Jiu-Jitsu Advice

Ask the Nail

“The secret of this sport is, while you’re the nail, hang in there, let them hit you, until the day you become the hammer, then you smash them back!”

-Renzo Gracie

This week we have two questions. The first is about getting motivated to start training and the second is about Sambo. Whether you are doing BJJ or Sambo or any other type of fight training it is important to have realistic expectations. Recently I was rolling with a white belt who impressed me when he passed my guard. I was amazed at how quickly he was improving. I later overheard him tell one of the instructors how depressed he was that he didn’t submit me and that he got submitted. I thought this was really strange that he would be so upset since I was shocked that he had been able to pass my guard so well. His expectations were clearly too high.

When I was a white belt I remember this guy who brutally smoked me every time we rolled. He was bigger, more athletic, much more experienced and always trained hard. My first goal was to just get him into my closed guard one time during a roll. Then it was to survive a roll without getting submitted. My goals advanced until one day out of the blue I submitted him twice. I feel that is what it means to embrace being the Nail. If your goal is to be the hammer you will eventually fail. If your goal is to be the best Nail there is, you will always succeed and motivation won’t be a problem.
On with the questions:

I love jiu jitsu. I’m not training right now. My lack of dedication
and motivation [made me] quit.

How can i motivate myself in order to not quit?

I’m planning to start all over again.


Hi Rene,
The first thing I will say is that some people just aren’t into BJJ. However, you say that you love BJJ so maybe you just have had trouble getting into it.
You don’t really give too many details about your reasons for quitting so I can only guess. Some people live too far away from their school and it can be hard to get motivated to make the drive all the time. If that is the case you could try to train closer to where you live. Some find renewed motivation when BJJ is just 5 minutes away instead of 45 minutes away.

Some people also have trouble with their ego, they think that when they start BJJ they should be beating everybody, but just like with any sport they need to understand that there is a learning curve and the BJJ learning curve is higher than most other sports. You wouldn’t expect to be swishing threes on your first day of basketball. If that is the case you just need to stick with it and learn to embrace failure. Failure is a good thing it means you have identified an area you can improve.

You can also focus on small victories. Maybe you got submitted, but you managed to escape three submissions this time instead of just one, or maybe you managed to get your opponent in your guard twice in a roll. Those are both great beginner goals that are attainable unlike say, submitting a tough blue on your first day. As you do this you will see small progressions and they will add up quickly over time. Before you know it you will be submitting blues and getting your own blue belt.

Finally, I just want to say that this column is called Ask the Nail for a reason. That reason is that everybody who writes answers has been the Nail hundreds and thousands of times. The only way to get better is to embrace being the nail and let the experience mold you into a tough BJJ player. Nobody makes it in BJJ without going through the mental and physical crucible that is BJJ. When you come out the other side you will be glad you did.

Keep training and let us know how it goes.
The Nail

What is the differences between sambo and bjj? All things equal,
Can they compete on the same level?


Hi Bob,
My personal experience with Sambo is very limited. I have always heard people say that Sambo is all about the leglocks. I once rolled with a blue belt who claimed a Sambo background. After we rolled he claimed that because of his Sambo background he could have heel hooked me at anytime, because BJJ practitioners don’t train leg locks. To prove him wrong I challenged him to a leg locks only match, but he said he had to leave.

I also have a teammate who fought a Sambo guy in a local BJJ tournament in the blue belt division. My teammate beat him twice by submission, the second submission was a calf cutter/toe hold combo. I know that neither of these stories is very representative of high level Sambo though. After watching some highlight videos I would say that Sambo focuses more on high amplitude throws and leg locks. Of course if one only watched highlight videos of BJJ one might think that BJJ is all about flying armbars and tornado guard.

After reading the tournament rules it seems that Sambo is actually more similar to Judo than it is to BJJ. There are three styles of Sambo that are practiced: Sport Sambo, Combat Sambo, and Freestyle Sambo. Sport Sambo is the most restrictive disallowing many different chokes and joint locks. Combat Sambo is the least restrictive, even allowing punches. Freestyle Sambo is a mix of both Sport and Combat Sambo. It is less restrictive than Sport Sambo allowing more types of submissions but does not allow punches. Freestyle was formed by the American Sambo Association in an attempt to attract competitors from Judo and BJJ to enter Sambo tournaments. According to the ASA website the only points allowed are from take downs or a twenty second pin. After a takedown competitors are only allowed 60 seconds to work for a submission after which the referee stands them back up. These rules  make Sambo much closer to Judo than BJJ which does not restrict time on the ground to work submissions.

Your question about all things being equal can they compete on the same level is difficult. There have been some MMA fights featuring BJJ and Sambo competitors with mixed results. The Abu Dhabi Combat Club grappling tournament attempts to provide a neutral proving ground for different grappling styles. A quick search shows that representatives of Sambo have competed at ADCC before, however none have won a gold medal to date. BJJ practitioners have won the lions share of gold medals. I have heard some blackbelts say that the reason for this is that Sambo does not emphasize position before submission as much as BJJ does. They say that Sambo practitioners often, for example, attempt leglocks instead of passing the guard or give up top position while trying to finish leg locks. To venture a guess I would say that this is probably a result of the limited time allowed on the ground in Sambo tournaments and the Sambo rules not rewarding different positions like mount or back as in BJJ.  Some claim  ADCC champion Dean Lister as a Sambo guy. However, it would seem that he has only cross-trained in Sambo and as a BJJ blackbelt and amateur wrestler I would say he is more representative of those styles than Sambo.

As a BJJ guy I am biased, I would prefer to train jiu-jitsu, but if for some reason there were no BJJ available in my area I would be willing to train Sambo to get my grappling fix. I enjoy training takedowns and leg locks more than most jiu-jitsu guys so that emphasis in Sambo would not bother me at all. Of course takedowns and leg locks can lead to injuries, so that is something to be aware of.

To summarize, I would say that Sambo is a mix of Judo and wrestling and is probably pretty close to catch wrestling. While Sambo does allow submissions, I think that the limited ground time that is allowed has a negative effect on Sambo’s ability to compete on the same level as BJJ. I think that a Sambo practitioner’s effectiveness against BJJ competitors is going to directly relate to how much time they spend training on the ground.

The Nail

2 Responses to “Jiu-Jitsu Advice”

  1. Tim says:

    Agreed. Andre is a great fighter and a great person. The sport needs more guys and girls like Andre.

  2. Viviane Sa says:

    Andre is our brazilian pride! Great guy, awesome fighter…

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