You are a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu white belt, but you aspire to work those spectacular moves the black belts and brown belts use when they roll. You imitate Marcelo Garcia and try to memorise those rolling sweeps and submissions. You buy the same gi as Andre Galvao and watch all the BJJ videos on YouTube. You think you can become an expert overnight. The first time you roll with a purple belt reality bites.
That cross-lapel choke you saw perfectly executed by Roger Gracie took him years to perfect, drilling it over and over to the tune of thousands of repetitions. Hate to burst your bubble, but becoming an expert in BJJ takes time; many years and thousands of hours on the mat. You get discouraged every time you get tapped, but you also get better. As Roy Dean said in his excellent Blue Belt Requirements DVD, white belt is a frustrating time, but it starts getting fun when you have been doing it for awhile.
Patience is virtue, but there are a few things you can do to accelerate the process. As a recent white belt in BJJ, and “wanna get better fast newbie”, I have done a lot of research into how you can improve your game. I picked up some valuable tips from the most knowledgeable people in BJJ.
Much of this knowledge came from books, DVDs, websites, and most importantly, actual instruction in classes. Primarily featured here is the work of several top BJJ experts: Saulo Ribeiro, whose book Jiu Jitsu University I highly recommend; Stephen Kesting whose website is outstanding for novice and experienced players alike; John Will, one of the top BJJ experts in Australia, who also has an outstanding blog and website that explores the mental game of BJJ in much detail. John is a huge inspiration with his high level of energy; Roy Dean, whose DVDs are the best out there in my humble opinion, and his instructor Roy Harris; Also Royler Gracie, whose organization, Gracie Humaita, is one of the best in the world; Rodrigo Antunes, a fourth-degree black belt who has helped my game on a personal level. Last but not least, my instructors Rick Spain and Andrew Nerlich, who have taught me so much.
General BJJ Tips
Get Saulo Ribeiro’s book Jiu-Jitsu University. It is extremely valuable for players of all levels.
Build a solid defence before you do anything.
Have at least two solid escapes from Mount, Back Mount and Side Control. Spend lots of time practicing these, because as a white belt you will find yourself in these positions often.
Hip escapes (shrimping) and bridging are core movements that will really improve your game. Practice them all the time.
Move yourself, not your opponent. It is much easier, especially if you face a larger opponent.
Grip near the joints as this will give you more leverage.
Use the 90 degree rule for leverage.
Look where you want to go. In the Upa, for instance, look over your shoulder first.
Build your core.
Strengthen your grip.
Posture is everything. Always be aware of it.
Pushing anchors you to your opponent and prevents your hip movement. Don’t do it!
Train regularly. Your body will grow accustomed to it and you will prevent injury this way.
Stretch and stay flexible. Always warm up and stretch before and after training this will prevent injuries, and as a bonus increase your range of motion for better mat performance.
Use your hips to generate power, not your hands.
Master positions and transitions before attempting submissions.
Pay for a few private lessons with a renowned black belt. It is well worth it.
In jiu-jitsu timing is everything. While your opponent is transitioning to an attack, that is often the best time to make your move. If you wait too long, it will take too much strength to escape.
Drill, drill, and drill your moves. The techniques you are comfortable with will become your “go to” when pressured in BJJ.
BJJ Guard Position Tips
Guard Top Position
Never one arm in–one arm out. Both arms in or both out.
Master two techniques for passing the guard, and start using them the second you find yourself in the position. If you wait, you are asking to be swept or submitted.
DON’T put your hands on the ground – keep your hands on your opponent!
DON’T put your elbow across his centerline – keep each arm on its own side of your body!
Grip belt, lapels, or biceps for leverage and control.
Keep your weight low with knees spread and feet flat on the ground to avoid sweeps.
Keep your back straight and look up to avoid having your posture broken.
Guard Bottom Position
For shorter guys, perfect the open guard, half guard, and butterfly guard.
Play more from side instead of flat on back.
A good grip is one lapel high centerline behind neck and the other on the sleeve behind bicep/elbow or low on sleeve near wrist.
Don’t sit in the guard, waiting for your opponent to try to pass it. Look for sweeps or submissions straight away.
Try to break your opponent’s posture by pulling him forward.
BJJ Side Control Position Tips
Side Control Top Position
Make yourself heavy by staying on your toes.
Go for the cross-face to exert pressure and control.
Keep your hips glued to his hips in side control, or block hips with arm or knee.
Side Control Bottom Position
Do not allow the cross-face. Control of head means control of body.
Use your elbows to make room for escapes and to enable you to breathe.
Use bridging and shrimping to create space.
BJJ Mount Position Tips
Mount Top Position
Squeeze your knees together but don’t lock yourself to your opponent, and touch your toes together if possible.
Roll your hips forward like a cowboy riding a bull.
If you put your hands on the mat for base, keep them wide so your opponent can’t reach them easily.
Mount Bottom Position
Keep arms bent, elbows in to prevent arm bars and to allow for breathing room.
Avoid being flat.
Get in the correct defensive posture before your opponent can settle in. This actually applies to any time you are put in a poor position suddenly.
BJJ Rolling Tips
Relax and don’t worry about winning or losing.
Tap out. Don’t fear it. Learn from it. Escape from the bounds of your ego.
Slow down for better sensitivity and to avoid gassing out.
Breathe! Inhale when body is straight, exhale when body is balled up (knees close to shoulders). Empty lungs completely on exhale.
As you progress, learn to stay on the attack. It makes it hard for the opponent to mount an attack if he has to defend.
And the most important tip of all, enjoy the whole process of making mistakes and learning, because you are only a white belt once.
What did you learn as a white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?