BJJ is a martial art, combat sport, and a self defense system that focuses on grappling and especially ground fighting. Brazilian jiu-jitsu was formed from early 20th century Kodokan Judo ground fighting (Ne-Waza) fundamentals that were taught to, Luiz França and Carlos Gracie by master Mitsuyo Maeda 前田 光世. Brazilian jiu-jitsu eventually came to be its own art through the experimentations, practices, and adaptation from the Judo knowledge of Carlos and Hélio Gracie, who then passed their knowledge on to their extended family.
Jiu-Jitsu came to international prominence in the martial arts community in the early 1990s, when Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert Royce Gracie won the first, second and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships, which at the time were single elimination martial arts tournaments. Royce fought against often much larger opponents who were practicing other styles, including boxing, shoot-fighting, muay thai, karate, wrestling, judo and tae kwon do. It has since become a staple art for many MMA fighters and is largely credited for bringing widespread attention to the importance of ground fighting.
Mitsuyo Maeda, was one of five of the Kodokan’s top groundwork (Ne – Waza) experts that judo’s founder Kano Jigoro sent overseas to demonstrate and spread his art to the world. Maeda had trained first in sumo as a teenager, and after the interest generated by stories about the success of Kodokan Judo at contests between Kodokan Judo and jujutsu that were occurring at the time, he changed from sumo to Judo, becoming a student of Jigoro Kano. Maeda left Japan in 1904 and visited a number of countries giving “jiu-do” demonstrations and accepting challenges from wrestlers, boxers, savate 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 Belém. In 1916, Italian Argentine circus Queirolo Brothers staged shows there and presented Mayeda. In 1917, Carlos Gracie, the eldest son of Gastão Gracie, watched a demonstration by Maeda at the Da Paz Theatre and decided to learn judo. Maeda accepted Carlos as a student and Carlos learned for a few years, eventually passing his knowledge on to his brothers.
Although the Gracie family is typically synonymous with BJJ, another prominent lineage from Maeda via another Brazilian disciple, Luiz França. This lineage had been represented particularly by Oswaldo Fadda. Fadda and his students were famous for influential use of footlocks and the lineage still survives through Fadda’s links with today’s teams such as Nova União and Grappling Fight Team.
Sibling Hélio Gracie gradually developed Gracie Jiu Jitsu as a softer, pragmatic adaptation from Judo that focused on ground fighting, as he was unable to perform many Judo moves that require direct opposition to an opponent’s strength.
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, commonly referred to as positional drilling, where only a certain technique or sets of techniques are used, 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.
Primary ground positions
During the ground phase of combat the BJJ practitioner strives to take a dominant or controlling position from which to apply submissions, these positions provide different options.
In side control, the practitioner pins their opponent to the ground from the side of their body. The dominant grappler lies across the opponent with weight applied to the opponent’s chest. The opponent may be further controlled by pressure on either side of their shoulders and hips from the practitioner’s elbows, shoulders, and knees. A wide variety of submissions are initiated from side control. It is also referred to as the side mount. Additionally the typical side mount increases opportunity for the dominant grappler to advance to more dominant and less used type of side control known as the mounted crucifix position. In this position the dominant grappler has their body at the very top of their opponents torso as well as one arm controlled by between both of the top grapplers arms as well as the other arm trapped between their legs. A mounted crucifix spells almost certain submission by the trapped opponent. Variants of the side control include: Brazilian Crossbody, Kesse Gatame, “Wrestler Pin” and Knee Pin.
Full Mount is considered one of the most dominant grappling positions.
In the mount position the practitioner sits astride the opponent’s chest, controlling the opponent with their bodyweight and hips. In the strongest form of this position the practitioner works their knees up under into the arm pits to reduce arm movements, limiting their ability to move or counter the submission attempts. Full Mount can be used to apply armlocks or strangles.
When utilizing the back mount (often known in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as the back grab or attacking the back), the practitioner attaches to the back of the opponent by wrapping their legs around and hooking the opponent’s thighs with their heels or locking in a body triangle by crossing their own heels. Simultaneously, the upper body is controlled by wrapping the arms around the chest or neck of the opponent. This position is often used to apply chokeholds, and counters much of the benefit an opponent may have from greater size or strength.
The jiu-jitsu practitioner in blue is demonstrating a type of closed guard
In the Guard, the practitioner is on their back controlling an opponent with their legs. The practitioner pushes and pulls with the legs or feet to upset the balance and limit the movements of their opponent. This position comes into play often when an opponent manages to place the practitioner upon his or her back and the practitioner seeks the best position possible to launch counter-attacks. This is a very versatile position from which the BJJ practitioner can attempt to sweep (reverse) the opponent, get back to the feet, or apply a variety of joint-locks as well as various chokes.
The three main types of guard are Open, Closed, and Half. In closed guard, the bottom grappler has their legs around the opponent’s trunk and has their ankles closed together to provide control and a barrier to escaping the position. In the open guard, the legs are not hooked together and the bottom grappler uses their legs or feet to push or pull in a more dynamic fashion. Open guard also has a less common variant called butterfly guard in the bottom grappler brings their legs up and feet together, the name derives from the resulting butterfly wing shape. Butterfly guard increase both space to manoeuvre and/or counter their opponent with their shins or arches of their feet against the competitors inner thighs. In the half guard, one of the top grappler’s legs is being controlled by the bottom grappler’s legs.
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. 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” by tapping the opponent or the mat. (Tapping one’s own body is dangerous because the opponent may not be able to tell if his or her opponent is tapping.) A choke hold, by 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. These types of locks are not usually allowed in competition due to the high risk of tearing muscle tissue. This type of lock often also hyper-extends the joint in the opposite direction, pulling it apart.
A practitioner attempting an armbar submission
While many joint locks are permitted, most competitions ban or restrict some or all joint locks involving the knees, ankles, 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 holds) 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. Leglocks are allowed in varying degrees depending on skill level, with straight ankle locks being the only leglocks allowed in the beginner division, or white belt level, straight kneebars being allowed in the intermediate division, or blue belt level and toeholds with the pressure applied inwards are allowed in the advanced division (purple, brown, black). Some competitions also ban submissions involving the crushing or compression of muscle tissue. Most competitions do not allow heel hooks, which are considered to be exceptionally dangerous to competitors.
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 aggressively countered in middle to upper levels of competition.
Chokes and strangles
A rear naked choke are common forms of submission. In BJJ, the chokes that are used put pressure on the carotid arteries, and may also apply pressure to the nerve baroreceptors in the neck. This kind of choke is very fast acting (if done properly) with victims typically losing consciousness in around 3–5 seconds. In contrast, an air choke (involving constriction of the windpipe) can take up to two minutes, depending on how long the person can hold their breath, and may cause serious damage to the throat.