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MMA-grappling & Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training: An introduction - part 1

An introduction to training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in various forms (MMA, gi, no-gi).

Beginners in all training ventures of life often believe they can achieve greatness in just a few lessons. The bitter truth is that it takes heart and commitment in order to learn anything worthy to be learned. If that applies to most journeys towards knowledge, it applies even more to grappling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu champion Demian Maia is regarded as one of the greatest grapplers in MMA history.

Grappling oriented arts are totally different than striking-based martial arts and attract a diverse group of individuals. Usually, there are five different types of students who join a grappling school:

1. MMA fans who want to give BJJ or submission grappling a try without even taking into consideration that these arts are mostly competition oriented sports, do not utilize striking and are often trained in a way that is not relevant to MMA.

2. Individuals with friends who train in submission grappling arts and are influenced or convinced by those friends to give it a try.

3. Athletes of other grappling arts like wrestling or judo, whose aim is to take their grappling one step further or add submissions to their arsenal.

4. People who have experimented in different types of sports in order to get fit and decide to give submission grappling a try as a form of physical training.

5. Martial arts practitioners interested in self defense. BJJ is often advertised by the Gracie family as the greatest form of self-defense due to the effectiveness of gi and no-gi chokes.


This article focuses more on the beginner who trains in order to compete in the great sport of BJJ. However, as self-defense is a big part of Jiu Jitsu, a couple of issues need to be addressed.

If a student’s goal for learning BJJ is self defense, they must note this to their instructor. Some instructors focus only in sport BJJ, so new students need to clarify their goals before they join a school and get disappointed by training in sport-specific techniques, some of which may be useless (if not dangerous) when applied in self defense situations.

BJJ versions for no-gi or MMA or self-defense generally employ curricula that are significantly different than sport BJJ. Techniques like berimbolos, inverted guard attacks, etc. are not very functional when the practitioner can get punched in the face. It’s a topic that veteran practitioners like Rickson Gracie have addressed as a point of contention in the art.

There are versions of BJJ that focus more on self defense and students can always choose to train there. However, my advice is for practitioners not to limit themselves, and to work in all aspects of Jiu Jitsu. Even if a student’s goal is to train in BJJ for real life-threatening situations or MMA, sport BJJ will still help their skills become sharper, as they will often get to grapple against a higher level competition.

Rear naked choke, the most effective self defense technique

Jiu Jitsu is a multi-functional tool that can be used in many ways. In order to become a great grappler you need to roll with the best on a daily basis and the best grapplers in the world are those who compete in sport-grappling tournaments. So training in both sport and self defense Jiu Jitsu is very likely to be a student’s best option.

On the other hand, even if a student is only interested in sport BJJ, if their instructor offers complimentary self-defense training they shouldn’t neglect to train in these techniques. BJJ for self defense is just as, if not more, important than sport BJJ.

BJJ for MMA (using strikes on the ground) in combination with simple gi chokes is (in my opinion) the best type of unarmed self defense. Training with the gi can also help BJJ practitioners control opponents in real fights using correct clothing gripping methods and can also help them escape or avoid clothing grabs.


Ariadne's thread,’ named from the Greek Myth of the Labyrinth, is the solving of a problem with multiple apparent means of proceeding – such as a physical maze or a logic puzzle – through an exhaustive application of logic to all available routes. A particular method must be used to completely follow through and trace the steps or take a point by point series of found truths in a contingent, ordered search that reaches an end position. It is the process itself that assumes the name.

What does Ariadne's thread have to do with BJJ? The art currently is so complex a new practitioner can easily get lost or discouraged and quit without a road-map; an Ariadne's thread that will lead him out of the maze.

Modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (and no-gi grappling to a lesser extend) requires more than 10 years training in order for someone to achieve black belt status and that happens for a reason. A modern BJJ curriculum has to utilize 200-350 techniques, depending on the main objective for training in the art. Whether it’s training for self-defense, sports competition, gi, no-gi or MMA, or for all the above, the number of techniques a student must to learn can be overwhelming.

Different rules for various events make BJJ even more complicated

As though that wasn’t enough, it seems that every couple of years somebody invents a new guard or submission adding more techniques to be learned, more counters and more options to explore. The 50-50 guard and the worm guard are now common terms in the BJJ vocabulary. And don’t forget that the deep half guard and x-guard didn’t even exist 10-15 years ago.

It is tough for “old school” instructors to keep up with the plethora of new techniques that are being taught by younger instructors who are in their athletic prime. Many of these newer techniques require the athlete to be of lighter weight, younger, or more flexible and are hard for a 50-year-old to practice and learn.

If students attend seminars by old school instructors they will notice that aging masters hate it when their techniques are not appreciated and the only thing the participants want to see is modern moves like the worm guard or berimbolo variations. Sometimes instructors notice this in the school, when they teach beginners an escape from side control and when they turn their back the students try all these fancy moves without taking the technique being taught seriously.

In modern sport Jiu Jitsu, participants will often see white belts competing using advanced techniques, dropping directly to inverted guard or going for berimbolos. How can an instructor avoid teaching these techniques if his/her students will have to encounter them in competition? And probably lose as these techniques are hard to deal with.

Unfortunately, the answer to that is that a lot of instructors are forced to add these techniques to their competition oriented white-to-blue belt curriculum along with the side control escapes and the scissor sweeps from the closed guard.

Unless students are able to train like professional athletes – 2 times a day for 3 hours each time, 5-6 days a week – there is only so much they can learn by training 2-3 times a week for a couple of hours each day.

This makes BJJ more difficult to teach. As a student, the temptation is always there to try new fancy techniques. And it is not wrong to try different things from time to time. However, student’s can’t neglect the basic techniques. The basics are being taught to beginners for a reason: Basics make the difference in winning against the elite in the long run. Keep in mind that in grappling competition 80% of wins are the results of 20% of the moves you have trained in. It is not how many techniques a competitor knows, it is how many techniques they can use effectively.

Marcelo Garcia has some great advice for novice BJJ competitors:


Old school instructors always stress the importance of "training in the basics." And the so-called ‘basics’ can be divided into the following categories:

1. Basic, familiar techniques (armbars from the closed guard, guillotines, rear naked chokes, etc.).

2. Training in basic sport-specific fitness skills and attributes. These are mostly enhanced by drills and exercises, which – in coordination with the basic techniques – are designed to prepare an athlete’s body for advanced techniques that require a higher level of athleticism and a closer attention to details.

Modern grapplers are highly trained athletes

In the past BJJ training was 90% technique training. However, currently – as the art now has more and more competitors who combine athleticism with great technique – that curriculum has started to change to include a broader range of physical fitness. Modern grapplers are highly trained athletes.

The next part of this series will focus on concept driven training - understanding the game.

Author’s note: Parts of this series were posted on my blog, and This is an updated version with extensive rewrites. Although these articles will cover several aspects of training in Jiu Jitsu for MMA and no-gi grappling, topics and techniques will include gi-oriented training. The main focus of this series is the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a whole.

About the author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).

Follow Kostas on Twitter: and search #fantmoves for more techniques.