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 dont 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 doesnt 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 manga, but there are scenes of Jiu-Jitsu training. In a scene Meguru rolls with Mokomo note it ends on a Curb-Stomp Battle for Meguru.
- 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 does closes his guard and applies a guillotine, 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 lenghts 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 opppnents 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.
- John Wick: Jonh 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: Cowboy Cop Martin Riggs 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." As 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.
- 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 Incredible Hulk: Rickson Gracie himself appears in a cameo as Bruce Banner's martial arts instructor, while he's credited as... "Aikido instructor"
- The Art of Self-Defense: While the movie is centered around a Karate dojo, during the fight between Anne and Thomas, she tackles Thomas and transitions from a Berimbolo into a Rear Naked Choke. The creator Riley Stearns is a purple belt BJJ but decided to use Karate instead because "that's what everyone is more familiar with".
- 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 França 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: 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, many early viewers were quickly disinterested by grappling in general, as opposed to the more kinetic striking arts.
- 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.
- Choke Holds: BJJ's bread and butter, the most famous of all it 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 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.
- 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.
- Deceptive Disciple: Carlos Gracie to Donato Pires dos Reis, whose academy he hijacked while the latter had to travel abroad. Supposedly.
- Does Not Like Shoes: BJJ is traditionally practiced barefoot, and shoes are usually not allowed at the mats. There are a few no-gi gyms that classify themselves as "submission grappling" allow people to wear wrestling shoes, or most famously the ADCC (Abu Dhabi Combat Club) doesn't have a dress code, so wrestling shoes are allowed.note
- Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Very popular in the United States, even more then in Brazil, as the Gracies took it to the US as a way to expand the popularity of the art.
- 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").
- 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.
- Master-Apprentice Chain: Usually emphasized to show the Professor's legitimacy, it will usually trace back to either Helio 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 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.
- 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, critized 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 withheld 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.
- 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.