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I’ve been fortunate enough to coach Jiu-Jitsu for almost 5 years now and in that time I’ve seen a LOT of people go from their very first class all the way to giving me everything I can handle in the advanced class. It’s an amazing thing to be able to help others progress at something and I always take great pride in seeing their success.

Over the years I’ve identified a few things that I frequently discuss in my intro classes with the desire to help the new students avoid the pitfalls and mistakes that I and many others have made when they first start rolling (live training w/ partners) in BJJ. It is my hope that these pointers or shortcuts will do the same for you if you are new to training as well!

1. Be aware that you are learning a brand new skill set and that you may potentially be overwhelmed with information.

Imagine taking a month of French lessons then going to France and trying to have a conversation with someone. It probably wouldn’t go too well. BJJ can be very similar to this. You are learning an entirely new vocabulary with both your mind and your body. In BJJ, we move our body and execute techniques in very different ways than most people are used to moving. Trying to focus on how to move your body with words like “half-guard”, “X choke”, “full mount”, “shrimp”, “knee shield” and many others jumping around your head can be intimidating as well. Be aware that this is normal and when in doubt….RELAX and BREATHE!

2. RELAX and BREATHE! (cont’d).

One of the most common things I see when someone transitions from the intro class where we rep technique to the advanced class where we actively train with partners, is that they get very amped up, are tense, and use tremendous amounts of strength and energy. Energy conservation is a big part of jiu-jitsu and learning how and when to apply the gas early on in your BJJ experience will make a big difference in how quickly you progress. If you pull your car up to a wall and stomp on the gas, you will go nowhere and you’ll also probably blow up your engine. In BJJ when you train w/ a more experienced person they will recognize your kamikaze attacks and react by controlling you or by defending their position in a way that allows them to “rest” while you tire yourself out. As soon as it is recognized that you’ve run out of gas, that’s when they begin their own series of sweeps or attacks. It’s hard enough to defend yourself when you’re fresh. Defending yourself sucks way more when you’re already exhausted! So remember to try to be relaxed but deliberate with your movements and be aware of your breathing. Try to keep it calm and steady. If you’re on the bottom, don’t hold your breath and try to exhale when you move.

3. When you’re on the bottom (which will be all the time).

Generally speaking, in Jiu-Jitsu when you’re on the bottom, you’re losing. When we talk about being “on bottom” this can mean being flat on your back, your side or sitting up while your training partner is either standing or in a position on top of you like side control, knee on belly, half-mount or full mount. Because you will be new at this, you will spend a lot of time on the bottom. This is actually a good thing in my opinion as it forces you to develop your escapes and your guard which are two of the fundamental parts that make BJJ such an effective martial art. In BJJ, we have the highly unique ability to defend, escape, sweep (go from the bottom to the top) and attack/submit our opponents from our backs. So…being in that position can be and eventually will be a good thing for you. That being said, until you learn how to do all those wonderful things from down there you will experience a lot of pressure and a lot of attacks that will end up with you being submitted or “tapping”. Back to point #2 here – when you’re on the bottom remember to breathe and relax. A good habit to establish is to keep your arms close to your body with your hands close to your neck to protect from chokes. When I teach the standard defensive position in the intro class I mention a few things that should be what you do by default whenever you’re flat on your back and cannot move.
– Keep your head on the mat. This makes it harder for your opponent to wrap their arm around your head and also gives you better leverage to “bump” or move your hips to create space and potentially escape the position. Lifting your head creates tension in your core and limits your mobility.
– Keep your hands in a sort of “double pledge of allegiance” on your chest. By keeping your arms tight to your body and your hands flat on top of each other you will be better able to defend your neck, prevent attacks against your arms and also move your arms into “underhook” or “framing” positions that will help you escape.
– Keep your knees up and together with your feet flat on the floor and your heels as close to your butt as you can get them. Think of yourself like a spring and this is a collapsed or “loaded”position. By keeping your knees together and heels close to your body you will be able to create a much better amount of leverage and power when you eventually have to move to escape.
– Recognize the difference between being controlled and being attacked. When you are being controlled you’re not necessarily in any immediate danger because your opponent is focused on keeping you down and improving their position. Trying to escape in these moments won’t usually be very fruitful. Once they begin to establish an attack however, you will start becoming more aware of their weight shifting and them giving you more space to move. It is in those quick moments that you should focus on trying to improve your position. Completely escaping is great but not always possible – especially early on. Focus on improving in small increments. From flat on your back to being on one side. From being on your side to getting up onto your elbow. From being up on your elbow to moving your hips away from your opponent and getting up onto your hand. Etc.

While it seems like a lot to think about, as you spend time in these positions and repping various techniques, you will start to do these things instinctively. The sooner you’re aware of the concepts that I’m discussing however, the quicker you will adapt these techniques into movement without thinking and that will help you advance your progress more quickly.

Thanks for reading and please let me know if you have any questions or comments on this content. Now get out there and go train!