In part one of this series we stressed the importance of perfecting the so-called basic techniques. In this article we will elaborate more on these techniques, also known as fundamentals. These are important as the next post is about building sport specific attributes with essential skills and drills. Using basic techniques in coordination with training on drills will help you build skills and reach an understanding of concepts. So before you start training on flying armbars, make sure you do not neglect the fundamentals as they never lose their importance.
The “basics” and how to learn to appreciate them
Beginner techniques in BJJ are often referred to as “basic” or “fundamental” techniques. This is often misleading, as in my opinion there are no basic techniques. Just BJJ techniques. All grappling techniques can be used in the proper circumstances no matter how high the level of competition. Don’t get me wrong, there are techniques which are easier to teach to a beginner. However, even techniques like the cross choke from the guard, which are not considered high percentage against high level competition, can be used to cause a reaction to set up another technique. If you underestimate these “basic techniques” in competition, you will pay for it. The guillotine, for example, is a basic technique and most matches in ADCC finish with this submission.
If you get in to the habit on working only in the fancy techniques you enjoy, then you will not acquire a balanced set of abilities. I have seen BJJ practitioners who can do flying armbars yet they cannot escape from side control. Invest in these basic techniques and learn them properly. In order to do so you need to get the correct details and that means asking questions.
Specialized training and complex techniques are important at later stages of BJJ, but as a beginner you have to trust your instructor. Keep in mind that he or she will judge you and promote you to the next belt if he feels that you respect him/her and appreciate his/her teachings. There is no greater form of flattery than when you teach a certain technique and you see your student apply this technique in rolling. This is what the trainer-student relationship is all about. Trust and the passing of knowledge.
Of course not all teachers have the same basic white to blue belt curricula. Some instructors have more sophisticated curricula while others rely on a set of techniques that are unique and personal. For Marcelo Garcia it’s all about guillotines, single leg x-guard, x-guard and butterfly sweeps. For Roger Gracie it’s a lot of closed guard, half guard to mount, cross choke from the mount, etc. And it is always amazing how Kron Gracie has reached such high levels using a basic arsenal of techniques, completely ignoring recent trends and popular techniques.
Another example is the Gracie family. Their schools employ a curriculum that focuses a lot on self-defense. Other teams focus on competition techniques like spider guard, the leg lasso, De La Riva sweeps and modern guards and completely ignore self-defense.
These different curricula also originate in the different strategies and priorities each teacher considers important. Marcelo Garcia focuses on scrambles and speed. Roger Gracie and Rickson Gracie black belts focus on “invincible Jiu Jitsu,” perfecting a limited amount of techniques to the point where they are unstoppable.
If you study the game of these exceptional athletes, you soon get to realize that they can tap black belt champions using the same techniques that are being taught in the very first lessons of BJJ.
What is so great about knowing hundreds of techniques that do not simply work for you because your level of experience and your athleticism is not ready for them yet?
A rule of thumb as a beginner is to not put more food on your plate than you can actually eat. Do not overwhelm yourself with techniques. Focus on mastering the techniques your instructor shows you.
BJJ at this point will probably make no sense. This is normal. It is like learning a foreign language. You have to learn the basic words before you can understand complex phrases.
Take notes, watch fights and become a student of the game, but do not start watching all techniques out there as you will get overwhelmed. If you are working on a certain escape from the mount there are numerous clips on YouTube which can give you some tips or different approaches.
Make sure that every technique you learn becomes a weapon in your arsenal. Work on every technique again and again until you can perform them without conscious effort. If you have to think which sleeve to grab you are not there yet. All techniques have their place and are part of an overall game.
When you see Rickson and Roger tap high level black belts using cross chokes from the mount or Marcelo Garcia sweeping black belts with simple hook sweeps, it is because they have mastered these techniques.
To quote Bruce Lee: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
However, I do not agree that repetition alone will help you achieve greatness. Every technique has a lot of fine points that must be mastered for it to be effective. One of my favorite chokes is the north-south choke. It is a simple technique that can easily be taught to beginners, but it took many years for me to make it work. Learning the basic mechanics of a technique is just the beginning. Timing, troubleshooting, set-ups, correct application of pressure and squeeze, and even knowing when to let go and transition to other techniques are also important factors. Why is it that nobody escapes Roger’s cross choke from the mount and other high level black belts cannot make it work?
In boxing, a beginner’s jab and Floyd Mayweather’s jab may look the same to the untrained eye but they are not. A beginner’s jab is used randomly, but Mayweather’s is used at the correct time, at the correct angle and there is a connection between the previous technique and the next one.
The question is, do you want to make an investment in correctly training the basics and harvest the profits in the future? Because this is what it’s all about: working on creating a solid foundation where advanced techniques will find the proper attributes and skillset, which will help them shine.
If you are working on berimbolos as a beginner you are probably not working on mount escapes or bridging or shrimping correctly. There is only so much you can train.
A common mistake most beginners do is let time slip without putting in the reps in the gym. When your instructor shows you the technique and says, “Let’s go,” he does not mean do it a couple of times and then just start staring at others who have not finished yet. He means do the technique 500 times until he tells you to stop. You have to make your time in the gym count, you need to put the work in, and you need “flight time” in order to start seeing results. Practice and practice more.
Wrestles train hard takedowns hundreds of times. This builds not only technique effectiveness, but also sport specific attributes. Each basic technique has to be the stepping stone for larger things.
Don’t forget the takedowns
A lot of BJJ beginners neglect the takedowns because takedowns need physical strength and explosiveness. It is a lot easier to drop on your butt and start working on deep half guard sweeps. On the other hand, although you may have success in the gym without takedown skills, you will have limited success in modern day tournaments, especially no-gi. And without takedowns BJJ for self-defense is not effective.
You do not have to learn all the takedowns in the world, but if you learn anything, a basic double takedown, a single leg and a decent sprawl are necessary. And all the basic details are important, like protecting your neck and staying out of guillotines. A few basic Judo throws are also necessary.
In the following video, Rickson Gracie explains how focusing on the details of basic techniques can make a huge difference in applying them against a live, resisting opponent:
This concludes the conceptual framework of this series as in the following parts we will focus more on training videos by various instructors. Next week we will focus on important drills and their importance in developing the right skills in BJJ.
Author’s note: Parts of this series were posted on my blog, BJJLegends.com and Jiujitsubrotherhood.com. 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).