Is there such a thing as “American Jiu-Jitsu?”

Last updated on 22.02.2021 by

Have you ever tried to explain BJJ to a friend? As they try for the third or fourth time to pronounce “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu” you might see how the words get jumbled and distorted. 

Many practitioners have taken to shortening the name to BJJ, or simply Jiu Jitsu. Although we might omit the “Brazilian” portion, it is often understood that we are all talking about the same thing. 

However, there is a concerted effort to promote American Jiu Jitsu as the standard in the United States. While it might roll off the tongue a little easier, is the label valid, or even necessary?

Who’s to say?

While it might be useful to list the opinions of several Jiu Jitsu pioneers and legends, should their take on the subject alter how the Jiu Jitsu community at large teaches and trains?

Keenan Cornelius has become the modern figurehead of the American Jiu Jitsu conversation. Although Jake Shields, further supported by the Diaz brothers, touted his wrestling focused style of Jiu Jitsu as American Jiu Jitsu years ago, Keenan’s academy Legion has seemingly transformed what was likely just a hashtag on social media into a brand.  

According to Vinicius “Draculino”Magalhães, a Carlos Gracie Jr. black belt, American Jiu Jitsu is just that, branding. His viral social media post lambasted the hair-splitting that breaks Jiu Jitsu into subcategories which seek superiority over one another.

“Know that there is only one Jiu-Jitsu and this art is vast, huge and improves everyday ( in Brazil, America, Japan, Europe, Australia, the Middle East). Embrace the new, but never forget or disrespect our roots.”

Rafael Lovato Jr., who was in contention for FloGrappling’s recent “greatest American  competitor of all time” award seems to echo that sentiment saying that, “to me, it’s just Jiu Jitsu.”

He continues by saying that the current moniker “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu” is more purposeful to make itself distinct from “Japanese Jiu Jitsu” which is taught more in the style of traditional martial arts.

What is American Jiu Jitsu

While the AJJ movement is still gaining traction, the stylistic differences that American Jiu Jitsu offers over Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are unclear. 

Perhaps one of the greatest catalysts to Jiu Jitsu’s evolution as a martial art was the UFC. Although the UFC has moved on from its “style versus style” roots, the crosspollination of several martial arts and grappling styles over the years has forced Jiu Jitsu to become more dynamic.

In order for a Jiu Jitsu focused fighter to be effective in the cage, they must maintain a more well rounded grappling game plan. Standout wrestlers such as Ben Askren, Matt Hughes, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and George St. Pierre have proven that wrestling is an essential precursor to a successful Jiu Jitsu game. 

MMA may be a different dynamic from pure Jiu Jitsu, but the modern Jiu Jitsu scene is also actively absorbing wrestling as an imperative practice. Wrestling has become all but standard in ADCC matches with Jiu Jitsu focused athletes such as Gordon Ryan and Garry Tonon adding it to their games. 

Although wrestling may not be the prime aspect of American Jiu Jitsu Keenan Cornelius, or other AJJ proponents, are pushing for, it’s clear that wrestling has transformed the Jiu Jitsu landscape. 

Keenan’s Take

Although he did not coin the term American Jiu Jitsu, Keenan Cornelius has spearheaded the movement recently. Considering his standing in the Jiu Jitsu community, he may be poised as the arbiter of what we consider AJJ. 

Is there such a thing as "American Jiu-Jitsu?" 1 Is there such a thing as "American Jiu-Jitsu?" American Jiu-Jitsu

Despite the vague nature of the term, and its seemingly random insertion into different points of Jiu Jitsu history, Keenan does give a clear, albeit pointed, definition of his version of AJJ. 

According to Legion’s website, American Jiu Jitsu has more to do with the culture and attitude  that surround the many grappling arts that are encompassed by AJJ. 

“AJJ was branded as such to represent a different approach to the sport’s culture. American Jiu-Jitsu will continue teaching and honoring traditional martial arts principles of discipline, respect, and responsibility – but will not subscribe to hero-worshiping or strict hierarchies within schools that leave students feeling lesser than their instructors.”

Considering Keenan’s departure from Atos and Andre Galvao, that mission statement may be loaded with more than just clever branding.


Without some sort of official consensus, there does not seem to be a way to quantify what American Jiu Jitsu is. However, many consider the addition of wrestling to the traditional Jiu Jitsu formula to be a noteworthy and uniquely American contribution. 

Whether you think of it as BJJ, AJJ, or JJJ (Just Jiu Jitsu), there is certainly a style that will benefit you!