What Is American Jiu-Jitsu(AJJ)? Beginners Guide To AJJ


When most people think of jiu-jitsu, they usually think of Brazilian jiu-jitsu(BJJ). After all, BJJ as it is commonly referred to, is the most widely used and known form of the grappling and submission-based martial art that is employed in mixed martial arts and various grappling competitions. But in the world of Jiu-Jitsu, there is another style of Jiu-Jitsu called, “American Jiu-Jitsu(AJJ)” but it’s not well known to the general public. So what is American Jiu-Jitsu for those who aren’t familiar with it?

American Jiu-Jitsu(AJJ) is a name given to American Jiu-Jitsu practitioners of the art in order to differentiate American competitors’ success from those of Brazilian competitors, who dominated tournaments for decades. In terms of technical differences between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and American Jiu-Jitsu, American Jiu-Jitsu tends to put a slightly higher emphasis on American folk wrestling techniques. A world-class Jiu-jitsu practitioner Jake Shields is most credited with developing AJJ.

American jiu-jitsu is a lesser known variation of the martial art and has some key differences with BJJ. And so, here are the most important things you need to know about American jiu-jitsu.

What Is American Jiu-Jitsu?

There is no clear definition on of what American jiu-jitsu really is other than it’s an American variation or style of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. While incorporating the basics of BJJ such as submissions, it also fuses traditional American folk wrestling and is mostly practiced in no gi. Compared to BJJ, there is a focus on explosive takedowns, top pressure and positional control.

According to Jake Shield, whom many consider the father of AJJ, it is largely about the blending of pressure-based American wrestling techniques and the patience of BJJ. 

Former UFC Welterweight Jake Shields
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History of American Jiu-Jitsu

The phrase “American Jiu-Jitsu” has two fairly relevant origins. The earliest would be a self-defense class which was named “American Jiu-Jitsu” that MIT has offered since 1994. But with no real distinction between it and BJJ. The website description mentions techniques such as throw, strikes, weapon use, joint locks and submission holds. This MIT class is more in line with the way various gyms across the world have taught Japanese Jiujutsu for some time.

The other origin is from former UFC competitor and high-level Jiu-jitsu practitioner Jake Shields. The term “AJJ” is most associated with Jake Shields. In early 2000, Shields would have a significant amount of success at ADCC and IBJJF Pan-American competitions before being granted a black belt by Cesar Gracie and begin competing in mixed martial arts events. It was these MMA events where Shields showcased his AJJ style, mixing his experience of high-paced pressure attack orientated wrestling with more relaxed, patient and tentative BJJ. Jake would go as far as to have “American Jiu Jitsu” tattooed on his forearm. Shields claims his style is an “Americanized” version of BJJ, which blends the Brazilian “gentle art” with American wrestling.

Although some may have taken issue with his “safe but slow” smothering grappling style, few took offense to Shields referring to his style as AJJ. 

Multiple-time jiu-jitsu champion Keenan Cornelius ,who is also synonymous with AJJ, says the following in his website.

AJJ was branded as such to represent a different approach to the sport’s culture. American Jiu-Jitsu is not limited to just “Brazilian” or “Japanese” Jiu-Jitsu. Instead, it embodies and draws from many grappling and martial arts forms; wrestling, sambo, and judo – to name a few.

Keenan Cornelius’s Legion Academy

Cornelius also mentioned that he uses “AJJ” as a way of differentiating Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitors with the term used for Americans who take part in BJJ competitions.

Who Invented American Jiu-Jitsu?

While Jake Shields is arguably the progenitor of American Jiu-Jitsu but the legendary Vinicius “Draculino” Magalhaes would state that only Eddie Bravo would have the right to claim AJJ for his courage to take a different pathway with BJJ to his Brazilian counterparts.

At the same time, there are Jiu-Jitsu practitioners who insist that no one person can claim he is the inventor of the AJJ. To many, AJJ was created with a collective effort by American Jiu-Jitsu practitioners.

But with that said, AJJ is most closely associated with Jake Shields who is by far the most notable name in combat sports to use that term, “American Jiu-Jitsu.”

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Is AJJ A Recognized Form Of Jiu-jitsu?

Although American jiu-jitsu is used by names like Jake Shields and Keenan Cornelius, it is not widely recognized as a form of jiu-jitsu. You will likely not hear the term used in any UFC, Bellator or any other high-level mixed martial arts event or grappling tournament. Although Cornelius has received some criticism for using the term “AJJ” at his gym, he himself believes there is no real definition for the term as it is still evolving.

Check out the following Keenan Cornelius interview in 2021 with Flograppling to learn more about AJJ:

The Controversy Surrounding AJJ

There is some controversy regarding the term American jiu-jitsu, mainly with Cornelius. After a falling out with Atos head instructor Andre Galvao in 2019, Cornelius left the gym and opened up Legion Academy which put him at further odds with the BJJ community who felt he was disrespecting the martial art by adding American to the name.

In fact, many from the Brazilian jiu-jitsu community have criticized Cornelius and labeled the term “AJJ” as polarizing. ​​Fifth-degree black belt and Gracie Barra instructor Vinicius “Draculino” Magalhaes has notably gone on record stating that there is no such thing as a country-specific jiu-jitsu and that there was only jiu-jitsu, even in Brazil. However, in combat sports, if there is a country associated with the martial art, it is Brazil, which is why there will always be controversy when American jiu-jitsu is used.

AJJ vs. BJJ – What Is The Difference?

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a ground-based grappling martial art that involves taking the opponent to the ground, submission holds and techniques, positioning and control. As aforementioned, American jiu-jitsu is mostly similar, but combined with explosive takedowns, top pressure, throws and wrestling transitions from a folk style. Additionally, it is practiced in no gi.

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AJJ vs. BJJ – Which One Is More Effective?

Given the lack of American jiu-jitsu practitioners, it’s hard to gauge how effective it really is. In terms of mixed martial arts, it has shown to be effective for Shields who at one point, won 15 fights in a row spanning a five-year period. Shields also boasted a 33-11-1 (1 NC) record overall in professional mixed martial arts and was able to defeat one of the most legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts in Demian Maia, albeit via unanimous decision. However, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is still the more widely-known and practiced martial art and has proven to be effective for many decades both in competition and in self-defense.

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Self Defense:

If one is planning to learn jiu-jitsu for self-defense, it is best to stick with traditional or Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is extremely beneficial as it can allow a weaker person to defend themself against a stronger person with the use of weight distribution, leverage and submission holds and techniques. Hence, there is no need for any further variations if training is not used for competitive purposes.

Aspiring Fighters:

Even if one is an aspiring fighter, it is still best to stick with Brazilian jiu-jitsu as it is the more commonly practiced martial art throughout the world. If an aspiring fighter has an amateur wrestling background, they could employ American jiu-jitsu style in their training if they desire. However, overall, there is a general consensus that it is still best to stick with traditional BJJ when you first start training to become an MMA fighter. Many of the top Olympians and All-American wrestlers competing in mixed martial arts do just that.

Can You Find AJJ Schools?

While there are only a select few, there are schools, gyms and academies that teach American jiu-jitsu. As mentioned above, Shields and Cornelius teach it at the Kaijin Martial Arts gym in Santa Cruz, California, and Legion academy in Miramar, San Diego.

Conclusion

In conclusion, American jiu-jitsu is a variation of Brazilian jiu-jitsu with no clear-cut definition, history nor is it widely used in the combat sports world aside from a few notable individuals. Perhaps as the years go by and more aspiring fighters start to take it up, things could change. But for now, Brazilian jiu-jitsu still reigns supreme as the top submission-based grappling martial art and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.

Some within the American Jiu-Jitsu community beliveve that while it is a growing sport, the money involved with BJJ is relatively low and more attention can be brought to the competitive scene by establishing rivalries with AJJ, something facilitated by bringing national pride into the equation. Much like the rivalry between Russia and Japan in the Olympic Judo world, an America vs Brazil Jiu-Jitsu narrative can potentially elicit excitement from fans.

Clay E

Clay E is a MMA/Muay Thai practitioner who was a collegiate wrestler at James Madison University.

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