How often do you hear a BJJ fanatic talk about “the basics”? Whoever you talk to they will tell you the same thing. You need to grasp the basics. But, what do they actually mean by this? Of the BJJ techniques, which ones are actually defined as basic? I must confess to not actually having the answer to that question.
What I can help you with though are 8 simple Jiu-Jitsu moves that I believe to be fundamental. All 8 are essential techniques that need to be learned if you want to develop all round in the grappling game. Are there just these 8 you need to learn? Of course not! There are more. If you listened to a different BJJ instructor he would no doubt have a different list of techniques that he would deem to be essential. However, if you learn the techniques that I list below, I can guarantee that you will over the course of time become a better BJJ fighter.
Fundamentals White Belts Should Know
1. Being Able to Relax During your Training Sessions
This is paramount when it comes to your progress in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. If you are unable to relax while you train, you will become overstrained, exhausted, or worse still injured. It’s not just these things you should be aware of. If you are tense when you train, your progress will actually be hindered too. It has been tested and it has been proven that if you are able to stay relaxed when you train, you will learn faster than if you are always on edge and with a highly competitive mindset. All this however is easier to talk about than to actually put into practice. Many BJJ instructors come to me and ask the same question. They want to know what techniques they can use to get their students to relax. The primary factor that comes into play here is the ability of the student to control their own ego. Nobody ever likes tapping out. It’s awful for the ego. The ego wants to remain dominant at all times and be in control, and to win. So, let me tell you a secret. You will never be the greatest BJJ fighter in the world. In fact, most likely you won’t even become the best in your academy. But why should this matter? Being the best is painful and fleeting; you constantly have someone trying to knock you of that top spot. Sooner or later, the inevitable will happen. Someone will come along and steal your title away from you. So, forget trying to be the best. Concentrate on being the best you can be. Trust me, you should be focusing on your own learning and development and not that of others.
2. Shrimping and Bridging
An analogy I once heard likened grappling to language, and sparring to the holding of a conversation. So, let’s work on the analogy that grappling is indeed a language; shrimping and bridging therefore should be considered vowels, so considered, as they are vital in the same way that vowels are crucial in language. In the collection of movements that you will learn in BJJ, bridging and shrimping will sew together all your moves. BJJ Black Belt and Judo Olympian, Flavio Canto, was recalled saying that you must practice not just moves but all movements. Over time I began to understand exactly what this meant. Movements are not strict; they are versatile, and they can be woven into varying and different techniques. They are extremely important in your training buck. But just because you include them in your daily workout it doesn’t mean that you are doing them correctly or indeed to their potential. I have been practicing and training in bridging and shrimping for 12 long years, and I am still improving my techniques today. And of course there are plenty of variants to each one; so there is scope for a lot more learning, researching, and perfecting.
Once you learn to relax while sparring and competition, you will gain more access to the vital skills you need in BJJ.
3. Correct Gripping
Early on in my coach I had a coach named Felipe Sousa. His wise words to me were that if I couldn’t grip, I couldn’t fight. Never have I heard such wise words about BJJ. What needs to be made clear here however is that effective gripping has more than one component; it actually has three components. The first of these is the strength of your hands. With time and after years of effective training, your fingers and your hands will become stronger. If you wish to speed this process up however, you should look for some supplemental training. A quick look online and you will come across hundreds of gadgets that are designed specifically for strengthening your grip. Don’t just go for the first, and conduct some research. For me I found that the best way to work on my grip was by rock climbing. If you try it I am sure you will agree that it’s great for strengthening your grip. The second component is the efficiency of your grip. It’s not just about strength. Your grip will still be weak if you hold on to the cloth with too much strength; this is due to the fact that your forearms will fatigue. To find out more about this component, watch this video. And the third component; knowing where to grip. You can have the best and strongest grip ever, stronger than your opponent. But if you are holding on to the wrong things, you won’t create the desired leverage and therefore won’t achieve your objective. Here’s another video for you to watch so you can work out where you should be gripping.
4. The Standing Guard Pass
Of all the different aspects of BJJ, it’s my opinion that the Standing Guard Pass if the most difficult. If your component has active hips and strong legs, trying to deal with his guard can be hellish. Really it should be called the standing guard break, not pass, as you are only actually standing for the first part in order to break open his guard. At this point his legs will cross over your lower back. Once you have reached the point where his legs are open you can then go on to pass the guard from a kneeling or standing position. It doesn’t matter which way you look at things; if you have a decent competitor, you will need to stand up at some point to open his guard. There are techniques used from kneeling; but if you try these out on someone with good leg strength that is tall, they won’t work effectively. If you want to learn more about the standing guard pass, talk to your instructor. If he’s a great instructor, he will be willing to show you what’s what without the need for a private lesson.
5. Escaping Sound Mount
There is nothing at all glamorous about escapes, but until you reach at least purple belt, they are the most important part of your game. Escaping sound mount is indeed the very most important defensive aspect of your game. I have been teaching escaping sound mount for years and practicing it for even more. Over the years I have come to believe that there are three components necessary in order to get it spot-on. First and foremost, let’s talk about neck protection. It doesn’t matter how great your escape move are; if you are in danger of getting choked you will fail. So, you should always aim to maintain one of your hands in easy reach from your lapels all the time. The second component should already be familiar to you and is bridging and shrimping. Here what’s important is to learn how to time the performance of these two moves. Bridging almost always precedes shrimping. There is a lot more in-depth explanation I can give you about this, and will do so in due course in a future article or video. Last but not least, you need to how to use “guard replacement” and “go to knees” in combination with each other. Once you have tackled these two techniques and know them well, you will stand a good chance in around 90% of all situations that include the side mount. Once again, for more information, don’t hesitate to ask your instructor.
6. Breath Control
Being able to perform on the mat and your ability to learn are both linked to your state of mind. This is in turn linked to the way you breathe. Even, smooth breathing is linked to the ability to perform smooth and even movements. On the flip side, if you are constantly gasping for air and panting, your moves won’t be cool to watch. What’s more interesting is that the ability to control your breathing is also linking to the ability to deal with and control your ego. As long as you can control your breathing and maintain a steady flow of inhalations and exhalations, you will manage to stop any distractions to your drilling or sparring that might otherwise occur.
7. Straight-Armlock from Guard
When I teach my private students, this is the first submission that they learn. It may appear simple, but actually it’s quite difficult to pull off well. There are many points to it and you need to remember them all to be able to execute this complex technique correctly. It is very beneficial to beginner level students to be able to memorize and learn a complex sequence right from the start through to the finish. There isn’t an exact science to it for sure. But one thing that has happened to my students time and time again is that once they learn their first sequence, each consequent sequence is easier for them to grasp and learn. As well as this, being able to understand the straight-arm lock from guard also brings insight to some key grappling concepts that are key to good BBJ practices. These include, among others, head control, grip control, using the core/hip/glute drive to apply leverage, and the creation of angles of attach. For demonstrations of these different techniques, watch here:
8: The Scissor Sweep
I heard once that Rickson believes the scissor sweep to be the ultimate and most important of all moves. I can fully understand why it is deemed to be true. The scissor sweep involves incorporating several different principles that are indeed necessary for most sweeps. Good arm and wrist control to the side you are sweeping is vital. If you can’t grasp this, you will never complete the sweep, ever, in your lifetime. Not having this control is I believe a much overlooked factor when assessing failed sweeps; the main contributing factor to the sweep however is the ability to power your sweep with your trunk and hips as opposed to with your arms.
It can be said that if you use your arms to power a movement, you are in general not operating efficiently. If you take a look at the way beginners move on the mat you will see that more often than not they try to use only their arm strength against their opponent. With the scissor sweep however, it is the way that you kick your legs that successfully inverts your opponents’ center of gravity.
A good scissor sweep technique uses lapel grip and the top of your legs to elevate the hips of your partner. This is achieved by pulling him towards you. As you do this, his pelvis and center of gravity are raised, making it a lot easier to flip him over. This element is used in almost all reversals and sweeps. If you are after more information on the scissor sweep, you will find hundreds of videos on YouTube that are both informative and instructive and that talk you through the different principles as you watch.