Friday, November 16, 2007

Brand differentiation and teaching to the test

As I was saying a couple of posts ago, Judo and BJJ appear to me to just be different brand names for the same thing, similar to how Xerox and Canon are both kinds of copiers or how Taco Bell and La Fiesta Brava both sell burritos. I posted that opinion to get some discussion going, and I thank Sensei Lori for biting that hook that I left dangling out there ;-) She responded…

I having trained in BJJ and worked with high-ranking Judo students, I think that though they have the same roots, there are important distinctions between the two arts. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has evolved to create a more highly developed ground game. On the other hand, Judo, the rules of which keep competitors on their feet much more than that of BJJ, focuses much more on throwing and takedown strategies. Both are fairly similar arts though, and their competition rules reflect that focal points of the individual arts.

Good points, and she’s right, there are clear distinctions between the two. But I think that those distinctions are mostly just artifacts of the competition rulesets. A jiu-jitsu guy could compete in a judo tourney or vice versa (so long as everybody followed the rules) and nobody would be in alien territory. Either guy could have a decent chance of doing well in either tournament. What I wonder, is whether the rulesets reflect the foci of the arts (as Sensei Lori says) or whether the way the arts are commonly practiced reflects the rulesets. Here’s what I mean…
Consider the example of an elementary school whose funding is tied to student scores on a standardized test. In essence, that school is competing with a lot of other schools for the same limited pool of dollars. In this sort of situation it is common to “teach to the test” by trying to give the students test-specific skills that really don’t have much to do with education in the broader sense. If teaching to the test gives the students an advantage on that particular test then that school gets a competitive advantage against other schools. A clever administrator could use that advantage to brand differentiate his school.
Now, consider a jiu-jitsu school that is competing (in the business sense) against all the other grappling (wrestling, jiujitsu, judo, etc…) schools around for the same, limited pool of students/dollars. They create a ruleset that is fun and educational and exciting to watch and may be ‘better’ in some sense than the judo and wrestling rulesets. They can then claim to be the best school around to prepare students for competition in that particular ruleset. This is brand differentiation, which makes their school seem to have more value than the others. (Think UFC here).
Also, consider the evolution of the judo rules over the years. It started out with a mostly ‘anything goes’ type ruleset so that the Kodokan could have their pissing contest with all the older jujitsu schools. The Kodokan guys won a couple of highly influential tournaments (i.e. the Metro Police tourney) and they began to get the prestige and the right to set the rules like they liked them. Kano wanted to get judo into the Olympics, so he began playing with more western rulesets similar to the wrestling rules that were already in use in the Olympics. As an example, the old kohaku shiai tournament structure gradually became less prevalent as the modern tournament structures became more prevalent.
Once you have judo in the Olympics you have two grappling styles (judo and wrestling) competing for the same limited pool of viewers’ interest. How do you differentiate judo from wrestling? Cool uniforms, exotic terminology, and rules to limit ground play and encourage spectacular throws. Everything sails along smoothly until the Gracies come up with the idea of UFC (new ruleset, brand differentiation) and now Judoka are competing to a greater extent with Jiu-jitsu guys for interest, students, and dollars. How do you differentiate Judo? More rules evolution.
Now, sure, my three-paragraph history is a simplistic coverage of a thing that you could write an encyclopedia about, but you can see a trend here. The way the game is practiced changes whenever the ruleset changes, but that change in practice does not change the whole of the art. You can’t really say that judoka in the 1950’s were practing a different art from the judoka of today just because the rules have changed. They were doing the same art in a different way.
Players who are serious about competition limit the scope of what they practice toward the scope of the competition. This is not the ruleset highlighting the focus of the art but rather the players teaching to the test. Does the ruleset define the boundaries of the art or does the ruleset represent a subset of the art?
Anyway, that was a long-winded way of getting around to this: BJJ as it is played competitively is a subset of the whole of jiu-jitsu. Olympic judo competition rules also define a subset of the whole of judo. These two competition rulesets are different but jiujitsu in the holistic sense and judo in the holistic sense are the same thing. The two sports are competitively differentiated brand names for the same overall grappling art.


  1. JiuJitsu365 says,

    I understand what you are saying, however my experience in taking both has demonstrated glaring differences.

    I have a green belt in Judo (very basic) which I achieved in the late 90s. I have also practiced Jiu-jitsu for about 2 years now. When I grapple with Jiu-jitsu guys you'd think I was Karo Parisyan the way the guys complement me on my takedown ability. I know it's basic but to the unexposed it's phenomenal.

    At the same time, I know that if I could time travel back to the period when I trained in Judo, my Jiu-jitsu and grappling skills would give certain Judoka fits...

    Overall, I believe it's all the same, especially since many people are beginning to cross-train or incorporate elements of both. However, it is also "apples and oranges" if that fusion is not occuring.

  2. Very interesting post. Ha, I just realized that sounded like a spam comment that I get on my site.
    But.... I appreciate someone taking the time to think before they write about the differences/similarities between the sports. I love BJJ and am growing to like Judo a great deal, as well. But I face opposition from people who think I am a traitor to BJJ if I train judo.
    Which is weird, anyway. Thanks.


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