Wondering What Is BJJ? The 3 levels of Jiu Jitsu understanding explained

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What is BJJ?

If you train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), chances are you’ve been asked a very simple question – but one that you may have struggled to answer: what is BJJ?

A few sentences about fighting on the ground and trying to choke someone may lead to more confusion than anything and the question remains unanswered: what is BJJ?

It’s possible that a family member or co-worker confuses your sport with Karate (wait, so you can’t kick people in the head?!), and your friends who don’t train can’t understand why their 9-year-old cousin received a black belt in some other martial art in 3 years’ time while you’ve been a white belt for 2 full years.


What is BJJ: On the Surface

For many people watching from the outside, BJJ is just the boring part of a mixed martial arts fight – where two competitors roll around on the ground in a strange entanglement of limbs and sweat.

To someone who has never trained martial arts, or who has never even really watched two skilled grapplers battle it out, BJJ can seem like pure chaos!

Some people jokingly refer to BJJ as “forced yoga”, and when grapplers wear a gi (or kimono) they are playfully called “pyjama wrestlers”.

With the golden question still unanswered for a lot of newcomers (what is BJJ?), here are a few of the basic elements at the foundation of the most effective martial art in the world.

  • Fighting takes place on the ground, and striking is not the first choice of attack. The majority of physical altercations will end up on the ground – knowing BJJ is your best bet for navigating the dangerous waters of ground-fighting using technique and strategy to get out of harm’s way and disengage or to position yourself to return an attack.
  • Instead of punching and kicking, BJJ focuses its attacks on strangles and joint locks (arms and legs). A much more efficient way of defeating attackers is using mechanical leverage to strangle an individual unconscious using one’s own arms or legs, or to apply breaking pressure to one of the major joints of the opponent’s body (shoulder, elbow wrist, knee, ankle).
  • Technique and leverage are known to beat strength and aggression. Although this may be the case for many martial arts, this is particularly true for BJJ. Countless occasions have shown the smaller individual using technique, leverage, knowledge, and strategy to defeat a larger, stronger, more aggressive opponent.


What is BJJ: Going a Bit Deeper

The benefits that come from training BJJ are endless. Besides being a must-know for fighters, BJJ is arguably the best martial art available for teaching individuals practical and realistic skills for self-defence.

Further, training BJJ is a phenomenal way to lose weight, improve your fitness level, or make sure you’re reaching your recommended weekly physical activity. BJJ can help improve body composition, improve flexibility and strength, and in time develop your cardiovascular fitness to a point you didn’t know was possible!

BJJ is also known for great for helping individuals develop major life skills that can be applied to different areas of one’s life outside of the gym – at work, in school, and with family and friends. Spending time training BJJ develops discipline, character, resilience, communication, goal-setting, among many other life skills.

Everyone who trains BJJ will benefit from the sport to some degree, but there is something to be said for smaller, weaker individuals who develop confidence and self-efficacy through their improvements on the mats over time. These individuals are empowered when they learn they can dominate a larger opponent using strategy and technique – a valuable lesson for all to learn, but specifically for children and smaller, less athletic adults.


What is BJJ: The Deepest Level

At the deepest level, BJJ is a beautifully complex and unbelievably efficient martial art that has captivated some of the world’s smartest minds with its cognitive nature. To say that BJJ is a thinking man’s game is an understatement.

BJJ has often been compared to human chess, in part because of the many grips and positions one’s limbs can take, and the strategic and almost philosophical nature of the decision-making during a fight.

UFC commentator, comedian, and podcaster Joe Rogan (who also has black belts in BJJ from both Eddie Bravo and Jean Jacques Machado) describes BJJ as “high level problem solving with dire physical consequences.”

And we return to the original question: what is BJJ?

Well, two individuals simulate fighting to the death by using knowledge of positional technique, biomechanical leverage, and strategy to outsmart one another. Once a choke or a joint lock is considered worthy of ending a fight, the losing fighter submits by tapping their opponent (symbolic of giving up), and is let free of the hold – only to slap hands and begin the dance again.

The New School of BJJ

A strong BJJ competition scene has existed with the gi for years, with most major tournaments being hosted by the IBJJF.

In recent years, the no-gi grappling circuit has gained much notoriety, with promotions like EBI, Polaris, and Finisher’s Sub-Only adding to the already exciting landscape of no-gi tournaments offered by the IBJJF and ADCC.

These no-gi grappling shows aim to share the art of BJJ with the masses, in an attempt to engage and captivate the attention of the uninitiated with exciting scrambles, positional exchanges, and devastating submissions.

Many of these no-gi competitions and special matches are exploring a submission-only rules format, where unlike other major competitions, points are disregarded in lieu of an emphasis on finishing the fight. This exciting ruleset has begun to revolutionize BJJ for athletes and spectators alike, and this may be the next step necessary in order to truly share the art with the masses and grow the sport to an enormous level.

BJJ is becoming more popular with every day, as more and more people are diving into the world of grappling. Whether it be recreational, competitive, or for lifestyle changes – BJJ can do a lot for you.

What is BJJ for you?

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