Jits fundamentals, why you need them and how to find them

Basics, fundamentals, foundations, first principles, essentials, prerequisites, necessities, etc, are today's subject. My mission is to try and explain why fundamentals are key to becoming the best you can be on the mats.

My first series of articles talked about off the mat learning, my favourite theme. I selfishly neglected the fundamentals, in hindsight, this article should have come first.  Fundamentals are after all, arguably the most important part of Jiujitsu (or anything for that matter).  

Why is that? The simple answer, (as I understand it and think of it) is that the basics run through everything we do on the mats. That flashy heel hook entry you are learning from John Danaher or Lachlan Giles, that complex worm guard sequence from Keenan online; all have their roots in the fundamentals of Jiu-jitsu.

For example

Let me try and give an example of what I am driving at. Say I watch a Neil Melanson YouTube video showing a really cool Darce choke from side control top.  I want it in my game it looks so cool. Sure, I can spend time understanding the technique and how to pull it off. Working on it in isolation, training with a partner I might get pretty proficient at it.

Now, what if I can’t get there? What if I haven’t spent enough time learning to pass guard? Or what if I can’t hold side control top long enough to start working the entry?
In either of these cases, all that work I spent on the finish is wasted.  My skillset is gapped, I need a solid grasp of the fundamentals first to succeed e.g. to be able to pass guard, to improve the position, to hold side control, to start baiting the entry to the Darce. That is only a high-level sequence of events, there are so many subtle connections, pressures, changes in posture along the way. 

The fundamentals, the basics I learned from my instructor give me the foundations to build on. Without these foundations, it is pointless (in my opinion) knowing how to apply a Darce choke.  
Why? Because there is no substance to my game, it is all mouth and no cohones.  

When you first start out it is natural to be excited about your new sport, you want to learn more.  Perhaps you come home amped up from a class and want to accelerate and start looking at YouTube and video instructionals.  

Why wouldn't you?  I get it, at the start we all want to get good quickly.  Everyone is motivated somewhat by recognition whether that be: feeling in yourself that you are getting better, a compliment from your coach, a stripe or grading to a coveted coloured belt, etc.  

The thing I think you need to be careful of is stunting your learning, too much material (especially flashy techniques and systems) causes information overload.  

Let me be clear, I am not against off the mat learning (very much the opposite as my earlier articles explain). Equally, I am not saying don't buy instructionals or watch YouTube videos. Although, I do think that up until at least mid-blue belt you should only use these tools to supplement the fundamentals taught at your school.  In other words, keep your off the matt learning consistent with what you learn in class.

For example, if your instructor is running a series on closed guard bottom and teaches a scissor sweep and flower sweep. Why wouldn’t you take a look at other legitimate interpretations of these two core sweeps? Supplementing your learning and understanding of fundamentals in this way will accelerate your learning and progression. However, if you are watching worm guard instructionals off the mat, you run the risk of diluting your understanding of the basics (what is taught in class) and perhaps worse confusing yourself.

Digging Deeper

In the last half of this article, I want to try and convey my understanding of why focusing on the fundamentals gives you a deeper understanding of the core concepts and principles of Jiu-jitsu. 
These concepts are the things that make the basics work but they appear across Jiu-jitsu. I refer to this as commonality (this isn’t just a Jits thing it is a principle of researching in general) i.e. concepts, principles, postures that make many positions work. When you focus on the fundamental techniques, positions, and postures and understand “the why” behind them. When you do that, you set out on the path to commonality as I think of it, and you "start to see the shapes" as a great man called them.

The best way to deconstruct any technique (fundamental or otherwise) is to use Cane Prevost’s 3P’s methodology. I do not want to plagiarise Cane’s excellent work, t
he source article to the 3Ps can be found here.  Originally, Cane's methodology was "Pressure, Posture, Possibilities" i.e. the 3P's for short.  He has evolved his methodology based on input from the mighty Rickson Gracie, Rickson’s student Henry Akins, Matt Thornton and others (I still think of it as the 3P's)

What does it stand for then?
  • Posture
  • Connection
  • Pressure
  • Possibilities
This is mind-blowing in its simplicity. I have quoted the definitions below:

"Posture - The configuration of (i) the individual grappler’s body, (hip position, spinal shape, arm, leg, hand, and foot positions); and (ii) the physical relation between the grapplers." 

"Connection - The joining of the grappler’s bodies in a way that (i) the base of the grappler controlling/dominating the connection runs through their opponent, and (ii) together the grapplers act as one unit."

"Pressure An application of (i) force, (ii) movement, or a combination of (i) and (ii), i.e., an action aimed at generating a grappling advantage. "

"Possibilities Any further grappling advantage, e.g., a sweep, a submission, a reversal, advancing a position, or a successful defense against a sweep, submission, reversal,or positional advance. "

"Attachment The joining of a part of one grappler to another that may lead to control of a part of the second grappler’s body by the first. Attachment is asymmetric, i.e., the attacher has (if done correctly) the advantage of control over the attachee, therefore the attachee either fights off the attachment or fights for a superior attachment.”

 How I apply the methodology

I apply this to every technique I learn. Below is a simple example breaking down the nuts and bolts of combat base (as I understand it). Combat base is ingrained in me from my instructor shouting “get off your fucking knees, I don’t want to see you starting from your knees” 
I came to understand that if I am fighting from my knees my posture is shit, my base is weak through all angles (forwards, backwards, laterally) and my reaction times to post are increased making it more probable that my guard will get passed (what guard? I’m on my fucking knees, get off your fucking knees!).

Spider diagram breaking down combat base using the 3Ps

So how does dissecting combat base, a fundamental position, help me find “commonality” in Jiu-jitsu? The position on its own links in very nicely to another of Cane’s articles. In it, he does a great job of explaining the concept of long and short frames (my favourite concept) through half guard bottom postures.

The author demoing combat base in his garage
This concept is present in my own example of combat base. The connected frame of my left elbow inside my left knee is a short frame. This can be used as a range finder, to hand fight, in gi to establish a short frame and cross collar grip. On the other hand (puns intended) my right arm posting on the mat behind me is an example of a long frame. It gives me base using only my bone structure that feels “strong” to my opponent. I can use it to help me move away and around pressure and to stop me being flattened to my back (bull-rushed).

Before I re-read Cane’s article earlier today (it has been a while) I was going to talk about the mechanics of the technical stand up (or Turkish get-up as it is known outside of Jiu-jitsu) and how that appears across several different postures.  That would be rehashing Cane’s article too much.  Instead, I will call out another fundamental, the elbow inside the knee frame.  I use this one all the time.  Other similar positions it appears in are butterfly guard (very obvious), traditional knee shield or Z guard.  In particular, when my opponent tries to smash my knee shield down by sprawling on it (setting this frame allows me to temporarily carry their weight while I figure out which space to move into), this frame is also useful when inverting or turning away from your opponent (running man escape). 

Hopefully, these examples illustrate how a solid grasp of fundamental Jiu-jitsu augments your understanding.  Before I conclude this article, I wanted to talk about how I apply Cane’s method on the mats.

Don’t think,  Feeeeeel

The simplicity of Cane’s methodology means you can apply it on the mat. It is easy to remember, once you have used it to dissect a few techniques it will be easier to apply during sparring. Here are some of the questions I ask myself while sparring, if I am in a tight spot or stuck trying to improve the position.
  • Where is the pressure coming from? Can I set a frame to block it?
  • Where is the space? How do I move into that space? Is moving there a trap?
  • How is my posture?
  • Where is the connection? How can I dominate it?
The key thing to remember when rolling is what old Brucey said before he started talking about fingers and moons:

“Don’t think, feeeeeel” Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon

I may be asking myself the question’s above but this is more of a subconscious assessment. I feel what my partner is doing, I listen to their breathing, feel their muscles tense and contract, etc. The best way to do this is to shut your eyes while rolling (it is also the best way to zone out and feel the flow). For example, if I have shin on shin guard with them, I feel which way they are angling their shin through the direction of the pressure pushing into my shin bone. Another example is if they are cross facing me, although that is an unsubtle pressure.

There is one final element that is critical to this, that is breathing. Fundamentally, when you combine: calm controlled breathing, frames and feeling the 3Ps; you are able to relax in the roll. When you relax, that is when the magic happens.

Final Thoughts

This article has been a daunting one to write.  I am not claiming that I know everything about this topic, far from it.  I do not think I ever will know it all, which is part of the appeal of Jiu-jitsu.  I do find the fundamentals of Jiu-jitsu fascinating though, I love nothing better than talking about the core concepts which make it work.  

My earlier series of articles provided tools to retain knowledge, learn off the mat and progress.  Why fundamentals are so important is because they illustrate the core principles of Jiu-jitsu.  They are by no means basic although when you understand some of them they are shockingly simple.  

I have only scratched the surface today, I hope that my arguments are compelling enough to help you understand why fundamentals are awesome.  My other hope is that I have given enough tools, information and actionable advice so that you can apply the knowledge to your own learning and sparring.   See you on the mats.

Peace and Love Andy


  1. Nice article Andy, very useful and well written, thanks for sharing!


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