Jiu Jitsu Symbols: Their origins and Meaning

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Image of a man inside of a gracie triangle

In this article, we will explore the origins and meanings behind the most influential and common Jiu Jitsu symbols. By understanding these symbols, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the history and philosophy that underlies this ancient martial art form.

Jiu Jitsu is a martial art that has deep roots in Japanese culture and tradition. It has gained popularity all over the world, with practitioners dedicated to mastering its techniques and principles.

One fascinating aspect of Jiu Jitsu is its use of symbols, which hold significant meaning for those involved in the practice. From the symbols found on the Jiu Jitsu gi to those associated with specific techniques or schools, each symbol tells a story and represents an important aspect of the art.

Whether you are a seasoned practitioner or simply curious about Jiu Jitsu, this article will provide valuable insights into the rich symbolism surrounding it.

An Introduction to Jiu Jitsu Symbols

Drawing of a muscular man surrounded by jiu jitsu symbols

Symbolism holds a significant place in our martial art, with each one carrying its own meaning and origin. These symbols are not just decorative elements but hold deep importance in representing various aspects of Jiu Jitsu. They play a crucial role in conveying principles, values, and philosophies, serving as visual reminders for practitioners to embody these ideals both on and off the mat.

Brief Explanation of Jiu Jitsu Symbolism

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, symbols play a significant role in representing the core principles and values of this martial art. One symbol commonly associated with jiu jitsu is the Brazilian flag, which symbolizes the roots and origins of this art form in Brazil. Also, we will commonly see Japanese Kanji stitched onto gis and belts as homage to the art’s roots in Japanese battlefield techniques.

Additionally, various animal symbols such as sharks and pandas are often used to represent strength, power, and agility in combat. Understanding these symbols adds depth to our understanding of jiu jitsu and its rich history.

Importance and the role of symbols in Jiu Jitsu

Symbols play a crucial role in conveying important concepts, values, and principles within the martial art. They serve as visual representations that encapsulate the essence of jiu jitsu philosophy and techniques. Some practitioners find the symbolism so important that they tattoo themselves, making them a permanent fixture on their bodies. One that is particularly common is the Black Belt tattoo. This act transforms their body into something that is more than just a physical entity.

These symbols act as reminders, constantly motivating practitioners to stay focused and disciplined on their path to mastery. By incorporating symbolism into their training, practitioners are able to connect with the rich history and tradition of jiu jitsu. Symbols also foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie among members of the jiu jitsu community, creating a shared identity and purpose.

Moreover, symbols can deepen one’s understanding of complex techniques by providing visual cues for proper execution. In this way, symbols serve as powerful tools that enhance learning and personal growth within the realm of jiu jitsu.

The Martial Source

Common Jiu Jitsu Symbols


Jiu JItsu symbol written in Kanji
Jiu Jitsu

Japanese Kanji, a system of symbolic writing, is deeply interwoven in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu culture, serving as a bridge between the sport’s modern incarnation and its older Japanese roots. Many BJJ schools incorporate Kanji into their logos and apparel, expressing core principles or philosophical ideals. Two commonly seen Kanji characters are “Ju” (柔), translating to “gentleness,” and “Jitsu” (術), meaning “art” or “technique”. Together, these form the portugese adaptation: “Jiu Jitsu” (柔術), encapsulating the martial art’s fundamental concept of using an opponent’s force against them. Likewise, the Kanji for “Bushido” (武士道) – the way of the warrior – is often seen, representing a commitment to discipline, courage, and honor. Thus, Kanji serves not only as an aesthetic addition, but also as a medium preserving the deep philosophical undertones of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Bushido jiu jitsu symbol written in kanji

How are kanji used?

Usually stitched onto the fabric of the gi, these powerful symbols ignite a sense of passion and purpose in practitioners, guiding them towards a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. The kanji are obviously Japanese in origin, which evokes in the practitioner a great sense of pride and homage to the roots and history of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

The Gracie Triangle

The Gracie Jiu Jitsu Triangle

The Gracie Triangle is a symbol in jiu jitsu that holds significant meaning and connection to the Gracie family. Its origin can be traced back to Helio Gracie, who used the triangle as a representation of the effectiveness of leverage and technique over strength.

The triangle is also said to represent the three main aspects of martial arts: mind, body, and spirit. It signifies balance and harmony between these elements, essential for success in combat.

The triangle is widely used in jiu jitsu to signify the principles of efficiency and control in grappling techniques. When flipped over, the structure of the triangle is not compromised, illustrating and symbolizing the ability of a Jiu Jitsu fighter to maintain a fighting posture from  on top and on bottom. 

The Brazilian Flag

A man in a jiu jitsu gi standing in front of the brazilian colors

The Brazilian flag holds great significance in the world of jiu jitsu, as it represents the birthplace and rich history of this martial art.

The flag features a green field with a large yellow diamond in the center, symbolizing Brazil’s wealth and resources. Inside the diamond is a blue circle with 27 white five-pointed stars, representing each state in Brazil.

Brazilian culture has a significant influence on BJJ culture all over the world. The country’s values of respect, discipline, and community are foundational principles in BJJ. Brazil as a long history of excellence in sport, so much that the cultural concepts such as “malandragem” (cleverness) and “jogo bonito” (beautiful game) infuse BJJ’s strategic, fluid movements and problem-solving ethos. 

A brazilian flag

The Use of the Brazilian flag in Jiu Jitsu and it's significance

All Jiu jitsu symbols hold immense significance within the martial art, but the flag stands apart from others. Typically the flag has a place of honor on patches and belts, and the banner itself is frequently found inside of most BJJ academies. The flag serves as visual reminder of the values and principles that practitioners aspire to, as well as a cogent reminder of the roots of our martial art.

The Brazilian flag also fosters a sense of unity among jiu jitsu communities worldwide, noting that we have a shared language that transcends national boundaries, but has a specific origin we must pay homage to. 

Jiu Jitsu Symbols on the gi

When it comes to symbols on the Jiu Jitsu Gi, there are a few that are commonly held across all academies. 

Patches are often used by practitioners to showcase their achievements or affiliations within the sport.

School symbols represent a specific academy or training center where the practitioner trains, while affiliation symbols indicate membership in a particular organization or association.

These symbols not only add visual interest to the Gi but also serve as important identifiers within the Jiu Jitsu community.


In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners often wear patches on their gis that hold hold great significance to them and their community. These patches serve as reminders that although we are training to better ourselves and improve our skills, there are other more important community goals that we must keep in mind. 

Additionally, patches offer a space for sponsorships, allowing athletes to represent brands that support their training and competition expenses. Patches can also denote affiliation to larger BJJ schools. Lastly, they contribute to personal expression, adding individuality to an otherwise uniform look. 

Other Common Jiu Jitsu Symbols

The Shaka Sign

Shaka Sign or Symbol
The shaka sign with "jiu jitsu" written above it

The Shaka symbol, a gesture where the thumb and pinky finger are extended while other fingers curl in, has become widely adopted in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) community. Although it originated in Hawaiian culture, the Shaka represents the laid-back, inclusive spirit intrinsic to BJJ. Often flashed in photos or after matches, it symbolizes camaraderie, mutual respect, and the “keep it playful” ethos, underscoring the deep sense of community and sportsmanship valued in BJJ.


The Enso

A drawing of a japanese enso

The Enso symbol, a circle drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes, is a Zen Buddhist design meant to symbolize enlightenment, the universe, and the void beyond. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the Enso represents the continuous journey of learning and improvement and the circular nature of a martial arts practice. 

Usually, the circle is left incomplete. This detail signifies that there is always more to learn, a key principle in BJJ. Just as the Enso’s simplicity and fluidity denote clarity and elegance of thought, these are mirrored in the fluid, intuitive movements of BJJ. The Enso itself is commonly found stitched on to the gi directly, or attached as a patch, but rarely found in other places around the academy. Some academies have adopted it as their logo, or put it on merchandise that is sold to support the gym. 

Animal Symbols

The Shark

A cartoon drawing of a shark wearing a gi

“I am a shark, the ground is my ocean and most people don’t even know how to swim.”

That line is commonly attributed to Rickson Gracie. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the shark carries many meanings. First, it symbolizes both the fluidity and pensiveness of our grappling martial art, but also the aggressive and relentless tactics that embody a devastating fighting style. The shark’s strength and unyielding pursuit of its prey parallel the determination and power a BJJ practitioner must exhibit. This symbol encourages fighters to seize opportunities, not hesitate, and continuously push themselves to become a master of their surroundings.

The Monkey

The monkey is symbolic of adaptability, swift thinking, and creativity in BJJ. Mirroring the monkey’s agility and quickness, this symbol inspires practitioners to think rapidly on their feet, adapt to rapidly changing situations, and improvise as needed. The monkey’s playfulness also reminds fighters to maintain a sense of fun and exploration in their practice, and not to take things too seriously.

The Panda

The panda represents a balance that can be found when applying force gently. between  Much like the panda’s peaceful yet resilient nature, a BJJ practitioner must learn to blend a soft touch with steady resistance to create a truley capable practitioner.  This duality mirrors the ‘gentle art’ concept of BJJ, where a skilled and mindful fighter can control and submit an opponent without sharp edges or rough treatment. 

The Element of Water

a Ukiyo e style painting of the ocean

To the jiu jitsu practitioner water symbolizes fluidity, adaptability, and strength. These qualities are fundamental to BJJ. While training, practitioners must learn to flow with their opponents and leverage strength intelligently, rather than recklessly. The “flow like water” metaphor was also widely popularized by Bruce Lee, who adapted it from Miamoto Musashi, who said told us that water can flow, or water can crash. Be like water.


In conclusion, the role of symbols in jiu jitsu is of great cultural importance. They serve as a way to connect practitioners with the rich history and traditions of the martial art.

By understanding the origins and meanings behind these symbols, individuals can deepen their appreciation for jiu jitsu and further explore its symbolism.

Restating the importance of symbolism in Jiu Jitsu

Symbolism in jiu jitsu is integral, offering a unique method of communication within the discipline. Each symbol carries a specific significance, embodying the values, beliefs, and principles revered by its practitioners. Far from just being pictorial depictions, these symbols also reinforce crucial concepts and philosophies. Grasping the meanings of these symbols can deepen practitioners’ respect for the art and strengthen their connection to its rich heritage.

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