Principles for Teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Through Games

Oct 30, 2023Jiu-Jitsu

Teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Through Games

Game-based learning has become a popular coaching methodology in many sports. The idea is to use games and game-like activities to teach skills and tactics, as well as improve fitness. This approach offers several benefits compared to more traditional, drill-focused training methods. Games tend to be more enjoyable and engaging for athletes. They also allow skills and tactics to be developed in environments that closely mimic competition settings.

The Need for Game-Based BJJ Training

In the past, kids used to spend a lot of time engaged in unstructured, self-directed play. This type of play provided opportunities to explore and experiment, failure was part of the process, and kids learned important lessons through this process. However, free play has declined over recent decades for various reasons.

As a result, many kids are not learning crucial lessons through play that previous generations did. Game-based training methods can help fill this gap by incorporating elements of play into more structured coaching environments. The games approach lends itself well to:

  • Teaching skills and tactics relevant to competition performance
  • Developing physical fitness
  • Keeping athletes engaged and enjoying the process

Proper implementation requires coaches to get creative in designing games that elicit specific learning outcomes. It also requires giving athletes more freedom to explore solutions themselves.

Designing Effective BJJ Games

There are several factors to consider when designing games for training:

Rules and Constraints

  • What rules or modifications will emphasise the skills/tactics you want to develop?
  • Can you manipulate equipment, playing area, scoring etc. to shape learning?
  • How will you progress from simple to more complex games?


  • Ask open-ended questions to get athletes reflecting and articulating their thoughts
  • “What happened when you did X?”
  • “What adjustments could we make to create Y outcome?”


  • Involve athletes in setting some of the rules or parameters
  • Let them modify games – they will likely come up with good ideas
  • Give them ownership over components of sessions

Game Variety

  • Use a mix of cooperative and competitive games
  • Include individual challenges as well as group games
  • Vary size of playing area, number of players etc.


  • Design games that replicate skills/tactics/patterns from competition
  • Get input from athletes on skills or scenarios to emphasise

Teaching BJJ Tactics Through Games

Games are an excellent way to develop tactical awareness and decision-making skills. Here are some examples of how games can be designed to emphasise tactical lessons:

Recognition Games

These focus on reading cues and making quick tactical decisions in response. For example, athletes must perform a specific technique based on their partner’s grip or stance. Rapid pattern recognition is developed through repetition.

Scenario Games

Set up a specific positional scenario and have athletes problem solve solutions. Progress from simple to more complex scenarios. Ask questions to get athletes reflecting on optimal responses.

Exaggeration Games

Exaggerate a particular tactic to emphasise its importance. For example, require that all attacks must start with a particular grip or setup. Constraints shape the lesson.

Choice Games

Provide athletes with options for how to proceed. For example, offer two or three grips they could attempt from a given position. Let them experiment with different choices.

Opportunity Games

Design games to create many opportunities to attempt specific techniques or tactics. High repetition in a relevant context embeds the desired skills.

Improving Fitness Through Games

Well-designed games can develop fitness as effectively as traditional conditioning approaches. The key is maximising engagement and active participation. Here are some strategies:

Frequent Movement

Keep all athletes moving constantly with minimal stoppages or waiting. Shrink playing areas as needed.

Variable Challenges

Include games ranging from moderate to highly intense. Mix up cooperative and competitive formats.

Maximise Involvement

Use small-sided games or individual tasks to ensure all athletes are actively participating.

Hidden Fitness

Blend fitness development seamlessly into games. Athletes can develop endurance, strength, power etc. without realising it.


Introduce new and varied games to keep things interesting. Challenge athletes in different ways.

Fitness developed through games often transfers well to competition demands since skills and fitness are integrated. Athletes learn to perform when fatigued as well.

Teaching BJJ Through Games

A game-based approach allows BJJ skills, tactics, and fitness to be developed in integrated ways that mimic competition settings. Coaches must get creative in designing games that elicit specific learning outcomes. Letting athletes take greater ownership over components of training also enhances engagement and learning. Proper implementation requires patience as athletes become accustomed to this style. The rewards in terms of enjoyment, participation, and competition performance make it well worthwhile.

At Apex MMA, we incorporate game-based methods extensively in our BJJ classes. The variety and relevance of these activities keeps students motivated while instilling the skills needed for the mats. If you try implementing some of these ideas in your coaching, we are confident you will see positive results. Just remember that games are the means rather than the end – keep the desired learning outcomes, not just fun, at the forefront of your planning.

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Team Apex MMA Martial Arts Coach
Apex MMA is a specialist mixed martial arts gym focusing on Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Led by an experienced team of instructors, Apex MMA offers comprehensive training programs for students of all ages and skill levels. With Apex MMA's systematic teaching methods, passion for martial arts, and strong community relationships, you will gain the tools to succeed in the gym and beyond.
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