What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) has started to become very popular in recent years and is one of the fastest growing martial arts. BJJ is predominately a self-defence and grappling martial art, consisting of submissions such as joint locks and chokes.
BJJ prides itself on being suitable for all people. Especially if you are a smaller person against someone larger than you, knowing BJJ techniques will help you in worst case scenarios.
After the first ever Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event in 1992, BJJ started to become more prominent after Royce Gracies’ performance.
Mixed martial artists now commonly train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as part of their training for competitions. BJJ was derived from two Japanese martial arts, Jujutsu and Judo. ‘Jiu-jitsu’ is translated to gentle art, so BJJ means the Brazilian gentle art!
- The origins and history of Brazilian jiu-jitsu
- How BJJ spread across the world
- Basic techniques of Brazilian jiu-jitsu
- Difference between BJJ and traditional Jujutsu
- Equipment needed when you first start BJJ
- Basic rules of BJJ as a competitive sport
- Why study BJJ over other martial arts?
- Benefits of BJJ
- How to get started and find a BJJ class!
The origins and history of Brazilian jiu-jitsu
The origins of Jiu-jitsu
There are reports that jiu-jitsu dates back thousands of years. It is not known when jiu-jitsu started, but there is evidence of it having being used in countries like Greece, Egypt and India.
Many also believe there were signs of jiu-jitsu amongst Buddhist monks in India. This fits with their values of being able to deal with a threat that is out to cause them harm in a non-aggressive manner.
Jiu-jitsu is the epitome of this as it is all about redirecting your opponent’s force against them without throwing any strikes such as punches and kicks. As Buddhism spread to China and then Japan, so did the teachings of jiu-jitsu.
In 1532 Hisamori Tenenuchi created the first Japanese Jiu-jitsu school in Japan. Before this the term ‘jiu-jitsu’ was coined by the Japanese as a general term to describe numerous grappling disciplines.
It started to evolve amongst the samurai as they trained themselves to be able to fight unarmed against both armed and unarmed attackers. They realised that striking against an armoured opponent would not work.
But learnt about the efficiency of using grappling techniques like throws and joint locks. They understood that they must use the attacker’s own energy against them instead of opposing the force.
Kano revives Jiu-jitsu and creates Judo
However, during the Meiji Restoration, once Japan was no longer at war, jiu-jitsu started to decline as the new government tried to push away any sort of violence (Jiu-jitsu was seen as violent at the time).
Jigoro Kano has been credited for playing a vital role in reviving Jiu-jitsu. He was a part of the Japanese Ministry of Culture and Martial Artists. Kano understood that Jiu-jitsu could educate people as well as being a combat sport.
He pushed the idea that Jiu-jitsu could help human beings develop and this sold well to Japanese society, helping Jiu-jitsu to once again become popular.
However, Kano removed techniques he deemed dangerous and allowed people to be able to train each other without hurting one another (what we would call sparring nowadays).
This came to be referred to as ‘Kano Jiu-jitsu’ later becoming Kodokan Judo, which is what we know it as today. He removed certain elements such as the ground game (also known as newaza), limiting it to just a few moves.
Mitsuyo Maeda meets the Gracies’
One of Kano’s best students was Mitsuyo Maeda. He had been to numerous jiu-jitsu schools before meeting Kano who later taught him Judo. Maeda then travelled around the world to popularise Judo going to places like America and the United Kingdom.
On his travels he would both compete and put on demonstrations for the people of the areas he visited. He arrived in Brazil in 1914. It was here he would meet Carlos Gracie. Carlos first met Maeda when he was 14 at one of his demonstrations.
He was intrigued with Maeda’s ability to beat people who were much bigger than him and his ground game. Carlos would train with Maeda for a few years. Maeda was well known for his ground game which he had developed from his initial jiu-jitsu background.
The start of Gracie Jiu-jitsu
Carlos decided to dedicate his life to jiu-jitsu opening the first Brazilian jiu-jitsu school in 1925. From here Carlos taught his art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu to people.
Carlos had three younger brothers who all also helped in the formation of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Oswaldo, Gastao Jr, George and Helio. Other people such as Geo Omori, Luiz Franca, Soshihiro Satake and Oswaldo Fadda also helped in the development of BJJ.
However, noticeably Helio has been credited for some of the modern BJJ techniques used. Helio had to adapt some techniques so that they would work for him.
He was diagnosed with poor health, doctors were not able to find a cure for him. He used techniques that helped him to leverage force allowing him to fight people much stronger and bigger than him.
The Gracies’ challenge other martial artists
The Gracie’s were then involved in many contests known as Vale Tudo (regarded as a predecessor to mixed martial arts). They would face other martial artists such as Judokas and capoeira practitioners.
They wanted to show the effectiveness of BJJ. The Gracies would regularly compete, Helio Gracie would be the number one fighter for the family then passing it on to Carlson Gracie and so on. This popularised the Gracies as they were involved in some amazing fights!
The first UFC event
However, it wasn’t until 1993 that BJJ would reach new heights. Rorion Gracie (son of Helio Gracie) wanted to continue to promote the Gracie’s new style of jiu-jitsu. With the help of a few other people he decided to create a tournament.
It was named the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Here elite martial artists would face each other to see who was the best and which martial art was the best.
Rorion entered his younger brother Royce Gracie to fight in the tournament. He was skinny and didn’t look capable of much. But he shocked everyone by winning the tournament and showing the effectives of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
This attracted a lot of attention to BJJ and it has continued to grow since. The Gracies are credited for helping in the creation of the UFC, which is the biggest organisation of mixed martial arts in the world right now.
BJJ has now also become a solid foundation of MMA training.
Check out this video which goes through the first UFC event!
How BJJ spread across the world
As stated before, BJJ spread fast in Brazil and was well known due to the Vale Tudo fights the Gracie’s had with other martial artists in Brazil.
The first place the Brazilians went with their new found techniques was to America. Rolls Gracie visited New York to see his mother.
He could not stay long as he was the best active fighter for the Gracies and he had to continue fighting to promote his family’s martial art.
In the 1960s Carley Gracie was invited to teach BJJ to the Marine Corps in Virginia. He taught around the country and settled in California in 1979.
Rorion Gracie also visited America in 1969, with no intention of staying. His flight ticket home was stolen and he ended up staying longer than planned. Here he found a Judo school and started to enjoy living in the USA.
He went back to Brazil and returned to the USA in 1978 with the intention of popularising BJJ here too. Rorion started by teaching people in his garage. As the number of people he was teaching started to grow, Rorion needed help from others back home.
17-year old Royce Gracie went to America in 1984. His other brothers Royler and Rickson also came to America in the 1980s. He moved from his garage and opened his first Gracie jiu-jitsu academy in 1989 in California.
He wanted the martial art to grow even more and become mainstream, but many people preferred the striking martial arts to the grappling ones.
This perception was created due to the likes of Bruce Lee movies and how they were popular at the time. The Gracie’s carried on their traditions in America challenging other martial artists calling this the ‘Gracie challenge’.
This brought them some attention as the likes of Chuck Norris started to practice BJJ. This then helped BJJ to become more accepted in the American martial arts society.
Rorion wanted to continue to grow the martial art further and outside of California. It was here he would work with other people to create the first ever UFC event.
As stated before, Royce Gracie was drafted into the tournament due to his skinny figure, depicting how BJJ is effective for all, he went on to win against bigger opponents.
From thereon BJJ continued to grow as mixed martial arts has popularised. BJJ is widely practised amongst MMA fighters and is considered one of the fundamentals for the ground and submission game in MMA competition.
Many Brazilian jiu-jitsu masters left Brazil and opened various BJJ schools across the world (mostly in America). BJJ spread to Europe and became popular in places like England and France where there are now hundreds of black belts.
Basic techniques of Brazilian jiu-jitsu
Brazilian jiu-jitsu can be a complex martial art! Here are some of the basic terms you will need to get to grips with. BJJ really is a martial art where you must constantly be practising to see results! Here are some of the basic positions, movements and submissions in BJJ.
Full Guard BJJ
This is the position where you are flat on your back and your opponent is sat down in your ‘guard’ (when both your legs are closed and longer around their hip area). Many BJJ practitioners prefer this position as they can do many moves (such as sweeps) and submissions from here.
Check out this video where the legend, Roger Gracie goes through the full/closed guard!
Side control BJJ
When you have your opponent pinned down to the floor and are chest to chest with them, but you are laying across the side of your opponent. People end up in side control once they have passed someone’s guard. Submissions can also be done in this position, but people like to move from here to full mount.
Give this video a watch which tells you how to hold side control!
Knee on belly BJJ
It is in the name! This is when an opponent has their knee on the belly of their opponent. This is also usually used when passing someone’ guard.
This video goes through how to use knee on belly to force movement!
Full mount BJJ
This is the most dominant position someone can be in. When you are on top of your opponent when they do not have guard and you have their legs trapped underneath you. From here there are many submission choices as you are in control and the person on the bottom must try to escape.
Check out this video on full mount!
Back mount BJJ
This is also one of the most dominant positions to be in. When you are sat behind an opponent and wrap your legs around them, this is back mount. Here you have a very good chance of locking in submissions such as the rear naked choke.
Watch this video which goes through back mount!
When you need to defend this is a good position to go into. This is when you have your head tucked in and are on your hands and knees. This allows you to regroup but also leaves you susceptible to getting your back taken or other submissions.
This video shows you how to escape the turtle position and get back into your guard!
This allows you to get out of a bad position such as being the one on the bottom in mount. Using your hips and ‘bridging’ your opponent’s arm forcing yourself of your back into a better position.
This video shows you how to bridge!
Using your hips to create space between you and your opponent. This Can stop them from trying to pass your guard.
Check out this video which show you how to shrimp!
Usually when you are on your back and you reverse the position you are in by ‘sweeping’ your opponent.
This video shows you 4 sweeps you need to know!
Triangle choke BJJ
This is when you trap your opponent’s head and arm in between your legs and then create a triangle shape. Once you start to flex your quads and hamstrings and your legs are in tight it will start to choke your opponent. This submission is very effective as it can be done in many positions.
Legendary BJJ coach, John Danaher shows you how to do the perfect triangle choke in this video!
Arm bar BJJ
This is a joint lock which overextends the elbow joint of your opponent. Both arm bars and triangles are very popular with many people using these submissions in tournaments.
Give this video a watch to learn how to do the perfect arm bar!
Rear naked choke BJJ
When in back mount, this submission is very popular. You wrap one arm under the chin of your opponent and connect it by grabbing onto the bicep of your other arm and then tense and squeeze your arms choking your opponent.
This video will teach you how to do the perfect rear naked choke!
These are just some basic positions, movements and submissions in BJJ. There are many more! Through practising and attending regular sessions BJJ practitioners are able to master and improve their skills.
Difference between BJJ and traditional Jujutsu
Nowadays many people mistake Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for traditional Japanese Jujutsu (also known as jiu-jitsu) when they are different martial arts. BJJ was derived from Jujutsu and got many of its basic techniques from both Jujutsu and Judo.
As said before, Jujutsu has been around for many years. Most notably used by the samurai when they found themselves unarmed on the battlefield.
Jujutsu was made for real life scenarios. Whereas many people believe BJJ has become more of a sport and an aid for competitors training in mixed martial arts.
Jujutsu also includes more elements such as striking and blocking. Even though BJJ is used in MMA where striking is allowed, BJJ itself includes no striking and is mainly groundwork.
Both have their strengths and weaknesses and it ultimately leads to the preferences of the person practicing.
Though BJJ is now much more popular due to the emergence of mixed martial arts, there are many more BJJ schools around the world than Jujutsu schools. Making it much easier to get stared in BJJ.
Equipment needed when you first start BJJ
When starting BJJ you will be glad to know that not much equipment is needed! Depending on what class you attend there will be different requirements.
Traditionally, most people will train in the ‘Gi’. This is a type of uniform that BJJ practitioners wear whilst training. It is similar to what is worn by karateka (normally BJJ Gis are much thicker and stronger due to the nature of the martial art!).
These can easily be purchased online or in any local fight equipment store as BJJ Gis are very popular nowadays for fighters to purchase.
As well as this you should purchase a gum shield as when sparring (or rolling) it will protect your teeth from any possible damage.
These are the two main things you will need! Also, rash guards can be worn underneath to reduce any itchiness your skin may feel from training but these are not permissible in many BJJ tournaments.
There is also ‘no Gi’ training which is much more popular for those training in mixed martial arts. The Gi is not worn and is swapped for usually a t shirt/rash guard and shorts.
This can be slightly different as there are no grip controls or grip submissions when training in no Gi. This is more similar to mixed martial arts competitions where Gis are not worn.
Basic rules of BJJ as a competitive sport
BJJ has now emerged as a popular competitive sport. Though not in the Olympics (as of yet) there are many prestigious tournaments that BJJ practitioners can participate in.
The most well-known organisation for BJJ tournaments is the International Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Federation (IBJJF). Competitions can range from nationals, continentals and world championship levels.
Numerous tournaments are held each year to see who the best BJJ fighters are. Many famous BJJ practitioners have gone on to become mixed martial artists and compete at the highest levels. This includes the likes of Demian Maia, Ronaldo (Jacaré) Souza and Gilbert Burns.
When competing in BJJ under IBJJF rules you can either win on points or via submission. If points are even, advantage points are also given out during the bout for those who almost gained a point or submission.
Depending on the referee’s judgment he can award additional advantage points or call the fight a draw.
We will go through the pointing system and some key rules:
BJJ Pointing system
- Full Mount- 4 points
- Back Mount- 4 points
- Passing the guard- 3 points
- Knee on belly- 2 points
- Sweep from guard- 2 points
- Takedown- 2 points
BJJ Key rules
- Cannot slam your opponent
- Not allowed to stall unless in dominant positions or will be penalised
- No points rewarded for side control
- Have 20 seconds to tie your belt or can face being penalised
- Cannot talk to the referee
- Neck cranks are not allowed
Actions that cause disqualification in BJJ:
- Using foul language
- Throwing strikes
- Pulling hair/ eye pokes
- Leaving the mat when put in a submission
These are just some of the key rules and there are many more! Some rules also depend on different ages and different belts too. Check out all IBJJF rules here.
This video goes through the rules of BJJ in competitions!
Why study BJJ over other martial arts?
All martial arts are similar in the respect that they teach you ways of defending yourself and how to control both the mind and the body.
Many people prefer BJJ as there is no striking involved. When thinking of martial arts, people usually assume that they will be throwing strikes which could cause someone damage. This is not the case in BJJ as striking isn’t allowed.
It is purely a grappling martial art. Therefore, you will take no direct strikes to the head, which is a primary concern for many people when starting martial arts.
However, BJJ is still a very tough and technical martial art which is considered a lot harder to start with compared to other martial arts. This is due to the thorough techniques that are taught to students.
With no striking, this also appeals to parents looking to start their kids in martial arts. BJJ has become popular amongst kids because of this and helps them develop the ability to defend themselves and also boosts their confidence.
BJJ has also evolved into a competitive sport. With the number of tournaments increasing in both size and popularity. People who are competitive and want to showcase their skills have many opportunities to do this with the number of BJJ tournaments that there now are.
People that are also looking to pursue a mixed martial arts career should consider learning BJJ (or something similar such as wrestling, sambo etc).
Having a good foundation in BJJ allows you to have a solid ground game which is important in MMA. As there are only two ways you can win within the distance, which is either by knockout or submission.
BJJ purely focuses on submissions, which will enable you to have a higher chance of winning especially if the fight goes to the ground.
Benefits of BJJ
There are many benefits of training in BJJ. We will go through some of the key benefits:
- Learn how to defend yourself- BJJ was developed using your opponent’s force against them, therefore it is great for self-defence. As stated before, Helio Gracie was small and wanted BJJ to help people defend themselves when fighting someone bigger. It is reported that 95% of fights go to the ground and knowing BJJ will come in handy in this kind of situation!
- Improve your strength and stamina- It can be physically demanding due to the constant drilling and sparring you will need to do to improve your abilities! But over time you will become much fitter and stronger! Due to the nature of BJJ, you are constantly working.
- Improve your self-confidence- Learning new techniques and constantly improving your skills will give you more confidence in yourself! BJJ is a very tough martial art to learn and once you start getting the hang of it you will feel self-accomplishment. It roughly takes around 10 years for someone to get a black belt in BJJ. And that is through constant training!
- Builds character- You will go through ups and downs in training. Some days you will have good days some will be bad. This ultimately strengthens you both physically and mentally building your character. This is a great skill which will help in general life too.
- Improve your mental health- Regular training can help to reduce stress you may have and uplift your sprits by providing you a way of expressing yourself through the martial art. It can help combat depression and anxiety.
- Anyone can practice BJJ- BJJ is suitable for all people to practise! No matter your age anyone can learn BJJ. The fact there is no striking is great for kids too as it provides them with a martial art where they don’t need to worry about any strikes that may cause damage.
How to get started and find a BJJ class!
Anyone can start BJJ, no matter how old or fit you are. Finding a BJJ class is a simple process! Make sure to check online for nearby BJJ schools in your area, as most will have an online presence.
Contact the school (if they have contact details) if you have any questions you want to ask. Find out which session you would like to attend by contacting them if possible.
If going to a Gi class, you will most likely need to purchase a Gi beforehand. If attending a no Gi class, you will be able to wear anything that is suitable (t-shirt and shorts)!
Turn up to one of their sessions and see how it goes! Usually first classes are free, so this will allow you to see if this is a good fit for you.
After going to a few classes and trying this martial art, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu may not be for you. Don’t worry, there are many other martial arts out there! Be sure to check out our ‘MARTIAL ARTS…WHAT ARE THEY?’ post to gain a good understanding of other popular martial arts too!
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We have gone through Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in this post. In our next few posts on the Martial Arts Series, we will cover other individual martial arts. Make sure you subscribe to our blog to keep up to date with the latest posts!