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What is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

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While there are a lot of options for martial arts, what makes Brazilian Jiu Jitsu special is that it helps smaller, weaker opponents defend themselves against larger, stronger opponents.

If you are looking to get into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it is essential to have a better understanding of what this form of martial arts entails.

What is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is a self-defense martial art and combat sport that teaches the following:

  • Grappling
  • Ground fighting
  • Takedowns 
  • Submission holds

Through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, one learns to control an opponent with techniques that force him or her to submit via chokeholds and joint locks.

To decide whether or not Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is for you, you will want to have a better understanding of the intricacies of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in terms of basic goals, types of fighting and techniques used, and the differences between BJJ and other forms of martial arts.

What are the Origins of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

The original form of Jiu Jitsu originated in Japan. It was the original samurai art that was used in battle and aimed to break the opponent’s neck. Because this could not be practically practiced often, Jiu Jitsu did change and adapt over the years.

In 1910, BJJ made its way to Brazil through a man named Maeda who wanted to establish a Japanese colony.

It was in Brazil that Maeda met Gastao Gracie and where the two coordinated to create and modify the colony. Maeda repaid Gracie by teaching him a new form of Jiu Jitsu that he had learned in Japan.

Gracie’s family then developed this Jiu Jitsu into what is now considered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Nowadays, Japanese Jiu Jitsu contains much more outside influence than Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. While there is grappling, you also see katas, which are choreographed, synchronized movements.

There are also throws that can be found in Judo and Aikido and striking, which comes from Karate. Thus, there are a lot of different aspects of Japanese Jiu Jitsu.

While Brazilian Jiu Jitsu may not involve as much outside influence, it does focus on the mastery of one element: grappling. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu took a fundamental part of Japanese Jiu Jitsu and built on it.

Being able to react to what another person is doing gives BJJ an advantage over Japanese Jiu Jitsu, which tends to have more aggressive fighters. 

BJJ has a more relaxed aspect to it that focuses more on reacting to an opponent in a calm, cool, and collected manner. It becomes a game of mental strategy where a fighter’s ability to strategize as well as conserve his energy can make the difference between a win or a loss.

What Are the Basic Goals of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

The fundamental goal of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is to take an opponent to the ground. Once on the ground, you would want to control your opponent by getting on your back and putting them in guard. From your back, you become very dangerous as a fighter because of the various submission holds you can employ.

If you are the one in your opponent’s guard, the goal would be to get out of it. After escaping, you would want to gain control of your opponent by getting on top through one of the various mounts.

Once on top, you may choose to continually strike the opponent or set up a submission hold depending on the situation.  

What Style of Fighting Is Used?

Unlike many other martial arts that focus more on striking, BJJ has a style of fighting focused on grappling, and more specifically, groundwork.

Grappling is an umbrella term that encompasses multiple forms of martial arts whose primary focus is takedowns and ground control where a fight is intended to end with an opponent submitting, or tapping out.

To eliminate advantages in strength or size, BJJ recognizes the importance of getting an opponent to the ground. With proper grappling techniques, physical strength can be offset or enhanced, giving a fighter an advantage that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

While BJJ does not emphasize standing techniques, such as strikes and throws, it does employ some fundamental takedowns.

Some BJJ schools also cross-train with wrestling, Judo, and sambo.

What Training Methods Are Used?

Training for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be intense. Training allows you to practice at full speed and with full strength. This is needed to succeed in the real world and competition.

Training methods include the following:

  • Physical conditioning to make sure that those who practice BJJ are in the best shape.
  • Technique drills in which techniques are practiced against a non-resisting partner.
  • Isolation sparring/positional drilling where only a specific technique or set of techniques is used. 
  • Development drills where a person is surrounded by a circle of other students attempting to attack. The person in the middle must defend themselves. To simulate an attack they weren’t expecting, the person in the middle is usually unable to see the attacker. 
  • Full sparring where each person tries to submit their opponent through technique.

What Are the Primary Ground Fighting Positions Taught?

The primary ground fighting positions taught in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are side control, full mount, back mount, and guard. 

Side Control

The side control position is where you pin your opponent to the ground by lying on top of him or her from the side of their torso.

Your opponent can be controlled further by applying pressure with your elbows, shoulders, and knees to either side of their shoulders and/or hips.

Side mount allows for a wide variety of submissions to be initiated. Also, the typical side mount increases the opportunity for the person on top to advance to other dominant positions.

MMA fighters often use this position as it allows the top fighter to strike while hindering their opponent’s defense.

For more on side control fundamentals, check out this video. 

Full Mount

The full mount is one of the most dominant control positions where you sit astride your opponent’s front torso or chest.

This allows you to control your opponent with your body weight and hips. For more control, you would work your knees into your opponent’s armpits to diminish their ability to move and attempts at counter submission.

You can apply a variety of submissions from full mount, but it can be difficult to maintain on a significantly larger opponent. That’s why grapplers on the larger side use this position to dominate more frequently. 

For more on BJJ mount basics, check out this video.

Back Mount

The back mount is another one of the most dominant positions. With this position, you attach to the back of your opponent by wrapping your legs around and hooking your opponent’s thighs with your heels.

The upper body is controlled simultaneously by wrapping your arms around your opponent’s chest or neck. This position is often used to neutralize an opponent’s potential size and/or strength advantage by applying chokeholds, armbars, and triangles. 

Because few humans are well-suited to defend attacks from behind, this is one of the most secure positions, requiring the most effort to escape. It also allows for transfer to other positions such as mount and side control with minimal effort or risk.

To learn how to escape out of a back mount, click here. 

Guard

Guard is a ground grappling position where you lie on your back while controlling your opponent who is locked in between your legs. In this position, you use your legs and feet to push and pull your opponent off balance and to limit their movements. From this position, you have many options for sweeps and submissions. 

The three most common types of guards include the Closed Guard, Half Guard, and Open Guard:

  • Closed Guard: Legs are wrapped around the opponent’s hips with ankles hooked together.
  • Half Guard: One person is lying on the other, while the bottom opponent has one leg entangled.
  • Open Guard: Legs are used to push/pull the opponent without ankles being hooked together.

The concept of “passing the guard” means escaping from your opponent’s guard to mount and eventually submit them. The most basic guard passes are closed guard pass, half guard pass, and open guard pass.

For more on the essential BJJ guards, check out this video.

What Are the Primary Submissions Taught?

The primary submissions taught in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are compression locks, joint locks, and chokeholds.

Joint Locks

For a joint lock, you need to isolate your opponent’s limb, apply pressure on a joint, and push it past its normal range of motion. An example would be locking an arm and forcing an elbow backward. This type of submission restricts an attacker’s movement and can cause pain-induced submission by your opponent.

Yet, because there is the potential of a hyperextension injury or broken bone, pressure must be increased in a controlled manner when practicing and in competition. Once your opponent cannot escape the hold and signals defeat by tapping, you must release the hold.

Among the joint locks, the most common are the following:

  • Armbar: Type of joint lock that hyperextends the elbow joint.
  • Leg Locks: Type of joint lock that hyperextends the knee.
  • Wrist Locks:  A type of joint lock that primarily targets the wrist joint through rotation of the hand.
  • Spinal Locks: A type of joint lock applied to the spinal column.

Chokeholds

A chokehold is a common form of submission that can cause unconsciousness if your opponent does not tap when required. BJJ chokeholds put pressure on the carotid arteries and sometimes the nerve baroceptors in the neck.

If done correctly, this type of choke can have victims losing consciousness in around 3-5 seconds.  

Compression Locks

A compression lock is a less common type of submission where you would compress the muscle of your opponent against a large, boney part of your body, such as your shin or wrist. This causes significant pain to the opponent.

Due to the high risk of tearing muscle tissue, these types of locks are not usually allowed in competition. This type of lock can also pull apart your opponent’s joint by hyper-extending it.

The Achilles lock, bicep slicer, and leg slicer are some of the compression locks. 

What Are the Primary Takedowns Taught?

The primary takedowns in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are throws, single-leg takedowns, double leg takedowns, and hip toss takedowns. 

Throws

A throw is a grappling technique that involves lifting an opponent or getting them off balance and throwing them to the ground.

In BJJ, people often use specific throws like the foot sweeps, collar takedowns, and “under armpit” throws to minimize the risk of having their back exposed after the throw.

Single-Leg Takedown

The single-leg takedown requires you to grab one or your opponent’s legs, usually with both hands, and force them to the ground using your position.

Typically, your torso or shoulder is used to press your opponent’s body or upper part of their leg in one direction, while the lower part of the leg is pulled in the opposite direction.  

There are numerous varieties of single-leg takedowns that may involve holding your opponent’s leg by the ankle or holding your leg high up in the opponent’s crotch area. The leg can also be attacked away from the body or across the body.

To prevent the lifted leg from being raised further and to create distance from the attacker, single-leg takedowns can be countered by hooking the lifted foot in the crotch of the attacker. Other counters include sprawling, and when allowed, knee strikes to the opponent’s head.

Double Leg Takedown

This takedown is a BJJ favorite. The double leg takedown requires you to grab around your opponent’s legs with both arms while keeping your chest close to him/her and force your opponent to the ground using the position.

You can force your opponent to the ground by either lifting and slamming them down, or by pulling your opponent’s leg while pushing forward with your shoulder. 

The double leg takedown can be countered by moving away, sprawling, and/or striking. Against a poorly performed double leg takedown, you can also use guillotine choke.

Hip Toss Takedown

This is one of the most fundamental takedown techniques in BJJ. It requires you to put your opponent onto your hip and then take them down through a variety of different maneuvers. 

The maneuvers can vary from just dropping your opponent onto the ground to dropping onto your opponent.

What Is the Effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is highly effective. It allows the fighter to take control and finish a fight without gravely hurting the opponent. Because of how effective the technique and strategy is, the opponent will either need to give up or end up physically debilitated.

Additionally, if there is one thing that all the top MMA fighters have in common, it’s a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Once a fight hits the ground, anyone with a solid understanding of BJJ has the upper hand.

Many fighters who aren’t as highly ranked in BJJ end up needing to learn how to defend against it.

The best part about BJJ that makes it, arguably, one of the most effective martial arts is that it allows a smaller opponent to have a fighting chance of defeating a larger opponent, unlike in purely striking-based martial arts. 

Who Should Consider Getting into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

Whether you are male or female, you should consider getting into BJJ.  While Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is still male dominated, more and more women are practicing and competing in BJJ every year. The reason you should consider getting into BJJ if you are female is because of the ability it will give you to go against larger opponents. If you were ever to find yourself in a dangerous situation against a man, it could come in handy.

After all, in BJJ, “If size mattered, the elephant would be king of the jungle,” as Rickson Gracie said. 

If you are a male, you should still consider getting into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu because it will give you the upper hand against those who are not familiar with ground fighting. If you are a smaller man, it will also help you fend off against larger opponents. 

As far as age goes, children start learning BJJ from age five and up. If you are a parent, putting your child in BJJ will teach them discipline, build their confidence, and increase their physical activity.

Just make sure your studio has classes following these timeframe rules for your child’s age range. You want your child in a class that best fits his or her mental and physical needs. 

On the other side of the spectrum, BJJ has had adults who have started in their 50s. As long as you are physically capable and willing to learn, you should consider getting into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

What Uniform Do I Need?

For BJJ, you need a uniform for training called a Gi.  A Gi typically comes with a heavy cotton jacket and reinforced drawstring trousers.

You would also wear a belt which communicates rank.

What Do I Need to Know About Tournaments?

While there are private individuals and academies regularly running many local and regional tournaments, there are two major entities to note that hold tournaments internationally: The Sport Jiu Jitsu International Federation (SJJIF) and the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF).  

In the U.S., California, New York, and Texas are the three states that host the most tournaments.

More recently, though, there has been discontent over point-based competition amongst the Jiu Jitsu community, which has led to many prominent submission-only style competitions where the winner is determined only by submission.

How does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Differ from Other Martial Arts?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the only form of martial arts that focuses much more heavily on ground fighting compared to the martial arts below. 

BJJ vs. Karate

Karate utilizes both the upper and lower body for offense and defense, incorporating punches, kicks, and open-handed chops equally into its forms.

While Karate is great for teaching various methods of striking and defending against striking, its limitations are that it relies on hard strikes and power to defeat an opponent.

On the other hand, BJJ is ground-focused and catered to anyone of any size. People can take on larger opponents because of the focus on strategy and technique instead of brute strength.

Karate also typically has significantly more techniques to learn. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instead allows practitioners to focus on really mastering essential techniques.

If you want to watch a fight between two fighters, one practicing Karate and one practicing BJJ, to see who wins, watch this!

BJJ vs. Aikido

Other than the intention to submit, BJJ and Aikido don’t have too much in common.  While BJJ is practiced in tournaments, Aikido keeps practice mainly inside the dojos.

Aikido is more focused on neutralizing an opponent by redirecting their attack. BJJ uses leverage to get a larger opponent to where most people would be at a disadvantage: the ground. 

Aikido also generally tends to be more reactive and defensive than BJJ. Instead of offensive attacks, Aikido practitioners will react to others’ attacks by getting them to the ground or putting them in specific locks and holds to neutralize the threat.

While BJJ practitioners may also do this, it is done primarily on the ground. There are also definitely more moments of offensiveness in BJJ than in Aikido. 

BJJ vs. Judo

These are two of the most popular forms of martial arts in the world. While there are some similarities between them, there are also key differences. In both Judo and BJJ, matches start standing.

However, the main goal of Judo is to grab the opponent and destabilize them to the point where they are unable to resist or counter your techniques.

Then, the objective is to throw the opponent to the ground. In Judo, once you flip your opponent to the ground, you are the victor. While BJJ also has takedowns to get an opponent to the ground, once this happens, the match is just beginning. 

The only time ground fighting occurs in Judo is if someone tries to throw their opponent to the ground and ends up falling with them due to subpar technique. 

Thus, while Judo and BJJ both have throws and ground fighting, Judo focuses more on throws, and BJJ focuses more on ground fighting.  

Here’s our full article on BJJ vs Judo

BJJ vs. Combat Hapkido

Combat Hapkido has a stronger emphasis on self-defense through the use of long and close-range fighting techniques, jumping kicks, joint locks, pressure points, ground survival, and disarming techniques.

Through non-resisting movements and force redirection, Combat Hapkido allows you to gain control of your opponent. Combat Hapkido also emphasizes distractive striking, footwork, and body positioning. 

While both BJJ and Combat Hapkido can be useful in real-life situations, BJJ is better from a competitive sport aspect. Many people who join BJJ choose it for the competitions.

In contrast, Combat Hapkido was designed purely for self-defense and covered all areas of attack and defense. Lastly, while there are some grappling moves involved, the main goal with Combat Hapkido is to get back to a standing position whenever possible.

BJJ vs. Kung Fu

Kung Fu is a soft, striking martial art focused on dodging attacks to then deliver several rapid-fire strikes in retaliation. Arm and leg strikes are common. BJJ does not use striking in combat against an opponent. It merely uses ground fighting to submit an opponent.

BJJ vs. Krav Maga

Krav Maga is a system of self-defense that was developed by the Israel Defense Forces to train military personnel in combat, which means it was designed to kill. The goal of Krav Maga is that the defender survives the encounter no matter what happens to the attacker. In contrast, BJJ is a martial art that only seeks to control and hinder an attacker.

Krav Maga teaches striking techniques like kicks, punches, knees, eye gouges, groin strikes, head butts, throat strikes, and elbows. Nothing is off-limits or illegal like it would be in BJJ.

Lastly, while BJJ takes much longer to learn and master, Krav Maga was designed to be acquired rapidly, by anyone.

Here’s our full article on BJJ vs Krav Maga

BJJ vs. Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do is another martial art focused on striking while standing. Yet, it’s primary focus is on kicking. BJJ does not teach its practitioners kicks and does not focus on combat while standing. Its focus is ground fighting with locks and chokes.

BJJ vs. Tai Chi

When it comes to BJJ and Tai Chi, they are probably the most similar in terms of the way they use leverage. They both go with whatever energy is given and use joint locks as well as leverage mechanics to neutralize, redirect, and submit an attacker. The main difference is that BJJ takes the fight to the floor, while Tai Chi generally does not. 

Final Thoughts

If you want to be able to have the element of surprise on your side (since most people don’t know how to fight on the floor) and be able to use your opponent’s weight against them, you need to try Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. 

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By Let's Roll BJJ

Let's Roll BJJ aims to be the leading source of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Grappling information and news on the web. Dorian, the owner and editor of Let's Roll BJJ is a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu and has been training and competing for over 6 years.

Apart from being a BJJ geek, Dorian is a software developer by trade, a husband, and a father of two wonderful kids who he's recently began teaching Jiu Jitsu. When he's not training, coding, or writing, you can find him hiking, camping or occasionally binging on video games.

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