Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu 101: Your Beginners Guide To BJJ

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu 101: Your Guide To Everything Related To BJJ

When it comes to the most popular martial art forms in the world, Brazilian jiu-jitsu has solidified its place as one of the biggest.

What grew from a gentle form of trying to neutralize opponents has transformed into one of the most used methods in mixed martial arts and combat sport around the globe

Although considered a gentle art, Brazilian jiu-jitsu has been hugely effective at helping fighters take on their opponents in MMA.

The techniques focus largely on grappling and groundwork which can be all you need to get the edge on a competitor, provided you know how to do it right.

So, what is Brazilian jiu-jitsu about?

This martial art and combat sport was developed in the 1920s and is used today as a standalone system and in mixed martial arts competitions.

BJJ focuses on controlling the opponent and it does this with submission holds, grappling, and groundwork, getting them into the position you want.

Anyone interested in MMA or martial arts, in general, should learn the basics of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, even if they don’t plan on training in it.

This unique method has a rich history and a promising future in the world of combat sports, and we’re going to explore every aspect of it so you can see what it’s all about.

What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

To understand what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is, we must first establish what it’s not. A common misconception about this form of martial arts is that it’s just grappling, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu does use a lot of grappling and ground fighting in its techniques, but in total, it’s an art form that’s about getting control of your opponent and being able to control what happens.

This sport was specifically designed to allow smaller and weaker people to successfully defend themselves against a stronger opponent, so the entirety of its teachings are about gaining this control and using weight as leverage.

A BJJ sparring session or competition will see a lot of groundwork and participants putting the other into submissions that allow them to take control. Not only is it an effective form of martial arts, but a useful way to learn self-defense, improve physical fitness, and better your life overall.

The History and Invention of BJJ

Brazilian jiu-jitsu didn’t start out as the sport we know today, nor did it begin in Brazil. The form of martial arts was derived from Judo and Japanese Ju Jutsu, as was the original Japanese spelling.

Known as a gentle art and a form of self-defense, it first developed in the days of the samurai.

This unique way of grappling and ground fighting was created as a way to strike armored opponents, as the usual methods didn’t work. Therefore, they were able to neutralize their opponents by locking their joints, holding them in submissive positions, and performing throws.

When Judo was created in the late 1880s by Kodokan Judo, it used the teachings that he’d gained from Ju-Jutsu but with a bigger focus on throwing.

From here, the martial art moved to Brazil in the 1900s, and with the chance meeting between one of the groundwork experts and a student who was smaller and weaker than most he had trained, the style was developed to favor the unlikely opponent.

The Difference Between Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Although the two styles of martial art share similarities, it’s clear to see after watching a match where the differences are.

Jiu-jitsu that derived from the Japanese format could be used today in real-life combat, whereas BJJ is more of a sporting activity and has a larger focus on grappling and self-defense.

BJJ has become a huge part of MMA and relies on groundwork, so you’ll see practitioners performing chokeholds and joint locks to bring their opponent into submission.

This can be useful in a cage match where your opponent is larger or stronger, as you’re still able to have the upper hand.

Traditional Jiu jitsu is more about self-defense and uses a lot of strikes, blocks, and throws. In Japanese Jiu Jitsu it’s commonplace to see some traditional weapons being used as well, something you’d never find in a BJJ match.

The Rules of BJJ

Newcomers to BJJ can find it confusing trying to learn about the different moves, submissions, and point system.

As there’s no real standardization of the sport, what’s allowed at one tournament might be illegal at another, so it’s important to do your research before competing.

Jiu-jitsu is assessed using a point system, and this is where the rules of the game can be found.

Most tournaments and organizations will follow the same scoring system, but there will be different rules that can affect how they’re achieved and if certain things aren’t allowed.

In BJJ, a player can score either two, three, or four points, depending on the move performed. Achieving the knee on belly position, sweeping, and taking someone down will score you two points, but passing someone’s guard will get you three points.

The most points you can score in a round BJJ is four, and this is for those who achieve the mount or back mount position.

As well as being able to earn points, there are things a player will do that will subtract points from their score. For example, using four fingers inside someone’s plants or sleeves of their BJJ gi or performing illegal moves or banned attacks will all affect your total negatively.

Basics of BJJ Combat

Basics of Combat

To get an idea of what BJJ is all about, it’s good to explore the most common positions. Getting familiar with the basic positions is one of the best tips for Jiu-jitsu white belts.

With an understanding of what a practitioner does in a standard contest, you can see how they defend themselves and can take opponents down, even if they’re smaller in stature.

Guard

closed guard - bjj guide

This is a position where one person is laid on their back, and the other is positioned in front of their legs.

Although other combat sports will lose you points for being pinned, in BJJ, if you can keep this position and have your opponent where you want them, you’ll be able to sweep them or win by submission.

This skill will help you survive a round of BJJ, even if your opponent has got the better of you.

Side Control

BJJ side control

This is a pinning position where the two opponents are chest to chest, but with one laying horizontally and another vertically.

If you end up in the guard position to your disadvantage, you’ll want to try and turn it into side control, as this gives you back the upper hand and allows you to move into other positions.

From this position is easy to set up several attacks like americanas, kimuras, and armbars.

Turtle

bjj turtle position

In this defensive position, one player will be on their hands and knees like a turtle, and their opponent will be behind them or on top of them.

It’s a way of passing off the guard and set up attacks or to get better positions like the truck. As a defensive player this can be a good transition to ensure guard retention.

You don’t want to stay here long, it’s hard to defend well and you’re exposed to all sorts of attacks.

Mount

bjj full mount control

Known as the most dominant position in BJJ, the mount occurs when the top player straddles the bottom player, and it signals that you are in the superior situation and have full control.

From here, there are ways for them to escape, but it can be hard to do, and it’s one of the highest point scorers in BJJ for this reason. Avoid being mounted at all costs.

Knee on Belly

bjj knee on belly control

Performed when the top player puts their knee onto the opponent’s belly, it’s a good way to achieve other submissions and to pass the guard.

However, you get the most control out of the position when you place your knee closer to the hips instead of the belly.

Is easy to get the sweep from the bottom when the top player focuses too much on pushing into the belly.

Rear mount

back control in bjj

Sometimes referred to as back control, a rear mount has one player sitting behind another with both “hooks” in place.

In other words, when one practitioner has their legs wrapped around their training partner and uses the heels to secure the position.

When the back is taken this way, it gives you total domination and puts you in the prime position to choke your opponent.

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Common Training Routines

Common Training Routines

When you’re in active training for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it’s essential to have a strength and conditioning routine in place to follow.

No matter your ranking or skill level, being a stronger and faster player will give you an undeniable advantage over your opponent, which makes you harder to submit and control.

A BJJ competitor will have a training program developed for them by their coaches, but if you’re just getting started in the MMA gym, you’ll want to build on your strength and also increase your aerobic ability.

You could follow a similar plan as a professional athlete, just scaled down to suit the time and capacity that you have, to give you the best chance at success in a competition.

During training for BJJ, you’ll be required to have sparring sessions or to “roll” with other opponents who are also in the training there.

This is where you’ll get real-world experience—and some fun— with grappling and other positions until one player submits the other with a final move on the mat. From there, you’ll learn from your mistakes and determine what worked, giving you more to work with next time.

The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gi and Rankings

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Uniforms and Ranking

The standard uniform in Brazilian jiu jitsu is called a ‘gi’, and it looks similar to other martial arts uniforms you’ve seen. This garment consists of a jacket, pants, and belt, with some people preferring to wear a rash guard underneath to reduce abrasions and discomfort.

Some training facilities and most individual tournaments will have rules on gi’s standards, with most only allowing white, black, or blue colors. In my experience gi colors only matter in tournaments.

At most gyms, your teacher won’t care a lot about the color of your gi, your overall attitude and devotion to the art is what makes an impression on people.

During tournaments, the pants and tops will have to be the same color, and there should be no patches, designs, or paint on the uniform unless otherwise agreed upon.

The belt of the gi must be colored according to the practitioner’s rank, and always with a black tip unless it is a BJJ black belt, where the tip will be white or red.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belt System

The ranking system in BJJ works like other martial arts and signifies the competency of a player, their skill level, and technical knowledge.

As you move up the ranks, a new colored belt will be awarded to you, and different levels are depending on whether you’re a child or adult practitioner.

BJJ rank system

Popular BJJ Competitions

When you’re ready to compete at a serious level, your goal will be to head to one of the biggest BJJ competitions in the world. These are a few of the most coveted Brazilian jiu-jitsu contests and tournaments, to give you something to aim for.

The Pan American Championships

Competing and winning the Pan-Ams is the best way to build momentum leading up to the Mundials. This event is attended by black belts and serious atheltes, hoping to score a world title.

IBJJF Mundials

This is considered the be-all and end of all BJJ tournaments and attracts practitioners from all over the world. There are no age divisions so fighters are only categorized by their weight and belt ranking.

Brazilian Nationals

Held in the country that started in all, the Brazilian Nationals is a good starting point for the Mundials. This is known as the place to be if you’re hoping to scope out up and coming talent in the sport.

The Safety of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Whenever you’re considering starting a new sport, especially one that is also a martial art form, you need to educate yourself on the safety of them.

Thankfully for newcomers, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is known as having one of the lowest rates of injury when compared to all other forms of martial arts.

Knee injuries are common. However, is always possible in some cases to train around some knee injuries.

One of the reasons for its safety is because the sport doesn’t focus on strikes, punches, and powerful blows, but rather staying low and being able to force your opponent into a pose that gives you dominance.

Without these high impact hits, there’s minimal chance of getting seriously hurt, and because the sport uses a points system to assess the winner, rather than whoever gets most injured, there’s less risk.

Tips for BJJ Beginners

Newcomers to BJJ will likely feel overwhelmed by how much there is to learn about the sport.

When you first step into a training facility, it can be daunting for sure, so we’ve come up with some tips that will help beginners to navigate their surroundings.

  • Train as often as your schedule permits. Don’t just wait for your one training session a week to practice, and get some MMA home gym gear for a home gym that will let you work on your skills in between lessons.
  • Keep your toenails and fingernails short so you don’t injure anyone and make sure your hair is pulled back and out of your face.
  • Whether you train with a gi or no-gi, you should always have a clean and fresh uniform on.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re feeling uneasy. Everyone has had to start somewhere, so you can speak to an instructor or other participants you train with if you’re lost.
  • Understand that drills are just as important as sparring, even if they might not be as much fun. Drilling can be repetitive but it’s how we learn, and you have to be patient when you’re in the beginner stages.
  • Give yourself time and patience when you’re learning any new skill, but especially BJJ. There are loads of rules, point systems, methods of scoring, and codes of conduct to learn, and you won’t get it all in a day.

BJJ Guide FAQ

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is just one system made popular in mixed martial arts, and although many of its techniques are about competition rather than real-life combat, it’s a useful skill to have.

We’ve answered some frequently asked questions on BJJ and other styles used in MMA, to give you a better understanding of what they’re all about.

DO YOU NEED A GI FOR BJJ?

If you’re training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you’ll usually need a gi and belt to do so effectively. This garment is part of the sport and will assist in performing moves, as well as showing your rank.

BJJ practitioners might prefer to wear a rash guard underneath their gi, with some clubs requiring it to compete or train, which can make the garment more comfortable.

If you train at a 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu facility the gi might no be as necessary but traditionally is an essential part of your BJJ gear.

IS BJJ HARD TO LEARN?

Depending on your previous experience in martial arts and general level of fitness, you may find it hard to understand the basics of BJJ in the beginning and even uncomfortable to practice. So, yes it is hard but also one of the most regarding martial arts to learn.

The sport focuses a lot on the groundwork and there are rules and a point system to learn, so it can be overwhelming at first for newcomers. With regular practice, you should be proficient enough to enter a contest within two years.

Why is BJJ so effective?

BJJ is effective because it teaches a straightforward combat system based on leverage over brute force to attain success. on top of that, practitioners constantly train against resistant opponents. 

All BJJ practitioners follow the same blueprint. Take the opponent down, pass the guard, get to a dominant position, control, and submit.

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