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What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Out of the many forms of MMA (mixed martial arts), one that is the most well-known is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This form, also called the “gentle art,” has a rich history that spans continents and time. The version we know today has changed over that time, evolving from its roots in the ancient world into the art it has become today. In this article, we’ll be diving into the history of jiu-jitsu and what all that encompasses.

History Lesson

The art of jiu-jitsu can be traced back to at least 4,000 years ago, when Buddhist monks in India used something similar to defend themselves while avoiding doing harm. From there, it travelled to feudal Japan, where it became known as jiu-jitsu, the “gentle art,” from “ju” meaning gentle and “jutsu” meaning art. This hand-to-hand skill was transformed in some regards and became useful in combat, which there was plenty of at the time. When things calmed a bit, it became a bit more of a competitive activity to showcase grappling skills.

In 1915, one of these jiu-jitsu masters from Japan, Mitsuyo Maeda, travelled to Brazil and teaching classes. Four of his first students later became the founders of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu that we know today. Brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie, along with Luiz França and Mario Sperry, developed what they learned and made it more effective, along with adding some flair of their own. They turned it into the distinct martial art that we know today.

Fast forward to the 1970s, when this martial art form made its way to the United States. It took its time making its way to popularity, not really taking off until the 1990s when the UFC brought mixed martial arts into the limelight.

The International Jiu-Jitsu Federation was founded in 2002 by Carlos Gracie Jr., which started the grand tradition of championships to showcase the skill and mastery of its practitioners.

Today’s Art

Now, let’s take a look at what exactly Brazilian jiu-jitsu is. This martial art is based on grappling a.k.a. grabbing hold of your opponent and wrestling them into submission. As this is the basis of jiu-jitsu, much of the movement takes place down on the mat where it is easier to have that kind of control of an opponent.

The main movements utilized are dynamic and explosive ones, involved a variety of pressure-based isometric pushes and pulls. Because of this, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is considered an incredibly effective strength and cardio workout all in one. Using leverage, selective grips, and the position of your opponent, the goal is to take down and force your opponent to submit in order to win your match. Something important that Brazilian jiu-jitsu teaches all who practice it is that someone of any size can take on a bigger opponent and win. All it requires is determination, proper technique, and the right leverage.

There are several basic positions that every practitioner will need to master in order to succeed in this sport.

  • The “back take” position is the most dominant position in jiu-jitsu, in which a fighter works to maintain control of their opponent’s back. This position gives access to many submissions and transitions, as well.


  • The “full mount” position is the most basic of the positions in this martial art. Like the back take, it gives the ability for various takedown moves.


  • The “closed guard” position is also called full guard and it is the most used guarding position. It is done by wrapping your legs around your opponent’s waist. It can be complicated to maintain, as your opponent could change their position and break the guard.


  • The “half guard” is guard position in which you have a knee between your opponent’s legs. This one requires a specific framing on your other limbs to avoid injury.


  • The “butterfly guard” is an open guard position that involves hooking your legs around your opponent’s legs. It is one of the most difficult guard positions to master, but it can be very successful.


  • Along with all of these positions, you will need to master a wide variety of submissions, chokes, and locks as ways to subdue your opponent.

Students of this art will gain many benefits, mental and physical. The understanding of the human body needed to become successful, along with the physical and mental fortitude, will develop as they move up in the rankings, of which there are 5 main belts and 3 additional upper levels.

One of the most important things about the practice of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is that it is based in the grappling technique, which is considered safe and gentle enough to practice on a daily basis without fear of serious injury. That is part of what makes it an effective workout, along with being something that constantly keeps you engaged and on your toes. Brazilian jiu-jitsu can be used in real, everyday life scenarios, as well. When faced with a situation that requires protecting yourself from an attacker, as is unfortunately a likely possibility these days in many places, you can use the principles that you learn in your practice to defend yourself. The right leverage will keep you safe and force your attacker to submit or be subdued.

If you have been interested in learning some form of martial art but have been worried about not feeling “strong” or “big” enough to be any good, then Brazilian jiu-jitsu could very well be the perfect sport for you to try your hand at. The basic foundation, as we mentioned earlier, is all about how a smaller or weaker fighter can defeat a larger or stronger opponent if they employ the correct techniques. If, after learning all of this background, you are interested in trying this out then we strongly encourage you to do so. It doesn’t hurt to try something new, and you could find yourself with a new favorite workout of competitive sport! Find a local group or practice near you and get involved with the community, where you may find new friends and a new joy in life.