One thing that BJJ does better than a lot of grappling arts is come up with unique names for moves. In Judo, most variations just get boiled down to one of the original moves and then it is just a variation of that move, even though the mechanics might be completely different (like a Koga Seio Nage). But sometimes in BJJ different people end up inventing the same move and name it different things. Then it becomes a little bit of a popularity contest to see which name wins out in the end.
There were a couple matches in 2005 that brought popularity to this guard and position. The biggest upset at the time was Demian Maia vs Jacare Souza. Jacare now more popular for his UFC career was the open weight world jiu jitsu champion at the time. Demian was a talented competitor, but was a clear underdog at the time. Demian with his new guard and offside attacks got the better of Jacare at the World Cup in 2005. He came out with a video series and named the position anaconda guard, so that was how I was introduced to the name and I stuck with it ever since.
The same year that Demian beat Jacare, Marcelo Garcia was continuing his tear in the ADCC no gi grappling world. A very fun match that I believe Marcelo credits to creating the single leg x guard was his match with Diego Sanchez in ADCC 2005. Marcelo had been setting up his famous x guard from the butterfly guard, but against standing opponents it was harder for him to enter. This is the first time I believe he used it in competition. He didn't popularize it as single leg x guard until his technique website MGinAction.com came out in 2010.
Also in ADCC 2005 Xande beat ultra heavyweight world champion and future UFC heavyweight contender Gabriel Gonzaga. Xande used the same guard to sweep Gonzaga and finish the match in under a minute. We used to just call the position footlock guard because you can get to the anklelock and other footlocks from the position.
In the end, Single Leg X (often abbreviated as SLX) won the popularity contest probably because of the growth of Marcelo Garcia's popularity (and known as all around nicest guy in BJJ). I was slow to adapt it as the name because I had heard about it as anaconda guard for years. The benefits for calling it Single Leg X over anaconda guard are I think people gain a familiarity with the X guard position and it links itself to the x guard and in practice you are going to bounce back and forth between x guard and single leg x guard all the time. I think a new practioner benefits from seeing this relationship in the name of the guards. Also there is a mental boost from that if you good good at single leg x, you will probably see it as not a big of jump to learn x-guard. Plus the famous arm-in chokehold the anaconda choke doesn't have any relationship with the anaconda guard so having the same name to the choke is a bit of a disservice.
In terms that I hate to use, because of EBI there is a rise in the popularity of heel hooks and one of the innovators is John Danaher from Renzo Gracie academy. Unfortunately he uses the Japanese terms for the position such as ashi garami. Which doesn't help the american practitioner learn the move an easier because most don't speak that language. You could argue that the foot position of the inside leg is different than single leg x because it is on the far side, but that is the usual position that it falls into during the sweep anyway.
I had a conversation this weekend with a parent over whether or not he should put his child into wrestling. I think my thoughts are evolving over time on the subject so I thought to write them down. If you had asked me 8 years ago when I first started teaching full-time whether a teenager who does BJJ should do wrestling I almost always answered yes. Now I get parents who ask me this question not just about their high schooler, but also about their kids who are 8 years old and sometimes even younger
Wrestling for me was a big part of my high school experience. It taught me a ton about work ethic, toughness, competition, success as both a team and an individual. I found wrestling in 8th grade after our Tae Kwon Do school started showing us some judo and submissions. I was sparring with the adults which was a getting a little frustrating as a 12 year old due to the power difference and with the UFC coming out I was a bit disillusioned by Tae Kwon Do so when my mom enrolled me in a wrestling summer camp I was excited. I went to the summer camp for a number of weeks and did pretty well, the only issue was that the summer camp was at the rival high school and not my own. They were bummed that I would be joining the "other team". Luckily for me the other team was the vastly better high school for wrestling so I quickly learned the difference betwen good coaching and bad coaching for wrestling. My high school had two great coaches, the first was a Michigan Wrestling Hall of Fame coach, made a lot of state champs and was pretty old school. When he retired he was replaced by an Olympic alternate, Junior World Champion and 2x NCAA runner up for the University of Michigan. He taught more about how to succeed as an individual.
I bring this up because looking back, I had great wrestling coaches. This allowed me to probably value the amazing instructors I had in Saulo and Xande. I guess I am finding it frustrating as a coach to recommend to parents that they send their kids off to wrestle because of all the value and experience that I got out of it and then they send them to the nearest school (usually the only option) and they get subpar coaching for 4 months out of the year. So I am becoming more and more reluctant to send my athletes to wrestling programs because I am not seeing a high level of high school coaches in this area. Wrestling is a lot more popular and competitive in the midwest and even in Michigan there are just such wide gaps in wrestling coaching. So I am getting to the opinion that would I rather have your kid learn Jiu-Jitsu from a highly decorated competitor and full-time coach or to take time away from that to learn from a part-time coach who probably didn't go very far in the sport (especially when you are talking about younger kids).
The other thing I always caution with wrestling is burn out. I saw it a lot in high school wrestling from kids who started wrestling when they were in elementary school. They have been competing for so long and cutting weight for so long that they are done with it by the time high school ends. There is so much focus on success in high school, which would give them a chance at a university team that the kids don't love the sport anymore. The sad thing is it takes so long to get good at wrestling and grappling in general that aren't giving our kids a chance to succeed at an international level. We put so much focus on high school success, that college success seems unbelieveable, but really the college wrestlers are just kids to the adults who are trying for the olympics usually. Watch some of the matches that flowrestling puts on between Daniel Cormier and current NCAA champions or Ben Askren facing Quinten Wright (Penn State champ). The older former olympians who have been focusing solely on MMA for years can toy with the college kids. The Russian wrestling team is so much older than the USA team because it takes so long to get good at this stuff. That is something that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu allows for and USA wrestling doesn't really.
So in general I won't say that kids should or shouldn't stop wrestling for BJJ because the level of the coaches vary dramatically in each. There are coaches in Colorado that I would love to eventually work with my son. But I would also hesitate to take him out of program with world class instruction for one with less than that. Please don't think that I dislike wrestling, I still get on the mat as a wrestler at least once a week, but I am learning from world class guys and I highly value that experience.
This year marked the first IBJJF Denver Open. I was very happy with the results of the tournament with Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu taking 3rd place. It is nice looking back to when I moved here in the summer of 2007 and I was the first representative of Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu in the state of Colorado. So after having the Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu - Denver academy open for just over 3 years along with my black belts academy in Windsor and several affiliates of Rafael Lovato Jr we were able to capture 3rd place as a team is just amazing.
At a lot of IBJJF tournaments they will host a rules seminar. I had done my first rules seminar last year at the Masters Worlds and I credit that rules seminar with part of my ability to win that tournament. I remember the rules that stood out to me were the fact that there is no stalling from the top of mount and from the back with hooks position. These rules enabled me to relax once I achieved these positions and put the pressure on my opponent to escape. When they tried to escape I submitted them. But if I didn't know the rules, I would have kept busy attacking and they would probably just clam up and be harder to submit. So the knowledge of the rules gave me the most efficient way to the submission.
When I found out there was a rules seminar in Denver I decided to do it again. It isn't free and there are better ways to spend a Friday night, but a couple of friends were going to go in order to get their belts certified with the IBJJF so I decided to do the seminar again. I also contacted the IBJJF about reffing and they let me know that if I did 2 rules seminars and talked to the head referee Anjinho, that I could do ref training that weekend. So I did that. The rules seminars are also nice because you can ask questions about certain moves and positions that aren't fully covered in the rule book. So I was able to get clarity on toe holds from the honey hole and some other toe hold variations. Once again I passed the test with a 100% score so I did the go ahead to do the referee training.
The training took place Sunday after most of my competitors had already competed and most of the day was no gi. They mic'd us up so we had a head referee in our ear mentoring us through any mistakes. Sometimes the quality of the microphone was a bit of a nuisance, but it was comforting to know that I wasn't going to call a match wrong because they would fix the score if I did.
The first two matches were interesting because the first involved a pass when the bottom player was playing lasso guard. When the top player passed they bottom person maintained the grip on the lasso. This is a pass under IBJJF rules when the person on bottom accepts the pass. I knew the rule, but was a little slow on the call so I got told to give the points. The second match was a classic heavyweight match with a lot of standing and pushing out of bounds. I wanted to call the penalty for passivity earlier and more often, but I was only allowed to give it after the person who was pushed out of bounds accepted it and walked backwards. In the past I remember the rules were different where the aggressor would get penalized something which I saw Dillon Dannis use frequently.
I felt I got into the swing of things for the rest of that 40 minutes of coaching, having to step out periodically when a Ribeiro athlete would step on the mat. I messed up a call in one match where one athlete swept from de la riva and landed in single-x/anaconda with a reap. The reap was only across the body, so I stopped the match to fix the foot position and give a penalty, but was getting talked to by the head ref. Because of the mic difficulties it took a while to get sorted out and when I gave the penalty and called a restart to the action the bottom player swept back immediately. I thought the initial sweep hadn't been held long enough to give the points so I gave an advantage, but the head ref thought it should have been a sweep each so I waived off the advantage. It was a tough call because of the break in the action for the penalty and to reset the foot position.
I think another thing I learned that day was about how quick the referees are told to stop the fight once they leave the safety area (the yellow marking). It really is if a foot or a hand touches outside the yellow safety area they are quick to call a stop to the match which results in a lot of good takedown attempts being called an advantage because the athlete couldn't secure the position inside the match area.
Later in the day I would referee the no gi absolute division. The interesting calls that happened were one athlete had another in a standing d'arce choke. The defending athlete backpedaled hard towards the out of bounds. If they would have continued past the safety area I would have had to DQ them for fleeing a submission. At the last second the aggressor threw the opponent out of bounds. Because there are no resets in a submission under IBJJF rules this resulted in 2 points for the aggressor and a restart from the feet.
Not surprisingly, quite a few of the local competitors didn't know the rules about talking to a ref. You are only allowed to talk to the referee when you need medical attention (and not in a submission) or if your uniform needs attention like your pants are falling down. Otherwise a penalty is given. One of the competitors was complaining that I didn't give points on a takedown attempt and I really wanted to give him points, but once they went out of the safety area the most I could give was an advantage. When he started talking to me, I ignored him, but after the match I went out off the mat to tell him that talking to me would be a penalty.
The final weird thing happened on the match next to mine where an athlete was getting medical attention. If you are injured during the course of the match you can get injury time as long as you aren't in a submission. You should note that a stopping because of a cramp is an automatic loss so if you are massaging a cramp you should never let the referee see you do it. But the match next to mine stopped for a medical timeout and the trainer came over to help. But then it was obvious that the reason the trainer was coming over was because of a cramp, so the athlete helped, but then given the loss and that was a sequence of events I wasn't sure would lead to the loss, but it did happen.
Overall I am happy that I reffed and went through the training. It gave me a better knowledge of the rules for my athletes and gave me more insight into the day of the referees. I don't think it is by chance that one of the best teams in Jiu-Jitsu GFT is led by a referee Julio Ceasar and many of his students are referees as well.
My newest black belt (3rd that I have promoted) wrote an awesome post about his journey at black belt over on reddit. It is a great read and I super proud of Neil!
I started BJJ in my mid-30s as a way to address my sedentary computer-geek life and expanding girth. Started a family late and I wanted to make sure I was there for my son when he needed me later on, but I was an uncoordinated couch potato who’d never done anything remotely athletic and I really didn’t know where to start. I tried to enjoy running for a year or so, but it didn’t sustain my interest. On a whim, I went to Amal Easton’s academy in nearby Boulder for an intro in 2004 and it took me two years to work up the courage to sign up in early 2006.
When I started training I couldn’t make it through the warm up. Mid-30s and out of shape, I was usually one of the older, rounder students in class. I think I could maybe do 5 pushups in a row. The first thing I learned was to suck it up and just keep showing up. I could see that I was probably going to suck at this for a really long time. Perspective wasn’t hard to come by at Easton’s; there was never any shortage of awe-inspiring instructors and world-class athletes hanging around. The MMA/UFC was really taking off in Colorado at the time and some of my instructors were moving that direction; some like Eliot Marshal went from teaching my evening classes to doing regional MMA bouts and eventually to starring on The Ultimate Fighter and fighting in the UFC right before my eyes. I loved seeing the big names come in and train with us. I rolled with guys like Duane Ludwig and Shane Carwin as a blue belt and met loads of famous Brazilians who came to do seminars. More importantly for me, I met friends back then that are still good friends today and I learned that you either win or you learn. Nobody ever really loses in jiu-jitsu class.
I met Professor Matt Jubera right after he moved to Colorado. He had this otherworldly passing and pressure that nobody at my area had really ever seen before and for a number of years he basically just took over the local BJJ competition scene. A long time student of Xande and Saulo Ribeiro, I really didn’t understand his game, but I knew the style really resonated with me and I wanted to learn it. When he told me he was starting his own academy near my house (I was a blue belt at the time), I told him I wanted to be his student before he’d even opened the doors and I have been ever since!
Setbacks, I’ve had a few. Tore my ACL on the mat as a blue belt and ended up being sidelined completely for about 7 months while I healed up. Tore my MCL badly and my -other- ACL as a purple belt. Turned out my second ACL injury wasn’t as bad as the first and didn’t end up requiring reconstruction, but the MCL took several months to heal before I could find that out. When I got back after my MCL injury, I realized I needed to make some changes and focus on prevention, so I started working on my diet and powerlifting (Stronglifts 5x5 stuff) on the side every other day. I started slow, spent a lot of time learning, and tracked my progress; in the first year I back squatted over a quarter-million pounds total volume. People started saying things like “you’re so strong”, which is certainly better than “you’re so fat”, but it gradually inspires a weird sort of ‘big guy angst’: you still understand your failures are a byproduct of needing better technique, but now you constantly wonder if your successes are only because you’re so strong. Still, I highly recommend working on strength for jiu-jitsu players. Especially those getting older like me. I know if you want to get better and jiu-jitsu, you should just do more jiu-jitsu, but that’s easier to say as a 25 year old than it is when you’re staring into the abyss of your 40s and wondering why you keep getting hurt. I really don’t worry about my knees any more at all and I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. Deadlifts have done more to alleviate my finger pain than all the miles of athletic tape I’ve ever bought.
Today at 45, I’m the epitome of the hobbyist grinder jiu-jitsu guy. Somewhere along the way I earned me the nickname “Badger” and even today there are a ton of people I train with who I’m not 100% sure know my real name. I do comps from time to time, though it isn’t a major focus for me, and I’ve earned a couple of local medals to hang up. I’ve done Masters Worlds the last couple of years as brown (no medals there unfortunately, but loads of great experience). One of my favorite competition memories was a marathon 15 minute blue belt match at a local tournament where my opponent and I ended up exhausted with an even score at the end of the finals and ended up doing 5 different 2 minute resets after the match before I was able to hit a sweep and score for the gold.
What have I learned along the way? I think the most important realization for me was that anyone can be good at something if they put in the time. Growth mindset is at the core of what BJJ teaches people and how it changes lives. When you stop thinking of your failures as reflective of your intrinsic abilities and instead reframe them as learning opportunities, you learn a skill that is maybe the most powerful mental tool you can put in your toolbox. This lesson that jiu-jitsu teaches you every day cascades out to every corner of your life and it makes you a better husband, father, friend, and person. I love watching people discover this lesson; you can watch the transformation and it’s amazing. The other part of BJJ that is powerful for me is the family you make along the way; somehow constantly trying to choke each other senseless brings people together in a way you really can’t get anywhere else.
That’s the gist of my black belt journey. Last Wednesday after a guest seminar with Professor Lovato I just about fell over when my name was called out at the end of the class. I think "gobsmacked" is a good description. I was asked to say some words and I think I did, but to be honest it took about 3 days for the smoke to clear in my head.
As some of our students prepare for upcoming competitions it is important to have the right mindset going into competition. Two common mistakes we see are focusing on results and focusing on a game plan. Focusing on the results of any competition was counter productive (being on the podium, having a certain title or other accomplishments). Results and accolades will be come and go, life will move on quickly afterwards. But usually thinking about the effects of winning or losing only adds pressure to athlete and inhibits their performance. Also when I started competing I would focus on a certain game plan or strategy and I found that when that match went according to the game plan, it was someone that I was already way better than. The people who were at my level or even better than me, those matches went to crazy places and positions and by being open to different situations I was more able to improvise and adapt. So instead it is important to think more about initiating the action, being aggressive, but being able to "flow the go" as Rickson says.
So I try to focus on the things I can control. I can control my effort in practice, I can control my effort in the warm up before the match (showing up a couple hours early, getting a bit of a burn in my lungs, a nice dynamic stretch, moving around on the ground with a buddy). I can control my effort in the match (trying to get my opponent out of position on my feet, trying to wear my opponent out, trying so many submission attempts, battling hard from each position). Too many times our students who are very technical try to go out there and only rely on their technique, but the technique is muscle memory. It is there or it isn't and you won't know until that day. Some times I can work on a series for six months and have it not show up in competition or I can learn something the week before and hit it live. Don't beat yourself up over if you were technical or not, but if you go out there and try to conserve energy beating the guy in only technique it is usually a losing proposition.
I also try to focus on my attitude. I try to be happy and grateful for the opportunity to compete. That I am healthy enough to compete, that I was able to get myself into such great shape. That I am out there competing with my friends and doing the thing that I am most passionate about. It is also fun to be able to go at 100% speed an intensity compared to an academy pace and try moves on opponents who don't know my game as well as my students. In the past I could put a ton of pressure on myself to win certain tournaments and I would be nervous and tight before the match. But now that I am older I think I am much more grateful to still be doing what I love and still competing and moving at a high level. I try to always reframe my nervousness as being excited or as Cael Sanderson calls it being "spirited".
I also try to focus in my belief in myself, that I prepared as best as I know how. How I prepare for each tournament will change based on previous results, but at each tournament I prepared as best I knew how and believed in that. I like to focus on certain sayings, mantras that you can repeat to yourself and focus your mind on. Travis Stevens repeatedly says "My name is Travis Stevens and I am an olympic champion." So I use a similar phrase for myself. Not focused on the results of being a world champion, but that I am one, even before it happens. I also like to remind myself of my best physical attributes, sometimes you can face some physical monsters out there, but it is important to remind yourself of what you bring to the table as an athlete. Long story short, don't focus on the medals, the glory or how the match is supposed to go. Focus on the things you can control, be happy out there, fight hard and live in the moment.
When I started wrestling a single leg grip was taught by my coach as a palm to palm grip with the outside hand on top to avoid someone stripping the grip. BJJ guys call it a gable grip, but I have never heard many wrestlers call it that. I had great coaches with one being a 2x NCAA D1 runner up and olympic alternate. Here is a video of him teaching his navy finish.
That still is a great finish and one that I use all the time, but in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I started to have issues with the grip. BJJ and mma doesn't have shoes and a lot of the better Jiu-jitsu and MMA guys would limp their leg out of the single leg. For a highlight of that limp leg technique in action check out the video of Demian Maia vs Tyrone Woodley at 0:32, 1:20, 2:18, 2:25.
And here is a video of Ben Askren showing the technique behind the limp leg.
So how are the best guys in the world holding the single leg these days. Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs showing what I call a guillotine grip because it is the same grip we use all the time on our guillotine choke so BJJ guys are familiar with it. It leaves the palm of the hand open to control the leg and get more control vs the limp leg.
Here is Ben Asken showing the same thing, he was the NCAA champ and undefeated Bellator fighter.
Here is John Smith, olympic gold medalist showing a gable grip in an older video. But more recent videos show him demonstrating the guillotine grip. Which he instructs his athletes to "cover that hand".
So one of the questions I get a lot is what should I be doing outside of the academy to improve my BJJ. I think having a balanced lifestyle focused on staying injury free is very important. I do a shoulder routine with thera bands everyday before I train or lift which improves shoulder muscles and helps keep me from developing any shoulder impingement from being too slouched over. For lower body I make sure to get some lifting in during the week along with walking my German Shepherd. For posture I think the walking helps along with regular chiropractic care. One of my hobbies is dog training and while it doesn't sound like a workout, but an active game of tug is a great way to loosen up before training. So for me a schedule that includes lifting, walking, chiro and dog training is a nice balanced lifestyle for when I am not competing. Other friends of mine such as world champion James Poupolo are big into yoga, Rafael Lovato Jr is big into mobility and strength work with his trainer Luke Tirey. World champion Jared Dopp is big into strength training, but he lets his strength coach know his primary objective is to reduce injuries. Saulo and Xande balance out their week with yoga and strength and conditioning along with mobility work from floor drills. Personally, yoga was always good great for my hips, but less so for my back. I would be careful with routines like crossfit that put a little too much focus on
One question we often get from new students is how often should I train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. We usually recommend new students train BJJ 2 to 3 days per week at most. Some people are a little bit confused by that and expect to train more than that coming in. But I have been around a long time and the students who are new and often come 4 or 5 days that first week rarely work out. They are like the new years resolution people who go to the gym a lot that first week in April, but then get too sore and life gets in the way and they didn't set a strong enough habit to keep with their new activity. When I started training at the University of Michigan Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu club, I was probably lucky that they only met three times a week on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. So I wasn't even able to train more than three days a week if I wanted to. It gave me plenty of time to think back and reflect on the training sessions and moves I had learned. Plus I had just come off high school wrestling which was a six time a week sport and was probably a bit burnt out. By having that craving to attend more than I was able to I was able to keep healthy and develop that desire to train more. By the end of my first year, I was in great shape and was able to start traveling to attend extra sessions, but I think anything more might have been detrimental to my long term success.
Now I have friends that are world champions that still only train 3 days a week. They supplement their BJJ with either yoga, weights or mobility exercises to help stay strong and healthy for competition. These are not hobbyiest athletes and they are getting the best results from 3 days a week. They have done the 5 or 6 day a week routines and found they had better performances when they cut back their training. So if these full time athletes are doing better on 3 days a week training and as a coach I have found that beginners have longer term success on 2 to 3 days a week, why are you pushing for more? Do you feel like you are going to fall behind the rest of the class? Are you trying to get to your blue belt faster? I think it is probably ego talking and getting in the way there. These thoughts of well if I am getting good going 2 to 3 days a week, what if I went 5 days a week, 6 days a week.
Now when our students get ready for competition, then I usually expect them to bump it up to 4 days a week. If they have extra energy, get in some strength building and if they have more extra energy, get in some cardio. I still only expect them to train hard 3 days a week, but an extra day can help them feel more mentally prepared and get in a bit of extra technique work. Plus if life gets in the way, as it often does, then they can at least hit their 3 hard days of training.
As a coach, I know that not every student listens, so I have schedule my classes to put in rest days for the guys. Mondays and Wednesday nights we have advanced classes and those are usually the "hard" classes for most people where we get in the most training. But when I make Tuesday class a hard day as well, I found the athletes were burning themselves out and their performances went down. So pretty much year round Tuesdays are a lighter day than Monday and Wednesday in the advanced classes. Then I expect our competitors to hit a longer open mat session on Thursday, Saturday or Sunday. Saturday would be optimal because it gives the most amount of rest between the hard Mondays and Wednesday training. But if people have other plans or activities we have great open mats on Thursday and Saturday as well.
Now people see that I am in the academy and on the mats with my students 5 days a week, isn't this going against what you are telling others to do. It is, but I make sure that I am only training hard on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Tuesdays and Thursdays I train with lighter and easier partners and I stick to positional training so that I can focus on areas that I identified that I need to improve. In fact, I do this in a lot of my training, so even if a training session looks to the outside like an open training session you will see me repeat certain positions or sequences multiple times because I can guide the training area that way as a more experienced BJJ practitioner.
Also understand that sometimes life gets in the way of your training. Sometimes you have to take a break because you are sick, or are stresses out because of work or relationships. This is normal and happens to every person. Let yourself get to a good place physically and mentally before entering into full training mode. Just come to easier classes, and let yourself rest up. I have found looking back on my 17+ years of BJJ training that the people who try to push to hard through these little distractions end up having to deal with larger setbacks later. So even if 1 week a month is sub-optimal training, I think that is pretty normal. In fact my strength training program Wendler's 5-3-1 program is based around a deload week every 4 weeks where you lift just a fraction of the weight you are used to. So that is something I am used to in my training. I always think it is ok to have a bad week, I just try to not have many bad months of training.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.