Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was the most dominant martial art in the early years of mixed martial arts. Most MMA pundits know the story of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993. A relatively skinny Brazilian man was strangling people nearly twice his size to become the first open-weight tournament champion. That man is now a legend and an icon in martial arts: Royce Gracie.
In the early stages of MMA, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was very effective because it was relatively unknown to the other fighters that were competing in these events. In modern mixed martial arts, there are no longer any one-trick ponies. It is essential for each competitor to understand the many aspects of striking and grappling in order to be successful.
What is it that makes BJJ so effective? The Brazilian martial art developed and adapted from Judo by Grandmaster Helio Gracie and his brothers stands out in many ways.
1. It is not dependent on strength:
Helio Gracie was very frail as a teenager, and as a result, he could not practice Judo in the same way that his brothers did. Helio focused on adapting Judo for ground fighting, and that is how BJJ was born. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu relies on the mechanical principles of leverage, angles, and weight distribution. Technique is the most important aspect in training BJJ. Strength and flexibility are secondary to technique, and work to further amplify the effectiveness of technique.
2. Realistic training methods:
As mentioned earlier, BJJ was adapted from Judo, which had been spreading worldwide in the early 1900s. One of the basic training methods of Judo is called Randori, which is a Japanese term for freestyle practice. BJJ features the same idea for training. Techniques must be applied during live situations. Ineffective techniques will be exposed through Randori, and all that remains are the techniques that actually work in a real-life situation.
3. Constant evolution:
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has continually evolved since its inception over 100 years ago. New positions and submissions are still being discovered, and techniques from other martial arts such as wrestling and Combat Sambo are being utilized an adapted for BJJ. Marcelo Garcia, who many consider to be the best pound for pound grappler on the planet, is a prime example of evolution in BJJ. Garcia dominated the World Championships in 2003 by using a simple wrestling technique: the arm drag.
4. BJJ can be applied no matter what circumstance you find yourself in:
Striking can be effective as long as you stay on your feet, but it can easily be nullified the second that somebody decides to take you to the mat. The grappling disciplines can be effective while both standing up and on the ground. The difference between BJJ and the majority of other grappling styles is that, in BJJ, attacks can be launched from your back. You can submit a much larger opponent who is using their weight to their advantage by staying on top.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has its advantages, but there are also a few weaknesses that can be exposed in MMA.
1. Getting the fight to the mat:
At most academies, BJJ sparring often starts from the knees instead of standing up. The reasons for starting from the knees varies. Sometimes, there is not enough space on the mats to use takedowns. Other times, the instructors fear that the students who do not understand wrestling could get injured while attempting takedowns.
There have been plenty of fights in the UFC and other major organizations where a superior grappler lost the fight because he could not bring the action to the ground. Some grappling instructors are beginning to understand this, and have begun mixing more takedown practice into BJJ.
2. Training in the gi:
Traditional Brazilian Jiu JItsu uses the belt ranking system and is practiced in the gi. Training in the gi is great for improving technique and control, but does not always translate to MMA. The grips change completely in no-gi bjj. You can easily grab and hold the collar or the sleeve to control your opponent in the gi, but when training no-gi, it can be very difficult. The gi also creates a lot of friction, which makes scrambles and movement much slower in traditional bjj.
Many great bjj practitioners have been quoted as saying that you only need to train in the gi to be successful in MMA. That belief is not universal among the top MMA coaches. Firas Zahabi, head coach of Tristar Gym, believes that training in the gi is important for beginners to learn the basics. With that being said, Firas recommends that if you have to choose between the two, no-gi is better for MMA. The techniques learned in no-gi can be applied in the gi, but the reverse is not always true. Gi techniques such as the spider guard, collar chokes, and sleeve grips are completely useless in no-gi and MMA.