Old School Vs New School: What Has Changed?

Even though BJJ has only been around in the USA for around 25 years, there have been plenty of changes to both the sport and the culture in that relatively short time.

Depending on when you started (I started right after watching Royce Gracie fight NHB in the earliest UFC’s; that means I’m old school). If you don’t know who Royce Gracie is or the meaning of NHB, you are most probably new school!

What has changed? This might be the BJJ equivalent of “I used to walk 20 miles to school barefoot in the snow storm…BOTH ways!” but please humor me in my ramblings.

1) There used to be one type of gi color.

White. Check out old school photos and everyone is wearing ill fitting kimonos of a single color. Either you bought a judo kimono from the local martial arts supply shop or you waited impatiently for your Brazilian instructor to return from a holiday to Brazil hoping that he brought a real jiu-jitsu kimono in your size.

You were a real “casca grossa” if you managed to get your hands on a Krugans kimono with a Bad Boy patch on it so you could imitate Wallid Ismail.

As of the time of this writing, there are innumerable kimono brands all over the world. Individual academies order direct from manufacturers in China and Pakistan to wear private branded kimonos in their own academies. There has been burst of creativity in the colors and design, as students like to express their personality through the gi culture in BJJ.

If you would have walked in a mid-90s BJJ academy rockin’ a Meerkatsu limited edition with inside design of a Samurai battling an Asian dragon the room would have fallen silent in hushed awe.

2) Creonte culture.

There existed a fierce tribalism in jiu-jitsu. Not only did jiu-jitsu fighters “defend the honor of jiu-jitsu” against fighters from other martial arts, but there were also fierce club vs. club rivalries.

A BJJ student would no sooner hang out with students from the rival team across town as he would wear another hated rival NFL team’s colors. I recall wearing a t-shirt from another BJJ school (that I had gotten at a seminar) to an outing with my training partners, and the temperature in the room dropped several degrees when my head instructor saw my rival colors.

If you switched schools for whatever reason, you were branded with the pejorative “creonte,” which roughly translates to traitor.

Absolute loyalty to your school was expected!

There has been a shift in BJJ culture towards more of a business mentality and away from the club (some would say “gang”) mentality of those early days.

It is not uncommon for BJJ students to train with their friends from different academies and dare to post group photos together on social media. That would have been frowned upon back in the day and instructors who discourage students from training at other places are seen as narrow-minded by students today.

3) Jiu-Jitsu Has Splintered 

This is a broad subject and deserves its own article, but let’s distill it into this: jiu-jitsu has splintered.

Old school jiu-jitsu guys from California say that the old school jiu-jitsu they came up with was synonymous with real fighting (i.e., “no holds barred”) and Gracie challenge matches in the academy. If you wanted to be a cage fighter, you looked for a BJJ school, and they were tough environments!

Jiu-jitsu has since fragmented into different expressions:

  1. Practitioners who do sport BJJ with the kimono. These use IBJJF rules and strategies that have resulted in many of the innovations in techniques.
  2. No-gi submission practitioners who compete using all of the leg locks forbidden in gi competition. They also wear spats with psychedelic designs.
  3. MMA specialists who have trained for years without ever putting on a kimono.
  4. The self-defense purists who stay true to the spirit of Helio Gracie and place their emphasis on street self-defense.

What do you see as the biggest difference between the old school and the new school?


  1. I train with an old school Brazilian master who references the differences between IBJJF with a bit of a frown and jiujitsu for real like it was for him growing up. He splits the training days up between the two and points out which ones are legal for competition and which ones actually work the best.


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