Martial Arts training has been growing in popularity in New York City since the 1950’s. Access to Jiu Jitsu schools back then were limited. If I had to find one I most likely would have had to commute long distances – there just wouldn’t be any Jiu Jitsu gyms near me. Until after the first World War that the closest thing New York had to modern day Martial Arts was Boxing and Wrestling, which were primarily designed for spectator events.
Originally developed for Samurai warfare in Japan, it made its way to the west through tough man contests held at carnivals. Jiu Jitsu schools were established slightly different from your typical Wrestling or Boxing Gyms. Because of its military DNA, it had a systemized curriculum of learning which was different from more informal fight gyms.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, simplified as ‘BJJ’, is a generalized description and a derivative of the martial art, Japanese Jiu Jitsu. It has been modified and further developed by Carlos and Helio Gracie over 90 years ago, calling it Gracie Jiu Jitsu®. Although there were other Brazilians that modified this art as well, it was the Gracie Family who structured and enhanced the techniques effectively over time. They propelled their brand of Jiu Jitsu through challenge matches - they were known to post an open challenge to anyone who can defeat them and offering a cash prize to the winner. This was known as the ‘Gracie Challenge’.
How did Brazilian Jiu Jitsu begin in New York City?
The Ultimate Fighting Championship. Rorion Gracie (the son of Helio Gracie) and his business partners created the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and it aired live on November 12, 1993. It was a ‘no rules’ tournament format, where martial artists of different styles fight one another, in a caged octagon. The winner was decided when an opponent was knocked out or ‘tapped’ to signify a submission - there would be only one winner. Royce Gracie (the younger brother of Rorion) was the smallest contestant in the tournament and won all his fights by submitting all his opponents to become the first UFC champion. This was the catalyst that made Gracie Jiu Jitsu very popular.
By 1995 there were 2 academies in New York City that offered instruction in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Most early adopters were experienced martial artists that witnessed and appreciated the effectiveness of ground fighting and submissions. This style of martial art was not flashy, as seen in the action movies. However, experienced martial artists understood the reality of having to fight on the ground and became its early adopters.
After the UFC 1 Academies were not easily accessible. They were off the beaten path. One was opened on top of a rehab clinic near Time Square while another on a side street in the East Village. But the serious martial artists found their way to these less traditional martial arts schools.
The Rise of Sport Jiu Jitsu in New York City
In 1997 professional No-Rules Fighting (now known as Mixed Martial Arts) was banned from New York State and by the early to mid-2000s no-rules fighting were limited to a niche group of people fighting in unsanctioned events or amateur events run by the Kickboxing Organizations. The lack of competitive outlet in reality-based fighting gave rise to Sport Jiu Jitsu and Grappling competition. With martial arts gyms incorporating grappling arts into their programs, these tournaments became the avenue to prove these new skills. With wrestlers, grapplers and Jiu Jitsu practitioners competing against one another sport based competition was a way to bridge the disciplines. Incorporating point systems, weight divisions and timed rounds like that of a wrestling match.
Jiu Jitsu in NYC Today
As with many major cities, New York City is well represented in world class Jiu Jitsu practice and events. Tournaments and competitive events in the tri-state area abound and the original self-defense system became distilled into grappling competitions. While the technique and leverage of Gracie Jiu Jitsu are still there, the self-defense component has lost its central role. Success in skill development became measured by competition wins; rather than self-defense proficiency, thus, Beginners prematurely begin to roll (wrestle/spar) and injury became accepted and common place. In fact, most never really get to experience the full benefit of the art, because the barrier of entry is too high. In some instances, it becomes contradictory to its original purpose, which was to develop the weak to become strong. With the introduction of weight division and time limits in tournaments, the self-defense art is lost to sport and leverage and efficiency is traded for athleticism and strength. BJJ in its sport form, is then limited to the athletically gifted.
In New York City, BJJ is Sport Jiu Jitsu
By the end of 2010, the sport Jiu Jitsu scene in the Northeast became the dominant form of practice in New York City. Grappling organizations began to establish tournaments, moving from the West Coast of the U.S. to the East Coast. World Champion Competitors established themselves in New York City, and BJJ culture immediately became synonymous with a grappling-only sport. Today, a majority of the training in New York City is deeply influenced by tournament rules which guide the training and curriculum.
Gracie Jiu Jitsu. A System of Self-Defense
Gracie Jiu Jitsu maintained its guiding principle of self-defense as the primary objective during training. The key difference between Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Gracie Jiu Jitsu, is the context which dictates the direction of training and techniques practiced. The focus on practical self-defense application which, relies on the survival mindset and energy efficiency create a completely different training culture than what we’ve seen in the BJJ Gyms in New York City today.
Jiu Jitsu for Beginners
It is not uncommon for most beginners to find themselves walking into a competition-centric training program. The challenge for those that want to learn self-defense is that the context of the training can be confusing in this environment . Questions like, why am I sparring/rolling? Why is my objective to submit the opponent at this stage in my training? Why am I applying these techniques? Why do I need to pass the guard, and what is guard anyway?
The non-sport approach of Gracie Jiu Jitsu deals with a relatable context all centered around self-defense scenarios. What happens if someone puts me in a headlock? What if someone tries to punch me in the face? Or What if I am pinned to the floor? What if I’m attacked by a larger, heavier, and stronger person - how do I protect myself from injury and escape the threat?
While the popularity of this martial art has exploded over the past few years, it has split into two distinct styles. One that focuses on competitive submission grappling and the other on self-defense.
Ronin Athletics - Gracie certified Training Center, New York City.
Gracie Jiu Jitsu maintained a strong root in the West Coast. With Gracie University leading the way Gracie Jiu Jitsu for Self-defense. Ronin Athletics, is the only Academy in New York City certified by Gracie University and strictly follows its program.