The Essence of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Logo for KnuckleUp Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

     Ricardo Murgel, head Brazil­ian Jiu Jitsu instruc­tor for Knuckle Up, and I go back a long time. When I first met him I was a jour­nal­ist. We went to Brazil together on assign­ment back in 2008. Back then, BJJ was begin­ning to make waves in the United States but was still poorly under­stood by the most peo­ple. The pur­pose of the trip was for Mas­ter Murgel to help me under­stand the true roots of BJJ as a mar­tial art. While in Rio we trav­eled to the school of Great Grand­mas­ter Álvaro Baretto, one of the few BJJ instruc­tors in the world who is senior to Murgel. At Grand­mas­ter Alvaro’s Rio dojo we had a fas­ci­nat­ing dis­cus­sion, the high­lights of which I chron­i­cled for FIGHT! Mag­a­zine. Towards the end of our talk I asked him to explain the essence of the Brazil­ian Jiu Jitsu.
     “You must under­stand that Jiu-Jitsu is really four things,” he explained. “One: it is a phi­los­o­phy that can be summed up by the state­ment ‘Give to Win’. For exam­ple if you make strength with your arms then you give a point of lever­age for your oppo­nent to use against you. If you stay loose then you deprive your oppo­nent of that. So, by appear­ing to be weak you gain strength. Sec­ond, it is a sys­tem of teach­ing. It gives access to proper rules of human behav­ior, self-respect, honor, dis­ci­pline, courage, and so on. Third, it is a ther­apy. If man is too aggres­sive, it will calm him. Is he is too weak or pas­sive? It will make him stronger. And finally, it is a fight­ing system.”Alvaro com­mented that many newly minted Jiu Jitsu afi­ciona­dos, per­haps attracted by the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the UFC were con­cen­trat­ing just on the fourth aspect and ignor­ing the first three. He told me this missed much of the value of the art. “Jiu-Jitsu is not an end,” he summed up. “It is a tool for cre­at­ing a bet­ter life.”
     In the years after that trip I went on the cover mar­tial arts on four con­ti­nents and meet many of world’s most promi­nent mar­tial artists, coaches and instruc­tors, but to this day, Grand­mas­ter Alvaro’s is best expla­na­tion of the essence of BJJ that I’ve ever heard.