When I began learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I knew it was a grappling martial art but didn’t know what sort of techniques it would teach, and what life lessons I could get out of it. Here’s what I found.
BJJ teaches you a complete grappling system using clinches, takedowns, ground transitions, and submissions, for both sport competition, and self-defense. BJJ also teaches some practical life lessons throughout training, including how to focus, break down challenges, adapt to change, and resilience.
The things that you will learn from BJJ can be split into two categories:
- On the mats The physical techniques you will learn
- Off the mats The practical life lessons you will learn
The first half of this article will cover the physical techniques you will learn.
The second half will cover the practical life lessons you will learn.
On The Mats: Physical Techniques
When you first walk into a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school and step onto mat, you will begin to learn the fundamental techniques and step-by-step process.
BJJ is a ground grappling martial art, which means to be able to use it, you first need to be able to get a hold of your opponent, and then get the fight to the ground – before finishing with a submission.
The system of BJJ is a step-by-step process:
- Close the distance
- Initiate a clinch
- Take the fight to the ground
- Fight for position
- Submit your opponent
1. Close The Distance
In order to be able to use the grappling and submission techniques of BJJ, you will first be taught how to get close enough to your opponent to grab a hold of them.
In both competition and a self-defense situation, you will start from at least an arm’s length away from your opponent – so in BJJ, you will learn how to move in while protecting your head from strikes and get within grappling distance of your opponent.
This forward motion is best done with your head off the centre line and with your hands up to avoid strikes, and using the momentum to move straight into initiating a clinch.
2. Initiate The Clinch
The second step you’ll be taught in the process of BJJ, is to get a good grip on your opponent with body locks and clinching techniques in order to start grappling.
In BJJ you will learn how to secure a variety of holds which utilize the collar and sleeve of your opponent’s uniform (known as a Gi) – and also how to get solid grips on your opponent’s arms and legs.
Learning to secure solid grips on someone without a Gi is useful against someone who may not be wearing long sleeved clothing in a self-defense situation and means you are not limited in your techniques.
Risks Involved With Closing The Distance & Initiating A Clinch
When trying to close the distance and get into a clinch in a self-defense situation, there is real risk of being hit with strikes from your attacker as you step forward and into striking range.
Imagine three different zones as shown in the diagram below:
Green Zone 1 (out of striking distance):
If you manage the distance between you and your opponent and keep more than an arm’s length away from them, you’ll be able to keep out of range of their strikes and stay safe because neither one of you can be hit.
Red Zone (within striking distance):
As you move forward to get close enough to get a hold of your opponent, you are also putting yourself in the striking range – known as the red zone. At this distance, either one of you can be hit with strikes and are therefore both at risk.
Green Zone 2 (grappling):
Once you get a hold of your opponent with good grips on them and start grappling, you now have an advantage over an untrained opponent and have also reduced the risk of strikes.
All good BJJ schools will teach their students some form of safely closing the distance and getting into a clinch while protecting the head from strikes.
3. Take The Fight To The Ground
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teaches a variety of takedowns in order to take the fight to the ground and begin to use the ground grappling and submission techniques it is famous for.
You will learn a whole host of different takedowns including:
- Leg grabs
- Trips & sweeps
- Guard pull
A leg grab is where you lower your stance, close the distance, and grab a hold of either one (or both) of your opponent’s legs.
In some cases, like with a double leg takedown, the forward momentum and grip on both legs is enough to finish the takedown and get the fight to the ground.
However in other cases, like with the single leg takedown, once you have a strong hold on one of their legs you will be taught a variety of ways to finish the takedown and get the fight to the ground.
Trips & Sweeps
Another very common form of takedown that you will be taught is trips and sweeps. These are most effective when timed correctly.
For example, from a standing position with strong grips on your opponent you can start to push and pull them off balance.
As your opponent takes a step and shifts their weight from one foot to another, you will be taught how to trip or sweep their supporting foot out from under them – meaning all their weight will fall to the ground, resulting in a takedown.
In BJJ, throws can be used from a variety of positions, including from grips on your opponent’s uniform, or from body locks from the front or the back.
From grips on your opponent’s uniform, you will learn hip throws which utilize your hips to generate leverage to throw your opponent up and over your hip, similar to Judo.
Unlike in Judo where a throw will only be rewarded for landing your opponent on their back, BJJ teaches throws both onto your opponent’s back and onto their front – meaning from there you are able to lock in your hooks and take their back.
Another way you will learn to get your opponent to the ground is by using a guard pull.
A guard pull is where you first secure solid grips on your opponent’s uniform or a body lock and then voluntarily sit down on the ground and pull them off balance and into your guard (your offensive ground position).
From the guard you are now able to start fighting for positions.
4. Fight For Position
There are many different positions in BJJ and you will learn what is the most effective way to control someone from each one – and how to move and transition between them.
When your opponent tries to move and change position, you will be taught how to roll with them – all the time using their momentum to your advantage.
As you transition from one position to another, your opponent will be doing the same – this constant scramble is known as fighting for position.
Nearly all Jiu-Jitsu instructors will teach you to first focus on fighting to secure a solid position, before trying to set up a submission on your opponent.
This is because once you secure a solid position, you are less likely to be knocked off balance and have more time to set up your submissions.
How To Fight For Position
In BJJ, fighting for position does not mean kicking and punching your way into a dominate position like you see in Mixed Martial Arts.
To learn about the use of striking in BJJ – check out our article: Does BJJ Teach Striking?
Instead of kicks and punches, you have other weapons which you will be taught to use to your advantage, including:
You will learn how to effectively use leverage in BJJ – meaning to use the natural biomechanics of the body to your advantage to generate additional force – so you’re not relying on strength alone.
“Discover what leverage is in BJJ and how you can use it in our article: BJJ: What is Leverage“
As your opponent moves from one position to another or tries to set up either a sweep or submission – they will leave an opportunity open for you – you will learn to time these transitions and to capitalize on them with your own transition or attack.
Your actions in BJJ will cause your opponent to react in defense. As you begin to analyze their reactions in response to your moves, you will be able to set them up by misdirecting their attention away from what you’re trying to do with one move or submission – then quickly switch to another to catch them off guard.
5. Submit Your Opponent
The final step in the process, and perhaps the thing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is most famous for, is to finish the fight with a submission.
The submissions you will learn in BJJ can be categorised into two different types:
- Joint locks
Joint Locks Each joint in our body has some limitation as to how far it can go in its range of movement.
Jiu-Jitsu teaches you how to use various types of submission locks that utilize leverage to push the joint to its maximum range before breaking – meaning your opponent is forced to ‘tap’ to signal defeat.
“Don’t worry – all good schools teach you when and how to tap before learning submissions, and every good student will respect the tap by releasing the submission hold before an injury can occur”
Chokes There are two main types of chokes which both target the neck. The first is a blood choke which cuts off the blood flow to the brain, and the second is an air choke which cuts of the oxygen to the brain.
Both are extremely effective forms of submissions – both in competition and self-defense – and during your BJJ training you will be taught how to safely use both types.
Off The Mats: Practical Life Lessons
It has been known for hundreds of years, and is now widely accepted that students of martial arts learn so much more than just how to fight or defend themselves – and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is no different.
In fact, BJJ is one of the best martial arts for learning some fundamental life lessons for off the mats – whether you’re an adult learning yourself, or deciding if your child should start.
There are some key lessons that BJJ teaches by participating in training, which cross over into everyday life outside of training.
The four main lessons you will learn are:
- Prioritize your focus
- Breakdown hard tasks into achievable steps
- Adapt to change
1. Prioritise Your Focus (one step at a time)
Just like in life, in Jiu-Jitsu it can be easy to get overwhelmed with all the possible options and decisions you need to make.
Should you hold this position or transition to a new one? When should you time your escape? And so on, and so on.
Of course, these types of decisions are much different to life’s decisions – however, Jiu-Jitsu teaches you how to slow your thinking down, breathe and prioritise your focus.
Not every option is the correct one to take, and when we are able to slow everything down and analyse our choices during the high paced physical training of Jiu-Jitsu – we are better equipped to do the same in everyday life when we leave training.
2. Breakdown Hard Tasks
Everything in BJJ is a step-by-step process. A physical altercation between two humans is a scary ‘hard task’ with many risks involved.
As listed above, Jiu-Jitsu teaches you how to break it down into achievable smaller steps – close the distance, clinch, takedown, position, submission, etc.
But each step in itself, is broken down into achievable bit-sized goals.
Jiu-Jitsu is hard, and when you’re involved in a physical grappling match, having the ability to focus your attention on a single step at a time is essential to survival.
BJJ is extremely effective at teaching you how to change your perspective of difficult tasks, both on and off the mat, by breaking them down step-by-step into achievable smaller tasks.
3. Adapt To Change
Imagine you know the physical techniques and you’ve learned the step-by-step process – but not everything goes to plan.
Just like in life, being prepared doesn’t always mean plain sailing – things still go wrong and the situation changes.
Jiu-Jitsu is a constant change of environment – in BJJ training, sparring is called ‘rolling’ because it is a continual scramble from one transition to another and you learn to roll from task to task and adapt to change.
The biggest thing BJJ teaches you is to be resilient – how to bounce back no matter what.
Your opponent escapes your submission, pushes you off balance and secures a dominate position on you – doesn’t matter – you learn to breathe, reset, rethink and keep moving forward.
Learning BJJ is hard and takes time, adapting to change is hard and takes practice – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu offers a safe and fun platform to put these fundamental characteristics to the test and to learn to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
Learn more about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense in our other article: BJJ for Self-Defense: Good or Bad