Given all the controversy B.J. Penn has created in recent months with his pre- and post-fight comments, it is refreshing to be reminded what an expert technician he is. The man is a legend in the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Not only did he earn his black belt in an unheard of three years, he became the first non-Brazilian to win the jiu jitsu world championships in that very same year.
No matter what you may think of B.J. Penn as a person, when he is talking martial arts technique, it is time to shut up and listen from the man his UFC 101 challenger Kenny Florian has called "the master."
As with all the technical books I've reviewed here on the site, The Closed Guard will be of the greatest utility to those who are actively training MMA or jiu jitsu. But that doesn't mean its not of considerable interest to those (like me) who just sit on the couch and watch our fights on the TV. Since I stumbled into reading technique manuals, I've found my understanding of the MMA game has jumped by leaps and bounds. Not only does reading The Closed Guard increase your understanding of the jiu jitsu techniques seen in the Octagon, it provides serious insight into the mindset, strategy and technical arsenal of one of the great talents of our generation -- B.J. Penn.
Unlike Penn's earlier publication, The MMA Book of Knowledge, this book doesn't deal with Penn's tactics for MMA, instead it focuses strictly on his roots in traditional sport Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, with the gi and everything. The first of a projected 9 book series, The Closed Guard focuses soley on what Penn calls "the most essential guard of all."
He goes on to say, "While the closed guard is perhaps the most basic guard, it is the most important one to master. (In the closed guard) you have substantial control of your opponent's body which allows you to execute a broad array of submissions, sweeps and transitions."
With Camarillo playing the thankless "opponent" role, Penn goes through basic drills (8 pages), the closed guard fundamentals (10 pages), chokes (51 pages), arm attacks (112 pages) and sweeps and transitions (36 pages). One thing becomes very clear from even the most cursory review of this book, Penn regards the Closed Guard as an offensive position. The book is 100% focused on attacking the opponent with only a minimal discussion of defense. And the defensive references are limited to detailing the offensive possibilities presented by an opponent's attempts to pass or stand up out of the guard.
One thing I especially enjoyed about The Closed Guard is the number of moves from Frank Mir's arsenal that I found described in its pages. Too bad I got the book a week after I concluded my Judo Chop series on Mir's best submissions in the UFC. Both the Mir Shoulder Lock (B.J. calls it the "Closed Guard Shoulder Lock") and the footlock from omaplata control Mir used at UFC 41 are covered here.
Of the BJJ technique books I've read, I'd categorize B.J.'s approach as more similar to Saulo Ribeiro's Jiu Jitsu University rather than the hyper-modern games of Marcelo Garcia or Eddie Bravo. I think this is because Ribeiro and Penn were competing at the top levels of Jiu Jitsu in the same period and reflect the state-of-the-art at the turn of the century. But don't take that to mean that B.J.'s game isn't advanced. Jiu Jitsu, like all martial arts in the 21st Century is evolving at an incredibly rapid rate and the latest innovations of the specialists in any one discipline are likely going to be over the heads of most general practiioners.
The book is the usual great Victory Belt production. The sections are color coded for easy reference in the gym. Each move is described step-by-step and each step is illustrated by sharp color photos -- with extra detail shots when necessary. In trying to do my due diligence as a book reviewer, I did conclude that the lack of an index is regrettable, although the organization, color-coding and detailed table of contents go a long way towards eliminating the need for one.
The book is co-authored by Dave Camarillo, one of Penn's instructors at Ralph Gracie's academy, Erich Krauss and Glen Cordoza.
I imagine Kenny Florian has already purchased his copy. It's too bad for KenFlo that the other eight installments will come out long after he has had his shot against B.J. in the Octagon. Honestly, if I were a competing MMA fighter, I would be somewhat leery of publishing my techniques because savvy opponents will be studying them closely, looking for insights.