What do you do outside the Jiu Jitsu gym that you think is helping you perform better on the mats? Many people choose weightlifting or CrossFit, some like to run, others swear by yoga, and there are those that focus on nothing but calisthenics.
But what if you don’t like traditional workouts? What if… you want to do something, dare I say, fun? Let me suggest something that will seem radical at first, but will make lots of sense immediately afterward: How about dancing? More precisely, how about breakdancing for Jiu Jitsu?
What is breakdancing?
You probably have an idea of what breakdancing is, likely from music videos. It is an athletically-demanding, acrobatic form of dancing that resembles gymnastics mixed with capoeira.
Breakdancing started in the early 1970s in the Bronx, mainly in the African American and Latin communities. The name comes from a DJ technique called “break” which involves a series of specific rhythms and sounds produced by DJs mixing songs.
DJ Kool Herc was an early pioneer, playing two identical records simultaneously, and then breaking them so that he got a continuous dancing rhythm from them.
The dance came in response to the music, and emphasized movement, creativity, high energy, humor, and risk-taking. While breakdancing is an improvisation there is an organizational system to it.
Breakdancing consists of five different categories: toprock, downrock, drops, power moves, and freezes. Each category has certain standard moves, but most are open for interpretation and every breakdancer (known within the dance as a b-boy, b-girl, or simply breaker) throws their own into the mix.
Breakdancing became very popular in the 1980s, largely as a result of Michael Jackson incorporating the moonwalk, a classic breaking toprock move, into his dance routine. This helped push the culture and style of breakdancing from street corners and parks onto the mainstream stage.
And, while we’ve been calling the dance style “breakdancing” thus far, it should be stated that that’s not actually what the dance is called within the community. It is simply called breaking, and that will be the term we’ll use going forward.
So, how can you get better at BJJ by practicing a street dancing style from the ‘70s? Well, breaking is so athletically demanding that it is far more than just a dance routine. It is now a recognized form of sport, and given its competitive nature, it has been approved to feature in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
How Can You Get Better At BJJ with Breaking?
You often hear that in order to get better at Jiu Jitsu you need to do more Jiu Jitsu. That is true to an extent, given the specific nature of the sport. However, there is such a thing as a plateau, and too much training can be just as bad as not enough.
When you’re wondering how to get better at BJJ while doing something off the mats you need to keep the demands of Jiu Jitsu in mind. While you can’t mimic grappling off the mats, you can prepare your body for Jiu Jitsu by utilizing movements and motions that enhance your control over your body from mechanically disadvantaged positions.
Breaking is similar to gymnastics, but without any rules about form and complete freedom to put together a routine. In fact, this is precisely why I prefer breakdancing for Jiu Jitsu rather than gymnastics.
People say that if you put a gymnast in any sport they will find their feet faster than any other athlete. People are correct. However, gymnastics is very strict and highly controlled, in terms of performing the moves.
In breaking you are actually encouraged to add your own moves, modify and make the routine your own, while still checking all the main boxes that define a dancing routine in terms of categories. This might sound familiar to anyone who has practiced BJJ for long enough.
In Jiu Jitsu, you are required to move your own body against resistance, and also move the resisting body of an opponent at the same time. There is hardly anything better than breakdancing to teach you how to control your body in the weirdest possible positions, both dynamically and statically and both at a slow and extremely quick pace.
If you can control everything you do with your body at all times during grappling exchanges, you’ll find it easy to figure out how to manipulate your opponent.
Implementing Breaking For Jiu Jitsu
There is no real programming (yet) that will help you implement breaking for Jiu Jitsu into a weekly or monthly routine. Breaking is difficult to learn and master, so you will most likely start off attempting to develop some breaking specific strength and spatial awareness.
Breaking, just like BJJ, is not a skill which can be learned overnight, or even over the course of several months. Similar to Jiu Jitsu, establishing yourself as a breaker and making it onto a recognized crew can take up to a decade.
I used to break a lot when I was in high school, then took a break for around 15 years, but currently I train breaking twice a week. I focus on working on some classic moves from each category (I’ll explain more on that front in a minute) and then freestyle for a while, building and refining a fun routine for me.
Admittedly, this training routine won’t win me any breaking battles but it does help my Jiu Jitsu, and it is a fun party trick!
Why Breakdancing is Good for BJJ
Breaking results in a very specific type of physical intelligence that provides an advantage for grapplers. Just imagine if you were able to creatively spin, jump, or one arm cartwheel out of a scramble!
Apart from being able to physically outsmart opponents in BJJ, there’s another reason why you should look into breakdancing for Jiu Jitsu.
- The agility and footwork required for toprock moves will make you very difficult to take down, while opening awesome angles for you;
- The spatial awareness you get from drops will help you transition seamlessly from standing to the mat and back up;
- The mobility you get from the downrock is hard to achieve any other way;
- The explosiveness and understanding of inertia from power moves will come in handy during any scramble you run into
- The tendon strength you get from freezes in very unnatural positions will help protect your joints and muscles from injuries
The Basics of Breakdance
There are countless moves in breakdancing, so identifying what you should do is like trying to tell you which guard to play for the rest of your BJJ career. That said, if you are brand new to breaking, and have not done any dancing or gymnastics before, you should definitely start slow. Accept that you will be a white belt at breakdancing for quite a long while.
Here are a few recommendations for you to start with from each category.
Downrock: These are the moves that b-boy and girls do on the ground while supporting themselves on their arms or feet. There are many moves to choose from in this category, but step-outs and the six-step are fundamentals you should start with.
Freezes: Some of my favorite moves for Jiu Jitsu moves are freezes. They require lots of balance and strength, which if you don’t have, you’ll develop by doing these. Given the need for inverting and remaining in weird positions while carrying the opponent’s weight in BJJ I’d recommend starting with the baby freeze, and also exploring the Halo freeze.
Toprock: It is all about footwork here. If you’re wondering exactly how to get better at BJJ by dancing on your feet, imagine doing some of the moves from the video below while you’re standing over an opponent looking to pass their guard. The 2-step and cross-step are staples but feel free to experiment with anything you want.
Drops: Highly useful in both injury protection and transitioning between standing and the ground. Start off exploring the knee drop, it is much more difficult than it seems. You can then move on to fancier stuff.
Power moves: Acrobatic moves that rely highly on athleticism and momentum. Swipes and backspins are the two to focus on, but feel free to leave them out of your training routine at the beginning.
How to Incorporate Breaking Into Your Jiu Jitsu Training Routine
When you’re breakdancing for Jiu Jitsu, think about learning the moves and movement patterns first. In that sense, you need to think about two things: repetitions and speed.
First of all, you will need to figure out the moves. The best way, as in BJJ, is to learn from an experienced teacher. If you’re learning yourself off of YouTube and instructionals, make sure to stick to basics and repeat every move you’re practicing from each category at least 10 times per training session.
Moreover, make sure to build up your speed in each of the motions over time. Once you’re comfortable doing the move 10 times slowly, do another set repeating the moves 10 times at a moderate pace.
Keep adjusting the speed and repetitions of moves until you’re comfortable with them. You can then look at how to connect them to one another and form a routine.
Examples of Grappling Breakdancers
If you require further proof that breakdancing for Jiu Jitsu is a good idea, just look at some grapplers that have a breaking background and you’ll quicky see how fast it can help improve your grappling skills.
The most obvious examples are Geo and Richie Martinez, the 10th Planet standouts, and black belts under Eddie Bravo. Their styles are crazy, and they have managed to get from white to black belt in record time as a result of the dexterity gained from breakdancing.
Another example is Charles Harriott a black belt and BJJ Globetrotters instructor who has a crazy effective grappling style blending together slick breakdancing moves with even slicker leg lock setups.
While breakdancing for Jiu Jitsu won’t help you learn BJJ moves, it will help you better control and move your body through space, which plays a huge role in how effective you will be at learning and executing BJJ moves under the pressure of rolling.
If you want to know how to get better at BJJ off the mats, why not put a pair of baggy pants on and try out breaking? You might just learn to love it!
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.