All Jiujitsu fanatics should be familiar with the film Choke, in which the legendary Rickson Gracie does some crazy Yoga breathing as a warm up:
So, with Rickson Gracie often referred to as the best Jiujitsu practitioner of the modern age, it’s clear that good breathing (and flexibility) is integral to good Jiujitsu. But what Master Rickson is doing looks like pretty advanced stuff, so let’s roll it back a second.
Steve Maxwell, an early student of the Gracies, talks about the basics of Gracie breathing here – mainly about why you should breath from the abdomen, and he talks about their use of short, little, recovery breaths:
If you want a quick step-by-step on how to breathe properly then try this surprisingly simple guide. This is all well and good as a background theory, but I find explanations of breathing in Jiujitsu are always a little bit ‘woolly’ – I mean, the question I really want to know is how should I actually breathe when I roll? What happens when the rubber meets the road?
Interestingly, Nic Gregoriades from the Jiujitsu Brotherhood, a Roger Gracie black belt and Yoga enthusiast, has recently blogged about the basic principles of breathing in Yoga and how to apply it to BJJ in a way that’s simple and easy to understand. It could be a real game changer for the way you approach Jiujitsu. Read the full post first, but the key bit is this:
“In general, any forward bending movement or movement in which your shoulders and hips move closer towards each other should be done upon exhalation.”
“Conversely, any action that requires an arching of the spine or which increases the distance between the shoulders and the hips should be accompanied by an inhalation.”
That’s it. It’s really that simple. His reasoning is that the lungs inflate when you breath in, which supports the spine, making it stronger. When you breath out you empty the lungs, making it easier to bend forward because there is less air in your torso. So, if you follow this method you’re coordinating your breathing with your movement in a way that works more efficiently, and we all know how important the Gracies viewed efficiency in Jiujitsu.
So, a hip escape, where you close the distance between hips and shoulders, becomes a breathing out movement, while a bridging movement, where you open and expand the space becomes a breathing in movement.
All martial artists will be familiar with the idea of breathing out as you punch, for example, but breathing in to support the spine on expansive moves will probably be a new concept. So, it’s interesting to see how the idea would work in a common BJJ movement, like the triangle choke.
Your opponents posture in a triangle is your enemy, so you need to pull them in to keep them from posturing up and escaping. Following Nic’s breathing logic the first part of your triangle setup (getting the diamond position) would be an in breath, as you throw the legs up, and then an out breath as you clamp your legs down and secure the head, like this:
If you get the opportunity to pass the arm across to the correct side then that movement is usually accompanied by popping the hips up, which would be an in breath, as the shoulders and hips move away from each other. Like this:
Next you need to cut the angle and lock up the triangle. Here you need to keep the opponent held down, so it’s a pulling in motion and an out breath.
Then, finally, the finish would be an in breath as you pull down on the head and pop your hips upward again to get the tap.
(b.t.w those images are taken from an excellent tutorial on how to get the triangle choke from half guard by Stephan Kesting and Brandon Mullins on Grapple Arts – check it out!)
Try it with a hip escape
So, the theory is interesting, and seems to transfer well to actual practice, but, do you have to do it like that? I don’t think so. A triangle will obviously work whatever you’re doing with your breathing, but this concept could be a new way of looking at Jiujitsu that might lead to that ‘effortless Jiujitsu’ which we all chase, but seems to lie at the end of a rainbow somewhere.
Rather than experiment with this breathing method in something difficult, like a triangle, you might like to start with the simple shrimping (hip escaping) motion that most BJJ classes use as a warm up. There are several different variations (video) on shrimping, but let’s just start with he basic one.
As you shrimp to the side you bring your shoulders and hips closer together and breathe out. Then as you reset to the middle you breathe back in.
Then breathe out as you shrimp to the other side.
That’s it. It’s pretty simple, but it’s better to start small and build up. Let me know how you get on and whether you think it makes a difference to your jiujitsu in the comments.