The 3 Steps of Berimbolo


Sometimes the best way to really understand something is to teach it. When it comes to jiu-jitsu, breaking a technique down into steps (not too many, not too few) and finding the best way to convey the underlying principles often helps clarify things in your mind.

I’ve been doing a lot of this with the berimbolo sweep recently.

For example, yesterday I was training with my friend Chad. He’s dealing with a tweaked rotator cuff right now, so we couldn’t spar. No problem – this was a great opportunity to do some drilling and get some reps in. And the technique we chose to drill was the berimbolo sweep from de la Riva guard.

He was new to this technique, so I broke it down for him into three steps.  Then we drilled each step in isolation before putting it all together to do the entire technique.

At the end of drilling the technique and playing with some variations I promised to send him some links to my favourite berimbolo videos on YouTube. I started to write that email last night, but it grew and grew and in the end I turned it into a blog post for him and 10,000 of my closest friends.

(It’s a strange new world when you write a blog post for friend instead of sending him an email, but if you want to train with me then that’s just one of the peculiarities you’re going to have to put up with.)

Before we dive into this let’s keep things in perspective. The berimbolo is just a technique. Unlike what some berimbolo fanatics seem to think It’s not the be all and end all that you can use in every situation against every opponent.  It’s just one tool in your toolbox.

That being said, the berimbolo is becoming so popular at the higher levels of competition that I think you’re doing yourself a real disservice if you don’t have at least some awareness of it. At the very least you should try to do it yourself a few times so you can learn to better recognise it and defend against it.

There are three distinct steps to the Berimbolo…

Berimbolo Step 1: Establish de la Riva Guard and Get Your Opponent Onto His Butt

de la riva guardMost berimbolo attacks start from some variation of the de la Riva guard.  So  first you have to correctly secure the de la Riva position.

Let’s say your opponent is standing up and leading with his right leg.  To get to de la Riva guard you have to:

  • Control his right ankle with your left hand (don’t try to berimbolo without first holding his ankle or otherwise controlling the lower leg – it won’t’ work)
  • Wrap your left leg around the outside of his right thigh, inserting your left foot between his legs from behind
  • Control his right lapel, belt, or one of his sleeves with your free hand (for the berimbolo you’re typically going for the lapel or the belt, for most other sweeps you’re usually trying to control a sleeve initially).

If you want to explore this position more fully here’s Ricardo de la Riva himself showing four of his favourite de la Riva guard attacks.  (No, he doesn’t include the berimbolo among them.  It’s second hand information so I can’t vouch for it, but I heard that he doesn’t like inverting because of his age.  He’s a legend so he can do what he likes. Plus I suspect that he’s already got more than enough attacks from the de la Riva guard!)

Anyhow for the classic berimbolo your opponent can’t be standing – his butt needs to be on the floor or close to the floor, so the next order of business is knocking your opponent off his feet somehow.

The best way of doing this is probably by getting a slight angle on your opponent and pushing his waist with your free leg (i.e. the one that’s not actively applying the de la Riva hook). The third and fourth videos at the bottom of this page do a really nice job of breaking down this part of the attack, so make sure to check them out when you finally get down there.

Getting your opponent onto his butt is a non-issue if you’re in a double guard pull situation and playing leg patty-cake.  In this position the battle is to establish your grips and weave your de la Riva hook into position against an opponent who has almost certainly encountered this strategy before and is anticipating it.   But double guard pull isn’t a position or strategy that I’m particularly fond of, so enough said about that.

Note that this first step is NOT really a sweep.  Not yet, anyway. In a sweep you knock your opponent over and then establish top position.  In the berimbolo you don’t try to come to the top.  You knock your opponent to his butt and then go to stage 2, the spin.

Training Tip: the first million times you try this sweep in sparring just be happy if you successfully get your de la Riva grips and knock your opponent over onto his butt. Don’t even worry about it if he scrambles away or gets back up to his feet before you can go to Step 2. Each time that you knock him over give yourself a little sticker and declare a personal victory. You’ve got to walk before you can run, and becoming comfortable with Step 1 is… well… the first step.

Berimbolo Step 2: the Spin

This is the stage that many people muddling through the berimbolo screw it up.  They’re unsure of the timing and might also be uncomfortable with the spin itself.

Let me clear it up for you: if you have the de la Riva hook, and if your opponent is sitting on his butt, then this is what I call a ‘trigger position.’  You have to move NOW!

The most common error I see is people trying to roll to their knees to do the spin.  That’s not it at all.  Practice spinning on a wall (i.e. the drill I show at about 1:20 of this video) until you become comfortable with the spin.

The next most common error I see is people trying to spin with their head far away from their opponent.  When you spin your head should tuck in towards your opponent’s hip.  That’s made a lot easier when you have control of his lapel or belt, because you can pull on that to bring yourself closer

Training Tip: learning to recognise the trigger position as the opportunity that it is and then immediately moving into the spin is key. When you’re learning this move then take it step by step. If in sparring you successfully recognise the de-la-Riva-hook-with-your-opponent-sitting-on-his-butt trigger position and start spinning then consider that a success, regardless of whether you actually make it to your opponent’s back or not .

Berimbolo Step 3: The Finish

OK, so you’ve established your de la Riva Guard and knocked your opponent onto his butt (stage 1).  And now you’ve inverted and are halfway through the spin (stage 2).  What now?

The answer is, it depends.

There are a lot of different ways to finish the berimbolo from the upside down spin position, and which one you choose depends a lot on what kind of reaction and resistance you get from your opponent.

The standard finish involves switching the hand that was on his ankle to control his other leg and then kicking your legs to the floor. This rolls your opponent and exposes his back.

Here’s where you see a lot of variations. Depending how your opponent reacts and what you do to counter those reactions you can end up on his back, in full mount, in side control, slapping an armbar onto your opponent, etc. But once you’ve inverted and spun it’ll mostly be good things happening from now on.

Training Tip: don’t get confused by all the fancy finishes and variations. Become comfortable with the basic ‘default’ finish, which is to kick him over and take his back. Other ways to finish will become apparent once your sparring partners begin recognising this technique and start trying to block or counter you going for the back.

Berimbolo Videos

Here are some videos that really helped me begin to figure out what this spinning, inverting and flailing around was all about, so I figured it was only fair that I share them with you too. Plus there’s one video in this list that I did myself that might help you out too…

Arte do Berimbolo Hightlight Video

In case you still need convincing that this technique is worth drilling, here’s a highlight compilation video of a ton of different competitors hitting the berimbolo over and over and over again.

The only danger of this highlight video is that you could end up being discouraged rather than inspired – there are arms and legs and bodies flying all over the place and it can be tough to follow what’s going on if you’re new to the position.  If that’s you, if it all just looks like a confusing tangle of limbs, then make sure you at least watch the second video after this one too (*ahem* my video) before you pass judgement on the berimbolo altogether.

How to do the Berimbolo the Easiest Way

Here’s the video I put together on what I think is the easiest way to learn the berimbolo sweep.  It also includes a couple of drills that will help make it a lot easier to hit that spinning inversion halfway through the move.

The Real Berimbolo Video by the Mendes Brothers

This is a nice high-level breakdown of the sweep by two of the pioneers of this position.  Lots of fine details.

No Gi Berimbolo

This is a great little video with a lot of ninja tricks and details that’ll help you regardless of whether you’re wearing a gi or not.  After watching this video, for example, I am now considering making the behind-the-knee grip my default de la Riva grip.  The more universal your game, and the less things  to adjust going back and forth between gi to nogi, the better.

Plus there’s a cool entry into the berimbolo from the reverse de la Riva guard right towards the end of the video, so keep watching.

Advanced Berimbolo with the Miyao Brothers

The Miyao brothers are also known for the berimbolo.  The video below is a great illustration of how many options you have after you’ve inverted and before you go to the back (i.e. at the end of step 2).

Marcus ‘Buchecha’ Almeida vs Rodolfo Vieira at the 2013 Mundials

Buchecha and Rodolfo have had some EPIC battles on the mat. And their collision at the 2013 Mundials was no exception. At about 5 minutes into their match Buchecha uses a variation of the berimbolo to pass Rodolfo’s single leg X guard and work his way to the back.

The reason I included this video is because it demonstrates that once you’ve mastered the basics of this move you’ll start finding more and more ways to get into it from different positions.

I hope this technical breakdown helps get you to rear mount much more often in class and in competition. The look of astonishment on your training partner’s face the very first time you spin to his back will be worth the effort of drilling the technique, I promise!

One more cool link for you: if you want to see a really advanced example of what the Berimbolo sweep can lead to then check out Joao Miayao teaching the Berimbolo to Ninja Armbar combination video on Grapplearts.

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