Years ago, your choices for a basic BJJ book were limited to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Theory and Technique by Renzo and Royler Gracie and… that’s about it. Kid Peligro’s work on that book was groundbreaking, and he created the blueprint for the big, modern BJJ books we enjoy today. In the decade since then, dozens of instructional books were published—some better, some worse—and now beginners have a dizzying array of books available to them.
This guide was made to help beginners pick out the best books to start with, and to show the smartest way to use them. The list of recommendations is short, and I’ll tell you why.
As a white belt, once you catch the bug of buying instructional books and DVDs, it can be hard to stop. Beginners often try to collect every technique they can, because much of their early success comes from learning new techniques. They figure they can just keep studying every technique, and then they’ll be good. This is when people spend the most time and money on instructional books and videos.
The problem is that they quickly reach a point where more techniques won’t help. They already “know” what to do in every situation, yet they still aren’t good at doing it. That’s because there is much more to “knowing” a technique than simply seeing it performed. Students need years of drilling and sparring to develop their skills.
Let’s forget books and videos for a moment. You can get good without them, as many people do. Here’s how:
Train regularly under a qualified instructor.
Get enough sleep.
Stick to that routine, and you’ll be on the right path. So where do instructionals fit in?
Books and videos are supplements. They’re like vitamins. You can’t make a full meal out of them, but they help on the side. You’ve just got to know how and when to use them.
Most of your techniques should come from your instructor. But your instructor is charged with the task of covering a complete BJJ curriculum, and that takes years. It isn’t possible to go over everything at once, and there will always be things you have more questions about. Your instructor probably hasn’t sat you down and told you “Here’s the hierarchy of positional dominance…” or “Let’s talk about what I expect out of you at each belt…” This is where instructionals come in.
A good book for beginners should do these things:
- talk about the right approach to take toward learning, drilling, belt promotions, competition, and other common issues
- explain the underlying concepts and theories of the art of BJJ in a way that simplifies one’s understanding rather than complicating it
- feature basic techniques for a wide variety of common positions and situations
If you have a book that does these three things well, it should add to the training you get at the dojo, rather than distracting from it. When you turn to it for help on a trouble spot, the techniques will be appropriate for your skill level, and you’ll be able to learn them without going too far off your normal training routine.
Now that you have the right mindset, let’s get to what you really want—the books. Here’s a countdown of the top three books I recommend for white belts.
#3. Mastering Jujitsu by Renzo Gracie and John Danaher
Mastering Jujitsu was published in 2003, a lifetime ago as far as martial arts books go, and it is easily overlooked for the glossy, full color books available today. It’s printed in black and white, and it doesn’t show many moves in great detail. So what’s its appeal?
For starters, it was written by John Danaher, a Renzo Gracie black belt, who is widely recognized as one of the greatest minds in BJJ. He does an excellent job of telling the martial art’s history and explaining its fundamental principles, strategies and techniques. Renzo and Danaher teach the modern “3 ranges” theory of hand-to-hand combat (stand-up, clinch and ground), and while this has its roots in BJJ, you can see the influence MMA has had on the book.
A hidden gem is the self defense section, which is one of the best you’ll find. Danaher takes a more intelligent approach toward confrontations than the “grab my wrist, no, the other wrist” techniques you get in most martial arts books.
#2. A Roadmap for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by Stephan Kesting
A Roadmap for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the cheapest book on the list with its price tag of “free.” Kesting has created some of the best grappling instructionals on the market, and BeginningBJJ.com and this free book are right up there. The BeginningBJJ.com newsletter is also worth subscribing to.
The Roadmap is a short read, and it’s better described as a booklet (or an e-book if you download the PDF), but it still contains a lot of good advice. I wish I had read this when I was a white belt, and I recommend it to new students at my school.
#1. Jiu-Jitsu University by Saulo Ribeiro
Saulo Ribeiro is among the best competitors and teachers in the world, and you can see this in the quality of his book, Jiu-Jitsu University. With Victory Belt, the top dog in martial arts books, as its publisher, it has all of the niceties we’ve come to expect: good writing, clear photos, thoughtful organization, the works.
The first chapters on survival and escapes are tailor-made for white belts, and they are a good place to pick up tips on things often considered “too basic” to get much attention in class. This isn’t strictly a beginners book though, and it makes for a good investment because you can keep turning to it for more advanced topics, like closed and open guard, guard passing and submissions.
Good list: I’d agree with that, with an honourable mention to Beneville’s The Guard (although I’m guessing the first edition is hard to find now, and the second edition has probably gotten a good bit more complicated). The only DVD I ever recommend is Blue Belt Requirements: apart from that, there is Kesting’s roadmap DVD set, but IIRC it’s quite expensive.
I’ve liked all of Beneville’s work, but his first book, “Passing the Guard,” remains my favorite. It was impossible to get until he came out with the second edition reprint.
While putting together this list, I was surprised by how many BJJ books from the past 10 years are out of print. Half of Kid Peligro’s books are unavailable, and you’ve probably seen used copies of “The Gracie Way” going for $50-100 on Amazon. Talking with Marshal Carper, a writer for Victory Belt who did Marcelo’s new book, he talked about how little longevity martial arts books get and how rare reprints are.
I am putting together a similar list of recommendations for DVDs, but there are so many advertising “from white to blue belt” that it’s going to take me a while to sort through them and make my final decisions. Roy Dean’s set is good though, and what I’ve seen of Kesting’s Roadmap DVDs is good too, but they are out of stock now.
Great list Aesopian! I’ll have to check out Stephan Kesting’s book and I am a HUGE fan of Mastering Jujitsu with Danaher. In fact, its my favorite BJJ book of all time. Other favorites include Benneville’s books.
If you are interested in checking out a free e-copy of my newest book – SUBMIT EVERYONE with Dave Camarillo, shoot me off an e-mail and I’ll forward you your own personal copy of the pdf files. I like your thoughts on technique and BJJ.
Here’s my email – firstname.lastname@example.org
(co-author of Jiu-Jitsu University, Drill to Win, and Submit Everyone)
I could not agree more with your post. First, training and learning under an actual instructor is the most important reference; unlike a book, they are able to give you actual feedback on what you are doing wrong, or right. A book can only tell/show you how to do a technique, but it is up to the individual on how they interpret that technique. If they don’t properly understand the technique, then they will do the technique wrong and never have instruction on improving it. However, that is not to discredit the value of books.
The first and only book I ever bought was Saulo Ribiero’s Jiu-Jitsu University; best decision of my life. I was a new whitebelt and strictly looking to tap people. I trained at university with a purple belt and although it was great instruction, it did not have a formal curriculum and that is why I decided to enhance my training. Saulo’s book was able to give me the ‘fundamentals’ I needed at whitebelt: how to survive in bad situations and not get tapped. I eventually was able to escape and start being offensive. A few years later and I still look back to the book for little pointers and added details to techniques and theory that I have missed or forgotten.
I have not read the other two books, but I am sure they are good. I would also say that instructional books/videos are extremely useful during times of injury. It is still possible to go to class, observe and take notes, but that could be depressing because you are there, but not able to train. Instructional’s can aid during the recovery process giving you additional ideas for when you are ready to get back to training.
Just my .02 cents 🙂
p.s. if you are interested in a less superior blog about bjj, you can check mine out
don’t be afraid to steal my latest post on blogging 😛
p.p.s I train with Seiji…he hit ANOTHER reverse omoplata last weekend