This is the Ultimate BJJ Beginner’s Guide.
If you’re interested in starting Jiu Jitsu or if you just started up at your local dojo; then, this little guide will help you survive your first year as a white belt.
This quick start guide everything I wish I knew when I first started Jiu Jitsu that rainy Saturday afternoon in 1997.
What is Grappling?
To start things off with the BJJ Beginner’s Guide, we’re going back to the absolute basics. In the Martial Arts world, there are two types of Martial Art. You can do striking or you can do grappling. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a grappling art. Today we are going to define what grappling is in relation to striking.
When you are fighting, with striking the contact is very brief, it’s very short. For example, if you punch your opponent in the shoulder with very brief, short hits, this is striking. If the contact is long, this turns it into a push. In this case, you won’t hurt your opponent as much. You want impact. You want to put all your force into your opponent’s anatomy as quickly as possible to create trauma.
Grappling is at the opposite end of the spectrum from striking. With grappling, you want a long contact. For example, you can grab on to your opponent’s arm, control it, and bring them down. Then you can do an Armbar. This is grappling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is just a form of grappling.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Basics: What is Grappling?
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Defined – Part 1
Here’s a simple yet comprehensive way to understand Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This overly simple breakdown of BJJ is an attempt to help you understand this complex and often confusing martial arts.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Begins When You Fall
BJJ starts when you fall on the ground. Let’s say you are fighting with your training partner or opponent. Then for whatever reason, you fall down on the ground. Maybe your opponent takes you down, or maybe you trip and fall. Either way, now you are down on the ground.
Give Your Opponent Your Legs
From here, you always want to give your opponent your legs. You never want your legs pointed away from opponent. Since, you never want your head close to them, so that they could easily smoke you in the face. Essentially, the idea is to keep the longest, strongest parts of your body closest to your opponent. It’s imperative to keep your legs between your opponent and your face.
From here were have Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Defined Part 1
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Defined – Part 2
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I always want to give my opponent my legs, and I want to stay away from his legs. Today, I’m going to give you an example of this concept.
Let’s say that my opponent is in mount. Here, my opponent is giving me his legs, and my legs are actually behind him. I can’t be offensive from here, it’s impossible. But my opponent can punch me, or attack me with with an arm bar. That’s brutal.
So when my opponent is in mount, I need to try to escape. When I’m down here, I need to try to keep my opponent’s hands on the ground because I don’t want him to attack me. To do this, I’m going to use a move called the bridge to get his hands on the ground. Then, I’m going to try and control his ankle. I will then slowly try to migrate up and wrap my legs around his waist.
Now, I’ve given my opponent my legs. This is what’s called the Guard. It’s kind of a goofy position. However, if we’re fighting from here, I can use my legs to control my opponent and to control the distance and perhaps sweep or submit them.
I always want to stay away from my opponent’s legs, and I always want to give him my legs.
That is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in a single sentence.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Defined Part 2
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Defined – Part 3
Here’s another example of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and how I need to stay away from my opponent’s/training partner’s legs.
Let’s say that I’m in my opponent’s closed guard. From this position, my opponent can be exceptionally offensive. If I give him my arm by accident, he could absolutely break it with an arm bar. So I need to get away from the longest, strongest parts of his body.
So how do I do this?
If I’m in my opponent’s closed guard, I could grab his wrist. Then I can stand up. Once I’ve stood up, I can pry his legs apart. From here, I can start jockeying for position where I can slide my leg all the way through his guard. Now I’ve gotten away from his legs.
Once I’m here, now I can start to be offensive. I could do an Armbar of my own. Now I’m giving my opponent my legs, and his legs are far away from mine.
As I control his wrist, my opponent will “tap out”. That is the signal that tells me that I am about to break his arm and that I have successfully submitted him. That is how we train BJJ safely.
Remember, I will always stay away from my opponent’s legs, and give him my own. That’s Jiu Jitsu.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Defined Part 3
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: How to Do a Technical Stand Up
This is probably the most important technique you’ll ever learn in Jiu Jitsu: How to stand up. The technical stand up is a method in BJJ for getting up to your feet if you are on your back. The technical stand up is the safest way to get back up to your feet.
How do you stand up safely if you are on the ground, and your opponent/training partner is standing up? Well, you certainly don’t want to lead with your face. Since, you don’t want to lean forward where your opponent could punch you directly or knee you as you come up.
Consequently, the goal is to protect your head. You may be on the ground, but from here you need to extend your leg, kick it out from underneath you, and now you’re able to stand and fight.
If you’re on the ground, make sure your right hand is posted. Then extend your right leg in front of you. Use your right leg to do a bit of a kick to keep your opponent away from you.
Next lift your right hip off the floor. Bring your right leg behind you by pulling it underneath your body and planting your right foot on the ground behind you. Now stand up.
The Technical Stand Up Drill
You can do a drill to help you exercise this move.
- Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Post your right hand behind you. Lift your hip off the floor. Stretch out your left arm in front of your face with the palm of your hand open. As you make this move, keep your hand open in front of your face. Bring your right foot underneath your body and plant it on the ground behind you.
- Sit on the floor again. Post your left hand behind you. Lift your hip off the floor. Stretch out your right arm in front of your face with the palm of your hand open. As you make this move, keep your hand open in front of your face. Bring your left foot underneath your body and plant it on the ground behind you.
- Repeat step 1) and 2) continuously.
This drill is great for a warm up and trains you to do the technical stand up correctly.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Basics: How to Do a Technical Stand Up
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: How to Shrimp
Shrimping Is Like Footwork When You’re On Your Back
BJJ like all Martial Arts is based on distance. The person that controls the distance controls the fight.
In Braziian Jiu Jitsu, there are many ways to maintain distance.
For novice BJJ practitioners, moving in and moving away is largely done with their arms. Grappling suddenly turns into a bench press and pull up contest.
Using your hands to push and pull your opponent does work. You can use your hands to manage distance and this is what most white belts will do; however, a more efficient way control distance when you’re on your back is to shrimp.
When you’re fighting from the bottom, you want control distance by squirming around on your back. This goofy motion is called shrimping.
So, what is shrimping?
Shrimping is basically footwork for BJJ.
When first starting Jiu Jitsu, moving up and down the mats when you’re on your back feels like you’re a fish on a sidewalk.
As it feels completely unnatural to propel yourself through water, it’ll feel completely foreign to you to move around on your back.
Beginners to BJJ will play their bottom game looking like a beetle on its back- arms and legs scrambling frantically- not going anywhere. Running on their back on a treadmill made of air.
When BJJ practitioners become more skillful with their bottom game, you’ll see them moving their hips a lot more; and thus, controlling the distance by moving their hips.
The method to move your hips when you have your back on the mats is called Shrimping.
When you’re lying on your back and you need to move, think of it like you’re a three legged animal. Your hip is one leg. Your feet act as a second leg and your shoulders make up the third leg.
Shrimping looks like you’re curled up in a fetal position. You’re balled up and lying on your side. It kind of looks like you’re taking a nap.
Starting from a fetal position, you first move your hips, then your feet and then your shoulders.
Here’s a basic way to Shrimp:
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: Shrimping on One Foot
Shrimping on one foot is a really important, fundamental hip exercise. You are bringing your hip up, and you are turning, shrimping into a fetal position on your right side, and then turning into a fetal position on your left side.
Shrimping on One Foot
In all the classes that I teach in BJJ, a warmup exercise I use is shrimping with one foot. In this position, I am on my back and I have one foot on the floor on my toes with that heal close to my hip. My other foot is up, and I am lifting my hip, turning my whole body to the right side, then turning it to the left, repeating this move. As I am turning, I am keeping my elbows and my knees together. I can also switch foots and repeat this move.
How is Shrimping on One Foot Functional?
Perhaps your training partner or opponent is in your guard. Then say you are controling their right arm. You are lucky enough to get your right foot on his hip. Now, you can lift your hip and bring it to the left, away from your opponent. Then you could reach up, grab his belt with your left hand, post up, drag him back, and possibly take his back.
Shrimping on one foot is advanced but it’s a very practical way to move your hips and augment the distance between you and your training partner.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Basics: Shrimping on One Foot
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: Shrimping to the Side
Now we’re going to discuss how to move to the side and create space between yourself and your opponent when you’re on your back.
This movement in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is called shrimping to the side and is the most practical way to escape positions such as bottom cross side and bottom mount and bottom knee mount.
How to Shrimp to the Side
To begin, I am of course on my back. My feet are on the floor, really close to my hips. This is imperative. Next I’m going to turn to my right side, but as I turn to my side I am going to move my hip to the left of my original position.
When I was shrimping up towards my head, I was moving my hip towards my head.
Now I am going to turn to my right side and stick my butt out to the left, and then assume my original position on my back. I will bring my feet and my shoulders into alignment. Now I am further to the left then when I began.
I can also shrimp to the opposite direction, turning to the left and moving my body right in a linear manner.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Basics: Shrimping to the Side
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: Shrimping Up Towards Your Head
Shrimping towards your head is one of the most fundamental movements in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
What I’m trying to do is displace my body to create distance between myself and my opponent. To do so I want to travel up towards my head.
To start off, I am on my back in a fetal position, with my knees bent and my heals close to my hips. Now I am going to try to move up.
From this position, I am going to lift my hips and turn my body to the right side, rotating on my right shoulder. Then I am going to extend my legs and move my hips up to where my head is as I extend my legs. Now I am going to come back into the original fetal position on my back. I’ve now displaced myself, having moved up towards where my head was at the beginning.
As an exercise, I can do this again, turning to the right or left and continue shrimping up the mat.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Basics: Shrimping Up Towards Your Head
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: Shrimping Towards Your Feet
Now I’m going to talk about a method to move your body down towards your feet when you’re on your back. This direction of shrimping is the most complex method of shrimping.
Shrimping Towards Your Feet
This is the most difficult forms of shrimping but it’s imperative for a lot of the escapes that you are going to do when you’re in the bottom position.
To begin, I’m going to start off on my back, with my feet on the floor. Next I’m going to extend my right leg so that is is straight, flat against the floor. Using my right shoulder against the floor, I’m going to turn slightly on the right side of my body.
Now I’m going to kick my left leg up, bringing my hip up to the sky, as I use my right heel to pull my hip down towards my right heel. Essentially, I’ve brought my heel and my hip together, having moved down the mat.
The next part is to do the move again on the opposite side. I extend my left leg. I use my left shoulder against the floor, turning my body to the side. Then I kick the sky with my right leg, this will help me lift my hip up off the floor, as I use my left heel to bring my hip down towards my heel.
This is the most difficult form of shrimping. This is an important drill to use if you’re trying to create distance from your training partner.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Basics: Shrimping towards your Feet
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: How to Roll Over Your Shoulder
Rolling over your shoulder is one of the fundamental movements in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
What is Rolling?
Rolling is when you roll over your shoulder, or roll forward over your shoulder.
The funny thing is that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is often called “Rolling”. You call up your buddies and you say, “Hey man, you want to roll with me today?” That means Jiu Jitsu, we’re going to go and we’re going to roll and we’re going to train Jiu Jitsu.
So it is critical that you understand how to roll. Today I’m going to demonstrate how to roll over your shoulder safely and effectively.
How to Roll
First, I am going to start on my back. Let’s say that I’m going to roll over my right shoulder.
1) I’m going to extend my right arm.
2) I’m going to look at my right arm.
3) I’m going to lift my feet, thus lifting my hips, off the ground while staring at my arm.
4) Then I roll backwards over my shoulder.
Notice this has nothing to do with my neck, and nothing to do with the back of my head.
I am extending my arm, and kicking over my shoulder. My head and neck never touch the floor.
I want to turn my body, my shoulders, into a barrel. Barrels roll on their side.
1) I’m going to pick a line on the mat that I want to roll along.
2) I’m going to bring my right forearm through my legs along that line.
3) I’m going to drag my shoulder through my legs, as if I am hugging a barrel and trying to scratch the back of my head.
4) I reach underneath my hip, trying to scratch the back of my head, and I roll forward.
My head never touches the mat, thus keeping my neck safe.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Basics: How to Roll Over Your Shoulder
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: How to Bridge
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, there are 3 critical movement patterns:
1) Shrimping. This is how I create mobility when I’m on my back.
2) Rolling. This is me rolling back over my shoulder or rolling forward over my shoulder.
3) Bridging. This is the third important movement pattern for Jiu Jitsu.
The purpose of bridging is to allow you to generate an enormous amount of force when you are on your back and creates opportunities to escape from dangerous positions or to sweep your opponent when you are on the bottom.
Furthermore, bridging is a technique used to create space between you and your opponent. As well, bridging can be used to manipulate your training partner’s weight and get them off of you.
How to Bridge
Bridging is when I create a bridge with my body.
I begin on my back, with my feet close to my hips. My toes are on the ground, and my heals are not touching the mat. This way I get a deep follow through as I’m bridging up.
Note that if my feet are far away from my hips, I’m on my ankles as I bridge my body up and my hips will not go very high. This is wrong. I want my hips to go as high as possible.
To make sure that I raise my hips as high as possible, it is imperative that I bring my feet as close to my hips as possible.Then I’m going to bridge over my shoulder.
The follow through is born with my eyes. This means that as I bridge, bringing my hip and belly button to the sky and turning on one of my shoulders, I keep my eyes on the mat. I don’t keep my eyes looking at the sky. If I do this, I won’t bridge very high. If I want a deep follow through, I use my eyes to bridge up.
When I’m bridging, I also keep my forearms in front of my face so that I look like I’m a boxer. If I stretch my arm out as I bridge up, I leave my whole body open and I could be attacked. This is why I need to keep tight like a boxer.
If I’m bridging over my right shoulder, my right elbow slams into the mat as I bridge up. This will give me more height and greater momentum. And of course my left elbow stays right in front of my face to avoid leaving my body open to attack.
For a warm up, I’ll alternate bridging over my left shoulder and my right shoulder.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Basics: How to Bridge
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: The Guard Defined
The Guard is a very complex position. In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it is 90% of the curriculum. Most of the time you spend doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you’ll spend in the Guard or fighting from the Guard.
Basically, the Guard means that you are on your back and you are giving your training partner or opponent your legs. Your legs are the longest, strongest part of your body and you want to use your legs to keep your opponent at bay, control them and potentially submit them or sweep them.
Using the Closed Guard, you have your legs locked around your opponent’s torso and behind their back. There are a whole bunch of attacks from here. For example, you can do a triangle choke, bringing your legs up and choking your opponent with your legs behind their neck.
Another version of the Guard is where you only control one of your opponent’s legs. In this position, you have both of your legs locked around one of your opponent’s legs. This is called the Half Guard. If you’re lucky, you can transition to get their back, locking your leg around their waist from the back.
I like Butterfly Guard a lot. It’s called Butterfly Guard because your feet are together and your knees are spread apart wide, like the wings of a butterfly. But I like it because when using the Butterfly Guard, your opponent’s weight is not on top of you. From here, you can maybe sweep your opponent and then attack from a more dominant position once you’re on top.
Using the Spider Guard, you give your opponent your legs and use your feet to stretch out your opponent like they’re a scarecrow. From here, you can build some momentum and sweep your opponent over, and from there maybe attack them from mount.
Using these Guard positions, you give your opponent your legs when you’re on the bottom. The Guard is a very strong, offensive position with you are doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Made Simple: The Guard Defined
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: What is Tapping Out?
How do we keep each other safe?
Remember that martial arts is inherently dangerous. It was invented to protect our land and our loved ones from attackers. So how do we train techniques that were designed to injure someone and yet stay safe so that we can still live our lives?
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it’s called “tapping out”.
Tapping or tapping out basically means to stop. You can verbally tap – just by saying “tap”, or you can tap by slapping your training partner easily anywhere on their body. The key thing is to tap your training partner. Like you’re slapping them on the shoulder.
Let’s say that I’m training with my training partner. Maybe I’m lucky, and I’m able to get him in an Armbar. My training partner then taps me on the leg. This is how he taps out. This how he stays safe.
Or maybe my training partner slaps a triangle choke on me. But I’m able to stay safe because I tap him on the shoulder.
It is critical that you tap on your training partner, and not the mat. If you tap the mat, your training partner may not hear you. This is dangerous because you could get hurt.
You don’t always have to tap out because you’re being choked or because you’re being armbarred. You can tap out because you have to sneeze or if you have to go to the bathroom. It makes no difference at all.
This is how we can exercise this amazing art all while staying safe.
Video: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Basics: What is Tapping Out?
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: The Different Positions In BJJ Explained
BJJ is profoundly complex and confusing especially to the novice. To anybody just starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, BJJ can seem like a maze of positions, submissions and strategies.
To simplify things so that absolute novices to BJJ can immediately grasp what’s going on in a typical brazilian jiu jitsu match we’re going to define BJJ as only having 2 positions.
And, we want to generally understand that top is better!
Yes, this is an overly simple breakdown of BJJ but one that can help absolute beginners start to grasp the complexities of BJJ.
All of the different positions in BJJ can be simplified as top and bottom. If you’re on the bottom, you need to be fighting from your guard. If you don’t have your legs controlling your opponent and you’re on your back, you need to fight to get your guard back.
Conversely, if you’re on top, you want to make sure that you’re free from you training partner’s legs and that you have fully passed their guard. Many students new to Jiu Jitsu will try and attack while still in closed guard.
If you’re on top; then, stay away from your training partner’s legs.
If you’re on the bottom, always give your opponent your legs.
This is super simple way to understand the different positions in BJJ and help the complete novice find immediate comprehension with this complex sport.
Check out my video tutorial on the different positions in BJJ and i’m sure you’ll find the visual breakdown much easier to understand.
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: How BJJ is Simply a Solution for a Problem
How is BJJ defined?
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is merely a solution to a problem.
BJJ is a grappling art were the foundational position is the Guard. The Guard in BJJ is similar to “keeping your hands up” in Boxing. Not only is the Guard the main defensive structure you are maintaining in order to keep your head and our torso safe but it is also the primary offensive platform in which you can launch your attacks.
If you are in a fight and you suddenly fall down to the ground and you wind up lying on your back then BJJ has a solution to this problem. You can give your attacker your legs, meaning that you are point your legs at your attacker and you are thus placing them in your Guard.
This is a simple breakdown of BJJ but one that allows a novice to immediately understand the complexities of BJJ.
BJJ defined as a solution is a simple definition of this complex art so that novices understand the utility of the sport. Jiu Jitsu has a practical approach to self defense. If you’re being attacked, it’s foolish to think you should fall to your butt and try and triangle choke your attacker.
Knowing how to fight off your back is an insurance policy and stems from the “what if” scenario of fighting. What if you tripped over a curb running away from an attacker and they are now suddenly kneeling on your chest punching you in the face; then, Jiu Jitsu has the solution to this problem and the Jiu Jitsu training that you’ve had will help you escape from this position and create enough injury to your attacker – maybe a choke or an arm bar- so that you can escape and gain safety.
Check out my video tutorial on how Jiu Jitsu is merely a solution for a problem.
BJJ Beginner’s Guide: How to Tie Your Belt Like a Boss
Okay, last thing I’m going to give you to help you.
Well, there you have it. The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Understand that this brief article is only a quick guide. For more techniques, check out our 90 Essential BJJ Beginner Techniques. Understand, the true lessons will come from the time you spend at your Jiu Jitsu academy. This is an amazing art and you’ll become a stronger, smarter, healthier version of yourself by embracing it. You’ll make amazing friends and you’ll create amazing memories.
Enjoy your journey.