Where Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Meets Natural Movement

Crawling as a solo drill can enhance your ability to get through guards on the mat.

Solo drills are a big part of Brazilian jiu jitsu. Most schools teach similar variations of the movements we do in BJJ as solo drills. These are things you can do on your own before practice to warm up, after practice if you want to keep moving, or in lieu of practice if you are without a partner, or sick or injured.

The most popular solo drill in BJJ would probably be shrimping, which is a lateral pivoting movement you do on your side in order to create distance between yourself and your opponent. Aside from that, there are a variety of rolls, turns, flips, and other semi-acrobatic maneuvers. But one thing I notice is that a lot of these solo drills involve being either on your side, or with your back on the ground.

Crawling Through Guards

When I first got into MovNat, I noticed that there was some emphasis put on crawling movements. We went through a bunch of variations for different purposes, and as I got more into this general culture of movement, I was exposed to more and more crawling patterns, covering pretty much every possible way I could imagine a human being could crawl. Bent arms, straight arms, different widths, sideways, backwards; a million and one ways to crawl! Soon, I started to connect the dots between the things these crawls had in common with guard passing in Brazilian Jiu jitsu.

In Brazilian Jiu jitsu, guard passing is where both people are on the ground, one facing up, one down, and the person on top is attempting to navigate past the legs of the person on their back. The idea is that the legs can be used to tangle up, kick, or manipulate the person on top, so naturally the person on top wants to navigate past all this trouble and end up in a pinning position where they can control the person on bottom. It’s a hugely important part of Brazilian jiu jitsu, and one which is strangely ignored in solo drills. This is where the crawling practices in MovNat start creeping in.

On a simple level, crawling is simply traveling from one point to another on some part of your arms and legs: hands and feet, hands and knees, elbows and knees, and all other combinations. The first thing you notice when you begin to crawl is that you have to establish a strong point of contact with the ground you will be moving onto. When you shift your weight onto that point of contact (let’s say it’s your palm, to keep it simple), it becomes a point of support for your body.

This mirrors the concept in BJJ of getting a grip on your partner’s legs or hips, and shifting your weight onto that grip or point of contact to create a connection with your partner. You then use that point of contact to support your weight as you either navigate your body around your partner, or manipulate your opponent’s legs to move them out of your path so you can get on top of them. You are essentially crawling or climbing over your opponent.

The simple act of getting used to trusting your weight to your hands is hard for a lot of people in BJJ, because you are putting those hands on a moving opponent who is trying to flip you over or strangle you. For some of my students, I will introduce basic crawling practices just to get them used to the feeling of shifting their weight to their hands in a simplified and safe format, without a partner. Then I’ll have them go back to working with a partner in increasingly complex ways, through drilling and progressive sparring practices.

Control Your Center of Gravity

MovNat and BJJ also share the concept of your base of support (BOS). This is the shape created by your points of contact with the ground and your center of gravity (COG). For example, if you are in a plank position on all fours, your COG would rest inside the rectangle made by your hands and feet on the ground. As you shift your weight forward and begin to crawl, your COG starts to shift, and your base of support changes shape, as each hand and a foot comes off the ground and is placed somewhere else.

In BJJ, this is a crucial concept because any time your COG comes close to the edge or goes outside of your BOS, you can easily get flipped onto your back, or simply fall over and lose your balance. So the challenge is to maintain your COG inside of your BOS, while on top of a live person.

The crawling practices again offer a lot of insight into this aspect of guard passing. Not only do you get used to shifting your weight around between your limbs, but you get to experiment with exactly what it feels like to be close to the edge of your base. You can play with different hip and body angles, different palm and foot positions, and see how they affect your balance and stability. It’s a great place to tinker with all of these elements!

This Is Not a Shortcut

Crawling is not a super movement which will skyrocket your jiu jitsu to unseen heights. Doing more jiu jitsu is more likely to do that. It’s not a substitute for training, either. But it is useful for exploring base, body control, and stability in dynamic movement, and as a supplement for times when training with a partner is not possible.

My suggestion is that you use crawling as a tool to practice, play with, and test your sense of balance and base. You can also use it as a training tool to develop certain physical attributes which have some transfer over to other things. Experiment with the concepts of base, points of contact, and center of gravity while doing other things like rock climbing, lifting and carrying, grappling arts, and other challenges you find in real life.

Go for a roll on the mat:

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