What's In a Name?
When you first start Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the terms being thrown around can get rather confusing and intimidating. Over time you start to become more familiar with the terminology in your gym and what your professor means when he is explaining a move and tells you to use your frames, insert your hooks, shrimp etc. Then, just when you think you have finally caught up on the lingo, you attend a seminar or visit another gym and they use a completely different set of terms you have never heard! Most schools have adopted the English version of Jiu Jitsu terms, but learning the traditional names for fundamental positions can be helpful no matter where you train.
A lot of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu terms used in America are derived from Judo or Wrestling names, which can make it a bit confusing since the “official” names you hear in the gym are often Japanese and not Portugeuse. Perhaps the most important term we use on a regular basis is “Jujutsu”, which has obviously been transcribed into Portugeuse as Jiu Jitsu. The translation is “Gentle art”.
Japanese JuJutsu derived from the battlefield; when warriors would find themselves unarmed they needed a method of defense to use against the enemy to protect themselves. From there, Judo was born via Jigoro Kano as a way to throw an opponent to the ground and controlling or submitting them from there. Mitsuyo Maeda, a student of Kano’s, migrated to Brazil and introduced the sport of JuJutsu to the locals. Carlos Gracie was one of his original students, and over time began to focus mainly on the ground control portion of the sport, thus birthing the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Understanding this lineage of the different combat arts can give you a sense of why the terms are similar but seem to have a slight variation as well as how each sport branched off from the origin. Now that you have a grasp on where the language and terminology comes from, what are some basic techniques to be familiar with from a naming perspective?
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Let’s start with arms! These techniques usually include “ude”, which means arm in japanese. For example, ude garami (directly meaning entangled arms) is the technical term for an americana (or American armbar). There are 7 other original joint locks in the kansetsu-waza list, which is the Judo library of techniques. These submissions include a straight armbar, v-cross armlock, body armlock, stomach armlock, leg armlock, hand armlock, and three corner armlock. If you are attending a class or speaking to a fellow jiujiteiro about the sport and they mention anything with the term “ude” then you will be able to deduce that they are likely referring to an arm joint lock.
Other roots you can use are “ashi”, which refers to legs. This can be followed by “garami”; similar to ude garami, this refers to entanglement of the limbs. “Hiza” refers to knees, and can be applied during knee bars or another joint lock that is performed with knee pressure.
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Lastly, you can use context clues when the terms gatame, gari, or garami are included in the name of the technique in question. As we saw before, garami is a reference to an entanglement of some kind, whether that be arms or legs. Ude garami is one we have already mentioned, another would be ashi garami- guess what that one is! Gari is used when you are referencing a sweep or reap, such as osoto gari. Gatame is seen when you are discussing a pin or mat hold of some kind, such as kata gatame.
Assuming you are not planning on becoming fluent in both japanese and portuegese, how do you actually learn all of these words?! The best way would be to take them as you are exposed and boil down the roots. For example, say you are in class and someone refers to a
kesa gatame. You know that gatame means you are working with some kind of hold either from top or side, but you are unfamiliar with kesa. As you observe the demonstration you will likely realize that this is the technical term for scarf position. From then on you will also be aware that any move involving the word “kesa” has to do with that general technique as well.
Learning the jargon of any sport can take time, so don’t get frustrated when you are introduced to new versions of what a technique is called. The more you expand your exposure to different gyms, tutorials and simply spend more time on the mat will automatically advance your ability to understand the lingo. Think back to when you first started and someone told you to get into mount- did you know what that was? Learning the origin of the name for positions can be just as helpful as learning the technique, since they often explain what your body is supposed to be doing. Use the translation to you advantage and enjoy the built in lesson! Maybe one day you will be able to use your japanese and portuguese to impress someone out of the gym!
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