GracieMag, July 2013 – article review: ‘Deconstructing Keenan Cornelius’..

Keenan Cornelius – a phenomenal competitor…

I have been buying GracieMag since 2006 and find reading the magazine a real pleasure. I would strongly recommend subscribing to the magazine, it is a great source of technical information and serves as a training motivator, too. Magazines are shipped from the States, but don’t let that put you off becoming a subscriber, it’s easy to sign up and not that expensive. I look forward to my magazine hitting the doormat every month – and read it while drinking a nice cup of tea!

I am going to post a GracieMag article review every month – picking out the most interesting parts of my favourite article. I think you can learn so much just by reading and thinking – and I can usually pick a few things up from each magazine issue that give me something extra for my Jiu-Jitsu game. I feel inspired by the champions of our sport and look to their observations and experience to improve my own performance. I hope that the beginners at BJJ Lifestyle Team become as technically interested in sport Jiu-Jitsu as I am – I look forward to sharing and debating new ideas, concepts and techniques with those on the team. I am very interested in all aspects of BJJ and seek as much knowledge as possible.

I know I can no longer be the fittest, strongest or fastest – so I must be as technically good as I can be. I have already written the following on this site – but love this line, so here it is again – it was stated by a highly experienced Brazilian BJJ black belt:

‘What is more dangerous, strength or technique, I say technique…’

I read this line a few years ago and it has always remained at the forefront of my Jiu-Jitsu mind – I thought at the time and still believe it is a very powerful statement. I referenced the line to Leo Negao a year or two ago and he responded – ‘of course my friend’ – and that’s coming from someone who is more athletic and powerful than most.

So, onto July’s GracieMag article – my favourite in the magazine this month ‘Deconstructing Keenan’…

For those that are not yet fully familiar with the current world sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu scene – Keenan Cornelius has been devastating in competition since Purple Belt. He is a feared man on the mat, has won numerous big competition gold medals including winning all four of the major IBJJF competitions in 2012, as a Purple Belt. He doesn’t win the odd big competition, he wins them all.

I have read the article two or three times, making a mental note of the things that I believe I can take to improve my own performance. Keenan trained at Lloyd Irvin’s in Maryland until recently and one thing the medal chaser team were renowned for was their pure Jiu-Jitsu training intensity. I personally have limited time to train each week because I work in an office for 40 hours, like many others. I know that the more repetitions I do of a technique, the better I will become at performing it. I also have a mindset of wanting to be good and have a high expectation of myself. I am also realistic, but try to strongly emulate the competitors that impress me. I cannot afford to waste my limited time so try to remain focused because every minute I spend on the mat is precious.

I train with intensity because I am on the mat to work and get better. Keenan emphasises the intensity at Lloyd Irvin’s as a key contributor to his success and this reminds me to train with purpose. Each repetition I perform, I perform with good form and increasing accuracy. If you look at how the best freestyle wrestlers train in the States, they drill hard and sessions are intense. I try as hard as possible to ensure everything I do on the mat is done well – sloppiness of technique creates bad habits. Practice with poor technique and you learn to do something badly. Keenan’s intensity can be followed – you don’t need special physical attributes, just a strong mind and desire. Keenan also comments within the article that he ‘learnt to have a work ethic’ – at Team Lloyd Irvin. I personally believe in creating a behavior – and will bring this to our mat. I am not going to lose sight of our need to relax and have fun, but I want to develop our Jiu-Jitsu, too. Keenan finishes on the subject of intensity by adding – ‘I do a lot of repetitive move drills.’ Noted.

Although everything above is critical to success – a further and even bigger factor in Keenan’s success is his ‘mental state’. I am especially interested in this subject – the mindset of a champion is fascinating. I will not explain my personal thoughts on the subject in this article review – but we will be big believers at BJJ Lifestyle Team.

Keenan talks about how his Jiu-Jitsu has become more aggressive and how he now attacks more during fights and ‘sets the pace’. I have often read about people trying to impose their game. Marcelo Garcia states – ‘the more I attack, the more he has to defend’.

If you have to endlessly defend, you can’t attack. Whenever I get dominated, I feel as if I have done nothing but defend. Whoever I have sparred with has successfully imposed their game on me and I haven’t managed to get mine started – largely because I’ve had to constantly defend.

Keenan believes that whenever you have someone ‘killing you in training, you are improving’. How true this is, although it’s hard to think this way when you are getting smashed.

The last part of the interview that I have taken something from is Keenan’s self-analysis of his guard passing game. He believes that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and he has identified an area of his game that he thinks he can improve. He believes he needs to apply more pressure when passing guard. He has decided that he needs to work on the way he puts his weight over the opponent to pass the guard and keep the opponent under control.

This is an interesting area of Jiu-Jitsu and one that I am constantly working on. I have read a great deal on guard passing and learnt an enormous amount from Leo Negao. Leo’s guard passes are so heavy that I have to give him the pass because of the pressure he exerts. All of this he generates through correct body positioning and technical use of weight. He is an expert at making himself feel much heavier than he really is. A point of note, Leo constantly presses the need to ‘keep position’, the only time you start to lose a fight in terms of position is when you give your opponent too much space and don’t successfully apply your weight.

I read a superb article by Fabio Gurgel once where he stated that he gets his students to ‘count to ten’ when they are passing someone’s guard. The forward pressure applied is delivered slowly to a count of ten and this ensures that space isn’t given and weight feels at its maximum – making the opponent feel very uncomfortable.  Fabio is credited with being one of the best guard passers in the world.

Technically heavy, dominating passing is Leo Negao’s guard passing style and I am trying to replicate his style of Jiu-Jitsu. Big, heavy, dominating passes impress me and in my opinion, this is a style that you can maintain despite your age.  Speed and agility are not governing factors. Keenan’s self-analysis has further compounded my thoughts on guard passing and got me thinking.

In summary – a great and inspiring article with the main messages being train with intensity, have a strong work ethic, impose your game – setting the pace – be TECHNICALLY aggressive and don’t worry if you are getting  dominated, you are learning all the time and will develop if people are tapping you.