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Luta Livre vs BJJ

November 29, 2023

Many athletes who practice martial arts value cross-training and appreciate the strengths of different fighting disciplines. With the growing interest in mixed martial arts (MMA), where fighters train in multiple martial arts disciplines, more fighters recognize the value of learning from various styles. It hasn’t always been this way, however. There is a long history of rivalries between different types of martial arts that can sometimes lead to heated debates and conflicts. One such rivalry that extends back almost a century is the feud between Luta Livre and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).

BJJ and Luta Livre have a lot in common. They are both submission grappling arts that focus heavily on the ground game. Both originated in Brazil, are highly influential, and have become the country’s two most popular martial arts, with followings extending across the world. BJJ and Luta Livre have grown from similar roots, igniting a passionate rivalry that dates back to the 1920s.

Despite the parallels between these two combat disciplines, they remain distinctly unique in their philosophies, techniques, and historical backgrounds. As martial arts enthusiasts, it’s essential to understand the fundamental differences that set these two grappling giants apart.

What is Luta Livre?

Luta Livre, which translates to “free fighting” in Portuguese, is a Brazilian martial art and grappling system. It is often characterized by no gi training, meaning that fighters do not typically wear a traditional martial arts uniform (gi) during training or competition. Because Luta Livre’s techniques can be applied without using a gi, some feel it is more applicable to real-world self-defense scenarios and MMA competitions.

Luta Livre strongly emphasizes ground fighting, submission holds, and control techniques and incorporates strikes. The objective is to win a fight by forcing your opponent to submit, achieving a pin or dominant position, or accumulating more points than your opponent. Some Luta Livre competitions allow winning by knockout or technical knockout (TKO).

What is BJJ?

BJJ is a grappling martial art that concentrates on the ground game, aiming to get your opponent to submit via a joint lock or choke. BJJ is considered one of the most effective martial arts for self-defense. It emphasizes that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant using technique and leverage. BJJ stresses that anyone can successfully protect themselves using the proper techniques.

BJJ has the most developed method of fighting on your back, a position weaker people will often find themselves when attacked. No matter your size, if you know BJJ, you can take your opponent to the ground and defeat them using holds and submissions. Fighters try to use gravity to their advantage and take away the opponent’s strengths.

Rivalry

Today, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is much more popular than Luta Livre, but these two combat sports once had a heated rivalry that spilled into public beaches, gyms, and professional tournaments. BJJ arose in Brazil during the early 20th century, shortly before Luta Livre. Many considered Luta Livre to be grappling art for the poor or those who could not afford a gi. Almost immediately, each side felt their art was better, sparking a fierce rivalry. Throughout the 1900s in Brazil, it became a form of class warfare. Luta Livre was the primary discipline among the lower class, while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was taught to the upper class.

By the 1980s, BJJ had become very popular in Brazil and famous fighters such as Rickson Gracie were well-known. Luta Livre representatives accepted challenges from BJJ fighters, hoping it would increase the sport’s popularity. At one point, Rickson went to the Luta Livre headquarters and extended challenges to anyone willing to accept. His goal was to establish BJJ as the best style. A fighter named Hugo Duarte took the challenge, and two fighters had several no-holds-barred (NHB) tournaments to settle, which was better, including an infamous fight on Pepe Beach.

In 1988, Hugo Duarte lost to Rickson Gracie, only to follow it up by getting knocked out by Tank Abbott at UFC 17. This loss hurt Luta Livre’s reputation but did not put the rivalry to bed. In 1991, Desafio hosted a Jiu-Jitsu vs Luta Livre card that put three Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters up against three representatives of Luta Livre. The BJJ fighters won all three fights. In 1997, Renzo Gracie and Eugenio Tadeu fought each other, but the match ended in a No Contest due to fans rioting.

What Is the Difference Between Luta Livre And BJJ?

Origins & History

Luta Livre

Luta Livre was founded in Brazil by Euclydes “Tatu” Hatem, who was originally a catch wrestler, a hybrid combat and grappling sport. Tatu began teaching catch wrestling techniques to others in Rio de Janeiro in 1927 while experimenting with some of his own innovative techniques. After Tatu beat Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu pioneer George Gracie in a match, his spin on catch wrestling gained popularity. By the mid-20th century, it was a well-known fighting style among poorer communities in the cities. In the 1970s, father and son Fausto and Carlos Brunocilla advanced the sport, training many Luta Livre Masters. In that same period, Roberto Leitão articulated the “Theory of Grappling,” sometimes called the “Theory of Luta Livre.”

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

BJJ originated in Japan when judo practitioner and prizefighter Mitsuyo Maeda went overseas to share his art with the world in 1904. After arriving in Brazil, he taught brothers Carlos, Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., O’Brien, and Hélio Gracie jiu-jitsu in 1917. Several years later, the Gracie family developed their own self-defense system, modified judo ground techniques, and eventually created a unique fighting style called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

In 1972, Carlos Gracie moved to the United States to teach jiu-jitsu, and in 1978 was followed by Rorion Gracie, who co-founded UFC in 1993. BJJ became popular internationally after Royce Gracie won the first, second, and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships.

Uniform

Luta Livre

Practitioners typically train without a gi (no-gi), wearing shorts and a rash guard.

BJJ

Fighters typically practiced in a gi (kimono), although no-gi BJJ is also popular. BJJ practitioners also wear a colored belt around their waist, signifying their rank and level of expertise.

Belt System

Luta Livre

The Brazilian Luta Livre Federation follows a curriculum and a grading system like the Brazilian Judo ranking system. The belt rankings are divided into beginners, intermediate, and advanced.

BJJ

BJJ uses a belt system that goes from white to black, with various degrees in the black belt and has specific belts for kids.

Techniques

Luta Livre

To the untrained eye, Luta Livre often appears to be a no-gi version of BJJ. However, because practitioners can’t rely on the grips and fabric holds that the gi provides, there is a strong emphasis on techniques that can be applied without gi grips, such as leg locks, foot locks, and other submissions that are sometimes restricted in traditional BJJ rule sets.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

BJJ has a vast library of techniques and strongly emphasizes gi techniques, which involve using the grips and holds provided by the gi jacket and pants. Some traditional academies and competitions limit specific leg and foot locks, especially for lower belts.

Takedowns

Luta Livre

Luta Livre often emphasizes an aggressive approach to takedowns and controlling the opponent. Being influenced by catch wrestling, it usually incorporates a wider variety of takedowns, including single-leg and double-leg takedowns, throws, and trips.

BJJ

In BJJ competitions, takedowns can earn points. BJJ practitioners often use takedowns to score points and establish an early advantage in a match. While BJJ teaches takedowns, many schools may emphasize ground techniques more heavily. BJJ uses takedowns to secure advantageous positions, such as passing the guard, achieving side control, or transitioning to the back.

Philosophy

Luta Livre

Luta Livre places a strong emphasis on practical self-defense and real-world applicability. Focuses on a no-gi, submission-focused style, often striving for efficiency in realistic combat situations. Practitioners are taught to be assertive and proactive, looking to finish fights with submissions or control positions quickly.

BJJ

BJJ strongly emphasizes using leverage and technique to overcome physical strength. The notion that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a larger attacker using leverage and strategy is central to BJJ philosophy.

Popularity & Recognition

Luta Livre

While it has a significant following in Brazil and parts of Europe, Luta Livre is generally less internationally recognized than BJJ. Luta Livre has played a role in developing mixed martial arts (MMA), with some notable Luta Livre practitioners achieving success in the sport. Many MMA fighters cross-train in martial arts, including Luta Livre, to develop their grappling skills.

BJJ

BJJ has gained massive international popularity with schools worldwide and large competitions like the IBJJF World Championships. Because everyone can practice BJJ, it has become one of the most popular martial arts in the past few decades.

Striking Integration

Neither Luta Livre nor BJJ is a striking-oriented martial art. Both arts are grounded in grappling techniques and focus on ground control, submissions, and positional dominance.

Luta Livre

uta Livre often places a strong emphasis on practical self-defense, and this includes understanding how to defend against strikes. Some variations and schools might incorporate striking techniques, blending the line between pure grappling and MMA.

BJJ

Traditional BJJ focuses primarily on grappling, though some schools, especially those oriented towards MMA, might also teach striking.

Submissions

Submissions are an important aspect of both Luta Livre and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), and they share many common submission techniques.

Luta Livre

Luta Livre encourages a broader range of submissions from various positions, including more catch wrestling-influenced submissions, including various joint locks (armlocks, leglocks, wrist locks), chokeholds, and strangleholds.

BJJ

While it has a wide range of submissions, the emphasis might differ, focusing more on positional control leading to a submission. BJJ fighters prioritize positional dominance before attempting submissions. This means controlling and advancing positions, such as mount, back control, or side control, are often crucial in the submission process.

It’s important to note that both Luta Livre and BJJ have evolved, and there is often cross-training and exchange of techniques between the two disciplines. Many practitioners appreciate the strengths of both and choose to incorporate elements from both martial arts into their training. Ultimately, the choice between Luta Livre and BJJ may depend on an individual’s personal preferences, goals, and the availability of training facilities.