Michelle Nicolini is both a Stand Out Competitor and Innovator in BJJ
Michelle Nicolini is a 7x Mundials Black Belt Champion (including 2013) and also 2013 ADCC and 2013 Abu Dhabi World Pro champion. Her list of accomplishments is equalled by few (both men and women) and while she is one of the more popular elite competitors around, not many have delved into the beauty of her jiujitsu. This entry will look at her unique guard structure and her main sweep, a variant of the sit up sweep, using shin on shin control.
Hybrid Guards are another “evolution” of BJJ
A couple of years ago, DLR was considered the forefront of BJJ and beyond that we have moved into berimbolos and other moves off this guard. Another way BJJ is “evolving” though is the use of “hybrids”. Lo’s DLR/Spider (read the study on that here) is one example, but others exist and continue to be created. As I have mentioned, one “weakness’ of spider guard is that its offensive/sweeping options are not as strong because of the lack of contact and Lo’s hybrid is one solution to this problem. Shin-on-shin/Spider (you might even call it butterfly/spider) is another option which is used extensively by Michelle. Michael Langhi uses something like this sometimes, and Lo/Keenan/Braulio does a bit of lapel/spider but it’s not really the same thing. I hesitate to call this a “new”/”modern” BJJ development though, given this actually has been employed by her for several years now, but hasn’t really been picked up upon by most BJJ “tech geeks”. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s an ineffective guard system (but she has more black belt world titles than the Mendes bros combined) or because women’s BJJ just isn’t in the spotlight enough, but nonetheless, I’ll try examine it in this entry and in a future second part.
Shin/Spider creates an elevator sweep
The DLR hook/pant grab’s main purpose is to prevent the “retreat” that frustrates most spider players. If that is the goal, then grabbing the lapel (instead of the DLR pant leg), is an alternative solution. Now, changing the DLR hooking leg to shin on shin contact (and now using the lapel grip to keep the passer close), allows you to pull the passer over you and use that same shin as an “elevator” to off balance them. This creates the opening for a sideways and overhead sweep, especially on a standing opponent. Michelle Nicolini often uses this setup of drawing someone forward from this shin/spider (her hands are grabbing both sleeves, or one the lapel) to trigger a retreat. This allows her to get into position for the shin on shin situp sweep.
Shin/Spider an alternative guard to the DLR knee poster’s tactics, Sitting Guard with Shin control stops Aggressive Kneesliding
As mentioned before, “Scouting Leandro Lo” was actually made before any of the kneeslide/toreando/DLR counters videos. I’m personally more interested in the “counters” to his game/strategies and in particular Lo’s aggressive kneesliding and DLR knee posting. Michelle Nicolini techs provide some clues as to what tactics might be viable counters I feel.
Most people who have been reading the blog probably have realised now how lethal posting on the DLR knee is. This kills the berimbolo so well that perhaps the answer is not to berimbolo but re-compose to another guard. Driving the knee down has one main purpose, to kill inversion. Thus abandoning the hook and going to Shin/Spider might be a viable response. I will cover her other attacks from this guard in part 2, but for now suffice to say, they don’t involve inversion and are useful in countering the DLR’s posters next move, which is to punch for underhook/kneeslide.
Lo’s head pin + underhook is a lethal halfguard/DLR pass as most know by now. This aggressive lunging forward can be countered by the shin on shin control though. In the video (and if you watch Michelle’s individual matches), you will see how she uses this to sweep or repel aggressive kneesliders (who have underhook on even). This is because even when flattened, she still the ability to sweep/elevate the “head down” knee slider with her shin, forcing a sweep or a retreat. Having this “instinct” to look for the shin contact is a good last ditch defense if you find yourself pinned by the head and underhook.
Situp Sweep with Shin Contact the best version?
In my last entry/video I covered some of the variants of the sit up sweep. One in particular I was looking for was the one involving shin on shin control, with the far sleeve fed. I personally feel this variant is the strongest as the shin elevator is a very powerful driver to finish sweep especially against bigger opponents. It took me a while to find a player and who would have guessed she was under our noses all this time. However, while Michelle uses this variant well (as you will see in the video), there is a further thing you can do to finish the sweep once you have the shin control in your sitting guard. Michelle primarily grabs the opponent’s lapel with her free hand to pull them forward as she kicks out with her shin. You could alternatively (and I feel this is a very powerful sweep):
(1) grab the opponent’s far ankle/pant leg with your free hand (other one has the fed far sleeve), lie down on reach out if you have to
(2) “push/kick” your shin (and thus the opponent’s) towards this far ankle you have grabbed to effectively drive both the opponent’s feet together
(3) simply drive in with your shoulder and topple the opponent over (who is standing feet together on a “point” now)
I can’t seem to find an instructional for this anywhere so if anyone of you might be so kind and happen to know of one (or a player, even better), please do let me know! In the meantime, enjoy the video.
* ps – More interestingly, this sit up sweep variant is just one option off her shin/spider guard and I will further dissect this guard in my next entry.