Today, the term “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” or “BJJ” has become the ubiquitous term for a particular grappling art that is sometimes used in Mixed Martial Arts. I do not use this term. I usually use the term “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” or just plain “Jiu-Jitsu”, but why? To start with, let’s look at the definition of jiu-jitsu. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines jiu-jitsu as a form of fighting without weapons that was developed in Japan. The full definition states that jiu-jitsu is an art of weaponless fighting employing, holds, throws, and paralyzing blows to subdue or disable an opponent.”
It is customary in the Japanese martial arts that different variations or styles of the same art would distinguish themselves by attaching another name to the style. In Japanese, these styles are referred to as “ryu”. For instance, “Hakka Ryu Jiu-Jitsu” or “Shorin Ryu Karate”. When Rorion Gracie moved to the United States in the late 1970s, he realized that there were many different styles of jiu-jitsu being taught that varied greatly from the style he had practiced in Brazil. For this reason, Rorion coined the term “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” in order to differentiate the style of Jiu-Jitsu he was teaching from all of the others. Rorion then copyrighted this name, a sound business practice. Prior to the early 1990s, the term Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu did not exist. Brazilians simply called the art that they were practicing jiu-jitsu and nothing more. In the late 1980s, other members of the Gracie family began to come to America and they all filtered through Rorion. The earliest Gracies taught at Rorion’s Garage then later at the Gracie Academy in Torrance, CA. As these other family members began to drift away from Rorion and open their own academies, they initially started to use the term “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu”, however this term was copyrighted. Looking for a way to identify themselves without using this term, the term “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” was coined.
When asked about the term “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu”, Royce Gracie stated “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is more of the teaching style. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is the way we teach. We have a very particular way to teach” (BJJ Legends Magazine, Issue 1, 2009). The other Brazilians moving to America did not use this teaching style, and this was one of the reasons that Rorion would not allow them to use the “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” name. This very particular way of teaching is the teaching methodology that I use. For this reason, I prefer to use the term “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” instead of “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.” BJJ has come to be associated with the sportive aspect of jiu-jitsu. It is often said that someone is a BJJ Black Belt. To me, this statement has a completely different connotation than a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is a complete martial art including standing self defense, striking, takedowns, grappling techniques, and philosophy. The sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu only includes grappling techniques and a very limited selection of takedowns.
An additional factor is that I am not Brazilian. I have never been to Brazil. The Brazilians control the sport of jiu-jitsu, however jiu-jitsu does not belong only to Brazilians. Jiu-Jitsu is a Japanese Martial Art which was adapted by a particular family in Brazil. The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation is a for profit entity that holds grappling competitions. These grappling competitions are highly biased towards Brazilians and towards particular teams based out of Brazil. No legitimate international sport limits itself by attaching a national name. The Olympics do not feature “Chinese Ping Pong” as a sport. The sport is simply Ping Pong. Judo is an Olympic sport. “Japanese Judo” refers to a specific style employed by members of the Japanese National team. Russian Judo, French Judo, Mongolian Judo, etc. all have distinguishing characteristics that they are identified with, however, they all practice one sport: Judo. We all practice the art of Jiu-Jitsu. I teach and practice this art using the methodology developed by Grandmaster Helio Gracie and his son Royce Gracie. For this reason, I identify the style as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
One closing anecdote: as a brand new purple belt, I fought on an MMA show in Louisville, KY. It was my third MMA fight. A brown belt from Brazil fought on that same show. This brown belt trained at a major school in Rio de Janeiro and was brought to America by a famous black belt from that team. The black belt had even placed at the World Championship in Brazil at the black belt level. At this time, I was suffering under the delusion that anyone from Brazil was automatically better than anyone from America. Yet this Brazilian Brown Belt was extremely nervous. Nervous to the point that he was throwing up in the warm up area. I talked to the brown belt and reassured him that he would be just fine. I reminded him that he was a brown belt FROM BRAZIL. He replied to me that he had never trained any striking and that he felt unprepared for the fight. I contrasted this with the feeling that I had of being completely prepared for whatever situation might present itself. Obviously, I was nervous but I had confidence in the training that I went through. I felt this way before every fight, even my very first one. That night I won my fight by unanimous decision and twice used a fundamental self defense technique to take my opponent to the ground. The brown belt from Brazil also won his fight, but it wasn’t pretty. After chasing his opponent around the ring and getting hit with several extremely sloppy punches, he was eventually able to drag his opponent to the ground. He struggled to control a relatively untrained opponent on a regional MMA show before eventually securing a submission and then promptly collapsing on the mat from exhaustion. That night I realized that a person’s nationality has nothing to do with his ability. That night also helped to reinforce that not all jiu-jitsu was created equally when it came to fighting effectiveness.