During the first Ultimate Fighting Championship on November 12, 1993, Royce Gracie single-handedly popularized Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by dominating the tournament with his superior ground fighting and grappling techniques. Ever since then, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been recognized as one of the most notable and effective fighting styles for competitive sport, mixed martial arts, and even self-defense.
A Description of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Rather than relying on size and robusticity, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu utilizes leverage and proper technique on the ground or mat to create an advantageous position, where the practitioner can then apply either a joint-lock or a chokehold to finish the engagement. Many styles are chaotic, flailing with standing arm and leg strikes, but a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter nullifies these unpredictable attacks by luring the opponent to the ground. Here, they can institute a dominant position and control the fight against a defenseless opponent by remaining on top. Therefore, for the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu contender, position is everything.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Ground Positions:
Guard: When the fighter has his or her back against the ground, but uses their legs to constrain the hips and legs of the other fighter and manipulate the opponent for offensive or defensive purposes.
Half Guard: Also called half mount, this grappling position is when one combatant, who has one leg entangled by the legs of the other, establishes his or her body on top of the side of another person who has their back on the mat.
Side Control: Same as half mount essentially, but the main difference is that the aggressor on top has both legs free for maneuvering or delivering knees.
Knee-on-stomach: Where the fighter on top imbeds his or her knee into the chest or stomach of the person on the bottom, while using the other leg for stabilization.
North-South: Here, two fighters appear to be inverted as one lays supine with his or her back to the ground and the other lies on top of that person in a prone position, with their head dug into the assailants stomach to avoid knee strikes.
Mount: One of the most dominant ground grappling positions, when a fighter secures the top position with his or her knees planted on both sides of the defendant.
Rear Mount: Sometimes referred to as back mount, here the combatant wraps his or her legs around the backside of the hips of another fighter, in order to eliminate the use of their legs and usually secure a rear naked choke.
Starting on the guard, students of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu learn to transition seamlessly from one position to another with the final resultant being a “full mount” or a rear mount. For example, when engaged with an opponent “in the guard,” the combatant will attempt to “pass the guard” of the opponent’s legs by shifting one leg over to the left or right side, which becomes the half guard. When the combatant gets the other leg across, they enter side control. Then, they can either end up in North-South, full mount, or rear mount depending on the series of reversals and moves for position. While fists can deliver a lot of damage from the full mount, most Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artists tend to utilize joint locks , such as the armbar, which aim at hyperextending ligaments and dislocating joints by surpassing the normal range of motion, or chokes, which attempt to prevent air or blood to the brain depending on the force exerted.
Abecedarians to the study of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu begin with a white belt no matter what division, but the series of belts after the white one are dictated by age group. For example, in the adult Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu system, the belts follow the transition white, blue, purple, brown, and black, while toddlers, kids, and teenagers follow a different belt color scheme altogether. In addition, each belt has notches to indicate how many weeks since the last promotion to help keep track of belt duration. Promotion to the next level takes years of training in a facility for multiple times a week. Unlike other styles, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu uses competitive matches for promotions, instead of a specific test involving trivial activities such as breaking boards or elaborate katas. Certainly, it is survival of the fittest, as the student must be able to definitively defeat a higher ranked opponent, in order to be awarded the next rank.
Since Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is practiced in competitions all over the world and it shares its roots with several other styles, BJJ frequently employs other martial arts techniques such as boxing, Judo, and Muay Thai to create an ambitious set of potent skills. For instance, BJJ primarily dedicates itself to the ground fight, but if a fighter wishes to participate in MMA activities, they may adopt some striking techniques from the straights, jabs, and hooks of a boxer or the flying leg kicks and knees of the Muay Thai specialist. In addition, many of the takedowns resemble Judo or wrestling, though simply falling on one’s back, also called the pulling guard, can still be an effective technique, as demonstrated by Tsunetane Oda. Moreover, most BJJ facilities follow different training regimens, especially as some gyms specifically concentrate on self-defense and tend to pair people up into small partnered groups for practice. While there are many subtle differences, all Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructors will focus primarily on the ground game, leaving each individual the option to pursue alternative techniques of their own.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Training:
Novice trainees begin practice by adorning themselves with a heavy “gi,” or traditional Judo / Jiu-Jitsu training uniform, which offers mobility and a form of protection from impact. More experienced MMA fighters may forgo the gi, in order to provide their opponents with less material to grab onto during a bout. The training floor is covered with padded mats to protect the body when being thrown or working on ground grappling. While training can vary from place to place, class typically starts with 30 minutes of stretching and cardio, proceeds to 30 minutes of guided technique practice between partners, and ends with 30 minutes of free sparring aimed at landing a submission.
As aforementioned, competition is the heart and soul of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community, so it is reassured during training with these sparring sessions. Initially, the students begin the session by each starting in a kneeling position and facing one another to show mutual respect. From here, they stand and engage each other in grappling moves for five to ten minutes, depending on the age range, in an attempt to score points awarded for things such as delivering a takedown, passing the guard, and mounting an opponent. The goal is to make the other person tap through a submission, but if no winner is declared when the time limit has ended, then points are used to determine the outcome.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Point System:
2 points: Takedown or throw, sweep, or knee on stomach
3 points: Passing the opponent’s guard
4 points: Mounted position, back mount with leg hooks, back mount knees on the ground and the opponent flat on his or her stomach, or body triangle from the back
Penalties: -1 marks for avoiding engagement or stalling the fight instead of pushing the competition further
Advantages: +1 points awarded in tie-breaker situations for almost completing certain offensive techniques but falling short
Some students explore other options such as open submission grappling tournaments or MMA, which entail alternative point systems and usually no-gi. In fact, instructors tend to encourage these endeavors; however, during class, students are restricted to fighting in a gi, on a mat, and without the use of strikes, unless specially permitted.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Sub-Styles:
When in Brazil, BJJ is simply referred to as “Jiu-Jitsu,” but BJJ also falls under a multitude of other names, as it has been developed by many different teachers. For example, “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” represents the tactics formulated by the Gracie family, but this kind of naming system gets complex quickly, so Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been reserved as the generic blanket term for the set of techniques that make up the style.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu History
Prior to the arrival of Judo, Japanese martial arts in the early 19th-century was divided into several strict jūjutsu schools, called ryū, which differed drastically in their styles, forms, and fighting methodologies. Kitō-ryū focused primarily on throwing, while Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū students spent most of their time studying choking techniques. However, under the tutelage of a young jūjutsu prodigy, by the name of Kanō Jigorō, several of these styles became incorporated into one ryū known as Judo or Kano Jiu-Jitsu. As a small boy and a passionate martial artist, Jigorō sought out a way to overcome his opponents without relying on brute force, creating his personal motto and approach for Judo, “Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort.” Starting his dojo, Kodokan, in 1882, he only had a few dozen members, which blossomed into thousands of members by 1911. Kanō Jigorō is famous for his contribution to the physical education of Japan, as well as his establishment of the dan belt ranking system.
A student of Kanō Jigorō named, Mitsuyo Maeda, was sent overseas to Brazil in 1914 to showcase Judo and spread the art, since he was considered a master judoka fighter, but this dissemination was not exactly what occurred. Instead, in 1917 after a Judo demonstration at the Da Paz Theatre in Pará, Brazil, Maeda began training Carlos Gracie, the son of the prominent local businessman and investor Gastão Gracie. After a few years of rigorous training with Maeda, Carlos moved on to teach the art to his younger brothers Gastao Jr., Jorge, Helio, and Osvaldo, as well as his sons Carlson and Carley, and open his own dojo in Brazil in 1925, effectively producing the advent of the prolific “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” legacy and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in general.
With each passing year, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu branched away from the Kodokan Judo Mitsuyo Maeda first taught, evolving into a system specifically centered around ground combat, joint-locking, and chokes, with the occasional throw or bout of striking. The Gracie family showed success can be captured by utilizing the guard position to wait until the right moment to strike and submit any opponent. Unlike the traditional training, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu invited all open challenges, of any weight class, in order to prove the superiority of their style. In many ways, these early fights were formative of the association, as they solidified effective techniques and helped to popularize the sport with their showmanship. In 1925, the Gracie family had made such a global impact on the martial arts community that the Japanese government officially decided to start calling their style “judo” instead of “jūjutsu” to avoid any stylistic confusion.
By the 1970s, Rolls Gracie transformed Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu again by using his open guard innovations to catapult himself to the position of undisputed Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion. In addition, he revolutionized the competitive system by creating a dedicated BJJ point system, based upon takedowns and advantageous positions, and requiring the wearing of a gi. Unfortunately, Rolls Gracie was involved in a freak hang-gliding incident on June 6, 1983. However, this new void created space for others to step into the spotlight and take charge of the direction of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu such as the legend Rickson Gracie, who went professionally undefeated over 11 matches from 1980 to 2000.
In the modern era, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has continued to develop and change radically over time to create advantages in spaces previously unexpected. For instance, prior to Roberto “Gordo” Correa, the half guard position was only used as a transitory point for attempting to establish a full mount; but, Correa revolutionized the position after he sustained an injury to one of his knees. Half guard offered Correa a way to protect his knee, and it allowed him to deliver significant blows and initiate grapples in a unique way. Following in the footsteps of Kanō Jigorō, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu always seeks to institute new methods and discover hidden ones.
Beginning in 1993, Rorion Gracie teamed up with the entrepreneur, Art Davie, to create the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a pay-per-view event aimed at distinguishing the world’s best fighting technique without any weight restrictions. Representing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was the brother of Rorion Gracie, Royce Gracie, who had specifically moved to Califonia, even though he did not know English, to teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from Rorion’s garage. As an amateur fighter, Royce Gracie had already enjoyed a record of 51 wins and 3 loses at this point.
Appearing as one of the thinnest competitors, weighing in at a meager 170 pounds, Royce Gracie stunned the overly confident competition by defeating all three of his opponents in UFC 1 by using Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu submission techniques. In fact, between 1993 and 2007, Royce Gracie had a remarkable professional career with 14 wins, only 2 losses, and 3 draws, which is baffling considering the relative lack of rules in the early days of the UFC. As one of the most decorated UFC Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Fighters of all time, he was the first person, alongside Ken Shamrock, to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame by Dana White in 2003.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu became an effective martial arts style, because practitioners such as Carlos, Rolls, and Royce Gracie, among a variety of other BJJ experts, adjusted their styles dynamically to meet the challenges of a viciously changing fighting scene. At the time, several fighters continued to win many martial arts matches through elaborate striking techniques and haymakers, but Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners realized the challenge and capitalized upon the weakness of these combatants, their ability to defend themselves on the ground. Therefore, BJJ fighters came prepared to dodge, parry, and reverse the archaic attacks of their opponents, while the enemy was left stupefied by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ground grappling techniques. By dominating his opponents in UFC 1, not only did Royce Gracie turn BJJ into a worldwide brand, but he introduced a new fighting mechanic that still defines the sport today.