A Very Unpopular Opinion

Needless to say, it’s been a shamefully long time since I posted something new here. In the wake of my second neck surgery a few years ago and my more recent shoulder/bicep surgery, I haven’t had the drive to stay on top of the latest happenings in the grappling world. That’s not to say I haven’t done some teaching here or there or that I don’t still watch a lot of instructional videos, it’s just that my enthusiasm has waned given that I haven’t been able to train. My frustration with not being able to train serves as a nice segue into this post, which is motivated by all of the ceaseless chatter I see in FB threads and other grappling forums about reopening gyms as soon as possible. Much of what I see is willfully misinformed and even petulant. But as gyms go about reopening their doors, I did want to critically address one talking point I see a lot—namely, that the main safety measure gyms plan to use is suggesting that those who don’t feel well (or who know people who don’t feel well) should stay at home. While this advice makes sense for most communicable diseases, it doesn’t make sense with it comes to Covid-19. After all, the feature of this diseases that makes it so highly transmittable is that people can be the *most* contagious when they are still *asymptomatic*. Indeed, roughly half of the people who are infected with the virus never realize it despite the fact that they could nevertheless be shedding it. But this means that the aforementioned strategy will be too little too late. By the time people notice symptoms and hence stay home, they will have already passed on the disease to their training partners during the 5-14 days that they were asymptomatic (the range of the incubation period). There is no way of getting around this inconvenient fact. By opening gyms and training even though we can’t use social distancing, wear masks, or clean ourselves between rolls (which means we can’t meaningfully mitigate), we will thereby run the risk of turning gyms and the people who train there into vectors for Covid-19. In short, jiu jitsu gyms are uniquely situated to create unnecessary risks not just for gym members, but for their families, friends, coworkers, and the people they encounter while going about their daily lives.

Of course, I have seen countless people online insist that they have the freedom and the right to run those risks as they see fit. Worse still, others suggest that the risks will be *no different* than the ones we already ran in deciding to train before the pandemic (which is clearly stupid on the face of it). But this claim about the right to run risks cuts no ice. This only makes sense in contexts where the risks you run are your own. But lots of activities create risks that harm not only the agent, but also others (as is clearly the case with Covid-19). So, while the government doesn’t usually have the authority to paternalistically intervene to prevent people from causing harm to themselves (although, even here, the government can intervene when it comes to people who are suicidal), they *can and should* intervene when the agent’s actions will likely harm others. That is just to say that there are limits to our rights and freedoms where other-related harm is concerned. And in the case of training during the middle of a pandemic, it’s clear that those who are training are creating unnecessary risks not only for themselves (which is their business) but also for their families, friends, co-workers, and even strangers. In both criminal and civil law, this type of behavior is classified as either negligent (if done unknowingly) or reckless (if done knowingly). This suggests that this is not a trifling matter but rather something that requires deep and careful consideration. The mere fact that folks are impatient to train is not a sufficient reason to create these kinds of risks for others.

While I think the desire to train is an insufficient reason to open gyms, I appreciate the economic incentive of gym owners. After all, most gyms can’t stay in business long enough to wait for a treatment or a vaccine. So, these gyms must either reopen too early or run the risk of going out of business. I appreciate that this is a very difficult decision and I also realize that many gym owners are not taking it lightly. But in deciding to reopen, I think owners need to be frank about just how risky the decision is. Given the reasons I spelled out earlier, there really is no safe and effective way of doing this given that none of the usual precautions can be taken. Is the risk being taken worth the financial gain? That’s for others to decide. I am just suggesting that we ought to have our eyes wide open in this regard. I also think that patience and an other-regarding perspective would go a long way to prevent people in the grappling community from enacting the last scene from Braveheart—following William Wallace in bellowing “Freedom!” in protest to a grave injustice. These are extraordinary times that called for extraordinary measures. Peddling conspiracy theories and ignoring the policy suggestions of experts just so one can rationalize one's desire to train is singularly unhelpful. It also happens to be unduly dangerous to lots of people who need our help and consideration. So, while I, of all people, appreciate the frustration that goes along with not being able to train, I also appreciate the virtue of not being entirely solipsistic. Other people exist. The risks we create for them are morally weighty. Just my two cents…

p.s. I think there are lots of creative ways to keep gyms afloat while they are closed. Members who didn’t lose their jobs could and should continue paying their dues (since it’s an investment in their own future). Gyms could run fundraisers to drum up revenue. Gyms could run HIT body weight and mobility classes (which allow for social distancing) for drop-in fees. Gyms could give discounted rates to members who have the resources to pay their dues in advance. Gyms can use online conferencing platforms to deliver content to their own students and to students elsewhere (with a digital “tip cup” for people to donate money). That’s all on the gym side of things. At the state and federal level, the government could do a better job helping gyms and other small businesses instead of giving $500 billion to corporations and $130 billion in tax cuts to the real estate industry.

Cross Your Feet!

So, in thinking about leg locks lately, from the ground up as they say, I have been mindful of the importance of where one places one's feet. For instance, if you are in bottom half guard and you figure four your feet, then you inadvertantly give up what will become your secondary leg if your opponent either backsteps or frontsteps into reverse half mount. Check out Keenan Cornelius' ingenious "knee bar trap" series here. You'll see what I mean. Once you've trapped your own foot, I can take advantage of that by keeping it there and then you lose your secondary leg--making it nearly impossible to defend the knee bar once I drop to the side to finish.

Today, while watching people roll, something dawned on me that I had never thought of before--namely, that it matters which way you cross your feet when you have someone in your closed guard. I never thought it made any difference, so I have always been in the habit of crossing them the same way. It seems I was overlooking something important. Imagine I have my opponent in closed guard and I have a cross collar grip with my left hand. Given my hand placement, my opponent is going to try to pass to my right. This means he will also be trying to pry my feet apart by pushing down on my right leg. If I have my left leg crossed over my right leg, then this makes it easier for my opponent to pry my feet apart by pushing down on my right knee or inner thigh (since there is nothing in the way). However, if instead I cross my left leg under my right leg, it now serves as an extra barrier that reinforces my crossed feet. After all, when my opponent pushes down on my right leg, my left leg is in the way (much as we do when defend the armbar with our other arm). Having given it some more thought, I thought a nice way of remembering this is as follows: When I cross grip with my left hand, my right foot goes on top. Conversely, when I cross grip with my right hand, my left foot goes on top. Perhaps an even more general principle would be: Whenever your opponent is trying to break your crossed feet by pushing down on one of your legs, make sure that leg is on top of your other leg.

Thoughts? This escaped my notice for 13 years--which is surprising. Has anyone ever been taught that it matters which way your feet are crossed from closed guard? Try it out and see. I tinkered with it for a few minutes earlier and it seems to make a difference. But because I can't train, I couldn't test it under more realistic circumstances. 

p.s. Sorry I didn't/couldn't just make a video--which would make it easier to demonstrate and explain!

Reverse Mount + Reverse 1/2 Mount Revisited

As readers of this blog know, I am very fond of leg locks. I think that despite their recent popularity, they are still underutilized. In my experience, far too many upper belts are clueless when it comes to how to use and defend against leg locks. Since I am teaching class tomorrow at the academy, I thought I would go over some leg locks in an effort to address the hole in people's games. My focus will be on two positions I love--namely, what I call reverse mount and reverse 1/2 mount. I will be focusing on knee bars and toe holds. So, as I often do when I teach a class, I am going to post some videos here that cover the techniques I will be covering in class--namely, the rolling toe hold, the knee trap to knee bar, the knee bar/toe hold combination from reverse mount, and the calf slicer from reverse 1/2 mount. So, without further ado!

Rolling toe hold:

Knee trap:

Knee bar/toe hold from reverse mount:

Calf slicer from reverse 1/2 mount:


Attack the Back!

This Friday I will be filling in for our head instructor. For the past few weeks, he has been working on taking the back and maintaining back control. So, I thought I would get back to basics and focus on the following back attacks: (a) rear naked choke, (b) short choke, (c) bow and arrow, (d) arm bar, and (e) murder choke. To give the students some additional information and details and the help them remember what we worked on, I thought I would post videos of each submission. So, here they are:

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Foot Locks Revisited

As readers of the blog know, I am a fan of the leg lock game. Now that my knee is heeling up a bit, I am slowly edging myself back into the waters--which is good timing, as we are finally starting to work on leg locks at the gym for the first time. So, I thought I would post some videos I have found helpful in thinking about some of the basic concepts--especially the basic positions and the entries into the basic positions. The videos below should help to get you started! So, watch, learn, and go train!

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Portuguese for BJJ

Unfortunately, just last week during training I suffered a Grade 2 MCL tear in my left knee. So, no training for me for a few weeks. I am just glad the damage wasn't worse. The upside: I am going to use this time away from the mats to continue working on my Portuguese ahead of my trip to Brazil this June. A few years ago, Kid Peligro had a cool app called Portuguese for BJJ--which was really helpful. But it seems to have gone the way of the dinosaurs. So, for now, this is the best resource I can find for the translations of both body parts and techniques/positions. While it is obviously incomplete, it's a good place to start.

I also thought this might be a nice time to start combing Youtube for good technique video that is only in Portuguese. The talent and experience pool in Brazil is wicked deep, but lots of people don't know English (or don't know English well). As a result, any videos they post may get unnoticed (unless one is searching for the Brazilian names of the techniques). This has a two-fold purpose: It gives me some additional practice listening to Portuguese. Plus, I may find some nuggets of wisdom along the way that may otherwise get lost in translation! So stay tuned!


Featured Grappler: Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu

I thought it might be nice to highlight specific grapplers from time to time. So, I am starting yet another series here at TGG--namely, Featured Grappler. First up, Roberto "Cyborg" Abreu--a true monster on the mats and a legend of the sport (see here for details concerning his storied career). Below, I have included a hodgepodge of vidoes--ranging from highlights and documentaries to instructional videos. In the months ahead, I will compile similar videos of other top grapplers. For now, enjoy the videos of Cyborg! As always, watch, learn, and go train!

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Earn Your Way to the Ground: Blast Double

This is the second post in the series of posts here at TGG about take downs. In the first post, I covered how to run the pipe from the single leg. In this post, I want to focus on the blast double--which is a simple and effective take down that prevents inexperienced grapplers from getting stuck underneath their sprawling opponents. Moreover, this technique--also known as the high double leg--comes more naturally than traditional low double legs (at least in my experience). That said, here are some instructionals that you might find helpful (plus a highlight video thrown in for good measure). So, watch, learn, and go train!


Continue reading "Earn Your Way to the Ground: Blast Double" »

The Charleston Scene

As someone who is in the process of getting a non-profit up and running in the area with the goal of spreading jiu jitsu here in Charleston (see more here), it's in my vested interest to start bringing the various elements of the community here in town together. Gyms trend towards adopting insular and tribalistic attitudes--which may make business sense for the gym owners but which hurts the growth of the sport in the area.

As a pluralist about training and an open critic of the creonte mindset in jiu jitsu (see here), I thought I would start by posting a bit about each gym in the area (with links). Please help do your part to spread the word about the potential transformative power of jiu jitsu. If you have any experience with these gyms, please share your thoughts in the comment threads! I am hoping to organize and run a local submission only tournament here in town in the coming months/years. Let me know if that is something which would interest you!


Devine Jiu Jitsu James Island

This is my own home gym. We have a laid back attitude with overlapping but discrete crews in the morning and evening classes--which are generally run by different black belts. Given that we have six black belts who regularly teach or train here, it's a great spot for learning jiu jitsu whether you're just getting started or you've been at it for years.

The low key vibe is something the gym inherits from the head of our association--Scott Devine (who visits a few times per year). Scott is the first person to go from white belt to black belt under Red Belt Relson Gracie. If you come by the gym, ask for Jeff Roberston (morning classes) or Mike Sanda (evening classes). The monthly fee is $80 (with discounts for military/police/fire) and there are no contracts.

Devine Jiu Jitsu Summerville

One of Devine's local black belts--Maxwell Boyd--has started running his own chapter of Devine Jiu Jitsu up in Summerville at Pro Marial Arts Academy.

Checkmat Charleston

Owned by BJJ legend Leo Viera and run by Winsom Ramos and his wife (both newly minted black belts), this gym perhaps unsurprisingly has a competition mindset. Ramos is not only a world champion and up and coming star on the IBJJF circuit, but he is also launching his budding professional MMA career.

Charleston Krav Maga

This is not a jiu jitsu gym although they offer jiu jiu classes as part of their self-defense programming. The coach is black belt and UFC fighter Charleson Rafaello "Tractor" Oliveira.

Relson Gracie Academy

This gym offers classes by two Relson Gracie black belts--Jerry Brewer and Patrick McGuigan (both of whom have nearly 20 years of experience training and teaching BJJ). Brewer owned the first gym in the area back in the 1990s before jiu jitsu started spreading through the US. So, he has been a fixture on the scene here in Charleston from the beginning. Also, the gym has an active women self-defense program (see below for details).

Oceanside Jiu Jitsu

Oceanside is afiliated with the Relson Gracie Academy. It is run by Patrick and Amy McGuigan along with College of Charleston professor of Mathematics Amy Langville. The focus of OJJ is women's self defense.

ATT Lowcountry

ATT Lowcountry is owned and run by Malachy Friedman--who received his black belt from grappling legend Ricardo Libório who currently trains several UFC fighters. From what I have been told, there is a competition mindset at the gym--which is unsurprising given Friedman's background.

Arts for Fitness/Life

This Rigan Machado affiliate is another long-time staple on the Charleston BJJ scene--although they have seen a number of black belts rotate through the gyms over the years (which is often not a good sign). They currently have Professor Gilson Fernandes as their head instructor--a 4th  Degree Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu from the legendary Carlson Gracie Club and the highest ranking BJJ instructor in SC.

Tick Tock

This is the newest gym in the area--which is run by multi-time national and Pan Am champion Jacob McClintock. With a sponsored competition team, Tick Tock is clearly focused on the sport aspect of BJJ (which is fine, of course). Moreover, Tick Tock has already brought two high level grapplers to the areas to give seminars (namely, Jeff Glover and Bill Cooper). So,  Tick Tock is a welcomed addition to the grappling scene in Charleston.

American Judo and Jiu-Jitsu

I am including this gym here because of the shared lineage between judo, jiu-jitsu, and jiu jitsu. And while I am confident this is a good place to learn judo--the head instructor is a 3rd Dan and recent national champion--the lineage of the AJJJ instructor in BJJ (Eli Fletcher) is a bit suspicious. The bio suggests Fletcher has his second degree in BJJ whereas is seems he has been trained and promoted in more traditional forms of jiu jitsu. I leave that for readers of the blog to decide. 

Park Circle Jiu Jitsu

Owned and operated by Casey Collias purple belt Joseph Coker, PCJJ focuses on jiu jitsu for kids. Having spent some time talking with Joseph about the program, I am delighted he is dedicated to sharing jiu jitsu with kids in the lowcountry!

So, there you have it! A brief and admittedly biased overview of the grappling scene here in Charleston, SC as of March 2017! There are lots of places to receive top notch training in both the traditional and sportive aspects of jiu jitsu. Whether one is looking simply to get in shape, learn self-defense, or train for the next world championship, one ought to be able to find a suitable home base here in the area.