3 Feb 2013
Legendary competitor and 3rd degree black belt under Ricardo de la Riva, Helvécio Penna visited London and taught a three hour seminar at Mill Hill BJJ (the place where I train). Helvécio taught us a very nice series of techniques based around, as he describes, little things, that he has picked up through his experience. And boy what experience!
[usual disclaimer - I'm crummy at remembering and describing techniques so follow these at your own peril]
Helvécio told us that before BJJ he was at first a judo guy, but took up BJJ in order to learn more ne waza. His old judo instructor used to be friends with Helio Gracie and Helio would often pop in to his old judo academy with his son Rickson to exchange ideas and techniques on groundfighting. As you can imagine, my training buddies and I were rapt with attention - we love old skool jiu jitsu stories!
It was natural then for Helvécio to kick off our seminar with a judo style warm-up. He ran through various leg and foot movements related to judo trips, sweeps and throws, but all done solo. We kind of looked like rookie ballroom dancers but it was all good fun.
Size matters not
The thing I liked about the techniques that Helvécio showed was that they were utterly unreliant on strength or physique. I mean I know that BJJ is all about the technique, what I am trying to say is, for a big fella (Helvécio fights heavyweight - over 90kilos) he sure knows some cool small guy jiu jitsu stuff. I guess having Mestre Ricardo de la Riva as your instructor means that your guard is gonna rock.
Helvécio kicked off the techniques portion of the class with a sweep from the spider guard where you loop one of your legs over and under the opponents arm (you are gripping him at the sleeve cuffs). Your other foot is on his hip. We call this the hooks guard, but others may refer to it as a variation of the spider guard. Normally we just play off this position, but Helvécio told us to push our hooking leg all the way through to what we ourselves dubbed the deep hooks guard. We then had to bring the opponent onto and over our own bodies before sweeping him over with a little hip and knee movement.
The next technique sort of followed on from this open guard position. In this scenario, the opponent has one hand underneath your leg, threatening to apply pressure or pass your spider guard. Helvécio showed us one of his favourite little moves that, unsurprisingly given his history, reminded me a lot of a judo throw, but performed on the ground (if that makes any sense!) It involved cleverly trapping your opponents arm and maneuvering so that his weight was over your own hips (you are kind f crouching almost turtling) and by going underneath the opponent, he is thrown to the other side. The cool thing with this technique was the armbar that was ready and available when you finished sweeping him.
My favourite technique from the session was the next one. Helvécio showed us an open guard where you grip your opponents opposite lapel with one hand, your other hand is sleeve gripping same side (as you face him) and your foot is on his hips. You release your sleeve grip and move your hand under and over your oppoent's elbow, cupping tightly.Your free leg then moves over your opponents arm and shoulder and tucks in under your opponents hip bone/top of thigh. Straightening this leg and re-poisitoning your own body a little brought about the most excruciatingly tight armbar. We all had fun drilling this manouevre!
Helvécio also showed who this set-up could be applied for an omoplata finish or a triangle or even, thrillingly, a rather flashy knee bar. I actually found the knee bar attempt a bit less complex and easier to drill than the other versions. Regardless, they were all very neat ways to play open guard by dominating entirely one whole side of your opponent.
Misdirection and trickery
Another really useful technique we learned was how to deal with a person who is in your closed guard and is about to break it open to set up a pass (from sitting) but has one of those immovable arms placed strongly on your own torso for stability. Helvécio told us to grip the sleeve of that arm with both hands, let the opponent open up your guard, then hip shift to one side as your push the opponents basing hand away from you. Almost immediately after, in a circling motion, manouevre his arm over your own head and direct that arm to the complete other side of you. This exposes his back where we worked on how to drag the opponent into our back take position and securing a bow and arrow choke.
It reminded me of the push-pull philosophy of judo training.
We also drilled some useful escapes when your opponent has taken your back - something that I do really need more practice in.
Meeting someone of Helvécio's stature, is to see someone who lives, eats and breathes jiu jitsu beyond anything I could ever imagine. Competing as he does, at the elite level against guys half his age, I can only assume the reason is beyond being purely down to an ultra competitive nature - it's simply that he really really enjoys it. Jiu jitsu for him is pure joy and this is totally evident when he teaches - the enthusiasm, patience, passion and technical mastery on display today were everything a seminar should be.
Thanks to my instructor Nick Brooks for inviting Helvécio over to the UK, I look forward to him visiting again and picking up more big man/small man jiu jitsu along the way.