Before I get into some of the surprises hidden within the book, you should be familiar with the process I used to write the book. Typically, for Victory Belt books, the author, photographer, and publisher fly out to a fighter's gym and spend two or three days taking sequential photos of techniques. When the photographer and publisher leave, the author often stays at the gym to conduct more research (or comes back at a later date). Every author handles the process a little bit differently, but that's the general summary.
In the case of Marcelo's book, the photo shoot and information gathering took place long before I was invited to join the project. At the time, Erich Krauss and Glen Cordoza were managing the project, but the sheer volume of work coming through Victory Belt was overwhelming (Erich and Glen are workhorses and are always working on at least two books at a time, if not more). I picked up where they left and worked from photos, videos, and interviews to complete the book. If I had a question on a detail or a nuance, I would email Marcelo or Glen for clarification and set up a time where we could discuss the technique over the phone.
While I worked on the book, I wrote for 8 hours a day and trained every night. Each day, I would take the techniques I was writing about and test them in the gym, both for my enjoyment and to gauge my understanding of a move. This turned out to be the best way to write the book because I was essentially the reader and the writer simultaneously. I was teaching myself the material, just as my readers would be, and if something was not working right I immediately reviewed the notes and phoned Marcelo or Glen. I repeated this process until the instruction in the book was perfect (and then Marcelo and Glen went back over it again, just to be sure).
With that process in mind, here are the five major lessons that I learned from Marcelo and his book.
1. Pulling guard does not have to mean pulling guard.
Marcelo's guard hinges upon relatively unorthodox principles. Typically, when a grappler talks about pulling guard, the implication is that that fighter wants to be on his back playing closed guard or some form of open guard. When Marcelo pulls guard, he deliberately avoids closed guard and most open guards. He does his best to keep his back off of the mat and instead works from a butt scoot position. To Marcelo, a guard pull should be viewed as an extended shot. If he cannot out-wrestle his opponent standing, he transitions to a butt scoot position, but maintains the mindset of taking his opponent down or taking his back. He looks to execute an arm drag or get inside and underneath of an opponent to weaken his base and take the top position. The principle of a traditional takedown is there, he is just applying it from the butt scoot position.
2. The arm drag is all about footwork.
I had experimented with arm drags before writing Marcelo's book but did not find them to be incredibly effective or consistent. When I saw Marcelo teach the arm drag and dissected photo after sequential photo, I saw what I was missing: footwork. Calling an arm drag an "arm drag" is misleading. If you focus on dragging your opponent, ripping him from position to position, you will likely fail more than you will succeed. Instead, an arm drag is better described as an "arm shift." You shift your opponent's arm slightly across his body and move forward, connecting your shoulder to his shoulder. You go to him. If you are standing, this means stepping into your opponent. If you are butt scooting, this means flaring your feet out, facing the bottoms of your feet to your opponent and digging the outside of your feet into the mat so that you can use your opponent's resistance to assume a squatting position, where your shoulder is again connected to his shoulder (this will make more sense when you see the pictures with the captions). If your footwork is incorrect, especially when you are butt scooting, your success rate will be abysmal.
3. The single leg is the most important takedown in jiu-jitsu.
As a slight disclaimer, Marcelo never actually says the above, but it is evident in his game. Opportunities to execute single legs abound from all positions: from standing, from the butt scoot, from arm drags, from guard, and from guard pass counters. Marcelo uses the single leg constantly, and it ties in perfectly with his arm drag system, creating a hyper-aggressive path to the back or to the top. To be honest, I thought I would never learn to wrestle, but transplanting Marcelo's system into my own style opened my game to new possibilities. Suddenly, I was confident enough to stand with wrestlers, and I was hunting arm drags and single legs from a variety of positions. If you have not begun to work on your single leg, you will after reading this book.
4. The seatbelt is the key to back control, not the hooks.
Traditionally, having both hooks in is the definition of back control. For Marcelo, this is not the case. If Marcelo can secure the seatbelt (one arm over the shoulder and one arm under the armpit), he can attack from and maintain the back regardless of whether or not he has both hooks set. That is not to say that the hooks aren't useful; they certainly are, but even on that front Marcelo is a bit unorthodox. Marcelo prefers to attack from the back with one hook in (the bottom hook) while using the free hook to attack or to maintain his position. Marcelo's back control strategy and tactics seem complex in action but are actually very simple and intuitive once you understand the principles. When I taught the system to one of my fighters, his back control game changed over night. Before, I could escape with ease. Now (much to my frustration), if he locks the seatbelt, I am in serious trouble.
5. Beware of arm-in chokes.
The D'arce choke or brabo choke has received a lot of attention the last few years, and other arm-in chokes like triangles and arm triangles have long been staples of jiu-jitsu. Marcelo, unlike many grapplers, does not believe arm-in chokes to be efficient, so he intentionally avoids all forms of them (including the arm-in guillotine). Marcelo understands that this opinion is somewhat controversial, and explains that this is just the way his style has evolved to cope with large, strong, and technical opponents. Marcelo wants 100% of his force exerted on his opponent's neck when attempting a submission. He does not want to fight the strength of a limb to get to the neck. Has this stopped me from attempting triangle chokes? No, but it has given me a new perspective. I now look for direct chokes first and am wary of wasting too much energy attempting to finish an arm-in choke, especially against a larger opponent.
For more on Marcelo's views on arm-in chokes, check out this video that Glen recorded:
To purchase Marcelo's new book: Advanced Brazilian Jiujitsu Techniques