What does one do in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Who is it for?
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the study of positions and transitions in a struggle between two people, mostly on the ground. We all have natural tendencies in each position, and they are often incorrect. Once we learn where we are, it’s much easier to develop a higher level of understanding. It can take 10 to 20 years to become a Black Belt, but you will notice significant results after the first six months.
I like to map out 23 positions, each with a host of variations and transitions between them.
From these positions, we can control, find a joint lock or choke, or transition to another position. Control is often more efficient from the top positions because of gravity. The ground itself takes up a significant amount of space and reduces options significantly. The bottom player has use of the legs. They can choose to either turn their back and Turtle or face the top player to establish a guard. We will use the same takedowns as Judo and Wrestling. We can also pull guard and bypass the takedown if that is a safer option.
A guard needs three things:
1) Use of the legs to maintain space.
2) Something to stop the top player from getting away. Usually a grip.
3) Your body must be facing them or at least the leg you’re attacking.
Once you have established a guard, you can either Sweep or Submit your opponent. A sweep is when you transition to the top position and maintain control for at least three seconds. A submission is an admission of defeat, usually signified by two brisk taps. Beginners are advised to tap early and tap often. It’s just a game, and you have unlimited tries if you take care of yourself and your training partners.
A Guard Pass is when the top player is free of the legs of the bottom player and has established control for at least three seconds. The ability to pass the guard is a large part of why Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is unique and effective.
Submissions are possible from any position, but are most common when you have use of your legs and your opponent does not. We allow plenty of time to tap before damage is done. We emphasize control of positions before submission. Competition rules dictate allowed submissions by rank and age for obvious safety reasons. Kids don’t do leg locks, and no submissions are allowed at all under 8 years old. We all attack chokes, and are educated on their safe use. Shoulder and elbow attacks are also allowed for everyone. Straight Ankle Locks are an introduction to safely attacking the legs at Adult White Belt. Wrist locks and Rib Crushes are allowed at Blue Belt (Minimum 16 years old). Kneebars, Slicers, and Toe Holds are allowed at Brown Belt (Minimum 18 years old). Heel Hooks and reaping are only practiced after a clear discussion between qualified practitioners. Reaping and Heel Hooks involve twisting the leg in a way that can easily damage the knee. Safety is a top priority, so we clearly and politely discuss our limitations when training.
Once you have passed the guard, you have a control position. Side Control is when your spine is at about 90 degrees to the bottom player. This gives the top player excellent control and many submission opportunities. North South is when you are so far passed that your spines are aligned. Many people specialize in this control and have an arsenal of submissions from there. Knee on Belly is exactly what it sounds like. The free knee is off the ground, and it offers excellent mobility for the top player. Back Control is also exactly what it sounds like. The classic position is with your ‘hooks’ in, meaning heels at the hip joints.
Turtle is when you are on your hands and knees. You can bail to turtle before your guard is passed, or end up there after a failed takedown attempt. This position is has a lot of common overlaps with wrestling, but is different because of the threat of submissions.
To fully understand the movements and positions will take a significant amount of time and effort. Our training is carefully balanced so we can offer realistic resistance and still be sustainable. Takedowns and leglocks are handled with respect and extra care. Punching and kicking is not part of our regular daily training.
Competition is an important part of the process, but not everyone will compete. The gym is a lab where we can work on different aspects of Jiu Jitsu. Anyone could be working on defense or something that doesn’t give us an accurate measure on any given day. We also want to try our techniques against someone of similar size and rank. The seriousness and deliberate measurements of competition allow us to find accurate answers to our questions,
You will encounter two main types of people who like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The first type enjoys problem solving processes. They understand that we are all part of a large machine that will answer a properly asked question. The second type prefers a more athletic approach. Many people will follow a natural progression from one mindset to another as they get older. We need a certain amount of both types to stay balanced. For example, a 55 year old purple belt might teach you a detail that helped him understand the straight ankle lock. You may also meet a 27 year old purple belt, who can explain the pivotal moment that won her last competition in a way that changes how you see timing. If you enjoy the process, you will want to meet both. As your skills develop, you will become an important part of the community yourself. Give Brazilian Jiu Jitsu a try, you will like the results!