Why BJJ? This is a common question the answer to which depends on the desires of the person asking it. For the purpose of this post the question is being asked by someone interested in devoting his/her time to an effective martial art that has both sport and self-defense (combat) application. It will also be assumed that the person asking the question has boiled their interest down to ‘grappling-arts’ rather than the plethora of all arts or striking arts.
There are countless styles of grappling. Boiled down to their essence though the grappling arts can be divided into the following divisions: wrestling, sambo, judo, jiu jitsu. This article will postulate an argument for jiu jitsu. All of these arts have value, are fun, and can be supplemented by the others, but the question was ‘why jiu jitsu’?
What does Jiu Jitsu offer the others don’t? Brazilian Jiu Jitsu offers the fewest restrictions among the group of grappling arts. Very few moves are concidered ‘illegal’ and are prohibited. Therefore, if you want the broadest arsenal of grappling techniques (from takedowns to submissions) then BJJ is art. Wrestling has subsets that offer fantastic takedowns and takedown defenses (Greco-Roman, Freestyle, Folk-Style) but they prohibit ‘potentially dangerous’ positions (i.e. submissions). Judo offers comprehensive takedowns, a number of submissions, but its rules make illegal certain techniques and discourage extended ground fighting. Sambo, like Judo, has great takedowns and submissions, but ground-play has been limited with an intermediary willing to step in and re-start the participants.
Jiu Jitsu allows all the takedowns of wrestling, Judo, Sambo and allows all of their submissions. Jiu Jitsu will allow the participants to continue the contest until a winner is determined by the contestants (except in a timed event). So, from a standpoint of how many weapons do you want?… Jiu Jitsu gives you the most and the platform from which to apply the weapons.
Each of the grappling arts has been used throughout history as a combat system. Reading Jigoro Kano’s Kodokan Judo, one can quickly see that his intent was to keep Judo a functional combat system, but when reading Neil Ohlenkamp’s Judo Unleashed it becomes apparant that the sportification of Judo caused it to lose much of its practical combat efficiency because instruction became sport focused. Likewise, wrestling in its various permutations became so burdened with rules that while it created monsters as men, save for pins and ground and pound, wrestling had little to offer as an effective combat system.
Another benefit of BJJ over the other arts is that it has traditionally not been strictly tied to formalities. By this I mean in wrestling, judo, and sambo the uniforms are formalized. In BJJ a uniform is often worn, but taking the uniform off and training no-gi is common and competition has been created to encourage development of each of the techniques against opponents wearing less than sturdy kimonos. This is not to say that Judoka, and Sambo guys cannot compete well no-gi, nor is it to say that a great wrestler cannot put a gi on and tear through BJJ tournament, it is just that a Jiu Jitsu practitioner will most likely have spent considerable time in both a uniform and without one.
All of these differences sets BJJ apart in my opinion as a martial art. What if my adversary is shirtless? What if I am wearing a bulky winter coat? What if we end up on the ground and no one is there to stop the action? BJJ has the training and the answer to all of these grappling questions. Judo struggles with the first question, wrestling struggles with the second question and all three of the other grappling arts struggles with the last question.
I began wrestling when I was in the second grade. I continued throughout my high school career. When I transitioned to BJJ I quickly learned (though it took longer to break) that the explosive, frantic movements that allowed me to be successful as a wrestler caused me to gas out, or placed me in significant trouble when I went against weaker less athletic jiu jitsu guys.
Early on, I had a negative opinion of Judo because even as a blue belt in BJJ I was able to tap Judo black belts with relative ease (after they tossed me of course). As time has passed, my affinity for Judo has increased and when a good Judo guy who has supplemented his Judo to (let’s say) purple belt jiu jitsu level, he/she is a force to be dealt with. So, it should come as no surprise that in the recent past I have sought judo instruction to keep my grappling game strong.
A last point that I will emphasize is the culture surrounding jiu jitsu. It has become axiomatic that BJJ is a lifestyle. From the obligatory hang loose fingerwave in pictures, to referring to everyone (including one’s instructor) as “bro” BJJ is a very relaxed environment. As such, in large part, bowing is out, as is devout reverence of the instructor.
So, to summarize, a person looking for the most effective grappling art, with the fewest rules and restrictions that has the most combat effectiveness should choose BJJ. However, that is not to say they should forgo training wrestling, Judo, or Sambo!