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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

30 October 2009

Article - BJJ in the Olympics

Article #1, by Can Sönmez

[My plan for these articles (I may not stick with that name – I'm envisioning them as more like a weekly column – but 'article' is a convenient categorisation), at least initially, is to see if I can come up with something interesting by running through topics from the FAQ, along with anything that grabs my attention from around the net (e.g., the whole Gracie University debate, which resulted in this).

I'm also going to try and restrain myself to around five hundred words, as I tend to ramble. As it's the first one, I'll cheat my own arbitrarily imposed rule: this introduction doesn't count towards the word limit. ;p


Even before the announcement that the 2016 Olympic Games would be held in Rio de Janeiro, the idea of Brazilian jiu jitsu as an Olympic sport was a popular topic for discussion among the BJJ community. So, is there actually any possibility BJJ could make it to the Olympics?

To be blunt, it's extremely unlikely. There have already been convincing arguments put forward as to why that is the case. J-Sho, perhaps the most reliable source on the internet for BJJ statistics, laid it out in depth on the thread. As per this link he provided, which details the 'Olympic Programme Commission Report To The 117th IOC Session', there are thirty-three criteria to meet before you can become an Olympic sport. BJJ falls down on quite a few of them. For example, here are five big ones:

• Television coverage
• Press coverage
• Gender equity
• Anti doping
• Universality

On top of that, there's the problem that places for new events are very limited: the IOC is trying to cut down their number, not increase them. BJJ would be competing against some of the most popular sports on the planet, while not even being officially recognised as a sport itself. Also, as J-Sho points out, further problems like domination by one country (Brazil would get a clean sweep in pretty much every weight category) and the similarity to judo are major stumbling blocks.

Ok, so BJJ has effectively no chance. Submission grappling is far better positioned, with support from FILA (and it doesn't have the name of a country in its moniker, which helps), but it's still a long way behind golf and rugby. Considering the above, why is it that all over the BJJ online community, there are people starting threads and launching petitions? Are they just ignorant of the IOC rules? Perhaps to an extent, but I think it is indicative of something more than that.

BJJers want their sport to be popular, to be acknowledged by the mainstream. They want to be able to go down the pub and talk about the Mundials instead of last nights football game. In short, we want to be accepted, just like everyone else. Imagine what Olympic status could mean: sponsorship, grass roots support from national governments, a huge increase in public's a tempting prospect.

Then again, look at taekwondo, the perfect example of a martial art ground down by its own success. In the rush to attract students and maintain profit margins, TKD became heavily diluted, losing the all-important element of 'aliveness'. Judo has fared better, because competition and randori have remained integral, so maybe BJJ would be able to follow that model. Still, there are those who feel that adaptation to Olympic strictures has had a detrimental effect on Kano's creation, the most obvious change being a focus on high amplitude throws above all else.

However, BJJers should not despair, as they can content themselves with Caleb's hopes on the Fightworks Podcast. An Olympics in Rio means global attention on everything Brazilian, with journalists ransacking the city for material.

Brazilian jiu jitsu's Olympic dreams may be ill-founded, but the arte suave nevertheless has an excellent opportunity to feature as part of Brazil's cultural heritage. So, fingers crossed that we'll get to see some high quality BJJ documentaries aimed directly at the billions of people watching the Olympic coverage.

Update Aug 2012: A greatly expanded version of this article will be appearing in issue #10 of Jiu Jitsu Style magazine

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  1. Excellent post, succinctly put - The Word on the subject, well done.

  2. Great article. My friends and I have been talking about this a lot recently. I think you're right about BJJ getting some deserved attention with the Olympics being held in Rio. I think the sport is only going to get more and more popular as time goes on. That gives us all time to get awesome so we can be in the Olympics!! (Just kidding. ;)).

  3. I think you are right. People don't realize what it takes to qualify to be a Olympic sport. With the growth of BJJ I think your right. In time it may happen but for now don't hold your breath.

  4. People are still talking about getting BJJ into the Olympics three years later. They'll no doubt get louder as Rio 2016 approaches.

    Hopefully at least a few of them will read Drew Brunning's great post on the topic: check it out here. Sound arguments.