Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: A Growing Sport
What started as a form of self-defense martial arts became a sport that Americans watch passionately. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is no longer a sport typically limited to athletes, as more Americans are interested in learning BJJ in gyms.
Counting the number of gyms from Yelp, an online directory, 19.8% of combat sports gyms in the United States provide Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training. This shows that BJJ is easily the second most popular martial arts sport in the U.S., next to boxing.
Interestingly, as the name implies, Jiu-Jitsu was originally from Brazilian brothers who started a different, unique form of self-defense. This self-defense system called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu made its way to the United States, bringing a new combat sport that Americans now either follow through events or learn the various techniques.
BJJ’s popularity in the United States is evident in the number of gyms, streaming platforms, tournaments, and Internet searches. One of the top streaming channels for BJJ events, FloGrappling, has an impressive growth from 2017 to 2020. As of the time of this writing, FloGrappling averages a 1.75% growth in subscriber count every 30 days.
If you also look at Internet searches, the upward slope in Google Trends visualizes the growing interest of BJJ over time in the United States. Averaging less than 20 from 2004 and reaching up to 100 search interest in recent years, BJJ in the United States has entered peak popularity.
With Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu steadily increasing throughout the years, you may be wondering: how and when did Americans embrace this form of martial arts from Brazil? Let’s dig deeper.
When Did BJJ Become Popular?
Jiu-Jitsu’s Roots in the 1990s
Rorion and Carley Gracie brought the Brazilian culture of combat fighting style on a mat to U.S. soil. To share the Jiu-Jitsu skills with a growing number of interested Americans, Steve Maxwell, Rorion’s student, opened the Maxercise academy in 1990.
This gym was the first jiu-jitsu approved gym in the U.S. and it opened in Philadelphia. The Maxercise academy reached around 250 grappling students this time. Steve also went on to organize tournaments in the Tri-State Area as demand for competitions increased.
Tournaments in the 2000s
BJ Penn further escalated America’s involvement in BJJ when he became the first American athlete to win a black belt title in the 2000 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship. He also went on to win titles in other weight classes. However, what headlined the recognition of BJJ in the United States was when the IBJJF or International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation transferred their headquarters to the U.S.
The IBJJF moving to the U.S. brought on a lot of talented BJJ athletes from Brazil, which also increased the number and quality of BJJ skills-sharing to the Americans. IBJJF opened up more opportunities for Americans to learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from experts in the sport.
Nowadays, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu isn’t a mere form of self-defense. For some Americans, it’s their way of life, and they value the discipline that martial arts bring to their lives. So why BJJ? What contributed to its popularity as a growing sport in the United States?
Why Has BJJ Become So Popular?
A Fun Way To Learn Self-Defense
With so many grappling techniques to learn from, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu makes learning self-defense martial arts more enjoyable. The sport combines skills, physical ability, and creative maneuver, which BJJ practitioners and aficionados find entertaining.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu requires physical and mental aptitude, making the self-defense activity more dynamic than relying on pure strength. Learning BJJ is not even limited to self-defense only. BJJ practitioners lead a healthier lifestyle by becoming fit due to physical activity.
The Sport Spans Ages
Unlike other sports, which require a peak age to master, BJJ is a sport that anyone can learn regardless of age. BJJ does not depend on brute force but strategic fighting ability. Thus, kids can start learning at a young age while those in their prime years can still execute moves.
Mat training can start anywhere from three-year-olds to even 50-year-olds. The practical way of beating an opponent by identifying strategic weak points makes BJJ an encouraging martial arts sport that anyone can start learning BJJ..
A Close-Knit Community
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has some of the most dedicated fans who follow professional athletes and watch events. These fans spur eager discussions about the sports and their favorite athletes. Various areas in the U.S. organize local tournaments and practitioners who share their BJJ knowledge in local gyms.
Those learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu inside local gyms also make friends and widen their social circles. While doing mat training, they connect and interact with individuals passionate about the sport.
Increasing Media Coverage
As more BJJ fans tune it to watch BJJ fights, the media also caught up to the frenzy. Cable channels started streaming BJJ tournaments. UFC, for instance, has a UFC Fight Pass to watch BJJ fighting events. There’s also FloGrappling from FloSports, which streams live BJJ events, news, and other content. Adding more entertainment is “The New Star” – a Jiu-Jitsu reality TV show. Even in social media, Americans flock on to various forums like Facebook groups and Reddit discussions to connect with like-minded BJJ aficionados.
This media exposure contributed to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu becoming one of the top sports to watch in the U.S. They don’t only cover championship fights. These channels also include other related events, press conferences, interviews with athletes, BJJ training tips, and anything BJJ-related they feed to the American audience.
Championship Tournaments and Events
The viewership of BJJ tournaments on the UFC Fight Pass medium propelled Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as an enticing sport that Americans want to watch. Established names in BJJ like Robert Drysdale, Nate Diaz, Bruno Malfacine, and many others train jiu-jitsu professionally as rabid fans watch out for these prized fights. Americans tune in to these skilled BJJ athletes, and with different weight divisions, there’s always an event that they can watch.
There’s also the Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) and Fight2Win (F2W), which hosts BJJ tournaments and invites rising stars in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, watched by tons of fans in the United States.
Aside from these regulated and professionally-recognized championship tournaments, even various cities and states in the U.S. hold their fight events. Organizations such as the American Grappling Federation or the North American Grappling Association hold events across different states in the United States. Some have localized annual fighting events on a state or city level. Fans can look forward to a calendar full of match-ups between up-and-coming BJJ athletes trying to make a name in the now-famous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu sport.
Growing Demand = More Avenues To Learn BJJ
The popularity of BJJ in the U.S. resulted in more local gyms where Americans can learn the sport. BJJ has become one of the fast-growing niche martial arts sports in the United States.
IBJJF, the primary organization that oversees Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training, has over 304 IBJJF academies registered and approved in the United States. This does not account for other unregistered training gyms that also provide BJJ instructions.
There’s a local BJJ training gym in almost every major city in the United States. Even fitness gyms provide not only boxing sessions. They also include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training sessions for interested individuals. Local fitness and sports gyms are not limited to at least one type of martial arts or self-defense training, as they now have BJJ sessions to meet the growing demand for the sport.