6 Nov 2009

What are the basics of BJJ?

Photo: Nothing 'basic' about Royce armbarring your limb off!!!
I’ve been having some interesting conversations recently on the subject of the basics in BJJ. First of all, instructors these days tend not to talk about ‘basics’ per se, but ‘fundamentals’. The theory being that basics implies that you do them, then forget them as you move on to more advanced stuff. But the perceived wisdom in the BJJ world is that those ‘beginner’ techniques form the building blocks that stay with you for the entire duration of your BJJ development, thus a black belt will refer to his ‘fundamentals’ just as much as a white belt would.

I was talking in depth to one of my training partners who has been training for a few months now. She’s frustrated that whilst she is learning a whole ton of cool new techniques, she feels her knowledge of basics are letting her down and she still gets caught a lot as a result.

Oh boy, what to say? Well, here’s my tuppence on the subject of basics/fundamentals:

First off, anyone who has trained in a traditional martial art will know the routine – you learn your techniques, you drill them, you get graded and you move on to the next belt. This is a tried and tested way to learn, no problem with that. But for some reason, it doesn’t work with BJJ.

In BJJ, yes, you learn your core basic positions and drill the common escapes, positions, submissions, counters etc. But you don’t move on as you progress up the ranks in the same way as traditional system. You still drill those core fundamentals like there was no tomorrow. The difference between an experienced player and a newbie is that they’ve been doing the fundamentals for longer and thus are able to use them more effectively, and also to use them as a platform upon which to play with more advanced variations. In fact, you could argue, that a very good player will understand the fundamentals to such a deep level that they could use them to win World Championships, someone like, ooh Roger Gracie.

As a fairly mediocre hobbyist blue belt, I’m hardly the best person to be dishing out technical BJJ advice. There are lots of blogs who do that much better, see: Conceptual BJJ, Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood and Aesopian to name but a few.
But I’ve rolled for enough years to see the common mistakes that newbies and white belts get themselves in to, and I try to offer my thoughts at the time as to how they can improve. I keep it short and succinct in class, I’m not the instructor after all, but I believe we’re part of a team so if I can help, I will.

So when I roll, the fundamentals that I personally try to always remember can be summarised very roughly as these:
  • Is my opponent unbalanced in any way? If he isn’t then I try my damnest to make him or her unbalanced. Sounds simple, but of course, a huge proportion of my rolling time is spent making this happen. Good grips and effective hip movement are key, something I can often forget. Controlling the opponent's head is vital.
  • Am I moving around enough or am I being lazy and just waiting for things to happen? My common thing is I am lazy and I just lie there in guard (or just sit there in the rare mounts I obtain) and wait. But one look at, say purple belt Daniel, and I can see he does not stop moving. He does not let anyone get grips on him and by moving all the time, he opens up new options.
  • How many ponts of contact does my opponent have on me, and visa versa? My coach Nick often says that in order to make a good sweep happen, you need at least three points of contact on your opponent. At least three. So if I can involve both my hands in gripping and plant at least one foot in a good position to lever my opponent, then I know I am doing ok. If he is doing that to me, and I am just flapping around, then that is bad for me.
  • Am I making it easy for my opponent to open me up? I defend a lot. I have no choice as I am small and, yes lazy. But it helps if I can keep my elbows tucked in tight and stop him getting any space or leverage. But I must not stay still, as it just delays the inevitable. So I have to keep moving and looking to escape. Again, sounds easy, but practically all my BJJ development so far has been about me trying to escape. you just kind of get use to it and it becomes part of your game.

...and so on I guess. Blimey one could write a book on this...oh, they have, dozens of them.

Anyway, those be just a few thoughts off the top of my head. Not exactly comprehensive but they mean a lot to me - they are the absolutely boiled down to the bone constantly nagging thoughts that go through my head, every time I roll.

Thanks to David Onuma, who has begun an ace new blog, for giving me this article idea.

Anyway, just a week to go until I compete at the Kent Open, you can laugh at my 'fundamentals' then. Ah well, in for a penny in for a pound as they say...

About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


binster said...

hey meerkatsu

saw your name on the entry list for the kent open. best of luck!

Unknown said...

Hey I agree with a lot of what you said except the moving about one, I could be wrong but moving just for the sake of it seems like a mistake unless you are moving to a specific position or improving position, after all it seems to be in the transitions when you leave an arm or a neck out there and an opponent can capitalise on this. I think its better to stay tight and only move when its safe to do so. I dont mean waiting till they have you so tight in side control that its game over but you dont need to flip and twist like theres no tomorrow. I know thats not exactly what you were implying but just my 2cents

Meerkatsu said...

Thanks DK, yes moving about is an art within an art!
TBH I don't have the gas to thrash around willy nilly, so I do try to focus on moving at the appropriate time. Sometimes I get it wrong, sometimes it goes nowhere, sometimes, it unsettles my uke enough to make me get something new.
I'm trying to get more of the last part, and less of the first two parts of that equation. That's the beauty I guess.

Liam H Wandi said...

Dude what an awesome post! I'm linking to it from my site. I hope that's alright :)


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