It's no secret that I'm a total mark for Victory Belt's body of work. Co-authors Erich Krauss and Glen Cordoza have also done books with Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Randy Couture, B.J. Penn, Karo Parisyan, Marcelo Garcia and Anderson Silva and I've enjoyed them all.
Thanks to the generosity of the fine folks at Victory Belt, I've been able to go back and review some of their earliest publications like Eddie Bravo's Mastering the Rubber Guard.
Its hard to believe that its been two and a half years since Victory Belt and Bravo put out this tome. Its harder to remember how controversial Bravo was at the time -- his ideas were seen by some as heretical, unsound, impractical and unlikely to ever make an impact on MMA or competitive jiu jitsu.
Since then its gone from shocking when Shinya Aoki choked out Joachim Hansen with the first ever gogoplata submission win in MMA history to a cool but not unheard of submission. Nick Diaz's gogoplata win over Takanori Gomi and Brad Imes' two fight gogos streak helped establish the hold as a proven MMA fight winner.
The increasing popularity of no-gi grappling has also made Bravo's insistence on exclusive no-gi training much less controversial. The strong sustained sales of Bravos books and DVDs also speak to the penetration of his ideas in the MMA and grappling world.
Now on to the book itself. It pioneered the approach we've come to expect from Victory Belt -- lots of multi-angle color photos detailing each step of each move from multiple angles; step-by-step instructions; clear organization; color coded pages for easy reference; logical organization into sections and sub-sections. Clearly Victory Belt hit upon a winning formula here as the many successful follow-ups attest.
As the first of its kind there are some rough spots -- some minor grammar mistakes made it past the editors and in one or two instances right and left were confused in the descriptions -- not a minor problem when Bravo's moves are so complicated and often involve all four limbs. But overall, the book has earned its status as a classic of modern MMA/grappling training manuals.
As for Bravo's ideas....well the guy is pretty clearly a grappling genius. HIs style is more than just a bunch of techniques. Its a comprehensive system that literally maps out multiple plans of attack from virtually any ground position a competitor is likely to find himself in. Mastering the Rubber Guard covers roughly half of Bravo's system, the guard game. His top game is covered by Mastering the Twister which I'll review in the near future.
His approach is built on extreme flexibility which allows him to use all four limbs to control his opponents and protect himself while constantly working to improve his position. In that sense -- positional control as the top priority -- his is an approach to jiu jitsu very much in the Helio Gracie tradition. But in other aspects its very non-traditional.
A student of the Machado brothers, Carlos and Jean Jacques, Bravo doesn't pretend that his approach springs out of nowhere. Numerous moves are credited to other practitioners including the "Jean Jacques Sweep", "Frank Mir Ankle Lock" and "The FIlho." Nevertheless, Bravo's system is a big departure from any other jiu jitsu system I've seen, even such 21st Century innovators as Marcelo Garcia and Robert Drysdale.
I don't think Bravo's approach to jiu jitsu is for everyone, but I do think understanding it is a must for anyone serious about understanding the modern MMA game on the ground. His approach is already dramatically changing how Jiu Jitsu is applied to MMA and I expect his influence will only increase as more fighters learn his systems and incorporate them into their game.
One thing I do need to mention about the book though, the introduction by Bravo and forward by Joe Rogan are pretty worthless and infuriating. Bravo babbles endlessly about all kinds of irrelevant crap from his failed career in heavy metal to his miracle love for marijuana and Rogan follows his lead. Its pretty easy to skim those sections and they don't detract from the book too much.
The other eccentricity of Bravo's is his insistence on unusual names for moves and positions -- "Crackhead Control" "Mission Control" "New York" -- etc. Apparently they work for him and his students. I think their unconventionality might make them harder for others to remember and adopt. I expect that the moves most associated with Bravo's system and the most widely used will retain the names he's given, others will revert to more conventional "Roll from half-guard" sorts of names.
All-in-all this was a really amazing read. Bravo's ideas are as complicated as the positions he describes and require quite a bit of concentration to absorb. For those who actually train, I would expect this book to take months to really digest and potentially years to thoroughly work into your jiu jitsu game.