The Origins and Fundamentals of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: A Journey Through the Gentle Art

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), also known as the “gentle art,” has gained worldwide popularity due to its focus on ground fighting, submission techniques, and its effectiveness for practitioners of all sizes. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the origins of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, its evolution from Japanese martial arts, and the key principles that define this unique martial art. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced grappler, this article will provide an engaging and informative exploration of the fascinating world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The Roots of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: From Japan to Brazil

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and Judo

  1. Traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu (also known as Jujutsu) encompassed various martial arts techniques used by samurai warriors in feudal Japan, including throws, joint locks, and strikes.
  2. Jigoro Kano, a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, founded Judo in the late 19th century by refining and systematizing the techniques of Jiu-Jitsu. He emphasized safety, personal development, and established the Kodokan Judo Institute in 1882.
  3. Mitsuyo Maeda, a skilled Judo practitioner, began traveling the world to demonstrate Judo and spread its teachings.

The Gracie family and the birth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

  1. Mitsuyo Maeda arrived in Brazil in 1914 and befriended Gastão Gracie, a local businessman. In gratitude for Gracie’s support, Maeda taught his son, Carlos Gracie, the art of Judo.
  2. Carlos Gracie shared his knowledge with his younger brother, Hélio, who adapted the techniques to suit his smaller frame and limited physical strength. These adaptations laid the foundation for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
  3. The Gracie family opened the first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy in 1925, and the art quickly gained popularity in Brazil

The Key Principles of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Leverage and technique over strength and size

  1. BJJ focuses on using leverage and precise techniques to overcome stronger or larger opponents, making it an effective martial art for individuals of all sizes and strengths.
  2. Techniques often involve using the opponent’s force against them, allowing smaller practitioners to succeed against stronger adversaries.

Ground fighting and positional dominance

  1. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes ground fighting, with the majority of techniques executed on the ground.
  2. BJJ practitioners strive to gain and maintain dominant positions, such as the mount, side control, and back control, allowing for better control over the opponent and the potential to apply submission techniques.

The importance of submission techniques

  1. The primary goal in BJJ is to submit the opponent, either through joint locks or chokes. This focus on submissions differentiates it from other martial arts, which may prioritize striking or throws.
  2. Submission techniques are highly effective in both self-defense scenarios and competitive settings.

Fundamental Techniques and Concepts of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Guard positions

  1. The guard is a fundamental BJJ position in which the practitioner uses their legs to control and defend against an opponent from the bottom.
  2. Various guard variations exist, such as closed guard, open guard, half guard, butterfly guard, and spider guard, each with its unique advantages and strategies.

Sweeps and reversals

  1. Sweeps are techniques used to reverse the position from the bottom, gaining top control and improving the practitioner’s position.
  2. Common sweeps include the scissor sweep, butterfly sweep, and hip bump sweep, among others.


  1. Guard passing involves bypassing the opponent’s legs and establishing a dominant position, such as side control or mount.
  2. Popular guard passes include the knee slice pass, double-under pass, and over-under pass.


  1. BJJ practitioners aim to force their opponent to “tap out” by applying joint locks or chokes.
  2. Some common submissions include the armbar, triangle choke, rear-naked choke, and kimura.

Escapes and defenses

  1. An essential aspect of BJJ is learning how to escape from unfavorable positions and defend against submissions.
  2. Key escapes include the hip escape (or “shrimping”), bridging, and various submission-specific defenses.

The Belt System and Progression in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Belt rankings

  1. The BJJ belt system consists of white, blue, purple, brown, and black belts for adults, with additional degrees (stripes) to signify progress within each belt level.
  2. Children have a separate belt system, including white, grey, yellow, orange, and green belts.

Promotion criteria

  1. Belt promotions are based on several factors, including technical knowledge, skill, time spent training, and competition performance.
  2. Each instructor may have their criteria for promotions, but dedication, consistency, and a humble attitude are universally valued.

The journey to black belt

  1. Reaching the level of a black belt in BJJ is a long and challenging process, often taking ten years or more of consistent training.
  2. The journey is characterized by continuous learning, self-discovery, and personal growth.

The Impact of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on the World of Martial Arts

BJJ in mixed martial arts (MMA)

  1. The Gracie family’s participation in the early Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events showcased the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in MMA.
  2. Today, BJJ is considered a core discipline for MMA fighters, alongside striking arts like Muay Thai and wrestling.

Growth and global expansion

  1. BJJ schools and academies can now be found worldwide, with an ever-growing number of practitioners and enthusiasts.
  2. The art has become popular among celebrities, professional athletes, and everyday people seeking an engaging and effective way to stay fit and learn self-defense.

The origins and fundamentals of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu showcase a rich history, deep-rooted in Japanese martial arts and the innovative adaptations made by the Gracie family in Brazil. The key principles of leverage, ground fighting, and submissions have shaped BJJ into a unique and effective martial art that has captivated practitioners around the world. By understanding the roots and core techniques of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, individuals can embark on a rewarding journey of self-discovery, personal growth, and physical fitness.

Dan Leckel

Owner and Head Instructor at Imperial Training Center!