Book Review: Advanced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Techniques by Marcelo Garcia (with Marshal D. Carper & Glen Cordoza)

First things first: Happy New Year! Here’s hoping 2012 brings you joy and fulfillment.

If you set some goals for 2012, perhaps improving your grappling is on the list. Luckily, a plethora of instructional books and DVDs are out on the market–the problem is often which one to choose. But it’s hard to go wrong with Marcelo Garcia, who is arguably the best pound-for-pound grappler in the world in addition to being one of the most sought-after instructors. Marcelo has five world championship titles as a black belt, as well as countless submission grappling awards from ADCC. He has won many absolute divisions against larger, stronger opponents at the highest levels… and in his instructionals (on MGInAction.com), he seems like a very down-to-earth person as well.

I was a bit intimidated when Victory Belt Publishing sent me this book for review. It is, after all, advanced techniques and I’m just a baby when it comes to BJJ. But Marcelo Garcia’s system is always intriguing, as he provides numerous variations to techniques that are unique to his system and often more effective–especially if you’re smaller than most of the people at your gym. (As I mentioned, Marcelo has competed in absolute divisions at the highest levels and done brilliantly, a testament to his technical mastery in the sport.)

Advanced BJJ Techniques is divided into 6 sections: arm drags, establishing back control, submissions from back control, takedowns, attacking the guard and submissions. But first, there’s the introduction–written by Josh Waitzkin, author of the Art of Learning (which, incidentally, is an amazing book about learning, interwoven with Waitzkin’s experiences in competing in both chess and Tai Chi at an elite level). Waitzkin is a chess prodigy and writes with so much beauty and precision. Like Marcelo, he is absolutely brilliant; birds of a feather and all that.) Reading Waitzkin’s descriptions of Marcelo–his personality, his learning processes and his approach–is an absolute treat. Some interesting tidbits: Marcelo does not study opponents ahead of time, will not use techniques that won’t work against bigger and stronger opponents (including D’arce chokes, head and arm chokes, and kimuras) and is always up for a challenge, perhaps sometimes to his own detriment. I found myself wanting to read more about Marcelo as a person, but alas, this book is an instructional and not a biography.

Who is this book for? It is definitely an advanced book, though I think intermediate students may benefit from it as well. Almost all of the techniques are for the gi, so if you train primarily in no-gi, this may not be the best book for you. I think it would be difficult to use as more than a resource if you are a beginner…unless your coach uses techniques from the book in their instruction and you’d like to have something to refer to.

The book’s strengths? It is incredibly comprehensive, focusing not only on techniques but also on the set-ups and options for failed attempts. There is a lot of emphasis on transitions, which is missing from many BJJ instructional books. The photographs are great, like with all Victory Belt books, but specifically they also include minor steps for the techniques as well as photographs of the main steps. And Marcelo always has very technical variations of moves that work against bigger, stronger opponents. The book was co-written by Marshal Carper (author of the Cauliflower Chronicles) and Glen Cordoza, so it’s very well-written and easy to understand.

Onto the meat of the book. It starts with the arm drag section, which is divided into three parts: arm drag grips, arm drags to back takes and transitions from failed arm drags. There’s descriptions of times when Marcelo used these arm drags in competitions, and he describes both gi and non-gi variations with various grips. As with all Victory Belt books, photographs are abundant, making it easy to understand each technique.

The section on establishing back control is very extensive, and includes the basic body lock, ways to secure the second hook, and 8 counters to common escapes.

Submissions from back control include a detailed breakdown of the rear naked choke, an alternate back choke, ways to trap the arm to get the rear choke, information on the bow and arrow choke (including grip fighting and counters to escapes), and a counter to the back escape from a belly-down rear choke.

Takedowns are often underemphasized in grappling–usually due to space–so I was psyched to see the takedown section in this book. Marcelo prefers wrestling style takedowns to those used in judo and that’s what he emphasized: shooting in (double leg and single leg takedowns and trips and counters to sprawls), and the over/under clinch, plus some counters to sprawls.

The next-to-last section is attacking the guard and includes strategies for breaking the closed guard (including 3 breaks and a sweep counter), passing the open guard (3 methods), passing the half-guard (6 methods, including 2 counters) and passing the butterfly guard (3 methods.)

Last but not least, there’s a chapter on submissions. It is divided into three sections: chokes, armbars and omoplatas, and counter omoplata defense. These often include a transition: throat crush to guillotine; single leg counter to guillotine, failed choke crush to forward roll to bridge choke, plus the North/South choke, armbar from mount and various omo plata setups.

The book will run you $34.95–but it’s less on Amazon or BudoVideos, so check around.

Book Review: Make It Paleo

Make It Paleo is the newest Paleo cookbook that landed in my mailbox for review, and I’m so glad it did! This is an awesome cookbook: visually appealing, tasty yet simple recipes and amazing variety.

The recipes are divided into the following categories: breakfast, appetizers, entrees (further subdivided into meat, poultry and seafood dishes), salads, soups, sauces and dressings, side dishes, and a treats & cheats section (including cookies, cakes, pies, baked fruits, candies, cupcakes/muffins, ice cream, and frostings/toppings.)

One of my favorite parts of the book is the Paleo kitchen section, which has cool diagrams showing you which parts of the animal various cuts of meat come from, have a list of seasonal produce (divided by season), describe various oils and fats as well as nuts and seeds, and list herbs, spices and seasonings by which types of meat they work well with.

The recipes are incredibly aesthetically pleasing–not  just the beautiful color photos, but also the font and color selection and formatting. Below the recipe title and information, There’s a box with a list of ingredients, difficulty scale (indicated by whisk icons), prep time, cooking time and servings. The process is on the right of the box, and below it are informative notes (if necessary).

The recipes themselves are fairly simple, but there is a wide variety–so it’s good both for tried and true favorites as well as some variety that isn’t too complex or time-consuming. I like that there are some pretty unique recipes, such as sushi, or those that use fun ingredients, like red wine, balsamic vinegar, etc., but that they don’t take hours to prepare. Aside from the great entrees, it is the salads and appetizers that to me really shine. I always want to add more side dishes to my meals, and these recipes make it quick and easy–especially since many recipes are not that complicated, so it’s not hard to find all the ingredients laying around. I have not yet delved into the deserts, but there’s some bacon cookies, coconut macaroons, raspberry torte, almond fudge brownies and pistachio bark with my name on them. Yum.

Lastly, I was really excited about the menus for special occasions, featuring 4-6 recipes (and the pages they’re located on in the cookbook), in the back. Myboyfriend and I were considering cooking a Paleo meal for Thanksgiving–and rosemary roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, roasted brussel sprouts, pumpkin chiffon pie, carrot souffle and garlic and herbed mashed cauliflower hit the spot! Even the Valentine’s Day meal is perfect–strawberry salad, oyster’s Rockefeller, balsamic and rosemary chicken, raspberry torte and roasted baby carrots. And who wouldn’t want a Sunday brunch consisting of coconut-nested eggs, coconut flour waffles, frittata and prosciutto e melone? Other special occassion menus include a birthday dinner, Easter or Passover dinner, New Year’s celebration meal, “the Big Game,” a winter holiday meal, a summer cookout, Tex-mex night, Far East flavors and an Island Laua. And, of course, a conversion table and list of resources (books and websites) in the back.

At $34.95 for over 200 recipes, the book is a steal. Highly recommended.

To see photos we took of some recipes from the cookbook, check out yesterday’s post!

Book Review: Paleo Comfort Foods

Let’s face it. We all love comfort foods. Anyone who’s Paleo and doesn’t eat cheat meals regularly probably craves some good home cooking every once in a while. And although the benefits of a Paleo diet far outweigh the occasional feelings of self-deprivation, being able to find similarly flavored meals which you can digest and feel good after eating is win/win.

Except when it’s not. There’s definitely a time and a place to just eat whatever it is you’re craving. If you’re not suffering from an autoimmune disease, a cheat meal every now and again isn’t going to kill you.

Having said that, the elaborately prepared dishes in the Paleo Comfort Foods cookbook are a marvelous alternative for when you are craving a specific flavor but not the effects that come with it. Deviled eggs, crab cakes, spicy chicken wings, sliders, hummus, chili, enchiladas, fried chicken, pot pie… as well as comfort foods that are already Paleo: your salsas and dips, meatballs, dill pickles, tomato sauce,

There’s some great soups and salads, including a delicious tomatillo stew and Paleo gumbo. And while I don’t really crave grits, the cauliflower-based alternative was absolutely delicious.

Hash, slaw, fried green tomatoes and multiple okra recipes definitely showcase the authors’ Southern roots. I was also pleased to see recipes with less-traditional meats including some wild game. We’ve got mushroom stuffed quail with dijon sauce, venison medallions with mustard sauce, braised rabbit and venison-stuffed peppers.

Paleo gumbo with cauliflower rice

Then there’s things like biscuits made with coconut flour and almond flour, coconut flour tortillas and pumpkin pancakes. I’ve been experimenting with these and find that their flavor stands on its own… perhaps it is elitist to assume that this is superior to, say, vegans eating not dogs or tofurkey, but I really do think some of these recipes stand on their own right and that giving up entire textures or flavors is not really necessary.

Going Paleo causes your taste buds to adjust, so the cave ketchup, barbecue sauce and other condiments are a very welcome addition. And while we haven’t dug into the dessert section yet, the selection is delicious: cakes, breads, tarts, pies, pudding…

It is a truism that you can only have two of the three: high quality, high speed or low cost. Meat and vegetables, in my mind, are quite affordable and the recipes are certainly quality. Some of them do take a bit of time to prepare, though. I believe the shrimp and grits took about an hour, between the chopping and cooking and preparing. I’m okay

Paleo shrimp and grits

with that, but if you’re always in a rush, perhaps Everyday Paleo might be a better fit, or even just picking and choosing simpler recipes.

All in all, I’d highly recommend Paleo Comfort Foods. The types of recipes included are not really available, Paleo-style, anywhere else. There is a huge selection, easily classified by color-coded sections–starters and snacks, sauces and staples, soups and salads, side dishes, main dishes and desserts.

The cookbook is also beautiful to look at, with full-page full-color photos. If you’re looking for healthy versions of delicious homestyle recipes, look no further–this is the cookbook for you.

The book retails for $29.95 but includes over 125 recipes and runs 336 pages long. I’ll admit that I don’t have more than a handful of tried and true favorites–so thirty bucks is a small price to pay for brand new recipes to test out.

Book Review: The Four-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss

I had mixed feelings about the Four-Hour Body before I even started reading it. On the one hand,  I bet Tim Ferriss would be a blast to hang out with. His writing style is almost addictively engaging, and I’ve noticed all of my fitness gurus (and non-fitness gurus) dropping his name with alarming regularity. (I could list at least a dozen people I really respect who have mentioned him in phone conversations or on their blogs in recent weeks, but I won’t.) I’m sure he’d be a blast to hang out with and is great at parties. And Tim Ferriss probably doesn’t need my book review. He’s got an army of followers and 833 5-star reviews on Amazon. People are tripping over themselves to write about the guy. And the review of his book in the New York Times, albeit negative, probably helped him sell even more books.

On the other hand, I approached the book with skepticism. I am no fan of the Four-Hour Work Week. In fact, if I believed in hell, I’d even go so far as to say that there would be a special place reserved in it for FHWW adherents–specifically, the ones who I’ve worked with on projects right when they decided said projects were not part of the 20% of their tasks worth doing (and left myself and others others to pick up the pieces), or those who have no problem with confusion, broken chains of communication and lack of a human element in their work life, or think it’s okay to waste other people’s time with bizarre requests to accommodate their (almost entirely outsourced) businesses so they can go traipsing about on prolonged vacations while VAs (from less privileged countries) do their level best to keep everything together.

As much as 4HWW annoyed me, Four-Hour Body is a testament to Ferris’ time well-spent. While ignoring and outsourcing huge parts of his life, he spent hours in which he wasn’t vacationing exploring ways to be a ninja: gaining muscle, speed, strength and longevity. I can respect that. Who hasn’t spent hours at real jobs gazing out the window or cubicle and wishing they were, instead, pushing the limits of human performance?

The Four-Hour Body is nothing if not well-researched, and for every gimicky chapter promising (for example) good sleep for a handful of overpriced items you can buy through affiliate links embedded in the book, or weight loss by sitting on ice, there are chapters that are tremendously useful and well-researched. From lowering bodyfat to adding muscle, reversing injuries to improving one’s strength, sleep, running, swimming, longevity and even sex life, the book is absolutely jam packed with detailed information and resources. I found the posterior chain chapter particularly cogent.

The book reads like a lunch buffet, imploring readers to pick only the sections they like. But like a lunch buffet, you run the risk of putting too much on your plate and then feeling really sick afterwards and not being able to finish your meal… especially since each chapter pimps so many products that I’d hesitate to recommend the book to anyone on a budget.

I also found the title a bit misleading, as many of Ferriss’ protocols were complicated and time-consuming, and I don’t know if one could easily see results in just four hours a week. (I, myself, exercise 3-5 hours a week, and spend 2-4 additional hours a week in my sport of choice, and spend at least 5 hours a week preparing home-cooked meals. That means I spend 10-15 hours a week on my body, not counting 56+ hours of sleep.)

But the book is well-researched enough to provide appropriate guidance for a wide variety of activities and goals, and in a far more engaging manner than other books you’ll find. Ferriss comes across as a teeny bit smug, but he’s on the reader’s side, and if nothing else his cult following will help you find other s attempting to experiment with his techniques (such as punk rock business consultant Johnny B. Truant, who is experimenting with the Slow-Carb Diet this month). (I, myself, am partial to the Paleo diet, but…uh, that has nothing to do with this book review. Except that I can’t in good conscious write about slow-carb without mentioning it.)

Bottom line? Look through 4HB in the book store, see if there’s chapters you like, and if you have the time, motivation, desire–and probably money–pick up a copy. Otherwise, maybe try the library?

Book Of The Month: Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle’s Sweaters to Maine’s Microbrews

Now that we live less than one CD away from civilization, my boyfriend and I actually get to go to cool events during the week. So I was thrilled to learn that Christian Landry, of Stuff White People Like fame, would be speaking at our favorite indie bookstore in Minneapolis.

One of the things I’ve noticed since moving to the Midwest is that racist comments are made in polite company with alarming regularity, often making me wish to quote poetry by Daphne Gottlieb (overheard at a dinner party), which goes something like, “What I hear you saying is that it’s your experience that undercapitalized people of color are responsible for most of the problems in this country. I don’t want to invalidate what you feel, but I think we can agree to disagree on this. It’s so good that you feel this is an open and free environment in which you are safe to express yourself.”

Perhaps more effective, and definitely more enjoyable, is responding in kind by making fun of white people, especially if you happen to be white yourself. Landry’s work effectively and amusingly stereotypes white people (or, more specifically, upper middle class liberals–many of which happen to be white) in a hysterical and only mildly offensive way. “If you thought you had white people pegged as Oscar-party-throwing, Prius-driving, Sunday New York Times–reading, self-satisfied latte lovers—you were right. But if you thought diversity was just for other races, then hang on to your eco-friendly tote bags. Veteran white person Christian Lander is back with fascinating new information and advice on dealing with the Caucasian population,” explains a review of his book before delving into, well, stuff white people like. The sequel to the first book is Whiter Shades of Pale, which explains diversity inherent in Caucasian culture.

The book is hysterical and highly recommended, especially for those of us who think too much and need some lighthearted reading to pass the time, or perhaps take ourselves a touch too seriously. Landry’s books are the next best thing to The Field Guide to North American Males. It was also fun to hear him speak in person and have him sign my book, even though he misspelled my name. (How come white people thing Yael starts with a W, anyway?)

Book Review: The Paleo Solution

Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution has already made the New York Times bestsellers list, and was virtually sold out before it even came to print. He’s already made waves on T-Nation, Tim Ferriss’ blog and public radio and, of course, was featured prominently in Eat This: The Ultimate Food Resource Guide. I almost feel like a book review is overkill, but I definitely wanted to add my voice to the choir.

Giving up grains and dairy isn’t popular, which is why this book is so necessary. It outlines the scientific evidence for the “original human diet,” delves into the harmful effects of Neolithic foods and details the practical application of Paleolithic eating with a masterful combination of ancient wisdom and modern science.

The Paleo Solution is both informative and entertaining, comprehensive and accessible. Whether you’re a science geek or a cave dweller, there is something in the book for you if you’re interested in understanding Paleolithic nutrition, wanting to lose weight and reverse disease or are simply chasing improved health and athletic performance.

Here’s what you’ll get if you get your hands on the book:

  • The hows and whys of Paleo nutrition, written in an engaging and accessible manner
  • The nuts and bolts of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and hormones (including glucagon, leptin, cortisol and insulin-like growth factor)
  • Information on digestion, insulin resistance, leaky gut syndrome and other disease states, and their relationship to Neolithic foods
  • Solutions for reducing stress and controlling cortisol (primarily through sleep)
  • The recipe for the infamous NorCal margarita (not ideal, but better than gluten-rich beer or “froufrou drinks with umbrellas”)
  • Specific information on which blood markers to monitor if you’re looking to track your progress
  • A very basic workout program, specifically written for beginners or intermediate exercisers (and a list of resources for those who are a bit beyond that.)
  • A one-month meal plan, written by the amazing Scotty Hagnas (who writes awesome recipes for the Performance Menu each month, and has some cookbooks out as well). The recipes look simple, delicious and nutritious.
  • Comprehensive information on some important supplements, including what they do and how much we need.
  • A boatload of references (30 pages of them, to be exact)

I feel comfortable offering a blanket recommendation for Robb’s book because it has so much for everybody. If you’re not into the nitty-gritty details, you can simply read the overviews on topics you’re interested in. If you’re a scientist, you can geek out on the more comprehensive information included. Need some support in making the transition? That’s why the 4 weeks of meals and exercise program would come in handy. (And if you’re not sold on the Paleo diet, you’ll learn exactly which biomarkers to track before and after a one-month experiment, so you can make a more informed decision.)

If you’re a fan of Robb’s blog or podcast, you will love the book. Already got your hands on it? Would love to hear what you think in the comments.