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Roberto Drysdale Reflects on the Evolution of BJJ

By Robert Drysdale

Special to GTR

August 11, 2018


Based on my research, Carlos and Helio Gracie did not advance the evolution of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) technically. Instead, they preserved a niche style that was ground-oriented as opposed to its Judo mothership that was becoming increasingly more stand-up oriented. That was what later became known as BJJ. 

The notion that Carlos and Helio improved or invented an art is unsupported by reliable evidence. Unless we agree that they "evolved" ground-fighting in the same way every practitioner on the planet does every evening: by making small contributions to techniques. But nothing special there, since all practitioners are responsible for evolution in this sense, with varying degrees according to one’s time and effort on the mats.

Other styles, are indeed very similar to BJJ (Shooto, Pancrase, Sambo, Catch, etc.) and in some ways, much more "martial".

However, personally, I don't believe BJJ became a success for the reasons we have been told. MMA took off in a totally different direction and BJJ went on its own and, today, operates entirely free of any influence from MMA. Self-defense plays little to no role at all (it primarily gets people through the door), the technical creativity plays a factor, but the primary factor that attracts so many people to BJJ is a culture there that appeals to people. Of course, I can't speak for Shooto or Catch, but I suspect it isn't the same. In other words, what they were missing had very little to do with the technical.

This became clear to me after visiting Japan recently. The contrast between the Kosen schools and BJJ schools was screaming. Kosen black-belts showed up thirty minutes early, they ALL swept the mats before class, their gis were immaculately clean, they bowed with deep respect to all members of our crew, etc. The BJJ gyms we visited, everyone was just as respectful but in a different way. The rules there also differed: they all showed up at random times, many late, took their time to tape their fingers, greeted each other with a fist bump, their gis and the mats were nowhere near as clean as their Kosen counterparts, they sat in a relaxed manner, etc. 

My point is, aspects of Brazilian culture (some good, some bad), permeated BJJ in such a way to create an environment of a "third home" where you choose to be because it is relaxing and a happy/friendly place. I suspect other martial-arts lack that same "vibe". Which could explain why Shooto and Catch never became as popular (since the techniques are all too similar). The Brazilian surf culture of açai, fist bumps and relaxed manners on the mats is endearing for many people who want a break from a rigid life, but that is only my guess. Furthermore, I don't see this only in Japan, but every country I travel to around the world where aspects of Brazilian culture become part of the local gym culture. Which is why these days I insist on the term BJJ. Personally, I think nationalism is a cancer and doesn’t belong in sports, which is why I have almost always called it Jiu-Jitsu. But observing the growth of BJJ on a global scale, I feel that  the Brazilian "style" is too much part of the overall culture of BJJ to omit the “B” in BJJ.  

As for Royce and the UFC, they certainly gave BJJ a welcome boost. 

It is pointless to inquire into the "what if's" of history. Which ironically, seems to be at the heart of many debates. 

Growing up in Brazil, I had never heard of Jiu-Jitsu until Royce Gracie. With that out of the way, I believe it is possible that it would have eventually found itself a place in the world even without Rorion Gracie and Art Davie. It would certainly have taken longer. But remember, Carlos Gracie Jr. founded CBJJ (Confederação Brasileira de Jiu-Jitsu and the organization that gave birth to the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation or “IBJJF”) in 1994, and that, in my opinion, had little or nothing to do with the UFC and Royce but with Carlinhos’ entrepreneurship and ambition. He also founded Gracie Barra and Gracie Magazine. That doesn't say much about the overall evolution of BJJ, but at least illustrates his persona as a leader. This event laid the foundation for BJJ to grow on a global scale, with teams, tournaments, rules, etc., Granted much was already there from the Guanabara Federation. Carlinhos just did it better and with a far-reaching vision. 

Few people in the BJJ world today care much about the UFC or MMA in general. BJJ could well have been successful without a booster like the UFC. 

All of this is hypothetical of course.  

(c) 2018, Robert Drysdale. All rights reserved.


More Commentary by Robert Drysdale:

Who Taught Oscar Gracie?

I was Skeptical

Selling Self-Defense

Rickson Gracie is Wrong

Rev. of book by João Alberto Barreto





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