On Starting Sparring from the Knees…

A reader writes: Hi Stephan, I’ve been doing BJJ for about 6 months and am wondering if you have any advice about what to do when you’re starting on the knees?

I find that most wrestling-style takedowns are very difficult to do from the knees, especially because my opponents are really good at sprawling.

And if I get my grips then inevitably my opponent also gets his grips and the whole thing turns into a big pushing and pulling match, which doesn’t seem very technical to me.

Anyway, I currently feel really lost and have no idea how to initiate the action from the knees – can you help?

Sincerely Bohdan


Hi Bohdan,

Most BJJ classes start their sparring from the knees. This is because staying on the knees reduces the amount of space you need for each sparring pair, and that allows more people to be on the mat at the same time.

Starting on the knees also reduces the risk of injury associated with throws and takedowns.   Less throws and takedowns equals less injuries (I love Judo as a sport but don’t fool yourself – it has an incredibly high injury rate).

However starting with both people on their knees isn’t the most realistic position from which to initiate sparring.

First of all, starting on the knees has no application to modern self defense.

This might not always have been true.  In medieval Japan, after all, people spent a lot of time on their knees, and I’m sure that people did get attacked while kneeling.  That’s why many traditional Japanese jujutsu systems include armed and empty handed techniques for when both people are kneeling. But this kind of scenario – two people kneeling in front of each other – in today’s day and age is exceedingly rare!

Furthermore starting on the knees has very limited application in tournament competition.

I’ve watched hundreds and hundreds of BJJ matches, and I can only think of one or two cases where both contestants both ended up on their knees facing each other for more than a brief moment (inevitably one person either pulls guard or stands up).

So spending most of the match on the knees, pushing and pulling against your sparring partner, is a waste of sparring time.

But what are your alternatives?

Well, often you can ask your opponent to start in a specific position. Tell him something » Continue Reading.

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Getting to Guard Against a Standing Opponent

It’s a bad situation when you’re on the bottom, your opponent is standing up in front of you, and you don’t any grips or hooks established on him…

When he’s on his feet like that he’s super-mobile, and if he’s fast then he can sprint past your guard in the blink of an eye.

What you really need to do is some sort of grip and establish some sort of control over him. Something to slow him down.  Something prevent him from running around your guard.  And something to set up your own offense.

In this brand new Youtube video I show you my very favorite way of getting control over a standing opponent, broken down step-by-step.

I use this exact technique all the time, and with a bit of drilling I’m sure you can incorporate it into your own game too.

Check it out in the video below!

P.S.  This video is a small portion of my latest BJJ instructional, the Single Leg X Guard Masterclass.  Click here for more information about this very popular product!

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My New, Favourite Butterfly Guard Pass (Step-by-Step)

Here’s my new favourite guard pass!

It uses opposite corner control (shoulder and knee) to rotate the body of your opponent plus a kick to disengage his hooks and prevent him from following you.  I call it the ‘Kung Fu’ or the ‘Punch, Pull, Kick Pass’.

I’ve been pulling this off consistently for a couple of months now, both against butterfly guard and also against some other forms of open guard.

It’s a very quick, very satisfying, and very powerful guard pass, and it’s closely related to the ‘X Pass’ or the ‘Standing Step Pass’ that Emily Kwok demonstrated in the Compensating for Strength app from the How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent series.

Here’s the video breakdown of the guard pass I’ve been enjoying so much; enjoy!

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3 Fixes for Sore Fingers in BJJ

So I got a question the other day from someone looking for advice about the pain and inflammation they have in their fingers from training BJJ.

I sent them back a super-quick email response with 3 suggestions, but now want to elaborate on my suggestions in hopes that this info will be useful to someone else too…

BJJ Finger Pain Solution 1

90% of the time BJJ finger pain is caused from maintaining a deathgrip on the sleeves, pants and lapels of your opponent.

This problem is especially bad if you’re focusing too much and too soon on gi-dependent styles of guard like spider guard or some forms of de la Riva guard.

So learn to fight in a style that’s not so grip dependent.  Play less spider guard, less de la Riva guard, less collar and sleeve grip closed guard…

Instead play more butterfly guard, X guard, and the less grip dependent forms of half guard

Go for more armbars and rear naked chokes and less lapel chokes…

Do more pushing and less pulling…

I describe this as ‘playing your gi game as if it’s no gi.’

Be warned that this is easier said than done, because as soon as you run into trouble the temptation is to grip, clench, and hold onto the cloth for dear life again.

Anyway, playing your gi game as if it’s no gi is one good solution to BJJ finger pain.

BJJ Finger Pain Solution 2

Solution 2 is to actually train more no gi instead of just avoiding gi-dependent techniques.

Some people don’t want to take this advice because they’re worried that their gi skills will start falling apart unless they train with the gi all the time.

This is nonsense; many fantastic BJJ players switch between training with and without the gi and find that it’s actually quite beneficial.

Trust me; if you’re doing lots of gi then substituting one or two sessions a week of no gi will only improve your gi based skills.

You’ll learn how to move faster, be more fluid, scramble bettter…

…and, importantly for the current discussion, since you can’t grab cloth in no gi you’ll give your damaged digits a chance to heal up.

Long story short: try substituting one or two gi training sessions a week with no gi.

BJJ Finger Pain Solution 3

My final suggestion is to try taping your fingers.

The first time I did this my fingers » Continue Reading.

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10 Key Techniques and Tactics of Marcelo Garcia

Marcelo Garcia is probably the most dominant jiu-jitsu athlete of the last 15 years.

When he was competing he owned both the gi and the no gi divisions (4 x ADCC champion, 5 x Mundial World Champion).  As if that wasn’t enough, his amazing performances in the absolute division against giants like Ricco Rodriguez have ensured his place in grappling history.

It’s always a good idea to carefully examine the game of the best players in any sport and copy whatever is applicable for your own body type, attributes, and limitations.

That’s why many grapplers (including myself) have tried to reverse engineer aspects of Marcelo’s successes and add his techniques to their own game.

He has quite a few signature moves, each of which took the sport by storm.  Let’s look at 10 examples of Marcelo’s techniques and see if there’s anything you can swipe and put to use to sharpen your own game…

1: The Arm Drag

Everyone in jiu-jitsu knows that getting your opponent’s back is as good as it gets. Once you’re on his back they are nearly helpless while you have a wide selection of attacks to choose from.

The arm drag is borrowed from wrestling where it’s used as a set up for takedowns. However it’s even more useful in jiu-jitsu because with it you can quickly get to the back and submit your opponent.

If you hit a successful arm drag from standing then you get directly to your opponent’s back, often in a standing rear bear hug position (click here for 4 Takedowns from the Rear Bearhug).

If you apply the arm drag from guard then you get right to rear mount without having to first sweep your opponent and then struggling to pass his guard. Going directly to the back instead of spending time in the guard reduces the risk of getting swept or submitted.

In other words the arm drag gets you right to the top of the mountain.

Here’s Marcelo talking about how and why he developed the arm drag to such a high degree:

Did Garcia invent this technique? Certainly not – he took it from wrestling. But he was the first person to popularize it by doing it successfully and repeatedly at the world’s biggest events; such as the ADCC world championships where he did it to basically everyone.

How is it done?

To do the arm drag from standing you grab their same-side » Continue Reading.

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How to Train BJJ with an Injured Neck

Necks are delicate things.  Seven small stacked cervical vertebrae protecting all the nerves in your spinal cord and held together with a multitude of flimsy ligaments and muscles.

Yet in BJJ we stress the neck continuously.  We attack it with chokes, crucifixes, and cranks.  We stack our opponents, turn their heads with crossfaces, and scissor his head with our legs.  We also use our head and necks offensively.  We bulldoze our opponents with our head when our arms are tied up, use the neck to trap his wrist for armlocks, and plant our faces in his chest during takedowns.

It’s no wonder that the neck takes a beating.  And that – sometimes – you can end up with a tweak or an injury in that body part that can make training painful and difficult.

Sometimes it’s even hard to tell that your neck is injured.  Cervical nerve damage, for example, can disguise itself as shoulder and/or tricep pain, and it can take some medical detective work to get to the root of the problem.

So what can you do about neck injuries if you train BJJ?

The first step is prevention.  And prevention is a two-step procedure…

Make your neck as strong as possible without damaging it in the process.  I prefer to use neck harnesses, light weights, and sub-maximal repetitions (i.e. NOT going to failure) to do this.  I am not a huge fan of neck bridging – it works for some people but I find that the compression inherent in this form of training always makes my neck feel terrible.  Click here for some more thoughts about strengthening your neck safely. Don’t allow it to get acutely injured in the first place.   Most neck injuries can be prevented by tapping out early and tapping out often.  What’s the point of toughing it out when you’re caught in a guillotine, triangle or cowcatcher choke if you manage to escape but injure your neck in the process?  If your neck hurts when you’re caught in a submission, or even if you’re just in an awkward position, then just tap out.  It’s not big deal – everyone does it – and it could save you years of trekking to chiropractors, massage therapists and back surgeons.

But let’s say that for whatever reason your neck is freshly injured.  What do you do?

Well, if you’re in a lot of pain then don’t train.  Don’t try to be » Continue Reading.

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The Reverse Armbar from Closed Guard

I was a white belt when I first saw the reverse armbar from closed guard, and at first I was pretty skeptical. I had all kinds of reasons why it probably wouldn’t work.

And then I started running into more and more people who had been submitted by it…

And then I started getting caught in it too…

And then I (finally) started using it myself…

(Although today’s post and video is about using the reverse armbar from closed guard here’s how I made friends with the reverse armbar from the top position.)

The reverse armbar from closed guard is obviously a powerful submission, but it’s also a great setup for sweeps when you’re on the bottom. That’s because your opponent will typically desperately drive into you to counter the armlock, which then gives you all sorts of momentum you can use to roll him from the top to the bottom.

Below is a video I shot with BJJ black belt Rob Biernacki showing a step-by-step breakdown of the reverse armbar from the bottom position.

He first shows the traditional version from the closed armbar, and then show you how to do it from the butterfly guard (a method popularised by BJJ phenom Marcelo Garcia).

Plus the knowledge bombs he casually drops about how to break posture could change the way you do the closed guard.

As always, Rob does a fantastic job of showing you the concepts behind the technique.

If you understand the concepts and principles at work in jiu-jitsu then you’ll be able to apply the techniques in different situations, adapt them against different forms of resistance, and figure stuff out on your own too.

Watch the video below and and then go out and ambush some of your training partners for me!

If you want to learn more about Rob and his highly conceptual approach to jiu-jitsu then click here for the interview I did with him a little while ago.  Or you can just press play on the video below.

Be warned though: Rob can be pretty outspoken, direct, and doesn’t mince around the truth.  I know that this interview ruffled a lot of feathers in the BJJ community…

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How to do the Reverse Butterfly Sweep

I talk a lot about the butterfly guard around here; it’s one of my very favourite guard positions.  It’s powerful, it’s mobile, and it’s fun.

There’s no doubt that the workhorse of the butterfly guard is the ‘basic’ butterfly sweep.  It’s a tool that newcomers to jiu-jitsu can learn quickly, but is still being used by the top BJJ competitors on the planet.

Now there’s a move called the reverse butterfly sweep that works very well in combination with the regular butterfly sweep…

In the regular butterfly sweep you might use your right foot to kick your opponent over to your left.

In the reverse butterfly sweep you use the same right foot as before, but now take your opponent the other way instead (i.e. to your right).

Combining the regular and the reverse butterfly sweep gives you the ability to kick your opponent over to either side.  This bilateral style of attack means that he can’t simply shift all his weight to the opposite direction of your dominant attack: you can sweep either way that that means there’s no safe place for him to hide from your attacks.

To show you how to do the reverse butterfly sweep I shot a quick video with my friend and training partner Denis Kang.  Pay attention to the gripping and the weight shifting details – they’re really the key to making this technique work.

Here’s the video…

Other Butterfly Guard Resources Why the butterfly guard is the most powerful guard for sweeping The Non-stop Butterfly Guard Gameplan app for smartphones and tablets (Apple, Android and Kindle) with Brandon ‘Wolverine’ Mullins

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