Corey Haines
June 10, 2023

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu 101: The 80/20 of what you need to know and why *everyone* should learn to grapple

Before joining a gym, I would hear this all the time: "Oh dude, you're going to get addicted to jiu jitsu."

I'm naturally skeptical about... everything, so I always shrugged it off.

Now, I can see why I heard that all the time.

There are a few things that make learning jiu jitsu addictive and so much fun:

  • You get immediate feedback on everything that you do
  • There's a seemingly infinite number of defensive and offensive moves to learn so you always have something to new to explore
  • It's like a physical game of chess with openings, counters, different styles, and always thinking ahead
  • You don't have to hold back when you roll with someone (unlike striking combat sports where kneeing someone in the gut or a punch to the face would do serious damage)

That last point is what makes jiu jitsu so unique because it's the only combat sport where you get try as hard as you can without really worrying about injuring yourself or someone else.

And that makes is so accessible, no matter what age, weight, gender, or athleticism. Anyone can do jiu jitsu.

Health benefits

There are a few health benefits I've noticed as well:

  • Flexibility: All my joints are gaining huge amounts of mobility. I've always had bad ankles and shoulders due to a lot of basketball and volleyball. So bad that my right shoulder would be in pain scrubbing my head in the shower and my feet were so tight that I couldn't move my toes independently.
  • Back strength: Working from home, my lower back is prone to a lot of tightness and pain. Rolling around, being on your back, and constantly getting up and down does wonders for your back. I haven't had any discomfort in any part of my back since training jiu jitsu.
  • Cardio: Grappling with someone using all their strength to try to submit you will take every ounce of energy that you have. Jiu jitsu is probably the most efficient cardio exercise I've ever done. I've played pickup basketball for hours, probably running 5+ miles, and doing a few 5-minute rounds feels more exhausting.

Now if you're keen to try it out, here's a primer on how to think about jiu jitsu.

Disclaimer: I'm not a jiu jitsu expert whatsoever. I'm very new to the sport. I'm only sharing what I've learned so far.

p.s. for the sake of brevity, I'm not going to fully explain every concept/submission/move. Google it or YouTube it.


When you're first starting out, your mentality should be 100% defense. Your whole goal is prevent your opponent from doing what they want to do (or make it as hard as possible).

There are a few fundamental principles that will help you make the most of your first class instead of feeling totally inadequate (you'll still feel pretty helpless... but that's okay).

Rolling with someone for the first time is nerve wracking. Adrenaline is pumping, your mind is racing, and your survival instincts will make you squirm all over the place.

Jiu jitsu is counter intuitive in a lot of ways. You'll want to push away, get up, resist, or turn over. These are the worst things to do. The best grapplers are calm and don't expend energy on pointless efforts. Extending your arms, trying to stand up, and turning your back on your opponent are deadly mistakes 99% of the time.

In other words, don't try to muscle your way out.

Fight the panic. Getting submitted is not the worst thing in the world. Seek to keep a calm mind and be present to pay attention to everything happening in the moment.

Jiu jitsu really encapsulates the “good defense leads to offense” mantra you've likely heard if you've played any team sport in your life.

Defense = Space: The first step of every defensive move, whether it’s an escape or counter, is to create space. Whenever you’re in a pickle and have no idea what to do, try to create space.

Legs = Blocking: The first line of defense is your legs. Namely, keeping your legs in between you and your opponent (AKA closed guard). When your opponent is in between you and your legs, you’re in trouble. When in doubt, try to get even one leg in between your opponent.

Arms = Control: T-rex arms, where your elbows are always close to your body, prevent your opponent from getting inside your arms where they can progress to a submission. If your arms are extended at any point, you want them to be inside your opponents arms.

Escapes & sweeps

The three worst positions you'll find yourself needing to escape are:

Going back to our defense turns into offense mantra, sweeping from closed guard is a fantastic way to get in a dominant position and make your life easier to work for a submission.

Three essential sweeps to know are:


If you think about it, there are really only 5 major points of attack for a submission:

  1. Neck
  2. Shoulder
  3. Elbow
  4. Knee
  5. Ankle

Most submissions are going to be targeting and isolating one of these joints.


You can be extremely effective only knowing 8 submissions:

  • Americana (Shoulder) (video)
  • Kimura (Shoulder) (video)
  • Omoplata (Shoulder) (video)
  • Armbar (Elbow) (video)
  • Triangle (Neck) (video)
  • Rear Naked (Neck) (video)
  • Guillotine (Neck) (video)
  • Straight Ankle Lock (Ankle) (video)

When in an offensive mode, I like a push/pull strategy. Pull a limb and your opponent will resist, then push that limb for a different submission, and then repeat. This way, you’re always taking what the opponent is giving you. If I pull an arm for an Armbar and they resist, then I go for an Americana, and if they resist, then I go back to an Armbar. Similarly if I’m on bottom and they try to pass my guard, then I go for a Triangle, and if they resist, then I go for a Kimura, and if they resist, back to a Triangle.

Please, for the love of all that is good, do not try to make up submissions on the fly. It's a douchebag move and also an easy way to hurt someone.

Guard passes

Now, you can move into submissions from a defensive position like closed guard, but it's a lot easier working from a more dominant position like side control, mount, or back.

Passing guard is one of the most frustrating techniques to learn. It takes a mixture of timing, technique, and speed.

These are three I've found to be reliable depending on how someone is trying to prevent my guard pass:


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