グレイシーニュース

GJJ vs. BJJ Whats the difference?

January 5, 2011

At the Gracie Academy, our primary objective is to preserve the legacy of Grand Master Helio Gracie by making the invaluable benefits of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu available to the greatest number of people - regardless or age, gender or athletic ability. Because our curriculum, standardized promotion guidelines, and training philosophies differ from most jiu-jitsu organizations, we are often the target of criticism from outsiders who don't fully understand what is happening on the inside. Recently, a certified GJJ instructor from the UK, Sacha King, took the time to address some concerns had by one such critic. His response was so complete, and well articulated, that we though it would be a shame not to share it with the rest of the family.

billysue2 posted the following statement on Sacha's YouTube channel:

"I think its great that you guys are focusing on what bjj is supposed to be. I've been to lots of jiu-jitsu dojos in the UK and Europe and I've never seen any that do sparring with strikes. To me that's ridiculous. The only problem I have with Gracie University is the complete absence of resistance sparring for a blue belt. That's a joke. You aren't competent if you can't defend full contact random attacks. It reminds me of the time I spent/wasted in Japanese Jujitsu."

Sacha's YouTube reply to billysue2:

@billysue2 Thank you for your comment. The main reason why 'some' of the BJJ community members are against Gracie University, or even Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in general, is that they don't fully understand it. Among other things, they see, hear or focus on a snippet of information such as 'there is no competitive sparring on your journey to blue belt' and so presume that there's no 'sparring/fighting' in any of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu syllabuses.

So let me verify a couple of points for you, since you do seem genuinely interested in the system and its differences.

Let me start by saying that although Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu both came from the same source, and they feature the same sweeps, submissions, controls and escapes, there is a significant difference between the two. Most notably, is the training/teaching philosophy. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is taught, first and foremost as a system of self-defense, with the objective of giving the student the ability to stay safe and prevail during a real street fight confrontation, whereas Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, in most cases, is taught exclusively as a recreational sport.

True - There is NO competitive sparring on your road to blue belt, and, coming from a sport BJJ background myself, I must admit when I first heard this I was like, huh...how can this be? That is until the process was explained to me, and then it made complete sense.

Let me explain. The problem occurs at this level when you directly compare to two systems together and do not take into consideration the differences. The definition of a BJJ blue belt (ignoring the occasional politics and fake belt promotions associated with much of the modern day BJJ practice) is that to be a blue belt you have to be able to beat/hang with a blue belt, to be a purple belt beat/hang with a purple, etc. all in 'live' 100% sparring. So, from the very start of the jiu-jitsu journey the focus of a BJJ white-belt is concentrated around being able to beat/hang with 'advanced' BJJ practitioners in the sport-focused grappling matches (i.e. no strikes of any kind involved).

Now, lets flip it back over to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Grand Master Helio Gracie's definition of a blue belt is: Someone how can defend themselves against a larger, stronger, more athletic attacker in a 'real' street fight situation, and as such understands and has learned the core techniques (those which are now featured in the Gracie Combatives program) which would be essential in giving you the ability/strategy to do just that. So, with this, it becomes clear that the initial training objective of a beginning GJJ practitioner is not to prepare for "BJJ Trained'' opponents in 'wrestling' or 'grappling' matches (something that would only take place in a gym or in a sportive setting), but to prepare for the eventualities of a real street fight against the most likely opponent - a bigger, stronger, untrained attacker. As a certified GJJ instructor, it is my primary goal and obligation to ensure that if one of my students gets in a street fight 6 months from the day they sign up, they do not get beat up. So, until a student is deemed "street ready" no training time is spent on the sportive aspect of the art.

So comparing the belts together (at this level) is a very chalk & cheese approach. A BJJ student focused on sport application may have trained 1-2 years to obtain his blue belt, and may have been able to do that with a relatively limited amount of techniques so long as he was athletically capable of 'hanging' with the rest, whereas a new GJJ student may have learned and developed reflexes in the street applicable Gracie Combatives techniques in as little as 12 months.

If you put them both together at this stage and fought in a BJJ 'competition' then there's no doubt that the BJJ practitioner should have a definite advantage, after all that is what their 'focus' has been since day one. On the other hand, if you put both students in a real fight against a bigger stronger attacker then the GJJ student should have the definite advantage since that is what their focus has been since day one.

Now bear in mind that there are always 'exceptions' to the rule but I'm hoping this gives you a little insight to the importance of understanding what the students 'focuses and goals' are at this level as it will help to further explain some important points later in this explanation.

So we have ascertained that the only way to gauge the progress of a BJJ student is by how well they do in competition or competitive sparring against another skilled practitioner, AND the only way to truly gauge the progress of a beginner GJJ student would be to see 'how well' they do in a street fight against a bigger, stronger, unskilled attacker. While it is practical for a BJJ student to practice this way, it is impractical, immoral, and illegal for a GJJ student to practice this way (street fights). Therefore, in order for a beginner to be able to learn the techniques properly and effectively they NEED to be done within a communal learning environment with a co-operative partner. After all, if you don't understand a technique well enough for it to be successful against a co-operative opponent, then you'll surely have trouble against an uncooperative street-fight opponent.

Showing complete technical understanding of ALL variations of the 36 Gracie Combatives techniques, while demonstrating sharp reflexes with instinctive responses to technical indicators presented by your training partner in an unscripted Fight Simulation exercise, qualifies you for your blue belt in GJJ. And that is where the journey begins.

Only once you have earned your blue belt, and the Gracie Academy is confident that you understand the techniques and principles that will keep you safe from the most likely attack behaviors against the most likely street-fight opponents, does the training-focus switch to 'How do I defeat a bigger, stronger, more athletic, SKILLED opponent in a sportive grappling match OR in a street fight' and this a achieved through immersion in 'The Master Cycle.'

In the Master Cycle, not only will you learn hundreds of additional "street-fight-only" techniques that are rarely taught outside of the Gracie Academy and its Certified Training Centers (CTCs), but you will also learn all the sport BJJ techniques that are taught everywhere else. In addition, you will experience the 100% competitive sparring that you are inquiring about, but you do so in ways that are much more dynamic than what is found in most BJJ schools.

Let me explain a little further. There are 3 class "types" within the Master Cycle curriculum that ALL students must participate in and these are: 1) Rapid Mastery Classes, 2) Fight Simulation Classes, and 3) Focused Sparring Classes. These classes are further divided into smaller categories but I'll just give you a condensed breakdown as this explanation is getting long enough as it is.

Let's say for example the Master Cycle technique of focus, is a certain arm bar. Once you are confident in the individual steps of the technique, you will put it to the test in a very specialized Rapid Mastery Drill (RMD) against a training partner who is providing progressively increasing intensity until you reach failure. The goal here is to work up to 100% resistance so you can learn all the applications/limitations of the newly learned arm bar.

Once the new arm bar has been tested in the RMD, you would then take the same technique and run it through Fight Simulation Classes. Here you would develop comfort in implementing the techniques against a fully 'striking' opponent in a variety of Live Fight Simulation exercises, during which your partner wears 18oz. boxing gloves and you don't. Your training partner's goal is to strike, your goal is to survive, control, and submit your partner. It's challenging, but VERY fun.

Finally, you would take the same arm bar and solidify it as part of your arsenal as you use it in combination with all your other techniques in the Focus Sparring class. The training partner's are fully resistant, and the sparring exercises are challenging, but by the end, the newly learned technique is yours.

Basically, GJJ training (in the big picture) not only provides a more realistic approach to training, but also a much more complete and well-planned one in my opinion. Once you, and everyone else interested (BJJ Community), understand the full picture, I am confident that you will retract and concur.

Gracie University got blasted, as soon as it was launched, by people who never checked it out and based all of their opinions on what they heard from others. Those who actually investigate it for themselves often find it to be the most complete and informative video-based instructional curriculum ever developed. Ironically, many of these same haters are now trying to develop their own versions of what the Gracies have done.

The Gracie Combatives program was also blasted by people who speculated and knocked it before truly understanding what it was; now these same people and organizations are not only 'borrowing' these techniques as their own, but they're also now trying to developed their own versions of the Gracie Combatives program.

GJJ blue belts have been blasted by people/organizations who don't understand the big picture, but yet we have many BJJ students (I was one of them!) that switched to training the Gracie way and only then, realized the limited applicability and practicality of the techniques at their own BJJ clubs.

The omission of sportive grappling in the very beginning allows us to ensure maximum street readiness for our students in the least amount of time possible. And the difference of sportive grappling ability between a GJJ blue belt and a BJJ blue belt quickly diminishes with the introduction of the Master Cycle, so that by the time a student has a few stripes on their blue belt, the is no difference (I realized this the hard way the first time I visited the Gracie Academy in Torrance, when I was a four-stripe blue belt in BJJ).

The bottom line is that the jiu-jitsu that was perfected, brought to America, and popularized by the Gracies, can be practiced both as a system of self-defense AND as a recreational sport. Any individuals, schools, or organizations that are practicing the art with a primary focus on street applicability, while enjoying and perfecting the sportive aspect as a secondary priority, are practicing Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. On the other hand, people who practice the art with a primary emphasis on sportive mastery, while giving little or no attention to real street-fight application of the techniques, are practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

In closing, it's fair to say that Gracie Jiu-JItsu encompasses all of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu does not emcompass all of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. And with most jiu-jitsu schools focusing exclusively on the sportive application of jiu-jitsu there is no guarantee that a new student who walks into his local jiu-jitsu school will ever learn the most important thing this incredible art has to offer - reliable and realistic self-defense techniques for worst-case street fight scenarios - and that is what the Gracies are trying to change.

Hope this helps.

Keeping it real in the UK,
Sacha