Despite its origins in the late 1800’s, BJJ made its debut on the world stage in the UFC. Royce Gracie would go on to win the first, second, and forth championships. His opponents were bigger than him, and trained in styles such as boxing, Karate, Taekwondo, and Muay Thai. When people first saw him, they thought he would get killed. Not many people knew what BJJ was at the time, but when they saw how this little guy made all these bigger guys completely helpless, they became curious.
BJJ is considered a necessity for MMA fighters today. It doesn’t matter how good your standup striking is, those techniques will only work if you’re standing – a factor which BJJ techniques are meant to remove. Boxing draws power from the legs, but even Iron Mike doesn’t have that power on his back.
So why is a relatively new martial art such as BJJ so effective? These reasons will shed some light on the fact.
Martial arts techniques are often divided into two categories: Hard and Soft. Hard techniques are direct – the practicer uses linear force to destroy a target or block an attack. Examples of hard martial arts include Taekwondo, Karate, and Muay Thai.
Soft techniques (which are not really soft), use circular motions which often deflect the opponent’s attacks, use their force against them, or manipulate their joints. Examples include Judo, Aikido, and Ju-Jitsu.
BJJ is considered a Soft martial art. Arms can be bend at uncomfortable angles, necks can be squeezed to choke the opponent unconscious, and the opponent cannot strike if the BJJ fighter is wrapped around them like a boa constrictor. These don’t require force but rather as Will Turner said: “The right leverage, and the proper application of strength.” ;-)
Soft techniques are meant to work by taking advantage of the laws of physics, rather than brute force. This is why BJJ can be unassuming, yet incredibly deadly.
Practicality over theory:
Many martial arts claim the effectiveness of certain techniques while never providing proof. Untested theories churn in academies while never being tested. Neither validation nor invalidation occurs. Only blind obedience to a teacher by the students ensures the survival of these techniques. As a result, some very whacky theories have been able to take form (No-Touch Knockout, for example).
It’s no accident that BJJ rose to prominence during a time where martial arts were pitted against each other. The UFC provided a testing ground to show which styles were truly effective, and which were exaggerated. There was no room for denial – the better style won. For the next few decades BJJ would become essential in the MMA scene. Anyone who steps into the cage must have a degree of skill in BJJ techniques, or they will lose to someone who does.
From the first BJJ class a student takes, they will spar. Very quickly the student will gain real world experience on what works, and what doesn’t. A technique performed properly will prompt a tap. If your opponent isn’t tapping, the technique is either not properly applied, or your opponent simply enjoys suffering.
BJJ is one of the best examples of aliveness in martial arts. Aliveness means the use of instinct and improvisation rather than scripted movements.
In combat, forms are rarely perfect and you do not have the time to remembers sequences. Anything which isn’t intuitive instantly becomes useless. The fighter is used to the realism of combat and is comfortable in the moment. A skilled BJJ practitioner is essentially flowing on the mat.
BJJ emphasizes aliveness more than almost any other martial art. Progression in the art is directly linked to the removal of psychophysiological barriers to technique. Skill isn’t based on the number of techniques the practitioner knows, but how well they’re able to execute them.
“I don’t fear the man who knows 10,000 kicks. I fear the man who’s practiced a kick 10,000 times.”
Size is futile:
“If size mattered, then the elephant would be king of the jungle.”
That’s how long it takes for a person to lose consciousness when the blood is cut off from their brain.
It doesn’t matter if the opponent is 5’5” or 6’5”. Whether they are 100 lbs or 200 lbs. Muscles don’t work when there is no blood to the brain.
The rear-naked choke is one of the most effective techniques in combat sports. Performed correctly, the opponent (or victim) is helpless. Even dirty tactics would only prompt the fighter to squeeze the neck harder. The results can be anything from unconsciousness, to even death.
BJJ is in many ways the great equalizer for smaller people. Student learn that the human body mostly shares the same weak-points. Muscular strength is less effective than leverage using entire body coordination. Using hips, grip, and legs correctly, anyone’s arm can be broken backwards.
This is not to say size is never a factor. In BJJ, there is a concept called “Boyd’s Belt,” essentially saying 20 lbs variation between opponents is the difference of a belt level. However, this only true when students are otherwise roughly equal in level of skill. With the proper level of skill, size starts becoming less of a factor.
Most traditional martial arts typically work like this: The founder spends many years finding which techniques work for them. These techniques are passed down to students, who follow the martial art as their founder intended. Truthfully, this was very effective in a time when martial arts was more esoteric, and there were less avenues for styles to be pitted against each other and tested. However in today’s world, traditional attitudes only hold martial arts back.
BJJ is unique in the aspect that it is constantly evolving, and new techniques are being added to its repertoire. Even in the last decade, new skills, techniques, and training methods have been added to BJJ based on what’s been shown to work. This is due to the fact BJJ practitioners have been active in the combat sports scene, where everything that works flourishes, and everything that doesn’t dies off.
“Absorb what is useful, disregard what is useless.”
BJJ’s popularity came the result of real-world proof. But more importantly, the martial arts world has benefitted tremendously from BJJ experts willing to demonstrate its effectiveness. THere’s no need to have faith, BJJ will make you a convert.