MMA 101 – Jiu Jitsu

So, Conor McGregor grabbed your attention. Or maybe you’re tired of pushing weights and running to nowhere. Hell, perhaps you’re the oft-maligned 90lb weakling and you want to learn how to kick some ass. Well, my friend, I know what you’re going through, and I’m here to help.  I’ve been there – the insecure guy, building muscle ‘cause Arnold said so, doing cardio because, well, honestly, I didn’t do cardio, it sucks. I always knew there had to be a way to get started in fighting, a way that didn’t involve a small Asian man and snappy headbands.

How do you get started on a path to a real, legitimate fight? How do you cut through the “death touches” and head trauma and figure out how to be confident either in the cage or on the street? What is first step to building that confidence, the confidence that will allow to know you can handle yourself regardless of the situation?  

Step One:  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  

Of late, it’s become the martial art du jour. Demi Lovato, Ashton Kutcher, hell, even the Biebs have all been spotted rolling lately. There is a reason behind that. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ from here on out) is one of the lowest impact, most highly effective martial arts for self defense. It’s also, in my opinion, the best base for fighting. I know there are some strikers out there white knuckling their keyboard, throttling the keys while talking about Muay Thai and boxing, lamenting that karate is the jam. I can look to UFC 1 and cite Royce Gracie’s dominant performance, or most recently Stipe Miocic’s utter dismantling of Francis Ngannou in UFC 220 using, wait for it…BJJ (yes, Stipe used wrestling – it’s a grappling art, relax).  

For the uninitiated, BJJ is a martial art centered on ground fighting. The end goal is securing a choke or a joint manipulation in a way that would grievously injure an opponent to such a degree that they are incapacitated. It began as a Japanese martial art and was adopted by the Gracie family of Brazil around the mid 20th century, and tweaked to give the advantage to the smaller, more technically sound, fighter. A martial art that was quite literally developed to give smaller, weaker opponents a way to defeat larger, stronger foes. Sounds fun, right?

If a person has no previous background in fighting, stepping into a room full of people gloved up and ready to inflict head trauma is a hell of way to start. You will most definitely need to take a LONG TIME learning how to strike before it becomes an effective technique, and most fights will end up going to the ground anyway, either in the cage or on the street. So if you don’t know how to handle yourself with your back literally on the ground, you, sir, are dicked.  

A new student in most BJJ schools will start lightly sparring almost immediately, since there is no real risk of head trauma or hard hits. When a submission is secured, you simply tap to admit defeat, and restart. No harm, no foul. It is shocking how quickly even a little bit of proficiency in ground fighting can create a dominant monster against an untrained, bigger opponent.

The other benefits are huge. Rolling (the common term for BJJ sparring) is intense…very intense. Learning that your clothing can be used against you, and then defending against that is a cardiovascular workout on par with the most intense Crossfit/HIIT/whatever the hell workout you used to do in the gym. There aren’t many who start in BJJ and don’t have noticeable differences in their physique after just a month or two of consistent training.  

If you want to take it to the next level and pursue the ultimate in competition, a fight, it’s a wonderful primer. Training BJJ gives the practitioner a solid base to build on. If you don’t know how to grapple, going to the ground against a better striker is going from bad to worse.  With just a little BJJ, that transition from the feet to the mat becomes an advantage. Off the feet the better grappler wins a fight more times than not.  

If you’re looking to get started in MMA, start with BJJ. If you’re looking to find a reason to go the gym that doesn’t involve running to nowhere and lifting weights that are at best apathetic to your existence, start rolling.  

We will cover some of the other parts of MMA 101 going forward, but step one is learning how to grapple.


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Jens Nestingen is a family man with the bad habit of continual fight training. When not found being an animatronic punching bag he can be found questioning his choice to adopt a 90lb moron disguised as a dog. Follow him on Instagram at your own peril at @jens_nestingen Find more of his work @