Gis to Gogo’s: The Evolution of Jiu-Jitsu in MMA (Part 3)

  • Originally published May 8, 2009

It’s been quite a while, but we’re back with the third installment of our series on the evolution of Jiu-Jitsu and grappling in MMA.  So far, we’ve covered the introduction of Jiu-Jitsu into the world of mainstream martial arts as an effective technique by the Gracie family.  We also witnessed the demise of Royce Gracie and traditional Gi-based Jiu-Jitsu as an effective fighting style in Mixed Martial Arts. Next, we examined some of the next generation of grapplers to find success in Mixed Martial Arts.  The two fighters profiled closest, Frank Shamrock and Kazushi Sakuraba, were more submission wrestlers than actual Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, as most Jiu-Jitsu players were still training using antiquated techniques (at least in regards to Mixed Martial Arts grappling).  This time around, we are going to take a look at the evolution of no-Gi Jiu-Jitsu, and how it evened the playing field for true Jiu-Jitsu players, rather than just submission wrestlers.

One of the most influential figures in adapting traditional Jiu-Jitsu to a more applicable style was Eddie Bravo, a Machado BJJ Black Belt, who went on to develop a unique style of grappling that was able to transition better into MMA.  The way Bravo saw the sport of MMA evolving, he noticed that matches involving Jiu-Jitsu players were increasingly becoming stalemates and losses, due to two major factors:

  1. The improving grappling skills of the general competition, and
  2. The reliance of Jiu-Jitsu fighters on Gi-based techniques which simply were not present in MMA.

In response to these trends, Bravo began developing a style of Jiu-Jitsu that used what was available in an MMA fight to employ Jiu-Jitsu techniques.  His no-Gi style borrowed heavily from wrestling, specifically Greco-Roman, in that it uses many ways to control both the head and body, rather than Gi Jiu-Jitsu which looked to grab a sleeve, lapel or pant leg that doesn’t exist in MMA.

Now, Bravo is certainly not the only advocate of no-Gi training, others like Marc Laimon and Dean Lister (a student of Bravo’s) believe that the no-Gi style is more effective for MMA training.  There are also many Jiu-Jitsu purists who believe that this style of Jiu-Jitsu offers no advantage over Gi-based Jiu-Jitsu.  This debate has been raging amongst MMA circles for some time now, and I am certainly not here to decide it.  There are compelling arguments to both sides of this issue, but for the purposes of this article, I’m going to outline some clear advantages to the no-Gi style, and why I think over time we will see it become the predominant form of Jiu-Jitsu in MMA.

First, as already outlined, the Gi style relies heavily on creating grip from the Gi itself.  While this is perfectly fine in Jiu-Jitsu competitions, in an MMA fight the Gi is no longer there; nor is a shirt, or overly baggy pants that were quickly phased out of MMA.  In many of the early UFC events, Royce Gracie was able to use an opponent’s Gi, or any other clothing, against that opponent and fighters quickly learned this lesson, and suddenly, some of those easy methods of attack were gone.

No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu on the other hand uses the natural hooks of the body.  Things like over and underhooks, as well as control of the head are keys to no-Gi Jiu-Jitsu.  The biggest benefit of this for MMA application is that fighters are better able to control their opponent’s posture, to reduce damage taken while on the bottom (something that became a problem for early Jiu-Jitsu players as MMA evolved).

I mentioned taking damage from the bottom as a problem for traditional practitioners of Jiu-Jitsu.  One of the biggest causes of this was the idea and practice of wrist control in Jiu-Jitsu.  According to advocates of Jiu-Jitsu, especially in the early days, the saying always went “on the ground, everyone is the same size.”  Unfortunately, as the athletes competing in MMA got bigger and stronger, this theory didn’t work so well in practice.  Other fighters learned how to break this wrist control, which was made even easier due to the presence of sweat and the lack of a Gi to retain grip.  After their arms were free, they were able to rain down punishment upon Jiu-Jitsu fighters, who were lost without their control.  No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu decreases this problem by controlling posture, and controlling the limbs from a better physiological position.

Another extremely important, yet often overlooked technique that has found its way into the repertoire of most grapplers and also has a foundation in no-Gi Jiu-Jitsu is using over/under control when taking and maintaining the back.  Over/under control is a superior way of establishing back control, because it allows fewer windows for an opponent to spin into your guard.  It also places an opponent in a position that makes them more susceptible to being choked, because when they try to break the over/under grip, they normally leave an arm free that can slide under the chin for the choke.  This may actually be the most important subtlety that no-Gi Jiu-Jitsu has introduced into the grappling world.

Possibly the most famous aspect of Bravo’s style of Jiu-Jitsu in particular is the position known as the rubber guard.  The rubber guard again works to control the posture of the opponent to reduce the damage that can be taken.  However, it is also a very offensive position, as it can be used to attain many submissions, but also many sweeps.  Other developments made by Bravo (whether they would have been discovered through Gi training as well is another topic) include the lockdown, which is a superior half-guard position to the traditional Jiu-Jitsu half-guard, and the twister from side control.

While those practicing and preaching no-Gi Jiu-Jitsu have introduced many new innovations, to me the most important thing about no-Gi Jiu-Jitsu is that it brought something different to the table.  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been around for over 50 years, and to be quite honest, in that time very little change was made.  Players certainly became more smooth and proficient in the art, but the innovation was lacking.  This allowed those who were not Jiu-Jitsu players to catch up quite quickly, since in Jiu-Jitsu it is easier to learn how to avoid being submitted rather than learning how to submit.

No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu is another tool that allowed submission artists to stay one step ahead of other fighters.  That is not to say that Gi-based artists are irrelevant in the Jiu-Jitsu game, since almost all of the best grapplers in the world are still Gi-artists.  Traditional Jiu-Jitsu will always have a place, due to its long history and ability to create technically sound grapplers.  However, for the purposes of MMA, no-Gi Jiu-Jitsu is so much more applicable, and as it becomes more widely practiced, its prevalence in Mixed Martial Arts fights will greatly increase, as will the effectiveness of those who use it.

Of course, down the road fighters will become just as adept at defending some of the specific positional submissions brought about by Bravo, and people will come along with new techniques.  One thing that will definitely stay are the basic advantages of no-Gi Jiu-Jitsu, which decrease the damage a fighter on the bottom takes, and allows for more control of an opponent’s posture.

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About bradtaschuk

An MMA enthusiast who also fancies himself a writer, I've been following the sport in depth since moving off to University in the fall of 2004 allowed me more free time than I knew what to do with. Quickly, an obsession with watching as much MMA as possible developed, which has continued to this day in the form of writing and editing articles for various MMA sites, and now to my own blog about my views on the sport.

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