drill them.
8-10 years later…you’re a black belt.

This is the path many of us have taken in our BJJ practice.
Many of my former students are on this path.
At least one of my former students will be a black belt this year a few more the next.
I will be so happy for each of every one of them as they achieve this milestone.
This is the path most traveled…
But there is another path.
I’ve written about this before.

It’s one that is based on developing feel and not collecting techniques.
It’s one that is more interested in accruing ability rather than time.
It’s one that is more focused on drilling than rolling.
It’s one that focuses more on training partners and less on teachers.
It’s one that values skill more than rank.
It’s one that puts fraternity at a higher premium than hierarchy.
It’s one that is puts innovation above tradition.

I’m doing my best to stay on this path,
the path less traveled.
But others are joining me.
And over time we’ll see where this path leads.

Will it get us “there” faster?
Will it get us further?
Will we enjoy the journey more?
We’ll see.

(Part of my journey is my time in the gym.
If yours is, too, check out

Ranking, Merit, etc

bELT-SYSTEMMy first day in BJJ I got to witness a belt promotion.
This little guy who was whupping all of our butts
was getting an upgrade.
There was no formality, no pomp or circumstance,
just a recognition of merit.

As my days added up in BJJ,
I got to witness many more promotions.
Some formal, some informal,
some meritorious,
and some real head scratchers.
Not all (insert belt color here) belts are created equal.

I have asked many instructors what they base their criteria upon.
Some had objective measures
but I was so incredibly disappointed to find out how subjective belts were.
Perhaps the best characterization of this subjectivity is:
Rank is concurrent with realized potential

While I want everyone to realize their own unique potential,
I find this no good reason to have no objective measures of rank.
There needs to be an upper and lower limit of skill for each belt.
I don’t think any governing body needs to enforce this.
I think tournament competition and business competition can sort this out just fine.

But I don’t want merit based ranking to stop there.
In the Martial Arts,
there are various ways to measure ability:
-The competitor
-The non-competitor
-Ability based on Age (we have different belts for kids, why not seniors?)
-The teacher

Being good at one doesn’t mean one will be good for the other.
For that reason, I would like to see a variety in belts, patches, stripes,
or other designators.
Recognizing these merits will improve them
and improve the Martial Arts.

Your Weapons

skulls guns the expendables 1920x1080 wallpaper_www.knowledgehi.com_38I was watching another episode of The Ultimate Fighter a while ago
and it happened again:
A fighter was striking from top guard and got triangle-d.

I’ve written an earlier post
disagreeing with the strategy of striking from the guard…
so I don’t want to do that here.

Here, I want to talk about a very simple metaphor
to make use of in all “combat sports” applications:
Get Your Weapons back.

Your arms are what you will use to submit your opponent.
They are your weapons.
But they are also part of what is attacked:
more specifically the shoulder, elbow and wrist.

And so,
when your opponent grabs one of your weapons…
get it back
because giving your opponent your weapon
makes your weapon your weakness.
Which brings me to another dove tailing concept:
If you cannot bring your weapon back to your body…
bring your body back to the weapon.

So let’s go back to that TUF contestant.
His opponent in bottom guard grabbed his arm.
At that point, if he could not pull his weapon back to his body,
he would bring his body to his weapon…
get both his weapons back,
posture up,
and start striking
or even better…
pass the guard.

But no matter your Martial Art,
no matter your strategy,
if you’re going to win,
you can only win if you’re armed with weapons
and at least some of those weapons
are your arms.

Change in the Martial Arts

ufcd0_royce_gracie_v2_mcIn 1993, Royce Gracie changed for me
what it meant to be an effective Martial Artist.

Being from stand-up disciplines
and having never encountered Judokas or wrestlers,
I thought I knew enough…
but this new champion changed my mind for me…
and changed a lot of other people’s minds, too.
Consequently, many of us are now BJJ practitioners.

That is the wonderful thing about Martial Artists
contrasted by those from the thinking disciplines.
Once we see that something works,
overall, we stop doing what doesn’t work
and start to learn what does.

But isn’t there evidence of what works
before there is a champion for it?

Was 1993 the last time that the Martial Arts paradigm will shift?
Doubtful. Very doubtful.
What will you do whenever the next discipline emerges?

Will you need, as I did,
a champion to uproot you
from solid ground
and plant you in richer soil?

Will you listen to what coach and Martial Arts
(and otherwise) Philosopher extraordinaire,
John Danaher recommends,
and look at competition record
and lineage before you listen?
What if there really isn’t much of a lineage…
or a record?

There is a change coming in Martial Arts.
There always is.
Will you cling to the dying
or embrace the emergent?

Open Hand, Closed Hand

open-closed-handsOne of the elements that separate how we at Movement Martial Arts approach all Martial Art is how small we look at it.  Martial Art is just a collection of movements and all movements matter… especially hand movements.

Entire categories of Martial Art are defined by whether hands are opened or closed. But every Martial Art, including the grappling arts, have both open and close handed techniques. In grappling (submission or otherwise), offense is usually characterized by closing the space while defense is usually characterized by making space. In general, hand movements are no exception to this rule.

While the hand is capable of many degrees of articulation, let’s examine opening (extension mostly) and closing (mostly flexion) the hand. The very act of closing the hand moves the fingers closer to the body closing space while opening the hand moves the fingers further away from the body making space. It’s no coincidence that these actions of the hand correlate the offensive and defensive movements.

If opening the hand makes space, you can utilize this movement defensively in terms of a block. If closing the hand closes space, you can utilize this movement offensively in terms of a grip. While there are exceptions to this concept in grappling, try opening your hands in defense and closing your hands in offense. I think you’ll find your offense and defense more effective.

10PJJ after Marcelo

eddie-bravo-highWhenever people find out that I am exclusively a No Gi guy,
they ask my opinion of Eddie Bravo.

The conversation will inadvertently
move to the advantages and limitations of the “lockdown,”
whether Gi is useful for MMA,
and if weed can really make one’s BJJ better.

I don’t do the lockdown any more,
I don’t believe the Gi is the best use of training time for MMA,
and I have no idea about the pot.

I love so much of what Eddie Bravo does and what 10th Planet JJ stands for.
Eddie’s integration of any BJJ into his system,
naming of techniques,
his comparison between Gi / No Gi and Judo / Greco,
his persona,
his sprawling BJJ empire,
his musical aspirations,
his fight commentary…
but I’m no Eddie Bravo.
Let me explain.

When I come across martial art that beats my own,
at the minimum,
I at least stop doing what got me beat.
At the maximum,
I may stop what I’m doing altogether
and start learning what beat me.

Have you seen this:

In my estimation, Marcelo was nice…very nice to Eddie,
but I think Marcelo did enough to demonstrate that Eddie didn’t possess the answer
for the problems his Jiu-Jitsu posed.

Maybe there has been a change in 10PJJ since this meeting,
I hope there has been.
I hope within it there now resides an answer for Marcelo’s JJ within 10PJJ…
because if there isn’t,
I fear Eddie and 10PJJ will be just a footnote in the history of BJJ…
and that would be a buzzkill.


keep-calm-and-irimi-nageRecently, a BJJ noob related to me that he was intentionally defensive, a “counter-puncher,” if you will.   I told him that the problem with being primarily defensive is that you start off behind, reacting, as opposed to your opponent having to react.

Probably the Martial Art I am most drawn to philosophically (not practically) is Aikido. While I am not a traditionalist, much of traditional Martial Arts is far too valuable to be ignorant of, “Irimi” included. “Irimi” is a term used in Aikido translated as “entering” which is utilized at the moment of attack. This is where I depart from the more defensive Aikido.

My utilization of Irimi has to do with acting first. My dictum is “Threaten”…yet it doesn’t end there.  “…but take what’s given.” completes the thought. Defense alone is only reacting to your opponent. Offense alone is ignoring your opponent’s reaction.

In past articles, I’ve advocated going in the direction your opponent is already going. When you’re passive, your opponent can move infinite ways. But when you threaten via Irimi, your opponent has far fewer directions he can move in…which makes it easier to go in the direction he is already going.

The language and traditions of the past, such as Irimi, inform the actions of the present. Let Irimi unify your offense and defense. Let Aikido inform your Jiu-Jitsu. Ossss!!!!!!

Why I Advocate No Gi Before Gi

brandPeople often ask me,
“Frankie, why don’t you train Gi?”
(I do train Gi but it is very, very rare.)
I wanna tell you what I tell them.

I trained in the Gi for about 2 years achieving a Blue Belt 1 stripe
but then I stopped when No Gi classes were offered more regularly at my school.

I didn’t come into BJJ with hopes of being an MMA fighter.
I didn’t come in with a bias against the Gi
and I’m not against the Gi, now…
I just think it has its place.

From time to time at our school,
we had wrestlers train with us.
In the Gi (many with very little training)
wrestlers positionally dominated right up to the Brown Belts.
Out of the Gi, they often dominated almost everyone, including the Black Belts.

I saw the limitations of Gi Jiu-Jitsu (at least how we were being taught).
It was at that point that I realized that ground wrestling (not takedowns)
was missing from a lot of BJJ.

I wasn’t interested in having BJJ that didn’t have an answer for wrestling
and that’s why I advocate No Gi before Gi.

In No Gi, there are fewer positions to lever from
making it simpler to learn
but the lack of friction requires greater speed and feel.

I don’t think No Gi is simply for the young, either.
I’ve seen some very competent No Gi non-wrestlers in their 40s & 50s.

From time to time, I’ll put on the Gi to see how my Jiu-Jitsu fares.
As long as I fight the grip fight,
my performance is comparable to my No Gi Jiu-Jitsu.

So, here’s my challenge to you.
Take off the Gi.
If your No Gi Performance is good,
then keep doing what you’re doing.

If it isn’t,
consider training more No Gi.
Your BJJ (both Gi & No Gi) will thank you.

Starting Out

SquareOneLogoI could talk about this subject extensively…
but I’m starting out here.

I talked to a rank beginner today.
She was expressing frustration as I was giving her husband feedback.
“I’m so frustrated. After hearing what you said,
now I’ll need to start back over from square one.”

I laughed.
A hearty belly laugh.
It was the most ridiculous thing I had heard.

I can’t tell you how many wrong turns I have taken on my BJJ journey.

  • Spending 2 years in the Gi
  • Spending 5 years focused on closed guard
  • Moving away from half guard

and that’s just the ones off the top of my head .

But you know, I never really had to start over.
I never had to unlearn everything.
My foundation was never really shattered.
Certain movements, certain philosophies…but not all.

So to all the NOOBS out there,
don’t worry about starting over.

You’re no longer at square one.
Yes, you’ll need to unlearn some things
but I assure you, like me,
you’ll have parts of your game in your game 5-10 years from now
that you quite likely learned on Day 1.

There is no getting around building bad habits.
So build them. Build them fast, and fix them faster.
Like composition, there is no such thing as good writing..
only good editing.

Jiu-Jitsu is an endless process of refinement.
But you’ll need to acquire the crude to refine.
So get back on that mat.
It was only square one once.

Condit’s Defensive Grappling

tumblr_mrhmw4K92m1rmv6ajo1_500I like watching UFCs for a lot of reasons:

  • It’s entertaining
  • It’s educational
  • It gives me something to write about

What I usually write about is grappling, especially submission grappling.
The grappling I liked most on the main card belonged to Carlos Condit.

While his takedown defense is (and likely always will be) lacking,
there were a few positions he shined in:

Bottom Guard (Guard Defense)
Carlos opened his guard…in MMA…how rare is that?
Not only did he open his guard, he went for subs,
even leg locks, in MMA…how rare is that?

And when those didn’t work, he didn’t lose position
or take that much damage. He was able to stand back up or close his guard.

I think Condit demonstrated what is the new
“minimal effective amount” of skill in an MMA guard…
and that’s not very minimal and that’s very rare.

Cage Reversal & Escape
After the first round, Condit’s wrestling (defense, mainly) got a lot better. Why?
He stopped fighting against Kampmann’s (superior) strength
and started using it against him…by going in the direction he was already going.

Submission Escape
Condit escaped the precursor to a RNC
Kampmann escaped the Ninja Choke
Kampmann escaped a RNC

Who says the ground game is dead in MMA? Condit’s certainly isn’t.