When I started BJJ, I didn’t know what I was going to learn and I wanted to know, “does BJJ include striking?” If you’re wondering the same, here’s what I found.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a grappling-based self-defense system and combat sport. BJJ’s main focus is on grappling techniques and therefore does not have or teach striking techniques as a part of its core curriculum.
There are so many different BJJ schools and competitions out there now that it can be hard for a new student entering into the BJJ world to know exactly what to expect when it comes to striking.
Let’s break it down.
An Overview of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Striking
The whole initial concept of BJJ was built on someone being able to defend themselves against a bigger and heavier attacker with the least amount of risk, while taking the least amount of damage.
With this concept in mind, the reason we don’t really see much (if any) striking in BJJ, is because it doesn’t make sense to take a gamble and go head to head with strikes against a bigger or stronger attacker. That would be too risky because their punches and kicks could probably cause more damage than the smaller persons.
What was needed was a form of self-defence in which the person’s physical abilities weren’t the main factor in their success, but the actual techniques themselves were.
Many of BJJ’s techniques were developed from Judo. In Judo, there is no focus on striking either. It too, is a grappling martial art and all of its focus is on ways to get your opponent from a standing position to down on the ground with a whole variety of throws, takedowns and trips. Then, to finish the fight with submission holds.
In BJJ though, the main focus was flipped on its head (excuse the pun). Of course, BJJ still focuses on ways to get your attacker to the ground with takedowns and throws because all fights start standing up, but most end on the ground.
In BJJ, the vast majority of the focus was on developing ground fighting techniques that utilize leverage over power or strength, to manipulate the mechanics of the body and to focus on efficiency of energy. This would mean even a smaller or weaker person can still use the techniques successfully, no matter their size or strength.
Did You Know:
It is quite common to hear Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu referred to as ‘the gentle art’. This is due to all the years of innovation and refining of the techniques and focusing more and more on leverage and efficiency, meaning it is now possible to be able to completely dominate and disarm an attacker – but without even hurting them. This is testimony to just how effective BJJ really is, and to how much it puts you in control.The Gentle Art
The Early Days
In the early Gracie Challenge and UFC days, it was common to see BJJ black belts also using strikes in their fights. Buts its important to remember that these were ‘no-holds-barred’ full-contact competitions, with a lot on the line.
Nowadays, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training teaches a grappling curriculum which can be categorized into two main areas;
- Self-defence training
- Competition training
The self-defence programs focus on real world scenarios. As you would expect from a complete self-defence system, BJJ does have some focus on the use of, and defence against striking. In competition training however, there is no focus on striking at all.
Most, if not all BJJ schools will split their training between these two categorizes.
BJJ Self-Defence Training vs Striking
Punches and kicks are a real threat! So, although BJJ is a grappling sport, it is also first and foremost a marital art and does not ignore that threat.
If someone is going to hit you, they first need room to generate enough force behind the strike. In BJJ self-defence training you will learn how to stop someone from being able to generate that force with grappling by closing the distance and tying them up in all sorts of weird and wonderful arm locks and submission holds.
It would be very uncommon however, to be taught how to return fire with one of your own strikes as this is not the focus of BJJ. For this you’d need to learn a striking martial art like Boxing for example.
However, some schools do incorporate strikes in their self-defence programs to a very small degree, as either distractions or entries into a clinch. But again, it’d be very uncommon to practice these strikes with any force against your training partner or a punch bag to the same extent as you would in Boxing.
It’s important to note that the level to which self-defence training is practiced will differ massively from one school to another. The Gracie Academy, for example, have a whole self-defence focused curriculum called Gracie Combatives and they also teach their ‘Punch Block Series’ which breaks down the use of BJJ to defend against punches from an attacker.
I personally, have only ever seen one strike being taught while in a BJJ class. We were taught how we could use a kick to the knee or thigh in order to slow an attacker’s advance before initiating a clinch. Very similar to the old Gracie Challenge and UFC 1 days.
Are Strikes Allowed in BJJ Competitions?
BJJ is a grappling martial art and therefore, although there are many different BJJ competitions out there nowadays, in 99% of them, striking is not allowed.
The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) is one of the largest hosts of several BJJ competitions around the world and they have very clear and strict rules when it comes to their competitions. I went on their website to see what they say about striking and, sure enough, they are listed in their rule book as a Disciplinary Penalty.
“strikes or the intentional use of a traumatic blow of any kind (such as punches, elbows, knees, head butts, kicks, etc)”IBJJF Rule Book
Pretty clear, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitions that are governed by the IBJJF, do not allow the use of strikes in any form.
There are however, some rare exceptions. Most notably is Combat Jiu-Jitsu which allows for the use of open-handed strikes or slaps to a downed opponent. Kind of like a middle ground between MMA and a traditional BJJ competition. But this is a unique, one-of-a-kind BJJ competition.
Training for competitions at the average BJJ school will initially focus on teaching students to be proficient at the fundamentals of grappling and of the core BJJ techniques, before progressing onto more advanced live training, all of which will be in close alignment with the IBJJF rule book.
What Are The Core BJJ Techniques?
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques can be separated into three main categories:
- Takedowns Because most fights start standing up, BJJ’s first focus is on how to effectively take the fight to the ground with an array of takedowns.
- Ground Fighting This is where the vast majority of BJJ teaching takes place. With a focus on various positions and ways to effectively transition from one to another.
- Submissions Finally, BJJ has a strong focus on how to neutralize a threat and finish the fight with various submissions, from chokeholds to joint locks, and also how to escape various submissions.
Here’s just an overview of some of the positions & techniques BJJ has in its arsenal:
|Hip Toss||The Guard||Guillotine|
|Inside Leg Trip||Mount||Triangle Choke|
|Single/ Double Leg Takedowns||Side Control||Arm Bar|
|Lapel Drag Down||Back Mount||Kimura|
Whether focused on self-defence training or competition training, these positions and techniques are the most common to see in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“Discover what you’ll learn with BJJ in our article: What Does BJJ Teach You? Techniques & Life Lessons“
Over the years BJJ has grown in popularity thanks to its early domination in the UFC by Royce Gracie. Since then MMA has risen to become a mainstream sport. All this growth has meant more and more people are being exposed to BJJ which has helped the martial art grow into a popular self-defense system and sporting spectacle all of its own.
With all this growth, comes change and innovation which, along with BJJ’s close relationship with MMA, has seen new self-defence programs and competitions being developed, all under the name of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
While some schools remain focused heavily on self-defence, others choose to deep dive into the sport and competition side of things. At its core though, BJJ is a grappling martial art – with little (if any) focus on striking – and this is unlikely to change much no matter what school you train at.