What is persistence?

You’re at home. Training starts soon but you’re warm, the couch is comfy and Home and Away will be starting soon. Plus there’s a bag of crisps in the cupboard and beer in the fridge.

For most people, this is the start to a good night. You’ve got a Netflix subscription that isn’t going to watch itself, a social media account just begging to hear all about your virtuous self and an index finger ready to get worn raw by swiping right. All this plus those bottles on the top shelf in the kitchen, what more could you want?

Yet despite this comfort, you do want something more. To sweat, to feel the soreness of muscles that have been worked hard, to feel the satisfaction of a skill well executed, to share the camaraderie of like minded peers.

And yet, Home and Away will be starting soon.

Plus, it’s not as if you don’t have a good reason for staying home tonight. Maybe you’ll skip this one time…

The hardest part about training is getting there. Bad day at work? Come anyway, you’ll feel better once you start. Injured? Come anyway, you can still learn by watching. Tired? Come anyway, half a training session is better than none.

When you first began training, what sort of person did you want to become? Are your current choices still leading you in that direction?

How to remember 1

There is lots to learn in jiu-jitsu. You will forget more than you remember. This is okay because your goal is to absorb what is useful and discard what is not. But how can you improve your memory of what is useful to you?

Relevance. When you roll and are able to successfully apply what you just learnt in class, then what you learnt is relevant and you should endeavour to remember it.

If you can’t apply something even when it is fresh in your mind then it is just useless knowledge with no practical use.

Resistance. While rolling, you recognise a situation you are in and then recall previous times you were in this situation. The closer your practice was to the rolling situation, the easier it will be to recall and remember what to do.

When you don’t practise with resistance, the rolling situation is too different to the practice situation and recall will be slower.

Repetition. Repeating something reinforces it and makes it easier to remember. But each repetition is not equal. Repetition should be spaced. 10 reps a session for 5 sessions is much more effective for retention than 50 reps in one session.


I was 29 years old with 8 years of martial arts experience when I walked into a BJJ gym for the first time. A 16 year old girl beat the tar out of me and I knew that BJJ was something that I desperately wanted to learn. That girl became one of my main training partners. We had great fun training for three years until she hurt her back, stopped training BJJ and moved to Europe.

And that was the last I heard of her. Until last weekend.

She was at the competition on the weekend. She had moved back to Perth just before the covid lockdowns started, but this was the first time she ventured back into the world of BJJ. The same reason she moved to Europe was the same reason she was avoiding BJJ. She could no longer train, and the thought of that was so incredibly painful.

It made me realise how fortunate I am to train, and how grateful I am for it. Grateful to her, for being the reason I started BJJ. Grateful to all my training partners, who helped me develop my skills. Grateful to our older members, for demonstrating to me that I’ll still be able to train as I also get older.

We take our health and our opportunities for granted. Being reminded of this makes me want to make the most of every training opportunity I get. Who knows what the future brings, and so I will live for the day. To all those who have been with me on this jiu-jitsu journey, thank you.

On teaching submission defence

The goal of BJJ is to submit your opponent. The counterpoint of that is to not get submitted yourself. How do I go about teaching submission defence?

Surprisingly, I don’t teach submission defence in class.

There are only a small number of contact hours with athletes each week. We must focus on the areas that make the biggest and most immediate gains to most efficiently use our time. Teaching submission defence cuts into time that could be used for more important things.

Does this mean that our grapplers are lacking knowledge of submission defence? Not at all. Consider when a grappler is away from the gym. Is this just dead time or can it be utilised?

Say a grappler gets caught in a submission but knows how to defend and escape. The roll with continue and s/he will quickly forget that a mistake was made that lead to being caught in the submission.

Another grappler gets caught in a submission but doesn’t know how to defend and so must tap. When away from the gym, this person will remember being forced to tap. S/he will think about how the submission happened, and try to come up with ways to avoid being caught again.

The grappler is now utilising the dead time when not at the gym, and is developing the most important skill in grappling – predicting what is about to happen next.

Does this mean I never teach submission defence? No. However, submission defence is only taught one-on-one. When a grappler is being caught repeatedly and has not been able to discover a defence, that is the time to give some hints.

A coach’s job is to develop highly skilled, self sufficient grapplers. This means setting up situations where the athletes wants to take control of their own training. Not teaching classes on submission defence is one way we achieve this.

How tough are you?

Long before I had ever heard of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I had trained for eight years in traditional martial arts. My training averaged between 12-15 hours per week. How tough was I?

I learnt the answer one late afternoon, alone in an isolated area being followed by a scary guy about 25kgs heavier than me. Before that moment, I thought that my training was enough to protect me.

Fortunately, reality set in and my self illusions fled. Sure I could punch through roof tiles, but that’s just a cheap trick. Size matters. There was no way I could hit this guy with enough force to stop him. I knew I had no chance to defend myself so I ran.

After that, I took up running. Running worked.

Years later I accompanied a friend to try out a class of something called BJJ. One of the students, a 16 year old girl, repeatedly submitted me with ease. Wow, this stuff works. I had to learn it. Fifteen years later, here I am.

The point of this story is that after eight years of training in traditional martial arts, I had no realistic idea of how capable I was. I could demonstrate punches, throws, kicks against a training partner. I could spar (with gloves, groin guard, shin guards) and hold my own. But I still didn’t know if I could be effective when it mattered.

BJJ gives you honest feedback

With BJJ, it’s different. You test yourself at the end of every training session. There is concrete feedback, the tap. If there is one thing that makes training in BJJ effective, it’s the tap.

Gordan Ryan taps Yuri Simoes

If you get beaten when striking, you can always protect your ego by making up an excuse such as, “If it was the street, we wouldn’t have gloves and it would be different”. You can’t do that in BJJ. The tap means that you accept the defeat.

With BJJ, you and your training partner both try to make the other submit. The only rule is that whatever you do, you give the other person enough time to tap out. That way nobody gets injured, they just tap and you both start again.

This leaves no room for excuses. “If this was the street, I’d pick you up and slam you”. Okay, let’s test it. If you can pick me up, I’ll tap. If you can’t pick me up then your excuse isn’t valid.

The tap gives us the feedback we need so we can direct our training towards bolstering our weaknesses. At least, it does when our ego doesn’t get in the way. When our ego gets in the way, the tap turns into a cruel overlord laughing at our inadequacies.


If you train long enough, you’ll get physically capable of defending yourself. Everyone else doing BJJ has done it. There’s nothing special about you that will prevent you from getting good. Physical toughness is a given.

It’s emotional toughness that is the real test of character. Being tough in BJJ is turning up, even though you get submitted by everyone. It’s sitting in your car in the carpark debating whether to go in or not, and you go in despite the feelings of not being good enough.

The toughest people of all are those that are able to return after a long break. When you have time off, you know that all those people that you used to submit will probably be submitting you. Your timing and coordination won’t be as good as when you were training. There will be much you have forgotten. And yet, even with this all stacked against you, you get back on the mat.

A new member once asked me, “Who do I have to beat to earn respect?” The answer, of course, is yourself.

Why BJJ gets you hooked

Here is Callum’s second article on his experience with BJJ.

The written version can be found on medium.

Check out Callum’s first article analysing BJJ from a game designer’s perspective

Is it a draw or a double loss? 1

In a jiu-jitsu roll, you win when your opponent taps. If neither of you tap, is it a draw or is it a double loss?

One of our members wrote an interesting analysis of BJJ from a game design perspective. One point he made is that draws give beginners a middle ground between losing and winning. A beginner may not have the skills to defeat a more experienced opponent, but she may be able to deny him the satisfaction of defeating her.

Looking at draws this way is a healthy way for beginners to measure progress, and to feel excited about rolling with someone more experienced. The draw becomes a tool to help them move towards the goal of defeating their opponent.

But draw is a beginner’s tool.

How to stay a beginner forever

Is it a draw or a double loss?

If you’ve been to a different gym, you’ve probably rolled someone who is terrified of losing. This is the person

  • that goes as hard as they can, but when you get on top they want to stop for a breather.
  • who just as you are locking in a submission, tells you “stop” and then proceeds to explain how to perform the submission.
  • who hunkers down defensively and doesn’t want to move, no matter how much space you give them.

People who behave like this have a novice’s mindset, no matter what rank they wear. Their self talk reveals their low self-expectations, “At least I didn’t get submitted”.

The draw is their favourite technique, not because it helps them move towards the goal of submitting their opponent, but because it moves them away from being submitted.

Moving beyond the need for draws

As you gain experience in BJJ, you realise that there are many mini-battles contained within a single roll.

To take a coarser view, there are battles for:

  • guard passing
  • sweeping
  • escaping
  • submitting

To take a finer view, there are battles for:

  • under hooks
  • angles
  • inside control
  • entanglements

When rolling with someone more experienced, it doesn’t matter if you tap. Of course someone who is legitimately more experienced can make you tap. What matters is how many of the mini-battles you can win. The more mini-battles you can win, the closer you are to tapping your opponent.

A beginning strategy is:

  1. Don’t get tapped

An intermediate strategy is:

  1. Try to win as many mini-battles as you can
  2. If you can’t win a mini-battle – gain more knowledge until you can
  3. Submit your opponent

Thoughts to reflect on

There is winning, there is losing. There are no draws. Embrace it.

The loss is feedback. It isn’t a value judgement. Don’t take it personally.

You need two things – knowledge of the mini-battles and practice.

Talk to your coach and ask him to watch your rolls. There’s probably a mini-battle that you’re not aware of.

Why BJJ gets you hooked

One of our members works as a computer game designer. He’s performed an analysis of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu from a game designer’s perspective to show why it is that we find BJJ to be so addictive. Full video is below.

A written version can also be found on medium.

Getting better at BJJ (intermediate)

There’s a simple formula for a beginner to get better at jiu-jitsu. Show up, train, roll and get enough sleep. A beginner needs general physical conditioning, knowledge and experience applying that knowledge on the mat. The beginning formula gives them this.

Sooner or later their improvement slows down. Why? What causes this slowdown?

Beginning training is focused on techniques. More techniques means more success on the mat. Eventually the beginner becomes saturated with techniques. More techniques no longer mean more success. Additionally, the beginner is becoming predictable when rolling. The other athletes have figured out their game and are able to stop their techniques early.

The beginner is now at an intermediate stage of progression and needs to train differently to continue improving at a steady pace.

Intermediate training is different

There are always more techniques to learn, but your emphasis should be on improving the techniques that you are having success with.

To apply your technique, you must overcome your opponent’s defences. The two ways of doing this are to

  • improve your technique so it can overwhelm your opponent’s defence
  • apply the technique before your opponent can defend

You should work on both of these areas together.

Improving technique

  • What is the key point that you have to do for the technique to work?
  • What is the next key point?
  • Is your structural alignment (posture) better than your opponent’s?
  • Are you successfully restricting your opponent’s movement? (connection)

If you’re not certain, ask someone with more experienced with the technique.

Applying technique

If you’re underneath, don’t fight for the underhook. Bump your opponent sideways and force them to post their arm. They’ve now given you the underhook.

This is the idea of the set-up. You set up your desired move with an initial move that you expect your opponent to counter. This initial move is planned so that the counter to this move makes it harder to defend the technique that you really wanted all along.

Setups aren’t developed while rolling. They’re germinated in the shower, while you’re walking to work or in bed at night before falling asleep. Once you’ve got an idea, you develop it with a training partner after class or at an open mat. When you’re happy with it, you try it while rolling with a beginner.

Now analyze. Is the setup working or does it need refining? Continue the cycle of practice with a training partner—try it in a roll until you’re reliably applying the setup while rolling.

Change your thinking

The progression from beginner to intermediate involves a change in the way you think about training. You’re no longer accumulating techniques, you’re revisiting and getting better at the techniques you are already doing.

A Flat Earth makes more sense than closed guard 4

In 1993 in the UFC, Royce Gracie wowed the world by beating all his opponents by fighting off his back. He used the closed guard to do it.

Thousands of years ago, people believed that the earth was flat. These two facts have more in common than you think.

The Earth is not flat. We’ve known this since Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth about 2200 years ago. The Flat Earth model was useful long ago but we now use a better, more accurate spherical model of the Earth.

The closed guard definitely works. We’ve seen thousands of people use it to achieve victory in fights and competitions. So why am I comparing it unfavourably to the Flat Earth model?

The pros and cons of the closed guard


  • Easy for beginners to learn
  • Keeps the fight on the ground
  • Many submission opportunities – guillotines, armbars, triangles, kimuras, omoplatas
  • Moderate ability to sweep to the top position


  • Easy for your opponent to lift you off the ground
  • Easy for your opponent to stack you once your ankles uncross
  • Easy for your opponent to heel hook you once your ankles uncross
  • Hard to defend against strikes

So 4 for 4. Seems even, right? Wrong.

Spinal injuries, knee ligament injuries, getting elbowed in the face. These are some of the worst things that can happen to you when grappling/fighting. Using closed guard makes it easy for your opponent to do these things to you.

The disadvantages of closed guard far outweigh the advantages.

Spinal injuries

There are many videos on youtube of people suffering severe spinal injuries while competing in BJJ. You may have even heard of friends locally who’ve suffered spinal injuries while training or competing. All these injuries occur because of either getting lifted off the ground or getting stacked.

Here is why you don’t want to get lifted off the mat

Closed guard spinal break

WARNING: not for the weak of stomach.

Risks of getting stacked.

Heel hooks

Following on from spinal injuries, the next worst injury is knee ligament damage from heel hooks. These injuries are dangerous because they need surgery to recover more often than other injuries. Once your ankles are uncrossed in closed guard, you have little ability to prevent your opponent from entering for the heel hook.

A Flat Earth makes more sense than closed guard 5

Strikes from closed guard

The only way to defend strikes in closed guard is to use your arms. Your legs can’t effectively control distance or off-balance your opponent. If strikes are a concern, then using closed guard usually results in this:


There are other guards that avoid the disadvantages of closed guard.

Half guard (and variations e.g. z-guard, lockdown) keep the fight on the ground.

A Flat Earth makes more sense than closed guard 1

Hooking guards (butterfly, X-guards) allow for higher percentage sweeping opportunities and access to leg submissions

A Flat Earth makes more sense than closed guard 2

Why is closed guard so prevalent?

Apart from specialist professions (pilot, ships’ captain) assuming the earth is flat doesn’t cause any real harm for many people.

For BJJ athletes, using closed guard has very real (and severe) risks.

Even though we knew the Earth is spherical over 2000 years ago, it took hundreds of years for it to become universally accepted.

Closed guard’s one advantage over other guards is that it is easy for beginners to learn. Beginners love closed guard because it feels like they’re making progress in learning BJJ. They don’t have the knowledge and experience of the severe risks of closed guard to make an informed decision.

It is a coach’s responsibility to protect their beginning athletes from severe injury, until the athletes gain enough experience to take responsibility for their own safety. If you’re a coach, it’s time to ask yourself if you’re fulfilling your responsibilities towards your athletes.

The closed guard was useful for its time. Its weaknesses are now obvious. There are more modern and better replacements. The earth is not flat and there are better options than the closed guard.

A Flat Earth makes more sense than closed guard 3