by Mark Mullen
A few weeks back I penned an article called “What Do Whitebelts Need To Learn In Their 1st Year of BJJ?“. That prompted a few people to request a discussion of the next step in the BJJ journey: Bluebelt.
If we think of the whitebelt as a time of fleshing out the skeleton of the positional hierarchy and learning the mechanics of basic techniques, I would sum up the Bluebelt as a time of experimentation.
My thoughts on Bluebelt centre around 4 main ideas:
By the time your instructor has tied a bluebelt around your waist, you should have a clear understanding of the positional hierarchy and ability to use the basic techniques during a match against a fully resisting opponent. White belts gaze at your new blue belt with envy and turn their intensity up when they roll with you wishing to measure their own quest for bluebelt by their ability to hang with you.
This period is when the bluebelts knowledge of techniques will really explode! You may have heard some members at your academy refer to others as “technique collectors”. What they are referring to is the excitement to learn all of the variations of techniques from each position. While the Judo gokyo has a mere 67 throwing techniques, the number of ground techniques are limitless and even continue to increase as jiu-jitsu’s greatest minds all over the world develop new positions and strategies in the BJJ arms race.
Each class you will learn variations on the basics and completely new positions and as a bluebelt you have enough sports specific mat fitness, base and general knowledge to start directing your own exploration of techniques. Some traditionalists disparage the blue belt’s fascination with the newest sweep at the Mundials, believing that they should be spending that training time refining their basics but I say try them all out. Jiu-jitsu is supposed to be FUN above all else and what is more fun than seeing a cool new move and repping it out in class?
Be aware that many fancy open guard sweeps have a specific application to sports jiu-jitsu rules and strategies and must be balanced with deepening your mastery of the basics – basics being the bread and butter techniques that you employ every time you roll.
During this experimentation phase you will experiment with new moves that will immediately seem to be natural for you and fit immediately into your game. Many top competitors famous for certain positions have been sharpening those same moves throughout their entire belt journeys.
The majority of new moves you may have a brief infatuation with and then discard in favour of trying the next thing. Certain moves will rise to the top and now we are starting to put together your “Game”. There is a Japanese term used in Judo called “Tokuiwaza” that roughly translates ton the technique that best suits your body.
Experiment and find your Tokuiwaza.
2) Counters and Recounters
During whitebelt one is trying to fill holes in ones knowledge, identifying positions and learning a technique that you plug into that situation “When I find myself here, this technique is what I do.” One at its most simplest plugs techniques into holes in an attempt to have at least 1 technique for each common grappling situation.
However rolling against someone who also knows what you are trying to do one quickly realizes that directly imposing a technique on someone who is fully resisting is difficult. Now your study of the techniques involves countering moves (insert submission defence DVD here) and recounters – dealing with your opponents best efforts to thwart your submissions, overcoming his counter and succeeding with your submission.
Thus we can see the truth of the adage “jiu-jitsu is like chess” a duel not only physical but of matching techniques against your opponent with the final move the successful submission.
I consider combinations of techniques to be more of a purple belt strategy, but in counters and recounters the bluebelt develops tools to see any grappling exchange on a more sophisticated level.
3) Body Type Game
A glance around the academy will quickly reveal that jiu-jitsu practitioner’s body types run the gamut from the 300lb. behemoths to the wiry flyweights and every size in between.
Sports scientists would refer to these physiques in terms of somatotypes
- Ectomorphic: characterised by long and thin muscles/limbs and low fat storage; usually referred to as slim. Ectomorphs are not predisposed to store fat nor build muscle.
- Mesomorphic: characterised by medium bones, solid torso, low fat levels, wide shoulders with a narrow waist; usually referred to as muscular. Mesomorphs are predisposed to build muscle but not store fat.
- Endomorphic: characterised by increased fat storage, a wide waist and a large bone structure, usually referred to as fat, or chunky. Endomorphs are predisposed to storing fat.
In BJJ to a certain degree, anatomy IS destiny. A perfect example would be the long-limbed triangle specialists that can throw a triangle and lock it up in a single move without the hip adjustments that shorter-legged practitioners must perform.
Bluebelts can begin to spend more of their training time on techniques and positions that favour their particular set of attributes.
Generally speaking smaller,lighter guys will have a technical bottom game owing to their quicker hip movement and being forced to spend much of their training time on the bottom. Guys with shorter legs may specialize in butterfly guard or half guard and longer legs with their spider guard and triangle attacks. Some judo takedowns favour a taller opponent (osoto gari and uchimata) while shorter, stockier types find it easier to get underneath opponents for (kata guruma / fire man’s carry or seionage / shoulder throw)
This principle of technique selection is closely tied to the 1st point about experimentation – it will become evident within the 1st year of training that you will favour certain positions over others for no other reason that they are a fit for your physical attributes.
4) Finding Your Guard – A Glossary of Guards
No aspect of Brazilian jiu-jitsu has so many variations and techniques as the guard position. While the top positions of mount and back control have a fairly standard set of submissions and variations to ask another what is their guard will require much more description.
Old school closed guard to exotic systems as the rubber guard and sport bjj deep half and reverse De la Riva are all useful in places for the bluebelt. Some guards (inverted especially) require a certain degree of flexibility and attributes to be effectively used.
Here are some of the most popular styles of guard that you might end up using:
I believe that bluebelt is the time to find your guard. Again we come back to the original principle of experimentation – trying out each guard and its respective sweeps and attacks to see how it works. There is no other way to determine its usefulness to you than to try them.
You might build your guard around your favourite, most effective submission. Do you like the omoplata? You might gravitate towards spider guard. Are you a fan of the guillotine? Marcelo Garcia uses butterfly guard and attacks the neck from there…
A more advanced idea is the idea that certain guards link well together. A bluebelt who likes butterfly guard will discover that as the opponent moves and tries to pass that he finds openings for X-guard. Now we see the relationship between certain guards and how one must transition in reaction to the opponents weight and attempts to pass, his range and even types of guard passes.
A practical piece of advice might be to allow yourself enough time to test drive a “new” guard. As with any new technique you are attempting to add to your game, the beginning results may be rather…err…error prone. Don’t abandon your efforts the first time your guard gets passed and go back to your old tried and true. Remember, the bluebelt is characterized as a time of experimentation and part of that is making errors and correcting.
** One last tip for experimentation: Flow rolling can be an invaluable tool in your experimentation. Flow rolling is a mutual agreement between training partners to roll with a focus more on transitions and movement than holding positions and working for the submission. Once you understand that the roll will go through many positions without full resistance from opponent then you are less afraid to try something new and risk getting your guard passed. For this style of training, a great training partner is invaluable.
Mark Mullen is a long time contributor to Grapplearts, a black belt in BJJ and a brown belt in Judo and has been teaching BJJ classes since 2000. Sign up for the Grapplearts email newsletter to be notified when more articles and videos are published.