The Importance of Learning the Fundamentals and Basics

I’ve seen a lot of debate between “old school, self defense-oriented” jiu-jitsu and the “new school” competition-oriented styles.  I’ve weighed in on this topic in prior posts (,, stating that I believe that no matter what kind of nonsense goes on at a competition, the average jiu-jitsu competitor would probably prevail over a “self defense” practitioner of similar size and experience simply because of the rigors of competition.

That said, I think there is a very solid argument to be made for focusing on fundamentals; and if you rely entirely upon “new age” techniques, your jiu-jitsu will suffer.

Fundamentals include things as simple as how to keep good posture inside the closed guard.  I know practitioners who can hit a beautiful Berimbolo but don’t know how to posture up in the closed guard.  I’ve attended a few seminars put on by Henry Akins (a Rickson Gracie black belt whose seminars generally consist strictly of fundamentals) and in one of the seminars there was an entire portion taught about how to use one’s hips and positioning to negate downward pulling in the closed guard.  This is something most of us are never taught.  I know purple and brown belts who have never explicitly learned this methodology.

Fundamentals are really easy to ignore when in a training environment where they aren’t stressed.  A good instructor (like the one that I train under) will teach the fundamentals at the same time as teaching more complex and “modern” techniques.  Just because you’re not being told “THIS IS A FUNDAMENTAL TECHNIQUE AND IT IS VERY IMPORTANT” doesn’t mean you haven’t learned fundamentals.  Very often, the fundamentals are hidden in the details you are learning in order to make any given technique work properly.

On a basic level, fundamentals are what make jiu-jitsu work.  Concepts like how to maintain posture translate to the ability to be in control when in someone’s guard and ultimately the ability to pass the guard.  Even something as obscure and sportive as worm guard relies on an understanding of balance retention and depletion.  If you don’t understand the directionality of force as it pertains to where you should be pulling the lapel, there’s a good chance your worm guard, Berimbolo, and turtle guard won’t be worth much even in a purely sportive setting.

Learning fundamentals is harder than it would appear. Many fundamental techniques require precise timing and deep understanding of concepts like “pressure” and “off balancing.” However, once you’ve learned the fundamentals that make techniques work, higher order techniques will become more readily available.  Think of it as a cheat sheet. The fundamentals give you the data needed to be able to open up your game however you see fit.

On the other hand, if you neglect these concepts, there’s a good chance you’ll develop bad habits that will be hard to break.  If your instructor doesn’t help you understand the basics, you may want to consider supplementing your training or going elsewhere because, in the long run, it won’t help you either in competition or on the street.


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