ADCC Training with Rafael Mendes


“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.” – Proverb, unknown author.

In addition to being a two-time world Jiu Jitsu champion at black belt, Rafael Mendes is also the reigning two-time ADCC submission wresting champion. Not only that, but the entire Atos team, including brother Guilherme and ADCC middle and absolute champion Andre Galvao, are winning every tournament in sight, both with and without the gi. Clearly, they are doing something right to achieve such results.

Thankfully, William Burkhardt at has just released a highlight video of Rafael Mendes’s training regiment for ADCC 2011. The footage shines a light on how Rafa and team Atos have achieved such dominance in competition. The video is filmed at Atos’s Rio Claro academy, with Ramon Lemos presiding over his star pupil’s training. The Rio Claro academy is actually a beautiful place; the exposed brick and natural light make the small gym as aesthetically interesting as the techniques performed therein.

The video starts with a brief look at the physical training that Rafael had to endure to get ready for the world’s most important tournament without the gi. The training that is shown focuses heavily on plyometric and explosive exercises with an emphasis on muscular endurance. The footage includes plyo-pushups, high-repetition bench press and push press, box jumps and an interesting sprawl-and-turn drill with a band belt. Previously released footage of the Mendes brothers’ physical preparation for ADCC 2011 also demonstrates Atos’s use of high-rep, explosive conditioning, which the team seems to favour over lower-repetition strength training. They tend not to show any heavy squats or deadlifts, although just because they don’t show it doesn’t mean they’re not doing it.

The primary value of the highlight is, however, the glimpse that it gives to the technical drilling performed by the Mendes brothers. Most drills are orchestrated to include not only a single technique, but a transition based on the most likely reaction of a well-trained opponent. This is one of Atos’s secrets to success. Below, several of these drills are  discussed, including animations. Beware, however, that the gif format used for animations is memory intensive and may take a while to load.


Rafael Mendes – Preparation for ADCC 2011


Anaconda Choke


Rafael Mendes is one of the few high-level competitors finding success with the anaconda choke. Generally agreed to be “invented” by Milton Vieira of BTT, the anaconda is a form of kata gatame, or arm-triangle choke. Rafa’s most notable applications of the anaconda came at ADCC 2009, where he used them to counter Cobrinha’s arm-drag single leg takedowns, counter Leo Vieira’s half-guard and submit Justin Rader. The version shown in the animation above is from a loose half guard. From half-guard against Vieira, Mendes brought his hips high, allowing him to get control of Vieira’s head and use the overhook to counter Vieira’s ability to push on his hip. Rafa continued his momentum once he achieved the front headlock, rolling inverted to bypass Vieira’s guard. He wasn’t able to finish but demonstrated how he had been practicing this technique to counter the guard. It can be seen at 1:44 of this video.



Here, Rafa pushes to a knee-in position, where he rolls over his opponent gaining a front headlock. Rafa also shows that his use of the knee to counter Rader’s defense in 2009 was no accident (see below).  Rafa is known for his avoidance of a similar arm-in choke, the darce/brabo. In interviews he states that he doesn’t want to give up an underhook so he uses the anaconda with the knee pushing the arm to completely nullify his opponent’s ability to gain control.

A similar technique performed from this position is the rolling guillotine choke. The front headlock give Rafa greater control over his opponent, limiting his options. With the inverted guillotine your opponent can roll either way to defend before you’re able to bring your body back over theirs. The front headlock control shown here limits your opponent’s ability to turn away from the choke. Rader’s coach Rafael Lovato Jr. taught our team this technique after the Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu fighters dissected how Justin lost to Rafa in 2009. Unfortunately, Rafa had something new developed to use against Rader in 2011.


Half-Guard Armlock


In this drill, Rafael Mendes shows a transition that he unveiled at ADCC 2011 against Justin Rader, who has multiple appearances in the Mendes brothers’ highlight videos. In this drill, Rafa starts in half guard and grips his opponent’s triceps to his chest. This allows him to pull his leg over his opponent’s head, then pushing it through to the far hip to set up an armlock. An important detail is to use the leg to push the head down and away, creating space to push the leg through under the arm. This is why Rafa pauses with the leg over the head before continuing. My coaches Adam and Matt are both very good at this transition, meaning I’ve been the victim of this transition more than once.

This technique can be used to transition to an armbar, an omoplata, a Kimura, tornado guard, or even to the back, as Rafa demonstrated against Rader in 2011. In that match, Rafa used an omoplata set up from inverted guard to set up the armlock using this transition. As Rader went belly down to try to block the armlock Rafa effortlessly swung around to the back. You can watch the match here. Don’t blink.


Legdrag Duck-Under


A staple of the Mendes brothers’ passing game is the transition to a second pass from the legdrag. The brothers train to use the first leg drag as a means to invoke a reaction from their opponent, often forcing the opponent to pummel their leg over to create space. This drill practices chaining these techniques together into one fluid motion. The goal of this drill seems not focused on minute details, but the fluidity of the transition between techniques. When Rafa uses this transition in competition, he tends to use leg work to pin his opponent’s lower leg to the mat with his shins, as demonstrated in the gi, below. Variations of this transition are found in both Rafael and Guilherme’s DVDs from when they were brown belts, which can be purchased from Budovidoes.



Peruvian Necktie


The Peruvian necktie is closely associated with Jiu Jitsu black belt and former UFC fighter Tony DeSouza. The Peruvian national is credited as developing this modified guillotine choke from the front headlock by using his leg to apply downward pressure on the neck. I’ve personally never seen Rafa attempt this technique, although I have a vague memory of seeing Guilherme do it once. If anyone has any footage of either brother performing this technique please post it in the comments. It’s interesting to see Rafa working on the necktie, since he was clearly working on front headlock techniques as a strategy going into ADCC 2009 and 2011. To see a very nice Peruvian necktie in action, though, check out Lucio “Lagarto” Rodrigues rolling with Braulio Estima.


Rolling Guard “Pass”


I use quotation marks when describing this technique as a guard “pass” because I’m not 100% sure of what’s going on here. It appears that Rafa is rolling as a way to use his leading leg during the guard pass as a hook to push Eduardo Ramos’s legs away, setting up a guard pass or a back take. To do this Rafa reaches down for Eduardo’s hip as he somersaults his head between his legs, rolling through to clear his opponent’s legs. It’s an interesting technique and one I hope we see more of, if nothing more than to finally understand what is actually happening in the above animation.


Ramon Lemos/Wrestling


The instructor of the Mendes brothers, Ramon Lemos, is a mystery to many. Lemos has been associated with a number of Jiu Jitsu teams including Nova Uniao, Brasa and TT, and now is the head of Atos along with Andre Galvao. His two star pupils followed him through the multiple team changes, and are now the two most successful featherweight currently competing. Having an instructor that can guide you and occasionally lay a beating on you is imperative for the development of any Jiu Jitsu competitor, even world champions.

The Mendes brothers were known primarily for their guards as they came up through the belt ranks, although Rafa demonstrated that he has been working on his wrestling when he managed to counter everything his opponents through at his at ADCC 2009. Although again playing a more guard-centered strategy at ADCC 2011, Rafa has clearly been training takedowns and is willing to train in areas where he is at a disadvantage, as the above animation demonstrates.


Reverse de la Riva


The inverted position from the reverse de la Riva guard is one that has been discussed often at The Jiu Jitsu Lab. It’s one of Rafael Mendes’ signature techniques, albeit one now used by many competitors. The reverse de la Riva seems to be the Mendes brothers’ preferred de la Riva variation without the gi. It gives the user a great deal of control over a standing opponent that doesn’t rely on gi grips like the conventional de la Riva. The variation above is the standard route to the back take, which was demonstrated by Rafa on his Japanese DVD, shown here. The Jiu Jitsu Lab also released our breakdown of the inverted reverse de la Riva, found here.

One of the details that caught my eye is how Mendes uses his trailing leg as a hook to better control his opponent’s lead leg before pulling his knee through to consolidate the position. Unlike how I sometimes practice it, Rafa also circles his outside leg between his opponent’s legs, making sure to maximize his control.



The second variation of the reverse de la Riva shown in the video has Rafa attacking the opposite leg, setting up a form of reverse X-guard. In this technique Rafa’s opponent is attempting to hide his far leg, forcing Rafa to circle under the lead leg first. This is also useful when your opponent is in combat base. Once under the leg, Mendes pushes with his hooks, elevating his opponent with an overhook on the far leg. It’s similar to how Cobrinha turns the inverted reverse DLR into a single leg, except Cobrinha tends to elevate the near leg instead. It’s an interesting variation that I haven’t seen very much. When watching the full video make sure to keep an eye out for the guy in the white gi pants, shown above. The look on his face as Rafa is armbaring and choking him repeatedly made it clear he wasn’t having a very good day.



The Mendes brothers have used the reverse de la Riva a great deal in competition. The main strategy Rafa used in 2011 in his opening match against teammate Bruno Frazzato was to use the reverse DLR to tie up Frazzato’s legs, eventually coming up for the sweep (shown above). Two other competitors known for their use of the inverted reverse DLR are Cobrinha and Caio Terra. In the first animation below, long-time Mendes-rival Cobrinha performs a standard reverse DLR sweep on Justin Rader, while in the second Caio hits an unusual variation in the no-gi Worlds. Caio’s version has him turning outwards instead of into his opponent, nonetheless resulting in an inverted reverse DLR position. I’ve tried this variation a few times and find that it’s much more intuitive than it appears.




After dissecting how the Mendes brothers train we can draw several conclusions that can catalyze our own training. If there is anything I missed or techniques and lessons you got from this video, make sure to let us know in the comments. I plan on asking the brothers about some of these ideas when I attend their seminar in Phoenix, Arizona in a few weeks. From what others have reported they will be going over many of the techniques shown here in great detail. The non-technical elements that we can learn from the Mendes brothers in this video are very important too.  There are several keys to the brothers’ success that we can keep in mind to maximize our own Jiu Jitsu training.

Repitition: Too often Jiu Jitsu students will drill a technique a handful of times before either stopping to chat or trying something different. Rafa shows that only through dedicated, mindful drilling will your techniques become autonomic. They also train at the speed that they’ll be using the techniques in competition. It’s important to drill slowly at first to get all the details, but the old adage is true: you fight how you train. And the Mendes brothers are clearly training to fight with intensity.

Transitions: As shown in the legdrag animation, it’s important not only to drill individual techniques, but the transitions between them. Having an automatic reaction to your opponent’s counters is the difference between good and great Jiu Jitsu. Too often we drill a sweep or a pass in isolation, creating small pauses in between our techniques of which our opponents can take advantage. By drilling transitions and counters as part of a technique we can smoothly flow through our positions while our opponents are expecting to rest.

Great Partners: A great training partner is someone who will not only push you in sparing, but who will allow themselves to be used as a dummy for your endless drilling and experimentation. Rafa and Gui Mendes are lucky to have each other to train with, but for those of you without a brother in the sport, make your teammates your brothers-in-arms through hard training together, and by occasionally letting yourself be the victim of hard drilling and crazy Jiu Jitsu experiments.

Great Coaching: This video shows how the Mendes brothers largely direct their own training, but with the input and steady hand of an experienced instructor to focus the athletes and provide details that make the difference when things aren’t working properly. You don’t have to take on the exact style of your coach, but they should be providing you with a solid base upon which you develop your own game.

Unorthodox Positions: The reverse de la Riva isn’t unusual anymore, but it is one of several techniques that the Mendes brothers developed to take advantage of their opponent’s unfamiliarity. Basic Jiu Jitsu often wins competitions, but practicing unorthodox positions until they are smooth and automatic is one method of out thinking your opponent. A lot of what the Mendes brothers do in competition and in this training video seem like scrambles until you observe how many times that movement is actually practiced. The Mendes brothers appear to drill multiple outcomes of their techniques making what is unorthodox for their opponent completely familiar to themselves.

Sex Appeal: I mean, look at that hair. Need I say more?



About these ads


Filed under Jiu Jitsu Stuff

29 responses to “ADCC Training with Rafael Mendes

  1. gullis

    Great stuff as allways! Hope you share some of the stuff you learn at the seminar, allthough i doubt it :P

  2. without exaggeration, ive probably watched this 60 times now.

    thanks for the breakdown.

    it’s really one of the most useful HLs ive ever seen.

    • Nice, Drew. Discussing the video with you helped me with this post a lot. It was crazy going through the video frame-by-frame to make the gifs. I saw a lot of little details that I might have missed otherwise.

  3. Ian

    on regards to the rolling guard “pass”, I believe that Rafa is attempting a rolling calf crunch to counter the DLR. Why this not used to counter the infamous berimbolo still puzzles me…

  4. Drew

    LOL that Andrew wasn’t me haha. I’ll have some more comments shortly, but did you get my lengthy PM discussing some more of the unique style on Sherdog? It was the long-winded one. Thanks for this!

  5. Drew

    Just shoot me a PM or email me at for whatever you need clarified. Once again I’ll make some comments here as well, shortly.

  6. Drew

    Also, the full ADCC 2009 match with Rader is here

  7. Drew

    Your “rolling guard pass” section is accurate. Instead of doing a back-step reset against the DLR, he is rolling away from the hook, and the legs get thrown over, so he is immediately in a position to come up for a leg drag pass/back-attack.

    Another point on the leg-drag combo. The leg drag is the primary pass but for no-gi they’ve realized that they almost never get the pass on the first drag. So what is shown here is basically a feint to make the opponent throw their other leg in front to re-shrimp or invert, etc then they get passed anyways.

    Here’s a great video that shows Jeff Glover at a seminar doing a great drill, jumping through and under the legs when they’re coming in front to stop your pass. It’s at 0:46 and is a great way to get your body used to the muscle memory of flying under the leg.

    • Ian

      starting at around 3:50 is when the example of rolling calf slicer begins. nearly all the grips are identical that both Rafa & Silvio Braga use for the roll, minus the fact that Rafa does not triangle his legs to secure the submission. the leg drag would be an excellent follow up technique if the rolling calf slicer were to fail.

  8. Drew

    Rafael doing the Peruvian at 1:51

    • Oh shit, I knew I saw that somewhere; I thought it was Gui, though. That’s in Canada too… I should really hit them up next time I’m back east.

      By the way, here’s a the guard pass drill that Rafael Mendes shows on his DVD:

  9. Drew

    ^ You did see Gui do it. It’s on his dvd set, no-gi portion. It’s on one of the Mendes HL videos. You aren’t wrong.

  10. scr

    Ian, while that is an awesome technique from what Ive learned from the Mendes bros Rafa is simply rolling out of the dlriva to pass or take the back. He does not use that style of calf slice.

    • Ian

      right on, thanks =) it does make alot of sense, kinda like moving into the direction of being swept instead going against it ,kinda like what bill cooper was doing against kayron

  11. Caio taught that technique at our seminar. I hadn’t seen that clip yet. More awesomeness from you guys. I’ll be watching this again and again!

    I was checking YT earlier today for leg drag pass stuff (because I want to use it but am terrible), and I can’t believe I forgot to take my own advice and come here first. Total Fail.

  12. Drew

    ^ Damn wasn’t that Cooper/Kayron match one of the most exciting ones ever or what! To me it’s up there. That one was awesome. Yeah that makes sense.

  13. I’ve read ur article and found it very interesting! I’m glad you guys liked my video! I hope to do more of them when I go to Rio. Bye!

  14. Drew

    The gifs seem to be gone, friend

  15. Pingback: Top BJJ Nerd Blogs: The Jiu Jitsu Lab | The Science of Skill in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s