What are Jujutsu, Judo, Aikido, and Brazilian jiujitsu? 柔術、柔道、合気道、ブラジリアン柔術とは Part 4: Brazilian jiujitsu
Part 4: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a combat sport and a self-defense method that focuses on grappling and especially ground fighting. They purposely spell their art as JIU-JITSU to separate it from its origin of Japanese jujutsu (柔術 soft technique). Because I have visited Brazil many times I have become aware of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and its history. I discovered who brought the art to Brazil. Brazilian jiu-jitsu was formed from Kodokan judo ground fighting fundamentals that were taught mainly by Mitsuyo Maeda ((前田 光世, 7 dan judo, a.k.a. Conde Koma, 1878 – 1941, photo right) and also the best judoka Kodokan ever produced, Masahiko Kimura (木村政彦 1917 -1993, photo below). Though Kimura is truly famous in Japan and also an icon in the judo world, Maeda is surprisingly not very well known in Japan. Brazilian jiu-jitsu eventually came to be its own art through the experiments, practices, and adaptation of judo through Carlos and Hélio Gracie as well as other instructors who were students of Maeda.
BJJ promotes the concept that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant by using proper techniques, leverage, and most notably, taking the fight to the ground, and then applying kansetsu waza (joint locks) and shime waza (chokeholds) to defeat the opponent. BJJ training can be used for sport grappling tournaments (with and without judo uniforms) and MMA competition or self-defense. Sparring or “rolling” and free drilling play a major role in training, and a premium is placed on performance, especially in competition, in relation to progress and ascension through its ranking system. Since its inception in 1882, its parent art of judo was separated from older systems of Japanese jujutsu by an important difference that was passed on to Brazilian jiu-jitsu: it is not solely a martial art, it is also a sport; a method for promoting physical fitness and building character in young people; and, ultimately, a way of life.
Geo Omori opened the first jujutsu / judo school in Brazil in 1909. He would go on to teach a number of individuals including Luiz Franca. Later, Mitsuyo Maeda who was one of five of the Kodokan’s top groundwork (newaza) experts that judo’s founder Kano sent overseas to demonstrate and spread his art to the world. Maeda had trained first in sumo (Japanese wrestling) as a teenager, and after the interest generated by stories about the success of Kodokan Judo (講道館柔道) at contests with other jujutsu schools that were occurring at the time, became a student of Jigoro Kano (嘉納治五郎). Maeda left Japan in 1904 and visited a number of countries giving judo demonstrations and accepting challenges from wrestlers, boxers and other fighters and various other martial artists before eventually arriving in Brazil on November 14, 1914.
Gastão Gracie was a business partner of the American Circus in Belem. In 1916, the Italian Argentine circus Queirolo Brothers staged shows there and presented Conde Koma. In 1917 Carlos Gracie, the eldest son of Gastão Gracie, watched a demonstration by Conde Koma and decided to learn judo. He accepted Carlos as a student and Carlos trained for a few years, eventually passing his knowledge on to his brothers. Helio Gracie (photo right), supposedly, further developed Gracie Jiu Jitsu as a softer, pragmatic adaptation from judo that focused on ground fighting. This was because he was unable to perform many judo moves that required direct opposition to an opponent’s strength.
Although the Gracie family is typically synonymous with BJJ, another prominent lineage started from Maeda via another Brazilian disciple, Luiz Franca. This lineage had been represented particularly by Oswaldo Fadda, who was famous for the influential use of foot-locks and the lineage survives with the teams such as the Grappling Fight Team.
When Maeda left Japan, judo was still often referred to as “Kano ju-jutsu”, or, even more generically, simply as jujutsu. Higashi, the co-author of “Kano Jiu-Jitsu” wrote in the foreword: “Some confusion has arisen over the employment of the term ‘jiudo’. To make the matter clear I will state that jiudo is the term selected by Professor Kano as describing his system more accurately than jiu-jitsu does. Professor Kano is one of the leading educators of Japan, and it is natural that he should cast about for the technical word that would most accurately describe his system. But the Japanese people generally still cling to the more popular nomenclature and call it jiu-jitsu.”
Outside Japan, however, this distinction was noted even less. Thus, when Maeda and Satake arrived in Brazil in 1914, every newspaper announced their art as being “jiu-jitsu” despite both men being Kodokan judoka.
It was not until 1925 that the Japanese government itself officially mandated that the correct name for the martial art taught in the Japanese public schools should be “judo” rather than “jujutsu”. In Brazil, the art is still called “jiu-jitsu”. When the Gracie boys went to the United States to spread their art, they used the terms “Brazilian jiu-jitsu” and “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” to differentiate it from the already present styles using similar-sounding names. In a 1994 interview with Yoshinori Nishi, Hélio Gracie said, that he didn’t even know the word judo itself, until the sport came to Brazil in the 1950s, because he heard that Mitsuyo Maeda called his style “jiu-jitsu”.
In 1951, a famous match took place in Brazil between Masahiko Kimura and Helio Gracie that left a big impact to Helio and the formation of BJJ. Right after the World War II ended, Kimura traveled to Brazil along with Yukio Kato, who had accepted a challenge match with Helio Gracie. The rules for the match were set by Gracie, the match could only end by submission or loss of consciousness, ippons and pins would not be scored. Kato and Helio were approximately the same size and weight and were stalemated until Kato was able to throw Helio. Kato began working for a choke, but Helio was able to get back to his guard and lock on a simple cross choke, which left Kato unconscious.
Helio then issued a challenge to Kimura, which was accepted. Unlike Kato, Kimura was much larger than Helio, but that did not stop the Brazilian fans from anticipating victory. Kimura and Helio met in front of a crowd of 20,000 and Gracie’s supports brought a coffin to the match, meant for Kimura once their man was done with him. The outcome however would not be to the crowd’s liking. While Kimura was able to take Gracie down at will and gain position on him, he struggled to submit the smaller man. Kimura attempted a variety of submissions but Helio escaped time after time. Finally Kimura was able to lock his favorite finishing technique, the reverse ude-garami shoulder lock. This time there was no escape for Gracie and when he refused to tap Kimura broke his arm. Even then Helio refused to give in and it was his instructor and older brother, Carlos Gracie, who threw in the towel. Kimura was impressed with the skill of the Brazilian and awarded him a 6th dan black belt in Judo. To honor the Japanese Judoka’s victory the Gracie family would, from this point on, refer to the reverse ude-garami as “the Kimura lock”.
Royce Gracie (1966 – present, photo right) made BJJ famous in 1993 when he entered the first UFC 1 (held in Denver Colorado in November) and won despite he was one of the lightest contestants. He won the first place of this event in three years. At the interview after his victory Royce said that his older brother, Rickson (photo below) was much tougher than him. So, Rickson Gracie (1959 – present, the 3rd son of Helio) was invited to Japan to fight many of the professional wrestlers and MMA fighters such as Funaki (船木 誠勝), Nakai (中井 祐樹) and Takada (髙田 延彦). He fought against them in the 90’s and won in all the matches until he retired in 2000 after winning a match against Funaki. Out of all Gracie family members, Rickson is probably the most well known in Japan.
Now the art of BJJ is sometimes referred to as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (GJJ), trademarked by Rorion Gracie, but after a legal dispute with his cousin Carley Gracie, his trademark to the name was invalidated. Other members of the Gracie family often call their style by personalized names, such as Charles Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and similarly, the Machado family call their style Machado Jiu-Jitsu (MJJ). While each style and its instructors have their own unique aspects, they are all basic variations of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Today there are four major branches of BJJ from Brazil: Gracie Humaita, Gracie Barra, Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Alliance Jiu Jitsu. Each branch can trace its roots back to Maea, Conde Koma via the Gracie family. More recently, the name “jitz” for the art has been gaining recognition as a casual layman’s term, especially in the US.
Since judo was introduced to Brazil there have been changes in the rules of sport judo, some to enhance it as a spectator sport, and some for improved safety. Several of these rule changes have greatly de-emphasized the groundwork aspects of judo, and others have reduced the range of joint locks allowed and when they can be applied. Brazilian jiu-jitsu did not follow these changes to the judo rules (and there is no evidence that some of the rules were ever used, such as the win by pin/osaekomi or by throw), and this divergence has given it a distinct identity as a grappling art, while still being recognizably related to judo. Other factors that have contributed towards the stylistic divergence of BJJ from sport judo include the Gracies’ desire to create a national martial art, the influence of Brazilian culture, and the Gracies’ emphasis on full-contact fighting. Spinal locks and cervical locks are completely forbidden from GJJ, amateur MMA, the multiple forms of GJJ, Judo, and other martial arts. This is due to its illegal nature and express purpose of causing serious, irrevocable bodily injury, paralysis, and death.
BJJ permits all the techniques that judo allows to take the fight to the ground. These include judo’s scoring throws as well as judo’s non-scoring techniques that it refers to as “skillful take-downs” (such as the flying arm bar). BJJ also allows any and all take-downs from wrestling, sambo, or any other grappling arts including direct attempts to take down by touching the legs. BJJ also differs from judo in that it also allows a competitor to drag his opponent to the ground, and even to drop to the ground himself provided he has first taken a grip. Early Kodokan judo was similarly open in its rules (even permitting an athlete to simply sit on the mat at the beginning of a match), but has since become increasingly restrictive in comparison. BJJ has also become more sports oriented and has eliminated techniques such as picking up an opponent from the guard position and throwing him. The guard position is described as a grappling position where one person has their back to the ground while attempting to control their opponent by using their legs.
While there are numerous local and regional tournaments administered regularly by private individuals and academies, there are 2 major entities the Sport Jiu Jitsu International Federation (SJJIF), a nonprofit organization and International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), a profit organization that hosts a number of major tournaments. These include the Pan American Championship, and European Championship. California, New York and Texas are the three more popular states where you can compete frequently in tournaments. Other promotions such as American Grappling Federation (AGF), North American BJJ Federation (NABJJF), and North American Grappling Association (NAGA) host nationwide tournaments, but visit these three states multiple times within a tournament season.
Another tournament to spring from the founding Gracie lineage is the Gracie Nationals or Gracie Worlds. Started by Rose Gracie, daughter of another famous Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, Rorion Gracie, founded in 2007. In 2012, the Gracie Worlds introduced a new submission-only format, removing subjective judging opinions and what many see as an outdated scoring system. Rose spoke about this change when she said, “Today’s tournaments aren’t what my grandfather, Helio Gracie, envisioned. There are so many rules that it takes away from the actual art of jiu-jitsu. We don’t see many submissions. We see cheating, we see decisions made by a referee. We need to stand together against this and support a submission only kind of revolution.”
There has been a growing discontent with a points-based system and advantage-style tournaments. Upholding the premise that most of the advantage of a larger, stronger opponent comes from superior reach and more powerful strikes, both of which are mitigated when grappling on the ground, Brazilian jiu-jitsu emphasizes getting an opponent to the ground in order to use ground fighting techniques (newaza) and submission holds (shime and kansetsu waza) involving joint locks and choke holds. A more precise way of describing this would be to say that on the ground, physical strength can be offset or enhanced by an experienced grappler who knows how to maximize force using mechanical advantage instead of pure physical strength.
BJJ permits a wide variety of techniques to take the fight to the ground after taking a grip. While other combat sports, such as Judo and Wrestling almost always use a take-down to bring an opponent to the ground, in BJJ one option is to “pull guard.” This entails obtaining some grip on the opponent and then bringing the fight or match onto the mat by sitting straight down or by jumping and wrapping the legs around the opponent.
Once the opponent is on the ground, a number of maneuvers (and counter-maneuvers) are available to manipulate the opponent into a suitable position for the application of a submission technique. Achieving a dominant position on the ground is one of the hallmarks of the BJJ style, and includes effective use of the guard (a signature position of BJJ) position to defend oneself from bottom (using both submissions and sweeps, with sweeps leading to the possibility of dominant position or an opportunity to pass the guard), and passing the guard to dominate from top position with side control, mount and back mount positions. This system of maneuvering and manipulation can be likened to a form of kinetic chess when used by two experienced practitioners. A submission hold is the equivalent of checkmate in the sport, reflecting a disadvantage which would be extremely difficult to overcome in a fight (such as a dislocated joint or unconsciousness).
The classical jujutsu of old Japan appeared to have no common strategy to guide a combatant over the course of a fight. Indeed, this was one of Kano’s most fundamental and perceptive criticisms of the classical program.’ Maeda not only taught the art of judo to Carlos Gracie, but also taught a particular philosophy about the nature of combat developed by Kano, and further refined by Maeda based on his worldwide travels competing against fighters skilled in a wide variety of martial arts.
The book details Maeda’s theory as arguing that physical combat could be broken down into distinct phases, such as the striking phase, the grappling phase, the ground phase, etc. Thus, it was a smart fighter’s task to keep the fight located in the phase of combat best suited to his own strengths. Renzo Gracie stated that this was a fundamental influence on the Gracie approach to combat, these strategies were further developed over time by the Gracies and others, and became prominent in contemporary MMA.