Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Explained

How does Brazilian (Gracie) Jiu Jitsu differ from Ju Jitsu (Jujutsu/Jujitsu) and why are they spelled differently?

While Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu traces its origins to Japanese Fusen Ryu Jujutsu, many modifications to its techniques and training methods have made it distinctly different from its parent. Also, traditional Japanese Jujutsu was a collection of martial arts and involved the use of empty-hand techniques as well as weaponry. Jujutsu was developed and used by the Japanese Samurai warriors in battle. If a Samurai lost his weapon, he had to be able to defend himself with his bare hands.

Traditional Ju jitsu does not emphasize ground fighting. Fighting on the ground in the middle of a battlefield, surrounded by armed enemy soldiers was not the best option for a Samurai. In addition, Samurai would more often than not be dressed in cumbersome and restrictive armor. Grappling on the ground in armour was very difficult and was not a desirable situation to be in during battle. The Samurai’s goal was to recover his weapon as quickly as possible so that he would be equipped to battle other armed opponents.

In most traditional styles of Ju Jitsu, you will find very little, if any, ground fighting. More often, you will find standing throws, takedowns and joint locks, whereby the opponent is immobilized immediately upon being thrown to the floor. In ancient times, it was rarely necessary to continue to fight on the ground. The grounded opponent, virtually immobilized by the weight of his own armor, could easily be finished with a swift thrust from a knife or sword. On today’s streets, you are unlikely to find an opponent wearing armor or brandishing a sword. An uncooperative opponent who is much stronger, larger and heavier, and who is resisting you 100% is not easy to control or subdue. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu assumes that your opponent will be far more powerful than you; and unlike traditional Japanese Ju Jitsu, it recognizes that once the opponent falls to the ground, the fight has just begun.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s training methods are also very different from those of traditional Japanese Ju Jitsu. Many traditional styles of Ju Jitsu do not practice their techniques in randori (free sparring) fashion. Traditional Ju Jitsu was taught almost entirely by kata (choreographed sequences whereby two partners follow a pattern of movements without resisting each other). As a result, many traditional stylists never learned to apply their techniques against a resisting opponent. By contrast, randori is the primary training method of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. Students are first taught specific techniques, which are then refined through repetition and drills. When the student has perfected the techniques against an unresisting partner, he then tries to apply them on a partner who begins using progressive resistance until they are resisiting 100%, just as a person would during an attack. Sparring is the only method of training which can accustom the student to the unpredictable and chaotic nature of real combat.

Finally, traditional Ju Jitsu did not offer its practitioners an overall strategy for approaching combat. Rather than offering any guiding principles, traditional Ju Jitsu was simply an accumulation of techniques based on leverage and the efficient use of one’s body to defeat an assailant. It did not offer a guide for how practitioners should behave throughout the course of a fight. However, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is much more than just a collection of techniques. What makes these styles so unique and so efficient are their application within the framework of an overall given strategy. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu offers its practitioners a battle-tested, systematic, and strategic approach towards real combat. Throughout all stages of the fight, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylists use techniques that actively help implement their fighting strategy. In general, all Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylists fight using this same strategy; to that extent, they are highly predictable. Certain situations will call for the use of a particular set of techniques, while different fighters will favor certain techniques over others. But despite these minor differences, the underlying strategy of all Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners remains constant: bring the opponent to the ground and establish a dominant position in order to finish the fight.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is much more than just a collection of fighting techniques. It offers its practitioners a battle-tested, systematic, and strategic approach towards hand-to-hand combat.

Brazilians refer to Jujutsu/Ju Jitsu/Jujitsu as “Jiu-Jitsu” because the Gracie family adopted the spelling of Jiu-Jitsu. “Jujutsu” is actually the correct spelling. In detail, Ju means flexibility, and jitsu means skill or art. Hence, Jujitsu can be translated as the “gentle art.” Jujitsu is actually a generic Japanese term for all martial arts which utilize the principle of “Ju” as its combat philosophy. Ironically, the term “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” does not even exist in Brazil. Brazilians simply refer to it as “Jiu-Jitsu”. It was the Americans who later added the “Brazilian” to “Jiu-Jitsu” to distinguish it from its Japanese counterpart.


Mitsuyo Maeda was a student of Judo. Isn’t BJJ just Brazilian Judo?

No, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not Judo. While there are many similarities in both the throwing and ground fighting techniques, there are even more differences in training methods and fighting strategy. Moreover, Maeda chose to call his art Jujutsu to distinguish his style of fighting from the Kodokan. Led by the Gracies, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners have made sweeping refinements to and expanded upon the techniques, training methods, and fighting strategies originally taught by Maeda. Furthermore, techniques that were not practical in a real fight or which required too much strength were discarded entirely and replaced with more efficient ones. Judo had as its focus the development of the moral and social character of its practitioners. By contrast, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was developed solely with combat effectiveness in mind. The Gracies remained adamant that the true worthiness of a martial art should be judged solely by its effectiveness in real combat, and not its ideologies or social concerns. These distinct differences set Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu apart from Judo as well as other forms of traditional Jujutsu.

Judo has since developed into a modern Olympic sport, practiced by many countries throughout the world. Many rules have been added as a safety precaution to prevent competitors from being injured; other rules have been added to make the sport more spectator-friendly. However, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is practiced with the idea that there are no set rules, and Jiu-Jitsu practitioners are allowed to use any and all techniques to win a fight. Even when modified for sport, with the exception of striking your opponent, there are almost no limitations as to which techniques the Jiu-Jitsu contestants may employ to win the match.

Due to its rules, Kodokan Judo or Olympic Judo, emphasizes the use of throws more than ground fighting, or newaza. Consequently, Judo practitioners are extremely adept at throwing their opponent with the use of a jacket. The primary objective of a tournament Judo practitioner is to “win the contest” by throwing his opponent to the mat with a clean and powerful throw, or Ippon. The rules of contest Judo state that should both contestants go to the ground, they are limited to approximately 30 seconds of ground fighting. If there is no submission or a lull in the action, the referee has the discretion to stand the contestants back on their feet, where they will again seek to throw their opponent to the mat with Ippon. When down on the mat and caught in an inferior position, the Judo contestant can simply opt to hold tightly onto his opponent to impede his movement, thus resulting in a call from the referee for a restart. It does not take skill to hold your opponent tightly and impede his movement for 30 seconds. The Judo player is not forced to rely on his skills to escape, but rather is “saved” from the referee. This training method is fine if your goals are to compete in tournament Judo. In fact, this approach is often necessary in order maximize your chances of victory. However, this same approach cannot be used for self-defense.

By contrast, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes newaza, and does not have a time limit for groundwork. Contrary to Judo, there is not an emphasis on throwing the opponent with a clean and powerful throw. Rather, the goal is to just bring the fight to the ground by any means possible. Because there is no time limit or referee interference, it is entirely up to the Jiu-Jitsu competitors to find their own escape or mount their own offense. The primary objective of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor is to “finish the fight” by submitting his opponent with either a joint lock or strangulation hold. If there is no submission, the competitor who has scored the most points will win. Points are awarded to competitors when they obtain superior positioning relative to their opponent. The logic is that, had it been a real fight, the competitor with the superior positioning would have been able to strike his opponent freely and with ease. By training and competing under this given point system, Jiu-Jitsu practitioners internalize this combat strategy. The lack of restrictions and absence of referee intervention is therefore good preparation for actual combat.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu referees do little more than count points and keep the fighters within the contest area. Because the awarding of points is based on obtaining positional dominance and not some arbitrary form of scoring, it is virtually impossible for the referee to “favor” one contestant over another. In addition, many match outcomes are determined when one opponent surrenders to the other. As a result, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu contests are quite objective, with match outcomes rarely subject to dispute. Unlike Judo, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu referee has relatively little control over the competitors or the match itself. By design, the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has tried to do away with as many unnecessary or unrealistic rules in which the referee might help influence the outcome. The referee cannot interfere except to protect the safety of the competitors. Win or lose, the outcome of each match is determined solely by the contestants. The Jiu-Jitsu contestants cannot hope for the referee to dictate the action of the match or to “save” them. They cannot hang on and stall, hoping the referee will separate them and stand them back up. Once the match begins, there are no stand-ups, no restarts, no time-outs and no referee intervention. Each contestant is forced to rely on his technique and skill to bring the fight to the ground, to escape from an inferior position, to obtain a dominant position, or to catch his opponent in a submission hold.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was developed with self-defence as its sole emphasis. Even when adapted for sport, the Jiu-Jitsu point system reflects the most important elements of a real fight, without rules. If you learn to play a game by following a set of rules, you will be at a serious disadvantage when confronted by a situation that has no rules. Remember that on the street, there are no rules, no weight classes, no referees and no restarts.’


How does BJJ work against multiple attackers?

Jiu-Jitsu is not suited for fighting multiple opponents. You cannot engage more than one opponent at a time.  Jiu-Jitsu along with other martial arts is ideally suited for one-on-one combat.  One thing for certain is that if you cannot run you will end upon the ground. Knowledge of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s advanced ground fighting techniques will help you to escape quickly.

Multiple attackers will come at you from all directions and you are sure to be hit or tackled from all sides. When you are committed on the ground, you dramatically reduce your mobility and peripheral vision.

Any martial artist who claims he can fight off multiple attackers is either deluded or deliberately misleading. The reality is, there is no magic style that can guarantee your chances of victory. Exchanging blows with only one opponent who is bigger, stronger and heavier is very dangerous at best. Exchanging blows with multiple opponents who are bigger, stronger, and heavier is pure suicide. Even if your opponents are not bigger than you, they can easily overwhelm you with their sheer numbers.

Unless your attackers are Hollywood stuntmen, they will not conveniently attack you, one at a time or stand in a single file line. In the real world, you will either be surrounded and assaulted all at once, or tackled and brought to the ground, where your assailants will continue to punch and kick you while you lay trapped.

If you cannot prevent just one attacker from taking you to the ground, you will not be able to prevent a takedown against two or more attackers. Your best and safest option when confronted with multiple attackers is to get out of the situation—fast.

If you cannot run, you must stay on your feet and engage your opponents using striking and grappling methods that allow you to control your attacker on your feet.

You must always keep an opponent between yourself and the rest of your attackers. Never let yourself become surrounded. Your goal should be to look for the first possible opening for escape. All it takes is just one good strike from behind and you could be knocked out. What happens afterwards is entirely up to your attackers. If you are knocked out on the street, you are as good as dead.

Practitioners of the striking arts face the same disadvantages as grapplers when faced against multiple assailants. Despite the outrageous claims, there is NO MARTIAL ART which can guarantee you the skill to fight off multiple attackers.

The martial arts world is constantly filled with exaggerations and wild claims of superhuman feats. Perhaps the most common is that one unarmed man can defeat an aggressive mob by himself. Don’t be fooled by these so-called masters claiming to be able to defeat multiple attackers. It looks great on the movie screen, but it doesn’t happen that way in real life. It’s one thing to fight off a bunch of 10-year old kids. It’s another thing altogether to be surrounded by an angry group, determined to hurt you. There is NO martial art style that can realistically prepare you to defeat multiple opponents or overwhelm mass attacks. There are only certain strategies and tactics you can employ to increase your chances of survival. However, no matter what style you train in, your chances of defeating multiple opponents drop sharply as your opponents increase in number.

When you commit yourself to engaging one opponent, be it striking or grappling, you leave yourself open to attacks from behind. Even if you have eyes in the back of your head, you still only have two fists and two feet. Ironically, many of the martial artists who have made such outlandish claims have proven incapable of defending against even one single attacker in no-holds-barred competition. If you want to train yourself to fight multiple attackers, find some training partners, put on some pads, and let your partners come at you full force. You will get a very “real” and different perspective. Stay safe by avoiding multiple opponents altogether. If you must defend yourself, stay on your feet and look for the first possible opening to escape.

There is the misconception that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylists mindlessly advocate taking the fight to the ground. This is totally untrue. There are certain instances when taking the fight to the ground is clearly dangerous and undesirable. In these instances, the BJJ fighter can choose to remain standing and engage his opponent with standing techniques. BJJ fighters train throws and takedowns in one form or another. As a result, they become very skilled at countering takedown attempts and this makes them better qualified than practitioners of striking based arts, should they choose to remain on their feet. Striking styles do not train throws or takedowns to the extent that grappling styles do. If one does not train throws or takedowns, then one will not understand how to defend against them. Should the BJJ practitioner decide to remain standing, he can make use of his grappling skills to counter his attacker’s offence. If he is taken down to the ground, his knowledge of ground fighting will allow him to return to his feet quickly if need be.


How does BJJ work against armed assailants?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylists practice various knife, club and gun disarming techniques, however, attempting these in a real situation is extremely dangerous with no margin for error. You should never try to fight an armed opponent unless you have absolutely no choice. Fighting an armed assailant should always be your last option. It doesn’t matter what style of martial art you choose to study. You are always at a severe disadvantage if your opponent is armed and you are not. Even if you are carrying a weapon, do you really want to get in a fight with an armed assailant? Even if you win, think of the potential risk for bodily harm and also the legal ramifications of fighting with a weapon.

When you are faced with an armed opponent, your chances of sustaining a serious, or even fatal injury are very high. Therefore, despite your training and skill, an encounter with an armed assailant should be avoided at all costs. Never engage an armed opponent unless you have NO CHOICE.

If you are attacked by an armed assailant, you face a probability of sustaining serious, possibly life-threatening injuries. The slightest miscalculation on your part could mean the difference between life and death. If you can, simply run away. If you cannot run, then give your wallet or jewellery if that is all your attackers want. On the street, your first goal should be self-preservation. Never try and fight an armed opponent if you can avoid it. You are not trying to prove who’s the best fighter. It is not a tournament and you are not in a training hall. You’re now in the street. Your attacker’s knife and his intent, is very real. Your wallet and jewellery are not worth trading your life for; even a trip to Accident & Emergency is not worth it. Even trained weapons specialists will tell you that fighting an armed opponent is highly risky. The only time you would purposely engage an armed assailant is if you or a loved one cannot escape and are in immediate mortal danger. If your opponent is trying to kill you and you cannot run, then you have no choice but to fight for your life. On the street, your goal is to survive. Be smart and be safe. Many people hear stories of how a martial artist disarmed an attacker wielding a knife or gun. Please keep in mind that these “success stories” are exceptions and not the norm. The slightest miscalculation could end your life. Please stay safe and avoid fighting an armed assailant altogether if you can.

To get a basic idea of knife defence, grab a friend and give him a large, red ink marker. Try to prevent him from marking you with red ink. At the end of the exercise, count the number of ink marks on your body. Then measure the length and width of the ink marks. What if the marker was a knife? Those ink marks would be lacerations instead. Are there any ink marks on your face or neck? What about your chest, stomach or ribs? Even if you do end up disarming or even killing your attacker, you still could end up receiving serious life-threatening injuries. Was your wallet or jewellery worth it? This should give you a different perspective on knife defence.


Do most fights really end up on the ground?

In most street confrontations, you have to assume that your attacker will be larger, heavier and more powerful than yourself, for otherwise, he would not bully you. Many traditional martial arts train their practitioners to adhere to the “one shot, one kill” philosophy. However, many of these martial arts do not provide you with any alternatives should your punches prove ineffective and the opponent grabs a hold of you.

Practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu have long recognized that in most instances, going to the ground is really not a matter of choice. It just simply happens, deliberately or by accident, and regardless of your intentions. No matter how skilled you are, if your opponent is larger, stronger and heavier, you had better be prepared to be put on your back. During a fight, you might be totally overwhelmed by your opponent’s sheer power and aggressiveness that you lose your balance and fall. He might be a very good wrestler and brings you to the ground intentionally. He could simply outweigh you by 40-50 pounds and easily use his weight advantage to control you and pin you to the ground. These are all likely possibilities and very rarely will you see two opponents “boxing” during a street fight. Even if you are an experienced boxer, there is a good chance that your opponent, who is larger and stronger, may not even be affected by your blows. Experience has shown that during the course of real fights, in almost every instance, the opponents invariably end up in the clinch, and the bigger, stronger opponent puts the smaller man onto the ground. If a larger and stronger opponent traps you on the ground, you could end up in serious trouble. If you have no knowledge of ground fighting, you will find it virtually impossible to escape or to prevent your attacker from hurting you.

If you are able to stay on your feet, you always have the option of fleeing from your attacker. You can choose not to fight. Engaging an opponent on the street is your absolute last choice. Self-defence is about keeping yourself safe from harm, and not about your ego or who is the better fighter. If you have something to prove, go prove it inside the ring, not the street. Purposely involving yourself in a street fight is both dangerous and foolish. Remember, your opponent may be carrying a knife or he may have his friends jump you from behind.


Why should I learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

At first glance, the most obvious benefit for learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is gaining knowledge of the most efficient and practical self-defence methods in the world. If you’re thinking about learning the martial arts, please ask yourself what you would really like to accomplish. Are you more interested in the idea of learning a challenging new sport? Maybe you are interested in genuine self-defence? Or perhaps you are interested in just improving your own health? Regardless of your goals, knowledge of these martial arts instills within you a sense of empowerment and self-confidence, and will help to build your character.

Most martial arts claim to have a wide range of benefits beyond mere self-defence. One is often told that studying the martial arts will develop the “mind, body and spirit,” instill self-confidence, build discipline and deliver various other benefits. Due to its emphasis on combat efficiency, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was often misunderstood and many thought that self-defence was its only benefit. This could not be further from the truth. It is precisely its emphasis on realistic and efficient combat that allows for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to offer its practitioners so much more.

BJJ is very much like a complex game of chess, except your body serves as the chess pieces. You are presented with many physical challenges that must be dealt with in a practical and systematic manner. Each training session offers a multitude of “problems” which must be solved using technique and calm rational thinking.

BJJ also improves your coordination and physical fitness. Your body must learn to combine a series of complex movements into individual techniques. This requires thousands of repetitions and drills to ingrain the techniques so that they become reflexive. You will develop a high degree of hand-eye coordination and your body will grow fit and strong as a result of the demanding physical exercise.

Perhaps most importantly, learning BJJ will help you learn to be patient and tolerant of others. If you are ever involved in an argument on the street, the worst possible outcome is that it escalates into a physical altercation. BJJ practitioners are confident in their ability to handle virtually any aspect of a real fight that it allows them to behave in a calm and rational manner. By behaving calmly and rationally, it usually results in de-escalating a potentially dangerous situation before a physical solution is needed. If not, you can still rely upon your skills to protect yourself should it become necessary.

  • Increase self-confidence
  • Improve flexibility
  • Increase coordination
  • Reduce body fat
  • Increase energy levels
  • Have great fun
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Improve fitness
  • Develop faster reflexes
  • Reduce stress
  • Develop social skills
  • Learn humility and respect

It doesn’t matter if you are an athlete, an executive, a mother or a child. The benefits of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training can be realised by all.


Close Comments

Leave a Reply