It was the Brazilian brothers, Carlos,Oswaldo, Gastão Jr, George and Hélio Gracie who developed the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighting style and made it distinct from its parent martial art, Judo.
They emphasized and developed the ground fighting techniques of Judo as opposed to the throwing techniques.
It was in the early 1990’s that BJJ sprang to international prominence when Royce Gracie won the first, second and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships.
Today, BJJ is practised by millions of trainees throughout the World. A question I’ve often asked myself is ‘why is it so popular?’.
As,I’ll point out below, the reason why BJJ is so popular is that it’s suitable for all ages, develops comradery, great for self defense, promotes physical fitness, provides mental challenge and perhaps most of important of all, it’s fun!
Suitable for young and old
A quick look round my local BJJ dojo and I can see the diverse age range of practitioners, from 6 to 60.
The fact that it’s ground based means that older practitioners don’t have to worry about being thrown to the ground and injuring themselves.
Unfortunately, as we age, the body doesn’t quite “bounce” so well when it’s dropped or thrown on the ground (believe me I know!).. Older practitioners of Judo and other predominantly throwing styles of martial arts, are far more likely to injure themselves.
Because BJJ is a ground based fighting style, there’s a very short distance to travel before you land on the floor.
BJJ is not a striking art meaning that there are no punches or kicks thrown. There’s therefore minimal risk of receiving a black eye or other visible injury.
Older practitioners are likely to have responsible jobs where they can’t turn up showing their latest war wound on full display to their boss..
BJJ also relies on skill over strength meaning that older practitioners can take advantage of their experience to overcome and defeat stronger, younger opponents. I’ve written here as to why BJJ is so good for the older athlete.
It’s also very safe for young children to participate in and teaches them discipline, confidence and emotional maturity.
This seems very surprising that comradery is listed as one of the reasons listed as to why BJJ is so popular. Especially since the purpose is to try and choke, strangle and submit your opponent.
However, that’s exactly what I’ve found. I think fighting taps into something very primitive in the human mind. This shared experience and struggle brings people closer together. As soon as the bout’s over, the players shake hands and are often smiling.
Uncontrolled aggression isn’t tolerated at all by well run dojos, and indeed, you need a calm focused mind to do well at BJJ. All the aggressive types are weeded out so you’re generally left with an aimable bunch of people who are just there to get better at their sport.
BJJ is also a highly effective self-defense system. As I’ve mentioned previously, when the Ultimate Fighting Championship was created, pitching various martial arts styles against each other, BJJ came out as a formidable combat system.
It now features as a core staple of the training programmes of many of today’s UFC champions.
It enables a smaller, weaker person to overcome and defeat a larger, stronger opponent.
It allows a practitioner to end a conflict situation without a punch or kick being thrown. An experienced BJJ fighter, will close the distance with the aggressor very quickly, moving inside the zone where strikes can be thrown.
As Joe Rogan points out in the clip below, knowing how to defend yourself gives you the choice on how to react when confronted with a violent situation, rather than having it decided for you.
If you don’t know how to fight then you’re having to react to the chaotic situation. You’re effectively hoping you can dodge any punches and kicks and land a lucky punch. In contrast, if you have an idea of BJJ, you can work to close the space and apply a submission technique.
A three minute roll on the mat is hugely tiring and demands and develops cardio-vascular fitness.
I’m often amazed at the amount of physical exertion involved at trying to get out of a hold or into a more dominant position.
At the end of a session, my Gi is literally saturated with sweat.
To a degree it also develops amazing strength. I find that when grappling an opponent, you end up in an isometric tug-of-war as you and your opponent vie for superior position. I’ve written previously about the effectiveness of isometric training for developing awesome strength here; it really is one of the best ways to develop functional stren
It’s also great for maintaining and developing your flexibility. Indeed, the last time that people rolled around on the floor was probably when they were young children, yet it’s precisely this type of activity that helps to keep you mobile.
It’s a Mental Game
BJJ is highly cerebral and those that focus on their technique will progress quickly in the sport. Every move has a counter move, and those counters have counters to them, and so on it goes.
The sport is constantly evolving with individuals coming up with new moves all the time. Often the winner is decided by who knows, and can execute correctly, the appropriate technique at the right time.
It is this focus on technique rather than brute strength that means that BJJ appeals to individuals that wouldn’t otherwise be attracted to a martial art.
Perhaps above all, BJJ is just plain great fun to do.
Like it or not, fighting is in our DNA. It has helped to forge us as a species. BJJ allows us to embrace this element of who we are in a safe way.
You’re also there with a great bunch of people. Having to ‘tap-out’ on a regular basis does wonders for the ego and helps to keep it in check. Those who can’t handle having to do this don’t last long in any club.
And there you have it, just some of the reasons why I think BJJ is so popular.
Do you agree? Let me have your thoughts below.