What constitutes a “basic” move in Jiu-Jitsu anyway?

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber

Two of the sweetest moments I can think of in my competition career are as follows:

A successful bridge and hip escape in the first round of brown belt Worlds 201(2?). I got second place that year after two more fights.

A cross choke from mount in the first round of brown belt Pan Ams 2015. I got first place that year after two more fights.

What do these two things have in common? There’s a very good chance you learned how to do both of them on your very first day of training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

I love spinning around on my head like some kind of deranged breakdancer, but basics are where it’s at. As my Gracie Philadelphia instructor Tim Sylvester likes to bring up often, think of it like a math problem. You could think you love trigonometry or calculus, but if you added 1 + 1 and got 3 in the beginning your problem never had a chance of being solved correctly. You lost before you started. Walk before you run. Any of these analogies work.

What constitutes a “basic” move in Jiu-Jitsu anyway? Basics are the building blocks upon almost everything is built. You can take any problem in life and break it down to its components to figure out what you need to learn to succeed. In BJJ, this most commonly breaks down into the bridge, the hip escape, making a frame, and stand up in base for movement. (Each of these can be broken down into knee flexion, spinal articulation, glute activation, etc. - see my recent mobility article for more on that). Sometimes you’re doing a bridge that doesn’t look like a bridge because you’re upside down or sideways, but it’s still a position where your hips and belly button are thrust farther forward than any other part of you. When it comes to submissions, you might count the rear naked choke, cross choke, arm bar from guard and mount, or whatever else your instructor likes to show as a first introduction to tapping. Basics don’t have to be the exact thing that you use forever, but they will be ingredients used in most of your future moves. The nice thing about the cross choke is that it teaches nuances of wrist flexion and grips that will apply to nearly every other collar choke you learn. Basics teach you elements that you need to grow, even if they never become your favorite. Learning the alphabet is the first step towards Shakespeare.

As with anything, basics require commitment to be most effective. A half of a bridge and a rushed hip escape won’t create the reaction you need to escape a skilled opponent. Predictable responses from your opponent only work when you actually, really try to execute the first movement. Otherwise they don’t have to react to or respect it and can keep going about applying their game.

So if your instructor starts to show something you think you’ve seen too many times, drill it like you’ve never seen it before. (See my post on better drilling here). Drill it like you mean it, and put enough effort in it to get better. Basics will always be there to support you after all your YouTube fancy moves have been tossed away by a good opponent. You can never have a bridge that is too good.