Beating the Odds: 50/50 Guard

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Type in 50/50 guard on the Youtube and see what you get. A few videos are of techniques from the position, or big Jiu Jitsu stars talking about how they don’t like it. But the majority are 50/50 passes. Some of these passes are reliable, some are questionable at best. Why is everyone so eager to pass the 50/50 guard?

Any time a new position becomes popular in Jiu Jitsu the first instinct seems to be to learn how to avoid it. Most Jiu Jitsu students don’t know very much about the 50/50. When they do, it is known as a boring position or a place to stall. It can be very hard to pass, and some of the key sweeps end up back in the reviled position. Thus the need to learn to escape from the 50/50.

Yet a growing number of competitors generate a remarkably effective offence from the 50/50 position. It would be dishonest to claim that the 50/50 guard is always an exciting, dynamic position. However, several athletes from teams like CheckMat, Atos, Lloyd Irvin and 50/50 have been doing remarkable things from the position, which has furthered the evolution of the sport.

In the video below, compiled by the Jiu Jitsu Lab mostly from recent competition footage, you will be able to study the current state of the 50/50 guard in the top levels of competitive Jiu Jitsu.

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50/50 Guard Highlight | The Jiu Jitsu Laboratory

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The Leg Drag Sweep: Scoring and Setups

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By now the entire Jiu Jitsu world has seen the back-and-forth match between Rodolfo Vieira and Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida in the Absolute division of the 2012 World Jiu Jitsu Championships.

Before the referee had even called “Parou” to end the match the tense contest between the two behemoths was being proclaimed as “the greatest BJJ match ever.” But this means that an equal number of people were exposed to some confusion on behalf of the normally excellent commentary team of Shawn Williams, Caleb Queern and guest Braulio Estima.

At about the five minute mark, Rodolfo sat up into a leg drag pass as Buchecha attempted to defend the reigning champ’s omoplata sweep. The commentary team, all of whom are respected black belts, were unsure of the scoring of this transition. This demonstrates the current state of confusion surrounding Jiu Jitsu’s competition rule set. Even ADCC and world champion Braulio Estima expressed that the sweep was directly into a form of side control and therefore three points should not have been awarded.

“That wouldn’t be considered a pass, would it? Because there was no guard.” – Braulio Estima

“He swept him, basically, to the cross side.” – Shawn Williams

Such a turn of events would have drastically changed the match in favour of the eventual winner, Buchecha, would have robbed the audience of a nail-biting conclusion and as I’ll explain would have robbed Rodolfo of his rightful points for the pass.

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Rodolfo Vieira (GF Team) vs. Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida (CheckMat)

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Ryan Hall Takes the Back

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Ryan Hall will take your back.

While better known for his 50/50 guard and triangle, the current Marcelo Garcia Team member has developed a comprehensive system of taking the back that was honed through his remarkably active competition schedule.

Maybe fans and opponents started realizing this in 2009, when at ADCC Ryan Hall took the back in every match he won, including an omoplata to the back on Jeff Curran, followed by a near back take on Leo Vieira, before ultimately winning the bronze medal with arguably the most important and hard-fought back take of his career against Jeff Glover.

While his career at black belt has been plagued with injury and some controversial defeats, Hall has managed to rack up some impressive victories at regional Jiu Jitsu tournaments with a host of unique back takes including his signature rolling back takes, armdrags, his highly-effective sit-back back take, and at least one berimbolo.

I am particularly interested in his sit-back technique, which is only described in his (excellent) DVD series on attacking the back as “Attacking the Turtle 1.” It’s a variant of his previously-described “crotch lock and roll,” so I guess you could call it a “crotch lock and sit.” Regardless, it’s a powerful method of controlling your opponent’s hips as you work your way onto the back.

I was blown away by the control offered by the “Crotch lock and sit” when I happened across a highlight video of Ryan’s performance at the 2010 Gracie Nationals, where he pulled it off against Gracie Barra’s (now Atos) Brian Morizi and Paragon’s Milton Bastos. I was particularly interested in Ryan’s variation when his opponent turns into him from side control, allowing him to circle around the the crotch-lock position.

Interestingly in his Back Attacks DVD set Ryan mentions he has so much experience with the position that he no longer needs to use his hands for the crotch lock. I didn’t see any evidence of this while going through his footage,  although with Ryan being sidelined with reoccurring hand and wrist injuries, anything that takes his hands out of play can only be a good thing.

Check out the video below for a history of Ryan Hall’s back takes, including some of his most famous victories.

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Rafael Mendes: Berimbolo Evolution

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After the 2012 Mundials it was obvious to all that the berimbolo is here to stay. Not only did it appear in some hotly-contested matches in the black belt division, but knowledge of the double-guard-pull berimbolo battle was almost prerequisite for competitors in the lower belts.

In years past the berimbolo was a little-known sweep utilized by the Mendes brothers, Samuel Braga and a handful of other elite competitors. Now, as purple belts like the Miayo brothers and others are becoming experts at the position, and even white and blue belts are using it in competition the original progenitors of the berimbolo are expanding and evolving the technique.

In the video below we track the evolution of Rafael Mendes’s berimbolo game specifically. We can begin to see patterns in how he sets up the position, how he competes it when everything goes right and how he deals with opponents who know how to shut it down.

Increasingly too, we can see how the berimbolo has developed past the generic “de la Riva to the back” application into newly abstracted territory. In the first half of the video, ranging from Rafa’s days as a brown-belt in 2008 until mid-2011, we see how the berimbolo is ideally performed. In the second half I wanted to focus on how Rafa will switch to a different sweep if a) his opponent makes a mistake, or b) his opponent defends.

For me, this is a chance to study the details of grips and setups Rafa uses, and how he deals with opponents that defend the sweep well. I know how to do the berimbolo, but I don’t make it a staple of my Jiu Jitsu game. Since the competitors in my division are increasingly defaulting to the double-guard pull and berimbolo style game, I’m taking a closer look at the position.

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Rafael Mendes: Berimbolo Evolution

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Stray observations: 

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Hiatus/Happy Father’s Day

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Almost every blog on the internet has a post somewhere in their history that basically says, “Hey, sorry I haven’t been posting much lately, but I’m back and will be writing all the time now!”

Well, I can’t really say that, since I don’t regret taking some time away from the site, and I can’t make any promises about my writing output these days. You see, In April my wife gave birth to a healthy and happy baby girl, who has taken all of my non-working time.  I’m still training lots, thanks to my supportive and understanding wife, but not writing as much as I’d like to.

I do have some projects and posts lined up, though. You’ll see one of them tomorrow. I’m pretty excited.

Thanks to all the readers of the Jiu Jitsu Lab for your patience over the last few months, and Happy Father’s Day to all the grapplers that make time for training and their kids!

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Leg Drag Pass Instructional

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Leg Drag Pass | The Jiu Jitsu Laboratory

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The 2012 Pan Jiu Jitsu Championships and the Evolution of Jiu Jitsu

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Evolution is often implied to mean a change for the better. But like the evolution of sightless fish deep in the Marina Trench, evolution can also mean adapting to the constraints of a given environment, even if something important is lost. Jiu Jitsu is evolving at breakneck speeds, but some influential coaches and competitors argue that this change is moving the art away from its spirit and intent.

The Pan Jiu Jitsu Championships were founded in 1995, and were originally billed as the Campeonato Panamericano, or Pan American Championships. Traditionally, events that bill themselves as “Pan Ams” are open to athletes from North and South America and are often second in prestige only to the World Championships (or Olympics). In 2004 the IBJJF stopped billing the tournament as the Pan Ams, as the event had always been open to athletes from anywhere in the world. The title of Pan Championships was therefore fitting, as the prefix Pan- is Greek for “of everything,” making the Pans functionally indistinguishable from the World Jiu Jitsu Championships. Yet despite hosting the highest number of competitors of any tournament, the Pans are seen as less prestigious than the Worlds.

Watching the 2012 Pans comfortably from home thanks to the effort of the Budovideos team’s multi-mat live video feed, I found myself blown away by the caliber of Jiu Jitsu taking place in Irvine, California, but also worried in small, nagging ways about the direction the art was taking. In many ways the 2012 Pans were a great competition. The level of Jiu Jitsu was high, the presentation was more professional than ever, and the officiating was for the most part fair and accurate. But following the Pans there was a chorus of criticism from competitors and coaches that demonstrated clearly that Jiu Jitsu competitions were at something of an impasse.

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Pan Jiu Jitsu 2012 – Kron Gracie vs Marcus Almeaida and Bernardo Faria vs Carlos Antonio Jr. (Budovideos)

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Jiu Jitsu Lab Featured on Science of Skill

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The Science of Skill is written by Dan Faggella, a prolific Jiu Jitsu competitor and trainer. I’ve been aware of Dan since his video analysis appropriately-titled “Rafael Mendes – Why He Wins” hit the online Jiu Jitsu landscape. As a graduate student in something called Applied Positive Psychology Dan brings a unique voice to the analysis of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is why you’ll find The Science of Skill in the list of links to the right.

A few days ago Dan contacted me with some questions about a series of profiles of the “Jiu Jitsu Nerds” that were driving the  current online discourse. It was an honour to be included, and I really appreciate Faggella’s enthusiasm for the art of Jiu Jitsu those that seek to understand it better through online media. The other bloggers that have been featured so far are Seymour from the Meekratsu blog, Can from the SlideyFoot blog and Jake from The Ground Never Misses blog. I’m a big fan of the work of all three gentlemen and it’s pretty cool to be featured along side them. In case anyone is interested, the full interview is below. Continue reading

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Operation: Berimbolo Counter-Attack

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The first time someone pulls off the dreaded berimbolo sweep on you, it feels like it is impossible to stop. My though process went something like this, “Oh, that’s a lot of pressure on my leg, it would be a good idea if I sat down to relieve it.” Next thing I knew someone’s spinning underneath me forcing me to throw myself to the mat to prevent my opponent from taking my back.

The berimbolo is becoming increasing popular, with multiple videos on the internet attempting to explain the sweep that was made famous by Samuel Braga and his rivals on the Atos team. But be careful, warns Caio Terra, when learning the berimbolo from videos: “It’s PATHETIC how many videos explaining the “berimbolo” are in the internet but NONE of them are correctly, I mean, not just the move is incorrect but people who posts it have no idea what the berimbolo really is.” Point taken, Caio… point taken. So let this be a disclaimer that it’s important not only to check out instructional videos, but to see how techniques work in competition. I’m a big believer in watching competition footage, and when talking to Rafael Mendes last week he said the same thing, much to my amazement.

The result of all the exposure: even lower belts are pulling off this seemingly-advanced technique. With the popularity of the berimbolo firmly established it’s becoming increasingly important to have an effective counter for the inevitable moment that you come across it in competition. The main counters most people try are to sit back on the de la Riva hook for a knee-bar or attempt to toe-hold the free leg. Either approach will likely result in your back being taken if you’re not careful. To get a sense of how to counter the berimbolo against one its best practitioners, check out how Bruno Malfacine dealt with the sweep against Ary Farias at the 2011 European Jiu Jitsu Open.

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Ary Farias vs Bruno Malfacine – European Open 2011

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Heat and Pressure: The Mendes Brothers in Arizona

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Delta 5819 to Phoenix is accelerating across the tarmac. The Vancouver rain becomes a machine-gun crackle and then disappears behind the roar of the dual GE CF34-8C5 turbofans. The plane sways violently in the gusts of wind coming off the Fraser River, dropping several feet and taking my stomach with it. I can’t help thinking about how difficult it is to study the genetics of nitrous oxide reduction when I think I’m about to die. It wouldn’t be the first time a small aircraft slammed to the ground after taking off from YVR, but I put my exaggerated sense of doom on hold and focus on my excitement about finally starting on my journey to train with the two best lightweight Jiu Jitsu athletes in the world.

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Heat and Pressure

The two most memorable aspects of my weekend in Phoenix were the heat and the pressure. The temperature was north of 34oC (93oF) while back in Vancouver it was snowing. For me it was a difficult adjustment but one I gladly made to get out of the Canadian winter and bask in the desert heat. Feeling both Rafael’s and Guilherme’s pressure while passing the guard made me a convert to their philosophies of the importance of posture and pressure. These two elements came up repeatedly as I delved deeper into the Jiu Jitsu of the Mendes brothers.

Rafael Mendes has won the world championships in the featherweight division twice at black belt and looks virtually unstoppable as he contends for his third world title in 2012. He is also the reigning two-time ADCC champion. His older brother Guilherme was the first of the two to win the World Jiu Jitsu Championships in 2009, regaining his title in 2011. Just with credentials like these the brothers would be in high demand, but their style of Jiu Jitsu has also revolutionized the competition scene, making the study of their techniques a must for every serious student of the art.

While they have been performed by others before, the Mendes brothers’ signature positions – the leg-drag, the berimbolo, and the reverse de la Riva guard – have become have become de rigueur for competitors in the lighter weight classes. It was more than their techniques that made them great at Jiu Jitsu, however. Their ideas of posture and pressure and of a systematic approach to Jiu Jitsu were equally important for creating a highly-developed Jiu Jitsu game.

The Mendes brothers’ approach to Jiu Jitsu is fairly simple. From every position they analyze what the most efficient action is, then break down their opponents’ possible defenses and counters, and adjust the position or techniques to pre-emptively nullify them. Their techniques are developed as a series of movements that take away their opponent’s defenses while adhering to the basic principles of Jiu Jitsu. For example, for the leg drag pass to work, the brothers want to control the leg, then the hips, then the shoulders – which should be kept flat on the mat to secure the pass. Each detail, grip and movement is calculated to achieve these criteria with as much control and efficiency as possible.

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The crucible: Gracie Arizona

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Mendes Brothers Seminar – Day One

I arrived in Pheonix, Arizona late on the evening before the seminar. At the time I wasn’t aware of the socio-economic intricacies of the city, meaning I was ignorant that I would be staying in one of the worst neighbourhoods in one of America’s supposedly top-ten most dangerous cities. I guess that’s what $30-a-night accommodations get you. I was told later by Dave, my drilling partner during the first day of the seminar, that it would be a good idea to find alternate accommodations if possible, advice that I followed for my last night in Phoenix.

The direct area that I was in wasn’t actually that bad. It was very poor, but I mostly saw families trying to make the most of their lives in a city hard-hit by the recent economic downturn. There were even the dreaded signs of gentrification nearby: art galleries, trendy cafes and vegan restaurants. Of course this was all bound-in by the scrawl of drug cartel graffiti.

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Mendes brothers seminar – Day one in the gi (Mendes bros. photo)

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