Reflections on the world of BJJ

small icons GET FIT
small icons HAVE FUN

What is Gracie Jiu Jitsu?

April 01, 2023

What is Gracie Jiu Jitsu?

Gracie Jiu Jitsu, also known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or BJJ, is a martial art that focuses on practical self defense in real-world situations. It includes both grappling and striking, with a strong focus on ground fighting techniques.

BJJ was developed in the early 20th century by the Gracie family in Brazil. Carlos Gracie and his brother Helio adapted traditional Japanese Judo techniques to create a more effective fighting style for self defense. The Gracie family continued to sharpen the techniques over many decades in street fights and "Vale Tudo" (anything goes) matches held throughout Brazil.

Several Gracie family members began introducing their art to the United States in the 1980s, where it quickly gained a following among martial arts enthusiasts. With help from Rorion Gracie, eldest son of Grandmaster Helio Gracie, television shows and movies began to feature BJJ moves. For example, in the final fight scene of the 1987 movie Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson choked out Gary Busey with a BJJ triangle choke. Since its introduction to the United States, BJJ has gained popularity throughout the world, becoming one of the most widely practiced self-defense systems and combat sports.

BJJ practitioners aim to defend themselves against their opponents using a variety of grappling and striking techniques. BJJ grappling techniques include clinches, takedowns, chokes, joint locks, sweeps, and reversals. The goal is to immobilize the opponent and force them to submit using a submission hold or choke. BJJ also has striking techniques, though these are not as well-known today, particularly in schools that emphasize the sporting aspects of the art rather than its self-defense roots. At my academy (Cactus Jiu Jitsu Academy in Scottsdale, AZ), we teach the full Gracie Jiu Jitsu self-defense toolkit, including both grappling and striking techniques.

BJJ emphasizes the use of technique and leverage over brute force and strength, making it a suitable martial art for individuals of all ages and sizes. Size and weight certainly matter in a fight, but they can be overcome by the use of solid technique by skilled BJJ practitioners. Some of the toughest people I know are much smaller and skinnier than I am, but they have insanely good BJJ skills. That is one of the reasons why BJJ instructors often advise people to "leave your ego at the door." 

BJJ has a ranking system that involves the use of colored belts. Adult students (16 and older) begin as white belts and progress through a series of colored belts, including blue, purple, brown, and black. Within each rank, students periodically receive stripes indicating their progress towards the next belt.

Child students have a different belt ranking system that helps them navigate through belts more quickly, helping them to learn goal-setting, discipline, and focus. The ranking system provides a clear path for advancement, allowing students to track their progress and set goals for improvement. I find it amazing to see how well the belt system works for helping kids learn to set goals and work toward achieving them.

BJJ competitions have gained in popularity in recent years and are a useful aspect of the art for those who are interested in testing their skills outside of their own school. Competitions take place at the local, regional, and international levels, and participants are divided into weight classes and skill levels. Competitors aim to score points by executing takedowns, achieving dominant positions, and submitting their opponents.

Today, BJJ students can choose different pathways based on their own interests. For some, BJJ is simply a fun and vigorous form of exercise that helps them escape the stress and anxiety of daily life. For others, its main benefit is to learn a potent and proven form of self defense that helps them feel safer and more confident.

Some people really appreciate the sporting aspects of BJJ, providing them with an opportunity to test their skills at the local, regional, national, and international levels. Others study BJJ because it is one of the core elements of being a well-prepared and well-rounded mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. If you are interested in studying BJJ, you get to choose the paths that are right for you.

BJJ offers a range of physical, mental, and social benefits. Its physical benefits include improvements in cardiovascular health, strength, flexibility, and agility. BJJ is a great way to stay in shape. For older BJJ practitioners like me (I'm 55), it is a great way to stay active and feel younger than your actual age.

BJJ also requires a high level of focus, concentration, and problem-solving skills, which can help improve cognitive function and reduce stress levels. BJJ training involves such a high degree of focus that students are able to leave their problems at the door and not think about them once they enter the academy. There is something quite special about an activity that can liberate you temporarily from life's many stressors. BJJ's focus on practical self defense also helps people feel safer and more confident.

From a social standpoint, BJJ promotes a sense of community and camaraderie among practitioners, creating a supportive and encouraging environment in which people can grow and develop their skills together. I feel so lucky to be a part of the BJJ community, especially the Pedro Sauer Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Association and the amazing community we have built at my own academy.

BJJ is a dynamic and exciting martial art that offers a range of physical, mental, and social benefits. With its emphasis on technique and leverage over brute force, it provides a practical and effective means of self defense for people of all ages and sizes. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or a beginner looking to try something new, BJJ offers a challenging and rewarding way to improve your health, happiness, and overall well-being.

--Ed Maguire

About the author: Ed Maguire is a black belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu under Master Pedro Sauer. He is also the owner of Cactus Jiu Jitsu Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona.


We welcome everyone regardless of age or athletic ability

Still have questions? Contact us!

Please wait.....