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Ryan Hall made his name in the grappling world as a Lloyd Irvin prodigy. Tournament after tournament, match after match, he pulled guard, and by rotating between traditional guard and inverted guard, often-times with monkey-like speed and agility, he would catch his opponent with any one of his 200+ triangle set-ups. It was fancy. It was flashy. And it was winning him tournaments.

“I don’t believe in it anymore,” Hall said.

The techniques and the strategies that were winning him NAGA tournaments and Grappler’s Quest tournaments weren’t effective against elite level competition. Hall said that his old approach to Jiu-Jitsu was fundamentally flawed and that he was only successful with positions like the inverted guard because he often enjoyed a significant skill and knowledge advantage over his opponents, which hid the weaknesses of his game.

Hall likened his experience to what it might be like to play basketball with LeBron James: “He could beat [me], probably, with no hands because not only is he physically better suited for that game, but he’s technically so much better and so much more skilled than [me] that he can do whatever he wants… Just because you can stand on your head and triangle me when you’re really good and I’m not doesn’t make it a good strategy when both of us are at a high level.

“The idea is [that] just by competing at the high level, the only things that will work are the proper movements, where as if I competed at a low level, that’s when you’ll see people taking shots they shouldn’t take, driving the lane when they shouldn’t, making all sorts of strategic and technical mistakes that only work against lesser opposition.”

What movements do work at the highest level?

“Before, I used to roll around and triangle people a whole bunch of times but if the guy was really good, maybe, maybe not,” Hall said. “But now, it’s get on top, pass, mount, choke. Get on top, pass, mount, choke.”

Ryan and Hall and one of his 50/50 students.

Hall frequently referenced Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles and Roger Gracie as grapplers that he is now seeking to emulate. Gracie, especially, exemplifies the strategy that Hall now believes is best.

“Why is [Gracie] able to go to the mount and cross choke every single person?” Hall asked. “Everyone knows it’s coming, and it’s not a trick, and there’s not even any sort of flash to it. It’s funny: the best way that you know that Roger may not be being entirely honest when he’s asked what makes him so successful is that he’ll tell you, ‘I’m just doing the same thing as everyone else.’ ‘Roger, why won’t you put out an instructional DVD?’ ‘I just use basics.’ ‘I see… so that’s why everyone mounts and cross chokes their opponents into oblivion every time?’ I would argue that there are things that aren’t visually apparent that are very, very different between what he does and what the rest of us do… In my mind it’s not even a questions at this point. There is a small, small handful of people doing this, and it’s not some sort magic. I truly believe that they know something that other people don’t that they’re not particularly willing to share. I’ve been trying to figure it out for the last couple years, and I feel like I’m starting to make progress little by little. I’ve gone from not being able to pass the guard to that being the absolute strongest part of my game and the cross choke from mount being my number one finish.”

Being on top is key. According to Hall, the guard, as a strategy, is not effective against elite level competition because it puts the bottom fighter at a major mechanical disadvantage. Because of this, Hall believes that the guard will eventually disappear and be replaced by takedowns and top positioning. That’s not to say that the guard won’t be used in the event that a fighter does end up on bottom, but the days of a fighter immediately pulling half guard will cease to exist.

Hall cited Marcelo Garcia’s guard game as an effective use of the guard position because Garcia uses the guard in the way that a wrestler uses a shot: to get a leg and score a takedown.

“The way Marcelo Garcia plays guard, is, in my opinion, how it should be done,” Hall said. “Your whole job is to pull them off of you and stand up into a single leg. I’m finding more and more that the traditional sweeps don’t really work at the high level, at least not in the way that you normally think of them: you cut me over, and I fall like kaboom right on my back. That doesn’t really happen. It’s like a 20 point touchdown. It just doesn’t usually work like that when both guys are at a truly elite level… I guess I’d say my approach to the guard has changed drastically. It isn’t to pull some whacky sweep or triangle out of my ass anymore. My whole goal is to just make you off balance to the point that you can’t, for a moment, stop me from standing up—and now I finish from a positional advantage. I feel that’s the truly reliable way to do it. You can replicate it against a high-level opponent who knows what you’re doing. That’s when you know you’ve got something.

“People come to me all the time and say, ‘Teach me the inverted guard.” I’ll show them if they really want to know, but I generally prefer not to. Instead, I’ll try to sell them on this: learn how to wrestle a little bit, and I’ll show you how to pass. The guard is an important position, but the purpose of the guard is not so that I can triangle you; the purpose of the guard is so that I can get on top. It’s the proper strategic choice, seeking the mechanical advantage.”

Be like Roger Gracie: get on top, pass the guard, mount, and secure a choke.

The mechanical advantage: the absolute best option backed by the strongest, most-perfect technique. As Hall has focused on dissecting what makes basic movements like a cross-collar choke from mount most effective, Roger Gracie effective, his perception of how to learn and teach Jiu-Jitsu has changed.

“What I really believe helps me the most is that I try to break Jiu-Jitsu down to a fundamental level and really work to understand what determines success and failure, kind of on a body mechanics level, to really understand that there are correct and incorrect ways to do things,” Hall said. “The idea is that if you can get down to a fundamental level of body mechanics and understanding and you can kind of distill your Jiu-Jitsu down to something that’s very direct, very simple, allowing you to be able to operate on a higher level of efficiency in many, many positions, all positions really, instead of just drilling just one series or just a couple series of moves and becoming very strong [in that particular area] while neglecting other areas.”

The danger of learning a multitude of techniques, Hall said, is that a fighter will only be good at certain positions. When a fighter is dragged away from that position, his comfort zone, he crumbles. Hall’s focus is now on learning fundamental movements and principles that are universal. And he’s seen a difference both in himself and in his students. Even something as seemingly basic as the shrimp, in Hall’s mind, needs to be re-evaluated.

“The reason I don’t shrimp is not that it’s garbage or that it doesn’t work, but there are problems with the way it’s taught,” Hall said. “Say for instance you have side control, and I manage to get an underhook, and I start shrimping away from you. When I’m initially in side control, I’m kind of glued to you and as a result, I’m relatively stable. My feet are wide. My hips are back. When I shrimp, I put my feet together and I scoot and my profile goes from this to this, for a moment, and then I reset.”

At this point, Hall held his hand out with his fingers spread into a square and brought them together into a single cluster to demonstrate what happens when you shrimp.

Hall continued, “And then I go again. I’m pushing you away. Reset. Pushing away, scooting away, reset. The serious problem with the bottom is that you’re not only pinned in place by the person’s weight, but you’re also controlled because the person on top has the ability to move very quickly. You should probably act accordingly.”

What Hall has replaced the shrimp with is what he calls a “trade secret,” a result of high-level, intense analysis that he’s not willing to give away, much in the same way that Roger Gracie is not willing to give away what makes his moves so effective. Unlike Gracie, however, Hall doesn’t call his movements “basic.” They are fundamental, but far from basic. The mechanics at work are actually quite complex and incredibly specific, and they work.

Hall offered this advice: “The whole key is saying, ‘Look. I don’t want to beat regular people. I don’t want to beat guys that are kind of good. I don’t want to beat hobbyists. I don’t want to pull out a sweet highlight reel full of backflips and wacky nonsense.’ You know who has a sweet highlight reel? Roger Gracie. If something doesn’t work against the top 1% of competitors, I don’t want to do it. If you fight for a living and you have a lower standard than that, you have to be out of your mind.”

So, be like Roger Gracie; that’s what Ryan Hall is trying to do.