Category Archives: Jiu Jitsu Profiles

Clark Gracie: The Omoplata Game

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In the days after the 2013 Pan Jiu Jitsu Championships, pictures of the winner of the middle-weight division were all over some of the biggest websites and news programs in the United States. Appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America and CBS’s Inside Edition soon followed. Rumours of a L’Oreal hair-care sponsorship were bandied about. Okay, that last one isn’t technically true, but it was a bizarre state of affairs that a Jiu Jitsu athlete would reap so much attention.  Was the sport finally breaking through to the mainstream?

It would be nice if this was a result of recognition for his win at the Pans. But Clark Gracie’s flirtation with popular recognition stemmed from an unrelated photograph of Gracie applying an omoplata to Ken Primola during the 2012 New York Open that made the rounds on Reddit and Facebook. The Jiu Jitsu Lab got in contact of Clark to ask him about his new-found fame, the pressure of his family name and his signature omoplata game.

“I first saw it the day after I won Pan Tournament when one of my students showed it to me on Reddit.”  Clark admitted when asked about how he became aware of the photograph that launched hundreds of image macros across the web. “I thought some of the memes were funny. I believe people, especially non-Jiu Jitsu practitioners, think that it is a very interesting position and for me to be looking so calm is unusual, but actually it is one of the positions that I feel the most comfortable and confident in.”

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The Omoplata Game feat. Clark Gracie – Highlight Video

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Pressure: On top with Guilherme Mendes

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Driving past the blinding lights of the Richmond airport on our way back to Vancouver following a Friday night training session, the topic of conversation turned as it inevitably does to Jiu Jitsu. Guard passing was on our minds as the usual heavyweight destroyers were brought up. My training partner Cedric made the astute observation however that even as a light-featherweight, Guilherme Mendes can use a small number of passes to account for virtually all types of guards. The techniques Guilherme chooses work in a system to pass the various modern guards that he may encounter. Not necessarily by having a different move for each guard, but by applying principles that are universal.

After watching Guilherme Mendes fight for years I finally felt for myself how this light-featherweight can develop his passing pressure when I had the opportunity to roll with him while attending a Mendes brothers’ seminar in Arizona last spring. From this experience I was able to better understand Guilherme’s ideas on posture and pressure, as well as the technical details needed to pass some of the best guards in the world.

Guilherme Mendes is a three-time world champion at the black belt level. His first world title came in 2009, a year before his younger brother, Rafael, achieved his first world championship. Since then Guilherme repeated that feat in 2011 in a rematch against Samuel Braga, and most recently in 2012 in a grinding, back and forth match with Laercio Fernandes. While Rafael is best known for his guard, Guilherme has been increasingly using his crushing guard passing and collar chokes to overwhelm his opponents.

To study Guilherme Mendes’s Jiu Jitsu I edited together a compilation of some of his most commonly used attacks, focusing on his top game.  Combining training and competition footage allows us to see how techniques are ideally completed and how they must sometimes be modified in competition, respectively.  From watching these techniques we can learn some of the keys to Guilherme’s renowned takedown, passing game and submissions. Some important principles include: using posture and grips to create pressure and wear down your opponent, focusing on a small number of interrelated techniques, and switching between techniques when being met with resistance.

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Pressure: Guilherme Mendes Top Game Highlight Video

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Rodolfo Vieira: The Passing Machine – Part II

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Rodolfo Vieira is the most feared guard passer in Jiu Jitsu today. In Rodolfo Vieira: The Passing Machine – Part I we became acquainted with Rodolfo and a selection of the guard passes that he uses to dominate his opponents on the tatame. Now the Jiu Jitsu Laboratory is pleased to present a step-by-step guide to how Rodolfo approached each of his most famous matches and how he used his guard passing combinations to deal with a variety of opponents and attacks.

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Rodolfo Vieira vs. Antonio Braga Neto (Pan Ams 2011)

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This is the match people picture when they think about Rodolfo Vieira’s guard passing. Although less than a year old, Vieira’s destruction of Braga Neto has become an iconic performance that has redefined guard passing in Jiu Jitsu. Keep in mind Braga Neto won the world championships in 2008 and again in 2011, two weight classes above Rodolfo; he’s no pushover.

Rodolfo’s opponents don’t stand long with him. Some are taken down quickly but many are aware of his reputation on his feet and choose to pull guard. This is a big part of Rodolfo’s success. Those who don’t have the ability to fight for the dominant position have to accept pulling guard, which is not a good place to be with Rodolfo on top of you.

A common theme in Rodolfo’s matches is that he doesn’t let his opponents get to their preferred position.  As in the upcoming matches, Vieira’s opponents are unable to close the guard (except Cobrinha). This is what happens when Braga Neto jumps guard, as Vieira drives his knee forward and closes his elbow tight.

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Toreador Pass – X Pass

With a belt grip and pant grip Rodolfo performs his signature toreador (bullfighter) pass, which was demonstrated by Andre Galvao in part I of this series. Jumping past Braga Neto’s guard Rodolfo switches his grip from the belt to the bottom pant and pressures forward. As Braga Neto attempts to pummel his leg over to reclaim guard Rodolfo again jumps over for the pass. Rodolfo hops back and forth, redirecting his opponent’s legs until he is able to create space for the pass.

Braga Neto is able to push up to defend and reclaim guard. This sets up back and forth X-passes. The main difference between a toreador pass and an X-pass is the grip and the characteristic kick-back of the X Pass. A toreador pass is performed with grips on the pants, redirecting the legs. An X pass is usually performed with a lapel grip and pant grip and is performed by moving yourself around your opponent by kicking one leg up and pushing your opponent away as you move past the guard. They are very similar passes and Rodolfo combines them almost into a single pass.

In this series of passes Rodolfo performs what I would characterize more as an X-pass, specifically a variation taught to our gym by Rafael Lovato Jr. (which Lovato called the “black swan”). Rodolfo leaps over Braga Neto’s leg then kicks his trailing leg back to make room for Braga Neto’s now straightened leg. He then does the same thing the other way, kicking his leg passed and continuing to straighten out Braga Neto’s leg with a pant cuff grip as we will see many times in other matches.

This match could be a nightmare to score (do these quick passing attempts count as an advantage? Did he control enough to get points both times he passed?), but fortunately for the referee Rodolfo’s last passing combination forced Braga Neto to turtle, exposing his back and setting Rodolfo up for the quick bow and arrow submission.

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Take away points:

  • Train Judo and wrestling. The more grappling you know the more dangerous you are.
  • Be aggressive but don’t force a position if it’s not there. Redirecting the legs back and forth to create an opening is what allows Rodolfo to pass even the toughest guards.
  • A successful guard pass can be a combination of different passes and passing strategies so long as it gets you past your opponent’s legs.

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Rodolfo Vieira: The Passing Machine – Part I

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The Development of a Champion

After Rodolfo Vieira’s impressive campaign in 2011 he is widely considered to be the current best Jiu Jitsu player in the gi. He is seen as being behind only Roger Gracie, against whom we have regrettably not been able to see Rodolfo compete. The key to Rodolfo’s dominance is his ability to pass some of the best guards in the world.

Although winning titles at all belt levels, Vieira didn’t come into international prominence until 2009, when he won the Abu Dhabi World Pro qualifiers in Brazil, then went on to defeat several well-known black-belts to win the World Pro while still a brown belt.

According to his interview with GracieMag, Rodolfo Vieira started Jiu Jitsu as a chubby boy in Campo Grande, a medium-sized city in the middle of Brazil. It was 2003 and Vieira wanted to lose some weight. His journey in Jiu Jitsu soon saw him traveling to Méier, in Rio, where the young Rodolfo began training under Mestre Julio Cesar Pereira of Universidade Gama Filho (UGF) – now Grapple Fight Team (GF Team).

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Rodolfo Vieira Highlight

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Rodolfo won the Brazilian Nationals at both blue and purple belt, in 2007 and 2008 respectively. His journey through the belts was blindingly fast, but he didn’t give critics any time to complain, winning the absolute at the Worlds as a brown the same year he was promoted. But these accomplishments were only appetizers for his breakout year in 2009.

His performance in Adu Dhabi earned Rodolfo the nickname Caçador dos Faixas Pretas and a black belt, which was awarded to him by Julio Cesar as Rodolfo returned to Galeão International Airport in Rio de Janeiro. At black belt Rodolfo won the 2011 Pan Ams, the 2011 World Pro gi and the 2011 Worlds all at absolute and weight.

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GF Team documentary: Rodolfo Vieira and Julio Cesar Pereira

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Leo Vieira

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Leo Vieira is one of the most influential and exciting lightweight submission grapplers of the modern era. Sure, there are other contenders for that title: Robson Moura, Royler Gracie, Vitor Shaolin and Ricardo de la Riva. But Vieira more than lives up to it due to his advancement of techniques and strategies in Jiu Jitsu as well as his role in the development of some of the most talented Jiu Jitsu competitors on the world stage over the last ten years.

Leozinho has influenced my personal Jiu Jitsu game a great deal, both directly and indirectly. Some of his technical contributions to the sport include the brabo choke, the leg drag pass and driving home the importance of the back as the premier dominant position in the lighter weight categories. While these have all been done by others, Vieira’s mix of technicality and athleticism, as well as his influence on the Jiu Jitsu scene in Sao Paulo, Brazil has had lasting effects throughout the Jiu Jitsu world.

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Leo Vieira Highlight – Pure Awesomeness

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Braulio Estima and his crazy, beautiful triangle

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With time ticking down in the 2009 ADCC 88 kg finals Braulio Estima had just had his guard passed by Andre Galvao. Calmly sliding one knee in between him and his opponent, Estima used his other leg to push against Galvao’s neck to create space. The strongest hint of what he was planning was the hand cupping Galvao’s shoulder, pulling him forward. Without hesitation Estima exploded his legs upwards, pulling Galvao into a tight inverted triangle. Galvao attempted to posture, but Estima was able to get a hold of his shin, tightening the triangle and forcing Galvao to tap. Braulio Estima was the 2009 ADCC middleweight champion.

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Rodolfo Vieira

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Rodolfo Vieira is a bad man. I mean, I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but it’s scary what he did to his field during the 2011 Jiu Jitsu World Championships. Winning both the absolute and heavyweight divisions, Rodolfo’s performance created a torrent of voices clamoring to see the young GF Team black belt matched up against arguably the most dominant champion in Jiu Jitsu, Roger Gracie.

Let’s look back on Rodolfo Vieira’s career and World Championship run. Although I mainly watch lightweight and below, seeing a Jiu Jitsu fighter with the power and skill of Vieira is impossible not to appreciate.

For a complete analysis of Rodolfo Vieira’s guard passing see: Rodolfo Vieira: The Passing Machine on The Jiu Jitsu Laboratory.

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Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu

“Ahh! What a battle!” – Roberto Abreu

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Roberto Abreu’s story is one of triumphing over adversity.

Abreu came up in the countryside near Campo Grande, Brazil. With little exposure to Jiu Jitsu, the future heavyweight standout was nonetheless drawn to the martial arts, practicing Karate, Judo and Capoeira. Like many tough rural kids Abreu grew up fighting, which led to his introduction to Jiu Jitsu at the hands of an adversary of slight build whose submission techniques intrigued the young Roberto.

How is this guy half of my size choking me out? I didn’t even know what a choke or armbar was. When he did that, I went crazy! I told him, “You have to take me to this place to learn this.” I was 17, and I started training. With two weeks of training, I won my first tournament. From there, I never stopped.

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Jake Mackenzie

“Every year I find I love Jiu Jitsu more and more, you know?” – Jake Mackenzie

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Jake Mackenzie is from Nova Scotia and he has an awesome deep half guard. These days he trains with Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu, although he’s known for his frequent trips to Brazil where he developed his killer half guard game.

Jake has won a bunch of tournaments and will continue to do so, but he has an awesome game and he’s from Truro, so I’d probably cheer for him regardless.

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Getting to know Jake Mackenzie – Grappling Weekly

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Deep Half Guard – feat. Jake Mackenzie

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Jake Mackenzie Shoyoroll

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Ryan Hall

“You’re gonna think, ‘Aw man, I’m pretty good.’ And that’s the worst thing that can cross your mind.” – Ryan Hall

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Like most people, I first became aware of Ryan Hall when he was a Lloyd Irvin purple belt with freakish flexibility, devastating triangles, and something called an “inverted guard.” As his grappling career progressed he became equally known to the Jiu Jitsu world as a leg-lock specialist, a top-level competitor and one of the most talented instructors in the game.

I draw a great deal of inspiration from Ryan’s career. Ryan showed the world that hard-work and intelligence can bring you to the top of the talent pool, even if you’re a suspiciously-flexible, light-weight Jiu Jitsu player.

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Ryan Hall + Shoyoroll

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Now a black-belt under Brasa’s Felipe Costa, Hall also runs his own academy, 50/50 Jiu Jitsu in Northern Virginia. His accomplishments include gi and no-gi World Championships at purple belt, a bronze medal in the World Championships at brown belt, and a bronze medal at the World’s most prestigious no-gi event, the ADCC – where he took veteran Jeff Glover to the limit before securing the back to win the match. His medal came after he and Glover were beaten by Leo Vieira and Rani Yahya respectively, a fact which should not diminish the accomplishments of either competitor.

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Ryan Hall Highlight

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Not without controversy, Ryan Hall’s statements about the guard in Jiu Jitsu, his association and subsequent split with Lloyd Irvin and his reliance on the 50/50 guard have all led to many pages of consternation on the major BJJ message boards.

Today, Hall is attempting to break into the highest echelons of black belt competition. Not having had the results he was hoping for this year in the Pan Jiu Jitsu Championships and the Abu Dhabi Pro (despite putting on amazing performances) it’s going to be interesting to see how Hall matures as a competitor in the most stacked weight division on the planet. With the World Jiu Jitsu Championships coming up next month, I’m looking forward to seeing if Hall can out-Atos the Atos team, who has so far kept him off the podium at major competitions this year.

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Ryan Hall inverted reverse triangle. What?

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In addition to being a World-class competitor, Hall has also released a series of high-quality instructional DVDs. His first instructional focusing on the triangle choke was re-worked and released with his 50/50 guard DVD, both being demonstrated without a gi. His second set of DVD’s focused on his signature back attacks and deep half guard. I’ve spent many hours drilling Ryan’s techniques, and really appreciate his comprehensive, conceptual approach to instruction. I wish I had a chance to get on the mats with Hall and pick his brain about finishing the waiter sweep or countering the rolling back take, for example, but for now the DVDs have increased greatly my understanding of Jiu Jitsu.

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Ryan Hall Shoyoroll Interview 2010

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Links:

Ryan Hall at BJJ Heroes

New DSTRYRsg Ryan Hall interview 

Ryan Hall at the 2011 IBJJF Houston Open

Ryan Hall UK seminar highlights and interview

Felipe Costa visits Ryan Hall (black belt promotion)

Ryan Hall rolling and discussion with Marcelo Garcia

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