I heard a bunch of “breaking news” references on the mat over the last couple of days. I find it fascinating that our jiu jitsu community has grown big enough that the news of drama from 100′s to 1000′s miles away reaches everyone from white belt to black belt where it becomes a topic of conversation. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter have created online jiu jitsu celebrities, and not all of them are famous for just their jiu jitsu. Lloyd Irvin is an example.
The Lloyd Irvin off-the-mat soap opera has captured the attention of thousands of people, probably all of them grapplers… Lloyd Irvin’s sexual misconduct, Keenan leaving the team for Atos, Jordon coming along with him, etc.
The sexual misconduct charges are very serious and it’s important for anyone who did anything bad to get punished.
Instead of going on the forums and contributing to the senseless scream-fest, I’ll just do what most of the people I look up to are doing: focus on creating a positive and respectful environment for the people I train with, and make sure there’s no place for drama on the mat. It’s a sanctuary of sorts, and one that has changed my life for the better. All I can do is help pass it on in small ways every day.
Leo Nogueira, in my mind, is the best jiu jitsu competitor in the world right now. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to say he is “unknown”, but relative to the other big-name contenders, it does seem to be the case, at least just based on the conversations I’ve had with other jiu jitsu folks. Most people know the other top players from young guns like Buchecha and Rodolfo to veterans like Xande and Roger. In fact, I don’t even have to say their full name and you already know who I’m talking about. On the other hand, do you know who Leo is?
I first saw him at the 2012 Worlds, warming up, pacing with the probably the most confident look of determination I’ve ever seen. I turned my head and when I looked back he was already mounted on top his opponent getting the tap. “Who the hell is that guy?” was my thought, and it wasn’t until I got back and started looking on YouTube that he has been a quiet but dominant force on the competition scene.
He has a very basic game akin to Roger Gracie, but what impressed me most is how little threatened he is by the best closed guards in the world. His closed guard split and pass is the most relentless that I’ve ever seen. Here’s a video of him showing one variation of it. It looks incredibly simply and you might wonder: “Yeah, but can he do that in the final of the black belt Worlds?” Yes, yes he can.
Keenan Cornelius is facing him next Sunday (Jan 13, 2013) in the Copa Podio. It’s a heavy weight tournament with 10 competitors who are the best of the black belt heavies, except Keenan who is a brown belt who until recently has been competing at Middleweight. I think this will be the toughest opponent Keenan has ever faced. If Keenan wins that would make a powerful statement about the growth of jiu jitsu in America, but he is up against steep odds. Leo is probably going to be on top playing a very conservative passing game. In some ways, this will be a chance to see the best of “old school” jiu jitsu against the best of “modern jiu jitsu”. Here’s an interview with Leo about the match.
The IJF released the updated ranking of judoka in the world in 2012. In this post, I’ll just look at the male side of the ranking, but of course I have to mention that our own Kayla Harrison not only won the Olympic gold, but also dominated for 2 years straight to get more points than any other female except Lucie Decosse of France who is another badass chick. Of course if Ronda Rousey was still competing in judo the Decosse vs Rousey match up would be great to see. Maybe they’ll meet in the octagon instead…
No One Country Dominates
At the bottom of this post I list the top 3 ranked male judoka in each weight class. In this list of 21 athletes, a total of 13 countries is represented, which is a great sign of vibrancy for an Olympic sport:
Are The New Rules Helping or Hurting?
The fact that Japan is not dominating the list above is a sign that the sport of judo has weathered the short-term effects of the rule changes made four years ago (about no leg grabs, etc). I am happy to see this, though I still am very much against the rule changes. But we should be careful to remember that the champions of today are the product of the rules and culture in place 10-20 years ago. The long term effects of the new rules may be felt many years from now in the number of people who choose not to train in judo but opt instead for another combat sport.
The man known on the internet as Paul Harris, because no one knows how to pronounce his last name and only jiu jitsu people call him Toquinho, is one of the most feared grapplers on the planet. Usually, top-level grapplers and fighters are not scared of each other, but in the case of Toquinho, opponents know that there is a damn good chance they’ll have torn ligaments in their knees at the conclusion of the match.
To me, Palhares represents the good and the evil of a modern day warrior. The “good” comes out off the mat in the many interviews I read and watched when he is introspective, wise, humble, and respectful to the art of jiu jitsu. Here’s an example:
The “evil” of Palhares comes out in the cold ferociousness in his damage of his opponent’s feet and knees. Here’s the thing, it’s not just that his heel hooks and kneebars are always powerfully applied (and with crisp clean technique). The scary part is there appears to be something wrong with him mentally when he is doing it. It’s almost like he is a confused trance. He reminds me of Lennie from Of Mice and Men when he crushes his puppy to death by hugging it too hard. I don’t mean anything by that except that he looks insane, and that’s the scariest thing a fighter could be: insane.
I can’t quite come to terms with what I see as two sides of a great grappler. They don’t seem to be the same person, but perhaps I am too naive about the nature of fighting. Perhaps it’s more than “just” a sport, and a warrior has to be more than “just” an athlete.
The IBJJF released the list of the top 100 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitors. The first thing you notice is that the top 100 really put the “Brazilian” in “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu”. There are many names I don’t know, but I can only count the “American” competitors I know on one hand: JT Torres, Rafael Lovato Jr, Zak Maxwell, and … that’s all I know.
Of course, the Brazilian / American line fades slowly as many of the top coaches and competitors all live, train, and teach in the United States anyway. Many of them have become, or soon will become, American citizens. Still, one thing is clear, if you placed at an IBJJF tournament in the black belt adult division, you are 20 times more likely to have been born in Brazil than any other country. Jiu jitsu is spreading all of the world, but that has not yet made a dramatic impact at the Worlds in the black belt division.
Here is the full 100 list with some links. Note that I shorten the first 20 names to what they are more commonly referred to as vs their full birth name.
The quote in the title comes from Ryron Gracie (in the video below) who is scheduled to compete against Andre Galvao on October 14th. It refers to the fact that losing gives you an opportunity to learn the gaps and flaws in your jiu jitsu game. But it also is clearly something Ryron tells himself to help fight the ego that is an ever-present and at-times-destructive force in jiu jitsu and in life.
When I first heard the quote in the title I was put off a bit. That sounded like the opposite of something a top grappler should say before an epic superfight, but then the deeper meaning of it began to emerge. I realized that it came from a humble dedication to learning the art which is perhaps bigger than any individual competitive accomplishments.
I have tremendous respect for Ryron Gracie for going against Andre Galvao. Ryron’s competition resume is much smaller than that of Galvao, so he is a huge underdog. But given that he is a big-time well-respected instructor, the fact that he accepted this fight is truly admirable. I believe that very few people in his position would do so. That in itself is a victory to be proud of: a victory over his ego.
I’m rereading Wrestling Tough (great book) and the story of Kyle Maynard (pictured left) hit me again, like it does every time I read it.
Kyle was born with severely underdeveloped arms and legs. So everything that comes easy to most people, Kyle had to figure out how to do in a completely different way. Wrestling was just one of the examples of that. His senior year in high school he finished the season with a 35-16 record. To me, this makes him one of the most incredible wrestlers in the history of the sport.
His description of what he took from wrestling is one of the great lessons of how progress is made through rigorous honest analysis of failure:
“Wrestling, as far as character goes, is foundational for any human being. You have to learn failure on a basis where you can only blame yourself. It makes the rest of your life a lot easier.”
In my eyes, focusing on failure in a quiet analytical way is the approach that works best for me. Of course, you also have to honor your successes. They provide the confidence needed to carry you through the plateaus and long stretches of hard work that don’t bring immediate positive results.
This will be a submission-only tournament (30 minute time limit I believe), and for jiu jitsu fans such as myself this event will be amazing no matter what. Old champion vs new champion, Gracie vs non-Gracie, American vs Brazilian, scrambler vs technician, etc. Like I said: this is epic.
So let’s make some predictions! I have idolized most of the people on this list, so win or lose, they will all remain legends in my eyes and the eyes of the jiu jitsu community (I hope). That said, I think some people are more ready than others:
Roger Gracie vs Buchecha: This one is tough. Buchecha is on fire and is hitting his prime. But Roger is the greatest competitor in sport jiu jitsu history. My prediction is Roger takes this by cross choke from mount.
Andre Galvao vs Ryron Gracie: I believe Galvao can beat Ryron on points 99 out of 100 times. However, given Ryron’s approach to this match, he may be very difficult to submit. I believe Galvao catches Ryron early on with a choke from back control.
Kron Gracie vs Otavio Sousa: This should be an awesome war. Otavio Sousa has been on fire, much like Buchecha. But this is a submission tournament, and Kron is an expert of finishing people (even when he’s significantly behind on points). I predict Kron will come out on top deep into the 30 minute match with a kneebar submission.
Kayron Gracie vs Rafael Lovato Jr: Two great competitors for sure. Rafael has size and experience on his side, and he’s been hungry for that second gi World title. I’m excited to just watch him work against Kayron’s guard. I predict Lovato Jr will win via choke from a dominant position (mount or back).
Jeff Glover vs Caio Terra: Rematch! I think Caio will take this one in a crazy scrambling battle of footlocks, fifty fifty, deep half, berimbolos, etc. Caio wins by toe hold late into the match.
Dean Lister vs “King” Kevin Casey: Kevin Casey is the one guy on the list I don’t really know in terms of jiu jitsu. He might be good, but he ain’t beating Dean Lister in a submission-only tournament.
Jean Jacques Machado vs Nelson Monteiro: I’m not touching this one, lol. 7th degree black belt vs 5th degree black belt. Both are admired and respected in the jiu jitsu community. This remind me of the Renzo Gracie vs Mario Sperry superfight at 2011 ADCC. It was just awesome to watch two legends go at it one more time, past their prime, but still full of the competitive fire that never dies in warriors like that. Alright, fine, I’ll say it, Machado wins.
So to summarize, my picks are Roger, Galvao, Kron, Lovato Jr, Caio, Lister, and Machado. But I’m not betting on it. In a submission-only tournament, anything could happen.
I know very little about the sport of sumo wrestling, but noticed a couple of highlights popping up on YouTube and started watching it. Like most sports, the more you know about the art of it, the rules, and the athletes involved, the more exciting it becomes to watch. I know very little about any of it, but for me, sumo is exciting (in small doses) because but of the amazing base and balance these guys have.
At first glance, sumo might look like it’s less about skill and more about size, but it seems to me that just like in jiu jitsu and judo, the battle is lost and won in the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) off-balancing and misdirection of your opponent that requires an exceptional amount of athleticism, power, and trickery. Here’s an example of one of the greatest sumo wrestlers of all time, Asashoryu Akinori, who at 330 lbs is one of the lighter legends in the sport.
But even more impressive is Takanoyama Shuntaro, the little Czech guy, who at 220 lbs is one the top sumo wrestlers currently competing and one of the only Europeans to ever reach the top of the sport. The “fight” starts at 2:20.
Watching some of Takanoyama’s matches, gives me confidence that with leverage and technique anyone can gain a dominant position on anyone else in a grappling match. Size matters, but it can be overcome.
I especially like that his analysis wasn’t “You should quit jiu jitsu because you clearly suck. Please stop.” Instead, he took every situation in the video seriously, highlighting problems areas, provided a bunch of technique options, and discussing general strategy.
I highly recommend that you send Josh one of your competition videos, while he’s giving it away for so cheap.
The benefit I got from analyzing just two videos made me realize that I want to make this a regular part of my competition process. It’s important to analyze your competition footage, but there’s only so much you can do on your own. You need another set of eyes, preferably those of an expert.
Josh noticed a lot of things that I didn’t even consider to be options. Both matches I sent him were losses, because of course I don’t want to ever lose the same way twice. For that, you have to find where you went wrong, and drill those positions until the mistake is much less likely to happen again.