A Lesson From BJJ Legend Mario Sperry

By: Rob Gramer

A few months ago Mario Sperry made a special appearance at our gym. He was in town to help Rashad Evans train for his upcoming title fight against Jon Jones at UFC 145. I’m reflecting on this now because while training last night a few of his tricks came in handy.

Before we dive in to that, the background story. If you’re truly a big fan of BJJ and do not know who Mario Sperry is you should really pick up a history book sometime.

  • He’s a Carlson Gracie  black belt
  • One of the Founder of Brazilian Top Team
  • First man to make a Gracie tap in competition (Royler Gracie 1998)
  • World Champ 1995-1998
  • And on and on and on…

And check out this crazy stat…over 8 years he travelled 62 times to Japan to corner fights for guys he trained!

Anyways, when it comes to BJJ this guy knows his shit. And lucky for me, the material he went over was my favorite subject – choking from the back. If my website www.backchoke.com didn’t give you a hint, let me make it crystal clear for you. I love taking the back and choking people. And the chances of me seeing something new about some sort of choke from the back is about as likely as the Catholic Church passing out birth control pills.

Or So My Arrogant Self Thought

As a side note, I’ve found it’s when I think I’ve figured everything out it’s time for a new lesson.

Like that time I spent 8 days and over 2,000 miles on a motorcycle and then crashed in a 5mph corner. Or almost shot myself because I didn’t check the chamber before cleaning my gun. Or when I got dressed up to the nines for a hot date, and greeted her at the door with my zipper down. Stories for another day.

Anyways, imagine my surprise when two minutes into the first move I realized…

I’d Been Doing THIS Wrong for the Last Decade or So

And it was so simple I immediately smacked my forehead.

Now listen, I’m a pretty smart guy (I used to build jet engines, have a college degree, and can even do math in my head sometimes), but I didn’t figure this out on my own. And I bet you haven’t either. And even though what I’m about to share with you sounds super simple, please put away your “oh I know that, it’s so simple” automatic defense mechanism and hear me out for a moment.

The secret is (drumroll)…forgetting to clamp in your elbows in after you’ve gotten the under and over grip.

Now, what makes this even more embarrassing for me is that this is actually one of the “mistakes” I talk about at length in my mistakes reports. Lots of grapplers forget to clamp their elbows in other positions. In guard this results in your opponent getting underhooks and sweeping you…or…taking your back. From half guard this allows people to pin you down and pass your guard. From side mount this leaves you vulnerable for key-locks, kimuras, and head and arm chokes.

Those are fight enders with you on the losing end. Really bad. But when you’re on someone’s back and you forget to clamp your elbows LESS bad things happen. Like the guy can wiggle a little bit to the side. Or he can control one of your arms. Or maybe even push a hook off.

It’s the Small Stuff that Beats You

No big deal, right? Wrong. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. And all those little bad things add up. The result? You can’t sink in chokes. It’s easy for your opponent to control your attacks. And then he escapes and you have to start all over.

This is where we pick back up with the story.

I’ve been going through one of those dreadful “can’t do anything right” periods. Last night I was rolling with a purple belt I usually smash. Well, he must’ve been spending more time watching fancy moves on youtube or just drilling on the mat, because for some reason I just couldn’t get a leg up on the squirrely bastard. I wasn’t losing. I just wasn’t winning (like usual).

Well I must’ve had Mario whispering in my ear “get back to the basics…control”. Because the next time I went to lock in back control, I immediately locked in my elbows.  This prevented him from wiggling making it easier to sink my hooks in fully, not just half assed as I was doing.

You can’t get to step 3 if you don’t do step 1 properly.

The takeaway: Control the position…advance the position…submit. If you are no longer advancing, find out where you need to re-establish control and do it.


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