When it comes to the best BJJ documentaries, you’ve got a large selection. From Netflix is making the BJJ “origin film” to YouTube documentaries, in the era of modern media, there’s no shortage of Jiu Jitsu documentary films to choose from.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has a rich, storied history and culture. If you are just starting BJJ and are addicted as I was when I began, then I recommend learning about BJJ history as part of your journey – especially if you enjoy history already.
In this article, I’m going to look at some of the top Brazilian Jiu Jitsu documentaries. All of these documentaries are available on YouTube, so you can watch them whenever you want.
These documentaries gave me great insight into the deeper cultural history of Jiu Jitsu. If you are a history and culture geek like myself, then you are in for a real treat.
With that said, let’s dive into our list of the best Jiu Jitsu documentaries you can watch today.
Roll: Jiu-Jitsu in SoCal
Roll in a BJJ documentary that explores the roots of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in America, and how it will forever be tied to Southern California. This well produced documentary is notable for taking viewers on a tour of the now legendary spots of BJJ lore like the original Gracie Garage in Torrance.
It also features interviews with many of the first American students of the Gracie clan. Some are well known, like Scott Nelson. Others were casual students that moved on in their careers.
Roll is refreshingly light on interviews with world champions and brand names (although there are a few.) Instead, it transports us back to the 1980’s though the eyes of fresh faced students struggling to learn jiu-jitsu in a world still enamored with karate and Bruce Lee.
Jiu-Jitsu vs The World
Winning the award for “most likely to get your friend to try jiu-jitsu” this documentary emphasizes the many regular Joe’s training around the world.
Ok, really the United States. The film highlights schools across the US and how the jiu-jitsu lifestyle is changing lives for the better. It’s a feel good film that shows people overcoming everything from bullying to abuse or even serious addiction. It’s the kind of movie you show your parents to calm them down about learning how to fight.
Stuart Cooper’s Mini-Docs
Stuart Cooper has been making short films and trailers for years now. Most of his videos are five to twenty minutes. They feature original footage that he takes while globetrotting. While he has yet to produce anything full length, you can easily get lost throwing on one of his playlists for an hour or two.
Stuart is well connected and his videos are a whos-who of names including Marcelo Garcia, Craig Jones, and Nathan Orchard to name just a few. He’s also great at building drama and using music to make some already thrilling matches more epic.
You didn’t think I’d leave this one out did you? Choke is the most well-known documentary on BJJ, even more than twenty years after it was released.
The film follows a young Rickson Gracie, still in his prime and competing in the Japanese circuit. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of the greatest of all time. Rickson is portrayed as a modern warrior poet. He is so totally focused on being a martial artist, that he is often aloof to the reality that the family business empire is centered on him winning. The film shows Rickson often being unpredictable and resistant to the many forces trying to control him.
You can argue that this film did more to build the mystique of Rickson Gracie than any of is accomplishments in the ring. He was a prize fighter that didn’t care about prizes. You got the feeling he was a man born in the wrong time, that he could easily have been a samurai centuries ago.
Eddie Bravo: Building an Empire
If you are interested in watching an in-depth Jiu Jitsu movie that shows the true beginnings of a metal head turned unlikely BJJ legend, then this documentary is for you. It definitely covers a lot of ground considering its length.
Early on in the movie you can see the immense creativity and drive in Eddie Bravo. The many transformations through his years as a kid into bands like KISS and Iron Maiden, a young and budding speed metal drummer, struggles with his secret love for bands like The Cure – this guy had depth of character long before he stepped into the Machado BJJ gym that would ultimately lead him to a life of Jiu Jitsu.
The intro from Joe Rogan explaining the day Bravo beat Royler Gracie and how weird it was to see his friend, a regular guy, do it certainly doesn’t hurt for a Jiu Jitsu documentary – Netflix has a lot to live up too, but they have the budget.
I’ve rolled at 10th Planet, I met Scott “Hands of Steel” Smith there. after a class, while he was getting ready to train. I really liked how this Jiu Jitsu documentary brought a larger than life character like Bravo into perspective and made me understand why so many people love his system.
I learned a lot watching this overall and highly recommend giving Eddie Bravo: Building an Empire a watch. It’s split up into three parts on YouTube with the first link being just before. Here are the links for part two https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-JpSIS-eiA and part 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBfuhPTVeVc
Royce Gracie Jiu Jitsu – The True Story of UFC 1
The entire world knows what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is in 2023. The reality is, UFC 1 is the veritable big bang in terms of MMA. This documentary is a fantastic journey into the heart of one of the most unique moments in sports history.
From the animations early on that are beautifully created to the direct interviews with Rorion Gracie, Art Davies, Royce and much more, this is one of the finest Jiu Jitsu movies you are ever going to see.
Chock full of nostalgic moments that will have an MMA or Jiu Jitsu fan on the edge of their seat, this beautifully directed doco brings you right back to that fateful day in 1993 where the sports world was changed forever.
I loved how they broke down the reasons for choosing Colorado as the host state, why they went with an octagon cage set up and of course the hilarity of imagining an electrified cage. It’s incredible how close it all came to not even happening in the first place.
How if it weren’t for all of these mad characters and the drive to do something that was literally insane at the time we would never even know who Dana White is, never have seen Griffin vs Bonner, watched the brutal glory of Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell or the utter brilliance of Anderson Silva.
When it comes to the best Brazilian Jiu Jitsu movies, this is an absolute must watch. Seeing Royce Gracie sitting next to Art Jimmerson watching their fight and Royce telling him it was his first professional fight, that he was basically a nanny for his older brother is priceless.
Suffice it to say, if you love BJJ, this is one of those movies about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that really reminds you of how close we came to still thinking Taekwondo and Karate are the worlds answer to martial arts.
Definitely get your popcorn, get the pillows in the right position on the couch and dive into this wonderful breakdown of one of the most pivotal moments in BJJ history.
The History of Jiu Jitsu – Straight Forward BJJ documentary
This Jiu Jitsu documentary differs from many of the others on this list with its slow and direct tone. Breaking down the formation of what would become the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu we are familiar with today.
It’s a less sensational approach to representing the martial art and sport, more matter of fact and full of historical relevance. Right out of the gate this documentary shows the changing of the guard, a Japan that is letting go of the old ways of the Samurai as a result of modern military innovation.
Jigoro Kano is the center of the first part of the series. A regularly bullied child and eventually man of small stature searching for a way to defend himself. The biggest problem he faces is most of the martial artists at the time have been rendered useless and have no students.
In an interesting turn of events, Kano finds a few masters that are willing to teach. This young man’s name begins to circulate and draw the attention of old masters, those who have no students and see the opportunity to finally pass on the traditions and knowledge of their individual – dying – martial arts.
Thus begins the story of Kodokan Judo, which eventually leads to the birth of an even more specialized martial art once the Gracie family reaches Brazil – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This Jiu Jitsu Documentary really breaks down the muddy waters that comprise the legend of BJJ.
Touching on the fact that no one is necessarily certain where or how Carlos Gracie became a student – well, we seem to know where, but it isn’t clear as to who actually taught him. One thing we all know is that someone did and it led to a dynasty in the martial arts world.
I really liked the way this content is presented, the pace of the editing is perfect and the narrator, while very monotone, gets the point across with ease. When it comes to BJJ movies, this is one of the more informative and studious endeavors you can watch for free on YouTube and is certainly worth the time.
Anatomy of a Fighter – The Way of Jiu Jitsu
There are a ton of movies about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu out there and this one is a great one to watch if you are looking to understand more technique, desire and philosophy. As opposed to the previous film I reviewed above, this is a very different approach to a Jiu Jitsu documentary.
You get the feel of a training video from the beginning, instructional and well explained by the master – not narrated but in the class. Roberto Abreu gives his direct feelings to the camera and it’s instantly genuine. This guy loves the martial art and believes in his mission to teach it – his smile is infectious as he talks about becoming a fighter.
If I was to sum this entire BJJ documentary up in a single quote, it would be this:
“I don’t know how it is to wake up… and not chasing my dreams”
To me, that is one of the most inspirational things I have ever heard articulated in the human language. The hair stood up on the back of my neck when Roberto Abreu said it. You can tell immediately that he means it – it’s an effortless statement from a true master.
I don’t give advice, but if I were talking to myself, watch Anatomy of a Fighter if you are chasing a dream – that could be in business, sports, martial arts, music – any of it.
Gracie Jiu Jitsu in Action – The Classic BJJ Documentary
If you are anything like me and anywhere near my age, you probably ordered some old school VHS or Betamax tapes out of the back of magazines on Ninjutsu.
If not then you will get the same feeling I did watching this BJJ documentary. As opposed to the more polished Choke Jiu Jitsu movie, this is raw. Narrated perfectly with excellent cadence, we learn about the legend Helio and much more as the film progresses.
While the fight footage from the early 40’s and 50’s streams in the background you can begin to see what would become the cornerstone of MMA. The now household name UFC would never have existed without the 3 hour and 45 minute, uninterrupted fight that took place in Brazil all those years ago.
Is this one of the best Jiu Jitsu movies you can find for free out there? That depends on what you are looking for, but it is certainly a great glimpse into the origins of the sport and worth the watch.
Are we missing anything? Do you have a BJJ documentary that’s a diamond in the rough?
Speaking of Rickson, here’s a great article showcasing his mount game on our site.
Until next time, keep training!