Being the OCD type, a few years ago I set out to make a list of every Jiu Jitsu technique in existence. Granted, that’s as absurdly impossible as naming every food dish in the world. By the time you get to asparagus soup a thousand new recipes and ten thousand variations will have sprung up. Still, I’m one for a good challenge, so I made my list (and checked it twice!). About a year later I had a list with over 1000 techniques.
Incidentally, if you’ve ever trained with Roy Harris you know that he can list a thousand techniques off the top of his head over breakfast, add another thousand while waiting for the check to arrive, and then list the exact number of distinct movement components in each one. I’ve never met someone that could catalog such insane levels of detail. And then smash you. Like a bug. A very small, insignificant one.
I’m not suggesting the average BJJ player needs to know that many techniques (although if you train long enough you will amass an impressive repertoire). My point is only how deep the art is. I’m not aware of any other martial art that offers so many solutions to the problems we encounter while fighting. Instead of calling it Jiu Jitsu they should have named it Brazilian McGuyver, and made the belts out of tin foil, chewing gum, and bellybutton lint.
So how many techniques do you need to know? The simple answer is it depends on your level. To test for your blue belt in our curriculum you need to demonstrate 50 techniques—various offensive and defensive options from the major positions, along with some throws, takedowns, leg locks and headlock escapes. By purple you will have delved into the many minor positions of BJJ and drilled much deeper into the specific building blocks of your own game. By brown you should be solid from just about any position. By black belt your knowledge should be broad and deep.
The base curriculum we teach from has a pool of roughly 300 techniques, consisting of the most useful options from the major and minor positions, along with a good collection of throws, takedowns and ancillary techniques.
Students don’t need to master all of it. What the techniques represent are possibilities—they represent destinations on a map. And they represent a framework to learn principles. By drilling a variety of techniques from each position a student gets the ingredients to build a game that suits them best.
The training methodology is key. You need a system that gives you regular exposure and lots of repetitions. The best methodology, which I experienced back when I trained at Roy Dean Academy, has students drilling several (generally related) techniques per class in a concentric system based on priority. Let me explain:
In order for assimilation, you must see and practice all the techniques at regular intervals. However, some techniques are more important than others, so the system gets divided up into groupings based on priority. Higher priority techniques cycle more frequently, while lower priority ones less frequently.
Escapes are priority number one, so those get drilled more than anything else. The second tier of priority gives students the most useful and classic options from each position—things like armbars and chokes, and these get cycled through frequently, but slightly less so than priority one. The last tier are the more specialized techniques that help build a well rounded game with lots of options and solutions from each position. These are on a slightly slower cycle.
I like to think of these three tiers as a series of concentric circles, like those spinning hypnotizing disks from 1950s Sci-Fi TV shows. The most important techniques are on a tight circle so students see them all the time. The other techniques are on slightly larger circles. With a couple years of training, the curriculum will have cycled enough times to build surprisingly good assimilation, and it will have provided a foundation to arrive at one’s own game. If you’ve watched any of the belt demonstrations on Roy Dean’s YouTube channel you’ll see examples of this in action.
As an instructor, my goal is to give each student a broad enough foundation to build a game that works for their body type and attributes, and at the higher levels, to use as a platform for deeper specialization.