Articles · Life

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Is it a Discourse Community?

Today, I decided to share another paper I wrote for a college writing class. I figured because BJJ is so much a part of my life, sharing some of my research and findings on the subject would be helpful for those who don’t know what Brazilian jiu-jitsu is.

(If you are considering doing a martial art, research Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It has had an positive effect on my life for many years.)

~For those who do not like reading semi-academic papers, (or any academic papers for that matter. I sure don’t) this may not be the best way to read about jiu-jitsu.~

NOTE: Photos used in this post are stock images of jiu-jitsu. I give full credit to the original photographers.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu : A Discourse Community Report


This paper is a detailed report about my Brazilian jiu-jitsu academy. It explains the characteristics of a discourse community and why my academy and “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” is considered to be one. It also shows how my academy uses a variety of genres to get things done. Throughout the essay, there will be some abbreviations;

(key words:  BJJ = [Brazilian Jiu-jitsu]

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Brazilian jiu-jitsu schools have existed since 1909 and have grown rapidly throughout the world. The constant patience of coaches and mentors has insured the survival of this ever-growing martial art.

While the martial art itself is very demanding, requiring persistent repetition and sacrifice, it is also very stress relieving. Many people train jiu-jitsu to promote their self-confidence and physical abilities. By coming together and training in specific academies, participants aid each other in obtaining various goals and dreams by using a variety of genres.

One term to describe the teaching and practice of jiu-jitsu would be to label it as a discourse community. A discourse community is a community “with a broadly agreed set of common public goals, has intercommunication among its members, uses participatory mechanisms to primarily provide information and feedback, in addition to owning genres it has acquired some specific lexis, and there is a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal experience.” (Swales,1990, pp.24-27, Johns)

One community that I am very attached to, along with many others, is my Brazilian jiu-jitsu academy. In a way, we are one big family. We help each other reach our goals by training at the academy and by encouraging each other wherever we are in our jiu-jitsu journey.

“People meet social needs by working and learning together over time to achieve particular goals or to act on particular motives.” (Kain and Wardle 397)

With a social atmosphere, BJJ schools allow members to gain trust with others and hear feedback from surrounding participants.

My BJJ gym is the perfect example of a discourse community in relation to the characteristics and definitions. There are goals, genres, and a specific lexis. 

 In this paper, I will be explaining what BJJ is while exploring a few of the genres my jiu-jitsu community uses in order to obtain goals. By covering the genres, showing shared goals of the community, and the lexis, I want to show my reason for labeling Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as a discourse community.

 I want to explain the reasons for jiu-jitsu’s existence and what my academy does to help improve the world.  Following those points, I also want to address the question, “How does a new member join and learn the lexis and language of Brazilian jiu-jitsu?” I have conducted a study involving a few interviews that will help to reinforce my report.

What is BJJ?

            A majority of the public’s first assumptions about BJJ is that it is like many other well-known martial arts. For example; Karate, Tae Kwando, Krav Maga, or Judo.

Jiu-jitsu is a combat sport that focuses mainly on ground fighting. Unlike the other martial arts, jiu-jitsu does not teach punching or kicks. BJJ upholds the concept that a smaller and weaker person can successfully defend themselves against a stronger and bigger attacker using proper technique and leverage.


BJJ uses many different genres to communicate with members, but my academy in particular uses text messages, typed flyers, calendars, Facebook posts, face-to-face interaction, body language, videos, photos, music, athletic games, and others. To communicate important academy details among members, coaches and higher-ranking belts use Facebook. Often, Facebook is used to notify students of upcoming events such as belt promotions, tournament photos, and seminars.

Melinda, a member of my BJJ academy (her name has been changed) emphasizes the use of Facebook and Instagram to notify students and potential members of class activities: “Social media is so prevalent these days. I think it is a really effective tool to get the word out. Facebook and Instagram are great because people can see photos and videos of what is going on at the gym, which may make it a bit less intimidating for new members.”

Face-to-face communication is one of the most used genres within BJJ. Coaches speak to the entire class or they engage one on one with students to explain moves and scenarios.

Coaches and mentors use body language and move demonstrations to show members what to practice. Without demonstrations or face-to-face language, members will not progress in BJJ. “I think our coaches do a fantastic job and I have noticed that they really try to get to know students, so they can adapt to their teaching style. When it’s one-on-one, they can suit the student’s individual needs.”

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While face-to-face is a good way for coaches to communicate to members, it is also a good way for members to communicate with other members. Talking with other members builds trust and the options members have with each other are endless. Talking through move scenarios, encouraging each other, and friendly rolling set up all members for success.

Another genre, or tool used within my academy and in BJJ overall is the “gi.” (pronounced, gee)

The gi consists of a thick cotton jacket, cotton pants, and a cloth belt. Members use these uniforms to aid the practice of certain moves. The sturdy fabric of the gi allows members to practice grips and chokes without the fear of ripping clothing.

While wearing a gi is not mandatory for learning jiu-jitsu, it is still a very important aspect. Without the gi, there will be many moves left unlearned. The gi is helpful in learning moves that can be transferred into real life situations.

For example, using the coat or shirt of an attacker to immobilize and submit them is one reason why members wear a gi. Gi’s are also helpful in the fitness factor of BJJ. The thick, heavy fabric makes practicing moves much more demanding, resulting in a higher calorie burn.

Also, when wearing a gi, there is a lot of friction, making it more difficult for members to finish submissions and complete moves. But after training in a gi and switching to no-gi (when members wear workout clothing other than a gi) the moves are swift and easy.

It is just like when runners train on the beach. Running in the sand is difficult and demanding, but, once the runner is turned onto a flat and stable road, they can run very fast, almost effortlessly.

The same thing happens after members train gi and switch to no-gi. The gi is a very important genre used within my academy and in the rest of the BJJ world.

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Community Goals

Within my academy, many people come and train BJJ to achieve certain goals. A high percentage of those students share the same goals. Melinda gave me her views on community goals: “I think there are a few main reasons to train BJJ; self-defense, fitness, learning how to fight and progress in BJJ levels, and for the social aspect of the community.”

Whoever trains BJJ has a goal in mind and nearly all the members have at least one of these mentioned goals as their focus.

Specific Lexis

My academy has its own lexis or language, so to speak. Words like sprawl, break dance, stand in base, posture, hooks, cow bell, open, and seat belt are very important.

“The lexis helps save time because one word may describe several actions.” (Branick pg. 388)

The basic positions; mount, guard, rear mount, and side control, are the cornerstones of BJJ. The entire lexis of my academy and BJJ in general, revolve around these four basic positions. Without learning these positions, members will never understand the lexis of BJJ.

Often, coaches shout certain words at students during tournaments so that the students will react and complete a move correctly, hopefully winning their match. Over time, coaches learn to read their students. They also learn to read grappling situations, and in tournaments, they learn to read the rival opponent. If a team member loses their match, coaches have a long list of things for them to work on so that in a future tournament they will succeed.

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Why BJJ Exists

BJJ has several benefits that led to its existence and continuing survival. The main reason BJJ was created was to supply and aid smaller and weaker people in self-defense situations. When a larger person attacks, BJJ gives a weaker opponent thousands of options to choose from. With the use of proper technique and leverage, the smaller person can dominate the fight. Take downs, chokes, arm-bars, and countless other moves and submissions all play a part in BJJ.

Besides the realistic aspect of defense, BJJ also gives the benefit of fitness. According to Dark Horse Jiu-jitsu, the average jiu-jitsu student gets an excellent workout:

Stretching (1.81 x 175lbs) ÷ 60 mins x 5 mins =26 calories for 5 minutes

Calisthenics (2.43 x175lbs) ÷ 60 mins x 10 mins= 79 calories for 10 minutes

BJJ technique(3.25x 175lbs) ÷ 60 mins x 15 mins= 142 calories for 15 minutes

Total: 706 calories in an hour. That’s huge. If you stick around and do 5 or 6 five-minute rounds, that would shoot up to over 1100 calories. It’s no wonder people lose weight doing BJJ.”(Dark Horse Jiu-jitsu web.)

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Helpingthe World With BJJ

By offering classes, my academy is doing the world a favor by equipping people with self-defense options in case of attackers. By holding our doors open, children can also come and learn how to defend themselves against bullies and other attackers.

My coach, who is the owner and one of my teachers at my academy, gives his reason for teaching kids jiu-jitsu. “As a kid I was bullied in school. I actually didn’t play any sports in school because I was bullied, so now I like to get back and teach kids how to not get bullied.” Overall, my academy helps the world, one person at a time.

New Members

The world of BJJ may seem like an intimidating, confusing, and extremely dedicated activity, but beneath its exterior, there is a passion and excitement that comes after training for a long period of time.

But, how can new members learn the lexis and language of BJJ?

There are many steps for new members to take in learning the lexis. Step one is to ask questions. Ask the coaches, higher belts, and other members what they did to feel at home in the academy.

Another way would be to find someone who has done BJJ for a while and shadow them during class. Participate in the class drill times and learn the words for certain moves that make up the language of the academy. Watch videos of BJJ matches. Keep going to class. Compete in the state tournaments.

Over time, new members will find a rut and will establish a game plan. Learning the lexis and language of BJJ and your academy is not hard, but it does require dedication and humility.

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Without the use of genres within BJJ, nothing would get done. Members would not progress in their learning, trust relationships would be limited, and class times would not be announced; therefore, resulting in confusion and frustration. Genres are needed to get things done.

The use of communicative tools and verbal language keeps the academy running smoothly. Members have fun, get fit, and learn to defend themselves all while being social. Without the aid of these certain genres, BJJ would no longer be a discourse community.

By looking at how my academy operates; how members communicate, what their goals are, and what genres are used, gives members and non-members ideas on how to communicate better, how to join, and how to learn the lexis. My academy and BJJ in general is, and will always be, a discourse community.


Swales, J. M. (1990)- Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. World Englishes. 7, 211-220

Johns, Ann. M. (1997). Discourse communites and communites of practice: Membership, conflict, and Diversity.” Text, Role, and Context: Developing Academic Literacies. Cambridge, UP, pp. 51-70

Branick, Sean. Coaches Can Read, Too. (Writing about Writing) pg. 388

Kain, Donna. Wardle, Elizabeth. Activity Theory: An Introduction for the Writing Classroom. (Writing about Writing pg. 397)

Dark Horse Jiu-Jitsu, How Many Calories Does Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Burn? (Web log post). Retrieved (November 12, 2018) from

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