After 30 years of doing anything – or anyone – continuously, one might find themselves at a crossroads, perhaps feeling that change is in order. Some call this a mid-life crisis and as a result may get married, divorced, re-married, divorced again, commit a crime spree or just buy a white sports car. At 45 years of age, I’d done most of the above.
But my case was different. The crisis I was experiencing was a ‘Martial Arts Mid Life Crisis.’ Yes, 30 years of doing any martial art – Judo in this case – can do that to you.
So I strayed and left my first martial art love for something new – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
Why BJJ? I suppose the seed had been planted back in 1993 after witnessing my first UFC. Watching Royce Gracie choke and armlock his way to victory using techniques familiar to and practiced by Judoka everywhere, but with funky names like the Kimura, Guard and Triangle Choke.
Other reasons for choosing BJJ were to test my Judo skills against this fairly new art – 95% of which takes place on the ground – and to better learn how to fight off my back.
So, I joined a BJJ Club. What follows are some first hand observations and noted differences between these 2 related, yet different, martial arts:
1. Lineage: Judo was developed in Japan by Jigoro Kano in the late 1800’s, a variation of Jujitsu. As its namesake implies, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) was developed and modified in Brazil by the Gracie brothers after having being taught Judo.
2. Uniform: Judoka wear heavy weave Gi’s (kimonos) tied by a belt and with no undergarments (save underwear – hopefully); BJJ practitioners tend to wear a single weave and much lighter Gi that is tied by a belt. They also tend to wear funky form fitting and shiny undergarments called rash guards that can be worn under the Gi. For lack of a better term, they’re cool. Furthermore, BJJ practitioners adorn and accessorize their Gi’s with color-coordinated patches and logos, usually representing clubs, affiliations and/or both. Lastly, BJJ can be practised with a Gi or no Gi; a big plus for those interested in MMA and Self-Defense.
3. Fighting Styles: Traditional Judo clubs focus on throws and takedowns which are scored accordingly in shiai (tournaments). For example, a perfect throw, one that demonstrates control, power and impetus can score a perfect point, the equivalent of a knockout punch. A perfect throw (Ippon) is the ultimate goal of most Judoka. One can also win on the ground via a submission (choke, arm lock) and/or hold down. Most Judo Clubs will focus 70-80 percent (or more) of their training on throws with the balance on ground work. Conversely, BJJ practitioners spend about 80-90 percent (or more) on the ground. Throws and takedowns are secondary and are scored as such. The ultimate goal in BJJ competition is a submission.
4. Tempo: For advanced BJJ competitors – blue to black belt – matches can run from 6 to 10 minutes with the majority of the contest taking placing on the ground/grappling. The average Judo match – for advanced and beginners – runs 5 minutes, with the majority of the contest taking place standing up. Unlike BJJ, if a Judo contest does go to the ground, fighters are given very little time to work a hold down or submission and if there is no immediate progression, fighters are quickly brought back to the standing position. As well, a lull in action from either fighter results in penalties. As a result of shorter matches and penalties for inactivity, Judo fights tend to be faster paced and more frenetic. BJJ fights tend to have a slower tempo as fighters work on the ground to gain position, control and eventually, submissions. Extended durations may also result in a slower and more deliberate pace during BJJ matches, in large part to conserve energy and to set an opponent up for a submission.
5. Terminology: Steeped in Japanese tradition, Judo throws and techniques have Japanese origins and names. For example, the fireman’s carry (a common wrestling takedown) is known as ‘kata-guruma’ in Judo. Another common wrestling takedown – the double leg takedown – is known as ‘morote-gari’ in Judo. The rear naked choke is known as ‘hadaka jime.’ BJJ, on the other hand, has exotic and descriptive names that roll off the tongue and pique the imagination. For example, ‘peruvian neck tie,’ ‘omoplata,’ ‘nonoplata,’ ‘gogoplata’ and more. Other techniques have been anglicized and named so that the average person can easily visualize them, even those with no martial arts background. For example, the ‘guillotine choke,’ ‘clock choke,’ ‘collar choke,’ ‘spin around armbar,’ ‘guard to arm lock no gi.’ These terms, for lack of a better term, just sound cool.
6. Belt Gradings: Judoka begin at white belt and from there, progress to yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and eventually black belt. At each level, students are required to know a certain number of throws, hold downs, chokes, and arm locks to advance. For black belt, it is necessary to perform ‘kata’ which are also known as forms. Prior to being eligible for a black belt and performing ‘kata,’ a Judoka must first compete and accumulate a certain amount of points by entering tournaments and winning fights. Depending on how they win and the rank of the person(s) they beat, they are awarded points. The process is very formal. An enthusiastic Judoka that practices 3-4 times per week and that competes should be able to attain their first degree black belt within 4-5 years. Like Judo, BJJ uses a belt grading system, but that is where the similarity ends. BJJ practitioners start as white belts and progress to blue, purple, brown and black belt. After attaining each belt, stripes may also be awarded to signify progress and levels of competence. Rather than forms, belt gradings are informal and conservative in nature: belts are awarded at the instructor’s discretion and seem to be heavily influenced by attendance, progress and time spent on the mat. That said, a BJJ practitioner may remain at the same belt level for years at a time. An enthusiastic and avid BJJ practitioner should be able to attain their black belt within 8-9 years. An exceptional student, perhaps sooner.
7. Honorifics: Seniority and respect play a large role in Judo. Senior students and/or instructors are referred to as ‘Sempai’ and are the equivalent of mentors while ‘Kohai’ are the equivalent of trainees. In Judo, the term ‘Sensei’ is usually reserved for 3rd degree black belts and up, but may be used by colored belts when addressing any black belt. The term is used in reference to those that have achieved a certain level of mastery and maturity. In BJJ, the equivalent of Sensei is Professor and is only used when addressing black belts. The term ‘professor’ has a scholarly overtone and again, is one that the average person can easily identify with.
8. Profit vs Non-Profit: As a rule, Judo Clubs are run as non-profit and can often be found in community center’s and/or rented out spaces. It’s rare to find a Judo Club as a standalone storefront/entity. Unlike Judo, BJJ is for profit and charges accordingly; charging what Judo clubs ought to be charging.
9. Conduct: Judo tends to be formal in its on-the-mat interactions. For example, it is proper etiquette to bow before entering and after leaving the dojo mat area. It is also proper etiquette to bow to your partner before and after a randori (freestyle practice or sparring) and/or ne-waza (ground work/grappling) practice session. BJJ clubs are less formal and as a rule, emphasize camaraderie more so than formality. For example, prior to and following a practice session (rolling), participants will shake or slap hands. Should one partner submit the other during a rolling session, they will break and shake or slap hands. At the end of the BJJ class, everyone is acknowledged and appreciated for their efforts with hand shakes, hand slaps and partial hugs.
Note: this is the behavior demonstrated at the BJJ club that yours truly belongs to and, as a result, can not be verified as common practice among all BJJ clubs.
10. Perception: Although an Olympic sport, practiced world-wide and over 100 years old, Judo has an image problem. In general, the Judo community has no idea how to market itself. Rather than embracing a resurgence in Martial Arts vis-a-vis MMA and the UFC, Judo seems to have turned a blind eye to the opportunity, preferring to suffer in silence. Sadly, if Judo were an animal, it would be on the endangered species list. On the other hand, BJJ is flourishing. It is marketed as a form of self-defense and a staple to any serious mixed-martial artists game. No doubt helped in large part by the UFC, Royce Gracie’s MMA legacy and the continued success of BJJ practitioners in mixed martial arts.
In essence, both Judo and BJJ are great sports/martial arts and forms of self-defense that have a lot to offer both purists and mixed martial artists alike. Now, if Judo can learn from the BJJ brain trust, it just may have a fighting chance of surviving the coming decades. In the meantime, I’ve temporarily traded in my Judo black belt for a BJJ white belt and am enjoying every minute of it.
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