Jiu-Jitsu is Growing… But How Much?

One of the great things about Brazilian jiu-jitsu is that it encourages asking questions. It’s built for curious minds who want to understand the how’s and the why’s of self-defense and sport jiu-jitsu techniques because it fosters innovation and evolution of the art.

The innate drive to understand jiu-jitsu is not limited to what happens on the mat, and here on the FightWorks Podcast we’ve been asking questions for some time. We have been gathering data on jiu-jitsu beliefs, customs, and attitudes in polls since 2008.

December always brings reflection and when you pause for a moment to think about jiu-jitsu since the time you began training, you must notice that jiu-jitsu is gaining popularity. There are more jiu-jitsu schools, more jiu-jitsu videos on youtube, more local jiu-jitsu tournaments*. In sum, more jiu-jitsu.

We were wondering exactly how one might measure the growth of jiu-jitsu. Getting a tally of jiu-jitsu practitioners everywhere is hard, because it’s hard to know exactly how many jiu-jitsu schools there are out there. One imperfect measure might be to compare the number of tournaments out there took place this year compared to past years. While iCompete.org has a very large list of jiu-jitsu events out there, it does not capture every single event around the globe. In the end, the number of International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation events per year should be a relatively representative measure of the growth of jiu-jitsu around the world because it’s the organization that the vast majority of jiu-jitsu practitioners consider the sport’s authority.

IBJJF Jiu Jitsu Tournaments

In the image above you can see a dramatic increase in the number of IBJJF events per year. From 1996 through 2007 the Federation held ten or less events per year. Since 2007 the number of IBJJF tournaments per year has more than tripled! Would you have guessed that the Federation is that active?

If the metric used here is a valid reflection of jiu-jitsu’s future growth, BJJ practitioners around the world have a lot to look forward to because if there is one thing we crave, it’s even more jiu-jitsu.

Coincidentally, if it is any measure of the maturation of jiu-jitsu, today the inaugural IBJJ Pro League takes place. It’s the very first IBJJF event will be held where prizes are awarded. A free, live broadcast will be offered at ibjjftv.com.

*our sister site iCompete.org has published over 1,300 BJJ & submission grappling events since December 2008!

#262 Metamoris Promoter Robert Zeps and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belt Promotion Research

Metamoris organizers Robert Zeps and Ralek Gracie
Roger Gracie (white gi) fends off his aggressor Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida in the October 14 debut of Metamoris. Image courtesy Metamoris.

On Sunday the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world experienced the first-ever Metamoris jiu-jitsu event. Judging by feedback on social media and in the blogosphere, the event was a success. The format of pitting specially-invited renowned BJJ athletes against each other in submission only matches consisting of one twenty minute round was proven to entertain and fans are wondering when the next event will be. As The FightWorks Podcast spoke with Metamoris organizer Ralek Gracie prior to the event, we felt it only fitting to invite the event’s other promoter Robert Zeps to join us and talk about their evaluation of the evening and learn what’s next.

Metamoris organizers Robert Zeps and Ralek Gracie
Metamoris organizers Robert Zeps (left) and Ralek Gracie. Image courtesy Metamoris.

Also in this episode we continue the FightWorks Podcast tradition of encouraging academic inquiry into Brazilian jiu-jitsu, our beloved addiction. We’ll round out the episode with a conversation with Chris Kavanagh, an Oxford University researcher and BJJ blue belt. Kavanagh needs our help, Mighty 600,000 in gathering data about BJJ belt ceremonies (also known as belt grading, also known as belt promotions, also known as graduação in Brazilian Portuguese). Please help further knowledge about BJJ by participating in his survey, which is found at BJJSurveys.com.

brazilian jiu-jitsu belt ceremony
Are there any rituals that take place at your BJJ school when new belts are awarded? Image courtesy scottonthenet.

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The FightWorks Podcast: Alright family, we are on the line with Robert Zeps, one of the promoters of Metamoris Pro which took place last Sunday. I don’t think too many people need an introduction to what Metamoris is but it was an invite only event with 12 competitors. There were six matches of submission only grappling – most of which were in the gi – and twenty minute time limits. I think most of us know that and have seen the results online. But suffice to say it was a big event in the jiu-jitsu community, and we’re very excited to speak with Robert about it. How are you Robert?

Robert Zeps: I’m very well Caleb, thank you for having me on.

The FightWorks Podcast: It’s out pleasure. I thought we have an obligation to introduce you a little bit more formally to the world out there of Brazilian jiu-jitsu because based on what we’ve seen so far you may have an impact on things and it’d be nice go get to know you a little bit. What I thought we would do is give you a chance to reintroduce yourself to our audience here so tell us about Robert Zeps.

Robert Zeps: Yeah no problem Caleb. Like I said at the press conference (I think it was placed online), I’m English and I came to America in 1995 and I started training jiu-jitsu just about 5 years ago. It was something that came to me later, and I wish it was something I’d started earlier like most people at my age. I started training with Nelson Monteiro in San Diego. As I was training with him I reached out to the Gracie Academy which is in Torrance, and not too far from my house, and I started meeting a lot of fun people and talking a lot about jiu-jitsu. And it became a real hobby of mine. It started taking up a lot of my time. And as I was doing that I started thinking about what [jiu-jitsu matches] I’d like to see. I managed to sit down with Ralek Gracie a few times and we discussed, “what is it that people really want to see in jiu-jitsu? Do we want to just go to high schools and watch some of the top professionals wander around looking for bottles of water, or do we want to do something that would treat these athletes like the stars that they are, and also treat the fans to something a little more exciting and interesting?” And with not a lot else more interesting on our plates to be honest with you Caleb I decided this could be a real fun event we could put together and if enough people got excited, we’d keep doing it. So that’s what happened.

The FightWorks Podcast: You mentioned that you’ve been a martial artist for a long time. What got you into martial arts way back in the day?

Robert Zeps: [laughs] It’s a funny story. I think I was about fifteen years old and the fourteen year old sister of a friend of mine at school wanted to go and start some full contact karate in the area, in England. She wouldn’t do it without somebody going with her. I was the guy who decided I’d be the good guy and go along with her. I kept on doing it, and she quit after about two weeks. I kept going and I think I got my first black belt in 1986, if that doesn’t age me too much! That was in full contact karate. It started out there. I met some other people training and I got involved in aikido, Japanese jiu-jitsu, some goju-ryu karate, and I was doing that in England. I continued to do [martial arts] when I came to America. I continued training aikido, goju-ryu karate. Of course like everybody else, I watched the UFC in 1993 and was blown away. It just took me far too long to get involved in jiu-jitsu. I was still teaching in the U.S. some aikido as well just for fun and training down there in San Diego with real top level guys. It was just a joy. But the jiu-jitsu really grabbed me. And it grabbed me for one reason and I’ll tell you while we’re talking about it briefly. What took me with jiu-jitsu was how cerebral the whole thing was. It wasn’t just about force. It wasn’t just about who is the toughest guy. It really was something you could think on, in tough, tough situations. I think most people, particularly guys like me over forty, know what that feels like. You know what it feels like to be in a fight and you can actually genuinely think through what you’re going to do and who’s next. That honestly doesn’t happen too often in a lot of the older Japanese-style martial arts.

The FightWorks Podcast: I think a lot of our audience would agree with you on that. There are a bunch of great reasons to be in jiu-jitsu but that is one of them. Some of us have this superiority complex about Brazilian jiu-jitsu sometimes, myself included. It’s not necessarily legitimate, but we have this, I have this conception that a lot of people who did other martial arts when they come to Brazilian jiu-jitsu they stop doing the others. Is that what happened with you? Talk about that.

Robert Zeps: Yes I think the funny part for me was there’s generally a misunderstanding about the traditional martial arts, particularly arts like aikido and judo even, and traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu. I think people understood the history and where these things came from. I’m not talking about Brazilian jiu-jitsu guys. I’m talking about guys who were actually studying Japanese martial arts. A lot of these arts were formed around training with weapons, training with armor, and I think a lot of that is lost on people training today. There are instructors like Kazuo Chiba in San Diego, who was my aikido instructor who taught a very realistic form of aikido that was taken directly from training under Jigoro Kano. These guys were animals in all sorts of Japanese martial arts. They weren’t practicing them for the self-defense in any way, shape, or form. They really were just moving meditation. And too many people training in it because it was physical that somehow they were doing something that was self-defense oriented. We all convinced ourselves up until UFC 1 that somehow these arts were actually legitimate. I think what happened in UFC 1 was that we demonstrated that frankly in a modern era a lot of the things that were practiced and done were simply not practical. I don’t know if it’s just a personal feeling of mine but I really do believe that Brazilian jiu-jitsu had to come from somewhere like Brazil, a place where there is significantly less attention paid to the respect that goes on between elders and juniors in the Japanese culture. And the idea that somebody walking on the beach and kicking sand in someone’s face in a speedo and ended up rolling around the beach is not something that happens, or could conceivable happen in a Japanese culture. I think it’s interesting to note that though the Japanese have clearly their training and continue to train, it really takes a cultural difference to modify martial arts sometimes and I think that’s what happened with Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

The FightWorks Podcast: So you’re saying it’s an American phenomenon – not North American, but a “new world” phenomenon where some of those vestiges of the past were not present and allowed people to just make something new up along the way.

Robert Zeps: Absolutely, I think you evolve your martial arts to the context and the culture that you’re in. If you’re fighting and rolling around in speedos, that’s quite distinct from rolling around in full samurai garb. Clearly you can’t fight both ways the same. Equally you couldn’t do well in the dark ages using Brazilian jiu-jitsu against a guy on a horse with a mace. It simply wouldn’t have been practical. So it had to be modified, you have to evolve. I think Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a modern evolution of martial arts.

The FightWorks Podcast: Let’s come back to the present a little bit. Tell us a little bit more about yourself then I want to jump into Metamoris. You said you’ve been training with Nelson Monteiro and Ralek. Three rapid fire questions for you: what belt are you, what’s your favorite submission, and do you prefer gi or no-gi?

Robert Zeps: [laughs] This may get confusing. I have a purple belt with three stripes from Nelson. I have a blue belt with one stripe from the Gracie Academy. But I think that guys understand that they have a very different program up there right now where their stripes are now being tested on an entirely different curriculum. I think that’s something people should explore at the Gracie University if you have an interest. I actually enjoy gi and no-gi. I train a couple of times a week with a friend of mine Steve Gable. He’s a professional MMA fighter and a Gracie Barra black belt. We go through some basic no-gi training with punches just for fun and I enjoy it very much. But I can’t say I have a preference. I do enjoy them both. What was the third question?

The FightWorks Podcast: Which is your favorite submission?

Robert Zeps: [laughs] My favorite submission? You know I don’t know if I even have one right now. I think one of my favorite submission right now and only because it gets done to me: Nelson has this way of submitting me without choking me or arm-barring me where he just squeezes me tight from the top mount, and I tap.

The FightWorks Podcast: [laughs]

Robert Zeps: And I say it’s my favorite because it’s so unbelievably tight, and it’s not painful, it genuinely squeezes the life out of you and you want to give in. I find that very few people can do that, I’m sure. Nelson is amazing at that. I can’t do that to anybody. But I say it’s my favorite submission because when he does it to me I’m laughing aloud.

The FightWorks Podcast: While we’re on the topic of Nelson Monteiro, we’ve talked with him before on our show. He’s proven to be a character who appears once in a while in the big, big, big stage of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He had a relationship with Sheikh Tahnoon, who brought us the ADCCs, and now he’s connected with you, who are an integral part in bringing us Metamoris. What’s the likelihood of that happening twice? It’s pretty unlikely.

Robert Zeps: It is unlikely and Nelson’s told me the full story of Sheikh Tahnoon and that story is quite unbelievable, every step of it. It’s an amazing story. I don’t think people have respect for or understand where ADCC came from and some of the sacrifices that Nelson had to make to make that happen. You know, taking his wife and his daughter to Abu Dhabi without really understanding what on earth it was this guy wanted. So he really did build something quite amazing out of that. The chances of that happening twice? He is quite an individual. I think he’s one of the early architects of American jiu-jitsu. He’s one of the first people out here, way back, pre-Gracie Barra.

The FightWorks Podcast: Let’s talk about Metamoris. I know you’ve been very busy since the event on Sunday. What is the most common question you’ve been asked by the media since the event ended?

Robert Zeps: It has to be, “is there going to be another one?” And the answer is yes, there’s absolutely going to be another one. No question about it. We obviously want to do our homework and make sure we learn from everything on that last event and make sure that we can improve it in every way possible. We understood that some people had issues with the live stream. We’re trying to figure out whether that was [due to] local issues or something on our end. We had people in Afghanistan who were streaming it no problem, people in Australia with no problem, and people in London with no problem. And then again we had people in Southern California who had issues. I don’t know what technical issues they were having, We would love to make sure that those issues go away and never happen again. As for the event itself, I couldn’t have been happier. The fights went off every which way I wanted them to. I was absolutely ecstatic after every single fight. I enjoyed every single one. I didn’t see one that bothered me in any shape or form. It really couldn’t have gone better for me. I was over the moon with what happened that evening with regard to the fights. And indeed I thought the camera work was terrific. I thought Rener Gracie and Sean Peake were amazing on the commentary. I thought that really added to it. I went home that night Caleb and I watched the entire stream. I think I started at about 1 o’clock in the morning and I watched the whole thing. I was really pleased with what happened. So yes, I want to do another one.

The FightWorks Podcast: I do remember during the event after each match I would look over from the press gallery where we were and see your reaction and you had a very big smile on your face every time. I noticed you looking over at Ralek and you looked very pleased.

Robert Zeps: Very much so. My wife hasn’t seen me that happy in a long, long time. She really enjoyed watching how much fun I was getting out of it too. It was a real enjoyable night for me.

The FightWorks Podcast: What was your favorite match of the night? I know it’s hard to chose but I’m going to ask you to try.

Robert Zeps: [laughs] I have thought about that because somebody’s asked me that before. I really enjoyed what Caio [Terra] and Jeff [Glover] did. I thought what they put on was a display of jiu-jitsu. Not just technical jiu-jitsu but the playfulness they had. Showing people that you could get playful but at the same time when it got real, it was very real. I thought that match was absolutely beautiful to watch. It really was. I can’t say enough about Rafael Lovato [Jr.] too. I thought his submission was the purest, most absolutely beautiful jiu-jitsu I’ve ever seen. In an environment like this I thought that was incredible. Dean [Lister] and Xande [Ribeiro] had my heart pumping from the moment they walked on the stage. I did not know where that was going to go. To see Dean with his arm fully extended was out of control. And of course Roger [Gracie] versus Buchecha was amazing to me. I understand that a few weeks before the fight that Roger was suffering a bit. The week before he showed me he had a real bad infection and he really shouldn’t have probably taken the fight to be quite honest with you. But that’s the kind of guy that he is. He took it. And taking nothing away from Buchecha, he really put on the performance of the night. So if I had to say who I enjoyed the most, it was probably Buchecha because I really think he’s amazing. He really is. To come up and fight someone like Roger Gracie, who is your hero as a child, and do as well as he did, I was delighted to watch him.

The FightWorks Podcast: A lot of the attention after the event has been focused on the match between Ryron [Gracie] and Andre Galvao. Do you have any thoughts on that? It sounds like if there was controversy that night, it was in that match.

Robert Zeps: That’s a funny thing. I did read all the blogs about it, and obviously I was present during the comments both on the mat and at the press conference. I would definitely say that neither of them when they were speaking about what happened were particularly articulate about what their position really was. My opinion was, and I knew this going into the fight, and it was why we picked this fight, that we really wanted to take two very distinct styles of jiu-jitsu. Andre Galvao, everybody knows what he’s like. He’s aggressive, attack attack attack individual, and I knew going in that Ryron was very much the opposite style. And we discussed the idea of “let’s create a blank canvas for the fighters and let them express themselves however they want, and maybe one will come out on top and one won’t come out on top”. In many ways, it’s like comparing different types of art. You can try and compare cubism and impressionism and you can’t come up with a conclusion about which one is better. Nobody would ever suggest that one’s better than the other, and I think that night we demonstrated that Andre was very much on the attack, and Ryron was very much on the defensive but I think that was his choice. That was his style. I enjoyed every minute of it and actually Saulo [Ribeiro] came up to me after the fight and said that was his favorite fight of the night. I think people need to take a step back from the comments being made and say, “look, you watched some really good jiu-jitsu between both Ryron and Andre, who obviously we all have the utmost respect for. I thought it was a terrific fight and I thought we learned a lot from it. Obviously everybody would love to see a submission and we didn’t see a submission but you know what? Sometimes there are no submissions in jiu-jitsu. And that’s okay! I think people need to learn that that’s okay.

The FightWorks Podcast: Looking forward… I’m not sure Metamoris has a physical office anywhere, and not that it needs to, but let’s imagine that you guys were around the desk in the conference room Monday morning with some coffee and stuff, what conversation took place, if any after the dust had settled [from the event the day before]? What was that conversation like?

Robert Zeps: It’s funny because Ralek and I just met not three or four hours ago at the Gracie Academy on one of the mats in one of the private rooms. So we would roll for twenty minutes not full on, just on and off, practicing some things, we’d go after each other then we’d stop to chat about the event, then we’d fight again. So a little fun along the way. We talked about a lot of different things. We talked about all the different possibilities. Obviously we are still going to want to do a masters event. We need to get Nelson [Monteiro] and Jean Jacques [Machado] together. We were really disappointed that Nelson got injured but we’d love to see them get together and they want to. We’d love to see fights between two ladies too. I think everyone would like to see someone like a Rhonda Rousey come in and fight someone of her weight in the jiu-jitsu community, whether it’s Kyra Gracie or someone equally matched up with her. I think that could be a terrific fight. We talked about some of the other competitors that called and said they’d love to do the event. Obviously we have people like Marcelo Garcia, Rodolfo Vieira, Leo Nogueira. This list of top, top level jiu-jitsu is pretty good still. The question is “how do you put those guys together?” I think that for the fights we had in ours, the fights were well-matched and in the next event we’d like to get a lot of well-matched fights again that people would take an interest in and want to see, to step back and view them on the canvas to express their jiu-jitsu in an unconfined manner in the way that we saw it on Sunday. We sat and talked about those things and we’re going to go out tonight and we’re going to talk some more.

The FightWorks Podcast: There are a couple of things that I think would be good to express to the audience because not everybody was in the press conference or may have heard in the meantime but in terms of things you might do differently next time, I noticed in the press conference that you made an explicit point of saying “we did not intentionally schedule this event on the same day as the Abu Dhabi [submission grappling] qualifiers in San Diego”. I just wanted to make that explicit for you.

Robert Zeps: Yeah, and I think Caleb that that’s a problem we’re going to have no matter what. Whenever we try and put an event together I can almost guarantee there’s going to be another event on the same day or the same weekend. There’s so many jiu-jitsu events going on these days. When we originally picked the day, I think we originally had picked the week before that, and there was some scheduling issue that week so we moved it to the following Sunday and we weren’t even aware of the ADCC trials at that time. It’s not that we didn’t know they were happening, but we didn’t know they were on that date. Once [our] date was picked, once we’d signed with the university to get the San Diego State Arena it’s very difficult to start messing around with venues and production company availability. So we weren’t overjoyed about having it on the same day as ADCC but sometimes that’s just going to happen.

The FightWorks Podcast: I think there are those in the community who are guardedly ecstatic about Metamoris. I think there are folks who have been around a while and are familiar with things like Rickson Gracie’s Budo Challenge back in 2005, and the Professional Submission League put on an event or two in 2007 I believe. And they have a lot in common with Metamoris. The problem with those is that we don’t hear from them anymore. I think the concern is, “how excited should we get?” Are we going to be disappointed if in the end [Metamoris] was just a one or two time thing? I think people are concerned about sustainability. I guess that’s you guys’ challenge right, is to make sure that it works.

Robert Zeps: That’s absolutely right. We’re challenged to make sure there’s sponsors to support the event and to make sure that the fans support the event. They did a great job on the live stream. We had a lot of support there, which was terrific. Obviously I look to expand that. I think we’re in a slightly different time as well, Caleb. I really do believe that jiu-jitsu has evolved a fair amount and I think the world has evolved in terms of access to content. I think the availability to live stream is becoming easier, and simpler, and cheaper. I think that makes it more likely that people will put events on. I think that the television companies like the Fuels and MTV2s are looking for this kind of content too, which I don’t think they were five years ago. So I’m hoping that we can convert some of the excitement that we have in Metamors into legitimate commercial excitement as well and I actually do have some signals that that is indeed the case. It’s my job to make sure that I can manage that strategically and I will commit to the fans that that is what I will be doing in the next year and two years: making sure that we can really make this happen. I really want to see this happen. It’s not just about financials for me. This is something that I’m enjoying doing. It makes me feel really good to know that people are excited about it. I would implore the fans to look at the fights and say, “Enjoy it, educate yourselves on the fights, educate yourselves about jiu-jitsu”. The more education you have about jiu-jitsu the more you’re going to enjoy the fights, quite frankly. Move away from trying to look at the fights as trying to see a winner and a loser. At the end of the day for me it was all about, “can we see a beautiful exhibition of jiu-jitsu?”, and I think we did. I’m not too worried about who submitted who. I think we all enjoy that but that’s less of a consequence to me than making sure that we’re putting on a great show. As a promoter I want to make sure that people enjoy it. We want to expand the demographic to people who maybe don’t understand what’s going on in a jiu-jitsu match. [We’ll] hopefully educate them and expand this great, great sport in America.

The FightWorks Podcast: Any last words before we let you go?

Robert Zeps: No, but thank you Caleb for your support. It’s been terrific. I can honestly tell you, this is not all about money for me. This is about jiu-jitsu. I know people hear that from a lot of promoters, but I can promise you from the bath I took on the first event that this is about jiu-jitsu, not about money. So there will be a second one for sure.

Don’t Go to Rio for BJJ Without Consulting the RioJiuJitsuGuide

Collage of Brazilian jiu-jitsu academies in Rio de Janeiro. Images courtesy Aaron Sundquist.

In 2009 we interviewed Aaron Sundquist, an American who had travelled to Brazil and had the luxury of spending 6 months in Rio de Janeiro. During that time he trained lots of jiu-jitsu and even had the opportunity to learn from the legendary Terere. Three years have gone by and Sundquist has now made Rio his residence. He’s still training jiu-jitsu and his restless brain compelled him to build RioJiuJitsuGuide.

Sundquist offered to discuss RioJiuJitsuGuide here on the site. Because we find it very hard to resist data and even harder to resist data about Brazilian jiu-jitsu, we took him up on his offer.

The FightWorks Podcast: What is the RioJiuJitsuGuide?

Aaron Sundquist: RioJiuJitsuGuide.com takes first-hand information about Jiu-Jitsu in Rio de Janeiro and makes that information available to people all over the world. We provide the actionable information people need to decide when, how and where to train Jiu-Jitsu in Rio. We regularly publish free articles and the free annual Rio Jiu-Jitsu Ranking, which this year scored and ranked 23 academies in Rio de Janeiro across four categories: price, convenience, facilities, and competitive performance. Last, we offer a paid product–the Rio Jiu-Jitsu Guidebook–a Lonely Planet of sorts for Jiu-Jitsu in Rio. It includes very detailed profiles, pictures and maps for over 20 academies. We hope our paid product will help cover the ongoing costs of producing all our free content, especially the annual Ranking.

The FightWorks Podcast: There are dozens of jiu-jitsu schools in Rio. How did you decide which schools to feature in the RioJiuJitsuGuide?

Aaron Sundquist: Indeed, there’s no shortage, which makes Rio a great testing ground for this kind of project. Schools had to meet one essential criterion to be featured in the Ranking and the Guidebook–they had to operate an “open-door” policy. That means we excluded any invitation-only schools and schools available to members-only associations. We established this criterion for two reasons. First, to respect the privacy of invitation-only instructors who prefer to keep a low profile. And, second, to ensure that we were providing useful and actionable information to our readers. If a school isn’t open to the general public, then our readers can’t access it, and therefore any information about the school isn’t very useful. For these reasons, we excluded two schools out of 25, leaving us with a total of 23 in the 2012 Ranking. We’ll continue to use this criterion as we add more schools to next year’s Ranking.

The FightWorks Podcast: Why would someone invest in the Guidebook if they can just look it all up online?

Aaron Sundquist: That’s a good question, but one with an easy answer–you can’t look it all up online because it’s not there. The Guidebook, our paid product, was created to fill a massive information gap about training in Rio generally and academies in Rio specifically. Only a few schools have websites and any other information available online is either very basic, outdated, in Portuguese, or all of the above. At best, you can find an address, but even then, two-thirds of schools don’t have a sign on the street. The information we provide is information that can be obtained only by physically visiting the academies (and getting lost trying to find them). In short, we’ve done all of the hard work so people arrive in Rio with the Guidebook’s extremely detailed academy profiles, like this one for BTT. The end result? Less time lost, more time on the mat. Of course our paid product isn’t for everyone, but it helps to cover the costs of producing free content, including our regular articles and the annual Rio Jiu-Jitsu Ranking.

The FightWorks Podcast: How did the school owners of the jiu-jitsu academies in Rio react when you informed them of your plans?

Aaron Sundquist: Honestly, even I didn’t know what my plans were. At the time, I could only vaguely describe the goals of my work–to collect a standard set of information from academies and raise awareness about the landscape of Jiu-Jitsu in Rio in general. They probably thought I was crazy and forgot me soon after. You never know where a project this big is going to take you, you only know that you have to start in order to finish. The first step was collecting the data. With no data there was no story to tell. The final outcome of the data collection work (the annual Ranking and the Guidebook) came somewhat as a surprise even to me. And I’m certain it will be a surprise to the academies as they learn about it. That said, the Ranking and the Guidebook aren’t just useful tools for people who want to train in Rio. They also serve as a very affordable industry report for owners of academies. They can see their strong points, identify opportunities for improvement, and compare price points relative to other academies. In the end, our role is that of an objective observer, not a subjective critic, and I hope that academies will appreciate that and see they stand to benefit. Fortunately, there’s some good news for everyone, each academy has a strong point.

The FightWorks Podcast: You must have learned a lot about the Rio jiu-jitsu scene in preparing this work. Any surprises?

Aaron Sundquist: The level of accessibility to high-profile academies and high-profile athletes in Rio still absolutely blows my mind. There are some places in Rio where, if dropped by parachute, you could be within walking distance of three or four legendary academies, all of them with open (but probably unmarked) doors. During the work for the 2012 Ranking I very accidentally met Alexandre Paiva, Murilo Bustamente, Jose Aldo, Ricardinho Vieira, De la Riva, Maycon Andrietta, Luis Carlos Manimal, Rolker Gracie, Jefferson Moura, Grand Masters Osvaldo Alves and Paulo Mauricio Strauch, among many others. Maybe they were just amused by a gringo speaking Portuguese, but everyone was overwhelmingly approachable and down to earth. I trained at almost all the academies featured in the Ranking and the Guidebook and, at times, it was a little sad to move on to the next academy to continue the project. It’s really a great community and not the ego-fest that it’s sometimes perceived as.

The FightWorks Podcast: Don’t most jiu-jitsu students simply choose which school to visit based on their school affiliation or the recommendation of their own local instructor?

Aaron Sundquist: Some students certainly do, and if so then that’s the best place to start. But visiting just one school in Rio would be like going to a car show and just looking at one car. You’re already there, why not stretch your legs a little? The real advantage of coming to Rio is the level of access to a huge variety of high-profile academies in a small geographic space. These are the academies that brought the sport to the level it is today. And after crossing the world to arrive in Rio, it would seem a pity to not venture out, pay homage and learn their stories first hand. Because without them, you might not be wearing a gi today. I recommend people set up a home base for regular training and then try to visit at least four or five different academies in order to experience the different training styles and meet some of the greats. Fortunately, about half of academies offer at least three training sessions per day, so it’s easy to work in some cross-training.

The FightWorks Podcast: Does the RioJiuJitsuGuide offer Rio travel tips that aren’t jiu-jitsu related?

Aaron Sundquist: No. We maintain a very narrow focus with our content, which is oriented toward the information needs of our audience. In other words, if it’s not helpful to someone who wants to train or who is training in Rio, then it doesn’t go on the website. That said, we do publish articles about broader topics (visa issues, public transportation, safety, gi care in Brazil, etc.), but they all tie back to Jiu-Jitsu in Rio and getting the reader to the mat. People will have to look elsewhere for a list of Rio’s hottest nightclubs.

The FightWorks Podcast: Anything else we should know about the RioJiuJitsuGuide?

Aaron Sundquist: Sure, looking forward, during the first three months of 2013 we’ll be doing the leg work for the 2013 annual Rio Jiu-Jitsu Ranking, visiting old schools to update information and visiting at least 7 new schools for the first time. The Guidebook will include the new and updated profiles immediately, but the Ranking will not be published until mid-2013. Other than that, feel free to contact us with questions or comments at Contact@RioJiuJitsuGuide.com

Injury Incidence at the IBJJF 2012 Masters-Seniors World Championships 

Ethan Kreiswirth (center) and his assistant examine jiu-jitsu athlete Roberto Satoshi at the 2011 Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship. All photos courtesy Alicia Anthony.

by Ethan Kreiswirth

On Sunday the 2012 Masters-Seniors World Championships was held in Long Beach, California. The event saw over 1000 competitors aging from 30 years of age and upwards. Injury data was collected among competitors and included belt, gender, body injury location, and mechanism of injury (how the injury occurred). As in past, the medical area was adjacent to all mats for constant observation. Data collection was collected via four Certified Athletic Trainers (ATC) three Physical Therapists (DPT) and one PhD. Referees were informed that any potential injury was to have the medical team summoned to the mat, and or have the fighter report to the medical area for injury assessment and initial treatment.

In 2011, injury incidence data was collected, along with a pre event medical questionnaire to gather baseline characteristics of a fighters’ previous injury history, days’ per week of training, injury locations, along with a multitude of other questions regarding musculoskeletal injury. After analysis, data suggested that BJJ fighters who suffered a previous injury of any joint in the body were three times more likely to incur an injury at a large scale BJJ event. Additional outcomes of the 2011 study revealed that blue belt, in addition to the elbow joint, suffered the highest rate of injury incidence in comparison to other belt and joints. Lastly, there were no statically significant differences among gender with respect to joint related injury.

As a comparison, injury incidence data were collected at the 2012 Master-Senior event to identify injury differences among the two groups. While the 2011 event saw an increased incidence of lower belt ranks, the Master-Senior event discovered that higher level belts (Purple/Brown) reported more to the medical area. While the elbow joint was the most injured during the Worlds in 2011 due to the arm bar, the Master-Senior event saw a multitude of non-specific low back spasm, muscle strains and exhaustion, in comparison to direct trauma of a specific joint. As BJJ is novel in its approach to submit an opponent with joint locks, thus incurring a potential injury, the older fighter of the Master-Senior event suffered injuries that were not associated with submission.

Jiu-jitsu competition injury
A jiu-jitsu competitor receives medical attention.

Though there are a multitude of assumptions a reader could take from these observations, most BJJ fighters may agree that the sport of BJJ can be an injurious sport as training days, length of practice, and age increase. Interestingly, original data collection reported that two-thirds of all surveyed fighters reported a previous history while training, competing, or both. These data drive the assumption that the more one trains the risk of injury increases. Further assumptions of data comparisons may be that as we age, injury compensation, in addition to, early fatigue may be associated with injury. Theoretically, older BJJ fighters may not train at competitive levels as younger fighters. An older fighter has additional responsibilities, i.e., family, job, head of household, that may lead to the under development of proper conditioning for a large scale BJJ event.

Future data collection of comparative data, in addition to injury incidence in training setting, may shed light on injuries patterns and relative risk. Planning to reduce risk of injury is paramount to the success and further education within the sport.

Dr. , PhD, ATC of “Kreiswirth Sports Medicine Systems” is the Medical Director for the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation. Dr. Kreiswirth is a Black Belt in BJJ and has provided medical coverage BJJ events since the late 1990s. For additional research of BJJ injury incidence, the article entitled “Incidence of Injury among Male Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Fighters at the 2009 Worlds No-Gi Championships” is under review in Journal of Athletic Training. Additional research of the 2011 Worlds will be submitted for publication in 2013. For correspondence regarding BJJ Research, please contact ekreiswirth@gmail.com

#251 BJJ Gi Survey!

You spend a lot of time on the mats. It’s what Brazilian jiu-jitsu people do. You also may spend a lot of money to train BJJ. For example, we know that even two years ago more than half of the people who train were paying more than $100 per month for classes!

In the same way you want to make sure you get the most value for your training dollars, you want to also know that the gi you buy is going to give you exactly what you expected. Gis are expensive too, right? And the average price of a gi seems to be going up every year though many would probably say that the quality of the average gi is not changing very much.

Luckily there is someone very passionate about gathering information about gis out there. Aesopian, aka Matt Kirtley, began collecting information about jiu-jitsu practitioners’ opinions in 2009. And he’s now collecting data again!

This week on the “audio home of Brazilian jiu-jitsu”, we’ll speak with Matt and learn a little about this year’s gi survey, including:

  • why you should participate
  • how long it takes
  • what’s new in this year’s survey
  • what we can expect to learn from it


Even if you never get a chance to listen to today’s show, it’s important to take the 5 minutes and participate in the survey. Knowledge is power, so help make the jiu-jitsu community stronger by sharing your information in his survey!

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#239 Injury Rates and Types in Sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Ethan Kreiswirth

Romulo Barral knee injury BJJ
Ethan Kreiswirth (far left) and a member of his staff work on the knee injury of Gracie Barra’s Romulo Barral at the 2010 BJJ World Championship. Photo courtesy cohost Dan.

Come on, admit it: part of you has always wondered exactly how dangerous Brazilian jiu-jitsu might be. How does it compare with other activities you might do? Is it more likely that you’ll get injured doing BJJ or soccer? How about BJJ and basketball, or football, wrestling, or judo, or…?

Today on the show we are going to look at the beginning of research aimed at answering those questions, because at the moment, we simply do not know. Ethan Kreiswirth is the Director of Athletic Training Education at Concordia University, Irvine and a brown belt in BJJ. If you’ve ever attended an International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation event in Southern California, you’ve seen Kreiswirth and his team of injury specialists attend to athletes who get hurt.

Kreiswirth has begun compiling data on the types and rates of injuries that he encounters at these BJJ competitions so more can be learned about exactly what types of injuries are most common, among what age groups, genders, and so on. His research will even continue at the upcoming 2011 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championship (if you are asked to answer a few questions about injuries during the registration process, please answer them!).

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The following is published with Kreiswirth’s permission.


Kreiswirth, EM*, Myer GD*†, Rauh, MJ*: * Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, Provo, Utah † Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

Context: Submission wrestling (SW) is a modern combat martial art that employs joint locks during competition to submit an opponent and achieve match victory. This martial art is a gateway sport for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) which is a relatively young but popular combat sport worldwide. Due to it relatively new infrastructure there is currently limited injury incidence data available for SW or MMA. While SW has gained international attention in the martial arts community, little is known of the impact of injury in this sport. Since its inauguration in the United States in 1990, SW and its relevance to mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in America, with a consistent 100% annual increase in online interest. SW tournaments are growing rapidly worldwide in which thousands participate each year. SW may provide a preview of joint injury patterns we might expect in future SW and MMA competitions.
Purpose: The purpose of the current investigation was to determine the cumulative injury incidence sustained at an international level SW tournament, and to evaluate the risk of injury by belt rank and body region. Design: Prospective cohort Setting: 2009 Worlds No-Gi Championship. Patients or Other Participants: 951 male athletes aged 18 to 50 years old enrolled to compete in the 2009 No-Gi Championships. Participants were categorized into belt graduation levels for group comparisons (belt rank progression level: blue [least experienced], purple, brown, and black [most experienced]). Interventions: A reportable injury was defined as any joint injury that occurred during competition for which an athlete received any level of care from the on-site medical staff. Other injuries reported such as back, rib, head, fingers, and skin injuries were also recorded but were not included in the analysis. Data which met the inclusionary criteria were categorized by joint (elbow, shoulder, knee, and ankle) and aggregated. Group data were evaluated by rate ratios and 95% confidence intervals (CI). Main Outcome Measure: Incidence rates (IR) per 1000 athletic exposures (AEs) and rate ratios (RR) per belt rank Results: During the tournament there were 1606 recorded AE and 58 total reported injuries. Of these injuries, 40 were joint-related for an overall IR of 24.9 /1000 AEs. The joint IR for each specific belt rank was 21.5/1,000 AEs, 21.3/1,000 AEs, 25.2/1,000 AEs, and 35.1/1,000 AEs for blue, purple, brown, and black, respectively. No significant differences were found for RR of joint injury between individual belt groups (p>0.05). In addition, while the more experienced (brown/black belts) competitors had a higher injury risk compared to the less experienced (blue/purple) competitors, the difference was of borderline significance, RR 1.65, 95% CI:0.9 to 2.9, p=0.06). The incidence of joint injury was highest at the knee (7.5/1000 AEs) and elbow (7.5/1000 AEs).
Practical Applications: The data from this SW tournament suggest that the risk of joint injury is similar for belt rank/experience during SW competition. In terms of injury prevention planning, the data suggest the need to examine why the rates of joint injury are highest at the knee and elbow in efforts to minimize their occurrence. Future investigation of injury incidence is warranted to identify and understand mechanism of injury in SW, in addition to reduce potential risk factors attributed to injury.

Last Chance to Participate in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Research

The path to black belt is rewarding. Here, Gracie Barra black belts at a graduation ceremony.

Back in episode number 193 of our show we introduced Alex Rosenstein, a graduate student in psychology who is working on his thesis. He is comparing personality traits among Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners and the general population. His research will help us understand how much BJJ helps us become better versions of ourselves. We all feel like BJJ makes us happier and healthier, but this investigation will quantify how much that is true (if at all!).

Rosenstein will stop collecting data at the end of this month, so please, if you have not already, please participate in his study by taking his online survey. It will only take about a half hour and you’ll be contributing to a better understanding of what Brazilian jiu-jitsu is!

#193 Rolles Gracie, 2010 BJJ Training Goals, BJJ Research

Rolles Gracie BJJ
Rolls Gracie celebrates a victory at the 2007 ADCCs. Image courtesy Rolles Gracie.

After a long annual winter hibernation, The FightWorks Podcast is back! Our first episode of 2010 will help you shake off the holiday lethargy and return to the mats to train Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

We start off with a conversation with combat athlete trainer extraordinaire and author Martin Rooney. Martin is the author of the popular Training for Warriors and Rooney will give you specific steps to make sure that you don’t let the new year pass you by. If you follow Martin’s advice 2010 will be a great year for your BJJ and physical training.

Next we will speak with Rolles Gracie. Rolles runs his own academy in Holmdel, New Jersey and can often be found in Renzo Gracie’s Manhattan academy. He recently caused some ripples in the BJJ community when it was announced that he awarded a black belt in jiu-jitsu to Rashad Evans, who does not come from a jiu-jitsu background. (Got an opinion? Share it in our poll). Rolles will discuss his reasoning for giving Evans his black belt, and we will also talk about Rolles’ upcoming UFC debut at UFC 109 in February.

Finally we will introduce the work of Alex Rosenstein, a fellow jiu-jitsu practitioner and psychology researcher who is investigating the positive effects that training jiu-jitsu has on a person. Like fellow BJJ researcher Bryan Hogeveen, Rosenstein’s important work will help us understand why jiu-jitsu is so good for people. Please participate in his work by taking this short online survey!

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#154 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Public Schools, BJJ Research, & More From the Helio Gracie Ceremony in Torrance

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy Torrance California
Gracie family members from the Gracie Academy in Torrance, from left to right: Rener, Reylan, Rorion, Ralek, and Ryron.

A few weeks ago I get an email:

I’m a big fan of the show been listening for a while now and have just recently started mt Jiu Jitsu journey.  I was wondering if you could ever see Jiu Jitsu becoming a High School sport?  I know that it could be a little dangerous but so is any sport. Just wanted your thoughts.


So, in a recent episode I answered the question to the best of my shallow knowledge about public education. Shortly afterwards I find out that there actually is already formalized Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes being taught in California! In this episode we will speak with Esaul Viramontes, the physical education teacher and Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt who teaches jiu-jitsu at Highland High School in classes that count toward students’ physical education requirements!

Speaking of Brazilian jiu-jitsu’s growing presence in popular culture, we will also speak with Bryan Hogeveen, a sociologist at the University of Alberta in Canada. Hogeveen is initiating research on Brazilian jiu-jitsu culture that will culminate in a book. His goals are to answer some basic questions about Brazilian jiu-jitsu that we think we know but have never been formally investigated.

Part of Hogeveen’s research will be based on information provided by BJJ practitioners out there, and he invites you to participate by filling out the surveys here:

Finally, we’ll round out this episode with some audio that I have from the Helio Gracie Ceremony in Torrance that took place on February 7. Throughout this past week I have posted a few BJJ videos from the event, but I had some extra audio that I thought you’d enjoy as well. In the clip that is in this episode of our BJJ podcast, you’ll hear from Rener Gracie, who share memories of his grandfather Helio Gracie.

Don’t forget that we still have the gi patch photo contest underway! Entries must be provided to us by February 25th!

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