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 used to occupy its place, or the former Soviet bloc, where sambo and Japanese influences are the norm (however, it should be noted that Oleg Taktarov supposedly also trained BJJ, and Khabib Nurmagomedov certainly does), 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 dont have a particular title like "judoka" or "karateka", although jiujiteiro used to do the job in the original Portuguese. 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.
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 and has been adopted by mixed martial arts, meaning there is a huge amount of overlap between the three. It doesnt help that many famous BJJ practitioners typically practice one of the other two too.
- The High School Exciting Story: Tough manga features some practitioners of BJJ.
- 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.
- The movie even makes use of Boring, but Practical, "Fujio's use of jujitsu in the zombie fighting area; the crowd boos at how quickly he ends his fights. Most likely emphasized because of brazilian jujitsu's real life reputation for being highly effective, but boring to watch (at least for those who don't practice it themselves)." So pretty realistic ... you know ... for a zombie-jiujiteros fight movie.
- 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.
- 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 Franca schools werent 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.
- Boring, but Practical: What BJJ endorses is basically what Bruce Lee said: use everything that works and descards everything that does not. Whether the art is coherent to this philosophy in its most competition-oriented forms is a heated debate.
- 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.
- 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 BJJs 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.
- Spinal locks are generally forbidden as they can cause permanent damage to the vertebral column.
- David vs. Goliath: Many of the early challenges in Brazil went this way.
- Deceptive Disciple: Carlos Gracie to Donato Pires dos Reis, whose academy he hijacked while the latter had to travel abroad.
- Dueling Dojos: Many, many examples through the art's history. Frequently, it amounted to "Gracie Academy vs. everybody".
- Gradual Grinder: The Gracies's oldest strategy against other grapplers used to be to hold them in guard and wait for them to tire, sometimes while hitting them from the bottom with palm strikes and from behind with heel shoots to the kidneys (an action called "sinapismo").
- 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 opponents head and shoulder with his legs to choke him.
- Renaissance Man: Carlos Gracie. Martial artist, prizefighter, rooster fighting promoter, occultist, con man, amateur nutritionist, real state investor...
- Rival Dojos:
- With practioners of the Catch Wrestling-based Luta Livre, as they featured opposite combat philosophies and taught different social demographies (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 it's schools limited to Rio de Janeiro and Germany.
- One of the most famous events of BJJ vs Luta Livre - which led to the popularity of Luta Livre to fall - was the Desafio - Jiu Jitsu vs Luta Livre in 1991. The event started when Hugo Duarte, a practitioner of Luta Livre, was going to invade a BJJ with his friends but he was convinced to take into a vale tudo event that was going to be broadcasted. The result was victory of jiu-jitsu fighters in all of the bouts, which was transmitted in national television by Rede Globo, Brazil's largest broadcast company to everyone to see.
- 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.