BJJ Technique: What makes a BJJ technique?

We hear sometimes that Brazilian or Gracie Jiu Jitsu has hundreds of techniques*. But what constitutes a BJJ technique? If you lift the hood on a sweep, a submission or even a positional escape what do you see?

Having done some research into what different black belts think** I propose the following components to a jiu jitsu technique:
  • Placement and Positioning
  • Mechanics
  • Attributes
  • Timing

Placement & Positioning: in Brazilian jiu jitsu, placement (your head and limbs) and Positioning (your body and angle) is not just where you put your grips, feet, head, limbs and hips, but also how you place them in relation to those of your opponent. Grappling is not a solo performance. My opponent could have the best P&P to do a butterfly sweep, kimura submission or armbar from closed guard but if I change my own P&P I could potentially ruin his set-up and technique. Learning as much as you can about optimal placement and positioning, both in offence and defence, will help you gain the most leverage when grappling.

Mechanics: when it comes to mechanics, Roy Harris is king! I remember reading an interview with August Wallén, BJJ black belt under Mr Harris and head of Shooters MMA amongst many other accomplishments, where he was talking about his influences and he brought up how Roy changed his view of the game to another technical level.

me and Mr Roy Harris after one of his seminars in Gothenburg, Sweden hosted by August. That's a Karate blue belt (and gi) so we're talking ol' skool!
Muscles can only do one thing: shorten, i.e. contract. When a signal comes to a muscle in relaxation, it contracts in correlation to the strength of the signal. The way I see it, mechanics is which muscles are best to contract when and in which order. Once you got your optimum positioning and placement, what do you move and for how long dictates how well and efficiently you do a transition, a back take, a guard opening ...etc.***

Attributes: "Attributes are those qualities that fuel your techniques", as Roy puts it. There are many grappling specific attributes but the most important one is sensitivity, which is why I dedicate my training to developing awareness. I no longer try to get stronger, faster or work on my cardio off the mat. These are all fine qualities and attributes but I only have a limited number of hours a week to train and feel the best way to use off-mat training time is to work on body-awareness and proprioception.

Timing: Timing is gold. Even accidental timing of unintentional motion can achieve more than badly timed expert sweep or submission. Don't believe me? Have you ever tripped or accidentally broken an arm or a leg? Even better, have you even been accidentally kicked or head butted by a toddler while playing with them? It hurts like a SOB! Time your moves correctly (a character honed thru above mentioned sensitivity and awareness) and you will experience a much higher efficiency. Here is a great description of Aliveness by Matt Thornton, head of SBGi where he brings up the subject of timing.

How do you balance these factors in PPMAT? As Tim Ferris puts it in his fantastic book the 4 Hour Body, you can achieve weight loss with a balance of:

/Chemistry / dieting / exercise/

You can achieve the goal with an unbalanced approach too such as:

/----chemistry----/ diet /exer/ (huge focus on supplements and less on diet and exercise)


/chem/------diet------/exer/ (starvation with little exercise)

etc., but it will carry undesirable side-effects. The same goes for Brazilian jiu jitsu techniques. You can sweep, pass or submit with bad positioning and placement by overcompensating with attributes or getting lucky with your timing, but the beautiful ideal, the poetry in motion of jiu jitsu, arte suave, is in balancing all these elements.
Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

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*However, I do believe Rener and Ryron's advice that you only need less than 40 techniques to see you through the majority of situations, especially during the first few years of your grappling career.

**To my knowledge, no one goes into technical depth as, ehm, deeply as Mr Roy Harris. Check out the wealth of knowledge at Roy Harris.com

***Don't get me wrong. You can definitely get things done with rubbish mechanics, but that's not what we are here for.


Andy said...

how old are you in that picture?

The Part Time Grappler said...

Ha. Now you're talking. I THINK it was in 1996 or 97