I’ve got a super cool, super informative interview for you today!
This is the first time in Grapplearts history that I’ve interviewed a person for a second time. But boy, did my friend, BJJ black belt, and fierce competitor Brandon ‘Wolverine’ Mullins ever deliver! (click here for the first interview).
(Brandon and I originally worked together to create the highly acclaimed instructional How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent Volume 2.)
In today’s interview Brandon and I discuss a TON of stuff, including,
- Life and death on the seminar circuit,
- What changes you need to make to your guard to transition from gi to no-gi,
- How to connect moves together to make a smooth and fluid game,
- The evolution of jiu-jitsu, including the new positions and strategies that are continuously changing the sport,
- Why you always need to pushing to improve your position even when you’re ahead on points.
- And much more…
This podcast episode, along with all my others, are available on my Strenuous Life Podcast, which you can subscribe to with a few easy clicks! Choose your audio player below and click on it to open up The Strenuous Life Podcast and from there, you can click to subscribe, or simply search for this episode which is episode # 23.
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Alternately, you can click on the embedded “audio only” You Tube video below to listen (however, you run the risk of missing future episodes by not subscribing – but if you’re a gambler then here you go!)
Stephan: Today is a very special day because it’s our first ever repeat guest! I’m talking to Brandon ‘Wolverine’ Mullins for a second interview. I got really got great feedback from my last interview with him. So I had to have him back on.
Brandon Mullins and I have been in the old schemes lair working on a top-secret-Area-51 style project, which is a great excuse to get him back on the show and find out what he’s been up to and what’s new in his life.
Brandon: Well, thanks for having me back and I am honored to be the first ever repeat guest, hopefully maybe the only ever repeat guest so I could maintain that title. That’d be great.
Stephan: Title for life!
Brandon: Title for life, you know, #titleforlife. So yeah, thanks for having me here. As far as what’s been going on with me, the big picture’s a lot of the same that happened before. You know, a lot of training, a lot of competing, but some new things as well. I started doing seminars and traveling around. This is a really amazing experience. I’ve been to different countries.
Stephan: Which countries?
Brandon: I went to Costa Rica… I saw a dead guy… I went to Austria…
Stephan: (Interrupting) Wait, you saw a dead guy?!? What happened?
Brandon: I don’t want to make anybody think that I didn’t have a great time when I was there. Not only was the seminar amazing, but the experience was amazing.
But about the dead guy… Basically, what happened is we were doing some touristy stuff and there was a situation where we were kind of walking on a mountain path and somebody was on the ground and you could tell that a lot of people were around him. I mentioned to one of the hosts that I was with that, I was like, ‘Man, I think that guy is dead.’
And they were like, ‘No, he’s probably okay. He probably had a heat stroke.’ But we were like up in the mountain so it was pretty chilly, it was pretty cold.
And we kind of did our thing, came back around and the whole time, we were looking around. I’m telling the host, I’m like, ‘Man, that guy was dead. I’m telling you he was dead.‘
And they were like, ‘No, he’s not. He’s probably this or that. Maybe he’s a diabetic and he needed a cookie or something.’
And I was like, ‘Man, look, I’ve seen people who needed cookies before. This guy did not need a cookie. He needed a funeral. He was dead.’
And we finish walking around and we come back around to where he was, and sure enough, the police tape around, he was covered up with a sheet and I don’t really know what happened, but by no means did it ruin my experience at all.
It really had no effect on how I felt about my experience in Costa Rica or how I felt about the country of Costa Rica. I’m just as likely to see a dead guy here in Canada with you, Stephan. But it was kind of a unique thing. I saw a dead guy in Costa Rica. That’s the story. But after that…
Stephan: You never did find out what happened to him.
Brandon: I didn’t. Apparently, it was on the news because they sent me a photo of it later, but I don’t know what happened to the guy. I’m not really sure. Sad thing, I guess.
Stephan: Where else have you left a trail of dead bodies?
Brandon: He’s the only one they found, but I can’t talk about the rest (laughing). But no, I also went to Austria, which was really amazing and it was a really great experience.
Stephan: You were teaching there? In Austria?
Brandon: That was to teach, that’s right. I led a weeklong training camp there and we did a lot of hard work. The school was Mac Tirol and it’s run by an Austrian named Daniel Prantner, who was really an excellent host, and it was a weeklong thing. We did about 2 ½ to 3 hours in the morning, and then about 2 ½ to 3 hours in the evening. We did that for 5 days straight.
We had a day before and a day off afterwards to hang out in Austria and do some stuff. So it was a really, really amazing experience. I got to really bond with a lot of the students and very, very cool people down there.
Stephan: Will there be photos of you in lederhosen and with one of those funny little funny German hiking hats surfacing…?
Brandon: I’m neither going to confirm nor deny that there are photos of me with lederhosen. However, I can tell you they will not be surfaced on the internet. But I will not confirm or deny those rumours.
Stephan: And of course, you just finished a seminar in Canada.
Brandon: I had a great seminar in Canada at Infighting MMA with Ritchie Yip, which was a really, really great experience. I’ve been really lucky with all the seminars that I’ve done and the projects that I’ve worked on. The project I did with you, Stephan, How to Defeat the Bigger and Stronger Opponent… In all the seminars and all the projects, I’ve been really lucky to work with a lot of great people. Everybody has fulfilled their side of the bargain, and I really hope that I did as well. I did the best I could. No complaints on any of those projects.
Stephan: You’re a little bit different from some people on the seminar circuit in the sense that you’re still training really hard and competing at a high level…
For businessmen who do a lot of traveling, eventually the joy of travel wears off and it’s just a series of hotel rooms. It doesn’t sound like you’ve got to that point – you still enjoy it. And maybe it’s because you’re doing something you love. But how do you find that travelling affects your own training?
Brandon: It definitely interferes with my training. I always try to schedule any project like that, even if it’s just a weekend thing, right after a big tournament or something that I’ve been training for a lot. That way…
Stephan: You get an enforced lay off?
Brandon: Yeah, exactly. I need to lay off and it’s definitely, that’s the best time for me to lay off. So I always try to make sure that I have those events right after, say, the Pan American Championships or the World Championships. So that way my technique is really sharp and I can do a great job, but also, like you said, I’ll be able to relax a bit.
I also think that if I travel then it would be rude and not very smart to not to enjoy the culture, enjoy the food, enjoy the people, for me to go there and teach a week-long camp and…
Stephan: Instead of enjoying it you’d be in hermit monk training mode….
Brandon: Exactly, if I’m traveling and teaching I can’t be in hermit monk training mode. Then when we go to a restaurant, I’d have to be like ‘I can’t eat this, I can’t eat that, I can’t drink this, I have to do that.‘ II would be rude and I would be losing out on an experience. But if I arrange the timing then I’m able to have a great experience and only very interrupt my training very minimally. In a certain way it might even help my training; when I get back, I’m then ready to get back and work hard.
Stephan: Well that was a travel you’ve done for teaching. What travel have you done for competing in the last couple of years and what were your highlights there?
Brandon: Probably one of my highlights from the last couple of years was when I went to Portugal to do the European Championship in 2013. Everything worked in my favor and I was able to win. I was really happy about that. I got a really nice submission in the final.
Stephan: Yeah, I saw that. That was a fantastic submission.
Brandon: Thank you. I was pretty excited about it myself. That was the very beginning of the year, in January, so it was a great way to start off the season. I had gotten silver at 2 previous tournaments the year before, at the American Nationals and also the Masters World Championships. One was in September, one was in October. And I was really, really, really upset with those losses. Some people might say you got silver and you still won something. But I have enough silver medals.
I don’t want to come across the wrong way – I’m sure one day I might look back and be glad I got something – but I’ve been competing for a long time and really the main goal is to win and to get gold. And I thought I trained really hard and put a tremendous amount into it, and both those losses were referee’s decision losses. It was hard. I almost preferred to have gotten submitted or something because then, it’s very…
Stephan: Why is that? Because it would’ve been more clear-cut?
Brandon: Exactly. A submission would have been clear-cut and final. And it’s also easier to analyse. I could say, ‘Hey, I got caught in an arm lock so let’s time working on my straight-arm lock defense‘. And then I could also look at the tape and figure out what mistakes I made that allowed him to get into the arm lock. Those are objective things I can evaluate, look at and work on. But if I lose to a referee’s decision, particularly if I feel that I won, then it’s a lot harder to learn from that experience.
Stephan: It’s like an ice dance competitor going, ‘Damn it, I missed by 0.1 of a point because the judges, because I didn’t smile hard enough.’
Brandon: Yeah. Exactly. How did you fix that? How do you practice that? So anyways, to come back and to win at the Europeans meant a lot to me. I just needed it – it really helped me. Afterwards I was also able to travel a little bit in Europe. I went to Holland for about a week, which was a good kind of cool down.
When I traveled to Europeans I had never cut weight while travelling that far. I had an entire day of just traveling where I wasn’t able to do any sort of working out, which I was really worried about, but I had prepared all the food that I was going to eat that day – basically I had a whole lot of nothing to eat, like rice cakes and kale chips. I knew I would be bored sitting in the airport and on the plane and I knew I would want to eat something, so I had to make sure that I had something that wouldn’t really affect me at all. So that was my first time traveling really long distances and while cutting weight, but it actually worked out really well. My weight cut went really well and I think my performance was strong as well. So it worked out great.
Stephan: Normally you don’t take time off before a match, right? You don’t normally work out the day before, so what about this semi-controversial idea… Maybe you performed so well because you had an enforced day of rest on the plane. The enforced day of rest added more to your performance than the jet lag took away….
Brandon: I’m immune to jet lag.. I have 2 superpowers; I believe that everybody has certain superpowers and mine that are I don’t cramp up, and also, I don’t get jet lag. It doesn’t bother me almost at all.
Stephan: If you bottle that resistance to jet lag then I’m sure somebody would be paying tens of thousands of dollars for that…
Brandon: Yeah. I’m going to be as tired as anybody else if I’ve been up for 36 hours or 48 hours, but actual jet lag – my sleeping rhythm getting off – it really doesn’t bother me at all.
Stephan: You’ve travelled all the way to Japan…
Brandon: I’ve been to Japan as well. Yes, it doesn’t really affect me that much. So that’s kind of a cool deal.
Stephan: And your sleep cycle isn’t really that variable. You’re not one of these people who sleep at random times during the day…
Brandon: No, I have a pretty set schedule. I’m usually up by about 7:00, and in bed by about midnight, so I get about a 7-hours sleep a night. I almost always take a nap for about an hour in the afternoon usually between 2:30 and 3:30 or from 3:00 – 4:00, just to cool down and recharge my batteries a little bit. Then I usually work and train and teach after that.
Stephan: Well, I guess you do a Brazilian martial art and siestas work in that culture…
Brandon: Yeah, there you go. If it includes taking a nap, I’m into it. I love it.
Stephan: Sowhat have you been working on technique-wise, and how has your game evolved, since our last formal interview?
Brandon: Since then I’ve shifted my goals toward the big gi tournaments.
Stephan: As in you’re shifting away from no gi?
Brandon: I won the No Gi Worlds twice. I won the Pan Ams in No Gi as well. All in all in black belt, of course. And I won Grapplers Quest and small tournaments like NAGA too.
Even at that time, I was always training in the gi everyday, so I was never what you might call a “no gi” guy. I was always a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gi, always training in the gi. I felt like I achieved what I wanted to achieve without the gi. And so I haven’t been competing as much without the gi.
At the school I’m at, Gracie Barra Texas, we always train no gi twice a week, and I always participate in that. I think it’s good to do that, but competition-wise I’ve mostly been going to the big gi events.
The only time I really do the no gi stuff now is when I go to a smaller local tournament where they have both gi and no gi on the same day, or maybe an event like the American Nationals where they have both gi and no gi on the same weekend.
Stephan: So, with the added emphasis on the gi, are you now just all about lapel chokes and the worm guard?
Brandon: It’s all about worm guard (laughing). That’s it, you know. Regardless of where you’re at, you’re getting wormed up. And if you don’t know what worm guard is, then quit Jiu Jitsu because it’s the next evolution of the art. You’ve missed the boat and there’s no way you can catch up.
No, I’m just joking.
Worm guard is just a new kind of guard position where you’re using your opponent’s collar or lapel to tie them up and get a variety of different sweeps. Iit’s kind of the new flavor of the month on the competition scene. A lot of people are having a lot of success with it. And there’s definitely some controversy around that position, people saying that you can’t use it in self-defence, that it’s not fair…
Stephan: And Hitler doesn’t like it either, as we found out the other day. There’s that absolutely awesome video of Hitler reacting to the worm guard on Youtube…
Brandon: Yeah, you had sent me the link a while ago and I finally watched it a couple of days ago. Man, that is hilarious. If you haven’t seen that, you need to do that. Hitler Worm Guard on YouTube, check it out. It’s like 3 minutes long.
Stephan: So how has focusing on the gi changed what you emphasize in your training?
Brandon: I think the main difference is my open guard. I think when you’re training with the gi, your open guard is going to change the most, because you’re going to have do some form of spider guard. I’m a little bit more of a de la Riva guard player, but you really have to use spider guard on some level in the gi. If the guy stands certain ways, you’re not going to be able to get that de la Riva hook in.
A lot of times, you’ll also get into de la Riva guard from spider guard. So you’ve definitely got to work on your sleeve control game, but I’m not personally using worm guard at this point. Maybe that’ll change later, but I don’t use it at this point – I’m not sitting around looking for very intricate, complicated ways to use the gi. I try to just use what’s available, so naturally, when you’re training in the gi, you’re going to use it, and I do that. I also don’t worry about grabbing the gi because those same grips might not be available in a street fight or in no gi – I’m just going to take what’s available.
But you know, I’m also trying to just stay as simple as I can. Something that I’ve heard, is that simplicity is the greatest form of sophistication. I really like that, and I think it’s true as well. So I’m not looking for the most complicated answer, but rather the easiest way to get from point A to point B. I’m not judging anybody who does worm guard. If you do it, that’s great. Keep doing it. It’s part of the game. And the goes for the berimbolo or the 50/50 guard – if you want to do it, do it.
For me though, I don’t do Berimbolo a lot because I don’t like staying upside down on my neck all the time. I don’t do worm guard a lot because I do other things instead. Like I said, spider guard, de la riva guard, those things keep me busy enough training and keeping them in a high level while trying to get better at them as well.
Stephan: But obviously you have answers to positions like the 50/50 and the berimbolo because the guys you’re training with are trying to do them to you…
Brandon: That’s right. We have some guys that train at my school that are really, really strong in both those positions – berimbolo and 50/50 – and now several guys are doing worm guard as well. They’re playing around with that.
I think this is all part of the game. I don’t think you should complain about it. I think you should get to work and figure out ways to beat it. That’s your job as a competitor. If there’s somebody out there who’s figured out a way to create something new inside the rule set of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, then when they come out and they start winning with that, they should be applauded. They really shouldn’t be chastised or those techniques shouldn’t automatically be declared illegal.
Congratulations to them for creating an effective strategy. It’s everyone else’s job to figure out how to beat it. If you want to say that 50/50 guard is used for stalling, or that you’re using berimbolo to stall, well you can stall from any position. I am against stalling, but you can’t complain because somebody’s doing something that you don’t know. That’s part of the game. Jiu Jitsu is alive. It’s going to evolve and it’s going to change.
Stephan: The 50/50 is a good example. I think a few years ago, there was a ton of cases of people using it purely for stalling pretty much. But as we’ve gone along people have figured out ways to pass it, how to disengage from, ways to attack from it, and ways to take the back from there. And so it was really just a brief pause in the evolution. But I’ve got to admit that I was worried. I was like, oh God, is this now the end of Jiu Jitsu, getting a single advantage and then locking the guy up in 50/50 guard for the rest of the match. But it doesn’t seem that’s happened. People have figured out how to solve that riddle.
Brandon: Yeah. At the end of the day, there is no unbeatable technique. There’s nothing that can’t be stopped. I think sometimes people have that attitude, like, ‘Oh, it worked on this person or it worked on this person. Those guys were at the highest level, so if they can’t beat it, you know, how is it even possible or conceivable that I, just some blue belt somewhere in some little academy, can figure out how to beat this position.’ And that’s simply not true.
There isn’t a technique that can’t be beat. There isn’t a technique that is unstoppable. However in the case of the 50/50 guard, the berimbolo, the worm guard: people that that started using them in competition didn’t think about them on Friday night and then pull them out on a tournament on Saturday. That’s not what happened. They’ve probably been working these techniques for years and years. And then, all of a sudden, as they start using these techniques in high-profile matches, people start to notice them.
Lets put it like this. I’m a black belt and if I roll with a blue belt and arm lock him from the guard, I didn’t really surprise him. He knows the arm lock from the guard. But why didn’t he stop it? Because my arm lock from the guard is better than his defense to the arm lock from the guard. It’s always going to be an equation of my Jiu-Jitsu versus his Jiu-Jitsu.
Now let’s look at the Miyao brothers. They’ve spent so many hours of training in the berimbolo that I doubt there’s anybody on the planet who has that same amount of time defending the berimbolo except the Miyao brothers themselves. I imagine that when they’re training one of them is going to try to berimbolo the other one.
So now, they have more experience with that position, attacking with it from everywhere, than anybody else. So it makes sense that they can come out and can berimbolo somebody who otherwise has a very, very, very complete and a very, very, very strong game. But if that other player doesn’t have anybody at their gym who’s doing berimbolo, then they’re not going to know the right thing to do. They’re not going to know how to shut it down. And so that’s why you get this lag time while everyone else catches up. The offense right now is ahead of the defense.
But as we’re seeing now, and like you mentioned before, people are figuring out the berimbolo, they’re figuring out 50/50, and they’re going to figure out worm guard as well. And I think the same thing has happened in the past.
I’ve talked to Draculino about this. He was very, very involved in the evolution of spider guard. And I wasn’t around in Brazil when the spider guard came out, but I can only imagine people saying things like, ‘He’s stalling. That would never work in a real fight. That’s illegal. You can’t do that grip.’ I can only imagine it was pretty much the exact same thing…
Stephan: The sky was falling…
Brandon: Yes, the sky was falling. I can only imagine that it was the exact same experience that we’re having now with the berimbolo, 50/50, and worm guard. What eventually happened when spider guard came out. People got used to it. Everyone started doing it. People learned how to beat it. And then it became just another position, which I think is what’s going to happen with all these new positions. They’re just going to fall alongside all the other techniques in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Stephan: Some of the counter arguments against these evolutions that people make include the concern that it undermines the self-defense aspect of the art. And also that it makes for bad TV. It makes for boring matches, and the concern that this sport is never going to be in the Olympics because of stuff like this.
But then we take a look at other sports that are micro-managing themselves to death, like Judo – sorry all Judo players, but I think it’s true. In Judo they’re micro-managing the minutia of gripping, of how exactly you can attack. By micro-managing what’s allowed you’re making the sport less relevant. But even if we go back to the ‘It makes for boring TV‘ argument, then I think even the most boring BJJ match of 2 guys pulling guard at the same time and then scissoring each other for for 10 minutes, is still way more exciting than the very best round of golf that I’ve ever seen on TV. I just don’t know why people line up at The Masters and like politely applaud for like a guy swinging a club at a little tiny ball – every swing pretty much looks the same…
Brandon: Yeah. I agree, Stephan. I don’t get it. Generally you’re going to watch a sport that you have some involvement in, whether you are a competitor or whether you train in it, or whether you know somebody who does it.
And so, you know, I think that Jiu-Jitsu on TV maybe is a long way off, because not that many people have actually been involved in Jiu-Jitsu yet. And about boring matches, no matter what the rule changes are, you cannot make a every match the most exciting match in the history of Jiu-Jitsu. You can’t do that.
You know that sometimes you get two people who are both so good that they’re able to neutralise things the other guy is trying to do. They’re both working as hard as they can to literally score one advantage, and that advantage ends up deciding the match. And at the same time, there are situations where people are visibly stalling and they should be penalized for that.
All you can do about it is enforce those stalling rules. I think when you start making techniques illegal, that’s just as detrimental to self-defense as having someone master the worm guard or berimbolo. I think to be good at self-defence is your responsibility, and your instructor’s responsibility. Competition Jiu-Jitsu is an outlet for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that has self-defense implications.
I did wrestling, I did Judo, I did Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I always thought those were sports with real street fight or self-defense applications. But when I wrestled, when I did Judo, when I do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I always knew that probably about 50% was going to be out the window in a self-defense situation.
Stephan: For 90% of self-defense encounters, do you really need much more than a double leg takedown, a clinch, getting to mount, a choke and an arm bar. You just need to know how to apply those techniques against pressure and against resistance…
Brandon: Yeah, I think one of the biggest reasons to do a Jiu-Jitsu tournament, doesn’t have anything to do with the techniques. I think it has to do with your mental ability to deal with a physically strong, aggressive person coming after you.
You know what, if you’re a black belt and you don’t know how to escape a headlock, shame on you. That’s wrong. That’s an atrocity. But if you’re a black belt and you know how to do self-defense, you know how to do fundamentals, and then you decide you want to become the best sport Jiu-Jitsu competitor, I’m not going to fault you for that. You’re just choosing to focus on one specific area. And I think that it’s a disservice if you’re a black belt and you don’t know the self-defense curriculum, if you don’t know what you might call “street-safe Jiu Jitsu”, things like that.
Stephan: So you’re not suggesting they pull inverted guard on the street…
Brandon: Yeah, it’s kind of ridiculous, but at the same time, if you’re a white belt, you shouldn’t be trying to learn berimbolo because you want to win a tournament. I think you’re only able to make those sorts of decisions – like specialising in the berimbolo – only after you’ve learned those basic fundamental things that you really have to learn.
I go to a wrestling class with a very high-level coach and he shows the same thing everyday. He shows the single leg, he shows the double leg, he shows the high crotch, and he shows a couple of set ups. And a lot of times, the new guys will ask, ‘When are we going to learn something new?‘ And the answer is, ‘When you can properly do these techniques.‘ Then if the new guys say, ‘Well, we’ve been doing them for this long,‘ then he says ‘Okay, do them to me.‘ Then obviously they can’t take him down,.
In some ways, that’s frustrating, but in some ways, that’s the best way to coach. There’s no reason to move on to something else until you’ve learned the proper way to do what it is you’re learning.
I think falls on the shoulders of the instructors. You need to save that berimbolo stuff and that 50/50 stuff for the upper level students. I would say purple belts and above, because at white belt and blue belt, that’s the realm of learning self-defense Jiu Jitsu. Even if it’s not specifically the self-defence curriculum then it’s still your bread and butter Jiu-Jitsu with the arm lock from the guard, the basic bullfighter guard pass, things like that. And then once your students are learning that, sure, add the other stuff in. And if you’re one of those students, feel free to study that new material and get as good as you can with it if competition is your priority.
I’m a competitor and I happen to not use those specific techniques, but there’s definitely things I do that…
Stephan: I’ve seen some of what you do and certainly a lot of it is new to me, even as a black belt myself. In some ways, your techniques and additions are more surprising because not everybody’s thinking about it and focused on it right now.
Brandon: Yeah. If you can specialize in a technique that is technically sound but happens to be out of fashion in Jiu Jitsu scene, then you’re going to give yourself an advantage. And if it’s technically sound, even if it happens to come back into fashion while you’re doing it, then you’re still going to have success with it.
There are techniques that if I did them in a street fight or an MMA fight I would get punched in the face and get knocked out. You know what I mean? There are lots of examples of techniques that are ineffective in self-defense that are totally accepted. Like spider guard – people don’t constantly complain about spider guard being ineffective in a street fight (unless you’re some Karate guy on YouTube trying to talk bad about Jiu-Jitsu), but within the Jiu-Jitsu community, you don’t hear that talk anymore, again, because people have gotten used to it being part of the Jiu-Jitsu curriculum. And I think the same thing is going to happen with berimbolo, 50/50, worm guard, or whatever the new technique of the day is.
Stephan: So moving away from fancy guards for a moment, let’s talk more about training techniques
When somebody comes to Jiu-Jitsu they initally learn all the techniques in isolation: here is the arm bar from the guard, here is the scissor sweep from the closed guard, here is the hook sweep from the butterfly guard. And now they’re training all these positions in isolation…
How do you start training this stuff at a higher level, regardless of the specific techniques involved?
Brandon: I think the most important thing is to make sure that the techniques are going to fit together. Let’s say you’re a white belt training in an all-level class. There are white, blue, purple, brown, black belts in the class. So as a white belt, you are a low man on the totem pole.
The first thing that you’re going to be forced to learn is defense. The guys are going to run through you, sweep you, pass your guard, take side control, mount, take your back. So you have to get good submission defense and good positional defense.
And then, as you get better at defending, you’re going to start working on how to recover your guard and how to use your guard. And once you learn how to sweep people then you start learning how to pass the guard. And once you start learning passing, then you’re going to learn how to dominate top position, sidemount, and mount, and back control.
Of course you’ll probably be learning all these things at all periods of your training, but I think that’s how you naturally evolve in Jiu-Jitsu.
There are lots of examples of people who were very, very high-level guard players. And then, over a very short period, one to two years, they’re suddenly now passing the guard at almost an equally high level. However you would be hard-pressed to find somebody who has been a top player for an extended amount of time, and then, within a year or two, they suddenly become a guard player. It doesn’t really work the other way around.
Defending from positions and playing from the guard position, I think it’s harder physically, and I think it’s harder mentally. It’s more intricate; there are a lot more variables to keep track of.
So when you learn defense and the guard first, and then you learn the top game second, I think it’s a more efficient way to learn. If you do it in reverse, then you get to a point where you’re get scared of being on bottom. Maybe scared is the wrong word, but I think you get what I’m trying to say.
Stephan: If you didn’t start on the bottom then you haven’t gone through that period of suffering and become acclimatised to it…
Brandon: Yeah. I think that’s how it works. And so what I was getting at about connecting things is this: let’s say you’ve got a favourite sweep that you’re really good at. But every time you sweep the guy you’re always getting caught in the other guy’s half guard because you can’t mount him directly after the sweep. If that’s the case then you don’t want to focus on doing standing guard passes right after that particular sweep, because transitioning into a standing guard pass from your final position is going to involve quite a bit of resetting for you once you get on top…
Stephan: You’d have to disengage from everything, stand up, break all the grips, and only then would you be ready to pass…
Brandon: Exactly. And that gives your opponent time to reset, to get his preferred grips where he wants, and now you have to pass his guard when he’s at 100% effectiveness. Whereas if you keep on ending up in the same position – the half guard say – then what you want to do is to start passing the guy’s guard before you even really get into it, before you even really get set up.
I think one of the best times to pass a guy’s guard is right after sweeping him. At that point he’s scrambling to get his grips and set up his guard structure, because, generally, he doesn’t get his preferred guard grips as you’re sweeping him. Particularly in a competition, or even in a training session, people generally want to win…
Stephan: So they’ll be fighting the sweep, fighting the sweep, fighting the sweep, and then, oh, they end up on their back. But while they were fighting your sweep they weren’t setting up their guard…
Brandon: That’s right. So normally, the instant you get to the top is going to be a really good opportunity to start passing their guard. And so you need to make sure that your guard passes go together and work well with your sweeps.
If I’m constantly going to be doing a lot of butterfly guard sweeps, then Im going to end up in half guard a lot because that foot is between their legs to start with. The guy can almost always hang on to that foot. So you need to make sure that you’re very comfortable passing the half guard because you’re always going to be in that position and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to pass the guy’s guard.
If you’re constantly using a pass where you end up in side control, then you need to think about how the person is going to use his arms and his legs to defend that pass, and where those arms and legs are going to be once you pass, and then figure out what the easiest or most appropriate submission is going to be.
If you do a bullfighter pass then one of the most common reactions you’ll run into is people turning over and give you their back because they can’t use their legs to defend. They’ll kind of squirm away and give you the back. So if you’re a bullfighter pass specialist, you’re going to want to make sure you have really strong back control and back attacks because you’re going to be there so often.
Stephan: So, for example, It’s so much easier to get at least one hook of your rear mount and your grips into position if you’re doing it as the guy is rolling onto his knees, as opposed to once he’s hunkered down in turtle, elbows in place, everything’s locked in. He’s now got his own hands on his collars and you’re really fighting an uphill battle. But if you catch him in transition then it’s different.
So what we’re talking about is knowing what the transitions are likely going to look like. And having a plan for the most likely scenarios.
Brandon: The most appropriate reactions for the most likely scenarios. Obviously some people, everyone behaves differently.There are always going to be 3 or 4 different ways that most people will react to something. Of course there’s always going to be one guy that does something out of the ordinary, but that’s rare. Most of the time, people are going to give you 2, 3 or 4 predictable reactions. So if you can really, really master your own reactions to those situations, then you’re going to really increase your chance of success.
I’ve seen a lot of people who might have, say, a brilliant hook flip from the butterfly guard. And their favourite guard pass to is a double-under pass, with both that person’s legs on the shoulders.
But when you do a hook sweep, you’re really high up on the guy’s upper body so to do that pass you have to totally disengage the upper body. But as you back up you give the guy plenty of time to get to a good, strong guard position where he’s comfortable. It may also give him chances to sweep or chances to submit you as you’re trying to pull away from him and get tangled in his legs.
So you may want to ask, “Okay, now what is my favorite sweep,” and then look at the different positions you land in and see how the guy starts to react.
Then you need to make sure that you have a pass that works from that situation. You need to put a lot of time into passing the guard from the final position of your sweep. This way you might have a situation where you completely dominate your opponent. You pull guard, sweep, pass, mount, arm bar. It all flows together. There’s no break down in the action.
You want to reset your position as little as possible because when you reset, it also gives your opponent a chance to reset his own position, which then gives him the opportunity to get his offense rolling.
If you can stay ahead of the game – if you can keep your opponent on the run – then you’re going to have a better opportunity to beat him. It’s like the first time that someone ever does Jiu-Jitsu and they roll with somebody: they often feel like they have absolutely no answer to anything their opponent does. It’s because that other person knows the basic reactions to the techniques he’s using, and in a very specialized way, he can kind of read your mind. He knows what you’re going to do. He can feel what you’re going to do.
And that’s the mark of a highly skilled person and the goal for your Jiu-Jitsu. You want to make it so that no matter what the other person does, you know the way to get around his reaction and continue doing what you’re doing. You want to create a predicament for him – a predicament, by definition, doesn’t have an answer. It just had various degrees of failure…
Stephan: Only bad answers and worse answers…
Brandon: And that’s what I think about when I’m making changes to my Jiu-Jitsu. You mentioned how boring golf is earlier, and I agree that golf is very boring, but if you love golf, keep doing it.
But even in golf the perfect score is 18, which would be a hole-in-one for every single hole. I’m pretty sure nobody in the history of golf has ever scored an 18 (I’m not talking about miniature golf). That means that in some ways, it’s an unwinnable game. The reality is that you just want to do as well as you can, to get as far under par as possible.
So even though I can never get my Jiu-Jitsu to the point where losing a match is a complete and total impossibility, I still want to get the percentage chance of winning as high as I can.
Golfers want to get their score as close to 18 as possible, even though they know that a score of 18 is impossible. So even though I know there’s no unbeatable technique, I want to try to make all the techniques that I do unbeatable as possible by building up time and experience in those positions. So whether my opponent, my enemy, has the right answer to the technique of whether he doesn’t, I still win. It doesn’t matter because my reactions and my experience and my feel in that position is so great that I’m just going to overwhelm him.
Stephan: So you’re saying that by the time he’s reacting to you, he’s already on the run.
I may have been listening to too much of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, but supposedly in the old days, when the phalanxes of soldiers were lined up and pushing against each other with spears, not too many people got hurt during the actual battle.
It was only when one side turned and ran that there would be giant massacres. During the battle itself the casualties were pretty low. Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world and suffered very, very few casualties in his army because he never lost a battle. That was because if he had lost a battle, if his soldiers had ever turned and run, then they would have gotten get speared in the back.
How does this relates to Jiu-Jitsu? The point is that you have to keep on pressing the advantage. In ancient times, if the enemy turned and ran, you didn’t want them to be able to run down the field, turn around and set up again. But that’s exactly what happens if you sweep somebody and then don’t take advantage of the situation and pursue an appropriate guard pass. You’re giving them a chance to reset their A-game, whereas what what we want to do when they turn and run is to trample them down from behind, spear them in their backs, and kill them all.
Brandon: Yeah, you’re exactly right. You want to keep the person out of the game as much as possible. I think you see this a lot of times when somebody is really dominating somebody else. Maybe they haven’t scored any points, but they are all over the person and even scored some points. Then the person in the lead sometimes adopts this passive mentality, ‘Okay, I’ve basically won the match, there are 2 minutes left, all I need to do is don’t do anything stupid. I can even give away 2 points because I have three points, so so I’ll still win by one.‘
When people adopt that kind of mentality, they slowly let the other person back into the game. Because they’re not trying to move forward, they accept way more, allow their opponent to get certain grips, and they give up certain positions. They accept things way more readily than if they were still trying to win the match themselves.
So I’ve seen a lot of people who have lost matches because they thought they had already won. They relaxed a bit too much unfortunately, and they let the person get so far back into the game. Then they end up getting submitted or losing by points. Instead of – like you said – running them down from behind once they turn and run away.
If I pass someone’s guard and get side control, I’m not going to immediately go for a submission that’s going to cause me to lose side control. However, I am going to constantly look for the submission without sacrificing my good position. I want to put pressure on the guy so he gives me something, but my goal isn’t to just hold side control until the match is over. I’m definitely looking to try to get a submission, looking to get to the mount so I can submit the guy. And I’ve definitely had that experience happen to me; maybe I was tired, but I got ahead on points and then I said, ‘All I have to do is maintain my lead.’ And because of that mentality, as opposed to Iooking for the finish in the match, it allowed my opponent to get too far ahead. And then, before I knew it, he was so far ahead positionally, that I got swept or had my guard passed, or whatever.
So what you need to do – and this goes along with what I’m saying about connecting your techniques – is that you always to be looking to improve.
No matter how good or how bad your position is, you need to always be looking to improve. If you’re in someone’s guard, you’ve got to improve by passing. If you can’t pass immediately and you’re in a closed guard, then you need to look to improve to the half guard. That’s a better position, theoretically. And if you’re in the half guard, you need to look to move into quarter guard, where the guy only has your ankle. And then if you’re in quarter guard, you want to look to pass his guard completely. If you’re controlling the sidemount, you want to get to mount. If you get to mount, then you want to try to submit the guy.
Of course that doesn’t always happen in a Jiu-Jitsu match. There are lots of matches that aren’t won by submission. But as long as you keep that in your mind as the end goal, I think your Jiu-Jitsu will be better. It will definitely make you a better competitor and a better Jiu-Jitsu fighter in the long run.
Stephan: I couldn’t agree more, and reach for the stars and a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. That’s what the stars are for. And sometimes you might even end up with stars in hand. That’s sounding very, very cheesy. We’re going to start a New Age podcast here. Queue the crystals! You’re going to like that incense over there, right?
Brandon: Aromatic oils. Patchouli (laughing)
Stephan: Well, thanks so much for chatting with us today, Brandon.
Brandon: Thanks for having me.
Stephan: What are you looking forward to in the next little while?
Brandon: I’m just looking forward to training hard and finishing out the year hopefully with some strong victories. I started off the year pretty good. I came back from an injury and I was able to win the Pan Ams. That was big for me. It was at master level, but still that’s a big deal. I was really happy about that. And so hopefully I can start and end the year with a big win.
Stephan: Okay. Well, best of luck to you, my friend.
Brandon: Thank you.
Stephan’s Note: Brandon and I are currently in the final stages of producing a brand new BJJ instructional with the working title of ‘Non-Stop Jiu-Jitsu.‘ This instructional uses a revolutionary new format making learning the material much easier and faster than ever before.
When we filmed this I was blown away by the level of detail that Brandon showed. It’s a really incredible product that address topics, techniques and concepts that have never been covered in any other Grapplearts instructional, nor, to my knowledge, in any other instructional available in the market today.
Grapplearts is not a large company, therefore we will only be producing a limited number of these instructionals. To be notified when they become available click here to sign up for the free Grapplearts Newsletter. I’m very excited about this; I think it’s going to be the ultimate ‘unfair advantage’ on the mats for BJJ practitioners.