A favorite exercise of mine is to ask people, particularly people who are deeply involved with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, what exactly is their definition of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

The variety of answers astounds me.  The lack of a coherent answer astounds me even more.
The better answers might talk about the history of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:  From the legend of Mitsuyo Maeda from Japan teaching Jiu Jitsu to the Gracie family of Brazil, who continued to refine Jiu Jitsu in their homeland until it gained worldwide recognition with the first Ultimate Fighting Championship and subsequently exploded in the number of people practicing the art.  

Still other explanation might delve into the etymology of the word Jiu Jitsu and that it translate into soft art.  As opposed to the hard style of martial arts that are primarily striking based, Jiu Jitsu falls into the category of soft martial arts which are primarily grappling based.  Ground fighting, particularly heavy use of a position known as “the guard” where the combatant is on their back but using their legs, is also something that is almost certainly brought up when describing Jiu Jitsu.

What is my definition of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?  I am glad you asked!  Since this is the book form you’re going to get the long winded version.  

I like to describe Jiu Jitsu as being the solution to a problem.  

The specific problem being what if someone physically confronts me?  That confrontation can take a few different forms and escalation.  

For most people, Jiu Jitsu is something they train at the academy for their own reasons, where upon they will have somewhat equal parts of of learning and doing, theory and application at various levels of intensity depending on on their temperament.  

Some of those folks might decide to take and test what they have developed in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition.  A Jiu Jitsu competition can represent a certain level of escalation of intensity over regular academy training, with a few unknown variables thrown in and while their are certain assumed risks that come with competing, there are rules, regulations,  referees and an assumed level of sportsmanship that minimize those risks.  This is what some people would consider to be “fun”.  

Some might choose to apply their skills in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (or conversely, a Mixed Martial Artist may look to improve their skills in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  The intensity has definitely escalated as people will actively look to strike each other in the face.  The risks may be greater but MMA is still a sport with rules, regulations, referees and assumed level of sportsmanship to minimize those risks once again.  This is also what some people might consider to be “fun” and as a bonus a number of individuals have managed to make a good living from Mixed Martial Arts.

Then there are self defense scenarios which we will define as any physical confrontation that occurs outside the confines of a mat, ring or cage in which there are no rules, no regulations, no referees and certainly no assumed level of sportsmanship and you would have to be a certain type of sociopath to consider this to be fun.  Survival is the sole goal of such an encounter.

So to summarize, Jiu Jitsu is my answer when the problem of someone physically confronting me arises.  

Now, there are a series of techniques and positions that are associated with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but those techniques and positions don’t necessarily mean one is doing Jiu Jitsu.  After all many of those techniques and positions are actually shared by other martial arts.  What defines and separates Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and any other martial art is context and mindset. 

When I am using Brazilian Jiu Jitsu I think of these three things in order:

  1. Safety
  2. Position
  3. Finish

My first priority is always my SAFETY.  To paraphrase Grandmaster Helio Gracie (one of the most important people in the history of Jiu Jitsu):  As long as you are still in the fight, you have a chance to prevail.   As long as you haven’t surrendered, been knocked unconscious, incapacitated or injured to the point of stoppage, you always have a chance to win in the match.  I rather like that true self defense first, plucky positive attitude of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Stay in the fight, and there’s always a chance you can win.

(As an aside to the Safety portion, I must point out for those of us who train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on a regular basis also have to make sure we train properly to survive both the sudden and the long term injuries that can happen in relation to the frequency and intensity of training.  Bluntly put, there are training mindsets that will extend your career and there are mindsets that will will end a career fairly quickly, and affect the quality of one’s life off the mats as well).

There are a number of POSITIONS within Brazilian Jiu Jitsu such as Guard, Mount, Side Control, etc, and each of those position have subsets and the whole thing can be quite complicated if you want it to be.  That’s not important right now.  What is important to know is that your position reflects your chances in the encounter.  Specifically, the better your position the more chances you have to keep yourself safe, and the more chances you have of a successful finish.  Jiu Jitsu is very much an odds game, and it’s important to realize that those odds are never 100% against you and they are never 100% in your favor.  

When people think of the FINISH in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu they usually are talking about submission holds.  There are a wide variety of submission holds available, chokes and strangulations (there is a technical difference) plus major joint manipulations both upper body and lower body, “basic” and “advanced” submissions, submission holds you will use on a regular basis on your friends and submission holds you’d think twice about putting your worst enemy in.  

The Finish can also refer to a knockout however.  In the so called modern age of Jiu Jitsu and the proliferation of the sport tournament scene, the possibility of a punch or kick or an other body part flying in an aggressive fashion is often overlooked,.  If you think of Jiu Jitsu as being used in Mixed Martial Arts or Self Defense, then strikes are not only possible, but they are very likely.  

Since I brought up the Self Defense scenario, then I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that running away from the encounter is sometime the best finish.  The responsible thing to remind you of is that in a self defense situation running away, walking away, diffusing the situation or altogether avoiding the situation in the first place.  

Safety.  Position.  Finish.  Putting things in context not only gives me a big picture view of Jiu Jitsu, but also helps me on the why of even the smallest details of my of technique.  

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has now become my context on how I handle my life.


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