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Encyclopedia > Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), also known as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (GJJ), is a martial art that was developed in Brazil by the Gracie family during the mid-20th century. Originally based on the Japanese Martial art of Judo as it existed before World War II and the Changes of Douglas MacArthur acting as Supreme Commander Allied Powers, it has since developed into a relatively independent system with a large emphasis on ground fighting and grappling.



A Japanese judoka, prizefighter, and member of the Kodokan named Mitsuo Maeda emigrated to Brazil in the 1910s and was helped greatly by a Brazillian politician named Gast o Gracie. In return for his aid, Maeda taught Judo to Gast o's son Carlos, who then taught the art to his brothers, including H lio Gracie. Through their own study and development, Carlos and H lio are regarded as the originators of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a style of distinct from Kodokan Judo.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu became internationally prominent in the martial arts community in the 1990s, when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Royce Gracie won several Ultimate Fighting Championships against experienced and much larger opponents using the style.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu inherited an emphasis on using off-balancing, leverage, and the opponent's own power, as well as a majority of it's technique from Kodokan Judo. However, since that time there has been considerable divergence between Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, although some argue that the difference is more in the culture and the moral goals of the arts than in the physical principles and techniques of the two arts.

The main difference is that Judo in it's Olympic Sport form emphasizes throws, while Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes submission. Judo does not allow leg-locks and also has a much higher amount of referee intervention during matches (the competitors are often returned to the standing position, while Jiu-Jitsu generally allows its participants to patiently work towards a submission).

Factors which contributed to the divergence include the Gracies' desire to create a national martial art, the influence of Brazilian culture, the non-participation of the Gracie schools in sport judo, the postwar closing of the Kodokan (which was only allowed to reopen on the condition that emphasis be shifted towards sport), as well as the Gracies' own additions to the body of technique and opinions regarding self-defense, martial arts and training methods, and, more recently, the influence of mixed-martial-art competitions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship.


Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes ground fighting techniques and submission holds involving joint locks and chokeholds. The premise is that most of the advantage of a larger, stronger opponent comes from superior reach and more powerful strikes, both of which are largely negated if wrestling on the ground; and if either fighter wants the fight to go to the ground, it will. Once the opponent is on the ground, a number of maneuvers (and counter-maneuvers) are available to manipulate the opponent into suitable position for the application of a submission hold. This system of maneuvering and manipulation can be likened to a form of kinetic chess when contested between two experienced practitioners. A submission hold is the equivalent of checkmate.

Submission holds can be grouped into two broad categories. Joint locks and chokes. Joint locks typically involve isolating an opponent's limb and creating a lever with your own body position which will force the joint to move past its normal range of motion. Pressure is increased in a controlled manner and if the opponent cannot escape the hold then they may signal defeat by submitting. The commonly accepted form of submission is to tap the opponent, gym mat, or even yourself three times (verbal submission is also acceptable but less common).

Alternatively, one could apply a chokehold (or more accurately a strangulation), cutting off blood to the brain, causing unconsciousness if the opponent refuses to tap out. Most BJJ "chokes" involve constriction of the carotid artery. This differs from the more instinctive choking movements which generally involve constriction of the windpipe. Though this distinction may at first seem subtle it is in fact very significant (commonly referred to as "blood" and "air" chokes respectively). Air chokes are highly inefficient and may result in damage to the opponent's trachea, sometimes even resulting in death. Contrastingly, blood chokes directly cut the flow of blood off from the opponent's brain causing a rapid shutdown of consciousness without damaging the internal structure. Being "choked-out" in this way is actually relatively safe as long as the choke is released soon after unconsciousness, letting blood (and therefore oxygen) back into the brain before the damages of oxygen deprivation begin.

The prevalence of the dangerous "air" chokes has actually led to the banning of chokeholds from some United States police departments. Because of the negative legal connotations of the words choke and even strangulation one is advised to use the term "lateral vascular restraint" when describing a blood choke used in a self-defense situation.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's emphasis on joint locks and maneuvering rather than strikes means that one's technique can be practiced at full speed and full power, identical to the effort and technique used in a real fight. Training partners can resist and counter just as they would in an actual fight, providing valuable real-world experience should the techniques ever need to be applied in an actual fight. This practice of live training, officially called Randori but commonly known as "rolling" in BJJ circles, is considered by many BJJ practitioners to be the major factor differentiating combat sports (ex. BJJ, Judo, Boxing, Wrestling) from traditional martial arts (ex. Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido).

In modern times, many forms of sport fighting have come into vogue. During competition, these styles award points for attacking with certain techniques. For example, a competitor may be awarded 2 points for kicking his or her opponent in the body and 3 points for kicks delivered to the head. Coinciding with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's considerable surge in popularity, many tournaments now disallow striking in favor of grappling. The rules for these contests reward points to a competitor that has obtained a position considered to be advantageous. In the event that no combatant was submitted outright, the winner will be determined by these points.

The main emphasis in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is to dominate the opponent through skillful application of technique and force them to quit (submit). By using the techniques of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a smaller practitioner, male or female, can control much larger and stronger opponents and actually force that larger opponent to submit.


One of the things that separates Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from other martial arts is the importance of competition. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu you must be able to beat 90% of those in your current belt (those in respective age/weight class). So that on average it takes 1 year to make Blue, 2 more years to Purple, 3 more years to Brown, and 4 more years to Black. It takes 8 - 10 years to make it to Black making it one of the longest and hardest martial arts for Black Belt. All schools vary and there are exceptions but this is the norm.

The standards for grading and belt promotions vary between schools, but the widely accepted measures of a person's skill and rank in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are (1) the amount of technical knowledge they can demonstrate on the mat, and (2) their performance in competition.

Technical knowledge is judged by the number of techniques a person can perform, and the level of skill with which he performs them. This allows for smaller and older people to be recognized for their knowledge though they may not be the biggest and strongest fighters in the school.

Competitions play an important role in the grading of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as they allow an instructor to compare the level of his students against those of the same rank in other schools. A belt promotion may be given after success in a competition, particularly at the lower belts. A promotion might also be awarded when a person can submit most people in his school of the same rank, e.g. a white belt who consistently submits most other white belts in sparring.

The high level of competition between schools and its importance to belt promotion is also considered to be one of the key factors preventing instructors from lowering standards or allowing people to buy their way up the belts.

Many instructors also take the personality of the person and their behavior outside of class into account, and may refuse to promote someone if they exhibit antisocial or destructive tendancies.

It is by these and other criteria that most instructors promote their students. A few schools may also have formal testing, and include oral or written exams.

Children's belts (15 and under)

  • White
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Green

Adult's belts (16 and over)

  • White
  • Blue
  • Purple
  • Brown
  • Black

A green and yellow belt is worn by one fighter during competition for scoring puposes, and may be worn over their normal belt.

Blue belts are rarely awarded to anyone below the age of 16, though experienced children will usually receive a blue belt when they switch to adult classes. The minimum age for a black belt is 18.

Stripes, like the belts themselves, tend to be awarded at the instructor's discretion, and may be in recognition of accomplishments like submitting a higher belt in sparring or noticeably improving. Unlike belts however, not all schools award stripes, or award them consistently, so the number of stripes a person has is not necessarily a good measure of their accomplishments or time in training.

Black belts receive degrees every three years for as long as they train. At 9th degree, the black belt is replaced by an alternately red and black belt, and at 10th degree the belt is replaced with a solid red one.

As instructors, only black belts can promote others up to black belt level. Some schools allow lower instructor to promote their students to one rank below their own, e.g. a brown can promote his students as high as purple but no further.

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