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What is This Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Thing Anyway?
A brief overview of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Perpetually Sore started as a podcast to discuss topics related to supporting a wide range of martial arts and combat sports styles. As things evolved, we found that most people visiting our site were active Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) students looking for insights on boosting their BJJ performance and knowledge or newcomers looking to get into BJJ.
As we move forward, we will embrace this group as our core audience. While we will continue to develop content for all martial art styles, we will also have jiu-jitsu specific content and use jiu jitsu examples when discussing general concepts.
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With this in mind, we thought it might be helpful to summarize BJJ for those unfamiliar with this style.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a martial art that emphasizes ground fighting and submission holds. Most of today’s BJJ can trace its roots back to techniques and concepts developed in Brazil by the Gracie family, who blended elements of judo and traditional Japanese jujutsu to create a system that is effective for a smaller, weaker person to defend themselves against a larger, stronger assailant. While there are many different schools and approaches to today’s jiu jitsu, it is difficult to find one which doesn’t heavily rely on the foundations and fundamentals made popular by the Gracies.
One of the main goals of BJJ is to control and subdue an opponent through leverage and technique rather than relying on strength and size. This makes BJJ an ideal martial art for self-defense, as it allows someone to defend themselves against a larger opponent using techniques such as joint locks and chokeholds.
In addition to self-defense, BJJ is also a popular sport, with competitions held at the local, national, and international levels. In these competitions, practitioners wear a uniform called a "gi", similar to those worn in traditional karate styles, and competitors are usually divided up by age, weight, rank, and gender. The objective of competition is to score points by taking an opponent down to the ground, achieving a dominant position, or submitting the opponent, making them physically or verbally “tap” to acknowledge defeat, using various techniques.
“No-gi” is a version of jiu jitsu where the traditional gi kimono is not worn. In no-gi BJJ, practitioners wear shorts and a rash guard, or topless for men, instead of the gi.
There are some differences in the techniques used in gi and no gi BJJ. In gi BJJ, the gi can be used to control and submit an opponent by using the fabric to grip, and to create levers and tension. In no-gi BJJ, practitioners must rely more on framing, body control, gripping the skin and muscles, and applying pressure points and joint locks to control their opponents.
The lack of ability to grip and use the gi to slow and control the opponent makes no-gi matches generally faster, as does the reduced friction due to fabric differences and, often, more sweat.
While no gi jiu jitsu does not allow for all the attacks and holds that you can do in a gi, it is gaining in popularity due to often being more exciting and accessible for the audience. While gi competitions usually result in medals, no-gi competitions are generally for cash prizes. They therefore are more attractive to those who wish to earn a living via BJJ competition. Nowadays, many professional fighting promotions with MMA matches also include no-gi matches in their events.
There are several common positions in BJJ, each with its own techniques and strategies. Some of the essential positions include:
Closed Guard: This is a position where the practitioner is on their back with their legs wrapped around their opponent's waist. From the guard, the practitioner can use their legs to control their opponent's movement and attempt to sweep (reverse) them, or to transition to another more dominant position. The closed guard also provides a platform to attack from.
Mount: This is a position where the practitioner is on top of their opponent and has both legs on either side of their opponent's body. From the mount, the practitioner can use their bodyweight to control their opponent and attempt to submit them with techniques such as arm locks and chokeholds.
Side control: This is a position where the practitioner is on top of their opponent and has their body perpendicular to their opponent's body. From side control, the practitioner can launch several submissions, such as chokes or attempting to isolate an arm and attack the shoulder, elbow, or wrist joints.
Other key positions include open guards, back mount, knee-on-belly, and turtle. More advanced practitioners will learn additional guards, often named for the person who invented or popularized them, and other positions to work from.
Students of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu academies will learn no gi techniques with names like Rubber Guard, Twister, Lockdown, Dog Fight, Prison Guard, and more. Even these non-traditional moves often draw from gi-based techniques and concepts, and 10th Planet students compete in peer groups with students from Gracie schools and other BJJ academies.
Many different submissions can be used in BJJ, most that target applying pressure to the opponent’s joints or strangling (“choking”) them. Some of the more popular submissions used in competition include:
Armlock: This is a technique where the practitioner controls an opponent's arm and applies pressure to the elbow joint, causing the opponent to tap out or submit to avoid the elbow joint from breaking.
Chokehold: This is a technique where the practitioner applies pressure to their opponent's neck, either by using their arm or leg, to cut off the blood flow to the brain and cause their opponent to tap out or lose consciousness. While technically a strangle, most submissions of this type are called “chokes”.
Leg lock: This is a technique where the practitioner controls an opponent's leg and applies pressure to the joints, such as the knee or ankle, to force their opponent to tap out. Ankle locks, heel hooks, and toe holds are all common attacks targeting the legs.
There are also several essential concepts in BJJ that practitioners should be familiar with, including:
Base: This refers to the foundation or stability of a position. To maintain control and execute techniques effectively, the practitioner must have a strong base. Your base is your ability to leverage your connection to the ground (or wall or opponent) to generate or absorb force during the match.
Grip fighting: This refers to the battle for control of an opponent's gi or limbs. In BJJ, practitioners must be skilled at breaking their opponent's grip and establishing their own to achieve dominant positions and set up submissions.
Leverage: This refers to using body position and technique to overcome an opponent's strength and size. In BJJ, practitioners must be able to use their body weight and positioning to their advantage to execute techniques.
Distance Control: A key concept in BJJ is controlling distance. When your opponent is on the offense, you generally try to make space in order to escape, get to a neutral position, and then go on the attack. When attacking, eliminating space to limit their ability to defend or escape is a top priority.
As with most martial styles, BJJ can provide many physical and mental benefits, including:
Improved physical fitness: Jiu-jitsu training involves a combination of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training, which can help improve strength, endurance, and flexibility.
Increased self-defense skills: Jiu-jitsu training teaches techniques for defending oneself against attackers and controlling situations that may escalate to violence.
Stress relief: Many people find that the physical activity and mental focus required in jiu-jitsu training help relieve stress and improve their overall well-being.
Improved mental focus: The demands of jiu-jitsu training require intense concentration and problem-solving, which can help improve mental focus and decision-making skills.
Enhanced self-confidence: As people progress in their jiu-jitsu training and gain new skills and abilities, they may feel more confident in their physical abilities and in their ability to handle difficult situations.
Sense of community: Many people find that training in jiu-jitsu fosters a sense of community and camaraderie with fellow students.
It is this mix of physical benefits, mental health benefits, problem-solving, and self-defense skills that make Brazilian Jiu Jitsu one of the more popular modern martial arts styles.
Ever since the first UFC, which took specialists from many martial arts and faced them off to see which style reigned supreme, with BJJ coming out on top, BJJ has been one of the most sought after styles to learn. It is very uncommon to find an MMA fighter who doesn’t have at least strong BJJ fundamentals.
It's important to note that jiu-jitsu training can be physically demanding, and it's important to consult with a doctor and a qualified instructor before starting your BJJ journey. There is a saying that “jiu jitsu is for everyone and every body type.” However, depending on your starting physical fitness level, there may be adjustments to consider.
It is also important to avoid the trap of thinking you cannot start jiu jitsu until you “get into shape.” Many people delay beginning BJJ because they believe they cannot do it until they improve their fitness level. This is not the case. Doing BJJ is a great way to get in shape, and numerous students find themselves dropping excess weight and building muscle within weeks of starting.
At Perpetually Sore, we focus on discussing supplemental types of training and tools (strength training, conditioning, cardio, flexibility/yoga, mindset, recovery, breathing, …) to support your BJJ activities, as well as will be breaking BJJ techniques down into concepts to improve your understanding and increase your learning speed.
Also note that across this site, we will use “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu”, “jiu jitsu”, and “BJJ” interchangeably. You may also see us write “jiu jitsu” and “jiu-jitsu”. This is because they are all commonly used and acceptable.
While the above has included details on some BJJ elements, there are many more. If you think we’ve missed something critical to include in an overview of jiu jitsu let us know. If we agree, we’ll include it in future articles and content.
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