A Brief History of IBJJF and What It Helped To Establish For Jiu-Jitsu

6 min read
Find out what the IBJJF is and why it was/is so important to Jiu-Jitsu’s growth over these last few decades

IBJJF piramide sunday for worlds

A Brief History of IBJJF and What It Helped To Establish For Jiu-Jitsu

Find out what the IBJJF is and why it was/is so important to Jiu-Jitsu’s growth over these last few decades

Location: Orlando, FL

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Photo by: Gallerr

IBJJF, also known as the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, was founded in 1994 by Carlos Gracie Jr. IBJJF was created to regulate the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and competitions. IBJJF is also known as CBJJ which stands for Confederação Brasileira de Jiu-Jitsu. 

Photo by: Bara Gracie

Jiu-Jitsu originally comes from the Japanese martial art of Kodokan Judo in the early 20th century, originally founded in 1882. Of course, being different from Kodokan Judo, BJJ focuses on grappling and ground fighting techniques that employ leverage, joint locks, and pressure to subdue competitors via submissions. Jiu-Jitsu is often said to be for everyone, whether they are weaker and/or smaller than their opponents. In fact, BJJ was largely created for this very reason, so everyone could defend themselves effectively no matter the opponent’s physical advantages.

Martial Arts Gaining popularity

Carlos Gracie Jr., also known as Carlinhos Gracie, is the son of Carlos Gracie, who is one of the founders of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. With martial arts increasing in popularity in the early 1990s, Carlos Gracie Jr. wanted to bring Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into the spotlight, so he set to create his first academy in a neighborhood in Rio called Barra da Tijuca. The academy’s name became Gracie Barra and grew in popularity massively within the first year.

The dawn of BJJ tournaments

Due to Jiu-Jitsu being a very new martial art, it did not have any particular competitions or governing bodies that focused on gathering the best BJJ competitors in Brazil and, ideally, worldwide. The only tournaments that existed at the time were schools competing against each other locally and regional level tournaments, often without any ruleset. To advance the sport, Carlos Gracie Jr. created the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) in 1994, leading to the first world competition in 1996, which we’ll discuss below. 

First order of business… legitimate belts

One of IBJJF’s first goals was to help eliminate challenges that were the inevitable result of a quickly expanding martial art…. A legitimate belt system. The explosion of other martial arts in the United States during the 70s and 80s was a cautionary reminder to many Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. Regulation and quality control had struggled to keep up with the expansion of schools and so-called masters. As a result, cases of fraud and illegitimate belts being awarded abounded. 

MA-Nation LAke Nona Belt Promotion
Photo by: Howard Graham

IBJJF’s mission was to get out ahead of this potential issue by serving as a governing body that would set minimum training requirements for BJJ belt promotions and certification of promotions. Also included and still implemented today were age minimums. This was set to avoid 10-year-old black belts, a point of controversy among martial artists worldwide.

To put this in perspective, not all Jiu-Jitsu gyms accept the IBJJF standards for belt promotion, but IBJJF’s belt movement did serve an essential purpose, to give all Jiu-Jitsu schools a benchmark to build off of…. Every industry needs a trailblazer.

Click HERE to view their full system. 

Before IBJJF standards, the time between belt promotions varied extensively between gyms; some kept students as white belts for over two years while others promoted them after just 9 months; some used stripes (white pieces of tape often called degrees) while others did not. Now the vast majority of schools use or are close to the standards created in 1994 by the IBJJF.

The” Sport” of Jiu-Jitsu

IBJJF, at this time, also set out to establish clear rules on scoring and awarding competitors:

– 2 points for a takedown, sweep, or gaining the knee on belly position

– 3 points for passing the guard

– 4 points for gaining the mount or taking the back.

Click here to see the complete IBJJF rulebook.

Many think Jiu-Jitsu is turning into too much of a sport and losing its roots/effectiveness in self-defense and street fighting prowess… what do you think?

Regardless, the standardizing of belts and a point system was an important move forward towards the establishment of fair competitions, and make no mistake, competitions were a priority of Carlos Jr! Tournaments, of course, existed before 1994, some of them actually had been quite sizable, but the establishment of the Mundials, Pan American Championships, Brazilian Championships, and the Europeans were of a completely different scope.

With regulations and a standardized ruleset established, the IBJJF held its first World Championships in 1996.

The first IBJJF tournament ever

Arguably one of the best matches recorded comes from the first competition, 1996 Leverage: Roleta vs. Wallid, a semi-finals match. Roberto Roleta was under Carlos Gracie, while Walid Ismail was under Carlson Gracie. The inverted guard used by Roberto Roleta in this historical match originally came from the Roleta guard and gave him the victory. 

Watch the match here:

Furthermore, Professor Ricardo Liborio also competed in this same inaugural competition, winning his division and also the super heavyweight division! He was top of the top on the Carlson Gracie team and often loved to fight competitors who were much heavier than him…. 

Watch the match here:

This win earned him Legendary status, and currently, he is helping to spread the growth of Jiu-Jitsu even more with his collegiate program at the University of Central Florida (UCF)… check out the documentary here:

IBJJF is for everyone

IBJFF competitions are not only for pro-level black belt grappling athletes but for white belts just starting out, even if it is their first time ever competing. More information on how you can start competing and the rules that need to be followed for IBJFF competitions can be found on the official IBJFF website rules tab HERE.

Click here

Is IBJJF the biggest?

IBJJF tournaments are currently the most well-known BJJ tournaments as they host both Gi and No-Gi tournaments. These tournaments are divided into many different divisions, from weight classes to gender to age, with local and international tournaments all over the world and often in a large city near you. The men’s division started in 1996, while the women’s division started in 1998. Some champion winners include BJ Penn (the first American male to win an IBJJF worlds tournament), Marcelo Garcia, Bernardo Faria, and many more. 

Despite IBJJF’s popularity and reach, other tournaments, especially in No-Gi, are beginning to gain momentum at the grassroots level… Such as Arte Suave, NAGA, New Bread, and Jiu-Jitsu World League. This seems to be an excellent thing for the industry to diversify and for entrepreneurs to branch out into new markets with less central control for the industry as a whole.

Technique development

IBJJF has helped competitors with international exposure to branch out and be part of other tournaments and superfights, especially in the MMA world. To add to the exposure, many current techniques known today in Jiu-Jitsu come from moves used by competitors in IBJJF tournaments, such as Marcelo’s Single leg X-guard. 

Furthermore, these IBJJF tournaments have battle-tested many techniques and lessons taught in Jiu-Jitsu classes all over the world today, and they serve as essentials to be known by anyone practicing BJJ. If you’re training BJJ and have never competed before, it’s a wonderful experience that everyone should have at least once. So get out there, test your skills, and have a blast.

You either win, or you learn.




Leave a Reply