Gracie Jiu-Jitsu vs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – What’s The Difference?
by Ryan Young, Professor, Kama Jiu-Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is all the rage today. Nowadays, everyone is looking to find an MMA gym or a Jiu-Jitsu / BJJ school in Orange County where they can take jiu-jitsu classes. There is an MMA gym in just about every city in every state, also with new places to find a jiu-jitsu class opening up every day. I would venture a guess here, but I’m guessing that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the fastest growing sport in the country. It’s difficult to drive on any street in Orange County cities like Tustin, Irvine, Huntington Beach, or Costa Mesa without seeing “MMA,” “Mixed Martial Arts,” “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,” or “BJJ” on a storefront or warehouse.
As a kid, I took judo at a local Boy’s Club. Later, while I was in college, I trained in Okinawan Kempo. I have to tell you, I HATED punching wooden training aids (to toughen my fists), and taking kicks to my thighs (to deaden the nerves in my legs). It takes a special kind of person to keep wanting to do something that hurts, and that person was not me.
In 1989, a friend of mine suggested I try Hap Ki Do, which (I was told) is a blend of Tae Kwon Do and Judo.
Sounds good. But I have to admit, I was not that excited to start, as evidenced by the fact I had not even begun to look for a Hap Ki Do school, months later.
Also in 1989, another friend of mine said, “Oh, no, you need to train in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu! Go and borrow the “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu In Action” video at the UH library, and you’ll see what I mean.”
Here’s what I saw.
THAT’s what I’ve been looking for! But where do I find jiu-jitsu classes or a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu school?
I sincerely believe I was destined to train in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Through a series of random steps, I ended up meeting Grand Master Relson Gracie, and began attending his group classes at the University of Hawaii, as well as private sessions Tuesday afternoons at his “Gracie Garage.”
That’s where my journey began. Yours is likely a little different.
Doesn’t matter. We ended up in the same place anyway, right?
Professor Dave, on the other hand, was always a practitioner of the martial arts. He had tried boxing, kickboxing, muay thai, kali, escrima, and maybe a couple others. He was always looking for the one art he could take to satisfy his desire to be the best he could be.
Once, while attending an exhibition put on by the Gracie Brothers (Rorion, Royce, and Rickson) in 1985 or 1986 with some friends at El Camino College in Gardena, CA, they called out into the audience for any challengers interested in taking any of the brothers on.
Both of Dave’s friends took them up on the challenge. They each chose to challenge the smallest of the three brothers and were each promptly dismantled by the Gracie and forced to submit. When it was Dave’s turn, he thought, “This (smallest) Gracie beat both my friends, who can beat me. The remaining two Gracies are taller than this one. I’d be crazy to challenge the short one, or the two taller ones!”
He thought, “I need to see what these Gracies are all about.” He went and scheduled a few lessons over at the (now infamous) Gracie Garage in Torrance, CA.
Incidentally, that “smallest” Gracie who made quick work of Dave’s friends was none other than Rickson!
Where did the meteoric growth in Jiu-Jitsu come from?
It’s hard to believe, that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in the USA (and the rest of the world outside of Brazil) had its beginnings in the humble garages of Rorion and Relson Gracie.
Stage 1 – When I began, there weren’t many students in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Rorion had a bunch, but not enough yet, to open the (now world-famous) Gracie Academy. Relson ran his jiu-jitsu classes out of a University of Hawaii mat room he had use of for free, since many of his students were also university students, who were allowed to “borrow” the room as a benefit.
Growth in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was one student at a time.
Stage 2 – pre-Fertitta Brothers/Dana White Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)
Back in 1993 (when many of us were at the Gracie Academy in Torrance, CA), Rorion Gracie (the 1st biological son of Helio Gracie) had been working tirelessly for years to grow the popularity of his jiu-jitsu school. He came up with the (now) brilliant idea of putting together a “Gracie Challenge” for all to see. This event was modeled after the “Vale Tudo” (anything goes, in Portugues) events that were common in Brazil.
That event, was the UFC, which is the inspiration for every MMA gym in existence today.
This clip of Royce vs Ken Shamrock was the only one I could find. For added entertainment value, it’s in Spanish.
After Royce won four fights in a row (unexpectedly to everyone but those of us who trained in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu), the floodgates opened in Torrance, and in Honolulu. Both Rorion and Relson were experiencing an explosion in membership in their jiu-jitsu classes they were simply not expecting. Everyone wanted to know how the skinny guy was able to beat all comers in the UFC.
Shortly after the first UFC, Royce said in an article that he was not the best in his family. In fact, his brother Rickson “plays” with him. That launched Rickson in his fight career in Japan.
The practitioners set at the top of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu at the time were Royce Gracie and Rickson Gracie. For those “in the know” in martial arts, the Gracies were sought after like no one else just to get a chance to enter one of their (now immensely popular) jiu-jitsu classes.
Stage 3 – the MMA Boom
Once regulation took hold of the UFC, and more rules than no biting, eye gouging, and groin grabs were instituted, the sport of MMA was created. I don’t even know how many rules are in place anymore! MMA today is loosely based on the old Gracie style of “Vale Tudo.” Basically, MMA is a sport built on multiple martial arts as its foundation. Boxing, Kickboxing, and Muay Thai serve as the foundation of standup fighting. Wrestling forms the basis of its takedowns and takedown defense. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu formed its submissions base, with a little bit of Catch Wrestling thrown in for good measure. In the old days, one had to go and train at multiple martial arts schools, since there was no MMA gym to speak of.
BJ Penn was one of the first breakout stars in the “MMA” UFC who had a top-notch BJJ game, combined with top wrestling takedown defense, and boxing.
Here’s BJ Penn fighting Japanese star Takanori Gomi (Relson Gracie Black Belt Michael Onzuka on the mic).
The popularity of the UFC and the popularity of MMA gyms go hand in hand. As one goes, so goes the other.
The practitioners set at the top of MMA were Matt Hughes, BJ Penn, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, and Anderson Silva (among many others).
Stage 4 – The IBJJF
Beginning around 2000, competitions began to increase in popularity in the USA. Competitions were already popular in Brazil. Once the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) began having their Pan Americans and Mundials here in the US, BJJ’s popularity soared, and everyone everywhere began looking for a jiu-jitsu school. To fill in the void, you began to see jiu-jitsu schools pop up that were being run by people ranked as low as blue belt! It seems everyone wants to own a jiu-jitsu school.
I have to give it to Carlos Gracie, Jr (of Gracie Barra), who IS the IBJJF. He has increased the popularity of “BJJ” by leaps and bounds. He enticed top competitors from Brazil to compete in the US. He also gave American competitors an idea of what Pan Am and World champions look like on the mats.
Some third generation Gracie family members were active competitors (Rolles, Igor, Roger, Clark, Kron), but in this timeframe, it’s beginning to become obvious the Jiu Jitsu in the modern day tournaments is not the same as the Jiu Jitsu from decades past.
Gracie Jiu-Jitsu vs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – The “Split”
Over the years I’ve been involved in the art, I’ve noticed the development of two distinct “camps” in Jiu-Jitsu – the old-style (aka old school, aka basic, aka traditional), and the new “modern style” of Jiu-Jitsu. It started off with different executions of certain submissions, certain positions, or certain transitions. A lot of the modern style came about to address “weaknesses” with the old style; an update, if you will.
One “problem” with doing the “basic guard pass” was the vulnerability present from the triangle. Here, Master Pedro Sauer demonstrates the triangle from the basic guard pass. I think the triangle is responsible for the “death” of the basic pass in most jiu-jitsu academies.
And that wasn’t the only move that needed “updating,” in many people’s eyes. The idea in a typical jiu-jitsu school was, that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was an ever-evolving art that had to change with the times.
As time went on, one could see distinct positions that were not around just a few years ago. They would come, make a big splash, and dominate the competition. In time, the counter to the position would be developed, and that position would disappear. In the meantime, a new move would come around, and the cycle would begin all over again.
Here are some positions that recently came into being:
1) Half guard
2) Spider guard
3) Dela Riva (though actually, this has been around for decades, but had a boost in popularity of late)
4) Inverted guard
5) Sitting guard
6) Turtle position
9) Double guard
The list goes on…
10) Worm Guard
11) Pancake Guard
12) Koala Guard
13) Donkey Guard
14) Rubber Guard…
It’s getting ridiculous.
What’s the difference between the Old Style, and the Modern Style?
I have to say, the mindset of Jiu-Jitsu has changed somewhat. I first noticed this around 1998 or 1999. My instructor at the time, Prof Brad Jackson, had affiliated with Master Roger Machado. By all accounts, Roger and his brothers (the Machado Brothers) are part of the Gracie family. They learned right alongside all the other Gracie family members at the Academy and at the famous “compound” they retreated to in the summers. Roger, when asked about doing the self-defense positions, said he rarely teaches them. He said that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has already proven its worth on the streets of Brazil, and that proving it through fighting was no longer necessary. That said, he liked to focus on refining the ground grappling aspects of the art.
It seems a lot of people who run a jiu-jitsu school agree with his thoughts. Jiu-Jitsu competitions (where there are no combative aspects) are as popular as ever. Everyone everywhere wants to be the next “world champion.”
Some truly massive jiu-jitsu schools and MMA gyms have developed around the notion of putting out multiple world champions. Gracie Barra academies are all over the place. When I was living in Southern CA, there were at least 5 or 6 of of their jiu-jitsu schools within a 15 mile radius (Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, etc.). They are not the only one. There are “mega-academies” all over the place, and they all have competition teams. They’ve definitely tapped into a market need.
On the other hand…
It seems that Helio’s sons and his grandsons have stayed true to the “Old-Style” Gracie Jiu-Jitsu formula; Stick with what Helio taught, and add techniques to deal with new and unforeseen circumstances.
“Unforseen circumstances?” How many unforeseen circumstances can possibly pop up, given that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has been tried and “trued” on the streets of Brazil?
The popularity of competitions has essentially spawned another Jiu-Jitsu; one that has some similar moves, positions, and submissions, but one that is different enough to be a different martial art.
Enter “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.”
Gracie Jiu-Jitsu vs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
The difference as I see it, is in a particular mindset. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there are rules that need to be observed. The reason, is to not create an environment that can potentially be full of injuries for the competitors.
In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there are no neck cranks, slams, and restrictions on certain foot locks, among other things. Matches can be won by submission, points, or advantage. There is no priority given to submissions. A submission win is equal to an advantage win.
For a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, they are not training for self-defense; they are training to win a competition. Here is a video where you have a “collision” of sorts. In this clip, you have Ryron Gracie, son of Rorion Gracie, who is considered one of the best Gracie Jiu-Jitsu practitioners around. His opponent was Cameron Earle, an active competitor at the time who was one of the top black belts of Ralph Gracie. This was a competition put on by Rorion Gracie’s IGJJF (not Carlos Jr’s IBJJF). The rules are fewer, and closer to an actual fight, as you’ll see.
As you can see, Cameron Earle was completely unprepared for what happened. His training was such that “slams are not allowed in competition,” so he practiced a technique that would do fine (actually, give him an advantage) in an IBJJF competition. However, what Ryron did was completely legal in an IGJJF competition, as Cameron painfully found out.
Here, is another “collision” match between Rickson’s son Kron, and world champion out of Gracie Barra, Otavio Sousa. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu vs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. While Kron had been on the competition circuit for a number of years by then, his game was noticeably absent of the characteristics of “modern” jiu-jitsu. His game was old-school Rickson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Kron was perfectly willing to give up any points scored on him or advantages if it meant he could keep hunting for a submission. As a result, he had never won a world championship at black belt, despite beating world champion Sousa twice prior to this match.
Kron ended up beating Sousa for a fourth consecutive time, in ADCC 2013 by guillotine choke.
For me, I chose to pursue the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu route, vs the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu route. It came down to seeing how Rickson would utterly dominate any and all the World Champions who would visit him to “train” (more like challenge) with him. There is no way Rickson could have possibly learned the counters to all the new techniques these champions were bringing with them from Brazil. I would see how Rickson would destroy the games of champion competitors while I was at his jiu-jitsu school in the 90s. But I was surprised to find out it continued on through the years I was at other jiu-jitsu schools and mma gyms… learning the “new” Jiu-Jitsu. I thought his being away from Brazil and all the innovation would certainly catch up to him.
It never did.
I figured, “If Rickson doesn’t need to know them, neither do I.”
I just had to find out (and learn) what he’s doing.
In fact, Rickson has become the “Master of Masters.” No one else commands the universal respect of so many TOP black belts.
And that’s how I ended up at the jiu-jitsu school of my old friend, Professor Dave Kama, in 2009. Dave is one of only a handful of black belts to spend ALL of his time training under the Master of Masters.
The longer time goes on, the greater the differences between Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and the more common Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or BJJ.
What you get is directly related to what rules you place on the practice of an art. If you institute a rule, you will get less of what the rule addresses. For instance, if they one day outlawed chokes from IBJJF competition, no one at a competition school will train to execute chokes, since they’re now illegal. But by the same accord, you will now have a generation of competitors who don’t train to defend chokes (and become vulnerable to them from non-competitors).
At Kama Jiu-Jitsu, we are a jiu-jitsu school that teaches you the “mindset” of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, not just Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. We do this to protect us on the street; not to score points or gain an “advantage point” on our opponent. We teach you Gracie Jiu-Jitsu as we learned it from Helio’s sons (in particular, Relson, Royce, Rorion, and Rickson). Come join us for 1 WEEK of FREE jiu-jitsu classes, see how you like it!
Our jiu-jitsu school campuses in Orange County, CA service Laguna Niguel, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Mission Viejo, Aliso Viejo, Lake Forest, Foothill Ranch, Rancho Santa Margarita, Trabuco Canyon, Ladera Ranch, Irvine, Tustin, Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, and Huntington Beach.
Kama Jiu-Jitsu, Laguna Niguel Campus
23500 Club House Drive
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
We are located inside the Laguna Niguel Racquet Club
Kama Jiu-Jitsu, Irvine Campus
5 Ethel Coplen Way
Irvine, CA 92612
We are located inside the Racquet Club of Irvine