On the surface, Brazilian jiu-jitsu may appear to be a vast collection of positions and moves to use in a grappling match, but there are principles and concepts underlying the application of those techniques that make them more efficient and effective.
The Jiu-Jitsu Times spoke with instructor Rob Biernacki about how BJJ students can understand and utilize these concepts in their games.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: First of all, let’s define what we mean when we say principles or concepts of jiu-jitsu. Why is it important to understand these concepts?
Rob Biernacki: We define a concept as almost a universal law, something that should apply in every situation, like maintaining your base to generate force. A principle we define as a guideline that helps you succeed but isn’t absolutely necessary for instance turning your opponent’s hips away during passing. It’s important to understand the underlying concepts because without them we don’t have a framework for why things work or don’t work. Without conceptual understanding, it is difficult to figure out solutions to new problems on the fly. We would have to memorize so many techniques and counters, and that is a huge task for the average person that doesn’t have the time and physical attributes of a pro BJJ athlete. Understanding the concepts gives you a map. You can still get where you want to go without one, but it’ll take longer, and you might get lost and die on the way.
JJT: Can you share an example or two of these concepts?
RB: The best example is the concept of alignment. Alignment is made of base, posture and structure. When all those things work together, your body is effective. When one or more is lacking, your body is compromised. When we do jiu-jitsu, we are seeking to maintain our own alignment while breaking our opponent’s alignment. The degree to which we succeed at that is the degree to which we are effective against good grapplers. People often mistakenly believe that their opponent beats them because they know more moves, that is only true at the beginning. As you become more proficient, the goal isn’t to surprise your opponent; it’s to control them and render them biomechanically vulnerable, so a submission or dominant position becomes inevitable.
The second concept that is hugely important is frames and levers. Your limbs can act as one or the other, and BJJ is essentially a game of changing frames into levers and vice versa, or of denying your opponent access to frames and levers. Once we see it that way, the process becomes simplified.
JJT: What is the difference between a specific technique like a De la Riva guard sweep and a concept that may be applied to that technique?
RB: Well, if we use the concept of alignment, if you don’t break my base, posture or structure and you just attempt to sweep me from the De la Riva guard when I am in good alignment, you are unlikely to succeed. For a sweep to work on someone skilled, you have to take control of their momentum or center of gravity (another important concept), and then shift it past their ability to base, or control their posts so they are unable to base. Once they go over, you need to control levers to their hips or shoulders, so they are unable to perform a technical standup and return to the top.
We get visitors to our academy constantly who struggle to sweep even our white and blue belts, because they are trying to do a “sweep” rather than execute the steps that make a sweep work on a conceptual level. Without understanding the context, most techniques become nonfunctional against high level practitioners. Techniques alone work on beginners, concepts are what make techniques work on experts.
JJT: Can you illustrate an example of a basic technique that is commonly applied by new students without applying a principle? How is it more effective / efficient when applied together with a concept?
RB: If we go back to that De la Riva example, or any sweep really, let’s use the tripod sweep since it is a pretty basic technique, without understanding the context that concepts give you, making it work will be simply a matter of luck. If you don’t gain control of a lever to your partner’s hip, and use that lever to shift your partner’s center of gravity, thereby making one of their legs light and remove it from the ground, denying them base, you will struggle to knock them over.
JJT: How do I look to integrate the concepts with my existing collection of moves?
RB: Once you know the concepts, you will actually be able to see the moves in a whole new light. I usually reference the movie The Matrix, it’s like you’re seeing the numbers on the screen for the first time instead of the illusion. And of course there are specific drills and training methods that we use to accelerate the process of integrating the moves and concepts together by rewiring your neural pathways. We can learn all the cool concepts and moves we want, but if it isn’t accessible under pressure, then it’s not much use. That’s the beauty of BJJ: it has to work.
JJT: How can people who are interested in studying concepts and principles access more of your information?
RB: We just launched the Rob Biernacki Online Academy at bjjconcepts.net last month. The response has been overwhelming; our subscriber target for our first year was reached in 4 days and our long term subscriber target was reached in 18 days. Not only do we have what I believe is the most comprehensive resource for conceptual BJJ anywhere (around 300 videos, we added fourteen videos last week, and will probably add 20 this week), but we offer a section for instructors and aspiring instructors.
As far as I know, this is a totally unique feature, including courses on program design, lesson planning, communication skills, tournament coaching. We break down rolls and competition footage using our conceptual lens. Our BJJ 101 and 201 material is also structured very differently. Rather than random technique videos, everything is presented as a module. All lessons around a particular position or submission are connected and sequenced so you are learning a system. As an example, our BJJ 201 Armbar Control Module has twenty videos on how to control the armbar, transition in and out of it, deal with escapes, perform correct breaking mechanics, and high percentage entries.
Anyone who reads this article and wants to sign up can use the coupon code “JJT” for 10 percent off your membership.