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Master Self-Defense with BJJ Training

June 7, 2024

In the early 20th century, the Gracie Brothers Carlos, Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., George, and Hélio took the principles of judo and adapted them into a discipline that didn’t rely solely on physical strength, giving life to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). They wanted a martial art that allowed people of any size to fight, so they adapted judo techniques to emphasize the ground game, creating a style where fighters aim to get opponents to submit via a joint lock or choke. 

Decades later, Rorion Gracie moved to the United States and co-founded UFC in 1993. On the heels of Royce Gracie’s victories in the first, second, and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships, BJJ has become incredibly popular internationally. Today, martial artists of all skill levels train in BJJ, learning and practicing techniques focused on grappling and ground fighting.

What is BJJ Training?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art and combat sport that focuses on ground fighting and submission holds. The ultimate goal of BJJ is to subdue or incapacitate an opponent, so fighters training in this discipline have to learn how to apply all kinds of grappling techniques, joint locks, and chokeholds. BJJ training aims to equip practitioners with the skills to control and submit opponents without using strikes like punches, elbows, and kicks, which are forbidden in BJJ. 

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Of course, BJJ training is not just about learning what the techniques are and how to use them. It’s a very cerebral combat style that requires you to out-think your opponent, not just out-muscle them. You have to do an extensive study of different strategies and even more strength and endurance training to ensure you are physically able to keep up and dominate on the mat. 

Components of BJJ training

Learning how to practice BJJ is very similar to just about every martial art. To start making progress in BJJ,  establish a consistent training routine that you can maintain over time. It should include a mix of physical conditioning, study of the specific moves and techniques, live practice with a partner, and reps in an actual competition. Put all the things together, and in time, you will ascend through the ranks of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. 

Physical conditioning

It doesn’t really matter how well you know the BJJ techniques and how to use strategy to get the best of your opponent if you can’t physically keep up. BJJ training begins first and foremost with regular exercise and fitness routines to build strength, endurance, and flexibility.

Some training sessions may include physical conditioning specific to improving performance in BJJ, such as exercises to enhance strength, endurance, and flexibility. No matter how you train, your sessions should start with warm-ups to increase your heart rate and flexibility. This is crucial for the dynamic movements required when grappling because BJJ will often require you to contort your body into positions that place a great deal of stress on your joints.

Other types of conditioning you should integrate into your training regimen include:

  • Weight training to enhance core stability, grip strength, explosive power, and overall muscle endurance. Common exercises include deadlifts, squats, bench presses, farmer’s walks, and pull-ups. 
  • Improving cardiovascular health is essential for getting through long training sessions and competitions. Aerobic and anaerobic workouts mimic the dynamic and varying intensity of grappling matches. BJJ practitioners commonly cycle, run, swim, jump rope, or do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to enhance their stamina. 
  • Stability exercises are important for balance and coordination. By focusing on core strength, joint stability, and proprioception, you can vastly improve your ability to control every movement of your body. Yoga, Pilates, and core stabilization exercises are really effective and can add a lot to your overall training. 

Technique drilling

The core idea of drilling is repetition. Practitioners repeatedly execute a particular move or sequence of moves to master the proper form and timing and ingrain it into their muscle memory. Doing so also increases their natural reflexes and ability to anticipate their opponents’ maneuvers. Drills often start with basic movements and gradually incorporate more complex so fighters build a solid foundation

Most BJJ drills are done with a partner to simulate how one would apply techniques against an opponent’s resistance. Partners typically take turns performing the technique, allowing both to practice the move and the counter-responses. often These drills focus on specific positions or scenarios that might occur in a match, such as escaping from the bottom position, passing the guard, or securing a submission from a dominant position. For more complex movements, sometimes an instructor will isolate one specific part of a technique or sequence so practitioners can master the precise execution of each component.

Rolling (Sparring)

Live training sessions against resisting opponents take drilling to the next level by giving fighters a chance to apply what they’ve learned to realistic scenarios. Sparring, or “rolling” as it’s known in BJJ, helps test and improve skills under pressure. It’s essential for practitioners to get a chance to see what works and what doesn’t and experiment with new techniques, strategies, and adjustments in a controlled environment. Not only does this help one understand what techniques they need to refine, but rolling helps you learn how to manage stress and anxiety and remain calm and focused while dealing with the physical and psychological pressure of a resisting opponent. Altogether, regular sparring helps build mental and physical resilience as practitioners learn to cope with setbacks and fatigue.

Competition

There’s no better way to learn than by trying the real thing. Participating in BJJ tournaments or matches gives fighters a chance to put their skills to the test against opponents of similar skill levels. The extra motivation and mental boost that comes with preparing for a competition can push you to train harder. Most importantly, the live environment of being in a match where someone is trying to get you to submit is the best way to develop discipline, strategy, and mental fortitude.

Discussion and Feedback

Instructors often provide personalized feedback to their students during drills or after a match, offering corrections on positioning, leverage, and execution. This feedback is crucial for making incremental improvements and avoiding the reinforcement of incorrect techniques.

Key principles of BJJ training

To master the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is to master the fundamental principles: leverage, technique, strategy, and fitness. 

Leverage

BJJ emphasizes using the force and momentum of an opponent against them, which is particularly important when facing a larger or stronger adversary. By redirecting an opponent’s energy, a smaller practitioner can effectively control and neutralize them. Students need to understand how to utilize proper body mechanics to generate maximum power.

Technique

The Gracie Brothers designed BJJ to emphasize precision and efficiency over brute strength. That means timing and execution, the ability to recognize the right to attack, defend, or transition are crucial for success.

Strategy

If you are going to step onto the mat with an opponent, you need to analyze their strengths and weaknesses and adapt your own strategy based on the situation. You have to be adaptable in the flow of a match and switch up your approach based on what the opponent gives you. That could mean switching from aggressive attacks to defensive positions or vice versa.

Physical fitness

As we already discussed, BJJ sessions can be intensive, with prolonged periods of physical engagement requiring high stamina. Drilling is not enough to get by in BJJ. You need regular workouts that target each muscle group and build mobility, strength, and endurance. Otherwise, you will get outworked every time. 

Benefits of BJJ training

Yes, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is cool. But that is hardly the reason why it has become one of the most popular martial arts in the world. It offers tremendous benefits to the mind, body, and soul. 

Self-defense

Brazilian Jiu-Jtus was designed specifically to be used as a self-defense discipline. Training develops practical self-defense skills that can give a sense of empowerment and confidence in dangerous situations. By giving you the ability to protect yourself and others if needed, BJJ is one of the most practical self-defense systems available.

Physical fitness

The demanding nature of grappling and rolling improves strength and cardiovascular, and if you’re warming up and recovering properly, mobility. It provides a comprehensive workout that improves muscle tone and endurance by burning calories. It’s a dynamic way to manage weight by reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass.

Mental well-being

Physical activity, especially a martial art like BJJ, is a proven stress reliever. The focus required during training also helps clear the mind, acting as a form of mental ‘reset.’ Many fighters also swell with confidence and pride as they progress in BJJ. The skills and resilience they develop often lead to significant boosts in self-esteem, not to mention the joy and sense of community that comes with joining the millions of people who practice BJJ around the world. 

Conclusion

The best way to get started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is to choose a school in your area. Since it’s grown in popularity, there is a good chance a quick internet search will reveal what options are in your neighborhood. Schools will often let you attend a class as a spectator before you join, giving you the opportunity to ask questions before signing up for classes. It’s a good rule of thumb to visit a few before committing so you can meet the instructors and students to decide if it’s a good fit for you. In general, you want a school that is clean, well-kept, and welcoming.

Once you’ve chosen your school, try signing up for a few classes each week—you don’t want to push yourself too hard at the start. It’s a taxing sport, and injuries can occur if you’re not careful. Start working out regularly on days you’re not at school, and your body will adapt before you know it. Then, you can gradually attend classes more frequently.