Honoring the J in Jiu-Jitsu

As we study Jiu-Jitsu, we tend to think of the issues surrounding our art, such as MMA, self-defense on the street, etc. We also tend to think about the "talk" about our art-what we say about it, what others say, how it compares to other arts, etc. One issue that has been on my mind is the different (or at least perceived as different) "kinds" of Jiu-Jitsu. Humor me while I discuss an issue that is, while not hotly contested, yet somewhat debated in the Jiu-Jitsu community.

I'm talking about the notion of "Brazilian" Jiu-Jitsu being widely perceived as "the" Jiu-Jitsu, or at least a superior form of Jiu-Jitsu. Note that I take no issue with any Jiu-Jitsu tradition, but with the mythic discourse of some forms being better. Rather than engage in a worthless "this form is better than that form," I simply want to try and put things in perspective-historical perspective. Indeed, one could argue that Sakuraba's dismantling of 4 Gracies (2 via submission) shows that the Japanese tradition is better. On the other hand, there are perhaps no better Jiu-Jitsu practitioners active today than Roger Gracie, Xande Ribiero, Marcelo Garcia, and Jacare. Again, such discussions are irrelevant. My point in this paragraph is to demonstrate that it is the practitioner that determines the effectiveness of Jiu-Jitsu.

What I'm getting at is that it is crucial to remember the significance of what I would, perhaps boldly, call the true foundation of Jiu-Jitsu-its true grounding. Indeed, while the Gracies made the martial art famous at an international level, it was the Japanese that created the art.

If you have not taken a look at the "Kosen" Judo, you can watch demonstrations of the art here: Kosen Judo Video. What is demonstated on this video is some highly advanced Jiu-Jitsu-much of which I do not even understand yet. It is all groundwork and certainly "the" Jiu-Jitsu.

What worries me is that the martial arts world has forgotten the Japanese in Jiu-Jitsu. Having trained a year of both Brazilian and Japanese systems, I genuinely see no difference. They are the same art! So what has puzzled me for so long is why people engage a discourse of superiority when aligning themselves with a Brazilian (and especially a Gracie) academy. The truth is that such an identity is a facade. With Shihan and Conan demonstrating the most intricate details of effective grappling in instruction, I am confident in my learning from one who learned the art from the originators: the Japanese teachers that created the philosophy.

My point is that it does matter that we recognize the Japanese roots of Jiu-Jitsu. Having heard differently elsewhere, the tale go as follows: "the Gracies learned Jiu-Jitsu, then radically changed it to make it much better!" The reason I write this in the first place is because, as I have now trained under both traditions, I disagree with this notion. There is no difference in what we practice at Sho-Rei-Shobu-Kan than at Gracie affiliated schools, except that we often use the Japanese name in reference to moves.

Yet we can never forget the significance of the Brazilians helping the art to explode worldwide. We must appreciate the role that any tradition plays. Yet it is the Japanese that created the self-defense moves that all practice. In essence, I have decided to continue to learn more about the true beginnings of Jiu-Jitsu and to share it with others. If you have not heard Shihan or Conan tell the story of the Samurai employing Jiu-Jitsu in the battle field, ask them to do so. I wish we could sit around a campfire and hear Shihan tell us the stories. They are fascinating.

My goal with this post is to recognize the importance of the Japanese authors of the great martial art. With malice toward none, I simply hope that all will see our art in true historical perspective. I am trying to understand that history myself.


sankakushime said...

Wow! You, my brother, have read my mind! I have been contemplating a similar post! Glad you posted! I hope that everybody can be of like mind. Thank you Brent.

Brent said...

it was actually our discussion last week that made me think of doing this. i hope it extends beyond just our training team, and that people anywhere read it and come to appreciate the Japanese in Jiu Jitsu.

Garrett said...

From my understanding and experience, what we do at sho rie shobu kan is much closer to BJJ than Japanese jui jitsu. If you went to a traditional juijitsu class, it would look more like a mix of judo and karate.

If you watch the early UFCs you will see people that have a black belt in juijitsu, but still don't have any ground game.

Brent said...

i didn't know that, garret. perhaps jiu jitsu (in japanese) is a polysemic term? there are multiple things called jiu jitsu?
in any case, i don't assume that shihan got his jiu jitsu training from the gracies or other bjj teachers.
hence, it seems that he knows what he knows (and conan knows what he knows) from the japanese traditions. ultimately, that we are a japanese jiu jitsu school? not trying to refute, just to understand.
in any case, thanks for your thoughts!

Conan said...

Thanks for this post, Brent! Instead of commenting in full here, I decided that my response to this subject deserved a separate post, Response to: Honoring the J in Jiu-Jitsu

Anonymous said...

Hey all, I agree that from a technique standpoint there is little difference. The more important distinction is training methodology. As Matt Thornton and the Straight Blast Gym have pointed out, training with "aliveness," ie against resisting opponents free to react as they wish, helps us weed out what techniques work for us from what doesn't. That's why training for sport can be such a valuable part of your larger training. For instance, there are people out there with beautiful looking boxing, yet they fold under pressure. In my experience guys from different grappling disciplines that train with realistic pressure and are open to changing their minds will often come up with similar skill sets. Quite a bit of Japanese JJ I've seen has been fairly ritualized. Even though Judo is derided as being too sport specific, the competition drives people to find out what actually works for them