Jiu jitsu is such a complicated martial art, that most serious students of it end up searching out as many books and videos on the subject as they can get their hands on in an attempt to unlock its mysteries. It’s not that classroom instruction is ineffective. It’s more that you often find yourself lacking in a certain area that may not be addressed in class for months at a time, and since it’s live instruction, you may or may not accurately remember what you were taught. I have bought my share of books and videos as well, some of which have helped. However, a downside to this approach is that the majority of these kinds of instructional materials are really more like technique recipe books for slightly more skilled practitioners. The problem is that a book of recipes is usually only beneficial to those who already know how to cook. In my opinion, the best option that I have come across so far is Gracie University (http://www.gracieuniversity.com). It is a subscription service that is a little more pricey than some of its rivals, but well worth it. The site is run by Ryron and Rener Gracie, grandsons of BJJ pioneer Helio Gracie. Both of them have been doing jiu jitsu since in their diapers, and it shows. The thing I like about the site is that Ryron and Rener have broken down jiu jitsu into something akin to an online distance learning course. Each lesson builds on the next. Their goal is to eventually capture everything they know about jiu jitsu on video. They estimate it will probably take them a total of ten to twelve years to do this. After five years, they already have made quite a bit of progress toward their goal. I have just finished watching their set of introductory lessons, known as Gracie Combatives, for a second time. Gracie Combatives introduces in 36 lessons the 71 techniques that they feel are the most essential techniques of their art to master, if you want to be able to defend yourself in a realistic street attack by a single unarmed assailant. I had already learned many of the moves in class, but Ryron and Rener break the moves down in such exquisite detail, that I found myself picking up things that I didn’t know, even about the most basic white belt moves. For example, tonight, during sparring, I was able to keep a blue belt in side control for a prolonged period of time, thanks to what I learned in Gracie Combatives. In the past, he would usually escape after only a few seconds. Some of the Gracie Combatives moves are not things that would normally come up in sparring (like blocking punches when you’re in closed guard). However, even there, I was surprised at how these things can come up. For example, tonight, while sparring with a newer white belt, we both ended up standing. Unless, it’s a formal match, we would have ordinarily simply sat back down again, and resumed wrestling on the ground. However, he decided to attempt a standing Guillotine choke (a kind of front head lock). The defense for this type of situation can be found in lesson 32 of Gracie Combatives. I executed the defense exactly as shown in the video, despite never having formally practiced the technique. It worked like a charm. I took him down, freed my head, and ended in side control, just like in the video. I intend to go through all the Gracie Combatives lessons at least one more time before moving on to the more advanced materials. Rener and Ryron even offer an online belt testing service through the site, which I doubt I will take advantage of since I’m already at a regular gym. Actually, this has been the most controversial aspect of the site, since many people feel that only an instructor who has watched your progress in person over a sustained period of time should be allowed to promote you. I must confess, I’m also skeptical about online belts, but that doesn’t detract in any way from the quality of instruction on the site. It’s like being able to attend a one-on-one seminar with a high level black belt, who learned from the source, for every move in your arsenal.

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