Stephen whittier bjj

Training Smart-How Can Older Grapplers Find Sustained Success In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

With the evolution of sport science seemingly happening every day, it isn’t so shocking to see older men and women competing in various sports well into their 40’s and 50’s.  Quite often I look into what makes a strong competitor in the world of martial arts, especially those at an older age.

During my studies, I cam across an interview with Stephen Whittier where he sits down and talks with Judo Black belt, Lily Pagle, who didn’t start training till she was 51 years old!

In the interview, Lily shares some insight as to how she has maintained her competitive drive, as well as her overall well being.

To see the latest on BJJ over 40 check out my blog at

Train Hard & Train Smart556266_453413958016043_411240398_n

Lily knew that in order to become the best she could be when she started out in Judo, there were two things that were a must: training hard and training smart.

These two work in relation to one another, because in order to work hard, being smart about your approach is a must!  It’s one thing to hit the mat for an hour or two every night, but not resting properly and eating right will negate all of that.

To be over the age of 40 and partake in such a demanding sport, you have to be smart.  Have the right diet, get the right amount of sleep every night…all of these things must be taken into account when you start training!

People complain about being sore or not seeing results from training, and it’s likely that they didn’t treat themselves properly outside of the gym.

Simply put, the older we get, the more likely we are to suffer from an injury.  Even if a freak incident occurs on the mat, these problems can be taken care of if you are treating your body properly off of the mat at the house.

Finding The Proper Training Partners

In any area of martial arts, it’s a must that you surround yourself with the proper training partners.  These are the ones that will do a few different things for you:

  • They push you to train!  Any time you feel the need to take a day off or not try your hardest, they’re right there pushing you to keep going.
  • You can learn from them.  Never think you’re too good or that you know enough!  A lot of your training partners can teach you many valuable tools that you can use on the mat.
  • They can help you reach your goals!  It’s easy to confuse this with helping you improve, but not every grappler over 40 is looking to be a black belt.  Some are looking for a new healthy lifestyle, which working with your partners can help promote.

Know the difference between having smart training partners, and dangerous ones.  Don’t avoid grappling with certain people because they’re too good for you, that won’t do you any good!  Avoid working with those that could cause you harm with negligent training habits.

Be sure to check out this article at on Stephen.

Dan Faggella

Be Quick To Reverse Your Opponents With The Cross Step Guard Pass!

Knowing how to defend a move in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one thing, but it’s a totally different thing to be able to reverse it and end up in the dominant position.

This rare trait is something that we’ll shine some light on today, as I break down a slick reversal technique as demonstrated by Stephen Whittier.

Whittier will give you the tools to properly reverse any opponent looking to pass your guard and into side control.  Make sure you’re ready for this one; it’s very simple, but calls for some very high level focusing!

Check out this article on the Guard Pass Defense!

Look For Your Trigger Indicatorshqdefault

The initial setup from this move is rather simple, we have pulled guard and are looking to prevent our opponent from stepping over to our side and take side control on us.  Here’s how we’ll go about defending it:

  • The first thing you must do is look for your trigger indicators!  These are the legs; if their right leg moves left, follow it with your hands.  If their left leg goes right, then follow that with your hands.  Whichever leg makes the move, will be the one they try to step with.
  • As they step, shoot one hand through and cup their opposite thigh with your hand.
  • Meanwhile, grab their ankle with the other hand, and begin to drive into that leg with your shoulder, causing them to fall to the mat.
  • From here, you should be able to pass and end up in the dominant position.

This setup is all about timing.  If you fail to recognize the trigger indicator, and don’t react properly, then it could spell trouble for you right from the start.  Make sure you’re sharp and focused when trying to execute this technique!

Turning A Defensive Position Into An Offensive Position

There are so many things that make the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu a beautiful thing.  I could sit here and begin listing them, but neither you nor I have the time to start reading that long of a list!  One thing, however, that sticks out to me is the ability to take a poor position and turn it into a dominant one in the blink of an eye.

Crafty grapplers everywhere are always plotting new ways to take advantage of their opposition.  Having a much similar to this is something that will benefit almost every grappler out there today!

As someone who likes to pull guard and work from there, I find it helpful that someone like Whittier broke down a very simple, but effective way to negate our opponent’s potential pass, allowing us to become the dominant grappler.

Obviously this is a move that will need some timing, but with proper training, there is no doubt that you will be flipping the script on your opponent in no time flat!  Just keep in mind the foundation of this move, and you’ll be all set.

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Dan Faggella

Guard pass defense with Stephen Whittier

Today we are looking at a guard defense video Stephen Whittier put up the other day and we are going to try and distill the core concepts he mentions.



Timing is everything in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, sometimes you simply need to be faster than your opponent, sometimes you need to react to a movement at exactly the right moment and sometimes you just need to start moving first.

There are many examples of when excellent timing is the key to the success of your technique, most of these times are when neither of you has established a truly dominant position yet or when you aren’t really working with tons and tons of pressure. Your timing during Toreador passing is probably more important than during a double underhook smash type pass for example.

You are in luck though because in this video Stephen explains what kind of move you need to use at which moment. Learning moves based on precise timing such as these often presents a steep learning curve though so be prepared to put some time into these!

When defending a pass based on speed the sooner you react the better your chances of escape.

 Hip Angle

In my eyes, Jiu-jitsu is all about hip angles and hip direction. Think about for a moment, if I have mount then my hips are pointed at you and yours are pointing in the air, if I have your back my hips are pointed at you and yours are pointing into space, if I have an armbar my hips are pointed at your elbow and your hips are pointed away.

The guard is one of the most common positions in BJJ and we must retain it

It’s important to note that the same counts for shoulder angle as shoulder and hip angle are very closely related.

When trying to pass the guard, what you are really trying to do is go past the dangerous angles of your opponent’s hip and get your own hip in a position to attack. When defending your guard you are trying to keep your hips in the game.

The first movement that Stephen shows is so powerful precisely because it angles your own hips in a position to attack the back and angles the opponent’s hips away from you.

If you’ll notice all of the escapes showed in this video are about pointing your hips back at the passer, the more desperate the escape the bigger the motion necessary is going to be. Just hip escaping is very handy but once it’s too late for that you’ll need to do riskier motions such as barrel rolls. The bigger and slower the motion the higher the chance that you are going to get countered, this is why he showed the barrel roll last.


Distance is another one of the great variables in bjj, generally whenever I’m attacking you I want to get as close as possible to you, if there is less space there is also less potential for you to move relative to me. This is true for sweeps, passes and submissions. Double underhook and over under passes depend very heavily on this concept.

When defending the opposite is true, in order to move relative to you I need a certain amount of space. If you are smaller or more flexible you’ll need less space in order to move, which is why flexible people are so hard to pass.

Sometimes you just need a small hip escape in order to create enough distance to safe your guard, other times you are going to have to do a Granby roll, again the faster you react the easier these moves are going to be.

The reason hip escapes are such strong movements is that they both help you create distance and help you change the hip angle at the same time.

 Stephen has an awesome course called 40 Plus BJJ which can be found here along with the review to the course!

Dan Faggella

BJJ Without Relying on Physical Attributes

Recently I did an interview with Stephen Whittier; this article expands upon some of the concepts that were expressed in this video.

Attributes in the way of progress

One of the first things that Stephen Mentioned was in order to improve and stay injury free it’s important that you don’t rely on your attributes and relax while rolling. The latter is obviously especially true for the older grapplers among us.

Improving your game and staying injury free are two very different but very interconnected things though.

On the improving your game part.

Relying on physical attributes instead of good technique is one of the worst things you can do in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, if you want to become more technical that is.

It doesn’t matter whether you are abusing your strength, cardio or flexibility, all of them can be countered. If you are muscling everyone in the gym you will fall short when facing a stronger opponent, if you are abusing your cardio you’ll get your ass kicked by someone with better cardio and if you aren’t ever getting passed in training because you can put both your feet behind your head you are going to be very disappointed when you meet someone who knows how to deal with flexible guys.

Attributes shouldn’t be the crutch of your jiu-jitsu, technique should. This is why not having any special attributes might be one of the best things that ever happened to your jiu-jitsu! Look at guys like Caio Terra or Felipe Costa as great examples of people who have incredible jiu-jitsu even without being super strong or flexible!

On the staying injury free part.

Knowing what attributes you have is as important as knowing which one you don’t have. If you aren’t flexible then basing your game around berimbolos and kiss of the dragon sweeps probably isn’t the greatest idea and there is a good chance that you will end up with a sprained neck or back if persist on trying these every roll. Passing the closed guard by lifting your opponent in the air is probably not going to be very safe if you are a 120 lbs. guy fighting in the absolutes either.

Finding a style that suits you, mental attributes

When building your grappling style it’s very important that you become increasingly aware of the way your body works. The more you train the more you start to recognize what kind of techniques suit your built. If you have strong legs you might like the x-guard, if you are smaller guy you might prefer to spin underneath someone using the reverse de la Riva. It’s one thing to find out what suits you and what works with your built and an entirely different thing to rely on certain attributes to save yourself every time you lack technique.

 Apart from physical attributes there are also mental attributes. Some people like to always be on the attack whilst other might prefer to wait until the other guy makes a mistake. I might like to stay really calm during a roll while you might want to be as fired up as possible. Some mentality’s might be better suited towards competition than others but if you naturally tend towards one end of the scope it’s often better to develop this instead of trying to force another attitude. I’m kind of telling you to be yourself in a very jiu-jitsu way.

BJJ is meant for anyone of any age. Check out the 40 Plus BJJ course here and the full review to the course here!

 Dan Faggella


Beating the lockdown with Stephen Whittier

Introduction to the lockdown

In order to pass any guard it’s important to first get familiar with the position.

The lockdown as popularized and refined by, but not invented by, Eddie Bravo is one of the trickier of the half guard variations to deal with, especially if you are unfamiliar with it.

 Pros and cons of the lockdown guard:


1)      Doesn’t really allow for a lot of hip movement because both of your legs are glued to one of your opponent’s.

2)      Any kind of distance control using your legs is impossible as both of your legs are used for clinching one of your opponent’s legs.

3)Very easy to break once you know how.


1)      Pretty strong physical lock if the top guy doesn’t know how to deal with it

2)      Can be used as a last resort.

3)      Can inflict some pain which could provoke a predictable reaction.

Stephen says that he hopes the guy is doing it as some kind of survival method, if you ask me, he says so for a very good reason. I believe that the cons outweigh to pro’s in this situation, all I mean with this that you probably shouldn’t actively try to search for this position as a guard player in no way am I saying that it’s not valuable to know what to do once you get your guard passed till the point that the lockdown is your only option.

Most common techniques from lockdown bottom are:

1) Getting up in some kind of ankle pick,

 2) Spinning underneath into some kind of deep half guard position

 3) Rolling underneath the guy sweeping him to the far side.

Example of the third sweep I mentioned

 Passing the lockdown

Now that we are familiar with the lockdown and its pros and cons we are going to watch this video by Stephen Whittier.


Stephen goes over some very legit concepts in order to pass the lockdown; most of these are applicable for passing and top control in general. We’re going to go over the general concepts displayed in this video in order to allow you to use them both in the lockdown and in other positions.

Shoulder of justice:

It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of a properly executed cross face. Knowing how to pressure your opponent’s face does many things.

1)      Any time your neck/spine is bend you become physically weaker (test tis by lifting a heavy weight with your neck bend to the side).

2)      Every time you make someone uncomfortable you force him to react in predictable ways allowing you to be one step ahead.

3)      It stops 99% of all possible sweep attempts.

4)      If your opponent wants to stop it he will have to find a way to create distance which will most likely involve him releasing the lock.

5)      Every time your opponent tries to lift you he will be putting your weight in his face, which is hardly desirable from his standpoint.

If you can create shoulder pressure whilst keeping your far hand free it allows you to use your free hand for various purposes such as basing out. Stephen shows how to do this at 1:08.

 Creating base

The more base you can create in jiu-jitsu the more effective you can be, especially during passing.

Controlling the neck using only one hand allows you to create extra base, in the video Stephen calls this tripod base. You might have heard people call this active posting, this name pretty much sums up how you should be creating base: “actively”. 

Stephen has an awesome course called 40 Plus BJJ. You can check out my review of the course here and the course itself here!

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Once you have created base and are somehow controlling your opponent’s neck it’s suddenly a lot easier to move around, you can start moving your hips which allows you to do a variety of things such as using your free knee a counter point for pulling your leg out.

Dan Faggella

Stephen Whittier Is Here To Help YOU!

No matter how hard you work on the mat, and how much you learn over the years, there comes a time where every good grappler hits a wall and has trouble taking the next step forward with their skills.

Whether you can’t quite learn that new technique, maybe you aren’t yet ready to advance a belt rank, or you have met the dreaded, daunting Father Time, there always seems to be roadblocks waiting for you to try and hurdle them. I know some of you are also very active in strength training as well and you can check out this slick article about BJJ and crossfit training over 30!

Despite the task they all present, any good grappler can get past any roadblock with the proper training.  I can offer advice on how to deal with injuries, learning difficulties, etc., but I’m yet to gain personal experience when it comes to grappling at an older age.

Luckily, I spent some time picking the brain of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, Stephen Whittier, recently who has a product coming out designed to help older grapplers become better overall competitors on the mat. 

He shared a brief insight as to how the product came to be, and what it offers exactly for those who might be in their 40’s—or older—who still look to throw on the Gi and learn some BJJ! You can see what he said in the video I provided below!

A Man of The People

Running his own MMA gym, Whittier knows a thing or two about training people.  Not long ago, Stephen began doing online coaching.  Within the first five-to-six months, people from all over sought him out to get some advice to help their game.

Steve is an accomplished grappler over the age of 40

Before long, with the flood of questions seemingly unending, Whittier decided to assemble a DVD series that will help answer all of these questions and more!

Like any good instructor, Whittier isn’t only doing the jaw-dropping, mind blowing techniques.  Well aware that everyone comes to him with different skill levels, Stephen has put an emphasis on the foundational functions of the sport.

For those who purchase the course, you will have a world class grappler help you with the basics:

  • Escapes
  • Guard Passing
  • Side Control
  • Power Positions
  • Mount
  • Back
  • Submission Attacks

And that’s only the basics!  Whittier doesn’t stop there, as he is always looking to help grapplers become the best they can be. I also interviewed other top BJJ black belts over 40, you can check out my interview with John Connors here!

Tactically Enhancing Your Game

In this series, not only are you able to freshen up your basic skills, you will learn specific situational techniques that every grappler should know!  Before long, you will be able to learn proper structure techniques, and framing your body to your opponents.

The more advanced techniques will also show you have to use the movement of your opponents in your favor, as well as being able to execute specific techniques in unique situations.

While discussing this topic, Whittier used a “cake” analogy.  He told me with a cake, everyone wants the frosting first, not the actual cake.  He likened this to BJJ, and how everyone wants the submissions (frosting) first.  In this course, you’ll learn bake the cake, then finally add the frosting on top.

So what’s stopping you?  Go get your hands on this ASAP!

Dan Faggella

Older Grapplers & How To Find Time In Your Schedule To Train

There’s no getting around it: we all have busy lives!  No matter what your job entails, how hectic your social life is or what school throws at you, we all have specific things that we deem important to our immediate life that demands attention and action.

I always use the term, “life happens” because it’s true!  There’s a difference between making an excuse for not training—“Um…my dog ate my Gi.”—and having a legitimate reason not making it to the gym.

Myself, I’m a big advocate of never missing training.  Seeing that I run my own academy, I practically live at my gym, allowing me ample mat time to work.

However, as I said, life happens and we all can’t have that luxury, especially the older grapplers out there that might be reading this.

Curious as to how older grapplers deal with the issue of finding proper training time, I recently talked with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Stephen Whittier to get his take on customizing your training schedule and being able to make it work as you deal with everyday life. You can see the video of our interview here!

Being Realistic With Your Goals

Stephen is one of the top BJJ black belt over 40 in the world

Right off the bat, Stephen said the above statement when I asked him about training.  Rather simply, Whittier is a big supporter of not trying to be Superman on the mat.  You can lie about your age to others, but not yourself.  It’s a fact, younger grapplers bounce back faster than older grapplers.

“Even if you keep yourself in great shape, even if you’re an outlier,” Whittier expresses, “as we get older, you do take longer to recover.”  This is exactly why Stephen stresses being realistic with yourself and not to try and do too much.

As we get older, our responsibilities outside of BJJ become much greater.  With a profession and a family to maintain, mat time can very easily become scarce.  To this, Whittier suggests that you structure your training after your personal life. Stephen has compiled a resource of his top percentage training techniques and set ups for grapplers over 40 which you can check out here!

“How can you train as efficiently as a possible?  Jiu Jitsu is all about efficiency.” 

Utilizing Your Mat Time Properly

After you have worked out your schedule to where it allows you to train, you must now use that time wisely to make yourself better.

While talking with Stephen, he stressed that being relaxed while on the mat is a vital piece to the puzzle.  He’s a firm believer in not just being physically relaxed, but mentally relaxed as well!  If you are tense in the mind, then your body becomes tense, leading to various injuries.

Once you are calm, it’s time to train.  This is where things can go either way, and it all depends on you.  When training, don’t try to be someone else!  “It’s an unconscious fault of the instructor,” Whittier explains, “to try and copy someone else.”

If you see Marcelo Garcia or Royce Gracie do something, it doesn’t mean you can too.

At the end of the day, it’s a must that you understand that time is of the essence when it comes to training, and to use it properly! I reently interviewd top  BJJ black belts over 40 and you can check out what they had to say here!

Dan Faggella

Why Training BJJ At An Older Age Can Give You An Edge

I love analyzing specific topics regarding Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and really tearing it apart, inside-and-out.  Recently, I’ve been knee-deep in a topic that I find very intriguing: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for 40+ year old grapplers.

Through all of the research and interviews I have conducted, many topics have been looked at as to why it can benefit and hinder a grappler.  However, through that very research, the pros have heavily outweighed the cons by far.

Just a few days ago, I sat down with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt—and a seasoned grappler himself—Stephen Whittier.  During our discussion, Stephen and I talked about many thngs.  However, once our talk had ended, there was one thing that really stood out to me. You can check out the interview in the video I provided below.

Stephen shared his unique views—as well as experience—regarding older grapplers, and how they can even be better grapplers than some of the young bucks on the mat! He has recently released his course BJJ over 40 and you can check out my full review on it here!

With Age Comes Discipline

It should come to a surprise to no one that when we are younger, we normally don’t have much focus, dedication and discipline that we have once we hit

Stephen is one of the top black belts over the age of 40

our 20’s, 30’s and onwards.  For the younger demographic out there, this isn’t a knock on you, it’s just that you don’t have as much responsibility to worry about.

However, older grapplers are much more likely to take control of their own fate on the mat.  Grapplers that are in their 40’s and older are likely to have serious responsibilities: wife, kids, full time job, mortgage, etc.  This tells me that these grapplers are ready for the responsibility of training and what that brings both on-and-off of the mat.

For any academy owner, having someone with life experience can be vital.  The sport reaches a wide age-range, which could very well usher in a couple of immature bad seeds.  Having the older crowd around will set the standard for how you should handle yourself, which can weed out the bad seeds, making it a much better atmosphere to train in.

When it comes to the actual drilling aspect, the older grappler is also more likely to give it their all.  Having discipline will mean they push harder on the mat—and being in a macho, alpha-based atmosphere—this will ramp up the output the other grapplers put out while on the mat as well.

Why Being Busy Can Benefit

There have been times where I have knocked busy, older grapplers for having difficult schedules.  This can easily conflict with their training; however, Whittier shared a time-tested saying that rang true with me.

“If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”

I love that quote!  It’s so true, when you think about it.  Those who are busy are always looking to complete the job and get it done to the best of their abilities.  If you have busy grapplers, why not give them something to work on, allowing them to improve?! I also interviewed other top BJJ black belts over the age of 40, check out what John Connors said here!

Whittier shared some wonderful stuff, and left me thinking that age is truly nothing but a number in the Jiu Jitsu world.

Dan Faggella

Stephen Whittier-Influencing A Generation of Grapplers

As a child, we all had dreams of grander.  I’m sure at one point we all had a dream career path in mind that would have benefited the lives of hundreds, thousands or even millions!  Think back to your first grade class when your teacher asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up.  Chances are your answer was a police officer, fire fighter, professional athlete, President of The United States, or a big time business man.

Whether you ended following those dreams is a mystery to me.  However, just because we grew up, who’s to say we have to abandon our dreams of helping others?

Enter Stephen Whittier.

Stephen—a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt—has taken this concept and has ran with it.  A late bloomer in the BJJ world, Mr. Whittier has made it a point to help the older grapplers in the world of BJJ. Stephen has compiled his knowledge with his training techniques and his top percentaqge set ups and offers it in a course called BJJ over 40 which you can check out here!

We all have our own stories as to how we got started in the game of Jiu Jitsu, and Stephen’s is very interesting and can be viewed as very influential to those aspiring older grapplers thinking of starting out.

A True Student of Mixed Martial Arts

Long before obtaining his black belt, back when grappling was just something the other guys in the gym did, Whittier had ventured into various kinds of combat sports.  Gaining a vast amount of experience in disciplines such as Jeet Kune Doe, Boxing & Kick Boxing, Stephen was starting to really round himself out as an athlete.

Helio Gracie was a living example of how BJJ is sutable for anyone of any age

Being very good at what he studied, it wasn’t long before Stephen began to teach the various art forms that he had learned.  Being a teacher helped him appreciate the sport even more, and made him interested in continuing to evolve himself as a martial artist.

With his high-level skills in JKD, boxing, kick boxing, etc. all maxed out, it was time Stephen began something new, which led him to look into learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Having only grappled a handful of times, and only seeing some of the students at the local gym roll, the sport was rather foreign to him.  With the common knowledge of basic passes, guillotines and armbars, Stephen decided it was time to jump in head first. I’ve recently interviewd top BJJ black belts over the age of 40, just like Stephen, you can check out what the rest of them said here!

Love At First Sight

Not long after starting to learn the beauty of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Whittier was hooked.  Seeing how everything flowed, and how wonderful the sport could be when done correctly, sold him on this new path he had chosen.

Eger to continue his learning process, Whittier found himself rolling with a brown belt one day at the gym, a moment in which he so fondly recalls.

Despite getting treated like a plastic bag in the wind, Whittier points to this moment as his turning point.  All the brown belt did was use his feet to outclass Stephen.  “It was magic to me,” Whittier recalls.

He revealed his love for martial arts in my interview with him which you can view here! 

After that day, it was evident; BJJ was where he needed to be.

“I got to learn this.”

Dan Faggella