Occasionally, I get questions and this one was a good one, so I thought I’d post my answer here. The question was: Is Judo or BJJ a better compliment to Taijiquan?
“It’s an interesting question! BJJ has less rules about what you aren’t allowed to do, and is therefore closer to self defence, but it depends on the school you go to – Judo is pretty much the same everywhere you go. I’d say both are good. My personal preference is for BJJ because it isn’t as hard on the body and I prefer ground work to throws. If you’re more interested in throws then do Judo.
If you want something that is Chinese, then Shuai Jiao would be a good compliment to Taijiquan, however, it’s hard to find outside of China. There are some online courses available.
But I think my real answer is that it’s not the art that matters, it’s the teacher. Find a teacher you like who is skillful at something, and learn whatever they have to teach you is my advice. I think in the long run that matters more than what art you choose.”
My guest for this episode is Will Wain Williams. Will has a background in Taiji Mantis Kung Fu, which he trained in China, where he also lived for 13 years. He’s traveled around Asia documenting ancient Kung Fu systems for his YouTube Channel Monkey Steals Peach ( https://www.youtube.com/@MonkeyStealsPeach ).
I talk to Will’s about his travels documenting kung fu styles, as well as his upcoming trip to Taiwan and how he’s recently started Brazilian Jiujitsu.
The following is said to be a video of Mitsuyo Maeda (1878-1941), the man who famously brought Jiujitsu to Brazil from Japan and (allegedly, since there is some debate about whether he was taught directly, or by a student) taught Carlos Gracie of the Gracie family, who went on to popularise Jiujitsu in the country, creating the Brazilian variation of the art, which hit the big time after UFC 1 in the USA in the 1990s, and is now practiced the world over.
I’d recommend watching it at half speed -( go to Settings/ playback speed/ 0.5 ) – since like many films of the era (circa 1908), it’s sped up.
What do you think? My first reaction is that this is clearly the Pro Wrestling of the time. You can see that the performance is done purely as a kind of entertainment, not as a real fight at all. Those are real jiujitsu moves being demonstrated (sacrifice throw, hip throw, etc) but it’s also scripted like a very Chaplinesque slapstick comedy involving members of the crowd getting up on stage to join in.
As I mentioned recently, I’ve started taking my son to watch local Pro Wrestling events because he really enjoys them, and it’s given me a greater respect for Pro Wrestling and the skills of the performers.
Mitsuyo Maeda was known to have performed challenge matches as a way of earning a living, but I’ve always thought that his stage name, “Count Koma”, sounded more like a sideshow wrestling name than anything else. And here’s proof that he was earning his living as an entertainer. That’s not to say that he couldn’t have also engaged in serious challenge matches, but I can’t see how those were putting food on his table.
First though, we have to be confident that this is Mitsuyo Maeda. It certainly looks a bit like him. But can we be sure?
The find is credited to an Instagram account called origensdojiujitsu the text next to the video is in Portuguese, and the Google translation reads:
“In the 20th century it was common for Jiu-jitsu performances in Theaters and Circuses throughout the West, many Japanese emigrants, as a way of surviving, entered the World of Show and transformed their Martial knowledge into pure entertainment.
Due to the numerous presentations in theaters and circuses, the Soft Art gained notoriety in the West, it was common for the fighter to perform and even throw challenges to the spectators of the Audience, a common practice used by Conde Koma and his compatriots.
In silent cinema, some presentations in short films served as a trailer between one film session and another, in Brazil and in the world, both the armed forces and the shows contributed to the popularization of art.
In Brazil, the first exponents traveled both in the military environment and in circus shows such as Geo Omori, Conde Koma, and Satake, among others.”
So, this recording could have been a trailer shown between silent films. it certainly sounds credible, and if legitimate, it’s a fascinating look back at the origins of Brazilian Jiujitsu, and perhaps a refreshing break from the tough guy image that it later became associated with.
This is the second Priit Mihkelson seminar I’ve attended, the first being on back defence up at Chris Paines’ gym in Stafford. This latest one was on guard playing at Blue Dog Jiujitsu in Yeovil a really nice gym in deepest darkest Somerset. Like last time, this was a massive 8-hour seminar split over 2 days. Priit explained that this is how he likes to present his work, so that there’s plenty of time to drill and practice to really let the lessons sink in. It’s a very different approach to pretty much every other BJJ seminar teacher out there, most of whom like to get their message across in a single 2 or 3 hour block. I only attended the first day this time because I have other commitments in my life, and frankly, 2 days feels like too much! But, that made me the exception here – pretty much everybody else in the room was going to go back for day 2. So, I guess most people are more obsessed with Jiujitsu than me, or they probably just lived a lot closer!
Priit has all sorts of heretical views on the problems with the way BJJ is generally taught, and can talk about any of these aspects at length. In fact, I interviewed him on my podcast last year and you can get a flavour of his views on BJJ there:
Interestingly, the Sideways Open Guard seminar started in exactly the same way as last time – an initial intro by Priit to his approach to BJJ, then a demonstration of a particular posture, an explanation of key details and then he asked you to practice it solo for a little 2 minute burst, then you regroup and he goes further into the details, and we repeat.
The details are deceptively simple:
Sideways open guard is like an extension of Priit’s “Grilled Chicken” guard – the original Grilled Chicken was a supine guard – lying on your back in a position that resembles a rotisserie chicken. Sideways Open Guard is (surprise, surprise) lying on your side. The important details are:
1) Up on your elbow – not flat on your shoulder, or propped up on your hand. 2) The top leg is key – the angle (45 degrees) has to be just right and the toes must point upwards, so there’s a slight twisting in the calf/shin. We did a lot of experimenting with this angle and why it’s important. 3) The bottom leg is your jab in boxing – so you can move it where you need to. 4) Constant forward pressure – you should be always moving forward in this guard, pressuring the passer. 5) Keep the opponent in the right segment.
Sideways Open Guard. Photo: Roger Karel – Blue Dog Jiu-Jjitsu (c) 2023
But ‘simple to explain’ doesn’t necessarily mean easy. As the seminar progressed it gradually became a 2-person drilling position with an attacker and a defender, building up through various repetitious drills of “adaptive resistance” to get closer and closer to what most people would call “specific sparring”. It became very apparent along the way that there were plenty of mistakes you can make while trying to hold even a simple set of postural principles when under pressure, and Priit’s repetitious drills were designed to expose them.
We’d do something, get feedback from our partner, then do it again, in short 2 minute bursts, with new aspects being added in occasionally by Priit – defence to a leg drag, defence to a toreando, defence to an over/under pass, etc… Priit’s approach to teaching is very different to most BJJ coaches. He does walk around offering advice, but really he wants you to be given the information, then work it out in practice on the mat with as little help from him as possible. The aim is that your drilling partner gives you feedback on where things are going wrong, so you can correct them. You drill, have a chat about it (get feedback), then drill again. I was luckily enough to get paired up with a good partner (shout out to Mark!) who was skillful, thoughtful and intelligent.
Maybe it was just me, but I found the teaching method a little confusing and difficult at times – sometimes we were allowed to talk, sometimes not, and sometimes we could pass guard, sometimes not. I found it frustrating not quite knowing what the rules were at all times. Also the expectation to give feedback on positions that I wasn’t completely familiar with myself was pretty difficult. How do I give good feedback on what my partner is doing “wrong” on something I’ve only just started learning myself, especially while engaging in a ‘live’ type of practice? I find that when doing Jiujitsu my brain is either in “flowing” mode when sparring, which doesn’t involve much thought, or in “thinking” mode which is usually when I’m sitting back and analysing a situation. Having to do both at once I found hard. Sure, I can figure it out over time, but short 2 minute bursts don’t give me enough time to get my brain into that sort of gear. I felt like we’d often just be getting into something interesting and then get called back.
Priit is all about going into microscopic detail on the fine points that make something work. And most importantly, why those details matter. Because they do – the exact angle of a foot can make the difference between a leg that feels impossible to move, like trying to push on a massive tree trunk, to something that would get knocked over by a light breeze. In a way, this reminded me of the focus on posture you find in martial arts like Tai Chi, rather than Jiujitsu, and I suppose that means it’s also open to the same criticisms that Tai Chi gets – that under pressure these small details are too fiddly to be practical. But then, Priit could demonstrate exactly what he was teaching under pressure, so theoretically it should be possible for others to do it too!
Sideways Open Guard is an interesting position because it looks like a very open position where a pass should be pretty easy to do, but it’s not. Priit asked the room to suggest passes to defend against and demonstrated how he could shut down almost any attack. I suggested a simple step over pass, which Priit then demonstrated the defence to effortlessly on me. I really appreciate teachers who take questions from the room like this and let you try things out on them without any ego.
Priit presents himself as a scientist of jiujitsu. His aim is to teach only the optimal posture for each position, which he has worked out through testing, rather than his personal style. His scientific approach can appear a little harsh in teaching style at times, and he sometimes doesn’t seem to have much patience for people who keep getting it wrong or who he perceives as training in the wrong way. He wants you to slow down, really focus on the details and get them right, not blast through the drills without thinking. This hopefully makes you become fully aware of your own blind spots, which is obviously quite difficult, because they are… your blind spots.
With the Sideways Open Guard, a lot of the time the answer to people getting too close was to grab a leg and wrestle up, and Priit constantly used analogies with boxing and wrestling throughout the seminar, comparing the jiujitsu guard to the boxing guard, for instance. This connecting of jiujitsu back to the universal principles of other combat sports, and away from the “if he does this, you counter with this” approach of many other marital arts, is really a great insight and truly valuable to the BJJ community.
After initially gaining popularity for his approach to turtle and other defensive postures, it’s great to see that Priit is still innovating in the world of jiujitsu. I’m a big fan of his work, and it feels like he’s still working on his masterpiece. A Priit seminar is a rare chance to see the master at work, so I’d recommend them to anybody. He has an online site too, Defensive BJJ, so you can follow his work even if you can’t make it to a seminar. His free BJJ Globetrotters videos on YouTube are another great source.
Overall, this was another great seminar. I caught up with some Bristol friends (shout out to Artemis BJJ ) and I’ve learned some fascinating details that are going to change my game for sure. I already played a lot of sideways open guard, but now I know the flaws I had in my posture, I’ve got plenty to work on. So, I’m sad to miss Day 2 and whatever insights Priit was going to share there (I think Z Guard, and even inverting were on the table), but in the spirit of Defensive BJJ, I’m not afraid to have a go at working it out for myself.
I appeared on the Drunken Boxing podcast run by my friend Byron Jacobs yesterday where we dived into the story behind all the martial arts I practice, who my teachers are and how I discovered them.
I’m usually the one interviewing other people on my podcast (I interviewed Byron back in episode 2) so this was a bit different. To be honest it feels a bit cringe listening to yourself talk about yourself, but hopefully there’s some interesting stories here to entertain people.
Drunken Boxing #042 Graham Barlow
Here’s a few links to some of the many and varied things I talk about:
Master Lam and Sifu Raymond Rand on the cover of Fighters magazine 1983:
Sifu Raymond Rand, Tai Chi Chuan applications 2022:
Stand Still Be Fit, Day 1: Master Lam Kam Chuen’s original Channel 4 TV series.
Graham in a BJJ sub-only competition 2013, blue belt
Salvatore Pace, or Salvo for short is a 3rd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu and owner of Gracie Barra Bath, the Head Quarters of Gracie Barra in the South West of the UK, Gracie Barra West Wilts and co-owner of Gracie Barra Gillingham. He is a two time NAGA European Champion and Grappler’s Quest champion. Salvo grew up in Sicily and had a passion for martial arts as a young boy, practicing everything he could get his hands on, from boxing and Kung Fu to wrestling, and then MMA in the emerging combat sports scene in the UK, but it was his first encounter with Brazilian Jiujitsu and his main teacher Professor Carlos Lemos Jnr, that changed his life forever and put him on a plane to Brazil and then the USA, where he trained with some of the biggest names in the sport.
Returning to the UK Salvo had a dream of teaching jiujitsu for a living and set up Gracie Barra Bath in 2007, back when most people hadn’t even heard of Brazilian jiujitsu. And that’s where our paths crossed, I first met Salvo way back in 2011 and I’ve been with him ever since, getting all my belts from white to black from his hands and it’s been a pleasure to watch his students and academy grow and develop and expand to new locations around the South West.
Teaching jiujitsu class this morning I found myself saying a phrase that I feel like I’ve said a million times before.
“Don’t hold too tight because if they roll, then you roll too.”
It’s one of the fundamentals of controlling somebody on the ground when you’re on the top, but it’s not really a technique, so it’s never taught specifically, you just kind of pick it up as you go. In fact, most of these little pearls of wisdom feel like they could belong to Tai Chi as much as Jiujitsu.
Inevitably the new white belt, overjoyed that they’ve actually managed to get on top for once, (perhaps it’s even the first time they’ve got somebody in side control or mount), will hold on like their life depends on it and inevitably be rolled over because they are holding too tight.
Imagine sitting on a horse for the first time – you’d hold on pretty tight, right? Well it’s the same thing with a person. Your brain is telling you to squeeze hard and not let go. The problem is, the harder you squeeze, the more tense you are and more tense you are the lighter you feel and the easier you are to move. You’re effectively joining your body to their body in a way you don’t want to.
One of the most basic escapes from a bad position on the bottom is to try and roll over. The escapes that are usually taught in jiujitsu class are more technical and go in stages, – a grip here, a leg there, a hip movement – but a complete beginner will often just try and grab the person on top and roll them over out of instinct. And the thing is, quite often it works.
Rolling people over is not basic or wrong – and there are more technical and skilled ways of doing it, of course. You can subtly bump their weight forward so they are slightly off balance without realising it, and then trap an arm or a leg that’s in the direction you want to go, so when the roll happens they can’t reach out with the limb to widen their base and prevent it.
But whether done out of pure instinct or with technical precision, the roll often works because the person on top is squeezing too tight.
If you are on top then ideally you want to let your relaxed weight sink into them, not hold them with muscular tension. That’s how you feel heavy. And that way, when they do an explosive bridge or a sudden roll, you can surf the movement like a wave and not get carried along with it. You might need to change position on top, but that’s the best way to control somebody from the top – go with their movements, and keep changing position so you are always behind their force, not in front of it where you get pushed off.
We’ve just had the Olympics of grappling, ADCC 2022 and as always, there were some great matches. Unsurprisingly, Gordon Ryan dominated the 96kg+ division. He just walked through every high level opponent they threw at him, even finishing Andre Galvao in the Superfight and making it look easy in the process.
Here’s his quickest (11 second!) victory on his way to the final!
Despite Ryan’s absolutely horrible social media personality, it was refreshing to see how calm and respectful he was to his opponents on the mat. Even when Galvao resorted to dirtier tactics, like slapping him, Ryan didn’t get angry. He just laughed.
For me the Kade Ruotolo was a standout this year – he submitted all his opponents on his way to the 77kg crown. That’s a 100% submission rate on his first attempt. And he’s only 19, making him the youngest ever champion, and he’s 100% natural (i.e. no juice). I really enjoyed his match with Lachlan Giles especially because it was a perfect match up of guard player vs guard passer. The finish picked up some criticism because it looked like Kade was kicking Lachlan in the face to secure the armlock, but meh, Lachlan didn’t seem too upset about it, so it can’t have been that bad. See what you think:
Shout out to Ffion Davies who becomes the UK’s first ADCC champion. A great results for the UK and for Wales.
ADCC runs trials all over the world for people to qualify and is open to everybody who does any form off grappling, but once again no Tai Chi players made the finals…
Let’s be honest though, the only people who made it to the finals were Brazilian Jiujitsu guys and girls, because the rule set is designed to favour them. Nobody stands you up if you end up on the ground and almost all submissions are legal. Obviously, despite Push Hands being a form of grappling there is no Tai Chi on the ground, and leg locks aren’t part of the art.
Once again, I think it’s worth noting that if you want to be a well rounded martial artist, you really need to address the ground aspect otherwise there will always be a massive hole in your game.
Recently I’ve been training a lot of a short drill-like form that Phil Duffy taught me years ago. It’s a little sequence that contains about 8 or 9 basic Choy Li Fut techniques (depending on how you count them) and runs in a loop so you can just keep doing it over and over. If you wanted a good introduction to Choy Li Fut, that’s it. There’s pretty much everything you need in there to get proficient at something that at least resembles Choy Li Fut. There are no complicated animal methods or anything too fancy, just practical blocks, deflections and strikes done in a CLF style and using the basic Choy Li Fut stances.
And then I started wondering about what it would be like if a person only ever practiced that little form, but drilled it intensely every day over and over and also spared the techniques for a year. I wonder how good you could get if you just did that? I think you’d actually get pretty good! You’d need other conditioning drills, of course, and stretches, but you’d definitely have the essence of something.
And that got me thinking about the whole concept of simplicity in martial arts. Quite often we make martial arts overly complicated, especially in Chinese internal styles. There are basics to master first – fundamental principles of body movement, posture and breathing, that all need to be coordinated together with the internal elements like mental intent, jin and calm focus, etc. Then there are long forms to master, and then other forms on top of that. And that’s not even touching on the techniques you need to master. And push hands and weapons forms. It just goes on and on. It’s like Tim Cartmell said in our recent podcast conversation (and I’m paraphrasing him here) “in some of these styles you do so much body work that you forget the other guy is actually going to throw a punch!”
The heavy sparring emphasis I’ve experienced in BJJ has taught me that martial techniques can’t be too complicated if they’re going to stand a chance of working when the rubber hits the road. A six move combo to sweep somebody, pass their guard and choke then out is pretty unlikely to work in sparring just the way you drilled it in practice because no plan survives contact with the enemy. What works in real life are techniques and strategies that hit that sweet spot somewhere between the level of “too dumb” and “too complicated”. Those sorts of techniques, drilled to become second nature, have a real chance of working when you need them to. That’s the simplicity you want to aspire to in martial arts, and to me that’s the real power of martial arts like Choy Li Fut – they have enough subtly to make them interesting, but not enough to make them too complicated and impractical.
When I get time over the weekend I’m going to film my little mini Choy Li Fut routine and put it in the Patron’s area, so you can check it out there.
My guest in this episode will need no introduction to anybody who trains in the Chinese styles of Xing Yi and Baguazhang, especially in the United States. Tim Cartmell is a lifelong martial artist who spent many years living in Asia learning the internal arts, before heading back to the US where he took up BJJ, becoming a black belt. Tim is now the head jiujitsu coach at Ace Jiujitsu Academy in Fountain Valley, California where he teaches classes and trains professional MMA fighters. https://www.acejiujitsu.com/
In this podcast I ask Tim about his training tips, especially for older martial artists, where he thinks martial arts is going in the future and his approach to combining all the arts he knows into a single principle-based, reality-driven approach.
You can find out more about Tim at his website www.shenwu.com and don’t forget to check out the Shen Wu Martial Arts group on Facebook.
I hadn’t talked to Tim before this interview, but many of the people I’ve had as guests on my podcast have rated him highly, and now I know why – for somebody with so much experience of martial arts Tim is a very humble and genuine guy, as I hope you’ll discover over the next hour or so.
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