Jiu jitsu, specifically Brazilian Jiu jitsu (or BJJ for short) is one of the most popular and fastest growing martial arts in the US today.  In this article, we’ll discuss what BJJ is, it's history, future, and several topics related to the art.


What is Jiu jitsu?

Jiu jitsu as we know it today in America is one of the fastest growing martial arts around.  The art focuses on using leverage and body position to control your opponent in order to apply joint locks and chokes that could potentially break bones or leave an opponent unconscious.  Although strength is a factor when training Brazilian jiu jitsu, there are many other factors and skills that are required.  These skills can allow a significantly smaller individual skilled in BJJ to out maneuver bigger and stronger opponents.  Years of dedication and thousands of hours of mat time are required to reach the highest levels of black belt level and beyond.

BJJ focuses largely on ground techniques.  Unlike many other martial arts, practitioners become skilled in fighting and attacking from ground positions, including laying on the back.  Jiu-jitsu also includes takedowns, throws, and stand up techniques although most practitioners prefer to focus largely on ground work.

In addition, BJJ is different than most other martial arts from a sparring perspective.  Students train live or spar regularly in a practice known as rolling.  This live sparring is considered a regular part of jiu jitsu training.  Unlike other martial arts such as those that involve striking, jiu jitsu allows competitors to spar at live speed or near live speed while still remaining relatively safe.  Opponents who are caught in a submission or choke during training or competition will acknowledge defeat by tapping their opponent or verbally saying the word tap.  Once an opponent taps, the hold should be released immediately to prevent injury to the opponent. 

There are two major variants of jiu jitsu as it pertains to training and competition.  They are no-gi and gi.  A gi or kimono is a uniform worn when training traditional BJJ.  It normally consists of a heavy durable jacket and pants designed to withstand the demands of the grabbing and pulling performed when training in the gi.  The kimono is typically secured with a colored belt that signifies the rank of the practitioner. 

No-gi jiu jitsu is trained without the kimono and is considered a from of submission grappling.  A typical uniform for no-gi is fight shorts and a rash guard.  Rash guards are commonly substituted for t-shirts.  During competition, it is common for some competitors to compete shirtless as this makes it more difficult for an opponent to grab on, especially when the competitors begin to sweat.


No gi Jiu Jitsu history


A Brief History of Jiu jitsu

The roots of BJJ can be traced back to Mitsuyo Maeda. Maeda was a Japanese immigrant who came to Brazil in 1914. He was a fighter with a background in Kodokan Judo and Classical Jiu jitsu.  It was in Brazil that he befriended Gastão Gracie.  Maeda would go on to teach students in Brazil his knowledge of Martial Arts.  His students included Carlos Gracie Sr., Luis Franca, and others.  Some of his students would go on to open their own martial arts schools and Brazilian Jiu jitsu was born.

The lineage of those practicing Brazilian jiu jitsu is important as all lineages lead back to Maeda.


The Gentle Art Comes to America

The Gracie's and other families were instrumental in sharing the art of Brazilian jiu jitsu with others.  Eventually in the early 1990’s America would get it’s first major exposure to BJJ when Royce Gracie competed in the original Ultimate Fighting Championship.  That event showed spectators what someone with the knowledge of BJJ could do.  Royce was defeating opponents significantly larger than him using technique and leverage.  Fast forward several years later.  The UFC was reformed and reborn under Dana White and his partners.  The UFC and MMA grew in popularity and with it so did jiu jitsu.  Now both MMA and BJJ are seeing unprecedented growth in the United States and around the world.  Jiu jitsu academies can be found in all over America and more and schools continue to open as people become exposed to the art.


Self Defense, Martial Art, or Sport

Is jiu jitsu self-defense, a martial art, or a sport?  In our opinion, it’s all three. 

Knowledge of jiu jitsu can be extremely valuable and practical when it comes to self-defense.  Many altercations that may require self-defense will end on the ground or at least grappling with an opponent.  This is where a jiu jitsu practitioner feels at home.  In addition, those who have trained for a long time are often conditioned not to panic while grappling.  They can efficiently and effectively improve their position, particularly against an unskilled opponent.

BJJ is constantly evolving.  There are always new techniques being developed and countered.  Each practitioner has their own unique style.  It requires creativity, planning, strategy, and dedication.  For this reason, it can be considered an art.  Adaptation and innovation are regular components of training.

Anyone who has been to a jiu-jitsu competition or competed in one knows that jiu-jitsu is also a sport.  There are rules like any other sport when it comes to competing.  And like other sports, many competitors have adapted their skillset to focus on winning competitions.  Because competitions usually incorporate a point scoring system, the focus on points versus submissions is a common occurrence.  From this standpoint, sport jiu jitsu differs greatly from self-defense jiu jitsu.  In self-defense, points do not matter, you must end the fight or escape.  The different rules for competition including point systems and submission only tournaments have created some debate in the BJJ community about which rule set is better and more pure to the roots of the martial art.  As a sport, BJJ has grown rapidly.  Competitions exist in countries all over the world.  Some of the most prestigious events including tournaments hosted by the IBJJF and the ADCC submission grappling tournament continue to grow in interest every year.  Many events now offer streaming video feeds.  Professional level competitions with cash earnings are becoming more common.  In addition, some have even pushed for BJJ to be considered for the Olympics as a future sport.


Jiu Jitsu in MMA

Jiu jitsu has become a major component of Mixed Martial Arts.  Many top level MMA competitors have some background in BJJ and almost all have trained jiu jitsu in some form or another (or at least defenses to it).  There have been many top level jiu-jitsu competitors that have crossed over into MMA.  Some have had great success while other have not.  It’s clear that MMA requires many highly developed skills beyond that of just jiu jitsu.  That said, BJJ is a critical skill for most MMA fighters once the fight hits the ground.




BJJ Community

The BJJ community is a strong and growing one.  Most people out there will never understand what it’s like to train, get choked out, or to share the mats with teammates.  Those that do share a unique bond.  Strong friendships and bonds are commonly made by members of academies and teams.  In addition, several online communities exist in forums and other social networks just for those that practice the martial art.  More and more events and expos are appearing regularly and most will find the jiu jitsu community consists largely of good people and we are proud to be a part of it.


About This Article

This article on jiu jitsu history was written for those who may not be familiar with the martial art.  If you found the article informative or useful, please feel free to share by linking to it.  We will be updating the article as needed with additional information as necessary.  If you have suggestions on how we can improve the article, please contact us.


Other Resources

Want to know more about jiu jitsu belts, check out our jiu jitsu belt guide.
Beginning BJJ and want to know what to expect, read our bjj white belt tips.
Have you wrestled before?  Here is our take on jiu jitsu vs wrestling.
Learn about what to expect on your first day of BJJ class.



December 18, 2013

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