I'll post pictures, videos, and my personal tournament review later this week. Right now, here's the lessons I have been mulling over for the last 4 days or so- in no particular order. I definitely welcome your comments and suggestions of course.
1. Think advantages. Often we think purely in terms of position then submission; later we advance to thinking about pursuing and holding positions for points as well. Now I see the need to also push for advantages. Go for subs and sweeps even if defendable. You'll see in my video I load up an Achilles lock and sit for a split second, considering going for it. I don't go because I am sure she'll defend it. I now think I should have gone, made her defend, and collected one more advantage.
2. Guard works best if you can get points on the board early. I don't know if I can clearly express my thoughts on this but I'll try-- SO MANY PEOPLE (male and female) pulled or jumped guard! They bypassed the whole gripfighting/takedown scene and went straight to the floor. From there, no one has any points at the start. The guy (sorry, gentlemen, that's a gender neutral "guy") on the bottom has no points and can only get some by completing a sweep; the guy on top can only get points by passing. Advantages can only come from near-passes, near-subs, near-sweeps. And the guy on the bottom is the only one who can get a submission unless you're good at ankle locks (the only legal leglock up until brown); otherwise you might get the advantage but give up the pass AND top position. Previous to this Pan, I really thought playing guard sucked, and would rather my opponent pulled guard because I thought I had a decent pass and top game. I thought it was better to beat their guard and get on top.
Now I see what REALLY matters is getting the takedown so they're already working from a point deficit. Then, if you somehow screw up and lose top position, you just have to get guard, and fight to keep it. (It's damn hard to get a pass, because not only do you have to pass, you have to hold a dominant position for a LOOOOONG while, not just 3 seconds. Depends on the ref, but realistically we're talking 5-6 seconds, minimum.) If you get your guard, they don't get points, you keep your point lead, you pursue subs/sweeps, and you win even if you can't land either. But if you just start by pulling guard, either you better have a solid sweep/sub game, or you will depend on having an unpassable guard and winning on advantages. I dunno-- maybe I'm just repeating what's obvious to everyone else? but it's my first time to put it all together in an (in)coherent way.
3. As far as offensive strategy goes, guard plus sweeps is more high percentage than pass plus top game. Pretty much restating what I said above in #2, and thanks to Mark Stites in Dallas for pointing this out to me as well. You cannot count on passing. You cannot be offensive while passing (I'm just now realizing that passing is a defensive posture) while the guard player obviously can instigate all kinds of offense from the bottom.
4. Takedowns are key to gaining points and a strategic advantage early. I can't emphasize this enough. I saw it over and over in matches from whitebelt to blackbelt. Get a solid takedown (ideally ending in top position, but hell, even a hard fought seoi nage ending in a scramble mess with you on top) and get your points. Better if you can knock the wind out of them, scare them, mess with their mental equilibrium.
5. Flatten them out from top halfguard, top side control. This will get you an advantage.
6. Defend subs invisibly so you don't give away the advantage. If you can ignore a submission attempt or at least appear to ignore it, you have a better chance of not giving up the advantage. Especially watch your facial expressions. Lots of smart corners push refs into giving advantages and one thing they, especially the Brazilians, will do is comment on how much pain or discomfort you're in. It's hard to defend sweeps invisibly but I think you can subtly resist a choke or joint lock, even if just by hiding how much you're countering it.
7. Work the tournament: money, stress relief, insider access, free entry fee (sometimes), free tshirts, free lunches and snacks. Of course the lunches will not be low calorie, so if you're competing and need to make weight, bring snacks like sugar snap peas, carrots, etc. If the refs are going to compete as well, you can share your snacks and win their affection and appreciation too.
8. 90 second drill: When you're home doing timed rounds, have someone call out when you're 90 seconds from the end. Imagine you're down 3 points (or whatever) and that in 90 seconds you need to score. I heard someone call this out to their fighter and it galvanized them into not leaving anything on the mat. That particular fighter didn't win, but I liked the concept; anything your corner can say to you that will have meaning for you and NOT for the opponent is a good thing. In other words, corners, please don't sound desperate! Don't say frantically that we're behind by 3 points, say "3 points, 90 second drill!"
9. Grip crossface instead of arm-behind-head crossface. Might be old news to ya'll but it was nifty for me. I think I've been confusing that 'arm behind the head and shoulder dug into the throat' (some call it the Shoulder of Justice) with a true crossface? Anyway, you grab, thumb in, at the collar near the tag, then use the knife edge of your forearm held vertically to shove their jaw away from you.
10. Don't let go of what you get. In many of the higher belt matches, say purple and above, I saw players hold on to grips I would have let go way sooner. One that sticks in my mind was an overhook from guard -- that blackbelt must have kept the overhooked arm for at least five minutes. I wondered what they could have done with a free hand, but eventually saw that they were able to make something happen with the grip they kept. I'm sure like any rule, there are plenty of exceptions-- and you only find out when to hold on and when to let go with experience. But generally I was surprised by how long they held on and what they made happen with the grip they kept.
11. Lots of wraps and grips. People started untucking their opponents' gis and their own far earlier in the engagement than I expected, and wrapped stuff up with wild abandon. Didn't matter what direction, with what, but if there was loose fabric, it was getting wrapped around something. My impression (probably incorrect) was that people started wrapping without necessarily having a distinct plan in mind. Some wraps, like gi lapel under the arm and behind the neck from guard, were pretty common and versatile. Some others, like gi skirt doubled around a forearm, were more improvised and maybe free-form. And the grips... people grabbed stuff and held on, and never ever seemed to have a free hand. Hands were always busy grabbing fabric. Always.
12. Remember your exact position and grips during a ref stoppage. Some referees told me they viewed it as the players' responsibility to remember where they were and to seek that same position upon restarting. I know that when we got to the edge of the mat and had to be recentered, I was so hopped up on adrenaline I couldn't remember much more than the big picture- I was in her guard, I think it was open? and I think I had her knees? But the blackbelts were meticulous; when the ref stopped them, they froze, and it seemed they were conducting an inventory of grips and relative positioning before they would move. Good idea, I think. Don't let yourself get rushed.
13. Time awareness. To some extent this is a corner's responsibility; to some extent it's the players'. At the Pan they have lovely big flatscreen TVs (see below) at every mat with a huge display so there's no excuse for not keeping on top of your time... except for when you're so busy, you can't look up.
My match was the fastest six minutes on the planet-- I thought maybe we were halfway through when we were done. Everything I was doing seemed to take hours longer than normal. I wish I'd had someone to tell me to hurry up!
17. Don't let go unless the ref sees the tap. Saw a guy fighting who got an armbar, his opponent was visibly tapping out of the ref's range of sight. I thought the ref wasn't able to see it and made the mistake of saying aloud "He's tapping!" but not terribly loudly.. and you have to understand, people are SCREAMING at the top of their lungs from behind the bright yellow barricade (below), which is about 10' away from the edge of the mat and maybe 20-25' from the middle of the mat, so it takes a LOT to be heard.
Anyway the guy obviously felt and saw his opponent tapping, so he stopped and let go-- but the ref didn't stop the fight. Many people expressed opinions that it was a traditionally Brazilian tactic but I am not willing to generalize that way.
18. Know the rules about legal subs. Should go without saying. Couple people got DQ'd for locking a leg and then crossing the foot over the hip; worse was the guy who got DQ'd for throwing on a kneebar (which was illegal up through and including purple belt.)
19. Bring spares. I was going through the bull pen where you get weighed in and have your gi checked, where I saw a Texas girl named Jill.. she was freaking out because her gi top had been rejected. It was canvas like the pants, somewhat quilted, and it failed because the gi top is supposed to be woven like, well... like all gi tops usually are. They give you something like 5 minutes to get a replacement, and it was going to take her coach more than that to get another gi (though they are sold upstairs, that's a long way away.) I whipped out my spare gi from my bag and handed it to her. She was about a foot taller than me and usually wears an A2, but my F3 fit her just barely enough to pass muster. Another guy had to buy a new belt because his was too frayed. Better not have blood spots or dirt on your stuff; that will cause failure too.
Notice here, the girl on top-- the skirt of her gi has Dev's "Fueled by Fear" patch on it! Voila, Dev, you've proliferated :)
A word on color: the IBJJF rules say gis must be white, blue or black. Rules don't say what SHADE blue, and I was wavering about dyeing my gi. Well, I can report that I saw 3 distinct shades of blue and no one reported problems. The traditional cobalt blue; the Keiko/Koral navy blue, and even a kind of medium cadet blue all passed without question. Just fyi.
20. Interaction with the referee and scorer: The higher the belt level, the more players interacted with refs and scorers. The better players constantly monitored the points given by the refs, questioned and pushed for advantages, and made eye contact with the scorer to (I thought) make sure that points were being attributed properly. The players also had no hesitation telling the refs about illegal grips by opponents, or when a timeout was required to retie a gi, get a hand or foot out of a dangerously encumbered position, etc. As a side note, I have always thought that quickly readjusting a gi was better than taking your time, as it made you look eager to get on with the fight. However, I see that everyone pretty much takes a reasonable amount of time and doesn't hurry. There is a benefit to being eager and very fit, cardio-wise, but I think the greater advantage comes by getting an extra 4-5 unhurried breaths in.
21. NEVER let them settle! The reason it's so damn hard to get a pass or a sweep is that they fight you to the bitter end. Even if they're all the way around and on top of you, you simply MUST keep thrashing like a beached fish because it keeps them from getting the points. I watched this happen time and time again. Yes, it burns calories but who cares. If you feel yourself getting swept, spring up from the mat in whatever way possible the minute you touch down, as though it were red hot. They won't get the points unless you let them come up in a dominant position.
22. Standing guard passes are all the rage: The most common guard pass I saw, from whitebelt up through blackbelt, was the one where you grab their lapels and stand up with them, then pressure down on one knee. The most common counter was to lay back and down, underhook an ankle, and sweep.
23. The definition of insanity: they say insanity is trying the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. Well, sometimes that's true in jiu jitsu though not always. I thought of this when I was watching a blackbelt match in which the guy kept trying that standing guard pass. Over, and over, he went to this pass. It wasn't working, and he never varied. Now I understand pushing and being persistent; I understand going back and forth between two passes so you tire out various muscle systems on your opponent. But I don't understand apparently only having one tool in your toolbag. Hammers don't fix everything, sometimes you need a screwdriver. Bring a toolkit, eh? And a side note: know which of your tools are quick-acting and which take some time; when you have 1 minute left and you're down, don't implement a long, slow pass. It's time to try something speedy.
24. The mats are slippery. They're brand new and while they don't look it, they will definitely feel it. Try putting a swipe of solid/dry deodorant on the soles of your feet. It's not to stop your own sweat; it gives you a little extra traction without leaving a residue.
So those are my big picture ponderings. Perhaps more to come. And here are my friend Mark's notes from last year's Pan... I agree with all of these as well!
1. After doing the Pan Ams, local tournaments are a cake walk.
2. Jumping to guard is what all the top guys did.
3. Attacking and keeping on the offensive = win.
4. Collar chokes seemed more commonly used and effective than armbars/leglocks.
5. A 5 minute match lasts 30 seconds.
6. Everyone is doing Crossfit, and top guys train BJJ 2 times a day.
7. Waiting/stalling/procrastination/apprehension (when one should be attacking) = loss.
8. Train the techniques you want to do until it becomes instant muscle memory. Thinking = loss.
9. Tournaments/competition are nothing to be afraid of, they show you your weaknesses.
10. When the match starts: attack like a rabid ape, engulfed in flames; jump on your opponent then Stop, Drop and Roll on his face. (but skip the Stop part :) )
Then his notes from his Mundials, for good measure... with my comments in brackets..
Here's a few things I noticed from the Mundials...
A lot of this overlaps with the Pan Ams, which only reinforces what's stated.
- Lots of guard pulling and very little, if any, Judo throws.
- Lots of toe holds for the advanced guys/girls. When I say "lots" I mean a shitload! They were attempted constantly. Kyra Gracie got one.
- DQ's were rampant. 1/2 were for poor sportsmanship. The other half was from the guard. With the guy on the ground wrapping his outside leg over the opponents front leg across the knee. It's instant DQ. The other leg (inside) is cool, although I was warned about that such maneuver in my match. So it's better not to attempt 50/50 or any funky leg spaghetti unless you're totally sure it's legal.
- Most subs were by collar chokes. With the remainder going toward armbars, toeholds and triangles. Good idea would be to build long endurance grip strength. Matt had to hold onto his collar choke for a solid 60 seconds with a tough Brazilian trying desperately to pull it off. Matt got the tap :)
- Learn half guard: bottom, top. upside down, inside out. You'll be here 99% of the time during your matches, especially if you're fairly equally skilled with your opponent.
- Matches are longer than Pan Ams, cardio is important. I rarely saw people gassed bad and get crushed. I believe everyone probably does Crossfit type stuff. Plus at this high level, the grappling tends to be more fluid and active, with very little "crushing" attrition type battles. Matches which stalled were often inside the fullguard; some people, even black belts were penalized points for stalling in the guard. [I saw this too. You get a warning but they're serious, and while you get a penalty, the other guy gets an advantage. If it happens again they give the other guy two points! Which can easily be the reason you lose!]
- The best guys i.e. Marcelo, Cobrinha, Megaton etc... never got all caught up in guard vs guard break battles us noobs do. They always seem to be perfectly balanced right between passing and the opponent ready for the sweep.
- The best guys were happy, relaxed, playful and smiling all the time. No anxiety, worry, or sense of fear. They chatted with fans, and sat down in the warm up area. Marcelo even laid down and snoozed for a bit. One big anxiety problem is that the competitor is worried if his name has been called. He is constantly on watch for his name, while at the same time trying to calm himself. Matt was all amped up and wanted
to fight and kept constantly asking if his name was called. He seemed really nervous and anxious. I finally told him to go sit down and I would listen for his name so he could relax. I think this helped, he wandered off to do his thing, while I managed logistics. Next Pan-Ams/Mundials we should assign a logistics guy to keep track of
things, and keep the competitor relaxed, while doing all the listening for his name being called. This would really help out a lot. [This is another reason why I like working the tournament. You get a feel for the noise level and how hard it is to hear names, you get to know the ring coordinators and they you, and you have another layer or two of protection against this anxiety.]
-Neither Marcelo nor Cobrinha warmed up. When they were called, they might swing their arms around a bit, and do a couple jumping jacks and they were done. Both of them seemed to be so ultra-mega confident and cool, their opponents were shitting themselves. Marcelo's first opponent was shaking his head in disbelief and joking with Marcelo before the match...It lasted 1 minute. Victim #2, whom certainly saw the prior onslaught lasted 3 minutes. Valiant, but on the losing end from beginning of the match. Which leads me to my next point. [I saw lots of people not warm up. I personally don't warm up. I think it's a waste of valuable glycogen to go all crazy. Maybe some deep knee bends, a few pushups, shake it all out. But that's it.]
- The toughest guys, attacked, and never lost ground from their first advantage. Marcelo would sweep a guy and that was it. Cobrinha would trip up a guy and he was screwed. Kyra Grace would pull guard and her opponent would never recover. Roger Gracie, once he got mount, the crowd would clap furiously because they knew the end was near. Roger mounted and X-choked all 7 or 8 of his opponents.
- If the match was not ended because of a sub, it went to points. The VAST majority of points were from sweeps. Especially from some form of guard. If he pulls guard, you must escape, and pass IMMEDIATELY or run. As you pass, you're in danger of being swept. We saw this constantly as sweeps are used as the counter to a guard pass. It would seem a guy who could sweep effectively from anywhere would win way more often then a guy whom could do a good guard pass. Sweeps are almost always available to you, whereas a guard pass opportunity may never happen. In my view (from things I noticed at the mundials), a good guard defense with badass sweeps will go a lot further than a
good passing game. Plus when you sweep, if you land in a position of value (mount/knee on stomach) you get points for that as well. A guard pass may only last for a second, you may get your 2 points, or if they turn to their side or get to their knees, you lose those points. In the end, it sucks to pass, and it's better to sweep. [I was SO BUMMED to find this to be true at the Pan!!!]
- If you do pass guard, you must absolutely pass 100% and land in a position of value. Sidemount was rarely seen, mount was way more common. Knee on stomach happened very very little. These guys are VERY tricky and just as you are 99.9% through your guard pass, you're back in 1/2 guard. [This was true from blue on up. Either halfguard or inverted guard or, very commonly, turtle. If they turtle you get no points. Sucks.]
- Learn 1/2 guard. I said it earlier. I'll say it again. Get GOOD at halfguard. You can pull halfguard from standing and attack. Your opponent will pull halfguard on you when you gain superiority. Learn it well. We saw it constantly. One example was Marcelo's brown [now black] belt Henrique vs Ryan Hall (famous guy Ryangle from Lloyd Irvin, founder of 50/50 BJJ). Their match went on for 10 minutes straight..in half
guard. They went back and forth trading sweeps. The point counts on both guys were way up there like 10 or 12 points each. They pretty much locked in on each other and rolled back and forth. Ryan won by one full advantage point because he was able to threaten a position of value early in the match. During the whole match, no "typical"
position was ever attained ie. side mount, guard, north south etc... just simple halfguard. Often the halfguard was one of them on their asses wrapped up around the other guys leg (whom was usually squatted or partially standing). These guys would do all sorts of crazy gi or arm wrapping things around the half guarded leg to effect a sweep. After being swept, the other guy would return the favor! [Same at the Pan except Henrique and Ryan are now black belts, they were locked up in 50/50, and neither got sweeps. It was lame really, just two guys on their rumps, neither able to come up enough to get even an advantage much less a sweep. But I digress. And I'll post the footage from that match soon.]
- Learn how advantage points work. You can use these early to build a lead so that if your opponent rallies back and gains all his major points to match yours... you still win. [Matches were often decided on advantages and many matches had ZERO points.]
Thanks to Mark Stites of Faixa Preta in Rockwall TX (one of Marcelo Garcia's very few affiliate schools) for the great input...