Saturday, May 21, 2016

Jiu Jitsu Concepts and Principles

Unrelated to this article or myself ... except that I'm a Judas Priest and Jiu Jitsu fan

I thought a bit more about Kit Dale's concept-based approach and talked to a guy (Dan, purple belt from Langes) who has trained with him and is a friend of his.

According to Dan, KD's whole "No Drilling" thing is a misrepresentation of what he actually does. He teaches techniques and has his students practise them until a reasonable facility is gained. But then you try and slot it into live training against resisting partners, as opposed to drilling it from the same position without resistance hundreds or thousands of times.

Someone with a significant internet presence apparently got a hold of this and twisted it into "Kit Dale says you should NEVER learn or drill techniques". KD apparently decided to make a joke out of it, which led to the "No Drilling" signs in his gym, etc.

In my opinion, FWIW, KD's videos are more about how to train and coach Jiu Jitsu, and included what I would regard as principles of strategy and tactics, as much if not more, than the principles of physics and kinesiology which should underlie effective Jiu Jitsu. Don't get me wrong, I trained several times this week, watched instructors teach, and saw and employed effective use of KD's principles such as the Fisherman, The Corkscrew, The Porcupine, Open and Closed Chain, Hip-Centric Movement and more in their demonstrations of techniques for practice by the class. I found a better way to set up a half guard pass after a particular sweep combo by employing the Hip Centric Movement principle while training on Sunday. This is great stuff and it works and makes sense, make no mistake. I have trouble fitting all the principles together into a unifying framework, but that is probably due to my own shortcomings rather than any fault of Messrs. Dale or Gregoriades.

I have done a bit more internet research and found another concept based approach which I feel suits my brain and Jiu Jitsu aspirations a bit better. A way to help answer the questions "What makes techniques actually work?" and "What is the most effective way to perform a given technique, and why?" from any position and under potentially infinite possible variations of your and the opponent's positions, relative sizes, etc.

This approach comes from a black belt from Vancouver, Robert Biernacki, out of Island BJJ. He has collaborated with Stephan Kesting of GrappleArts on a few projects,

It has five basic elements:
  • Base
  • Posture
  • Structure
  • Frames
  • Levers


Many would describe base as a stable position from which it is difficult to move you. However, in this context it is more than that.

Base is a platform from which to apply or absorb force. You should be able to both resist your opponent's force while in base, and also push back on them from a strong base.

The "combat base" position - kneeling on shin and up on the other foot - by this definition is not really being in base, as you can be pushed backwards to the rear corner where the knee is down. However, the sitting guard where one hand is posted behind you can be regarded as a base position, as you can both push your opponent away, stop him coming in, pull him in, or stop him running away with a collar grip from here.

From combat base you would need to either come up on "live toes" on the back foot which would enable you to drive forward, or post on the hand on the side of the back leg ... which basically puts you in the aforementioned seated guard.

The position of a hand, elbow, or foot often makes the difference between being in base and not.


Posture is correct spinal alignment for the most effective application of force.

If your spine is bent or at the wrong angle, you cannot properly access the entire anterior or posterior chain and apply that force to your opponent. You are also more prone to injury, physical manipulation or submission.


Structure is correct alignment of the skeleton for applying and absorbing force. Arguably posture is a subset of structure.

You must keep your elbows close to your torso if you do not want them separated from it. Conversely, locking your arm, elbow and shoulder straight allows you to use skeletal alignment to push or keep an opponent away, where a bent arm would require use of the musculature, be able to handle less force, and would be much less stable and more tiring. Any action where you need to come up on your elbow or hand, like a sitting rollover sweep or elbow push escape, requires the supporting arm's elbow, shoulder, and/or wrist to be locked out at a proper angle to prevent the opponent from knocking you back down.

Flexibility is a useful attribute to have, but you should never use extreme flexibility as a substitute for proper posture or structure. To do so is to place yourself at risk of injury. There should be a way to do things that does not require your body to potentially violate its structural integrity. (Apologies to Eddie Bravo, Gumby, etc.)

In essence, your techniques are unlikely to work effectively if your base, posture or structure are compromised. Also, if you opponent has good base, posture and structure, you are unlikely to be able to make anything work against him. Your Jiu Jitsu should involve ways of working to compromise his base, posture, or structure, or preferably two or all of them, so that you can then apply your techniques.

In my own experience, if I can't make a technique work, it is because I was doing something to compromise my base, posture or structure in my technical execution. Also, if I want to improve my execution of a technique, I should seek to maximise my use of correct base, posture, and structure.

Frames and Levers

A frame is where you use a part of your body to push an opponent away or keep him (or part of him) at a distance. Correct structure is mandatory for effective use of frames.

A lever is a force multiplier. Using parts of the opponent's body as levers requires finding and using the ends of the lever. Most armlocks involve using his arms as levers, in one or two parts. Most effective takedowns involve working the levers of the opponent. Levers can be used to either move or immobilize on opponent or parts of his anatomy.

Ineffective attempted use of frames, or to put it another way, poor structure, can often allow the limbs involved to be exploited for use as levers by the opponent (the head can be regarded as a fifth limb in this case, as anyone who has been guillotined trying a double leg takedown will appreciate). Leaving your feet hanging purposelessly out in space with an opponent in your guard can allow exploitation of them for a pass or leglock. Not keeping your elbows tight to the body during a single or double underhook pass is to invite the opponent to counter the pass and re-guard by using the elbow push escape.


Guard is not so much a sweeping platform or a submission platform, but a means of managing the distance between the opponent and yourself.

There are three basic types of guard
  • Clamp-based guards (closed guard, half guard, single leg X guard, etc.)
  • Frame-based guards (spider guard, inverted guard, foot on hip, shin to bicep, etc.)
  • Hook based guards (butterfly, X, etc.)
Other guards are hybrids of these, e.g. de la Riva is a combo of hook and frame, as is lasso guard, de la Spider, etc.

Frames are used in guard to keep or push them away, hooks to pull them in or stop them moving away. Some leg positions can perform the functions of both hook and frame.

Videos and Articles

This (below) is three parts of a seminar. Robert Biernacki explains the aforementioned concepts in the first 15 minutes or so of the Part 1 video. The rest of the seminar is about de la Riva guard and worth watching if that is an interest.

This is part 1 of an 11 part series on 50/50 guard and a nice way to pass it to leg drag. There is also a bonus video on an interesting closed guard pass. He goes over the principles in part 1. Worth watching the lot as there is some great details on 50/50, heel hooks and how to pass. If you have autoplay turned on on YouTube, it will take you through all the videos in sequence.

He also has a YouTube series on guard retention and another on John Danaher style leglocks and ashi garami. Finding these is left as an exercise for the reader (contact me if you can't find 'em and want to).

Some other concept-based BJJ ideas and links from Reddit:

Chris Haueter's conceptual approach to BJJ strategy:

Rule 1: Be the person on top.
Rule 2: When on top, stay on top.
Rule 3: When on bottom, have an impassable guard.
Rule 4: Never forget Rule 1 (avoid the seduction of the bottom guard)
See more at: (interesting video on Jiu Jitsu development - NSFW - though Kurt Osiander leaves him for dead in the profanity stakes)

John Will also has espoused some great principles, as in this example


I have always held to the view that Jiu Jitsu was infinite in its possible technical expression.

Looking for a grand unified theory of everything, a conceptual base for all of Jiu Jitsu and every aspect (fundamental physical principles that make techniques work, strategy, training methods, ...) looks like it might be the same. There are probably as many conceptual approaches as there are people that have thought deeply about it. Like techniques, you have to work through them and find what fires your imagination, and what works for you ... I guess.


SenseiMattKlein said...

Solid stuff here Andrew, thanks for posting. I really like Rob Biernacki's stuff.

Riaz said...

Wow this is bery helpful. Cam we please get more concpets from the art of learning jiu jitsu too please.