Fundamentals or Advanced Jiu-Jitsu?

“Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise”

Through my travels I have visited a number of different jiu-jitsu academies and observed many different students learning and practicing the art of jiu-jitsu.

A very common phenomenon that I see is white belt and blue belt students who are attempting to focus their jiu-jitsu games around advanced, fancy sports positions and ignoring the more basic (but tried and tested!)  techniques and fundamentals.

They are Granby rolling all over the mat and trading berimbolo attempts but not demonstrating the ability to control the opponent in a dominant position. They are not working on a solid base that prevents them from being repeatedly swept.

There is nothing wrong with being interested in cool looking techniques and experimenting with advanced positions when you are learning jiu-jitsu. Exploring the positions opens your mind to the possibilities of jiu-jitsu. It expands your thinking and can develop your body awareness and jiu-jitsu specific movements. And it is just plain fun to try some cool moves with your favorite training partners.

The problem is when the fundamentals are ignored in favor of flashy, lower percentage movements. The precious training time is allocated on positions that contribute little to a student’s longer term growth in jiu-jitsu. The more advanced, sport moves may seduce the student by being successful early on when your training partners are unfamiliar with the position and you can catch them by surprise. But after being caught a few times, your training partners get wise to the move and it ceases to be effective.

The basic techniques WORK! That is why the basics have endured and proven themselves on mats all over the world since the time Grandmaster Helio Gracie first tied on a white belt!

Often I will have a roll with a student and catch several “basic” submissions for the tap. Following the roll I ask “Did you get swept or submitted with any move that you have not seen before?”

The answer invariably is “No!” and along with that an insight that when done correctly with timing, precision and sound fundamentals, the basic techniques work and will ALWAYS work throughout your jiu-jitsu journey!

I think often of this quote from Master Carlos Gracie Jr.
“I don’t get this obsession with all of the acrobatic guards. They are efficient, sure. But they’re fleeting. Your body has difficulty understanding them for too long. I say this from my own experience. The lumbar region, for example, as strong as it may be, will never be armored against the passage of time. Jiu-Jitsu is for your whole lifetime, and by that line of reasoning you can rest assured that the basic techniques like the closed guard or this open guard I enjoy doing, will never abandon us. At 70 we’ll still be capable of performing them with plenty of mobility. That can’t be said of the tornado guard or the berimbolo.”

Another important point worth noting is that many of the more advanced positions, while very effective when used in the right situation, require a certain level of fundamentals : base, posture, hip movement, core strength, balance, timing and so on. These fundamentals take time to develop before the jiu-jitsu student is able to effectively apply them to some if the more advanced positions.

Without these fundamentals in place, the new student is not ready for these new positions.

One Gracie Barra instructor expressed his minor frustration with beginner students wanting to skip Fundamentals class and jump right into Advanced class “There are no secrets in the Advanced class. There is no conspiracy to keep you away from the ‘good stuff’ hidden in the Advanced class.”

The majority of the most effective techniques that you use in your rolling EVERYDAY will be those basic techniques (e.g. Guard replacement, triangle choke, stack guard pass) that we learn when we first start learning jiu-jitsu in the GB Fundamentals class.

More experienced jiu-jitsu belts often express to me how their study of jiu-jitsu has lead them full circle away from the fancier techniques to refining the details on their basics. The moral of the story is always work on the fundamentals and slowly add advanced techniques so you can develop an all around game. 

See also on Gracie Barra : Improve your game

Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Saigon, Vietnam
Instagram: @markmullen.bjj