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Getting A High Grip With Travis Stevens

Getting A High Grip With Travis Stevens

As we progress in the grappling arts we must make a mental and practical transition from thinking about the application of single techniques to a strategic chaining together of techniques in order to succeed against increasingly more skillful and tough opponents. This is where the saying about high level grappling being like human chess comes from

If we look briefly at chess this will help to illustrate the point. At first when we start to learn about chess, we need to know what each piece can and can’t do. Then we learn how each individual piece can work together to attack the opponent while defending other friendly pieces. Then we learn strategies that chain attacks together. Then we learn to think multiple moves ahead so that even if our opponent successfully defends our initial attack they have left themselves vulnerable to further attacks, which they don’t see coming. 

The initial success within no holds barred challenge matches of Judo and BJJ works on exactly this principle. 

As outlined in Renzo Gracie and John Danaher’s book ‘Mastering Jujitsu’, Mitsuyo Maeda’s theory of the phases of combat showed that a strategic approach to combat could take an individual such as Maeda through literally thousands of matches.

Mitsuyo Maeda was a representative of Kodokan Judo and went to Brazil in order to spread Judo. He was 164cm tall and 64kgs (141lbs) but was an imposing figure in a wide range of combat matches, from wrestling demonstrations all the way through to full no holds barred match fights. Maeda’s theory of the phases of combat is now taken for granted but little known at the time.

There are distinct phases of combat, long range striking, short range striking, vertical grappling, ground grappling, and the intelligent fighter works within his strongest phases against his opponents weakest phase. Maeda taught Carlos Gracie and this theory was proven time and again within the UFC and Gracie challenge matches.

BJJ Fanatics tutor John Danaher has taken the same theory of phases of combat and applied it on a micro scale within the ground fighting phase of combat, so that the Danaher Death Squad would outmatch even much more experienced BJJ competitors by hyper-specialising within a particular domain of submission grappling.

In a similar way Judo Fanatics tutor and Olympic Judoka Jimmy Pedro realised that in order to compete at the highest level he had to find an area he could use to it’s maximal effectiveness, and this was kumi kata, or grip fighting

By developing a systematic, chess-like approach to grip fighting Jimmy Pedro has pioneered and sky-rocketed American Judo performance and we are fortunate enough that his colleague Travis Stevens is sharing that knowledge with us in the video below. 


In this clip Travis wants to establish a high right hand in a right vs right kumi kata scenario. To begin with Travis is always looking for a lapel grip to create a stable post in order to manage the grip exchange. 

His opponents will look to pass this posting arm over the top in order to settle onto Travis’ arm and break the post down. He never wants them to be able to do this because his opponent can now post against Travis and this shuts down his throwing set ups.

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To prevent his opponent reaching over the top for a grip of their own Traivs is blocking by going to a high elbow position with his own gripping arm. As he does this his free hand is protecting his lapel from his opponents other free hand, which will try and feed Travis’ lapel up to the hand that Travis is blocking with his high elbow.

As his opponent is not having any success by going over the top of Travis posting arm he’s now going to try coming underneath in order to get a dominant inside lapel grip. As they do this Travis is rotating his elbow inwards while stepping to an angle at the side. This places Travis in a position of controlling his opponents center line and at the same time breaks his opponents posture down.

Now his opponents posture is broken down Travis is in the ideal position to go for the high grip on their collar.

By stepping in and throwing his bicep at his opponents face Travis is able to both shock his opponent momentarily and gain a deep high grip on their collar, which he can further reinforce with his lapel grip. These two grips together give Travis huge control over his opponents’ posture and head.

Pressing downwards into his opponents lapel Travis can generate a really strong feeling of weight into his opponents posture and the high collar grip moves into a back grip, which further blocks his opponents movement and adds further weight and control to Travis’ grip game.

Now Travis has this high level of control he can switch his lapel grip to a sleeve grip and start working tachi waza (standing techniques) and begin his Judo from a position of advantage gained by kumi kata (gripping). 

So to recap, we can see that in order to create a position of most advantage to throw or sweep Travis has first moved through a systematic gripping strategy that allows him to methodically, in a chess-like manner, to move through stages of kumi kata and then gain advantage over opponents that may even be better tachi waza players, but have been set at a disadvantage by Travis exemplary work in the gripping game.

The Judo Academy by Jimmy Pedro and Travis StevensJust like the initial BJJ revolution in UFC people who understood the ground game were ahead of the curve in winning a fight because they had access to knowledge other people didn’t. Now you too can get ahead of the curve by studying the gripping game with some of the best in the business by checking out Jimmy Pedro and Travis Stevens ‘The Judo Academy’ here!