How to Break All the BJJ Rules and Get Away With It

Updated on March 26, 2020
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Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.

Doing All the Wrong Things Right

In BJJ, there are certain cardinal rules you learn when you first start, and these rules are incredibly helpful in getting started. For a novice, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a complex maze of confusing movements and a cacophony of limbs entangling one another until one person taps out.

Rules can simplify things to a great extent and give you guiding principles to work from. However, once you get to a certain point, your training partners also know all the rules relatively well, so it's time to deviate from them ("bend the rules") slightly in many cases, and in some cases to break the rules outright. We'll look at a few of the main "cardinal rules" of BJJ and how to break them effectively via links to BJJ tutorials.

Turning Your Back and Getting Away With iIt

BJJ cardinal rule:
Don't ever turn your back! Clearly, we all remember starting BJJ and how difficult it was to keep people from choking us whenever we turned away to avoid a guard pass. After hearing it over and over again (and, if you were like me, un-ingraining habits from wrestling), the light bulb goes off and you're able to program yourself not to turn away.

How you can break the rule:
The rule is a very good one in general, but as we'll see, there is a time when it's the right thing to do, particularly when there is a submission involved. If you were watching MMA in the late 1990s, it was tough not to notice Kazushi Sakuraba's fast rise to the top (and to be consistently ranked among the best fighters of all time). A lot of Saku's success resulted from his unorthodox style, including utilizing both kimuras and leglocks. That's an easy place to start.




Posture in the Guard!

BJJ cardinal rule:
Always have good posture inside the closed guard! We quickly learn in BJJ that having low posture means being armbarred, choked, having your back taken, or any of a dozen other unforeseen disasters. Again, in general, this is excellent advice you should not forsake until you fully understand the risks and dangers involved with low posture.

How you can break the rule:
In what has, incredibly, become my own personal go-gi closed guard opening, I give you the "Wilson pass," AKA "São Paulo pass," AKA "Tozi pass." I was fortunate enough to learn directly from Wilson Reis (now a UFC fighter; even then an incredible black belt competitor in his own right) about 10 years ago, and I've made my own adjustments largely based on body type and personal preference.


Don't Get Caught!

BJJ cardinal rule:
"Don't be late!" I will never forget attending several BJJ seminars relatively early on for me (the late 1990s) and hearing the same type of questions at virtually every seminar: "How do I get out of (X submission)?" The answer? "Don't be late." While this is, again, sound advice for the novice BJJ student, the reality remains that, sometimes, you're going to get caught.

How you can break the rule:
There are quite a few different ways to escape deep submissions, but the main concept always relies on deconstruction: determining what your partner is trying to do to you, and then either reversing the situation or else surviving and escaping, in spite of how bad things look at the moment.


Position Before Submission

BJJ cardinal rule: Position before submission! What a great rule for beginners. If you try for a choke inside your opponent's guard, you immediately get armbarred. "Once again, the kung fu man shows his lack of understanding of the fundamentals of Gracie Jiu Jitsu™." This is the rock-solid foundation upon which the current BJJ tower is built.

How you can break the rule:
Here's where really understanding what your partner's options are comes in handy. If you understand well your partner's ability to finish you and can even predict what they'll do, you can exploit this to your benefit, even from seemingly terrible positions.

Favorite rule violation?

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You Are Part of the Community

If you've enjoyed this lesson, please take a minute to let me know, either in the comments section here, or else in person (at my gym or at a seminar). If you think another tutorial should be included in this lesson, please feel free to suggest it, too! And have fun breaking rules. It's fun.

© 2016 Andrew Smith


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    • revolutionbjj profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      James is correct.

    • profile image

      James Speight 

      4 years ago

      Rule of Jiu-Jitsu is to follow the rules until you do not have to follow the rules.

    • revolutionbjj profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Glad to post, Izzy! Your footlocks from when the guy has your back are nasty!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      By far, some of the best advice!!! I've rolled with another black belt that crossed his feet while taking my back and I foot lock him (Izzy style). His comment was well those are not allowed in Naga. Well, you have catch and escape using whatever you can and as you get better always have an open mind and don't assume there is only one way. Thanks for posting this Andrew!!


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