Rickson Gracie Explains the Difference Between Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Rickson Gracie is one of the most noteworthy and mythologized characters in jiu-jitsu. Widely considered the Gracie family’s best competitor, he is said to be undefeated in hundreds of amateur and street fights, and he retired as an undefeated professional MMA fighter. Importantly, Gracie was able to witness first-hand the growth of jiu-jitsu, from practicing it exclusively with his family at home, to showcasing the power of the art on the biggest stages in MMA bouts.

In a recent appearance on the Jocko Podcast with Jocko Willink, Gracie answered a common questions: What’s the difference between Gracie jiu-jitsu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu?

In short, the key difference is that Gracie jiu-jitsu includes a wide range of self-defense techniques to deal with a multitude of potential situations, whereas Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the competition-based grappling art that is popular today.

In Gracie’s own words:

“We start doing jiu-jitsu in the protocol where you have to learn self defense. You’re not required to use colored belts, no colored belts at that time. So a student can be 10 years a student and still a white belt. And the instructor will be forever a dark blue belt… And then in ’65, my father started to create the federation because the demand is big… so he started to create a rules for a federation for sport jiu-jitsu. And that started the difference between the colored belts. Because if you’re 10 years white belt, you’re gonna be better than a six months white belt. And it’s not fair for them to compete. So let’s make a blue belt, purple belt, to create the reference, not only for practice but for competition… That was the process for colored belts… With this jiu-jitsu becomes also sport jiu-jitsu…

“The self defense aspect leads you to a more open minded situation. If somebody comes in with a knife, if two against one, if the guy coming to punch me, there’s no punches in jiu-jitsu, so you start to open your mind to possibilities for unpredictable situations… So you start to become more open minded…

“Coming to America, especially after Royce kick ass in the UFC… People want to learn jiu-jitsu but they also want to compete in jiu-jitsu, and competition becomes bigger than the actual platform for learning jiu-jitsu with self defense… People teach how to pass a guard, people teach how to choke or do a footlock, but they don’t teach gun retention or wrestling control, knife attacks, and fighting without gloves… because of that lack of information, competition jiu-jitsu becomes much bigger than the self defense jiu-jitsu. Anyone can do Brazilian jiu-jitsu, can fight, can pass guard, do sweeps, but not anyone knows the total Gracie jiu-jitsu which is self defense and more elaborate techniques for self defense… That’s basically, today, is the big difference. When people refer to Gracie jiu-jitsu they go more toward the traditional aspect of the art, and when they talking about Brazilian jiu-jitsu, they really recognized as a competition. But they are the same with lack of information in both sides. Because sometimes now you see self defense academies who have no fighting skills… And other academies they have fighting skills but zero self defense.”

Ben Coate

Ben has been involved with grappling, whether through wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, essentially his entire life. After wrestling throughout his childhood, Ben found Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a young adult and quickly fell in love. He has been training for over ten years and currently holds the rank of brown belt, and remains involved in both the MMA and BJJ scene. Ben has been writing about combat sports since 2017. He has interviewed and profiled some of MMA's biggest stars, including multiple UFC champions.

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