Taking back from half-guard

So… Caio Terra’s seminar on Sunday was quite ‘wow’. It’s hard to believe that this guy is in fact slightly older than me; he certainly doesn’t look or act like it. At least not when he’s out of a gi. After the seminar we went out for dinner and a drink (still laughing about that flat ginger ale; we have some characters of our own at my gym!), and God, I never heard so much BJJ gossip in my whole life. I probably never heard so much about BJJ in my whole life. This guy knows all about BJJ trivia; if you say something approximate he will correct you, and if you know one part of the story he will tell you the rest. After all, no, it is consistent with the way he is on the mats, which is pretty bad ass. Like, be ready to give a full three-hour seminar on any of seven topics? (The majority of the attendees chose half-guard from bottom.) Or answer every odd ‘what if’ question by making you do it to him and show you how he’ll always end up on top? The way he is, is he won’t let you get away with anything. It’s this, not that.


a) Half-guard starting position

All the six-seven techniques he showed began from the same position, which is a challenge unto itself to get right (but then also a challenge for your opponent to break or get out of). Unlike the traditional knee shield, which has your knee pointing up and blocks the other person on their shoulder, the concept here is to get your upper/free leg as parallel to the ground as possible, with your knee pressing into their thigh, near the hip (which may be somewhat painful for them, especially if they try to pull their leg out or stand up). Your knee shouldn’t be higher than your foot, while your ankles should still cross in a nice, safe way.

In order to achieve that, your lower/trapped leg must of course have enough room so that your foot is clearly pointing upwards. Your hips must also be turned on the side; you may even face slightly more towards the ground, rather than the opposite.

If your opponent grabs your knee from the top to try and push it:

b 1) Feed the sleeve to a joystick cross grip. Tip: when you have a cross grip, you should always try to keep your hand on the outside of their wrist. When your grip comes from the same side, you should try to keep your hand on the inside of their wrist. You’re stronger that way. With your second hand, grab the back of their elbow.

b 2) Now there’s a bunch of moves you should ideally execute at the same time. Firstly, pull their elbow towards you while punching their wrist against their own belly/opposite hip. Secondly, kick your upper leg free and use the momentum to sit up.

b 3) Reach across their shoulder and make sure your chest stays close to their side so they can’t bring their elbow back. Push out your inside knee to get on their back while securing your base. Take back, seatbelt, etc. (Be like a backpack on their back.)

Now there’s a possibility that as you break their grip on your knee, they’ll be holding your lapel and stopping you from sitting up properly. Even if you sort of do, you probably won’t be able to go further and get to their back. So here’s a sweep:

c 1) It begins with the same move of the arms, so that you end up trapping their wrist against their belly/side. Except now you’re blocked. With your second arm, reach over their shoulder to their back and bring them down over you.

c 2) Now here’s the key/tricky part: as you uncross your ankles, bring your outer/free foot down to the ground and use it to switch your hips to the other side. Remember how your hips were completely sideways, vertical on the mat? You want to get to the symmetrical position on your other hip, without pausing on your back in the middle. As soon as you get to your other side, push on their wrist (it’s on their belly/hip, right) and they should fall very easily.

c 3) But! It is not over. Without letting go of their sleeve, keep them rolling on their side some more by pushing your hips forward against them. Then bring your free knee behind their head and sit down while flinging their arm open to the side, so they basically roll back into you and you can take their back.

More to come later. By the way, did I mention I finally got my second stripe? And took part in a friendly in-house tournament? (Of course I lost, but they paired me with a blue belt for lack of enough female competitors. Cool experience nonetheless.)

Caio Terra in Montreal!

Sorry for not updating this blog much anymore… I’ve launched my own business in April and have been pretty busy running it.

After last February’s miss, Caio Terra is finally really coming to Montreal!! It’s this Sunday, so show up if you want to learn from a BJJ world champ.😉

Sweeps from half-guard

I’ve been out of training for a couple of weeks, but coming back makes it that much more exciting! That’s when you realize you’ve missed it. I’m also guilty of not updating this blog, which I think is a side effect of getting better. I no longer feel like I must write every single detail down in order to understand a move or a technique. Still, saying I remember everything I learn would be far from the truth, so… in theory this blog retains its original purpose. (I’m just lazy.)

In other news, our dojo finally has a name and a logo (see column on the right). We also have a beautiful Facebook page; sadly I am a ghost on the team picture, the result of being (possibly) out of shape and rolling too hard that day (I stood up for the first picture and then had to sit down).

We’ve also had more people coming to class, both new and old! We’re now a team with one black belt (Nobi), two brown belts (Deepu and Tri), two purple belts (Julien and Tuan, who finally got upgraded), over five blue belts (Kim, Martin, Jason, Adam, John, Edward…), and a bunch of white belts with different numbers of stripes. Oh, and a yellow belt of course!🙂


Some time ago, Deepu showed the waiter sweep from half-guard. This works if your opponent is standing on their knees.

a 1) Go on your side, facing them, and reach under their “free” leg with your lower hand. Your hand must go as far as possible, until your shoulder is right against their knee; grab their belt or gi to keep a good, deep grip. You must look for the underhook with the other arm.

a 2) Extend their trapped leg by extending yours, then move it around in a circular motion, like a pendulum.  The idea is to roll on your back onto your other side, then bring your legs back towards your face, until their trapped leg comes close to your other shoulder.

a 3) You can let the underhook go to slip your arm under this leg, and trap it by closing your elbow tight. This also usually helps you bring their leg/ankle as close as possible to your face, which gives you more leverage.

a 4) Slide your legs back up to the level of their thigh and push while coming up. Transition to side mount if possible (it’s not always easy to get that second foot out).

There is evidently more to be said about this transition to side mount, but I can’t picture it right now.

Secondly, as promised, I will go over the sweep Nobi taught during the fundraising seminar.

It doesn’t have a name that I know of; it’s a kind of tripod sweep from half-guard, which my boyfriend just calls “Nobi sweep”.😉 You need to start in a comfortable half-guard, on your side, with your upper knee blocking your opponent from coming in.

b 1) Grab their pants at knee level with your lower hand. They might try and break your grip, but break theirs first; at any rate grab their sleeve with your other hand.

b 2) Keeping the line of your body straight, move your hips upwards and post with your had to reach a tripod position (you’re on your knee, shoulder, and head). Your upper leg must have changed direction: your knee is now pointing downwards, and your foot is up, though still hooking their ribs/underarm.

b 3) Pull both your hands (ie their further knee and arm) at the same time as you push with your legs, bringing your opponent off balance. Get your leg out and move to side control.

Pretty cool, huh? In the event your opponent is expecting the sweep and resisting, there’s an alternate sweep to the other side:

c 1) Grab them around or near the shoulder while you come back down on your back, and let your knee come close to your body so that they lean forward against you.

c 2) Roll on your side (the side of your bent knee, on which they’re leaning), bringing them with you. Your other hand is still gripping their pants; use it to lift their leg then flatten them on their back.

The general idea is to take advantage of their momentum. In order to resist a sweep, they must put their weight on the opposite side you’re trying to sweep them to. If you’re quick enough to reverse side, they will suddenly be vulnerable.

Picture from Saturday’s seminar

I haven’t given up BJJ blogging, I’ve only been… busy (I started my own publishing business). There are so many techniques I’d like to write down, which hopefully I’ll get to do in the coming days and weeks. I’ve asked my boyfriend to go to class early tonight so we can practice the interesting ones we learnt at Saturday’s fundraising seminar… In the meantime, here’s a picture of him choking me:

More pictures available on the school’s page.

Women, muscles, and body shapes

Last week my mom wrote me an email in which she asked–again–if BJJ was “deforming” my body, by which she means, of course, if I am yet as muscly as a muscly guy. (She has a female cousin who did karate for a while, but rapidly stopped because it was “deforming” her body. Whatever that really means, it has apparently stuck to my mom’s mind.)

This supposition greatly offends me, for two reasons: 1) the sheer, ignorant stupidity of it. Women couldn’t become as muscly as men, even if they tried. We just don’t have enough testosterone. 2) the assumption that there is a right shape for the female body to be, vs a wrong shape, and what this “right shape” is. But let’s develop these two points further.

 1) That’s right, the muscle mass is directly related to genetics, more precisely to sexual hormones. Men are supposed to have more muscle than women (just like women are supposed to have, at least proportionally, more fat than men), or at least let’s say that for the same amount of training, men will gain more muscle than women. A woman will not grow the same muscle mass, through BJJ or any other sport, even if she trains the same as a man.

OK, sure, but what about these professional female athletes? They are sometimes pretty muscular, if not as much as their male counterparts.

And the key word here is… professional! I’m not a professional, not even an amateur athlete. I am a hobbyist, training 2 to 3 times a week max. I actually find it offensive that most people don’t seem to realize how much time, work and dedication is required to have a body like that. Not that it is necessarily a good thing, or something you’d want, but show a little respect! It is hard, and it doesn’t happen by chance or by mistake. (Of course, I am talking about building muscles naturally. If you show me a woman on steroids, then I will still never be like her.)

2) In French, “déformer” literally means “to un-shape”. So I would really like to know, what is the right shape of my body? Maybe I should give you some context. It is true, that since I have started doing sports, my body shape has slightly strayed from a model’s measurements… I do have a little more flesh about my bones. And you know what? It feels great!

I think we could take a little time to realize that, not only are female models only representative of one possible body type (tall and skinny), but that they are the weak, passive version of that body type! You can’t change your body type, can you? So that means I will always be tall and skinny, right? Except you can only be as tall and skinny as a model if you don’t move around too much.

When you think about it, most traits traditionally considered feminine, or beautiful in a woman, imply that the woman shouldn’t do too much. Long hair? I used to have pretty long hair. When I decided to get more serious about sports I cut it, because while it’s possible to do sports with very long hair, it does get in the way (and have you thought about how annoying it gets in the shower after every training?). Pretty hands and nails? Gone forever, I am sad to say. You can’t keep truly pretty nails if you work with your hands (or if you do BJJ). Still, in spite of all that, I am relieved to notice that I still look unmistakably like a girl (at any rate, definitely not like a guy!).

But this isn’t just about me. My mom’s concern for my body’s shape only echoes most women’s concern about their own bodies. Sure, as I pointed out in my first point, women and men do have different bodies… but not always that different either. Why is it that any similarity between genders seems so threatening, so worrisome? Have you noticed how beauty canons, rather than stand for the average man or woman, instead emphasize, even exaggerate what is typically male, and what is typically female? Men we consider good-looking are usually muscly to a point that is impossible for women to achieve; women we consider good-looking are exceptionally thin, or have very big breasts, something equally impossible for a man to achieve, etc. Yet beyond purely genetic facts, some of these traits actually suggest specific roles and natures attached to men and women: men get to be physically strong, powerful, capable; while women get to do basically nothing…

As far as I’m concerned, building some muscle has boosted my self-confidence immensely, both in general as a person, and looks-wise. Looking like a model isn’t my goal at all anymore; but I do wish there were more women modeling with different body types and shapes!

Details on the toreando pass

When Deepu taught us the toreando pass two weeks ago, it was a disaster. Completely undoable during sparring. But I kept on trying, mainly because my main problem seemed to be with my feet, and that’s something I must fix for any kind of guard passing from standing, anyway. Today for the first time I felt that I was improving: at least I didn’t get swept as soon as I tried it (or fall on my partner’s groin… oops). Because there were very few of us, and Friday’s always an express class, Nobi took some time after we rolled to point my common mistakes.

One concerned the toreada pass. I think as I kept going for it unsuccessfully, many details went lost in translation, and I really needed a refreshment. As it happens, earlier today Deepu had sent me a video of Andre Galvao doing the pass, but I hadn’t watched it yet… Here it is:

The part that I really wasn’t doing right was the end; I was looking for side control too early, and neglecting to control the leg at knee level between my own leg and my elbow, like Galvao does around 2:40. Well, I wasn’t doing the beginning very well either, but that’s more a question of practice than concept.🙂

2 new blue belts + triangle from high guard

I have been utterly lazy with blogging lately. Two weeks ago we drilled a way to take the back via De La Riva guard against someone who defends against the scissor sweep I described in my last post. Deepu also showed me a sweep from half-guard he got from Caio Terra’s DVD, which I should watch on my own and attempt to remember. Regrettably I only attended BJJ class once last week (we did a toreando pass), so I missed the biggest promotion since Nobi’s been teaching on his own: Kim and John got blue belts!! (And Tuan finally received his last stripe.)

Yesterday Tri showed us a way to get triangle from high guard. It starts with your opponent in your closed guard.

1) Break their posture, using both your legs and arms (either by grabbing the lapels or “hugging” them around the neck). You can’t move to high guard until they’re more or less flat on you.

2) Move one of your legs up their back and grab your own ankle/shin with your opposite hand. Be sure to put a lot of weight on their back, so they can’t posture up. Shrimping slightly on the side of the leg you’re holding can help.

3) Slide your other hand under your knee and reach for the collar. This is supposed to secure your hold on that side of their body, so your first hand can let go of your ankle/shin.

4) At this stage, your opponent will usually try and make space with their free arm and tuck their elbow in (that’s a mistake). Grab their wrist and push it back all the way out if needed, then bring your free leg over their head and finish the triangle.

I sparred with Kim, Tri, Martin, Jerome and Nobi. The good news of the day is that I held my own with Jerome, who’s lately been giving me such a hard time by pushing my legs away as he seemingly pleased (I suppose he must have swept me in the beginning since I was on my back once again). My attempts at spider guard seemed to work much better than ever before, and when it wasn’t enough I managed to block him with my knee. Once he almost passed, but somehow I could get on my shoulders and roll out. At last I caught him in a triangle the way we’d just learned, but closing it was really tough and the time ran out on us.

All the other guys I mentioned are more advanced and always let me do my own stuff (in essence, they’re the only guys I ever tap, LOL). It’s good practice for passing guard from standing and keeping base, though; most of the time I still get swept mercilessly!