BJJ academies tend not to have as strict a syllabus compared to many traditional martial arts where progress is measured by passing a set number of techniques per belt rank. In BJJ, progress tends to be less linear and more organic ie the student will learn, drill and attempt to use all manner of techniques and positions. They will naturally tend to favour some more than others, but over time, their ability to execute fundamental techniques during sparring will become more proficient and this in turn will allow them to explore new and more advanced techniques.
That being said, it’s useful to have some sort of learning structure, especially in the first year or so of training. Listed below is a rough timeline that we here at Borehamwood BJJ will follow from week to week. It is designed for students to view and check which sessions they missed and help plan ahead with their longer term development. It is of course subject to change and alteration.
DEFENCE AND ESCAPE
Defence and escape are two different things. Beginners are taught how to escape basic positons and submissions but over time they will also develop a range of defensive skills that will avoid them being put into bad positions in the first place. Advanced players will focus more on counterattacking skills and even faking a bad position as tricks and traps.
The mount position is given great importance within the heirarchy of BJJ positional play. From here you can attack and dominate an opponent. It is also a great place to transition to other areas, such as the back position, depending on how your opponent reacts. Beginners are taught first how to maintain the mount postion and the options available to attack from here.
For many players, side control offers far more options to attack compared to mount position. Beginners are taught how to maintain the side control position and the many submission options from here.
A much underrated position, the north south is actually very powerful as a control and pin position. From here many submission attacks are also within easy reach, for example the kimura arm locks and various neck attacks. Beginners are shown how to enter the NS and how to keep the bottom person pinned down.
KNEE ON BELLY
Like side control, knee on belly offers the player many options for submission or transition to other positions. The position itself causes great discomfort to the bottom player which in itself can be utilised for maximum effect. Beginners are taught how to enter the knee on belly, how to maintain it and how to execute submissions and transitions from here.
THE BACK POSITION
The back position is granted the highest importance rating in BJJ (along with the mount). The hardest aspect to back control is getting here in the first place. Beginners are taught basic back control and attacking techniques as well as examples of how to transition to here from other positions. Many advanced players base their entire gameplan on finding a way to obtain back control of their opponent.
THE CLOSED GUARD
The closed guard allows the user to control their opponent very tightly while keeping themselves relatively safe. For this reason, it is a favourite guard position for most beginners to use during sparring and competition. Beginners are taught how to use the closed guard to control their opponent’s posture, and how to perform basic sweeps and submissions as well as guard retention. As one becomes more fluent using closed guard, higher level users are shown how it can become a far more active attacking position with which to work from.
The half guard is an excellent position that encourages the beginner to rely less on the closed guard while still maintaining a good degree of control and safety. It is also an excellent position to seek the back. Beginners are taught how to maintain half guard and how to execute sweeps from this position.
This segment of the curriculum is potentially the largest. There are so many many different types of open guard positions, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. By their very nature, open guards offer much more leverage and opportunity to force the opponent off balance and out of position compared with closed guards. Beginners are taught spider guard, lasso guard and butterfly/seated guard techniques, which are good safe open guard positions to start from. Further, highly effective open guard systems include: de la Riva guard, X-guard, 50/50 guard, sitting up guard, single leg X-guard, Z-guard, lapel guard, reverse de la riva, inverted guard…the list goes on and it is further complicated by a trend to create hybrid guards that mix up the established open guards.
PASSING THE GUARD
Passing the guard is as important a skillset in BJJ as knowing how to submit or play guard. It is a very large topic, for there are a great many different guard positions to learn to deal with. Beginners are taught the basics of guard passing and how to pass and transition into a dominant position.
BJJ matches always begin standing up. This means players must learn how to take down their opponents. Beginners are taught a basic set of trips, sweeps and takedowns culled from the combat arts of judo and wrestling. They are also taught a set of basic guard pulling moves. Key to these takedown techniques is the ability to perform them in order to land you in an advantageous position. Most times, as with judo throws, this will mean you aim to land on top in side control, but those whom prefer to play their strong guard game, will prefer to execute variations on the guard pull.
Often seen as a very defensive and stalling position used by those who have had their guard passed (which to be fair, it mostly is), it is still nevertheless a bonafide position in BJJ. Beginners are taught how to attack the opponent who is turtling, but there are also techniques that the turtler can use to counter attack.
The above list, though not exhaustive, is the basic pattern we’ll use on a week by week basis, the techniques within each segment will vary and change depending on the level of students who attend that week. Quite often we’ll repeat a lot of the basic techniques cycle after cycle because that is the only way to improve, other times we’ll learn fresh techniques so keep minds active. In BJJ, even very high grades must never assume that they ‘know’ the basics, it is an area that must always be maintained and practised.
Some areas we’ll look at from time to time: Foot and leg attacks, wristlocks, sparring methods (flow rolling vs comp sparring), tournament skills and tactics, other rulesets in grappling)…to be continued.