The difference in the competitive level of modern submission grappling when compared to the traditional Jiu-Jitsu of 10 years ago is astonishing. The difference in the last 5 years has been even more rapidly accelerated due to the exposure and knowledge share effect of grappling thanks to the success of the recent ADCC World Championships.
Even at the level of base athletic ability; competition practitioners are drastically different as grappling is now attracting athletes from different sports including power lifting and rugby, as opposed to what we have seen as prevalent in the past being the approach of gymnastic and yoga based workout supplementation. Full on strength and conditioning programmes are being enacted for grappling exclusively, leading to a gap widening between those who do, and those who don’t, even as early as the white belt level. Look at any local event to see this play out in real time.
Along with this, the diversity of skill and technique has sharply increased at the white belt level meaning the entry level knowledge-base required to be successful in competition is much higher, right from the start.
Along with this, many who have been involved in grappling through this metamorphosis have also witnessed the divergence of gi and no gi grappling to the point where, due to rule set, popularity and preference; they are now becoming separate sports outright. With defining events separating them and exclusive competitions being run to partake in one, as opposed to the other, full time, the choice to partake in one more dominantly over the other is almost becoming a necessary level of commitment.
In the days of traditional Jiu-Jitsu before modern submission grappling; most, if not all academies (when I was personally beginning Jiu-Jitsu) practiced both gi and no gi, with the slant being more towards gi as the primary, and no gi as the optional supplementation. Certainly in the country of Australia, most of our first interactions with MMA came from witnessing Royce Gracie compete in the original UFC Tournaments, in the gi. So the timeline of being involved in MMA went: Learn Jiu-Jitsu in the gi – Practice with strikes – Learn some “stand-up” – Fight in the ring.
Obviously the level of comprehensive preparation has changed drastically for MMA in Australia, but this depicts a slight disconnect in understanding of grappling arts and their applicability, due to the low exposure of Freestyle wrestling, Greco-Roman Wrestling, Sambo, and Catch Wrestling.
In other countries, such as the USA; Initial exposure to grappling is performed without a gi, with wrestling being prevalent as a grappling style at an Elementary, Middle/High school and Collegiate level. Therefore a very different understanding of Grappling is developed and transferability to other rule sets such as MMA is more appropriate and achievable.
As the wheel turns, grappling in a format wherein submissions are allowed (and strikes are not) will inevitably diverge in to different brackets of application, based on whether they are being performed in the gi or not. This is similar to how Judo and Greco Roman Wrestling are recognized as two completely different, elite level sports, and are practiced exclusively by dedicated practitioners.
To be clear, It’s more than ok to like things. It is perfectly acceptable to simply prefer one over the other. We don’t have to make up a reason why one is “better than the other” or justify our choice. Making a concerted effort towards your overall goal, seven days a week, will always be the strongest pathway. If you’re goal is to do gi only, no gi only, or both, that still rings true.
This really is a natural process after all. Academies catering to Students who wish to focus on ADCC Rules tournaments with hopes and dreams of competing in submission grappling on the world stage, will of course provide the opportunity to focus on this exclusively. Conversely, an academy who has students dedicated to the gi will prioritise those training opportunities and gear preparation towards an IBJJF World Championship technique base and rule set.
Traditional Jiu-Jitsu or modern submission grappling?
This may not really be a question anymore. It really is just inevitable.
All of our favourites from years gone by like the Gracie family, the Mendes Brothers and Marcelo Garcia (and the list goes on) when compared with today’s stars like Gordon Ryan, Craig Jones and Mikey Musumeci (again, the list goes on..) are really doing the exact same thing. They are all progressives and have changed the perceptions of what we believed to be possible. They are much more alike than unalike and all equally as important in their own unique way.
Evolution always takes place in any art or sport. Our preference as to how we engage with it is completely our own and that unique ability to contribute that the grappling arts provide us will actively aid our group progress as well. We all work towards the same thing, even if it’s in a completely different way.
For more of our opinion pieces on various topics, visit our opinion piece archives.