Concepts vs. Techniques – Two Ways of Learning BJJ

When a student first begins to study bjj, they discover that there are an enormous number of moves that must be learned! Not only are there an overwhelming number of individual moves (and seemingly infinite variations) but each move has so many details!

read also:The Dirty Dozen

And the student goes about learning the most important moves and their variations. Each class is exciting and brings a new solution to their problems in rolling. With enough moves to roll productively (do you know what you should be doing in each position?) assembling the individual moves into a “your game”.


At a certain point in the more advanced learning, the student becomes more aware of the important role of “concepts” in applying their moves. Why is a black belt more successful at applying basic techniques than the purple belt who may know just as many individual techniques?

The black belt is making greater use of “concepts” in rolling and applying what the blue and purple belts know.

Here is a more specific example involving guard passing.

1) Technique based:
There are many different guard styles that a bjj fighter must have to pass:

De la Riva
Spider guard
Sitting guard
Slosed old school
Lapel guards
Z-guard / 93 guard
Rubber guard
Cross guard


If you are looking at learning a number of passing variations for each of these guards, that is A LOT of information to both initially learn and be able to recall in the split second of passing a guard. And this IS important to your bjj to have as many tools to problem solve as you can!

Many blue belt students become “technique collectors” seeking to learn as many different moves and variations as they can.

2) One of my black belt professors used to say that he was a “concept based” guard passer. Oh, he knew a ton of passes, but he would think more of using certain principles in his guard passing (whichever specific pass you are trying):

~ removing hooks and grips before attempting to pass
~ not allowing the opponent to do what you feel they are trying to do (ex. get under your base? Break your posture?)
~ changing sides of pass to confuse opponent 
~ using opponent’s reaction (action reaction concept) to redirect their defence
~ applying pressure to control the opponent’s hip movement 
and so on…

It has been said that by purple belt that the student knows all of the moves that a black belt knows. The difference between the 2 belt levels is the knowledge in applying those same techniques. And that might most simply be the increased use of concepts by the black belt level.

Are you fully employing jiu-jitsu concepts to apply the techniques that you know?

In future articles, we will explore some of the concepts & principles that you can try in your own jiu-jitsu!

read also: Got “Jiu”? What is the “Jiu” in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Credits: Mark Mullen 
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Taipei, Taiwan
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ