19 May 2018

Seminar notes: Seph Smith at Basingstoke School of Martial Arts

Seph Smith is an American black belt under Ryan Hall. In fact, fans of Ryan Hall's videos will recognise Seph as the guy who Ryan demonstrates his techniques on. Seph runs his own academy - Upstream BJJ - is a regular competitor and is generally recognised as an excellent instructor and exponent of BJJ. More importantly, he is a black belt at forming goofy faces in many of his selfies - an important trait for an elite level black belt.

This large and busy town sits in the county of Hampshire about an hour's journey by car or train from London. It is here that for 18 years Kevin Hall (brown belt bjj under Jeff Lawson) has run a martial arts gym  - Basingstoke School of Martial arts. Kevin teaches full time both Taekwondo and BJJ. There is ample space and its very convenient to get to. I've visited several times before (here and here) and I always enjoy catching up with Kevin and his students.

Reverse de la Riva
Seph kicked off the seminar by demonstrating how to go from the reverse de la Riva (RDLR) position to the 50/50 guard when uke is pressuring you with a knee cut pass. This being a nogi session, there was no handy collar, belt or gi lapel for me to grip. Instead, he explained how hooking your hand over uke's heel and placing the foot of your top leg on uke's near shoulder and your top arm framing against the far shoulder, it was possible to smoothly rotate under your opponent - raising uke's leg up a bit to help aid the process. Rotating underneath my partner granted me access to take his back or to switch my legs into the 50/50. And then from here things got super interesting. I was already enjoying this section as I tend to find RDLR a bit tricky to execute in live sparring, but the little tips Seph gave really made a big difference.

Heel hooks
I must confess I never roll in class where heel hooks are allowed. At Mill Hill BJJ we stick to IBJJF sanctioned techniques and in my own club, we've not tried it (yet). So all this reaping, inside leg triangling and heel hooking variations - while enjoyable to watch when viewing Polaris, EBI or NAGA etc - were in actual fact new toys for me personally to play with.

From 50/50 Seph demonstrated the basic inside heel hook. He also showed some simple ways to defend the inside heel hook: from the annoying foot shuffling you could try to prevent uke from taking on a decent grip, to the cross arm grab that you can see me trying in the photo below. But as Seph was keen to emphasise - in 50/50 it was far better to attack than to just defend all the time as attacker was eventually going to get the win.

To the Back!
Another technique I liked was the back take from RDLR. Seph showed this briefly as an aside, but my training partner Leigh Remedios (long time British MMA athlete) and I were very keen to drill this technique too. It seemed fairly simple to set up: from RDLR, extend the RDLR leg and open your free leg out like a pendulum, then swing in towards and behind uke to hook over the thigh of his far leg. From here it required a little detangling of your RDLR leg to get underhook position and your hand then reaches up to grip around uke's hips (your legs then being free to extend and make uke fall backwards into your back control).

Michael Jackson's Thriller
The next segment of the seminar looked at a technique starting from half guard but uke has raised his knee and is beginning the knee cut pass. Changing your half guard into a RDLR it is now not quite possible to get your top shin and knee where it needs to be because uke will more than likly be blocking it. so you need to swing your leg high and over his near arm in order to thread your top leg under his arm. If uke is still exerting pressure to pass, it's possible to use your top leg, top framing arm and RDLR hook to push him so he falls forward. Your position now switches to a very low half guard but you are using your arm to grab over his waist. You are now lying on one side of your body and the tip here is to remain lying on this one side.
Pushing his far knee to collapse his base, uke will more than likely try to backstep over you. Your arm around his waist should ensure he does not succeed, but as he backsteps, your top foot steps over to hook over his far foot. This is where the Thriller reference comes in, as you then arch your body backwards (still lying sideways) and uke should drop into a 'hole'. This then sets you up nicely to get into the leg drag position.

Fall down once, heel hook once.
Following on from the previous set up, from the leg drag, Seph showed how to get to the heel hook by grabbing uke's top knee, falling to one side as if breakfalling, while doing so, swinging his top leg over uke for the inside leg triangle (honey hole, inside ashi garami etc) and the inside heel hook again. This was pretty cool.

Of course if they do succeed with a backstep, Seph showed a neat way to position your arms and hands that allowed you to, yes you've guessed it, invert, and roll to a better position.

With the two hour seminar running well over time, Seph then took a Q&A session. One person asked for conceptual tips on how to pass the guard and Seph showed how important it was to work several drill patterns: shin circling, duck unders, knee on belly switches, step around from side etc. He used a rock climbing metaphor to describe passing guard as taking a stake and making sure you move one bit at a time, not losing that stake as your try to eventually get head control.

I asked a question about how to escape Seph's infamous arm triangle. Seph then demonstrated his head and arm triangle transition to nogi ezekiel which then transitioned to an RNC as uke tried to defend by grabbing his leg and opening his shoulders out. you can see Seph teach this here.

Seph answered a few more technique questions but then stayed around to roll. My own time rolling with him felt like rolling with a slippery octopus, he opened up just enough for me to get somewhere only for me to see him slip into a completely different position and open up an angle for him to take my arm or leg or neck or elbow etc etc...all effortlessly played out. Pretty damn cool!

My huge thanks to Seph for showing us some cool techniques. I'm quite liking the new heel hook toys and RDLR tips I've been given so I hope to play with them more (carefully of course, y'know cos knees might explode at the mere touch of a heel). Thanks also to Kevin Hall for opening up his gym and allowing me to come train.

Kevin, Leigh, Seph and moi enjoying a post training Wagamama meal


About the Author


Author & Artist

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



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