Last week, Tom Hardy made headlines for entering the 2022 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Open Championship in Milton Keynes, snapping up the gold medal in the competition. And the actor plans on continuing to compete, having entered two more competitions slated for December.
With film credits like Bronson, Warrior, The Revenant and The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy often plays pretty rough and tumble characters, so it perhaps wasn’t too surprising that he could throw down in real life. But the simple truth is that you don’t need to be an internationally famous badass to get into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In fact, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or BJJ as it’s frequently called, is a very accessible martial art that’s great for men and women of all ages and fitness levels.
Tom Hardy isn’t the only celebrity who’s into BJJ either. In a GQ video from last year, Jonah Hill expounded on his love for the sport, and Keanu Reeves was seen training in this martial art as well. Given the recent attention the sport has gotten, we set out to put together this beginner’s guide to Jiu Jitsu.
This guide will answer frequently asked questions (and hopefully dispel some myths). To learn more, we spoke to Carlos Colon, a current jiujiteiro. Colon is a blue belt, which is the same belt level as Hardy. I also drew on my own experience with the sport, having trained for several years at a junior level. Here’s how the average guy can get into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
What Is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Anyway?
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a grappling martial art, which means it’s based on ground fighting, similar to wrestling. That means there’s no striking; unlike martial arts like Tae Kwon Do, Karate or Muay Thai, you never kick or punch your opponent. Instead, the goal of a Jiu Jitsu match is to get your opponent to submit, or tap out. You can do that by attacking joints, such as elbows and ankles, or performing a chokehold. Once an opponent taps out, the match immediately stops.
The history of BJJ is a fairly recent one. The sport was developed in Brazil by the Gracie family in the early 20th century when Carlos Gracie began training with Japanese martial artist Mitsuyo Maeda. The sport was further developed by Gracie and his brothers, hence the sport’s combination of a Brazilian and Japanese name.
One of the major appeals of BJJ is that you don’t have to be particularly big or strong to get good at it. The sport is all about agility and flexibility, allowing a smaller competitor to use their opponent’s height and size against them. While striking sports typically confer an advantage to a tall person with a large wingspan, many of the fiercest BJJ competitors are small in stature. Colon put it simply, noting, “BJJ is a game of chess… It is possible [that] a 130-pound experienced girl can strangle/put to sleep a 220-pound beginner man.”
Is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Dangerous?
By nature, all sports carry some risk of injury, but a 2014 study found that BJJ matches had a lower risk of injury compared to other martial arts including judo, taekwondo, wrestling and mixed martial arts. That’s because although the moves themselves, such as arm bars, foot locks and choke holds are dangerous by design, tapping is a fundamental part of the sport. If you feel that your limb or any body part is in a dangerous position, or you simply feel uncomfortable or unsafe, rapidly and forcefully tap your opponent or the mat. They must then immediately let go.
To avoid injury, you have to check your ego. As a beginner, you may want to avoid tapping out because you don’t want to be beaten, but this is how injuries can potentially happen. Colon advises, “Tap early and choose your training partners wisely.” Training with people who are better than you will help you improve while also keeping you safe. He noted, “It is better to spar with experienced people, because they know when to stop, rather than a cocky wrestler who will try anything just to submit you.” Plus, every Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school will have experienced teachers who are there to prevent injuries from happening.
Is MMA the same as BJJ?
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is widely used by MMA fighters, but the two are not the same. MMA stands for mixed martial arts, meaning, by definition, competitors are trained in multiple different disciplines. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is just one martial art, although it admittedly does draw from a number of other martial arts that came before it. That means that the busted lips and bleeding eyes that are a common sight in cage matches won’t be found in Jiu Jitsu. As mentioned, unless you accidentally hit your opponent, there’s no reason anyone should be bleeding after a BJJ match.
What’s the difference between gi and no gi?
In BJJ, there are two main styles. Like people debating sports teams, opinion can be pretty divided on which is “better.” Gi jiu-jitsu involves wearing a uniform called a gi, which is a loose-fitting matching set of an open front jacket that’s tied at the waist with a belt and long pants. No gi, also called nogi, involves training with a tight-fitting top and pants or shorts.
The differences aren’t simply about your preferred fashion. In gi jiu jitsu, the opponent’s sleeves, pant legs, and collars are all potential grab points, and there are ways to submit your opponent using their own lapel. In no gi, that’s not an option. This fundamentally changes the pace and strategy of the sport. As Colon explains “Gi is a bit more slower and requires more technical fighting. No gi is a lot more exhausting and can sometimes be very slippery. Gi is more of a game of grips where no gi is a game of pinning and isolating a limb.”
In general, beginners typically start with gi and can explore no gi if they’re interested once they have a good handle on the fundamentals. That said, no gi is becoming increasingly popular on its own.
Is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu hard?
Training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a lot of fun and an excellent workout, but it can be a challenging sport. As Colon puts it “A beginner needs to be prepared to lose.” Advancing belts in BJJ can take a very long time compared to other martial arts. Although a blue belt is the second level after white, even a new blue belt will be very knowledgeable about the sport and the major moves. As for getting better and seeing it through, Colon advised “Keep going. Losing is part of the game. You need to develop mental toughness above all.”
Ultimately, Colon points out that the benefits outweigh the risks and challenges, arguing that “the benefits of staying in BJJ will change your life. For many, it’s a drastic confidence boost.” As a martial art that centers on respect for your opponent, fighting hard but fair, and using skill and strategy, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a sport that anyone can get into. Find a school near you, sign up and have fun.