Gracie Jiu-Jitsu & Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu | WHAT IS the difference? 


     Below we are going to break down the differences between Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. However, before we do let’s take a look at some history.  Jiu-Jitsu began in Japan over 500 years ago and was practiced by samurai warriors. Around 100 years ago, a man named Jigoro Kano (above) began modifying the older Jiu-Jitsu and come up with Judo. The main difference was that he focused on takedowns and live training (randori). This made Judo more effective than the older Jiu-Jitsu and eventually became an Olympic sport.

Mitsuyo Maeda stands with hands on hips

In 1914 one of Jigoro Kano’s students Mitsuyo Maeda (‘Count of Combat’) moved from Japan to Brazil. His goal was to spread the art of Judo. Maeda ended up being the instructor of the famous Gracie family. He also taught other students like Luis Franca. There are some famous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teams that can trace their lineage back to Luis Franca, like the Grappling Fight Team.



Therefore, the Gracie family members were not the only ones in Brazil who learned from the Japanese fighters. This is one of the reasons that the term Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is more commonly used today rather than Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. But there is another big reason.


large group picture of jiu jitu students


Rorion Gracie trademarks the term Gracie Jiu-Jitsu 

In 1925, Carlos Gracie opened the Gracie family’s first academy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The academy grew quickly in popularity. The Gracie’s fought in early MMA fights which they called “Vale Tudo,” or “anything goes”. Carlos Gracie’s younger brother Helio Gracie made a name for himself. He fought challengers from many different martial arts styles


rorion-gracie standing in white gi next to gracie jiu-jitsu academy logo


In the late 1970s, Rorion Gracie, the oldest son of Helio Gracie, moved to America. He opened up the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu school. Rorion Gracie was a champ on the mat and also a lawyer. The term Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was becoming more popular. To make sure he protected his family’s name he trademarked the term. This caused a lot of drama in the Gracie family.

Allegedly, when Renzo Gracie, Rorion’s nephew, first came to America and opened his school he called it Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Rorion told him that he couldn’t use the name because it was trademarked. Renzo showed up to Rorion’s house, demanding that he be allowed to use his family’s name. This conversation was pretty tense and now Renzo calls his Academy Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.


black and white photos of gracie brothers


Over time, the Gracie family worked things out. But there are still legal distinctions between the terms Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Today, most of the schools that are under Helio Gracie’s lineage, and have a business affiliation with Rorion Gracie call themselves Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Most other schools under different lineages use the term Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.


Gracie Jiu-Jitsu used in self-defense and sport

The great debate: Should Jiu-Jitsu be taught for self-defense or sport? Or both? Jiu-JItsu is both a self-defense system and a sport. Students learn how to defend themselves. They also can compete in a sporting event similar to wrestling.


Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense

Jiu-Jitsu is one of the best self-defense systems ever created. As a result, many students start Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense. However, some schools do not teach any self-defense and focus only on sport jiu-jitsu.


two jiu jitsu black belts practicing self defense


Sport Jiu-Jitsu

Jiu-Jitsu can also be practiced as a sport and is similar to wrestling. In sport Jiu-Jitsu, a competitor wins by getting more points than their opponent. Another way to win is by forcing their opponent to tap out. 


finnie mcmahon applying back choke to another practitioner in jiu-jitsu tournament


Two different philosophies

Some believe that a student who focuses on Jiu-Jitsu for sport will not be able to defend themselves on the streets. This is because they are training techniques that are not useful in a real-life self-defense situation. A situation where someone may try to kick, punch or bite you.

The second philosophy is that sport Jiu-Jitsu can help you to defend yourself in a street fight. If you look at combative martial arts like muay thai, boxing, and wrestling, they may not train you clearly for self-defense. But they do train you for combat against a resisting opponent. This training will help you in a real self-defense situation.

Helio Gracie’s philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu

Helio Gracie focused on developing the self-defense aspects of Jiu-Jitsu. The contribution he made is huge. He also competed in sport Jiu-Jitsu. But these matches had few rules and no time limit.

Helio Gracie said the following about his philosophy. “The problem is the creation of a Jiu-Jitsu style for competition with rules and short bout times which favors the more trained, stronger and heavier practitioners. The goal of Jiu-Jitsu , is mainly, to benefit the weaker”

Helio gracie in white gi standing with hands on jiu-jitsu red belt

Rorion Gracie’s philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu

Rorion Gracie is Helio’s oldest son. Following his fathers’ footsteps, he worked a lot on developing the self-defense aspects of Jiu-JItsu. So, Rorion also believes a student should make the self-defense aspects of Jiu-Jitsu a priority.

Generally, one of the differences between Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that a GJJ school may focus more on self-defense. So, a BJJ school may focus on both sport and self-defense. Furthermore, some schools do not teach any self-defense at all. This has fueled the debate of “watering down” the martial art.

McMahon’s philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu

It is very important to first learn the self-defense aspects of Jiu-Jitsu. Students who earn a blue belt should be able to handle themselves in a fight. Competing in sport Jiu-Jitsu also has many benefits. It can keep the more advanced students interested. Also, it is a great way to develop courage.

The biggest sport Jiu-Jitsu event in the world is the International Brazilan Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF). Many of the black belt medalists would crush someone on the street in a self-defense situation.

At McMahon Training Center a new student starts off in our Fundamentals course. This course is all self-defense. There is no mention of how to do the techniques in a sport Jiu-Jitsu setting. If a student is interested in competing in sport Jiu-Jitsu we support them in reaching their goals. We also clearly explain the difference between self-defense and sport techniques.

As school leaders, we need to maintain our heritage and the strong reputation, that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has as one of the best self-defense systems ever created. But also, I personally have gained a lot by competing in sport Jiu-Jitsu. And I will continue to support my students who want to follow my path. But believe me, if I ever saw one of my students pull guard (which is a technique used in sport Jiu-JItsu) in a street fight I would be very unhappy.

group of brazilian jiu-jitsu students smiling for picture

In conclusion

Although there are two different names used–Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu– they are mostly the same thing. They both come from the idea that Jigoro Kano came up with over a hundred years ago in Japan. That idea was to throw out everything like eye-gouging or striking to the groin that you can’t practice in Randori (live training). Instead, became experts in the things that you can practice during live training (like armbars and chokes). You see this same idea in wrestling, boxing, and muay thai.

Both Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu believe that the best way to learn and grow is to put yourself in challenging situations. Only what works will come to the surface. This was demonstrated by Royce Gracie in the first UFC (see below). They both believe that actions are more important than words. And most importantly, that belonging to a team has many benefits. That if you work together and challenging each other, you will be unstoppable.


Professor Finnie