Rise and fall of the gentle grappler

BJJ is full of misnomers, but by far the most common is ‘the gentle art’.  Sleek technique videos, combined with high level practitioners making sparring look more like art than anything close to a fight makes a case for that. Vagner Rocha and Gracie in action tapes of old make you think otherwise… the thing is it isn’t an either or choice.


I first came across this term and philosophy (so to speak) in 2013, when UFC fighter Joe Lauzon discussed grappling Nick the Tooth on a podcast. ‘Dickjitsu’ as a phrase sounds like something you’d find on the darker side of the internet, but is a philosophy that makes sense. Basically Joe talked about making your opponent as uncomfortable as possible in every single position and edging them closer and closer to believing that getting tapped is the ‘least worst option’. One particular favourite of Joe’s is sticking your elbow in the ribs of an opponent when they defend a kimura, but as the game evolves so does what some consider ‘dirty tactics’. The most notorious version of this is Vagner Rocha and his ‘smother’ technique from the back. Anyone who has had this done to them will know how unpleasant and unsettling the technique is to your defence and slowly but surely the rough and ready mentality of competitors like Vagner is becoming more mainstream and acceptable.

Joe Lauzon and Nick the Tooth

As with all things grappling, it’s very rare for something brand new to come into the fold. Grappling in the UK has been a melting pot in the UK for well… a long time. Catch wrestling in the UK and beyond has had the mentality I discuss above for a long time and heavily feature things like spine numbing neck cranks and simple things like kneeling over someone’s shin bone to make things as uncomfortable as possible. At its core grappling is about balance and being able to utilise the right skill (or mentality), at the right time, against the right opponent. Most gyms have a ‘core style’ and my home base is no exception. Generally top competitors are known as slick bottom game players, with super solid all around fundamentals – which I suppose you’d expect from a Carlos Gracie Jnr lineage. 3-4 years into grappling I had an OK top game, but would get ‘bullied’ by wrestlers in competition who technically (BJJ wise) may have been worse than me. This was mostly due to their grindy style which would break me down over the course of a match in a way I wasn’t used to. In 2015 I decided this was a problem and searched out the best expert I could find whose gym’s core style was my weakness. Enter Kameron Atakuru and ASW. I don’t make it down as much as I should do anymore, but over the course of a couple of years the opponents I used to struggle with have now become familiar and I find myself using the grindy/unfriendly style in my own offensive grappling.

Kameron Atakuru and Marc Berman (Marcelo Garcia blackbelt)

To wind this down after 500+ words, if you want to have a well-rounded game seek out a mix of styles where possible and try and figure out when to utilise them. You might not make many friends in competition (go to the pub if you want to do that), but dickjitsu is incredibly effective when used at the right time.

Over the years there have been a shed load of threads on ‘dirty tactics’ on the r/bjj subreddit <<< click here if you have interest in learning some ‘dark arts’.

Lee Herbert

BJJ Purple belt, hobbyist competitor and referee. I write words about grappling / BJJ as a creative outlet from my day job where my focus is on coverage of mainstream sporting, entertainment and news events

Lee Herbert has 17 posts and counting. See all posts by Lee Herbert