Learning BJJ in French — Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu French Glossary

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Since late 2021 I picked up a new hobby in my repertoire — Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). And so far I’ve studied at four different dojos in three different countries, including two that are francophone. So I’ve learned how to talk about BJJ in French.

But Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, like any field, has its own specific vocabulary. A lot of the movement and positions have generic names that translate, but many others come from Japanese (from Judo, e.g. ippon seoi nage), or are named after people who made them famous (e.g. the kimura).

I started training in BJJ in Australia where I could do it in my best language, English, while I focused on the base skills. But after about 5 months of training, I started travelling — first to Francophone countries. So I learned a bit about the French ways of describing Jiu-Jitsu movements.

As context, I already spoke French. I learned it as an adult, starting when I was 21 or so. French is my fourth language and I’ve used it in university (as an engineering student) and at a professional level.

So here it is — my guide to training in Jiu-Jitsu or BJJ in French.

You might also like my reflections on studying BJJ in Mauritius.

BJJ in French cover photo Dojo in Paris
My Dojo in Paris — Cercle Tissier

Overview of Learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) in French

Overall, if you’re familiar with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in general, then moving to a new dojo always has its set of challenges. Each gym has its own culture and that’s only partially related to the country it’s in.

But that said, there’s a lot in common in every martial arts gym. There are some universal things like: warm up drills, rules about not wearing shoes on the mats, asking for permission to join a class if joining late, and so on. So every time I show up to a gym, it’s with a degree of general familiarity.

That said, adapting to learning BJJ in French was surprisingly tricky. I expected more loanwords! There’s quite a few, just not for some of the more common things.

One thing to start with — BJJ became popular globally via America (after of course Brazil and Japan). So a lot of the global vocabulary is in English, with many Japanese loan-words (randori, kesa gatame), many words named after practitioners (Kimura, De La Riva), the occasional general martial arts term (oss!).

Different practitioners prefer different terms, and this includes French-speaking BJJ coaches. Just like your coach might call a scarf hold a kesa gatame, a French-speaking coach may say “prends tes underhooks” rather than use a French equivalent. It’s up to the individual.

The reason for this is that most French people know English (though may not be fluent speaking it socially), and so much culture proliferates via the Internet, the UFC, and Youtube, that a lot of language naturally gets imported rather than translated.

But on to a few general concepts for doing BJJ in French.

Firstly, in French, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is known as Jiu-Jitsu Brésilien, or JJB. You say it ji-ji-bé. Of course people will know what “bee-jay-jay” is, but it sounds foreign.

Secondly, French speakers do import a lot of basic terminology from Japanese. For example, in French people refer to the “gi” uniform as the kimono.

But where French is different to many other languages is that many position and attack names are translated to French.

This is different to, for example, Korean, where an arm bar is just phonetically called an 암바, which is pronounced am-ba.

On top of that, the French generally opt for a few different terms for things.

For example, the gi, the English/international loan word for the traditional martial arts outfit, is also known as a kimono. French prefer the latter.

Or to describe sparring, rather than using the English loan-word as they do in boxing, the French use the Japanese loan word randori, also used commonly in Judo.

It’s things like this that are useful to know when contemplating doing BJJ in French.

Here’s some terminology I’ve hard to learn. On y va, c’est parti!

Quick notes — 1. This is my experience from two gyms and around 5 coaches (plus online videos) only. If you have another perspective to share, I welcome it! And 2. Of course most French coaches in France can coach you in English. France is a country with a high level of education, and many coaches have trained and competed abroad. But if you want to participate in the class and kind of disappear, like I do, speaking French will help.

General BJJ Terms in French

Here are a bunch of general terms I think you need to know in French to do BJJ in French.

Some of them are verbs, some are nouns, but these are the basic ones you need to know.

EnglishFrench
BJJJJB (pronounce it ji-ji-bé)
Back takePrise de dos
BalanceL’équilibre
Belt
e.g. White belt with two stripes
Une ceinture
e.g. Ceinture blanche à deux barrettes
Bow (e.g. the formality)L’inclination
Verb: s’incliner
Also common is “se saluer”, to greet one another
Collar / lapelLe col / le lapel
EscapeS’échapper
or sortir (exit)
Flexible / flexibilitySouple / Souplesse
Forward rollUne roulade
FrameUn cadre
Gi / KimonoLe kimono, or le “kim”
GripUn grip or une saisie
1. Noting “grip” because it’s not correct French but sometimes used. “Prends tes grips”.
2. Also note that la grippe is “the flu”.
Guard passingpassage de garde / passer la garde
(or ouvrir la garde)
A hook (e.g. in back control)Un crochet
MatLe tapis
MouthguardUn protège-dents
Roll (i.e. to have a roll)Tourner
Faire des “randori” (a Judo term used in France in BJJ)
A shrimp / hip escapeUne langouste or une crevette (I’ve heard both to describe the movement)
Or “Sors tes hanches”
SubmitSoumettre
SubmissionUne soumission
SweepUn renversement. Also “un sweep”
SleeveLa manche
Throw (like Judo moves)Une projection
UnderhookUne escrime (lit: fencing sword), also “un underhook” depending on the teacher
Windshield wiper
Do a windshield wiper movement
un essuie-glace
Fais un mouvement d’essuie-glace
WrestlingLa lutte
BJJ in French — General Terminology

Movements

There are a bunch of verbs that I think are a little advanced (or at least intermediate) that you have to know in French.

This is a non-complete list, but it’s a start!

EnglishFrench
Beat / defeatToper (slang, from “top”)
CounterContrer
Catch/grabSaisir / Attraper
Or toper (familiar)
Tope le bras
Dodge / avoidEsquiver
Grab onto (e.g. a collar)S’accrocher à
Grab / GripSaisir
Extend (e.g. a leg, arm)Étendre
Hit (don’t do this…)Frapper
Kick (as in to extend a leg)Kicker
LockVerrouiller
Have a drink of water (lit. a mouthful)Boire un coup d’eau
Pass / outflankDéborder
Usually passer but heard this too
Slap
(Sometimes I do this by accident…)
Gifler
Span/straddle (e.g. when passing a guard)Enjamber
Stack / Pressure / pack down (e.g. during a pass)Tasser
StrangleÉtrangler
SweepRenverser. Also “Sweeper”
Switch your hipsRenverser tes hanches
TapTapper (a loan word)
Throw (Judo)Projecter
Topple overBasculer
TwistVriller
Unbalance / throw off balanceDéséquilibrer
BJJ in French — Movements

First time I heard enjamber I thought… “to en-leg?”

Controle positions in French

These are positions of control in French — like mount, half guard, etc.

Usually you use these with a sentence like je t’avais en position montée.

If they’re not below, like single leg x for example, then assume it’s the same but just pronounced as if it were French.

EnglishFrench
MountMontée
Butterfly guardPapillon
Collar-sleeveCol-manche
Half guardDemi garde
Deep half guardDemi garde profonde
Side controlContrôle latéral
or La croix
Open guardGarde ouverte
Closed guardGarde fermée
Back controlContrôle du dos
Head to tailTête bêche
North-SouthNord-Sud
Knee on bellyLe genou sur l’estomac or just genou-estomac
Or genou au ventre
SeatbeltCeinture de sécurité
Spider guardGarde araignée (sometimes just “le spider”)
TurtleLa tortue
BJJ in French — Controle Positions

Attacks

Arm bars, knee bars, kimuras… here are all the common attacks that get translated into French.

You can improvise many of these names if you know another word (e.g. arm, leg).

EnglishFrench
Arm bar / lockUne clé/clef de bras
Sometimes a “juji” (from juji gatame, Japanese)
Knee bar / lockUne clé de genou
Ankle lockUne clé de cheville
Arm triangleUn (étranglement) bras-tête
ChokeUn étranglement
E.g. “clock choke” is Étranglement en horloge
GuillotineUne guillotine
(another free one!)
TriangleUn triangle (pronounced in French of course)
BJJ in French

A note on “strangle” being étranglement: Linguistic purists will note that in English we should really call chokes “strangles”, but I’m more of a functional linguist, in that I believe in letting let languages evolve naturally, unless the evolution actually gets in the way of comprehension.

I think forcing people to call them “strangles” is counterproductive. For example, obliging people to call it a “rear naked strangle” doesn’t help people know what you’re talking about.

Body parts

You can learn body parts anywhere, and I expect anyone thinking of doing BJJ in French already knows the basics like arm, head, or leg.

But there are a number of body parts I just rarely have to say in any language that I find myself saying more in Jiu-Jitsu.

EnglishFrench
anklela cheville
armpitl’aisselle (f)
arteryl’artère (f)
back of the neck / napela nuque
belly buttonle nombril
biceple bicep
(there’s a free one…)
chestla poitrine
crook
The crook of the knee / elbow
le creux
Le creux du genou / coude
elbowle coude
fistle poing
foreheadle front
Groin
Don’t step on my groin
l’aine
Marche pas sur mon aine
heelle talon
hipsles hanches
jaw
You’re crushing my jaw
la mâchoire
Tu m’écrases la mâchoire
kneele genou
le creux du genou
palmla paume
shinle tibia
shouldersles épaules
shoulder bladel’omoplate
spinela colonne vertébrale
thighla cuisse
throatla gorge
thumble pouce
toesles orteils
wristle poignet
BJJ in French – Body parts

Funny story, for a while I thought when in class they were saying “la paume” (palm) it was was “la pomme” (apple), and that it was a euphemism for fist.

Injuries and remedies

Alas, injuries happen! Here are a few that happen regularly, plus common remedies / first aid things (nothing complex).

EnglishFrench
Band-aidun pansement
Black eyeun oeil au beurre noir
Blood
E.g. there’s blood on your gi
du sang
Il y a du sang sur ton kim
Bruise
E.g. My arm is going to bruise
un bleu (usually plural)
E.g. Mon bras va avoir des bleus
Finger tapela bande de doigt
Paindouleur
Commonly mal à e.g. j’ai mal au bras
Sensitive (e.g. to pain)sensible
E.g. mon épaule est un peu sensible
Sprained ankleUne entorse à la cheville
BJJ in French — Injuries

Don’t forget your protège-dents!

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