BJJ Sweeps: General Guide & Advanced Tips

When you first start training, you will probably learn individual techniques without the context of how you arrive to that point. This is done to keep things simple, and it’s an effective way to teach newcomers. For example, if you are learning an armbar, you start in an armbar position, with the arm captured and full control of the opponent.

You probably learn sweeps the same way. However, you’ve probably found that it’s hard to hit these sweep when sparring, especially against a larger opponent. Why is that?

There are a few reasons, but it largely comes down to:

  1. Opponent

  2. Ability

  3. Setup

  4. Timing

  5. Execution

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Sweeps can work on anyone, but know the limits and what it takes to create a successful sweep.

1. Opponent: How good are they at BJJ?

Are you trying to sweep a 300 lb. black belt who literally eats white belts for breakfast? Don’t worry, the white belt is made of hemp, and it helps with his digestion. But seriously, don’t blame the fact that you can’t sweep this guy on how big he is. If your opponent is straight-up more experienced and better than you, don’t get discouraged. Make sure you are practicing new techniques on those who are less experienced than you in order to learn all of the ins-and-outs.

Are you hitting that sweep consistently on white belts? Try it out on the blue belts. Then, the purple belts. And so on. Sure, not all techniques are created equal; some are simply better than others. But don’t let your ego jump to conclusions until you’ve really road tested the technique.

2. Ability: How good are you at BJJ?

You’ve been training for six  months, and you’re starting to get the hang of things. Maybe you’re even giving the newer blue belts a tough time, and you’re hitting some sweeps. One day, you roll with a guy much bigger than you. Your typical sweeps no longer work. What’s going on?

Is the technique bad? It might be, but it’s more likely there’s something you don’t understand in the scenario. Ask around and see what others think. Brainstorm, come up with theories, and test them out during sparring. Look at this as an opportunity to learn and grow, not as an affront to your ego.

3. Setup: Don’t try to force it.

There are a variety of ways to set up a technique, but the most common is to either move them or move yourself. Perhaps you can get a good grip and push or pull your opponent, or perhaps you can take a positional angle on them. Whatever you decide to do, know that you will probably not be able to just do a technique on your opponent without them resisting.

  1. How do you need to position yourself to execute the sweep?

  2. How should your opponent be controlled or positioned to execute the sweep?

  3. How can you manipulate your opponent’s movement to replicate that circumstance?

Figure out how you can make your opponent move in a predictable way, and then capitalize on their movement with your sweep. After you have this planned out, you now know the setup of the sweep.

4. Timing: Don’t wait too long.

Once you have properly set up your sweep, you will only have a short moment to actually execute it. The better your opponent is, the shorter that timeframe will likely be. Timing is one of the most difficult aspects of successfully performing a specific technique, and that can be true for almost any sport.

The only way to develop your sensitivity to timing is just get on the mats and train as much as you can with as many different people as you can. You will need to get a feel for all of the different reactions and responses you get when you try to set up and execute your sweeps. Eventually, you will start to see the patterns and scenarios that determine when your sweep will success and when it will fail.

5. Execution: Don’t half-ass it.

The culmination of the setup and timing is the execution, and it will probably be the easiest part of the equation. It’s easy to practice the execution of the technique, because this is something that can be drilled over and over again during or after class. You just need to make sure that when you see your opportunity, you go for it and execute.

General training tips that will help with BJJ sweeps.

Step 1: Pick a few sweeps that you like and focus on them.

Don’t try to master too much too soon. Start with a few techniques that you like, and focus on getting good at them. You don’t need to learn every single sweep out there. There is no magic bullet or sweep, so stop trying to find it. There is only mastery, and that comes from failure and repetition.

Step 2: You need to practice sweeps to get good at them.

Once you have picked out a few favorite sweeps that you are going stick with, try them against a range of sizes, ages, and skill levels. Try your newer techniques out on newer folks first. As you get comfortable with the movement, see if you can get it to work on bigger or better grapplers. Discover what works, what fails, and why. Make adjustments from there.

Step 3: Don’t be afraid to fail or get your guard passed.

If you feel like you suck at sweeps, it’s because you do. However, you shouldn’t feel bad about this. It’s all part of the process, and you shouldn’t get discouraged WHEN these things happen.

  • You are GOING to fail.

  • Your guard WILL be passed.

  • Your sweeps WON’T work.

Step 4: Keep working on it; you’ll get there one day.

Remember that disappointment is the disconnection of expectation and reality. If your expectation is that you will fail a million times until you start to succeed, you will never be disappointed by failure.

  • Keep trying.

  • Keep learning.

  • Don’t get discouraged.

Step 5: Understand that this process never ends.

When people talk about working on their sweeps (or any technique) and getting good at it, they tend to talk about it like a static target. It’s not. Even if you get to the point where you’re sweeping everyone in your gym, they’re going to catch on, and they’re going to learn how to counter what you’re done.

The process never ends, so don’t get caught up in thinking that one day you’ll have it figured out. Sure, you’ll continue to get better, but there’s no end goal. Even when you get your black belt, it doesn’t mean you know everything. The learning process only ends when you quit or die, so enjoy the journey and don’t get frustrated.

Advanced: Counter-techniques and how to deal with them.

Once you have learned a handful of sweeps, drilled them extensively, and have experience executing them against many different opponents, we can probably conclude that the technique works. So why would it be failing against a larger opponent? One reason might be that it’s getting hard-countered.

Know when a technique is countered.

If you have been grappling a while, you probably understand that certain techniques are used to counter or nullify other techniques. If you have a particular sweep or sweeps that you are good at, research what their counters are. Is this what your opponents are doing against you?

When your technique gets nullified, ask your opponent to help you understand what they were doing after the roll is over. They might be able to give you insight into why your sweep was not working. Dissect their movement and figure out a way to counter their counter.

How to deal with a counter to your technique.

Once you have figured out what your opponent is doing to nullify your technique, figure out how you can take advantage of that. What other sweeps work well against the way your opponent is resisting your initial sweep? Now you have two complimentary sweeps.

When your opponent counters one sweep, try to hit the other sweep. Practice them so that you are able to switch back-and-forth between them quickly. Looks for ways you can string these movements together.

Why this is important to your improvement.

Your opponent countered your initial sweep, so you learned a different complimentary sweep. Additionally, you learned how to switch and transition between them smoothly. Congratulations, this is your first step to creating a “game” for yourself. A game is the ability to transition between multiple techniques and use them in conjunction with each other.

Think of Jiu Jitsu like a language, When you start out, you are just learning words. Each technique you learn is like a word. Eventually, you learn how to use those words to make a sentence. By combining multiple sweeps and the ability to transition smoothly between them based on the context of your opponent’s resistance, you just created a beautiful sentence.