What’s the Difference Between Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and BJJ?


You may have heard the terms Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (GJJ) and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and are interested in learning more. I certainly was when I first started looking into Jiu-Jitsu as a potential new hobby. Many people become confused with the difference between the two or think they are the same thing. This article will help clear up some of that confusion.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is a form of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but they differ in a number of ways. GJJ aims to teach anyone to defend themselves against a bigger and stronger opponent, regardless of age, size, gender or fitness. BJJ uses the same techniques, but is designed more for the sport of grappling. 

There are a few points of difference between the two forms of Jiu-Jitsu, which I will discuss in this article. There are also many similarities, as well as reasons why one might be better than the other.

GJJ vs. BJJ – The Main Differences

Purpose

The main objective of GJJ is to prepare the student for any street fight as a means of self-defense. They should not be held back by their size, age, gender or fitness. It also teaches students about how to use their body to live a healthy life. This includes refraining from harmful substances such as drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. It is not only a fighting style, but a way of life.

On the contrary, BJJ focuses more on the sporting aspect of Jiu-Jitsu. The students are still prepared for self-defense, but learn more about grappling with other trained students. BJJ students will be trained to submit their opponent in a structured, rule-based competitive environment.

Intended Opponents

The opponents targeted by GJJ are larger, stronger and unskilled members of the public. This is because the Gracie method teaches students that everyone should be ready for a street fight. Helio Gracie, the Grand Master of GJJ, was a smaller man and developed his techniques based on the fact that most of his opponents would be larger and stronger than he was.

BJJ trains their students to grapple with other students or other trained fighters. Your opponents are generally people of a similar skill level, with students being encouraged to grapple with people of a similar belt or someone more experienced.

Techniques – Restrictions

The GJJ techniques must adhere to three rules. They must be energy efficient, use natural movements and be applicable in an everyday situation. Although energy efficiency is important in all BJJ techniques, the use of natural movements is important in GJJ so any person can do them.

In BJJ, there are some techniques that people of a certain size or age cannot perform, such as flying armbars. They may look impressive, but these techniques would not be acceptable in the Gracie methodology because they are not realistic in everyday situation. These techniques rely on physical attributes, such as speed or strength, which some people may struggle with.

In general, all GJJ techniques are part of BJJ, but not all BJJ techniques are applicable to GJJ. There are a lot more techniques in BJJ which may be considered unnecessary in the Gracie method.

Training Style

There are still rules in GJJ, but students will be taught to practice their techniques in a ‘fight simulation’. It is not ethical or realistic to practice their techniques in a real-life situation (a street fight). Therefore, one student will use Gracie techniques against another student who is given extra weight and boxing gloves as an advantage. Essentially the opponent will be allowed to fight however they like to try to win.

This is not the case in most BJJ training. BJJ revolves around rules and structure, which is the environment that students will find themselves in when grappling at training or in a competition. There are certain techniques that are ‘illegal’ to perform, so the student knows that these are not a possibility and they will fight their opponent accordingly.

Belt System for Beginners

The belt system of GJJ is controversial among other BJJ students. Essentially, Gracie students do not engage in any competitive sparring leading up to gaining their blue belt. This is because the Gracie method focusses on equipping the student with the skills they need to defend themselves in any street fight, right from the start.

A GJJ student will only receive their blue belt when they have learned the 36 core techniques required to defend themselves against a bigger, stronger and more athletic opponent. They must demonstrate sharp reflexes and respond instinctively.

In BJJ, the belts are awarded once a student has demonstrated that they can evenly grapple with someone of that level. For example, a blue belt can only become a purple belt once they have proven that they can submit another purple belt. There is less structure to the beginner belt system than in GJJ.

Similarities Between the Two

Same Origins

Both GJJ and BJJ stem from the same origins. They both were born out of Brazil from the techniques developed by Helio Gracie. These techniques were based on those found in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, but were modified to allow Helio, a frail smaller child, to keep up with his brothers.

Shared Techniques

Although there are some techniques in BJJ that are not used in GJJ, both styles share the same techniques. This includes mounts, chokes, arm bars, locks, bridges, triangles and many more. As I mentioned earlier, all the techniques found in GJJ can be found in BJJ. These techniques all fall into one of four categories:

  • Sweeps
  • Submissions
  • Controls
  • Escapes

Belt System – Colours, Stripes and Promotions

The belt system in both GJJ and BJJ was derived from Japanese martial arts. They both follow a color system, which I have outlined below, starting with a white belt for beginners.

  1. White Belt
  2. Blue Belt
  3. Purple Belt
  4. Brown Belt
  5. Black Belt
  6. Red Belt

The tip system is another element of the belts that is common in GJJ and BJJ. While a student is improving within a particular belt, they can earn ‘tips’ or ‘stripes’ on their belt. This means they are improving, but not quite at the level required to be promoted to another belt. There are a total of four stripes in each belt (except black and red belts).

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Which One is Better?

Trying to choose which Jiu-Jitsu style is better can be a controversial topic. It is also difficult given the close origins of the two. Below are a few different reasons someone might prefer one over the other.

Better at Winning in a Fight

Of the two grappling styles, people generally want to know which type will win in a fight.

By its nature, GJJ is designed to focus on winning street fights. Therefore, it can be argued that GJJ is better in self-defense situations. However, in a competition, BJJ specifically trains you to adhere to the rules of a fight, get the most points and submit a trained opponent.

In saying that, there have been many cases where GJJ has come out on top over other forms of Jiu-Jitsu. In fact, the Gracies are the reason the UFC was created. Royce Gracie in particular was a world champion; no other martial art could stand against his grappling techniques.

Another good example is John Danaher’s ‘Death Squad’. Danaher trained under Renzo Gracie and his own students are well-known for their skilled grappling techniques. Currently, his student Gordon Ryan is contested as the best grappler in the world. Looking through history, it would appear that most of the world’s best grapplers were either part of the Gracie family or trained in the Gracie method.

This means that GJJ is not only better for self-defense, but has been known to produce champions in formal competitions as well. This would lead you to believe that GJJ is the better of the two.

Other Considerations

There are other elements to Jiu-Jitsu that might make you believe BJJ is better than GJJ, and it comes down to personal preference. Some elements to consider are:

  • Which is the most fun?
  • Which is healthier for you?
  • Which is better entertainment?

Some students who have trained in both GJJ and BJJ have said that they found BJJ more fun. GJJ seems to be the more disciplined and serious of the two types of Jiu-Jitsu. However, this discipline makes GJJ very beneficial to your health if closely following their philosophies which include their “Gracie Diet“. For example, GJJ is less lenient on smoking, drugs and alcohol.

In terms of entertainment, both types of grappling seem to be just as enjoyable to watch. However, given that there are additional techniques involved in BJJ, this may give it more entertainment value compared to GJJ.

Which One Should I Choose?

Considering all of the above, this is your personal choice. You should consider what you value in your training and why you would like to learn Jiu-Jitsu.

If you are more interested in adopting a new way of life, the health benefits and discipline involved in GJJ might interest you. This is also a good option if your main goal is to be prepared to defend yourself or your family.

If you are more interested in learning Jiu-Jitsu as a sport, then BJJ is likely a better option for you. You will be trained specifically to grapple within a competition setting, as well as some self-defense. You also may find it more relaxed than the Gracie method.

Both have their benefits and both are incredibly rewarding to train in. Hopefully this article has helped you understand the differences between the two.

Clay E

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

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