In the beginning, there were no tournaments associated with the practice of Gracie (Brazilian) Jiu-Jitsu. The dangerous and unforgiving “street” fight was the only testing ground. In 1967, the first Federation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was established in order to give practitioners the opportunity to test their skills in a safe setting. The fun and excitement of competition, coupled with the prestige that accompanied tournament victories, drove the vast majority of instructors to focus entirely on preparing their students for the jiu-jitsu game. This shift away from jiu-jitsu for self defense had a profound impact on the practice of the martial art.
While nearly all Brazilian jiu-jitsu schools succumbed to the lure of tournament glory, the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy remained true to the practice of techniques that would work in a real fight. The Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy training objective was, and remains to this day, to enable practitioners to defeat an all-out attack from a larger and more athletic opponent. In comparison, the sport jiu-jitsu objective is to win against an opponent of similar size in a closely-monitored and controlled match. The fundamental philosophical difference between street self-defense and tournament competition affects all aspects of jiu-jitsu training and mindset.
Several hundred techniques will work both in a tournament match or a street fight. But, the complete Gracie Jiu-Jitsu curriculum also contains many techniques that were developed exclusively for street fight scenarios with no applicability in competition. The problem is that most Brazilian jiu-jitsu schools have totally eliminated the “street only” techniques from their programs in order to allow more training time for techniques that will lead to victory under the point-based system, rules, and weight classes of sport jiu-jitsu tournaments. This technical difference between the Gracie Academy curriculum and other Brazilian jiu-jitsu programs reflects the philosophical difference between street self-defense and sport competition and carries over to the award of belts as measures of proficiency in the system.
The Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy belt system is distinct from that of sport-oriented schools. Although the belt colors are the same, the belt qualification requirements are very different. Sport-oriented schools promote students based exclusively on their mastery of techniques that will lead to victory in a tournament setting. In most cases, sport belt holders are very comfortable in sport jiu-jitsu matches and controlled sparring sessions. However, when confronted by a larger and more athletic opponent who doesn’t play by the rules, they are often shaken by the unpredictable, violent attack and find themselves unable to respond.
At the Gracie Academy, belt promotions are based, first and foremost, on the student's mastery of the techniques that will ensure victory in a street fight. The Academy rigorously tests each student’s skills and reflexes at each stage of their training. The Gracie Academy Blue Belt Qualification Test, for example, requires students to demonstrate a high level of accuracy, efficiency, and reflexes in the execution of the most important street self-defense techniques. Because we feel that “street readiness” is our first and foremost objective, most of the techniques that we teach from white to blue belt are “street only”. As a result, a Gracie Academy blue belt will win on the street but may not fare well in a sport jiu-jitsu match. On the other hand, a sport jiu-jitsu blue belt will perform well on the mat, but may have difficulty dealing with unpredictable and chaotic circumstances of a real fight.