By Nicolas Gregoriades
This is an article I wrote for the US publication Jiu-Jitsu Magazine – a high-quality print publication which I strongly recommend you check out.
How many times have you heard a bjj guy talking about ‘the basics’? Everyone says stuff like ‘You’ve got to have good basics.’ But what does that mean? What defines a technique as basic?
I don’t have the answer to that question, but in this article I have defined 8 basic skills for jiu jitsu that I feel are fundamental to the development of a good all-around grappling game.
Are these the only ‘basics’ you should know? Of course not. Another instructor would probably come up with a completely different list. But if you learn and internalize these I guarantee that’ll you’ll be a better fighter.
1. The ability to relax while training
The acquisition of this ability is paramaount to your progress in BJJ. If you train withoutout the ability to relax, sooner or later you will become exhausted or overtrained, and more likely than not, injured. Not only that, but training with a super-tense competitive mindset slows your progress down. It’s been proven that people learn fastest when they are relaxed.
Now all this is easier said than done. I always have other bjj instructors asking me things like ‘How can I teach my students to relax?’
It’s been my experience that the primary factor at play when a student is unable to practise in a calm and controlled manner is his or her own ego.
Nobody likes tapping out. It’s hell on the ego. The ego wants to dominate and control and to win at all costs. Let me let you in on a little secret: You’re never going to be the best jiu-jitsu fighter in the world. You’re probably never gonna be the best guy in your academy. But so what? Being the best is a fleeting and painful position to be in. You always have somebody on your ass, trying to take over the top dog spot, and sooner or later, somebody better than you comes along. Forget about winning or losing – put your focus on learning and developing. It’s a much better long-term strategy, trust me.
2. Bridging and Shrimping
I once heard an interesting analogy which likened grappling to a language, and a sparring match to a conversation.
If grappling is a language, then bridging and shrimping can be considered the vowels. They are that crucial. They are two of the most important examples in the collection of movements which ‘sew’ all your moves together.
Flavio Canto, Judo Olympian and BJJ black belt, once said ‘Practise movements, not only moves.’ I now understand his reasoning. Movements are versatile and can be woven into techniques. They give a big bang for your training buck.
Now just because you do these drills a few times each during the warm up in class does not mean you are doing them correctly or to anywhere near their potential. I’ve been training for almost 12 years and I’m still refining and improving my bridge and my shrimp. And keep in mind that there are several variations on each of them. Spend time researching and practising them and I guarantee you’ll see improvements quickly.
3. Gripping Corectly
One of my first coaches, Felipe Sousa, told me early in my grappling career ‘If you can’t grip then you can’t fight.’ Wise words indeed. What you need to understand is that effective gripping has three components.
The first, is the strength of your hands. Your fingers and hands will naturally become stronger after a couple of years of training, but if you want to turbo charge the process, you will need to seek out supplemental training. There are countless grip-strengthening gadgets and courses on the market, each of which I’m sure has some value. Do your research. For me, the thing that help most in developing my grip was rock climbing. Try it out and you’ll see a big improvement.
The second, is efficient gripping. No matter how strong your grip is, if you’re holding onto the cloth using too much strength, your eventually forearms will fatigue and your grip will weaken. You can find out more about how to grip efficiently in this video.
And finally, where to grip is of vital importance. You have the strongest, most efficient gripping technique in the world, but if you’re still holding onto the wrong things you’ll struggle to generate the requisite amount of leverage required to achieve your objectives. Again, check out the video for more detailed information regarding where to grip.
4. The Standing Guard Pass
In my opinion, passing the guard is by far the most difficult aspect of bjj. If a guy has strong legs and active hips, dealing with his guard can be absolute hell.
The standing guard pass should really be called ‘the standing guard break’, because most of the time you’re only standing for the first part, which is ‘breaking’ open his guard where his legs cross on your lower back.
Once his legs are open, you can proceed to pass the guard from a standing or kneeling position. But either way, to open the guard of an decent jiu-jitsoka you invariably have to stand up.
Sure, there are some techniques for breaking open the guard from on your knees, but try them out against someone reasonably tall and with decent leg strength and let me know how that works out for you.
For details on the standing guard pass, speak to your instructor. If he’s good he’ll show you the correct technique and variations without insisting that you take a private lesson.
5. Escaping Side Mount
Escapes are not glamourous or crowd-pleasing, but up to at least purple belt they’re the most important aspect of your game. And escaping side mount is the most important part of the defensive aspect to your game.
After years of practising, teaching and refining this aspect of bjj, I’ve identified three components that I believe are key to getting it right.
First, you have to protect your neck at all times. You can have the best escape move in the world but if you’re getting choked out it’s not going help you. Keep at least one hand in easy reach of your lapels at all times.
Second is bridging and shrimping (sound familiar?). The secret is in learning to perform these moves with the correct timing and combine them. The one (bridging) usually precedes the other (shrimping). There are many more details to this which I will cover in a future video or article.
Finally, you must learn how to combo the ‘guard replacement’ and ‘go to knees’ escapes. If you know how to do these two well you will have a good chance in 90 percent of all side mount situations. Again, if you want more information, ask your instructor.
6. Breath control
Your ability to learn and perform on the mat is linked to your state of mind, which is in turn linked to your breath. If your breathing is smooth and even, it more likely than not that your movements will be the same. But if you’re panting and gasping for air, I can assure you that your jits won’t be effective or cool to watch.
Another interesting thing about breath control is that it can also help you deal with the ego. By concentrating on the the flow of your inhalations and exhalations and the movement of your breath through your body, you will be able to largely disassociate from any self-talk that might distract you from your sparring or drilling.
7. The Straight-Armlock from Guard
This is the first submission I teach my private students. Although in application it appears simple, it’s actually a complex technique with many points to it.
Learning and memorizing a complex sequence from start to finish is of great benefit for beginner students. I can’t explain the neuroscience behind it, but it’s been my experience that once they have done this comprehensively for at least one move, learning all subsequent moves becomes easier.
In addition to this, understanding the straight-armlock from guard also imbues the jiu-jitsoka with insight into several key grappling concepts conceps including grip control. head control, creating angles of attack. and using the hip/core/glute drive to apply leverage.
If you want to see me demonstrate this technique online you can find the video here.
8. The Scissor Sweep
I once heard that Rickson considers the scissor sweep the most important of all. If it’s true I can understand why. The scissor sweep is important because to do it properly you have to incorporate several principles that are vital to most sweeps.
Control of the wrist and arm of the side you are sweeping to.
If you don’t do this, you’ll never complete the sweep in a million years. Overlooking this one detail is the main contributing factor to failed sweeps in my opinion.
Powering these sweep using the hips and trunk as opposed to the arms.
Most of the time, if you’re using your arms to power a movement you’re operating inefficiently. Watch how beginner’s will try to move their opponents using arm strength almost exclusively when doing this. With the scissor sweep the kicking of the legs provides all
Facilitating the inversion by raising your oppnents center of gravity.
With good scissor-sweeping technique, you use the top leg and lapel-grip to elevate your partner’s hips by pulling him towards you. This raises his center of gravity (pelvis) and makes it far easier to flip him over. This is a common element in most sweeps and reversals.
For more information on the scissor sweep check out one of the hundreds of youtube instructionals – try to identify the principles above while you’re watching them.
I hope you enjoyed reading the first part of this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. Subscribe to the mailing list to be informed when the parts two and three are released.