Friday, April 28, 2017

How to Win Wearing a Gracie "Boyd Belt"

A month or so ago I began listening to the Gracie Jiu Jitsu Rocks podcast, produced by Marty Josey. All of the podcasts are excellent, but I really enjoyed episodes 32 and 33 which offered advice for older practitioners like myself. One of those episodes included an excerpt from a Gracie Breakdown titled Jiu-Jitsu Over 40 (5 Rules to Roll Till 95).

The first rule was "know your Boyd Belts," named for a former Gracie Jiu Jitsu black belt instructor who began practicing in his 40s and continued until his passing in his 60s. His name was John Boyd, but he is not the same John Boyd who invented the OODA loop. In the video, Rener explained how one day John was disappointed that he could not beat a blue belt with whom he had just rolled. Rener learned that the blue belt was 40 years younger (mid-20s vs mid-60s) and 60 pounds heavier (220 lbs vs 160 lbs) than John.

Rener and Ryron analyzed this situation and devised the "Boyd Belt" framework. Simply stated:

Every 20 pounds equals a belt.
Every 10 years equals a belt.

Imagine that John was rolling against a person of similar age, but the opponent weighs 60 pounds more. If the opponent is a blue belt, his Boyd Belt equivalent versus John is a black belt: Blue to Purple [1st 20 lbs] to Brown [2nd 20 lbs] to Black [3rd 20 lbs].

In other words, due to the weight advantage alone, 160 pound John was rolling with an equivalently skilled opponent because he weighed 220 pounds.

Now alter the situation to include an opponent who is not only 60 pounds heavier, but also 40 years younger: Black to 2nd dan [1st 10 years] to 3rd dan [2nd 10 years] to 4th dan [3rd 10 years] to 5th dan [4th 10 years]. Due to the weight and age advantage, John is now rolling with the equivalent of a 5th degree black belt opponent.

In this context, John could reframe his experience and be thankful for whatever success he may have had rolling with the much heavier, much younger opponent!

For another example, Rener and Ryron mentioned the UFC 4 fight between their uncle Royce and Dan "the Beast" Severn. Dan was 8 years older but at least 80 pounds heavier than Royce. (Rener says 100 pounds in the video.) Royce was a 4th degree black belt at the time, and Dan was a world-class wrestler who had almost made the 1984 and 1988 US Olympic wrestling teams. It took Royce over 15 minutes to submit Dan, due to the weight disparity.

I think the Boyd Belt is particularly useful for older practitioners like me, who are just starting their BJJ journeys.

Imagine I roll with another white belt who is 25 years old and 155 pounds. Because I am 45 years old but the same weight, my opponent is wearing a Boyd Belt equivalent of a purple belt.

Another way to look at it: I may only be at par with a 25 year old, 155 pounds white belt when I am a purple belt.

Imagine this scenario: I will roll against a 45 year old white belt practitioner, but he weighs 195 pounds. Because we are the same age, but he is 40 pounds heavier, my opponent is again wearing a Boyd Belt equivalent of a purple belt.

So, I may only be at par with a 45 year old, 195 pound white belt when I am a purple belt.

I did not factor the time needed for me to reach purple belt into this discussion, but I think you get the point!

I'll finish by addressing a concern you might have -- one that was mentioned in the video. You might say "I thought BJJ works against opponents of all sizes!" That is a valid concern. Flip it upside down: isn't it amazing that there is a martial art that can help an older, smaller person survive against a younger, heavier opponent?

BJJ isn't magic. A few classes will not help someone like me, at 45 years old and 155 pounds, to defeat a 25 year old, 195 pound opponent. However, the journey to a rank like purple belt (possibly five-six years of training?) could give me a fighting chance to survive against a younger, heavier opponent.

Readers probably know I also practice Krav Maga, so I've got that going for me, which is nice. I don't want to end up on the ground in a self-defense scenario. However, if the situation demands it, I am training to better handle ground engagements. Now that I understand the Gracie concept of Boyd belts, I can better assess my progress and capabilities against training partners of different ages and sizes.

What do you think of the Boyd Belt concept?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Five Reasons Why the Gracie Combatives Methodology Works

Rener is a giant.
Late last month I was fortunate to attend a seminar at The Basics Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Leesburg, VA. Rener Gracie taught a class on passing the guard. You can see some video from the event here courtesy of school owner  Marco Moreno.

I'm a big fan of Rener because of the teaching methodology he and brother Ryron Gracie created for their Gracie Combatives program. At this stage in my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu development I primarily attend GC classes at Prof Pedro Sauer's academy in Herndon, VA. In this post I will explain why the methodology works for me.

1. Self defense first. Gracie Combatives is first and foremost a self defense system. Rener and Ryron wanted to ensure that blue belt candidates could handle a core set of self defense problems. They selected techniques which addressed those problems and arranged them into a logical progression. Because I am primarily interested in self defense, this focus matched my goals perfectly.

Gracie Combatives Progression
2. Problem-Solution. The Gracie Combatives approach is a problem-solution methodology. The student is given a discrete self-defense problem. After seeing the problem, the instructor demonstrates a solution. This is not a free-flowing scenario, at least not at this point in the training system. For beginners like me, however, the problem-solution system allows me to understand the point of the exercises. Later in my progression I hope to be able to "flow" more easily. For now, problem-solution works!

3. Slices and variations. Each problem-solution package is called a "slice." The first slice shows the core problem and solution. Additional slices explain how to handle variations on the initial problem. For example, Monday night we practiced escapes from low side headlocks on the ground. The first slice involved the attacker not establishing a proper base, which allowed the defender to roll him in order to escape. The second slice required the attacker to establish a proper base, which made it difficult for the defender to roll him. We needed a new escape, which the second slice provided. The third slice introduced a punch defense variable, and a counter. Generally these packages involve two or three slices, which keeps the number of variations within the comprehension of beginners like me. Because each slice is a variation of the core technique, it is easier to understand the material.

23 Lessons
4. Defined teaching structure. The structure to present a slice appears to include the following.

1) The instructor explains the problem, with the instructor as defender and a student as the attacker.
2) The instructor demonstrates the counter at fairly normal speed.
3) The instructor explains the counter several times at slower speeds. He or she presents different viewing angles for students.
4) The instructor mentions checkpoints and safety tips.
5) The instructor changes places with the student in order to show how to perform as the attacker.
6) The instructor performs the counter as a "dry drill," without the student attacker, in order to explain body mechanics.
7) The instructor asks for questions, and then releases the students to drill for several minutes before repeating the process for the next slice. During the drilling the instructor provides feedback.

This structure is highly effective for a person like me. I enjoy the orderly progression as well as seeing the moves multiple times and in various modes (fast, slow, swapped, alone).

5. Predictability. The Gracie Combatives system is composed of 23 lessons covering 36 techniques. I can look at a calendar and predict what I will practice on any given night, so long as I account for special events that might interrupt the regular Combatives class. I can also see what I miss when I cannot attend any given night. We track attendance in the classes using a computer and a card, and the goal is to attend each of the 23 classes at least three times. I have many months (probably years) to go before I meet that goal, but it is helpful to have a concrete way to track attendance, and hopefully progress.

Rener signs my copy of the Gracie Master Text
You might be wondering if Rener followed a Gracie Combatives-style methodology during his seminar. The answer is yes. He presented a series of problems and solutions, using an A-B-C or 1-2-3 approach. As a newbie I was able to keep up pretty well. Having a blue belt partner was a big plus! Rener even helped me out with the first exercise, where placement of the arms for bicep control made a big difference.

I plan to continue focusing on the Gracie Combatives classes because they help me get used to operating on the ground, rather than moving on my feet (as with Krav Maga and Kali). I feel that once I am more comfortable with basic movements and techniques from the Combatives curriculum, I will be better prepared for regular BJJ classes. I am more easily able to attend Combatives on Monday and Friday evenings anyway, with the middle of the week presenting more conflicts.

Thank you to Rener Gracie for traveling all the way to the east coast for the Basics seminar. I look forward to his next event in May in Maryland. Thank you also Rener for signing my copy of the Gracie Master Text!

What do you think of the Gracie Combatives approach?