What Makes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu So Effective

Table of Contents

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has taken the world by storm and there is a good reason why, it simply is effective for anyone practicing the art to defend themselves.

Originally developed in Brazil by the Helio and Carlos Gracie in the early 1900’s after learning from Mitsuyo Maeda who was a very good Judoka who was very good at Ne-Waza (the ground fighting aspect of Judo), Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has had a long journey to what it is today but one thing is for sure, it has always been effective in self defense.

Developed by Smaller Men to Work

Both Helio and Carlos Gracie were men of smaller stature and they noticed that the most effective techniques they learned from Maeda were the ones that were Ne-Waza based and through trial and error they started to refine the techniques into what we know as BJJ.

Helio specifically was the main architect of BJJ and he also found himself in many challenge matches where other fighters tried to test out if their fighting style could beat jiu-jitsu, with all of them never being able to beat Helio. A streamlined new set of techniques started to emerge, all of which were highly effective and no-nonsense.

Originally Made For Self Defense

BJJ back attack to final choke
BJJ back attack to choke

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was originally made for fighting on the streets in self defense, it was made to simply work and work fast. The moves did not look fancy in comparison to other martial arts but they were all high % moves that anyone could use properly with enough practice.

Works Off of Principles of Leverage and Groundfighting

Due to the fact that the Gracies were men of smaller stature they needed something that would be the great equalizer in a fight in order for them to effectively fight off an attacker.

The first equalizer was the fact that every single move they developed was based on the principle of leverage, where by using your body’s mechanics and positioning in comparison to your opponents, you increase the power of a move/hold substantially.

The second equalizer and we will call this the great equalizer of BJJ is the fact the Gracies noticed that when they could get an opponent to the ground, it was much easier to apply their principles of leverage in order to totally dominate a person. In fact when they got the opponent to the ground, the opponent was like a lion who was in the sea with a shark, no matter how strong and dangerous the lion was – there was nothing they could do as they were in the sharks realm (the Gracies being the shark).

The third equalizer is the development of the guard and fighting of one’s back when on the ground. Not only did the Gracie’s understand how to fight on the ground but they even created an offensive way to fight off what people thought would be the absolute worst position to be on the ground which is on your back. Soon enough the Gracies developed many variations to the submissions and sweeps (reversals) they learned from Maeda and became true specialists in fighting off their back

Take all these equalizers together and you have a formidable fighting system, one that the smaller man can truly beat the bigger man and do so very effectively.

The Power and Emphasis of The Choke

There are many different submissions in BJJ, all of which can end a fight quickly if done correctly. Helio used to say that the choke was the king of submissions, the arm lock the queen of submissions and the leg lock the thief, that was because of the fact that unlike the arm lock and leg lock, the choke can bring any person down as if you can’t breath you can’t fight. Helio was always adamant on his fighters to have the ability to apply a tight choke as he felt this was the one submission you absolutely can rely on to end a fight

Gross Motor Based Self Defence

Another truly great thing about BJJ is it is all gross motor movement and not fine motor movement, this means that these moves are based on larger compound movements where no matter how much adrenaline or surprise there is, it is very easy for the brain to remember and the body to perform. This creates a system where anyone, no matter their athletic ability can do, there is no real jumping spinning moves, all moves are easy to do and logical.

BJJ is Truly Acid Tested

Guillotine choke from the Guard
Guillotine choke from the guard in MMA

Every technique in BJJ has been created under pressure, if the technique works it is kept, if it does not work it is thrown out. BJJ has many venues where it is tested daily, it can be on the mats at your BJJ school where you are rolling with your training partners, it can be in a BJJ tournament, in an MMA match and back in history it was in Vale Tudo (everything goes) tournaments and on the street. 

This system has seen it all and has created a true diamond from all the pressure it has gone through, unlike other systems, there was no running away from a challenge, in fact they encouraged it in order to prove BJJ’s effectiveness and in doing so they constantly optimized the system into what it is today.

The Gracie Challenge and The UFC

When we talk about the evolution of BJJ there are 2 truly significant events in the timeline that truly helped develop the art.

The first is the Gracie challenge, Here the Gracies had an open door policy to anyone who wanted to challenge the effectiveness of their system against Gracie Jiu-jitsu. There were hundreds and hundreds of challenges that occurred, each one showing BJJ’s dominance and a common theme which was the Jiu-jitsu practitioner taking the opponent to the ground and finishing them off with a submission. Over the years these challenge matches truly helped BJJ evolve as it was constantly being pressure tested.

The second catalyst to the evolution of BJJ was the UFC. The UFC was a no holds barred fighting tournament that was created by Helio’s son – Rorion Gracie. Rorian wanted to present the effectiveness of BJJ to the world and this was his chance to bring it to the big time. Rorion decided to place his younger brother Royce in to represent Gracie Jiu-jitsu (Brazilian Jiu-jitsu) in the tournament.

Royce ended up defeating all his opponents (many of which were 100 pounds heavier than him) and winning the tournament, showcasing Jiu-jitsu’s effectiveness in a real world fighting situation. The UFC developed into a major sports organization and the sport of MMA was born. The Gracies and other BJJ fighters constantly developed thor techniques and strategies to keep on winning for many years to come.

BJJ is Everywhere in MMA

It is extremely rare to see any professional fighter who does not practice BJJ, it may not be their main fighting style but they all practice it as they know if they do not have any BJJ knowledge that they are truly in danger of being dominated on the ground.

In fact this may be BJJ’s greatest victory, the fact that it is so effective that everyone is doing it in MMA. It is not uncommon for fans to see their favorite fighter pulling off sick submissions in the cage that they learned at their local BJJ academy.

Most Fights End Up on the Ground

There have been many studies done by law enforcement agencies on assaults and fights. The FBI even discovered that 85% of fights end up on the ground. We have all seen the school yard fight where 2 guys or girls end up fighting and somehow land on the ground, ti is messy and not beautiful but it happens. In case the fight ends up on the ground you definitely want to have BJJ training to help defend yourself and finish the opponent before the opponent finishes you.

It Truly is an Ethical Martial Art

BJJ is truly fascinating in the fact that you can win a fight without hitting someone. Sometimes this may be needed as perhaps you may find yourself in a situation where you need to control and stop someone from being violent but without hurting them. It could be a drunk violent uncle at a wedding or perhaps it could be a person you want to arrest without hurting them, either way BJJ gives you the tools to do so without causing true bodily harm to the opponent should you choose.

You Can Train Hard but Train Safe

BJJ classes all have some type of rolling (sparring) where 2 practitioners engage each other and try to submit one another with it ending if a training partner taps their hand or verbally submitting.

Teaching a choke
Teaching an effective choke

Even when BJJ practitioners go hard there is no real danger of getting injured, this is not to say it doesn’t happen but it happens exponentially less than in other martial arts when 2 fighters decide to go hard at it in sparring.

This ability to spar hard gives the practitioner the ability to test themselves in trying techniques with pressure and resistance from the opponent, quickly what does not work is not used and what does work is relied upon. The learning curve is extremely fast due to this BJJ factor and this is why even a lower level belt in BJJ can be a dangerous person to meet on the street.

Hard Rolling Develops Emotional Toughness

Many martial arts lack contact and when practitioners of martial arts without contact get into any type of altercation, their brain cannot handle the contact factor, the initial first shock of being hit, thrown, bumped hard and pushed. Generally these types of people freeze up and cannot do any of the moves they have practiced as they never practiced under pressure.

This is where grappling arts such as BJJ excel, as one thing is for sure, there will be pressure and contact and as time passes all practitioners get used to it emotionally and it becomes second nature, thus when a self defence altercation happens, the shock of being physical does not truly phase the BJJ practitioner as they have been through it hundreds if not thousands of times.

BJJ Gets You Into Serious Shape

Vince Lambardi once said “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”. Simply said if you are not in shape, you cannot defend yourself no matter what art you practice.

BJJ athletes are in truly great fighting shape. A typical BJJ training session can burn between 400 to 1200 calories depending on the size of the person and intensity of the training session.

This creates a fighter who is ready for the physical challenges of a fight, they are strong, have a lot of stamina, great cardio and for the most part are flexible.

Final Thoughts

If you want an effective martial art for the common person, no matter their size or athletic ability, you will not be disappointed with Brazilian jiu-jitsu as it truly has been developed by pressure tests and the test of time. BJJ continues to show its dominance on the global stage and it will continue to as it is constantly evolving to do so.


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