BJJ Terminology & Theory
Anytime you undertake a new art or practice, you soon find that in addition to learning all the skills, you’re also expected to learn an entirely new language. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is no exception. You won’t be expected to learn Brazilian Portuguese, but you will be immersed in the language of Jiu-Jitsu. For a beginning student, it’s easy to get lost in all the unfamiliar lingo, so here’s a quick primer in BJJ terminology as well as an overview of basic theory. It’s our hope that with a clear understanding of the basics, you’ll get off to a great start in your practice of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Here’s a list of some common terms and their definitions:
- Americana – A basic submission, in which the opponent’s arm is bent, clamped down and pulled causing pressure in the shoulder and elbow.
- Arm bar – Any submission achieved by locking the elbow joint.
- Back mount – Dominant position in which your chest is to your opponent’s back and your arms and legs are locking him down.
- Base – To have good base is to keep equal weight on both feet or knees as not to be easily knocked off balance.
- Bridge – A bucking movement against a mounted opponent. Feet are planted; hips and body are thrust up and to the side.
- Break fall — safely absorbing the impact of a fall to prevent injury.
- Butterfly guard – Guard position with feet hooked inside of opponent’s legs.
- Centerline – The centered alignment of you in relation to your opponent.
- Closed guard – A position from your back in which your opponent is between your legs with your legs wrapped around his back and feet locked.
- Gi — The traditional uniform used for Jiu-Jitsu practice and competition. It consists of three parts: a heavy cloth jacket, pants and a belt.
- Gi choke – A choke executed using part of your opponent’s or your own gi.
- Half guard – Defensive position from the back where one foot is inside the opponent’s legs and the other is outside.
- Gable grip – A secure grip of your hands, palms together, fingers around the edges of the opposing hands.
- Grips – The grabbing and holding of an opponent’s gi to control movement.
- Guard — A defensive position with many variations that serves to control the opponent and prevent movement to a more dominant position
- Heel hook — A submission in which the heel of the foot is caught and turned causing the knee to twist. Due to potentially serious damage that can be done to the knee, this submission is often banned in sparring and competition.
- Hip escape – A motion executed by moving to one side and thrusting out the butt to move away on the mat.
- Hooks – Often refers to having both feet controlling your opponent’s legs from back mount.
- Kimono – See gi.
- Kimura – A shoulder lock submission in which an opponent’s wrist is clamped by your hand and the other reaches up over the opponent’s shoulder and lifts your own wrist.
- Live grappling – Practicing a technique against another BJJ player with resistance.
- Top mount — A dominant position where an opponent on his back is straddled by an opponent on his knees.
- Neck crank – Pulling on the opponent’s head in an attempt to create spinal pain. Often banned in practice and competitions.
- No-gi — Grappling without a gi. often with shorts and a rash guard.
- Omoplata – A shoulder lock that involves one leg going over the back of the opponent’s shoulder and pinning the arm to the ground while pressure is applied.
- Open guard – Controlling the opponent without legs wrapped around the back.
- Pass – Transitioning from one position to another. For example, passing an opponent’s guard and establishing side control.
- Posture – Positioning of your body in a strong, upright and balanced way.
- Rolling – Live grappling with a fellow student with the intention of practicing a technique or achieving a submission.
- S-mount – A high top mount where one of your knees is down and you’re sitting out on the other side.
- Shrimp – See hip escape.
- Scarf hold – A method of side control where you’re sitting on the side of a downed opponent with one arm wrapped around the opponent’s neck or under the arm.
- Side control — Keeping a dominant position from the opponent’s side.
- Snake – See hip escape.
- Spider guard – A type of guard performed by putting your feet on your opponent’s hips and controlling the opponent’s arms with your hands and flared out knees.
- Sprawl – Jumping back with your feet going out and your body weight going down. This movement is done to prevent a takedown.
- Stack – Smashing an opponent’s legs back into his body.
- Sweep – A movement that takes one from a defensive position to a more dominant position.
- Takedown – Bringing a standing opponent to the mat and ending up in a dominant position.
- Tapping – Indicating submission by tapping the mat or your opponent.
- Triangle choke – A basic, but highly effective choke that cuts off blood flow to the brain by trapping one of the opponent’s arms on the side of his own neck and your leg on the other side.
- Take the back — Transition to behind the opponent, your chest to their back and controlling their movement.
- Turtle – Tucking in arms, legs and neck to prevent an opponent from fully mounting your back.
- Upa — See bridge.
- Wrap – Wrapping an opponent’s arm behind his own head to disable its use.
- X-guard – A guard position involving placement of one foot outside on the opponent’s hip and another hooking inside the knee.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is known for its emphasis on control and leverage. Techniques aren’t applied with pure brute strength, but with proper positioning and direction of force. In most positions, it’s imperative to keep tight. That’s not to say rigid, but controlled. An opponent should be kept from moving and you should be properly balanced so you can’t be moved easily. Good BJJ practitioners can recognize and exploit gaps of space and bad posture. As a beginner, you’ll make a lot of these mistakes, but you will become more and more comfortable with practice.
There are three fundamental goals in a proper BJJ match:
- Take down the opponent.
- Get in a dominant position.
- Submit the opponent.
Taking Down the Opponent
With roots in Judo and influence from Western wrestling styles, there are several different ways to take down an opponent in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The basic principle is to get the opponent off balance, removing resistance and making it easier to lift the opponent of his feet. Watching two BJJ fighters circle each other from standing, you will see a lot of clinching and tugging and then an explosive takedown attempt. Here is a short list of throws and take downs common in BJJ:
- Hip throw
- Shoulder throw
- Leg sweep
- Single leg takedown
- Double leg takedown
One phenomenon that is unique to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that some BJJ competitors won’t even attempt a takedown, but will instead go straight to the ground and take their opponent with them. This is known as “pulling guard” and is done as kind of a controlled risk. The competitor pulling guard is hoping to get right to the business of finding an opportunity for a submission.
Getting in a Dominant Position
When fighting on the ground Jiu-Jitsu players are constantly jockeying for the better position. The best position is generally a mount where the opponent has limited weapons and can’t easily escape. Of course, if the opponent is mounted or being controlled, he’s going to be looking to sweep or reverse and end up in the dominant position or at least a position where he can attempt a submission. Here are some of the main dominant positions. For the definitions, scroll up and find them in the glossary.
- Top mount
- Side control
- Back mount
On the other side of the coin is the guard. There is a very good reason for this position: control. Instead of letting the opponent go where he can take a mounted position, you keep him in place and attempt to sweep or submit from guard. The guard is an art of its own and there are entire books, seminars and videos devoted to effective guard play. Here’s a short list of guard types defined earlier in the page.
- Full/closed guard
- Half guard
- Butterfly guard
- Spider guard
- Cross guard
- De La Riva guard
- Scissor guard
Just as there is a lot to know about keeping guard, passing guard is just as, if not more important. In passing the guard, you can move to a dominant mounted position and your probability of finishing your opponent is much better.
Finishing the Fight
At the heart of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the submission. All roads lead to catching your opponent in a technique that will cause him or her to surrender. There are two basic ways to achieve this:
One of the strongest ways to win a fight in BJJ is the choke. Chokes can restrict the flow of blood and/or oxygen to the brain, which the brain must have to function. When blood or oxygen flow is interrupted, there is limited time before loss of consciousness sets in. With a blood choke, this can happen within 10 seconds.
Chokes can be applied from just about any position. Arms, legs, fists and even parts of the gi can be used to choke the opponent. Here’s a sample of some chokes you will learn in BJJ:
- Triangle choke
- Cross choke
- Rear naked choke
- Guillotine choke
- Bow-and-arrow choke
- Brabo choke
Another way to submit an opponent is to bend a joint in a way it’s not supposed to go. There are several parts of the body where joints can be manipulated. Here are some submission types that give an idea of which joints can be attacked:
- Arm bar
- Shoulder lock
- Wrist lock
- Knee bar
- Ankle lock
There are thousands of techniques and variations on techniques, but for any one of them, proper control and leverage is required to successfully apply the submission. This is especially true for people who have good flexibility and/or high pain tolerance.
Winning on Points
Because matches can go on for a very long time without a submission, in BJJ competitions there are time limits and points. Scoring will vary, but the ways to come out a winner on the cards are universal: takedowns, mounts, passes and sweeps are all worth points. All of these are key to ending up in a position where a submission can be applied, so even if the destination of a submission is not met, the journey of techniques can be enough to set you apart as the better fighter.