What’s the most common problem (aside from getting caught under side control) facing the BJJ beginner? It’s probably feeling overwhelmed by the staggering number of techniques that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu contains!
There are a thousand variations of sweeps and locks and chokes and pins and escapes and guard passes. It’s enough to make your head spin!
So where then do you start? Which techniques should you concentrate on to get as good as possible as FAST as possible? Conflicting advice will come from many different directions…
“My buddy is a blue belt and always does this move against me…”
“I watched a tournament and all of the guys were trying to do the berimbolo…”
“I saw this Youtube video with this really cool rolling knee bar and I want to learn that!”
“Escapes, posture and defence are all fine. But I really want to start tapping out some blue belts!”
So you’ve got some decisions to make about which techniques to learn and focus on…
But just as important, is figuring out which techniques to avoid when you’re a beginner.
There are many advanced techniques useful for very specific situations. Rolling passes against inverted guard and other passes for sport-specific BJJ styles of guard for example.
In the beginning you should NOT work on these techniques – that time will come, but for now you’ll be best served by drilling the basic techniques you’ll use every time you roll throughout your entire BJJ career.
If you become a trend chaser and start try to master every latest-and-greatest berimbolo variation that shows up at the BJJ Mundials then you’re probably not going to build a very strong foundation for your game. The best case scenario is that you’ll become a one-hit wonder, able to pull off your fancy technique once in a while when everything is going your way perfectly. But when the going gets tough and you end up way outside your comfort zone you won’t be able to rely on the basics to survive and get you through to the other side.
By initially eliminating the superfluous techniques you won’t be able to use until a later stage of your BJJ career you’ll be able to focus your drilling time in laser-like fashion on the smaller number of positions that will give you the greatest return on investment.
You’ll progress even faster if you emphasise drilling your selected selected techniques with a fanatical dedication to correct body mechanics.
Let’s step outside of BJJ for a second so I can share with you a story about how the basics just plain work!
Many years ago I attended a seminar with one of the top professional bodybuilders at the time. He was answering questions from the audience and one earnest, bright eyed, young guy asked “Do you prefer to take 300mg of creatine before your cardio or 400mg after training?”
The bodybuilder closed his eyes and shook his head wearily.
“You want to know how to get BIG?” he asked rhetorically.
The audience was silent and leaned forward in their seats to listen to the behemoth impart his wisdom. Maybe 500mg was the magic number?!
The muscleman started counting on his cucumber sized fingers.
“Eat A LOT of good food… Get enough protein in your diet… Get enough rest in between workouts… Get STRONG at the basic, compound exercises like the bench press, squat, bent over rows.”
He paused and emphasized “The BASIC EXERCISES WILL PUT MUSCLE ON YOUR BODY!”
There was no secret of bee pollen taken at midnight of a full moon. The answer wasn’t found in specialized exercises with a cable that isolated the anterior deltoid.
The answer was ‘the basics, and the basics are popular for a single, simple reason: THEY WORK!
Now let’s get onto the list of 16 best techniques for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu beginners!
These techniques were selected because:
- They are some of the highest percentage techniques for each of the major ground positions
- They build skills that later can be used for more advanced variations
- These techniques are also widely used by your opponents, so you should familiarise yourself with them
- They can be used by you for a very long time, throughout your training from white belt to black belt
- They’re relatively simple (more complicated techniques are not necessarily better!)
- These are “universal” jiu-jitsu techniques, in the sense that they can be used with or without the gi (the collar chokes are the exception to this rule)
Beginner Technique 1: Guard Replacement with Hip Escape
Why? You’ll use this side control escape more than any other side control escape from your first rolls right up to black belt.
You have to learn to move your hips on the bottom for all escapes and this is the first one you should learn. It teaches you the 2 most important hip movements for escaping from the bottom in BJJ:
- Hip escape
Replacing guard is your number one priority when your opponent has passed your guard. And if you become skilled at this side control escape technique then you’ll also learn a lot about guard retention in BJJ – the movements can be very similar with a lot of carry-over between techniques.
Common Mistake: Trying to bench press your opponent off of you instead of using your arms to create “frames”
Beginner Technique 2: Scissor Sweep
Why? This sweep teaches you all of the elements that are used in all other guard sweeps:
- Breaking the opponent’s balance
- Moving your hips to create an angle
- Controlling grips so opponent can’t posture or post a hand
- Using the power of your legs instead of your upper body
The scissors sweep combines very well with many other guard techniques (the triangle and cross collar choke, for example) in combination attacks.
The scissor sweep was the first technique in BJJ that I could actually get on people in live sparring!
Common Mistake: Most beginners fail to execute a sharp pull to off balance the opponent before attempting to scissor the legs.
Beginner Technique 3: Triangle Choke from Guard
Why? The triangle choke is one of the signature submissions in BJJ. It works from white belt all the way to the highest levels of MMA and international competition, both gi and no-gi.
The triangle choke teaches you how to use your legs to attack and choke your opponent. It is the primary threat from the bottom when you’re confronted with a larger, stronger opponent or a superior wrestler whom you are unable to reverse and obtain the top position.
The triangle choke is very versatile and can be setup many different ways from the different guards. First you’ll learn how to correctly perform the mechanics of the basic triangle choke and in the future, you will discover that many different roads lead there.
Common Mistake: Attacking the triangle when the opponent has a strong posture. Posture is the best defence against the triangle and if you are attacking the triangle while your opponent has a strong defence then your success rate will be low.
Beginner Technique 4: Cross Collar Choke from Guard
Why? The cross collar grip is the starting point for your sweeps and other attacks from the guard.
The basic collar and sleeve grip is how you base your closed guard strategy. It is the starting point for all of your other guard attack combinations, including the previous 2 techniques. It teaches you how to use your grip to control your opponent’s head and break their posture down.
This was Helio Gracie’s favourite attack from the guard and he memorably choked a Japanese challenger unconscious with this technique in an old black and white match in Brazil.
Common Mistake: Not getting the first hand deep enough in the collar. Instead reach WAY deep into the collar, and ‘grab the tag’ at the back of the opponent’s neck.
Beginner Technique 5: “Upa” / Bridge and Roll Escape vs Mount
Why? Powerful hip bridges are the beginning to nearly ALL escapes on the ground.
It is critical to learn to utilize the power of your hips and explosive bridge to escape the mount. One of the principles of BJJ is employing your strongest muscle groups whenever you can. For this escape you’re using your thighs, hamstrings and lower back instead of relying on the strength of your arms to push him off of you.
Bench pressing your way out of mount gives your opponent an almost automatic armbar. Pushing with the arms is a habit that new students must abandon as soon as possible when learning BJJ. The bridge and roll gives the student a high-percentage escape from the bottom, without which he is often stuck, or worse, gives up their back!
Common Mistake: Not trapping the opponent’s arm when bridging. The opponent may then post the arm defensively and maintain their top position.
Beginner Technique 6: Elbow to Knee Escape vs Mount
Why? When you combine the elbow to knee escape with the bridge and roll escape you’ll learn to combine bridging and shrimping movements to escape bottom positions.
And when you combine it with technique #1 (guard replacement with hip escape vs side mount) you’ll also learn how to frame with your arms, bridge to create space and move the hips.
You’ll use this escape in your BJJ fundamentals class and you’ll see it used in the UFC. It is that important to all levels, and especially in the first 2 years of your BJJ training you will definitely need your escapes, so drill this technique a lot!
Common Mistake: Not moving the hips enough to create the room you need to wedge your knee inside. Many warmups start with the shrimp movement and this technique is a perfect example of how to use it for real!
Beginner Technique 7: Straight Armlock from Mount
Why? This is the best submission from the dominant mount position. It is the speciality of UFC Champion Ronda Rousey. Her opponents know it’s coming, but they can’t prevent it!
It teaches you how to isolate your opponent’s limb and then apply the force of your entire body against their elbow joint to get submission.
This submission from mount works in both gi and no-gi. This could be your first submission in live rolling!
Common Mistake: When you grab the arm, don’t fall back without putting your leg over the opponent’s head first. Without your leg controlling the opponent’s head he may be able to sit up and come to the top, making it much easier to defend the arm bar!
Beginner Technique 8: Americana Lock (Ude Garami) from Side Control
Why? Side control is a great control position where you utilize your weight to control a struggling opponent. And two of the most effective, lowest risk submissions from side control are the Americana and Kimura locks.
With or without gi, the Americana is always there, making it one of the more successful submissions in MMA.
The Americana will teach you the BJJ principle of using 2 limbs of yours against your opponent’s single limb. And understanding the anatomy of the shoulder joint will help you use leverage to tap your opponent out.
Common Mistake: Allowing the opponent’s elbow to drift away from their body. The further away his elbow is from his body the more it releases the tightness in the shoulder joint, and may even allow him to straighten the arm and escape.
Beginner Technique 9: Rear Naked Choke
Why? This is the quintessential submission of BJJ. The rear mount is most dominant position in the jiu-jitsu positional hierarchy and this is the BEST submission from the back.
The rear naked choke or “mata leon / lion killer” is the best technique to employ against larger, stronger opponents and especially in a self defence situation. Additionally the RNC is statistically the most successful submission in UFC history.
Helio Gracie famously said that very strong opponent’s might continue to fight even with a broken arm, so he preferred the choke as his favourite submission. And if that’s not enough for you then one of the best grapplers of modern times, Marcelo Garcia, specializes in this submission. If it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for you!
Common Mistake: Trying to choke over the opponent’s chin. You must slide your choking arm under the chin and deep into the neck.
Beginner Technique 10: Over-Under Guard Pass
Why? This is a great guard pass to learn about properly using your bodyweight to create pressure during the guard pass. You don’t need to super fast or super athletic to pull this one off – slow and methodical can win the day here!
The over-under pass relies on a low posture to prevent your opponent’s attacks, including most chokes, armlocks, and sweeps! It’s a great “bread and butter” guard pass when your opponent captures you in their closed guard.
Common Mistake: Trying to force the pass to your favorite side. When the opponent commits 100% of their defence to one side, then it’s usually easier to change directions and pass to the opposite side.
Beginner Technique 11: Bullfighter Guard Pass (“Toreando”)
Why? There are both pressure-based guard passing techniques and speed-based guard passing techniques. The “Toreando” will teach you how to use speed and set the stage for you learning other, more advanced, long-distance guard passes.
There are many black belt world champions who specialize in this style of pass against many different forms of guard. Yet is is also one of the first guard passes that starts working for a white belt BJJ beginner! It is that versatile.
The bullfighter pass teaches you to:
- Use your grips to control opponent’s legs / ankles
- Employ side to side movement to avoid your opponents defence
- How to remove guard hooks in preparation for passing
- Pass the guard with or without the gi
Common Mistake: Students often get focused on passing ONLY to their left. The opponent can then anticipate your pass and set up his defence. The best bullfighter passers move relentlessly from side to side until they get ahead of their opponents!
Beginner Technique 12: Hip Bump Sweep
Why? The hip bump sweep is one of those basic techniques that work with and without the gi, in MMA, and in every style of grappling.
I’ve seen it used successfully in the UFC, but the same technique also works fine in BJJ class against guys who are posturing strongly to pass your closed guard. Everyone reading this article has likely to have been swept with this basic technique!
The hip bump is important because it:
- Combines well with guillotine and kimura to create effective attack combinations
- Gives you an option when you just can’t break your opponent’s posture in closed guard
- Uses your hips to apply the sweep, instead of much weaker arms
Common Mistake: Not controlling the opponent’s arm will allow them to post and thwart your sweep. Sure, you can then switch to Kimura, but let’s get the mechanics right for the original technique first!
Beginner Technique 13: Headlock Escape from Standing and on the Ground
Why? Watch any Youtube street fight video and you’ll probably see one of the combatants grab the head of the other guy and wrestle him to the ground.
Knowing how to defend the head lock in an adrenaline filled encounter is one of the most important self defence skills in BJJ. You need to know what to do if someone grabs and squeezes your head with all of their power; this is a natural human reaction in a fight and you NEED to know what to do if it happens to you.
While most of us confine our “fighting” to the dojo, we’ve got to remember that BJJ is a self defence art first and foremost!
If you don’t occasionally train against street-style attacks like the headlock you can end up in trouble. I’ve witnessed more than one bluebelt with an impressive spider guard run into difficulty extricating themselves from the headlock of a strong and determined larger opponent.
On the ground, headlock escapes require you to use framing with your arms, bridging, and hip escapes to get off your back and onto your side, all of which are skills developed by many of the other BJJ beginner techniques we’ve discussed in this article. It’s a very exciting stage in a grappler’s career when the skills developed by one technique begin to apply to other techniques as well!
Common Mistake: When caught in the headlock many beginners will grab their opponent and try to roll him over using all their strength. But if that doesn’t work then not only are they still trapped, but now they’re also exhausted! Escaping in a step-by-step technical manner is the way to go.
Beginner Technique 14: Guillotine Choke from Different Positions
Why? The guillotine has been called the grappling equivalent of the “knockout punch”. A grappler with a great “squeeze” is always dangerous anytime they can get the opponent’s head.
Statistically it is also responsible for the 2nd highest number of submissions in UFC history (behind the RNC which we covered earlier on our list).
The guillotine is a “universal” jiu-jitsu technique in that it may be used in gi-based BJJ, no-gi submission grappling, and of course in MMA.
There is no one magic entry to the guillotine choke; there are many ways to get here…
- From standing when opponent shoots a double leg
- From the guard combined with hip bump sweep
- From the mount
- When an opponent escapes side control and comes to turtle (see video)
Common Mistake: In order to correctly apply the pressure to the opponent’s neck, your legs must also control the opponent’s body. Trying to merely squeeze with the arms and allowing the opponent to jump cross side is the most common error.
Beginner Technique 15: Double Leg Takedown
Why? Statistically, the double leg takedown is the most successful takedown in UFC history!
Top UFC fighters like George St. Pierre, Randy Couture, and Cain Velasquez all used the double leg to get their opponents on the ground.
A perfectly timed Judo foot sweep is a thing of beauty, but one can’t deny the extreme effectiveness of a good old fashioned blast double leg takedown!
There are multiple variations on the basic double leg, but most of them contain the common elements o
- Suddenly changing levels to get below your opponent’s punches and defensive hand positioning
- Taking a deep step forward to close the distance between you and the opponent. Some grapplers bounce their lead knee off the mat, others stay on their feet, but all successful double leg takedown artists have ways to get really close to their opponent quickly
- Following through by either lifting, driving, or turning the corner. All three variations make it very hard for your opponent to maintain their standing balance and they have no choice but to hit the mat
Common Mistake: When you’re entering the double leg your posture must be upright with strong neck. A bent over posture in grappling makes it easier for your opponent to sprawl, or worse, guillotine choke you!
Beginner Technique 16: Straight Armbar from Guard
Why? If you don’t know the arm bar from the guard then you don’t know BJJ!
One of the unique things that sets Brazilian Jiu-jitsu apart from other grappling styles is the emphasis on the guard and developing the ability to submit the opponent from the bottom.
From the early UFC’s to the latest strike force event, from your local jiu-jitsu tournament to the Mundials, you’ll see the armbar from the guard over and over again.
Interestingly when new students roll against a more experienced female BJJ practitioner, the most common surprise the new student gets is tapping out due to an armbar from her guard! This scenario has played itself out in countless dojos around the world.
If you’re going to be dangerous off your back then you NEED to get good at the armbar from guard! This is even more true if you do no gi or MMA, because without the gi all your collar attacks will no longer available.
Common Mistake: Most common error is the bottom man doesn’t move his hips to create a perpendicular angle and tries to armlock the his opponent with their bodies aligned straight on. In this position the armlock has little leverage and your guard can easily be passed. If you’re on the bottom in BJJ then you HAVE to move your hips!
So there you have it – the 16 most important BJJ techniques for beginners!
But almost every BJJ technique, whether basic or advanced, is deployed from one of six basic BJJ positions: the guard, sidemount, mount, kneemount, rearmount or turtle.
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WHAT YOU’LL GET IN THE FREE SECTION OF THE APP
When you download the free Roadmap for BJJ app to your phone or tablet you’ll automatically get more than 50 minutes of high quality video instruction in easy-to-use bite sized pieces:
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- Every module comes with the techniques, escapes, and tactics you need to make that position effective quickly, as well as an overview of the most common, most effective match-ending submissions you can use from each position
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This app contains a complete system for learning BJJ. It starts with the Roadmap concept so that you get the complete big picture of the art of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (along with the concepts, techniques and strategies used by almost every advanced player).
After you get the big picture painted for you you’ll then get an in-depth step-by-step explanation for each individual area of BJJ in detail. You’ll learn the highest-percentage techniques so that you can put all that newfound knowledge into practice swiftly and easily and start holding your own on the mat.
This app covers the ‘why, where, when, who and what’ of BJJ, including,
- Why certain techniques work better than others.
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Many BJJ students never end up learning the fundamentals of the art properly because these basics are so ‘obvious’ to their instructors that they don’t bother to pass them on to their students. And trying to figure all the fundamentals out by trial and error is a long and frustrating process.
But if you get the concepts, strategies and tactics of BJJ laid out for you correctly (and right in the beginning of your grappling career) then your skills will jump to a new level literally overnight.
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About the Authors: This article was co-written by Stephan Kesting and Mark Mullen. Mark is a BJJ Black belt based in Taiwan. He can be reached on Twitter at @MarkMullenBJJ or by his website TyphoonBJJ.com