October 19, 2009

Training with a Living Legend - Saulo Ribeiro

Different people learn different ways. For me I am a very hands on, principle based student. I do not remember fancy combination's, or long drawn out techniques. I remember basic principles that adhere to my weapon base. In other words I remember simple movements based on the way our body naturally moves based on its physiology. My teachers Tim Cartmell, and Brian Johnson are perfect examples of such teachers. This weekend I was very happy to meet, and train with a teacher who exemplifies such an approach to Jiu Jitsu; Saulo Ribeiro.

This was Saulo's first visit to Seattle, WA. hosted by Marcelo Alonso BJJ at Fife HS wrestling room. Attended by about 60 people total, it was an amazing experience had by all! I have heard many, many good things about the world champion, but none of those things came close to actually experiencing his energy, attitude, and ability on the mat!

Saulo recently announced his retirement from competing in the ADCC Championships in an effort to focus more on his teaching and training of MMA champions, grappling champions, and regular everyday students at his San Diego based University of Jiu Jitsu. Though this decision was hard for him, one can easily see why he made such a decision... his passion and love for the art is second to none, and he genuinley wants the art of Jiu Jitsu to flourish! Between seminars like this, and his amazing book I can see the future holds nothing but success for Saulo and his brother Xande!

Day 1 - Gi
Peppering the physical lessons with his philosophy of Jiu Jitsu, Saulo wears his heart on his sleeve and is not abashed about sharing his thoughts with his captive audience. I got just as much from his words as I did from his actions. The man is a living embodiement of applying the principles, the lifestyle, of Jiu Jitsu in every facet of his life. Again reflections of my coaches were glimpsed throughout the weekend.

“If you think, you are late. If you are late, you use strength. If you use strength, you tire. And if you tire, you die!” Saulo Ribeiro.

The whole weekend was about principles of structure and posture. "You cannot worry about countering until you have successfully defended." warned Saulo. He walked us through several escapes from strenuous positions such as cross body, cross body with head control, as well as mount, and a counter for the "new" hot position: 50/50 Guard! All these escapes were based upon proper structure both with our bodies as well as building a shield with our arms and legs. Saulo was adimant about us not using excessive strength or power. Several "demo dummies" were chastized for using their strength and explosive power: "What if you could not push me with your arms, how would you escape?" For those in attendance you can reference Saulo's book starting at page 60 for much of what we covered. For those not in attendance hoping to gleam a nugget of knowledge from Jake's blog.... Saulo covered details in person that are not presented on page 60 of his book!

Saulo did not overwhelm us with numerous techniques or combo's, but rather taught a handful of principles that can be applied to many scenario's, and we constantly referenced said principles throughout the weekend.

Some highlights of Saulo's Gi training:
  • You MUST train the gi to get good at no gi! No Gi techniques are predicated on Gi training.
  • Do not think of countering until you have escaped and successfully defended your opponents attack.
  • White and blue belt is all about survival. This is integral to your growth. These humbling years (though it only took Saulo 4 years to achieve black belt) are what makes you a champion.
  • There is no "Brazilian Jiu Jitsu," there is only "Jiu Jitsu." No nationality is involved as so many from various backgrounds have contributed to the growth and development of the art as we know it now. (This was refreshing to hear especially from a Brazilian. All too often machismo and bullshit nationalistic pride gets needlessly intermingled into the art of Jiu Jitsu. Saulo was adimant about this correcting several of us throughout the weekend!)
  • Tapping is the smartest thing you will ever do. It does not impress anyone when you hold out on that choke. Your neck will be sore for a week. Tapping out makes nothing sore except maybe your ego. If it hurts your ego to tap, you are missing the point of Jiu Jitsu and it will take you twice as long to progress.
Day 2 - No Gi
Saulo rarely teaches No Gi seminars as he beleives that there is little need to train no gi. He does not even have a no gi class at his academy. But because Marcelo asked him to, Saulo obliged.
We started the morning with some warmups from Gymnastic Natural which were great additions for any grappler. Gentle, smooth movements designed to warm up and stretch the body all the while incorporating movements found within grappling. A couple were new to me, but again Brian and Tim have a VERY similar approach to their teaching so I have seen similar movements and warmups from them. This made it easy to integrate all of this into my ever expanding repetoire of techniques and warmups!

We quickly moved into some clinch work which was great! Saulo told me in a personal conversation that he integrates clinch work and throws into every class he teaches! "The 40 basic techniques of Judo are a requirement in my academy." - Saulo

Again Saulo weaved standup to ground effortlessly by chaining one principle based movement to another, and before you know it we were working on one of his trademark sweeps that he used just recently at the ADCC World Championshiops!

Some highlights of day 2 with Saulo:
  • The main difference between gi and no gi training is grips, and timing. But we cannot dismiss aspects such as explosiveness, strength, power, and speed. Sure no gi is easier because we can compensate for lack of skill and technique by utilizing strength and speed. Then go throw on a gi and all of the sudden you are not so good! Why? The gi forces us to learn posture, position, technique, leverage etc. These skills take time to aquire. Saulo was very adamant about the recent fad of no gi training (obviously aimed at people such as Greg Jackson and Eddie Bravo), and his thoughts were summed up here: "If you are not training the gi, you are not doing jiu jitsu. Period. You are a submission wreslter, but not a jiu jitsu player. The gi is our heritage, our tradition, our foundation."
  • That being said; we will see submission wrestling in the Olympics before we see BJJ in them simply because within the BJJ community we are so disorganized and too interested in individual ego.
  • Timing and anticipation are key to the no gi game. You must anticipate what your opponent will do and exploit him when he goes to do it.
  • Strength and power are certainly aspects of the no gi game, but you must use them wisely.
  • Challenge yourself... just because no gi is easier, does not mean you should spend the majority of the time training no gi. If you want your no gi to improve, train with the gi.
  • Butt scooters are not held in high regard with Saulo. "If you pull guard and I stand up, and all you do is scoot on your ass, then I know you are scared to stand with me. I know your standup game is no good if you are not even willing to try to take me to the ground!

Here is a video Roy Dean shared on his blog in what looks like a small private lesson with Saulo. Just to give a taste of his teaching approach:

Here is a great highlight video of the Ribeiro brothers in case you have been in a grappling cave for the past 10 years:

If you have the opportunity to train with Saulo or his brother Xande, do yourself the favor and take advantage. Rumor has it next time both brothers will visit Seattle! My only gripe with the weekend was no one was allowed to video tape the event. So many details were shared that a video reference would be nice as I am sure my "foggy" memory is filtering several things out (that being said do not take anything here as a direct quote, I am paraphrasing much of what Saulo shared). Certainly one of the more memorable learning opportunities I have been a part of.

Train hard, Train smart,

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