Brazil v. Japan (Style Part 2) 9

Here’s the second part of my little series on style and stylistic differences.  In this part, I’m going to talk about the Brazilians and the Japanese, and their different styles of BJJ.

I’ve been really interested, lately, in the convergence and divergence of style, as I said in my last post.  It started when I moved to Asia, I think. I became enthralled by questions like this: how do the Japanese differ from the Brazilians? Is American BJJ transforming into its own style? What can we learn by looking the Brazilians and the Japanese as separate entities with different styles of BJJ?  What are their weaknesses, and what strengths does each style bring to the table?

First, I’d like to talk about the Japanese. As for Japanese-style BJJ, I’ve come to believe that the influence of judo in Japanese BJJ is really apparent. My Japanese friends that do BJJ are all about the utility of movement; they are less about slick, big finishes and more about ending this crap now.  That doesn’t mean that they don’t have pretty movement, but they seem to move less than the Brazilians, and every movement seems to be precise and focused, with a clear goal in mind. Always forward, towards the goal, never backwards. At the risk of sounding dirty (what doesn’t sound dirty in BJJ?) if you’ve ever been on your back with a Japanese guy on top of you, you aren’t going anywhere very fast.  If you haven’t been on your back with a Japanese guy on top of you, it’s definitely something I recommend. Their hip control is excellent, which makes their guard passing pretty damn stellar. Their style is calm, controlled, and without flourish.

When I think of the Brazilians, I think of people like the Mendes brothers and Leo Viera. Squirmy hips. Sure, maybe you could submit them (BIG MAYBE) if you could get them to stop moving, but who could possibly get them to stop moving? They have a flashier style, and I love it when they go for (and nail) the big, ridiculous finishes. Who can forget when Jacare had his arm broken in the Mundials in 2004?  And then won anyway? Everyone in the venue watched that happen. I was utterly in awe of how badass he was. Like Batman or something, except without a cape.

It’s funny because these two cultures and styles are so different on the face– the Japanese are unfailingly polite, generally excellent sports, and capable of breaking your arm with an apology already on their tongue. The Brazilians, on the other hand, will strut in like peacocks, scream like you just called their mom a whore, flip the judges the bird, and then break your arm upside-down with their eyes closed out of pure spite. But both cultures place a heavy focus on saving face, hard training, and maintaining pride– I think this is what makes them both turn out excellent competitors.

So now that I’ve been exposed extensively to both styles (I grew up training under a Brazilian and an American, I currently train under a Japanese man, and I trained in Japan for a while), who do I want to be like?  Well, I want to start and finish fights with the confidence and epic-ness of a Brazilian, with the good sportsmanship and calm of the Japanese, and the risk-assessment abilities of the top female fighters in the world. Is that so much to ask for, really? Don’t answer that.

Oh– and of course, there’s the Americans. Can’t leave them out. This video sums us up pretty succinctly, don’t you think?



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9 thoughts on “Brazil v. Japan (Style Part 2)

  • slideyfoot

    Interesting. I’d always thought the Japanese BJJ style was ridiculously flashy, with lots of spinning, upside down stuff done at high speed, wearing painfully flamboyant gis. That might just be the impression you get from instructionals though (e.g., this).

  • Drew

    I’m not sure if I should be offended or not as an American (because that was just plain funny). I think everyone’s game is going to be affected by culture. I never wrestled in high school, but because wrestling is so prevalent where I’m at it’s had a huge impact on my judo/BJJ. I’m far more apt to go for a suplex or a single-leg than a traditional judo foot sweep. I’d much prefer to be in someone’s guard where I can stack them or trap their hips than have them in mine. Given enough time and cross-training I think American BJJ will end up looking more like American wrestling than BJJ elsewhere.

    • purplekettle

      I’m American too 😛

      I agree that American BJJ will start to look a lot like wrestling, but I wonder if it won’t be more diverse than that…

      • Drew

        Right off the bat I’m going to recommend “The Magnificent Scufflers” by Charles Morrow Wilson. It’s a good book with some interesting stuff about the history of wrestling (and submission wrestling) in America. Link to online copy:

        I’m not quite sure how you mean “more diverse”. I feel it will probably be a resurgence of Catch (essentially wrestling, but with “hooks” – subs), but with more guard play. Given the wrestling influence, I think the American take on BJJ will eventually become a top-heavy game. We tend to be larger (or obese), wrestling’s influence will always favor a top game, and as fancier guards come up I think the pendulum will swing more towards shutting them down with leglocks and solid top games in general. Just my thoughts though.

        • purplekettle

          I was slightly doped up on cold medicine last night, hence my somewhat nonsensical answer to you… today I am much more coherent, and I’m quite interested in discussing wrestling vs. BJJ. If you follow my blog, you know I’ve recently started doing some wrestling to improve my BJJ game. I think it’s incredibly fun and exciting, and it’s given me an entirely new perspective about BJJ. I’m definitely going to read this book.

          But I don’t know if I agree that American BJJ will become top-heavy. You have people like Eddie Bravo (no, I’m personally not a fan, but he’s got quite a following), Ryan Hall, Llyod Irvin… none of these people are particularly top-heavy players.

      • drewbrunning

        Maybe the United States is too large a place to have one way BJJ will end up being done. I agree with your statement. Ryan Hall is a great example of someone who plays the guard without doing a lot of top game from what I’ve seen. I think I understand what you mean by “more diverse” now. I guess I was mentally putting those kinds of guys into categories other than “American BJJ” because I was thinking more Jake Shields style grappling.

  • Gina

    This post is really interesting to me, because I train a hybrid jiu-jitsu that is a mix of all of the above; we have both a BJJ and a Japanese Jiu-Jitsu instructor (he’s not Japanese, just his style…but grappling with him feels like you have a Japanese man on you ;). We also have wrestlers who teach sometimes. I feel very fortunate to be able to explore all of these styles at the same time…well, except for the American way…I think I’ll skip that one 😉