A mixture of competitive sport and martial art, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is both one of the little known Brazilian martial arts types outside the martial arts world, and well regarded in the martial arts arena.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu; Japanese tradition meets the Latin spirit
Originating in 1914, it is a relative newcomer to the martial arts scene. As with several types of martial art, physical size is not an asset; the combination of leverage, good technique, and the emphasis on ground fighting and grappling means that the smallest, weakest individuals can use Brazilian jiu jitsu with great success. In contrast to other martial arts, Brazilian jiu jitsu involves getting your opponent to the ground via a successful grip and takedown, and then applying ground sparring and grappling techniques such as submission holds, joint- locks, chokeholds, and mounts, amongst others. Much emphasis is given to controlling your opponent when they are on the floor, and in applying force to make them submit.
Given this, there is little emphasis on standing fighting and similar martial arts skills – but is very effective at close quarters, and a demanding martial art due to the variety of maneuvers and counter maneuvers practiced. As well as being an effective martial art, it is considered and treated by its practitioners vey much as a sport, similar in approach to MMA.
Its origins and beginnings give great insight into Brazilian jiu jtsu, often known as Gracie jiu jitsu. In the early 1900‘s, Gastão Gracie became a partner in the American Circus , where he was introduced to Misoyo Maeda, a Japanese judo expert. Gastão returned home to Rio de Janeiro with his family in 1921; in the meantime, his son Carlos had learned judo from Maeda.
Carlos passed on Maeda’s teachings to his three brothers. His other brother, Helio, was too young, weak and sick to participate- but he learned through watching his brothers. Helio adapted what he learned to consider his physical weaknesses and physique throughout the 1920’s; as a result, he developed a system of jujitsu which enabled him to take on and defeat opponents who were routinely much larger and stronger than him.
His adaptations of the traditional Japanese martial art forms over time evolved in Brazilian jiu jitsu, of which Helio and Carlos are considered the founders. The Gracie family has long advocated, taught, developed, and competed in BJJ over the generations. Indeed, descendant Royce Gracie holds several titles across the Americas for Brazilian jiu jitsu and other martial arts.
Great importance is set in many martial arts types by the style, flow, and form of the techniques. There is a lot of polite etiquette, before, during and after a fight. That is not so with BJJ; there is little formality, and the emphasis is to do whatever it takes to defeat your opponent, as oppose to adhering to strict rules and etiquette. Such an approach very much reflects its status as a competitive sport.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Today
The Brazilian version of mixed judo and jujutsu has moved away from its origins slightly. Because of Helio’s frailty and intention for the martial art, it sets great emphasis on groundwork, locks, and a submission style of fighting. To overcome the lack of striking and distance work, BJJ regularly cross- trains with other types of martial arts such as sambo and karate, resulting in a very varied and versatile martial art.
Such versatility lends itself naturally to mixed martial arts, and to exhibitions and competitions of mixed martial arts. From its purely martial art origins, in part due to its mixed nature and development, BJJ has become a sport in addition. Increasingly, emphasis is set more on the sporting aspects of Brazilian jiu jitsu. Not only does BJJ thrive as a sport, but aspects of the training (e.g. grappling and sparring) are used regularly in MMA competitions.
Although having moved away greatly from its very formulaic martial arts origins, Brazilian jiu jitsu still keeps the universal martial arts principle of instilling physical fitness and character amongst its practitioners, and in instilling a set of values for a healthy and physical way of life (Do). It is a very useful and practical martial art, able to be used by anyone in any situation to counter any attack, regardless of the size of your opponent.
Brazilian jiu jitsu is not for the faint hearted, and is not your traditional martial art. For those who enjoy the more competitive and sporting element of martial arts, and who want a demanding physical and mental challenge, this is the martial art for you!