New to Jiu Jitsu. How do I get good?
April 4, 2012 10:17 PM   Subscribe

New to Jiu Jitsu. How do I get good?

Thanks to the AskMe community, I started Jiu Jitsu a month ago. I have no previous training. The gym is full of helpful and patient regulars. I understand that a big part of getting good involves simply being and doing until it clicks. That said, help me with these "Perfect Practice" questions.
  • When I spar with someone as a beginner, what should my goal be? To practice a specific move? To pin? To escape holds?
  • How can I get a better sense of where my body is? I get confused when I'm sparring and I'm really not sure, for example, where my legs are in relation to the other person.
  • What sort of general practice or exercise can I do by myself?
Suggestions for beginner's resources are welcome
posted by jander03 to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "When I spar with someone as a beginner, what should my goal be? To practice a specific move? To pin? To escape holds?"

Depends if you are at a gym where you start standing up or not. If you start on your knees don't engage in a mini sumo match. It's pointless and not realistic (think how easy it is to stand up from your knees). Either: (i) pull guard, or; (ii) wait for the other guy to pull guard. In (i) you get to work on your guard work (and when I say pull guard, it'll be hard to pull closed guard. A lot of your initial guard work will be open guard attacks, mostly butterfly or sitting guard). In (ii), you get to work on your guard passing skills.

How can I get a better sense of where my body is? I get confused when I'm sparring and I'm really not sure, for example, where my legs are in relation to the other person.

No way to improve this but with rolling. There are certain body awareness solo drills that might work.

For your top game (you on top), you can use those yoga balls for balance. Old school brazillians use basketballs, which gives you a crushing pressure. Try switching between knee ride and side control on a basketball. It'll give you the top body pressure you want. For guard work, try wall walking. For the bottom there really isn't any sort of solo drill that you can get body awareness (I mean you can practice shrimping and bridging, but isn't the same with that crushing pressure on top). Perhaps the best thing to keep in mind on bottom is that the person on top can only be in certain areas at certain times. Consider, as an example side control where the person has your upper body locked down with the cross-face control. Any time the person on top has your upper body locked down, it usually means your lower body is free to move about. Of course, there is a chess game with this, as the top guy if he knows what he is doing, will be making sure your bottom half isn't doing anything tricky (top guy will either block out your guard movements with his knee/hip/hand). But for the most part your lower body will be able to move. Consider another position where a person is passing your guard. If the passer is doing it right, he will be controlling your legs, then your hips, this still leaves your upper body free to move. So keep that in mind. Any time one half of the body is controlled, it often means the other half is free to move (a lot of your future escapes and recomposing guard moves will stem from this concept).

What sort of general practice or exercise can I do by myself?

Shrimping and bridging. Maybe break falls, if your gym does stand up. I'd also watch instructionals. I really like Ryan Hall's instructionals.

How do I get good at BJJ?

Practice. Don't give up. Also, try not to muscle through everything. The guys (and especially women) who get really good, really fast, are often small and skinny people. Look at Marcelo Garcia, or Ryan Hall. Nearly all the best people I've seen at the gyms I've been in have been smaller men and women. It's a real shame that the sport tends to attract the exact opposite (hulking, knuckle-dragging "alpha" males). I think they get good, because they don't have the muscle, strength, and weight to rely on. They have to rely on some speed, and mostly perfect technique. I remember rolling with a brown belt woman who was about 5ft. I had nothing. It was utterly amazing to watch her roll. If she were attacked one-on-one in her home by someone, I'd wager she take the guys back and choke him unconscious in a minute.

Here are some notes I've got in my notebook from various sources (mostly from Saulo Ribiero's Jiujitsu University, and Straight Blast Gym instructionals, and probably other places):

White belt focus

Ribiero calls this the belt of survival. Your aim is to survive the onslaught of the next year. Here is Ribiero:
Survival is about assuming a position that impedes your opponent's offense, eliminating the chance of his submission. It is about changing the situation to one that favors the defensive player. In doing so, you force your opponent out of his comfort area. As a result, all of his actions become predictable because as he fights for offense from an uncomfortable position there are only certain movements he can make.

Survival is not about escaping, but it becomes easier to escape when you get to a strong defensive position that forces your opponent into an awkward one.
Here is Matt Thornton on White belt goals: Familiarize yourself with major positions and objectives. Familiarize yourself with Major routes between positions (how to go from position-to-position). Familiarize yourself with fundamental movements like shrimping and bridging. Keep relaxed.

Blue Belt Focus

Ribiero calls this the belt of escapes.

Matt Thornton has the following goals for blue belt: Positional skills and positional drilling (holding, controlling, and escaping). Work on your open guard. Obtain a few submissions. Start to think about BJJ in broader concepts (Why does BJJ work the way it does? What are the top three things you are trying to accomplish in any given position? What is the best priority for those things?).
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 4:49 AM on April 5, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Flexibility is pretty important- stretching (not to warm up, but to increase flexibility) daily could be a good idea to incorporate into whatever exercise plan you come up with.
posted by MangyCarface at 6:46 AM on April 5, 2012

Best answer: "How can I get a better sense of where my body is? I get confused when I'm sparring and I'm really not sure, for example, where my legs are in relation to the other person."

This is key not just in JJ, but any kind of skilled hand-to-hand combat - you need to know the relative position of your arms and legs in order to use them at the right time, at the right place.

A tip: whenever you have both feet on the ground, anchor one foot with more weight. It will signal stronger to your brain that "my leg is right here."

If you want better awareness of your arms/hands, keep one of your arms closer/slightly adjacent to your body (it will give a relative position to your brain).

Last, you can look at your legs and arms (quick, frequent motion looks). It will establish a position of limbs-to-brain throughout your sparring.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:13 AM on April 5, 2012

Best answer: Ollyollyoxenfree's done a good job, but let me give it a whack too. (I also recommend Saulo's Jiujitsu university).

When I spar with someone as a beginner, what should my goal be? To practice a specific move? To pin? To escape holds?

I would say, as a beginner, your job is to become familiar with the positions of jiujitsu and what you can and cannot do in those positions. For example, if I am in somebody's guard, I can't put my hand down on the floor next to him, because I'm going to get put in a kimura. I can't stick one arm out to grab his neck, because I'm going to get arm-barred. Likewise, if somebody has mounted me, if I put one arm above my head, I am going to get put in an armlock. If I try to bench-press him off of me, I'm going to get arm-locked.

Essentially, you have to learn what you need to be doing from each position, and conversely, how to stop the other guy from what he wants to be doing. (Does he want to be postured up in my guard? How do I break his posture?)

Stephen Kesting has this thing, it's free if you sign up for his e-mail list.

What sort of general practice or exercise can I do by myself?

There are a bunch of them, but they're kind of hard to describe in words. At least for me. You can practice Granby Rolls. You might want to practice turning over by threading your legs (this is how I turn over in bed now.) Of course, shrimping and bridging. There's a whole book of drills by Andre Galvavo.

A lot of the other stuff is just time and practice. Don't discount putting time in; I'm not naturally athletic, but I have a lot of mat time, and that's my only advantage over other people. Ollyollyoxenfree is dead on about not muscling techniques. My other piece of advice is to try new things constantly. Once you have a game down, it's very easy to decide that that is all you are going to do, and your progress will stagnate.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:40 AM on April 5, 2012

Best answer: I had to look at your previous question to confirm that you are in fact practicing BJJ and not some other form of jujutsu - that can make a difference.

I'll second the recommendations for Saulo Ribeiro's and Andre Galvao's books, as well as Stephen Kesting's blog and YouTube offerings. Galvao has plenty of drills you can practice by yourself.

Tips for rolling with others:

1) Don't worry about winning or losing. It's hard to let go of your ego, but when you are grappling that should be time for trying things, observing the results, and just generally racking up experience.
2) Try to keep your breathing deep, relaxed, and calm. If you've ever done yoga, think of yogic breathing. (If you've never done yoga, you may want to give it a try as a supplement to your BJJ training.)
3) If the position comes up in your grappling, make an attempt to pull off whatever technique(s) you were shown in class that day. Don't worry if you don't actually succeed with it - just trying the technique in context will reinforce it in your memory.
4) At this stage, you should be working on position rather than submissions. If you're mounted, try to escape. If you're in someone's guard, try to pass. If somone is in your guard, try to sweep.

The kinesthetic awareness will come with time and lots of practice. Keeping relaxed will help speed up the process. Paying as much attention as possible to the fine details when drilling individual techniques will also help.

Good luck and have fun. BJJ is a great art and can become a (healthy) addiction.
posted by tdismukes at 9:08 AM on April 5, 2012

It would be really helpful to know what style of jujitsu you are practicing in answering questions like this. The more traditional styles I have studied emphasize joint locks over ground work, and do not spar.

To paraphrase in a somewhat snippy tone, not all jujitsu is Brazilian.

In case you want an answer that is not about BJJ.... "Getting good" at a more traditional style would involve practicing rolls and falls, gently pushing joint flexibility, and just patiently going to the dojo. One dojo I know encourages students to keep a journal about their practice, too.
posted by richyoung at 9:08 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

richyoung, I was surprised too with all the BJJ references when it wasn't in the question, but the OP mentioned it in a comment in an earlier question.
posted by Ms. Next at 11:51 AM on April 5, 2012

Best answer: Re: Which kind of jiujitsu the OP is asking about, he referenced his previous question in which he was recommended BJJ. He also spelled it the Brazilian way.

The Kesting stuff is good, and there's a lot of really great stuff above. I'd add:

- In sparring, try to notice when you're tensing up and spending a lot of energy when you don't actually need to be doing so. This helps you not only to save energy, but to be fluid and sensitive. Also, if you find yourself locked up in a stalemate, don't try to wait it out or force your way through. Give up the position and move on.

- To get better proprioception, start by focusing on where your hips should be in each technique and position and note where they are in sparring. This helped reduce my own confusion.

Have fun! If you put a bit of time into it, grappling is one of those things that makes you feel good about the power of technique and leverage over force and about practice leading to concrete improvement, even if happens to be slight.
posted by ignignokt at 12:58 PM on April 5, 2012

Best answer: In my experience (~11 years) the most important thing in jiu-jitsu is to relax. I don't mean that you should let all your muscles go limp and be a dead fish (far from it!). I mean that you need to make a constant effort not to panic and take every opportunity to practice the moves you are taught in class. As a white belt, you are going to be learning a lot of escapes, and you are going to find yourself in a lot of bad positions. Each time you find yourself in an awkward spot, relax (to stop yourself from spazzing out), try and make your posture safe (chin tucked, hands near your neck, elbows tight to your side), and then try one of the escapes you've been taught. The most important thing here is that you stay calm; panicking will cause you to get tense and likely you won't be able to use the techniques you know. Make the effort to use bad positions you wind up in as an opportunity to practice a move you've worked on in class.

Understand posture. In each position, there are basic 'rules' about where you should put your body. (There will also be exceptions to these rules). Try and learn the rules for the most important positions (mount, full guard, side control, half guard, headlock/kesa-gatame, back control, knee-on-belly) as soon as you can. Knowing where your limbs go (and why) in these positions will go a long way towards beginning to keep yourself safe.

While a white belt, focus on using what you've been taught in class. Don't invent stuff. Whenever you find yourself in a position you know a move for, try and do that move-even if you fail miserably! This is the basis of learning BJJ, imo. I think the people who get really good are the people who are obsessed with making things work, and who are willing to try, experiment, and fail at things. As a white belt, you should work on escapes and basic posture in each position.

Once you have made some progress, and are starting to catch people, it's time to pick a few positions to get good at. It doesn't matter which positions they are, really. My specialties are butterfly and x-guard, some passes, armlocks from the top, and triangle chokes. Pick a position you want to improve or two or three techniques, and then allow yourself to be completely obsessed with that position or those techniques for 6 months. 6 months later (or 8, or 12, or however long it took you to master), pick some new ones.

Some other advice: Drill! Pick a move, and try and drill it 10-20 times, each side, after class. This shouldn't take more than 5-10 minutes (15 at most) and it will really add up. Do this for 2-3 weeks, until you get 200-300 reps of the technique. Then move on.

As to your specific questions:

1. One good goal is to tap your opponent! But the most important goal is 'always use jiu-jitsu!' You are going to end up in a lot of positions, some of them strange and unfamiliar. Always try and relate the positions you are in to something you have learned, and then use whatever technique you know. It is so, so easy to go into panic mode and just thrash about, hoping your opponent will mess up, or isn't good enough to take advantage. Don't do this. Resist the impulse as much as you can, then resist a bit more. Slow down and use whatever you have been taught. This, in my opinion, is more important than anything else. Anything.

2. If you are having trouble with knowing where you are, make small movements. You usually won't give much up, and making a small movement can clarify where you are relative to your opponent. Move your foot a few inches, or escape your hip a bit...make small experiments with your limbs to see where they are in relation to your opponent.

3. The best practice you can do on your own is probably conditioning. There are some individual drills out there, but they pale in comparison to the benefit you get from working with a partner. Unless you are already in great shape, you will probably benefit most from getting yourself into great shape. Being in great shape will allow you to get the most out of the classes you attend, since you will very often be working out of bad positions (which is more tiring than being in strong positions.) My advice would be a bit of strength training, a bit of aerobic training, and a bit of metcon/circuit/interval type training.

I am linking you to this Stuart Cooper film, Jiu-Jitsu Has No End, about Robson Moura, a jj legend at the lighter weights. It's a great flick, beautiful to watch with some really graceful jiu-jitsu. But I'm linking to it because I think Robson gets to the crux of how to improve at jiu-jitsu. Starting at about 4:26, and running until about 5:30, Robson gives what I believe is the roadmap for success in jiu-jitsu.

Last, have fun and make friends. Jiu-jitsu is a beautiful art, and is a marathon, not a sprint. As my coach always said, a Black Belt is just a white belt who never quit. Good Luck!
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 10:56 PM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I never ceased to be amazed by the askme community!

I try hard to be detailed in my questions, but I always seem to forget something! Yes, I meant Brazilian Jui Jitsu. And I probably should have linked to my last post rather than just talked about it. :)
posted by jander03 at 8:27 PM on April 6, 2012

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