Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a modern martial arts practice designed in the first half of the 20th century and modified by the Gracie family over a period of several years. Based on traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu – closely related to Judo, a modern martial art created in 1882 – it emphasizes physical and mental training to enable a smaller opponent to defend a bigger one.

These days the sport has a heavy fighting component around the world, either used in mixed martial arts competitions or duked out in pure Jiu-Jitsu contests. While hard numbers are difficult to come by, some experts estimate there were over 100,000 BJJ practitioners in Brazil in 1997, which today may be more than a million in that country itself, let alone worldwide. In America, there are at least 18 million Americans participating in some form of martial arts, according to Simmons Market Research.

Much of this popularity is likely due to the fact that, despite its modern history of a highly sports-oriented practice, it has a long history of martial arts lineage.

Early History of Martial Arts

Martial arts are far from a modern invention. In fact, the roots of martial arts – with attendant principles like control, restraint and training of body and mind – most likely traveled eastward from India along with budding spiritual principles such as Buddhism. Hand-to-hand combat is, of course, not unique to Eastern cultures, but practices such as Jiu-Jitsu emphasize the power of the body and the lack of necessity of weapons in the well-trained.

“Gaining superior positioning—so one can apply the style’s numerous chokes, holds, locks and joint manipulations on an opponent—is the key in BJJ.”

~ Black Belt Magazine

Invention of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

BJJ was invented by the Gracie family, usually attributed to Carlos Gracie. Carlos learned from Esai Maeda, also known as Conde Koma, a student of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and a renowned practitioner of the art. Carlos refined the art into a new style that brought a lot of ground fighting to the forefront and passed it on to his brothers.

When Helio Gracie, who was small and weak, eventually began teaching the art to others, he added a new aspect: the idea that small, weak opponents could triumph over larger ones using specific techniques involving leverage and good timing. From there, the sport has evolved into several sub-branches, discussed below, but has kept these basic tenets at its heart.

Defining Traits of BJJ

The main concept of BJJ is that size shouldn’t be a factor in whether one opponent can successfully conquer another. Instead, a weaker person can defend against someone larger, stronger and heavier by learning the proper techniques and using leverage against each others’ bodies as well as the ground. Joint-locks and choke-holds are crucial tools in the BJJ arsenal. So is gaining superior positioning, which allows the weaker opponent to subdue to the stronger one with chokes, holds, locks and manipulations of joints.

Training in BJJ is used for sports grappling tournaments, mixed martial arts, and self-defense, among other applications. Unlike some martial arts traditions, which focus on self-defense, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu also incorporates a heavy sports element, meaning it is more systematized with more stringent rules defining what it is and how it can be practiced.

Sub-Styles of Jiu-Jitsu

Today there are a number of sub-styles of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, though they probably wouldn’t be distinguishable to an outside observer. While most of these substyles still emphasize the basic concept of a weaker opponent conquering a stronger one through leverage and timing, there are more and less sports-oriented styles.

For instance, the style of Jiu-Jitsu on which members of the Gracie family focuses still tend to have a very strong self-defense component. On the other hand, Machado Jiu-Jitsu, pioneered by the Machado family, has a very strong competitive aspect and is perhaps the best style to pursue knowledge of if you wish to engage in the practice as a sport rather than a method of self-defense.

Nevertheless, all prongs of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu still emphasize physical and mental concentration and control, and the life-changing power of continual practice.

“Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is more than just a sport. It’s more than a martial art. It’s a way to change your life.”

~ Breaking Muscle

Find Out More

If you would like to learn more about BJJ, Pure Performance in Rockville, MD is your go-to place. As a leading mixed martial arts facility, we also teach Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Judo, Boxing, Kali, and Wrestling, as well as real-life self-defense to be used effectively by everyday people in real-world situations. We are affiliated with the Pedro Sauer Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Association and Krav Maga Alliance, and our proud to offer our services to any and all comers. Give us a call today!