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The first and most important reason can be found in the art’s history and is primary to all others discussed afterward. When you research the history of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, you will understand that it came from “Judo” in its time of renaissance. In the early 1900’s, Judo was being developed from a variety of Jiu-jitsu styles in order to make it the most complete and effective martial art in the world. Some older Jiu-jitsu schools only focused on one area of fighting (some practiced primarily standing techniques) and had been left without a realistic battlefield testing ground for hundreds of years. If you recall the history of Judo’s beginning, you know that it was made up of mostly standing techniques at first, from Kito Ryu Jiu-jitsu and a few other styles. This alone was not enough, so the groundwork of Fusen Ryu was added, making it more complete. When you say “traditional” or “Japanese” Jiu-jitsu, you are referring to only one of these Jiu-jitsu styles, which is incomplete alone. When you say Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, you are referring to the best techniques from a wide variety of styles.

Our Jiu-Jitsu in the United States was underdeveloped compared to the Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil. Only now are we beginning to catch up, and we are still suffering from the inadequacies of the ‘older’ and more traditional schools of Jiu-Jitsu in this country. To give you an idea of what I mean, I’ll tell you a little about my training. I earned a black belt in a classical style of Jiu-Jitsu, which taught all the Judo throws of the Kodokan and Aikijitsu (the grandfather of Aikido). It was a great art, but one that could not be used on anyone with skill effectively before complete mastery. I was subsequently defeated by a student of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who was only at blue belt level, while I was a black belt in traditional Jiu-Jitsu. Why? Lack of realistic practice is the reason. There was too much of: “you stay perfectly still while I try an extravagant technique on you and you play along.” There are many techniques which is where Judo is great, and some traditional schools teach techniques that were designed thousands of years ago whose applications have not been modified or thought about since. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is simple to learn, so simple that a dedicated student of one year can easily beat martial artists of other styles who have many years of experience.

Some styles of martial arts spend hundreds of hours working on a rigid stance and one hundred standing techniques that cannot possibly be mastered in a reasonable amount of time. I once interviewed Royce Gracie and he gave a response that supports this point quite well:

“We don’t believe in teaching a ton of moves every class and the student walking away with limited knowledge. We prefer our students to know 20 techniques at 100%, than 100 techniques at 20%.” (Interview with Gene Simco for www.jiu-jitsu.net)

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu focuses on techniques that are easy to learn in a very short period of time. The techniques taught in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are also effective and have been tested on knowledgeable martial artists who are not cooperating. A small amount of simple but high percentage techniques makes the difference. If all you do is practice five or six techniques, you will be very good at them in a year or so, but if you have to divide your time between a hundred or more techniques, you will most likely be a jack of all trades and a master of none in a year’s time.

The differences in the two styles of Jiu-Jitsu are not necessarily in the technique, but in the practice and application. First of all, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has a very sophisticated ground-game, where Japanese Jiu-Jitsu places importance on standing techniques, as does Judo. Judo as a sport does not allow leg locks, where Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu does. Sport rules for Judo dictate that if a player has been pinned by his/her opponent for twenty-five seconds, he or she will lose the match. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has no time restraints on ground positions and stalling most often occurs while standing. Older styles of Jiu-Jitsu (often spelled jujutsu or jujitsu) are usually preceded with their style name or Ryu (the Japanese word for “style”). These Ryu of Jiu-Jitsu were developed long ago and have no sport application to allow them to develop technically. The lack of realistic practice is what makes some styles ineffective or obsolete.

To really understand the differences between Brazilian and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, one must research the history of both arts. In particular the birthing of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by Carlos Gracie, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s founder, who was an avid boxer. Most Japanese Jiu-Jitsu fighters were studying traditional Karate strikes, which are much different from that of a boxer. Maeda, the man who introduced Gracie to Jiu-Jitsu, was also a student of Judo, which at the time was considered an updated version of Jiu-Jitsu, or Kano ‘s Jiu-Jitsu. As discussed previously, the Judo that the Gracie family was introduced to was a Judo whose focus had turned to ground fighting in recent years. This ground fighting came from only one style of Jiu-jitsu (Fusen Ryu), the other styles that made up Judo had not focused on ground work, so as their practice continued, they stayed to their traditional roots, which considered mainly of standing techniques. While older styles of Jiu-jitsu stuck to their core curriculums, Judo soon forgot about experience and turned its attention to gaining world wide exposure as an Olympic sport, which would eventually restrict the once great art and cause it to focus once again on primarily standing techniques. Maeda was also exposed to western wrestling, as he had encountered one wrestler in particular at the West Point Military Academy in New York, and had more experience fighting throughout Europe and the Americas than any other Japanese fighter of that time.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a progressive style of Jiu-Jitsu; once a technique is developed and used in competition, other Jiu-Jitsu players begin to design counters to that technique, and counters to those counters, which allows Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to evolve freely. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu players do not prepare for the untrained opponent; they assume that their opponent may be more technical.

The problem with some ‘older’ styles of Jiu-Jitsu is the same problem with old cars, or anything that has not been updated or modified. I earned a black belt in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and now that I am at an advanced level of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I notice the similarities and differences. Some of the self-defense movements are identical; it is typically in the groundwork (ne waza) where the Judo or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu practitioner lacks ability. It is for that reason I started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Comparing “old” Jiu-Jitsu to “new” Jiu-Jitsu is like comparing old cars to new. Both a Ford Model-T and a Ferrari will do the same job, but a Ferrari will do it more efficiently. The ability of Jiu-Jitsu teachers can be compared to the mechanics certified to work on these cars; if you take a mechanic from 1910 and show him a Ferrari, some things would look familiar, but he would not understand the new design and complexity of the modern variation without proper training.