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[EXPLAINED] What Is Jiu-Jitsu? | The Best Martial Art

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So you’re new to the world of Jiu-Jitsu and you’re wondering what it is?

Jiu-Jitsu is a form of grappling (fighting on the ground) derived from Judo that involves the use of takedowns, control, and submissions for neutralizing an opponent. Jiu-Jitsu is trained as both a self-defense art as well as a grappling sport.

Many regard Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as the best martial art in the world.

This is because BJJ allows you to control an opponent, reducing potential damage to both yourself and your attacker.

However, when the need arises, you can also be very lethal.

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Jiu-Jitsu changed the world of martial arts, and arguably sparked what is quickly becoming the biggest sport in the world: mixed martial arts or MMA

With the introduction of Jiu-Jitsu to the mainstream, it’s forced other martial arts to improve their game to remain relevant.

Still, a skilled BJJ practitioner who understands striking defense will almost always win in a fight using control and submission holds.

Submissions in Jiu-Jitsu are evolving every day, with new versions being discovered all the time in both gi and nogi.

Some submission attempts are considered riskier than others because it places the person attacking at considerably more risk than is necessary to finish a fight.

We’ll look at why these high-risk submissions exist in a little bit, but first, let’s look at the meaning and origin of Jiu-Jitsu to better understand why it exists as a martial art.

And why it’s considered the most effective self-defense system in the world.

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What Does Jiu-Jitsu Mean In Japanese?

Jiu-Jitsu is the commonly used English spelling of the Japanese word Jujutsu.

There is another, less common spelling which is: JuJitsu.

The term Jujutsu actually consists of two words, essentially:

Ju – Meaning “gentle” in Japanese
Jutsu – Meaning “art” in Japanese

So the direct translation of JuJutsu, or the more often used Jiu-Jitsu is “Gentle Art”.

This term the “Gentle Art” is often used tongue in cheek by the Jiu-Jitsu community, because it’s actually quite the opposite.

Especially considering that most attacking moves in Jiu-Jitsu are not so gentle and can in fact maim or kill an opponent.

How To Pronounce Jiu-Jitsu

Here’s a quick voice clip on how to pronounce Jiu-Jitsu:

Jiu-Jitsu Pronunciation

The History Of Jiu-Jitsu

Believe it or not, Jiu-Jitsu and Judo were once the same things.

The Gracie family took the ground-game of Judo and developed it into its own art form, today known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Jiu-Jitsu was used by Samurai warriors in Japan as a last resort, normally when they’d lost all their weapons. The art that they developed is in fact Judo, with limited ground fighting known as Newaza. It’s this form of ground fighting which was eventually developed into what we now know as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The Gracie family learned about Judo from a judoka that traveled to Brazil from Japan in 1917.

His name was Mitsuyo Maeda, and he taught the art of Kodokan Judo to the Gracie brothers.

Most notably Carlos Gracie and his younger brother Hélio Gracie.

The Hisory of Jiu Jitsu
Hélio Gracie and Carlos Gracie

This is not to say that BJJ was solely developed by the Gracies, but they are the reason that the art is now world-renowned and has continued evolving as a martial art.

The Gracie family wouldn’t actually refer to their Jiu-Jitsu as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but rather Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

What’s The Difference Between Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and BJJ?

Today Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is associated more with the self-defense aspects of the art, rather than what is believed to be the more sport-oriented Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The main difference between GJJ and BJJ is the focus of the training. GJJ focuses mainly on using moves that account for strikes and/or weapon defense, arguably more suited for self-defense. BJJ focuses on training to fight other trained BJJ practitioners, using moves that wouldn’t be recommended in the streets.

You’ll see the debate between GJJ and BJJ come up from time-to-time in online Jiu-Jitsu communities.

Many arguing that BJJ would be completely ineffective in a street fight because of its lack of emphasis on self-defense.

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Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu will favor the top positions, focusing only on the control for the purposes of submitting an attacker while reducing the risk of personal injury as much as possible. There tend to be fewer techniques used in GJJ, because it focuses mainly on techniques that are safe to execute against an attacker with less grappling experience.

Focusing on fewer techniques is not necessarily a bad thing, most Black Belts will tell you that perfecting fewer techniques is better than knowing a thousand.

Even the great Bruce Lee once said:

The GJJ curriculum for White Belts includes what’s called Gracie Combatives, where all techniques that are chosen have to adhere to two distinct criteria:

  1. The technique must be safe enough to keep you from being punched unconscious
  2. The technique does not require a Gi for it to be executed

These two criteria are applied to all control positions, transitions and submissions.

If a technique doesn’t adhere to one of these points, then it’s deemed too dangerous to be executed in the street.

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Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

BJJ differs from GJJ because of the intent of the training. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you train to fight other trained grapplers, without consideration for strikes and weapons defense. The curriculum of techniques in BJJ tends to be more extensive due to this factor.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is considered more of a sport than a form of self-defense, compared to GJJ.

However, most would argue that even a Blue Belt level BJJ practitioner would be able to defend themselves with very little effort in a real-life scenario.

High-level grapplers who consider themselves BJJ practitioners will often focus on fewer techniques for their competitive arsenal.

They prefer to work on and understand their most high-percentage techniques in as much depth as possible, rather than perfecting a wider range of techniques which is less effective.

A great example of a high-level grappler who sticks to the basics would be Roger Gracie, who’s probably one of the best BJJ competitors of all time.

He is able to submit world champions with what would normally be considered a White Belt level technique.

Here’s a highlight reel from some of his matches. Nothing fancy, only what works every time:

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What Is The Point Of Jiu-Jitsu?

So you’re probably wondering what the point of all this is.

Why roll around with sweaty training partners, risking severe injury, and always having a sore body from training?

The point of Jiu-Jitsu is simply to defend yourself with the best tool at your disposal, your mind. BJJ teaches you that knowledge and technique will almost always beat strength and force. The more you train and obtain knowledge, the more capable you’ll be when defending yourself and your loved ones.

BJJ was developed as a martial art in large part to allow the smaller opponent to even the playing field as much as possible.

Jiu-Jitsu is one of the few martial arts where the size of your opponent matters very little if he has little to no grappling skills.

Why Is Jiu-Jitsu So Effective?

Jiu-Jitsu is so effective because it specializes in ground fighting, which relies almost completely on the element of control. From defense to offense, the person who is able to achieve the most control in the form of effective grips and positional dominance will almost always win the fight.

In contrast, striking arts like Boxing or Muay Thai achieve very little control of their opponents.

Relying mostly on perfectly timed punches or kicks to neutralize an opponent.

The best-case scenario for a striker that’s defending is that an opponent is only able to strike a less fragile part of their body.

Like a shin defending a leg kick or an arm defending a hook.

BJJ aims to remove ANY possibility of being hurt while controlling and submitting an opponent.

Very often submission isn’t even necessary, especially if you’re able to achieve effective control.

Meaning you’re able to end a fight, even without hurting your opponent.

This is why more and more law enforcement agencies are choosing Jiu-Jitsu as their preferred training requirement because it reduces the risk to both the officer as well as a suspect.

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Can Jiu-Jitsu Kill?

I suppose this is a pretty obvious question you’d ask about any martial art.

Especially if the martial art you’re training needs to be used in situations where your own life or the lives of those you care about are in danger.

So can you kill someone with Jiu-Jitsu?

Jiu-Jitsu is very capable of being lethal. The majority would argue that BJJ is the most effective way to kill an attacker in self-defense, without a weapon. Though this is not what Jiu-Jitsu advocates for. The philosophy of The Gentle Art is to end a fight with the least possible damage to either person.

This idea of ending a fight while reducing damage is quite a paradox for a martial art that can do the MOST damage.

Every finishing move in Jiu-Jitsu forces either a voluntary or involuntary submission.

Your opponent will either tap because you’re about to maim them or choke them unconscious.

If your opponent doesn’t tap, well you can imagine what happens next.

Is There Hitting In Jiu-Jitsu?

The majority of BJJ academies don’t train striking because it is primarily a grappling art.

Many Jiu-Jitsu academies will practice striking defense, but none really focus on striking as a weapon. There is however a BJJ competition format known as Combat Jiu-Jitsu, invented by Eddie Bravo. It involves the use of palm strikes for opening up submissions, an intermediary step between BJJ and MMA.

Some Jiu-Jitsu practitioners that are thinking about starting MMA will use Combat Jiu-Jitsu (CJJ) as a way of slowly introducing their game to striking.

MMA fighters who are at the tail-end of their careers will also often transition over to Combat Jiu-Jitsu because it’s less brutal on the body but still gives them the thrill they’re looking for in competition.

How Useful Is Jiu-Jitsu?

Interestingly enough, the usefulness of all martial arts is now able to be tested pretty effectively.

We do this using MMA matches, where only the most useful and effective martial arts will win.

The history of MMA has shown us how useful Jiu-Jitsu is. Knowing how to fight on the ground will be the deciding factor for most fights, the better grappler will almost always win. As a result, striking specialists in MMA now focus a good chunk of their time on takedown defense and keeping the fight on the feet.

If a striker doesn’t understand how to keep the fight upright, a good Jiu-Jitsu practitioner will be able to close the distance and get the fight to the ground where they are most effective.

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Is Jiu-Jitsu Good For Self-Defense?

This should be the first and only question you ask of your martial art.

Is it useful in a self-defense situation where your or your family’s life depends on it? The simple answer is, yes.

In a one-on-one situation, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has proven to be the most effective martial for self-defense. It focuses on controlling and submitting an attacker, while simultaneously reducing the damage to yourself. The concept of control that leads to submission has proven effective both in MMA and in street fights.

I’ve trained in Karate, Muay Thai, and Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve found BJJ to be the most effective way to defend myself.

When I trained in striking arts I always felt a level of risk because there are so many uncertainties.

With Jiu-Jitsu I feel more in control of my fate, this is so important for self-confidence. Knowing what you’re capable of will prevent you from falling for intimidation tactics, giving you the freedom to live your life the way you want.

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