WHAT IS BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a grappling-based martial art whose central theme is the skill of controlling a resisting opponent in ways that force him to submit. Due to the fact that control is generally easier on the ground than in a standing position, much of the technique of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is centered round the skill of taking an opponent down to the ground and wrestling for dominant control positions from where the opponent can be rendered harmless.

The ability to control and overcome greater size, strength and aggression with lesser size and strength is the keynote of the art. This is done by utilising a superior knowledge of leverage and positioning. This knowledge can eventually be used to subdue and control an opponent with whatever level of severity the student chooses. This is where Jiu-Jitsu sets itself aside from other martial arts as an assailant can be defeated using only the amount of aggression required to diffuse the situation.

The study of BJJ is both physically and mentally demanding. Students benefit from greatly increased physical fitness, problem-solving ability, self awareness and, of course, the many social benefits of working within a large group of like-minded individuals as you experiment and learn together.

BJJ can be practiced not only for self defence but also as a competitive sport during Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and/or Submission Grappling (No Gi) matches. When a sufficient level of competence is achieved it is also possible to participate in mixed martial arts (MMA) matches. This modern full-contact combat sport requires a high level of skill in all aspects of hand to hand combat both standing and on the ground.

THE ORIGINS OF JIU-JITSU

The true origins of Jiu-Jitsu are shrouded in mystery. Some consider it to be a purely Japanese creation while others suggest Chinese, Indian or even Greek roots (through the conquests of Alexander the Great). What is known is that during the Sengoku and Muromachi periods of Japan's history the samurai began to develop a system of close combat that favoured throws, joint locks, strangulation and immobilisation techniques. These methods were preferred as the striking techniques used in other hand to hand systems of the time were ineffective against the armour worn by the samurai on the battlefield.

It was not until the Edo period in the 17th Century that the term ‘Jujitsu’ first appeared. During this time new and strict laws imposed by the Tokugawa Shogunate in order to reduce war forced further evolution of techniques as the weapons and armour of the samurai became less prevalent. With fewer wars the numerous schools or ryu of Jujitsu turned to duels and challenge matches as an outlet for their competitive natures. A characteristic that survives to this day.

In later years the practice of Jujitsu would become more regimented with the devastating and violent techniques being mainly taught as choreographed sequences known as kata. Techniques such as eye gouges and groin strikes could not be realistically practiced due to the obvious dangers to the participants. Eventually a young student of this classical Jujitsu named Jigoro Kano would come to see a problem with this method of teaching.

The genius of Kano was that he saw that he could make Jujitsu more effective by removing the lethal and dangerous techniques so that practitioners could practice with full resistance. Through this method real live athletic ability could be developed. Kano would eventually coin the term 'Judo' in order to differentiate his revolutionary system from the more classical schools of Jujitsu.

It would be one of Kano's students, Mitsuyo Maeda, who would bring Judo (then also known as Kano Jujitsu) to Brazil. Originally a student of sumo and Jujitsu, Maeda came to Kano's school, the Kodokan, when he was 18. He soon became one of Kano's best students and as such was selected to become an ambassador of the Kodokan and was sent out to spread its method throughout the world. During these travels Maeda engaged himself in numerous no-holds-barred challenge matches, a practice frowned upon and forbidden by Kano. To avoid conflict with Kano and the Kodokan Maeda rarely used the new name of 'Judo' in connection with these matches, preferring to use the older term of 'Jujitsu' when referring to his fighting style.

When Carlos Gracie became a student of Maeda's he was not only schooled in the Kosen style of Judo, the style favoured by Maeda that heavily focused on ground fighting but also the no-holds-barred tactics developed by Maeda himself during his time in the ring. Carlos saw great potential in Jujitsu as a means of personal development and immediately set about passing what he had learned on to his brothers and their sons. Together, the family would go on to develop and evolve their own distinct Brazilian style that they would call Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

Possibly the most famous contributor to the family style was Carlos' youngest brother, Helio Gracie. Helio's slight frame and lack of physical attributes would lead him to improve the application of leverage and form a defensive strategy where the smaller and weaker individual could truly defend themselves against larger and stronger opponents.