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Introducing the modern sport of Brazilian Jiu jitsu to Gibraltar

A group of recreational and competitive practitioners of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) are looking to introduce the sport to Gibraltar. With many already having been involved in other similar sports such as MMA the sport is likely to raise interest among locals involved in martial arts and similar sports.
We had a chance to speak to some of its members including Lee Tierney, known locally for his involvement in MMA in the past, who offered us an insight into the sport and the groups’ intentions. The group hopes that by bringing it into Gibraltar it will eventually benefit from representation in the sport at an international level.

“We have been involved in the sport of BJJ and combat sports in general for many years. Currently we travel to Spain every week to attend classes there with our coach Jose Antonio Merida, an IBJJF recognised black belt, who is willing to share in this dream of ours and to open his knowledge to everyone in Gibraltar.

“Our team has been very successful in international competitions; having won bronze, silver and gold medals in regional Spanish championships and also silver and gold in the European championships. Our dream is to continue our training locally and to introduce this beautiful art to our youth, with all its benefits, so that we can proudly represent Gibraltar in international competitions and bring the medals home.

“Most people know about BJJ from the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), where it is a fundamental part of a fighter’s arsenal. However, BJJ is a sport of its own, with millions of practitioners and competitors all over the world.

“BJJ was developed by the Gracie family around the 1920s in Brazil. Gastao Gracie took his son Carlos to study with the Japanese master, Mitsuyo Maeda, who had arrived from Japan to teach Kodokan Judo. Carlos would practice regularly and what he learnt he would teach his brothers at home. One of them was Helio Gracie, who was the smallest and weakest. However, due to his fragility he was not allowed to take part in the sparring, so he stood aside to observe and to understand the science of Jiu Jitsu

‘After a few years Helio begun to spar with his brothers and was able to beat them, despite being the smallest and weakest. Helio modified the techniques and developed strategies and tactics which would allow him to control and submit bigger and stronger opponents. The way he could control his opponents was through the use of wedges, which inhibit and direct movement (think of tiny door stoppers that can hold doors open even in hurricanes). Once his opponent was controlled he would then advance in the hierarchy of positions he devised, which would lead to isolating a limb or to the unprotected neck where he could apply enough pressure to the joint or neck so that his opponents would be forced to submit. Helio could submit opponents much bigger and stronger than him through the use of levers and fulcrums, which multiplied the force he could apply to the weakest points of his opponents’ bodies.

“Thus the sport of BJJ can be summarised in one sentence: "the art and science of control that leads to submission"

“Helio and his brothers would go on to test their style of Jiu Jitsu by challenging champions and experts of other martial arts in Brazil and in the USA. The Gracies won every fight without throwing a single strike to emphasise the effectiveness and efficiency of Brazilian Jiu jItsu.

“Today we don’t need to test BJJ against other martial arts anymore, but we do test ourselves against other practitioners of BJJ, in competition and in open mats (visiting other schools to train and spar). BJJ gives the smaller person a chance to survive and defeat someone much bigger and stronger in a fight. This is why in BJJ people can compete in their weight category or the open weight category where a 60kg competitor can fight against a 120kg competitor, and often the lighter competitor wins. There is no other combat sport with an open class category and if there is, it is because they are in fact doing BJJ.

“Currently, there is nothing similar to BJJ nor anyone in Gibraltar qualified to teach it, apart from our group of mostly Gibraltarians, guided by our coach Jose Antonio Merida. Our sport is very different from the local martial arts of Bushido Ju Jitsu or the sport of Judo, which many think are the same as BJJ. They are very different in essence and the only similarity is a superficial one. BJJ has very different rules, strategies and philosophy and the training and teaching methodology is very different too.

“BJJ encourages critical thinking and a scientific attitude, since the game involves problem solving where the problem is a dynamic one that changes as you try to solve it. It encourages critical analysis of technique, strategy and tactic through open discussions with coaches and training partners and empirical testing of these through live sparring. In Bushido Ju Jitsu for example this is discouraged and critical thinking is looked down upon since it is firmly believed that all their ancient principles and wisdom are unquestionably true, because they were handed down by their masters and therefore to question the effectiveness or real life application of their ancient techniques would be seen as highly disrespectful. For BJJ practitioners the authority is empirical testing of techniques in live sparring and competition, against opponents who are resisting 100% and often times bigger and stronger than you. In the case of Judo on the other hand, though more scientific and empirical than Bushido Ju Jitsu, there are many rules in place which limit the expression of the essence of BJJ. There is little room for creativity and the freedom to explore and expand the art is limited by the rules.

“What also sets BJJ apart from these traditional martial arts is the scientific attitude we develop through the sport. In BJJ, analytical thinking skills are taught explicitly and implicitly, since the problems we encounter in a BJJ match require clear and logical thinking in order to apply the right solution to the problem. Physical attributes are secondary in BJJ; the main attribute is always the mind. In addition to the science of BJJ there is also the art of BJJ, where we see self-expression, freedom and individuality. This is where the artistic expression of our personality and character is shown through the unique and creative ways we do Jiu Jistu.

“The benefits that BJJ provides for everyone, especially children in terms of academic and character development, are numerous and understated. Given that children are naturally curious it would be wrong to put them in an environment where curiosity is not welcome and dogmatism is rewarded. As explained above, BJJ is the only martial art/combat sport that encourages and rewards analytical thinking and teaches a scientific and methodical approach to problem solving. The ability to think and reason clearly and cogently when under pressure or in stressful situations is an essential life skill that is not taught explicitly in any other sport. The skills and qualities children develop in BJJ will no doubt have a positive impact in their academic and personal lives, which ultimately benefits our community as a whole.

“Right now, we are looking to bring our training over to Gibraltar, following the training methodology and philosophy of our coach, so that we can practice locally and represent our nation in competition. The dream is to open the training to everyone who would like to learn the science and art of BJJ, especially to our youth, who with all the potential they have, will no doubt be champions one day.”

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