Fundamental Differences in Jiu-Jitsu: Written by Victor Villarreal

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Stylistically, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be broken down into two categories: Self-Defense and Sport Based Jiu-Jitsu. And, usually, the difference in each style isn’t obvious to an untrained practitioner.  If deciding to cross-train, it’s important you know the differences in each style and whether your goals as a martial artist fit the model of your school.

Self Defense:
The Self-Defense based Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu model was developed for street altercations. Techniques are designed to neutralize opponent attacks and put the practitioner in a position to end the confrontation peacefully.  Drilling of moves is similar to the traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu self-defense styles, which emphasizes drilling of specific situations on the street. Tactics include the neutralization of clothing grabs, keeping an awareness of dirty street tactics (eye gouging, sucker punching, biting, etc) and understanding how to maintain composure in different street situations. Defenses are designed for use against strong momentum; and, therefore, like most jiu-jitsu based arts, partners must act according to the situation for maneuvers to work most effectively.

Self-Defense based Jiu-Jitsu places a heavy emphasis on leverage and using minimum amount of energy at all times.  Understanding that street fights do not have a time limit, this style depends on the value of patience in a fight and uses this philosophy to tactically maneuver their opponent into defeat.  This strategy became the centerpiece of the classical style, whose entire philosophy is based upon these principles.  The emphasis placed on the study of theory in the development of this game is also notable. Ground sparring is done realistically, with strike defense in place from both the feet and ground. Philosophically, in order to develop the best style possible, it is better to correctly give up working on a technique, than to incorrectly force a technique to work.

Today, the practice of this classical style is most notable on Helio Gracie’s side of the family (i.e. Torrence Academy), though the classic technical style and philosophy can be seen and is used by some members of Carlos Gracie’s side of the family as well. Specific examples of self-defense practice can be seen in the following video:


Sport Based Jiu-Jitsu:
As the popularity of Jiu-Jitsu grew in Brazil, so did the competitive nature of practitioners developing the art. Challenge matches, both between different martial arts in Brazil and between different Jiu-Jitsu styles provided an important catalyst for the development of the technique over the course of the 20th century.  Different styles eventually evolved out of the sportive elements which Sport Jiu-Jitsu would provide.

Sports based Jiu-Jitsu, like traditional Catch As Catch Can wrestling, is based on a set of rules which typically define the practitioner’s approach to Jiu-Jitsu.  Victory is achieved by finishing the fight by submission, gaining points for position or having more submission attempts.  Contests have a time limit, with penalties given for stalling, ensuring progressive movement. Weight, age and skill limits are in place to ensure fairness among competitors.  Brackets are organized tournament style, with winners being decided through elimination.

Because of the limited number of major championships, practitioners keep in top physical condition and compete throughout the year.  Like their wrestling counterparts, competitors cut weight to ensure a strength advantage against their opponents.  Stylistically, practitioners develop an attacking style to finish their opponent within the time limit. The guard, a hallmark of the self-defense style, has become an offensive position, with constant attacks, sweeps and turnovers becoming necessary to victory. To effectively attack competitors who ‘know the ropes’, practitioners require perfect technique, timing and athleticism. Sparring mirrors competition, with live drills and conditioning being central to success.  ‘Putting-it-all-together’ is based upon an athlete developing the art around their own particular body type and personality. No limits are placed on using new techniques or approaches to the style; everything is fair game.

Many Gracie family members and their lineages have their roots in the sport style, creating a clear distinction from the original art. Styles, both among the clan and throughout Brazil, are usually based upon the beliefs of the teachers themselves. Sport Jiu-Jitsu is very common across the world today. Different competition teams have formed, to much success, and are rapidly developing new competition techniques every year.   The Sport Jiu-Jitsu style is now typically seen as mutually exclusive from its traditional counterpart, though there are schools who attempt to keep a balance between both styles.

It’s How You Drill
When deciding on a specific style, keep your goals in mind.  Decide if you would like to compete and what type of competition you would like to pursue. Non-competitive practitioners should shape development around their peers, letting their partner know what goals they’d like to pursue before sparring.

Naturally, if you’d like to compete in tournament style Jiu-Jitsu, competition Jiu-Jitsu will develop the submission and attack based mentality to fit in that environment. If you’d like practice for a street situation, Self-Defense based Jiu-Jitsu is your best bet.

But, keep in mind, you will react the way you drill in class.  In tournaments, remember that all techniques are open to you. Develop a strategy and try to use techniques which require the least amount of effort to attain dominate position.  If training for MMA, remember to train for a striking opponent.  Drill your strategy and develop your game around this mentality, always remembering to keep your roll in the context of a real fight.

There are obvious benefits to each style, but remember to choose a school which fits your overall goals.