First submission

This evening I got someone to tap for the first time. It was to a bow and arrow choke from the back.

For reference, I started on 2nd September 2015 and tonight was my 37th class.

So, why did I make it work this time, when I haven’t before? I think there were a number of reasons.

Probably most importantly I’ve simply learnt enough and practiced sufficiently that I was able to do a number of things right in a row, without screwing up too badly. A successful submission is, by definition, the last thing you do in a roll. So you have to get the chain of moves before it right — and any serious mistake will derail you. So — at least at my level — there is a real element of luck in getting everything to line up at the same time.

Closely related to this, I was able to attempt a number of submissions in succession. It was a long roll and I can’t properly recall the exact sequence. But, roughly, after I got to side-control, I attempted a kimura. This didn’t really work, but did allow me to take the back. My opponent was defending the rear naked choke, but I was able to get a lapel grip for the bow and arrow. Something weird was happening with the fabric at the back of his neck, which meant I couldn’t get any real tension. He was trying to escape and I ended up moving to an arm bar — but he’d linked his hand together tight. I felt I was losing the position faster than I was breaking the grip. So, when he tried to escape again, I returned to the back with a body triangle and worked for the bow and arrow until I got it.

This was all a good deal messier and confused than I’m making it sound.

The point is that it wasn’t that I did particularly well on a particular submission. Indeed, I’m fairly sure that with a little more experience I’d have had a good chance of finishing both my original bow and arrow choke and the arm bar. But I’ve learnt enough that having got a positional advantage I could keep trying things until something worked.

Finally, I was able — for pretty much the first time — to split my attention effectively between working for a submission and maintaining my position. In particular, when I was attempting the first bow and arrow I was also working to keep the back. Then, when I was going for the arm bar I correctly kept my legs heavy. And, rather than holding onto that for dear life when it wasn’t working, I was able to recognise the issue and move into a strong back control position.

It’s easy to understand the need for maintaining position in theory, but much harder to focus on everything you need to in practice.

So, an important and satisfying milestone. Now I just have to do it again.

Closed to open to closed

This may be the most obvious BJJ insight ever, but it’s the first one I came to myself, rather than it coming from someone else.

When your closed guard is being passed, you can go to open guard. If you can grip and get your feet on them, you can often get into spider or De La Riva. And, from there, if you like, it’s often possible to go back into closed guard by pulling them forward. This is much better than allowing them to complete the pass.

Since I realised this a couple of months ago I’ve had much more success holding onto guard. And, of course, I now see that everyone else is doing this all the time (or shifting from one open guard to another). But I’m slightly pleased to have worked it out independently. Who knows what I shall reinvent next!

It’s also an example of the general principle that it’s better to move before your opponent completes something than after.

Although I’ve had some success with this when it comes to maintaining guard, I have real problems with the next stage — setting up escapes. What I’d like to be able to do is be able to work to maintain my closed guard, when that fails move into open guard ahead of my opponent and — when, in turn, that fails — move to start my escape from side-control or mount (obviously, I’d also like to be able to avoid this downward spiral altogether as well). Instead, I’m always too late to avoid getting quite deep into their mount / side-control and I get stuck. Something to work on.

2016 Resolutions


Oddly, although this is going to be my main physical focus for the year, I don’t have many clear aims except going to class.

It’s too early for me to say ‘I’m going to focus on this or that in my game’. I don’t have a game yet. I just need to keep turning up. So my main aim is to average 3 classes a week — or 156 in 2016.

Also, I intend to compete at least once.


I’ve neglected lifting since I started BJJ, which is foolish. I don’t need to be strong, but it would help to avoid injury and I feel better when I’m in the gym regularly.

I’ll aim for two days a week, starting with simple linear progression to regain some strength and see where I am. Then I intend to work on Dan John’s set of strength standards from Intervention.


Quixotically I’ve agreed to run the London Marathon again this year for charity. It’s rather opposed to my other physical goals, but it will by my tenth and I couldn’t resist ticking that off.

My main aim is to do it without messing everything else up or damaging myself (and to raise a decent sum of money). But if I can also do it in around 4h30m I’d be happy.

My plan is to focus on doing one long run at the weekend, plus short fast runs in the week. Between BJJ and weights I should be able to maintain a fairly good general level of fitness despite a low volume of running.