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What are the different styles of Jiu-Jitsu? Simply Explained

Jiu-jitsu is one of the most popular martial arts in modern times. However, many people fail to recognize that there are actually different styles of jiu-jitsu, with the most popular being the Brazilian version. What are all the different styles of jiu-jitsu?

Japanese jujutsu was a precursor to all other jiu-jitsu styles. Since then, different popular jiu-jitsu styles have emerged, such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), Gracie jiu-jitsu (GJJ), American jiu-jitsu (AJJ), Combat jiu-jitsu (CJJ), and no-gi jiu-jitsu.

This is just a brief explanation of different jiu-jitsu styles. Thus keep reading this article to learn more about the most popular styles of jiu-jitsu, what the differences are, and how these styles compare in various aspects.

The origin of Jiu-jitsu 

The earliest origins of jiu-jitsu date all the way back to the Nara period in Japan (710–794), and the military system called “Jujutsu” or “jiu-jitsu” is also referred to as “Japanese jiu-jitsu” to make the distinction to the public. Jujutsu means “gentle art” in translation. The oldest known styles of jujutsu were founded between the 12th and 15th centuries.

At the time, Japanese soldiers used to train in Jujutsu to improve their hand-to-hand fighting skills against armed or unarmed enemies on the battlefield. The system itself is a hybrid mix of direct striking, aggressive grappling, and ground fighting. It also includes brutal moves and various other dirty tactics such as headbutts, eye gouging, throat strikes, etc.

Although it is a hybrid fighting system, Jujutsu puts a lot of emphasis on aggressive grappling as the most efficient way to neutralize the enemy. The focus was on powerful throws and takedowns and finishing the opponent with strangulations or breaking their bones with painful joint locks.

Over the next century, modern Japanese society would become more westernized. Brutal systems like Jujutsu, where people could easily get hurt, were no longer popular. As a result, the people of Japan needed a new, safer variation of the system, and this is when Judo emerged.

The rise of Judo

Judo is a grappling-based martial art developed on the Jujutsu base. Its founder, a jujutsu master Kano Jigoro, used his knowledge and experience to create a “safer” or “sports” version of the existing system. First, he got rid of all the dangerous aspects of Jujutsu, such as strikes, dirty tactics, and brutal teaching methods.

Next, Kano switched the emphasis to standup grappling utilizing throws, trips, sweeps, and ground fighting. On the ground, judokas utilize similar chokes and joint locks but in a different way. The emphasis is on a high level of technique and subduing the opponent to win points and matches, not to hurt them. 

Judo is safer and gentler than Jujutsu, but it is technically more advanced when it comes to grappling, and it became a very popular sport right away.

As Judo started to spread outside of Japan, it inspired one special family in Brazil to develop another variation of the system.

The rise of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Back in the 1920s, the famous judoka, whose name is Mitsuyo Maeda, would travel to Brazil with a mission to spread the new sport in South America. He would open up his dojo and start to teach judo following a standardized learning curriculum.

However, his loyal students, brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie, had an idea of changing the emphasis of the system, expanding the range of techniques, and overall improving the submission grappling aspect.

Gracies used judo and its precursor, Jujutsu, as a base to develop their own martial art called “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.” They changed the emphasis from standup grappling to submission grappling. Instead of powerful throws, the main aspect became positioning on the ground and finishing the opponent with more advanced chokes and joint locks.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu stands for the original, modern style of this grappling art. Over the years, many styles and variations would emerge.

What are the different styles of Jiu-Jitsu?

Jiu-jitsu has various styles and forms. Although certain aspects differ between styles, the core concept of grappling is very much the same.

Jujutsu (Japanese Jiu-Jitsu)

Jujutsu is the forefather of all modern jiu-jitsu styles. Jujutsu started developing around the 15th century in Japan. The main purpose of the system was to serve Japanese soldiers, notably an elite group of Samurai warriors.

As a concept, the main goal of jujutsu is to prepare a person for any scenario they may face on the battlefield.

It is a hybrid system of striking and grappling techniques, self-defense, and dirty tactics. Training is brutal, as the emphasis is on aggression and finishing the fight as quickly as possible. There are no rules or competition, as the main objective is to neutralize the threat in the most efficient way possible.

Students learn how to break bones, choke out an opponent, strike with full force, and use brutal moves like headbutts, eye gouges, and strikes to vital organs.

This video depicts ancient samurai reenactment battles using Jujutsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

BJJ is the most popular style, practiced by millions of people around the world. It was developed by Carlos and Helio Gracie back in the 1920s as a system that puts a lot of emphasis on submission grappling. It shares a lot of techniques with Judo, notably when it comes to stand-up grappling. But instead of throws, the emphasis is on ground grappling.

Each practitioner must wear a Gi uniform that consists of long pants, a top (jacket), and a rank belt around the waist. The Gi, however, is more than just a piece of cloth; you can grab onto it to manipulate your opponent’s balance and take them down. Gi can be used to submit the opponent on the ground or standing, such as with a gi choke.

Although rooted in self-defense, modern BJJ is oriented toward competition. In most schools, the learning syllabus and teaching methods are in line with the rules of competition, and students rarely do any self-defense drills.

BJJ competition

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (GJJ)

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is almost identical to BJJ, but the key difference is the emphasis. GJJ is designed for self-defense and real-life situations you may encounter on the streets. There is no competition and no rules to follow, and as a result, there is a clear difference in the training concept and application of techniques.

In training, students learn the same techniques as in other styles, notably BJJ. But instead of preparing for competition, GJJ students train for a real fight. They do various drills and self-defense tactics and simulate different scenarios. Training is more realistic and in line with the type of fighting you may encounter on the streets.

American Jiu-Jitsu (AJJ)

American Jiu-Jitsu is not an official style but rather a variant of an existing BJJ system. Jake Shields, a former top UFC fighter, is widely regarded as the progenitor of AJJ. Shield says that AJJ is mostly about combining the pressure-based techniques of American wrestling with the BJJ techniques.

In other words, American jiu-jitsu is similar to BJJ in many ways, but it incorporates explosive takedowns, top pressure, throws, and traditional American folk wrestling. It is also practiced without a gi.

Combat Jiu-Jitsu (CJJ)

Combat jiu-jitsu (CJJ) is not an official style but a hybrid version of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. A legendary BJJ instructor, Eddie Bravo, created CJJ to make Jiu-Jitsu matches more realistic, similar to mixed martial arts (MMA) matches.

In contrast with other styles, CJJ allows open palm strikes, which makes jiu-jitsu matches more combat realistic than traditional BJJ matches. The striking element opens up new ways you can attack or defend during jiu-jitsu matches.

The rules of the competition are also different. There are no points, and a contestant can win a match only by submission or TKO caused by strikes.

No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu

As the name implies, no-GI jiu-jitsu practitioners do not wear a GI uniform during training or competition. In a nutshell, No-gi jiu-jitsu is BJJ practiced without wearing a gi.

No-Gi grapplers wear a rashguard or shirt and shorts. And there is much less friction while grappling in no-gi, which makes the action much faster. Grappling in no-gi forces you to focus more on speed and aggression, overwhelming the opponent with sheer physical strength and pressure.

There is an ongoing debate about whether no-gi jiu-jitsu is more realistic than gi jiu-jitsu because people do not walk around in gis, but this is still up for debate.

What is sure, however, is that No-Gi represents a better base if you want to switch to MMA, where fighters compete wearing shorts and a pair of open-fingered gloves.

No-gi jiu-jitsu match
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Which style of Jiu-Jitsu is best for self-defense?

Whatever style you choose, you will learn how to defend yourself in real life.

However, when it comes to pure self-defense from a practical standpoint, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is the best style. GJJ was created to help weaker people prepare for real-world fights against bigger opponents. It does this by putting more emphasis on leverage and timing than on strength and speed.

In the early stages of a student’s training, the GJJ curriculum is very structured and heavily focused on self-defense. Before a student can get a blue belt, they work on learning how to defend themselves against an untrained attacker of any size or strength.

Which style of Jiu-Jitsu is best for MMA?

The no-gi style of Jiu-Jitsu is widely regarded as the best for MMA, as the entire concept fits well within the rules of the sport. Instead of wearing a gi uniform, students train and compete in shorts, t-shirts, or rash guards. This enables you to learn how to grapple and apply submissions without wearing a uniform, which is how you will fight in MMA.

The grappling pace is much faster without the gi, forcing you to think and react faster and relying more on physical strength, and you need to adapt to these elements to be successful in MMA. Therefore training without a traditional Gi uniform is essential if you want to become a cage fighter.

That being said, if you want to further improve your jiu-jitsu skills in MMA fighting, learning both no-gi and gi jiu-jitsu is the best way to go, and here is why.

Gi style focuses more on technique and fundamentals by teaching you how to grip and manipulate the gi to defeat your opponent. The Gi style has more techniques because there are many ways gi can be used to pull off a submission. And you can’t use sheer strength to muscle your way out of trouble or to finish the opponent as you would in no-gi jiu-jitsu because wearing a gi restricts one’s movement.

Grabbing and using your own and your opponent’s GI uniforms is a key element of the game that allows you to attack, defend, and set up traps in various ways.

Gi jiu-jitsu also teaches better defensive skills when it comes to escaping and reversing the position. The gi fabric causes lots of friction, especially when wet from sweat, slowing the practitioner’s movement. 

For this reason, GI practitioners have to be more aware of their positioning to avoid putting themselves in a disadvantageous position where they can’t easily maneuver out of it and are vulnerable to being submitted. This awareness naturally improves one’s defensive skills more than no-gi jiu-jitsu. As such, gi jiu-jitsu forces you to be strategic, pace yourself, think three steps ahead, and rely on technique to win the exchange.

John Danaher, a world-renowned BJJ coach, explains the advantages of gi and no-gi jiu-jitsu:

“when starting out training or when focusing on defensive prowess, a preponderance of gi training makes sense. When looking to make progress with offensive elements of the sport and sound basic mechanics and habits have already been learned, no gi training will lift the technical level of your game.”

John Danaher

So in the best-case scenario, you will train in both gi and no-gi as these two styles complement each other.

What’s the difference between Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

HistoryJudo was created by Kano Jigoro in Japan in 1882. The origins of Judo come from Japanese JujutsuThe Gracie family founded BJJ in the 1920s in Brazil. The origins come from Judo and Japanese Jujutsu
EmphasisThe primary aspect of Judo is standup grappling utilizing powerful throws, sweeps, and trips. The secondary aspect is submission grappling on the ground.The main aspect of BJJ is submission grappling utilizing positioning, chokes, and joint locks. The secondary aspect is standup grappling and throws. 
Belt systemJudo belt ranking system is split into Kyu (junior) and Dan (senior) ranks. 
Senior ranking system includes six different belts and 12 ranks. 
Junior system has 3 different color belts and 3 ranks.
BJJ belt ranking system is also split between senior and junior students. 
Adult belt includes 10 different color belts and 10 ranks. 
Junior system has 13 different color belts, and 13 ranks.  
RulesJudo matches are 5 minutes long and the key is to win a full point (ippon) to win the match.
Ippon – execute a perfect throw, submit the opponent or pin them for more than 20 seconds Waza ari (half a point) – two waza ari result in an ippon and win you the match. Contestants receive waza ari for executing a throw with the opponent partly landing on their back, or if they pin them for more than 10s. 
BJJ matches last between 5 and 10 minutes depending on the rank. The main goal is to win a match by submitting the opponent, or outscoring them by points:
Knee on belly – 2 points Takedown – 2 points
Sweep – 2 points
Guard pass – 3 points
Back control – 4 points
Back mount – 4 points
Mount – 4 points