In the world of martial arts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) has proven itself to be one of the most effective arts. Today, it is considered one of the fastest growing martial arts in the world! With its growing popularity, it is important to take a step back and truly understand the art of jiu jitsu.
What is jiu jitsu and why is it so popular? This guide highlights Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for beginners interested in this ever-growing sport!
BJJ Defined - A Brief Origin Story
BJJ is a martial art that focuses on grappling and ground fighting. Originally derived from Japanese Ju Jutsu and Judo, BJJ has adapted several aspects from both arts and evolved into what it is today. Ju Jutsu (in its original Japanese spelling, means “the gentle art”) was originally intended as a self-defense art in the feudal samurai days. Because striking their armored opponents was not effective, the art was developed to close the gap by neutralizing opponents with throws and joint locking techniques.
In the late 1880s, Jigoro Kano developed Kadokan Judo. A student of JuJutsu himself, Kano developed an art that focuses more on the throwing aspect of the art. He was a firm believer that resisting a more powerful opponent is futile; adjusting and evading opponents causes them to lose balance and power. This allowed a much weaker opponent to beat the strong! Take a look at this video, this old man just destroys his bigger opponents!
In the video, a 75 year old Kyuzo Mifune demonstrates the power of judo, outclassing his heavier opponents with ease! This just comes to show that it isn't all about brute strength and force that can topple your opponent, sometimes simple technique, leverage, and experience can make a huge difference in the outcome of a match! Judo has become so popular, it eventually became Japan’s national martial art, and has become an Olympic sport.
Jiu Jitsu in Brazil
Jiu Jitsu found its way to Brazil the early 1900s. Mitsuyo Maeda, one of Jigoro Kano’s top Judo groundwork experts, was sent around the world to demonstrate Kano’s Judo (or Kano’s Jiu Jitsu as it was referred to back then). Gastão Gracie, a business partner in a circus in Brazil, introduced Maeda to demonstrate his skills. So impressed with his techniques, Gastão asked Maeda to take on his 14 year old boy Carlos as one of his students.
Three years later, Gastão moved his family to Rio de Janeiro, where Carlos and his younger brother Helio spread Maeda’s teachings. Since Helio was a bit fragile and weak, he adjusted and developed his style that worked for his body type, focusing more on timing, technique, and leverage rather than speed and strength.
Helio vs Kimura - A Jiu Jitsu Battle!
To prove his own twist to Jiu Jitsu, Helio challenged people with many different backgrounds. He challenged boxers, wrestlers, capoeira fighters, and judo masters. All were unable to best him... so much so that people thought it was staged!
News of his victories eventually brought over Japanese Jiu Jitsu champion Masahiko Kimura. A very hesitant Kimura didn’t even want to take the fight since he outweighed Helio by over 80 pounds! He did eventually take on the match, see the action below!
Kimura eventually got Helio in the Kimura arm lock, nearly snapping Helio's shoulder. Helio's older brother Carlos threw in the towel, declaring Kimura the victor! Although Helio has lost that match, it had gained him the respect of the best in the world! This sparked the birth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Helio Gracie is regarded as the creator of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as we know it today.
THE RULES OF Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
So how does it work? What are the rules of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?
There are four primary goals in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu whether you are a top player or the bottom guard player
- Take your opponent down OR pull them down into your Guard
- Pass your opponent's guard OR Sweep you opponent
- Get into a dominant position
- Submit your opponent
Different Position in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
The Standup Game
BJJ competitions start off with both competitors at a standing position. This can be done by using some judo grip fighting techniques, throws, trips, wrestling, grappling maneuvers, etc. The goal is to get the opponent to the ground.
For fighting in general, it is almost certain that the fight will end up to the ground. It is the wiser choice to get your opponent down. You significantly reduce their explosive ability and striking momentum when they are on the ground. When you get them to the ground, you are in control!
Once the opponent is on the ground, the next goal becomes passing the opponent’s guard. This basically means that the top player must pass the bottom player’s legs to get into a dominant position. Legs are strong and dangerous! They can keep you at a distance or even lock you down!
Even an untrained fighter can knock someone out with an upkick! Once you get past the legs, this starts the ground game. This is where the real fun begins!
The Ground Positions
Although there is a little bit of stand up required, BJJ focuses more on the ground fighting aspect of grappling (or “newaza” as it is commonly referred to in Judo). Most schools do focus the majority of their techniques on this aspect. There are several movements and submissions out there, but before diving into that, it is important to first understand the basic positions.
The guard is a position where the bottom opponent lays on his back and keeps his/her legs in front of the top opponent to keep them away, lock them in place, or get them off balance to get the sweep. Of all BJJ techniques, the guard has probably the most variations out of all positions.
The guard positions can be generalized into three types:
- Closed Guard
- Half Guard
- Open Guard
The Closed Guard, sometimes also referred to as the Full Guard, is probably one of the most fundamental techniques you would learn in any school. This is guard position locks the opponent in place by wrapping the legs around the opponent’s hips and interlocking the ankles together. This traps the opponent from freely moving around and passing your guard. This gives you plenty of opportunity to either attack with submissions or sweep them over, so you can get into the more dominant position!
In this position, the bottom person traps the top person’s leg to prevent them from completing their pass. This is considered as the halfway point for the opponent to be in your closed guard and passing your guard for the side mount position. This can be a pretty dangerous position if you aren’t careful! You are just one step away from being passed and put into a really bad position! However, more experienced players actually like this position a lot because it opens up a lot of sweeps and transitions.
Out of all the guards, the open guard has to be one of the most versatile positions out there. It has so many variations, it’s hard to count! But to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for beginners, it is important to understand at least a few open guard positions and variations:
In this variation, the guard player places their feet on their opponent’s biceps, making it extremely difficult for him to use grips effectively. It also makes it really hard to posture up when you are constantly kicking their biceps left and right. It’s only a matter of time until they lose their balance!
In this variation of open guard, the guard player wraps one leg behind the standing opponent’s knee and one hand traps the ankle of that same leg. The other foot usually is placed on the opponent’s opposite thigh to maintain distance or to get them off balance. This position allows for a variety of attacks, sweeps, back takes, and leg locks! This is definitely a useful tool to add in your arsenal!
The butterfly guard is a type of position where both ankles of the bottom player are in between the top player that is kneeling down on both knees. This can prove to be effective to set up sweeps if used properly.
Of all these open guard positions, one thing to keep in mind is to try to always maintain 3 to 4 points of contact with your opponent. All these variations to the open guard all have their strengths and weaknesses. It is important to understand their fundamentals to add to your game. Learning how each variation works, how to transition from one position to the next, and learning how to attack from each position will make your guard game deadly!
The side mount, or side control, is one of the more dominant position for the top player. This is commonly the position the top person transitions into as soon as he/she passes the bottom player’s guard. In this position, the top player is perpendicular, pinning the opponent down with their back flat on the mat.
As the top player, you control your opponent’s movement by controlling their head and hips to prevent them from escaping. This position is quite possibly the most uncomfortable position to be in if you are in the bottom. The top person can put his entire weight on your chest and your chest, leaving you very little wiggle room or even air to breathe! An experience player can make a beginner tap from this pressure alone!
Knee on Belly
Similar to side mount, the knee on belly position is typically something that can be used to pin the opponent down from his side. In this variation, you place the knee closet to your opponent’s hip on their stomach. The other leg with your knee bent and foot flat on the mat, is used for stabilization and to follow your opponent’s movement as they try to escape.
Usually the knee on belly is utilized as a transition move; it can be used as a transition from side mount to knee on belly to full mount. It can also be used directly after passing someone’s guard. This position is great for the top player, because it allows you to maintain a far distance to your opponent, but still apply a great deal of top pressure!
One of the most dominant positions in Jiu Jitsu, the full mount is when the top player is directly above the bottom player. With your legs on each side of the opponent’s hips, and full body weight against their chest, you have full control of their movement. This position opens up plenty of attacks and transitions as your opponent tries to wiggle himself out of this dire situation!
Many consider the Back Mount to be the most dominant position to be in. With this position, the attacker is directly behind the opponent, with his/her hips right behind theirs.
You can control your opponent’s movement by interlocking your arms in front of them. One arm usually goes under their armpit and across their chest and the other goes above their opposite shoulder to meet the other arm in front of their chest (also known as the seat belt grip).
As the attacker, you can hook your heels on your opponent’s inner thighs to control and maintain this position. This is the worst position to be in if you have your back taken! You are just moments away from being choked out!
ATTACKS In BJJ
Now that we’ve discussed the various positions to be in, let’s get to some of the attacks! There are two primary ways of attacking your opponent. You can either sweep them to get into a more dominant position or you can attack them with a submission to get the tap! There are a ton of attacks out there, but learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for beginners, let’s take a look at just a few basic ones!
The great thing about Jiu Jitsu is that it allows someone who is getting dominated from the bottom to attack the top person and change the tides. A sweep is a series of movements that allows the bottom player to improve their position by using leverage and momentum to flip their opponent on their back!
And that’s the great thing about BJJ; you don’t have to have herculean strength to best your opponent. With the right technique and proper angles, you can topple even the biggest guy in the room! Before stepping into the mat, it is important to at least know a few basic sweeps. Here’s a few basic sweeps:
The Lumberjack Sweep
When your opponent stands straight up from your closed guard, and doesn’t have any grips to hold on to, it opens them up for one of the most basic sweeps in BJJ: the lumberjack sweep. The guard player simply grabs both ankles with each hand, uncrossing their ankles, and pushing the top person’s mid-section with their knees. This will make them lose balance and topple over like a tree trunk!
The Hip-Bump Sweep
One of the most fundamental yet effective sweeps to learn, the hip bump sweep uses basic leverage and explosive movement to create momentum to topple your opponent over. From the closed guard, with your opponent’s arms on each side of your body, you use your elbow to elevate your body. The other arm grabs reach for the top person’s opposite elbow. At the same time, you open up your guard and explode your hips up on their chest and rotate towards the arm that you trapped.
The Scissor Sweep
This sweep uses a push-pull technique that gets the opponent off balance. Starting from the closed guard, the bottom person grabs the same side sleeve with one hand and the opposite collar with the other hand. The guard player then opens up the closed guard, putting up a knee on the opponent’s chest.
The other leg (closest to the arm grabbing the sleeve) stays flat on the mat against the opponent’s knee. By pulling on the sleeve and collar, the top person loses their balance and posture. Using this brief imbalance, the bottom person then “scissors” their legs by pushing on the opponent’s chest with their knee and pulling in their knee with the opposite leg.
This is the primary goal in Jiu Jitsu. You can do a multiple of things in the sport whether it is to take your opponent down, put them into a dominant position or whatever, but the primary objective of the sport is the submission. The goal is to put your opponent into a position where they have no choice but to submit to you – make them tap!
You can do this by primarily two different ways:
- Choke Hold – this is where you apply pressure to your opponent to cut off circulation of blood to the brain, causing them to either tap or pass out.
- Joint Locks – this is where you apply pressure to a person’s joints (arm, shoulder, knee, ankle, etc.); this joint pressure causes severe pain or can even snap something if you don’t tap early!
Perhaps one of the most deadliest chokes in Jiu Jitsu, the triangle chokes is one of the most fundamental chokes to learn as a beginner. It is quite possibly one of the higher percentage chokes out there and one of the first chokes taught in class. Typically performed and set up from the closed guard, the bottom person attacks the top player by trapping the head and arm with the legs.
The attacker traps the opponent making a Figure Four position where one leg is folded behind their neck and the other leg squeezes their own ankle. This type of choke, also known as a “blood-choke,” disrupts the opponents blood flow to the brain, causing them to either tap or pass out!
One of the most famous chokes to date, the rear naked choke is a powerful choke, in which the attacker chokes the opponent from behind. Typically performed from the back mount, the attacker creates a Figure 4 with their arms, with one arm going across the opponent’s neck. The second arm catches the first arm’s hand, squeezing the hand with the bicep, and placing the forearm behind the opponent’s neck.
In this position, the attacker is usually leaned over to one side, on the choke arm side (the arm that is around the opponent’s throat. Both legs are ideally wrapped on the opponent’s body, hooking the inner thighs. This makes it extremely difficult to wiggle out of this strangle hold!
This is probably the first joint locking technique you will learn as a beginner. The arm bar is a joint locking technique that hyperextends the elbow joint by fully extending the opponent’s arm. This submission usually is set up either from the guard position or the full mount.
The attacker generally has their opponent’s arm, trapped between their thighs, fully extending their arm, with their thumb pointing upwards. By Squeezing the thighs, kicking the heels towards the opponents head and body, and thrusting the hips upwards, the attacker can cause a great deal of pain for the opponent. It will be just a matter of time until the opponent taps out!
The Point System
Now that we know the basic positions, attacks, and submissions, it is important to understand how the point system works in BJJ. We do know that submitting your opponent does get you the guaranteed win. But what if the clock runs out and no one has submitted the other?
The scoring system is based off dominance in position:
- Takedown/Throw – 2 points
- Sweep – 2 points
- Passing the guard – 3 points
- Full Mount – 4 points
- Back Mount – 4 points
The general rule of thumb is that you get awarded the points if you can perform the move and maintaining it for at least 3 seconds.
Another part of the point system includes advantage points and penalties. A player gets awarded advantage points for being the more active player through either submission attempts, sweeps, etc. A player gets penalized usually for stalling - not engaging the opponent, resting, or trying to run down the clock
One match is usually about 5 minutes long for white belts in a competition. (This may vary from tournament to tournament). Once the time has ended, and no one has submitted the other, the competitor with the most points wins the match.
However, if the score is tied at the end of the match, the referee bases the outcome of the victory off the advantages and/or the penalty points. If all the points are tied including advantages/penalties, the victor is based solely on the ref's decision.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has increasingly become one of the most widely used martial art today. And for good reason too! From the feudal samurai days, to the popularization by the Gracie family, all the way to mainstream MMA, Jiu Jitsu has become a staple in the martial arts community.
It is not only competition sport, it’s a lifestyle. BJJ is great exercise! It improves strength, endurance, and flexibility. It requires a lot of focus and great deal of mental fortitude. A lot of people describe it as a physical game of chess. It enables your mind and body to sync to best your opponent! And that’s the art of Jiu Jitsu. Are you ready for you Jiu Jitsu journey?
Grab your Gi and protective gear and suit up! Start your journey today!