Roger Gracie needs no introduction. He’s the most winning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner of all time and has the most refined technique of anyone I’ve come across in the sport. Last year while passing through Spain I heard about a camp he does in Malaga on the Costa del Sol. It’s 4 days and because Roger is my BJJ idol, I changed my return flight to the US and went to the camp. It was game changing! This year, I returned and Roger was joined by his father Mauricio Gomes. Like the year before it was an incredible experience with fantastic details. The best part, of course, is that I got to roll with Roger!
People came from far and wide to attend the camp and for good reason. The value for the money is insane! The whole camp was $250 Euros for 7 sessions. This year was even bigger than the last with nearly 100 students in attendance covering the entire spectrum of belts. The exchange of knowledge amongst the group and questions that the diverse perspectives of the attendees added to the depth of the camp.
You could spend years working on nothing but the techniques Roger and his father showed during the camp and it would be time well spent. In this article and the next I’ll break down some of my favorite details. Prior to attending these camps my only interactions with Roger were at tournaments where he comes across as extremely focused and serious. It was awesome to get to spend time with him in a more relaxed setting. He and his father are genuinely nice people and they patiently answer any question thrown their way. His father focused on self defense techniques, while Roger shared some of his best positions and details ranging from guard work, passing, and back attacks.
One of the things that really stood out to me was the dominion over the technique. Sometimes seminars and camps can get excessively focused on upper or lower belts. Roger and Mauricio did an amazing job of balancing both. They break down the key concepts of each move without overloading newer practitioners. In the same breath they share subtle details that only advanced practitioners would pick up on, and they are serious game changers! The key at a camp like this is to focus on the techniques that fit you best and to take LOTS of notes so you don’t forget what you learned.
For this first article I’ll focus on some of the passing principles Roger and Mauricio showed and a small detail on my favorite back take from the closed guard.
Closed Guard Back Take
In closed guard the fight is about posture. On bottom you want to break your opponents posture, climb your legs to a high guard and start to work attacks, preferably in combination, to set up the submission. One of the problems with even a double attack like a choke/armbar from bottom is that your opponent has the advantage of gravity. A very explosive player will burst out of armbar attempts and you are left without control and scrambling to retain guard. A safer option is the back take. If you fail you can always transition to an armbar but it will ensure you have more control throughout the movement.
Of course you will need to break the grip on your gi and drag the arm across. Once the grip is broken, it is most effective to use your legs to break their posture rather than trying to pull the arm straight across.
The detail I picked up from Roger that has increased the effectiveness of my back take 10 fold is the grip on the lapel in the armpit. This is not a fast move. You will spend time working your way to the back. But with the lapel grip and closing the distance with your chest against the opponent’s shoulder, you will slowly be able to work yourself around to the back. When it’s time to get your hooks, post on your elbow and climb up.
Passing Closed Guard
My first instructor told us constantly that the best way to pass the guard, especially the closed guard, was to stand up. Roger broke down the reasons why brilliantly. If you are big, strong, or your opponent’s legs are short, you might be able to open the guard from your knees. But if your opponent has a good closed guard, the only way you will open it is by standing.
Standing is not without its risks. Too many people rush to the feet. The step often overlooked is posture and grips. You need to keep a straight back to make it harder for your posture to be broken. The hand on the chest is meant to keep your posture when your opponent pulls you and to keep them down if they try to sit up. Outside of those two scenarios it should be relaxed.
The last key pointer is to NEVER stand until you have top control with the grip that is on the chest. If your opponent’s arm is over yours when you try to stand it will make it easy for them to cave your elbow and break your posture. If your hand is on top you will have a better chance.
Opening Guard Standing
Once you’ve stood up it is important to maintain perfect posture. Let the hand on the lapels slide down but don’t lose the grip as it will help you keep your opponent from rolling away. Very few people show this detail but it is extremely effective.
The arm pushing the knee open should be straight. Lean your body to the side and straighten your arm to push the guard open. One thing Roger did that I liked was he steps the opposite leg of the side he’s pushing with back as the guard opens. This not only gives him more leverage, it also helps to avoid lasso guard and puts him right into his passes of pinning the leg and pressuring through.
Head Hug Pass
After you open the guard there’s no time to waste. Your opponent will be on the defensive and it is critical to press the action before they get a chance to set up the guard they want. A very effective way of doing that is to staple your shin across the leg you pushed down. Roger cuts just above the knee on the thigh to pin it without giving too much space for your opponent to recover. Next, close the distance and pass.
Stack Pass with Mauricio
The stack pass is the original pass from old school BJJ. I’ve never been a big fan of it because I felt like it left me vulnerable to a triangle and believed it was only effective for no-necked giants like Orlando Sanchez. Recently, when rolling with Ryron Gracie, he fed the triangle to set up the stack pass. Despite him being smaller than me, something felt different about the position and I didn’t go for the triangle feeling the threat of his pass.
Mauricio beautifully broke down the details of the position and what makes it so effective. The key, as is often the case, is posture. Here you can see how while feeding his hand inside the guard Mauricio has perfect posture. The mistake everyone makes, myself included, is to compromise their posture to put their arm inside.
Once the arm is in it holds the hips at the pants and you wait to attack. There really isn’t any rush here as you are safe with solid posture. If your opponent doesn’t want to open the guard you can force the action by placing your hand on the shin and applying pressure.
The moment of truth is the second the guard opens. As the passer, you have the advantage as you know exactly what your opponent will do. The second the guard opens, Mauricio steps forward and uses the hip grip to lift the opponent off the ground. Note the incredible posture. Only when the opponent is stacked on their neck and out of position does he transfer the outside hand to the cross collar, places his head above the opponents head to maximize pressure, and transfer the hand that was inside the legs to the hips as he drops his weight to pass.
I’m often told I’m like a child when I roll. Getting to roll with your idols is something very unique to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I don’t know many people who get to play pickup basketball with Michael Jordan. While others were too shy to ask, I started bugging Roger the first day about rolling with me. I should warn you that there is a price to pay when you challenge a higher ranking person… but it was totally worth it.
Fighting with Roger is like fighting a sand filled wet blanket twice your size that leaves you no space for anything you want. Pulling guard is basically suicide as he will undoubtedly pass and progress to the inevitable submission. Trying to pass is no walk in the park either. His close guard is the best of anyone I’ve seen and 99% of the time he will put you there whether you like it or not. His open guard is mostly De La Riva and he has strong omoplatas.
Knowing he’s better than me doesn’t stop me from giving it my all. I also make sure to talk as much trash as possible for the few seconds that I’m not losing horribly. For the most part, I’m smiling the whole time because I’m thrilled to be training with Roger Gracie.
In our first round of sparring I put as much pressure as I could on his guard. It didn’t work. He was able to sweep and then the pressure began. Roger is incredibly smooth and truly embraces the gentle art. I’ve sparred with many people who actually put more pressure on you or choke your face. Roger would never stoop so low. He will get a perfect choke or armbar. He is so confident in his technique that he doesn’t have to force it or be rough. He does have significant pressure but more than anything he’s tight.(There’s a big difference)
Needless to say he mounted me. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to talk trash I said, “Roger, everyone says your mount is SOOOO terrible and you have sooo much pressure… It’s not that bad.” He laughed at me and said, “It’s ok. I’m in no hurry.” Shortly thereafter he cross choked me. Roger 1, me 0.
I could probably write an entire Jiu Jitsu curriculum based on just this one camp. Roger said that leading up to black belt he thought that everything was learning a new move or position. Suddenly, when he got his black belt little details made all the difference. He would miss a choke or armbar against high level guys, but one grip adjustment or weight distribution difference would make his success rate sky rocket. I couldn’t agree more. I love new positions and learning the latest innovations in the sport but have become absolutely fascinated by small details. I hope you picked a couple up here that help change your game. Don’t forget to like and share and stay posted for part 2 with even more details and stories of Roger beating me up!
These amazing pictures were brought to you by the talented MikiAlaMode