Brazilian Jiujitsu

The Jujutsu | What is Jujitsu | Jujutsu History | Jujutsu Development | Jujutsu Description | Jujutsu Beginning | Jujutsu Origins | Movement Strategy | Derivatives and Schools | Brazilian Jiujitsu | Judo verses Jujitsu | Jujutsu and Taijutsu | Jujutsu Etymology | Philosophical Dimensions | Principles And Concepts

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 system developed from pre-World War I Kodokan Judo, which was itself then a recently-developed sport derived from multiple schools (or Ryu) of Japanese Jujutsu. One of those schools was Fusen Ryu, whose focus was on ne-waza (ground techniques). At that time, Judo was also known as “Kano Jujutsu”, and, even more generically, simply as 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.

Origin: The art began with Mitsuyo Maeda (aka Conde Koma, or Count Combat in English), a Japanese expert judoka and member of the Kodokan.

Kano Jigoro sent Maeda overseas to spread his Judo to the world. Eventually, Maeda emigrated to Brazil in the 1910s where an influential businessman named Gastão Gracie helped him get established. In return for his aid, Maeda taught the fighting art to Gastão’s son Carlos Gracie, who then taught the art to his brothers, including Hélio Gracie.

Brasilian Jujitsu Art of the Wrist Lock

When Maeda taught the art to the Gracies he called it Jiu-Jitsu instead of Judo. It is not known why he chose the name Jiu-Jitsu because Maeda had only trained in Jiu-Jitsu for a very brief time as a child. There is much speculation and debate over this. One theory is that because Maeda was fighting in “no hold barred” type matches that Kano felt was against the principles of Judo, Maeda changed the name because of a falling out with Kano. Another theory is that Maeda included many “dirty” techniques in his teaching that had originated from classical jujitsu. The most plausible reason is that when Maeda brought the art to Brazil, the term “Judo” was relatively new, and what he had learned was still at the time also known as “Kano Jiu-Jitsu”.

In Brazil it was simply known as “Jiu-Jitsu” – not “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” or “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.” These latter terms came to be when the Gracies went to the United States to spread their art. “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 of the art. Other common spellings are Jujitsu, Jujutsu, Ju jitsu and Ju-Jitsu. The variety of spellings are due to the difficulty in transliterating Japanese Kanji sounds into the English phonetic system.

The Gracie brothers trained many of their sons, who carried on the family tradition. Hélio had the opportunity to teach a class one day while Carlos was absent. Through constant technical refinement in training and real fighting, emphasizing ground-work, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as it is known today was created. The Gracie family continued to develop the system throughout the 20th century, often fighting vale tudo matches (precursors to modern MMA), during which it gained its focus on ground fighting and refined its techniques.

Spread: Other contributing factors to the stylistic divergence of BJJ 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, the post-World War II closing of the Kodokan by the American Occupation Authority (which were only allowed to reopen on the condition that emphasis be shifted towards sport), as well as the Gracies’ additions to the body of technique and theories regarding self-defense, martial arts and training methods.

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. He 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 aspect 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 judo competitions where most ended in a draw. One defeat came by Masahiko Kimura, whose name was placed on top of the arm lock used to defeat Hélio officially. 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, 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. 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 regarded as variations of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Comparisons with other Jujutsu derivatives: Like Judo and Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu encourages free sparring against a live, resisting opponent. Thus, students have an opportunity to test their skills and develop them under realistic conditions, while minimising 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 is responsible for BJJ’s great strengths in ground fighting, and also for its relative weakness in standing techniques, which some remedy by cross training in Judo and/or Wrestling.

On the other hand, Kosen Judo – as well as some Japanese Jujutsu Ryu – put even more emphasis on ground techniques than BJJ does by placing no restrictions at all on the competitors transitioning to the ground.

It is sometimes assumed that Maeda was a practitioner of traditional Jujutsu, however Maeda only trained in traditional Jujutsu very briefly as a child, and was principally a student of Kano’s Judo. It is also interesting to note that old Kodokan records have Hélio Gracie to be recorded as a 3rd dan in Judo.

The considerable differences between BJJ and the Japanese styles is due to BJJ’s greater emphasis on strikes on the ground, and those holds and joint locks that are no longer allowed in sport Judo competitions – though they are still taught in practical Judo and traditional Jujutsu. Today, the major 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 crossover in techniques between the two.

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 sometimes negated if grappling on the ground. BJJ includes many techniques to throw or tackle opponents to the ground which revolve around using the primary bases of the body, the hips and shoulders. These takedowns are difficult to counter without training. Once the opponent is on the ground, a number of maneuvers (and counter-maneuvers) are available to manipulate the opponent into suitable position for the application of a submission hold. 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 your own body position which will force the joint to move past its normal range of motion. Pressure should be increased in a controlled manner and released if the opponent cannot escape the hold and signals defeat by submitting. The commonly accepted form of submission is to tap the opponent, gym mat, or even yourself, several times. Verbal submission is also acceptable.

Alternatively, one could apply a choke hold, disrupting the blood supply to the brain, causing unconsciousness if the opponent refuses to tap out. A third, and 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.

Joint locks: While many joint locks are permitted, most competitions bar or restrict some or all joint locks involving the knees and spine. The reasoning behind this being that the angles of manipulation required to cause pain are nearly the same to cause serious injury. Joint locks that require a twisting motion of the knee (called twisting knee locks or twisting knee bars) are usually banned in competitions as 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. In Brazil, 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 tries any of these 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 are safe to use under tournament conditions. Also, in lower levels of competition, 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 and are avoided or brutally countered in middle to upper levels of competition. Generally, they are used as distractions.

Chokes: Most BJJ “chokes” involve constriction of the carotid artery (causing ischemia). Technically these are not “chokes” but “strangles”; however, the term “choke” is often erroneously used to cover both chokes and strangulations. This differs from the more instinctive choking movements which generally involve constriction of the windpipe (causing asphyxia) – a legitimate choke. Though this distinction may at first seem subtle it is in fact significant (commonly referred to as “blood” and “air” chokes respectively). Air chokes are less efficient than strangles and may result in damage to the opponent’s trachea, sometimes even resulting in death. In contrast, blood chokes (strangulations) directly cut the flow of blood off to the opponent’s brain causing a rapid loss of consciousness without damaging the internal structure. Being “choked-out” in this way is actually relatively safe as long as the choke is released soon after unconsciousness, letting blood (and therefore oxygen) back into the brain before the damages of oxygen deprivation begin. However, it should not be practiced in an unsupervised atmosphere.

The prevalence of the dangerous “air” chokes has actually led to the banning of chokeholds from some United States police departments. Because of the negative legal connotations of the words choke and even strangulation one is advised to use the term “lateral vascular restraint” when describing a blood choke used in a self-defense situation.

Training Methods: Sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s focus on submissions without the addition of strikes while training allows practitioners to practice at full speed and 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 set 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 also plays a part in many club’s training.

Grading: 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:

  • The amount of technical knowledge they can demonstrate, and
  • 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 people to be recognized for their knowledge though they may not be the biggest and 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, strategy, and level of athleticism. The ultimate criterion is the ability to execute the technique successfully, and not stylistic compliance.

Competitions play an important role in the grading of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as they allow an instructor to compare the level of his students against those of the same rank in other schools. A belt promotion may be given after success in a competition, particularly at the lower belts. 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 to 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. A few schools may also have formal testing and include oral or written exams.

Some schools may use a stripe system for each level belt, meaning that they must progress through a certain rank for each belt.

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 or older 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, tend to be given at the instructor’s discretion, and may be in recognition of accomplishments like noticeably improving or victories in a tournament. 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 who was promoted on October 27, 2003 by his father Helio 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 fare well in competition. Less emphasis is given to theoretical and background knowledge.

Rarely any formal test is performed for the grading, which is based mainly in observation at every-day practice sessions. For contrast, as an example, in Judo practical knowledge and expertise in shiai (competition) and/or randori alone would not give an athlete the black-belt grade, as knowledge of technique names and Kata demonstration are necessary to a black belt holder. The exception is promotion by Batsugun. Also, some schools, mainly traditional Japanese schools, have the prerequisite that a judoka defeats a set number of opponents from higher grades before advancing.

Graduation is a popular custom shown in the graduation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners is walking the gauntlet. Students who rise in rank are expected to walk through a gauntlet of other practitioners who have risen in rank. 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. Jorge Gurgel is one practitioner who has confirmed the tradition and its origins.