BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-jitsu) is undeniably the most popular grappling system on the planet right now.
But BJJ came from Judo, and Judo came from the traditional Japanese Jiujitsu systems. So there’s a direct lineage from Japanese Jiujitsu (aka Jujitsu or Jujutsu) to BJJ.
Jiu-jitsu is a type of martial arts that can be used in close combat for self-defense. Generally, there are two different types of Jiujitsu. They are Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) and Japanese jujitsu. Over the years, many people across the world have been guilty of confusing the two martial arts to mean the same thing – this is mostly because the two martial arts have the same name; “Jiujitsu”.
BJJ is pushing closer to becoming a mainstream sport and is also one of the most popular forms of exercise for casual participants looking for a fun, challenging workout in a community setting.
It is also one of the youngest martial arts in the world, only in practice since the mid-1920s.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s history is very recent, but its origins date all the way back to Japanese samurai who needed a hand-to-hand combat art that could work with their very heavy body armor on the battlefield.
That martial art is still practiced today as well, and is most commonly referred to as judo.
As the popularity of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu continues to skyrocket, the Japanese style has also come back into focus. To avoid confusion, it is important to understand that Brazilian and Japanese Jiu Jitsu will teach you different things.
While there are many similarities between Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Japanese style, students need to have an understanding of where each type of Jiu Jitsu came from and what it aims to teach.
What’s the difference between Japanese Jiu Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Japanese Jiu Jitsu was the original samurai art. Some call it the “mother art”. It incorporated everything that they needed to use on the battlefield when the samurai soldiers were fighting. Obviously certain assumptions come along with that; that you are big and strong, that you are wearing armor and that you’re carrying a samurai sword (a katana).
Over the years in Japan the art was passed down from one generation to the next and it was sort of, not watered down, but it was obviously made a bit safer in some ways. As an example, the original “hip throw” wasn’t your back to someone else’s stomach. You would rotate around and it was your back to someone else’s back. You would throw them over the top so that they would land on their neck. The idea on the battlefield was breaking their neck, something you can’t really practice very often.
What Are The Differences Between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu And Japanese JiuJitsu?
Brazilian JiuJitsu focuses exclusively on grappling and mostly takes place on the ground. BJJ practitioners use chokes, strangles and joint locks to submit their opponents, mostly from a sports perspective.
Japanese Jiu Jitsu mostly focuses on throwing opponents, joint manipulation, striking and blocking and some chokes and strangulations – all from a self-defence perspective. Some styles also include traditional Japanese weapons in their training.
Brazilian JiuJitsu (BJJ)
In BJJ, practitioners use takedowns to move their opponents onto the ground, and then focus on trying to establish dominant positions to control and submit their opponent.
A unique position in BJJ is the “guard”. The guard is an umbrella term referring to a variety of positions where a practitioner is on their back or buttocks with their legs defensively in front of or around their opponent. There are five other key positions in BJJ, with thousands of potential techniques for moving to and escaping positions, and submitting opponents.
BJJ has a very active sports community with many competitions around the world each year. As a result, most gyms focus on teaching BJJ geared towards competitions rather than self defence, which was originally a bigger part of the BJJ syllabus.
BJJ includes lots of sparring in every class, and as a result practitioners are able to test each technique to ensure it works against a resisting opponent. Because BJJ doesn’t include striking, sparring can be regularly practiced without fear of serious injuries, although there are still injuries in BJJ.
There aren’t multiple styles of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu like there are with Japanese Jiu Jitsu, although different BJJ gyms often naturally specialize in certain techniques or positions versus others.
Japanese JiuJitsu (JJJ)
Traditional Japanese JiuJitsu or Jujutsu focuses on defeating an unarmed opponent by using their own strength and momentum against them.
Jiu jitsu practitioners learn how to defend against an attacker in a variety of ways and then incapacitate them through strikes or submissions. They practice their techniques using a partner in various scenarios. They might block an attacker’s initial punches and then apply a joint lock, or throw them and then finish the fight with a joint attack or strike. Jujuts also includes some defence against weapons, including disarming techniques.
While modern BJJ focuses mostly on sport, Jiu Jitsu is mostly preserved from its tradition as a self defence system for unarmed samurai. Training focuses on partner interactions where the practitioner attacks or defends depending on the technique being practiced. There are some modern sports ju-jitsu schools which compete in competitions run by the Ju-Jitsu International Federation (JJIF).
Japanese Jiu jitsu is taught differently in different schools. Traditional schools include Takenouchi-ryu, and newer schools include the World Ju-Jitsu Federation (WJJF).
The History and Origins of Brazilian JiuJitsu
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu began to emerge as a martial art of its own in the 1920s as it was spun off from judo ground-fighting techniques.
The evolution from Japanese Jiu Jitsu to judo to what we now know as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu began in the 1880s when Jigoro Kano founded a martial arts school named the Kodokan.
At the Kodokan, Kano broke from traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu by encouraging his students to engage in live sparring sessions called randori. Contemporary Japanese Jiu Jitsu instruction focused more on drilling and compliance over full-contact sparring.
Mitsuo Maeda is the next big name in BJJ history to know. He began training at the Kodokan in 1894 and became a top student. Maeda’s specialty was ground fighting, known as newaza.
The young grappler moved to Brazil in 1914 and became friends with a local named Gastao Gracie. Maeda began teaching Gracie’s son, Carlos, who excelled in the ground-based martial arts.
A younger Gracie son, Helio, also participated in the newaza-styled Judo taught by Maeda, but struggled against bigger, stronger opponents due to his slight build.
Helio Gracie began refining the judo moves Maeda was teaching him to make it easier for students of any size to excel.
The Gracies worked to develop their techniques into a new martial art, but it did not pick up much traction outside of Brazil until Helio’s son, Rorion, moved to the United States in the late 1970s.
Prior to this time, the Gracies had been hosting challenge matches in Brazil. This gave Rorion the idea to create a bigger business out of the small tournaments.
It was out of this desire to take BJJ to the masses that the Ultimate Fighting Championship was born.
Though it hardly resembles the matches of UFC1 that Rorion Gracie organized in 1993, BJJ was finally launched to the whole world and continues to grow.
MMA has brought many styles of fighting together, but can thank the Gracie family and BJJ for its inception.
The History and Origins of Japanese JiuJitsu
When it comes to martial arts, BJJ is a newborn baby, especially compared to Japanese Jiu Jitsu, also known as jujitsu or jujutsu, which can trace its origins back more than 2,000 years to the ancient samurai.
Unlike BJJ, which has a very recent history and well-known origins, it is unclear who created Japanese Jiu Jitsu. Every modern style of Jiu Jitsu has its roots in the ancient Japanese fighting arts.
Jujitsu can be formally traced back to the Muromachi period of Japanese history when an older style of martial arts was modified to teach lightly armed warriors techniques that could be used to take on an opponent with more armor and weaponry.
The goal of many of the throws practiced by the samurai was to twist an attacker and throw him down directly on his neck.
The basic premise of developing this new style of fighting was that striking blows would be useless in hand-to-hand combat between armored samurai.
The term jujutsu began to catch on in the 17th Century and was used to describe the grappling martial arts practiced by the ancient samurai. “Jujutsu” translates to “the art of softness” in Japanese, and is a fitting description for the practice.
The goal of jujutsu is to use your attackers momentum and intentions against him.
The fighter channels the attackers momentum back against them. The Japanese style of Jiu Jitsu is very effective at disarming attackers.
The style of Jiu Jitsu currently practiced in Japan is known as Edo jujutsu, and has seen its striking techniques moved away from being geared toward fighting armored attackers.
There are now over 20 substyles, or ryu, of Japanese Jiu Jitsu, but all come from a similar school of thought.
The sport of judo was also spun off from jujutsu, and focuses more on competition, where jujutsu’s primary focus is on self defense and discipline.
Both Martial Arts Have Different Rules
Speaking of the most popular form of jiu-jitsu – “Brazilian jiu-jitsu” – it primarily focuses on self-defense, using two key techniques. These are ground fighting and grappling.
But, here’s a question; what is ground fighting and grappling in BJJ? First, it’s worth noting that ground fighting and grappling are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there’s a slight difference between them.
Generally, ground fighting is hand-to-hand combat that happens when two fighters are on the ground. BJJ’s Ground fighting occurs when both combatants are at a pretty close range, on the ground. As far as grappling is concerned, it primarily involves gripping the opponent on the ground. It doesn’t require striking, instead, it involves using various moves to cause injury to the opponent.
Here’s a better illustration; In Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a match begins with combatants standing up. However, as quickly as the match begins, there’s a takedown, where the fighters take the fight to the ground.
On the ground, the fighters use different moves to score points. BJJ may end in submission – a situation where a competitor accepts defeat after his/her opponent has taken full control on the ground, using certain holds; joint locks, and chokes.
Here’s a brief on how points are scored in a BJJ match.
- Mount – 4 points
- Back control – 4 points
- Guard pass – 3 points
- Takedowns – 2 points
- Knee-on-belly position – 2 points
- Sweeps – 2 points
As for the oldest form ofJiuJitsu – “Japanese jujutsu” – it primarily focuses on self-defense by using various techniques, such as throwing opponents and joint manipulation. Furthermore, the martial art also makes use of other strategies, such as strangling, choking, striking, and blocking.
In the traditional Japanese jujutsu, a match usually involves three stages. These are the striking stage, grabbing stage (takedown), and ground fighting.
Here’s a better illustration; in a Japanese JiuJitsumatch, the game begins with combatants fighting with strikes alone. Shortly after, strike attacks stop and competitors are only allowed to fight by grabbing themselves. It’s at this point that they try to take each other down. Lastly, on the ground, the competitors utilize a few strategies, including joint locks and strangulations, to make each other submit or accept defeat. For every move taken, points are usually awarded.
Belt System and Progression
Another big difference that can be spotted in the way BJJ and Japanese JiuJitsu works is their belt system and progression.
In BJJ, there are eight different belt systems. Here’s the list of the belt systems, and the order of progression, below.
- Red and black belt
- Red and white belt
- Red belt
Furthermore, earning belts always depends on a few factors, such as time spent, technical knowledge, and sparring levels. Speaking of progression from one belt system to another, it all depends on the instructors. Some of them will require the demonstration of techniques before moving to the next level. As for others, they might use a grading system.
The belt systems employed by Japanese JiuJitsuare different from that of BJJ. Just like that of BJJ that starts with white, traditional jujutsu also starts with a white belt. However, some schools start with a red belt for beginners before moving to white. That said, here’s the list of belt systems used in Japanese jujutsu, below.
- Red – (only in a few places)
- White – (most schools begin by awarding white belts)
Uniform and Other Equipment
In both martial arts, practitioners mostly put on a similar uniform, called Jiu-Jitsu Gis. The only difference, however, is in the weight of the clothes. For instance, Gis uniforms for BJJ are often heavier than those of karate. As for Japanese jiu-jitsu GIs, they are always lighter than karate gis.
Furthermore, in BJJ, practitioners always put on mouthguards to protect themselves during rolling. However, in Japanese jujutsu, practitioners mostly use groin guards to protect themselves from strikes.
Another difference between BJJ and Japanese jujutsu can be seen from the training perspective.
In BJJ, an average class lasts for about 1½ hours. And during this period, you’ll get many rounds of sparring that could last for half an hour, learning and drilling of techniques, and short breaks in between training.
As far as Japanese jujutsu training session is concerned, it usually involves learning the following;
- Strikes and blocking
- Series of stretches
- Training for self-defense
- Break fall training