In a 2016 interview on Jiu-jitsu Times, I asked Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and the man behind many broadcasts of the world’s top grappling competitions, “Budo” Jake, the following question: “Do you see the art and sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu eventually evolving into separate disciplines?”
Jake responded with “This is a very interesting question. I think it’s already split, but some teachers teach both.”
As BJJ gains popularity worldwide, it is inevitable that it evolves into different directions. Especially when it comes to the rules of sport competition that tend to drive how jiu-jitsu is taught in different schools.
I know what you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, a kimura is the same no matter where you train.”
That is true, but a visit to a jiu-jitsu school with a different emphasis than what you’re accustomed to will be a real eye opener.
Let’s consider a couple of different examples of BJJ classes that are very different due to their preferred type of competition.
BJJ school #1 trains only in the gi and is very focused on competing in IBJJF rules tournaments. Training is mostly in the kimono and the techniques, positions, and strategies are centered around success in IBJJF tournaments.
Even the lower belts are conversant in more advanced sport positions like De la Riva guard, berimbolo, inverting, and various techniques utilizing the lapel, but there is not a pair of boxing gloves to be found in the academy and punches are seldom mentioned during class.
BJJ school #2 has a number of guys who actively fight in MMA. A lot of the training is no gi and focused on the smaller subset of BJJ that can be employed in MMA. Roger Gracie memorably said that only about 30% of his jiu-jitsu works in MMA.
The fighters who step into the cage have little use for sport BJJ positions that would leave them exposed to strikes and have a much higher focus on stand up wrestling.
The expertise of the head instructors will vary significantly. The black belt teaching the sport BJJ focused class will have to be current on the popular sweeps and open guard styles used in competition, but he doesn’t spend much time on the intricacies of grappling using the cage. Conversely, the MMA centered black belt understands clinching to a much deeper level but has not devoted a lot of study to how to pass the reverse De la Riva guard with spider grip.
As excellence in each of the different forms of competition will require increasing levels of specialization, so will the specific areas of expertise of the instructors. Instructors will start to specialize in a more narrow range of techniques that they study and teach.
It is entirely possible that in the near future, people interested in starting jiu-jitsu will be choosing from different BJJ schools with very different flavors: no-gi submission grappling, traditional jiu-jitsu with the kimono, and MMA focused.
Has BJJ already split into different sub-sports or is it all still one jiu-jitsu?