The word BJJ is everywhere in the combat sports world. It has even transcended that realm, with many celebrities training in and popularizing it. But do you know what the meaning of BJJ is?
BJJ is an abbreviation for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. A modern grappling-based combat sport and martial art with ancient roots focused on fighting on the ground using technique, leverage, and body mechanics.
You’ve likely seen some BJJ matches or witnessed MMA fighters use submissions coming from Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Chances are, you have some understanding, but do you know the exact meaning of the words BJJ and what stands behind them?
The acronym BJJ comes from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The word jiu-jitsu is in Japanese, where “ju” means gentle and “jutsu” means art or technique, literally translating into “gentle art.”
Many styles and schools are operating under the name jiu-jitsu, including BJJ. The name suits these styles because they are all grappling-centric combat systems that use technique and leverage to overcome an opponent rather than strength and power, hence the adjective gentle.
BJJ is by far the most popular jiu-jitsu style and has become one of the most practiced grappling martial arts on the planet. BJJ focuses almost entirely on ground fighting. A physically weaker person can overcome a stronger opponent through leverage, body mechanics, pressure, and timing.
Various holds, positions, chokes, and joint locks allow the BJJ practitioner to decide when a fight ends. The holds can neutralize an opponent without severely harming him, or they can be used to break a limb, cause devastating injuries, or separate him from his consciousness.
So, despite the “gentle” moniker and the ability to subdue someone without harm, BJJ has the capacity for genuine and brutal violence.
History of BJJ
Jiu-jitsu is a Japanese term that includes many hand-to-hand combat styles. The exact origins are unknown, and there are several different theories. Still, the beginnings can be traced back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
The more direct connection to BJJ, though, is much clearer. Master Jigoro Kano learned various forms of jiu-jitsu in late 19th century Japan before developing his own style focused more on sparring, live drilling, and competition, later known as Judo.
One of Kano’s top students, Mitsuyo Maeda, was sent to travel the world and demonstrate the effectiveness of what was still known as “Kano jiu-jitsu.” After visiting different countries, Maeda arrived in Brazil in 1914, giving demonstrations and accepting fighting challenges.
He quickly ignited interest and gathered dedicated students. Of them, the most prominent became the Gracie brothers, Carlos and Helio.
They are credited with having developed the ground fighting aspect of Judo rather than the throwing portion. Helio, especially, was smaller and did not have much success with the throws, which required a more direct battle of strength and power, so he had to become a master on the ground.
Judo’s sports rules were gradually changed to make it more spectacular to watch and safer to practice. The high scoring of throws and trips and the banning of most joint locks drastically changed the focus and essence of Kano jiu-jitsu (judo).
At the same time, jiu-jitsu in Brazil, led by the Gracie family alongside some other lineages like that of Luiz Franca, did not follow these changes and kept their emphasis on ground fighting, creating a distinctly separate style called Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Judo’s worldwide success is mainly owed to the active efforts of Kano and his students. They spread the art everywhere by doing demonstrations and accepting open challenges.
The Gracies followed the same path in Brazil by fighting in countless Vale Tudo matches (basically no-rules fights) before venturing to the USA. In the 1970s, Carley Gracie led the “expedition” to the States, followed by Rorion Gracie.
Rorion did much to promote his family’s fighting style by showing it to many people and making his way into Hollywood before opening his first academy alongside his brothers Royce, Rickson, and Royler in 1989.
The big popularity boom came after Royce won three of the first four UFC events Rorion and his business partners organized. The submission wins of Royce against much larger and more menacing-looking men quickly opened the eyes of the general public to the crucial importance of grappling in a real fight.
The road of BJJ has been on an even climbing trajectory ever since.
By becoming so popular in the 1990s and having been picked up by many different people, BJJ branched into various forms. The disparity has increased to the point where the once-uniform martial art can now be separated into multiple unique styles.
Self Defence BJJ
First and foremost, BJJ was created as a self-defense and real-life fighting system. Traditional jiu-jitsu was born and bred on the battlefield. Judo’s original iteration also focused on effectiveness against all unarmed opponents. Taking the opponent to the ground and using techniques and knowledge of body anatomy negates big size and strength discrepancies.
So, when Brazilian jiu-jitsu was developed out of judo, the focus remained on real-world practicality. Back then, sports competitions and safety were much less of a concern.
Just as Maeda accepted challenges against fighters of different styles, the Gracies created the “Gracie challenges,” where they met with everyone willing to fight. This helped develop effective techniques and tactics against both grapplers and strikers.
In essence, BJJ was created to defeat untrained attackers and other martial arts.
To further make the style combat-ready, some basic strikes were also added. Kicks to the legs, open palm strikes, and elbows help the BJJ fighter shorten the distance and get the fight to his area of expertise—the ground.
Most Gracie-led schools today still teach and practice BJJ in its traditional form. They also excel in the sports aspect but have not deviated too far from the original purpose of the martial art and train BJJ as an effective means of self-defense.
In recent years, BJJ has taken a sharp turn towards the sports aspect of the game. While grappling-only competitions have existed since the sport’s inception, sports BJJ has surpassed all other varieties since its rise to popularity in the early 2000s.
In this form, BJJ lets go of striking altogether and prioritizes grappling and safe and fair competition. Competitions separate participants by weight class and skill level. At the lower skill levels, many techniques deemed dangerous are banned to minimize the chance of serious injuries. Techniques like slams, foot locks, and knee reaping are prohibited at most levels.
The purely grappling ruleset of sports BJJ has created many new maneuvers, strategies, and tactics. More elaborate guards and techniques are used to gain a competitive advantage in this high-level human chess game. Sports BJJ has gained huge prominence with a vast network of tournaments ranging from kids’ competitions to lucrative world championships.
If there is one critique of the sport BJJ, it moves away from the initial combat purpose of the martial art, much like what happened to judo. Many new techniques and strategies are usable only in a strongly regulated competition. They can lead to catastrophic results if used for self-defense or MMA.
Many academies today concentrate solely on the sports aspect of BJJ without any focused self-defense training.
The growth in popularity of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is inseparable from the meteoric rise of mixed martial arts. Cage fighting has demonstrated with undeniable certainty that grappling is crucial for combat.
After all, the goal of Rorion Gracie with the first UFC was to showcase the effectiveness of BJJ against other styles, and I don’t think even he expected such a level of success, popularity-wise.
Early on, BJJ for MMA and self-defense were the same thing. But the sport of mixed martial arts has since evolved exponentially, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu also had to adapt to the new demands.
First of all, using the gi in traditional BJJ allows for many impossible moves on a shirtless opponent. Then there are MMA gloves and the cage itself, which further put forth new game-changing factors.
BJJ is still MMA’s most prominent grappling style and hasn’t lost its claws. Still, all the new factors and the increasing skill level of fighters have forced BJJ practitioners to answer those demands. Each move and tactic from BJJ has to be adapted to cage fighting specifics and the rules and styles used in MMA.
This has created a new sub-style of BJJ specifically aimed at MMA, which is different from the traditional and grappling-only sports versions.
Jiu-jitsu translates as “gentle art,” The word Brazilian shows the origin of the martial art called Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It’s a highly complex and very effective fighting system, primarily focusing on grappling on the ground. BJJ was created as a self-defense system, but it has also evolved as a grappling-only sport and is a crucial part of mixed martial arts.