When it comes to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) nothing beats mat time, consistency and good hands-on instruction. With that said, there are a few things that you can do to help speed up your development. As a beginner it can be a daunting task to navigate the information available, so here are our best tips for speeding up your BJJ progress.
Learn the language
Knowing and understanding the names and the hierarchy of the positions and guards is essential in order to progress. Although, this will eventually come through the teachings in class, familiarizing yourself with the guards and positions, and how they’re connected, will speed up your progress significantly.
Stephen Kesting offers an excellent resource for understanding the positional hierarchy with his free online map of BJJ positions: “A Roadmap for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu” which is available here: https://www.grapplearts.com/bjj-roadmap-book/
Once you’re familiar with the positions in BJJ, understanding concepts can help speed up your progress. While drilling a technique is a tried and tested method of improving, understanding the conceptual framework that techniques fit into will provide you with more of an overview and allow you to combine different techniques and positions. There are a lots of resources available online, but both Jon Thomas’ and Ryan Hall’s instructionals are known for their conceptual approach.
Grips, grips, grips
If you practice in the gi, understanding the importance of grips will give you an edge. Preventing or breaking your opponent’s grips is likely to mess up their offence, and getting the grips you want is essential in having an effective offence. This quickly becomes a game of patience, but keep at it. Deny your opponent their grips and establish your own. Rinse and repeat.
Learn a takedown
While most BJJ gyms are notorious for snubbing takedowns, all competitions and self-defense situations will inevitably start standing. Having at least one takedown in your arsenal that you feel proficient with will give you some confidence. Being able to control the fight is key, and even if you’re a guard-player, it is always preferable to at least have the option to choose, rather than being forced to pull guard out of necessity.
Breaking the fall
At the Kodokan, the birthplace of judo in Japan, beginners practice break-falls almost exclusively the first months of their training. This is due to the fact, that although you may be extremely proficient at throws and takedowns, you will undeniably also be on the receiving end of a throw at some point in time. Practicing break-falls will make you less injury prone and less apprehensive about attempting your own takedowns.
Touch those toes
Stretching is beneficial for BJJ players for at least two reasons: it makes you less prone to injury and your increased flexibility may make your guard harder to pass. Some of the most successful competitors are super flexible, and while you may not need to have the flexibility of a yogi, stretching will help you train for longevity. There are a wide range of stretching and yoga resources available online, but particularly Sebastian Brosche’s ‘Yoga for BJJ’ is praised in the BJJ community, as well as being geared specifically for BJJ athletes.
Get those gains
BJJ has been marketed as the martial art that enables smaller and weaker people to defeat bigger and stronger opponents. While this may be true, no one ever complained about being too strong, and there is a reason that the bigger and heavier competitors generally dominate the absolute divisions. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in being stronger, a little strength training will prepare your joints for the taxing undertakings of BJJ and make you less susceptible to injury. So start swinging those kettle bells and do some pull-ups. You don't have to train like a weight-lifter but you should at least do some calisthenics to train your body to be functionally strong.
It might not let you finish the fight, but escapes are crucial in any BJJ player’s game. While passing, transitions and submissions tend to be more popular areas to drill, being good at escapes will help your overall game. Competitors such as Jeff Glover and Garry Tonon structure their game around their ability to escape and create scrambles. As it can be extremely difficult to control and submit higher belts, beginners can also use their escaping abilities, as a gage of their progress. Garry Tonon recently released “Exiting the System”, which is an excellent resource for anyone looking to improving their escapes.
Structure your training
Some gyms have extremely structured curricula, while other gyms rely more on the disposition of the coach. Whichever is the way of your gym, it is always beneficial to complement the teachings in class. Taking notes in/after class will help you retain details and let you remeber the techniques later. Similarly making mind maps can help you get an overview of your game and options from various positions. Youtube is a two-edged sword; on the one hand it is a wonderful tool for aiding your coach’s instructions or finding techniques to fill the holes in your game. On the other, it can also be a rabbit hole of over the top rolling back takes and dubious techniques, so use it carefully.
Listen to your body
This may sound redundant, but it’s easy to overdo it, when you’ve just fallen in love with the sport. Remember to listen to your body and give it time to rest. While sitting out may suck, letting injuries heal and allowing your body to rest is crucial if you’re in it for the long run. Also, if in doubt see a doctor, DON’T ask the internet.
Article Written By: Tristan Regan