Shawn Williams Seminar (Aug. 19-20 2011)

Shawn Williams Seminar (Aug. 19-20 2011)

Shawn Williams brazilian jiu jitsu seminar

This past weekend members of Renzo Gracie Pittsburgh were treated to not one, but two days of instruction from one of the greatest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teachers in the world, Shawn Williams. A second degree black belt, Shawn has been studying the art since September 1996. Being only the fifth American in history to obtain a black belt, he graduated under the tutelage of Renzo Gracie himself. Shawn’s long list of accomplishments include medalling in prestigious competitions such as the ADCC trials and Grappler’s Quest. He even created his own variation of the high/rubber guard, dubbed the “Williams Guard.”

Last Friday, Shawn held a special mixed martial arts seminar at RGA Pittsburgh for a small group of us interested in getting into the sport. I couldn’t wait to see what it was like learning from an instructor who’s trained the likes of MMA greats such as Matt Serra and Georges St. Pierre. I was honored to have the opportunity to do so. He kicked things off with a warmup that involved clinching and pummeling back and forth with a partner. After that, we performed a series of three different double leg takedown variations. These were meant to teach us ways of adjusting to an opponent’s defensive reactions to the initial move. While I was drilling the takedowns with my partners, it quickly became clear to me that changes of direction and positional awareness were two very important keys to success with these techniques.

Distancing was a key concept of this seminar. Shawn taught us that mastering the ability to move in and out of striking range seamlessly is an invaluable asset to the modern mixed martial artist because it effectively dissolves reach advantages (which have arguably decided the outcome of many boxing, kickboxing and MMA matches). Proof of this lies no further than within current UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Without a doubt, his quick and elusive boxing style has played no small part in his recent successes (most notably the two unanimous decision victories over BJ Penn). Mixed martial arts is all about evolution and forward progression, and these ideas that Shawn Williams shared with us were part of the innovative thinking all up-and-coming fighters need to attribute themselves to if they plan on making any sort of impact in the big leagues someday (i.e. Strikeforce, UFC).

The following day we relocated to Gateway High School in Monroeville for the big jiu-jitsu seminar we were all waiting for. This time, the group was much bigger, consisting of many members from RGA Pittsburgh along with a couple visitors from other nearby schools. The first hour and a half would be dedicated to gi jiu-jitsu while the following hour and a half would focus on nogi grappling. Once we were all suited up, Shawn started off by showing how to effectively obtain a lapel-and-sleeve grip. Up until this point, I never really gave much thought to this move because it always seemed so simple. I quickly realized though that even the smallest mistakes could place a jiu-jitsu player off balance and render him or her vulnerable to a takedown. In this case, it was using the lead hand first to grab the opponents gi instead of the other hand, which Shawn instructed us to do. He explained that it was important to master even small skills such as these because making and breaking grips was a huge part of the standup game with the gi.

After having us warm up with that drill, Shawn demonstrated how to set up and execute one of the most effective throws in judo, the drop seio-nage. He began by making a grip on his training partner’s right sleeve and right lapel. Then, he started moving his partner backward with a push and simultaneously attempted a simple foot sweep. Once the training partner reacted by lifting and posting his foot quickly, Shawn pulled up on his grips, turned around, and dropped to his knees so that they landed slightly behind the training partner’s legs. He finished the throw by pulling down on the sleeve in an axe-like motion and touching his head to the floor, throwing his training partner to the ground and having him land on his back. It was an amazing technique, and my personal favorite of the seminar. At first, it was tough getting the timing and little movements down, but after practicing it over and over again I finally started hitting it perfectly. That was a great feeling. Shawn supplemented the takedown by showing how to keep the opponent’s arm straight up after performing the move and finishing with an armbar. I loved this series of techniques and couldn’t wait to implement them back in the gym and in future competitions.

The meat of the gi portion was a series on passing the spider guard, a dangerous position that offers numerous setups for attacks such as the triangle choke and omaplata. Not to mention, it’s great for sweeps, as well. We started off with basic entry technique, then quickly moved on to passing. Shawn explained the key to destroying this guard was freeing the arm that is trapped within the opponents curled leg. To do so, he instructed, the jiu-jitsu player must first lock the opponents hip with his or her leg. This takes away the opponents ability to maneuver and change position. Next, the trapped arm’s wrist curls around and the hand crawls up to the opponents knee. This creates enough torque to break the grip and allows the player to begin passing the guard. Shawn added while this was an effective way to free the arm, the best thing to do was not get it locked in by the opponents leg in the first place. He said that an experienced jiu-jitsu player could sense the spider guard coming and use the same wrist twisting motion to break the grip before it is even made.

Afterwards, the second-degree black belt demonstrated a pass that involved jumping in and trapping the opponents leg between your legs and falling to the side, ending up in an ankle-lock position. A sweep was executed here by switching the opponents leg to the other side, securing one of the wrists and stretching him or her out. Shawn also showed a few variants of this move, including one which is illegal in jiu-jitsu competition today because it involves reaping. Once we started practiced those techniques, Shawn had us put them together with everything else we learned so far in the gi session to create a nice, flowing drill to conclude this portion of the seminar.

The nogi half was equally amazing. The focus here was Shawn’s trademark “legwork” passing method for the halfguard. Basically, it was a way to work out of the halfguard without using the arms. I really enjoyed these moves because they required so little strength or effort to do, and that’s always a good thing in a combat sport where endurance and conditioning plays such an important role. After he demonstrated the techniques, we drilled them extensively and then ended the seminar with a hard training session from the halfguard. I was glad Shawn chose to concentrate on this position because it’s something I’ve had trouble with before and needed a bit of improvement on. I also liked the move he showed where he would triangle his legs around the opponent’s legs in order to immobilize him or her so that passing to mount could easily follow. I could see it as being an excellent supplement to a double-leg takedown, and I couldn’t wait to put it to use back in the gym.

All in all, the Shawn Williams seminar was an awesome experience and one that completely revitalized my jiu-jitsu and MMA game. Shawn himself was a cool guy with a great sense of humor and an incredible gift for teaching. It’s a shame he’s not as well known as some other instructors because he certainly deserves the recognition. The thorough and detailed way he taught all the techniques at the seminar quickly made me realize why his instruction is sought after by some of the greatest fighters in the world. All of us at RGA Pittsburgh were very fortunate to have him come, and we won’t soon forget all the great things he showed us. Thank you Shawn, we hope to see you again soon!

– Dino