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What Is Jiu Jitsu? (Martial Arts Breakdown, Benefits, and Effectiveness)

Brazilian jiu jitsu is a grappling based martial art that uses concepts of leverage, angles, and timing to take down, control, and submit an opponent with joint locks or strangles.

By using these concepts as well as knowledge of the human anatomy, a smaller, weaker individual can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger attacker.

How Do You Explain Jiu-Jitsu to Someone?

The goals for jiu jitsu are to:

  1. Take your opponet down (to limit the amount of power they can generate)
  2. Pass their guard (get passed their “guard” (legs) to get access to their torso)
  3. Control them using pinning techniques
  4. Separate limbs from the body to expose possible submissions

Jiu jitsu is about using skill and strategy, not just strength, to control or defeat an opponent.

Why Is Jiu Jitsu So Effective?

Jiu jitsu is so effective due to two main reaons:

  • Jiu jitsu is constantly evolving and taking from other martials the most effective techniques and dismissing the ineffective ones
  • Jiu jitsu places a strong emphasis on live sparring or rolling and practicing techniques on fully restisting opponent

Live sparring lets you pressure test techniques. Some martial arts do no include sparring which makes it nearly impossible to test the effectiveness of certain techniques.

What Is Jiu-Jitsu Weakness?

Brazilian jiu jitsu does not teach any striking and has less of a focus on standup grappling. Therefore, someone who does bjj may be succeptible to strikes from an attacker or may have limited understanding or experience with takedowns.

When compared to other grappling martial arts like judo, wrestling, or sambo, Brazilian jiu jitsu focuses more heavily on ground fighting and doesn’t have as strong of an emphasis on taking your opponenet down.

areas of focus for bjj

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on takedowns and wrestling for bjj, but jiu jitsu as a sport and martial art likely has a long way to go when compared to the standup grappling of judo and wrestling.

Jiu Jitsu Belts

jiu jitsu belts

Jiu jitsu belts work similarly to other martial arts in that they are used to denote experience and rank.

For adults, every jiu jitsu belt in order is white, blue, purple, brown, and black. At the start of each belt, it will be clear or plain then you will be awarded degrees in the form of stripes on your belt to signify progression.

On average it takes atleast ~10 years to achieve a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu.

When compared to other martial arts, its takes quite a bit longer to get your black belt in bjj.

Martial ArtAverage Time to Black Belt
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu10-15 years
Judo3-6 years
Karate5-10 years
Tae Kwon Do3-5 years

History of Jiu Jitsu

While we can trace grappling back to ~2000 BC, modern Brazilian jiu jitsu is the result of Japanese jiujitsu and Judo being brought to Brazil in the early 1900s which was then transformed by several Brazilian pioneers.

  • Early 1900s: Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and Judo, which were not distinctly separate at the time, were introduced to Brazil. This period marks the beginning of the transformation into what would become Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
  • 1915: Mitsuyo Maeda, a renowned Japanese judoka, arrived in Brazil. He began teaching Jiu-Jitsu and Judo, laying the foundation for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
  • Founding Pioneers: Among Maeda’s first students were Carlos and Helio Gracie, and Luiz França. They are credited as the founders of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, each contributing to its development by refining techniques and creating new ones.
  • Early 1970s: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was introduced to the United States, marking the beginning of its international spread.
  • 1990s: The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) brought Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts into the mainstream, significantly boosting its popularity.
  • 2002: Carlos Gracie Jr. founded the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), organizing worldwide competitions and further promoting the martial art.
  • Modern Era: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has experienced a significant boom, with large, prestigious tournaments now frequently held in the United States.
  • Lineage: Practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can trace their lineage back to the founding members, such as Carlos and Helio Gracie.

Is There a Difference Between Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Sometimes when people say jiu jitsu they may refere to Japanese jiu jitsu. Brazilian jiu jitsu was likely heaveily influenced by Japanese jiu jitsu, but over time it continued to evolve and become it’s own martial art.

  • Japanese jiu jitsu is more traditional, less popular, may include less effective techniques, includes striking and weapons training, and doesn’t include live sparring. Whereas Brazilian jiu jitsu focuses solely on grappling and submissions using joint locks and strangles with a strong emphasis on live sparring.

What’s the Difference Between Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and American Jiu Jitsu?

Brazilian jiu jitsu and American jiu jitsu are essentially the same thing. Some pioners of the sport like Keenan Cornelius have adopted the name “American Jiu Jitsu” to signify moving away from some of the more traditional apsects of Brazilian jiu jitsu.

American jiu jitsu includes all of the effective techniques from Brazilian jiu jitsu but focuses more strongly on creating a martial arts program catered to the students and less on the coaches or traditional martial arts aspects.

Why Is Jiu Jitsu So Much Fun? (Benefits of Jiu Jitsu)

Jiu jitsu involves many fun aspects that can be very appealing to almost anyone such as:

  • problem solving
  • strategy
  • learning
  • social connection

In addition to those aspects there are several other benefits of jiu jitsu like:

  • its an excellent workout
  • provides increased mobility
  • its very good for self defense
  • you gain a supportive community
  • health benefits (cardiovascular and weight loss)

Can Anyone Learn Jiu Jitsu or At Least Become Decent at It?

Yes, anyone can learn jiu jitsu and become good at it over time.

Since jiu jitsu relies on technique and not strength or athleticism, with enough time and experience anyone can learn the principles of bjj and apply them effectively.

Jiu jitsu can be thought of as human chess – the person with more knowlege will always win.

Why Train BJJ?

Bjj isa martial art that is useful for self defense and offers endless problem solving. It is also accessible to almost anyone regardless of age, sex, or level of athleticism.

In addition to being a highly effective martial art, it also has other physical and mental benefits such as:

Physical benefits:

  • can help with weight less
  • increases flexibility/mobility
  • increases cardiovascular health

Mental benefits:

  • can help with anxiety
  • helps create bonds with teammates and instructors

Is It Safe to Train BJJ?

Braizilian jiu jitsu is one of the safer martial arts to practice with full force. Since it doesn’t involve any striking and anyone of any skill level can safely practice it. Compared to other martial arts such as Judo, Wrestling, Boxing, Kickboxing, or Muay Thai, BJJ is generally considered less dangerous.

However, it’s not without its potential for injury. Common issues for BJJ practitioners include knee, neck, back, and shoulder problems.

Due to the lack of striking, risk for head injuray in jiu jitsu is much lower when compared to striking based martial arts like boxing, kickboxing, or muay thai.

How Is Jiu Jitsu Taught and Are There Better Ways Out There?

In an average jiu jitsu class you can expect some form of the below:

  • warm up movements
  • guided instruction/drilling
  • live sparring or positional sparring

These methods are pretty common across many different sports and martial arts.

The instructor will display a certain move or technique and explain it to the students then the students will “drill” it (pract the move on each other with no resistance.


While this method if very common there is a growing trend among several coaches to follow more of an ecological approach to jiu jitsu.

The ecological approach to jiu jitsu involves creating games with specific tasks and goals in mind where students can explore techniques on fully resisting training partners as opposed to drilling on non resisting partners.

Some believe that this enables students to learn quicker, retain more, and makes the class more enjoyable overall.

    About the Author:

    Zack Nicholas

    Zack Nicholas:

    Zack is an avid jiu jitsu practitioner and weight lifting nerd. When not on the mats or in the gym, he can be found going for walks with his wife, attempting (and often failing) to train his dog, and frequently obsessing over a specific hobby only to forget about it a week later. He can be reached over his LinkedIn or at info@heavybjj.com