No Gi Reflections #8 | Structuring your training feat. John Danaher

“So often I see people engage in training with no plan as to what they are trying to accomplish.” TRUE THAT MR. JOHN DANAHER!

I see it all the time, too, in pretty much every physical endeavour I undertake. The most common arena I see it is within the gym world, an area that you could argue places the most emphasis on following a programme to get results and yet nobody seems to do it! Blows my mind. And even those that do log their progress, only around 20% of them actually have an idea as to where they are heading and what they are working towards!

Structured training: So often I see people engage in training with no plan as to what they are trying to accomplish. This will always limit your ability to improve over time – the whole reason why we engage in practice. It is critical that someone in the room have a clear idea as to what we are trying to improve and how we are going to do it. In a beginners class or a general class, it is enough for the coach to know what the plan is and run the class accordingly. At elite levels however, I like to make the athletes part of the discussion as to what we are trying to achieve – they have the knowledge and insight to add to the discussion and we can make adjustments based on their input. Here Garry Tonon, Gordon Ryan and myself outline want we want to go over at a local gym in Poole England just prior to Polaris 4 – once the plan is set, words get replaced by action and the room heats up accordingly.

A photo posted by John Danaher (@danaherjohn) on

I’m trying not to make the same mistake in my grappling practice. I have a pretty good grasp on programming for my own strength and conditioning, compared to where I was 3 years ago. I now know more than ever, though really in the scheme of things, I know nothing and I will be constantly learning, probably until the day I croak. I just get a little better at not repeating the same mistakes and sticking to the methods that work. Refinement, you might say.
So now it is a question of applying what I know from the S&C domain, mixed with the information and results I have gathered from the art of learning, to the world of grappling.

What systems am I going to use to improve my skills and structure my training? What can I do and what facilities do I have at my disposal to get to where I want to be?

Where do I want to be, is the first question. I want to be at the grappling equivalent of a new purple belt by Christmas 2017. I say equivalent because No Gi grappling doesn’t really have a grading system unless you follow the 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu system created by Eddie Bravo. With no definitive aim in terms of syllabus compared to the grading systems used in BJJ, using markers such as ‘I want to be able to submit BJJ purple belts in the No Gi arena’ is as good as you can get.

Another way to answer the ‘Where do I want to be?’ is to list everything I suck at in terms of techniques and positioning, and spend the next 12 months getting so good at them that they become my strengths.

I suck at many things and due to my comparitively low level in grappling to what’s achievable, there’s areas I don’t even know exist, let alone how good I am at them.
To list a few, though; Passing guard (various forms), defending from Spider’s Web, chaining submissions together, escaping bottom side control and half-guard positions, half guard in general, etc.

Week to Week

Now the direction and time frame has been established, how does it break down in to weekly structured training? Quite simply;

Monday – Strength and Conditioning

Tuesday – Session 1 – Recovery and Mobility
Session 2 – Handbalancing + No Gi Class (Techniques and Sparring)

Wednesday – Gymnastics

Thursday – Session 1 – Recovery and Mobility
Session 2 – No Gi Class (Techniques and Sparring)

Friday – Strength and Conditioning + Position Specific Light Sparring / Drills

Saturday – Handbalancing + Position Specific Light Sparring / Drills or Rest

Sunday – Position Specific Light Sparring / Drills or Rest


“In a beginners or a general class, it is enough for the coach to know what the plan is and run the class accordingly,” states John Danaher. That’s providing your class has a coach and not a host, I wrote about the difference in episode #7. At the moment I get technique of the week in the classes I attend and 40 minutes or so of sparring time, coaching I’m looking to source via one-to-one sessions with Dan Strauss, either once a month or bi-monthly.

It’s not really building a syllabus when you have technique of the week but more building an arsenal of options. That’s fine, but there is a difference.

Instead, I’m creating my own syllabus. How? Quite simply by starting with the 12-14 basic positions and listing a minimum of my two go-to techniques to use in those positions.
This is a basic way to build the foundations of your game. The techniques are chosen based on what works for my body type (submissions and escapes) based on percentage of success rate, and what I genuinely enjoy applying (submissions). Of course, you don’t know who your opponent is in sparring until you face them. The art of adapting your game to the opponent in front of you is an on-site skill I am still learning how to execute. In the meantime, having your own gameplan is useful and starts the foundation building process. I got this idea from Dave Camarillo.

Starting from the knees
Attacks 1. Half Clinch/Underhook and elbow steer into Kesa Gatame  2. Snap Down to Turtle 3. Pull Butterfly Guard
Defence 1. Half clinch and turn off to create distance  2. Place one foot up and position it centrally to your opponent if they butterfly or laterally if they stay normal.

In guard
Attacks – 1. Overhook and Head control > Reverse Armbar or Triangle  2. Lever arm drag to Armbar or back take
Defence 1. Earthquake Guard Break to Pressure stack pass  2. Stand to Knee through the middle guard pass to knee cut to side control

Half guard
Attacks – Top – 1. Americana 2. Knee cut pass to mount with far side underhook
Defence – Bottom – 1. Underhook and Grapevine sweep 2. Pull full guard

Side Control
Attacks 1. Stockade Neck Crank > Armbar (or Reverse Triangle?) 2. Americana on far side arm
Defence 1. Shrimp and pull full guard 2. Double underhooks > Bridge and buck out the back door

Attacks 1. Triangle 2. Gift wrap to arm bar or arm triangle
Defence 1. Overhook sweep to guard 2. Hip bump to shrimp / leg lock

Attack !?
Defence 1. Granby Roll 2. Neck throw over shoulders

Back mount
Attacks 1. Rear Naked Choke 2. Arm Triangle 3. Reverse Triangle 4. Arm Bar
Defence 1. Bridge and drive head back, turn in to guard. 2. Escape side door with head, back and hips on the mat

The above is still in its infancy, for sure. If anything, it’s going to be constantly updated as my game and understanding evolves, but it’s a start.

Here’s something I found recently which is a flow chart of an actual syllabus, the 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu Rubber Guard system, no less. Very cool and far more detailed than my above effort.

The Rubber Guard Flow Chart

Drilling approach

Option 1 – Drilling when you’re tired

I like this idea. I think I first heard it from Marcelo Garcia. It’s a simple principle; if you can perform a technique when exhausted, it carries over to sparring and competition when you will be required to do the same.

Option 2 – Drilling when you’re fresh

I also like and probably prefer this idea, especially if the technique in question is new. In either option, setting a time for 5-10 minutes and practicing the technique with a partner is the approach I’m taking. There doesn’t seem to be a shortcut when it comes to drilling, at least if there is, I haven’t found it yet.

Logging Sessions

And no, I don’t mean taking a 20 minute dump. After each class, I write down the techniques learnt as to jog my memory, submissions that I gave away or got caught with, and submissions I earned and a rough idea as to how they came around (from what position etc). I’m seeing patterns emerge already and I’ve only been monitoring for 6 weeks or so. ‘What you track, you can manage,’ comes to mind, so I’m going to continue doing this process.

So there you have it. If you have any useful advice on how to structure your grappling training then I’d love to hear from you. I’m looking to apply the 80/20 principle to my framework, doing classes when they’re on and training my weaknesses in between, and paying for private coaching when possible.

It’s one big experiment but fascinating all the same!


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Harry Cloudfoot is a writer and explorer of movement and mind. You can check his social media if you want but you'd be better off going and doing something, instead.
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