After a recent write up on starting again as a white belt, I was asked why I do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Japan? Why not Japanese Jujutsu? How would you compare Japanese Jujutsu to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
The easy answer is because Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is more effective. But to answer why, we have to dive into a brief look at the history of Japanese Jujutsu, and the evolution of Jujutsu through out time.If you already know this history, feel free to jump to the bottom headline:Why did I choose Gracie Barra Jiujitsu?
*Jiujitsu and Jujutsu are the same term. Jiujitsu is just the western pronunciation. In this article I use both terms interchangeably.
Japanese Jujutsu was a style meant to be used against Samurai in battle and was developed during the feudal Senguku time period (c.1467 – c. 1568) .Takenouchi-ryū (日下 捕手 開山 竹内流)jujutsu was developed in 1532, and is one of the oldest methods of Japanese Jujutsu ( Matsumoto,2005) .The term Jujutsu itself wasn’t coined until the 17th century, this became a blanket term to cover any style that included grappling. Today, any type of grappling that was developed between 1333-1573 is referred to as Japanese old-style jujutsu (日本古流柔術 Nihon koryū jūjutsu).
In Nihon koryū jūjutsu techniques are taught through Kata (forms,) that are designed to lock the joints, and subdue an opponent. Force is never met with force, rather students are meant to use the opponents force against them.
Japanese Jujutsu methods can be split into several different schools, that go beyond the scope of this article. If you follow the references and links, they will guide you into an even deeper look, at the many schools, that derived from Takenouchi-ryū. But for the purpose of this article, and the history covered, I am only tracing the evolution of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. With this in mind, lets take a look into one of the next adaptations, that Japanese Ju-jutsu took.
Although some practitioners claim that Aiki Jujutsu goes back to 1045. The historical practice, and the schools, were not officially established until 1895 (Kondo, K.2000). It should be noted that these established schools, trace back their roots to they style of Daitō-ryū, with each school tracing their lineage back to the Takeda clan, which is said to have developed the techniques much earlier. But there is not a lot of documented evidence of this.
Aiki Jujutsu uses joint manipulation as well as strikes to immobilize an opponent. Techniques are taught through kata (forms) and practice is done with a willing opponent to apply the techniques. This style influenced the development of both Judo and Aikido (Omiya,1999).
As I mentioned earlier, Koryu Jujutsu is not to be confused with Aikido. The reason is that Aikido was not developed until two centuries later in 1920. The founder Morihei Ueshiba wanted to create a martial art that was meant to subdue the attacker without harming them (Ueshiba, 2002). Integrating philosophies from the Shinto religion Ōmoto-kyō, Morihei Ueshiba successfully coined the term Aikido in 1942.
Aikido has no sparring, and all of the techniques are practiced with a willing opponent. Aikido actually developed from Aiki Jujutsu, and the founder studied under instructors of Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū , Gotōha Yagyū Shingan-ryū and Judo. After studying these styles, Morihei Ueshiba began creating his own style that he would later call Aikido.
Judo was developed by Kanō Jigorō (嘉納 治五郎, Jigoro Kano, 1860–1938). Kano Jigoro studied Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū (天神真楊流) under Fukuda Hachinosuke (c.1828–1880). Tenjin Shinyo-ryu, was a style that evolved from the earlier mentioned Japanese old-style jujutsu (日本古流柔術 Nihon koryū jūjutsu).
The founder of Judo loved the practical aspects of free sparring in practicing and learning techniques. He felt that the best practice comes through competition. After practicing techiniques, and warming up ,students would immediately begin sparring.
In sparring a match is won using a point based system. The points are achieved by throwing an opponent on the ground or (if the throw was not a definitive take down) joint locking the opponent once they are on the ground. Tackles that aim for below the knees are not allowed.However, grabbing your opponent, and sweeping the legs with your leg is.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Finally, this brings us to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Since I am studying Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, I am going to focus the explanation using this school, to explain why I chose it and also the history behind the Gracie method. There are two reason for this. One, there are philosophies that go hand in hand with my own method of Kajukenbo. Two, Gracie Jiu-Jitusu has the most schools world wide, and is currently becoming very popular in Japan.
I know you might be thinking. Wait! I thought you said Japan has jujutsu? I’ll get to that. So please bear with me.
The first Judo school in Brazil was opened in 1909 by Geo Omori (Japanese Born Brazilian Martial Artist).Around this time Mitsuya Maeda was assigned by the by the Kodokan institute (the same Judo institute Geo Omari belonged to)to demonstrate Judo in Brazil as well other western countries. Maeda not only did Judo but he also accepted challenges from any style. The loser would owe the winner the prize money. It should be noted their are a lot legendary stories about Maeda, I encourage to follow the links to learn more about his exploits.
In 1917, Maeda took in Carlos Gracie and Hélio Gracie as his students. Maeda didn’t just teach them Judo. Maeda took a mixed approach to his teachings, based on his experiences in full contact fights and challenges(Gracie, 2003). According to Gracie (2003), Maeda felt that fighting could be broken down into three phases (striking, grappling and groundwork). Within this philosophy, a fighter should study all types fighting techniques, and develop a method that plays towards their strengths, while exploiting their opponents weaknesses. This principle, is the same principles taught in my method of Kajukenbo, as well as other methods such as Jeet Kun Do (Bruce Lee’s Method)(Lee, 1975).
Eventually, the Gracie Family standardized the techniques and founded several different schools that can be traced back to Maeda. It should also be noted that Luiz Franca , was also one of Maeda’s students, and he also developed his system of Brazilian Jiujitsu, from the techniques learned from Maeda.
Since then, many different Brazilian Jiujitsu schools have been founded, and many of them trace their roots back to Mitsuya Maeda.The word Jiujitsu is the based on the Western translation of the Japanese word Jujutsu. Eventually, Japan standardized Judo as it's official martial art, teaching it nation wide. Around the same time, they stopped teaching Jujutsu in schools and traditional 日本古流柔術 Nihon koryū jūjutsu schools, taught their styles in their own dojos (to this day).
Why did I choose Gracie Barra JiuJitsu?
Now that we are finished with our brief history lesson, I can get into why I chose Gracie Barra Jiujitsu, even though I live in Japan.
In Japan, their are several different types of schools for Jiujitsu. Some are getting into MMA and mixing grappling techniques from free style submission wrestling, as well as Judo. Some are sticking to their traditional approaches, and emphasizing on forms with little to no sparring.
The problem with the MMA approach is that there is no standard. Everyone shows up to class, they practice a technique and spar. Since everyone is taught the same technique (regardless of their level), it is hard for beginners to get a solid foundation. This leads to the experienced fighters, constantly beating up on the less experienced new comers. The new comers can either get better or give up (many choose the later).
The problem with the traditional approach is that there is little to no sparring. Although you can learn many techniques this way, and it is very standardized, it is difficult to know how effective the teqniques would be against a real opponent. There is also a large emphasis on rituals that have nothing to do with martial arts and more to do with tradition (there's nothing wrong with this, if this is what you are looking for).
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 1000 times.
When I first came to Japan and joined an MMA club. It was very effective. The only problem was that since they did not have a standard format( we are often shown a technique once, and then a completely different technique the next week). We never really stay focused on one technique until it’s mastered. So my progress was difficult to measure.
I already have a 3rd Degree Black Belt in Kajukenbo and one of the things that I liked about Gracie Barra jiujitsu is that it is standardized. All of the techniques work into the next set of techniques I have been taught. This is very similar to the format of Kajukenbo that I studied (the founders of Kajukenbo and the founders of Gracie have a very similar background) .The nice part about learning this way, is that you build a foundation based on what you have already learned. This also makes the techniques easier to memorize.
Another thing I like about Brazilian Jiujitsu, is that it doesn’t confine itself to the rules that traditional Japanese jiujitsu, and Judo Schools, confine themselves to. For example, in Judo you are not allowed to do a double leg take down, and the fight is over if you are thrown to the ground. In traditional Nihon koryū jūjutsu there is no sparring, it is all based on forms. The problem with this is that it is not practical. Maybe it could work against a willing opponent, but it definitely won’t work against a trained opponent in the cage (where I fight).
Gracie jiujitsu has a no nonsense approach. We practice a technique against a willing opponent, followed by focused sparring, using the technique we learned again on an unwilling opponent. This along with the standardized approach, makes it easy to build a foundation and measure my improvement.Of course, since I already have a background in full contact kickboxing and I still do MMA, this is just one more piece of the puzzle for me. It could be argued that just doing Gracie jiujitsu, is not enough to make you a well rounded martial artist.
Another interesting observation I made, was that many of my Japanese classmates and instructors, come from traditional schools (Karate,Akido, Judo etc). So even in Japan, the martial artists are coming to the same conclusions. As someone coming from the American martial art of Kajukenbo, I feel Gracie Barra jiujitsu shares many of the same philosophies. Since my method of Kajukenbo emphasized stand up and takedowns (over ground work), what I am learning now is the missing link, to help me be formidable no matter what situation I end up in.
Further notes that came up in the research
An interesting thing that came up while doing research for this article were videos claiming to be Brazilian Jiu-Jitus vs Japanese Jujutsu. But, upon a closer look it was actually Judo vs Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Here is an example of this kind of video here:
I also noted that some videos were accurate in being Japanese Jiujitsu vs Brazilian Jiujitsu but the practitioners were American and studied a combination of Brazilian Jiujitsu, Judo and Japanese Jiujitsu.
When I looked into to it, I really couldn’t find any traditional Japanese Jujutsu schools that did actual sparring. It was all based on forms and practice. Nothing against this style of training. But in the fast paced action of MMA, Japanese Jujutsu does not have the intensity that I feel I need to get better in an aggressive environment. Here is an example of traditional Japanese Jujutsu here:
Finding your own path
In Kajukenbo we are encouraged to develop our own method once we get our black belts. This can take many shapes as time passes. I’m not a stylist and I am not saying that one method is better than another. But, I am saying that some styles are more effective depending on the circumstances (for certain individuals).
During my first MMA fight in Japan, I was shocked how little I actually knew about groundwork.I knew how to defend myself against the average person. But fighting against a trained aspiring professional MMA fighter, was a completely different story. This is where having an in depth knowledge of all phases of fighting (stand up, grappling and ground work) was needed. I feel that I emphasized on grappling and stand up, for most of my martial arts journey. Now is the time for me to focus on ground work, to become a better, well rounded, fighter, and Sifu.
This was why I chose Gracie Barra Jiujitsu in Japan. To anyone one reading this, feel free to comment, and I will try my best to answer any questions you may have.
Train your body, mind, and spirit everyday.
Social Gelo with Angelo- Adventures with Angelo
Sifu Angelo Ferrer (3rd Degree Black Belt Kajukenbo)
About the Author
Angelo Ferrer is a Puerto Rican American expat living in Japan. He is a martial artist, surfer,blogger and podcast host. To learn more about Social Gelo feel free to check out the website by scrolling to the top of this page.
Gracie, R (2003). Mastering Jujitsu. Human Kinetics.
Kondo, K. (2000). Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu: Hiden Mokuroku Ikkajo. Tokyo: Aiki News.
Lee, B. (1975). The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Santa Clarita.
Matsumoto, D. (2005). Thinking differently about the teaching of judo in Japan. A. Bennet.
Omiya, S. (1999). The Hidden Roots of Aikido: Aiki Jujutsu Daitoryu. Kodansha International.
Ueshiba, M. (2002). The art of peace. Shambhala Publications.