16 Jan 2015

Mike Fowler and the Unstoppable Sweep plus other stories

Mike Fowler visited our academy as a guest instructor and taught us a snapshot of his trademark moves that have made him a notable star in the BJJ tournament circuit. Here is my report on the session...

Mike Fowler is an American jiu jitsu instructor and competitor who during an intense period of competition from the early to mmid 2000's racked up a number of notable wins and trophies. Probably his greatest scalps were beating both Renzo Gracie and Saulo Ribeiro in the 2007 ADCC, placing fourth in that tournament. He also has a penchant for leopard patterned hair and brightly blinged up gis. You can read his BJJ Heroes profile here.

Little known fact,
that Mike is a pretty decent artist. He and I have spoken a number of times online about artwork. He even went as far as to decorate his academy, North Shore Jiu Jitsu, with a wall mural based on my owl art - see photo below.

Closed guard sweep
Mike opened up the session by explaining his thoughts on the flower sweep. Mike’s teaching style mixes up articulate technique break downs alongside analogies to kungfu movies, complete with vintage movie sound effects – it’s quite an experience and filled the room with laughter. More importantly, here was someone teaching us high percentage tech honed on the competition mats against some of the toughest BJJ athletes of their time.

The sweep itself relies a lot on your upward swinging leg to kick high and chop down with force while also attempting to shift the opponent’s body by gripping and pulling out his ankle. To prevent the opponent basing out, your other foot remains firmly planted on the ground, trapping the opponent’s other leg and you are gripping the opponent’s sleeve on the same side. The basic flower sweep is a move taught fairly early on to BJJ students and so might be overlooked as a ‘beginner’ technique. Mike recalled being able to hit the sweep on many a high level opponent. For me, that upswinging leg, used like a karate kick and then forceful chopping down motion is something to remember for myself. Timed correctly (for example when the opponent is in the middle of shifting base within your closed guard), it’s a highly effective sweep.

Tricep Crush (aka the technical Fowler)
Pressure point applications exist in BJJ. Removed from the hocus pocus of some traditional martial arts (chi knock-outs and the like), pressure points can be highly effective when sparing against a resisting opponent. The key importance being that they have to be applied when the opponent is immobilized in some way and the target point isolated.

Mike showed us the tricep crush from top half guard (can also be used from top side mount). When unable to escape an opponent’s half guard, it is possible to isolate his far arm and apply the tip of your own radius bone (at the wrist) at a point just above the opponent’s elbow joint. In some people, it causes intense pain and instant opening of the guard. In others, it serves to distract with enough force that an escape plan can be initiated or the opponent will be weakened in the arm. Mike explained how he worked his tricep crush repeatedly when training against sparring partners twice his size. He claims he used it so often he damaged his wrist bones, but once healed, they were stronger, like a superhero with a new power (Mike loves his comic book and movie analogies!) When my own instructor Nick tried it out on me, I can attest to its effectiveness with my yowls of pain. Yeah, it damn well hurts!

Here is a video showing Mike’s friend and team mate JT Torres teaching the tricep crush he himself says he learned from Mike:

Unstoppable Sweep
The unstoppable sweep is a half guard position that, as far as I know, Mike developed and perfected by himself. It became his trademark move and one he used to great effect at various tournaments over the years. In simple terms, it is a half guard sweep used, ideally, from a standing opponent defending your de la Riva guard attempt. Your legs are locked (like a closed guard) to immobilize one of the opponent’s legs just at the knee joint. On the same side of the locked up knee, you are gripping his gi lapel and gripping his near side sleeve. Your body should be completely lying on the side with your own knees pointing horizontally. In order to effect the sweep, the opponent’s weight needs to be forward so pulling him towards you is required before sweeping. The actual sweeping move involves you rotating your entire body onto your belly – see photo at top of this page. This should result in you on top and able to knee cut your way past the opponent lying prone on the ground.

Mike explained that the position, just prior to sweeping, was used like a guard in its own right. More interestingly, he demonstrated how he used it against a resisting moving opponent. In a few short exchanges, I could see how he hit it after transitioning from any one of a number of guard play positions, including spider guard, de la Riva guard and reverse de la Riva. Mike also showed how to  counter against an opponent who sat far back and did not allow you to pull their weight forward. The answer came in two guises – the first was a technical stand-up that swept the opponent in a circular motion. The second sweep was more like an entry to the deep half guard but your motion continued under your opponent (without losing grips) and ended in a sweep that looked a little like a shoulder throw (from the ground)…weird I know and not something I can explain very well, but of course, Mike made it look easy.

Here is Mike using the unstoppable sweep in competition:

In this video below, Mike fights Ken Primola. See how he sets up his feet crossed ready for the unstoppable sweep half guard position at 1:31. Ken bases to his extreme left to counter any sweep. Fowler re-engages the crossed legs position at 2:27 finally achieving the sweep at 3.00.

Here is Mike revealing a quick breakdown of his unstoppable sweep:

Training thoughts
Mike concluded the session with a short q&a. He talked about his competition days, he also discussed thoughts on how regular students can approach their training outlook. I liked the analogy he used where students who trained a set number of times per week should regard that allocation of time as their regular job hours, so anything outside of those set hours is ‘overtime’ and that’s the time where a student could excel and improve on their continuing development.

It is always a pleasant experience to meet a renowned jiu jitsu instructor with such immense enthusiasm and boundless desire to share their knowledge and experiences. Mike is definitely top draw. The techniques he demonstrated were excellently taught, appeared to be good percentage moves and seemed easy to digest. I hope to pull off the unstoppable sweep and tricep crush from now on!

Thanks to Mike for his time and to my instructors Nick Brooks and David Onuma for inviting Mike down to the academy.


About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


Kyle said...

Had the pleasure of meeting Mike a few times when I was living out in Guam/CNMI. Fantastic individual and truly talented on the mat. Someone you can definitely learn a lot from. Great read!


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