Street Jiu-Jitsu VS Sport Jiu-Jitsu: Who Wins?

In our grappling community, there is an issue that just seemingly won’t die: Sport Jiu-Jitsu vs Street jiu-Jitsu. There are many high level instructors and practitioners on both sides of the argument, and they have seemingly drawn their lines in the sand. But honestly, why is this even an argument at all? Let’s break it down and see who is “right”.Capture

Street BJJ guys usually love to point to the 50/50 guard. Or the guard-pulling. Or the butt-scooting. They usually seem to enjoy doing this while making sure everyone around them knows that they don’t practice “BJJ”; instead they practice “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu”. Do they have some valid claims? Hell yeah, they do. Is butt-scooting something to do in an actual fight? Well, as this MMA fighter learned, it is not.

Sport guys love to point out that most “street” guys don’t know what a real fight even feels like without competing. Or that they don’t know any “real” standup. Or that few of them seem to ever test themselves in MMA. Do they have some valid claims? Hell yeah, they do. Someone can’t claim “street ready” without also preparing for the nerves aspect (whether that be from competition, MMA, or full-on sparring).

So who wins? Well, nobody. Because we’re just bickering among ourselves.

Something that I believe ought to happen, is that instructors ought to teach both by clarifying what a technique can be applied to (street, sport, or both) while demonstrating it. Should you tell a white belt to go for 50/50 in a “street” scenario? Obviously, no. I’d be very surprised if I ever saw an instructor advocating such a thing. Should an instructor talk about groin strikes to a class getting ready to compete? Again, obviously, no; and I would be surprised to see it happen.

So why do we keep fighting about it? Jiu-Jitsu is Jiu-Jitsu, regardless of your goals or emphasis. There is absolutely nothing wrong with learning it for self-defense. That said, there is also nothing wrong with learning it for a sport. Do both. Have fun. Hell, we need both.

Why make claims that one way is superior to the other? It’s still the same thing, just a different emphasis. If we ever want Jiu-Jitsu to be taken seriously, we need to stop all of the in-fighting. Let’s focus on advancing the art as a whole instead of tearing sections of it down. It really boils down to being respectful to one another, and realizing that we all train for various reasons.

I will conclude this article with words from Tim Sylvester, an instructor at Gracie Philadelphia:


  1. I think that the major problem is simply mis-communication. I am defiantly no expert on either subject, just read a lot of the articles you are talking about. I think, at the heart of the problem, new students just need to be sure they know what they want, and what class they are signing up for. The articles I've seen that made the most sense was somebody saying something like "I got in a fight and got my face punched in by someone in my guard, why didn't I learn punch blocking and distance management for this situation?!" When they signed themselves up at a prominently sport school, that was currently practicing for an upcoming sport tournament, at the time they signed up. I think, if it's not made clear in class (possibly because everyone is gearing up for a tournament next month), the student simply needs to ask some questions. Like you said, we are all practicing mostly the same stuff, and possibly what would seem " common sense" to a higher belt, just isn't understood by somebody a little newer. Hope that makes a little sense, just a thought, my two cents for what it's worth.

  2. Actually I think this is a good thing. Hear me out on this. One of music's best bands is the Deftones. Anyone who knows the band knows about the constant creative tension between the lead guitarist, who if he had his way would just play hyper heavy metal all the time and the lead singer who would rather the band be more like a garage rock or indie rock band. This creative tension has been at the root of some of their best music because at the end of the day it is both. Their music is never too indie for a full on metal head to enjoy it and not so brutal that a indie rocker couldn't find a tune they like.

    Such is the wonderful state of BJJ today. We have people constantly pushing to keep the original idea of Carlos and Ellio Gracie alive, while there is this really cool sport that has emerged around this showing how creative you can get with the concepts. This is far better than the state of most martial arts that are fighting to keep ineffective katas around vs even more ineffective sport moves. They aren't even having the discussion on weather or not it will work in a real fight. The fact that we are is why Brazilian Jiu Jitsu/ Gracie Jiu Jitsu whatever you want to call it is one of the fastest growing martial arts. It is the creative tension between the two trains of thought that keeps the original idea of the art in focus while evolving and advancing the sport that has come from it. I say keep it up.


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