Instructional book and DVD review: The Back Control and Choke by K-Taro Nakamura, Published by Fighting Spirits.

This book and DVD set by Japanese grappling and MMA fighter Keita 'K-Taro' Nakamura covers no-gi techniques with the single aim of taking the opponent's back and finishing from there. The book contains enough English words for a non-Japanese speaker to navigate their way around and the DVD is a straightforward moving footage version of the book plus some extras at the end.

Following hot on the heels of the two recent Fighting Spirits book/DVD instructionals by Yuki Sasa (top game and bottom game) comes this no-gi instructional by K-Taro Nakamura. I was so impressed by the Sasa products that I simply had to see this one.

K-Taro is by all accounts, a MMA sensation in his home country of Japan. He has fought at the UFC, Dream and Cageforce and many other grappling tournaments. I understand that his personal background is in judo, although I do not know if he has any direct gi-based BJJ experience. While he may very well enjoy smashing faces in the ring for a living, on this video, he seems very quiet and laid back...almost sleepy! Luckily the whooshing video effects and funky rewinds used on the DVD helps to spice things up a little.

As with the Sasa books, K-Taro's manual follows the same basic structure: a US A4 size book with lots of step-by-step photos, the first third being in colour and the rest in black and white. English is used on the contents pages, title headings and boxed pointers throughout the book. The accompanying DVD does not contain any English text but follows the sequence of the book.

As the title suggests, this book is not a pot-pourri type of instructional. It's premise is to offer you one game-plan - taking the opponent's back.

The Book
One of the reasons I love the Fighting Spirits books is that they fit perfectly into my everyday travel bag, so on the long boring commute to work, I often flip open the Sasa books for a browse on what techniques to try out in class later on. This book is the same. The designers have clearly gone to a lot of trouble creating an instructional with as much information as possible to help the non-Japanese reader, short of it actually being written in English. I love the little pointers, copious arrows and jagged pop-ups that say things like 'bad' or 'good'. You know exactly what each little bit on the page is there for. In some cases, techniques that have many steps use photos that can be a tad small.

[Lots of pics, some in colour]

[Don't do this!]
[Plenty of English to guide you]
[Arrows point the way]

Chapter 1: Back catch. K-Taro wastes no time as he goes straight in by demonstrating how to obtain back mount on a turtling opponent. He then shows how to take advantage of a person defending both the full mount and the side mount. The final three techniques are titled simply as 'back catch from guard', and K-Taro shows these using a butterfly guard. This chapter - 8 techniques, all in colour. the last three are cool, the multiple angled photography and copious directional arrows easily show how K-Taro breaks the balance and posture of his opponent in order to get what he wants (the back!).

Chapter 2: Finishing choke. Once you have the back, of course it's handy to know how to finish the person from there. In this chapter, K-Taro breaks down the rear naked choke (RNC) and explains the intricacies of arm placement. Well at least I think he does. Of all the chapters, I think it would have been helpful to understand what was being said both in the video and the long intro in the book. Despite this, it's not too hard to follow what is going on visually. The rest of this chapter shows various tactics when the opponent is defending by grabbing your arms and wrists. This chapter - 5 techniques+flow chart summary, all in colour.

Chapter 3: Keeping back. Darn ukes! If it wasn't for all that squirming and defending I'd be able to do a decent RNC. No worries, K-Taro shows us, in this chapter, how to maintain the back mount on an escaping opponent. This chapter has 6 techniques and is all in black and white, as is every chapter from here on.

[Just the one or two Japanglish typos]

Chapter 4: Take down & back catch. My non-BJJ martial art friends all think grappling is all good and lovely but they always ask how come we start sparring on our knees all the time? It's a good question, and I usually mumble something about dojo safety and change the subject to cool inverted triangles and such stuff. Anyway, in the first half of this chapter, K-Taro brings us his favoured standing techniques which, unsurprisingly considering his judo background, feature foot sweeps, leg trips, ankle and leg pick-ups and good ole fashioned pummeling with the arms. All end up by taking the back. The second half of the chapter builds on the first by showing methods of taking the opponent to the ground once you have his back. This chapter - 10 techniques + one flow chart summary.

Chapter 5: Arm drag to back catch. Ooh love these. All very Marcelo Garcia. The chapter begins with the first, and only, closed guard technique of the book, after which he moves on to armdrags from butterfly and then standing. The BJJer in me obviously would like to see more closed guard work, but I suppose without a gi to grab, the number or at least variety of armdrags you can do is limited. This chapter - 6 techniques.

Chapter 6: Passing guard to back catch. My BJJ radar picks up again when I go through this chapter. I've always found passing guard difficult and more so when doing no-gi. However this chapter is probably the least best. There are only 3 techniques shown and all are based on your opponent lying on his back and pretty much giving you his ankles to grab - which may or may not be realistic.

Chapter 7: Reversal to back catch. Chapter seven finishes the book with a bang as K-Taro demonstrates some very nice ways to sweep the opponent into a position where you can take his back. I especially like the Glico Rolling Reversal, but from the stills, it is hard to guage the timing and speed needed, so this is where a DVD to accompany a book is such an important inclusion. This chapter - 4 techniques.

[DVD slots in the book]
The chapter and title menus of the whole DVD is written in Japanese but if you use the book as a guide, it isn't hard to use. The footage is presented very clearly with good lighting and a sensible opposite colour rash guard top arrangement between teacher and partner.

The entire instructional part of the DVD runs for 1hr30mins. There is also an additional 25 minute mini-feature at the end showing K-Taro's fight highlights with commentary. It would have been really nice to know what the voice-overs are saying as I am sure it is K-Taro himself explaining what moves and tactics he used for each match. Fight two is particularly nice as he puts his opponent to sleep with ruthless efficiency. In all these fight clips, K-Taro utilises a good proportion of the same techniques he shows in this instructional - especially his attack on a turtling opponent. I like the way he fishes out the opponent's near leg when poised to take the back. And it's not all back-taking newaza, in the last fight clip of the video, K-Taro shows off his amazing agility as he backflips out of trouble fighting a much larger opponent. It's certainly an impressive advert for his style of grappling.

Trying out the techniques
First I must confess that I don't train a lot of no-gi, so this book gave me th eperfect excuse to try it out at no-gi class at my academy.

1. Armdrag from closed guard with back take.

Flicking through the book, I thought I would play within my comfort zone for the first technique to try out. This one seemed fairly straightforward to attain during live sparring - and in reality it sort of was. I tried it three or four times over the same number of spars with different opponents and the overall problem I found was that I was telegraphing my initial wrist grip too much. With the gi, once you get a grip you have time to work to the next phase, but with no-gi, you sort of have to just do it really quickly and immediately move on. The armdrag was hard for me to do on heavier guys, but slightly easier on same weight guys. Once there I found it ok to manoeuvre around to the side of my partner, and almost get the back. Obviously with a wriggling opponent, especially in no-gi, the actual taking the back bit is much harder than it looks in the book or on video. However, definitely not too hard to add to my very small no-gi arsenal.

2. Glico Rolling Reversal.

I had to try this one. I mean, what the hell is a 'Glico'?? When you watch the video. K-Taro and his partner snigger as they announce the technique. Maybe it is an in-joke or a technique they just made up on the spot? Maybe Glico is 'Greek-o' in Japanglish?

So this technique is sweet, as long as you get the double underhooks from butterfly guard. If you are slow and telegraph your arms, like me, it's a lot harder to get to. In the video, K-Taro triangles his legs after getting double unders and then stretches his partners arms high above his head. Once there I could see how it would be easy to roll someone to their back. For me, having just one try at it, I struggled but then I think it is one of those techniques that need to be drilled a lot. I doubt it would work well in gi. the next technique in the book show show K-Taro takes this reversal further with a method of taking the back. It's a pretty cool set of techniques, and I'd like to carry this and the other reversals on whenever I train no-gi.

In my opinion, the Fighting Spirits series of instructionals have really set the standard by which all other instructionals should follow. If you consider the high quality of design, production and execution of both the book and the DVD, all for the price of around £20 plus postage, then I really think this is a bargain. Despite being written and spoken mostly in Japanese, I did not find any difficulty learning from the set. There were enough variety of moves to suit all grapplers, beginner or advanced.

No-gi practitioners would obviously benefit directly from the techniques, but BJJ gi-purists might also find mileage in idea of back-taking as a game-plan. MMA athletes looking to improve their technical grappling could also benefit.

I bought my copy from the Scramble online store. These guys import Japanese grappling gear and instructionals and offer worldwide shipping.

[Lots of 'mini' K-Taros dotted throughout the book!]



Fred said...

Where did you get this? I'm interested in getting a copy..

Sha said...

Nice review! I think I can explain the "Glico" mystery: look at the logo of a famous japanese brand of sweets and biscuits:

And now look at the bottom guy's position in photo 5…

Meerkatsu said...

Haha yes you are right!
And it may also mean that it's a sweet move to do!