Guilty! 5 BJJ Photo Crimes You Will Recognize

People who train BJJ like to preserve the moment as much as anyone. But we also put our own spin on things.

Nothing is safe from immortalization in picture or video. I have seen more Facebook photos, Instagrams, Snapchats, Vines, and tweets than I can count of my friends’ vacation adventures, parties, pets, cars, home renovations, and even their x-rays, meals, and strongly worded letters. We spend tons of time capturing our experiences so we can save them for later.

And this isn’t a new trend; there are few things more fun or more disconcerting than stumbling upon a photo or video from many years ago – perhaps in a shoebox or actual book-style album – that features a younger you, sporting a period haircut and some sartorial choices that would now be considered unfortunate. We humans seem to be hard-wired to treasure and catalog our experiences for later consumption.

And, of course, grapplers are no exception. Whether we are at a seminar, meeting our favorite competitors, or even hanging out in polite society, people who train BJJ like to preserve the moment as much as anyone. But we also put our own spin on things. Read – and look – on to see if you recognize, or have appeared in, photographs that fall into any of these categories of BJJ lifestyle photos.


The shaka is a hand gesture that originated in Hawaii and is associated with surf culture. Grapplers also use it with gusto. It conveys a sense of friendship, community, and “hanging loose.” I have never flashed the shaka, because I feel like I should get permission first from people who are way cooler than I am.

The Pretend Punch

Though any grappler will happily regale you for as long as you will listen (and long after you won’t) about the fact there is no kicking, punching, or chopping in BJJ, grapplers like to pretend to punch each other when they are posing for pictures. There are multiple variations of this one: the close-to-the chest fist, the fist-in-the-other-person’s-face, the double fist (both where one person puts up both dukes and where each person pretends to punch the other), the pretend UFC pose, and on and on.

Proceed with caution on this one; you don’t want to make contact by accident and start something you can’t finish. Remember that you don’t really know anything about punching because you do BJJ. At least, that’s what you told your non-grappler friend until s/he begged you to stop.

Here we have a vintage shot, circa 2007, of my friend Steve Bowers, head honcho at Main Line United BJJ pretending to punch me. As you can see, my eye is already black, so it’s kind of a Memento situation. I’m pretty sure that shiner was from an errant knee, but as you can see, Steve was more than happy to pose for the picture.

The Point

Grapplers like to point at each other too, as if to say, “THIS guy! Eh? Eh?” Or maybe they are helping viewers focus their attention. “Look here; this is where the action is.” As with the pretend punch, one person can be pointing, both people can be pointing, and one or both people can take either one or two guns out of the holster. Here, at The Rock BJJ, my friend Andy Ruffner demonstrates a perfect point, aimed at me and our other friend Brendan Raedy.

The Thumbs Up

A variation on the shaka and pretend punch, the thumbs-up sign is pretty much universally understood. Photo participants who flash the thumbs up are channeling their inner Roger Ebert, letting the world know that this is a still shot from a great movie. What I’ve actually never seen is the thumbs down. Clearly, then, in At the Movies-speak, BJJ experiences more generally resemble The Godfather than Battlefield Earth.

The Mean Mug

This is the shot where participants look as menacing as possible, similar to a wild animal puffing up its feathers, hair, or fur to intimidate an adversary. In this picture, my friend Jason Buzzard and I are demonstrating the Mean Mug. I am doing a passable job, actually, of looking at least exasperated, to the point where maybe you would think twice before asking me to borrow money. Jason, on the other hand, looks like he’s waiting for an excuse to “have a chat” with you. Proceed with caution.

There are tons of other types of BJJ pictures. The group shot. The silly group shot. The peace sign. The rear naked choke. The fireman’s carry. The pyramid. The little kid doing knee-on-belly on a big guy. And on and on and on.

Do you have a picture that perfectly exemplifies one of these categories of BJJ lifestyle photo? Or have I missed any? Post your shots, and your thoughts, to comments.

Photos 1 & 4 courtesy of Shutterstock.

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