Category Archives: Technique and Live Roll

Train Like a Kid

As I was teaching our FVGC Advanced kids jiu-jitsu class the other day, I looked around the room as the kids were drilling technique and felt proud! It was a class of 6-12 year olds repping their techniques with beautiful movement and great discipline. They hardly needed any tries to “get it right”. During rolling they stayed controlled and calm, hardly ever relying on size or strength to gain position or get the submission. It occurred to me in that moment that in some ways it was easier to teach this class than the adult white belts, that the adults have a harder time smoothly doing technique and rolling with some flow.

kidsHow is this possible? Here are 3 reasons I came up with:

  1. Kids come in with little to no pre-conceived ideas about BJJ: Usually kids come into class not knowing what jiu-jitsu is or how it should look. So, they come into class and take the instructor’s word for how things should be done and mimic the body movements and style of those that know more than they do. They don’t over-think it; they just DO IT.
  2. They work with adult instructors: The first time our kids roll, it is with an adult that is much larger than they are; perhaps this gives them the idea that their size and strength cannot be relied on all the time. They are forced to use good technique, as an instructor won’t let them get away with anything else!
  3. They keep it fun! Ego is much less of a problem in the kids’ classes. Of course, there is always some healthy competition, but the kids take it to heart when an instructor says, “You are going to have bad days rolling. It is okay. It happens to everyone. Everyone makes mistakes, and that is why you keep coming to class”. Even a child that has a rough practice is over it in about 10 minutes and ready to come back for their next class.

So I guess my advice is….Train like a kid! Come to class like a sponge, ready to absorb; roll with people that are bigger or more experienced than you; and, don’t let your ego get in the way of your training. Open your mind, open your heart, and LOVE JIU-JITSU!

Happy Training!  🙂



The Jiu Jitsu Body

I spend a lot of time at the gym both watching and participating in Jiu jitsu classes here in Appleton. During these times, I hear a lot of discussion regarding body type and jiu jitsu. Even the kids in our BJJ program have realized that body type makes a huge difference. Many times the discussion is more of a complaint than anything…

big-man-small-man1“My legs are too long to fit the hook in”

“I am not strong enough to bump him”

“I am not flexible enough for this move”

“I can’t lock my guard/touch my knees to the floor in mount”

And then, there is the speculation that “That guy has the perfect jiu-jitsu body!”

The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as a perfect jiu-jitsu body. Every body type has its advantages. Tall and lean is great for the guard. They may not be big and strong, but small guys can ball up, move fast and fluidly, and take advantage of little spaces. Those that aren’t that naturally flexible tend to take up a strong pressure and passing games.  You must use what nature gave you and work with it! Not every move shown in class is going to be perfect for your game or be your #1 move; we all pick and choose. If you like to watch jiu jitsu videos, it may be a good idea to find someone that shares your body type!

That being said, remember that if you are frustrated with a certain technique or training partner, your body type may not be to blame! You may be missing details, a frame here or a hip movement there, or may need to modify your strategy…it’s probably something that your instructor can help you with!




Go with the Flow: Exercise Ball Cross-Training for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

There are a lot of different ways to cross train.  One tool that has changed my Brazilian jiu-jitsu game is the exercise ball (also called a stability ball). If you have never seen an exercise ball used for Gracie jiu-jitsu, check out this video (sorry for the weird music…the guy knows how to move, but may need some help with his soundtrack choices):

I love the exercise ball for jiu-jitsu because it teaches a lot of different principles.

1)      Balance and flow come from RELAXING the right parts of your body: If you are tense, you will lose your balance. The ball will “sweep” you. You need to relax the majority of your body and make minor adjustments to keep the main balance point. This is also helpful with your jiu-jitsu because it conserves energy and allows you to roll better longer.

2)      A lot of CONTROL comes from your HIPS: You control the ball with your hips. You determine the direction it can roll and the places it will stop. This is a great concept for top positions in BJJ: Your hips create pressures and barriers for your opponent when you are rolling!

3)      Mistakes happen, but you can MITIGATE the consequences if you FLOW: Tensing up and holding onto a bad position or base will get you swept or subbed. If I relax and counterbalance the mistake I may be able to salvage the position, deter my opponent’s game plan, or go to the next best position. I need to flow instead of panic.

Get started! There are a lot of videos out there to give you some ideas of where to start. You can also just start experimenting on your own, even if it is just starting with basic balancing positions (butt, stomach, knees). Have fun!

Combating our Panic: Training for Self-Defense and Competition in Jiu-jitsu

The other day I was teaching beginner Brazilian jiu jitsu in our Appleton school. It is a class in which we have a somewhat wide variety of experience levels, especially when you consider what 3 months of classes does for someone just starting out. So, when it comes to open rolling for the class, I keep a careful eye on all the matches for everyone’s safety and to coach the newbies a little bit. When I looked over I saw one of my 140lb. white belt girls battling with a grown man outweighing her by 60lbs and with at least a year of experience on her. She was on the bottom in side mount and then mount, struggling to escape. The guy she was rolling wasn’t being too rough or a jerk, he was just big and holding decent position. She was fighting, fighting, fighting. All of a sudden, her face changed. I could see the frustration and beginning of tears. She got overwhelmed and lost her will and focus; she made mistakes and was submitted.


It is one thing to get your butt kicked in jiu jitsu, to feel like you fought the good fight, to feel like you were just outclassed by your friend that day … but feeling overwhelmed by someone’s size, strength or experience can steal the heart out of your chest.  THIS IS HUGE! It is an important thing to pay attention to whether you are in Gracie jiu-jitsu for self-defense or competition because being overwhelmed leads to PANIC. When we panic, we lose our heads, lose our focus, lose our strategy, lose our technique, and lose the fight.

How do we combat the panic we may feel during live roll? We can do it the same way we can combat any other fear, whether it is a fear of competing, a fear of heights, a fear of public speaking, etc. We practice! We immerse ourselves in the situation until it is no big deal…We compete once per month, we climb a rock wall on a regular basis, we do a presentation or announcement in front of our peers every week at work. When we are used to being in what we perceive as a bad situation, our brains and bodies kick in and do the work to protect us, just as they have practiced 1,000 times. So, we need to roll live and put ourselves in tight spots on a regular basis so we feel good while we roll in practice, so we stay calm when we compete, so we don’t panic when someone grabs us and we need to seriously defend ourselves on the street.

Happy rolling.

Training with Purpose

527422_475408659170436_1201377800_nOnce you have been in BJJ for a while and have a fairly consistent training schedule, sometimes we can fall into “training just to train”. You come into the gym, do warmups at a comfortable pace, practice the technique of the day a few times but are not sure you’ll ever use it, and roll a few matches where you did pretty well (but you can’t really remember what happened).

People train for many different reasons from being a top-level jiu-jitsu fighter, to just having a fun way to get in shape. Whatever your overall reason for training is, it is important to approach each training session with…


to set as an aim, intention, or goal for oneself.

to intend; design.

to resolve (to do something)

Goals and purpose don’t always have to be big (I am training to be a world champion!). It can be as simple as, “I am going to focus on sweeping from the half-guard today” or “I am going to get a great workout by busting my butt during warmups and always moving during open roll” or “I am going to pull off the technique of the day in open roll”.

Training each day with purpose allows us to continually progress, or at the very least be AWARE of ourselves and our training (which I think is the first step in improving)…and that’s what we are really in the gym for. What are you training for today?

FVGC Instructor Spotlight: James Peterson


Okay, who are you and what do you do?

I’m James Peterson and I do whatever the hell I want. Just kidding. I win tournaments. And teach adult and kids Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Team FVGC.

How long have you been training in the martial arts?

I wrestled in high school and a year in college. I have been training BJJ for almost 12 years. I trained MMA for a while, but stopped doing that to concentrate entirely on BJJ coaching and competition.

What do you consider your greatest martial arts accomplishment?

Winning the Pan-Ams twice, once as a blue belt and once as a brown belt. Each one is special for different reasons. Winning as a brown belt was great because it is such a high level belt; but winning at blue belt was awesome too because I submitted all of my opponents.

What were the most important aspects of your preparation for that accomplishment? That is, what were you doing to achieve your goal?

There was a lot of mental training that went into those wins. Even when I was training physically, like doing road work, I would be mentally running through matches in my head. The winning took place far in advance of the actual matches. I was also trying to train with as many high level guys as I could. I took a lot of beatings; a lot of subs. But I had to just take each of those as learning experiences and not look at them as the whole of my game. Oddly, I developed confidence through that adversity that I carried with me to the Pans.

What makes a great martial artist?

Great technique, thoughtfulness, and humility.

Who inspires you?

My family, my coaches and my team.

Any words of advice for people training now?

Always be learning. Learn from your instructors, from books, videos and whatever else you can learn from. If you are really interested in your art, then you should constantly be striving for improvement and trying to advance your skills. Study broadly. I mean, not just the study of your martial art, but other martial arts and other facets of life as well. Also, try to understand your performance moves in cycles. There will be times when it seems like you are not only not improving, but backsliding as well. That is not the case. If you are still learning and taking in information, it just means your body has not caught up to the contents of your brain. You should actually be looking for an upswing in your game in the very near future. Finally, have fun. If you are not having fun, then what’s the point of doing it at all?

Habits Aren’t Just For Nuns

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.

Jim Ryan

Some say getting started is the hardest part when it comes to training or achieving fitness goals; but I think that once you have a goal and some motivation, it is a straightforward task to get a plan and get started (especially if you have a good set of coaches, trainers, teammates, etc.!). The hard part is maintaining your plan once the excitement of a new endeavor has faded or once your initial goal has been achieved. Once you decide to be a year-round athlete or decide it’s time to just “be in shape”, creating good training habits is essential.

I consider good training habits to be a sort of momentum that I keep by maintaining a consistent training schedule. It can be as simple as three days on, two days off. I personally train BJJ Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, with strength and conditioning on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday and Sunday are my rest/recovery days. If you keep a framework to your training schedule, it is simple for your body and brain to sustain a training baseline, or minimum that you will be doing each week, so that your technique or strength or conditioning is at least maintained throughout the year. When you have a baseline, it is easy to ramp up the training by increasing the intensity of your workout or adding sessions throughout the week once you have an imminent goal, like a tournament or fight.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people train hard for a tournament or a fight, then drop off the face of the earth for two or three weeks or until they have a new tournament or fight coming up. I watch these guys struggle to progress in their technique and their conditioning; it’s as though they are starting from square one each time.  They come back feeling out of shape, tired, out of the loop, rusty, and having to work hard just to get back to a level where they can really start to work for their fight.  Or, they come back and wonder why that guy they used to beat up on seems so much better now.

Other times, “life just gets in the way”. People have long work hours and families and social schedules. One week off turns into two and three and, soon, it is easy to feel discouraged and give up when that first class back is so much harder than you remember.

I’m not saying that you can never go on vacation or that missing practice for your kid’s piano recital is a bad thing. But I will say that the more you stay consistent (just showing up!), the more you will steadily progress and the easier it is to maintain in the long run for both your body and your brain.

Cleaning Our Games

In life we usually realize our mistakes if there are consequences: We act out in school and get detention; we miss a work deadline and lose a customer account; we rush through traffic and get a ticket. The same goes for jiu-jitsu.

In the gym we have the gentler reminders while learning technique from our partners and our instructors. In that setting, we correct mistakes in our movement, body placement and position just from watching the technique or having someone tell us “You need to do ______ instead”. We learn right away when we start training that part of being a good teammate is giving good feedback so that we correct mistakes in a slower paced environment. I believe that cleaning your game, or perfecting your jiu-jitsu game, starts here: methodical, consistent, focused drilling that commits corrected movement to muscle memory. So, yes, come to technique class, not just open roll.

Live rolling has its place, though. Our most deeply rooted mistakes are exposed in live rolling. It is very obvious that your technique is flawed if you get stuffed or reversed or submitted. There is an error somewhere, but where? Sometimes you can pick it out yourself. But sometimes it isn’t so easy to do on your own, especially if you are newer. Of course, having your instructor watch you and give you feedback is always good; but they can’t watch you always! So, many times if you are rolling a more experienced person, you just need to ask, “How did you sweep me?” or “Why didn’t that guard pass work?” and they can tell you that your base was way too far over or that you didn’t block the hip on the way through, or whatever. But usually, you need to ask!

Another way to pick out some mistakes is to videotape yourself rolling. Yes, I know, it sounds awful. You will probably look at the tape and realize that you felt much faster, cleaner and better than you look on tape. Despite any embarrassment, videotape can be a great tool for picking out your mistakes or even just figuring out which position you need the most work on! And don’t worry, you don’t need to watch in front of anyone else if you don’t want to.

We could get even more philosophical and ask, how do we fix mistakes that we don’t know we are making? What if we are winning without proper technique? Can we know what we don’t know? I guess that is a place for our instructors to yell at us for muscling position. Or maybe you’re just a weird phenom. When I run into that problem, I’ll let you know.

Learning from our Mistakes



“Tap! UGH!”

“God*%^& it Tap!”

Whether we are brand new or seasoned BJJ veterans, everyone goes through phases where they feel like they are getting beat by everyone, or getting caught when “you know better”, or just not rolling at your best. It may be just one guy that you constantly battle with back and forth.

It can, without a doubt, be extremely frustrating to be in this position; but it is what you do once you are here that will define what kind of jiu-jitsu fighter that you are and will be in the future.  If you let your frustration overcome you, your game will only continue to suffer and you will, eventually, mentally break yourself down.

As fighters that are in it for the long haul, we need to take our training slumps and turn them into something more productive, something that will make us stronger and help us progress.  It may be cliché, but sometimes the best way to learn is to fail miserably. If your mistakes, either physical or mental, are never exposed, it is hard to fix them. That is why the best jiu-jitsu fighters do not always train with white belts, or always train with people that they can beat. They train with people that challenge them, that exploit their weaknesses; they train with people that cause them to fail. Those failures are not ignored: The best fighters spend time figuring out what went wrong and how to fix it.  Time is spent drilling the problem position over and over, so that one does not repeat the same mistake.

Of course, we cannot fail all the time, if just for the simple fact that mentally and physically we need to be able to “play”. There are times that we need to train with someone less skilled so that we can try new things, so that we can make mistakes without getting stuffed into the ground afterward. Sometimes we need to be able to do well and show ourselves that we are, in fact, progressing.

I think  the key, like most things, is finding a balance. In jiu-jitsu training with a variety of people will be benefit your game. Training with more experienced fighters will challenge you and push you to the next level; less experienced fighters will allow you to try something new with less consequence; your peers will push your endurance and determination.

Tune in next week for some tips on pinpointing your mistakes and “cleaning your game”. Happy training.

Adding to the Arsenal

One of the most common questions we hear after showing a technique is “Well, what if the guy does this, or that, or the other?”. It is understandable to be concerned with multiple scenarios from a single position. Live rolling in jiu-jitsu is a game of change, capitalizing on mistakes, and being prepared for whatever your opponent decides to throw at you. It can be overwhelming when you think about it. The number of variables in the game seems to be somewhere near infinity, especially when you first start training. The drive to do well in open roll and tournaments only increases the desire to know everything…right now. The real deal, however, is that it is better to do one technique well than 30 techniques poorly; and, when you add a “what if” to a situation, you are effectively talking about a completely different technique than the one that is being shown by your instructor. My opinion is that patience is the key; master the base technique during practice. (It is said that it takes 10,000 repetitions to master a technique). Once you have properly drilled the base technique, it is much easier to add “what ifs” to your arsenal. Your arsenal will grow steadily and solidly. Remember the base move instead of forgetting 4 “what if” scenarios.