3 Tips For Brazilian Jiu Jitsu White Belts
Until you get acclimated on the mats, the first few months of training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for a complete beginner can be a little overwhelming. A good analogy is the first time you learned to ride a bike. There were so many things to focus on: balance, controlling the handle bars, watching out for objects or people, and breaking. It is exhilarating but overwhelming trying to pay attention to everything that is going on, and can be easy to get caught up in your own thoughts and emotions.
Growing your BJJ knowledge is a lot more than performing specific steps in order for a technique to be effective. There are concepts you will learn to understand that are the basic underpinnings of BJJ fundamentals. The patterns will be your primary focus in the beginning until they become automatic, and you start to flow as you grapple. Things that you used to have to think about consciously, where to put your knee, when you bridge, keeping your arms tucked in, will happen without thought, and you will begin to accelerate at more advanced movements and techniques.
For an experience BJJ practitioner, the feelings of what it was once like to be a complete novice are long gone, and hard to remember. Developing muscle memory from repeating techniques over and over is part of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu journey. But at the very beginning of your BJJ journey, there are some very basic concepts that you can focus on to help you as you struggle through those first few rolls, where you might feel completely and helplessly stuck underneath a bigger guy, or as you are getting tapped repeatedly. Furthermore, if you are an upper belt and teaching lower belts, let this serve as a great refresher on what it is like to be a beginner as you provide coaching tips and thoughts on how to improve. With all that said, let us take a look at 3 very simple tips for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu white belts.
Tip 1: Focus On Your Breathing
One of the very first things you will be forced to learn as a white belt is that jiu jitsu is cardio intensive. Not only that, but as you are being pinned to the mat with what feels like an ungodly amount of weight, it will be very difficult to breathe. The intensity of a realistic fight will put your body into fight or flight mode, and you will feel an unexplainable amount of chaos and lack of control as the adrenaline dump takes over. This is a natural response, and a good place for a complete beginner to start. Over time you will learn how to perform in these conditions as you become more use to being outside your comfort zone. So at the very least, when you have no idea what you are doing yet, focus on your breathing. It will help get you through a roll, especially the very uncomfortable parts. And it will help you control the amount of energy you are expending, keeping you able to defend for longer.
Even the great, most experience, and most revered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners will spend their entire careers training their breathing. Take for instance, one of the all time greatest families to shape the foundations of modern Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: The Gracie Family.
If you do not know who the Gracie family is yet, do not worry. Their legacy is synonymous with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. One of their best kept secrets to Jiu Jitsu is their breathing method. But what are the secrets of the Gracie family breathing? Rickson Gracie, as well as all members of the Gracie family uses a method of breathing known as percussive breathing. So how does this technique work? In short, percussive breathing involves normal inhalation (breathe in), followed by several short and sharp exhalations (think of pronouncing “shh, shh, shh, shh, shh”). This is known as rhythmic diaphragmatic contractions.
Check out the video below to see an example of Rickson Gracie’s percussive breathing as he goes through one of his daily work outs.
How To Perform Percussive Breathing:
Inhale: Take a deep breathing in, using according breathing (lateral chest breathing). Think of it as an accordion: when inhaling the accordion will expand laterally. The accordion squeezes back together on the exhale.
Exhale: This is where the percussion breathing method comes in. Exhale for 5 beats: literally saying “shh, shh, shh, shh, shh.” This will stretch your abdominal muscles as you force the air out in percussive blows.
As a beginner you might be asking yourself, do I really need to practice a breathing technique like this? Well, it will make a drastic improvement to your performance when you roll. But the primary take away from this tip should be: stay conscious of your breathing. Focus when you are out of breath. Be aware of when you are hyperventilating. As you grow as a student you will find that it becomes much easier to stay cool, calm, and relaxed, as your breathing becomes more regular.
Tip 2: Loosen Up!
Stiff muscles and limbs make a person easier to control. By tensing up your muscles you are limiting your ability for your joints and limbs to move. This will create space that you opponent can exploit and attack, or even use your own stiff body as leverage against you. Interestingly enough, some of this stiffness comes from poor breathing, so the two go hand in hand.
So, what is a good counter to stiffness? If you are not very athletic, the chances are you will come into BJJ with stiffness and possibly even poor flexibility. Some basic stretches during warm up can be a life saver. Show up before class, jog a big, get the blood flowing, and stretch out. A lot of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Practitioners incorporate yoga into their training regimen, even if it is just a little bit of stretching and some basic poses. Another often overlooked practice is to stretch after you roll! Most of us either want to hang out and talk after class, or we have to run to our next commitment. But you should really dedicate at least 5 to 10 minutes after class stretching out those muscles. This will also help a lot with soreness the next day.
Jiu jitsu itself is a great practice for increasing your flexibility and mobility. But if you would like to incorporate some yoga into your training regimen then check out the video below. 20 minutes of yoga a day will do your body wonders.
Tip 3: Try It! Even If You Fail!
Probably the most common mistake a beginner makes is getting stuck in a completely defensive position and never attacking, or even trying for something. And while it is important to learn to defend submissions, sweep, etc., it is equally important to learn to develop an ability to offensively “attack” during training or competition, even if it does not work and you end up getting tapped.
It goes without saying that this common problem generally comes from beginner grapplers who are afraid to make a mistake. But does that really matter? Not at all. Watch black belts roll, and you will see many taps, and resets, without even a thought. It is the ego that keeps you from trying something, having to accept the high probability that you will take a risk and fail.
Need some basic moves? In this video third generation Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor Rener Gracie teaches a few of the basics of his family’s Martial Art. Check it out!
There is no magical key to learning effective jiu jitsu. It is a life time pursuit, taking years, if not decades to master. But if you are new to grappling these 3 tips are guaranteed to help you out. So the next time you are on the mats, or even during a live roll, remember these three things: breathing, flexibility, and d not be afraid to try and fail!
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