(Originally Published at Ironlionjiujitsu/ Slideyfoot)
Anytime you undertake a new art or practice, you soon find that in addition to learning all the skills, you’re also expected to learn an entirely new language. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is no exception. You won’t be expected to learn Brazilian Portuguese, but you will be immersed in the language of Jiu-Jitsu. For a beginning student, it’s easy to get lost in all the unfamiliar lingo, so here’s a quick primer in BJJ terminology as well as an overview of basic theory. It’s our hope that with a clear understanding of the basics, you’ll get off to a great start in your practice of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
ADCC: stands for ‘Abu Dhabi Combat Club’. The ADCC is a sports club founded by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and a black belt in BJJ under Renzo Gracie. However, the term ‘ADCC’ most commonly refers to the ADCC World Submission Fighting Championships, an event which began in 1998 and is currently held every two years. It is the most prestigious nogi tournament in grappling. The ADCC has been dominated by practitioners of BJJ, but it is open to all style of grappling: for example, the wrestler and MMA champion Mark Kerr has several ADCC gold medals.
Americana: also known as American armbar, bent armlock, figure-four, figure-4, hammerlock, paint brush, top wrist lock, ude garami, keylock, lateral keylock, v-lock, and chave de braço (Portuguese). A submission in which you grasp your opponent’s wrist with one hand, then bring your other arm underneath theirs, grabbing your own wrist (see FIGURE-FOUR). With the opponent’s elbow pointing downwards, you then use your grip to simultaneously push their wrist back and lift their elbow up.
The name ‘Americana’ comes from a trip Bob Anderson made to Brazil in 1978, during which he trained (initally by accident, as he was supposed to be meeting with the Brazilian Wrestling Federation, not a jiu-jitsu school) with the legendary Rolls Gracie. According to Anderson, “I didn’t come down there and go ‘ok, I’m going to show you the Americana armbar and I’m the guy that invented it’, it just grew out of what I knew and what he [Rolls] liked…he later — I didn’t even know — he called it the Americana because I was the American wrestler that came down and showed him the move and that’s how the Americana armbar got started.”
In The Gracie Way, Anderson told the author, Kid Peligro, that “Rolls and I would be brainstorming. He would bring one of the students and put him in a position and ask me what I would do to get him on his back or something. One time I showed him what I would do to get an arm bar when the student was all rolled up in a ball. I did what we call a ‘turkey bar’ and he liked it. We developed some new options.” (p69)
Armbar: also known as armlock, juji gatame, armeloque (Portuguese) . A lock in which the elbow joint is hyperextended. This versatile submission has numerous variations and can be attempted from a broad range of positions, but is most commonly used from the mount and the guard.
Arm Drag: A movement mainly used from guard but also possible standing up, where you grab their opposite wrist and pull it across your body. That is then enhanced by using your same side hand to grab behind their elbow, which becomes available due to the earlier pulling of their wrist. If this grip and the ‘dragging’ motion proves successful, it should expose their back. A similar motion can be achieved from a collar grip (a ‘collar drag’).
Base: generally refers to balance (e.g., someone who is difficult to sweep may be described as having a “good base”), in particular the position the person on top takes when in someone else’s guard: keep your weight low, back straight, head up, knees wide.
Belt: In BJJ, there are five belts (faixa) — white (branca), blue (azul), purple (roxa), brown (marrom) and black (preta).
On average, to go from white to black will take 10 years, but this varies: there are also famous exceptions, like BJ Penn. The way to get promoted at most schools is through the instructor observing your performance in class and in competitions, giving you your next belt when they feel you’ve proved your ability on the mat. Some instructors, like Roy Harris, have a more formalised system involving tests, but this is comparatively rare. Stripes on a belt are also common, which can sometimes merely be a measure of how long you’ve been training, while at other clubs they are added in the same meritocratic fashion mentioned above.
In addition to the five belts, there are a further two honorary belts: red-and-black (also known as a ‘coral’ belt) and red. The IBJJF, one of the larger BJJ companies providing tournaments, has also brought in a judo-style red-and-white belt, given before the coral belt. The criteria for all the honorary belts is normally time served, but there is no universally accepted standard.
Breakfall: a method by which you can reduce the impact of being thrown or falling. The general principle is to disperse the force by slapping the ground with your hands (specifically the palm heel) and feet. Differs slightly depending on direction — for example, with a backwards breakfall, both hands slap the ground, whereas with a side breakfall, you only use one hand.
Bridge: see UPA
Butterfly Guard: a type of OPEN GUARD, in which your upper body is raised with your feet inside their legs (see pictures by Stephan Kesting).
Clinch: A position in which one person has gripped the other whilst standing, such as UNDERHOOKING their arms. In BJJ, this will generally be the precursor to a TAKEDOWN. Also seen in many other martial arts, especially muay thai, which uses the same position as an opportunity to throw knees into the opponent’s legs and body.
Closed Guard: a position in which one person is on their back and has their legs wrapped round the other, feet hooked together using the ankles and instep. See GUARD (also, pictures by Stephan Kesting).
Collar Choke: Might see this referred to as x-choke, lapel choke, cross choke, jujime. A choke accomplished by gripping the collars of your opponent with opposite hands, which provides additional leverage — the actual choke comes from your wrists pressing against their neck.
Crank: A term used to describe submissions that operate by twisting parts of the body into abnormal positions in order to cause pain. Cranks tend to be crude and rely on brute force, in comparison to submissions like chokes and armbars. Due to the increased risk of serious injury, particularly to the neck and spine, cranks are often either frowned upon or outright banned. A typical example is the ‘can opener’, performed by grabbing behind the head and pulling it towards you while in somebody’s guard. Note that there can be a grey area, especially between certain chokes and neck cranks, such as the guillotine choke. Crank may also be used to describe the process of locking on a submission: e.g., “she cranked that armbar”.
De la Riva Guard: this is a type of OPEN GUARD in which your leg goes around the outside of their same side leg, hooking on the top of their other leg with your instep (see Stephan Kesting). It is named after Ricardo de la Riva (I’ve seen that as De La Riva, de la Riva and De la Riva, but when I asked the man himself, he said ‘de la Riva’ was correct), a Carlson Gracie black belt who is best known for the position.
Double-leg: also known as morote gari (judo) and baiana (Portuguese). A takedown executed by attacking both legs, generally gripping the back of the knees to facilitate bringing your opponent to the floor.
Ezekiel Choke: Might see this referred to as forearm choke, sleeve choke or Ezequiel choke. A choke performed using the inside of the sleeves for grip, with a forearm on either side of the neck. From what I’ve gleaned from the net, this technique was named after a Brazilian judoka known as ‘Ezequiel’ (full name Ezequiel Paraguassu, I think), who apparently had great success with it against BJJers.
Figure-Four: also written as figure-4. When used on an arm, also known as a double wrist lock. A hold in which the positioning of the limbs resembles the number ‘4’. For example, used in the AMERICANA and the KIMURA.
Flower Sweep: also known as pendulum sweep and see-saw sweep. Performed mainly with the legs. Note that there can also be a slight difference between terms: some people use ‘pendulum’ to describe the sweep where they raise their knee first, whereas the flower is initiated by grabbing their lower pant leg.
Gable Grip: a grip in which your palms are together, fingers wrapped round the edge, not using the thumbs. As far as I’m aware, its named after legendary wrestler Dan Gable, but I don’t have any further information on that — feel free to put up a comment if you know anything about the origins.
Grapevine: a type of control that most commonly applies to MOUNT. You have your legs threaded through your opponent’s, hooking around with your feet to stop them escaping. This makes for a stable defensive position, though attacks are mostly limited to the EZEQUIEL.
Gi: also known as kimono (Brazil) and quimono (Portuguese). This is the uniform practitioners of Brazilian jiu jitsu wear, made of heavy woven cotton. It is similar to the uniform worn in judo, though there are some slight differences in a specifically BJJ gi: e.g., the ‘skirt’ of the jacket tends to be shorter than a judo gi. Note that in Brazil, a gi is frequently referred to as a ‘kimono’, a confusing practice which has filtered down to some non-Brazilian schools as well.
Guard: also known as do-osae. A position where one person in underneath another, but maintains a neutral position through the use of their legs (as opposed to MOUNT or SIDE CONTROL, where the person on top is dominant). The basic position is CLOSED GUARD, but can also be OPEN, each of which have numerous variations.
Guillotine: may see this referred to as guilhotina (Portuguese), mae hadakajime and front headlock. Applied by wrapping one arm under the neck, gripping your own bicep of the other hand, securing that behind the head, then squeezing for the submission.
Half-Guard: also known as meia guarda (Portuguese) and ashigarami. Similar to GUARD, except that in this case, only one leg has been trapped as opposed to the waist or both legs (see Stephan Kesting)
Hooks: also known as gancho (Portuguese). Normally refers to getting your feet wrapped under a limb, especially under the leg. For example, for butterfly guard, you need to ‘hook’ your feet to secure the position. This is also important when TAKING THE BACK, to stop your opponent REVERSING you.
IBJJF: stands for ‘International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation’. The IBJJF is a for-profit company that provides some of the largest BJJ tournaments in the sport. It is sometimes erroneously thought to be the governing body of BJJ, but the IBJJF’s rules are not binding and many teams ignore them, particularly when it comes to rank. It also lacks most of the features expected of a true governing body, most notably that it is run by unelected businessmen for the purposes of making money rather than than improving BJJ.
The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation was originally founded by Carlson Gracie Jr in 1997. Confusingly the right to use the same term was then bought by Carlos Gracie Jr in 2002, who adopted it as the English name for the CBJJ (Confederação Brasileira de Jiu-Jitsu). The CBJJ was originally a separate entity, formed in 1994 from a combination of the Rio Federation and several other state federations. Two years later, it began an annual tournament now known simply as the Mundials, which has since become the most prestigious gi tournament in BJJ.
There has been plenty of criticism of the IBJJF. The cost to compete in its competitions is extremely high, especially when compared to similar companies offering tournaments. The fact that Carlos Gracie Jr is both head of the IBJJF and the head of Gracie Barra, the largest team in BJJ, is also a considerable conflict of interest. Most controversial of all is the IBJJF’s attempts to regulate rank despite not being a governing body, insisting on hefty fees to officially register a belt with them.
However, the IBJJF has undeniably popularised the sport of BJJ, helping to greatly raise its profile through an extensive calendar of events around the world. Along with his cousin Rorion, Carlos Gracie Jr can legitimately claim to have had an integral role in expanding BJJ into the global martial art it has become.
Kimura: might see this referred to as bent armlock, chicken wing, reverse figure-four, hammer lock, ude garami, entangled armlock or keylock. Reverse of the AMERICANA, named after Masahiko Kimura who famously used it to defeat Helio Gracie.
Lockdown: entangling a leg from the HALF GUARD, by bringing one leg over theirs, hooking under your other knee, then with your other foot, hooking under their trapped leg and straightening it out. This is often used as a stalling position: while beginners may find it a cause of frustration, it is relatively easy to escape. Simply follow Kev’s advice.
Mount: also known as tate shiho gatame. Position where one person is sat on top of the other, legs straddling the torso. There are several variations, such as a high mount, where your knees move up into their armpit, a low mount, where you GRAPEVINE your legs, and TECHNICAL MOUNT, ideal for when they are attempting to roll free.
No-Gi: also known as nogi, no gi and gi less. Training without the gi jacket, normally in some combination of rash guard or t-shirt and shorts or gi pants. In no-gi training, you cannot use many of the grips available when rolling with the gi. This means that UNDERHOOKS and OVERHOOKS become much more important. Manipulating your opponent’s clothing is generally not permitted, ruling out COLLAR CHOKES.
Omoplata: might see this referred to as sankaku garami or shoulder lock. A submission which uses the legs against an arm in order to attack the shoulder. Hence the name: omoplata means ‘shoulder blade’ in Portuguese.
Open Guard: also known as choza, I think. This is a GUARD position in which the legs are not wrapped around the waist with the ankles crossed (as in CLOSED GUARD), but instead may be between your opponents legs, on their biceps, across their stomach etc. Hence ‘open’ rather than ‘closed’, because the legs are not locked together, remaining mobile (see Stephan Kesting).
Overhook: also known as a whizzer (from wrestling). A position in which you have managed to get a limb secured over the top of your opponent’s arm or leg — i.e., ‘hooked’.
Passing the Guard: also known as passando a guarda (Portuguese) and hairigata. The process by which the person ‘in the guard’ (between the other person’s legs) gets their legs past, commonly moving into SIDE CONTROL or MOUNT.
Post: used as a verb, posting. A term which refers to placing a part of your body on your opponent or the mat in order to gain stability and prevent or set up movement. For example, if someone is attempt to use the UPA to escape your MOUNT, you can ‘post’ your arms to the relevant side in order to prevent being swept.
Posture: also known as postura (Portuguese). Good posture means that your back and neck are straight, your head in line with your spine.
Push Sweep: Also known as the ‘stupid simple sweep’. Similar principle to a SCISSOR SWEEP, except that you push on the top of the knee rather than chopping with your leg and don’t necessarily have a shin against the stomach. Aesopian notes it can work off a failed scissor sweep as well.
Rear Naked Choke: also known as hadaka jime, sleeper hold, mata leo or mata leão (‘to kill the lion’ in Portuguese), often abbreviated to RNC. Same principle as the GUILLOTINE, but from behind the opponent as opposed to a front headlock position.
Reversal: also known as inversão (Portuguese), and can be a verb — reverse. A term used to describe a movement or technique that manages to change the combatants position. For example, if you managed to SWEEP an opponent who previously had MOUNT, meaning that you ended up in their GUARD, this could be described as a reversal.
Rolling: a term often used in BJJ and other grappling styles, which has the same meaning as ‘sparring’ or randori — in Portuguese, the noun is either dar um rola or escrima. Generally when rolling, one person attempts to submit the other, who fully resists them. Alternately, the instructor may use ‘specific sparring’ in order to familiarize students with certain positions, such as sparring from guard with the end goal of passing or sweeping.
Rubber Guard: a complex position popularised by Eddie Bravo, which requires a high degree of flexibility. It has been well marketed, which has had the unfortunate side effect of beginners foolishly treating it as a magic bullet, rather than focusing on the fundamentals they need to develop first. There are numerous variations, detailed in Bravo’s book, Mastering the Rubber Guard (see Stephan Kesting for pictures of the position).
Scarf Hold: also known as kesa gatame (judo), head and arm (wrestling). This is a controlling position in which you are facing towards your opponent’s head, with one arm threaded under their armpit and around their neck, while your other hand is pulling their remaining arm tight into your stomach.
Scissor Sweep: also known as hasamigaeshi. A sweep partly accomplished by applying force with a leg on either side of your opponent, hence the ‘scissor’ description.
Shrimping: also known as snaking, snake move, hip escape, hipscape and ebi. Used to describe a motion in which you use your legs to shift your hips to one side or the other, pushing out your posterior. This is an integral part of BJJ, especially escapes.
Side Control: also known as sidemount, cross-side, across side, thousand kilos, one hundred kilos, 100 kilos, cem kilos (Portuguese), mune-gatame and possibly yoko shiho gatame. A position in which you are on top and perpendicular to your opponent.
Sit-Up Sweep: also known as chest to chest, hip bump and hip heist. A sweep from the guard where you open your legs, sit up (pushing off an arm), isolate an arm by the elbow, raise your hips, then swivel in place to end up in mount.
Sliding Choke: A choke in which one forearm is pressed against the neck gripping a collar, while the other pulls down on the remaining lapel, the additional leverage of which results in the choke.
Stack: can be a verb — stacking. A position in which you compress your opponent by squeezing their legs towards their head or chest. Ideally, their knees will be pressing against their head. This is often used when passing the guard, or when escaping submissions such as ARMBARs.
Submission: sometimes abbreviated to sub. The term used to refer to any kind of finishing hold which results in one person TAPPING.
Sweep: also known as raspagem (Portuguese). Numerous techniques in BJJ which enable the person on the bottom to REVERSE their opponent and end up on top — e.g., SCISSOR SWEEP.
Takedown: also known as queda (Portuguese). As the name would suggest, this term is used to refer to any technique which takes the opponent down to the ground. For example, a throw or a trip.
Take the Back: also known as taking the back and pega as costas (Portuguese). When somebody manage to secure a position on the back of their opponent, aiming to get their legs wrapped around the hips, with feet acting as HOOKS — can be referred to as back mount and rear mount.
Tapping: when someone indicates they wish to concede by slapping the ground with their hand, normally due to the pain caused by a particular SUBMISSION, or occasionally simply out of exhaustion. Sometimes they will tap on their opponent’s body instead, or even with their feet if both arms are trapped — this is uncommon, however, and potentially dangerous if the opponent can’t hear you (their head may well be nowhere near your feet). An agonised yell tends to work too. ;)
Technical Mount: also known as seated mount and sitting mount. This is generally a transition from MOUNT, when your partner attempts to turn onto their side. Your knee shifts up towards their head, while your other leg steps across, the foot staying tight to their hip. It is common to attack with chokes and armbars from here.
Triangle Choke: also known as triângulo (Portuguese) or sankaku jime (or possibly sangaku jime). A choke performed mainly with the legs, in which your opponent has one arm inside, helping you to block off the flow of blood to their brain. The name comes from the position of the legs, with one across the back of the person’s head, the other securing the hold by locking a shin underneath a knee.
Turtle: can be a verb — turtling. A position in which you are on all fours, with your posterior pressed to your ankles, limbs tightly tucked into your body.
Underhook: opposite of the OVERHOOK. A position in which you have managed to secure a limb underneath one of your opponent’s, such as under their arms when in the CLINCH.
Upa: might also hear this referred to as bucking, bridging, bumping, barrigada (Portuguese) etc. Raising the hips when on your back, normally in an attempt to make space from under mount, but can also be used as part of other escapes.
X-Guard: a position in which you have your same side hand gripping over the top of their knee, while one of your legs hooks behind their other knee, while your other foot is up by their hip (see Stephan Kesting, who categorises it as a type of HALF GUARD). There is also a book about the position, The X-Guard, by Marcelo Garcia.