Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a grappling martial art that uses joint locks, strangulations, strong positioning to cause an opponent to submit / tap-out in competition or pass-out or break a joint in self defense.
It is primarily a ground-fighting art and is well-known for its use in Mixed Martial Arts fights. It was made widely popular by Royce Gracie of the Gracie family who have basically “invented” BJJ.
Royce’s father Helio Gracie was taught Japanese Jujutsu / Kobokan Judo and refined it to work for his small stature. There are many schools and BJJ instructors in USA now. Primarily the art is now competition based – both grappling and MMA competitions. People train it without the gi and with a gi. Many schools are now called Submission Wrestling schools who train no-gi and also use more wrestling takedowns as well.
The training is excellent for physical fitness as well as self-defense. Many argue that all fights go the ground eventually and that is where BJJ shines.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art and combat sport that focuses on grappling and especially ground fighting with the goal of gaining a dominant position and using joint-locks and chokeholds to force an opponent to submit. The art was based on early 20th century Kodokan Judo, which was itself then a recently-developed system (founded in 1882), based on multiple schools (or Ryu) of Japanese Jujutsu.
It promotes the principle that a smaller, weaker person using leverage and proper technique can successfully defend themselves against a bigger, stronger assailant. BJJ can be trained for self defense, sport grappling tournaments (gi and no-gi) and mixed martial arts (MMA) competition. Sparring (commonly referred to as ‘rolling’) and live drilling play a major role in training, and a premium is placed on performance, especially in competition.
The art began with Mitsuyo Maeda (aka Conde Koma, or Count Combat in English), a Japanese expert judoka and member of the Kodokan. Maeda was one of five of the Kodokan’s top groundwork experts that Kano sent overseas to spread his Judo to the world. Maeda left Japan in 1904 and visited a number of countries giving “jiu-do” demonstrations and accepting challenges from wrestlers, boxers, savate fighters and various other martial artists before eventually arriving in Brazil on November 14, 1914.
Since its inception, judo was separated from jujutsu in its goals, philosophy, and training regime. Although there was great rivalry among jujutsu teachers, this was more than just Kano Jigoro’s ambition to clearly individualize his art. To Kano, judo wasn’t solely a martial art: it was also a sport, a method for promoting physical fitness and building character in young people, and, ultimately, a way (Tao) of life.
When Maeda left Japan, Judo was also known as Kano Jiu-Jitsu and, even more generically, simply as Jiu-Jitsu. Teachers of both arts didn’t try too hard to make the distinction clear. For example, Tomita himself appeared in a book called Judo: The Modern School of Jiu-Jitsu. Outside Japan, however, this distinction wasn’t even hinted. Both arts, jujutsu and judo, were practically unknown. To the extent that they were known, they were considered the same thing. Thus, when Maeda and Satake arrived in Brazil, every newspaper announced jiu-jitsu despite both men being Kodokan Judoka.
The Japanese government itself did not officially mandate until 1925 that the correct name for the martial art taught in the Japanese public schools should be “judo” rather than “jujutsu”. In Brazil, the art is still called “Jiu-Jitsu”. When the Gracies went to the United States to spread their art, the system became known as “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” and “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.”
“Jiu-Jitsu” was also the original spelling of the art in the West and that is why this style retains the original (although technically incorrect) spelling. Other common spellings are Jujitsu, Ju-Jitsu, Ju jitsu and Jujutsu – the last being correct in accordance with modern romanization.
The art is sometimes referred to as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (GJJ), but this name is trademarked by Rorion Gracie and specifically refers to the style taught by him and his selected teachers. Other members of the Gracie family often call their style by personalized names, such as Charles Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and similarly, the Machado brothers call their style Machado Jiu-Jitsu (MJJ). While each style and its instructors have their own unique aspects, they are all basic variations of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Maeda met an influential businessman named Gastão Gracie who helped him get established. In 1917, his son Carlos Gracie, still a 14 year-old boy, watched a demonstration by Maeda at the Teatro da Paz and decided to learn jiu-jitsu. Maeda accepted Carlos as a student, and Carlos went on to become a great exponent of the art and ultimately, with his younger brother Hélio Gracie became the founder of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
In 1921, Gastão Gracie and his family moved to Rio de Janeiro. Carlos, then 17 years old, passed Maeda’s teachings on to his brothers Osvaldo, Gastão and Jorge. Hélio was too young and sick at that time to learn the art, and due to medical imposition was prohibited to take part in the training sessions. Despite that, Hélio learned jiu-jitsu by watching his brothers. He eventually overcame his health problems and is now considered by many as the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (though others, such as Carlson Gracie, have pointed to Carlos as the founder of the art).
The Gracie family continued to develop the system throughout the 20th century, often fighting vale tudo matches (precursors to modern MMA), during which it increased its focus on ground fighting and refined its techniques.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu came to international prominence in the martial arts community in the 1990s, when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Royce Gracie won the first, second and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships, which at the time were single elimination martial arts tournaments. Royce fought against often much-larger opponents who were practicing other styles, including boxing, shoot-fighting, karate, judo, tae kwon do and wrestling. It has since become a staple art for many MMA fighters and is largely credited for bringing wide-spread attention to the importance of ground fighting. Sport BJJ tournaments continue to grow in popularity worldwide and have given rise to no-gi submission grappling tournaments, such as the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship.
Hélio competed in several submission judo competitions which mostly ended in a draw. One defeat came by Masahiko Kimura, whose name the Gracies gave to the arm lock used to defeat Hélio. In a much later interview, Hélio admitted that he was choked unconscious early in the fight but regained consciousness quickly and avoided losing early. There are many accounts of what transpired during their fight in 1951, ranging from Kimura mocking Hélio’s stance and openly insulting him, to Kimura being so impressed with Hélio’s performance that he invited Hélio to teach in Japan. Today, Hélio teaches οccasionally in Brazil and accompanies his sons during fights.
Comparisons with Other Jujutsu Derivatives
Renzo Gracie wrote in his book Mastering Jujitsu: “The classical jujutsu of old Japan appeared to have no common strategy to guide a combatant over the course of a fight. Indeed, this was one of Kano’s most fundamental and perceptive criticisms of the classical program.” Maeda not only taught the art of judo to Carlos Gracie, but also taught a particular philosophy about the nature of combat develped by Kano, and further refined by Maeda based on his world-wide travels competing against fighters skilled in a wide variety of martial arts.
The book details Maeda’s theory as arguing that physical combat could be broken down into distinct phases, such as the striking phase, the grappling phase, the standing phase, etc. Thus, it was a smart fighter’s task to keep the fight located in the phase of combat that best suited his own strengths.
Renzo Gracie stated that this was a fundamental influence on the Gracie approach to combat. These strategies were further perfected over time by the Gracies and others, and became prominent in contemporary MMA.
Like Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu encourages free sparring against a live, resisting opponent. Practitioners therefore have the opportunity to test their skills and develop them under realistic conditions, while minimizing the risk of injury.
The most important factor that differentiates Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from modern Kodokan judo, as well as most schools of Japanese jujutsu, is that BJJ places much more emphasis on ground fighting. This has led to BJJ’s great strengths on the ground, and also for its relative weakness in standing techniques. There is an increasing amount of cross-training between the two sports.
It is sometimes stated that Maeda was a practitioner of traditional Japanese jujutsu. However, Maeda never trained in traditional jujutsu. He trained in sumo as a teenager, and after that his first studies in jujutsu were as a student of Kano’s Kodokan Judo, and he was promoted to 7th dan in judo the day before he died in 1941.
Hélio Gracie himself had already risen to the rank of 6th dan in judo by the time of his fight against Kimura in 1951.
Divergence from Kodokan Judo
Contributing factors to the stylistic divergence of BJJ from Kodokan judo include the Gracies’ desire to create a national martial art, the influence of Brazilian culture, the Gracies’ emphasis on full-contact fighting and self-defence, and the post-World War II closing of the Kodokan by the American Occupation Authority, which only allowed the Kodokan to reopen (in 1947).
Various changes over the years – some designed to make judo more interesting as a spectator sport for Olympic audiences, and some designed to make judo a safer sport – have greatly de-emphasised the groundwork aspects of judo, and reduced the range of joint locks allowed, though these non-sport aspects have been preserved in judo, and are practiced to varying extents in different judo schools.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu did not follow later changes in international judo rules, giving it a distinct identity as a martial art, while still being recognisable as a sub-style of judo.
While BJJ allows all the techniques of judo to take the fight to the ground (i.e. both judo’s scoring throws as well as judo’s so-called ‘skillful takedowns’ like the flying armbar), BJJ differs in that it also allows a competitor to drag his opponent to the ground, and also to drop to the ground himself (as long he has first taken a grip.) Early Kodokan Judo allowed all those methods too, without even having the requirement to take a grip.
BJJ is also strongly differentiated by its greater emphasis on groundwork, with its absence of most of the rules of Judo that lead to the competitors having to recommence in a standing position. The greater time dedicated to training on the ground has led to BJJ’s enhancement of judo’s groundwork, though many of the allegedly new techniques have actually been pre-existing judo tehcniques. This has been the result both of incorrect assumptions by BJJ pratitioners (that the techniques they learned in BJJ classes originated in BJJ), and also due to some instances of BJJ practitioners genuinely rediscovering techniques that they did not know already existed in judo, such as the Gogoplata. BJJ’s different rules set and point scoring mechanisms are designed to give BJJ an arguably more practical emphasis.
Differences between BJJ styles
Today, the main differences between the BJJ styles is between traditional Gracie Jiu-Jitsu’s emphasis on self-defense, and Sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s orientation towards point competition. There is a large commonality of techniques between the two. Also, there is a wide variety of ideals in training in different schools in terms of the utilization of technique versus how much to attempt to overpower an opponent.
Style of fighting
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes ground fighting techniques and submission holds involving joint-locks and chokeholds also found in numerous other arts with or without ground fighting emphasis. The premise is that most of the advantage of a larger, stronger opponent comes from superior reach and more powerful strikes, both of which are somewhat negated when grappling on the ground.
BJJ permits a wide variety of techniques to take the fight to the ground after taking a grip. Once the opponent is on the ground, a number of maneuvers (and counter-maneuvers) are available to manipulate the opponent into a suitable position for the application of a submission technique. Achieving a dominant position on the ground is one of the hallmarks of the BJJ style, and includes effective use of the guard position to defend oneself from bottom, and passing the guard to dominate from top position with side control, mount, and back mount positions. This system of maneuvering and manipulation can be likened to a form of kinetic chess when utilized by two experienced practitioners. A submission hold is the equivalent of checkmate.
Types of Submission
The majority of submission holds can be grouped into two broad categories: joint locks and chokes. Joint locks typically involve isolating an opponent’s limb and creating a lever with the body position which will force the joint to move past its normal range of motion, generally referred to as hyperextension. Pressure is increased in a controlled manner and released if the opponent cannot escape the hold and signals defeat by submitting. Opponents can indicate submission verbally or they can tap out (i.e. tap the opponent, the mat, or even themselves, several times.) A choke hold, disrupting the blood supply to the brain, can cause unconsciousness if the opponent does not submit soon enough.
A less common type of submission hold is a compression lock, where the muscle of an opponent is compressed against a hard, large bone (commonly the shin or wrist), causing significant pain to the opponent. This type of lock often also hyper-extends the joint in the opposite direction, pulling it apart.
While many joint locks are permitted, most competitions bar or restrict some or all joint locks involving the knees, ankles,nose, buttholes and spine. The reason for this is that the angles of manipulation required to cause pain are nearly the same as those that would cause serious injury. Joint locks that require a twisting motion of the knee (called twisting knee locks or twisting knee bars, or techniques such as heel hooks, and toe folds) are usually banned in competitions because successfully completing the move nearly always results in permanent damage that requires surgery. Similarly, joint manipulations of the spine are typically barred due to the inherent danger of crushing or mis-aligning cervical vertebrae. Certain locks involving the knees and ankles are only allowed in competition starting at the brown belt. Any competitor from white to purple belt who attempts any of those locks may be disqualified.
However, most joint locks involving the wrist, elbow, shoulder or ankle are permitted as there is a great deal more flexibility in those joints and those locks are safe to use under tournament conditions. Also, some fighters practice moves whose sole purpose is to inflict pain upon their opponent, in the hope that they will tap out. This includes driving knuckles into pressure points, holding their opponent’s head in order to tire out the neck (called the “can opener” or kubi-hishigi) and putting body weight on top of the sternum, floating ribs, or similarly sensitive bones. These moves are not true submission moves – they are generally only used as distractions mostly in lower levels of competition. They are avoided or brutally countered in middle to upper levels of competition.
Chokes and Strangles
Chokes and strangles (commonly but somewhat incorrectly referred to as “blood chokes” and “air chokes” respectively) are a common form of submission. Chokes involve constriction of the windpipe (causing asphyxia.) Strangles involve constriction of the carotid artery (causing ischemia.)
Air chokes are less efficient than strangles and may result in damage to the opponent’s trachea, sometimes even resulting in death. By contrast, blood chokes (strangulations) cut the flow of blood to the opponent’s brain, causing a rapid loss of consciousness without damaging any internal structures. Being “choked-out” in this way is relatively safe as long as the choke is released soon enough after unconsciousness, letting blood back into the brain before oxygen deprivation damage begins. However, it should not be practiced unsupervised.
The prevalence of the more dangerous “air” chokes has led to the banning of choke holds from some United States police departments. Because of the negative legal connotations of the words “choke” and “strangulation”, it is advisable to use the term “lateral vascular restraint” when describing a blood choke used in a self-defense situation.
Sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s focus on submissions without the use of strikes while training allows practitioners to practice at full speed and with full power, resembling the effort used in a real competition. Training methods include technique drills in which techniques are practiced against a non-resisting partner; isolation sparring where only a certain technique or sets of techniques are used against full resistance; and full sparring in which each opponent tries to submit their opponent using any legal technique. Physical conditioning is also an important part of training at many clubs.
The standards for grading and belt promotions vary between schools, but the widely accepted measures of a person’s skill and rank in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are:
1. The amount of technical knowledge they can demonstrate, and
2. Their performance in sparring and competition.
Technical knowledge is judged by the number of techniques a person can perform, and the level of skill with which he performs them in sparring and competition. This allows for smaller and older practitioners to be recognized for their knowledge though they may not be the strongest fighters in the school. It is a distinctly individual sport, and practitioners are encouraged to adapt the techniques to make them work for their body type, strategic preferences, and level of athleticism. The ultimate criterion is the ability to execute the techniques successfully, rather than strict stylistic compliance.
Competitions play an important role in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gradings, as they allow an instructor to compare the level of his students against those of the same rank from other schools. A belt promotion may be given after success in a competition, particularly at the lower belt levels. A promotion might also be awarded when a person can submit most people in his school of the same rank, e.g. a white belt who consistently submits most other white belts in sparring and is starting to catch blue belts.
The high level of competition between schools – and its importance for belt promotion – is also considered to be one of the key factors preventing instructors from lowering standards or allowing people to buy their way up the belts. Instructors may also take the personality of the person and their behavior outside of class into account, and may refuse to promote someone if they exhibit antisocial or destructive tendencies. It is by these and other criteria that most instructors promote their students. Some schools may also have formal testing which might include oral or written exams.
Some schools use a stripe system for each belt level, indicating progress through that belt.
Adult belt colors (16 and over)
Children belt colors (15 and under)
Some schools use slightly different belt systems, such as having more colored belts before blue belt, but the above are the only widely accepted ranks as they are the standards for tournaments. There are minimum age requirements for belt promotions. Blue belts are never awarded to anyone under the age of 16. For promotion to black belt the minimum age is 19 years old according to the main regulating body of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the International Federation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Stripes may be awarded to any rank below black belt, but like the belts themselves, they tend to be given at the instructor’s discretion, and may be in recognition of accomplishments like noticeably improvement or tournament victories. However, not all schools award stripes, or award them consistently, so the number of stripes a person has is not necessarily a good measure of their accomplishments or time in training. When they are used, it is standard for a student to receive 4 stripes before being promoted to the next rank.
Black belts can receive degrees, up to 9th degree, for as long as they train or teach the art. At 8th degree, the black belt is replaced by an alternately red and black belt. At 9th & 10th degree, the belt becomes solid red. Only the founding Gracie Brothers Helio, Carlos & his brothers will ever have the 10th degree red belt. The Gracie family members who are 9th degrees belt holders are Carlson Gracie, Reylson Gracie, and Rorion Gracie.
BJJ differs in some aspects from other martial arts in the criteria for grade promotion, which is almost exclusively based on practical expertise in randori (free sparring, or rolling) and championship results. Its expected, although not always the case, that any BJJ black belt is extremely proficient in every applied aspect of BJJ and also perform well in competition. Less emphasis is given to theoretical and background knowledge. Rarely is any formal test undertaken for the grading, which is based mainly in observation at every-day practice sessions. By contrast, in Judo, practical knowledge and expertise in shiai (competition) and/or randori alone would not normally give an athlete the black-belt grade, as knowledge of technique names and Kata demonstration are necessary (the exception is promotion by Batsugun.)
There is a vast difference in how often belt progression takes place, and the requirements for the progression.More traditional schools and especially Gracie-affiliated schools believe that black belt cannot be achieved in under 8 to 10 years, while some schools allow students to achieve black belt more quickly.
A popular custom on graduation is walking the gauntlet. Students who rise in rank are expected to walk through a gauntlet of other practitioners. These students usually graduate this way topless and are hit repeatedly on the back with belts as they walk through. This custom is said to have originated in Brazil.