The Berimbolo is one of those few moves that is both flashy and highly effective. However, this technique is not an easy maneuver to master. But, that doesn’t mean that this is a move that only a select few can learn. By understanding how it works and putting the hours into learning it, you can become proficient when attacking with it as well as know how to counter and defend it!
Origins Of The Berimbolo
The Berimbolo is a hallmark of the so-called “modern Jiu Jitsu.” It was a part of BJJ’s first big evolution and paved the way for other competition-specific BJJ techniques.
Marcel Ferreira may hold the dubious honor of being the man responsible for inversions. As a Carson Gracie purple belt in the ‘90s, Ferreira responded to backstep passes against his De la Riva guard by inverting. His early efforts didn’t quite culminate in the Berimbolo that we know today, but these inversions represent the roots of this technique.
The technique was first performed in high level competition by Samuel Braga, who used it extensively in the early 2000’s.
The Mendes brothers, followed closely by the Miyao brothers, took human fidget spinner attacks in BJJ to the next level. These two brotherly duos eventually produced the modern berimbolo, which was named by Andre Galvao.
Since then, the Mendes and Miyao brothers refined the move to perfection, producing different variations and inspiring others to experiment and expand on the original berimbolo.
How does the Berimbolo Work?
The Berimbolo is most simply as an inversion from an open guard that disrupts your opponent’s balance. If you think about the berimbolo in this manner, you will have an easier time understanding and mastering it quickly.
A usual starting point for the berimbolo is the De la Riva guard, given that the outside hook (the DLR hook) is a prerequisite for the berimbolo to begin with. The DLR guard is still one of the most common launch pads for the move, but as the berimbolo evolved, so did the entries into the position.
From a De la Riva guard, you can invert to the outside of your opponent, causing them to react in one of a few predictable ways. The berimbolo user is then prepared to capitalize on each of these reactions.
The main goal of the berimbolo is to off-balance an opponent in order to score a sweep. It is the one constant you can bet on when it comes to the move. Oftentimes though, when the top person tries to counter or defend the berimbolo, they open up their back for attacks or provide entries into Ashi Garami.
The reason the berimbolo works so well is because you use your whole body against one of your opponent’s legs. Moreover, you use your body in a mechanically strong position (crunched and compact as a result of the inversion) with momentum adding wind to your sails.
How to do the Berimbolo
The berimbolo is mainly a gi move, although it can be used in no-gi under the right circumstances. The success of the move depends on four key elements:
- Understanding where the Berimbolo begins
- Establishing the correct grips and hooks
- Being able to invert
- Understanding the ultimate goal of the technique: taking the back
If you have a clear understanding of these key points, not only will you be able to execute the Berimbolo effectively, you’ll also be able to experiment with it safely in directions that suit your game.
The De la Riva guard is the usual starting point of a Berimbolo. The outside hook of the De la Riva guard is one of the most important aspects of the ‘Bolo, providing both an attachment point and a leverage point to make the berimbolo possible.
Guard pulls and particularly double guard pulls are also great launching pads for berimbolos. As new guards and guard variations emerge, so do possible entries into berimbolos, ranging from the Z-guard to the spider guard and beyond. There are even versions that begin from top positions, like the leg drag pass!
Grips And Hooks
For Berimbolos starting in De la Riva Guard, you’ll want to have one grip placed around the opponent’s heel on the same side as your DLR hook. The other grip can be placed a variety of spots, a common one being a belt grip. However, for the easiest version of the Berimbolo that everyone can do, we recommend having an ankle grip and a cross-collar grip.
The leg placement is not difficult, as one of your legs has to be in the De la Riva hook position. The other one is usually on your opponent’s hip.
What you have to take into account is that the grips will change as the Berimobolo progresses. Knowing and expecting this is going to massively change how you approach to move and how much success you’ll have with it.
How the grips change will depend on where the move is taking you. After you get your opponent’s butt to the ground, you will need to go for a grip on the pants or belt with the arm that initially had the cross-collar grip. The arm that originally gripped the heel moves to control one of the legs, usually by grabbing the back of the thigh or the gi at knee level.
How often you switch grips depends a lot on the opponent’s reactions. This is not a technique where you can just force a particular result, you must respond to your opponent dynamically. The key thing to remember is that you must not release both grips at the same time – always maintain one grip while you are switching the placement of the other!
The Berimbolo Motion or Inversion
What people perceive as the most difficult part of the berimbolo is the inversion that creates instability in the opponent which in turn allows you to gain a superior position. Thankfully, inverting can actually be easy, and you can start practicing the berimbolo without having to spin while you are inverting.
Using the cross-collar grip from the De la Riva guard is a great way of learning this technique. By having a grip on the collar, you’ve already broken your opponent’s posture. From there, you next need to take away their balance.
This can be done by pulling towards the mat with the cross-collar grip while lifting their heel with the other arm. This will force them to base with their hands, transferring weight off of their legs allowing you to manipulate their lower-body with ease.
This brings us to the inversion part. The easiest way to invert while you are lying on your back is to simply throw your feet over your head. The trick is to do this while keeping them based on their hands. With their weight on their arms you’ll be able to more easily invert.
Once their butt touches the ground you can either go to the top and score a sweep or use the final motion to finish the berimbolo to attempt to gain back control. The endgame is going to be decided mostly by how the opponent reacts.
Endgame: Taking the back
Most people Berimbolo with the intention of getting someone’s back. Let’s explore how to accomplish that in a bit more detail.
You started in your De la Riva, got a cross-collar grip, lifted the opponent up, and inverted – easily bringing their butt to the ground. This is the point where opponents will often react by trying to keep their hips off the mat in order to avoid the sweep. What this response means for you is that you are just a couple of grips away from a back take.
First, release the collar grip and grab their belt or the top of their pants at waist level. This is now an anchor which will allow you to drive them forward and expose their back as a result of your original DLR hook. To help this motion along, you can release the heel grip and use that arm to push on the back of the opponent’s thigh, forcing them to sit in front of you.
To recap, you initiate the sweep by pulling with your arms, kick with the legs to invert, switch the grips one by one, and then extend your DLR hook, bringing your opponent in front of you with an exposed back.
Why does it all work effectively? Because you’ve taken the opponent’s balance away with the initial grips and inversion.
Learning the Berimbolo
As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts to the berimbolo. This is why some people suggest that it is a move only for advanced grapplers – but this doesn’t have to be the case.
What is truly going to determine your success with berimbolos is timing and fluency of motion. This is where drills come into play. Understanding how the move works is only half of the puzzle. Spending time practicing it over and over again is what will actually allow you to successfully use the berimbolo.
Solo Berimbolo Drills
First and foremost, you’ll need to understand inversions as a motion, as well as the specific directions of inverting which are the foundation of the berimbolo. Of course, the centerpiece of solo drills for berimbolos is the inverting.
The first drill to use is inverting by simply throwing your legs over your head and trying to become comfortable in this inverted position. Once you are comfortable here, you can start getting out of the inversion by rolling over one of your shoulders so you return to a seated position.
This is basically half of a Granby roll, down from the middle position (inverted with feet over your head). Doing the full Granby roll motion means you enter the inversion from a seated position and exit ending up in the same seated position.
Partner Berimbolo Drills
After you are comfortable with inverting you can move on to partner drills – learning how the inversion works in relation to your opponent.
The most common drill is to start seated in front of a standing partner – their feet a bit wider than hip-width. Start to the outside of one of the partner’s legs, and the goal is to do a full Granby roll that will take you all the way to the outside of the far leg.
When you are comfortable with the drill you can try doing a full circle around the legs, using the same motion to get behind the legs and maybe even enter into a berimbolo along the way.
How To Defend The Berimbolo
Knowing how to do a BJJ move is the best way to be able to really understand how to defend it effectively.
That said, there are a few additional points to know in order to have a solid berimbolo defense. Most importantly, you need to be aware of which phase the berimbolo is in. Dealing with the berimbolo can be early or late. Of course, the earliest defense would be preventing the De la Riva hook altogether!
Early Defense to the Berimbolo
Still, there’s no question that you will end up in a DLR from time to time against someone who can Bolo. The early defense requires you to get a firm grip on your opponent’s free leg, aka the leg that is against your hip. As long as you can keep them from generating momentum with that leg, the attacker will be powerless to initiate their berimbolo.
Late Defense to the Berimbolo
A late option to defend against berimbolos is using Xande Ribeiro’s Gangster crossface. The moment to initiate this defense option is when your hips are in the air or after your hips hit the floor while your opponent is inverting.
The goal is to block your opponent’s head from going underneath your hips – something they’ll need to do in order to finish the berimbolo. Since you usually end up posting with the same arm while caught in a berimbolo, all you need to do is go for a deep crossface grip and hold the opponent in place until you dismantle the hooks.
Countering the Berimbolo
Of course, you can also shun defending Berimbolos completely and go for a direct counter in the form of a leg lock. Your options include toe holds and kneebars, and extend to all sorts of Ashi Garami attacks.
The Berimbolo is as effective as it is flashy and it doesn’t really matter which of these reasons is drawing you to the technique. The bottom line is that you can set it up from a bunch of spots as long as you understand what you’re holding on to, how to move (invert) and where the motion is going to take you relative to your opponent.
The real trick to the Berimbolo is no trick at all: you need to practice! Start with solo inversion drills and then work up to partner drills. Once you can invert easily, spend some mat time drilling the technique. If you put the reps in you’ll be Berimbolo’ing in no time!
Ogi is a brown belt and very passionate about Jiu Jitsu.
He is also the head coach of Carlos Maia BJJ Macedonia and Globetrotter.