One of the most beautiful things about martial arts in general is that it can be used on and off the mat. Whether it is a kick, punch, takedown, throw or submission, those moves can be used in a training session against teammates or on the street against an aggressor. When it comes to the martial art form known as Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ), there is not only a difference between training while using a uniform (gi) or no uniform (no-gi), but there is also a difference between training Brazilian jiujitsu for sport and training Brazilian jiujitsu for self-defense.
First, the history of Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ): Before discussing the key differences between sport jiujitsu and self-defense jiujitsu, one has to understand why the split occurred. The history of jiujitsu is very similar to the history of the tomato. When you think of tomato sauce, roasted tomatoes and tomato paste, you probably think about Italy. However, tomatoes are not at all native to Europe. Instead, they were imported to Italy from Peru via Spanish conquistadors. Similarly, Brazilian jiujitsu was imported to Brazil from Japan by a man named Maeda. Maeda was an undefeated Judo grappler and traveled the world to spar. He eventually settled in Brazil where he taught the self-defense form of Judo known as jiujitsu. From here, the Gracie family took their learning and modified it to emphasize ground attacks as they realized that a majority of fights went to the ground.
Fundamental differences: While both sport and self-defense jiujitsu have much overlap in technique, there are key differences between both. For instance, while having your legs wrapped around an opponent’s waist (i.e. guard position) in sport jiujitsu is fine, it is not ideal for self-defense jiujitsu. Like most forms of grappling, it is more advantageous to be on top because you have more control and options in a fight. For self- defense jiujitsu, being on top not only means that you can keep your opponent in place, but you can also throw punches and strikes if needed whereas it is much harder to do that when you back is on the ground. Additionally, since most street fights are not always one-on-one, self-defense jiujitsu teaches concepts such as attacking and quickly getting up to engage with someone else. If you were to hold someone down on the ground, there is potential for an outsider to interrupt by attacking you or pulling you off your opponent.
Self-defense jiujitsu is definitely more practical than sport jiujitsu, but sport jiujitsu allows for more training and practice. With sport jiujitsu, you have the ability to spar several people without gaining injury because there are set time limits and rules such as no striking. Furthermore, sport jiujitsu allows you to take moves at your own pace and to really practice your positioning. While being on your back is a disadvantage on the street, it can be a highly offensive position on the mat when strikes are not allowed and when you can rest assured that there will be no outside interference. Sport jiujitsu is much more technical and even parallels a chess match where fighters need to consider their options and reaction off of opponent actions.
So what? Why you need to remember both: So how do you train for two different genres of jiujitsu? Whether it is self-defense jiujitsu or sport jiujitsu, there are certain moves that are needed for both. That is, the basics are transferable from sport to self-defense and self-defense to sport. You can train one style to train both styles as long as you are aware of what moves you would use in a self-defense situation versus a sports situation. In fact, by keeping both styles in mind and showing others, you can further help export the seed that is Brazilian jiujitsu.