Jiu-Jitsu Hurts! The Flip Side Of The 'Gentle' Art

Calling jiu-jitsu the ‘gentle art’ is a classic case of meaning lost in translation. Anyone who has been utterly destroyed by a legitimate BJJ wizard can attest to the fact that there is nothing gentle about the experience. Real jiu-jitsu hurts – a lot. 

By Daniel Bertina

Why the 'Gentle' Art?

The confusion stems from the following traditional tale, used to express the meaning of the character “ju” in jiu-jitsu (or jūjutsu, to use the closest spelling to the Japanese original): 

The supple branches of the willow tree do not break by the force of the raging storm. They embody “ju”. They are gentle, soft, flexible, pliable or yielding. They don’t fight power with power but flow with the opposing force.
That’s a smart move by the willow tree. 

But now let that subtle idea soak through a couple of hundred years of brutal feudal warfare and combine it with Jigoro Kano’s revolutionary judo creed: maximum efficiency, minimal effort. 

Then let’s take a handful of Japanese fighters breaking arms all over the world, doing a bit of training with Western catch wrestlers along the way, and allow them to end up with the Gracie family and cohorts in wild and lawless Brazil. A perfect storm that allowed the brutal moves we feature below to come into existence. 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu made me appreciate reggae and acai. The art is surrounded by a pervasive, mellow vibe even at adrenalin-charged tournaments. It’s an international brotherhood, by all accounts a very “ju”-thing. 

But there’s also a dark side to the force, especially when the maxim of ‘maximum efficiency, minimal effort’ gets applied by a fighter with a sadistic streak the size of the Sea of Japan. That’s when you get the following five soul crushing techniques. 

The Knee-on-Neck Choke From Hell


I have been wrecked by this position. Not by Cyborg himself – thank God – but by a friend. It’s essentially one of the most humiliating chokes in the art. You feel like you’re being crushed like a bug, as your opponent is almost standing on your neck. Since it’s a reverse version of regular knee ride, which is a very dynamic position, it requires very good balance and constant adjustment to counter any desperate hip escapes or bridges. In my case, resistance was pointless. Once my partner pulled up on the far arm I was done. I can’t imagine the damage a guy like Cyborg can cause with this. 

Roger Gracie’s Mounted Cross Choke of Doom


One cannot write an article on torturous jiu-jitsu without addressing Roger Gracie’s mounted cross choke. It’s the King’s Game, a sequence of moves he does on anyone, everyone, anywhere, everywhere. Lorenzo Fraquelli, a black Belt under Roger, explains how it feels getting mounted and choked by the man. 

The crazy thing is Roger doesn’t actually try and torture me, it just naturally happens. He does what he does and it has almost always ends with the mount. I have rolled with other great fighters, but none have compared to that simplest of games that Roger has.
 “The first time I ever rolled with Roger as a purple belt. In side control he was strangely relaxed. On the other hand, I could not breathe whatsoever. I could do nothing at all to stop [the mount]. The pressure was double of what I just felt in side control.”

No More Mr Nice Guy: Marcelo’s Choke of Utter Pain


Then there’s Marcelo Garcia, one of the all-around nicest guys in jiu-jitsu, but also the man who’s been consistently choking out opponents with his evil application of the rear naked choke. One of variations is the one-handed choke in combination with a crucifix, a brutal double attack. Kari Gunnarsson , black belt with BJJ Globetrotters, talks about getting wrecked by Marcelo: 

When I met Marcelo I was definitely star-struck. Roughly 80% of my game is from MGInAction, since I don't have an instructor. So I’ve probably watched more hours of footage of Marcelo than most people have of Tom Cruise or other Hollywood stars.
“The last time I rolled with him, I had just seen that highlight video of him decapitating all those poor guys. When he caught my back and was grinding his hand in place, I was thinking ‘Well, I can really relate to them now’.” 

“What I noticed the most is just how good he is at getting that choking hand in. I have no idea how he does it, been trying to figure it out. It's pretty miserable to be there, but it's not just a pain move – he doesn't grind your face until you just give it up, his hands just pop under your chin so easily, and then from there he snake-walks his hand across your throat until it's locked in.” 

The Soul Destroying Stack Pass-Choke Combo


When you combine an old-school pass with a bread cutter choke, you get the signature move of black belt European Masters silver medallist Simon Hayes of Carlson Gracie London. Simon has been choke-smashing people all over Europe for years, like black belt Guillaume ‘Gile’ Huni of BJJ Eastern Europe and Kimura Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Serbia. 

I was a purple belt when Simon first did this devastating technique to me. He is a master of this pass, and has been refining it for years. He nails everybody with it. The strange thing is, Simon actually baits the triangle by putting his right arm inside the opponent’s legs. First time I thought that I was going to catch him for sure. Next thing I remember is: ‘Oh shit! Tap!’
 “Simon is a master at placing his body in such a way that he’s already working the pass before you can close your feet, making the triangle impossible. Then he pushes your hips and all your bodyweight straight down right into his choking hand. That’s just plain nasty. To my surprise, he told me later that he learned this technique as a white belt from none other than Royce Gracie.”

The Wicked Wristlock That Makes You Whimper


Of all the sadistic techniques in jiu-jitsu, the mao de vaca (the Portuguese name for the wristlock) is one of the most evil, painful and potentially damaging. By applying maximum leverage and pressure (two attacking arms and driving power from the hips) against a very fragile, immobile joint (the opponent’s wrist), the mao de vaca truly represents the dark side of the force. Multiple-time world champ Fredson Paxiao is a true master of this submission. Black belt Pete ‘the Greek’ Letsos of Chicago survived Fredson’s wristlocks and added them to his game. 

When I trained with Fredson he was the best pound-for-pound jiu-jitsu fighter in the world. Nobody could stop his wristlocks.
 “Training with him at the academy of his master Osvaldo Alves was critical for my development. Just imagine rolling with Ronaldo Jacare, Andre Galvao, Amaury Bitetti and a few other killers for many, many hours a day. After some years we all separated and spread a lot of jiu-jitsu to the world.? 

“I lived in Brazil for years, traveled to and trained with everybody. That was very hard for a gringo at that time. Carlson Gracie sent me around in peace gathering all the best info, and would have me wristlock naughty students and instructors if they got out of line.” 

“Like Fredson, we would hunt for this submission constantly. It was part of our DNA. These days nobody knows them well, unless you’ve trained with us. Being a gringo in Brazil everyone tried to break my wrists. But I would rely on the invisible pressure game taught to me by Carlson Gracie not to get in trouble. And I survived. That’s the truth. Pressure beats the Dark Side of the Force, every time.” 

Daniel Bertina is a journalist and writer based in The Netherlands. He is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and an instructor under Marcos Flexa of Carlson Gracie Amsterdam. Follow him on Twitter

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