Learn which part of your game that you love and work at it to make it super strong – Hopefully you’ll have a coach who will help you recognise which bit of your game you might be strongest at (at this moment in time), and help you work on it so it becomes your go-to attack, defence or guard.
Visit another gym – Having a comfortable and awesome home gym is great, but going to another gym for a session or two gives you a totally different vibe, and might help you see something from a different perspective.
Roll with a black belt – It’s fun. You think “oooh I’ve got something…” and then it’s all of the NOPE 0.0001 seconds later.
Compete – I know competition isn’t for everyone, but I think everyone should try at least once to decide they don’t like it. Even if it’s just a little inter club friendly. It’s like the food your mum used to try and get you to eat when you were little… if you didn’t try it, how did you know?
Branch out from your comfort zone – If you normally train in the gi, try no-gi, or vice versa. It’s amazing the different possibilities with both.
Don’t underestimate yourself – Plateaus are all part of the game. Even the best black belts in the world have had moments where they felt frustrated or stuck, but the thing is is that they didn’t give up and they figured out a way to solve their problem.
Be delighted in the small things – Okay, so you might not be winning gold at every competition, or sweeping that 100kg guy all over the mat, but sometimes that doesn’t matter. I like to look for the little things in my game to see where I’m improving. If I can sweep someone I couldn’t last week, or the guy who normally subs me in 10 seconds has to work for a minute to do so this time… that’s all improvement. You’re not going get amazing overnight, especially not at this sport!
Find your Jiu-Jitsu family – this one is pretty self explanatory. I found mine, and they’re the best bunch of people I could ever ask to train with.
Learn something flashy – one of my personal favourite stories is when I was grappling, before I’d really started looking at any of the nuances of BJJ, was that I asked Michael (my coach) how to do a flying armbar. He told me that there was no point learning that until I’d learnt the basics. Since then I’ve worked on my guard game, sweeps, passing etc. A few months ago, I finally learnt a flying armbar. So that’s my flashy shit ticked off. Not sure I’ll ever be able to pull it off in comp though!
Don’t give up – If you’re getting beaten all the time, then it won’t be that way forever, new people will come in, or you’ll get better and start beating some of the old hands. Equally you won’t be a white belt forever, so enjoy it. This is the time when you’ve got the most chance to explore, with the least expected of you. Enjoy it.
I already covered the earlier part of the history of jiu-jitsu in this blog post. There I discussed the inception of ground work and its spread to Japan, before the developments that occured right up until the nineteenth century.
In this post I’m going to explore what happened to BJJ from the 1880s to the present day.
I left off when BJJ had developed from a battlefield art into one that occurred in the practice room. Japanese martial arts split into lots of different factions; Judo and Aikido being the two dominant arts, but there were plenty of other disciplines about as well. They all focused on a particular part of the sport, rather than looking at the whole picture. Bruce Lee would later call this time ‘a classical mess’ because he saw students that were ‘merely performing methodical routines […] rather than responding to “what is”‘ (Little, 2015, p.144). In the Gracie version of BJJ history, the blurb likens this to ‘swimming without water’ – frankly a rather pointless exercise. The art had become so dominated by methodical technique, that it was no longer applicable to real world situations.
Out of this melee the art of Kodokan Judo, developed by Jigoro Kano came to the fore. Founded in 1882 the art dominated other martial arts that tried to challenge it for many years. It wasn’t until the turn of the century, when a man named Mataemon Tanabe challenged Kodokan Judo with a little known system of classical Jiu-Jitsu, known as Fusen Ryu.
Fusen Ryu differed from Kodokan in that it focused on fighting on the ground, whereas Kodokan had predominately focused on throws from a standing position. In the matches that followed, the fighters of the Fusen Ryu dominated and submitted all of the Kodokan fighters. Jigoro Kano invited Tanabe to teach his ground grappling at Kodokan, and from then on fighters began to train both the throwing techniques, and the ground grappling game.
It is here that nomenclature gets even more confusing. The sport that these men were practicing was Judo, or Jiudo as Professor Kano sometimes called it. The Japanese people, however, clung to old-fashioned nomenclature and still called the art “Jiu-Jitsu”. It wasn’t until 1925 that the Japanese government mandated that the art taught in Japanese schools should be called “Judo”.
It was at the point when Kano and Tanabe began working together that a young man called Mitsuyo Maeda began his training. He was a martial arts prodigy and decided to travel the world to both practice, fight and disseminate his art. He finally settled in Brazil in 1914 and opened a “Jiu-Jitsu” school (at least this was what all of the Brazilian newspapers called it at the time). Maeda began to organise Jiu-Jitsu tournaments (really show-bouts so the sport would gain some coverage), and in 1915 a list of rules appeared for what seems to be the first Jiu-Jitsu tournament in Brazil:
1. Every fighter must present themselves decently, with fingernails and toenails perfectly trimmed
2. They must wear the gi, provided by Count Koma (Maeda)
3. It is forbidden to bite, scratch, head-butt or punch
4. When the athlete uses their foot, they must never use its tip, but instead the curve
5. The fighter whose back is on the ground is not defeated, even if they were the first one to fall
6. The fighter who is defeated must signal their forfeit by tapping either the mat or their opponent’s body thrice
7. The referee will deem defeated the fighter who, due to some contingency, cannot remember to tap to signal their forfeit
8. The matches will be divided into rounds of five minutes with two-minute resting periods interposed between them. The referee will count the minutes aloud for the benefit of the audience
9. If the fighters fall off the mat without either one having forewarned of it, the referee must force them to return to the center of the mat, standing and facing one another
10. The jurors may replace the referee in his duties. Neither the enterprise nor the winning fighter is responsible for whatever harm may befall the loser if, due to tenacity, that fighter refuses to signal forfeit.
The rules appear to be fairly similar to that of modern day tournaments, apart from rule number 4, which I can’t decide whether denotes that kicking was allowed, or if that is just a form of sweeping (such as De Asi Barai).
It was at one of these tournaments in 1917 that a young man named Carlos Gracie saw Japanese men fight and win against much bigger opponents. Maeda was known to the Carlos’ father, and agreed to teach him the art. After training with Maeda for some years, in 1925 Carlos Gracie opened his own gym, and started to spread the art and notierity of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by issuing the now-famous “Gracie Challenge”. Fighters from any art were welcome to come and try their luck, but time and again the Gracie fighters (Carlos and his brother Hélio) would secure victory. Hélio had adapted his brothers techniques for his slighter frame, and yet he was still dominating over men who were 50-100lbs heavier than himself. At 43 years old Hélio, in a no-holds-barred match, would fight for an incredible three hours and forty minutes against a former student Waldemar Santana.
It wasn’t long before a string of Gracie academies opened across Brazil. Carlos had 21 children, 13 of whom would go on to become Gracie black belts. It was in 1967 that the sport gained official national recognition. By this time Carlson Gracie had taken over from his Uncle Hélio as flagbearer for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. A primitive scoring system and a time limit was introduced.
Some of the Gracie family emigrating to the United States, and continuing the practice there. From then on the popularity of Jiu-Jitsu snowballed. In early UFC events in the 1990s Royce Gracie proved how effective ground grappling was against striking arts and in 1994 the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation was established by Master Carlos Gracie Jr. who was the sixteenth child of Carlos Gracie. Carlos Gracie Jr. is also the head of the Gracie Barra chain of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gyms.
There are two main strains of BJJ now – “anything goes” BJJ, more commonly known as Vale Tudo, and sport grappling, where competitors both in the gi and without will compete for points and submissions. Even though sport grappling is supposed to be done in a competition sense, rather than as self-defence/fight, there is still an emphasis on application to street fighting, or real life situations.
As for where Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is now… it is constantly evolving, you can practice BJJ in gyms across the world, and there are competitions in the four corners of the globe. The IBJJF has been hosting a world championships since 1996. ADCC is also a global body that hosts BJJ tournaments. There are also many other national and local bodies dependent on country which host tournaments and competitions.
BJJ is constantly evolving and changing. With each new practitioner that steps onto the mat, something new can be added or developed.
There is one thing that seems to be the rule of thumb with back attacks; if you get there, it’s your game to lose. Meaning that if your opponent manages to escape your back attack, it’s because you messed up, rather than some amazing technique or skill on their part. I’ve always been taught to look for back, because being a much smaller person, it’s a better dominant position for me than mount or side-control. If someone is significantly bigger than me and I pass the guard into either of the two above, unless I’m positionally very secure, they can probably just bench press me off. From the back they don’t have this option, so their strength in that sense, is useless.
Anyway, this week in class we’ve been revising back attacks, look at chokes and how to get into them, both in gi and no gi. In the gi there is a diverse range of options for chokes (not just from the back), including the bow and arrow choke and the alltime favourite – the Ezekiel choke. It doesn’t matter how many cool chokes you know, however, if you can’t get to the back and stay there for long enough to execute them, then you’re not going to win. Position before submission and all that.
We were specifically looking at the “chairsit position” with a harness grip, and drilling it a lot to make sure that if we ever found ourselves in a back position, we could recognise how to translate that to a finish. After learning a few of the techniques in a more static manner, we added some escapes for the bottom player to try, and in doing so make the attacker regain their dominant position. If the bottom player manages to escape their hips over your bottom leg, then there is no point trying to continue with whatver submission you were going for. They’re going to escape and probably either gain side control or mount, neither of which is a brilliant place for you to be in.
A further idea that we discussed is that when attacking the back from the turtle position, if for whatever reason you’re not in a stable enough position to attempt a spiral ride, then change to attack the legs and the hips, rather than the upper body. If you have one hook in you can attempt a rolling back attack (or if your nifty and know what you’re doing there are berimbolo options as well). If they’re putting too much pressure into you to achieve a rolling back attack, then you can use their pressure and pull them into (the lovely named) crotch-lock position. Both of these position end up with the legs entangled, at which point you can pull them onto you, whilst not letting go of the body. If you can’t get a decent enough grip quick enough then your opponent may be able to turtle again. If this is the case simply re-roll and do it again. Rinse and repeat until you can gain positional control and secure the back take. Only then is it worth attacking the submission, because without proper positional control, you’re probably not going to finish the sub successfully.
We’ve looked at the nuances of an RNC (rear naked choke) before. I’m not entirely sure why it’s called a “naked” choke when it can be done in both gi and no-gi… anybody fancy enlightening me? Either way, it’s a sub that a lot of people think “oh, that sounds easy enough!” but the actually ins and outs are a bit harder to grasp. For example, if your choking hand is not hidden underneath the other, then it is easier to grip and pull away; if you don’t get cheek to cheek (therefore leaving a gap), the defender can grip and defend. There are many tiny adjustments that make getting and securing the RNC a lot easier, and it’s worth working through each tiny little stage with your coach or a teammate to make sure you’ve got each bit down quickly and yet precisely.
I think I’ve finished one gold medal match with an RNC. It was a sub only competition and it was in the ninth minute. I remember desperately hoping that she would tap, because my arms were about to gas! Either way she did and I took gold, which was pretty sweet.
I had my first BJJ class about 18 months ago at The Forge Martial Arts Gracie Barra in Sheffield, under John Goldson, and I’ve never looked back. The gym recently changed ownership and our head coach is now Paul Cole, although the name has remained the same. I’ve been lucky enough over those eighteen months to train with all sorts of people, both at my own gym, at fight camps, and when visiting other gyms.
After being a white belt for just over a year, I was awarded my blue belt in March 2016 by John while we were in Tenerife at our club’s annual trip there to train with Ben Poppleton. It was a complete surprise and it took a while to get used to looking down when wearing the gi and seeing anything other than a white belt!
I had first started competing in October 2015. Since then I’ve competed in 12 more tournaments, taking 17 golds, 3 silvers and 1 bronze.
(Bryony’s note – I tried picking all her medals up at once when visiting Maia. Hint – I couldn’t).
I remember my first competition was a bit of a mess. I panicked, pulled guard and then sat there, didn’t even attempt a sub or sweep, because my brain just went blank! The adrenaline was crazy. Afterwards I remember thinking, ‘maybe competing isn’t for me…’, but I kept at it and eventually it all started coming together. I still get nervous, and competition day is always stressful as hell, but I’m starting to enjoy it a little more. This is mainly due to the fact that I have such an amazing team at The Forge who are unbelievably supportive, and who fight their hearts out on the mats alongside me at competitions. I think it’s also helped massively that the John Goldson style of jiu-jitsu is to cause as much discomfort and pain as possible, which has probably toughened me up! This coupled with the fact that the guys in our gym don’t discriminate against women in any way whatsoever and happily smash me up and down the mats on a regular basis!!! Paul hasn’t been my coach for very long but he’s already played a huge role in my competition prep and in the actual coaching during tournaments when he can sit mat side. I feel very lucky to train at such an amazing club.
I’ve met so many awesome people through the competition circuit, some of whom nominated me to join The Whisky Wolf #Matpack, which has been so much fun so far. Rich Harris has built a great brand and it really is an honour to represent it. The BJJ community is like one big, slightly odd, family, who show affection by trying to kill each other. Then after we’ve finished trying to do that for six or so minutes we hug it out and then go eat food! It’s always a really friendly atmosphere at the competitions I’ve been too, despite the fact we’re there to compete.
I probably wouldn’t compete half as much if it wasn’t for Lawrence Dutton and the BJJ 24/7 team putting on so many well run tournaments up and down the country. The first of their Submission Grappling Series, which took place in February in Liverpool, was my favourite competition so far. I’m really looking forward to the next one on the 25th September where I will be competing in both the gi and no-gi divisions. Then there’s the North-West Open in Manchester, which is the last on their circuit this year.
As for the future; I just can’t see my life without jiu-jitsu in it. I love the fact that it’s a sport that has no age restrictions; people of all ages take part and there are highly respected BJJ players who are well into their seventh decade! You can do BJJ until the day you drop dead, which is what I intend to do. And if I can pick up a few more golds on the way then that would be awesome as well.
Reading this title you might be thinking… well, duh, isn’t that what this whole blog is about? And yes, you would be right, but this post isn’t just about jiu-jitsu in general. It’s about the history of jiu-jitsu (in two parts). I’d already done ‘H’ so I had to be shufty about it. If we want to get picky here it should technically be spelt ju-jutsu, but the more modern form “jiu-jitsu” is more commonly recognise, and therefore will be the one which I utilise throughout.
A.N – I am in no way an expert of East Asian religion or history. I have pieced together this information from various sources and apologise if anything is wildly inaccurate!
There are differing starting points when discussing the history of jiu-jitsu, as with most things with continuous development, it is extremely difficult to pin point exactly where jiu-jitsu “started”. Some say Kodokan Judo, other disagree and say that it was when the Gracie family became involved and began to be disseminated through their extended family. These, in the span of human history, are extremely recent. Martial arts, and ideas about martial arts have been around for a lot longer than that.
Tradition dictates that some form of ground grappling that would eventually become jiu-jitsu began in India, where Buddhist monks were concerned with learning about self-defence. Buddhism became a major religion in India in about 260BC, having started in Nepal some four hundred years earlier. The form of jiu-jitsu these monks were practising would have been different to what we recognise today, but it is still linked and based on the same ideas and principals. The monks were especially concerned about negating the use of a persons strength or body mass, and so therefore were interested in techniques that manipulated leverage and balance. This was so a smaller, weaker man might gain advantage of someone twice his size.
Throughout the next eight hundred years or so Buddhism spread across east and south-east Asia, through Burma, Sri Lanka, China before finally arriving in Japan. The official starting date for Buddhism in Japan is 552AD, as listed in the Nihon Shoki, when it was introduced from Baekje, Korea. The relatively rapid and comprehensive spread of Buddhism across these areas was almost certainly due to the development of the Silk Road, which ran from the South China Sea right across to the Mediterranean Sea.
Side note: If you haven’t watched this history of japan video and you’ve got nine minutes to spare, do it. I cried laughing. It’s so funny. Do it.
In Japan, jiu-jitsu developed in earnest as way of defending against Samurai attacks if one was unarmed, or armed with only a short weapon. Slight side track; the first recorded use of the name Jiu-Jitsu actually appears in 1532, when Hisamori Tenenuchi established the first Jiu-Jitsu school in Japan.
Striking was considered ineffective against an armoured opponent, so a system of throws, locks and pins became more and more developed and utilised (known as Nihon koryū jūjutsu). This tradition differs from Chinese martial arts where a lot of the practice centres around forms of striking. In this sense jiu-jitsu was an art originally developed for deployment on the battlefield, rather than in the dojo.
The development of the art continued into the seventeenth century, after the capital had moved from Yamato to Edo (later renamed Tokyo) under the Tokugawa shogunate. The Tokugawa shogun had gained power after coming out on top during the civil war which had fractured Japan for many decades previously.
Under this shogunate, strict new laws were imposed, war was reduced, guns were banned (for everyone except the Shogun), and Chinese social philosophy of Neo-Confucianism spread. Under this ideology, weapons were used less and less and became decorative items. This meant that the development of hand-to-hand combat flourished as the art shifted. Previously it had been used to confront and defeat an armed opponent. Now, with the likelihood of an unarmed opponent being the adversary, the art was developed to consider how one might defeat an unarmed opponent.
For a brief period striking was introduced, but it quickly became disfavoured due to the need for immense energy to execute. Instead it was used as a quick set up to a lock, throw or pin. It was in this environment that the tradition of Randori developed – to create spaces and practice where practitioners of the art could challenge each other without breaking the law, and without the intention of killing their opponent.
In this sense there was already a split within jiu-jitsu; the form which was developed to defend against an armed opponent, and one for an unarmed assailant. It was from this split and further developments to make the tradition more appropriate for the practice room that the sports were might today recognise as Judo and Jiu-Jitsu appeared in the late 1800s.
The spread of Jiu-Jitsu to the West and it’s forms in the modern world will be explored in Part Two…
Each month I’ll be highlighting the most popular post from the previous month, so if you missed it perchance you don’t have to go back through to find it! Find out what your fellow BJJers and bloggers were loving last month…
I’ve already written a blog post about how lucky I am in the fact that I have a lot of girls to train with at Kaizen Academy – there’s now about ten regular girls who do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I recently read an article in the jiu-jitsu times that suggested that there is a lot of competition between girls who do the sport and not just the good kind that happens when we roll or spar. It suggested that girls can become territorial over mat space, their gym, their training partners, and other things when confronted with the prospect of a new girl joining up. This got me wondering two things; a) how true it was, and b) whether BJJ had the credentials to be considered a “feminist sport”. Stay with me on this one…
Read the rest of the blog post and see why I think BJJ has the makings of a feminist sport.