What is Jiu Jitsu…and why is it so popular?

What is Jiu Jitsu…and why is it so popular?

Jiu Jitsu, often referred to as BJJ, is a martial art and combat sport that focuses on ground fighting and grappling techniques. The “B” from BJJ comes from Brazil, where the sport evolved rapidly in the early 1900s following its introduction by Japanese diplomats.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu started gaining in popularity in the United States with the inception of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the performance of Royce Gracie. 

These early events challenged the prevailing perception of fighting disciplines like Karate or Kung Fu, which were glorified in Hollywood movies from the 1960s through the mid-1990s. In an unexpected performance, a young fighter of lanky stature dominated, winning 3 of the first 4 UFC events almost exclusively through ground fighting and submissions.  Royce’s performance took a relatively unknown fighting discipline and catapulted it to the main stage. It became an essential skill for any fighter to master to succeed in mixed martial arts.   

The Basics of Jiu Jitsu

At the core of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the concept of using leverage and technique to overcome an opponent, regardless of size or strength. Practitioners learn a variety of techniques to control and submit their opponents through joint locks and chokeholds.  One of the unique aspects of BJJ is its emphasis on sparring or rolling, where practitioners engage in live training sessions to test their skills against resisting opponents.

This hands-on approach is one of the big innovations that the Brazilians brought to the sport, favoring rolling over a more traditional “kata” based approach to learning.  Sparring allows practitioners to develop their reflexes, timing, and problem-solving abilities in a safe and controlled environment.

BJJ practitioners often train in a Gi, a traditional uniform that consists of a jacket and pants, or in no-Gi attire for a more dynamic and fast-paced training experience. Training sessions typically involve drilling specific techniques, practicing positional sparring, and rolling with partners of varying skill levels. 

The belt system in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu symbolizes a practitioner's progress and skill level. Beginners start as white belts and progress through blue, purple, brown, and eventually black belt, with additional degrees of black belt indicating further expertise.  Depending on the students frequency of training and competition, it can take 8-12 years to earn a black belt. Obviously there are lots of exceptions, but this is what the average student who is committed can expect.

A Unique Fitness Phenomenon

In recent years, BJJ has exploded in popularity and found its place in the mainstream.  Celebrities like Joe Rogan, Russell Brand, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Lovato, Tom Hardy, Guy Ritchie, Gisele Bundchen, Jason Mamoa, Maynard Keenan and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few, are all actively practicing the sport. Unlike other fitness phenomena, large franchises and media organizations have emerged as part of the BJJ industry.  Schools like Gracie Barra, Alliance, Atos, and 10th Planet have hundreds of locations across the US and boast 10s of thousands of students. 

Tournaments like the ADCC (Abu Dhabi Combat Championships), WNO (Who’s Number One), the IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation), Fuji BJJ and Subversiv attract thousands of competitors every year and are featured on media networks like FloSports / FloGrappling and UFC Pass.  Major stars like Gordon Ryan and Craig Jones have garnered tremendous attention for the sport and become recognizable names in the world of mainstream sports. 

Educational platforms like BJJ Fanatics and Jiu Jitsu X are on fire.  There are currently more than 1 million people in the United States training jiu-jitsu alone and when combined with mixed martial arts the number is closer to 4 million. 99% are hobbyists.

Why is Jiu Jitsu So Appealing?

The appeal of jiu-jitsu is multifaceted.  It challenges people at an individual level to move beyond their comfort zone.  It builds a strong sense of community and camaraderie offering an incredible outlet for relationships to develop and grow.  In addition to its practical applications in self-defense and competition, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu offers a range of physical and mental benefits.  Training in BJJ improves cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, and coordination. It also promotes discipline, focus, and problem-solving skills both on and off the mats.

Whether you are looking to learn self-defense, improve your fitness, or challenge yourself in a competitive setting, BJJ offers a rewarding and enriching journey for practitioners of all ages and backgrounds. So, if you are considering delving into the world of BJJ, be prepared for a transformative experience that goes beyond just physical techniques – it's a journey of self-discovery and personal growth on and off the mats.

At its core, BJJ empowers the practitioner and builds confidence. It is the successful application of the technique under duress that sets Jiu Jitsu apart and makes it infectious. Once people understand that they can defend themselves and see the results through regular sparring, they are hooked and keep coming back for more.