Brazil is a superpower when it comes to modern grappling arts due to the explosion of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu around the world. Yet there is another grappling art that comes from the jungles of Brazil that is a very effective grappling method known as Luta Livre.
Luta Livre is not as well known as BJJ but there still are many famous MMA fighters who practice or came from a Luta Livre background such as Marco Ruas, Jose Aldo, Darren Till, Renato Sobral, Alexandre Franca Noguira, Gesias Calvacante and more.
Luta Livre shares many similar characteristics to BJJ, both come from Brazil, both have submissions and allow all ground positions, both teach the practitioner to fight off the back, both have been used in MMA successfully and many other similarities that both arts share can be seen when comparing BJJ to Luta Livre.
That said, the main question when comparing Luta Livre to BJJ is how does Luta Livre differ from Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as most times, people think Luta Livre simply is No-gi BJJ and although that may look like what it is on the surface, it is definitely not the case.
Luta Livre Does Not Use a Gi
Luta Livre is a no-gi grappling art. All moves and techniques are done without any sort of gi or gi grip. This is by far the biggest difference between Luta Livre and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This has a lot of benefit when training for MMA as Luta Livre fighters will be more used to gripping the body and grappling without having a gi to grab hold of.
There has been a small change in Luta Livre as of 2020, where there are a few Luta Livre schools and associations that have adopted training with the gi with Marcelo Brigadeiro of Astra Fight Team in Brazil leading the movement but in most cases, Luta Livre is a 100% no gi martial art.
Luta Livre Includes Striking
Although there is a bit of striking in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, especially old school Gracie jiu-jitsu, BJJ is considered a 100% grappling based martial art. In the case of Luta Livre, this is not really the case as Luta Livre schools teach students how to strike properly in what would look similar to boxing and muay thai as well as Luta Livre teaches how to strike when on the ground.
Submission Before Position Based Grappling
BJJ has one mantra that is golden to every BJJ practitioner and that is position before submission. Luta Livre has its roots in Catch Wrestling and similar to Catch Wrestling, Luta Livre is about submission before position.
This can be seen in the curriculum of Luta Livre where the curriculum is much more submission based than position and sweep based. This is not to say that Luta Livre does not teach positions, escapes and sweeps but they will always try to punish the opponent and create opportunities for submissions at any given chance.
Luta Livre Does Not Emphasize the Guard
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu’s main advantage over many other grappling martial arts is the guard, both using offensively and passing the guard to go to other dominant positions. Although Luta Livre does teach the guard and there are many great guard players in the Luta Livre community, Luta Livre does not emphasize the guard as much as BJJ does, it does not even come close to BJJ when it comes to emphasizing the guard.
Luta Livre emphasizes all positions where attacking a limb or going for a choke or striking is possible.
More Emphasis on Scrambling Than BJJ
Not emphasizing the guard has had a direct effect on Luta Livre fighters being generally better at scrambling than the average BJJ practitioner. This has a lot to do with that when in an inferior position, where a BJJ fighter would go to replace the guard, the Luta Livre fighter would go to attain a dominant position which is generally going to be a top position and attack for a submission when doing so.
In order to attain a better top position, the grappler will need to scramble against a resisting opponent. Whereas in BJJ they would simply readjust hip position and place the opponent back into their guard.
Submission is The Name of The Game
BJJ practitioners are amazing at submissions and are among the world’s best submission grapplers on the planet but there are 2 major differences when it comes to Luta Livre when it comes to submissions.
The first is that from day one when someone enters a Luta Livre academy, they are going to learn leg locks. Not just basic leg locks but everything from heel hooks, to knee bars, to calf slicers, toeholds and more whereas in a BJJ academy, leg locks are taught much further into the student’s BJJ journey.
The second is that a Luta Livre academy will teach all submissions including dangerous neck cranks that are not allowed in most BJJ academies. For example, it is not uncommon for Luta Livre school to teach a can-opener neck crank to open the guard where in BJJ the can-opener submission is generally not allowed. There are many submissions that Luta Livre students learn that are simply not taught in mass in the BJJ community.
Luta Livre is More Vale Tudo Based
Due to the fact that Luta Livre fighters do not practice grappling with a gi, the fact they teach proper striking techniques as well as have much more emphasis on learning takedowns it is much more closer to Vale Tudo than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, especially in modern times as we can see that the modern MMA fighter somewhat looks like what Luta Livre teaches – no-gi grappling, striking and wrestling all working together in unison.
Luta Livre is Much Smaller Than BJJ
Luta Livre is much smaller in terms of community and number of people practicing it than Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. BJJ is a truly global martial art and grappling sport with millions of practitioners around the world. Luta Livre is nowhere near the size but it is growing more and more with many martial artists wanting to learn other grappling martial art systems than BJJ.
Luta Livre is Not as Developed as BJJ
BJJ has an amazing system of technical optimization due to the fact there are so many practitioners and so many BJJ tournaments around the world. The fact that BJJ has such a large number of practitioners speeds up the evolution of BJJ techniques as everyone wants to be technically ahead of the competition when it comes to BJJ tournaments and being the more efficient BJJ competitor. This huge ecosystem of grappling competition has made BJJ very effective as a grappling art as it is always changing and getting more evolved.
Luta Livre still has not achieved this level of optimization and evolution due to the fact that it has a much smaller number of people who practice it regularly.
There is no doubt that Luta Livre is different from BJJ and that both arts have a lot to offer to those who practice it. As time goes by, we are starting to see many more MMA fighters incorporate both martial arts into their MMA grappling training and try to take the best from both worlds.
Luta Livre is no longer the enemy of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, it is becoming a good art to learn different ways of looking at how to grapple for MMA and a good martial art to practice for those who want to learn both grappling and striking.