Are You Willing to Go Back to White Belt?

Most people training in the martial arts have a goal to achieve the mythical black belt.

“When I finally wrap that black belt around my waist”, the narrative goes, “THEN life will be good, my wife, kids and dog will all love me, and I’ll never look stupid on the mats again.”

Ummmm, back up just a second…

A good black belt frequently has to go back to being a white belt, and deliberately put himself into situations where he’s going to look stupid for sure.

What do I mean by this?

In order to keep growing in the art at any level you need to learn new things.

And almost every time you add something big to your game then things are going to get worse before they get better.

Let’s say there’s this cool guard pass that your instructor has been telling you to do. You’re agree and think it would be a great fit with your game.

So you drill the move a few times and then try it out in sparring.

Things don’t go so well… You don’t pass the guard of your training partners… And you get swept and submitted multiple times.

Is it a stupid guard pass?  No, it’s just much more likely that you weren’t doing it 100% correctly.

Or let’s say that you start using a new submission from mount that you saw a world champion win the Mundials with. But when you try it out at the open mat suddenly you can’t finish even the brand new beginners with it.

These failures are happening because you haven’t yet learned the timing, the adjustments, and the fine details that make the technique work against any kind of resistance.

You might have a blue belt around your waist because you are blue belt level at doing a certain set of techniques. Those are your most reliable techniques, the core of your game.

By definition, a new technique is not one of your core techniques. So even though you’re an official blue belt you’re still a white belt when it comes to your new guard pass or submission.

And that’s OK. This is exactly how Jiu-jitsu is supposed to work.

In fact it’s an absolutely necessary part of getting as good as you can get.

There is a saying they get printed on coffee mugs that I completely agree with: » Continue Reading.

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How to Choose a BJJ School to Train At

I often get emails from people trying to decide where to learn BJJ.

They’re usually trying to choose between 2 or 3 different schools…

Should they train with the purple belt down the street, or the black belt across town?

Should they study at the Gracie Barra school, the Atos affiliate, or the 10th planet representative?

Should they choose the small school that’s friendly, or the big school that’s less personal?

Should they stay at the school where they started, or go to a new one?

Sometimes the answer is pretty simple…

If you want to start BJJ at age 60 then a hardcore MMA gym full of steroid douchebags probably isn’t for you.

If you’re hell bent on medalling at the Mundials then you’d probably better pick the school with the widest and deepest talent pool to spar with.

And if you specifically want to work on a certain aspect of your game then you might pick an instructor who is well known for that position.

However, the vast majority of the time, it all comes down to personalities. 

The better you get along with your instructor then the longer you’ll probably train at the school.

And the more aligned your goals are with those of your fellow students then the more fun you’ll have training.

Go and visit all the different schools in your area.  Pay the drop-in fee, get on the mat with the people, and experience the class first hand.

The bottom line is that if you sign up with a school then you’re going to spend a lot of time there.

Training, recovering from training, and interacting with the other students all adds up to a BIG time investment.  So it makes sense to spend a few evenings researching all the options available to you before you make that sort of commitment.

When you go to the school try to assess the head instructor.

It’s better train with someone you like and respect, than with a highly skilled  competitor with tons of medals who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your well being or progress…

Your training partners are just as important (sometimes MORE important) than your instructor.  So don’t underestimate the effect that the head teacher has on the rest of the students.

Like attracts like, so most of the time the personality of the instructor sets the tone for the whole rest of the school.

An asshole instructor is inevitably surrounded by a cadre of asshole acolytes.

» Continue Reading.

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Old School Closed Guard Pressure Pass

In the era of the inverted inside-out de la worm guard it’s sometimes easy to forget how brutally effective the closed guard is.

Until someone puts you in it, shuts down your guard passes, chokes you silly and armlocks you until you want to rip your belt off and throw it across the mat.

The closed guard is old school but it still works. And for self defense and MMA it’s still an incredibly important position to master because of the level of protection it provides against strikes.

So how do you pass the closed guard?

As with any task in jiu-jitsu there are many different ways to skin the cat.  But here is one of my very favourite ways to pass closed guard using an old school pressure-based pass.

It consists of 4 stages…

Denying, preventing and removing his grips Standing up to break open his closed guard Stopping him from establishing a strong open guard, and Smashing him with an old-school guard pass

Let’s look at each of those four stages in turn.  Conveniently I also have videos relating to each of those stages that may be useful to you…

Stage 1: Denying, preventing and removing his closed guard grips

If a skilled opponent gets a deep cross grip on your lapel from his closed guard then you’re really in trouble.

Of course the best cure is prevention: grip fight like crazy to stop him from sneaking that hand up your collar.

But if he does sink his grip then he can use it to break your posture, prevent your guard passes, attack you with chokes, move you around to set up sweeps, and much more.

At this point it’s a “Do not pass go, do not collect $200” situation.  Stop what you’re doing and before you even think about passing his closed guard free yourself from his lapel grip.

The video above covers 4 ways to break or nullify that cross collar grip.

Once you’re grip free then it’s time to move on to the next stage: opening his closed guard that’s currently clamped onto your waist or torso!

Stage 2: Standing up to break open his closed guard

There are many different ways to open someone’s closed guard (for example, standing vs kneeling), but against a skilled opponent I almost always stand up.

Kneeling in your opponent’s guard makes you a little harder to sweep » Continue Reading.

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Keep It Simple Stupid When Learning New Techniques

Have you heard of the acronym K.I.S.S?

It stands for “Keep It Simple Stupid.”  (It was later made politically correct by changing it to “Keep It Short and Simple” but that never really caught on, especially me.)

Anyway, K.I.S.S. is a good rule to live by when fighting, sparring and training.  You want to simplify as much as possible and not try to keep track of too many things at once.

There’s good science behind this: the more factors you have to consider the slower you make your decisions.  So keeping things simple actually makes you move faster.

But lets focus on how the K.I.S.S. principle applies when it comes to learning new moves.

Here’s my opinion: if you’re a teacher then you don’t want to load a student down with every last detail all at once.

And if you’re the student then you want to just focus on the next few things that’ll give you the best results fastest.

For example, if I’m teaching a complete beginner to throw a right cross I might tell them: “start with your fist glued to your jaw, then throw your fist in a straight line towards the target while you twist your body to generate the power.”

That’s it!  The subtleties of weight shifts, hand twists, foot pushes, non-telegraphic movement and so on will all come later, because first they’ve got to get in some experiental learning – learning by doing – before anything else makes sense.

Sometimes it’s more important for the student to get a quick result with a technique than it is to get it absolutely perfect on the first go.

If you have some initial success then it’ll boost your confidence in that technique and make you eager to learn the additional details to make it work even better.

Similarly if I’m teaching a triangle choke to someone for the first time I might tell them “triangle your legs around your opponent’s head and arm, then squeeze your knees, pull his head down and lift your hips.”

Now is that the most effective way of doing the triangle choke?


Are there many adjustments and tweaks that you can make to the triangle choke that make it much more effective?


For example, in the Youtube clip below Elliott Bayev does an absolutely brilliant job of breaking down some of these finer triangle choke adjustments.

So why not show » Continue Reading.

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July 4th Sale on All Apps!

July 4th Long Weekend Sale: All Apps on All Platforms Currently 50% Off the Listed Price!

I’m not often confused with Tom Cruise.

First of all I’m a lot taller than he is…

I’m also NOT a Scientologist, and have never jumped up and down on Oprah’s couch…

And finally I’m much better looking (at least that’s what my mom used to tell me)!

But Tom and I do have at least one similarity…

In 1989 he starred in a movie called ‘Born on the Fourth of July.’   Coincidentally I star in that very same movie every year.  Because I too am born on the Fourth of July.

So in the next few days, amidst all the fireworks and celebrations I’m going to be celebrating my birthday.  But there’s a twist: YOU’RE going to get the present.

Here’s what’s happening between now and July 4th…

We’re having a giant sale.

First all Grapplearts Apple, Android and Kindle apps, and all Grapplearts instructional DVDs and programs are 50% off.

(The DVDs and on-demand training is also going to go on sale, but I still need to set it up at my end, so I’ll likely send you another email with that info tomorrow).

This is a great time to grab all the BJJ apps you need to turbocharge your training for the next year.  And if your phone or tablet is too full to hold them  all then I’ve got a solution for you!

Remember that you can purchase the app now to take advantage of the great price, but leave it ‘in the cloud’ until you need it.

That way you get the discount, but only actually download the app to your phone from the iTunes or the Google Play store whenever you’ve cleared some space on your device.

As long as you’re still using that same account that app will always be there for you!

Click here to see all the BJJ instructional apps that I’ve got, or select from the links below…

Roadmap for BJJ Apple | Android | Kindle FREE

Grapplearts Submissions Apple | Android | Kindle on sale $1.99 (regular $3.99)

Grapplearts Guard Sweeps Apple | Android | Kindle on sale $1.99 (regular $3.99)

Grapplearts Submission Defense Apple | Android | Kindle on sale $1.99 (regular $3.99)

7 Days to Better Guard » Continue Reading.

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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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The Most Powerful No Gi Leglock

If you’ve been following the no gi grappling scene at all you’ve surely noticed how many matches are finished with leglocks, specifically the heel hook.

The regular heel hook is bad enough, but the ‘reverse’ or ‘inside’ heel hook is even worse.  It is the most powerful submission in the entire leglock arsenal.

Just like the regular heel hook, the reverse heel hook can be applied from a variety of different positions.  Some of these positions are easier to get but harder to maintain, whereas other positions are essentially a game over situation.

The most secure, hardest to escape leglock position is the ‘411’ alignment (called that because your own legs end up in a figure 4 position and your opponent’s legs are side by side like the number 11.

In the video below my friend and skilled no gi competitor Matt Kwan shows off his favourite entry into the reverse heel hook from the 411.

This is really good stuff!

Now if that piqued your interest about the role of leglocks and heel hooks in modern no gi competition then check out the extensive interview I did with Matt for my podcast.

We cover a lot of topics, but the theme of leglocks comes up again and again.

Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did!


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de la Riva guard Basic Grips

The de la Riva guard is a super-powerful position in modern jiu-jitsu, and many competitors use it as their primary open guard option, especially when they need to control a standing opponent.

But this position is very  grip dependent.  Different grips open up different attacks.

Want to dump him on his face with the ball and chain sweep?  Better get your hands on that far sleeve!  Want to scoot behind him and take his back?  Then control his near sleeve.  Want to spin underneath him and hit him with a berimbolo?  Well, that move is easiest using a same-side-lapel or belt grip.

If you’re interested in the basics of the de la Riva then I’ve got two videos on this topic for you today…

The first important video is an outline of the basic grips from the de la Riva guard and the attacks you can do from each of them…

The takeaway here is your de la Riva grips determine both your attacks and how he’s going to try and pass your guard. So learning the various grips and their implications is absolutely critical.

Now of course some opponents are going to go absolutely berserk in their efforts to break your grips. They will fight, fight, fight to get your hands off of them.  And if they are very strong, very skilled at grip-breaking, or both then it can make your de la Riva guard difficult to maintain.

So what do you do if your grips have been stripped?  Should you take your toys and go home?

Not so quick…Fortunately there’s a fairly simple answer to get back in the de la Riva game when you’re temporarily gripless.

This brings us to the second video, which I shot with BJJ world champion Brandon ‘Wolverine’ Mullins.

(Watch right to the end for some cool footage of Brandon pulling this off in competition.)

So before you worry about your de la Riva sweeps, submissions and even guard retention first look to getting a grip on… well… your grips!

Hope you found this useful, and good luck with your training!

Stephan Kesting

P.S.  If you want to learn more about the de la Riva guard, from the basics right through to some of the higher-level strategies, then I would recommend Brandon Mullins for more information.  His Non-Stop de la Riva guard is really good, and it’s available as a stand-alone app for phones and tablets, and also as » Continue Reading.

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Don’t Be Afraid of Admitting that You Don’t Know Everything

This is rant was brewing inside me for a long time, and I’m sure it’ll upset some people and ruffle some feathers.  Oh well, can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs, so I’ll get over it…

I did the rant in video form, and the full name of that video is “Don’t Bullshit Your Students About Knowing Everything!” which pretty much sums it up!

The humility to admit that you don’t know everything is admirable.

And bullshitting students about a position or a technique you know nothing about is deplorable.

Your ego isn’t more important than their development.

Here’s the video…

Now, some shout-outs…

In the video I start out by saying that one of the coolest things I ever heard a martial arts instructor say was “Ask me any question you have.  If I know the answer then I’ll tell you.  If I don’t know the answer then we’ll find out together.

That instructor was Makoto Kabayama (formerly going by ‘Nip) of the Kabayam Bushidokan in Toronto.

And the other instructor I reference in the video – the guy who was OK with my bringing in other teachers to learn Capoeira – was Philip Gelinas of the GAMMA school in Montreal.

If you’re reading then thanks to both of you – you’ve been way more influential than you give yourselves credit for.

If you admit that you don’t know everything then it implies that you yourself still have some learning and growing to do, which is the case for everyone from this year’s Mundial champion to Rickson Gracie himself.

If you’re done with learning you should be in the grave.

Stephan Kesting


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MMA Weight Cutting with UFC Fighter Alan Belcher (And More)


I just released a new interview with UFC star Alan Belcher who has had some of the most exciting, edge-of-your-seat fights in the UFC.

In our chat Alan shares lessons learned from 26 MMA fights including…

The details of cutting major amounts of weight before an MMA fight His mindset while fighting Rousimar Palhares, one of the dirtiest and scariest fighter in MMA Lifting weights as physical therapy to hold his body together Exactly how he structured his UFC training camps and when you should be doing your heaviest training before a competition Tricks to use and mistakes to avoid when cutting weight Preventing overtraining by modulating the intensity and volume of your training sessions How dieting and cardio prevented him from actually training correctly How he prepared specifically to face a leglock expert in the UFC The crazy treatments he did to repair his detached retina And really quite a  bit more!

To listen to or watch this interview you have a couple of different options!  You can either

Click here to subscribe to the Grapplearts Podcast in iTunes (or Google Play, or Stitcher) – the Alan Belcher episode is number 63! Or you can click play on the Youtube video below

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Tips for Recovering from a BJJ Injury and Getting Back to Training

Unfortunately injuries are just part of the game. Now hopefully they’ll be minor injuries and you’ll recover from them quickly, but regardless, getting back to training after recuperating from an injury is always a tricky business.

In the video below I give some of my best tips about exactly how your return to the mats should be structured.  This is advice I’ve learned the hard way – for the longest time I didn’t use it myself and I wish I had.


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BJJ and Combat Sports Conditioning with Pshemek Drabcynski

I’m thrilled to bring you guys my interview with Pshemek Drabczynski. Pshemek was my very first ‘official’ BJJ teacher and I learned a ton from him.

He’s a BJJ black belt, a WKA North American kickboxing champion, and a physical conditioning guru.

In this episode we talk about martial arts specific fitness, getting stronger, improving endurance, eating properly preventing injuries, fasting and much more.

You can check out the interview one of three ways…

BEST OPTION: Click here to subscribe to the Grapplearts Podcast in iTunes (or Google Play, or Stitcher).  Today’s interview is Episode 058. Directly download the episode as an mp3 file here Or click play on the Youtube video below

If you’re in the Orange County area and are looking for a personal trainer make sure to check out Pshemek at BestHomeTrainer.com

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A Musician’s Perspective on Studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

By Jeff Marder

I’ve been a musician for as long as I can remember, and have been playing professionally for over thirty years. My primary focus is playing keyboards, conducting, and doing electronic music design for Broadway productions, although along the way I’ve also played a lot of jazz, classical, and spent three years in Las Vegas playing keyboards on a Cirque du Soleil production.

Throughout my entire life, I always had a desire to learn a martial art. Aside from doing some wrestling in junior high school, I never pursued this interest as my schedule often interfered or I was on tour with a production. About three years ago, my schedule allowed me to begin taking some classes, so I began my journey at a local Krav Maga school.

While there, I signed up for a No-Gi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class that was being offered. I was instantly hooked and immediately left Krav Maga to sign up at Vitor Shaolin’s academy in midtown Manhattan. I’ve now been training BJJ for about two years.

So many things about BJJ speak to me on an incredibly deep level; the camaraderie, the physical and emotional benefits, the competition, and the community. However, something that struck me about the learning process is just how similar it is to learning music. I’ve discussed this observation with several other colleagues in the music industry who are also martial artists and I find that we’re all in agreement. The purpose of this article is to share these thoughts with the hope that they might offer a fresh perspective.


Both BJJ and music each have their own respective vocabularies specific to their practice.

In music, we practice scales, arpeggios, and repertoire to learn the rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic syntax. Those specializing in western classical music must learn Bach Preludes and Fugues, Mozart Sonatas, and Chopin Etudes, jazz musicians must learn solos that were improvised by the masters note for note from recordings, and pop musicians need to have the experience of playing in a cover band to learn the building blocks of song structure, production, and arranging.

The BJJ equivalent would be the moves and positions that form the building blocks of the art such as the guard, shrimping, bridging, various guard passes, sweeps, and submissions. Trying to roll after just one or two classes feels a lot like being that guy who hangs out at » 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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