What Is American Jiu-Jitsu?

Chris Wojcik

Jul 14, 2022

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is constantly changing.

What Is American Jiu-Jitsu?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is constantly changing.

Every year, new techniques are discovered, new evolutions of the sport happen multiple times
over, and some new athlete storms upon the competition scene utilizing techniques that have
never been seen before.

This is what keeps the sport exciting. This is what makes it addicting to watch and even more
addicting to participate in.

One term that has been used in the last few years to describe a lot of the new techniques in Jiu-
Jitsu that are created specifically by Americans is “American Jiu-Jitsu”.

But what is American Jiu-Jitsu, and how is it different from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Let’s look at the differences between “AJJ”, “BJJ”, and submission grappling.

The secret history of American Jiu-Jitsu

This is a bit less known than most aspects of Jiu-Jitsu’s origin story, but Jiu-Jitsu has been around
in many forms and iterations for centuries.

Grappling has existed for a very long time.

The Brazilians didn’t invent grappling.

The Americans didn’t invent grappling.

Even the ancient and the Japanese didn’t invent grappling.

Grappling has been around as long as human beings have been fighting each other. Grappling in
various forms probably predates most country borders.

Grappling might even be older than the English language.

You can view the image of a newspaper clipping from the early 1900s between an
American and an Italian in a “Jiu-Jitsu match”. It appears that the match was contested in a “no
time limit sub-only” format.





The American obsession with Japanese culture began after the Russo-Japanese war, and Jiu-Jitsu
has existed in the US in many different forms over the past 100 years.

So, does this mean American Jiu-Jitsu is better than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Not at all. If anything, it’s the opposite.


Around 1940, American Jiu-Jitsu disappeared and submission grappling barely existed in the US
until the explosion of BJJ.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the grappling art with the longest and most extensive history. Modern
American Jiu-Jitsu is a blend of catch wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, folkstyle wrestling, and
many other styles of grappling.

Modern American Jiu-Jitsu is a “melting pot” of styles.




The history of modern American Jiu-Jitsu

The first time I ever heard the term “American Jiu-Jitsu” was around 2015 or 2016, just a few
months after I started training.

The first person who I heard using the term “American Jiu-Jitsu” was UFC veteran and ADCC
bronze medalist, Jake Shields.

The term sort of faded to irrelevancy for a few years, as people say often “Jiu-Jitsu” and
“Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” synonymously.

However, it returned to prominence after Keenan Cornelius left Atos in 2019 and founded his
own gym, Legion American Jiu-Jitsu in late 2019. This started a debate, and people on the
internet were furious.

You can read Keenan’s thoughts on what American Jiu-Jitsu really is here. This is a good starting
point if you’re interested in the “American Jiu-Jitsu debate” that people have online.

The term exploded in popularity with the Daisy Fresh documentary series on Flograppling and
Youtube in 2020 and 2021.

Now, American Jiu-Jitsu is a phrase that is constantly used in the sport to describe the ever-
increasing amount of American athletes competing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the infusion of
wrestling, BJJ, judo, and other grappling arts.

Not your grandfather’s buggy choke.

American Jiu-Jitsu has a lot of American values.



It’s a little weird, it’s kind of brash, and it’s a mix of many different things. You look at it and
think, “well that probably shouldn’t work”, and in some ways, it doesn’t.

American Jiu-Jitsu isn’t perfect. Neither is America. Neither is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

None of this is “perfect” – but that’s a different topic for another day.

That’s okay though because that’s what we all love about this martial art.

Sorry for not romanticising more, but Jiu-Jitsu is an imperfect art form. That’s what makes it fun.
There are always new problems to solve. Every move has a counter and every counter has a re-
counter.

Modern American Jiu-Jitsu strives to sell the “sport” more so than the martial art. If you want to
learn self-defense, the moves that have come from “modern American Jiu-Jitsu” aren’t really
what you’re looking for.

You can’t defend yourself with a worm guard. You can’t buggy choke a guy who has a knife.

However, for those of us who love the sport of Jiu-Jitsu, this is not relevant.

If I was a street fight, I wouldn’t go for a buggy choke. In sport Jiu-Jitsu, however, I have other
options.

At the end of the day, this is submission grappling. There is no country attached to this art.

But most people don’t love that idea, because they want to own a piece of their favorite martial
art.

People have literally been grappling forever.

One of the original Olympic sports was wrestling.

There are countless different grappling arts around the world, and you’ve probably only heard of
a few of them.



There’s sambo, wrestling, judo, catch wrestling, and many others. When I was in India a few
years ago, I watched a “Kushti” match, which is a style of wrestling that originates in Persia and
commonly takes place in South Asia on a pile of mud.

It’s a very unique sport, but it’s still grappling.

Human beings have been fighting each other since before we evolved to homo sapiens. By
removing strikes from our combat and focusing on grappling, we’re kind of taking a step forward
in our evolution.

Does it really matter what it’s called?

I don’t really think so. I think that this is just a time-pass argument.

I don’t think the Brazilians invented the kimura or the armbar, for example. I think these
submissions were probably “invented” thousands of years before Brazil was even established as
a country.

The same is true for American Jiu-Jitsu and its cornerstone techniques.

For example, the cover photo from ancient Rome depicting a centaur heel hooking his opponent
from 50/50. How about those breaking mechanics?



Closing Thoughts


I don’t identify as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner or an American Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. I’m a
grappler.

I have a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that I received from another black belt in Brazilian Jiu-
Jitsu, but the style that I practice I feel is best described as “submission grappling”. There are no
strikes, and all I’m really trying to do is submit my opponent.

I don’t want to limit myself to one martial art. I want to be able to learn from everyone. I want to
learn Judo from the best judoka, I want to learn Jiu-Jitsu from the best Jiu-Jitsu athletes, and I
want to learn wrestling from the best wrestlers.

If that means I’m “destroying tradition”, that’s okay with me.

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object,
and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward
things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put
water into a cup, it becomes the cup.” – Bruce Lee