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Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is also known as Gracie Jiu Jitsu or by the acronyms BJJ, GJJ. Technically the two are more or less the same and I won't go into the politics of how they are different. Likewise this is different from Japanese version or Traditional Jiu Jitsu, again, I won't point the differences in this review.
I have trained in BJJ for seven years and am ranked at brown belt. Read this review for what it is, I feel it is important to come to your own decision on the usefulness of this or other martial arts, everyone will tell you theirs is superior, so try them and find out for yourself.
Where does it come from. The origins is not disputed much but the actual chain of events are. Here is a simplified history. A Japanese Judoka, Mitsuyo Maeda taught Judo/Jiu Jitsu in Brazil to Carlos Gracie, who in turned taught it to Helio Gracie, where Helio then introduced greater use of leverage as a tool due to his smaller and weaker body. From there Helio arguably taught what is now known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Although BJJ is synonymous with the Gracie family I should also point out that there are other lineages of this art as Maeda taught other Brazilians alongside Carlos. Because Helio was small and because he better integrated the use of leverage, BJJ is considered useful for the smaller person up against a larger one.
Moving onto what BJJ is all about. The style is predominantly ground based, it is mostly a grappling art. The reasoning behind this is that fighting inevitably leads to the two combatants clinching and the fight ending up on the ground, or the combatants clash and one gets knocked down and the fight ends up on the ground. Or the fight gets immediately taken to the ground as one or both 'wrestles' each other to the ground.
This is best illustrated by watching Gracie In Action, a two volume video or DVD set where there are recorded videos of challenge matches between exponents of BJJ and other styles and 'street fighters'. The internet is a wonderful resource here, search freely for videos on the internet to see what happens in real fights, or fights between different styles.
Back to the reasoning, so with a focus on ground fighting, There is a 90 per cent split I would say between actual grappling on the floor, trying to end a fight, and 10 per cent attempting to get the takedown of the opponent. This will vary from school to school, instructor to instructor and which of the four categories you fall into, but shouldn't vary much too much from this. Any more towards getting the takedown and it is starts getting closer to wrestling or judo and away from BJJ. BJJ's main attack arsenal are chokes and joint manipulations. Chokes use leverage against the arteries in your neck to temporary stop blood flow to the brain. Without this blood flow, which contains your supply of oxygen, the brain will shut down in seconds, causing unconsciousness. Warning, continuing to withhold oxygen to the brain can cause brain damage and death. Join manipulation is hyper-extending the large joints (shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees, ankles) using leverage until they break. The reason small joints are used, such as fingers, is because they are smaller and harder to get at in given situations,
Wait, there are four categories? Yes, there are four quite distinctive categories I am aware of, feel free to disagree. They are; self defence, no-gi, sport jiu jitsu and value tudo.
Now lets go through these.
Self defence. This is the core behind what Jiu Jitsu is all about, these days it is not the most prominent form. BJJ was evolved so that the smaller, weaker person could defend themselves against a larger attacker. If you will consider a small person, what are the chances of them knocking out a large attacker with punches and kicks? Even if the attacker gave a free shot? In a situation like this, you can more easily see the large person pushing or punching the small person to the ground. Then bingo, into the world of BJJ. The BJJ techniques in self defence are just that. They prepare the person to defend themselves and get away, stop an attack and get away, get away before they are attacked. Only if necessary do the other aspects of ending the situation come forth. BJJ is taught to professionals such as the US Army and FBI, again I feel it is important for you to substantiate these claims as many other martial arts also claim these and the best person to trust for this research is youself.
No-Gi. BJJ is trained in a gi, this is like a judo uniform and the original reasoning is that it provided clothing that was better wearing than regular clothes. But on a beach (Brazil remember), no one wears a gi, so equally there is training in BJJ where you are no longer wearing a gi, no-gi. This creates a slightly different set of scenarios where you now have nothing to grab, the only available grips are holding wrists, arms etc. But the basic techniques will still apply in this form.
Sport Jiu Jitsu. Inevitably, those who train Jiu Jitsu want to test themselves against others and instead of starting fights all the time, a competition circuit was created. Here the principle would be to stop your opponent by making them submit to your superior choke or joint manipulation. However this is a sport with time limits, rules and points awarded. The focus in this category then is to be the best within the given rules of the sport. This creates for some exciting new techniques, exciting fights and rivalries, the chance for anyone to compete and other benefits of team sports.
Vale Tudo. This is old school. Originally it meant fighting without rules, headbutts, striking. This is like a street fight but in a ring or cage. This category is better shown through the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). This was created by the Gracie family to showcase BJJ by pitting one martial art against another. Eventually this has morphed into mixed martial arts (MMA) as it is known today, and only a fool would say BJJ was not a key part of this.
A more general view, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is, as mentioned, a grappling style. This means that you will be using you whole body to achieve end results. This in turn means you will be using all your muscles in your body, so you end up building a great sweat and have a thorough workout. The first few classes should leave you thinking 'I didn't know I had muscles there'. Both men and women train BJJ, but because it is a very close contact sport, it can put people off what looks like two people hugging each other on the ground.
I wholeheartedly recommend BJJ, train it with your common sense and it'll work in any situation. Those you train more intensely will tell you it is a way of life. I train as a hobby these days, but will always keep my finger on it's pulse to stay current.
Should you choose to start Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it is very important to choose a legitimate school or academy. The answer here again is the internet. Any good school will have some presence on the internet. All legitimate black belts can have their lineage legitimately traced to Maeda at the beginning of this post and you need to ensure yours does. Not just because they said so, but because a trail can be found which can also be confirmed by multiple sources. There are many unscrupulous people out there claiming to teach BJJ without any actual knowledge or even self promoting them to black belts. Again, look up their names on the internet, fakes can be found out and you need to avoid them.
Good luck in your journey if you choose to start BJJ.