Over the years I’ve collected and watched hundreds of hours of martial arts instructional videos. As much as I enjoy these videos, I’ve recently gotten out of the habit of collecting them. The problem is that I already have a backlog of years worth of techniques that I am still struggling to master. In addition, I’m still taking regular classes and adding new material that I need to study. I don’t need to spend money on videos which will just add to the backlog of half-remembered material.
The exception is when I can find video instruction which serves not so much to add new techniques to my catalog, but rather to help me better understand the material I have already learned. For the last couple of years I’ve been studying the Gracie University videos to polish up my jiu-jitsu fundamentals. Just recently my focus has shifted to the instructional videos of Ryan Hall, starting with his series on Arm Triangles.
Hall’s Arm Triangle series is a 3-DVD set, with a total running time of a little over 5 hours. Under the category of “arm triangles”, Hall includes Kata Gatame, the Brabo/Darce choke (with lapel, sleeve, and no-gi variations), the Anaconda choke, and an arm-in version of the Ezekial choke. What makes the series really worthwhile, from my perspective, is that it isn’t really just about these particular techniques. It’s about the principles of jiu-jitsu, with a focus on how they apply to this family of chokes.
Most instructional videos go like this: here’s a technique. Here’s another technique. Here’s another. If you are lucky, the instructor may point out some useful details or group the techniques into a practical sequence.
Hall’s approach is more like a concentrated graduate school seminar with an instructor who is determined to impart as much information about the concepts of a particular subject as possible within a limited time. He speaks rapidly, but clearly, with evocative language and an absolutely deadpan sense of humor. As he demonstrates particular concepts and strategies, he frequently references top competitors who are masters of them. He covers a bunch of details, but for each detail he explains why it is important and how it relates to the underlying principles that make everything work.
The first DVD begins by demonstrating the finishing positions for each choke and explaining the principles that make the chokes work. As he goes through each, it becomes apparent that they are all just variations on a theme. He emphasizes over and over that these techniques depend entirely on position and technique. If you are having to squeeze hard to finish the choke, you are doing it wrong. After going through the chokes themselves, he examines the control positions that you might reach the chokes from – side mount, knee mount, top of half-guard, top of turtle, front headlock, knee-across pass, leg drag. He still isn’t going into detail about how to actually reach the choke – just how to control the dominant position in such a way that will set up the submissions.
The second DVD is where Hall gets into the actual setups and entries for the chokes. He focuses on how to use positional pressure to encourage your opponent to move in the direction you desire, which will set up the technique you want to execute. He covers entries from a variety of positions, but emphasizes that these are just examples. By applying the principles he is demonstrating, you can find many more options.
The third DVD covers “troubleshooting” (actually some counters to counters), transitions between different positions, and some drills to burn in the movements he has been covering throughout the series.
I’ve been studying this set for a couple of months now. My success rate with Kata Gatame and the arm-in Ezekial choke has gone way up. I’ve started having occasional success with the Brabo/Darce, which I never did before. Even so, I feel that I only have a strong handle on about 10% of the material. I expect it will take at least a year of focused work before I really get all of it.
The set runs $124.99 for 3 DVDs. They are a bit expensive, but they are far and away some of the best video instruction I’ve seen. I would not recommend these videos for beginners. Much of the material could be useful for newer students, but his presentation is aimed at practitioners who already are very familiar with the fundamentals. I also would not recommend them for anyone with a short attention span. You have to sit through quite a bit of explanation and demonstration before you get to something you can drill. I would strongly recommend them for any serious grappler who is looking to gain a deeper understanding of the art.