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Martial arts have always been part of the Olympics. Back in the days of Ancient Greece, wrestling and an early form of mixed martial arts (MMA) known as pankration were key sports. In Today there is still a wide array of different martial arts events being shown and many martial arts practitioners speculate as to whether other martial arts will join the fold. Some speculate whether the fastest-growing martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will become an official Olympic Sport.
If you’ve been living under a rock, BJJ is a submission grappling art and one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. It applies ground fighting techniques in a similar way to Judo and catches wrestling and began when globe-trotting students of Japanese Judoka, such as Mitsuyo Maeda, Soshihiro Satake, and Geo Omori landed in Brazil. There the three would impart knowledge to the likes of Carlos Gracie Sr, his brothers and other Brazilians such as Luis Franca.
Nowadays, Jiu Jitsu has a global following that’s comparable to that of wrestling and judo. It even has its own organizations which host world championships viewed by people all over the world , it would be exciting for many for the sport to become an olympic event. That being said, not everyone agrees that the gentle art would be a great addition to the world’s biggest sport event, not least the International Olympic Committee.
In this article we’re going to be looking at the possibilities of BJJ being part of the Olympics, the pros and cons of it being featured, and briefly look at other martial arts along with upcoming events.
List of Martial Arts in the Olympics
The martial arts currently being showcased at the Olympic Games include the following martial arts:
Wrestling – Arguably the oldest combat sport, wrestling involves grappling and takedowns. The art has been part of the Olympics since the days of Ancient Greece and has both freestyle and Greco-Roman categories.
Judo – The Japanese martial art of Judo was created in 1882 and has been part of the Olympics since 1964. The art emphasizes throws and grappling techniques and has an official rule set for the games designed to differentiate it from wrestling.
Taekwondo – The kick-heavy striking art form, originating from Korea, Taekwondo has been part of the Olympics since the Sydney Olympics, held in 2000
Boxing – Pugilism with amateur Duke of Queensberry rules have been part of the Olympics since 1904
Fencing – The European sword fighting discipline has been in the Olympics since the games were revived in 1896
Archery – Whilst you may not think of archery as a martial art, the practice and mastery of bow and arrow use was originally for hunting and warfare and has been included in the Olympics since the early modern games.
Karate – Karate was briefly an Olympic event, showcased in the 2020 Tokyo Games. However, whilst it will not be an Olympic competition in 2024, it is shortlisted for the 2028 event.
Is there going to be Jiu-Jitsu in the Olympics?
If you do a Google search about Jiu Jitsu in the Olympics, you might come across an article featured on the website JiuJitsuTimes. This article states that the International Olympic Committee announced s that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu will come to the 2024 games and you might find yourself incredibly excited. Unfortuantely though, this article was an April Fools Joke.
This should be proof that it’s always wise to check the source and the date of any article’s publication, especially when the information seems a little on the dubious side! Carlos Gracie Jr, the president of the IBJFF and Gracie Barra is not going to be working with the International Olympics Committee and nothing suggests he has any current plans to bring BJJ to the Olympics!
Whilst Carlos didn’t apply to have BJJ part of the Olympics, the UAEJJF (United Arab Emirates Jiu Jitsu Federation) applied to have the sport part of the 2024 Olympics. This application was rejected and this may be because the UAEJJF has close ties with the Emirates government more impartiality is required, however the sport also fails to meet many of the requirements in terms of worldwide following and various other criteria.
Unlike various other sports, Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t have a single set of rules and the major BJJ federations such as the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) will score matches differently to Abu Dhabi World Championship or SJJIF for instance. Each of these governing bodies have different owners, or individuals having a significant influence in them. For instance, Emirati Sheikh Tahnoon owns the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC), whilst Carlos Gracie Jr still has a hand in the IBJJF which he started as a means to promote his Gracie Barra gym.
All of these governing bodies are profit-orientated and conseqeuntly, there are no BJJ organizations eligible to apply for IOC recognition. However, tehere are two existing federations which could potentially introduce BJJ to the Olympics. These federations are the United World Wrestling Federation and the Ju-Jitsu International Federation, have integrated elements of BJJ into their sports catalog.
The JJIF refers to BJJ as “Newaza,” which follows black belt BJJ rules without specific belt categories. On the other hand, the UWW incorporates BJJ as “Grappling Gi,” with some variations in point scoring compared to traditional BJJ rules. These existing connections and the IOC’s inclusion of grappling in their plans for the World Cup and Continental Games open the possibility for BJJ’s inclusion in the future.
A singular set of rules would have to be established, or there would have to be multiple different formats under the BJJ umbrella. There could be both gi and no-gi events for instance, submission-only events or combat jiu-jitsu events which allow open hand slaps, similar to the Eddie Bravo rules which the American Jiu-Jitsu practitioner invented over the last decade.
Whilst some agreement could be negotiated for the rules or format, BJJ’s popularity is arguably the biggest hindrance the sport would have to get into the Olympics.
Many countries have little to no BJJ clubs and this would severely limit both the pool of athletes involved and audience members too. Jiu Jitsu is often considered a practitioner sport than a spectator sport and due to its high level of technicality making it difficult for the “uninitiated” to follow. Even for those who do train the art, BJJ matches can appear to be quite slow and uninteresting to watch and many practitioners prefer to watch MMA events, such as the UFC due to the higher intensity and varied attacks.
Jiu-jitsu’s similarity with other grappling events also works against it. Various reports suggest that the IOC is considering removing wrestling and Judo events from the Olympics due to lack of interest in these sports. As these conceptually similar events, but fail to sell enough tickets and bring significant value, it seems highly unlikely that BJJ would generate enough profit to make the cut.
When are the Next Olympics?
The next four Olympic Games will be held in the following times and locations
The 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France from July 26 to August 11
The 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan Cortina, Italy from February 6 to February 22
The 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, USA from July 21 to August 6
The 2032 Summer Olympics in Brisbane, Australia (dates not yet announced
The host city for the 2030 Winter Olympics is yet to be decided
What being in the Olympics means to the BJJ Community
Jiu Jitsu has come incredibly far as a sport since Carlos Gracie SR first began learning from Mitsuyo Maeda in the mid 1910s. A vital part of the sport’s popularity came from BJJ’s use in MMA and the various vale tudo (anything goes) challenge matches which preceded the UFC. By competing in these matches, the Gracie family showed the world how effective Gracie Jiu Jitsu could be.
Whilst it has its own big sporting events like ADCC, Polaris, and Abu Dhabi Pro, the coverage for these events is incredibly small compared to the Olympics and if it joined the likes of wrestling, the sport would be certain to grow in size.
Joining the Olympics would unlock numerous opportuniteis for BJJ in terms of the sport’s growth and development. Gyms, competitors and promotions would benefit from increased sponsorship deals and greater media coverage, particularly if they were producing Olympic-standard athletes. The increased visibility and recognition would almost undoubtedly lead to a surge in public interest, resulting in more gyms and practitioners worldwide.
Showing the world the art and giving children an Olympic dream which sees them don their first kimono and train the art all the way to black belt level would make for incredibly exciting stories.
However, such a transition would also necessitate changes to the sport. The IOC aims to make events more exciting, which could lead to alterations or the creation of new rules for Olympic BJJ. In order to make BJJ more spectator-friendly, BJJ could adopt new rules and prevent stall-tactics which often make high-level black belt events less exciting than the brown or purple belt matches of the same events. Strategies such as the widely-parodied “butt scooting” could be penalized as a way of preventing audiences from becoming disengaged.
These new rules would likely become the international standard, redirecting the path of BJJ teams and gyms worldwide. While the exact extent of these changes is uncertain, the impact of BJJ’s inclusion in the Olympics would undoubtedly be transformative for the sport.
On the Olympic stage, the sport would be taken significantly more seriously and an independent, not-for-profit governing body would need to be created, complete with its own unified rules. BJJ athletes would be subject to an anti-doping system which would hopefully restore a lot of integrity in the sport which has been lost in the last few years due to lack of testing and high-level competitors such as Gordon Ryan admitting their use of performance-enhancing drugs.
At present, only high-level IBJJF athlete are monitored by USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and whilst there may be more organizations pushing for stricter regulations, this may take some time.
BJJ would have a huge impact on practitioners all over the world: increased awareness of its existence, more people practicing it, increased participation at local tournaments and international competitions like IBJJF’s events, and potential financial support from National Olympic Committees.
The Disadvantages of BJJ in the Olympics
Depending on who you talk to within the BJJ community, the idea of BJJ becoming an Olympic sport can mean different things and whilst many are excited about the idea of the sport growing, there are certainly some potential drawbacks.
One of the concerns associated with BJJ becoming an Olympic sport is the potential dilution of the sport’s identity and values. The Olympics often come with stringent regulations and a standardized framework that may limit the creative and experimental nature of jiu-jitsu. The beauty of the sport lies in its diversity, with different academies and practitioners contributing their unique approaches and styles. Imposing a rigid structure could diminish the rich tapestry of techniques and strategies that currently exist.
Many feel that Taekwondo and Judo have suffered since becoming Olympic Sports as they have had to water down their rulesets to make the arts more spectator friendly. Sport judo is almost entirely centred on standing and throwing techniques, known as nage waza. In order to differentiate from wrestling, the Olympic ruleset bans judokas from grabbing the legs, effectively restricting it to a series of gi grabs and throws.
Similarly, Taekwondo has become a point-fighting sport, complete with head guards and padding which detects strikes and a ban on head punches. This departure from the brutally effective “Old school” Taekwondo made popular in the 1980s has ultimately made the average Taekwondo class less effective.
If Jiu Jitsu went down the same path as Taekwondo and Judo, it is likely many gyms and coaches would focus on more spectator-friendly Olympic Sport rules which might remove some of the techniques which make the art so effective in real life combat situations and mixed martial arts.
Like many sports, BJJ has a lot of politics and creating, and although a unifying body and ruleset for Olympic reasons might expand the sport’s reach and market size, it may come at the expense of community and authenticity, developing further rifts.
Some take the view that jiu-jitsu should not be included as an Olympic sport. because it draws people to the art through the inclusion, close-knit community and the accessibility it offers to new events, brands, and genuine participation.
Over the past decade, the sport of jiu-jitsu has experienced remarkable growth, largely driven by smaller brands, emerging media companies, and passionate individuals who possess deep knowledge and appreciation for this martial art. This organic growth has led to the evolution of techniques, the establishment of larger and more exciting events, and a fertile ground for innovation and expansion. It would be disheartening to witness this vibrant progress stagnate with the inclusion of jiu-jitsu in the Olympic Games.
By remaining outside the Olympic sphere, jiu-jitsu retains its intimate sense of community. Practitioners, instructors, and enthusiasts form tight bonds through shared experiences, mutual support, and the pursuit of personal growth. This communal aspect creates an environment where everyone feels valued and connected, fostering a deep passion for the martial art. Olympic inclusion might lead to a shift in focus, diverting attention from the community-oriented aspects that make jiu-jitsu so special.
While the allure of Olympic recognition and increased exposure is understandable, it is vital to consider the potential consequences. The unique character and organic growth of jiu-jitsu could be jeopardized in the pursuit of mainstream acceptance. Preserving the sport’s authenticity, innovation, and community-driven spirit should be paramount, ensuring that jiu-jitsu continues to thrive as an fighting art accessible to all who share a genuine love for its practice.
Maybe it’s best to just stick to the world games!
Are leg locks allowed in Olympic BJJ?
As Olympic BJJ doesn’t currently exist, leg locks aren’t allowed. Most of the larger BJJ events will allow leg locks to be used by brown belt and black belt competitors and white belts are allowed to use straight ankle locks in smaller Jiu Jitsu tournaments. Submission holds such as toe holds, ankle locks and kneebars have become increasingly popular with American Jiu-Jitsu practitioners such as Gordon and Nicky Ryan, Nicky Rodriguez and Eddie Bravo due to recent advancements in understanding of control positions.
Whilst successful kneebars and heel hooks require a purple or brown belt level of understanding, their inclusion in BJJ would make make the art more distinct as an Olympic Sport as they are rarely used in Judo or wrestling. However, the safety concerns and risk of permanent damage to joints or ligaments might cause any governing body to remove the attacks from the syllabus,
When Are the Next Summer Olympics?
The next Summer Olympics will be held in 2024, in Paris, France.
What Martial Arts Could Be Future Olympic Sports?
Karate is shortlisted for the 2028 games and may make a return. More recently, the IOC moved to recognize Muay Thai, kickboxing and Sambo as sports.
Muay Thai, with its boxing, devastating low kicks, aggressive elbows and brutal knee strikes seems like an odd choice for Olympic sport. However unlike BJJ, Muay Thai has a singular international federation and coming up with and this could give the sport a higher chance of being part of the games.
Kickboxing seems like a slightly more “sanitized” choice of sport for the Olympics and the unified K1 rules seen in organizations such as Glory might be a good fit for the world stage. Whilst there are gyms all over the world which focus on kickboxing, there are various martial arts such as Muay Thai, Karate, Sanshou/Sanda and Taekwondo which can produce high level striking artists.
The Russian combat sport of sambo could be a great addition too. Sambo is similar to MMA and evolved from judo. Both combatants wear a gi and utilize grappling techniques, along with boxing and low kicks, making it somewhat more appealing to larger audiences.
Is jiu-jitsu an Olympic sport in 2024?
No, despite an April Fools Joke, BJJ will not be part of the Olympic games. The closest BJJ has come to being part of the Olympic sports is the inclusion of Jiu Jitsu in the world games. This form of Jiu Jitsu is much closer to Japanese Jiu Jitsu than it is to the Gracie Jiu Jitsu pioneered by Helio Gracie and Carlos Gracie Junior and is sub divided into three categories of competition – Duo, Ne-Waza and Fighting System.