Updated: Aug 13, 2022
Everyone knows that each sport, hobby, and profession have its own jargon. Learning BJJ jargon can be as cumbersome as the sport itself. I know that when I was first starting, and evening slightly before, my husband would describe his training sessions and leave my brain spinning. So, with that I bring you my primer on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lingo! I hope that at the end of this definition list you will be able to follow your professor and classmates, along with any excitable BJJ family members, more easily.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu usually starts with competitors standing and ends with a ground fight. Stand-up (the standing portion) is similar to how a wrestling match begins, which is more familiar to many people. Take-downs or throws are the transition from stand-up to ground fighting. These takedowns are similar to wrestling or Judo. The ground fight is the bread and butter of BJJ. As in a BJJ match, we will start standing and work our way onto the floor.
Stand-up: The beginning of a BJJ match where balance, timing and strength gained from the practices of wrestling and judo allow practitioners to safely and effectively take their opponent to the ground.
Take-down: transition from stand-up to ground fighting by first forcing your opponent to be off balance and following them to the floor (photo below is a foot sweep)
Double leg take down: A basic grappling takedown where you attack both of your opponent's legs, forcing your opponent backwards
Single leg take down: A basic grappling takedown where you attack one of your opponent's legs. This usually begins with shooting in and controlling a single leg and then wrapping up your opponent's waist for the final step.
Ankle pick: is a type of single leg takedown that is commonly used in wrestling, BJJ, and Judo to get an opponent to the ground. It is accomplished by the attacker dropping one knee to the ground. The same hand as the grounded knee grasps the opponent's ankle and the opposite hand drives the opponent's upper body towards the ankle being attacked, as the ankle is brought across the attackers body (like turning a steering wheel).
Break fall: A technical fall where a grappler uses their arms, legs and/or body positioning to protect their body from impact when falling to the ground. These are directed backward or to the side. Forward break falls are sprawls (slightly different).
Ok, you and your opponent are on the ground. What comes next? The answer is one of you will end up in the other's guard. Whoever is able to maintain some sort of guard has the advantage for the time being. The guard position is where you are able to attack your opponent with submissions such as chokes and extremity attacks.
Let's go through some common guards.
Guard: A control technique where one grappler has their back on the ground and their legs wrapped around their opponents waist with their ankles crossed. This allows the grappler to break their opponent's balance by doing a reverse crunch.
Open Guard: Similar to guard, however the grappler on the floor opens their ankles. This is typically used as a transitional point to set up a sweep
Half guard: A ground grappling position where one combatant is lying on the other, with the bottom combatant having one leg entangled
Mount: A grappling position where one grappler is on the ground with their back flat, and their opponent is in mount by sitting on their hips (traditional) or low ribs (high mount). This position allows for a number of attacks including joint locks and chokes
Spider guard: A grappling position with the grappler on the ground gripping the kimono of their opponent, the feet of the grappler on the floor are pressed against the biceps of their opponent in proximity to the grips of the kimono
De La Riva guard: predominantly, but not exclusively, a gi-based position, in which you wrap one of your legs around the outside of your opponent’s lead leg. Your foot can be inserted deeply or shallowly in his knee or hip. The position of your other leg depends on what your opponent is doing and/or on which sweep you are attempting to set up at that moment.
So those are some of the more common guards that you may experience as a beginner, but what happens when your opponent has the upper hand? You can't just freeze in place. That is a good way to get submitted, and we don't want to be submitted if we can help it. So lets pass their guard!
Knee Cut/Slice Pass: One of the first passes learned in grappling, where the competitor drags their knee and shin across their opponent's leg. This is commonly used to get out of the guard position and transition into side control.
Leg Drag: This is a common pass when the perpetrator is standing and their opponent is on their back, attempting to get them into guard. Here the competitor who is passing takes the opponent’s leg and literally drag it across their hips. Next the passer's hip is placed behind the opposition's knee while pinning their bottom leg beneath the shin. A strong collar grip is needed to complete the pass.
Toreando pass: This is a pass from open guard where the passer grabs both the opponent’s knees, utilizing the Gi. Then pushes the knees to the ground while backing up and move to the side to pass.
Double Under pass: To start this pass the competitor in guard must get their arms under the opponent's legs near the hips. The passer then postures up and pulls the opponent onto their legs. Once the hips are off the ground the passer then sprawls and walks to the side, keeping pressure on the hips of the opponent. As the passer walks they will lift there head and allow the opponent's leg to slid off of their shoulder before settling into side control.
Now we are really rolling! Get it! haha (if you don't get it come to the gym and we'll show you :)) If you are competing you can get some points for gaining guard or mount, as well as passing. But you are just moving around at this point. You haven't even attempted a submission. What is a submission you ask? Well submissions in BJJ are a way to stop your opponent in their tracks. With an appropriately executed submission your opponent will "tap" thereby acknowledging that you got them and they can no longer continue the fight. Common submissions are chokes, arm bars, knee bars, shoulder locks and ankle locks. (Please note the glee on Morgan's face as she completes an arm bar on John.)
Submissions are the real struggle. The fun comes in setting up a submission and tricking your opponent to gain a secondary submission. Where there is a choke, there is a shoulder lock or a wrist lock. It is like a game of physical chess. As Ludacris would say, "When I move, you move". This is a dance. It is a sport of counter balances. It is a challenge of not only athletic prowess but planning and cunning. It is smart.
I don't want to give away all of our secrets here now. We all need a little mystery to be enticing. If you'd like to learn how to complete an americana, kimura or omoplata, you know where to find us. Same goes for a bread slicer, guillotene and north south chokes. Just go back to the home page and contact us for a tour of the gym! If you already know how to do these, come join us for an open mat and show off your skills! All are welcome.
Until next time,
I have to give credit where credit is due. These were invaluable resources as I was creating this list and these definitions. Please take a look at them for some more in-depth descriptions. The Ultimate Glossary of 125+ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Terms | BJJ Success. A Glossary of Guards Part 2: The Open Guard (grapplearts.com).