In BJJ you’ll often hear the terms frames and levers being thrown around by both students and professors. While the words themselves are not difficult to understand, their meaning and use in BJJ are not as easy to figure out. Understanding how frames and levers work in grappling is one of the most fundamental BJJ concepts you need to master.
This article will explain the basics of frames and levers and help you begin to use these essential BJJ concepts in your game.
The Science Of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Scientific principles are at the core of everything we do while we grapple.
You want to sweep or take somebody down? If you make them lose balance, say by moving their center of gravity away from their base, they will fall. Are you looking to put some pressure on someone? Make sure you concentrate all your weight in as small of a surface area as possible and you’ll feel like you weigh a ton. Once again, a scientific principle.
During BJJ exchanges, we constantly rely on the principles of physics in order to achieve certain goals, even though we don’t necessarily take note of these principles as we’re doing so.
In essence, focusing on why things work rather than how to do them is a great way of actually learning Jiu Jitsu, instead of just copying it from your instructor or video. Figuring out the why will require more exploring BJJ concepts that are based on science, and less trying to memorize and execute multi-step technique sequences.
Learning about the role of frames and levers in Jiu Jitsu is a great place to start exploring the conceptual approach to grappling.
Two Fundamental BJJ Concepts: Frames and Levers
The idea behind the use of frames and levers in Jiu Jitsu is precisely why we can claim that a physically smaller person can easily deal with a larger and stronger opponent by using BJJ. It is not the techniques themselves that help people achieve it, but rather the principles those techniques are based upon.
These two logical BJJ concepts will help you make sense of a whole host of different situations you used to call “scrambles” simply because you could not identify exactly what you are supposed to do.
What are Frames in Jiu Jitsu?
The concept of frames in Jiu Jitsu has to do with creating space between you and your opponent by utilizing different configurations with your limbs. Frames, by definition, are structures that help you support lots of weight without the need to involve your muscles.
The use of frames requires you to adhere to two crucial principles:
First, you need to connect two of your limbs (two arms, two legs, or an arm and a leg) in order to build a structure that you can call a frame.
Second, you need to remember to keep your elbows and/or knees close to your body. The moment you start reaching far, you’re going to lose the structure, and with it, the power of a frame.
How to Use Frames in Jiu Jitsu?
One of the most fundamental BJJ concepts you need to learn early on is how and when to use frames in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. As I mentioned, frames allow you to create and maintain space between you and your opponent. Creating space is usually something that the bottom person desires, but this is far from a rule.
Most often, frames help prevent people from passing your guard or allow you to start escaping from bad bottom positions. A clear example of a frame that utilizes an arm and a leg is a bottom half guard. In the knee shield you are building a frame, your knee when supported by the elbow of your top arm forms a frame that is not just very powerful at preventing someone from coming close to you, but is also mobile, allowing you to follow the movements of an opponent.
Another obvious example of frames is escaping the bottom of the mount. For the knee-elbow escape, you start by turning to your side and placing one arm across your opponent’s hips and reinforcing it with the other arm. This frame stops your opponent from coming close to you and controlling you with direct pressure.
Further, the knee-elbow escape has you connecting your bottom knee to the bottom elbow, which again constitutes a frame that will help you completely escape the bottom mount position.
Another common use of frames is to prevent or escape certain submission holds, like the triangle choke.
There are many more examples of frames, but this is a basic overview of the concept. Remember that creating a frame far away from your body generally will weaken it. Whenever framing, try to keep your elbows or knees very close to your torso, or to each other.
What are Levers in Jiu Jitsu?
The second of our two fundamental BJJ concepts is the use of levers in Jiu Jitsu. Levers are force multipliers, helping you exert a lot more force upon a chosen target than you would be able to if you tried to attack it directly.
Levers work by allowing us to input a small amount of force over a large distance on one side of the fulcrum, creating a large amount of force over a small distance on the other side of the fulcrum.
How to Use Levers in Jiu Jitsu?
A very clear example of a lever is a bent armlock, be it a Kimura or an Americana. When hunting for either, we focus on bending the elbow at an angle of 90 degrees and we use a grip configuration that has both our arms holding the opponent’s forearm.
Manipulating the forearm, and through it, the upper arm multiplies the force we apply on the shoulder joint when we rotate. By working at the end of their bent arm we are able to apply force over a large distance, which is turned into a much greater force over a smaller distance inside the rotator cuff.
If you attempted to simply twist someone’s shoulder by grabbing their bicep and turning you’d find that you need to use a lot more force than you are able to apply in order to get the same result.
One of my favorite examples of levers as BJJ concepts is breaking posture, particularly during standing exchanges. The crown of the head is the end of the lever that is the spine. Manipulating the end of the lever will inevitably force a break in posture, because the pulling force you exert on their head multiplies going down every vertebra of the spine.
There’s no need to start reading books on physics and mechanics in order to become better at BJJ. While it will definitely help (if reading science books is something you enjoy doing), for most people, understanding the nuts and bolts behind BJJ concepts like framing and leverage is all it takes to start making sense of Jiu Jitsu. As Nietzsche said, “if you know the why you can conquer any how.”
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.