Does Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Need to Be An Olympic Sport?

Judo, before it was severely limited and stream-lined into a sport that could easily be refereed, and matches moved along at break-neck pace, was basically an art that became Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

In the classical Judo days (before the 1950s in the West) Judo was much less a set of sixty-five throws with practitioners simply focused on getting “ippon” (the winning point, your opponent thrown to the mat shoulders down with force). In those days, matches were often unlimited in time, and mostly took place on the mat after a throwing attempt failed. After Olympic Judo took precedence, the time on the mat became much more limited. Today refs are trained to look for a single pin, armlock, or choke attempt, and if it looks to be not working, or it looks like the attack is changing, players are stood back up to get back to throwing.

One of the things that makes BJJ so much fun is the vastness of practicable techniques. While Judo over the last century has been streamlined and limited for Olympic sport, BJJ continuously expands adopting and adapting to please any obsessive-compulsive technician. Judo used to be a bigger art. In the Katame no kata (a Judo form) there is even a leg lock! It is done very high on the leg to put pressure on the hip joint. No one is allowed to use this technique anymore in competition but it still exists as a kind of “self-defense” move in Judo kata. There are actually several moves like this that are no longer sanctioned Judo material, but still exist in the official forms.

Of course, it could be argued that with the right referees and a limited roster of matches BJJ could be made an Olympic sport to run alongside Judo, but truthfully what is needed is less regulation on the Judo so that BJJ people could enter to compete in it. Why not put the wrestlers in it too? Why not a full-on pan-grappling competition? But I’m just dreaming now!

Judo advocates worked very hard in the earlier part of the century to finally make Judo into a simplified sport debuting in the 1960 Olympiad (where the towering Anton Geesink—often famous for getting into payoff scandal trouble these days—reached over the shoulders of his opponents and threw them for his gold medal). Frankly, I don’t see the need of doing that to BJJ. It would not be about elevating BJJ, it would be about limiting and reducing it just to give it Olympic panache. The fact is there are already more than enough BJJ contests to enjoy and participate in, the Olympics are an unnecessary and dubious goal.


Geoff Balme is a second degree black belt and the lead instructor at Open Guard Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing.

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