22 Jun 2019

Prior to attending today's seminar I had already read a lot of great things about John Will and the way he teaches a seminar. Drawing from over three decades of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu experience together with an effervescent personality and abundant humour, this seminar was everything I expected it to be and so much more...

Aussie born, 5th degree black belt John Bernard Will is often referred to as one of the 'Dirty Dozen' - the first 12 non-Brazilians to be awarded their BJJ black belts. John was awarded his in 1998 by Rigan Machado and is widely regarded as one of the pioneers in the very early days of BJJ in Australia. Fast forward to today and Australia has a number of highly regarded competitors and instructors - Lachlan Giles, Craig Jones, Kit Dale and Levi Jones-Leary.

You can read more about John and his experiences in the early days in an interview by Slideyfoot here. https://www.artemisbjj.com/johnwill1/

Efficient Time Management
John Will seminars are a little different to most others I have attended. He was keen to ensure we did not waste any time by dawdling around and missing out on drilling repetitions. Each technique was first demonstrated by John then when we paired up (we had to run quickly to get with our partners, again, not allowing us to waste time) John would proceed to instruct us on the same technique step by step. When we switched positions, he would instruct our partners step by step repeating the process.

The whole class also had to position ourselves in the same direction so John could quickly spot if any pair was out of step or making errors. This method of training meant we zipped through our drills in very quick time and having to dash from the place of observation to place of drilling meant we weren’t slacking at any stage.

John reasoned that if we had skipped two repetitions that session it may not mean much over the short term, but over the many months and years going forward - those missed repetitions would count against us compared to another person who repped the same technique much more, all other things being equal. It made logical sense and ensured we stuck diligently to the work required.

That being said and given the regimented structure of the training, John himself would sometimes (seemingly) go off on a tangent during his technique discussion - he would often recall an anecdote or story from his long career, but it would always lead back to the main technique or concept. I actually wondered if these deviations were an intentional ploy to keep our minds focused and engaged. Often John would instruct us to execute a technique and then promise to begin the seminar properly once we had completed the task. He mentioned this several times until I clicked on that these techniques WERE the seminar proper and he was just messing around, again a little ploy to keep us all engaged in a fun way.

Nogi Guard Passing 
This seminar was split broadly into two segments - nogi guard passing and nogi head and arm attacks. The two segments segued together nicely for when uke denies our pass completion we could then attack with the head and arm submissions. (Side note, John sometimes also referred to gi versions of the technique).

The first guard passing drill was something John described as a very old school warm up that combined several styles of passing into one exercise - bottom player offers one of three leg heights for a guard and attacker must pass with the appropriate technique: knee slice against feet on the ground guard, bullfighter when faced with feet midway up in the air and finally stacking pass when faced with uke's high elevated feet as guard. It was a typically efficient way to drill simple guard passes. You can see it in the video below (unlike many other seminars I've been to, John is happy for us to film his technique and share it publicly):

The next set of exercises centred around the knee slice - I found this segment to be very useful for me as I often find I am unable to complete the knee slice thanks to bottom player capturing me in half guard. Instead of back-kicking as one would normally try to do to remove the top leg of your opponent, John showed how it was equally as effective to move our own bottoms backwards to perform the same task. The bonus of using our bottoms and hips was that it kept our hips tighter to our opponent, denying him space to escape our side mount after passing his guard (the back kick method tends to leave him escaping space).

John then described how he prefers to simplify complex transitions into easily manageable terms. For example with the knee slice/underhook/pass to side transition that we were drilling, John suggested simplifying the individual stages by viewing it as merely going from one 'sweet spot' to another.

We continued to be shown a variety of other guard passing drills, each accompanied by John’s astute observations and methodology. A favourite of mine was the drill where you sit on your opponent’s shin then execute strong lateral movement to pass (a position that I believe is called the Headquarters position – although John did not call it that himself).

Head and Arm 'Choke' Attacks
After guard passing John then moved onto head and arm attacks. John informed us that a successful head and arm 'choke' could be boiled down to just two important things: a mechanism to deny the opponent an escape and the second component was a mechanism to 'chop off' the opponent's head in the correct direction. Referring constantly to these two simple mechanical concepts, John then applied them to connect a wide variety of head and arm strangulations, including: front facing head and arm guillotine, darce choke, anaconda choke, arm in guillotine from both closed guard and then half guard, belly down head and arm choke. As such, it was a perfect example of finding a simple unifying concept that tied multiple techniques together.

In the video below you can see how he explains the concept as applied to the Darce choke:

We repeated all the drills in the same fashion as already described above. Performed in this manner, over the entire two hour seminar, we must have zipped through over 12 to 13 different techniques each one repped roughly 6 to 8 times hence making a total of some 100 reps. It was tiring work but also enriching as we felt fully engaged with each and every technique.

Thanks to Leicester Shootfighters for allowing me to join in 

The seminar closed with John answering questions from the attendees. I asked him for advice on training for older students like me and he offered a typically funny response (he trained like he was in denial of his age) while at the same time dispensing very useful advice (add strength and conditioning). Other topics answered included his views on drilling versus sparring (both vital in equal amounts in his opinion) and on the wider topic of how to keep focused and interested in something over a long time period (being naturally curious, rebellious and to sometimes question the status quo or even remembering what it was like to learn like a child learns.) One very nice analogy John used when talking about how to connect the disparate parts of a jiu jitsu sequence together used the metaphor of drawing a picture – a child might draw something using simple sparse lines and dots but an older person might draw the same thing starting with those same lines and dots but then using many more dots to fill in between until it becomes far more detailed - the nature of jiujitsu meant that starting a new technique required one to draw simple dots then as we progress, to fill in the details with ever increasing density and number of dots.

If you haven't already done so, it's worth following John on Facebook. He often writes interesting posts about BJJ and life in general.

Final thoughts
John Will seminars combine his rich knowledge and lengthy experience with great energy and endless enthusiasm. You’ll work hard but learn a huge amount. You’ll also laugh a lot as he’s a fantastic orator. More importantly the session gave me, as a coach, plenty of food for thought about how to convey information for my students. John's ability to assess, ruminate and disseminate complex movements into simplified component parts meant that they were easy to understand, practice and drill. I also liked the way he made us drill, first by demonstrating, then repeating the step by step instruction while partnered up. It meant we got several attempts to assimilate the information as opposed to listening, pairing up then forgetting major parts of what to do once drilling began.

John doesn't tend to be advertise his seminars here in the UK, you kind of have to know about them in advance. He focuses only on visiting the same academies each year and teaches a completely different set of techniques for each seminar so it’s worth going to several if you can. Regardless of your rank or experience I highly recommend attending his sessions, you will definitely walk away with a far greater understanding of this crazy pyjama game we call BJJ.

The full seminar John taught today can be viewed here as a Youtube playlist. Annoyingly I missed filming the drill where John first talked about accessing the sweet spot when passing open guard and also using your head to help create the underhook.

Current UK Tour: Total Dojo Milton Keynes, Leicester Shootfighters, Way of the Spiritual Warrior, Coventry, Function First Academy Lincolnshire, Marsden Martial Arts, Chesterfield, Wayne Stokes Cademy in Oldbury also seminars in Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool.

NB: Interesting side note – John is a keen doodler and prepares all his seminars with sketched out notes and text on his tablet. It means he has a simple quick glance notebook of sessions that he can adjust accordingly at a moment’s notice.

John Wills self penned seminar notes



Prior to attending today's seminar I had already read a lot of great things about John Will and the way he teaches a seminar. Drawing...


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