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13 Best Jiu Jitsu Moves for Beginners

Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) is one of the most complicated martial arts in the world, with an endless number of established techniques and more being developed every day. If you’re a beginner, it’s often hard to figure out which jiu jitsu moves to focus on first.

Let’s go over some techniques that will not only help you get a feel for jiu jitsu movements but also continue to serve you all the way to black belt, whether you’re training with or without the gi.

Best Jiu Jitsu Moves for Beginners

Instead of focusing on one type of BJJ technique, here are some recommendations from each of the combat sport’s primary aspects:

You’ll need to learn many more techniques to be an effective grappler, but knowing one or two jiu jitsu moves from each position helps you build an initial framework for the flow of the sport and provides some much-needed context for understanding goals.

Takedowns

Jiu jitsu schools tend not to focus on takedowns as much as they probably should. Most competition rulesets don’t reward takedowns enough to make them a priority. As a result, we have a lot of dirty guard pullers in our sport, me included.

However, learning takedowns is essential for becoming a capable grappler. Bottom position is inferior in many situations, especially in a mixed martial arts match or street fight.

Here are a couple of jiu jitsu moves from the standing position that even a beginner can execute on a resisting opponent of similar skill after some drilling.

Single Leg Takedown

The single leg is one of the primary wrestling takedowns and is significantly easier to execute than its brother, the double leg. It typically involves snatching up one of your opponent’s legs and using the control that gives you to put them on their butt.

The single leg is effective in all grappling mediums, but it also offers some unique advantages in BJJ. Most notably, it’s relatively easy to enter and execute without exposing yourself to submission counters like the guillotine or kimura.

Demonstration Video: BJJ single leg takedown

Rear Body Lock Mat Returns

The rear body lock is arguably the most dominant standing position. It gives you an obnoxious amount of control over your opponent, and you can use it to wrestle them down to the mat even if you’re uncomfortable with takedowns.

Even better, most takedowns from the rear body lock end in positions that let you immediately attack your opponent’s back, the most advantageous position in BJJ.

The trickiest part of taking people down with a rear body lock is getting into the position in the first place. The arm drag is one of my favorite options. It’s easy to learn, highly effective, and a great tool in other positions as well, such as open guard.

Demonstration Video: Arm drag to backrear body lock takedowns

Positional Escapes

As a white belt, you’re going to get pinned. A lot. Everyone else has been training longer than you, and they’re constantly going to put you in positions like bottom mount, back mount, side control, and north-south.

As a result, learning positional escapes is arguably the most important area of study for beginners. Here are some of the best ones to focus on.

Knee-Elbow Escape

You can apply variations of this technique to escape from both mount and side control. As you can deduce from the name, it involves connecting your knee and elbow on the same side of your body to form a solid frame.

You then use that frame to make enough space between you and your opponent to start recomposing your guard. Typically, that also requires a hip escape or two, which is a fundamental jiu jitsu movement beginners must practice.

Demonstration Videos: Mountside control

Back Escapes to Both Sides

Modern back control almost exclusively uses the seatbelt grip, which involves attaching chest to back with one arm under the armpit for control (underhook) and one arm over the shoulder to threaten the choke (overhook).

When escaping the back control, your defensive reactions will vary depending on whether your opponent chooses to fall to their underhook or overhook side.

Falling to the overhook side is the traditional strategy, but falling to the underhook side has become increasingly common with the popularization of arm trapping methods. As a result, you must learn to defend both.

Demonstration Videos: Underhook sideoverhook side

Sweeps

In BJJ, a sweep is a technique executed from guard that puts your opponent on their butt or back and lets you get on top, effectively reversing your positions. When playing from bottom, sweeps are one of your primary threats, along with submissions.

Here are three of the best sweeps to consider focusing on first as a BJJ beginner.

Hip Bump Sweep

Closed guard doesn’t see much use in the highest levels of competition these days, but that’s largely because black belts know to stay out of it at all costs. It’s still an incredibly powerful and important position, and it crops up a lot more often at the lower levels.

The hip bump is one of the fundamental sweeping options from closed guard. It involves elevating your hips up into your opponent’s chest to knock them backward, which is perfect when your opponent postures up and sits as far back as possible in your closed guard, as white belts often do.

Executed correctly, you can use the hip bumps weep to transition directly from closed guard into mount. Even if it fails, it’s also an excellent off-balancing tool that sets up follow up attacks, such as the kimura lock, guillotine, or triangle.

Demonstration Videos: Hip bump sweep and triangle

Tripod Sweep

Typically, you perform the tripod sweep from guard against a standing opponent, often starting from traditional or reverse de la Riva. Not only is it highly accessible and effective, but it’s also a good demonstration of the power of leverage.

Here’s how you’d set up the tripod sweep, assuming your opponent enters your guard with their right foot forward:

  • Secure a grip on their right ankle with your left hand
  • Place the heel of your left foot on their right hip
  • Hook your right foot behind their left hamstring

This allows you to knock your opponent over by pushing your left heel into their right hip while lifting their right foot off the ground. Your right foot hooking their hamstring prevents them from stepping backward to regain their balance.

Demonstration Video: Tripod sweep

Butterfly Sweep

The butterfly sweep is one of the most powerful BJJ moves from open guard. Good players can use it to threaten kneeling opponents whenever they have a foot on the inside, and it often leads you directly into a pass or dominant position.

The technique involves using some form of upper body control in combination with a butterfly hook to elevate your opponent’s hips and dump them on their back. Even if it fails, it opens up excellent entries into attacks on your opponent’s legs.

In addition, the butterfly sweep helps drive home the importance of using your legs in grappling. It also helps beginners practice having sticky butterfly hooks, which come into play in many BJJ positions.

Demonstration Video: Butterfly hook sweep

Guard Passes

Passing the guard is one of the hardest things to do in jiu jitsu. As a beginner, it can feel like a truly hopeless endeavor, with other white belts constantly shutting you down and upper belts effortlessly sweeping you.

There are many reasons guard passing is difficult, but one of the primary issues for beginners is that it requires the ability to chain multiple attacks together, and novices don’t know enough passing options to put that kind of pressure on their opponents.

To help you solve that problem, here are a few passes that synergize well. Practice them in combination to start becoming a real passing threat.

Toreando + X Pass

The Toreando pass and X pass are technically separate passes, but the overlap is significant enough that you should learn them together. They’re some of the quickest and easiest techniques to initiate on a supine opponent.

In fact, if you’re passing from the standing position, and your opponent doesn’t have grips on you, these two passes should be among your go-to opening moves.

Against other players your level or lower, a strong Toreando or X pass can quickly get you into a dominant position. Against higher belts, it’s more likely to cause defensive reactions that open up follow-up attacks.

Both passes involve using grips on your opponent’s legs to point their hips in the wrong direction, open up space between their knees and chest, and threaten to pass to the outside, finishing in knee on belly or side control.

Demonstration Video: Toreando passX Pass

Knee Cut Pass

The knee cut, also known as the knee slice or knee slide, is one of the most effective guard passes in game. You’ll see it performed consistently across every level of competition, from local white belt tournaments to ADCC.

The knee cut pass involves driving one of your knees up and between your opponent’s legs, effectively cutting through your opponent’s guard. Typically, you’ll need an underhook on the opposite side of the direction you’re passing toward.

Done correctly, the knee cut lands you in top side control with an underhook already secured. That lets you immediately launch submission attempts on your opponent’s arm.

Demonstration Video: Knee cut pass

Half Guard to ¾ Mount

Getting past your opponent’s frames in half guard and flattening them out lets you access their head and shoulders. As a result, it’s arguably the most controlling and high percentage method of passing your opponent’s guard.

While there are many different passes you can execute from a flattened out half guard position, passing to three-quarter mount is my favorite option for beginners since it should usually be the first one you threaten.

That’s because your opponent’s resistance to the pass usually gives you an underhook, opening up many other high-percentage attacks. It also lets you practice essential pinning mechanics, including crossfacing and walking your opponent’s hips away.

Demonstration Videos: Basic half guard passes

Submission Holds

Submissions are the real reason we all like to train jiu jitsu. They’re the grappling equivalent of the knock-out punch, and nothing feels more badass than forcing someone to surrender with your bare hands – or legs, I suppose.

Here are some of the best submission holds to focus on as a beginner grappler.

Rear Naked Choke

The rear naked choke (RNC) is the king of all submissions. It’s applicable from back control, the most dominant grappling position. As you apply it, your opponent has no way to attack you, but you can launch attempts repeatedly without risking your position.

A choke is also inherently superior to a joint lock since your opponent will go to sleep if they refuse to tap, while some people are willing to sacrifice their limbs and continue to fight. 

As you probably know, the RNC involves wrapping your arm around your opponent’s neck and grabbing the bicep on your opposite arm. The hand on your non-choking arm then hides behind your opponent’s head, letting you squeeze or twist for the finish.

Demonstration Video: RNC mechanics

Mounted Armbar

The mounted armbar is one of the most reliable submissions in the sport and one of my personal favorites. More importantly for beginners, it requires getting a good feel for angles, upper body grips, and hip movements that carry over to many other positions.

As you probably know, the armbar involves aligning your hips perpendicular to your opponent’s torso, locking your legs around at least their arms and shoulders, then hyperextending their elbow joint over your hips.

Demonstration Video: Mounted arm bar

Front Triangle from Closed Guard

The front triangle is one of the most iconic submissions in jiu jitsu. It’s also the epitome of defeating a bigger opponent by fighting their upper body with your lower body, where there’s always a strength mismatch in favor of the legs.

Training the triangle from closed guard is another excellent way to improve your hip dexterity and get a feel for fundamental jiu jitsu angles and mechanics.

The technique involves trapping your opponent’s head and one of their arms between your legs, then tightening your legs into the figure four position. From there, you pinch your knees together and pull your heels to your butt to get the finish.

Demonstration Video: Front triangle choke

Drill Your Jiu Jitsu Moves

The average BJJ class starts with a warm up, moves on to some technique, then lets you spend the rest of time free rolling. If you’re a beginner, don’t be too quick to jump into sparring. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s often counterproductive.

Instead, ask a training partner to pick some basic jiu jitsu moves and spend your time drilling them. Increase the resistance gradually so you can develop your techniques. Once you train the move live, reset to the relevant position after each success or failure.

Drilling your jiu jitsu moves like this is essential for developing good technique. Try to find a balance between this type of training and free rolling so you have fun while training without compromising your skill acquisition.

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