Comparing BJJ Styles

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A Brief Overview of the Diversity in BJJ Styles

As a practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), I’ve had the opportunity to explore the depth and breadth of this dynamic martial art. One of the most captivating aspects of BJJ is the diversity of styles it encompasses. These styles not only influence how practitioners approach their training but also define the distinctive strategies they adopt in competition.


In this article, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of all the different BJJ styles, taking a closer look at how they have evolved and the significant impact they’ve had on the art form as a whole. We’ll uncover the foundations that form the basis of these styles of grappling, and we’ll dive into the characteristics that distinguish one style from another. Also, we’ll examine the influence of key figures who have helped shape these styles and give some pointers on how you might choose the BJJ style that’s best suited to your personality and goals.


From Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to Sport Jiu-Jitsu, and No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu, the breadth of styles within the world of BJJ allows for a vibrant diversity of approach. Regardless of whether you’re just starting your BJJ journey or you’re a seasoned practitioner, understanding these styles can offer fresh insights into the complexity and richness of this martial art, enhancing your appreciation and sparking your enthusiasm for your own practice. So, let’s embark on this journey of discovery together, delving into the compelling world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and the different styles of expressing the art.




Common Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Styles

In my years of practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), I’ve come to appreciate the diversity of styles and techniques inherent in this martial art. Here, I’ll break down some of the most common BJJ styles, starting with Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

Gracie Jiu Jitsu

Focus On Self Defense

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, pioneered by the Gracie family, places a strong emphasis on self-defense. As a practitioner of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, I’ve learned that this style prioritizes the ability to defend oneself over purely sportive aspects. In a real-world situation, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu equips you with a toolkit of techniques designed to neutralize and overcome an aggressive opponent, even if they’re physically stronger or larger. The strategies I’ve learned in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu have been instrumental in my understanding of how to manage distance, achieve dominant positions, and apply effective submissions while ensuring my safety.

Importance of Ground Fighting

One distinctive aspect of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is the focus on ground fighting and submissions. Given that a significant proportion of physical confrontations end up on the ground, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu equips you with the necessary tools to handle such scenarios. In my practice, I’ve spent countless hours honing my skills in various positions on the ground, from the guard to side control and mount, amongst others. The end goal of each exchange on the ground in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is to secure a submission hold, such as a choke or joint lock. This focus on submissions is a defining feature of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and distinguishes it from other martial arts that might prioritize striking or positional control.

Prominent Figures in Gracie Jiu Jitsu

Helio and Carlos Gracie

Helo and Carlos Gracie

The Gracie family has played an instrumental role in the development and dissemination of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Brothers Helio and Carlos Gracie are considered the pioneers of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, a self-defense oriented style of BJJ that focuses on ground fighting and submissions. Helio, despite being physically smaller and weaker, refined the techniques to rely less on strength and more on leverage, making it possible for anyone, regardless of size, to practice and excel in BJJ. Carlos, on the other hand, is credited for his role in disseminating the art, having established the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Brazil.

Rickson and Royce Gracie

Rickson and Royce

Continuing the legacy of the Gracie family, Rickson and Roger Gracie stand out as key figures in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Rickson is widely recognized for his prowess as an MMA fighter, particularly in his use of Jiu Jitsu to defeat his opponents.  Rickson Gracie is a legendary figure in the BJJ community with an alleged undefeated record in both official and unofficial fights. Roger also came to fame in the MMA scene when he defeated Gerard Gordeau in UFC 1, Patrick Smith in UFC 2, and Dan Severn at UFC 4. It was the mission of the Gracie family to match Royce against larger and stronger competitors to showcase the power of effective ground fighting techniques.

Gi Jiu Jitsu


Emphasis on Competition and Point Scoring

Sport Jiu-Jitsu, as the name suggests, is designed specifically for competition. As a practitioner and fan of this style, I’ve noticed how it emphasizes the strategies and techniques that will lead to success in a sportive setting, particularly those that lead to scoring points or achieving advantageous positions. These can include sweeps, guard passes, take-downs, and back takes, each worth varying point values. This is a style that encourages tactical thinking, almost like a physical game of chess, as you’re constantly thinking about how to score and prevent your opponent from scoring.

Role of High Activity and Athleticism

Sport Jiu-Jitsu tends to demand a high level of activity and athleticism from its practitioners. As someone who has engaged in this style for years, I have come to appreciate the physical endurance and agility it requires. The sportive nature of this style necessitates constant movement, explosiveness, and adaptability to outmaneuver and outscore your opponent. Not only does it demand tactical intelligence but also the physical prowess to execute the techniques. 

Prominent Figures In Gi Jiu Jitsu

Roger Gracie

Roger Gracie In competition

Roger Gracie’s competitive career has been marked by numerous achievements. He is a 10-time World Champion, with seven of those championships coming in the ultra-heavyweight division and three in the open weight class. This record is unmatched in the history of the sport. Furthermore, in 2005, he achieved an impressive feat by submitting all his opponents at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship, which further cemented his legacy as one of the greatest competitors in BJJ history.

Gracie’s style of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is admired for its efficiency and effectiveness, rather than for flashy, complex maneuvers. He is known for his methodical approach, characterized by solid fundamentals, precise technique, and a relentless pressure game. His fights often showcase his mastery of basic techniques, such as the cross choke from the mount position, a move he has used to submit numerous opponents. His strategic approach emphasizes the importance of patience and positioning, demonstrating that a deep understanding of fundamental principles can dominate even the most advanced and complex techniques.

Leandro Lo

Leandro Lo

Over his years of competition, Leandro Lo’s accolades have grew to include numerous prestigious titles. He claimed multiple titles at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship across several weight divisions. He became a six-time IBJJF World Champion, winning weight classes from Lightweight to Super-Heavyweight, as well as taking home the gold in the Open Weight division in 2018. Additionally, he has been a multiple-time Pan American Champion and Brazilian National Champion.

Lo’s competitive style is distinct and electrifying. His aggressive guard passing game, utilizing a variety of knee slice, torreando, and long-step techniques, coupled with a tricky and versatile guard, particularly his spider and lasso guard, has made him a formidable opponent. His BJJ game is known for its dynamism and unpredictability. Lo was able to combine a pressure passing style with a fluidity that allowed him to create unique angles and openings, making him a feared competitor on the mats. 

Tragically, Leandro was shot and killed in a Sao Paulo nightclub on August 7, 2022. His death sent a shockwave through the BJJ community, and his loss is a fissure that is felt across the world. 

No Gi Jiu Jitsu

No Gi Grappling

No Gi Jiu Jitsu is a variant of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that is practiced without the traditional Gi, or kimono. This section will focus on key aspects of No Gi Jiu Jitsu, including the emphasis on standup wrestling and the proliferation of leg locks due to influential figures like John Danaher.

Difference in Grips and Attire

In No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu, the most noticeable difference from traditional Gi-based styles is as the name suggests, the absence of the Gi. Competitors wear shorts and rash guards, which results in a faster-paced style of Jiu-Jitsu, prone to quick position changes and the use of grips borrowed from wrestling.


Without the Gi, the traditional grips on the collar, sleeves, and pants are unavailable. Grips in No-Gi Jiu Jitsu are taken primarily from wrestling, which primarily revolve around grabbing the opponent’s body directly, often using the  neck, wrists, elbows and hips. As such, collar ties, Russian Ties and Gable grips are very common.

Emphasis on Standup Wrestling:

Wrestling Take Down

In No Gi Jiu Jitsu, there is a considerable emphasis on standup wrestling. Unlike Gi Jiu Jitsu where practitioners can utilize the opponent’s clothing for grip and leverage, No Gi necessitates a different approach. The absence of the Gi makes it harder to secure and control an opponent, prompting practitioners to incorporate standup wrestling techniques into their arsenal. As a result, elements of wrestling, such as takedowns, sprawls, and clinch work, play a significant role in No Gi Jiu Jitsu. It is an aspect of the art that I’ve found incredibly challenging yet rewarding, bringing a different dynamic to the game.

John Danaher and the Proliferation of Leg Locks

When it comes to the proliferation of leg locks in No Gi Jiu Jitsu, one name that cannot be overlooked is John Danaher. A revered coach and a leading authority in the world of grappling, Danaher has had a profound influence on the evolution of No Gi Jiu Jitsu. His systematic approach to leg locks, collectively known as the “Danaher Death Squad”, has revolutionized the art and made leg locks an integral component of No Gi Jiu Jitsu.

Danaher Leg locking

Danaher’s focus on leg locks came at a time when they were relatively overlooked in many BJJ schools. His methodology, which emphasizes control before submission, presented leg locks as not just opportunistic moves, but as a comprehensive and effective system. Through his teachings, many practitioners, including myself, have seen a significant expansion in our No Gi game. We’ve learned to see leg locks as equal to any other submission, rather than as a niche or last-resort option.

Prominent Figures in No Gi Jiu Jitsu

Marcelo Garcia

In the world of No Gi Jiu-Jitsu, Marcelo Garcia is a name that resonates with almost all practitioners. Garcia’s style is characterized by high activity, innovative techniques, and an aggressive approach to grappling that has led to numerous titles in prestigious tournaments. His technical skills, particularly his mastery of the X-Guard and his formidable guillotine choke, have influenced a generation of competitors and continue to shape the sport.

Andre Galvao

Andre Galvao is another monumental figure in Sport Jiu-Jitsu. Known for his dynamic and aggressive style, Galvao has had a significant influence on the sport, both as a competitor and a coach. His team, Atos Jiu-Jitsu, has produced many world champions, and their competition-oriented training methodology reflects Galvao’s approach to BJJ.

Eddie Bravo

Eddie Bravo

When it comes to No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu, Eddie Bravo is a groundbreaking figure. Bravo’s development of the 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu system, a no-gi focused style that heavily utilizes unorthodox positions like the Rubber Guard, has challenged traditional BJJ paradigms and contributed to the evolution of No-Gi grappling.

Gordon Ryan

a portrait of gordon ryan's eyes

Without a doubt the most dominant No-Gi competitor of the current era, Gordon Ryan’s technical proficiency, strategic brilliance, and submission-oriented style have left a significant mark on No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu. Training under John Danaher, Ryan has mastered and popularized various techniques, particularly in leg lock entries and finishes, changing the landscape of modern No-Gi grappling. Gordon Ryan has eliminated all of his competition with relative ease, making him arguably the Best BJJ Competitor of All Time.



Combat Jiu Jitsu

Combat Jiu Jitsu Logo

Combat Jiu-Jitsu presents a unique style within the BJJ spectrum. Unlike other styles, Combat Jiu-Jitsu introduces the element of strikes, primarily using open hand slaps, into the grappling exchanges on the ground. This element distinguishes Combat Jiu-Jitsu and impacts its strategies and tactics.

Using Open Hand Strikes to Open Up Submission Opportunitities

Combat Jiu Jitsu

In my extensive experience with this style, the inclusion of strikes offers a realistic dimension that’s often missing in traditional BJJ, where striking isn’t permitted. The open hand strikes in Combat Jiu-Jitsu serve a purpose beyond merely inflicting damage. They are tactical tools meant to disrupt an opponent’s defense, distract them, or force a reaction that can lead to a submission. Essentially, the strikes create opportunities for submissions, which remain the primary goal.

The Exposure Combatives Type Training

What makes Combat Jiu-Jitsu particularly appealing, and an area I’ve found to be beneficial, is that it introduces a combative element to grappling without the significant risk of head injury that’s associated with full-contact martial arts like MMA. The use of open-hand strikes, as opposed to closed-fist punches or elbows, greatly reduces the risk of cuts and concussions, making it a safer yet still practical and effective self-defense method.


To sum up, Combat Jiu-Jitsu is a distinctive style of BJJ that combines the technicality and finesse of ground fighting with a dash of combative realism. It effectively bridges the gap between the traditional BJJ styles and the more combative MMA grappling, offering practitioners a comprehensive and realistic self-defense system. As with any style, whether it suits you or not will depend on your individual preferences, goals, and combat philosophy.


Characteristics of the Different Styles

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, practitioners often adopt different styles based on their personal preferences, strengths, physical attributes, and strategic considerations. Understanding these styles not only helps practitioners to develop their own game, but also provides insight into opponent strategies during sparring or competition. Let’s delve into some of the key differences between aggressive and defensive styles in BJJ.

Aggressive vs Defensive Styles

The Pressure Passing Game

Two people practicine BJJ

Aggressive BJJ styles often involve a relentless offensive strategy. One such approach is the pressure passing game. As an avid practitioner, I can attest to the effectiveness of this technique when applied correctly. Pressure passing involves applying constant physical pressure to your opponent while you are trying to pass their guard. The goal is to overwhelm the opponent, leaving them little room to mount an effective defense or counter-attack. This aggressive style can be physically demanding, but it can also lead to dominant positions and even result in a quick submission victory if the opponent isn’t able to withstand the pressure.

The Guard Game

BJJ Styles guard

On the other hand, there are also more defensive BJJ styles that focus on counter-attacks and capitalizing on the opponent’s mistakes. An example is the guard game, which I’ve found particularly effective when used strategically. The guard position is defensive in nature, where you are on your back, using your legs and hips to control and fend off your opponent. Despite being on the bottom, a skilled guard player can effectively control the pace of the match and create opportunities for submissions and sweeps. This defensive style requires patience, technical knowledge, and a deep understanding of BJJ principles to exploit openings and turn the tide in your favor. In BJJ, it’s not uncommon to see the person on the bottom controlling the match, showcasing the unique principle of the gentle art where a smaller, weaker individual can effectively defend against a stronger opponent.



Choosing Your Own BJJ Style

In this section, we will delve into the process of choosing your own Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu style. There are several factors to consider in this decision-making process, including personal strengths and limitations as well as goals and objectives in practicing BJJ. We will also look at how you can adapt and evolve your style over time.

Factors to Consider

Personal Strengths and Weaknesses

As someone who’s practiced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for many years, I’ve observed that personal strengths and limitations play a significant role in shaping one’s BJJ style. Understanding your own body, knowing what you are physically capable of, and recognizing your strengths and limitations are vital in choosing the style that suits you best. For instance, if you are agile and flexible, you might be drawn to styles that favor complex guard techniques, whereas if you possess great physical strength, a pressure passing style might be more suitable.

Goals and Objectives in Practicing BJJ

Another critical factor in choosing your BJJ style is your individual goals and objectives. Are you practicing BJJ for self-defense, fitness, competition, or perhaps a combination of these? Your aims can shape your approach to training and, ultimately, your BJJ style. For example, if you’re primarily interested in self-defense, the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu style, which emphasizes real-world scenarios, might appeal to you. On the other hand, if your goal is to compete, you might prefer a sport Jiu-Jitsu style, focusing on positions and techniques that score points in tournaments.

Adapting and Evolving Style Over Time

As you progress in your BJJ journey, your style will inevitably adapt and evolve. This is part of the beauty of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: it’s a lifelong learning process where change and growth are integral. In my experience, it’s important to stay open-minded and willing to explore different techniques, strategies, and approaches. Don’t feel confined to one style – there is always room for innovation and creativity. Remember, the ultimate goal is to develop a BJJ style that aligns with your individual strengths, limitations, and objectives. It should feel natural to you, and it should serve your purpose, whether that’s self-defense, competition, fitness, or personal enjoyment.


Importance of Training Diversity

In my journey through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of its diversity. Like any complex martial art, BJJ is not a one-size-fits-all discipline. Each style has its own unique aspects and benefits, catering to a wide range of practitioners with diverse preferences, physical abilities, and goals. Understanding the distinct styles of BJJ not only enhances our knowledge of the art, but it also aids us in identifying which style suits us best, whether it be the technical finesse of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, the athleticism and dynamism of Sport Jiu-Jitsu, or the gritty practicality of No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu.

Final Thoughts on the Continuous Evolutions of BJJ Styles

As a student of BJJ, I am continually amazed by the art’s dynamism and the constant evolution of styles. With each passing year, we witness new techniques, strategies, and training methodologies that push the boundaries of what we believe is possible in BJJ. We see this not only in the dojo, but on the global stage as well – in competitions, in the proliferation of online instructionals, and in the conversations that take place in the BJJ community worldwide. It is this continuous evolution that keeps BJJ fresh, relevant, and endlessly fascinating. As practitioners, our role is to embrace this evolution, to learn from it, to contribute to it, and, ultimately, to find our own path within it. Whether you are a seasoned black belt or a white belt starting your journey, I hope this article has enriched your understanding of BJJ styles and sparked your curiosity to explore them further.

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