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Why Do MMA Fighters Train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Last Updated: 05.07.22


Training with a floor drill press is obviously hard work but the same can be said about fighters that have to maintain their condition, muscle development, as well as improve on various techniques. However, nowadays, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the trend that all would-be MMA champions strive for due to its combination of techniques and adaptable mindset.


What exactly is MMA?

What is this MMA that is all the rage these days, you ask? It’s quite simple, actually, especially seeing how it’s been recently billed as the world’s fastest-growing sport. MMA, which stands for “mixed martial arts”, is a fighting sport that combines elements from wrestling, Thai-boxing, judo, boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and other similar arts.

Even though its roots can even be traced back to the ancient Greeks, contemporary MMA has risen to fame through the American TV contest named The Ultimate Fighting Championship or, in short, UFC. 

The difference here and the way this show managed to differentiate itself from its competitors was represented in the fact that while boxers usually face boxers and wrestlers usually go up against other wrestlers, UFC pitted together elite martial artists from various disciplines, all in an attempt to see which one works best in a “no-holds-barred” type of situation.

This is why the entire world was shocked during the first UFC event, when in spite of the fact that six contemporary Olympic Sports had techniques or representatives there, namely boxing, Greco Roman wrestling, Judo, freestyle wrestling, Tae Kwon Do, and karate, none of them came out on top in the end.

Instead, it was Royce Gracie’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that took home all the marbles with the whole audience baffled as they witnessed a 170-pound guy submitting bigger and bigger opponents one after another.

Today, MMA students are trained with a curriculum that involves a combination of these martial arts, due to their demonstrated prowess in those earlier mixed rules matches. 

Two of the most defining characteristics of MMA are the permission to fight on the ground, professionally called “ground game” and the usage of a fenced enclosure, called an octagon, to protect the athletes and the integrity of the match.



The ground game

One of the most special elements of MMA and one that has also raised considerable controversy around the world is the permission to strike not only when you are on the ground with your opponent but also when he is on the ground and you are towering above him (or her). 

However, a study that was published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine from 2006 and which continued throughout the years has actually shown that, despite the ground strikes, MMA is still a much safer sport than boxing. 

An immediate forerunner of MMA was born in another fiery competition as the Vale Tudo matches, also sporting mixed rules, which were bred by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) practitioners who wanted to test their techniques against people from other martial arts. 

Therefore, even professional MMA has since adopted the submissions from BJJ, with varying degrees of success. While some fighters have become proficient in them, others still like to rely on the ol’ ground them and pound them technique that has served them so well in the past. However, it’s a common fact these days that top MMA fighters have a black belt in BJJ. 


The history of BJJ

Like pretty much all martial arts out there, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gets its origins from a person who originally resided in the far East of the world. This time around, a Japanese judoka by the name of Mitsuyo Maeda, after traveling and fighting throughout the world without ever losing a single match, eventually settled in Brazil and opened a “Jiu Jitsu” academy. 

One of his best students was a young prodigy named Carlos Gracie who, after studying with Maeda for a number of years, decided to open his own academy in 1925. He then proceeded to teach the sport to his brothers and they became famous by issuing the famous “Gracie Challenge”, where they welcomed fights in no-holds-barred matches with pretty much anybody.

When several members of the family pursued their desire to emigrate to the United States in the late years of the 1980s, BJJ was one step away from stardom. Just like we mentioned before, Royce Gracie’s string of victories served to achieve this purpose while Rickson Gracie’s similar undefeated streak in Japan made the sport a true global phenomenon.

The reason this influences MMA fighters to this day is that it quickly became obvious that martial artists who were only trained in kicking and punching lost pretty much all the time when faced with a BJJ-trained opponent. Their natural reaction to this was quite obvious: Everyone and his mother started taking classes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Naturally, the emergence of BJJ has not only had an impact on martial arts worldwide but also on the Gracie name. The family has long ceased to be a simple congregation of people but has various representatives still in the sport, from more than one branch of the dynasty.

Not only have athletes like Kron Gracie, the son of the legendary, undefeated Rickson Gracie, dominated competitional BJJ in such a fashion that he decided to go to MMA and he has just scored his first victory in the UFC but his cousins Rener and Ryron Gracie have taken on a more, let’s say economic approach to the business.

These two recognized the fact that while not everybody has the time or desire to train for competitive BJJ or MMA, the allure of the two sports is enough to make a large number of people want to get into them.

Therefore, not only do they have academies all throughout the United States but their online course is something that is very sought-after. Furthermore, Rener has recently starred in the “Shark Tank” show, pitching his sporting apparel business to Mark Cuban and his colleagues.



How BJJ impacts an MMA match

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu rules are designed to drill into the practitioners the habit of applying proper strategy in all aspects of a street fight, which is why the sport has become so important for MMA. Even the rules of BJJ fights award points based on achieving superior positions and control over the opponent. 

Since these positions can translate into striking as easily as they can into submissions, advanced students will naturally and constantly seek them out to obtain an advantage over their opponent. Therefore, they are efficiently and repeatedly training their senses to adopt the best strategy for real-life confrontations, which is exactly what MMA is. 

Also, the entire fighting strategy of BJJ is looking to equip a physically smaller person with an effective method of defending or even attacking when confronted with a larger, stronger individual. When using the techniques taught here, leverage is the most important aspect of them all as it is essential to the amplification and effective use of force.

While strength is obviously an important factor and the more strength one has, the better his chances in the octagon, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has shown that there are ways around it. When training it, a fighter will also learn efficient ways to fight while on the back, a position that is naturally considered to be weaker.

However, a person who has trained in BJJ for a while will not only not consider this to be a weak position but can deliver some devastating attacks from it, at least as good as those of a fighter who is on top of his opponent.

Starting with grandmasters Carlos and Helio Grace and continuing with their offspring and black belts around the world, BJJ fighters continue to test and push the limits of this sport in the blood and fire trial of actual combat, resulting in this special and beloved style of Jiu-Jitsu.


A controversial topic

While, as we said, pretty much all MMA fighters train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there’s an ongoing debate about the best way to do this. Some people prefer to do it with a Kimono or, as BJJ practitioners call it, a Gi, while other people opt for No-Gi, only a rashguard and shorts.

While some fighters argue that No-Gi is obviously better for MMA because it allows them to better reciprocate the conditions of an actual fight, sweat is a big factor here as it allows them to escape from their opponent’s grip easier.

On the other hand, Gi advocates argue that wearing one forces them to concentrate on learning the technique and the movements rather than using pure athleticism to wiggle out of a submission, which makes for a better learning curve in the long run.




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