Possibly the premier ground-fighting martial art. Made
famous by Royce Gracie in the early UFCs in the mid-1990's,
it specializes in submission grappling when both fighters
are on the ground. Techniques include positional control
(especially the "guard" position), and submissions
such as chokes and arm locks.
In the mid-1800's in Japan, there were a large number
of styles ("ryu") of jiu-jitsu (sometimes
spelled "jujitsu"). Techniques varied between
ryu, but generally included all manner of unarmed combat
(strikes, throws, locks, chokes, wrestling, etc.) and
occasionally some weapons training. One young but skilled
master of a number of jiu-jitsu styles, Jigoro Kano,
founded his own ryu and created the martial art Judo
(aka Kano-ryu jiu-jitsu) in the 1880's. One of Kano's
primary insights was to include full-power practice
against resisting, competent opponents, rather than
solely rely on the partner practice that was much more
common at the time.
One of Kano's students was Mitsuo Maeda, who was also
known as Count Koma ("Count of Combat"). Maeda
emigrated to Brazil in 1914. He was helped a great deal
by the Brazilian politician Gastão Gracie, whose
father George Gracie had emigrated to Brazil himself
from Scotland. In gratitude for the assistance, Maeda
taught jiu-jitsu to Gastao's son Carlos Gracie. Carlos
in turn taught his brothers Osvaldo, Gastão Jr.,
Jorge, and Helio.
In 1925, Carlos and his brothers opened their first
jiu-jitsu academy, and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was born in Brazil.
At this point, the base of techniques in BJJ was similar
to those in Kano's Judo academy in Japan. As the years
progressed, however, the brothers (notably Carlos and
Helio) and their students refined their art via brutal
no-rules fights, both in public challenges and on the
street. Particularly notable was their willingness to
fight outside of weight categories, permitting a skilled
small fighter to attempt to defeat a much larger opponent.
They began to concentrate more and more on submission
ground fighting, especially utilizing the guard position.
This allowed a weaker man to defend against a stronger
one, bide his time, and eventually emerge victorious.
In the 1970's, the undisputed jiu-jitsu champion in
Brazil was Rolls Gracie. He had taken the techniques
of jiu-jitsu to a new level. Although he was not a large
man, his ability to apply leverage using all of his limbs
was unprecedented. At this time the techniques of the
open guard and its variants (spider guard, butterfly
guard) became a part of BJJ. Rolls also developed the
first point system for jiu-jitsu only competition. The
competitions required wearing a gi, awarded points (but
not total victories) for throws and takedowns, and awarded
other points for achieving different ground positions
(such as passing an opponent's guard). After Rolls' death
in a hang-gliding accident, Rickson Gracie became the
undisputed (and undefeated!) champion, a legend throughout
Brazil and much of the world. He has been the exemplar
of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique for the last two decades,
since the early 1980's, in both jiu-jitsu competition
and no-rules MMA competition.
Jiu-jitsu techniques have continued to evolve as the
art is constantly tested in both arenas. For example,
in the 1990's Roberto "Gordo" Correa, a BJJ
black belt, injured one of his knees, and to protect
his leg he spent a lot of practice time in the half-guard
position. When he returned to high-level jiu-jitsu competition,
he had the best half-guard technique in the world. A
position that had been thought of as a temporary stopping
point, or perhaps a defensive-only position, suddenly
acquired a new complexity that rapidly spread throughout
In the early 1990's, Rorion Gracie moved from Brazil
to Los Angeles. He wished to show the world how well
the Gracie art of jiu-jitsu worked. In Brazil, no-rules
Mixed Martial Art (MMA) contests (known as "vale
tudo") had been popular since Carlos Gracie first
opened his academy in 1925, but in the world at large
most martial arts competition was internal to a single
style, using the specialized rules of that style's practice.
Rorion and Art Davie conceived of the Ultimate Fighting
Championship. This was a series of pay-per-view television
events in the United States that began in 1993. They
pitted experts of different martial arts styles against
each other in an environment with very few rules, in
an attempt to see what techniques "really worked" when
put under pressure. Rorion also entered his brother Royce
Gracie, an expert in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as one of the
Royce dominated the first years of the UFC against all
comers, amassing eleven victories with no fighting losses.
At one event he defeated four different fighters in one
night. This, from a fighter that was smaller than most
of the others (at 170 lbs, in an event with no weight
classes), looked thin and scrawny, and used techniques
that most observers, even experienced martial artists,
In hindsight, much of Royce's success was due to the
fact that he understood very well (and had trained to
defend against) the techniques that his opponents would
use, whereas they often had no idea what he was doing
to them. In addition, the ground fighting strategy and
techniques of BJJ are among the most sophisticated in
the world. Besides the immediate impact of an explosion
of interest in BJJ across the world (particularly in
the US and Japan), the lasting impact of Royce's early
UFC dominance is that almost every successful MMA fighter
now includes BJJ as a significant portion of their training.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is primarily a ground-fighting art.
Most techniques involve both fighters on the mat. There
is a heavy emphasis on positional strategy, which is
about which fighter is on top, and where each person's
legs are. Positions are stable situations, from which
a large variety of techniques are available to both
The primary positions include:
Specific techniques taught are designed either to improve
one's position (for example, to "pass the guard",
by going from being "in the guard" to getting
around the opponent's legs, resulting in side control);
or else as a finishing submissions. Most submissions
are either chokes (cutting off the blood supply to the
brain) or arm locks (hyperextending the elbow, or twisting
Belt ranks start at white belt, and progress through
blue, purple, brown, and then black. It generally takes
about 2-3 years of training multiple times per week to
be promoted to the next belt rank. However, there is
no formal rank test. Instead, rank is about the ability
to apply jiu-jitsu techniques in a competitive match.
A student generally needs to be able to reliably defeat
most other students at a given rank in order to be promoted
to the next rank.
Given the jiu-jitsu roots, and the interest in competition,
occasionally related techniques are taught. In each case,
other specific martial arts focus on these sets of techniques
more than BJJ, and they generally just receive passing
mention and rare practice in BJJ training. For example,
takedowns tend to be similar to Judo and western wrestling;
leg locks (such as in Sambo) are not encouraged but sometimes
allowed. Some schools teach street self-defense or weapon
defense as well; this instruction tends to be much more
like old-style Japanese jiu-jitsu with partner practice,
and rarely impacts the day-to-day grappling training.
Also, many dedicated BJJ students are also interested
in MMA competition, and attempt to practice their techniques
without a gi, and sometimes with adding striking from
boxing or Muay Thai.
Most training has students wearing a heavy ("jiu-jitsu" or "Judo")
gi/kimono, on a floor with padded mats. A typical class
involves 30 minutes of warm ups and conditioning, 30
minutes of technique practice with a willing partner,
and 30 minutes of free sparring training, against an
opponent of equal skill who attempts to submit you.
Most of the training is done with all students on the
mat. For example, training usually beings with both students
facing each other from a kneeling position.
Competition is also encouraged. For a jiu-jitsu tournament,
competitors are divided by age, belt rank, and weight
class. Time limits are generally five to ten minutes,
depending on belt rank. Matches start with both competitiors
standing, on a floor with a padded mat. A tap out from
submission ends the match. If time runs out without a
submission, points determine the winner:
2 points: Takedown from standing; Knee-on-stomach position;
or Scissor, sweep, or flip, using legs (from bottom position
3 points: Passing the guard
4 points: Mount; or Mount on back (with leg hooks in)
Many BJJ students are also interested in open submission
grappling tournaments (different points rules, usually
no gi), or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Most BJJ instructors
encourage such competition, and often assist in the training.
However, typically BJJ classes wear a gi, start from
the knees, and prohibit strikes.
However, note that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is sometimes
taught under slightly different names. In Brazil it is
generally known simply as "jiu-jitsu".
Members of the Gracie family often call it "Gracie
Jiu-Jitsu", and in fact this name probably pre-dates
the now more-generic BJJ for labelling the art when outside
of Brazil. (This probably would have become the generic
name for the art, but Rorion Gracie trademarked the phrase
for his academy in Torrance, CA. A later lawsuit between
Rorion Gracie and Carley Gracie was resolved to permit
Gracie family members to use that phrase when teaching
their family's art of jiu-jitsu. However, the generic
term "Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu" is now preferred
for referring to the art independent of instructor.)
Also, the Machado brothers (cousins of the Gracies)
sometimes call their style "Machado Jiu-Jitsu".
Any of these names refer to basically the same art.