What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Jiu-jitsu is a weaponless martial art that utilizes holds, throws and striking techniques to subdue or disable an opponent. There are 5 elements to Jiu-jitsu:  Standing Self-Defense, Striking Techniques, Throwing Techniques, Grappling Techniques and Philosophy.

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu refers to the specific style of Jiu-jitsu made famous by the Gracie family from Brazil.  Brazilian Jiu-jitsu traces its roots to the older Japanese art Jujutsu, which was later refined in Japan for more sporting purposes & renamed Judo. Judo & Jiu-jitsu have many techniques in common, however, Judo emphasizes primarily throwing techniques, while Jiu-jitsu focuses more on finishing the fight on the ground.  The term “Jiu-jitsu” literally translated means “Gentle Art”, and it focuses on using leverage and technique to redirect your opponent’s strength and to maximize your own strength in the most efficient manner possible.  The Jiu-jitsu fighter strives to achieve dominant position & control over their opponent, often subduing them by applying a submission hold (choke or joint lock). For this reason, the techniques of Jiu-jitsu have been proven to be very effective for smaller, weaker people, even against a much larger opponent. In Jiu-jitsu, there are no static “forms” or moves that are “too lethal” to practice in any type of realistic context.  An important element in the training methodology of Jiu-jitsu is that practitioners can safely spar at full speed with live resistance, with minimal chance for serious injury. This gives students the ability to test the effectiveness of their techniques against a resisting opponent.  Live sparring and drilling is a very important component of training in Jiu-jitsu. Rank advancement is based not only on time or learning a certain set of techniques, but also on a student’s ability to apply their techniques in a realistic situation with a resisting opponent.

Jiu-jitsu is traditionally practiced in the gi, or kimono, a uniform consisting of loose fitting pants and a jacket, which enables the practitioner to use the grips on the cloth to hold, throw, and submit their opponent. However, techniques for training without the kimono (or “no-gi”) are also taught. In recent years, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has become very popular in sport grappling tournaments, and mixed martial arts (MMA), however it’s roots and primary application is as a self-defense art. Following Royce Gracie’s success in the early days of the UFC which proved unquestionably the effectiveness of this martial art, it is now a staple of every professional fighter’s arsenal. Whether you are young or old, looking for a healthy hobby, a system of self-defense, or wanting to become a competitor or professional fighter, the practice of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu will give you a lifetime of benefits, if you are willing to put in the time & dedication to become a serious student.


The History of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsiu

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is also sometimes known as “Gracie Jiu-jitsu”, a term coined by Gracie family, who developed the art in Brazil and spread it throughout the world. Carlos Gracie, the first Gracie family member to learn the art, studied a Japanese form of Jujutsu in the early 1900’s in Belem do Para, Brazil under a famous Japanese martial artist named Mitsuyo Maeda (or Conde Koma), a student of the Kodokan in Japan.  Maeda was well known for fighting in numerous grappling matches and no-holds barred fights throughout the world. His realistic style of fighting, with a heavy emphasis on ne-waza (or ground fighting) was passed on to Carlos, who in turn taught the art to his younger brothers, most notably Helio Gracie, who then passed the art to their own siblings, children, and cousins. In 1925, the first Academia Gracie was opened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the Gracie family began to teach their art to the general public, and soon this became the family business.

Carlos Gracie’s younger brother Helio Gracie, was much smaller and physically weaker than his older brothers, and therefore had difficulty with many of the traditional Japanese style techniques that demanded a higher level of athleticism. After watching and studying the techniques, Helio altered some of the techniques to maximize the use of leverage and minimize the force required to execute the technique, thus further refining the art as an effective system of self-defense.

Helio & Carlos, along with other family members, continued to refine and develop their art. As the Gracie family began to become more famous in Brazil, Carlos and his brothers established a solid reputation by issuing the now famous “Gracie Challenge”. All challengers were welcome to come and fight with the Gracies in no-holds-barred (NHB) matches. The Gracie fighters emerged victorious against fighters of all different backgrounds. The Gracies continued to hone their skills with the realities of real fighting.

Several members of the Gracie family began to immigrate to the United States in the late 1980’s, and began to teach, however their art was not well known in the U.S. In the early 1990’s, one of Helio’s son’s, Rorion Gracie, came up with an idea to bring their no-holds barred style of fighting to the United States as a way to showcase the effectiveness of their fighting style. His idea would become what is now knows as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The popularity of Jiu-jitsu exploded when, in 1993 Royce Gracie, one of Helio’s sons, won the very first UFC, easily defeating three separate, and much larger opponents from a variety of fighting backgrounds. He followed that with a string of victories in subsequent UFC events, where martial artist and fighters of various disciplines fought against each other in a no-holds barred format. Unlike the mixed martial arts (MMA) fights today, at this time, there were no weight classes, no protective equipment, very limited rules, and multiple fights in one event. Shortly after, Royce’s brother Rickson went undefeated in similar events in Japan, and other members of the Gracie clan were equally as successful in MMA events around the U.S. It became quickly apparent that fighters versed only in punching and kicking lost every time they faced an opponent trained in Jiu-jitsu. The emergence of the Gracie family and their particular brand of Jiu-jitsu, with its time tested and proven effectiveness in challenge matches and MMA fights, has had a major impact on martial arts worldwide. Jiu-jitsu continues to be a major part of almost every professional fighter’s training today.

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, although obviously similar in many respects to Judo and other traditional systems of Japanese Jujutsu, differs in some fundamental ways from all other related systems. Judo was originally designed as a powerful system of self-defense that also included a sportive component and the idea of self-cultivation and the mutual benefit of members of society. Presently, although the techniques of Judo may certainly be applied in real fighting situations (and many practitioners of “sport” Judo have applied their skills very effectively in non-sportive confrontations), the emphasis in most schools is on sport competition. During the course of the last century the rules of Judo began to emphasize means of achieving victory in competition that did not necessarily reflect the conditions of real fighting. For example, a Judo match may be won by a throw or a pin hold without a submission. These rules and limited groundwork that forbids many of the original submission holds found in early Jujutsu, somewhat limit direct applicability to street fights. Other styles of classical Jujutsu are still plagued by the original problem Kano addressed with his emphasis on randori, namely, technical training is limited to kata practice.

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has followed a different course in the last 80 years. The Gracie challenge and participation in countless free fighting events has led to a different emphasis in fighting strategy and the development of unique rules for sport competition. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is divided into three broad categories, each mutually supportive of the others; self-defense (including striking techniques and unarmed techniques against armed opponents), free fighting competition (commonly referred to as “vale tudo” or “anything goes” events, now popularly called MMA), and sport grappling with and without the gi (matches that include a wide range of submission holds, but no striking).

The overall fighting strategy of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is designed to equip a physically smaller or weaker individual with an effective method of defending against a larger and stronger attacker. When applying Jiu-jitsu techniques, leverage is paramount, as leverage is the secret to the application and most efficient use of force. Jiu-jitsu also has the most developed methods of fighting while on one’s back, a position weaker fighters will often find themselves when attacked. The innovations of the Gracie family, most notably by grandmasters Carlos and Helio Gracie, through constant testing and refinement in the crucible of actual fights, has resulted in this uniquely effective style of Jiu-jitsu as a complete self-defense system.