“Does your jiu-jitsu sparring include strikes?”

A few weeks ago the Verbal Grappling Podcast (a collaborative project done by The BJJ Hour and Jiu Jitsu Times) featured Rener Gracie in a no holds barred discussion about the merits of Gracie Jiu Jitsu and the direction it’s heading.  Rener repeatedly made a specific point: if your jiu jitsu training doesn’t frequently include striking, you’re not doing Gracie Jiu Jitsu.  Now that the dust has settled a bit, I’d like to analyze this from my own (possibly narrow) perspective.

As a disclaimer: this article isn’t a criticism or indictment of GJJ, but rather a question for anyone out there who has trained the kind of jiu jitsu that Rener described: is GJJ limited when handling trained opponents?  By trained I mean schooled in both striking and grappling.  How would someone with a year of casual MMA training at a local MMA gym do in a fight against someone with a year of Gracie Combatives training?

I did striking for many years.  I started with Kempo Karate back in 1993, eventually getting into Muay Thai, boxing and a mixture of other styles.  Oh, and I was first exposed to Gracie Jiu Jitsu in 1999 (no, I haven’t been training all this time, I took many years off, but my first exposure was nevertheless in the late 90s.)  The appeal of Gracie Jiu Jitsu to me was, very specifically, the ability to practice it full force without worrying too much about injury, a luxury that I didn’t have when striking.

Gracie Jiu Jitsu has always been marketed as a complete martial art.  The idea has always been to address someone trying to hit you by clinching, establishing a dominant position, and then deciding how to finish the altercation.  Gracie Jiu Jitsu also hasn’t really done very well over the past decade in mainstream MMA…

The majority of successful fighters in MMA today use boxing and Muay Thai (in some cases mixed with Karate or Taekwondo in order to be unorthodox) when standing, Judo and/or wrestling in the clinch and a combination of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sweeps and submissions, as well as occasional catch or Sambo submissions once the fight hits the ground.  We don’t see people doing the now infamous shuffle that Royce Gracie did in UFC 1, and there’s a reason for this.

If GJJ is so effective, why don’t we see more of what we saw in the early days of the UFC?  Why don’t we see fighters standing with their head straight up in the area and their arms extended, kicking at the other person’s legs and eventually rushing in?  I believe that this is because the striking that is taught in GJJ is ineffective against a trained striker with an understanding of the clinch and how to stay out of danger.

I am not saying that GJJ isn’t effective at all, nor am I saying that one should steer clear of it.  What I am saying is that GJJ as a complete martial art may leave its practitioners vulnerable in comparison to breaking up training into the various aspects of the fight, which is why so few MMA fighters tout it as their main style.  The ones who are grappling specialists tend to be former sport BJJ competitors who are able to use the same techniques they used in the sport to do well in MMA, but if you watch their style it looks like what it is, sport BJJ modified for MMA, NOT GJJ.

Striking is important to any self defense program, so I would tend to agree that GJJ as a complete martial art requires striking, but I would posit that one is better served training their striking and their grappling as two separate factors in their journey as a martial artist as to become well rounded and effective both on the feet and on the ground.


  1. Perhaps the issue is that hardly anyone is practicing Gracie Jitsu as it was intended. Everyone has modified it to the point that it isn’t what it was when it came to the US. And, the point Rener is making isn’t about MMA, it’s about self-defense survival. Those are two separate concepts. Self-defense needs to be trained with strikes or it is ineffective.

  2. So the reason that GJJ isn’t effective in MMA is that it is purely “self-defense.” GJJ is never intended to be used offensively or as a means to initiate a fight. That’s not how it’s designed. In fact, you should never truly step forward in a fight using GJJ. You should only step back to keep distance or stay where you are if you can’t step back. Once your opponent charges forward in any way that breaks the safe distance (two arms lengths) you charge into them and clinch. Then comes the takedown and control. Purely self-defense. Thus in situations where you must attack (clock, passive opponent, inside a caged area) it’s far more difficult to implement GJJ.

    Now you may be misconstruing something. Knowing GJJ isn’t enough to win a fight. Surely your opponent may be a better grappler/clinch fighter than you with a greater technical knowledge. That doesn’t mean GJJ isn’t effective. It just means you need to train more to be able to be prepared and survive against the more technical opponents.

  3. Biggest mistake this article makes is comparing Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to MMA. MMA is a sport with a very specific rule set and time constraints, where athletes are forced to stand up if action is halted on the ground. The other has no limits or rules.

    The rule set and scoring system MMA imposes does not favor a patient game, where you can keep your head back, chomp at the knees and defend takedowns to your hearts content.

  4. If it wasnt for gracie jiu jitsu, the philosophy and teaching methodology, i would have never had any interest in learning jiu jitsu. i couldnt care less about how i would do in a fight with an mma fighter or bjj tournament for that matter

  5. Change the rules to say, the old PRIDE format and then you will see strategies from the old days coming back. Today’s MMA is :1) Who cut weight better 2) Athleticism,usually aided by performance enhancing drugs ans 3) All the above bunched up in 3 to 5 five minutes rounds. Change the length of the rounds and you will see modern mma change. I fully understand why it was done, its a business but to me a guy that cut 10 kilograms or over and fights in a lower weight class isnt a champ at all. Thats why I stopped MMA after 14 pro fights and a bunch of amateur. I dont want to be in an environment like modern mma or have students in it, loosing that amount of weight is stupid especially for girls and I will never need to worry about fighting these guys because they will have serious health issues at mid age.

    Now outside of MMA, the old “silly looking stance”that royce did will save your life, most of the striking techniques you see in modern MMA doesnt look good on CCTV or in courts, doing flying knee and repeated round kicks on the upper thigh,may look good in the cage but doing that on a client at work,who has a mental break down will be deemed as an excessive use of force. I have security guards and police in my classes and these guys are always get commendations for handling sticky situations in a calm, efficient and safe way. I dont think Rener was speaking about MMA but self defense and he is right GJJ is the most complete and effective art to know for self defense yeah you go and fight in the cage against a trained opponent you need to have a good camp with a variety of focuses, thats what the gracies has always done,look at the people coming out of their gyms and you would see that. Renzo’s gym for example.

    Gracie jujitsu is as relevant today as it has ever been and the fact remains that there is nobody doing good in MMA that doesn’t know BJJ and train it. Not everyone trains wrestling,but simply against it, not everyone trains mauy thai but simply against it. GJJ is always about innovation but about practicality and its striving today, also in closing: a small proportion of the population trains jujitsu and even smaller amount is into BJJ tournaments and MMA comps,but a large majority is in it for sefl defense and health and all the other goodies it gives. You are a blue belt wait till you get to Brown and watch your mind open, like all of us when you pass the comp/mma focus age, you will be all up into teaching for health and self defense.

  6. Take the rules away that were put in place to make MMA more exciting, and you will see a reestablishment of jiu-jitsu, etc. being the dominant art that MMA fighters train.


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