“Sport Jiu Jitsu” vs. “Jiu Jitsu for MMA”

For anyone who’s spent much time training jiu jitsu, or any time at all searching BJJ internet forums, you’ll probably have come across the distinction between “sport jiu jitsu,” and “jiu jitsu for MMA.”

Often when the term “sport jiu jitsu” is used, it refers to techniques that primarily work under the rules of pure grappling tournaments (where striking is not allowed or where competitors can gain points for applying certain techniques that do not result in a submission).  In an MMA setting, where striking is allowed and competitors do not typically wear a gi, “sport jiu jitsu” techniques are significantly less effective.

Here are some examples of techniques often characterized as sport jiu jitsu:

The X-guard

The X-guard, as popularized by Marcelo Garcia. While used very effectively in high-level jiu jitsu competition, critics often point out that it is not useful in MMA because it allows an opponent to strike freely from top position.

The inverted guard. Again, used effectively in high-level grappling by competitors such as Ryan Hall, Cyborg Abreu, and Jeff Glover.

The spider guard makes heavy use of the grips available while wearing a gi. In MMA (without a gi), the spider guard is considerably harder to apply effectively.

Interestingly, the term “sport jiu jitsu” is sometimes used as a pejorative; techniques that are not applicable in MMA are considered useless artifacts of the rules enforced in grappling tournaments.  Sometimes students are even discouraged from practicing sport jiu jitsu techniques, because it could reinforce “bad habits,” should the student ever decide to transition to MMA.

It is certainly true that some techniques are most effective when an opponent is wearing a gi.  The grips afforded by wearing a gi offer a plethora of submissions and positions that are simply not available if an opponent is shirtless (as in MMA).  It is also certainly the case that many popular sport jiu jitsu techniques are not designed to protect competitors from strikes.  However, is this a bad thing?

Strangely enough, I almost never hear of “sport boxing.”  In contrast to jiu jitsu, boxers are only able to strike with their hands.  Takedowns, chokes, joint-locks, and kicks are illegal under boxing rules.   As such, boxers have exploited these rules by utilizing narrow-profile stances (e.g. Floyd Mayweather’s Philly shell), which help to avoid damage from punches, but would expose the front leg to easy takedowns and leg kicks in an MMA or grappling match.

The narrow-profile stance used by boxers to avoid damage from punches would allow for easy takedowns and leg-kicks from an opponent

Sport jiu jitsu techniques are useful in certain situations, as are the highly specialized boxing techniques used by professional boxers.  And while detractors of “sport jiu jitsu” might insist that the techniques are too specialized to be of value in any other circumstance, they would do well to remember that MMA is a sport as well, with certain rules to accompany it.

I would argue that rather than labeling certain techniques “sport-oriented” and foregoing their use altogether, practitioners need to be aware of the circumstances under which certain techniques are useful, and make use of them accordingly.

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About Dave

Grad student in Ecology, Blue belt in jiu jitsu.
This entry was posted in MMA, Self Defense, Sport BJJ, Tournaments and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “Sport Jiu Jitsu” vs. “Jiu Jitsu for MMA”

  1. thekillerj says:

    Awesome post. I like the boxing comparison.

  2. John Ralph says:

    I think the third type of Jiu Jitsu has to be included in this article. That is for self defense. It works for all three situations (sport, mma and most importantly defending yourself). If you are always practicing for self defense you will never go wrong.

    • Dave says:

      John, thank you for the comments, and good points – the strict distinction between sport jiu jitsu and mma is a false dichotomy. Yet it is brought up enough that I thought I’d address it.

  3. Pingback: Why Bother With the Gi? | Logan Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Blog

  4. Pingback: Why do people watch mixed martial arts (MMA)? | The Average Visitor

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