When we talk about ‘fundamentals’, we are not talking about what’s most basic – we are talking about what’s most important. You can't build a house on sand. In any art, whether ballet, cooking, drawing/painting, carving, jiu-jitsu or any martial arts (just to name a few), proof of knowledge of the basics, and the learning of fundamentals is paramount before a student can be considered for entry into deeper levels of the art. This is different than a skill, in which there are basically just different things to learn how to do. Skills are things like running, weight lifting, reading, or kayaking. This is in fact the difference between art and skill; art is something that you can never stop improving on and learning about, skill just means the ability to do something well.
If I were to say to you that we were going to be studying Canadian geometry, I would hope you would immediately view my claim with the appropriate suspicion. There is no such thing as Canadian geometry for the same reason there is no such thing as Tibetan physics, or Malaysian oncology. Things that are testable, falsifiable, and empirically true, are by their very nature, unbound by culture, geography, or time.
So too is a proper blood choke.
Which is why, whether the proper jiu-jitsu school you are visiting is in Hawaii, Japan, China, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Panama, or the United States – the fundamental mechanics that will be shown to you as it relates to how to best shut off the flow of blood to your opponent’s brain – remain the same.
Those principles, rooted in physics, transcend culture, bodies, place and time, and it’s that, which we refer to as a ‘fundamental’.
Key ways to identify a fundamental:
1- Universal – It will transcend culture, geography, bodies, era, and venue.
True now, true here, true there, true always. It allows the practitioner the ability to move between environments.
2- Repeatable – It doesn’t just work for one subject, but works for anyone.
It works for the small, the large, the many and the few. It doesn’t rely on youth, speed, or strength. It updates the software without damaging the hardware.
3- Efficient – It provides maximum benefit with minimum effort – maximum leverage with minimum energy – maximum control with minimum risk. Efficiency in fighting is synonymous with intelligence in fighting.
It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a black belt World Champion, you have to understand and know the fundamentals of Jiu-Jitsu. A lot of instructors make mistakes about this. They are trying to resolve what’s actually fundamental, is this technique, or is that sweep fundamental? This is not the correct approach to resolve this issue. The key is the structure. The structure allows the technique to work. This is very important to understand.
For example, if you are watching the black belt World champions, neither one of them have the same technique or style of fighting. In the end, all of them are very different.
Underneath every style or even the technique, there’s a structure. The skeletal structure that they share in common. That is the fundamentals of Jiu-Jitsu.
The tree of fundamentals
A very good way to explain the structure of jiu-jitsu, is by using the analogy of a tree.
The roots are the base of the tree. That is where everything starts. It’s literally the connection to the ground itself, the center of gravity.
If you don’t have the platform, you are not going to be able to build the posture you need. The base is something that comes after posture. Which is literally the relationship of your body to your opponent’s body.
From any given position, there’s only going to be few directions you can apply force, a few angles at which you can apply force. Those are the main branches that sprout off the trunk of that tree.
Counter to counter Principe
Today, we can say that almost every technique has a counter, and there is a counter for that counter.
Finding and learning a technique is not a problem, it is more accessible today than ever. You can find almost every technique that you want on the internet. Learning is not a problem, but will this technique work? What makes the technique work is the roots of the trunk and the main branches of the tree.
Also, when you start doing counter for the counter, you will end up playing other people’s games. But if you address their game, and reverse engineer their games, at the trunk from the tree, at the roots you stop their game at all.
Roots of the tree – base
The trunk of the Tree – posture
Branches – angles and directions of force, pressure
There is also one more important thing in the tree structure. Between the trunk of the tree and the direction of force in that little space is connection, a word you sometimes hear during a jiu-jitsuclass.
Fundamentals versus Basics
Students of jiu-jitsu hear “Focus on the basics” or “Focus on the fundamentals!” all of the time. Sound advice to be sure.
But what exactly does that mean? Do both of those words mean the same thing? How are they different? And what are concepts?
Let’s try to clear it up by giving some definitions of what these three commonly used terms mean.
Basics are the core of individual techniques that are more simple in their execution — e.g. a straight arm lock from mount versus Ronda Rousey’s rolling armbar against the turtle.
A quick scan of the white belt curriculum at most jiu-jitsu schools will list the tried and true techniques that all jiu-jitsu students should know: Triangle from the guard, replace the guard from under side control, upa escape from the mount — these techniques work for all levels of experience and basic techniques like the rear naked choke are employed by black belts against black belts.
A berimbolo would not be considered a basic technique.
Fundamentals are not so much specific techniques as they are practices and habits that are behind the execution of the techniques.
Base, posture, pressure, ability to move the hips, managing distance, and using frames are all examples of fundamentals.
Interestingly, solid fundamentals are what make the difference in effectiveness between the hip bump sweep of the new white belt and the black belt: same movement mechanics but executed with very different underlying fundamentals.
In boxing, stance, defensive guard, distancing, and head movement would be considered fundamentals. Basic boxing techniques would be the jab, hook, and cross.
Concepts are the principles of how you apply the techniques. The concepts of jiu-jitsu are both nebulous and yet simple.
A basic technique would be a scissors sweep from closed guard. The fundamentals would be hip movement and controlling the posting arm of your opponent in all sweeps.
The concepts involved in performing the scissors sweep might be:
Kuzushi: Breaking the balance of the opponent with a pull on the sleeve before attempting a throw or sweep
Action/reaction : Pulling the opponent in one direction and then using their defensive reaction to sweep them in the opposite direction.
It is possible to know the basic technique, have good hip movement and grips, but attempt the sweep in a direct manner without any setup or attention to unbalancing the opponent first. This is often the difference between a blue and a black belt execution.
The basic techniques with attention to solid fundamentals underneath are what is most often meant when your coach advises you to focus on the basics. Hope this helps clear up the confusion.