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What is the difference between sport jiu-jitsu and self-defense jiu jitsu?

April 09, 2023

What is the difference between sport jiu-jitsu and self-defense jiu jitsu?

Gracie Jiu Jitsu, also known as Brazilian jiu jitsu or BJJ,  is a versatile martial art that can be practiced for both sport and self-defense purposes. However, there are some significant differences between jiu jitsu for sport and jiu jitsu for self-defense.

In jiu jitsu for sport, the focus is primarily on grappling and submitting your opponent. Points are awarded for certain positions and submissions, and matches typically have time limits. The emphasis is on competition and winning within the rules of the sport. In most rule sets, there is no striking allowed (for an exception, click here to learn more about Combat Jiu Jitsu).

On the other hand, jiu jitsu for self-defense is focused on using both striking and grappling techniques to defend oneself against an attacker in a real-life situation. In self-defense jiu jitsu, there are no points or time limits. The goal is to neutralize the attacker and escape the situation safely.

I often hear people say that there are no strikes in jiu jitsu. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jiu jitsu is not primarily a striking-based art, but that does not mean it has no strikes. The growth of sport jiu jitsu, in which strikes are not usually allowed, has led many schools not to teach the striking aspects of the art. This is unfortunate because strikes play an important role in self-defense jiu jitsu.

Gracie Jiu Jitsu, which was developed by Grandmasters Helio and Carlos Gracie in Brazil, places a strong emphasis on self-defense. Gracie Jiu Jitsu incorporates both striking (such as punches, palm strikes, kicks, and knees) and grappling techniques to neutralize an attacker and create opportunities for escape. Not only did the Gracie family develop their art for self defense, they also tested and refined it for this purpose many times – both in the ring and on the streets – first in Brazil, and later in the United States.

My jiu jitsu instructor, Master Pedro Sauer, fought numerous challenge matches when he first came to the United States. He and others in the first wave of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners helped prove the effectiveness of the art and paved the way for those of us who practice it today.

Master Sauer promised his teacher (Grandmaster Helio Gracie) that he would preserve the self-defense aspects of the art. That is why every school in the Pedro Sauer Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Association, including my school (Cactus Jiu Jitsu Academy in Scottsdale, AZ), teaches the art from a self-defense perspective. We are fulfilling a promise that is central to our lineage.

One of the key principles of Gracie Jiu Jitsu for self-defense is the use of leverage and precise technique to overcome a larger, stronger opponent. The techniques are designed to allow a smaller, weaker person to defend themselves against a larger, stronger attacker. By using leverage and proper technique, the defender can control the attacker and neutralize the threat.

Another important aspect of Gracie Jiu Jitsu for self-defense is the emphasis on practical, real-life scenarios. Techniques are taught with a focus on how they can be applied in a self-defense situation, rather than simply for sport competition. For example, many jiu-jitsu competitors like to play from an inverted position using moves like the berimbolo. These moves are great for sport jiu-jitsu, but on the streets, an opponent would simply punch or stomp on your face.

By focusing on self defense during their training, Gracie Jiu Jitsu practitioners are well-prepared to defend themselves and others in a variety of situations, whether standing or on the ground.

Sport jiu jitsu is wonderful. I love the sport. But we cannot lose our connection with the self-defense roots of the art. That is what empowers people and helps them feel safer and more confident.

--Ed Maguire

About the author: Ed Maguire is a black belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu under Master Pedro Sauer. He is also the owner of Cactus Jiu Jitsu Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona.


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