There will always be someone bigger and stronger than you, and if you rely on simple brute strength to win a fight, then you might be in trouble. But there are always ways to out-think an opponent, and to use his own strength against him. This is the core tenant of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). Helio Gracie, the creator of BJJ, put it like this, “For my entire life, I have taught jiu-jitsu for smaller people to defend themselves against larger ones at any time,”1. He did this to prove that anyone could protect themselves in a fight.
Now, BJJ has developed into a large movement in the MMA world, with many professional fighters adhering to its principals. BJJ has also been noted for its human approach to combat, where a practitioner controls an attacker without hurting them.
The History of BJJ
The roots of the jiu-jitsu tree were said to have originated in the mountains of India 2500 years ago, and then branched out to China, before finally landing in Japan where it would settle for almost two millennia. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that Japanese jiu-jitsu would branch out to other parts of the world, specifically Brazil in South America.
Mistuyo Maeda was a jiu-jitsu teacher who was aiding a Japanese immigration colony in northern Brazil. Maeda introduced the principles of jiu-jitsu to Carlos Gracie. Carlos taught his entire family jiu-jitsu, including his younger brother Helio. Helio Gracie found he couldn’t quite perform all the moves the way that his brother could, so he improvised, creating idiosyncratic moves that could easily be passed along to his students.
In doing so, he created a new form of jiu-jitsu: Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
This happy accident spread throughout the world. The revolution began with Helio Gracie and his astounding martial arts career, whereby he beat world champion wrestlers Fred Ebert and Wladek Zybsko. But the crowning jewel of Helio Gracie’s career was his match against Japanese jiu-jitsu champion Masahiko Kimura. Kimura outweighed Gracie by 36 kilograms, but eventually after two qualifying matches with the number two ranked jiu-jitsu fighter in the world, in which Gracie choked him out in six minutes, Kimura agreed to fight Gracie.
Kimura and Gracie fought in the largest football stadium in the world. Kimura was strong and agile, but wasn’t able to control the match. Gracie was tenacious, desperately trying to hold his own against the Japanese juggernaut, and he even passed out for a brief time when Kimura caught him in a choke hold. Eventually, fearing that his brother wouldn’t tap out, Carlos threw in the towel when Kimura caught Gracie in one of his signature “Kimura” locks, and ended the fight.
Kimura was so impressed with Helio Gracie that he invited Helio to teach in Japan. This was the first step for BJJ to enter the international scene. Eventually, BJJ spread to the United States through Rorion Gracie, the founder of the UFC, and Royce and Rickson Gracie, famous fighters in the burgeoning field of mixed martial arts.
It started with Helio testing out his own beliefs, blending ancient techniques with new ideas of fighting. He did it all with an eye towards crafting a fighting technique for those who are of smaller stature:
Once I believed the techniques worked well for someone weak and small like me, I was convinced that they would work for everybody. This was the reason I went into the ring. I wanted my students to know that I was willing to put my neck on the line to prove that what I was teaching them really worked. Fighting was the only way to test my beliefs.2
Helio Gracie taught complicated skills to regular people for use both in and out of the ring. Whilst leaning towards grappling, BJJ includes a wide variety of techniques, including striking, throwing, choking, joint locks, and pinning. Wearing traditional kimonos or gi’s, which simulate real clothes that would be worn in a street fight, a defender and attacker meet and practice moves to learn how to defend themselves both in a controlled competition and out on the street.
What Is the Perfect Type of BJJ Mat?
BJJ is a unique combat sport because a heavy portion of instruction is focused on ground game, as a student learns technique to turn the tables in a match. Learning locks, chokes, and strikes is also important, but the key is learning proper body position, like how to slips out of tight chokes.
Because of this intensive, ground heavy portion of BJJ, when you’re purchasing mats for your BJJ training centre you’ll need to have a mat that has a surface that doesn’t cause mat burn but has enough traction to allow athletes to perform quick movements.
Let’s look at two different mats that may be perfect for your gym. Also, check out the BJJ mat web page at British Martial Arts Mats. It has everything you need to make an informed choice on which mat to purchase for your training needs.
BJJ Jigsaw Mats- MMA 30mmx1mx1m Black/Grey Reversible Jigsaw Mat
Jigsaw mats are absolutely perfect mats for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu because they offer the perfect combination of cushioning ability and high traction flooring. They’re lightweight, which means they’re incredibly mobile, allowing you to tear them down, and set the mats up in whatever fashion you’d prefer. In addition, EVA foam mats are waterproof and repel bacteria.
The EVA jigsaw mats have a non-slip, Tatami surface with raised textured ridges which are modelled after traditional Japanese mats. This mat creates the perfect amount of friction—not too much to cause a mat burn, and yet enough to make a quick movement—and this feature makes it the perfect mat to use for sparring, where you’re learning new movements and advanced techniques.
One of the most beneficial things about these mats is that they have two different colours on either side. This is a game changer because you can customise your own flooring. You could create a large ring for combatants to fight in, or you could use one colour as a border. And if you’d like to, you could change your gym flooring overnight, transforming your gym into a competition setting. If you’re setting up a small competition or a small to mid-sized sparring space, jigsaw mats are perfect for your needs.
There are two different thicknesses of BJJ EVA mats at British Martial Arts Mats, a 30mm and 40mm. The recommended 30mm is 80kg/cbm or 80 kilos of EVA packed into a cubic meter. This makes the mat easier to compress and thus comfortable for ground work. Then there is the 40mm 100kg/cbm which being more dense and thicker is able to take a lot more impact before compressing to ‘zero’, the point where we hit the floor. If your mats are more likely to experience wear and tear, consider purchasing the heavy-duty 40mm Jigsaw mat (100 kg/cbm).
BJJ Rollout Mats-12m X 1.5m X 40mm Roll Out Mats
If you’re trying to equip a large gym or need to cover large floor space with shock absorbing, high traction mats, then roll out mats will fit your needs perfectly. Similar to the jigsaw mats, the BJJ rollout mats are mobile, and easily roll up into a tight cylinder when you want to tuck them away. However, since these mats are much more cumbersome, you ‘re going to need help from one or two other people to tightly roll the mats up.
The manufacturing process sets these mats apart from EVA jigsaw mats. XPE foam is a cross-linked polyethylene foam which is made through a process of high-pressure and heat, but the major key that sets it apart from other mats is that XPE foam is made in long sheets. Using a sheet extrusion machine, XPE foam is stretched over metal rollers, casting a long, continuous mat which can be made to any length. These mats absorb falls from critical heights (over 1.5m), which makes them a crucial piece of protective equipment.
Roll out mats also have a Velcro connector which makes a tight hold, stopping the mats from separating and creating gaps in the mats.
There are several lengths of roll out mats, ranging from 3m, 6m, and 12m lengths. The width of each of these mats is the same size (1.5m). The length of mat that you need is determined by what you’re using your gym space for. If you’d like to train multiple students on rollout mats, then the 12m mats might be the perfect size for you.
The principles that BJJ are built on are utilitarian, allowing smaller fighters to use cunning to best stronger foes. With its focus on throws, locks, and chokes, BJJ can be considered one of the most humane forms of combat sports, preferring to teach that the principal goal is to control an attacker and not harm him. In the same way, mats that are designed for BJJ prefer the happy medium between high traction grip and nonabrasive mats, giving an edge to the agile opponent both standing and on the ground.
1.Gracie, Helio. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Gracie Publications, Inc., 2005,pg.13.
2.Gracie, Gracie Jiu-jitsu, 22
Author: David Van Kooten