This beginner’s guide will cover some basic techniques of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and, hopefully, give you a strong foundation in self-defense. We will also go over why BJJ is so effective, and why it has become a go-to martial-arts when it comes to self-defense.
We will keep this section short as we have a lot to cover in the subsequent sections, but understanding the history of how BJJ developed is important and helps to explain why it is so effective.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was developed by Carlos and Helio Gracie during their visits to Japan learning Kodokan Judo, a form a Judo that focuses more on grappling and ground techniques. Judo is a martial art heavily focused on taking your opponent to the ground and techniques surrounding the ground aspect of fighting, but BJJ took this to a new level with techniques developed by the Gracie family.
Once they had established BJJ, Helio had an open invitation to any martial artist to come and fight him with their technique. These were usually no-rules – or very limited – and fights could last hours. An honor to the Gracie family, Helio went unbeaten for the better part of 60 years with this open invitation.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu found international recognition when Helio’s son, Royce Gracie, entered the newly formed Ultimate Fighting Championship(UFC) and won the competition with relative ease. Here, the world saw how effective ground fighting could be, especially with someone who has no or very little experience in the intricate beauty of the “human chess” match that ground fighting has been affectionately named by its devotees.
After Royce’s domination in the tournament – and following ones as well – the world took to BJJ, unfamiliar martial art at the time, and never looked back. Mixed Martial-Arts(MMA) was born from this competition and many studios that teach MMA make BJJ the foundation to their training.
The Importance of Understanding Ground Fighting
A popular statistic is thrown around by practitioners of BJJ that supposedly comes from the Los Angeles Police Department were a study conducted and found that 95% of fights end on the ground. This has very little factual evidence to be found when searching the internet, but still none the less, you will hear it in the BJJ circles.
Regardless if there is any truth to this study happening, the importance of ground fighting can not be understated. Many martial arts and self-defense classes teach you how to fight while standing up, but there is only a handful that teach you how to dominate your opponent on the ground.
It’s better(and easier) to believe that 95% of people you will come across do not know how to fight on the ground, and this is what gives you an advantage as an experienced grappler. This advantage only compounds on its self like interest as you develop and hone your skills. As someone who is put in a situation where you have to defend yourself, taking your attacker out of their element and putting them into one that gives you the advantage will help you to end the fight on your terms, and make it so you take minimum damage, hopefully.
This is the defining reason why understanding ground fighting is so important. It gives you a great opportunity to take someone who is likely inexperienced to the ground where you will have superior knowledge and techniques to finish the fight quickly. With that in mind, let’s dive into the basics of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Getting your Opponent to the Ground
Throughout this guide, we will have explanations and videos to help you conceptualize these techniques because the ground game is inherently unfamiliar territory for most of us.
The first step to understanding and internalizing BBJ or ground fighting for that matter is getting your opponent to the ground. This is typically done with a few techniques and focuses on gaining an advantage position on your opponent, so you can break their center of gravity, making it easier for you to take them to the ground.
If you have experience in wrestling, judo, aikido, or anything similar you will have an advantage in this department. Fundamentally though, getting someone to the ground usually isn’t very difficult, especially if they do not know how to protect themselves from these moves. Once you break their center of gravity, the smallest of fighters can topple the biggest…usually.
Before we get into some of these techniques, it’s important to state that there is nothing better than finding an instructor that you like to teach you how to do these techniques. Most of these techniques are extremely dangerous as they revolve around ending a fight quickly with submissions.
With that in mind, if you are prepping in the middle of nowhere, and you are unable to find a studio and instructor to learn from, and you are practicing with a friend or family member, it’s important to remember how dangerous these techniques are and never to go 100% when practicing or sparring. Always let go when someone taps, even if you haven’t applied any pressure. You might be surprised how truly dangerous and effective some of the hold and locks are.
So how do we get them to the ground?
There are too many ways to accomplish this to keep count, but one popular way is to get control of the leg or both if you can. If you get control of both, you will nine times out of 10 get them to the ground. These are called the single and double leg takedowns. The following video explains most of the fundamentals to these two techniques fairly well, but as you can imagine, some of these things are impossible to do in a real street fight and catered more towards tournaments and fights with rules in place.
A key factor to the single leg is “trapping” the leg you are “shooting” to. Doing this with your mirrored leg will make it so your opponent has a very hard time to escape your takedown. Notice that he steps behind him first, and then grabs the back of his knee. Remember always to do this to accomplish a single leg takedown successfully.
Most of the time this will be enough to take your opponent to the ground, but there are people out there with exceptional balance, and they can make it very difficult to take them down with a single leg under your control. If this is the case, you can then transition into a double-leg takedown.
Now, you can go straight into a double leg takedown, but as stated, most of the time you can take someone down with control of just one, hence, it is preferred to take one and then transition into a double if needed. This all depends on the fight though, of course, so be adaptable and find what works for that situation.
The instructor emphasizes on keeping your face in their chest while you are going for the takedown, and this is crucial as well. In general, you are leaving yourself exposed for strikes and submissions with your head anywhere else.
One thing that the author found and would like to share during his sparring and utilization of the single leg takedown is a simple way to put them on the ground when you have control of the leg. You have noticed that instinctively your opponent has to take little hops as they have to move. Simply pull them close to you, and in mid-hop push with all your force on the leg you are controlling towards their hip, and the will fall flat on their back, giving you an excellent opportunity to gain a dominant position on the ground.
The following video goes solely into how to do a double leg takedown successfully. What is nice about this instructors videos is they are a quick easy to understand lessons, and he also touches on how to escape these techniques as well – Something that you will want to learn.
As you have heard him state over and over again, leverage and positioning are imperative in performing these techniques efficiently. You will find that this is the case with all aspects of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and any martial arts dealing with grappling and body control for that matter.
Take notice of where his head is and why it is in the position that it is in once he shoots into his opponent.
This following video goes into two techniques that are also extremely effective in taking your opponent to the ground.
Notice that he too never puts his head in a position where his opponent can quickly grab it and choke him out. He also emphasizes on using his hips, which is a critical concept to remember. Using bigger muscle groups to control your opponent as opposed to the smaller ones like your arms, for instance, will give you a huge advantage over your opponent.
You might have noticed him briefly explaining why you want to continue forward or else his opponent would be able to move his free leg up and over and put him into an omoplata. This is a slightly advanced submission, and this was pointed out to show you that with BJJ, there is almost always a way to counter what is happening to you on the ground.
The second one, the “Gi or Collar Drag” is extremely useful once you grab hold of some material. Even a handful of your opponent’s shirt will do. Just remember, as he is explaining, to continue through the motion and momentum you have built up. Doing this will allow you or make it easier for you to gain a dominant position on the ground.
The instructor doesn’t state this, but it is important when performing the Collar drag correctly. He places his back foot in near to his opponent between his legs trapping the opposite leg. This makes it nearly impossible for his opponent to step over.
Lastly, we briefly cover gaining control of the body while your opponent is standing. First and foremost, keep your hands up in a boxing position so you can protect yourself from punches. You can’t shoot in and take your opponent to the ground if he knocks you out.
Second, you might have noticed from the previous videos that they were always gaining control of their opponent’s center of gravity – generally the hip region. Gaining control of the hips is accomplished in a variety of ways. Once you get into their body and gain control of them, you can step to the side with your leg behind one of theirs, giving you control of the hips. You can also lock into them with double arms around them underneath their armpits. This will also give you control of their top half making it easy to take them down.
Finally, once you have control of their body or control of their center of gravity, you want to simply knock them off balance and follow-through to gain a dominant position. As shown there are simple ways to do this, and there are some very advanced ways to go about this. Either way, find what works for you and perfect it as much as possible. You will want a few ways to master if your “go-to” technique isn’t working.
Don’t stop with what has been provided in this guide when it comes to takedowns. There is a wealth of knowledge on the internet, and many martial arts focus solely on this aspect. If you are serious about protecting yourself, never stop learning and developing your martial art.
Dominant Body Positions
A key cog to getting your BJJ moving in the right direction is gaining a dominant body position. From these positions, you will be able to protect yourself from attacks more efficiently and find ways to submit your opponent much easier than outside of a dominant position.
Some of these positions may seem like you are at a disadvantage to the untrained eye but rest assured, if they are used by someone that is competent in BJJ, the attacker can find themselves in a world of hurt fairly quickly.
We will start with the full mount position. You have probably seen this position many times in your lifetime if you have seen fights and how they play out on the ground. This position is arguably the most dominate position you can get into when fighting on the ground, but there are some important factors to keep in mind once you gain this position.
The following video touches on these key fundamentals beautifully.
As he states in the beginning, you want to be able to get your knees into your opponent’s armpits if possible. Doing this will make it so your opponent’s hips can no longer push you up and over. If they can do this, then they will get be able to get you on your back. This isn’t necessarily bad because it usually transitions you into a full guard which is a dominate position, but it gives them the ability to rain punches on you with force because they are on top now.
Notice how he goes into describing how, if you can’t ride up to your opponent’s armpits, it’s important to maintain your center of gravity by keeping your head parallel with your hips. This makes it much more difficult for them to control with their hips.
He also briefly touches on “the grapevine” which any wrestler will be familiar with. If you perform this, there is almost no way that your opponent can get free. Try it with someone; it’s a very good way to stop your opponent from trying to buck you off.
The following video explains mounts and transitions while also going into the MMA side of BJJ. Understanding how to strike and not only submit from these positions will wear your opponent down and win you the fight.
It’s important to note what the instructor says early in the video. Positioning comes first, then submissions and strikes. Your positioning is what will win you a fight on the ground. You should always be looking to improve your positioning. Gain a dominate position, look for a submission. If you are unable to submit, transition into a better position and continue. Following this progression will eventually get you into the rear mount if you are unable to gain a submission.
Shown in the video is the best position possible, the rear mount. Typically if you have a full mount and are wailing away on your opponent, they are going to turn over and give you their back. It’s important to get your “hooks” in first before you do anything else. Your hooks are your heels on the inside of your opponent’s thighs.
Do not cross your feet in front of them. Doing this will allow someone, with knowledge, to break your top ankle.
Maintaining your hooks makes it so no matter where your opponent turns or rolls, you will follow. After you have your hooks, you need to clasp your hands together in front of them on their chest. You need one arm over their shoulder, and the other under and through their armpit. This is called the seatbelt, and it will ensure that where they go, you go. Once you have these two things, then go into submissions or pounding on them.
If they are on their belly, the only thing needed before you can go into pounding or submissions are the hooks. Truly proficient BJJ practitioners can stay on an opponent’s back with just their hooks in place.
The instructor then goes into explaining side control. This is another dominate position, and there are many submissions you can do from this position, but typically it is used as a stepping stone to gain the full mount.
Take note of where his knees and elbows are, and also notice how he gain control of his shoulders by clasping his hands with one arm reaching around the back of his neck and the other under the opposite armpit. This keeps your opponent from rolling out. The knee should always be next to the hip when they move; you move with them.
There is one thing to keep in mind when you are in these dominate positions and thinking about throwing bombs at your opponent. Remember that the bones in the hand a very fragile, instead of throwing punches, use your elbows to strike. The elbow is a very powerful bone and is devastating when thrown from these positions due to the close proximity of your opponent.
The next couple dominant positions we will touch up on where the ones referenced earlier in the article when we were talking about positions that may not seem like a dominant position to the trained eye. These two are the half guard and full guard(or closed guard).
This instructor explains perfectly the fundamentals of the half and full guard. Just like the side control, the half guard is used more as a transition to the full guard. This doesn’t mean that you can’t submit or inflict damage to your opponent from it.
You may be thinking, “Well I am on top of them, Why am I not in the dominant position?” And that is a valid question. Remember about controlling their center of gravity? The person in the full guard has control of it with their legs. Not only that, they can pull you into punches increasing their effectiveness, and there are many submissions to take from these positions whereas it is more limited to the person who is on top.
Escaping Dominate Positions
Now let’s go ahead and go back through these again, but this time looking at ways to escape them so that you can gain a dominant position.
The first thing to take note of in this video is the instructor’s knee positioning. Notice how close they are to his hips. This makes it so that your opponent has less control with their hips, and keeps them from trapping one of your legs and sweeping you to your back.
Another thing to note is where your head is at when they have you in their full guard. If they are competent in BJJ and they have a leg on your shoulder, you have to escape this immediately or else they are working to triangle choke you.
This particular escape needs to be done in one fluid motion.
The following video goes over correct posture when you are in someone’s full guard. Remember always, posture and positioning is what will win you the fight on the ground.
There are many ways to pass the full guard, but this one typically works the best. It’s encouraged to learn other passes once you have a good understanding and can perform this one like it is second nature.
Now let’s focus on passing the half guard. In the following video, the instructor will go over a few ways to accomplish this. Your two main objectives to keep in mind while being in someone’s half guard is, A. Don’t allow them to get you into full guard, and B. As always, look to gain a dominate position. Like always in BJJ, you can submit your opponent from nearly every position, but first, you should be focusing on achieving a dominate position.
When the instructor talks about his grip he discusses how grabbing his elbow will make his hold tighter. Grabbing your elbow and pushing your weight forward in this position makes it very uncomfortable for your opponent, and you can also choke them out from here if you know what you are doing. You should always try to grip your elbow in this position if it is possible.
There isn’t much else to add to this video because this instructors knowledge of BJJ is superb and he does an excellent job in explaining what you need to do to control your opponent and pass their half guard.
Let’s keep going and look at escaping the side control.
You may have noticed from some of the other videos that when a BJJ practitioner is put into side control, their leg on the side that the opponent is on immediate comes up and rest on the opposite one. This makes it so your opponent can’t easily pass their leg across your sternum and gain a full mount. Get in the habit of doing this.
Like everything in BJJ, there are many ways to escape the side control, but working on the fundamentals that this instructor focus on in this video will give you a huge advantage to someone who doesn’t know BJJ or is relatively new to it. Work on getting your arms to your chest immediately to create separation so you can escape.
You can tell why they call BJJ “The Human Chess Match” when he goes into some of the ways to submit from this position.
Once you have these basics down, move on to some other ways to escape. You will find more often than not, that BJJ practitioners have “signature moves.” These are moves, positions, escapes, and submissions that they practiced and mastered above others. Do not be afraid to do this. In BJJ, it’s usually a better idea to be a “Master of Few” instead of a “Jack of All Trades.” This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn and be able to perform the other techniques, though.
The following is a bonus video for drills on escaping the side mount. They are very effective in teaching you positioning through repetition.
Moving along, we are going to focus on escaping the full mount.
This instructor goes into great detail about BJJ and explains it in a way that is easy to understand and perform. If you are serious about learning BJJ, subscribe to his channel and any of the other ones you like that are shared in this guide.
There isn’t much to add to this video other than, once you create that tunnel, be mindful of your opponent’s attempts to turn you on to your belly. Even though most of these videos are done step by step, you need to do it one fluid motion in an actual fight.
He also briefly shows BJ Penn escaping from Matt Hughes in a UFC match. Look at BJ Penn and some of the other BJJ practitioners in MMA to see how they use their BJJ in an MMA fight. BJ Penn was a force of nature in his prime, and many others are worth watching.
Let’s move to our last escape from a dominate position. Escaping from the rear mount needs to be done immediately. This isn’t a place where you want to stay long, but keep your head cool, your arms where they need to be and wait for your opening because it is coming.
Forgive the colorful language but this instructor has excellent Jiu-Jitsu as well, and learning from as many instructors as you can will make a more well-rounded practitioner.
Like a lot of these videos, there isn’t much to add. Remember that once you create that separation by wiggling your back off their chest, to not turn or get turned so they can just get on your back again.
Always keep your chin into your chest until you have escaped the rear mount. Not doing so will get you choked out by someone that knows what they are doing.
Now that we have gone over positioning, escapes, and transitions; it is time to go to our final section, submissions.
You may have been thinking in the beginning, “ Why haven’t we touched on submissions first?” And hopefully by now, you understand how important it is to gain a dominate position before you attempt a submission. This is especially true for someone new to BJJ. Once you become more proficient in it, then you can start thinking about submissions in some of the “weaker” positions. Learn how to dominate your opponent through positioning first, then expand on your ways to submit them.
Just like in the previous section, we will look at the position and some of the ways we can finish the fight from said position. So without further ado, let’s get into the fun stuff. And remember, when practicing these to use caution and never go 100%. Keeping yourself healthy and your partner healthy should be your first rule when practicing submissions.
The first video we are going to look at is submissions from the half guard.
These submissions are done from the bottom, and with that in mind, you will also have submissions from the top at your disposal as well, which we touch on here in a moment.
He briefly explains transitioning into the triangle choke, but there are many ways to accomplish this choke with your legs or arms so following some of the examples shared here, and any you can find on your own will help you to learn this choke effectively.
The Kimura is a very popular submission from either position in the half guard. As the instructor stated, getting your opponent’s shoulder as close to the ground as possible will make this submission easier to pull off. If they try to roll out of it, roll with them and get their shoulder as close to the ground again.
You can see from the wincing on the face of the partner; the Ezekiel choke is very uncomfortable. Make your opponent as uncomfortable as possible. This makes submissions much easier to land because their mind becomes focused on the pain and not what you are doing anymore.
The baseball bat choke is very good as well, but if they have a thin shirt, it can rip before they are choked out.
Now let’s look at one of the easiest submission to get when on top in the half guard, the arm triangle.
The following video is full of half guard techniques to understand better what you are capable of in this position. Take this video slowly as it doesn’t go into great detail because of all the information shared in such a short video.
Moving on, we will look at submissions from the side control. This following video has some excellent submissions, and it also goes into detail on some MMA aspects which you should always be looking to implement.
Because a lot of these submissions are using the leg strength on vastly weaker arm strength, it can not be stated enough to not apply too much pressure when performing these submissions. You can easily injury your partner applying too much pressure.
Keep in mind that if your opponent is proficient in ground fighting, they will be looking to gain a dominate position as well so control them first, then move into a submission. Do not give them an opening to pass you. This video, in particular, shows exactly what you need to do to continue controlling your opponent.
Let’s move on to our next position, the full guard.
The instructor starts off with an excellent point that can’t be understated. A lot of the time, you are waiting for your opponent to make a mistake, and he shows you how these mistakes can be capitalized upon when you know what you are doing.
With the armbar from the guard, this can be accomplished with any straight arm your opponent gives you. Inexperienced fighters on the ground will often look to choke you with both hands when you have them in your guard. This mistake will be their undoing. Practice getting an armbar on both sides so you can easily transition from someone attempting to choke you with both, or only one hand.
With the shoulder lock, you can easily set them up for it if they don’t have a strong base by pushing them away with your hips and then immediately pulling them back to you. This should cause them to lose their center of gravity briefly, so they will have to catch themselves by placing their arms to the ground leaving it open for the shoulder lock.
Notice how he goes through both sides. Always practice both sides, you never know what side you will be able to attack.
As you can see, the guard is very effective in gaining a submission, but it is more reactionary than other dominate positions. Wait for your opening. If you are in someone’s guard, look to pass it as soon as possible and don’t make the mistakes that are highlighted in this video.
Now we are on to the mount positions. If you have gained the mount, it is important not to get excited, but simply look to finish the fight quickly with your techniques and dominate position. Using strikes is very efficient in opening them up for a submission or finishing the fight at this point, just be mindful of them trying to counter you.
This video goes into explaining your positioning so you can maintain your full mount. Always keep these fundamentals in mind, so you don’t give up this dominate position. Fights are almost always won from this position when you maintain it, or the opponent is forced to roll over and give you their back – a worse position for them to be in.
Other than that, the instructor explains these chokes and arm bars exactly how they should be performed so let’s move on to the rear mount.
Here you can see that when using these techniques correctly, even a small woman with superior technique can submit a bigger male. When you use the right muscles and techniques, it is very easy to get a submission.
She also does something that should be included in your practice which is a verbal queue for a tap. She says tap as she was unable to tap physically. Get in the habit of doing both simultaneously so you can continue to practice and perfect you Jiu-Jitsu and not sustain an injury.
Get into the habit of performing the rear naked choke exactly as she performs it. As you can see, transitioning straight into it will get you elbow broken by someone who is proficient.
She also shows you how well you can use the fabric of whatever your opponent is wearing to your advantage. You can see how much discomfort she is putting him under by the color in his face. These types of submissions are commonly referred to as “Gi” submissions as they are used on the gi in competitive BJJ. Don’t be afraid to use “Gi” submissions on common clothing items.
As you can see, anyone can use BJJ to their advantage, and there are many examples of vastly smaller opponents submitting and beating bigger opponents due to their superior technique and ability to gain a dominate body position.
If you have an interest in learning BJJ, and it’s at all possible, find an instructor near you that you trust and connect with. This will take your ground game to a whole new level and give you the confidence to take on anyone that decides to harm you or take your possessions.
As a prepper, continue to expand on your fighting knowledge in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu through a trainer or some of the Youtube instructor that were shared in this article. We tried to give you a nice variety of some of the better instructors you can find on Youtube.
And always practice these with caution. Something that you may think doesn’t hurt, may be extremely painful to your partner due to differences in flexibility and tolerance to pain. Keeping yourself healthy and your practicing partner healthy – especially if the SHTF – should be your top priority.
Continue to practice, learn at perfect what works for you, and slowly introduce new techniques to expand your repertoire. And finally, learn to escape those submissions, like, with everything in BJJ, there is a counter for every position or submission you may find yourself in.