Putting the "Fun" in Fundamentals!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Putting the "Fun" in Fundamentals!

I want to take a minute to discuss the importance of fundamentals.  It is something that  is heard often in a Jiu-jitsu academy, “focus on the fundamentals”.  What are “fundamentals” anyway?  Why are they so important?

The fundamentals are the basic core positions, movements, & concepts from all of the major positions in Jiu-jitsu.  Techniques can be broken down by their application from various positions.  Of course, understanding the positional hierarchy and the concept of positional dominance is a major concept in Jiu-jitsu.  Here are, in my mind, the major positions, in order of dominance (least dominant to most dominant)-Standing (no contact), Clinch, Guard, Half Guard, Side Mount, Knee on Belly, Mount, & Back.  Of course, there are variations on all of these major positions, and the Jiu-jitsu practitioner must be comfortable with both sides of each position, understanding both defense & offense.  Of course, every position offers an almost endless variety of possible techniques.  Fundamentals, then, are the most common, most reliable techniques.  They are the fundamentals because they work!  All of the techniques that are generally considered to be fundamentals have stood the test of time.  They have all been battle-tested, in live combat, over a period of many, many years.  And while there are many variations of all of these techniques, they all share a few common traits.  

The fundamentals should be based on natural body movements, not requiring an unusual amount of flexibility, strength, or agility to perform.  This means, that just about anyone can, with practice, perform these techniques effectively.  They are based on the principle of leverage, meaning that they are efficient.  One of the key concepts of Jiu-jitsu is maximum effectiveness with minimal effort.  This is because, if we always make the assumption that our opponents will be bigger, stronger, & more athletic than us, it is crucially important not to make unnecessary movements that waste precious energy.  Usually, the simpler answer is the best answer.  So, fundamental techniques generally have fewer steps to get to the same result.  Finally, fundamental techniques are those that can be utilized in a real fight, always taking into account the opponent’s potential ability to strike, and being aware of their most common likely responses.

When you watch two very high level Jiu-jitsu practitioners spar, you are most likely to see “white belt” techniques being used; that is, techniques that most students typically learn within their first few months of Jiu-jitsu training. The most common finishes in most Jiu-jitsu & MMA matches are things like guillotines, armlocks, triangles, rear naked chokes, & kimuras.  Why is this?  Certainly, these advanced practitioners have a whole arsenal of techniques at their disposal.  Of course, this is very true.  However, these “basic” techniques are the ones that even advanced practitioners have spent the most time with.  These are the techniques & positions that even the best black belts have been practicing since they were white belts.  Of course, all of these advanced practitioners have tricks & fancy moves that work well under the right circumstances.  But, faced with another practitioner of comparable skill, size, & strength, they fall back to their understanding of the basics.  And herein lies the crucial importance of these techniques.  These are the most proven, effective, time-tested techniques, and the ones that, when you are in trouble, in a bad position, tired, or being overwhelmed by a larger, stronger opponent, will still give you the best chance of survival.  

The fundamentals are the techniques that you literally can’t practice enough.  One of the most important & most difficult things to do in Jiu-jitsu is to develop reflex.  This doesn’t mean simply “memorizing” techniques.  All to often, I see students drilling techniques in class, working with a cooperative partner.  After a handful of repetitions, when they start to feel somewhat comfortable with the basic movement sequence, they seem to think that they’ve “got it”. But then, during live training, these same students are unable to perform the technique against a resisting opponent.  It has been said it takes an average of about 10, 000 repetitions of any physical skill to acquire mastery; the ability to perform it reflexively, even under the stress of a live situation.  That’s a LOT of reps.  This is why it takes so long to develop a high level of skill in Jiu-jitsu.  So, I strongly encourage students to make the best of their precious training time.  As Rickson Gracie has been known to say, “Don’t practice the technique until you get it right….practice it until you can’t get it wrong!”.

If you plan to pursue Jiu-jitsu for a long period of time, even a lifetime, you will learn & practice the same fundamental techniques many, many times.  How does one continue to practice these techniques without succumbing to boredom?  Well, the true answer is, you don’t always.  Sometimes, repping techniques is boring.  No matter your passion for training, performing endless repetitions of the same technique is not always the most exciting thing. However, it definitely WILL pay off.  However, I encourage students to try to look at the technique through “new eyes”.  Keep an open mind, remain humble, and don’t assume you already know everything there is to know about the move.  My appreciation for the value of the fundaments has increased so much more since black belt than it ever was as a lower rank. Too often, students show up to class wanting a new shiny toy-some advanced variation of a technique that they have never seen before.  And while this is always fun & exciting, the reality is, the longer you train Jiu-jitsu, it will become increasingly rare to be exposed to a brand new technique or concept that you’ve never seen in some form before.  However, it is even MORE exciting to re-discover a fundamental technique that you have done for years.  Often, picking up one small detail can change your whole perspective & understanding of the technique.  It is a constant process of polishing & perfecting our most important techniques.  So you shouldn’t only be content to practice the basics, you should be excited. There is so much more to all of these techniques than you may realize!  


The process of learning Jiu-jitsu follows predictable stages.  And each of them is crucially important.  First, you are just trying to learn to survive, to learn the basic positions, and have a rudimentary understanding of the movements.  As you become more comfortable with the basics and start to be able to hold your own somewhat in sparring, and even to impose some offense (blue/purple belt) it is very normal to look for new techniques, new variations, etc.  It is very important to always allow yourself to have an open mind & explore new ideas & positions.  But don’t neglect your fundamentals!  Interestingly, as students become advanced practitioners (brown/black belts), they typically return their focus to the same techniques that they learned as white belts, although obviously with a much different focus & higher level of understanding.  This is when Jiu-jitsu really becomes exciting!  Stay focused, keep training, & keep practicing your basics!



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