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BJJ for self-defence vs. sport

You don’t have to train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) for too long to understand that there are two schools of thought about the martial art. 

Some believe that Jiu-Jitsu has become too much of a sport, that it has forgotten its self-defence origins. Others believe this is the natural progression of martial arts, and that those who complain are “old fashioned.”  

If you’re new to BJJ, the first thing you need to understand is that this debate has no true resolution. It’s likely to continue to rage in gyms and internet forums around the world for years to come. And that’s fine! 

Gracie Botany is home to grapplers across South-East Sydney, all of whom train Jiu-Jitsu for their own reasons. Jiu-Jitsu is not one-size-fits-all. There is no “right” reason to train, yet newcomers often don’t know what to make of these arguments. The simple answer? You can take from BJJ what you want! 

What’s the difference between Jiu-Jitsu types?

As with any martial art worth anything, BJJ has a heavy emphasis on self-defence. Grand Master Helio Gracie, the martial art’s cofounder, developed it with the hope of allowing people of any size to defend themselves. 

Jiu-Jitsu focuses on ground-based grappling. This allows smaller people to outmaneuver larger aggressors, who will be less able to take advantage of their size and strength advantages.  

“Always assume that your opponent is going to be bigger, stronger and faster than you,” a famous quote from Gracie runs, “so that you learn to rely on technique, timing and leverage rather than brute strength.”

But as with every popular athletic endeavor, it eventually was turned into a competition. BJJ was popularized by Royce Gracie’s stunning victories in the first UFC tournaments, when he used Jiu-Jitsu against highly trained opponents who specialized in martial arts like Karate and Boxing. 

Three years later came the first BJJ World Championships (aka the Mundials). This is where a rule set was created to regulate Jiu-Jitsu matches, including a point-scoring system, anti-slamming penalties, and provisions against various leg locks. 

Some argue that this has led to too great a focus on “Sport Jiu-Jitsu”, which essentially refers to Jiu-Jitsu techniques designed to be used against other Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. Many popular BJJ positions and techniques, including creative guards and the Berimbolo, have been criticized as being unhelpful in a real fight. 

Others, meanwhile, argue that anyone who’s trained enough to earn a blue or purple belt will have learned enough BJJ skills to defend themselves on the streets. They add that the intensity of BJJ sparring and competitions replicates the frantic energy of a confrontation. 

What does that mean for you? 

The first thing to note is that BJJ invariably gives you a lot of both. 

It’s impossible to practice BJJ without learning self-defence skills, and we at Gracie Botany always remember that martial arts is first and foremost about protecting yourself. With that said, Jiu-Jitsu is a spar-heavy martial art. You’ll spar (or “roll”, as we say) with people at the end of every lesson – it’s often the highlight of class. Here you’ll inevitably apply techniques that are appropriate for the mats but inappropriate for a street brawl.

The fact that this debate has been ongoing for decades is a near guarantee that it will continue to go on for decades more. Instead of asking what the best “type” or Jiu-Jitsu is, rather ask what you want to get out of Jiu-Jitsu!

There are people who come to class for the purpose of learning self-defence. There are others who want to win gold medals in competitions around Sydney, and even around the world. These are two of many reasons why people train at academies like Gracie Botany. If you’re thinking about starting BJJ, you may want to do so for fitness reasons, out of curiosity or, maybe the best reason of all, for fun. 

Whatever your motivation, rest assured that you’ll learn a spread of techniques that will benefit you in a variety of situations. And no matter your reason for training, know that you’ll be accommodated at Gracie Botany. 

Come into Gracie Botany for a free trial lesson if you’re interested in learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.