Ask the Nail

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

I just started Jiu Jitsu at the ripe old age of 41 years. I have no frame
of reference for what’s good or normal when training. The class consists of
20-30 mins of drilling 3 or 4 techniques and then 30+ mins of rolling. The
instructors is awesome and the other students are very helpful but it seems
to me that more time drilling the 3 or 4 moves would better for someone
(especially us new guys) to learn good form and the basics of the
techniques. So my question is, should we be drilling more or is “trial by
fire” while rolling a better way to learn.


Hi Tim,
Generally what you describe here is pretty typical of BJJ classes. At my school they do it a
bit differently. They don’t allow people to roll until they get their second stripe. They just drill
positions or moves learned in class until then. I have heard people say they really loved this
because it gave them a chance to settle in and learn some technique before being thrown out
of the nest, while others chomp at the bit and can’t wait to roll live as soon as possible.

If your school rotates through the curriculum several times a year as mine does you will see
the techniques over and over again. This means it is ok if you don’t pick everything up the
first time. You are likely to see it again. Each time you see it you will pick up more details
you didn’t notice before. That is a good thing and it reflects how many people learn BJJ.
Most of the time it isn’t like flicking on a light bulb and suddenly you are enlightened and
just “get” everything. Usually it is more like slowly turning up a dimmer switch. One day you
realize, “Hey, I’ve gotten better.”

If you feel extremely uncomfortable rolling in your first few weeks maybe you could ask your
partner to just drill the moves you learned in class together. There is no reason you have to
be thrown into the fire in your first few weeks. However, BJJ is a crucible and rolling live is
absolutely necessary to get better. Part of BJJ is learning to be “The Nail” and while it may
not be fun to always be the nail you have to embrace being the nail to get better. You are
definitely going to get your butt handed to you a few times. Ok, several thousand times, but
each time you get will better. Until then be the best nail you can be.

The Nail

From: gma0210

Message: Can you guys cover the Gracie Connection? I understand the
instructor lineage but I’m curious as to how such a large family gets
along. How are there relationships? How has it effected jiu jitsu now and
then? I’m a white belt in bjj and I have read a lot of stuff about the
family. I’m interested your guys take. Not trying to start shit, just
very curious. Whats the take on Rorion, Ryron, and Rener. What about

Carson, Clark and Roger.

Hi gma02010,

This is an interesting question for sure. I am not part of the Gracie family and there are no
Gracies in my state, so I can’t really give an in depth, qualified answer to this. What I can say
though is that BJJ has evolved beyond just the Gracie family. This isn’t a bad thing, I think it is
what Helio and Carlos Gracie would have wanted. From time to time drama does come up in
the BJJ community and I can say that over the years none of it has really changed how I train.
I am on the mats day in and day out, being the nail every week regardless of what anyone
with or without the Gracie name has done. I feel that this thing that the Gracie family has
spread to us is bigger than just one family and belongs to everybody who is part of the “On
the Mat” family. What makes us family is our shared love of BJJ. Someone else, perhaps
someone more in touch with the Gracie family, may have a better answer. All I can say for
sure is, just keep getting on the mat and being the nail.

The Nail

From: Victor

Hi guys! First off I love the podcast! My question is about
grappling dummies. I am a purple belt and have been training for a little
over 6 years. Recently my wife surprised me by telling me that she signed
me up to be my sons Tball coach! Exciting i know! Luckily I help teach the
kids class at my academy and have ideas on keeping their attention.
Anyway… I have the dallas open ibjjf coming up soon and alot of my time
will be with the tball team. I have a grappling dummy at home and plan on
drilling as much as possible with it but thinking realistically should i
back out of the tournament? I am having trouble finding ways to drill much
besides the very basics. I know that basics win matches but i dont feel im
getting enough out of it. I do still get rolling time in 4 days a week. Its
my drilling time that is suffering. Do you think a grappling dummy is a
useful tool for anyone above blue belt? Thanks for your time and i hope all
is well!!!

Hi Victor,
I don’t know much about grappling dummies. I have never used one and I don’t personally know anybody who has. The important thing isn’t whether I think it is useful but whether you think it is useful. I have found that at purple belt all my best training has been self-directed. What I mean is that I feel like I am mostly on my own, I still go to classes and open mats like I always have, but I don’t really have people teaching me new stuff every day. That means I work on what I want to and I only go to coaches or upper belts if I have a specific question or I want to ask my professor what area I should focus on next. If grappling dummies fit into your personal self-directed training then go for it, couldn’t hurt.

It seems to me though that the main problem here isn’t to use grappling dummies or not, but whether you have enough training time to prepare for the competition. I have a family too and I always struggle balancing that and training time. What I like to do is sit down and come up with a training schedule. I write down my available training days and mix in some time for cardio. Will I be prepared enough on this schedule without driving my wife crazy? If yes then I compete, if not then I don’t. For me training for a tournament is half the fun because that is where I tend to make huge jumps and improvements. That said, I never have had a perfectly optimal training experience. I have always had to sacrifice some extra preparation for other things. If I waited for everything to be perfect before competing I would never get a chance to compete.

Should you back out of the tournament? If you already signed up and will be able to make it work out then I don’t think you should. If a training dummy fits into your self-directed training plan by allowing you to sneak in extra time to prepare then go for it. It definitely won’t hurt.

I like to look at tournaments as a chance to expose my weaknesses or the holes in my game. With that mindset the worst thing that could possibly happen is for me to win all my matches. Anyhow, if you decide to compete, let us know how it goes.

Good Luck,
The Nail

From: adam

Im one week into learning BJJ and I’ve been getting my butt kicked
obviously. What should I be focusing on when first starting out?

I don’t envy the sore muscles and strange chest bruises you’re about to get, but I do envy the stick-to-it, just-love-being-on-the-mat attitude that new guys bring. That is what you should be focusing on right now. Just enjoying the journey and knowing that pretty soon you will look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

Technique wise you just need to focus on surviving for now. Set small goals for yourself. Get on top of somebody or put a blue belt in your guard. Celebrate the little victories and shrug off the times when you tap. That is what being the Nail is all about. Don’t try to be a mat monster just try to be the best nail. I think that experience and mat time are the best teachers so I normally don’t recommend books or videos, but Jiu-Jitsu University’s white and blue belt chapters are fantastic resources. They go through some simple, basic survival techniques and escapes that I use every single day.

Have fun,
The Nail

From: Ilovestandup

Sorry if this is a dumb question to you, but I train Muay Thai and my
daughter trains Jiu-Jitsu so I don’t know much about Jiu-Jitsu. So my
question is my daughter is left handed does that matter in Jiu-Jitsu or
does lefties train the same as a right handed person? By the way I love the
podcast even the rambling! You guys are great to listen too.

Hi Ilovestandup,
In general, I don’t think being right or left handed makes a difference in BJJ. As time goes on it seems like most people develop a preference for doing certain moves on one side and different moves on the other side. Usually this happens after people have been training for a few years though. So my answer is no I don’t think it matters. At least not in the same way as something like basketball where a left handed person may throw defenders off by shooting lefty or driving to the left instead of the right. That happens in BJJ a little bit when someone always passes to the opposite side or armbars the left arm instead of the right and that can be a strategic move for high level competitors who want to surprise opponents. But, as far as will your daughter have trouble integrating into the class because she is left handed, I don’t think so. When I used to assistant coach kids BJJ classes we generally taught moves only on one side to keep the kids from becoming confused. Then in the advanced kids classes they developed their own preferences for which side to do things on. For me personally I am right handed but I wrestle and box southpaw and that works really well for me. When I was first starting out things would sometimes get confusing because the coaches wanted us to do everything on one side and my instinct was to do it southpaw. Now I have it simplified pretty well though. For example I like to do hip throws and single legs on the right side and guillotines and duck unders on the left side. In the guard I like to attack both arms equally depending on what they give me. In my opinion it doesn’t really matter as long as it works for you, or in this case, works for your daughter.
She will figure out what she likes to do all it takes is time on the mat.

The Nail

P.S. If there are any left handed BJJ people out there who have thoughts on how left handedness has affected your training please write in and tell us about it. We will publish any letters in a future Ask the Nail column.

One Response to “Ask the Nail”

  1. Rafael Bello says:

    What is your take on belt promotions? Should you pay for each belt test? Should there be a list of set moves you should know to move from one belt to another? If there is a list, does is become to much like kata? Should there be an emphasis on how a student rolls or competes that factors in to the belt promotion and how much should effect the promotion? If I’m good at rolling but do not compete should another student be promoted ahead of me? I know a lot of this is school and instructor dependent but I just want to get a feel for what other people do.

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