A Guest Article, by Rhett Burch
There are many articles for BJJ beginners, but not many of them are written by a purple belt. I figured I’d share my thoughts since it wasn’t long ago when I was white belt.
The following things have helped me tremendously as a beginner.
1) Relax And Breathe
First, is relax. Almost every BJJ beginner moves like a terrified animal initially. Practicing rolling in a calm and controlled manner. Breathe!
It’s cliché, but so important. Don’t panic. You’re not fighting for your life.
2) Just Wiggle
Second, if you don’t know what to do, just wiggle around. In fact, that’s all I do most of the time. Then when I see an opportunity, I do a technique. Not everything you do is going to be a technique. Most of the time, you just do little things like place your knee there or push against your opponent’s chest.
Always be doing something. Never just lay there. Mess with your opponent. Do anything to distract them, but don’t tire yourself out. Usually, when I’m on the bottom, I do little feints to keep them from relaxing. I don’t expend much energy on these feints. Also, I like to twist one of my opponent’s wrist just to preoccupy him. This is just a distraction, not a real submission.
3) Practice Skill, Not Strength And Speed
Another tip is practice using skill. Don’t rely solely on strength and speed like most beginners. Try to use your opponent’s momentum against him. Think about where your opponent’s balance is. Then push or pull him in the direction it is weak.
At first, these things ar difficult to do. It will be frustrating initially, but keep at it. After months of practice, you will be much better than people who use strength or speed alone. After all, BJJ is called the gentle art. This is something I learned at the end of my blue belt, but I’m still working on today.
4) Don’t Be Flat
Also, never be flat on your back. While there are exceptions to this rule, most of the time you should tilt to your side when on the bottom.
Conversely, when you’re on top, try to flatten your opponent out. Squish him hard. Make it hard for him to breathe.
5) Get Good At Escapes
Another tip for beginners is focus on getting good at escapes. Don’t worry about submission for now. Focus on getting good at the following things:
- Escaping side control
- Escaping mount
- Escaping back mount
- Passing guard
Later you can learn submissions. After all, you need to be in top position to use them. A great way to get good at escaping is positional sparring. Positional sparring is when you practice one position exclusively.
For example, set a timer for 1-minute intervals. You lay on your back. Your opponent tries to hold you down with side control as best as he can. He doesn’t try to submit you. You try your best to escape.
If you escape, you win. If you don’t escape within 1 minute, you lose. Once the timer goes off, you switch roles. Repeat multiple times. You can do this for any position, not just side control. This sort of practice will make you better at escaping quicker than rolling. However, you should do both rolling and positional sparring.
6) Use Your Hips More
Another important tip is to use your hips more. I actually learned this after suffering a shoulder injury. Everytime I pushed with my right arm, there was a sharp pain in my shoulder. It was very fustrating. I thought about taking a month off BJJ, but decided to roll differently. When I rolled, my right hand held onto my left lapel the whole time. I never let go.
As a result, I couldn’t use my arms to push anymore. I had to learn to push with my knees and hips. My BJJ improved quickly. It’s funny how an injury can be a blessing. Don’t let injuries set you back. Rather, work around them.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is all about maximizing leverage. Mostly this means using your strongest part, your hips, against your opponent. There are hundreds of ways to use your hips, but most of the time it involves
Wrapping your legs around your opponent and pulling him in
- Wrapping your legs around your opponent and pushing him away
- Placing your knee against your opponent and pushing him away
- Pushing against your opponent with your chest or shoulder
Your moves should feel relatively easy. If they require significant effort or strength, then you need to work on them. Again, this takes months of practice, but start working on it now.
7) Be Patient
Another tip is be patient. Getting good at BJJ takes time. Nobody becomes an expert overnight except in the movies. Learn to enjoy the process. People who enjoy practicing BJJ stick with it and become good. On the other hand, people who are obsessed with improving get frustrated and usually quit.
8) Enjoy Practice
After all, there are very few people who actually make a living doing jiu-jitsu. Unless you’re some kind of savant or practice 30 hours a week, you’re not going to be one of them. Therefore, don’t stress about becoming better. Rather, focus on enjoying practice.
Roll with the guys you like rolling with as much as possible. I usually don’t roll with people much better than me because I think it’s boring. You may feel otherwise, however. Usually, I try to roll with guys close to my level and size.
Also, have a small goal for each practice. It could be something like “do 20 reps of an armbar drill”. Then each practice will be new and different. Just remember to try and have fun when you do BJJ.
9) Roll More
Another tip is roll as much as you can during practices. Stay as late as possible. You get better at BJJ by rolling more, not by learning more techniques. In fact, most people only do a few techniques. They just get really good at them.
10) Be Humble
My last tip for BJJ is the most important. It is be humble. Why is humility so important? When you let go of your ego, you won’t fight so hard. You’ll have more fun. You won’t be upset when you get tapped out. You’ll try new things. You’ll learn more. You’ll get hurt less. You’ll be able to practice more. Understand?
When I was younger, I had a real ego problem. I based my self-worth on silly things like how tough I was or how good I was at BJJ. Whenever someone tapped me out, I brooded about it. Eventually, however, I learn to let that go. Immediately, everything was better.
You will learn very quickly that you are not that tough when you start BJJ. And you know what? That’s totally okay. Being a better fighter does not make you a better person. Being humble does. Accept your limitations and you will improve at BJJ quicker.
While I am not the best Purple belt ever, I do love practicing jiu-jitsu. Plus, I’ve improved much over the past year without injuries. If that’s what you want then follow these tips:
- Relax and breath
- Just wiggle
- Practice skill, not strength and speed
- Tilt to your side
- Get good at escapes
- Use your hips
- Be patient
- Enjoy practice
- Roll more
- Be humble
You will improve faster and enjoy BJJ more when you follow these tip. Good luck training!
Rhett Burch lives in Lousiana, USA. He practiced traditional jujitsu for 10 years. Then the club disbanded so he started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He has been practicing since 2014. He always disliked armbars, but that seems to be his best move ironically. In addition to martial arts, he writes about fitness on his website, realathleticfitness.com.