What is the Art of Jiu Jitsu?
In this article we are going to break down the art of jiu jitsu. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a submission grappling martial art and combat sport developed in the 1920’s by brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie. Carlos taught the Judo techniques he learned from Japanese Judoka Mitsuyo Maeda to his younger and smaller brother Helio, who adapted these techniques to work in spite of his size disadvantage. These innovations allowed a smaller and weaker person to use leverage and the weight distribution of their opponent against them to gain dominant positions on the ground and ultimately submit their opponent with joint locks or chokes.
The Gracies called their version of the art Gracie Jiu Jitsu and set out to prove it’s superiority, first by challenging students of other martial arts to matches known as the Gracie Challenges, and then ultimately with the formation of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship by Helio’s son Rorion Gracie, where Jiu Jitsu would cement itself as an indispensable weapon in any MMA fighter’s arsenal.
Whether you’re hearing about the art of Jiu Jitsu for the first time, just beginning your journey or a seasoned veteran, here’s everything to know in 2022.
Beginner’s Guide to the Art of Jiu Jitsu
So, you’ve been hearing a lot about Jiu Jitsu. Maybe you’re an avid UFC fan, a long time listener of Joe Rogan's podcast—where many BJJ legends make an appearance— or just happened to pass by a local gym and wanted to see what it’s all about. Here’s a crash course on the art of jiu jitsu to meet you wherever you're at.
Rolling: Popular term used to describe sparring.
Sweep: To force your opponent to go from top position to bottom position.
Submission: To force your opponent to tap out by applying joint locks or chokes.
Takedown: From standing, force your opponent onto the ground and secure a dominant position.
Guard: Fighting from off the back, use your legs and arms to control, sweep and submit your opponent.
Pulling Guard: From standing, grip your opponent and pull them into your guard.
Passing Guard: To advance around or through the opponents guard and secure a dominant position.
Gi: The traditional uniform in Jiu Jitsu, consisting of a Kimono, Pants, and a belt.
Coach: People of any belt level who are teaching or assisting teaching a Jiu Jitsu class.
Professor: A black belt who is teaching or assisting a Jiu Jitsu class.
While every academy will have its own rules and regulations here is a list of universals to keep in mind.
- Bow before entering and exiting the mat.
- Always wear shoes or flip flops while off the mat, and never wear shoes on the mat.
- Wash your Gi after every class, and don’t forget to wash your belt. No one wants to roll with the smelly guy.
- Keep your fingernails and toenails neatly trimmed.
- Bow and then shake or “slap and bump” hands with your partner before and after sparring.
- If your partner or opponent taps, let go of the submission or position immediately.
- Keep your temper under control. It’s natural to feel frustrated after a particularly difficult roll but keep in mind you’re here to learn and improve and mastering one’s emotions is a key step in that development.
Fundamentals class isn’t IBJJF Finals. In other words, don’t roll with your training partners as if it were a life or death situation, keeping ourselves and our team mates safe is more important than dominating every roll.
The Belt System
The ranking system in Jiu Jitsu differs from traditional martial arts in that the time needed to reach the next rank is often much longer than in other martial arts. This system adds legitimacy to the ranks and adds a true sense of accomplishment for reaching the next belt rank. Each Academy differs in how they progress students through the ranks, some electing to add white stripes on the black bar of the belt to track progress through the individual belts, and while the IBJJF requires minimum time spent at a belt in order for their next rank to be formally recognized there is no set standard for progression. Children who progress through the belts are eligible for their adult Blue Belt when they turn 16. Adults have a separate ranking system.
- Solid Gray
- Solid Yellow
- Solid Orange
- Solid Green
How to Choose an Academy
Maybe the most overwhelming thing about starting out is knowing how to choose a gym to train in. The first question to ask yourself is what your goals are. Do you want to become a high level competitor? Then choose a gym that reliably churns out competitive talent. Are you just looking to get in shape and find a new hobby? Then choose a conveniently located gym whose gym culture and training style suits your personality the best.
Like most activities, the best way to improve is to practice, but how you practice can make all the difference. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your training.
Keep a Journal.
Whether it be a note on your phone or a physical notebook, keep a log of your training sessions. Keep track of the positions you’re working on, or submissions you’re going for, and think of reasons for why they are or aren’t working. Keep notes on your sparring sessions for specific things to work on, and keep details of the technique taught in class to refer back to later for further study.
This is an aspect that many people skip over because they see it as tedious or boring, but drilling is a critical part of your development in Jiu Jitsu. So many sweeps, guard passes, submissions and takedowns are based on timing, and the more comfortable we are with our muscle memory the faster and more effective these techniques will become. Find a training partner you’re comfortable with and go back and forth working the various techniques you’re trying to improve, if you make this a consistent habit you will see improvement in sparring.
It’s so easy especially as beginners for us to spar like our lives depend on it, to fight with everything we have just to survive. While survival, especially early on, is going to be a natural response, the best thing for us to do to see improvement is to spar with specific goals in mind.
The goals can be simple things like “just make it 30 seconds without getting tapped by the scrappy purple belt” or more complex things like “today I’m pulling De La Riva guard and working specifically on Berimbolo” either way we’ve set a goal for ourselves and can now track our improvement instead of just reacting.
Listen to Your Body
It’s really common, especially for people newer to the sport to overtrain. We are more susceptible to injury and burnout when our bodies are tired, sore or not getting the nutrients they need. Learn to listen to these signs and don’t be afraid to take a day off. It’s better to miss a class to rest up than to train tired and end up with an injury that takes you off the mats for weeks.
Have a Good Attitude
The people who improve the most are the people with the right attitude, period. Be realistic with your goals and with where you are. If you’re smaller and less experienced don’t expect to beat up the competitive blue belt, and if you’re older and work a full time job don’t be frustrated that you got tapped by the new guy who wrestled in college. The art of Jiu Jitsu is a really difficult but rewarding sport and the sooner you accept that you don’t know everything and that everyone in the gym regardless of rank can teach you something, the sooner you will see your skill level rise.
Jiu Jitsu practitioners are serious about their lineage, which in simple terms, is who promoted the person promoting them. These lineages trace back to several original sources and often feature different styles, philosophies, and histories, and then go on to form large organizations known as Affiliations. Here are the top ten Affiliations in Jiu Jitsu based on their 2021-2022 IBJJF tournament records.
- Gracie Barra
Gracie Barra is one of the oldest and largest teams in Jiu Jitsu, boasting over 800 affiliated gyms. It was founded in 1986 by Carlos Gracie Jr. and has gone on to produce top athletes such as Roger Gracie.
Alliance was founded in 1993 by Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti and has gone on to produce many prominent competitors including 5x IBJJF World Champion and 4x ADCC World Champion Marcelo Garcia.
- GF Team
Though the roots of Grappling Fight Team stretch back much farther, they officially rebranded in 2007 and now has a network of over 250 teachers who have produced many top athletes such as IBJJF Gi and No-Gi champion Mayssa Bastos .
CheckMat was founded by the Vieira Brothers in 2008 and has expanded to 34 cities in the United States and become one of the top competition teams in the world. Their top athletes include 13x IBJJF World Champion and 2x ADCC Gold Medalist Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida.
- Dream Art
New to the scene but making waves, Dream Art was founded with help of Alliance in 2018 by BJJ World Champion Isaque Bahiense with the goal of creating the infrastructure to support up and coming talent, not only in their pursuit of Jiu Jitsu but also with education and even medical support. They are now able to support over 40 athletes and are getting results with new World Champions and now the addition of top athlete Nicholas Meregali.
- Atos Jiu Jitsu
Founded in 2008 by Ramon Lemos and Andre Galvao, Atos has cemented itself as one of the premiere affiliations in the sport. With multiple world champions under its belt and currently bringing up some of the most exciting young competitors in the sport like Kade and Tye Ruotolo.
- Carlson Gracie Team
The Carlson Gracie Team is one of the most storied in the history of the art of Jiu Jitsu. Started by the legendary Carlson Gracie himself and producing singular talent like Ricardo De La Riva, the Carlson Gracie Team has remained a stable and dominant fixture in BJJ for decades and will surely continue that legacy for decades to come.
- Nova Uniao
Nova Uniao has not only trained high level Jiu Jitsu talent but is also one of the top MMA training camps in the world. You may recognize among their ranks former Welterweight and Lightweight UFC Champion and Jiu Jitsu specialist BJ Penn.
- LEAD BJJ
An acronym for “Live Everyday to Achieve your Dreams” the Bruno Bastos-founded team has quickly risen to one of the most exciting new teams in Jiu Jitsu.
- Cicero Costha Internacional
Rounding out the current top ten affiliations in Jiu Jitsu Cicero Costha Internacional. Founded by Cicero Costha and known for an extremely dedicated roster of athletes who would train all day and sleep on the mats, they have produced such talent as the Miyao brothers and Leandro Lo.
One of the most exciting aspects about the art of Jiu Jitsu for hobbyists and pros alike is the ability to compete at any age, weight or skill level. With the growing popularity of the sport worldwide there has never been more opportunity to enter a tournament and test your limits. This is what you’ll need to know to compete with success.
Tournaments in Jiu Jitsu not only break down by gender, belt rank and weight class but also by age ranges as well. Below are the typical age brackets for sport Jiu Jitsu. Note that anyone who meets the minimum age requirement for a given bracket can compete there regardless of age. For instance, just because you turn 30 doesn’t mean you are no longer eligible for the Adult bracket, but you are now able to move up to Master 1 if you choose.
- Juvenile 1: 16-17 years old.
- Juvenile 2: 17-18 years old
- Adult: 18 and up
- Master 1: 30-35 years old
- Master 2: 36-40 years old
- Master 3: 41-45 years old
- Master 4: 46-50 years old
- Master 5: 51-55 years old
- Master 6: 56-60 years old
Rulesets and Scoring
In sport Jiu Jitsu there are many different rulesets, here is a breakdown of the three most popular and commonly used rulesets and scoring systems.
The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation was founded by Carlos Gracie Jr. and is one of the longest running and most prestigious tournament organizers in the sport. They use the CBJJ ruleset (Confederação Brasileira de Jiu-Jitsu) which has become one of the most commonly used in sport Jiu Jitsu.
- Mount - 4 pts
- Back Mount - 4 pts
- Guard Pass - 3 pts
- Knee on Belly - 2 pts
- Sweep - 2 pts
- Takedown - 2 pts
The Abu Dhabi Combat Club was founded in 1998 by Sheik Tahnoun Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and has become the premier submission grappling event of the year featuring many Jiu Jitsu specialists along with practitioners of other submission grappling arts. The ruleset differs substantially from most
particularly with no positive points being awarded until the first half (5 minutes) of the match is up, and giving a negative 1 point penalty for pulling guard. These changes incentivize a more aggressive and submission hunting style.
Scoring (after the first half of the match)
- Mount - 2 pts
- Back Mount - 3 pts
- Guard Pass - 3 pts
- Knee on Belly - 2 pts
- Sweep (ending in guard or half guard) - 2 pts
- Clean Sweep (ending past the guard) - 4 pts
- Takedown (ending in guard or half guard) - 2pts
- Clean Takedown (ending past the guard) - 4 pts
For a detailed breakdown of legal and illegal techniques refer to the ADCC website here.
In 2014, 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu founder Eddie Bravo created the Eddie Bravo Invitational, a No-Gi submission-only tournament that doesn’t have a traditional scoring system and adds a unique overtime rule. If there is no submission within the 10 minute time limit then the referee will choose an athlete based on their match performance who will be given the choice between Offense and Defense. That athlete will then choose to attack or defend from full back mount or spiderweb armbar position, whoever achieves a submission or the fastest submissions wins. If both athletes are able to escape then the fastest escape wins.
Although EBI tournaments are not currently active this submission favoring rule set has become popular for No-Gi tournaments and superfights.
The art of Jiu Jitsu is not only a fascinating sport, and martial art but a mental practice that can help improve various aspects of our lives. Not only are we gaining confidence, getting in shape, and learning a new skill, we’re ultimately building a diverse community of like minded people focused on the shared goal of self improvement. That alone makes all the blood, sweat, and tears worth it.
Welcome to the family, see you on the mats.
About the Author
This article was written by Taylor Alexander, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Purple Belt.
You can learn more about him here.