How to Master BJJ Techniques

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a popular martial art that uses the principles of timing and leverage to help smaller people overcome bigger, stronger opponents – at least in theory.  In truth, however, it is actually quite hard for a smaller person to defeat a bigger person unless their technique is significantly better than the bigger people.

Most bjj techniques rely on finding the right grips and applying the moves at the right moment.  For example, the scissor sweep – a move which allows a downed combatant to reverse the position so that they are on top of their attacker, can be performed by a strong person from a dead stop, but would require a smaller person to off-balance their opponent and then perform the sweep when their opponent’s weight is coming forward. With the right timing, however, the move is effortless.

The best way to master or become an elite-level player with these techniques is through regular practice, or ‘drilling’. Usually, in a BJJ class, practitioners will learn 3-5 moves and drill each move for 10 minutes or so, before practicing sparring against resisting opponents.  The passive drilling is important as a way to help a trainee to develop good muscle memory.  Usually, the drilling portion of the class involves doing several repetitions with no resistance, and your partner ‘helping’ you do the move, before adding light resistance. For example, if you are drilling a simple cross collar choke, your partner might tuck their chin or use their hand to defend the second part of the choke, so that you have to lever the head up or move the hand as a part of the repetition.  For a sweep, if you forget to control their hand, then they might post out to keep their balance.

Both the passive and the resistant drilling is important for developing basic skills. Once you are confident in your ability to perform moves in drilling you can work on them in sparring. Most people start by attempting moves on people who are weaker, smaller, or less skilled than themselves and gradually work the moves ‘up the totem pole’, applying them on more skilled opponents who give the right reaction, and who are more likely to be able to block or counter the moves successfully.

As you master more techniques, you will find that you can chain attacks together. If you perform an armbar and the person defends, then you can switch to an omoplata. If they defend that by rolling out of it, congratulations, you have just earned a sweep, and from there you can either attempt to finish the submission from the top or move to side control and work other attacks from there.  Chaining moves together like this is something that most people start to do around the blue belt or intermediate level, and it opens up a whole new world of opportunities and makes sparring more fun. It’s at that stage that people truly start to understand why we call BJJ a game of human chess.