The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle. Proverb, unknown author.
In addition to being a five-time world Jiu Jitsu champion at black belt, Rafael Mendes is also the reigning two-time ADCC submission wresting champion. Not only that, but the entire Atos team, including brother Guilherme and ADCC middle and absolute champion Andre Galvao, are winning every tournament in sight, both with and without the gi. Clearly, they are doing something right to achieve such results.
Thankfully, William Burkhardt at BJJPix.com has just released a highlight video of Rafael Mendes training regiment for ADCC 2011. The footage shines a light on how Rafa and team Atos have achieved such dominance in competition. The video is filmed at Atoss Rio Claro academy, with Ramon Lemos presiding over his star pupils training. The Rio Claro academy is actually a beautiful place; the exposed brick and natural light make the small gym as aesthetically interesting as the techniques performed therein.
The video starts with a brief look at the physical training that Rafael had to endure to get ready for the worlds most important tournament without the gi. The training that is shown focuses heavily on plyometric and explosive exercises with an emphasis on muscular endurance. The footage includes plyo-pushups, high-repetition bench press and push press, box jumps and an interesting sprawl-and-turn drill with a band belt. Previously released footage of the Mendes brothers physical preparation for ADCC 2011 also demonstrates Atos’ use of high-rep, explosive conditioning, which the team seems to favour over lower-repetition strength training. They tend not to show any heavy squats or deadlifts, although just because they don’t show it doesn’t mean they’re not doing it.
The primary value of the highlight is, however, the glimpse that it gives to the technical drilling performed by the Mendes brothers. Most drills are orchestrated to include not only a single technique, but a transition based on the most likely reaction of a well-trained opponent. This is one of Atos’ secrets to success. Below, several of these drills are discussed.
Rafael Mendes Preparation for ADCC
Rafael Mendes is one of the few high-level competitors finding success with the anaconda choke. Generally agreed to be invented by Milton Vieira of BTT, the anaconda is a form of kata gatame, or arm-triangle choke. Rafa’s most notable applications of the anaconda came at ADCC 2009, where he used them to counter Cobrinha’s arm-drag single leg takedowns, counter Leo Vieira’s half-guard and submit Justin Rader. The version shown in the animation above is from a loose half guard. From half-guard against Vieira, Mendes brought his hips high, allowing him to get control of Vieira’s head and use the overhook to counter Vieira’s ability to push on his hip. Rafa continued his momentum once he achieved the front headlock, rolling inverted to bypass Vieira’s guard. He wasn’t able to finish but demonstrated how he had been practicing this technique to counter the guard.
A similar technique performed from this position is the rolling guillotine choke. The front headlock give Rafa greater control over his opponent, limiting his options. With the inverted guillotine your opponent can roll either way to defend before youre able to bring your body back over theirs. The front headlock control shown here limits your opponents ability to turn away from the choke. Rader’s coach Rafael Lovato Jr. taught our team this technique after the Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu fighters dissected how Justin lost to Rafa in 2009. Unfortunately, Rafa had something new developed to use against Rader in 2011.
In this drill, Rafael Mendes shows a transition that he unveiled at ADCC against Justin Rader, who has multiple appearances in the Mendes brothers highlight videos. In this drill, Rafa starts in half guard and grips his opponents triceps to his chest. This allows him to pull his leg over his opponents head, then pushing it through to the far hip to set up an armlock. An important detail is to use the leg to push the head down and away, creating space to push the leg through under the arm. This is why Rafa pauses with the leg over the head before continuing.
This technique can be used to transition to an armbar, an omoplata, a Kimura, tornado guard, or even to the back, as Rafa demonstrated against Rader in 2011. In that match, Rafa used an omoplata set up from inverted guard to set up the armlock using this transition. As Rader went belly down to try to block the armlock Rafa effortlessly swung around to the back.
A staple of the Mendes brothers passing game is the transition to a second pass from the legdrag. The brothers train to use the first leg drag as a means to invoke a reaction from their opponent, often forcing the opponent to pummel their leg over to create space. This drill practices chaining these techniques together into one fluid motion. The goal of this drill seems not focused on minute details, but the fluidity of the transition between techniques.
The Peruvian necktie is closely associated with Jiu Jitsu black belt and former UFC fighter Tony DeSouza. The Peruvian national is credited as developing this modified guillotine choke from the front headlock by using his leg to apply downward pressure on the neck. Ive personally never seen Rafa attempt this technique, although I have a vague memory of seeing Guilherme do it once. If anyone has any footage of either brother performing this technique please post it in the comments. Its interesting to see Rafa working on the necktie, since he was clearly working on front headlock techniques as a strategy going into ADCC 2009 and 2011. To see a very nice Peruvian necktie in action, though, check out Lucio “Lagarto” Rodrigues rolling with Braulio Estima.
Rolling Guard Pass
I use quotation marks when describing this technique as a guard pass because Im not 100% sure of whats going on here. It appears that Rafa is rolling as a way to use his leading leg during the guard pass as a hook to push Eduardo Ramos’ legs away, setting up a guard pass or a back take. To do this Rafa reaches down for Eduardo’s hip as he somersaults his head between his legs, rolling through to clear his opponents legs. Its an interesting technique and one I hope we see more of, if nothing more than to finally understand what is actually happening in the above animation.
The instructor of the Mendes brothers, Ramon Lemos, is a mystery to many. Lemos has been associated with a number of Jiu Jitsu teams including Nova Uniao, Brasa and TT, and now is the head of Atos along with Andre Galvao. His two star pupils followed him through the multiple team changes, and are now the two most successful featherweight currently competing. Having an instructor that can guide you and occasionally lay a beating on you is imperative for the development of any Jiu Jitsu competitor, even world champions.
The Mendes brothers were known primarily for their guards as they came up through the belt ranks, although Rafa demonstrated that he has been working on his wrestling when he managed to counter everything his opponents through at his at ADCC 2009. Although again playing a more guard-centered strategy at ADCC 2011, Rafa has clearly been training takedowns and is willing to train in areas where he is at a disadvantage, as the above animation demonstrates.
Reverse de la Riva
The inverted position from the reverse de la Riva guard is one that has been discussed often at The Jiu Jitsu Lab. Its one of Rafael Mendes signature techniques, albeit one now used by many competitors. The reverse de la Riva seems to be the Mendes brothers preferred de la Riva variation without the gi. It gives the user a great deal of control over a standing opponent that doesnt rely on gi grips like the conventional de la Riva. The variation above is the standard route to the back take, which was demonstrated by Rafa on his Japanese DVD, shown here. The Jiu Jitsu Lab also released our breakdown of the inverted reverse de la Riva, found here.
One of the details that caught my eye is how Mendes uses his trailing leg as a hook to better control his opponents lead leg before pulling his knee through to consolidate the position. Unlike how I sometimes practice it, Rafa also circles his outside leg between his opponents legs, making sure to maximize his control.
The second variation of the reverse de la Riva shown in the video has Rafa attacking the opposite leg, setting up a form of reverse X-guard. In this technique Rafas opponent is attempting to hide his far leg, forcing Rafa to circle under the lead leg first. This is also useful when your opponent is in combat base. Once under the leg, Mendes pushes with his hooks, elevating his opponent with an overhook on the far leg. Its similar to how Cobrinha turns the inverted reverse DLR into a single leg, except Cobrinha tends to elevate the near leg instead. Its an interesting variation that I havent seen very much. When watching the full video make sure to keep an eye out for the guy in the white gi pants, shown above. The look on his face as Rafa is armbaring and choking him repeatedly made it clear he wasnt having a very good day.
The Mendes brothers have used the reverse de la Riva a great deal in competition. The main strategy Rafa used in 2011 in his opening match against teammate Bruno Frazzato was to use the reverse DLR to tie up Frazzatos legs, eventually coming up for the sweep (shown above). Two other competitors known for their use of the inverted reverse DLR are Cobrinha and Caio Terra. In the first animation below, long-time Mendes-rival Cobrinha performs a standard reverse DLR sweep on Justin Rader, while in the second Caio hits an unusual variation in the no-gi Worlds. Caios version has him turning outwards instead of into his opponent, nonetheless resulting in an inverted reverse DLR position. Ive tried this variation a few times and find that its much more intuitive than it appears.
After dissecting how the Mendes brothers train we can draw several conclusions that can catalyze our own training. If there is anything I missed or techniques and lessons you got from this video, make sure to let us know in the comments. I plan on asking the brothers about some of these ideas when I attend their seminar in Phoenix, Arizona in a few weeks. From what others have reported they will be going over many of the techniques shown here in great detail. The non-technical elements that we can learn from the Mendes brothers in this video are very important too. There are several keys to the brothers success that we can keep in mind to maximize our own Jiu Jitsu training.
Repitition: Too often Jiu Jitsu students will drill a technique a handful of times before either stopping to chat or trying something different. Rafa shows that only through dedicated, mindful drilling will your techniques become autonomic. They also train at the speed that they’ll be using the techniques in competition. Its important to drill slowly at first to get all the details, but the old adage is true: you fight how you train. And the Mendes brothers are clearly training to fight with intensity.
Transitions: As shown in the legdrag animation, its important not only to drill individual techniques, but the transitions between them. Having an automatic reaction to your opponents counters is the difference between good and great Jiu Jitsu. Too often we drill a sweep or a pass in isolation, creating small pauses in between our techniques of which our opponents can take advantage. By drilling transitions and counters as part of a technique we can smoothly flow through our positions while our opponents are expecting to rest.
Great Partners: A great training partner is someone who will not only push you in sparing, but who will allow themselves to be used as a dummy for your endless drilling and experimentation. Rafa and Gui Mendes are lucky to have each other to train with, but for those of you without a brother in the sport, make your teammates your brothers-in-arms through hard training together, and by occasionally letting yourself be the victim of hard drilling and crazy Jiu Jitsu experiments.
Great Coaching: This video shows how the Mendes brothers largely direct their own training, but with the input and steady hand of an experienced instructor to focus the athletes and provide details that make the difference when things arent working properly. You dont have to take on the exact style of your coach, but they should be providing you with a solid base upon which you develop your own game.
Unorthodox Positions: The reverse de la Riva isnt unusual anymore, but it is one of several techniques that the Mendes brothers developed to take advantage of their opponents unfamiliarity. Basic Jiu Jitsu often wins competitions, but practicing unorthodox positions until they are smooth and automatic is one method of out thinking your opponent. A lot of what the Mendes brothers do in competition and in this training video seem like scrambles until you observe how many times that movement is actually practiced. The Mendes brothers appear to drill multiple outcomes of their techniques making what is unorthodox for their opponent completely familiar to themselves.