Mixed Grappling Arts Or Has BJJ Always Been This Way?

Published on by Dan Dufur

Photos By: John Cooper
In the documentary “Jiu-jitsu VS The World”, Jeff Glover talks about how jiu-jitsu has evolved. With the influence of other grappling styles, are we still training bjj? Has it evolved into a new style of its own? Or has it always been this way? Would the grandmasters approve of the art we study now? How would they feel about the popularity of sport jiu-jitsu? Would they be amazed to see how global bjj has become? Do they feel like the true essence is no more? What steps to we take to preserve the art, while improving it at the same time?
Royce Gracie showed in the early UFC days that bjj was the most effective art for fighting and self defense. I believe that still rings true today. No martial art has all the answers. But I believe that bjj is the most complete martial art. All fights start on the feet, but a lot of them end up on the ground. Being able to effectively take a fight to wherever you want to go is the beauty of bjj. To me, the whole sport vs self defense battle in bjj is irrelevant. It is personal preference. It is a sport and a self defense system all in one. Whether training to be street ready, or for competition, your mission is basically the same. You want to control the situation, while taking the least amount of damage, while being as efficient as possible. What subset of bjj that you want to learn is up to you. There are great self defense schools, and great sport schools as well. My opinion is that everybody should have a basic understanding of distance, takedowns, self defense, and awareness. After that it is up to the person to choose their own path.

What defines bjj? Is it the kimono? Is it the techniques? The use of timing and leverage to beat strength and power? Is it the core fundamental techniques taught by Mitsuyo Maeda to the Gracie’s and Luiz Franca? Is it the ibjjf tournaments? The adcc? The submission only style? I feel that the answer can be all of those things, and none of those things at the same time. Grip fighting is a major aspect in bjj. A lot of the grips we use today were not applicable back in the days. Sleeve length, material durability, and innovation all play major parts in why the kimono cannot define bjj. There has been the argument that once the gi is off it is not bjj anymore. When Rickson fought on the beaches of Brazil, was that not bjj? If your attacker is wearing normal clothes while you use bjj to protect yourself, is that not bjj? I believe the basic fundamentals do define bjj. Without core techniques and principle, there is no art. Without the foundation, you cannot build. The ibjjf, adcc and sub-only tournaments also have a large impact on the evolution. Many emulate and try to follow and discover the footsteps of others as a key to their own success.
One could say that Rolls Gracie is responsible for laying the blueprint of the bjj we train today. He had the fundamental Gracie Jiu-jitsu upbringing. He also infused his game with sambo and wrestling. Today the art is constantly growing and evolving. More academies are opening up, membership is growing, and the competition scene is thriving. People who are not a part of bjj do not realize all that bjj has to offer. Many who start it become hooked very early. Others who train in other martial arts styles are quickly seeing the importance of bjj and learning it to become a more complete martial artist. The grappling arts are becoming melded together through cross training. Nowadays you will see many bjj practitioners that have backgrounds in other grappling styles. Mostly Judo, Sambo, and Wrestling are the arts that are heavily influencing bjj.
I think bjj has always been a mixed grappling art. There have always been influences from other styles. Some of it has become more prominent today than it was in the past. It is hard to know if the grandmasters would approve of today’s bjj. I think some would love it, and others not so much. I think they would be happy about the progression of the sport, and the global phenomenon that it has become. Change and evolution is constant. It is needed for growth. I feel many teachers do a very good job at staying true to the essence of their style of bjj. The Valente Brothers are doing an amazing job at preserving the essence and spreading Helio Gracie’s jiu-jitsu. There are others like Renzo Gracie, that cover the traditional style and sport style very well. Some teachers are incredible in the sport aspect like Andre Galvao and Gui and Rafa Mendes. I feel like it is the instructor's job to tech a style that is open for interpretation for the student. Both useful for street and sport. We must maintain the core of jiujitsu while infusing our own personal touch.
There is no right or wrong. There is just bjj. Different rolls for different souls. The fact that you are training this incredible art is all that matters. If you want to learn to defend yourself, you are doing it for the right reason. If you are doing it to be a sport competitor, you are doing it for the right reason. If you are doing it for fun, you are doing it for the right reason. It doesn’t matter why you do it. The benefits are amazing. Jiu-jitsu will improve your life. Whether it is gi or no-gi, it is all jiu-jitsu. Escape reality by stepping on the mat, and becoming a better version of yourself. It doesn’t matter what it is called. The training is all that matters.