If you are a fan of combat sports, you may have seen matches where the 2 competitors start standing (like in Judo or Wrestling) and for the majority of the match are struggling on the ground. They often end up in hilarious positions and you might have wondered what the big fuss is about this Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Well, let’s try to find out together! Stand back and enjoy the tour.

Brief history and key concepts of BJJ

Carlos and Helio Gracie, two brazilian brothers, laid down the main concepts and techniques of the newest member of the Martial Art community that they called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Throughout their fighting careers they tried and tested BJJ against different fighting styles, always adapted and re-thought what was effective and what did not work, with the most notable victories in the 1st, 3rd and 4th MMA Tournaments by Royce Gracie, Helio’s son.

Developing BJJ – early years and recognition in 1st MMA event

The fighting style they created took form over a long period of time and one of the main concepts was that it was not to be a rigid system, but a very adaptive approach to combat. They studied various techniques from Judo, Wrestling and traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and selected the most effective ones or adapted some of them for maximum efficiency.

Part of the black belt test in Helio’s school were open sparring matches against various opponents in a row, with no protection, minimal fighting rules and no weight category (most of the time they were trained fighters in various martial arts or just people from the streets of Brazil that wanted to test on themselves the effectiveness of this new fighting system). It was the most effective way to test BJJ and the abilities of Helio’s sons, all advanced practitioners. These matches would take place every week and there was a prize for challengers that would be able to win.

In 1993, at the first ever MMA Tournament in Denver, Colorado, Royce Gracie put BJJ on the map of martial arts practitioners worldwide by scoring victories and ultimately winning in a 8 man bracket tournament with no weight limitations and minimal rules (no biting and eye gouging).

His fights were against significantly larger opponents that came from traditional martial arts that implied vicious striking (Kyokushin and Kickboxing). Royce took the fight to the ground where he applied creative techniques (like strangling his opponent with his own GI) or strikes with his heels from bottom position. The way he fought was completely new and ultimately he became champion.

BJJ approach to a fight

In close combat, Helio observed the fact that people tend to tangle and ultimately get to the ground. Thus, he developed a very effective way of:

  1. closing the distance while defending incoming strikes;
  2. taking the opponent to the ground and ending up in a dominant position;
  3. finishing the fight on the ground by using pressure points, various chokes and torsion of joints

As in Judo, a lesser opponent should be able to defeat (or at least resist) a larger opponent by applying techniques that use the opponent’s strength and momentum against him/herself. By using BJJ concepts, the difference in weight and body frame was to be nullified.

What is different from other combat sports and benefits of training BJJ

In BJJ any form of striking is prohibited. This makes it one of the combat sports with the lowest rate of injuries in day-to-day training or competition sparring (called “rolling” in BJJ, because most of the fighting is done on the ground). The training prepares you, however, from taking damage from strikes that opponents might use against you when you try to get closer for a takedown attempt.

It improves on the philosophy of Judo regarding ground fighting and stand-up fighting; while in Judo you win the match (Ippon – full point) by performing a perfect throw, in BJJ you aim at taking down your opponent and ending up in a favorable position. This comes from the pragmatic view that in a real fight you aim at controlling and making your opponent submit without any harm done by applying a throw that would be dangerous on the street. This is the reason why a lot of takedown techniques are imported from Wrestling.

The training and competitional regimen (because there are no strikes) allow the practitioner to start training at almost any age and continue training up to a very advanced age. Fun fact: did you know that Ed O’Neil (Al Bundy from Married with Children) is a black belt in BJJ that is still actively training and rolling on the mat? Also, there are a lot of other stars (movie or otherwise) that consider BJJ a perfect way to maintain their health and appearance: Keanu Reeves,  Ashton Kutcher, Tom Hardy – to name just a few. And they have acces to everything money can buy when it comes to fitness ūüôā

Also, by training to perform and resist different locks and torsion on wrists, learning to throw and be thrown to the ground, you get a higher-than-normal flexibility and spatial awareness. Remember those times you used to fall down in winter and get injured? Well, with BJJ there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll avert those situations by being nimbler on your feet and controlling a fall as to not break anything.