Stephen Whittier – BJJ Basics vs. BJJ Fundamentals

I recently had the opportunity to sit and chat with Stephen Whittier, author of and one of the most respected online instructors to older grapplers. The topics was his idea of what makes the “Basics” different than the “Fundamentals.” It’s a distinction that I never really thought about, but something that I think is productive for almost ANY grappler to think about.

“Although it is great to experiment with and study different techniques and approaches to the game to discover what works for you, trying to copy other peoples’ styles is one of the biggest impediments to many students’ skill development.

The tendency to “try on” others’ games is REALLY common at the blue and even purple belt levels.

By the time you’re a BJJ purple belt you will no doubt have some things you are very good at, but the process of truly working out a game that is distinctively YOURS usually occurs around the brown belt level.

Knowing this, I give my students the tools to begin that process earlier.

Knowing how to efficiently refine — and ultimately define — your routes is super powerful for any student, but again, it’s GOLD for helping the older grappler to stay sharp and “in the game” with the younger mat sharks.

Which brings us back to the distinction between “Basics” and “Fundamentals…

The term “basics” drives another BJJ coach, a friend of mine who’s a great instructor, crazy.

(When I’m around him I say it all the time just to get him riled up!)

WhittierBut he’s right….

To say there are “basic” techniques implies that there are “advanced” techniques.

Don’t buy it.

Look at the highest level athletes in any sport (including BJJ)… you’ll see that “advanced”  skill involves a combination of physical attributes and masterful execution of FUNDAMENTAL physical principles.

That’s why Kobe Bryant’s skill on the court would still be greater than mine even if I “knew” every “move” he knows.

In other words: advanced simply refers to effectiveness in relation to one’s personal “style,” or expression of the art.

On the other hand, we have Fundamentals.

Another good friend (and one of my own coaches), Matt Thornton, describes a fundamental as: Something that everyone, regardless of physical  attributes, needs to know to play the game.

Also important: minus some minor variations, everyone will perform a fundamental in roughly the same way because it is based in core physical principles.

Make sense? Now think back to that point about teaching a “system”… we have to be really careful about what that means in practical terms.”

In Thornton’s definition of fundamentals, we’re talking about some really CORE skills that man, woman and child need to know to “do” BJJ, to progress and develop a game. This was a distinction worth getting from Stephen, and I hope it’ll spur some useful ideas for you guys out there.

I have a LOT more from my “Whittier interviews” coming up soon, including some more techniques, and for those of you who are interested in Stephen’s 40 Plus BJJ Success course – check out the full review of the program itself on “SoS.”

Talk soon and be well,


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