Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. BJJ. Martial arts. MMA. Fight Club.

A Crash Course in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Pt2

Welcome back to our look into the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  In this second part, we shall look at BJJ competition, rules, scoring, BJJ classes, what to expect, grading, federations, and well-established clubs.

Table of Contents

Training in BJJ

A typical Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class lasts for about 1½ hours.  The session will involve warmups at the start, followed by workshops learning new techniques and seeking to improve known techniques.  There will be many rounds of sparring (aka rolling) that will allow practitioners to apply learned techniques to opponents. 

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Demonstrating technique in a BJJ session.

In practice sessions, the opponents can be resisting or non-resisting the application of techniques. Often when learning new techniques, they are practiced against a non-resisting partner. This allows a practitioner to gain the physical memory of applying the new techniques. Isolation sparring is drilling where only a certain technique or sets of techniques are used. This allows reinforcement of applying specific techniques without having to think too hard about other techniques available. There is also full sparring where each practitioner tries to submit their opponent using all the techniques they have learned. The instructor will ensure to match up similar level opponents in sparring sessions so they are evenly matched.

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Practicing against a resisting partner prepares a practitioner for competition.

Physical conditioning is also an important aspect of training.  In a typical class you can expect lots of pushups, situps, and rolling drills.  This type of training allows practitioners to develop their strength and stamina.  The grappling drills can also be exhausting and require good levels of endurance.  By practicing at maximum effort in the class it prepares you physically and mentally for the effort needed in competition.

BJJ Uniform

The BJJ practitioner’s uniform (commonly referred to as a gi or kimono) looks very similar to a traditional Japanese Judogi.  However, it is often more fitted and made of lighter material than its Japanese counterpart.  The BJJ Gi also has tighter cuffs on the pants and jacket. The unique design provides less material for an opponent to utilize for advantage in grappling.  

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. BJJ. Martial arts. BJJ Gi.
The typical BJJ Gi. Usually a bit more colourful and flamboyant looking than its Japanese predecessor.

BJJ Gi’s are also much more stylish and flamboyant looking than the standard Japanese Gi.  They offer a greater range of colors to choose from.  The IBJJF allows white, blue, or black kimonos in tournaments, where Judo rules typically only allow white. Many BJJ schools have no rules regarding kimono color, you may even see military personnel with camouflage Gi!  Many have patches on to highlight and promote their BJJ team.

No-Gi BJJ. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. BJJ. Martial arts. MMA.
No-Gi BJJ, more offence orientated and useful for MMA practitioners.

There is also a whole subset of BJJ that is performed without the Gi.  This subset is known as ‘No-Gi BJJ’.  This changes the game somewhat since with less fabric to grip, BJJ techniques and strategy can change drastically.  There are pros and cons to both Gi training and no-Gi training in BJJ.  Training with Gi is thought to improve defensive skills, increase upper body strength and allow for more submissions and sweeps.  Alternatively, No-Gi training is thought to be better for building offensive skills and more relevant for MMA training.  The jury is out on this one.  Many practitioners prefer one style of training; some practitioners do both. Much of it comes down to personal preference.

Grading in BJJ

Like their Japanese Judoka counterparts, BJJ awards different colored belts to signify increasing levels of progression. Originally based on the Judo ranking system, BJJ has shifted away from this. It now contains many of its own unique aspects and themes. Some of these differences are relatively minor, such as the division between youth and adult belts and the stripe/degree system. Others are quite distinct and have become synonymous with art.


Gaining a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can take years to earn, and the rank is generally considered expert level. The average timeframe is around 7-10 years (depending on ability, determination, and mindset) with a regular training schedule.

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The belt progression system in BJJ is similar to judo, but there are fewer belts. In BJJ, there are eight different belt systems. Here’s the list of the belt systems, with the order of progression. (White, Blue, Purple, Brown, Black, Red and Black, Red and White, and finally Red Belt, the highest achievable rank).

Belt system and progression

Progression from one belt system to another depends on a number of factors regarding competency.

The most common factors evaluated for a BJJ belt promotion include:

  • Technical proficiency
  • Success in competition/sparring
  • Time on the mat/frequency of training
  • Dedication to the sport and academy

BJJ Competition Rules

BJJ Scoring

In competition, BJJ fighters look to take their opponents to the ground. When in the top position they seek to get past their opponents’ legs (passing guard). Once the guard pass is achieved, transitioning to more advantageous positions such as side control or mounted position can be sought after. On gaining these positions, they can choose to further improve their position further or set up a submission hold.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu mixed martial arts grappling training at Fulham Gracie Barra academy in London, UK

The basic scoring in BJJ is if you advance or improve your positioning you get awarded points. The more points you score, the greater the chance of winning the competition.  If you make your opponent submit (tap out) due to a choke or a joint lock you immediately win the match. However, the rules can vary dramatically between different federations and organizers.  Indeed, many competitions have their very own unique rules.  (For example, competitions that don’t award any points for transitions and simply continue until a match is won by submission).  However rather than get caught up in the often heady mess of scoring systems, we will focus on the universal BJJ points scoring system.

Throw or Takedown (Queda)

If both challengers are standing, and one initiates and succeeds at taking the other to the mat.  2 points are awarded.

Sweep (Raspada/Raspagem)

If your opponent is within your guard (any kind of guard) and you reverse the position. (For example, you land on top and your opponent ends up in the bottom position).  2 points are awarded.

Knee-on-belly position

If you manage to pin your opponent to the floor with the knee-on-belly position for 3 seconds.  2 points are awarded.

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Guard Pass (Passagem de Guarda)

If you manage to get past your opponent’s legs (Pass guard)  3 points are awarded.

Back Mount (Pegada de Costas)

Regardless of where you are, if you manage to take your opponent’s back and place both feet around the inside of your opponent’s thighs (hooks). 4 points are awarded.

Mount (Montada)

If you transition into the top position with both legs around the opponent’s torso with knees on the ground. 4 points are awarded.

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Summary of Scoring:

  • Sweeps – 2 points.
  • Takedowns/Throws – 2 points.
  • Knee-on-belly position – 2 points.
  • Guard pass – 3 points.
  • Mount – 4 points.
  • Back Mount – 4 points.

BJJ, Japanese Judo and the Kodokan rules

It should be noted that although related, BJJ and Japanese Judo are now completely different technically and stylistically.  In the late 19th century Japanese Judo underwent several rule changes.  The aim of this was to both improve safety and make it more of a spectator sport.  The sport moved away from striking as well as the ground fighting element. Once a fight went to the ground, the fighters were immediately stood up again by the referee.  Another rule change saw the exclusion of certain joint locks.  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu did not follow Japanese Judo’s rule changes. 

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Judo.Far East Asian Martial Arts. Far East Asian Martial Arts.

Distant relatives. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (left) and Modern Japanese Judo (right).

It was primarily this schism that enabled BJJ to branch off in its own direction as a grappling art.  Although it’s still undeniably related to judo, BJJ now has its own unique identity. There are other factors that have contributed towards the split (stylistic speaking) of BJJ from judo.  These include the inclusion of full-contact fighting as well as the Gracie family’s contribution to the art.

BJJ, and Japanese Judo: Similarities and differences

  • Both stem from a common ancestry (Japanese Jujitsu). 
  • Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo) wanted to branch away from the violent style of Jujitsu. He developed the more sportsmanlike Judo.  
  • Mitsuyo Maeda (a student of Kano’s) took Judo to Brazil. In Brazil, he started his academy which saw the eventual evolution of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). (Maeda was eventually expelled from the Kodokan discipline for his fighting).  His version of Judo (mixed with street fighting) was further developed and modified by Gracie brothers in Brazil.
  • Judo developed into an incredibly sophisticated, subtle, effective throwing art, with some relatively basic ground techniques.  
  • BJJ moved away from throws and takedowns and began focusing on ground fighting.
  • BJJ permits the same techniques that judo allows when taking combat to the ground. Such as Judo throws. It also permits all takedowns used in wrestling, sambo, or any other grappling arts.  These include direct attempts to take down by touching the legs. 
  • BJJ also allows a competitor to drag opponents to the ground. As in ‘pulling guard’.
  • The ways to win a match in judo are as follows:
    • Throwing your opponent to his or her back, with force.
    • Pinning your opponent for a pre-set period of time (25 seconds = ippon, or complete victory in Japanese).
  • Submission (armlock or choke).
  • In BJJ, the ways to win are:
    • Submission.
    • Points.
  • Both martial arts philosophies deal with using an opponent’s strength to defeat them.

Major BJJ Federations

Since its inception, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has had different registered federations and tournaments. Below are some of the larger more well-known federations.

SJJIFSport Jiu-Jitsu International Federation (SJJIF) – an organization with federations and tournaments around the globe with the mission of making Jiu-Jitsu an Olympic sport.

IBJJFInternational Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (USA), an organization that hosts a number of tournaments.

UKBJJA – United Kingdom Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Association (UK).

NAGA North American Grappling Association. Runs regular gi and no-gi competitions in the USA and Europe.

UAEJJF – United Arab Emirates Jiu-Jitsu Federation.  The official jiu-jitsu authority for the United Arab Emirates.

Major BJJ Competitions

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Major BJJ Teams

Brazilians are known for being very passionate about their sports, and BJJ is no different.  BJJ has always had a strong sense of community, almost family-like. The sense of belonging to a particular team is incredibly strong and has been for decades.  Below are some of the well-known BJJ clubs. Their practitioners are almost certainly to be found in high-ranking positions in international competitions. 

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Going 'Creonte'

In Brazil, the rivalry between teams was incredibly intense in the ’80s and ’90s. Indeed, it wasn’t uncommon for opposing BJJ gyms to feel genuine animosity towards each other, with street-fights often occurring. During this time it was also a big no-no to change camp, indeed this was perceived as an unforgivable act.  And you could expect no mercy from your former classmates if you were to do this. It was that frowned upon that the term ‘Creonte’ was given to someone who changed clubs!  This was rumored to have been started by the late grandmaster Carlson Gracie (1932 – 2006).  According to the story, Gracie adapted the term from a character in a popular TV soap opera in Brazil. (The character of ‘Creonte’ had many competing allegiances and changed his loyalties frequently).

It was a big issue in BJJ camps at the time.  A creonte became someone who betrayed their master and teammates. The sport has (thankfully) developed much since then :D).  Today many fighters are famed for cross-training and training in more than one team.

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