Old School, New School, And Universal BJJ: A Reader Question

Tight guard passing is an essential skill in BJJ.

Reader Question: I’d like to suggest your editorial board address the issue of “Old School/Traditional JJ” as contrasted to the more advanced “Universal JJ” which has fused the best techniques from traditional Self Defense and Sport to emerge as the most sophisticated fighting JJ there is. This is of enormous significance because Self Defense only schools position their schools as the best there is (without proof other than RG fights from the past) and are training students to fight using less advanced methods. This is an interesting topic that deserves attention. Thank you.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: This is an interesting topic. Adherents of the old school jiu-jitsu lament at some of the new sports BJJ positions and strategies that are prevalent in modern BJJ. Inverting, lapel guards, and points-oriented techniques like berimbolo have little place in BJJ for real fighting but are essential for IBJJF competition.

The Gracie brothers Rener and Ryron are perhaps the most vocal proponents of the Helio Gracie old school jiu-jitsu and make great points about learning jiu-jitsu to defend against larger opponents who are not trying to do sports BJJ against you. Refer to the old ¨Gracies In Action¨ videos to see the difference between Gracie JJ and the modern sports BJJ that we see in tournaments.

One must bear in mind that while their focus is clearly on the real fighting self-defense aspect of BJJ — which is why the majority of people start training in the first place — I would wager that when free rolling starts at their academy, we would see some of the sports jiu-jitsu positions. I’ve not had the privilege of visiting the Gracie Academy but I´d imagine that the more advanced students do practice some sports jiu-jitsu.

It can be difficult to maintain the enthusiasm for training pure self-defense when for most educated, civilized individuals, street fights are an extremely rare occurrence. There is appeal for sport competition as a testing ground for our skills.

How do we find a balance between retaining the self-defense heart of BJJ while enjoying the sports aspect which is really challenging and fun?

“Universal” jiu-jitsu is a style of jiu-jitsu that eschews sport-oriented techniques like spider guard, which rely on gripping the sleeves, and instead trains a guard, such as closed guard with overbook that would translate well to gi, no-gi, and self-defense situations where strikes are involved.

The “Universal JJ” is perhaps the most balanced and sensible approach for:

A) A balanced approach to learning jiu-jitsu that retains the essence of self-defense and avoids devolving into a martial sport that has little relation to the original fighting roots, something that has had a negative effect on many traditional martial arts.

B) Providing a training and competition method where students can push themselves and each other in live rolling while minimizing injuries.

Detractors of the self-defense schools state – with validity – that a BJJ student does need a certain amount of self-defense, but it need not preclude training sports positions as well. By the time you reach purple belt at a reputable BJJ school, how much difficulty would you have in dispatching an untrained individual in the event of a street altercation? Not much.

One element that is easy to overlook is what keeps most BJJ students coming back month after month.

Having fun rolling with your training partners and friends and pushing each other towards improvement every class. Those friendly rivalries challenge us and motivate us to continue training. Non competitors — who comprise the majority in any academy — especially love the friendly competition in rolling in the academy. Rolling with an underlying philosophy of “Universal” jiu-jitsu is probably the best approach for most BJJ students.


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