I had the honour of teaching a BJJ seminar at North Kent Ju-Jitsu Kai (NKJJK) in Gravesend thanks to an invite from my former jujitsu sensei Grant Wakeman.
NKJJK is a Japanese ju-jitsu club run by Senseis Terry and Ann Kitchener. Based in Gravesend, they are a member of the Jikishin Jujitsu Association, which is the system that I had trained in for over ten years prior to my time in BJJ.
Japan vs Brazil
Traditional jujitsu (TJJ) focuses almost entirely on self-defence techniques against an attacker who can strike. But TJJ clubs also take part in competitive tournaments which include ground-fighting categories. (Side note, I notice the TJJ body called JJIF is getting a lot of traction recently thanks to their competition format which is very similar to BJJ).
The historical origins of TJJ are a bit vague but in the UK at least, they began to rise to mass popularity around the early 1980’s. Go back further than that and there is plenty of evidence of some form of self defence themed jujitsu in existence right back to 19th Century. A similar introduction of self defence themed jujitsu occurred in Brazil around the early 1920’s when the first influx of Japanese migrants arrived but that story is also heavily mixed up with challenge fights, fixed fights and judo. Jiu-Jitsu was taught firstly as a self defence art by the Gracies. Over time it has expanded and evolved to become the much more sport-focused Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that we know today (caveat, yes, I am aware many BJJ clubs still teach a self defence syllabus). I will expand on this topic much more when I write my full review of the two books I’m currently reading by Robert Drysdale.
The unifying concept
I spent a bit of time thinking over what kind of BJJ concepts would overlap nicely with TJJ, and could be easily picked up with an hour of training. I kept thinking about Chris Haueter and his golden rules for grappling – the essential message being: be the guy on top. So that’s what I used as my core concept – if (by accident or design) you go to the ground in a real life confrontation, make sure you end up on top.
After a short warm-up where I introduced bridging, shrimping and sprawling to the students, I then showed the mount position and how to transition from low mount to high mount. I explained that high mount was much more preferable and harder for the bottom person to escape from that a lower mount position. From a self-defence point of view, high mount offers full control over your opponent while you can survey the scene.
From high mount, a number of tasty submissions are available but for this session, I taught the belly-down armbar from S-mount which can also transition to the regular armbar. I mentioned that the belly-down version might be preferable since you are still pinning your weight on top of your opponent.
Getting to the mount
The next portion of my seminar was dedicated to the sporting side of the TJJ system – with the emphasis again to find a route to the top mount position. Ground-fighting rules have combatants facing each other at the start with one knee raised and each person with a sleeve and collar grip. Once the timer begins, participants are not allowed to stand up and, unless supine, must keep at least one knee on the ground.
From this starting position, I examined three possible scenarios:
In the first scenario, the opponent tries to pull you into their guard (or similarly, you push forward and the opponent opens their legs as a guard). From here I advised students to shunt forward with their knee still raised up. In BJJ we call this position combat base. The shin of your leading leg acts as a shield against the guard player. From combat base, I then taught a knee slide pass which lands nicely into side control. From side control I then showed how to execute crossface pressure (the shoulder of justice) which makes it easier to follow up by sliding the knee over their opponent’s belly and finish on top in mount.
The next scenario I covered was one where the guard pull was initiated ourselves. Just prior to pulling backwards though, I mentioned that some kuzushi was necessary to ensure increased success – ie push first then pull to guard once a counter reaction was achieved. Unlike in BJJ where we might normally pull to closed guard, I reasoned that closed guard was not necessarily useful in the context of TJJ ground-fighting rules. I had learned this myself back when I was competing in the same format – I had pulled guard and attempted chokes and sweeps against an opponent who resisted all my efforts. In that match, the referee awarded the win to my opponent since he was still seen as the person on top and I had not done anything to change that.
So, with that in mind, it was important to find a route to the top position as efficiently as possible. The guard pull I taught was actually a pull into a sideways knee shield guard. Keeping the momentum going, the top leg knee shield is able to direct the opponent to the floor and, with luck, we end up on top mount. This technique is called the scissor sweep and in BJJ class it’s often taught starting from the closed guard. But from this starting point, the closed guard wasn’t needed.
Some students found that their bottom leg was trapped underneath their opponent’s leg during the pulling phase so in those cases, I said it was ok to block their landing knee with their free hand and continue with the sweep. In other cases, the student had placed their knee shield leg the other way around – in effect creating a butterfly style guard. I showed them that the sweep could still work with a lifting motion with their foot against the opponent’s leg (easy to show in video – see below – than describe!)
The final scenario examined the neutral situation where both opponents were pushing into each other with equal force. We actually covered this in the warm up – from the starting position, as the opponent pushes against you, you can change slightly to a lower level (and a slight angle change) and execute a double leg takedown. Done properly your opponent should collapse to the ground allowing you the ability to pass their legs and move either to side control or to their back. From a similar starting position, I also wanted to show the ankle pick takedown but didn’t have time.
We closed the session with some sparring and I got the chance to roll with most of the attending students. It’s always fun rolling with new people as I never know what to expect! In one round I got to back control and was about to execute a rear naked choke when my opponent surprised me with a strong grab and pull of my little finger – it was a funny ouch! moment and we laughed. A sharp reminder that there are no rules in the street!!
In the seminar, I was able to introduce a number of key BJJ concepts:
– positional hierarchy (mount vs side),
– position before submission (S-mount to armbar)
– transitioning (side control to mount and low mount to high mount),
– kuzushi (push, uke reacts, then pull),
– leverage (effective armbar finishing)
– balance disruption for reversals (scissor sweep)
– framing (knee shield guard)
– level changing (double leg)
– Focus claps (just kidding, that’s not a concept, but we still did them lol)
We use concepts as a teaching and training tool a lot in BJJ. And, since there aren’t that many concepts in BJJ, remembering them is easier than trying to remember hundreds of techniques. Concepts are basically just patterns and we humans have evolved to naturally identify patterns in nature.
A recurring question I was asked during the seminar was how to escape the positions and submissions (mount, armbar etc). I showed a few quick hacks but it’s a topic that requires a whole other session to dedicate to – one that I would be happy to provide in a follow-up seminar.
Thanks again to the instructors and all the students at NKJJK, I had so much fun sharing some knowledge with such a keen and appreciative group of martial artists.