BJJ / Grappling Tips: Focusing on the Fundamentals Fosters A Truly Gentle art

When you hear the words Jiujitsu, BJJ, Gracie Jiujitsu or even grappling, what images come to mind?

Most uninitiated would probably visualise Hollywood Karate-esque pyjama fighting. Those who have witnesses Mixed Martial Arts events such as the UFC or Bellator may envisage that a jiujitsu mat is full of brutes wrestling each other to submission and, finally, those who have had a taste of the art will describe what they know to the level they know it with the grappling vocabulary they possess.

But the truth is that while Jiujitsu is a martial art and a thriving combat sport, it’s only as violent as the instructor teaching it. My own personal journey has lead me to favour brain over brawn, even though I fully appreciate the importance of athleticism and physicality. I am a self-diagnosed Martial Arts Geek, but I also love pushing the boundaries of what my body can do.

Making the best of what we were born with

When planning and / or delivering a private lesson, a group class or a seminar, I try to stay true to three rules:

1. The curriculum (techniques, concepts, strategies & tactics) must rely on natural body movements
2. The curriculum (techniques, concepts, strategies & tactics) must emphasise energy efficiency in a no-time limit / no weight limit / no rules confrontation
3. Safety First! By that I mean safety from strikes, safety from submissions and (very importantly) safety from accidents!

This is my matrix and my starting point. Does that mean I never teach sportive techniques? Does this mean I shun weight training or yoga? No. What it means is that my core that I teach to everyone stays true to these three principles and once I am happy that a student embodies them, they are free to expand and experiment beyond them (with the caveat of awareness that they are doing so).

In my experience (and I’m not alone in this view), students who adhere to these three principles learn and retain information much faster than those who don’t. Why? Because these rules provide
something that sensei YouTube doesn’t: Context!

When there is an abundance of information, context is king!

I’ve also noticed that students who adhere to these rules pay a lot of attention to the small but vital details of every technique. I’d like to attribute that to their narrow focus. They know that these rules restrict the spectrum of techniques they can select from, so they aim to become subject matter experts within the set of parameters they have chosen for themselves.

Effective technique, not brute force

I’ll give you an example:
If you are underneath someone in the bottom of the side mount, your strategies are (in alignment with the three rules:

1. Control the distance between you and the opponent (to ensure safety from strikes)
2. Patiently (no time limit) monitor their shifts in body weight and grips until an opportunity presents itself to:

  • a. Elbow escape to the back
  • b. Shrimp escape to the guard / half guard
  • c. Belly-down to your knees

This does mean you will not try to bridge and roll them with brute strength, will not try to pull your feet to odd angles to recover the guard nor will your attempt any explosive bridging action to create space.

What does that leave you with?

It means you have to become a scientist at studying the details of

  1. How to manage the distance even from the bottom (including analysis of how they are controlling you  from the top, giving you a dual understanding of the position) and 
  2. How minute shifts in grips and body weight distribution or even breath cycles can create escape opportunities.

In short, since your terrain is limited, you develop a higher level of expertise. 



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