Adding New Techniques to Your BJJ Game

I once posted a cool new technique by a famous jiu-jitsu fighter on the Grapplearts Facebook Page.

Within the hour I got a text from a purple belt friend of mine who wanted me to show him how to do this technique and start using it.

I said sure, but I also advocated caution…

I told him that it was going to take a LOT more time to incorporate this particular BJJ technique in to his game. Not because it was extraordinarily difficult, but because it didn’t fit his pre-existing game!

This concept of congruence of new techniques with your existing game is an important topic, and I discussed it in more detail on episode 42 of my podcast which  you can listen to on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.  Give it a listen there, and if you enjoy it then please subscribe to the podcast itself!

You can also watch a detailed discussion of this topic in the video below…

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Podcast: 8th Degree BJJ Coral Belt Carlos Machado!

I loved talking to jiu-jitsu pioneer Carlos Machado about all things BJJ in episode 115 of The Strenuous Life Podcast.  

He shares stories about growing up training with Rickson and Rolls, the importance of universal principles in Jiu-jitsu, pushing the tables aside to train with his brothers Roger, Rigan, Jean Jacques and John, competing in ADCC with a broken foot and more.

I hope you get as much out of this interview as I did! His love for the art and experience in the sport comes through at every second.

Some of the highlights include

01:07 – Carlos on growing up in Jiu-Jitsu family

05:52 – BJJ comes into the mainstream

08:41 – Training with Rolls Gracie

11:07 – Style of the Machado game

13:03 – The continuing evolution of Jiu Jitsu

17:54 – Who are the most athletic Jiu Jitsu practitioners?

20:44 – Who has the deepest BJJ technical knowledge?

27:41 – What he thinks about the introduction of new techniques into Jiu-Jitsu

30:46 – Submission only competition formats ` 33:32 – Carlos’s reflections on competing in Abu Dhabi

It’s episode 115 of my podcast  and you can listen to it below, or go iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher and subscribe to the podcast itself (a rating and a review is always super appreciated!

Find out more about Carlos Machado at carlosmachado.net

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The Strenuous Life Podcast: New Episode with Extreme Kiteboarder Jack Rieder

I really enjoyed talking with kiteboarder and extreme athlete Jack Rieder (in part because I’m dying to try kiteboarding myself).  

It’s episode 107 of The Strenuous Life Podcast with Stephan Kesting.  You can listen to the audio below or subscribe to the podcast and then download the episode in iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.

Even though Jack doesn’t do martial arts (yet!) he still exemplifies the strenuous life. I hope you’ll enjoy it! Here’s just a bit of what we talked about…

1:10 – What is kiteboarding? 6:47 – The disciplines of kiteboarding 13:57 – Other uses for kites 17:51 – Controlling the kite 21:28 – Injuries and risk 27:14 – Media and video process 30:36 – Training vs doing for high level performance 38:07 – The future of the sport 41:11 – The art of getting sponsored

The best way to listen to this podcast is definitely to download a podcast player to your phone and subscribe to the podcast (details above) but if you want to listen to it right now you can just hit play on the player below:



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Podcast Episode 102: Ken Johnson on What He Learned in 34 Years of Firefighting

In this episode of The Strenuous Life Podcast I sat down with Ken Johnson, retired Battalion Chief of Training, to talk shop. We covered,

Managing emergency scenes, Staying calm under pressure, Training for boxing and making sure that you’re always in shape, Recent breakthroughs in firefighting tactics, How to do your best in difficult situations, The critical importance of your team, The fun side of firefighting, Whether someone should become a firefighter or not, How to increase the chances of getting signed on, Plus we talked ironworking, boxing, and a lot more.

There’s a lot here for everyone, including non-firefighters, because many of the principles and ideas shared by Chief Johnson are universal.

Find out more about Chief Johnson on his Career Firefighter site where he helps aspiring firefighters get hired and do their best at their new jobs.

You can listen to this episode (number 102) on the player below but it’d be even better if you subscribed to my Strenuous Life Podcast which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher because then you can check out the previous podcasts and not miss the future ones!

Let me know what you think about this interview on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments below, OK?

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Older Grappler Training Q & A

In this episode of The Strenuous Life Podcast I answer lots of questions by older grapplers about continuing to train and make good progress when you’re in your 40’s, 50’s and beyond.

Can you still train hard as you get older? How often should you train? How can you recover faster? Should you also do weight training as an older athlete And more!

The questions came from an Instagram Live broadcast I did; follow me on Instagram @stephan_kesting and maybe next time I’ll be answering YOUR question on one of these Q&A sessions.

You can listen to this episode (number 097) on the player below but it’d be even better if you subscribed to my Strenuous Life Podcast which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.

P.S. If you’re an older grappler you can click here to check out these other Grapplearts articles, videos and podcasts on the topic

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Cults, Comets and Critical Thinking!

I’ve just released a new podcast episode (episode 093) just out that starts with martial arts training and ends up talking about mass suicides and alien spaceships trailing comets…

At it’s core it’s a rant about the importance of testability, falsifiability, and critical thinking.

You can listen to this episode (number 093) on my Strenuous Life Podcast which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.

Or you can just click play below, but then you won’t catch future episodes like you would if you subscribed at one of the podcast provider services above!

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Podcast with Clint Davies, the 10 x New Zealand Wrestling Champion Who is Also Legally Blind

Clint Davies is an amazing human being.

Legally blind since age 2, he is also a 10 time New Zealand national champion who competes against sighted opponents.  He also has multiple Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu national championships under his belt and has competed in the world championships.

His goal is to be the craziest blind guy you’ve ever met, and this podcast may just convince you of this!

You can listen to my interview with him in podcast 089 of my Strenuous Life Podcast, which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.

Or if you don’t use any podcast players (and you should) then you can listen to it here by clicking on the player below.

P.S. It would be hugely appreciated if you were to subscribe to and give this podcast a rating if you find it useful. That sort of support is really helping us produce more episodes!

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Are You Just Not Getting Any Better? Here are 3 Steps to Bust Your Training Plateau

When you’re training hard, hitting a training plateau can be incredibly frustrating.

But first of all, let’s hit on an important distinction.

A training ‘slump’ and a training ‘plateau’ are two different things…

I go into detail about the differences between slumps and plateaus in this article here, but basically a slump is a relatively short-lived event, one to four weeks long, in which your skill level actually goes down.  Usually it’s caused by a specific cause, for example illness, overtraining, or not enough sleep.  Fix the underlying cause and your level starts to improve again.

But when you’re in a plateau you don’t get any worse.  The problem is that, no matter how hard you try, you just don’t get any better either.

It’s one thing to suffer if you’re making progress towards a goal; at least there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  Suffering without progress is much harder to deal with.

A plateau typically lasts much longer than a slump – often one to six months.  It seems like it’s never going to end.  And it’s doubly frustrating because during this time your  training partners usually insist on continuing to make progress, which widens the gap and leaves you even further in the dust.

Everybody deals with plateaus if they only train long enough.

In the video below, which I shot right at the end of a frustrating cardio session, I talk about the three steps to break out of a training slump…

First, don’t freak out. Plateaus are a normal part of any long learning or training process.

Of course jiu-jitsu players hit slumps, but it happens in every endeavor.

Runners hit plateaus when their running times just stop improving. Academics hit plateaus when they just don’t have any new insights. Businesses hit plateaus when they just stop growing.

Plateau Buster 1 – Try to Identify the Underlying Cause of the Plateau

This isn’t always possible, but if you can figure out what’s causing your plateau then you can fix it.

For many people the underlying cause is training volume.

Maybe you’ve gotten as good as you can get training twice a week.  Yes, every time you go to class you learn something new, but in between classes you also forget stuff.  Maybe at twice a week the knowledge flows into your cup as fast as it drains from it, and that’s what’s causing » Continue Reading.

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New Strenuous Life Podcast Episode with 5 x BJJ World Champion Bernardo Faria

I’ve just released a KILLER new podcast episode with 5 x BJJ World Champion on my Strenuous Life Podcast.

(This is episode 086 of the podcast for anyone keeping track.)

In this episode we talk about

Bernardo’s ‘kidnapping’ in the Philippines two years ago His thoughts on the results of ADCC 2017 The toughest guys he has ever rolled with Whether you can get your BJJ black belt without competing The connection between jiu-jitsu and entrepreneurship Whether North America will ever catch up to Brazil in jiu-jitsu And much more, so check it out!

Click here to get this podcast in iTunes or search your podcast provider for “The Strenuous Life Podcast”

Also if you get the chance, subscribe to the podcast.  I’ve got a TON of interesting guests and topics lined up for the near future…

Cheers, Stephan

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Should You Train When You’re Really Tired?

I recently came back from Europe and just got clobbered by the 9 hour time difference. But I was really missing jiu-jitsu, so I made sure to get in a training session on my first full day back.

Was it an epic roll with 110% intensity?  Not so much…  It was a very controlled roll, focussing on just a few positions, with lots of discussion and analysis breaks.

Something is better than nothing.

After that workout I shot a video to help you decide whether you should train on days when you’re so tired you can’t see straight. I also covered some concrete examples of how to modify your training if you do decide to go to the gym exhausted.  And finally I shared a trick I often use to get me motivated on days when I just don’t feel like training.

The funny thing is that after getting up at 2 am, training at about noon, and editing the video that I was so tired I accidentally split the video up into two separate videos.

Oh well, if uploading two shorter videos instead of one longer video is the worst that happens to me today then I figure it’s still a pretty good day.

If you often find yourself  not getting enough sleep but still wanting to train then I think these two videos (part 1 and part 2) might be useful!

(By the way – I’m fully aware that some of my advice contradicts what I said a long time ago in my Dojo of the Rising Sun article –  that approach led to a pinched nerve in my neck because of overtraining. Today’s advice is informed by trying to learn from those mistakes once in a while and then passing that information on to you.)


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“If I don’t know, I will not allow.”

“If I don’t know, I will not allow.”

That’s a quote and a guiding principle from Roberto Leitao, a high ranking Luta Livre and Judo practitioner, that was shared with me by my friend Ed Beneville who trained with him.

Regardless of whether it’s a grip, a setup, a guard position, or an angle, if you don’t fully understand what’s going on then do everything you can to prevent it. Once you allow a match to go into an unknown area then you’re in trouble.

A smart opponent will try steer the fight to an area in which he feels comfortable and you do not. Don’t let that happen.

Even if you don’t know exactly what technique he’s trying to use, don’t let him take the next step.

Block, thwart and deny his every attempt to move the fight into unknown territory.

So that’s the general idea, and depending on the situation it’s either the best or worst advice I’ve ever heard.

Now when is this good advice?

It really depends on the context…

If you’re in an important tournament match, or in a sparring match with someone way above your level, or a real fight (knock on wood that you won’t need to go there) then this is the perfect time to apply “If I don’t know, I will not allow.”

Let’s say he’s in your closed guard and going for some weird grip that you don’t recognise: fight, fight, fight to prevent that grip. Maybe it leads to a guard pass that you’ve never seen before, or maybe it leads to a crazy submission – the point is you don’t know where it’s going and now is NOT the time to find out.

If you don’t know you don’t allow.

This principle can be expanded a little bit to include overall strategies…

It’s the old saying, “fight a boxer, box a fighter” applied to jiu-jitsu. Don’t let him to fight in his comfort zone, and instead take him into your world if you can.

Lets say that your opponent is awesome at the spider guard, so DON’T just blithely let him get his grips and then try to fight him. Don’t even go there; change the game instead.  Maybe pull guard on him. Or sit back and play the leglock game so he panics, abandons the spider guard, and gives you the guard pass.

Conversely, maybe your opponent » Continue Reading.

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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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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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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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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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Eye Gouging, Hair Pulling, and Theodore Roosevelt with Historian Daniele Bolelli


This is definitely one of my very favourite Grapplearts Radio Podcast episodes to date.

In it I talk with historian and martial artist Daniele Bolelli. When Daniele isn’t training MMA or giving lectures to students he’s busy creating episodes of his own podcast, History on Fire, which you should totally check out.

Our chat went all over the place, including from the rules (or lack thereof) in frontier rough and tumble wrestling, how Theodore Roosevelt lost sight in an eye sparring in the White House, the games Lakota Sioux children played to make them incredible warriors later on in life, and much more.

Oh, and after recording the podcast we went into Daniele’s incredible backyard and filmed a couple of MMA techniques which you can watch at the bottom of this page.

I hope you’ll enjoy this episode as much as I did, and still do!

To listen to this podcast you can…

BEST OPTION: Click here to subscribe to the Grapplearts Podcast in iTunes (or Google Play, or Stitcher).  Today’s interview is Episode 053. Directly download the episode as an mp3 file here Or click play on the Youtube video below

A Few More Daniele Bolelli Videos…

As I mentioned, not only is Daniele a historian, but he’s also very serious about his MMA training.  Here are a couple of videos we shot right after the podcast…

First, from my new Self Defense Tutorials Youtube channel (which you should subscribe to, by the way) here’s Daniele defending Aikido as a combat sport… sort of.  Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean…

And in this video Savannah ‘The Savage Buddha’ Em jumps in to help Daniele demonstrate the elbow spear and how it sets up a devastating KO blow to the vagus nerve in the neck.

P.S. Sign up for my free BJJ Newsletter to be notified when other great podcasts are uploaded.  Click here to find out more.

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