Top 5 Concepts for the BJJ Beginner 

The first month of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for beginners is a tough pill to swallow. A steep learning-curve both physically and mentally keep the number of dedicated practitioners relatively small, but getting over those first few hurdles can change your life in an infinite number of ways.

The best part is, you won’t always be the newbie! We can’t make the process painless, but we can give you a few crucial tips to make your time as designated shark bait a bit more enjoyable. Here are a few concepts to consider!

#1 BREATHE

Seems simple right? Not even close.

After you start live rolling, your coach will quickly tell you that you need to breathe more no mater what position you’re in. It’s very easy to get so wrapped up in the physical altercation that you forget that you’re just training.

Take a moment to realize the environment you’re in. It’s full of tour teammates, you have people looking out for you, and your life is not in immediate danger. Take a breath. You’re not winning a medal for practice wins anyway, so pace yourself and save the intensity for tournaments.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s shore up some holes in your game!

#2 Fix Ya Grips

Gripping is one of the most fundamental techniques in BJJ. Grabbing a hold on someone can help establish distance, prevent forward movement, and help you set up a submission. Tons of submissions themselves rely on strong grips, like the cross-collar and bow-and-arrow chokes! There are three factors to consider when applying grips on a resisting opponent.

  • Hand strength
    • One of the biggest lies in BJJ is that strength doesn’t matter. It so does. Can’t grip without some strength homie. Outside of the grip practice you get during training, try adding some strength training for your grips through towel pull ups and different routines.
  • Hand position
    • Sometimes I’ll be rolling with my coach Chris Noonan and fall into a real groove. I’ll go to grab the lapel ready to look super cool but suddenly he stops. “Kev, the fuck is that grip supposed to do?” Then he beats me up and takes my lunch money. You can have the strongest grips in the world, but putting them in the wrong place can ruin all your plans for BJJ dominance.
  • Types of grips
    • You can practice your favorite grip till the cows come home, but the law of BJJ is that you rarely get what you want. To that end, familiarize yourself with a variety of different grips so that you can utilize whatever works in context. In gi this could mean going from a regular sleeve grip to a pistol grip, or going from gripping gis to limbs if you’re rolling no gi.

#3 STAND UP!: The Guard Pass

This is considered to be the most challenging aspect of BJJ, so don't be disheartened if you take a while to get right. Get into a habit of touch and go. When you come in, as soon as you make contact, and as soon as you touch the knees, step out to the side. If you go straight in and make contact with your opponent’s knees without stepping, you'll be stuck in the trenches and have to fight him. You want him to be at an angle where he has to defend. Also, drill and attack to both sides. You'll probably find you are dominant to one side. Instead, you want to put your opponent in the situation where they constantly have to adjust. Finally, to get your opponent on his back, you can do the following. Get in low, grab the ankles, and then immediately you can touch and go.

#4 Escaping Side Control

Compared to learning a way out of bottom side control, college was easier than shitting myself in a Taco Bell parking lot.

The feeling of hopelessness in this position for new and old BJJ students is unbearable. It’s also crucial to any forward momentum you hope to build.

First remember to establish good frames against the neck and hip of your opponent. These prevent them from going too deep on choke attempts and force them to either advance or wait. From there you can begin to work your way out, bridging into them then using the space created to shrimp away. Immediately reestablish guard, and you’re out!

Later down the line you’ll find that this transition to full guard has a few openings for submissions if you’re quick enough. But for now just focus on getting the transition down for now!

Is it ever this simple? Absolutely not. But getting those reps in practice will help you to see the opportunity in live rolls. Trust me, it’ll come!

#5 The Armbar from Guard

Now that we have some concepts and an escape, let’s go over a basic submission. As much as I’d live to promote “Bad Ezekiel’s From Bottom Mount,” my editors have informed me that such action would lead to my immediate termination.

So you get the boring “Fundamentals.”

As with most moves, the Guard-bar is easy to over complicate. If you do this from start to finish for this move, you find all subsequent moves a lot easier. And understanding the move will help hammer in ideas previously discussed like grips, shrimping and timing.

  • Cross arm goes to grab the opponents wrist, same side grabs the tricep.
  • Pull the arm towards you to break them down.
  • Step on the hip the same side as the arm, turn your hips.
  • Cross your legs over the back and neck.
  • Lift your hips.
  • Because your opponent’s arm will be high off the mat, it takes much less pressure and arm strength.

Well young grasshopper, I’ve imparted as much wisdom as I have currently. Despite how full of myself I may sound, I suck and you’re all likely to make me tap in under a minute. But the beautiful thing about BJJ is how much you learn and grow from failure. Focus on making great friends and getting to know what your body and mind are capable of. Listen to your coaches when they critique you, and remember they’re there to help.

Also, don’t leglock before you grasp the basics. It might damage you in the long run.

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