This article is for the brand new students to Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It is to acknowledge your struggles and difficulties in starting what is both the most incredible and complex of all of the martial arts.
Unless you came from another grappling discipline, there is a challenging learning curve to start BJJ. You are learning to overcome many of your body’s natural instincts.
Here are the three toughest things to learn as a BJJ beginner:
How To Move Your Hips
For the majority of our lives, we have performed physical tasks with our hands. Pushing and pulling are our instincts to deal with any resistance.
Now in BJJ, when trying to escape from bottom positions or execute a triangle choke from the guard, you are admonished for pushing with your arms and reminded to “shrimp” — i.e., hip escape.
In fact, many of the problems a beginner experiences on the bottom can be summed up with, “You have got to move your hips!”
Unfortunately, this is far from an intuitive movement and must be painstakingly trained with miles of shrimps down the mat during the warm up.
My first BJJ instructor went as far as to say that this was the single most difficult aspect of jiu-jitsu for people to learn.
Recognizing Positions And Recalling The Moves
In boxing you have a handful of punches: jab, cross, hook, and uppercut. In contrast, in BJJ, the number of closed guard sweeps — each with their own names — triple that number of punches.
Multiply the number of basic techniques for each position by the number of major ground positions — e.g., mount, rear mount, turtle, and half guard — and we are considering dozens of “basic” moves to understand even just the fundamental techniques in each position.
Further complicating matters is a non-standardized naming system that may have multiple names for the same move — for example, the keylock, Americana, and shoulder lock. How do you remember dozens of names, some of which — like the Kimura and electric chair — make little logical sense?
Relaxing And Breathing
This is not unique to BJJ. A very common correction for beginners is to “not use strength” when rolling and performing your techniques.
The truth is that this is really difficult to actually do in practice. When you perceive a threat — like an opponent on top of you constricting your airflow — you tense up, get an adrenaline spurt, and hold your breath in exertion.
The sports psychology term I read for this common phenomena is “bracing”: the instinctive tendency to stiffen when you feel the opponent’s superior skill. I experienced this when, as a beginner in Muay Thai, I found myself tensing all of the wrong muscles and rapidly fatiguing.
The only solution to this one is mat time. The more experience you accrue, the more naturally you learn to relax when you don’t need to be tense. You will then find that you do not fatigue so rapidly. Remind yourself when stuck on the bottom, “Breathe!”
Most importantly, keep training. It does get easier!
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