We have been working with our web-developer to do some refinement of our SEO, and in that process I became aware of some interesting information regarding search trends. Here in the Portland-metro area, searches for things like “martial arts” and “self-defense” have spiked by over a whopping one-thousand percent! While I had no idea on the magnitude of that increase, I cannot say I am surprised to get confirmation that is has increased significantly. In our brick-and-mortar gym we have offered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) for close to eight years now, and the majority of the time a new person starts with us it is because they specifically want to learn BJJ. However, as of late there has been a shift to where a lot of new people want to learn to protect themselves / self-defense, and they just know that we “do martial arts” but they have no knowledge of what BJJ is specifically. With that in mind, I wanted to share a high-level overview of what BJJ is and how it came to be.
To start, it is important to understand that there are two primary categories of un-armed (no weapons) martial arts: striking and grappling. Striking arts focus on throwing punches, kicks, knees, elbows, and so on to cause damage to your opponent. Some examples of striking arts include boxing, kickboxing, karate, and tae kwon do. Grappling arts do not utilize strikes like punches or kicks, but instead they emphasize wrestling-esque techniques to achieve dominance over your opponent. The end-goal of the various grappling arts can be somewhat unique to each style, and might be to throw your opponent down to the ground, it could be to pin them on their back, or it could be to get them to “tap out” by putting them into a submission hold. Examples of grappling arts include BJJ / Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, sambo, and judo.
Before moving on, a quick note on vocabulary. There are many terms that are more or less interchangeable (or close to it) that describe BJJ. To be honest the differences are minor enough that for someone new to the conversation it is more or less splitting hairs. So, to help avoid confusion, if you are new to the BJJ scene you can consider these terms more or less interchangeable: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu / BJJ, Gracie Jiu Jitsu, the recently coined term of American Jiu Jitsu, and what a lot of people are gravitating to lately which is to just call it “Jiu Jitsu” with no qualifier.
OK, so now you have a bit of vocabulary and understand that BJJ is a grappling art. You might be asking yourself, “What makes it different? Why is it so effective, successful, and popular?” In the interest of keeping this brief, I’ll try to stick to a short bullet point list. Keep in mind there are literally books written on this topic, so this is going to be little more than a high-level overview:
- BJJ is unequivocally the best martial art for teaching you to fight / defend yourself off of your back. This is a crucial skill to have, especially if your opponent might be larger and more physically imposing than you.
- BJJ has a heavy emphasis on using angles, leverage, and timing in its techniques, which allow a smaller practitioner to still have success against larger and more physical opponents.
- BJJ trains you to move through something called a “positional hierarchy.” In short, this basically means that you will be progressing through increasingly dominant pins and means of control, culminating in you achieving positions where your opponent has nearly no ability to inflict harm on you, but you have ample opportunity to impose your will on your opponent (be it holding them in a pin, applying a submission hold, or even by delivering strikes like punches or elbows should the situation call for it).
- Riding the coat-tails of the bullet point above, BJJ is ideal for a situation where you want to control someone without EITHER person getting injured – them or you. BJJ trains you to be able to put the person in a hold or pin that you can control for a long period of time that requires little effort / energy on your part, and does not injure your opponent in the process.
- Striking arts are difficult to do this with, because when you land a strong punch or kick you can cause serious damage … a broken nose, broken jaw, a concussion, and so on.
- To get good at anything it is important to get frequent practice with real resistance. Practicing techniques with a fully cooperative partner is a crucial part to training, but in-and-of itself is incomplete. You must eventually practice against fully uncooperative training partners so that you are ready for it when you face a REAL uncooperative opponent, such as in a tournament you have entered, or, worst-case, in a self-defense setting. For those not familiar, having a match against an uncooperative training partner is called “sparring.”
- Striking arts are fantastic, but one limitation that they have is that sparring can be quite hard on the body. Most adults have no interest in going to work with busted lips and black eyes. Due to this, sparring has to be using sparingly.
- Grappling arts, on the other hand, are much easier on the body when it comes to sparring. In fact, once BJJ students reach a certain experience level, they should expect to do at least some sparring in nearly every class. Not only does this build fitness and self-confidence, it “stress tests” your techniques so that you know without a doubt what works with high-percentage against a fully uncooperative opponent.
Again, this was meant to be little more than a high-level overview for those who are curious to learn a little more about BJJ. At the end of the day there is no substitute for getting out on the mats and immersing yourself into the real thing. If you are in the Portland, Oregon area you can take your first BJJ class with us at no cost. Just go to the link below to sign up for a free class, and we’ll reach out to you with next steps.