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Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Fundamentals

Updated on January 14, 2011

What is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

Almost all street fights end up on the ground, so it is surprising that most martial arts focus only on standup fighting. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is all about taking your opponent to the ground and using leverage to apply chokes and joint locks to submit your opponents.

Unlike other martial arts, brazilian jiu jitsu affords you the chance to train at 100% force with your training partners since there are no punches or kicks. There are no forms in jiu jitsu, and jiu jitsu classes consist of warm ups, technical instruction and live training.

This lens touches on where jiu jitsu came from, what the belt system is like, basic positions, how to win a jiu jitsu fight, and what to look for when finding a school.

If you have specific questions about jiu jitsu, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page.

A (VERY Brief) History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

How Jiu Jitsu Arrived in Brazil and made it's way to the U.S.

Jiu Jitsu was first brought to Brazil in 1914 when Count Koma, a Japanese martial artist, traveled to Belem do Para, Brazil. A young man named Carlos Gracie met Count Koma at one of his Jiu Jitsu demonstrations and soon became a student. Carlos transformed jiu jitsu by using leverage to choke and submit much larger opponents.

Carlos brought his knowledge of jiu jitsu with him when the Gracie family moved to Rio de Janeiro. There he opened up the first brazilian jiu jitsu school and began teaching law enforcement officials and anyone else that wanted to learn the art.

To prove the effectiveness of jiu jitsu and gain students, Carlos and his brother would often place ads in the local newspaper that would challenge anyone to fight. Tough guys from all over would show up and challenge the Gracies, and they would quickly be defeated. This helped to spread the word about jiu jitsu and soon they had a large following of students at their school learning jiu jitsu.

Jiu Jitsu was brought to the attention of Americans when Royce Gracie defeated all his opponents using Jiu Jitsu in the very first Ultimate Fighter Championship. Today, almost all mixed martial arts fighters know jiu jitsu.

So how do you win in a jiu jitsu match? - Position over submission. Always

Jiu Jitsu is known as the "gentle art" but for those of us that practice jiu jitsu, we know that it's hardly gentle! Below I will outline the elements of a jiu jitsu match in the order of what a fighter would be trying to accomplish during a fight.

A lot of people still do not know what jiu jitsu is, and when they find out that there is no striking or kicking invovled they often wonder "well what are you doing then"?

  1. If you are not already starting on the ground, you want to take your opponent down using a takedown.
  2. Once on the ground you want to control your opponent and gain a dominate position (refer to the section on this lens that goes over basic positions for more information)
  3. Dominate position and controlling your opponent are the most important aspects of jiu jitsu. My instructors always say "position over submission. always" and it is so true.
  4. Once you have a good position over your opponent you go for a submission. Submissions are in the form of chokes, leg locks, arm locks, and shoulder locks. You can even choke your opponent out using your own Gi (jacket) or their Gi by wrapping it around their neck.
  5. Matches end in three ways - Someone taps out (submission), the time runs out and whoever has the most points wins.

Basic Position: The Mount - Dominant Position (4 points in competition)

Basic Position: Back Mount - Dominant Position (4 points in competition)

Basic Position: Closed Guard - Versatile Position Used for Defense and Offense Attacks

Basic Position: Open Guard - Huge Variety of Open Guard Techniques

Check out my new lens Ultimate Spider Guard Guide for sweeps, submissions, and passes from spider guard!

Basic Position: Half Guard - Keeps Opponent from Passing Guard by Trapping One Leg

Basic Position: Side Control - Dominant Position Also Known as Side Mount

Basic Position: North South - Opponent on Top has Advantage

Basic Position: Knee on Belly - Dominant Position (2 points in competition)

Basic Position: The Turtle - Defensive Position to Avoid Submission

"I am a shark, the ground is my ocean, and most people can't even swim."

- Rickson Gracie

Belt System and Related Age Requirements - Official IBJJF Graduation System

Unlike many other martial arts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has very few belt colors. What this means is that you hold each belt longer, and it means much more when you are promoted. The kids have more belt colors than the adults because there are minimum age requirements to follow.

  1. White (all ages)
  2. Grey (Kids 4 to 6)
  3. Yellow (Kids 7 to 15)
  4. Orange (Kids 10 to 15)
  5. Green (Kids 13 to 15)
  6. Blue (Minimum Age 16)
  7. Purple (Minimum Age 16)
  8. Brown (Minimum Age 18)
  9. Black (Minimum Age 19)

Belt Requirements for Teens - Official IBJJF Graduation System

  • In order to be graded purple belt at 16 years old the athlete must have spent at least 2 years as a green belt.
  • In order to be graded purple belt at 17 years old the athlete must have spent at least 1 year as a green belt and 1 year as blue belt.
  • If an athlete is graded from green belt straight to purple belt, the minimum time required before he can be awarded the brown belt is 2 years.
  • In order to be graded black belt at 19 years old, it is required that the athlete has spent at least 1 year as a brown belt.

Belt System's Minimum Times - Official IBJJF Graduation System

As long as these minimum time requirements are fulfilled, it is up to each Professor to decide how long it takes for a student to be promoted.

  1. Blue to Purple - 2 Years
  2. Purple to Brown - 1.5 Years
  3. Brown to Black - 1 Year

Belt Degrees and Stripes System

Official IBJJF Graduation System

All belts, with the exception of the black belt, have 5 degrees; the clear belt, and then four additional stripes. Each professor is responsible for deciding when to award the stripes.

Unlike other martial arts, stripes and belts in jiu jitsu do not require formal testing to achieve. Professors award belts and stripes once the minimum requirements have been met, and the students performance, dedication, and attendance have all earned them the promotion.

Black Belt Degrees and Stripes - Official IBJJF Graduation System

The black belt has seven degrees; clear black belt plus six stripes. Once all minimum criteria have been met, a black belt is eligible to request promotion by the IBJJF.

  1. An athlete must be a minimum of 19 years old to be awarded a black belt.
  2. Black belts may request their 1st degree after 3 years as a black belt.
  3. Black belts may request their 2nd or 3rd degrees 3 years after being awarded the previous degree.
  4. Black belts may request their 4th, 5th or 6th degrees 5 years after being awarded the previous degree.
  5. 7 years after being awarded their 6th degree, a black belt may request to be awarded the red and black belt, which is the 7th degree.
  6. 7 years after recieving your red and black belt, you may request the 8th degree.
  7. 10 years after recieving the 8th degree, you may request the 9th degree.
  8. The 10th degree red belt is reserved for the pioneers of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu; The Gracie Brothers.

Choosing the right Jiu Jitsu School

what to look for when deciding

There are many schools that offer brazilian jiu jitsu lessons, and even some health clubs, so choosing one can be hard if you do not know what to look for.

I would recommend a school that specializes in brazilian jiu jitsu, like Gracie Barra. They have locations worldwide, so look for one in your area. I offer a list of helpful websites near the end of this page so you can go there to find the Gracie Barra Official website.

A Gracie Barra academy will offer a syllabus, expert instructors, and a wide variety of training partners. This is important because in smaller gyms where you do not have many students to train with you will not be exposed to the different strengths and body types that are out there. Another huge reason to train with Gracie Barra is that they invented the sport, so why not learn from the family that started it all!

Gracie Barra - "Organized like a team, fighting like a family"


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    • KBEvolve profile image

      Kenneth Brown 3 years ago from United States

      Do you train at Gracie Barra?