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16.3) Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu


This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel faq@idempot.net with numerous contributions by others.

16.3) Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

(Contributor: Don Geddis - webmaster@bjj.org)


Possibly the premier ground-fighting martial art. Made famous by Royce
Gracie in the early UFCs in the mid-1990's, it specializes in
submission grappling when both fighters are on the ground. Techniques
include positional control (especially the "guard" position), and
submissions such as chokes and arm locks.




In the mid-1800's in Japan, there were a large number of styles ("ryu")
of jiu-jitsu (sometimes spelled "jujitsu"). Techniques varied between
ryu, but generally included all manner of unarmed combat (strikes,
throws, locks, chokes, wrestling, etc.) and occasionally some weapons
training. One young but skilled master of a number of jiu-jitsu styles,
Jigoro Kano, founded his own ryu and created the martial art Judo (aka
Kano-ryu jiu-jitsu) in the 1880's. One of Kano's primary insights was
to include full-power practice against resisting, competent opponents,
rather than solely rely on the partner practice that was much more
common at the time.

One of Kano's students was Mitsuo Maeda, who was also known as Count
Koma ("Count of Combat"). Maeda emigrated to Brazil in 1914. He was
helped a great deal by the Brazilian politician Gastão Gracie, whose
father George Gracie had emigrated to Brazil himself from Scotland. In
gratitude for the assistance, Maeda taught jiu-jitsu to Gastao's son
Carlos Gracie. Carlos in turn taught his brothers Osvaldo, Gastão Jr.,
Jorge, and Helio.

In 1925, Carlos and his brothers opened their first jiu-jitsu academy,
and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was born in Brazil.

At this point, the base of techniques in BJJ was similar to those in
Kano's Judo academy in Japan. As the years progressed, however, the
brothers (notably Carlos and Helio) and their students refined their
art via brutal no-rules fights, both in public challenges and on the
street. Particularly notable was their willingness to fight outside of
weight categories, permitting a skilled small fighter to attempt to
defeat a much larger opponent.

They began to concentrate more and more on submission ground fighting,
especially utilizing the guard position. This allowed a weaker man to
defend against a stronger one, bide his time, and eventually emerge

In the 1970's, the undisputed jiu-jitsu champion in Brazil was Rolls
Gracie. He had taken the techniques of jiu-jitsu to a new level.
Although he was not a large man, his ability to apply leverage using
all of his limbs was unprecedented. At this time the techniques of the
open guard and its variants (spider guard, butterfly guard) became a
part of BJJ. Rolls also developed the first point system for jiu-jitsu
only competition. The competitions required wearing a gi, awarded
points (but not total victories) for throws and takedowns, and awarded
other points for achieving different ground positions (such as passing
an opponent's guard). After Rolls' death in a hang-gliding accident,
Rickson Gracie became the undisputed (and undefeated!) champion, a
legend throughout Brazil and much of the world. He has been the
exemplar of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique for the last two decades,
since the early 1980's, in both jiu-jitsu competition and no-rules MMA

Jiu-jitsu techniques have continued to evolve as the art is constantly
tested in both arenas. For example, in the 1990's Roberto "Gordo"
Correa, a BJJ black belt, injured one of his knees, and to protect his
leg he spent a lot of practice time in the half-guard position. When he
returned to high-level jiu-jitsu competition, he had the best
half-guard technique in the world. A position that had been thought of
as a temporary stopping point, or perhaps a defensive-only position,
suddenly acquired a new complexity that rapidly spread throughout the

In the early 1990's, Rorion Gracie moved from Brazil to Los Angeles. He
wished to show the world how well the Gracie art of jiu-jitsu worked.
In Brazil, no-rules Mixed Martial Art (MMA) contests (known as "vale
tudo") had been popular since Carlos Gracie first opened his academy in
1925, but in the world at large most martial arts competition was
internal to a single style, using the specialized rules of that style's

Rorion and Art Davie conceived of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
This was a series of pay-per-view television events in the United
States that began in 1993. They pitted experts of different martial
arts styles against each other in an environment with very few rules,
in an attempt to see what techniques "really worked" when put under
pressure. Rorion also entered his brother Royce Gracie, an expert in
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as one of the contestants.

Royce dominated the first years of the UFC against all comers, amassing
eleven victories with no fighting losses. At one event he defeated four
different fighters in one night. This, from a fighter that was smaller
than most of the others (at 170 lbs, in an event with no weight
classes), looked thin and scrawny, and used techniques that most
observers, even experienced martial artists, didn't understand.

In hindsight, much of Royce's success was due to the fact that he
understood very well (and had trained to defend against) the techniques
that his opponents would use, whereas they often had no idea what he
was doing to them. In addition, the ground fighting strategy and
techniques of BJJ are among the most sophisticated in the world.
Besides the immediate impact of an explosion of interest in BJJ across
the world (particularly in the US and Japan), the lasting impact of
Royce's early UFC dominance is that almost every successful MMA fighter
now includes BJJ as a significant portion of their training.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is primarily a ground-fighting art. Most techniques
involve both fighters on the mat. There is a heavy emphasis on
positional strategy, which is about which fighter is on top, and where
each person's legs are. Positions are stable situations, from which a
large variety of techniques are available to both fighters.

The primary positions include:

* Guard: The person applying the guard is on the bottom with his
back on the ground; his legs are wrapped around his opponent's hips
(who is said to be "in the guard").
* Side control: Chest-on-chest but without the legs being entangled.
* Mount: On top of his opponent (who "is mounted"), sitting on his
chest, with one leg on either side of his torso.
* Back mount: Behind his opponent, with his feet hooked around his
opponent's hips and upper thighs.

Specific techniques taught are designed either to improve one's
position (for example, to "pass the guard", by going from being "in the
guard" to getting around the opponent's legs, resulting in side
control); or else as a finishing submissions. Most submissions are
either chokes (cutting off the blood supply to the brain) or arm locks
(hyperextending the elbow, or twisting the shoulder).

Belt ranks start at white belt, and progress through blue, purple,
brown, and then black. It generally takes about 2-3 years of training
multiple times per week to be promoted to the next belt rank. However,
there is no formal rank test. Instead, rank is about the ability to
apply jiu-jitsu techniques in a competitive match. A student generally
needs to be able to reliably defeat most other students at a given rank
in order to be promoted to the next rank.

Given the jiu-jitsu roots, and the interest in competition,
occasionally related techniques are taught. In each case, other
specific martial arts focus on these sets of techniques more than BJJ,
and they generally just receive passing mention and rare practice in
BJJ training. For example, takedowns tend to be similar to Judo and
western wrestling; leg locks (such as in Sambo) are not encouraged but
sometimes allowed. Some schools teach street self-defense or weapon
defense as well; this instruction tends to be much more like old-style
Japanese jiu-jitsu with partner practice, and rarely impacts the
day-to-day grappling training. Also, many dedicated BJJ students are
also interested in MMA competition, and attempt to practice their
techniques without a gi, and sometimes with adding striking from boxing
or Muay Thai.


Most training has students wearing a heavy ("jiu-jitsu" or "Judo")
gi/kimono, on a floor with padded mats. A typical class involves 30
minutes of warm ups and conditioning, 30 minutes of technique practice
with a willing partner, and 30 minutes of free sparring training,
against an opponent of equal skill who attempts to submit you.

Most of the training is done with all students on the mat. For example,
training usually beings with both students facing each other from a
kneeling position.

Competition is also encouraged. For a jiu-jitsu tournament, competitors
are divided by age, belt rank, and weight class. Time limits are
generally five to ten minutes, depending on belt rank. Matches start
with both competitiors standing, on a floor with a padded mat. A tap
out from submission ends the match. If time runs out without a
submission, points determine the winner:

* 2 points: Takedown from standing; Knee-on-stomach position; or
Scissor, sweep, or flip, using legs (from bottom position to top)
* 3 points: Passing the guard
* 4 points: Mount; or Mount on back (with leg hooks in)

Many BJJ students are also interested in open submission grappling
tournaments (different points rules, usually no gi), or Mixed Martial
Arts (MMA). Most BJJ instructors encourage such competition, and often
assist in the training. However, typically BJJ classes wear a gi, start
from the knees, and prohibit strikes.



However, note that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is sometimes taught under
slightly different names. In Brazil it is generally known simply as

Members of the Gracie family often call it "Gracie Jiu-Jitsu", and in
fact this name probably pre-dates the now more-generic BJJ for
labelling the art when outside of Brazil. (This probably would have
become the generic name for the art, but Rorion Gracie trademarked the
phrase for his academy in Torrance, CA. A later lawsuit between Rorion
Gracie and Carley Gracie was resolved to permit Gracie family members
to use that phrase when teaching their family's art of jiu-jitsu.
However, the generic term "Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu" is now preferred for
referring to the art independent of instructor.)

Also, the Machado brothers (cousins of the Gracies) sometimes call
their style "Machado Jiu-Jitsu". Any of these names refer to basically
the same art.


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