Chess and JiuJitsu: Tim Ferriss learns a martial art in one week

This is such a well made documentary about BJJ by Tim Ferriss that I just had to share it. It doesn’t hurt that it features Marcelo Garcia – my favourite BJJ practitioner of all time – and it’s clearly cost a lot of money to make, because the production quality is really high.

Here’s the premise: Tim Ferriss – one of those highly productive/annoying bloggers/podcasters/millionaires/motivational/4 hour week talker types – is going to challenge himself to learn BJJ in one week using a concept from his best bud the chess champion Josh Waitzkin to do with starting at the finish. Instead of learning all about BJJ in the way the rest of us do, he’s going to start with a finish move, the guillotine, then work backwards from there, and then try to do it live on a world champion. Yeah, good luck with that!

It’s a good watch so enjoy!

Bernardo Faria’s over/under guard pass

I’ve been playing about with this guard pass for the last couple of weeks, and it has changed my jiujitsu – it could change yours too.


One of the things I like about Brazilian Jiujitsu is the individuality of it – you’re encouraged to find your own signature moves and perfect them. What works for one person, won’t necessarily work for another. Marcelo Garcia has his X Guard system, the Miyao brothers have the Berimbolo and Bernardo Faria has his over/under guard pass. And I’ve just discovered it…

Read the rest of this post at my new blog… BJJ Notebook


BJJ 101 – Defending the guard pass. Frame and hip escape

Welcome to a new, occasional, series looking at the basics of BJJ. This is BJJ 101.


Now that I’ve got to brown belt in BJJ I find myself wanting to refocus on the basics and get them really tight. By basics, I mean the fundamental moves that you use most of the time, rather than the spectacular spinning back takes or flying triangles that get all the attention. I mean the boring stuff. The bread and butter of BJJ, if you will.


Read the rest of this post at my new blog… BJJ Notebook

Don’t use (the) force!

I keep hearing this idea from martial arts instructors of fighting somebody by “not using force”. Sadly that’s impossible, but that doesn’t seem to stop people saying it.


Every martial art seems to come with a bit of nonsense as part of the furniture. One of these that’s attached itself to Tai Chi is that you must learn to fight without using force. However, and to a man (because they are usually men) the people who say this seldom go beyond pushing the opponent away as the final solution to dealing with an attacker.

I think this misconception arrises because, with a little skill, you can get somebody off balance and push them quite a distance away, so long when they are unsteady, using minimal force.

But guess what – if you push somebody away… they come back! (Unless you push them off a cliff of course, but then, there’s never a cliff around when you need one, is there?) A determined attacker is not going to be impressed by how effortlessly you pushed him away. He’s going to come back and probably be even angrier than before!

I’d suggest the best thing to do with somebody you are trying to incapacitate is drop them at your feet, where you can control and restrain them until help arrives. Maybe the best thing to do is run away. But before you have that as your go-to option, consider the situation where you are with a family member and you are both under attack – what are you going to do, run away and leave them? Or maybe there are multiple attackers, in which case getting tied up with one of them on the ground is not a good idea.

Either way, the idea that you shouldn’t use force crumbles in the face of reality.

So where does this idea come from in Tai Chi? (I should note, I’ve heard the idea expressed in Aikido as well). When you’re doing Tai Chi push hands you also get a lot of comments like “too much force!”, “don’t use strength!”, which is all well and good (what they really mean is ‘don’t use brute strength’), but I think it tends to get translated into “never, ever, use force!”

Do no harm

There’s another variation on the theme which involves the notion that you should be able to subdue somebody without hurting them. Again, I’d say this was impossible. The closest I’ve seen to this idea is the sort of skill you get from BJJ where you can take a person down and mount them (sit on them) so that they can’t get up without having to punch them. You can then wait for help to arrive. Alternatively you can put them to sleep with a choke. But while they may not be getting injured, I don’t think the attacker would call it a pleasant experience!

I’m reminded of this video of BJJ noteable Ryan Hall, where he subdued an aggressive male who was trying to start a fight without throwing a single punch:


He might not have injured the guy, but he ended up putting him to sleep so he was not a threat to anybody.

So much for not using force!

Muskelkater: Taiji cures the muscle hangover

Feeling beaten up the morning after martial arts practice? Tai Chi is the answer.


The Germans have a special word for that beaten up, tired and sore feeling you get when you wake up the morning after BJJ class – “Muskelkater” – it literally means “muscle hangover”.

That word accurately reflected how I felt this morning after we did 10 x 6 minute rounds of sparring last night in BJJ class. I had no injuries, just an overwhelming sense of body tiredness and stiffness. The feeling is so common that it’s quite often known in BJJ circles as the Jiujitsu Hangover.

I looked at my Yoga mat, but the thought of doing something as strenuous as a downward dog made me wince. Instead, Tai Chi was the answer. Gentle, soft movements that ease the body back into motion. Even after just one run through the form I was feeling 50% better.

Doing the Taiji form slowly and gently can be as relaxing as a hot bath. As a recovery method from a Jiujitsu hangover, or any sort of muscle fatigue, I’m convinced there’s nothing finer. I just wish more people knew about it.


Does BJJ work on the street?

Chris Haueter’s new speech at BJJ Globetrotters addresses the seemingly eternal question people have about Brazilian Jiujitsu.

Chris Hauter is one of the original 12 American black belts in the art of Brazilian Jiujitsu. In this new 1.5 hour (yes, 1.5 hour!) speech he addresses a question which continually dogs BJJ:”Does BJJ work in the street?” He tackles the subjects of sport Jiujitsu compared to self defence Jiujitsu. It’s interesting because he might not say what you expect him to say…

Have a watch:

Don’t push the river, listen to it instead


Bruce Lee was onto something with his water analogies…

I recently read the phrase, “Don’t push the river, listen to it instead”, and it resonated deeply with me because it’s a great way of summing up my approach to jiujitsu’s rolling and tai chi’s push hands. The water analogy was famously used by Bruce Lee and also crops up a lot in the Tai Chi classics, for example “Chang Ch’uan [Long Boxing] is like a great river rolling on unceasingly.”

The flow of water is analogous to the flow of energy, or movement, when performing a Tai Chi form, or between two people engaged in a martial activity . In both jiujitsu and tai chi your ultimate goal is to ‘go with’ this flow in such a way that you come out on top. You want the opponent to be undone by their own actions.

In jiujitsu that might mean not using excessive strength to press home a collar choke from mount if your partner is defending it well, and switching to an armbar instead, then switching back to the collar choke (and hopefully getting it) when they defend the armbar.

In push hands it could mean not resisting your partner’s push and using Lu to let it pass you by, then switching to an armbar to capitalise on their over extension.

Of course, this is for when you’re engaged in the ‘play’ mode of both these arts, which is the mental space you need to occupy if you want to get better at either of them. This is the relaxed practice that nourishes the soul. It kind of goes without saying that in competition or in a self defence situation you’d be better off in Smash Mode. But when winning isn’t the only thing that’s important you need to open up your game a little and keep it playful. Or ‘listen to the river’ as the phrase has it. It takes a lot of expertise to be able to be that relaxed in a real situation, but as your experience in the art increase so too should your ability to remain relaxed under increasing amounts of pressure.

Rickson Gracie said, ‘you can’t control the ocean but you can learn to surf’ and that’s the heart of what I’m talking about.

To be aware of the way the river is flowing, and not waste futile energy pushing it in a direction it doesn’t want to go you need a degree of self awareness, and the ability to be aware of the situation you are in. And to get that you need to slow down and stay calm. Or, as the ancient Taoists said:

“Do you have the patience to wait

Till your mind settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving

Till the right action arises by itself?”
Lau Tzu, Tao-te-Ching

Rollback – the unfinished technique

Here’s the best thing to do after you’ve applied Tai Chi’s rollback.


One of the things that comes up a lot in Tai Chi push hands training that’s geared towards the martial side of Tai Chi is what to do with the opponent after you’ve done Rollback. Rollback uses Lu energy to lead the opponent in and control them, with their arm kind of locked, but not to the point where they’d tap. In the Yang form there’s no ‘finish’ from this position – after controlling them you strike with Press (Ji). This is ok, but to me it seems like you’re giving up the advantage you have over them because of the control that rollback affords in exchange for a quick strike. It looks like this:


There are several alternative things you can do – turn it into a push away (into a wall?), turn it into a takedown where you keep the pressure on the arm and shoulder, forcing them into the ground, or you can go for my preferred answer, which is to turn it into a standing arm bar as shown in this video:

Key things to note:

1. He puts his elbow over the top of their arm and makes sure the locked arm is snug in his armpit.

2. On the locked arm the little finger edge is pointing to the sky.

3. In the finish position he rotates his wrists around the opponent’s wrist so that both his thumbs point upwards – this gives you maximum leverage on the arm.

4. Once the opponent is controlled you can look around and watch out for further danger from somebody else.

I like this solution because it’s a really powerful arm lock and you can move into it from the end of the Tai Chi rollback posture fairly easily. You can feel it would be easy to break the arm from here, and the opponent is pretty much helpless. Obviously, in a self defence situation the level of force you exert needs to match the severity of the threat you feel you are under, so don’t go breaking the arm of people who have innocently patted you on the back, and also take care of your training partners. Don’t break your toys!


Lo and behold! Leandro Lo – the master of the BJJ guard pass


Breaking down the floating guard pass game

Despite being young, Leandro Lo is already a legend in the sport of BJJ, and he’s only just getting started. Training out of the same gym as the Myao brothers in Brazil, Lo has been winning major comps for a few years now, moving up in weight while doing so. He won this year’s Pan Ams against Romulo at medium heavy. His matches are always exciting to watch, as his style is characterised by frenetic guard passing and what appear to be plenty of mad scrambles.


Read the rest of this post at my new blog… BJJ Notebook






Stretching – you’re doing it wrong

Static stretching vs dynamic stretching – which is best?

Young woman seated hamstring stretch

I’ll be the first to admit that stretching isn’t the most exciting topic for most people, but it’s kind of important, so I should cover it. Plus, I’ve recently found a video by Ryan Hall that gives some extra insights into common stretches we do before BJJ:

Ryan gives some really valuable little tips on how to do each stretch correctly. Since you generally learn these stretches by just following along in class, with little to no additional information, it’s all too easy to miss the little details. For example, the first stretches he shows are the shoulder stretches you do by pulling the arm across the body (see 9.08 in the video). These are really common stretches used in all sorts of sports, yet the little detail he gives that you should be taking the shoulder down and back while pushing the chest out as you do them makes all the difference. Now you’re actually working the shoulder joint, which is the point of the stretch. Just yanking the arm across the body on its own won’t do squat.

Look at the ‘sprinters stretch’ at 24.26 – everybody I know will reach for that foot (including myself) but as Ryan points out, the point of the stretch is to get really comfortable getting your head to your leg – that’s where the focus needs to be.

What’s also nice about the video, is that Ryan puts each stretch in context – so you can see where it fits into BJJ as a whole. So, he’ll show you why it’s useful to be flexible.

And yet, he’s doing it all wrong. We all are. Or are we? You need to decide this for yourself after reading the latest research into dynamic vs static stretching, which I’ll point you towards here.

Ryan is showing what are called ‘static’ stretches, where you move into position then hold for 10 seconds. The current thinking is that ‘dynamic stretches’ are a better way to warm up. Dynamic stretches don’t involve holding the position at all, you simply take the joint through a range of motion, without holding the position at any point.

The reason of why dynamic stretching is better for you as a warm-up (than static stretching) seems to come down to two things. Firstly, the purpose of a warm-up is to warm the muscles and tendons, ready for the work that’s about to be done. In martial arts the work that is about to be done doesn’t usually involve holding stretched positions in extended periods (although if you’re getting stacked in your guard in BJJ, then it might!) Generally though, we’re about to use our muscles in an explosive way while putting our joints through their full range of motion. This is very different to the experience of a static stretch.

The second part is to do with the Golgi tendon receptor. This is a nerve which is found inside every tendon, and tells the muscle to relax and switch off to avoid it getting injured. So, if your bicep is under load and at full contraction for more than 5 seconds, the Golgi tendon receptor will make it relax, so you don’t tear anything. It’s this nerve which gets activated in a static stretch lasting more than, say, 5 seconds, essentially tricking it into relaxed the muscle further than normal, which means you can stretch further, but it also means the muscle can lack up to 20% of the power it had before it did the extra stretch (because you need tension to create power).

There have also been various studies performed which show that static stretching as a warm-up does nothing to help athletic performance, and in some cases actually diminishes it.

I think it all comes down to how you view the warm-up. If it’s simply to prepare your body for the work to be done, then dynamic stretching makes sense. However, you’re not going to dramatically increase your flexibility with dynamic stretching. So, in an ideal world you’d have both – the dynamic stretch before the activity, as a warm-up, then the static stretch as a cool-down afterwards.

A good source of information on stretching for athletic performance is sports coach Brian Mac, who has a website packed full of articles, like these ones, which contain the following quotes:

Muscle movement

“Contained in the tendon of each muscle is the Golgi tendon receptor. This receptor is sensitive to the build up of tension when a muscle is either stretched or contracted. The receptor has a tension threshold that causes the tension to be released when it gets to high. As the Biceps contracts and the threshold is exceeded then a signal is sent to the Biceps causing it to relax. This mechanism prevents damage being done to the Biceps should the weight be to heavy or the movement is to fast.”

Conditioning: How does static stretching affect an athletes performance?

“In conclusion, in most cases static stretching before exercise reduces an athlete’s power and strength. If the athlete participates in power or strength exercises acute stretching may not be recommended. “

Flexibility: Dynamic versus passive stretches

“This suggests that dynamic stretches, slow controlled movements through the full range of motion are the most appropriate exercises for warming up. By contrast, static stretches are more appropriate at the end of a workout to help relax the muscles and facilitate an improvement in maximum range of motion.”

Finally, here’s a few stretches to try:
Dynamic Stretching Exercises

Static Stretching Exercises