Keenan Cornelius: "No-Gi Is Imploding Because Of Leg Locks And Wrestling"

Keenan Cornelius: "No-Gi Is Imploding"

Controversial to some, a thoughtful analysis to others. Keenan Cornelius offered his opinion on the development of the no-gi grappling metagame when he joined us in the studio earlier this year. 

Hywel Teague: So ADCC is a big one, and man we get a lot of questions in here about, kind of about the leg lock game and stuff like that. Because you're known for being a technician in jiu-jitsu. You're a technical innovator, let's say. That's kind of one of the labels that I think-

Keenan Cornelius: Eloquently put, if I do say so myself. And also accurate.

Hywel Teague: Any time anybody thinks of Keenan, they think of the various tricks that you come up with, the various new things that you're unveiling in competition. Your work in teaching jiu-jitsu in the seminars. But, we were talking about this a little earlier, is that no-gi, it's really diverging from the gi game nowadays. Now how do you see that happening?

Reid Connell: It feels like the no-gi game is exploding, like a lot of people are doing it-

Keenan Cornelius: It's imploding.

Reid Connell: Imploding?

Keenan Cornelius: Yeah, because there's significant ... Can we all just agree that there's significantly less techniques in no-gi, than in the gi.

Reid Connell: Significantly less?

Keenan Cornelius: Yes.

Will Safford: I would agree. There are less options.

Keenan Cornelius: There are less things that you can do.

Hywel Teague: It's not less technical, but there are less-

Keenan Cornelius: It is less technical. 100%. No-gi is a much more athletic game. This is coming from someone ... I have more accolades no-gi than I do gi. If you look at my stats ...

Hywel Teague: Let's pull 'em up.

Keenan Cornelius: Look at the stats.

Hywel Teague: No-Gi world champion.

Keenan Cornelius: I'm a no-gi world champion and I've like two times silver ADCC and two time bronze ADCC. So I've been in it for a while. So I know the game, and I'm not saying this form a biased perspective. I do enjoy no-gi, or I did enjoy no-gi.

Hywel Teague: Not anymore?

Keenan Cornelius: Not as much anymore. I'm not a huge fan of no-gi. But there is less to do in no-gi because there are no grips. This is the fact that you cannot make a grip on the gi. And there are so many chokes that are just gone. How many chokes are there with the gi in jiu-jitsu? You could argue there's probably a thousand. Like if you really were trying to find every single one. Variations included.

Keenan Cornelius: So just there, that's a thousand less techniques. Point made.

Reid Connell: Let's wrap it up.

Hywel Teague: But then you say that no-gi is imploding. And you don't like it anymore, so what's happening?

Keenan Cornelius: It's imploding in the sense that it's becoming ... Like all these people who trained jiu-jitsu in the gi and no-gi, they were sort of training no-gi how they would've trained gi, which is like the classic, I pass your guard, you play guard try and sweep me, and then try and pass my guard. It's changed to where the guard pass and guard play aspect has kind of been removed by leg locks, so now the goal is, leg-lock, so it's like, be on top. If you're on bottom, leg-lock. If you're on top, avoid leg-lock and disengage. And then maybe try and pass. But there's just not a lot, there's not as much passing happening in competition. I think at the lower levels, yes, but I'm speaking from like the black belt competitive-

Hywel Teague: Top of the tree.

Keenan Cornelius: The meta game is different at each level. Like purple and blue bet you can get away with a lot of stuff that doesn't work at black belt. But at black belt you don't really see a lot of guard passes anymore from the high level guys. Whereas in the gi, IBJJF competitions, you see the full gambit of positions, from guard play, people get passed, people get their backs taken, people get choked, arm-barred, leg-locked, everything's there. But in the no-gi, it seems like it's kind of imploding, that's why I say imploding, the game was out here. It's becoming more dense and smaller around leg-locks and take downs.

Hywel Teague: Leg-Locks and wrestling. We have a comment here, basically. So it's catch wrestling?

Keenan Cornelius: Yeah, it's become submission ... And it was always, ADCC had always been like this, but the IBJJF rules from transferring into no-gi, sort of encouraged a more passing guard playing style. Which I really like because I like playing guard. But as the overall level and understanding of passing and being on top progresses, the inherent advantage of being on top is becoming more prevalent. So being on top of someone, you have gravity on your side. And that's a huge, huge advantage. And people are getting much better at taking advantage of that advantage.

Keenan Cornelius: So people who like to play guard, guard is actually becoming less effective in no-gi, to the point where you can't really play an effective guard in the sense of sweeping someone and getting on top with it. The guards that are effective now are guards that set up leg locks or set up take downs. So like 90% of transitions you see in no-gi are a leg-lock position to sweep or a sweep attempt into like a single leg or double leg. Something like that.

Hywel Teague: And you see a lot of people basically ignoring the guard pass to go to the back as well. And this is both gi and no-gi. But we saw it much more, the recent no-gi Worlds that, you can force a guy from top, he'll give the back, you get the back. Or now using the leg entanglements to open that up as well, right?

Keenan Cornelius: Yes. Yeah, the leg entanglements, it's becoming ... It's just shifted a lot. The Danaher guys take full credit for that. They've really shown what you can do by attacking someone's legs. Gordon made an awesome transition to use that to sweep at the last no-gi Worlds as well. But even he I think will start to struggle if you were to try to continue playing guard against all these guys. Just because it's too easy to avoid the ... It's easy to avoid the engagement when you're on top without getting penalized. Or just like attempting ... You back out from the danger. And then you re-engage. As the guy struggles to set something up again. You can just disengage completely. So you get-

Hywel Teague: And we saw that.

Keenan Cornelius: You get a free reset every few seconds if you want. Without it being penalized.

Hywel Teague: And Yuri figured that out pretty quickly, right?

Keenan Cornelius: Yeah, so in their second match, Yuri did much better against the sweep attacks and wasn't really, Gordon wasn't really able to mount an offense as much in the second match. That has to be just from the learning curve that he experienced from the first match. Like Gordon wasn't performing worse. It was just he became aware of the techniques.

Keenan Cornelius: That's why I prefer the gi because I think it has more long term ... The effectiveness of all positions.