Are You Old School or Modern Jiu-Jitsu?

During the time since jiu-jitsu made it’s introduction to the world outside of its origin in Brazil, the art and sport has evolved significantly.

The basic but highly effective jiu-jitsu (clinch, trip, advance to mount / rear mount and submit) that we saw Royce Gracie use in those early UFCs is still around. But jiu-jitsu has evolved and expanded greatly beyond those early days.

Along with the expansion of jiu-jitsu all over the world, the number of competitions has increased exponentially which has lead to incredible innovations in positions and techniques to score points. At present, if you watch the blue belt category at a major IBJJF event you will see advanced positions like Reverse De la Riva guard, Berimbolo, Truck Rolls and Half Guard techniques far beyond the jiu-jitsu on display at the first jiu-jitsu World Championships in 1996.

Combined with the access to video of both competition footage and technique websites, this has all led to incredible flowering of knowledge in the jiu-jitsu world. Modern blue belts are conversant in sweeps that would have had some old school black belts scratching their heads!

Watch the advanced belt brackets at a major tournament and you will see highly technical displays of a wide variety of techniques. Most everyone agrees that this is a good thing. It is not possible to resist progress in jiu-jitsu tactics for winning competition.

The dilemma however, is that many of these new sport strategies may be the most expedient path to win the gold at a tournament, and many have departed from the roots of jiu-jitsu as a practical art for defending oneself in a real fight. A position like Inverted Guard can be highly effective to prevent someone from passing your guard and attacking triangles. When we add the element of punches, we see that it becomes dangerous to attempt such a position that leaves us exposed to strikes. Would this work in a street fight?

I was at an amateur MMA event a recently and noted that the positions and techniques that were most common and effective are not much different than those early days of MMA. The fundamentals of 2 opponents engaged in a fight have not changed significantly. Example : Statistically speaking, by far the most effective submission in the UFC in 2017 was that same rear naked choke that Royce used to submit his opponents in that very first UFC.

This divide has led to debate within the jiu-jitsu world. There are those of the old school philosophy that are critical of the “modern jiu-jitsu” positions that are removed from the reality and practicality of the basics. There are schools that advertise “jiu-jitsu for self defense” but teach lapel guard and strategies to get 2 points for a sweep still adhering to the essence of the art?

On the other side of the debate is the jiu-jitsu practitioners that say they train jiu-jitsu for fitness and for fun and have no plans to compete in an MMA bout, so learning and enjoying all of the positions of jiu-jitsu is perfectly ok.
They counter the self defense argument by saying that a purple belt in jiu-jitsu is highly skilled at control of an opponent’s body and fully capable of defending themselves in a possible street event. They would not jump to half guard and try a sweep, and use the basic techniques of jiu-jitsu.

Master Carlos Gracie Jr. had a few words to say on the topic.

Where do you weigh in on the Old School vs. Modern Jiu-jitsu debate? Are you old school or modern?

See also on Gracie Barra : 3 Extra things to improve your Jiu-Jitsu

Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Saigon, Vietnam
Instagram: @markmullen.bjj