Thursday, November 23, 2017

Principles Before Techniques

Last weekend I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to attend Jiu-Jitsu seminars on Saturday and Sunday. The instructor was Henry Akins, a Rickson Gracie black belt known for his concept of hidden Jiu-Jitsu. Ryan Ford, host of the Grappling Central podcast, organized the event.

Day one lasted for three hours and covered passing the guard. Henry assumed that an opponent in closed guard has already had his guard opened. We started with one person on the ground and the guard passer standing up.

The goal of guard passing is to close distance with the opponent and eventually make chest-to-chest contact. Henry built his guard passing approach on something Rickson told him: "Guard passing is weight distribution and angles." It took Henry a long time to figure out exactly what Rickson meant, and he ended up in a lot of people's closed guards trying to practice this approach. However, having experienced Henry's method, I believe it makes a lot of sense.

When an opponent uses his legs to keep distance, it is not efficient for me to try to beat him with my arms. The arms are smaller and weaker than the legs. If I use my body versus his legs, I am more likely to win. "Weight is free," and I can apply "pressure without strength."

The first drill demonstrated this principle. Your partner lies on his back. You take mount. Your partner uses both arms, straight out, to support your weight as you lean forward. You then tripod forward, on your toes, and apply as much of your weight downward as possible. Your partner cannot bench press you forever. You then twist your upper body to the left or right. The change in angle will cause your partner to drop you, either to his chest or to his elbow. If he partially catches you, twist again, eventually reaching his chest.

This is a simple drill but it captures the concepts underlying Henry's guard passing method. It teaches the person on top to feel the weakness in the partner's structure, and then change the angle to exploit that weakness. If your first angle doesn't attack the weakness, keep changing until you find an angle that works.

Henry said you should "attack where your opponent is weak." That is a key aspect of efficiency. Efficiency also depends on conserving energy and not wasting movement.

One of my favorite lines from the seminar was "there is no right or wrong, only 'did it work?' If it worked, could it be done more efficiently?" I love this because it allows you to customize Jiu-Jitsu to your body type, age, personality, and other characteristics. In my opinion a martial art should be personal, with the main criterion for success being "did it work," not matching another person's definition of success.

The next drill involved passing the guard of an opponent on the ground with a knee shield in place and one hand in my collar. The opponent is using the knee shield to prevent a guard pass straight through the middle.

Henry emphasized "soaking up space" and always making forward progress when passing the guard. He doesn't want the opponent to move back. He doesn't care about breaking grips. It is ok to move your weight backward in order to find the right angle to attack, but don't disengage and then re-engage. Retreat allows the opponent to recover.

To move your opponent, create connection.. To stop your opponent from moving you, kill connection. Touch does not equal connection. Henry showed this principle by repeating the first drill. The partner on the bottom pushing upwards can lose connection when you change the angle. The opponent is touching you but not having any practical effect.

We next drilled some guard passing to the partner's back and front, with the partner applying the knee shield. You have to keep your elbows, knees, and hips off the mat. When you put your elbows, knees, or hips on the floor, you're losing free weight into the ground. The goal is to collapse your partner's frame by applying weight and changing angles, then pass the obstructing limbs.

Our next drill involved the partner using his feet to keep us at bay, like the Gracie Combatives punch block series position four. Your partner applies pressure with his feet. You change your angle to collapse toward your partner. Henry said that if your partner tries to grab you from the ground, and possibly pull you, that assists your guard pass.

I saw Henry drill this with Ryan Ford. Henry held Ryan back with his feet. Ryan changed the angle and dropped such that Henry was blocking with his knee shield. Ryan changed the angle again and Ryan dropped such that Henry was framing with his hands. Ryan changed the angle a third time and got chest to chest contact.

This exercise demonstrated the feet - knee - hands progression that constituted the core ideas of the seminar. Identify the main block, change the angle, and collapse toward the opponent. We tried variations against spider guard, a leg lasso, and butterfly guard. Henry stressed that you shouldn't learn a thousand passing techniques to pass a thousand guard variations created by placing the hands, knee, or other body parts in different locations. Instead, go forward, change angles, and apply weight.

The second day of the seminar covered sweeps. Henry started with the scissor sweep from the guard. He emphasized that some approaches teach pulling your opponent forward onto you as preparation for the sweep.

This is contrary to Henry's method. He wants to keep as much distance as possible because he is concerned the partner in the guard could be throwing punches. Henry likes using a knee shield in these situations in an open guard posture. Distance enables protection from punches. It is a form of "passive defense." When your opponent is close, in punching range, you have to perform "active defense."

Henry's scissor sweep starts with the partner in closed guard, postured fully back, with knees open. This is supposed to be a very safe position for the person in the guard.

You start the sweep by opening your closed guard, raising your hips, and swinging your shoulder to the ground. Place a knee shield across the partner's waist, hooking one foot and putting your knee slightly lower, pointing downwards. The other leg bites alongside the partner's knee, on the ground. Now, instead of using that leg to "chop" the partner's knee, extend your knee shield leg while keeping pressure with the hooking foot. You're essentially using the large muscles of your leg to push the partner over your trapping floor leg. I was amazed how well this worked! The slightly downward pointed knee helps channel your energy in the proper direction -- downward, where you want your partner to fall, not upwards.

If you had control of your opponent's arm, that helps you achieve mount position. If you did not have arm control, Henry showed how to use your body and weight to make it difficult for the opponent to recover. Go belly down with both hands on the mat, and work your way to mount.

We next drilled a hook sweep and a reverse hook sweep. Henry emphasized that we should never fall backwards doing these sweeps. We should fall to our sides, on our shoulders. We should also not try to throw our partner off, which results in a scramble we could lose.

The last drill involved the double ankle sweep. Henry showed that we must not let ourselves be stacked under our opponent, laying on our necks. Instead, push against the partner's ankles to stay on our upper back. Open your guard and drop your hips to the floor. Keep your hips on the floor! Even if your partner has a good base, with grips on your gi, you can sweep him by applying pressure to his hips. If your partner is very far forward, it makes more sense to roll him over you after you trap his hands.

Overall this was an amazing experience. Professor Akins was on my instructor "bucket list," so I was thrilled to have the chance to train with him. I liked his approach and his teaching was top notch. I highly recommend training with him and I would attend another seminar without hesitation. He was approachable for pictures and spoke with us before and after the official seminar hours.

I'd like to thank Ryan Ford and his wife for organizing the seminars. It was well-run and everyone was friendly. I also enjoyed meeting other students in the Pedro Sauer association. My final thanks goes to my training partners who were kind enough to work with a white belt!

Have you attended a seminar with Professor Akins? Let me know here on on Twitter!

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