Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art and combat sport that focuses on grappling and especially ground fighting with the goal of gaining a dominant position and using joint-locks and chokeholds to force an opponent to submit. The art was based on early 20th century Kodokan Judo, which was itself then a recently-developed system (founded in 1882), based on multiple schools (or Ryu) of Japanese Jujutsu.

It promotes the principle that a smaller, weaker person using leverage and proper technique can successfully defend themselves against a bigger, stronger assailant. BJJ can be trained for self defense, sport grappling tournaments (gi and no-gi) and mixed martial arts (MMA) competition. Sparring (commonly referred to as ‘rolling’) and live drilling play a major role in training, and a premium is placed on performance, especially in competition.

Combat Strategy

Renzo Gracie wrote in his book Mastering Jujitsu: “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 develped by Kano, and further refined by Maeda based on his world-wide 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 standing phase, etc. Thus, it was a smart fighter’s task to keep the fight located in the phase of combat that best suited his own strengths.

Renzo Gracie stated that this was a fundamental influence on the Gracie approach to combat. These strategies were further perfected over time by the Gracies and others, and became prominent in contemporary MMA.

Free Sparring

Like Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu encourages free sparring against a live, resisting opponent. Practitioners therefore have the opportunity to test their skills and develop them under realistic conditions, while minimizing the risk of injury.

Ground Fighting

The most important factor that differentiates Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from modern Kodokan judo, as well as most schools of Japanese jujutsu, is that BJJ places much more emphasis on ground fighting. This has led to BJJ’s great strengths on the ground, and also for its relative weakness in standing techniques. There is an increasing amount of cross-training between the two sports.


It is sometimes stated that Maeda was a practitioner of traditional Japanese jujutsu. However, Maeda never trained in traditional jujutsu. He trained in sumo as a teenager, and after that his first studies in jujutsu were as a student of Kano’s Kodokan Judo,[1] and he was promoted to 7th dan in judo the day before he died in 1941.

Hélio Gracie himself had already risen to the rank of 6th dan in judo by the time of his fight against Kimura in 1951.

Differences between BJJ styles

Today, the main differences between the BJJ styles is between traditional Gracie Jiu-Jitsu’s emphasis on self-defense, and Sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s orientation towards point competition. There is a large commonality of techniques between the two. Also, there is a wide variety of ideals in training in different schools in terms of the utilization of technique versus how much to attempt to overpower an opponent.

Style of fighting

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes ground fighting techniques and submission holds involving joint-locks and chokeholds also found in numerous other arts with or without ground fighting emphasis. The premise is that most of the advantage of a larger, stronger opponent comes from superior reach and more powerful strikes, both of which are somewhat negated when grappling on the ground.

BJJ permits a wide variety of techniques to take the fight to the ground after taking a grip. 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 position to defend oneself from bottom, 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 utilized by two experienced practitioners. A submission hold is the equivalent of checkmate.

Types of Submission

The majority of submission holds can be grouped into two broad categories: joint locks and chokes. Joint locks typically involve isolating an opponent’s limb and creating a lever with the body position which will force the joint to move past its normal range of motion, generally referred to as hyperextension. Pressure is increased in a controlled manner and released if the opponent cannot escape the hold and signals defeat by submitting. Opponents can indicate submission verbally or they can tap out (i.e. tap the opponent, the mat, or even themselves, several times.) A choke hold, disrupting the blood supply to the brain, can cause unconsciousness if the opponent does not submit soon enough.

A less common type of submission hold is a compression lock, where the muscle of an opponent is compressed against a hard, large bone (commonly the shin or wrist), causing significant pain to the opponent. This type of lock often also hyper-extends the joint in the opposite direction, pulling it apart.

Joint locks

While many joint locks are permitted, most competitions bar or restrict some or all joint locks involving the knees, ankles,nose, buttholes and spine. The reason for this is that the angles of manipulation required to cause pain are nearly the same as those that would cause serious injury. Joint locks that require a twisting motion of the knee (called twisting knee locks or twisting knee bars, or techniques such as heel hooks, and toe folds) are usually banned in competitions because successfully completing the move nearly always results in permanent damage that requires surgery. Similarly, joint manipulations of the spine are typically barred due to the inherent danger of crushing or mis-aligning cervical vertebrae. Certain locks involving the knees and ankles are only allowed in competition starting at the brown belt. Any competitor from white to purple belt who attempts any of those locks may be disqualified.

However, most joint locks involving the wrist, elbow, shoulder or ankle are permitted as there is a great deal more flexibility in those joints and those locks are safe to use under tournament conditions. Also, some fighters practice moves whose sole purpose is to inflict pain upon their opponent, in the hope that they will tap out. This includes driving knuckles into pressure points, holding their opponent’s head in order to tire out the neck (called the “can opener” or kubi-hishigi) and putting body weight on top of the sternum, floating ribs, or similarly sensitive bones. These moves are not true submission moves – they are generally only used as distractions mostly in lower levels of competition. They are avoided or brutally countered in middle to upper levels of competition.

Chokes and Strangles

Chokes and strangles (commonly but somewhat incorrectly referred to as “blood chokes” and “air chokes” respectively) are a common form of submission. Chokes involve constriction of the windpipe (causing asphyxia.) Strangles involve constriction of the carotid artery (causing ischemia.)

Air chokes are less efficient than strangles and may result in damage to the opponent’s trachea, sometimes even resulting in death. By contrast, blood chokes (strangulations) cut the flow of blood to the opponent’s brain, causing a rapid loss of consciousness without damaging any internal structures. Being “choked-out” in this way is relatively safe as long as the choke is released soon enough after unconsciousness, letting blood back into the brain before oxygen deprivation damage begins.[12] However, it should not be practiced unsupervised.

The prevalence of the more dangerous “air” chokes has led to the banning of choke holds from some United States police departments. Because of the negative legal connotations of the words “choke” and “strangulation”, it is advisable to use the term “lateral vascular restraint” when describing a blood choke used in a self-defense situation.

Training Methods

Sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s focus on submissions without the use of strikes while training allows practitioners to practice at full speed and with full power, resembling the effort used in a real competition. Training methods include technique drills in which techniques are practiced against a non-resisting partner; isolation sparring where only a certain technique or sets of techniques are used against full resistance; and full sparring in which each opponent tries to submit their opponent using any legal technique. Physical conditioning is also an important part of training at many clubs.


The standards for grading and belt promotions vary between schools, but the widely accepted measures of a person’s skill and rank in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are:

1. The amount of technical knowledge they can demonstrate, and
2. Their performance in sparring and competition.

Technical knowledge is judged by the number of techniques a person can perform, and the level of skill with which he performs them in sparring and competition. This allows for smaller and older practitioners to be recognized for their knowledge though they may not be the strongest fighters in the school. It is a distinctly individual sport, and practitioners are encouraged to adapt the techniques to make them work for their body type, strategic preferences, and level of athleticism. The ultimate criterion is the ability to execute the techniques successfully, rather than strict stylistic compliance.

Competitions play an important role in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gradings, as they allow an instructor to compare the level of his students against those of the same rank from other schools. A belt promotion may be given after success in a competition, particularly at the lower belt levels. A promotion might also be awarded when a person can submit most people in his school of the same rank, e.g. a white belt who consistently submits most other white belts in sparring and is starting to catch blue belts.

The high level of competition between schools – and its importance for belt promotion – is also considered to be one of the key factors preventing instructors from lowering standards or allowing people to buy their way up the belts. Instructors may also take the personality of the person and their behavior outside of class into account, and may refuse to promote someone if they exhibit antisocial or destructive tendencies. It is by these and other criteria that most instructors promote their students. Some schools may also have formal testing which might include oral or written exams.

Filed under: Martial Arts Styles

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