Six Month Jiu-jitsu Update

| February 8, 2017 | 2 Comments

I’ve attended beginner Jiu-jitsu classes three days a week for the last six months. The Academy shut down over Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I missed a few due to work commitments or other training events. I’d estimate I’ve gone to over 65 classes so far.

I am taking Jiu-jitsu from the perspective of a tool-bearer (knives, pistol, impact weapon, OC spray).

My initial goals were:

  • improve my ability to escape side control and top mount
  • control my opponent on the ground so that they cannot hurt me with their body or tools
  • reduce the amount of panic I feel when someone is on top of me

Since training, I’ve added two more:

  • recognize and execute submissions that are high probability and minimize my exposure to tools and the environment (e.g., being slammed)
  • “feel” opportunities based on my opponent’s body and what they are doing

The following are my thoughts after six months of training.


I go to class during the day. These classes have fewer people than ones at night. This gives me more personal attention from the instructors, but limits my training partners. The She Shepherd and I are the only regular attendees. Two of the other “regulars” graduated to other programs a few months ago. There are three other students who attend on a semi-regular basis, including a law enforcement officer who works swing shift and comes to class after work. I know that one of the regulars now attends night classes with his wife. I assume the other students have dropped out.

In many ways, this has a negative effect on our training. However, there is one very large positive: when it’s just The She Shepherd and/or the LEO student, we “cheat” a bit on the curriculum and insert weapons-based concerns into the techniques. This is not part of the regular curriculum.

General Observations About the Gracie Combatives Program

The Gracie Combatives Program (GCP) has gotten a lot of flack for being different from traditional academies in many ways:

  • it’s a franchise
  • it follows a drill-based vs spar-based (“rolling’) methodology
  • until recently, optionally awarded blue belts via a remote study program

The latter has been replaced by the Gracie Combatives Belt, with a “true” blue belt being awarded after more study in official Gracie Academies.

Student retention is the purported reason for the drills-vs-sparring approach. According to the Gracie Academy, if a student makes it beyond 10 months they are likely to stick with the program indefinitely — barring injury, life change, etc. The Gracie Academy contends that by delaying sparring until a student has a grasp of fundamentals they are more likely to make it past the 10 month part.

Another benefit to this approach is that students can (theoretically) focus on doing the technique properly instead of doing whatever works in the moment. One of my criticisms of more assertive training events like ECQC is that the emotional distress of being in an evo can override the techniques a student has learned.

This means that the majority of my training is in the “technical and consensual” as defined by Craig Douglas of Shivworks (see my article about the attributes of opposition). I’d say about 10% of my training at this stage is “technical and nonconsensual.” The only “competitive and nonconsenual” training has been against my instructors (twice) and when rolling with The She Shepherd (because she has no chill).

There is a huge difference in doing a technique against someone who is “letting the technique work” vs someone who doesn’t want you to do the technique to them. The difference between two people trying to “win” is even more vast. Having near-maximum force used against you is an eye opening experience, and I often wonder how my instructors would fare in an ECQC-type evolution.

The She Shepherd and I are the only students I know of at our specific Academy who are approaching our training this way. The other students are there to learn BJJ as a primary means to protect themselves. In isolation, this program is not enough to prepare a student for the amount of force they should expect in a “real” fight, nor do I think it adequately focuses on tools and/or multiple attackers.

Because my goals are clear, I am fine with how the Gracie Combatives program is conducted. If you decide to join a BJJ academy — especially the Gracie program — be aware that what you are shown must be tempered with your experience in other training environments. One notable exception (that I am aware of, I am sure there are others) is our friend Jason Clarke who runs Iowa City BJJ.

My Progress

With all of that out of the way, I’m happy to report that I am meeting all of my goals. I’ve become much more calm during a wrassle. This is evident in our monthly Shivworks alumni drilling, as well as when the intensity ratchets up at the Gracie Academy.

One of my favorite sayings in life is “he’s stupid, but he knows that he is stupid, and that almost makes him smart.” I feel that way about my overall progress. I’m starting to recognize opportunities, or attempt to do things. I’m not always successful, or I realize I’ve made a mistake, but that’s an improvement from where I started.

I am breathing more, exerting less overall effort / learning when to exert effort more effectively, I am less tired, and don’t freak out as much. In general, I exert less energy and my rate of breathing is lower than the other people I train with, inside and outside of the Academy. I consider this a huge win, especially in prep for ECQC where we will spend 16+ hours in physical contact with another person.

We had our Shivworks alumni meeting last Sunday. I had the opportunity to roll around on the ground with another student. It wasn’t supposed to be a longer evo, but it wound up that way.

I transitioned to several positions of control and used many of the techniques I learned at the Gracie Academy. I know the training is working because I automatically used techniques I’d only learned from GA (e.g., modified mount, or using my legs to expand away from my opponent and free myself)

I really enjoy going to class.

The Future

I intend to keep going to the Gracie Academy for the foreseeable future. I am definitely improving, even under the “slow-and-steady” approach. I’m qualified for their “Reflex Development” program, which increases the resistance to “technical and nonconsensual.” Unfortunately this is only held on Saturdays, which is when we do the majority of our other training.

The holidays threw a wrench in our BJJ-at-Home practice, and we haven’t gotten back into the swing of things. I’d like to do more opposed training here, even if it’s at 30% effort and speed.

Lastly, I hope to get more practice employing BJJ while holding a tool. Last Sunday it was interesting to attempt what I’d learned with only one hand. The Clinch Pick did not impede me too much due to its small size, but certain techniques such as the Americana or Kimura may be more difficult / impossible to do while gripping a knife or a gun.

Yay for learning 🙂 I love it.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.

2 Comments on "Six Month Jiu-jitsu Update"

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  1. Mike M says:

    I have been training with Jason at Iowa City BJJ since this past August. My attendance can be sporadic as I work a rotating shift but I average about 1:45 hrs of training a week. I still feel really green but really enjoy the training. Hopefully when I attend ECQC in Jun I will be able to utilize some of this knowledge

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      I love that dude and wish we lived closer to him. Glad you’re training with him, and after watching him go to work last ECQC I am sure that what you’re learning will come in handy.

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