Michelle Nicolini Guard Study Part 2: Shin/Spider Lever

Tactics over Techs

One small pet peeve I have is the obsession over new moves. I’m not big into the philosophy that the key to BJJ success is surprising someone with a killer move or bamboozling them with a vast array of sweeps/locks/submissions. IMHO, it’s probably better to look at the tactics employed by elite players and what is consistently working for them. Yes, sometimes it might be a single killer move, but often it’s a strategy/gameplan that unfolds over and over that employs relatively simple moves that is the “secret” to a competitor’s success. While I think it is important to have a decent “move vocabulary” when you are starting out, I personally find one of the biggest obstacles to success/”the next level” for the beginner is chasing “moves”/”staying up to date with the latest”. A series of unconnected moves might actually be a detriment as it might lead to paralysis analysis during actual live situations.

Michelle is an elite player that has a game/strategy based of a few basic moves but she has combined them well using one main move that links them all. Her situp sweep variant is just one move off her core strategy which I will now extrapolate on in this entry.

Shin/Spider Creates a Mechanically Powerful Lever

Digging in with the shin/butterfly side and kicking out with your spider creates a very powerful lever that gets someone off their feet. Even if the person is based down and bigger than you, this works as you are bringing your hips into the action to “rock” him/her over you. This simple motion gets a lot of knee passers off their defensive base and puts you into position to initiate some kind of attack or at least force a retreat from them. Michelle is a master at “leading” the action this way, forcing you to have to deal with this lever constantly if you let her lock on shin/spider. The shin/butterfly foot is critical here , as unlike Lo’s DLR hook which shoots in between and cannot be brought as efficiently into the “jacking up” motion, the shin contact allows you to keep pushing against something (opponent’s shin/thigh) as you jack someone up with the spider side and get under them.

LEVER(Lever in action, jacking up an opponent).

Bad Choices left if you get Levered Up

Michelle’s guard strategy is centered around this shin/spider lever, using it’s levering action to initiate the action vs her opponents. Based on how they react a lot of her other moves then come into play. The sequences are quite well defined so if this strategy interests you, you can always watch her matches to pick up the finer details on the other scenarios that might arise aside from the main ones I cover here and in the video.

So as I was saying, if you get levered/lifted off the floor, getting pitched forward¬† and swept now becomes a real danger. The shin elevator now becomes an obstacle, keeping your foot off the floor and the whole “weak plane/strong plane” concept disappears. You are now on a point and extremely unstable. This leads to being swept unless you do something:

1) Accept getting pitched forward
2) Retreat/posture out

(1) is especially unpleasant as once loaded up, you are basically helpless. Michelle is a “sub over points” competitor so while getting the sweep is one option, she frequently “releases” the shin elevator so that you drop into the triangle/armbar/omaplata. Letting her lock on this guard and repeatedly hoisting you up and dropping you into a triangle is something many get stuck in (hence triggering the impetus to stand/retreat).

Michelle can activate an even more powerful lever with the sleeve/lapel version of shin/spider. The lapel grip now brings you closer to the hips and allows you to really dig under and lever up someone who is determined to stay based down or bigger. This lapel grip frees one hand to post, but this is frequently a trap for many who try to accept being levered and post to stop the sweep. Once you post, the pesky shin elevator now shoots up for the triangle. If you are still too far, Michelle’s shin goes to the hip and the spider sleeve leg does the shooting up to lock the triangle on.

(2), the retreat, leads to the shin on shin sweep from Part 1, but there is an additional option which is to ankle pick. This again is a move that she times off the fleeing opponent. Many are obsessed with escaping the more dangerous levering so they frequently try to sit back and dig in with their heels. This leads to the easy angle pick with the spider sleeve hand while the shin now becomes a hook behind the knee or heel on the other side. This isn’t the easiest sweep to finish unlike the Lo Sweep which has similar mechanics but it allows the footlock and knee bar which she frequently goes for and get the sweep in any case.

Effective gameplan Using “basic” moves but 7 world Championships

Michelle Nicolini has been a consistent user of shin/spider since her lower belt days and while the moves aren’t fancy, when combined into a coherent strategy yield great results. Many get stuck in this lever and many opponents end up losing their composure as they desperately try to flee, opening up all kinds of opportunities for attacks by Michelle.

This guard is not without vulnerabilities though and almost all passes conceded will come over/around the shin via x-pass/weaves (maybe I will put this in the Bsides channel). Kneesliding through the guard is almost impossible though. This “weakness” is easily addressed by someone who wishes to incorporate shin/spider with the combination of one legged/full X vs those that try to get over the shin. Even RDLR/Spider if you like inverting. In particular mixing this with DLR/Spider vs those who try DLR knee posting should be pretty effective.

Here is a nice seminar on some moves Michelle can pull off from the shin/spider position (ones I covered + extras).

Scouting Tip: Do you Lead or Follow?

“Leading the action” is a very common trait you will find in elite BJJ competitors. They are often the initiators forcing reactions off opponents and then countering these. These “initiate->reaction->counter” sequences can to the casual viewer appear to just be a brilliant move/scramble but you will often find regularity in the top players. When you find regularity, this hints at a pattern and if you dig enough, one typically appears. The trick then becomes identifying what allows the player to “lead”. For example in Lo’s case, the DLR knee post/posture is the “trigger” that sucks the guarder into Lo’s world. In Michelle’s case, the shin/spider lever is the move that puts the passer into her world and triggers her other moves off the shin/spider. Thus, while it’s great to “identify” all the moves coming off shin/spider, on a deeper level what you really need look for is the “trigger” move that all the others flow from. If you can stop that trigger, you typically can frustrate the action “leader” and try capitalize once you put them out of their element.

If you buy into this reasoning, then perhaps my view as to why I don’t think Lo is a “super scrambler” makes sense. A competitor performing a fast paced sequence of moves could simply be executing a well rehearsed counter off the action he/she “lead” earlier. IMHO, good scramblers are those that can “follow the action” consistently and still come out on top. Some good examples of that are Dean Lister, Kron, Askren (ok I watch wrestling), Marcelo Garcia (he does both well) and Faria. It’s not easy to “follow” all the time though, so it’s not easy to find many at the top level who succeed purely on this strategy. Do let me know if you come across any!

Ok, that’s all for now. Check out the video. Enjoy.


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