MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts, is a combat sport which includes many martial arts rule sets and many promotions. The most well-known is the UFC. MMA includes striking both on the feet and on the ground, as well as takedowns (typically from wrestling) and submissions. While some athletes do specialize in just one or two areas – such as striking plus takedown defense, or wrestling plus ground and pound, most MMA fighters will do some submissions and they will learn how to grapple and manage positions on the ground either through submission grappling, sambo, a form of Jiu Jitsu.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is more common in MMA than Japanese Jiu Jitsu, because of the emphasis on groundwork and sparring. Some athletes come from a 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu background because this particular style focuses on grappling without the gi. This means that the grips are different, the pace is faster, and there are more scrambles, so it is more conducive to the kind of pace seen in an MMA match.
Traditional BJJ schools focus on sparring with the gi, and this means that people can use collar grips and pant grips. The added friction of the gi allows for slower paced matches and means that weight and strength differences are less noticeable.
No-gi jiu jitsu relies more on c-clamp grips, clinches, collar ties and inside biceps grips as well as under-hooks and over-hooks. Closed guard is a popular position because of the control that it offers (although when striking is allowed it can be less advantageous), and people like to focus on either breaking posture and attempting submissions from the bottom or making space and sweeping or standing back up.
In professional MMA, slams are often allowed in the rules, and this means that people need to be mindful of things that they might not bother with in a jiu jitsu only bout. Professional MMA fighters need to be far more assertive about trying to be on top at all times and should remember that they can use the cage to ‘wall walk’ back up to standing.
Should You Train Jiu Jitsu?
If you want to be an MMA fighter, then you should look at becoming well-versed in all ranges of fighting, but you do need to try to get to a decent level of competency in at least one of them. Learning all three ranges/levels at once could be confusing and slow your progress.
Being calm and collected during standup is important and something that comes quite quickly (although getting good at standup rather than simply ‘not clearly a beginner’ takes a very long time). Wrestling is something that most Americans have exposure to at school and closing the skill gap as an adult can be hard if you are from a country where wrestling is less common.
Jiu jitsu and submission grappling have a steep learning curve. If you start Brazilian Jiu Jitsu then you can expect to take at least a year to get to blue belt level. Most amateur MMA fighters are at least blue belts in BJJ. Professional MMA fighters vary in jiu jitsu competency, with some simply being around blue belt level, but others being purple, brown or black – which are classed as advanced or elite level practitioners. If you have the time to attend some gi BJJ classes at first this will help you to get the basics. Once you are around blue belt level in the gi it is worth focusing on no-gi, with an emphasis on things like heel hooks and knee-bars, that are often less emphasized in pure sport or self-defense jiu jitsu schools.