Due to an injury to one of my friends, I have found myself pitching in covering the fundamentals classes at his academy. Even though at one point I would teach about 4 fundamental classes a week, it’s been a long time since I taught a class of mostly fresh white belts. Most of my time teaching has been the odd advanced class at my home gym or mixed groups at camps or seminars. Thinking about what is best to teach raw beginners is a welcome change of pace.
I went back and thought through what my favorite moves were at lower belts and also recalled what approaches worked best when I had my own beginner’s program. I created a list of what to teach, covering four or five moves for sweeping, escaping, passing, and submitting.
When I teach beginners, I like to start by covering sweeps. The sweep game is a great place to start for white belts because the small victory of going from the bottom to the top is rewarding, and it gets them thinking more about base and timing early on in their careers.
Any move I teach beginners, including sweeps, must meet the following criteria:
- Develop movement patterns that will be needed for more advanced moves.
- Are not attribute dependent (long legs, strong, flexible, etc.)
- Able to rewind to a safe position if the move fails, like closed guard for example
The sweeps I chose for this criteria were the following:
Scissor sweep: I often introduce this sweep first because it starts introducing concepts of unbalancing, or kuzushi if you want to use fancy Japanese terms, and it also introduces a transition from closed guard into an open guard attack.
Headstand sweep: I think this sweep is crucial at the lower levels. If your open guard is not developed, you need a way to deal with someone standing to pass. To this day, this is one of my favorite closed guard sweeps.
Arm across sweep: Bringing the arm across and going for the pendulum sweep introduces what I like to call unfair gripping. Understanding the principles behind this sweep opens-up more advanced guard and control concepts.
Two on one back take: I will throw this one on the sweep section even if it does not mee the IBJJF definition of a sweep. Many times when attacking sweeps paths to the back open. The mechanics behind this one greatly help new students, especially when collar and armdrags come into play.
The beauty of fundamental sweeps like these is that even if you are not a beginner, returning to them can help you to enhance your game or unlock new, high-percentage paths for your techniques. And when you start teaching—even if it’s just covering the odd class or answering questions during an open mat—having some ideas of what might be best for beginners will help you to lead the next generation of jiu-jiteiros.