When you first enter a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, you’ll notice right away that the instructors and other students are speaking a language that sounds like English... but may as well be something else entirely. Just like any other sport, BJJ has its own unique vocabulary. Everything from specific stances and attacks, to injuries and conversational phrases, are unique to the sport. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few terms that you’ll probably hear right away:
Like many other martial arts, BJJ students wear a Gi, also called a kimono. There are colored belts, also called faixa, to denote progress, and bars on the belts called grau, to indicate degree within the specific level. The mats that students stand on may also be called tatami.
While these terms probably won’t trip you up too much if you’ve ever seen even a single martial arts movie, it can be hard to keep up with everything in your first class. If you hear these terms being called out, at least you’ll have an inkling of what the instructor may be talking about.
There are many positions and attacks in BJJ, and some instructors may use their own specific term for some types of positions. You may hear terms such as:
- Look Up
- Spider Guard
- Closed Guard
- Take Down
- Single Arm Kimura
- Seat Belt Grip
- North South
- Japanese Necktie
All of these are specific positions within BJJ. For your first few weeks of classes, you’re most likely to hear and see positions like Side Control, Half Guard, Closed Guard, X-Guard, Underhook, Hip Escape, Shrimping, Mount, Take Back, and Upa. If your instructor has a specific term for a position, you may want to ask what the “official” BJJ term is so that you can look the position up or discuss it with students of other instructors.
Additionally, all BJJ students need to know what the direction “posture” means from the start. If your instructor says “posture,” it’s a reminder that your back and neck should be straight, and your head should be in line with your spine. This is important for all other BJJ positions.
All sports have their own slang phrases, and you’ll probably hear them as time goes on in your BJJ career. If you’ve been involved in sports or martial arts before, you may even recognize many of these. Slang in BJJ often includes phrases like “gassed”, but in many cases BJJ slang is Portuguese. Words like “bombado” (meaning on steroids), “bora” or “vamo bora” (meaning let’s go) are used in many classes, even those not led by Portuguese instructors.
Learning Terms Quickly
The biggest reason to learn BJJ terms quickly is so that you can learn more effectively. Instructors and more advanced students will be speaking this “language” when they explain positions to you. You’ll be given directions in this “language”. And learning to speak it will allow you to understand and ask for clarification in the most effective way.
Additionally, learning these terms gives you a greater enjoyment of the sport. When you know how to identify what’s happening, it’s much easier to enjoy and analyze what you see. Learning terms quickly is usually a matter of exposure. Immersing yourself in BJJ classes leads to pretty good understanding of terms, especially if you are expected to respond to directions given.
Don’t skip out on talking to your instructor or fellow students about the terminology that you don’t understand. The sooner you can learn which are official BJJ terms, which are instructor-specific terms, and which aren’t really BJJ terms at all, the sooner you’ll be able to advance in your BJJ understanding.