Gracie Jiu Jitsu vs BJJ: What are the differences?

Fundamentally, Gracie Jiu Jitsu and BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) are the same martial art. Some members of the Gracie family such as the Gracie Academy and Rickson Gracie like to emphasise more self-defence orientated elements, particularly in stand-up such as strikes and takedowns whilst many modern exponents focused on BJJ competitions such as Gracie Barra led by Carlos Gracie Jnr have taken the major delivery system of Gracie Jiu Jitsu (ground fighting) and focused more upon winning sport jiu jitsu competitions. Others have added other arts like Judo or wrestling for BJJ competitions (see Guerrilla Jiu Jitsu by the Camarillo Brothers) whilst other branches have incorporated Jiu Jitsu into MMA with modifications for no-gi like 10th Plant.

SBG whose lineage can be traced via its founder Matt Thornton to Rickson Gracie and Chris Haueter uses BJJ in all 4 elements; Gi, No Gi, Self Defence, and MMA. In practice, the most important factors for someone to consider when looking to start Gracie Jiu Jitsu or BJJ is not the name itself, but that the club concerned is led by coaches with a reputable standard in the art. How can we do this?

  1. BJJ Lineage

The lineage of the instructor should be clear, transparent and lead directly to Helio Gracie, Carlos Gracie, Luis Franca, or Oswaldo Fadda. This may seem pedantic but a weekly occurrence on Facebook BJJ groups is the outing of unqualified traditional jujitsu instructors making false claims of holding BJJ Black Belts that they simply don’t have and dressing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Gis and Rash Guards rather than what you have found them wearing a decade ago or so. Their students are being misled, wasting years of training and money only to discover that what they have learned is valueless. They often discover this when they happen to train at a real BJJ club and they are repeatedly submitted by white belts despite holding supposedly high grades and even black belts under their fraudulent ‘BJJ instructor’. Whilst some move on and start again, many are lost to legitimate BJJ instruction having never really started their journey.

2. Check with BJJ Forums

Whilst forums attract trolls, you will get a general flavour of whom isn’t truly awful whilst everyone votes up their own club 🙂

3. Online Reviews

Online Reviews on Google and Facebook are pretty hard to hide complaints on these days. Getting lots of good reviews is more difficult than ever although not impossible. However hiding one star reviews is almost impossible on Google or Facebook.

4. Professional MMA or BJJ player Endorsements

Its rare that a professional competitor recommendation, particularly from competitors that sit outside of the club’s organisation, will be made about a club or coach without serious grounds. Professional fighters do what they do out of love for the sport as the vast majority make little money. If several professional athletes from a variety of teams extol the virtues of a coach or club, you should probably listen.

In terms of self-defence, training at an authentic BJJ club regardless of their specific branch will give practitioners better self-defence on the ground than any other martial art offers, even if the club is entirely focused on BJJ competitions. The notion that someone like Rafa Mendes, a world champion in BJJ, or any of his senior students would be unable to defend themselves effectively in a typical street confrontation is utter nonsense as well as misleading. However, Rickson Gracie has raised serious concerns over the effectiveness of sport focused instructors when it comes to coaching their students effective self defence and the application of sport orientated BJJ once strikes are added i.e. in Mixed Martial Arts.

BJJ ‘Self Defence vs Sport’ – The Dogma Debate

This November will mark 22 years since Royce Gracie stepped into UFC 1 and showed the world what martial arts was really all about. Yet two decades on, many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners, even at the higher echelons remained confused. As a result, we are increasingly seeing a divide between those extolling the self defence elements of BJJ “Gracie Self Defence” and those perceived to be practising ‘the sport’, with the former turning on the latter. The position being taken by the ‘traditionalists’ is ridiculous on a number of levels and leads to ineffective training practices with the resulting output you would expect.

Choosing to ignore what has happened in MMA since 1993, where clinch dominance from Thai, Wrestling, and Judo has taken over as preferred delivery systems vs. a low kick to clinch of the early Gracie fights, this ‘group’ is actively attacking ‘BJJ sport players’ for their lack of attention to takedowns! With their mantra of ‘nobody starts from the knees’ (no really!), Gracie Self Defence advocates are recommending that stand-up consists of self-defence scenarios against situations like schoolboy headlocks! You literally could not make this up!!! The art that revolutionised martial arts is continuing to ignore the real world and instead turning inward on “sport BJJ” players who are more than capable of handling the types of imaginary situations at least as well, if not better. I’ve seen Gracie Garage devotees with their online training course gradings directly challenge the stand up capabilities of highly competitive sport BJJ players. Anyone who is worrying about self defence situations where the attacker ‘schoolboy headlocks’ them, has bigger issues to sort out in their thought processes than concerning themselves with the stand-up capabilities of active sport competitors.

As a result, even the more progressive are being dogged by clear breakdowns in their epistemology due to the influence of traditionalist dogma. For example, a highly respected Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt of many years and whom I have personally gleaned a great deal of insight, recently wrote an article incorporating his thoughts on “BJJ takedowns”. In the example, this individual gave the magic number of at least “2 takedowns” but I have seen other articles that talk about “the 7 takedowns you must learn” and everything number in between. Such notions are based firmly in numerology “belief in divine, mystical relationship between a number and some coinciding events where no such relationship exists.” We must be careful when even good coaches with great experience accidentally take us into the realms of mystics and dogma as we risk adopting the methodology and thought processes of the traditional martial artists.

An Alternative approach:

Firstly, stand-up training depending on whether its MMA or BJJ needs coaching and expertise from other delivery systems. Thai Boxing, Boxing, and full contact Karate have been highly successful in MMA striking. Clinch from Thai, Wrestling and Judo are vastly superior to Gracie Self Defence notions, whether for active competition or self defence. Wrestling and Judo is ideal for sport BJJ competitions for the stand up elements. An active judoka’s biggest concern when placed in a schoolboy headlock should be the moral hazard of how they takedown the aggressor without doing them serious physical harm. Sport BJJ players could easily take the back and finish standing. Training alive is infinitely more useful and realistic than pre-rehearsed self defence moves, Gracie branded or not, makes no difference.

A Useful Takedown Concept

From training with Judo coach Verity Stephens, I have learned that there are four corners in which all takedowns fall into. A related concept is explained by Neil Adams when he talks about balance lines. In effect, your opponent can either choose, or at higher levels be forced through positional dominance, into one specific corner. An appropriate takedown to that specific corner can then be selected. Whilst statistics in the UFC show the double leg as easily the most successful takedown, the double leg work best when your opponent leans into you or you make them step / lean into a front corner. Developing a working knowledge of takedowns that work for all 4 corners will result in a very rounded and highly adaptive approach.

Its also important in stand-up for players to learn the positional game of wrestling. This is actually another inconsistency with the self-defence approach in the Gracie Self Defence stand-up ‘game’. No positional methodology appears to be taught in Gracie Self Defence stand-up yet its fundamental to their ground orientation. Why the inconsistency? Anyone interested in gaining a BJJ style of positional orientation for wrestling or judo would do very well to read Matt Lindland’s “Dirty Boxing” book, where Lindland takes the reader through a hierarchy in much the same way BJJ would depict the following positions – Closed Guard – Open the Guard – Headquarters position – Half Guard – 3 Quarter Guard – Mount – Back. Lindland works from the 2 on 1 Tie in much the same way Eddie Bravo begins with half guard and then progresses through positions in order of hierarchy. Another excellent resource on positional play with the Gi is Jimmy Pedro’s instructionals, in particular ‘Gripping Like A World Champion’. Like Lindland, concepts like inside control, shoulder control, putting the opponents sleeve’ in the pocket’, power hands, etc, are all concepts from which the appropriate takedown becomes significantly easier to execute. Learning the fundamental control positions of wrestling and judo first such as dominant head position, free range movement, footwork, posture, etc, are critical as is developing grip fighting concepts like inside control and ‘the pocket’. Learn the four corner concept and start to recognise where takedowns fit within them. Finally, begin to develop takedowns for each corner and each of the 3 ranges as recommended by Verity Stephens. The alternative notion of learning takedowns like random submissions should be utterly preposterous to any intermediate BJJ player yet this again appears the approach of the Gracie Self Defence advocates. What’s more important? Learning correct guard posture or learning a kimura? Clearly the former. Takedowns are no different.

In summary, the martial arts world owes a huge debt to the Gracie family. However, Gracie Self Defence advocates need to take a long hard look at what is going on in MMA; what works, what doesn’t. The stand-up elements need replacing with striking and clinch from delivery systems proven superior already and this has already happened in forward thinking MMA and BJJ establishments over a decade ago. If their recommendations for improvements in Sport BJJ are little more than the scenario based nonsense they helped the world reject two decades ago, they risk what should be an unrivalled legacy imploding in its own dogma. And sport BJJ should ignore them, as they are currently doing.

1st timers BJJ advice

Welcome to the wonderful world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts. Its going to be great!

Am I fit enough?

Common concerns relate to not having trained before, being too old or too small. None of these should be a concern as long as a doctor has signed you off to exercise for general fitness work and you’ve declared to the instructor any concerns and stipulated them on the registration form.

What shall I wear?

Comfortable long sleeves and long tracksuit bottoms are fine for beginners. You don’t need any expensive Gi’s until you have decided this is for you.

What is my experience level?

Sometimes when discussing experience levels, students seem to feel pressured to exaggerate – its not a job interview. We would advise anyone to be COMPLETELY HONEST about their experience level and the specific martial arts they have trained in. We’ve had multi degree ‘jiu jitsu black belts’ insist on training in advanced classes only to have one of our blue belts at the same age and weight class submit them repeatedly which doesn’t help anyone. We want the appropriate class for everyone’s level.

What Else Can A First Timer Do To Help Their Coach Help Them

For those coming to train with us for the very first time, please read the following advice and try to adhere to it. We are a friendly, open club but in order to make the environment as productive as possible for all students, we insist on a few ground rules for newcomers and their first time training with us. It may also help answer a few common questions you may have.

1) ALWAYS, ALWAYS, Please call ahead – for us on 07775 901452 or better still message us via our Facebook page or text us listing prior to coming down, either to train or watch. Its always useful for us to speak first to assess your experience and which classes will be most appropriate to attend. We know then know to look out for you as well on the first time you try to find us. We do NOT do walk-ins or just popping in. We don’t employ a receptionist which we would need to pass on the cost to you. Our coaches don’t want to be distracted by questions, knocks on the door, or people hanging around who we don’t know who they are. Its not fair on our students.

2) Timetables and ‘just popping in’ – we don’t publish a timetable as it increases the propensity of what we are trying to avoid: people self selecting classes and randomly turning up.

3) Know the gym’s location before you set off and aim to arrive early! The first time you come down, aim to arrive 15 minutes before the class is due to start. Firstly if you get lost, we have no problem helping you find us prior to class beginning. Secondly, we have a registration form that we need you to complete. Finally, if you do get lost, we do not answer calls once class has begun.

4) Your intro classes don’t fit my schedule – where there are difficulties making the designated intro sessions, we can occasionally make exceptions. However, the intro sessions are designed specifically for newcomers and are more about getting you class ready than anything else and placing the correct foundation for your future. We offer 7 days per week of BJJ and MMA classes to those who graduate through and we have commitments to an existing base of members who come year in, year out. If you come to a class outside of the intro sessions, it may be at a faster pace than you would like.

Krav Maga classes in Bury

Many people believe that for self defence they require a different approach from mixed martial arts. ‘Self defense stylists’ sell themselves by highlighting that mixed martial arts doesn’t make use of nor defend against weapons. They point out that certain moves are illegal and they show weapon disarms against unresisting opponents who stand still and essentially allow them to show off techniques that appear flashy but simply do not work against live resisting opponents. This pretty much sums up Krav Maga. 

The best way to achieve the goals of Krav Maga are to develop fundamental fighting skills in striking, clinch and ground slowly building up resistance against live, resisting opponents with competitive skills in each of these areas. Then gradually over time, related skills such as the 2 on 1 from Greco Roman and Judo can be utilised into self defense situations such as knife defense. 

Come down to our world class 7 days per week facility to see why we are so different and so much more effective.