Are we in the golden age? No, of course not. We’re living in a dystopian hell scape. This is very obvious. Nobody has a job and everyone’s sad all the time. If anything, we are in some kind of neo-feudal iron age. Pretty soon we’ll be feasting on human bones.
But the question I want to ask is, “Are We In The Golden Age of Jiu Jitsu?”
If you are a classicist, you would know that the Greeks define the Golden Age of peace, harmony, stability, prosperity. Since we are not in a parlor discussing the minor works of Virgil, I’ll define the Modern Golden Age with these four characteristics
So let’s take a a philosophical stroll and talk about each of the aspects of Jiu Jitsu. We’re gonna answer this question, together. We will rate each aspect on a scale from one to five old white men. Because nobody loves talking about how great things used to be than an old white guy.
This one is a no brainer. Have you been to a NAGA lately? It’s like a cross between an ant farm and Moroccan Souk. Pure chaos.
There has been explosive growth in the sport over the last 25 years, with the sport truly hitting mainstream attention within the last few years. While BJJ may have been shown to be the most practical in the first UFC (1993), MMA was still seen as human cockfighting until 2005. It was only post Stephan Bonnar/Forrest Griffin, where ironically, they beat the shit out of each other, that UFC and BJJ in general became mainstreamed. Which is weird. It took the ultimate human cockfight for people to recognize the legitimacy of human cockfighting. Life can be funny sometimes.
But as to Jiu Jitsu specifically, in 1996, the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation hosted a total of four competitions. In 2005, eight, and in 2013, 41 events. That is a fivefold increase from less than ten years ago, and over a ten fold increase from 20 years ago.
Another fun fact: Over 400 black belts registered for the World’s this year. Believe it. This sport is huge. Full points awarded.
TOTAL OLD WHITE MEN RATING: 5
Accessibility should walk hand and hand with growth. It follows that the more gyms that open the more accessible Jiu Jitsu becomes. But the real question is, who can train in these gyms. The answer is: Certainly not everyone.
Let’s use my home town as an example:
In Philadelphia, the average cost of a BJJ membership is $189.45 based on a sampling of five major clubs in the area. That’s just about $2,270 a year, just in membership costs. The median income in Philadelphia County over the last four years was $37,016. (Like I said, we already live in a dystopian hellscape). That’s 6% of a person’s total income for the year. Doesn’t seem so bad, right? Until you factor in rent (15,060, yearly) and utilities ($1,910, yearly), and transportation (1,098). It begins hard to justify a membership at these prices. Plus most humans need food. At least the weak ones do.
Oh, and for cable/internet it’s $2,000 a year. BECAUSE HAVING WE TV IS NOT NEGOTIABLE.
Then there are the gis. Jesus Christ the fucking gis. Sure, you can get a crappy $99 dollar gi, but you can also get the limited-edition-goldweave-thatfeaturesbigtittedjapanesegirlssewnintotheinsideseams-andtheyonlymake30everydecade-andyouhavetobuythemfrominsideavolcanoduringahalfmoon gis. And they can run you a pretty penny. Like diamond rings, there all no ceilings on these things. Well over $300 if you’re high as shit and enjoy wasting your money.
But costs aside, Jiu Jitsu is becoming more accessible. Women’s participation has never been higher, and the sport has become somewhat less focused on the competition aspects of BJJ (for better or worse). You don’t have to walk into a gym and have expectations placed on you to train to be a champion. Some people just want to make friends and wrassle, like Andre the Giant.
I give accessibility three Old White Men, out of five.
Every year all of the heads of each club get together for a rafting trip. After a couple of miles they stop at a clearing and take huge rips from a bong. A spectral Smoke Wizard emerges from the pipe and lectures for hours about the importance of cooperation and respect for each other. Everyone nods their head in profound agreement. At night they have a barbeque and talk about how much they love each other, and that it would be great to have an agreed upon structure to present a united front to the world. Everybody chips in for Kurt Osiander’s bus fare and they all go home.
This scenario has yet to happen.
In reality, BJJ is a fractured mess. “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE IBJJF?” you’ll ask. The IBJJF is only one federation. It’s not official, but it’s the biggest, thus the defacto leadership. Many people don’t/won’t recognize their legitimacy. Ever hear of the North American Jiu Jitsu Federation? No? Ok.
And how about reaching an accord on a unified rule set? Not likely, hombre. You’ll be getting heel hooked at NAGA till the cows come home.
I award unity one Old White Man. I am a cruel mistress, and not easy to please.
Of the four Criteria, this one is the most slippery. Unless people start growing a third arm, or extra thumbs, the basic concepts of Jiu Jitsu have been established and explored. The WormGuard is a modified Lasso. The Berimbolo? Inverted De La Riva.
Imagine a tree. The trunk of which is comprised of the basics of Jiu Jitsu. Takedowns, armbars, sweeps, side control, etc. Imagine that each branch consists of a set of techniques, and each twig the specific variations. At this point, most “innovations” are at the sub twig level. Hyper specific variations on existing frameworks.
You can make the case that since the sport is so new (comparitively), that the sport has yet to fully develop. That makes everything an innovation. I guess. But I think I need a more compelling argument than that to award full points. I am not assuaged. I demand more rigor.
I think the real issue is the word “innovation”. Its hard to pin down exactly what that means. Does something have to be a quantum leap forward to qualify as an innovation? Or do small, incremental changes meet the definition? I suspect the answer depends on your world view. America loves a GRINDER, and hates GLORYBOYS, so I feel that anything that makes it look to easy we shun. We want our athletes to scrape and claw their way to victory, leaving a bloody snail trail of tears and broken fingernails.
Brazilians, on the other hand, are laid back south American brahs who want to feel like the flow is natural and easy. That’s now how do it up here, son. Brazil, you’re never going to own a Aunti Anne’s Pretzel Franchise with that kind attitude. Get on your grind.
Since I’m a true son of liberty, I’ll run with the American version of innovation. Slow, dirty, and painful. Like the subway.
I award four Old White Men.
I have awarded 13 out of a maximum 16 points. I feel that this qualifies as some sort of Lesser Golden Age at best, with marginal room for improvement. At this point the major stumbling block of the BJJ golden age is lack of unity and the (rising) cost considerations that a lot of people face.
Because really, Jiu Jitsu gonna do what it do. You can’t stop it, it’s always going to be awesome. It’s the outside shit that can stand in the way.
Take a rip from the wizard bong and think about that, man.