What is Brazilian jiu-jitsu? 

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helioHelio Gracie at his Itaipava ranch. Gustavo Aragão.

If you train, you know. Jiu-jitsu is a martial art where the goal is to conquer positions of control leading to the submission via torsion or choke.

That is, however, a simplistic way to view such a rich system of fighting and philosophy.

“Originally conceived as a form of self-defense, BJJ, through practice, became a metaphor to life itself,” says Luca Atalla, CEO of Graciemag. “After all, the person, as they test themselves in this idealized, comfortable lab that is the gym, and then in the championships, manages to absorb lessons and adapt them to daily life. For that reason, BJJ may be the best method of self-knowledge ever created.”

A good definition of BJJ, certainly. But what do other black-belts and masters have to say? What is BJJ?

We researched and asked tens of world-class masters and fighters. The best answers are shown below.

“BJJ is the art of learning to be tolerant with the intolerant.”


“BJJ is a rat trap. The rat trap doesn’t chase after the rat. But, when the rat puts its paw on the cheese, the trap goes off.”


“BJJ is a message from God. A simple grip on the gi contains extra-sensorial power. A choke contains such great power, that even a skinny old man can do it, and it’s no good for the other to be strong — the move will work.”


“BJJ is a system of life, and not just a system of fighting. Through a collection of scientific combat techniques, BJJ improves all aspects of our life. Train BJJ and you will see its benefits from wake-up time to bedtime — at work, at home, among friends.”


“Our BJJ is a lifestyle — it’s self-confidence, health and equilibrium.”


“BJJ is the art of being ready for the unpredictable.”


Rorion Gracie and his offspring. Gustavo Aragão

Rorion Gracie and his offspring. Gustavo Aragão

“It is the triumph of intelligence over brute force.”


“It’s a self-defense art, created by monks and containing intelligence and sensibility above average. As it studies the multiple possibilities of attack and defense of human beings, jiu-jitsu creates the most logical movements for its use.”


“BJJ is a martial art that develops on the ground, whose goal is to seek the submission. The art used as the basis of MMA, BJJ is more than a way of fighting. It is a healthy lifestyle that can be practiced by men, women and children.”


“A tough mission, defining BJJ in a few words. I feel I would need to write a book. But I would say that BJJ is the art that enables a quality of life much greater than one would have without practicing it, both physically and mentally, and that provides incomparable self-esteem and confidence. It is the school where the aggressive learns their limits and the shy one socializes.”


“Like my dad [Helio] said, BJJ is all I am, an art whose dignity I have fought my whole life to defend. Like him, I strive for the dignity of this sport with care, nerves and blood.”


“It is the art where we can control an adversary, opponent or aggressor without hurting them, by using minimal force.”


Fabio Gurgel in action. Gustavo Aragão

Fabio Gurgel in action. Gustavo Aragão

“BJJ is essentially a defensive art. It is based on forces of leverage; therefore, no physical strength is needed to practice it. Because of that, it is an art that balances the forces, gives confidence to the shy, introverted person, and gives more limits to the irresponsible. However, defining what BJJ is can be complex. Give it a vow of confidence, and do a test today; one class is worth more than a thousand words.”


“BJJ is the art that teaches the weak how to beat the strong, that helps shape the character and prepare the mind of the individual for the adversities of life.”


“BJJ, with its teachings, can make the poor man rich, the weak man a winner, and the ugly man handsome. It is an art that imbues self-confidence and self-esteem.”


UFC star Demian Maia. Gustavo Aragão

UFC star Demian Maia. Gustavo Aragão

“BJJ is the art of physically dominating an enemy without the need to hurt them, whose practice brings about physical and mental improvement, as well as self-knowledge.”


“BJJ is, at once, the biggest addiction and the best sport in the world.”


“BJJ is an art with many branches. Many use it to defend themselves; others, as a sport; and others, as a way of self-knowledge. To learn it, one needs 50% training and 50% pure perseverance. However, to really learn it, BJJ must create with the practitioner a connection and mutual fascination, to the point of establishing between art and man a successful partnership for the rest of his life.”


Renzo Gracie at Pride FC. Luca Atalla

Renzo Gracie at Pride FC. Luca Atalla

“BJJ gives you an untamable soul, unassailable confidence where your head never bows in resignation… A chance to be gentle by option, not by obligation, like ordinary, insecure men… A unique chance to grow without fear and insecurities, to be all you can possibly be… An ability to live and survive everything, and, even if circumstances turn against you, you will come out a winner with your head held high, but not for dumb vanity, but for the pride of having fought another fight… A chance to learn even when defeat surprises you, for you will start facing defeat as a new form of learning, and you will have the grace of a mature man, and not the innocence of a spoiled crying child. Moreover, it gives you an incredible circle of friendships made at the gym, which you will later call brotherhood… And a better life — much better. That is BJJ.”


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