Beginner’s curriculum

I recently received an email from a beginner enquirying about how to take a better approach to learning BJJ. The email illustrates the common idea that many beginners have, that BJJ is a collection of techniques. Unfortunately, many BJJ coaches and instructors encourage this idea by running a class composed entirely of techniques.

Techniques are useful in BJJ in highly constrained circumstances—namely when your oppponent has limited ability to move. But the majority of rolling is unconstrained because your opponent usually has a lot of freedom to move.

Beginners need conceptual understanding of what they are trying to achieve, not a recipe of steps. I’ve included the curriculum I use for beginners in my reply below. Note that it is conceptual, rather than technique based.

Hi Stu,

> I live very  far away from your dojo in the U.S. I am new to
> BJJ and looking to apply the 80/20 principle to learning it.

If you are near a Straight Blast gym or affiliate then check them out. Getting good at BJJ is more about HOW to train rather than WHAT to train. Attending a SBGi gym will give you a feel for the how.

> I am wondering if you have come up with a list of
> techniques, escapes, sweeps and et cetera that you could
> recommend.

In my opinion, learning BJJ as a list of techniques is a very slow way to gain competance. It leads to frustration and most people quit before they get to a decent level. Unfortunately, BJJ is taught this way in most gyms.

Learning a technique (a series of steps) leads to confusion because you don’t know which steps are important and which ones you can skip. In the frenzy of a live roll, you can’t perform a technique exactly so you need to modify how you do it on the fly. Technique based learning doesn’t give you the skills needed to do this.

> DO you have a curriculum that you have mapped out for a
> beginner? If so, you would be kind enough to share it, would
> you not?

Here’s the list of skills I think all beginners should have. You will note that there are not a lot of techniques in the curriculum.


  • Work your neck mobility for injury prevention.
  • Shoulder and hip alignment to achieve a strong spine.
  • Improve your hip range of motion (deep squat).
  • Keep elbows close to your ribs when you require strong arms.


  • Training is training. It’s not competition.
  • If you’re not getting passed, swept or submitted it’s not because you’re good, it’s because you’re stagnant.
  • Slow down and use less strength. Non-attribute based training.


  • Single leg takedowns.
  • Guard pulling.

Guard bottom:

  • Learn how to get back to your feet.
  • Learn how to get underneath your opponents to off-balance them.
  • Avoid trying to submit until you feel confident with the above two points.
  • Avoid closed guard till you have a few years of experience.

Guard passing:

  • Don’t get swept or submitted – requires good grips and correct posture.
  • You need to know how to pass over, under and around the legs.
  • Passing is about flowing like water, always taking the easiest path. This mean you change your passing style according to how your opponent resists.

Defending game:

  • Don’t let your opponent control your head.
  • Learn elbow-knee escape.

Attacking game:

  • Establish dominant control and be able to transition to other positions of control without letting your opponent escape.
  • Now is the time for techniques. When you have good control, there is much less that your opponent can do to stop you, so a step by step approach works here.
    • Arm triangles
    • Armbars
    • Shoulder locks
    • Other chokes (guillotines, RNC, north-south choke)

> I think have a blue print of high percentage techniques
> would be very helpful to me. Thank you for your time and
> effort in helping me on my journey into BJJ

The most important technique is the elbow-knee escape. You will use this a lot throughout your BJJ career.

Next you’ll want to develop a guard that keeps you safe. Avoid closed guard. Just because you’re not getting passed, doesn’t mean you have a good guard. It means you’re stalling. A good guard is one that prevents your opponent from passing AND lets you get on top of your opponent. Think seated, butterfly, x and de-la riva guards.

That’s it for the moment. As a beginner, you’ll spend a lot of time on the bottom so learn to be comfortable there.

For more technical information, I’ve got a list of online resources that I’ve found to be useful.

All the best for your BJJ journey.



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