Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is a Japanese-Brazilian martial art and combat sport. A derivate from Judo and other styles, it is a grappling art heavily specialized on groundfighting, either wearing a gi or without it.
BJJ was born in the spectacle fighting circuit of Brazil at the beginning of 20th century, when Japanese judokas like Mitsuyo Maeda, Soishiro Satake and Geo Omori arrived to submit opponents for money in circuses and to found schools to teach. Its popularity as a challenge art placed it among other grappling styles like Catch Wrestling and its many forms, which caused some interesting feuds and rivalries after Carlos Gracie, a Renaissance Man of dubious activities, adopted it as his family's business. Through outrageous challenges, good marketing and a gradual differentiation from judo, the Gracie clan created a martial tradition that soon clashed against other styles, among them Oswaldo Fadda's similar jiu-jitsu school and Euclydes Hatem catch-inspired Luta Livre. Over time, the name Gracie became synonymous with this martial art.
Those battles had place in what would become the Vale Tudo competition circuit, in which everything goes (actually not, but almost) and which gave birth to Mixed Martial Arts in United States when the Gracies decided to export the format to expand commercially, a venture they called Ultimate Fighting Championship. Although UFC started as merely a style vs. style pamphlet designed to sell BJJ, the latter would prove instrumental in the worldwide expansion of MMA, either by endorsing it or by moving other martial currents to try to grab a piece of the cake. Its techniques are still part of the basic instruction of mixed martial arts in every country that is not Japan, where catch wrestling often occupies its place, or the former Soviet bloc, where Sambo and Japanese influences used to be the norm, to the point that all MMA groundfighting is often nominally piled together on it.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu stands out among modern martial arts for being a deeply social environment, almost an entire subculture by itself, very dedicated to training and rooted in Brazilian societal traits. The art's comparatively low injury rate, well structured system of teaching, and market-friendly approach all have carved a surprisingly solid place for it in United States, even if it is still generally a very niche sport everywhere with some lingering stigma in its native country (namely, that only brawl-loving rich Brazilian kids train it).
Its practitioners don’t have a particular title like "judoka" or "karateka", although jiujiteiro used to do the job in the original Portuguese. In the same way, BJJ instructors are usually referred as Professor, as it simply means "teacher" in Portuguese, and sometimes coral belt-ranked ones will also be referred as "Master" (Mestre) and red belts as "Grandmaster" (Grão Mestre), although most gyms won't strictly enforce it as in other eastern martial arts, as you can see instructors begin called everything from "Coach" to their first names.
Also, more similarly to karate than judo, there is not a single body of government for BJJ, but rather a number of schools and federations with their own approaches, the largest of which are:
- IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation): founded by Carlos Garcie Jr. and born from the CBJJ (Brazilian Confederation of Jiu-Jitsu), the IBJJF is the largest federation in the world. They are mostly focused in organizing tournaments and their "for-profit" status means they can't be recognized by the Olympic comitteenote
- SJJIF (Sport Jiu Jitsu International Federation): a non-profit organization which focuses more on the sporting side in hopes to become recognized by the IOC.
Belt and Ranking system
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has a distinctive belt system, marked by informality in promotion criteria and also by the length of time between promotions. Promotion is not organized under formal tests, but given by the instructor when he feels the student has learned, usually after success in competitions. Due the long time between promotions, some instructors also award stripes (Pontas) placed on the black bar (or red bar in a black belt) in the tip of the belt. Ages below 16 years have a separate ranking system, which has more belts and faster promotions to increase motivation, when they turn 16 they are automatically promoted to blue. The belt system was first devised after the creation of the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Guanabara (which also introduced other aspects such as organized competition to turn BJJ into a sport) in 1967, it was initially based in the Judo belt system used in Brazil note , and before the system was a simple White for students and Dark Blue for professors, some practitioners started to wear a Dark Blue belt (most notably Royce Gracie) as a form to protest a percieved commercialization and "dilution" of Jiu-Jitsu.
- The belts are:
- White belt
- Blue Belt
- Purple Belt
- Brown Belt
- Black Belt
- Coral Belt (Black-and-red) — technically a 7th degree black belt
- Red-and-white Belt — Awarded only by the IBJJF, sometimes also referred as "Coral belt"
- Red Belt — 9th degree black belt. 10th degree is reserved to the founding Gracie brothers.
Appearances in media
Spotting Brazilian jiu-jitsu in media can be tricky, as most of the its central curriculum of techniques comes directly from judo, is similar to sambo and has been adopted by mixed martial arts, meaning there is a huge amount of overlap between the four. It doesn’t help that many famous BJJ practitioners typically practice one of the other three too.
- The High School Exciting Story: Tough manga features some practitioners of BJJ.
- All Rounder Meguru: Mostly a MMA/shooto manga, but there are scenes of Jiu-Jitsu training. It's the specialty of Judoka Momoko (who started BJJ after her school's Judo club closed) and both she and Meguru join a BJJ tournament.
- Attack on Titan: Eren fights using a style that resembles Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in his fight against the Armored Titan/Reiner, since striking is useless against his armor, Eren does a good exhibition of a triangle choke into an armbar, attempts (and fails) to do a leglock, and then applies a guillotine from a closed guard. In their later fight during the "Return to Shinganshina" arc, Eren again attempts (and fails) to do a Kimura sweep. The author is a huge MMA fan so he likes to use actual MMA styles for his "Titan Martial Arts".
- Kengan Ashura goes into lengths to show semi-realistic BJJ-inspired grappling on its fights. BJJ is the primary style of Cosmo Imai, a small 19-year old boy genius who uses chokes and joint lock to defeat opponents double his size, and MMA fighter Okubo Naoya uses extensive BJJ grappling, mixing with his extensive striking abilities in his fight against Kanoh Agito. Later, fighter Wakatsuki Takeshi is shown training BJJ to complement his powerful full-contact Karate striking.
- Martial Master Asumi: The titular protagonist has a background in traditional jujutsu (having learned from his grandfather) and joins an MMA gym, whose head instructor is a BJJ Black Belt.
- In a deleted scene of Cobra Kai, Johnny attempts to poach some BJJ students from an academy he was passing by and almost get in a fight with the gym's instructor but stop after hearing a police siren.
- The Art of Self-Defense: While the movie is centered around a Karate dojo, during the fight between Anna and Thomas, she tackles Thomas and transitions from a Berimbolo into a Rear Naked Choke. The creator Riley Stearns is a BJJ purple belt but decided to use Karate instead because "that's what everyone is more familiar with".
- Choke is a 1999 documentary following Rickson Gracie during his participation in the Vale Tudo Open Japan tournament in 1995.
- Flash Point: Donnie Yen (being a black belt in judo, and purple in BJJ at the time) uses mixed martial arts for his choreography, with multiple scenes having BJJ grappling.
- The Incredible Hulk (2008): Rickson Gracie himself appears in a cameo as Bruce Banner's martial arts instructor, while he's credited as... "Aikido instructor"
- John Wick: John Wick uses a lot of moves from both BJJ and Judo against his enemies. One notable moment when he puts a Mook in a triangle choke and shoots his head with a pistol.
- Lethal Weapon: When the last fight hits the ground, Cowboy Cop Martin Riggs attempts an armbar, then ends Mr. Joshua by putting him in a triangle choke. One of the first movies to feature BJJ (and before BJJ was big), this was a result of technical advisor Cedric Adams wanting to show how deadly Riggs was by "having mastery of a form of martial arts never before seen onscreen". And by this time Rorion Gracie was slowly building his Hollywood connections by appearing as an extra in movies and promoting BJJ in magazines, he ended up as one of the movie's choreographers, and would make a cameo in Lethal Weapon 3 as a random Mook. Capoeira and Jailhouse Rocknote were also used.
- Never Back Down: In a "The Karate Kid meets MMA" movie, BJJ training wouldn't be left out. Jake's trainer, Jean Roqua, is said to have taught and trained with the Gracies. Jake makes liberal use of the armbar and triangle choke in several fights.
- The sequels have several sparring and training montages with grappling. Michael Jai White, who directed and starred in both movies, demonstrates Eddie Bravo's signature rubber guard in 2, and Bravo himself gets a cameo in 3. However, they also show techniques that are now banned such as the scissor takedown and suplex.
- Redbelt: The movie was created by a BJJ practitioner and has some accurate grappling. However, as pointed in the movie's page. There's some Artistic License – Martial Arts for some grappling moves and gets MMA completely wrong.
- Sherlock Holmes (2009): The director Guy Ritchie incorporated some BJJ (being a practitioner himself) most notably in the final battle when Holmes and Watson manage to take down Dredger with an arm-bar and a modified rear naked choke. It should be noted that in the books, Holmes had learned "Baritsu", a misspelling of Bartitsu, a real hybrid martial art created in Britain that combined boxing, jiu-jitsu, Savate and cane-fighting.
- Tokyo Zombie: Tokyo Zombie is a 2005 Japanese zombie comedy, based on a manga of the same name, the main characters are Mitsuo and Fujio, a couple of Brazilian jiu-jitsu enthusiasts who bumble their way through the zombie hordes. At some point pit matches between human fighters and zombies become a thing, and Fujio competes in them.
- Warrior: Follows two estranged brothers entering in a single-elimination MMA tournament. Brendan is the BJJ submission expert of the two brothers.
- Fighting in the Age of Loneliness: The first episode focus on the Gracie family and the development of BJJ into MMA.
- The Simpsons once poked fun at BJJ (or rather, its Crippling Overspecialization on groundfighting) by showing character Artie Ziff stating menacingly to know it, only for him to immediately drop down to guard position and goading his opponent to fight him there.
Tropes associated with Brazilian jiu-jitsu
- Adaptation Displacement: People who gets into grappling through MMA and BJJ tend to believe many holds and submissions came from the latter, disregarding the influence of judo, wrestling and sambo on it.
- Nowadays in the West, "jiu-jitsu" commonly refers to the Brazilian adaptation while the original art is now called "Japanese jiu-jitsu/jujutsu" (JJJ for short)
- Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: As mentioned above, the art has this reputation in Brazil, mostly due to the so called "pit boys" (kids from rich families who learned BJJ to brawl around) and the exploits of the Gracie family (whose challenges and promotional stunts weren't always lawful or ethic). Even in United States, there is some perception that BJJ practitioners tend to be elitists who regard many other martial arts as inferior; with good reason in some, to be fair, but not all.
- Arsenal Attire: Just like judo, the gi is a weapon. Its lapels and sleeves can be used to choke out either the wearer or his opponent.
- Artistic License – Martial Arts:
- The art is called "Brazilian jiu-jitsu", but its history contains virtually no traditional jujutsu influence, unless you consider Kodokan judo as another jujutsu branch. The usage of this term instead of "Brazilian judo" comes from the interchangeability of those words at the time and place the art was developed (namely Brazil in The '30s, where few made distinction between judo and other jujutsu schools altogether) and from a desire to differentiate itself from the late judo competition rules, which many Brazilian practitioners rejected (mostly the Gracie family, although the Fadda and França schools weren’t fans of judo competition either).
- The art's origins have been blurred in a cloud of propaganda and common knowledge for a long time. Initially, the Gracie family claimed Mitsuyo Maeda had taught them the "true" fighting art that was jiu-jitsu, not the "watered down" form that was judo. Later, when internet brought Maeda's judo career to light, there was a movement that claimed he had been a jujutsu practitioner before a judoka, possibly from the Tenjin Shinyo-ryu school (never mind that the latter was learned by Jigoro Kano himself and is technically integrated into judo anyway). Only when Maeda's true background was revealed as just Sumo Wrestling this trend finally died out.
- Badass Family: The Gracie family, an entire family dedicated to a martial art, sounds coming straight from a kung fu movie or anime. The late Hélio and Carlos Gracie essentially created Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the entire family family worked to develop and spread BJJ as much as they could, getting involved in crazy stunts to promote Jiu-Jitsu, from making bogus claims to challenging other martial artists to street fights, and most famously and successfully: the founding of the UFC.
- Boring, but Practical: BJJ includes many exotic, flashy, holds and transitions, but most of the most practical techniques aren't very photogenic. When BJJ rose to prominence in mixed martial arts, it was one of the selling points how simple yet effective its techniques were, as opposed to the more kinetic and acrobatic striking arts.
- Roger Gracie is considered one of the greatest and most accomplished athletes in sports jiu-jitsu and submission grappling, having won multiple world and ADCC championships. But even more notable is how his game was mostly simple and fundamental-level techniques honed to absolute perfection, rather then more complicated maneuvers.
- Bullying a Dragon: Wallid Ismail, a popular old school BJJ master, has an anecdote in which he put himself to spar merrily with whom he thought to be a random trainee. As, the guy turned out to be an even more legendary master named Ricardo de la Riva, who gave him a beating and taught him that he had still a lot to learn.
- The Chessmaster: BJJ guys like to describe the sport as "human chess", as you always have to foresee what the next steps your opponent and you will take and how to react to them. Thus, high-level practitioners could be described as human chessmasters.
- Choke Holds: BJJ's bread and butter, there's a huge number of choke techniques that are used. The most famous of all it's the Rear Naked Choke, or how it's called in Portuguese, Mata Leão ("The Lion Killer").
- Cloudcuckoolander: Popular BJJ trainer Eddie Bravo is surely the biggest example in the business, given his penchant for complex ground game, wide usage of weed, and insane conspiracy theories. The latter includes the infamous flat Earth controversy, which Kron Gracie is another adept of.
- Counter-Attack: BJJ's main position, the guard, is a mostly defensive one, designed to keep an attacker at bay using the legs. From there, many techniques can be used to reverse the situation.
- Crippling Overspecialization:
- As BJJ’s field of specialty is groundfighting, all ways to take the fight to the ground are legal in competition, including the popular guard pulling/jumping (that is, in its most basic form, grabbing the opponent by the lapels and dropping to the mat), which inevitably leads to proper takedowns and throws being undertrained or downright neglected in many schools (also because they are certainly more injury-prone than merely rolling on the ground, which goes against the desire of many gyms from being as hobbyist-friendly as possible). This flaw gets generally acknowledged by the art's practitioners and is the reason why cross-training in wrestling and/or judo is common.
- This carried on to the early days of vale tudo and MMA, where fighters from BJJ schools often stepped into the ring with no more additional training that maybe a bit of boxing to keep distance. It worked when their opponents were clueless against basic takedowns or voluntarily complied to go to the mat, but it became a huge problem once fighters started cross-training and becoming proficient at stopping takedowns and hitting while standing. Carlson Gracie's school was the first BJJ current that starting doing their own homework at wrestling and striking in order to cover this hole.
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique:
- Leglocks are traditionally viewed as this, as they tend to be injury prone. The Gracies also disliked them because they were less skilled at it than other schools like the Fadda academy and the luta livre practitioners. This has been downplayed in recent years, due primarily to a new generation of leglock specialists such as John Danaher.
- Spinal locks are generally forbidden as they can cause permanent damage to the vertebral column.
- The Kani-Basami (Flying scissors) takedown is banned in Jiu-Jitsu for the same reason it is banned in Judo: Doing it incorrectly to your opponent can very easily result in a broken foot, leg and/or other injuries.
- David vs. Goliath: Many of the early challenges in Brazil went this way, one of the most famous was Rickson Gracie vs Rei Zulu. Many BJJ competitions also have an "absolute" weight category which is open to all weights.
- Deceptive Disciple: Carlos Gracie to Donato Pires dos Reis, whose academy he hijacked while the latter had to travel abroad. Supposedly.
- Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Very popular in the United States, as much as in Brazil, as the Gracies took it to the US as a way to expand the popularity of the art.
- Handicapped Badass: Jean Jacques Machado was born with amniotic band syndrome, which left him with only the thumb and the little finger on his left hand. Didn't prevented him from starting grappling, winning major titles in championships in Brazil from 1982 through 1992 (Including major ADCC medals). He was one of the pioneers in BJJ on the United States, arriving in 1992 after his student, Chuck Norris, helped him to set his academy. Eddie Bravo and Joe Rogan would also get their black belts under him.
- Human Chess: Well, not literally, but BJJ is often described as "human chess", as it requires you to foresee you and your opponents next steps in very early steps, an hierarchy of position and pieces (well, techniques) and doing gambits.
- Instant-Win Condition: IBJJF matches have a scoring system where takedowns, sweeps, and knee-on-belly are worth 2 points, guard passes are worth 3, and successful mounts (on top or from the back) get 4 points. But getting the opponent to tap is an instant win.
- Marshmallow Hell: The smother choke, aka "mother's milk", considered by some to be a dirty technique. Usually executed from the top position by pressing the chest against the opponent's face.
- Master-Apprentice Chain: Usually emphasized to show the Professor's legitimacy, it will usually trace back to either Hélio Gracie, Carlos Gracie, Luiz França or Oswaldo Fadda, and then back to Mitsuyo Maeda, which itself will then trace to Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo.
- Murderous Thighs: The art focuses on the usage of the guard, a position in which the user has his back on the ground and keeps the opponent controlled between his legs. This made popular the triangle choke, a move that sees the user encircling the opponent’s head and shoulder with his legs to choke him.
- Named After Somebody Famous:
- The Kimura lock (aka gyaku ude-garami) was named after judo legend Masahiko Kimura, who broke Hélio Gracie's arm with this technique in their famous 1951 bout.
- The De La Riva guard (originally called the "pudding/jello guard") was popularized after Ricardo de la Riva made it his Signature Move and won against then-undefeated Royler Gracie in 1986.
- The Ezekiel choke (aka sode guruma jime or simply "sleeve choke") is named after judoka Ezequiel Paraguassu. He was training for the 1988 Olympic Games at Carlson Gracie's gym in order to better his ne-waza with jiu-jitsu guys. They placed him inside a closed guard and when unable to open he instead started to choke his opponents from inside the guard with the technique. Afterwards, he was asked to teach the technique to the other students and they soon began referring to it as the "Ezequiel choke".
- The Von Flue choke is named after MMA fighter Jason Von Flue. Who first used in an UFC fight as a counter for the the guillotine choke. Though this unique choke submission was around before Von Flue, he was perhaps the first person to use the submission on a large stage.
- The D'arce (or Darce) choke, an inverted arm triangle/kata-gatame, is named after American competitor Joe D’arce, who became famous for its effective use of the technique. Though there's evidence the actual choke may have been created, by all things, by a Swedish Luta Livre competitor named Björn Dag Lagerström.
- Neck Snap:
- The dangerous neck crank sees you rotating the opponents necks, which targets their vertebrae and spinal column, if they don't tap out it might snap the upper spine.
- One interesting variation is the twister, which sees forcing the head towards the shoulder while controlling the body, hyperflexing the lateral spine. It was popularized by Eddie Bravo and is known as one of the flashiest moves in the BJJ repertoire.
- Renaissance Man: Carlos Gracie. Martial artist, prizefighter, rooster fighting promoter, occultist, con man, amateur nutritionist, real state investor...
- Rival Dojos:
- With practitioners of the Catch Wrestling-based Luta Livre, as they featured opposite combat philosophies and taught different social demographics (BJJ was the martial art of the high class and Brazilian elite, while LL dojos were cheaper and friendlier to lower classes and poor people). With the success of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, BJJ became internationally famous and spread throughout Brazil, while LL fell in popularity and became a shadow of itself, with its schools limited to Rio de Janeiro and Germany.
- The Gracies had a rivalry with judoka Georges Mehdi, one of Brazil's top Judo instructors. He claimed that BJJ was not a separate art from Judo, criticized their lack of honesty and unwillingness to train lower class students, and also claimed that the match between Hélio Gracie and Masahiko Kimura might have been a Work due his background on Professional Wrestling. Despite that, Mehdi would never withhold his knowledge with anyone who wanted to train with him, including many BJJ fighters such as José Mario Sperry, Rickson Gracie, and Wallid Ismail.
- Between BJJ academies, there was the rivalry between the Fadda and Gracie schools. Fadda got his black belt through Luiz França, and trained with the poorer folk in the outskirts of Rio while the Gracies focused in the richer strata. In a famous challenge between both schools in 1955 and 1956 resulted in victory in the majority of Fadda's students through leglocks. Although later the relationship between both academies would turn into a Friendly Rivalry, leading to the founding of the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Guanabara in 1968 by both the Faddas and the Gracies.
- Within the Gracies themselves, Hélio and Carlson Gracie's schools were rivals due to their different approaches to grappling: Carlson defended a very physical, aggressive and top-heavy game with a lot of pressure, and was a proponent of cross-training to other martial arts like Judo and Wrestling to better one's game, while Hélio's branch had a more orthodox, defensive guard-based Jiu-jitsu, and insisted in pure BJJ. This rivalry was exemplified by a match between Carlson's student Wallid Ismail and Hélio's son, Royce Gracie: After defending Ismail's relentless pressure for four minutes, Royce rolled into turtle position as Ismail was trying to pass the guard, Carlson's student seized the opportunity and grabbed Royce's gi sleeve and performed a Relógio (Clock choke) and left Royce unconscious on the mat.
- Serious Business: Some practitioners go to the extent to describe BJJ not as a martial art or a combat sport, but an entire way to live.
- Start My Own: BJJ was this to Judo, although initially unintentionally — Hélio and Carlos affirmed they didn't hear the term "Judo" until the 1950s and thought they were doing the same "Jiu-Jitsu" as in Japan — however, they decided to "split" and not adopt the Kodokan rules when they were introduced in Brazil as they were incompatible with their ground-based game, and in 1967 they (along with other 4 schools of Alvaro Barreto, Joao Alberto Barreto, Hélcio Leal Binda, and Oswaldo Fadda) founded the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Guanabara with their own ruleset. The term "Jiu-Jitsu" served to differentiate it from Judo.
- Weak, but Skilled: The general principle behind Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is to rely on skill over strength, anyone can punch or take a punch but it's impossible to defend from a grappler if you aren't skilled on it yourself. While this is true for other styles of grappling as well (Wrestling, Judo, Sambo, etc.), BJJ's focus on groundfighting gives more emphasis on technique over pure strength. The Gracies used this principle to promote their own martial art win several of the early UFC and other NHB/Vale Tudo tournaments despite being generally smaller, lighter and weaker than many of their muscular powerhouse opponents through proper application of techniques with which the other fighters were unfamiliar, and in fact Royce Gracie was chosen to represent the family in the early UFC for this reason — as opposed to a larger relativenote "The Jiu Jitsu I created was designed to give the weak ones a chance to face the heavy and strong."— Hélio Gracie
- Hélio Gracie claimed that at a child he was weak and frail, suffering from asthma. Supposedly creating BJJ as a way for people with weaker stature like him to rely more on technique over strength. However, there's a lot of evidence to suggest that he was actually a healthy talented athlete, which trained and competed in rowing and swimming since his childhood, as well as Catch Wrestling under Orlando Americo "Dudú" da Silva.
- However Carlson Gracie criticized Hélio for this approach (also for telling lies to promote the art), arguing that a Strong and Skilled fighter will beat similarly skilled fighters that discount the importance of strength.