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Roberto Pedreira













American Jiu-Jitsu's Most Devastating Weapon



Roberto Pedreira

Posted May 13, 2022 (JST)

As everyone has heard, the Gracie family of Brazil, Carlos and Helio in particular, improved and Brazilianized the inefficient and power based jiu-jitsu that Carlos learned in his lessons with a student of Maeda Mitsuyo (Conde Koma) named Jacyntho Ferro. According to Roger Gracie's mum, Reyla Gracie, her dad, Carlos, improved and Brazilianized Maeda's jiu-jitsu, making it efficient for real fighting.  But Carlos' jiu-jitsu was rigid and power-based and too frozen in ancient Japanese traditions. Helio came along and dared to make it efficient for someone like himself, who was champion swimmer and rower (although Helio and Rorion didn't mention that but instead gave the impression that Helio grew up in an iron lung).  

Gracie jiu-jitsu proved to be efficient for real fighting in the first two and the fourth UFCs. Or at least, Royce won his fights using something he called "Gracie Jiu-Jitsu" that looked like a combination of rugby and judo. (It was unclear what UFC 3 proved except possibly that winning and losing are matters of degree and interpretation, as discussed here.) Rorion later admitted that it actually was judo here, with possibly some minor modifications. 

But there was plenty of room for improvement. The evolutionary solution was to Americanize jiu-jitsu, making it efficient for real fighting. Jiu-Jitsu needed to be improved to be more fit for the conditions of the new (American) martial arts marketplace. Nothing is more adaptive than giving customers what they want at prices they can afford to pay. One of the things Americans (and lots of other people) want is the latest cool thing. Post-UFC 1 Gracie jiu-jitsu was that. It was inherent in the sales model that sooner or later there would be a glut of black belts with no better way to flourish in the postmodern global neocapitalist economy that had scarcely any use or place for anyone but coders, internet scammers, burger-flippers, cam-girls, and tech-billionaires (nothing wrong with that, not being judgmental). If people were going to train for ten or more years, they wanted something to show off for their money and effort. 

Black belts! The ultimate symbol of coolness. TKD black belts no longer guaranteed respect and the confidence that one needn't fear any attack or any assailant. Not when even Beavis and Butthead made fun of the honorable Korean combat art (actually Shotokan karate). Twenty years after Rorion launched the Revolution, black belts abounded, some legit, most with medals. No one had a monopoly. It would be wrong to say that unless your name is Gracie, you need titles, crowns, Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, and Twitter accounts, and a Youtube channel and a professional web designer and SEO consultant to stand a chance at getting any attention. Wrong because even Gracies need them. The black belts did what they had to do. They gave the customers what they wanted. Some would say it was the beginning of a Second Restoration, a Brave New World of "modern jiu-jitsu" and 13 year old black belts. Anyone can get a black belt, everyone can be a winner. No Child Left Behind without the black belt she or he "deserves". Others would say "jiu-jitsu is drowning." Still others would say jiu-jitsu is already dead, replaced by seed-pods that resemble real jiu-jitsu in every way except efficiency.

In the now improved American jiu-jitsu, better known as AJJ to distinguish it from BJJ, the idols of BJJ would not be worthy of coveted AJJ "black belts" because their knowledge was so old, so fundamental, and so uncool. What would grand master Helio do if confronted by a "jail-break" or a "dead orchard?" Not to mention a "mission control" or a "carnie?"  Or an "Indian Death Lock" or a "Centipede Guard." According to at least one AJJ spokesperson, Helio would be only a blue belt in American jiu-jitsu. as seen below (and here). Rickson was only slightly less under-appreciated. A ten-grau red-belt in Gracie Jiu-jitsu would only be equal to a purple belt in AJJ. Rickson needs to watch more Youtube instructionals, it seems.


Above, Blue belt holder, Helio Gracie (left). Royce Gracie (center) brown belt Yoshida (back to camera, hiding face, possibly embarrassed).


AJJ was created by "borrowing" from Gene Lebell's book Pro-Wrestling Finishing Holds (reissued as Grappling Master, rvd. here). There we will find most of the innovations of AJJ, minus a few exceptions, those being a group of lapel holds that were banned in judo for being excessively defensive, or designed to fight without fighting and win by not losing. Something that is applauded in Enter the Dragon and in some sub-styles of  BJJ but not respected in judo or wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai, or UFC fighting [although some deluded former Ultimate champions feebly argue that they "controlled the fight" by not fighting]. 

Some of the new AJJ holds are low percentage to put it mildly. The reason they work at all is often because the opponent cooperates in making them work (or just pretends that they work. Although some actually do work. They are called "judo.")

But, to be fair, what "works" depends on what we are trying to accomplish. These cool techniques work to get Youtube views.  

Gene's book is a repository of old wrestling techniques that eventually will be uploaded on with new names and declared to be AJJ innovations. Some already have and the names haven't even been changed (without giving due credit to Uncle Gene). On the other hand, to be fair, some modern no-gi jiu-jitsuistas come right out a say, "it's American high-school wrestling."

There is the usual exception. A technique that really works. And it is devastating. in pro wrestling and sport grappling without jackets, occasionally in sport BJJ, and once in a while in MMA when the opponent doesn't know what to do, as Rickson says (here and here).

The most devastating technique of AJJ is coincidentally a judo technique, known as ashi-garami, (足緘) which is the last of the 15 techniques included in the Katame no Kata (固の形 ) originally devised in 明冶 17 aka 1884 (Although the kata had 5 techniques and was later revised to include 15).


Ashi-garami is explained in detail in a book by Kotani Sumiyaki (小谷澄之) and Ôtaki Tadao (大滝忠夫) written in 1953, revised in 1957, 1971, and 1978 (7th printing of the 1971 revision in 1980). The 1957 revision was for the purpose of introducing the Kodokan Goshinjutsu (講道館護身術) which was "established" (制定された) in January 1956 as a "new kata"(新たに「形」) after several years of consideration and research by 25 high ranking Kodokan men.

Coincidentally Kotani visited Brazil in 1939 (with Sato Chugo) and gave a demonstration of Kodokan judo for the public, attended by Helio Gracie and some of his students, among many others. Helio was impressed, describing Kotani and Sato as "veritable masters" (Choque 1, chp. 19). 

Also interestingly, Kotani was a wrestler in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics although he returned home without a medal, being eliminated by Joseph Tunyogi of Hungary (1). He was encouraged to wrestle by Kano (嘉納冶五朗) and a few other higher-ups, such as Okabe Heita (岡部平太, who learned wrestling as a student in the USA). Kotani had also studied Aiki-budo with Tomiki Kenji prior to his Brazil visit. (Kano was a huge fan of American wrestling and Aiki-Budo and encouraged all Kodokan men to practice them. Far from being frozen in tradition, Kano was totally all about cross-training.)

Below is a translation of Kotani and Ôtaki's explanation of ashi-garami (they provide five photographs of the technique in action). Note. Uke refers to the training partner or opponent. Tori is the individual performing the technique (ashi-garami). With no sexist intention we will use masculine pronouns (he, him, his) because Kotani and Ôtaki identified as, or actually were, male in the traditional Japanese system of sex classification. 


When applying for a tomoe-nage [from standing], tori places right foot in the lower abdominal  region of uke. 

Tori  drops down directly below uke [foot still in lower abdominal region, or 下腹部].

Tori pulls uke down and forward from upper body grips [the grips that he/she/etc started with while standing]

Uke will step forward one foot step with right foot and will try to raise the upper body [to reestablish an upright natural position, aka shizentai 自然体].

To avoid being pulled down, uke will try to pull tori up.

Tori puts left leg through the middle of uke's two legs.

Tori passes the front part of his foot around from behind and outside the front of uke's leg around uke's right knee.

Tori wraps uke's right leg with his (tori) left leg.

After that, tori wraps or winds (巻きつけ) around uke's left inner thigh [the inner side of the left knee] and inserts his foot in a wedge-like condition. [Note: the extent of this wedge-like condition depicted would be considered an infraction in current IBJJF rules].

Then extend uke's right foot by pushing, thereby making uke step forward.

Tori grabs uke's collar and sleeve with his (tori) right and left hand, respectively [standard grip shown]

While pulling, tori uses right foot to turn uke over.

Tori extends directly in front with left leg.

In this case, uke will fall in front.

Tori extends the left leg.

And, uke's right knee joint will be "locked"

Uke will make the "signal of desistance" (mairi no aizu, 「参り」の合図). Tori will promptly release the lock.

Both individuals will then assume the starting position. [Note. The starting position is known as kyoshi, 距姿 aka, idori 位取り, which is basically shizentai with one knee on the tatami and one knee up in a 90 degrees position.]






Note 1. Kotani was eliminated by Tunyogi on August 2 (by decision) having previously been thrown by Ivar Johansson of Sweden in 6:14. (Two losses = out.)  However he defeated Stockton of Canada by pin in 3:19. Johansson and Tunyogi took gold and bronze, respectively, so Kotani's performance, coming from judo, was respectable under the circumstances (Oakland Tribune, Aug. 2, 1932; Imperial Valley Press [El Centro, CA], Aug. 3, 1932; The Gazette [Montreal] Aug. 2, 1932.


(c) 2022, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.

Updated June 3, 2022.





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