INTRODUCTORY COURSE HANDBOOK
This handbook will help you familiarize yourself with the moves of Jiu Jitsu, the strategies that tie those moves together, and the training methods we use to gain proficiency in the art. Gaining skill in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is something that is accessible to just about everyone regardless of background when presented and approached correctly.
Enthusiasts swear that Jiu Jitsu is incredibly fun and a great way to get in shape. However the path that allows you to progress from outside observer to skilled practitioner is not always clear. With a little framework and context we can outline that path a bit making progress more certain and avoid some of the classic obstacles to learning.
One of the first, and biggest, stumbling blocks that new students to Jiu JItsu face is recognizing the difference between how your Jiu Jitsu skills are tested versus how they are built. There is a lot of “soft” practice that goes into acquiring skill. What many students first exposure to jiu jitsu is though, often resembles a test of skill rather than a demonstration of how that skill is built. If you wanted to learn to drive a race car your first lesson wouldn’t be “let’s see how fast it goes”. Likewise, your introduction to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu shouldn’t be “let’s see who can beat who”. While there is a lot of learning potential with sparring, it generally doesn’t help build skill at the outset.
Guiding principles for practice
Before we can race around the track we first need to complete, at the least, a few casual laps around the track to see what the course is like and how the car handles. Our curriculum outlines the basic self defense strategy of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and our drills are designed to help you learn how the moves work. There are a few principles we use to shape our curriculum and guide our practice. Knowing these principles and understanding the logic behind them will help you establish a framework for learning brazilian jiu jitsu.
Learn how to control yourself before you control others
Much of martial arts is about self control. The better control you have over your own body, the more possible it becomes for you to control another person. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not about bigger, stronger, faster. It is about doing more with less. Efficient purposeful control over one’s own movements is where it starts. It’s such an important part of our practice that it’s how we start every practice, with solo drills to build those attributes. Leverage and timing start out as balance and rhythm. In the drills you feel your own balance and inherent areas of strength and weakness. After all Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is using your greatest strength against your opponents physical weak point.
Your partner is gold
Training Jiu Jitsu requires a partner that provides varying degrees of compliance and resistance. It would be helpful to understand what it means to be a good partner. This of course stems from the idea that we want our partners to stick around, since it’s hard to practice without a one.
The techniques of Jiu Jitsu are not accomplished through high rage, low control movements. They are precise technical movements that vary in strategy and execution depending upon the physical matchup between participants. Being able to identify which move is called for and then executing it requires physical and emotional composure. It takes a fair amount of partnered practice to develop that skill and control.
The only way to get that work in is to have good training partners who are in it for the long haul. The more we take care of our partner the more we can train, because none of us can train if all of us are broken.
Jiu Jitsu is first a defensive martial art.
The first objective of Jiu Jitsu is to stay safe and not take damage. This is a stark contrast to the strategy imagined by many people when they think of martial arts; hurt the other person before they hurt you. The problem with this is that humans are actually fairly resilient when it comes to taking damage. It is pretty easy for a small skirmish to turn into a fairly nasty fight when both people want it to. It is also much harder to stop a determined assailant by hurting them then many would think.
Jiu Jitsu has a different approach to violence that starts with you being safe and ends with the assailant unconscious, (and unharmed), from a blood choke. All of this can be done without throwing a punch or trying to injure the other person. We highlight this as a basic principle because the sooner you know they objective, (get to a safe position and choke the other person unconscious), the sooner you will stop looking for ways to injure the other person as a means to stopping them.
You can’t learn it all in a day and it’s going to take about month or two before you see the big picture
This seems common sense and most people intuitively understand it. That said, one of the more engaging components of Jiu Jitsu is it’s puzzle like nature. Good Jiu Jitsu is simply good problem solving under duress. It can be difficult to sort through the puzzle during class and not ask, “but what if______________”.
In class we present many drills and challenges to accelerate and solidify learning. The methods we use generally involve 2-3 variables at a time. If we throw in more variables and what-ifs, the level of effective learning goes down exponentially. There comes a point where what should be a workout turns into a discussion. Talking about the skills is no replacement for working with the material hands on. So try to work with the drills a bit before you ask a “what if”.
We teach the bare bones minimum of what actually works.
Our curriculum is the result of several decades of diligent study and practice of martial arts. We have distilled a huge amount of material into a carefully selected and organized volume of work so that you can develop as much skill as possible in the shortest time possible. This curriculum doesn’t live in a vault somewhere untouched. We sort through new material on a very regular basis so that our academy stays up to speed on not just solid basics, but also the latest techniques being used successfully in the highest level competitions around.
This isn’t stated here as a bragging point, (necessarily), but to let you know that while there is a vast encyclopedia of moves out there, they are not all created equally. The teaching staff at Praxis routinely vets material so that you the student are presented with the most practical and efficient techniques possible. In martial arts less is very often more.
The teaching method is designed to be a little frustrating and disorienting.
Application of self defense techniques is largely the ability to keep a cool head while under pressure and execute well. Additionally, acquisition of physical knowledge is enhanced and made more permanent when you are forced to recall and utilize the material frequently and irregularly.
To that end, many of our teaching methods are designed to keep you a little on the confused side, at least initially. As you gain both confidence and competence we add another level of complexity to keep you on your toes. Like I said, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is similar to solving a puzzle. One of the best ways to get good at solving puzzles is to… solve puzzles. Keep this in mind when you are training and feel like you are not getting it. Often times if you are slightly confused, yet engaged and working, you are right where you need to be. Take a breath and enjoy the process.
How Brazilian Jiu Jitsu approaches self defense
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu follows a extensively tested self defense strategy that works very well for one on one physical contests and many self defense situations. It is such a successful strategy in fact that the original UFC was little more than a live infomercial for the Gracie family. The family actually started the event and entered one of their weaker, less experienced, family members, (Royce Gracie), in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of the art. As a family, they didn’t just put Jiu Jitsu on the map, they put it on top of the martial arts hierarchy.
An outline of the Jiu Jitsu self defense strategy
While our framework begins with self defense in mind we do not dwell on it long. Instead we revisit it at key intervals where you are most likely to integrate it with the strong technical base you will be building. Two concepts that make the strategy easier to understand are the positional hierarchy ladder and the idea of position before submission.
This is a categorization method used by Jiu Jitsu practitioners to qualify the general strength of their physical position relative to their partner. Each position has an opposite. The combination defines who is generally said to have the advantage. The primary objective of each position is to maximize safety and maintain the best base possible. Once that is obtained the goal is to methodically advance your position to a better position. The final objective is to finish your opponent.
The basic positions, their complements, and respective (secondary objectives) are:
Many times we reference this idea by saying that you are either moving up or down the ladder. To give this more context we place each position on a vertical chain. The top half of the ladder, (from the guard up) is said to be the top position as you are physically above your opponent, while from the guard down is referred to as the bottom position. Ideally you want to be as high up the ladder as possible.
Positional Hierarchy ladder
Basic positions on the positional hierarchy ladder
It is fairly easy to turn a stand up fight into a standup wrestling match. Another name for this is the clinch.
If you are knocked to the ground while your opponent is standing it is important to get your feet between yourself and your partner. This position is called the open guard. It takes a fair amount of work to develop skill here. However once skill is acquired here the position offers a surprising amount of defense.
If you “have” the back, (in the dominate position, on your partners back), you have achieved a fairly safe position relative to your partner. Whoever has the back is in control. Whoever has their back taken has one task – escape!
The second safest position to be in is the top of mount. The danger to the top position holder isn’t taking damage, but in getting reversed. The fact that your opponent can see everything you do makes it a little easier for them to defend.
Top side control is a great position to be in. One danger though is that the position is open to scrambles that can lead to more neutral positions or a loss of positional dominance for the top person.
This is a hallmark position of Jiu Jitsu. Similar to the open guard, the closed guard offers a surprising amount of defense. It also offers an incredible amount of offense. It offers so much offense that the top person, the person said to be “in guard”, has one mandate-escape.
An intro class walk-through
We begin class with a quick warm up, after which we get into the technique section of class. The intro class covers three basic areas of the self defense pathway outlined above; Clinch, open guard, and ground.
As mentioned above, we will use a variety of solo drills to begin warming up. Typically we start with a very light jog around the mat a few times just to get your heart rate up and your body ready for exercise. The idea of the whole warm up is just what the name implies; to warm your body up and break a light sweat.
Many students struggle with the movements initially but start to get it down after just a few classes. That same idea holds true for the rest of the class material as well. It is not uncommon to feel lost at first and then to gradually gain confidence with the material over a short period of time. This is one of the reasons we give a full week for the free trial so please take advantage of it!
If you are not sure of what we mean by clinch, you can essentially think of it as stand up wrestling or what boxers do when they don’t want to get hit and grab onto their partners upper body. I like the boxing example because that is essentially what we are trying to do in Jiu Jitsu; turn a stand up fight into a stand up wrestling match.In boxing you see this happen all the time. If one person wants to clinch it is difficult to stop it.
Shortly after the UFC came out the tagline of many Jiu Jitsu schools was “90% of all fights end up on the ground”. It was true then and true now. It is hard to keep the fight off the ground if one person wants it there and knows how to take it there. Clinch work is an on-ramp to ground work. You need one in order to have the other.
If you get knocked to the ground in an assault, the most immediately safe place is your open guard. The open guard is defined by having your back on the ground and your feet pointed at your opponent, preferably in contact with them. With practice, this position can offer a surprising amount of defense.
The aim of the position, (this is a test! Do you remember the goals and objectives of the positions listed above?), is to first stay safe and not get beat up. From there you want to either try and stand up or knock your opponent onto the ground. This requires a fair amount of practice to master. It is also an essential part of Jiu Jitsu. It is for these reasons that we add this position into the mix right at the start.
We are separating the presentation of “ground” material from the open guard due to the dynamic nature of open guard. The open guard may begin as one person standing and the other on the ground, however it can quickly change to both standing or both on the ground. The ground work we are talking about here involves positions where both people are on the ground but one person clearly has an advantage.
Learning to move efficiently on the ground takes some practice. To complicate it, ground positions are often the most spatial disorienting to new students. Once you learn to walk, you don’t go back to crawling. So you have roughly your age minus one year experience in stand up/walking coordination. You can walk through the city, looking at your phone or talking with a friend, and navigate the streets just fine. On the ground, different story. So while there is a fair amount of productive partner competition with the first two areas, the ground portion of our practice looks more like a multiple choice exam.
Since effectively practicing Jiu Jitsu is dependent upon your ability to navigate the positional hierarchy, we spend a fair amount of time making sure that students know how to successfully move through it. Because the Gracie family already did the heavy lifting, we don’t have to test each and every position to see who breaks when and where. We do have to learn how to run the maze confidently and safely. Much of the practice here is providing your partner with stimuli that gives them a couple of choices, and then waiting for them to respond correctly.
What about more sparring?
Rolling, or slapping hands and training until someone taps, should be part of your training regime after you have learned how to use that tool safely and productively. Rolling is fun and unstructured, this could account for how much people gravitate towards it. In a less organized setting, you will see people do a warm up, maybe show a couple of moves, and then spend the rest of the time rolling. While this might be fun for some of the students, it is rarely productive, often unsafe, and leads to losing a lot of students who might have otherwise benefited from Jiu Jitsu training.
What I’ve seen consistently work over a large volume of students, is that when we wait until students have a decent understanding of the position hierarchy and how to navigate it, rolling is not just safer and better received, competence while training is much higher. For that reason we hold off on live rolling until the teaching staff feels that the individual student has a good handle on the basics. The length of time this takes varies from student to student. If you want to be fast tracked for this please let your instructor know.
The open mat time is mostly reserved for rolling, however there are many times during the week that the mat is open for additional practice. Basically anytime we are open and there is space available you are welcome to practice. Just check with the teacher running class and limit the practice to things we have covered.
What about belts? Advancing through the ranks?
For adults there are only four colored belts after the white belt; Blue, Purple, Brown, and Black. It takes about ten years of consistent practice on average to earn the Black Belt. Legitimately earning any of the colored belts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a difficult task. While a Blue Belt may be earned in as little as a year, it is not uncommon at all for it to take two years or longer.
One of my favorite phrases concerning belts promotions is “One of two things is always said when someone gets a belt in Jiu Jitsu, that it was either too soon, or long overdue… and there is only one of those things that you want people to say about your promotion”. This is important to keep in mind, as belts come slowly in Jiu Jitsu. Once legitimately earned they are something to be proud of for sure.
While belts are simply an arbitrary measure of a student’s ability, they do serve as tangible indicators of progress. It also allows the community at large to know roughly where individual skill level resides. For one thing this allows for competitions, but a secondary purpose is to allow people who don’t know each other at all to have an approximation of another person’s skill level prior to training with them. This assists the student in knowing what level of resistance to offer when they are training with someone new.
What about competitions? Can I compete? Do I have to?
Competition is not at all required. If it is something you wish to do, there are several competition that the academy participates in. If you think you might want to compete we first want you to come with us to a tournament and watch one. If you think it might be your jam, let your instructor know. Understand though that in order to compete for the academy you first need head instructor permission. Beyond that, competition participants are required to advance through the course progression until you get to the advanced classes. We keep potential competitors active in the classes until you and your instructor are ready.