This photo in not directly linked with the writing. Photo by Jonathan Borba at Unsplash.
Castelo Branco Telles, PhD, University
of São Paulo
This text aims to present an overview of the so-called Brazilian Jiu‐jitsu (BJJ), focusing on its history, current status and some important definitions and clarifications. BJJ has been the first case in the sports history, when a modality changes its nationality from the original version. This is why it is important to know a little from this history not to confuse the traditional jiu-jitsu and its Brazilian version. With its popularization and globalization, BJJ has also been facing a sportization process along with other martial arts, setting a bit aside the self-defense strategies to more sportive techniques. It is yet to know the consequences of these changes. At least now people from different teams and masters are used to training more peacefully and struggling together for the growth of BJJ and the martial arts & combat sports domain, regardless of the group the fighter comes from.
This text aims to present an overview of the so-called Brazilian Jiu‐jitsu (BJJ), focusing on its history, current status and some important definitions and clarifications. It is known as a martial art that seeks the domination of the opponent using immobilizations, chokes and "locks" applied to the joints. The fight is experienced as a reciprocal challenge and the main objective of the fight is to promote a tapout from the opponent (when one taps the other or the ground 3x as a sign of a recognizable loss). It has been noted in BBJ BJJ an association between self-control and the motor dynamics of the gentle art (English translation for the expression “jiu-jitsu”)., e.g. when applying a choke one can progressively raise the intensity while immobilizing the opponent until the tapout, which is different from punching or kicking, for example. This specific way of moving the body in a fight can favor more conscious interventions by teachers and experienced practitioners of martial arts in order to enhance the practitioners’ trainings (Bassetti, Telles and Barreira 2016).
The BJJ derives from the Judo and the traditional (Japanese) jiu-jitsu (sometimes also written as “ju-jutsu”). It started to be developed by the brothers Carlos and Hélio Gracie who learned this version from Mitsuyo Maeda, still known as Conde Koma (1878-1941). They both decided to prioritize the ground techniques in order to allow the weaker fighters to have higher chances to succeed in self-defense and also to win the fights, instead of a lot of throwdowns, more common in Judo. From these changes, Carlos and Hélio Gracie became to be known as the creators of the Gracie jiu-jitsu. Luís França has also learned from Conde Koma and taught these techniques to Oswaldo Fadda, who is famous for creating another branch of BJJ, the Fadda jiu-jitsu. This last school has been known for giving classes to practitioners with lower incomes (especially in Brazilian favelas) or/ and disabilities (FaddaBJJ 2019). Even if considering the Gracie’s, the Fadda’s or both, BJJ has been the first case in the sports history, when a modality changes its nationality from the original version (Del Vecchio, Bianchi, Hirata and Chacon-Mikahi 2007). This is why it is important to know a little from this history not to confuse the traditional jiu-jitsu and its Brazilian version.
Another important distinction that must be made throughout this topic is between BJJ and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). Rorion Gracie, son of Hélio Gracie, developed some tournaments in order to promote the BJJ in comparison to other fight modalities in the 1990s. He wanted it to be as closest as possible from a street fight, in a real situation (Awi 2012). In 1993, Rorion Gracie organized the first UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and he is also one of the creators of the octagon (the specific ring where MMA fights happen nowadays).
The first UFC fights were known as “no-holds barred fights”, with only three rules: no biting, no eye gouging and no groin strikes. These fights were organized with two fighters from different modalities and usually one of them was from BJJ (e.g. BJJ vs karate; BJJ vs capoeira; BJJ vs muay thai and so on). Later on, the no-holds barred fights have given rise to MMA fights, which transformed the UFC in a more sportive tournament. Instead of only 3 rules, now there are more than 30, along with ranking and weight divisions. In addition, there were no more fights in which the opponents would be representing a specific martial art or a combat sport: the fighters are now able to mix different fight modalities in order to create their own game (Telles 2018).
Although Rorion Gracie has later sold his part of the UFC franchising, he was one of the precursors in spreading the BBJ all over the world, especially in the United States. Nowadays, there are a lot of BJJ and MMA teams in different countries, most of them not strictly related to the Gracie or even to Fadda family. With its popularization and globalization, BJJ has also been facing a sportization process along with other martial arts, setting a bit aside the self-defense strategies to more sportive techniques.
This recent process has been strongly influenced by Rolls Gracie and until nowadays it is possible to observe the constant creation and modifications of BJJ moves: new guards, positions and even ways to grab the gi (the BJJ kimono). In addition, some rules were created in order to promote specific BJJ competitions, not attached to MMA or no-holds barred fights anymore. The submission (or no gi) version can now be easily found in these tournaments. Although it is a BJJ fight as well (there can be found both versions in BJJ competitions), the fighters do not wear the kimono and the moves are more slippery, demanding different movements and techniques from its original version.
It is yet to know the consequences of these changes. However, the current status of BJJ and MMA has increased the participation of people from all ages, genders, incomes and intentions. As pointed out by Von Sohsten and Ribeiro (2019), in the 1990s BJJ had faced a lot of rivalry and real disputes among different teams and masters, who sometimes encouraged the organization of fights as duels or even brawls. Within the sportization process, instead of closer to street fights, it seems the Brazilian jiu-jitsu has become more diverse and knowledgeable. At least now people from different teams and masters are used to training more peacefully and struggling together for the growth of BJJ and the martial arts & combat sports domain, regardless of the group the fighter comes from.
Awi F 2012 Filho teu não foge à luta: como os lutador(a)es brasileiros transformaram o MMA em um fenômeno mundial. Intrínseca, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Bassetti V, Telles TCB & Barreira CRA 2016 Towards a psychology of jiu-jitsu: phenomenological analysis of the ways to combat in practitioner's experience. RAMA – Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas. Leon, Spain.
Del Vecchio F, Bianchi S, Hirata S & Chacon-Mikahi MP 2007 Análise morfo-funcional de praticantes de brazilian jiu-jitsu e estudo da temporalidade e da quantificação das ações motoras na modalidade. Movimento & Percepção, Espírito Santo do Pinhal, SP, Brazil, 7(10).
FaddaBJJ - Equipe Fadda Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Available from: https://www.faddabjj.com/historia-fadda [August 26th 2019 ]
Telles TCB 2018 Corpo a corpo: um estudo fenomenológico no karate, na capoeira e no MMA. [ Corps à corps : une étude phénoménologique du karaté, de la capoeira et du MMA ]. PhD thesis. University of São Paulo, [s. l.].
Von Sohsten W & Ribeiro B 2019. A quebra de paradigmas para o crescimento do jiu-jitsu. Revista Round 1. Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brazil.