If you have been following the modern ju jitsu game for a while now, you know that Keenan Cornelius is a name that everyone is talking about. I actually had the good fortune of rolling with Keenan about 8 months before his grapple-fame ensued, and seeing how far he’s come since then (around 2 years ago now), it makes his current raise all that much more stunning.
His total domination of his opponents in recent years has left many people asking, “why is he so dominant, and what makes him so dominant? Is it his training? Is he just naturally talented?”
In my eyes, Keenan’s success has been characterized by an other-worldly training envionment, immense persistence, and a creative, innovative game. Techniques like his mystery pass and 50/50 armbar are just the start of a game that is both “Modern” and “outside the box of Modern” at the same time. Let’s take a look at a few interesting positions.
When we see or view something as mysterious, we are immediately drawn to it, and that is exactly what happened when Keenan Cornelius showed the jiu jitsu world a guard pass that rocked the socks off the entire community.
Not only has he hit this “mystery pass” in competition, but he has also done it more than once.
If you haven’t seen this particular “mystery pass”, then watch it down below. Here’s the match where he first executes it on Paulo Miyao during the finals of the brown belt absolute division. Check it out, it happens at about the 6:37 mark:
Seriously awesome guard pass…
If you slow it down and watch it very carefully, like we did, you’ll notice a few things:
Keenan closes the distance, and brings his right foot in towards Paulo’s left leg, stomping it to the ground. Doing this slightly moves Paulo’s hips away from Keenan.
As Keenan stomps Paulo’s left leg down with his right foot, he passes Paulo’s right leg across his body from left to right, in a leg drag type fashion. After he does this, he quickly drops and settles his hips to the mat in order to keep Paulo from recovering his guard back.
Essentially, this is a variation of the leg drag pass, which we see a ton of competitors using these days.
Instead of dragging the leg to one side and settling the knee in between your opponent’s legs for control (like we see most people do), he uses the stomp on Paulo’s leg to clear it out of the way, executes the actual drag, then quickly drops his weight to the mat for consolidation of the guard pass.
The match is from the Boston Open, where he faces off against fellow brown belt, Gianni Grippo. The pass happens at about the 6:12 mark:
The pass happens so fast that it’s somewhat hard to see in real time.
Again, he is just stomping the far leg, dragging the near one, and quickly settling his weight down so Gianni cannot recover his guard.
You can tell that timing has a lot to do with the success of this technique, and quite frankly, Keenan times it perfectly.
So there you have it. The mystery pass, not so mysterious anymore, but nonetheless impressive and dominant!
Along with some seriously sneaky guard passes, Keenan also possesses some seriously sneaky and unique submissions as well.
In the 2013 IBJJF Pan Ams, Keenan had a particular match where he pulled off a spectacular kneebar. What makes this particular kneebar so impressive is the fact that he hits it after being taken down and forced into a scramble.
Here’s the clip. It happens at the 3:30 mark in the video:
Keenan initially comes at his opponent looking to throw him, which he almost does, but is then put to the mat by his oponent’s grip on the pants near the ankle.
As Keenan’s opponent looks to jump on Keenan’s back, Keenan rolls over his shoulder and captures the left leg of his opponent.
He is then able to bring the foot to his shoulder, and finish the kneebar. A very sneaky submission from a disadvantageous scramble position.
Another crazy submission that Keenan seemed to pull out of nowhere was when he faced Joao Miyao at the 2013 IBJJF European Championships.
With little time left in the match, Joao looks to secure a tight achilles lock on Keenan, looking to get the win by submission.
Instead of Joao walking away with Keenan’s foot, he ends up sleeping on the mat. How, you ask? Just watch:
As Joao Hail Mary’s for the submission, Keenan is able to make his way up the back of Joao and sinks in an ezekial choke. It looks for a moment as if the choke is not working, but after a few seconds, it’s very evident that the choke was super tight.
Another match where he pulls this ezekial choke out of thin air is when he faced off against Sinistro at the 2012 IBJJF Atlanta Open.
It’s a pretty vicious ezekial choke, but what makes this variation interesting is that Keenan hits it from an arm triangle type position.
Most ezekial chokes we see are from the top position, putting pressure on the anterior part of the neck and throat. This variation takes place when your opponent is facing the ground and you are making your way to their back.
Keenan executes this choke after hitting a leg drag pass, causing Sinistro to turn away and expose the lateral side of his neck.
In another match between Keenan and Sinistro from the 2012 IBJJF No Gi Worlds, Keenan pulls off another crazy choke from the back. It’s almost identical to the one we just watched him hit in Sinistro, only its a no gi variation.
Sinistro looks to defend from the back mount, but unfortunately brings his left arm a bit too high above his head while defending. This allows Keenan to shoot his left hand across both the arm and the neck of Sinistro. To finish, he then locks his left hand to his right bicep, and brings his right hand to touch his ear.
These are some examples of some very sneaky and creative submissions from Keenan Cornelius, as well as some great techniques for passing the guard.
At the end of the day, these particular aspects and techniques of Keenan’s game are just samples of a more complex labyrinth, but they help understand the kinds of trends and style that we’ll expect to see even MORE developed in his coming years as a Black Belt.
For more info on Keenan’s game, check out our eBook of match breakdowns and awesome strategic / technical breakdowns.
Keeping being a student of the game, and talk to you soon!
Keenan photo above taken by Gil Gomes. Learn more about his photos here: www.jiujitsupictures.com! (Great stuff)
Coach Daniel is the founder and head publisher at Science of Skill, LLC. A martial arts black belt and self defense instructor, Dan has spent years training with and interviewing some of the world's best self protection experts. His passion lies in encouraging others to train smart and to improve the skills that make them safer and stronger.
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