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Craig, Author at Sphere Martial Arts

All Posts by Craig

Fight Sparring: Craig’s Ravings

Sparring Tips:

Before I go into any sparring tips please be aware that these are just some of the thoughts and strategies that I use when sparring and are not meant to be taken as absolute truths or the only way to spar. Not everyone has my build, physical attributes, mentality or experience. You may be larger or smaller, faster or slower or have more or less experience. Everybody is different. What I discuss here is some of the things I think about and what works for me when I spar. Perhaps from this you may take away something that will help your sparring in the future or just make you think more about your own particular abilities and strategies.

Changing your mindset:

One of the things I do at the start of each sparring session is change my mindset and try to simulate an adrenaline dump of my system, This takes some practice but basically I try to make myself a bit nervous, I become very focused, intense and tunnel my vision. I prepare my reactions to become a lot faster and the person in front of me simply becomes an opponent with 2 arms, 2 legs and set of skills that I need to negate. I am still aware of who I am sparring and allow for different skill levels and size differences i.e. juniors etc, but I am still very much on the ball and focused.

Learn to adapt:

A basic rule of sparring is to always respect your opponent whether you know them or not. However it should not matter if they are black belt or no belt, tall or short, thin or overweight, you should adapt to your opponent, use their weaknesses against them and keep them off their strengths, for example, larger people may be slower but more powerful, perhaps less flexible, so use your speed to spar, maybe your fitness, you flexibility and your dynamics. Don’t stand still and slug it out with them.
Conversely, the opposite might apply for thinner or smaller people than you. Shorter people have less reach so keep out of range, start combinations with long range attacks only moving inside when their guard has been opened, they’ll want you to come inside and get close because that’s how they fight. Again, this is opposite for taller opponents.

Micro rounds:

Don’t think of each individual round as a whole. What I mean by this is, if you are sparring for example 3 min rounds and you are up against someone much larger and more experienced obviously this round you will be working on your defense. Don’t be disappointed that you couldn’t work your attacks instead be happy that you didn’t let them hit you as much as last time. Remember sparring is a chance to practice all of your techniques not just how much you can dish out.
Another mindset I have is that I take my grappling mindset into my standup /striking sparring game. I find that when many people are told to spar for a round they might simply exchange techniques for two or three minutes, matching each other’s intensity levels with no real outcome. When grappling or fighting the goal is not to be there longer than is necessary to win the match! When grappling sparring my goal, unless I am sparring someone far below my experience level, is to get the submissions as quick as I can thus ending the bout. This can occur several times in a round where the bout is restarted each time. Obviously when fighting we want to take out our opponent as quickly as possible as every second they are still in the fight there is the chance you can be defeated. I take this concept into my sparring, I am constantly trying in my mind to end the fight, If while sparring my opponent cowers a little or turns their back, in my mind I have won that particular exchange even though we continue to spar, this may happen a couple of times each round.


The main object is to control the fight, get a rhythm in your head to spar to, and always make your opponent react to you, try to dictate where they are in the ring or on the mat, and know how they are going to come at you, and what you are going to do when they attack. Attempt to control how they attack, where they attack, for how long they attack, how they defend, and how to open their guard for landing your own strikes.
Never be predictable. This will come with experience. Change your distancing, move left, move right, and be unpredictable. Don’t always lead off with the same attack Think what moves have caught you out in the past, and more importantly, why. Try combinations of hands and feet, left and right, high and low, circular and straight, and all of the above. Generally, single attacks do not succeed, e.g., one kick, one punch, these can be used to control your opponent, but are often not effective as a complete attack.

Know your strengths and weaknesses:

Know your opponent as soon and as well as possible. To do this, you need to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and how to use these against your opponent. You need to test your opponent without thinking about your technique, but rather about how they react to you. When you drive a car, you don’t think about how much to turn the wheel, the clutch action, and changing gears, instead, you look around, in front, behind, always aware of what’s around you at all times, where other people are, and what they are doing.
It is the same in sparring, you should not be thinking about the mechanisms of a turning kick or how to block their attack, leave that for pad or bag work, and it should come without thinking. This leaves the mind free to analyse your opponent. You must watch how they react to your different moves, see how they react to your positioning, find their strengths and weaknesses, and then keep them from using their strengths and exploit their weaknesses.

Distance and balance:

Distancing is the best form of defense, if they can’t reach you, they cannot strike you, and whereas a block can be faked out, or kicked through, they cannot strike beyond their reach. Similarly, if you cannot reach them, it is useless to kick your legs around to show off. When you are attacking, you are also most vulnerable to a counter, so make sure you are always forcing their defense when you attack. Showboating will also tire you out more quickly than letting your opponent work around you.
In defense, never retreat in a straight line, if you go back in a straight line, they can see where you are going and plan their attack, most of your opponents will also have trained combinations on straight line retreats, instead, sidestep to open their guard and counter them during their attack, a step to the side will allow a counter attack, and even if the hit doesn’t land, it will you’re your opponent off such combinations.

It is imperative to always have a good base and balance. If you just threw out a kick and are off balance, do not attempt another strike. Your strike will open you to an attack, and being off balance may open your guard, if the attack comes and you are off balance, you may be knocked down, better to regain your base and attack again. Better to put your leg down each time, regain your base, and attack again. if you are quick, taking your leg down after each move makes it more difficult for your opponent to attack , as once in your base, all attacks are again open to you, and if you are quick, can be launched in almost the same time as the multiple kick from the same leg. However, that’s not to say never do the same move several times consecutively – as long as you know that it’s going to open your opponent up for another attack.

Don’t get angry : get focused!

Never get angry or frustrated, there are several reasons you may want to be angry, maybe it is to psyche yourself up into smacking your opponent to the floor, maybe you have an elusive opponent and you cannot seem to land a hit, or maybe they’ve just cracked you in the groin. Whatever the reason, never let your emotions rule during sparring, as your opponent will pick up on it, and have an advantage over you. Better to always be relaxed yet focused, be able to sit back in defense or come forwards in an attack of what can seem aggression, but always under control.
You must be able to turn it on and off in an instant and always be control of your aggression. The moment you start lashing out, and actually trying to hurt your opponent, it turns into a fight, which is what neither person wants. Your opponent will pick up on your anger and turn it against you, maybe realising the only way you’ll be stopped is by really hurting you. If you are really angry at them it is even easier for them to hurt you, and besides, sparring is meant to a learning experience, not about seriously hurting each other. We all want to train and fight again with no injuries.

Don’t be sorry

If you are worried about hurting your opponent, you’ll never do any techniques at all. That’s not to say go flat out and try to break their face, but spar sensibly, and go for your moves. It is their fault if they get caught, and even if you hurt them, they will tend to feel it was a good hit, and something for them to improve on. This may seem like you don’t care if you hurt someone, but it’s not like that at all. If I get caught cleanly with a shot in sparring, full respect to my opponent, they have outclassed me, and gave me something to think about. I never think ‘I wish they never hit me’, and so there is no reason for the opponent to be sorry. In fact , sometimes I will say “thank you” to an opponent when sparring if they catch me flush with a painful blow because they have just taught me something…

If I kick someone in the head or punch them clean in the face of course I will pause to check they are ok ( because we are only sparring and I am trying to be measured and in control) but I don’t say sorry if they are fine to continue because if I can I will do it again. However, if I crack someone in the groin, I will be sorry as I did not wish to injure my opponent, and especially not in this most painful of ways. Sparring, whether hard or light is for the refinement and improvement of fighting skills. You can be sorry for any accidental injuries after the round.

Always respect your training partners:

Always thank your opponent, check they are ok, offer tips on their weaknesses, explain their strengths, tell them what you learned from them and they will do the same to you. Always try to help your opponent afterwards. You will gain nothing by not helping them. Remember, sparring is not to beat everyone, it is to improve yourself.

Train hard………Think harder

Coach Craig

Blue belts bjj

Are Ready For Your Blue Belt? A 4 Points checklist

As a fresh new white belt you are at the bottom of the totem pole and are overwhelmed by the deluge of information. All of those complicated techniques with so many details! With a blue belt around your waist you gain instant mat credit.

So how close are you to being a blue belt? If you tapped a blue belt in training does it mean you deserve to wear the blue belt?

Here are 4 points your instructor is watching for in your bjj

  1. Can you defend against a bigger, stronger opponent?
  2. A basic level of self defense knowledge
  3. Balanced positions and knowledge of the basic techniques of bjj
  4. Do you have at least 2 or 3 techniques from each position that you can execute in live rolling?

See full story on graciebarra.com

Blue belts bjj

Momentum in grappling

Timing, leverage and momentum are three of the most important attributes to acquire in BJJ. They are what allows a smaller person how to defend themselves against a larger adversary.

What most people are used to seeing is the leverage component. If you are watching YouTube clips or people rolling in class and all you are looking at is a certain move or technique then what you are seeing is the leverage.

A sweep from guard is a great example; you can be shown how to correctly apply the sweep by placing your body in a particular position relative to your opponent, and if the leverage is applied correctly then your opponent will be swept.

So here is a common scenario – You spend all night in class learning a couple of sweep variations but then can’t apply it on a training partner when free rolling. You either cannot get the entry or even if you do you just can’t seem to finish it.

This is most likely a result of a failure in timing or not creating enough momentum. Some people might assume that the technique just does not work, or they struggle to understand why everyone else can seem to do it but they can’t.

The following video shows a match between Marcelo Garcia and Rafael Lovato Jr, two of my favourite high level black belt grapplers. This video demonstrates beautifully examples of great technique used with timing and momentum.

There is awesome technique to be seen here with Marcelo’s famous X guard and Rafael’s pressure passing system in play, some deep half guard and delariva guard from the guys too but in this instance try to look past the technique (leverage) and look at the timing and momentum created.

It is very obvious in this video with both players trying hard to create momentum but not give it. And then we they do create momentum their timing is spot on too. Some obvious example can be seen at the following intervals

00:15 Marcelo tries to make Rafael move (momentum attempt)

01:28- 2:56 Marcelo trying to create momentum for the x guard sweep but Rafael does not give much movement and maintains a solid base. At 2:53 Rafael moves his arm too far towards Marcelo and with perfect timing and use of momentum gets the sweep.

03:49 Marcelo tries to pass through the middle and Rafael catches his momentum and with great timing gets the sweep

There is plenty more examples in this 9:00 min long clip but I want you to find them for yourself. Remember, look past the technique and specifically focus on the timing and momentum these two high level black belts are using. It will make you a better grappler for sure and remember to ask your instructor about timing and momentum when he is explaining a technique if he already hasn’t.

Timing, leverage and momentum are three of the most important attributes to acquire in BJJ. They are what allows a smaller person how to defend themselves against a larger adversary.

Jordie martial arts

What is BJJ all about?

I have been training and teaching BJJ for a long time and I pretty much always get the same questions from people new to the art. Two of the most often asked is “what is the first think I should learn?” and “What is my goal?” (This second question is in terms of sparring with an opponent)

It is easy for people with experience to sometimes forget that we need to go right back to basic concepts when teaching others. One of the worst things an instructor can do is assume a knowledge base for someone and start teaching from a higher level than where the person actually is. The effect of this is that techniques taught to the student will be meaningless because there is no conceptual awareness of where these techniques should be applied.

These two questions indicate that the student requires guidance in understanding the conceptual framework of grappling before they begin to learn techniques and should be the first thing taught to beginner students. So in answer to the first question “what is the first think I should learn?” it’s obvious now that it is to gain an understanding of the conceptual framework of BJJ. Once this is accomplished the answer to the second question becomes much easier to understand.

To answer the second question; it is simply about taking away an opponent’s options for attack or defence until they have no options remaining and are defeated by a submission such as a choke or armbar. How to do this however is where technical training and experience come into play.

So remember, if you are new to BJJ or MMA don’t be afraid to ask your instructor questions about where to start or what you should be focussing on. It’s an important question and the base for your future learning.

Prey animal

Predator or Prey?

In the natural world, animals and insects grapple in a life and death manner all the time. When a lion tries to kill a zebra for example, it doesn’t try to knock it out, even though they can hit very hard. In fact, a fully grown lion has been known to kill a hyena with a single blow but this won’t work as effectively against something as strong or large as a zebra. It must grab hold to try and bring the animal down and control it.

If the zebra can keep its feet, it has a chance to fight back and escape. Once on the ground however that’s pretty much the end. Same with an eagle and a rabbit, the eagle doesn’t try and peck the rabbit to death from a distance; rather it grabs hold and then kills it. Same with a python and its prey, you get the picture! It’s all about control. If you can control something, or limit your opponents options then you can more or less do what you want with it.

This is the same for nearly all predator and prey relationships.

We instinctively know that if someone gets hold of you lose some control. When fighting, or undertaking any endeavor for that matter, we try at all times to keep our balance and not fall over, knowing that if we are taken down or fall we are in big trouble. So following this line of thought, should we then be training to be the lions (predators)? or if we are talking “self-defence” (prey) maybe we should be striking…Confused?

I believe the term “self-defence training” may create a prey orientated mindset. I have trained and been involved in boxing over many years and also spent a significant time training in traditional martial arts centers. My experience is that when new trainees are asked at the boxing gym why they want to learn to box, the answer is usually “I want to learn how to fight”(predator mindset) When the same question is put forward, at most traditional martial arts centres the answer is more often than not “I want to learn to defend myself”(prey mindset).

Picture this scenario. You are walking  down a dimly lit street late at night when you are approached by three men who surround you tell you in an aggressive manner. They have possibly trained in a boxing or kickboxing gym at some point. You know you have to get out of there so you front kick the guy in front of you, straight right hand to the guy on the left, back-fist guy on right guy as he moves in then run like the wind. 

Let’s change the scenario now. You are walking down the street and this time the three aggressive guys are grapplers…you are in bigger trouble now as you kick the first guy and the other two take you down. No running away now (remember the lions).

So what does all this mean and how do you put it into perspective?

You need to ask yourself some questions. Why do I want to learn a martial art? Will your martial art offer you the skills needed in realistic and often vary different environments? Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and similar grappling arts are ideally suited to a lot of people; Police and corrective service officers, mental health practitioners, and security officers would prefer to control and restrain not strike the people they are dealing with. Perhaps a common occurrence is a  need to restrain a drunk friend or family members at family gatherings if they get a little out of control.

If you're attacked then  kicking and punching may be  a good way to finish a fight quickly, you may need to keep your feet if the environment is too dangerous to be on the ground and will be able you to keep mobile and escape if necessary. Against multiple attackers the worst place you will want to be is on the ground.

Only you that can answer the questions of what you feel is the best option for you. Don’t get caught up in training your whole life for that one imagined scenario where you are caught in that back alley alone facing three or four armed assailants, rather, train for what situations happens most around you, and then you will be prepared for most of what happens !! My ideal goal is to become good at both stand up and ground fighting arts. You know; a zebra with sharp teeth and claws!

...​train for what situations happens most around you, and then you will be prepared for most of what happens !!

Quote of the day

This post is not intended as a “my art is better than yours,” or “striking is better than grappling,” but a hopefully thought invoking article on combat and self-defence in general.