The art is sometimes referred to as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (GJJ); this name is trademarked by Rorion Gracie and specifically refers to the style taught by him and his selected teachers. The main difference between BJJ and traditional Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is an emphasis on self-defense. With sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu geared more towards point competition, there is a large commonality of techniques between the two. There is also wide variety of ideals in training in different schools, the utilization of technique versus how much to attempt to overpower an opponent being one of the greatest variables between them.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes ground fighting techniques and submission holds involving joint-locks and chokeholds which are also found in numerous other arts with or without ground fighting emphasis. While the self-defense uses these principals it also incorporates closing the distance to clinch and possibly take down when striking and weapons training. The premise is that most of the advantage of a larger, stronger opponent comes from superior reach and more powerful strikes, both of which are somewhat neutralized when grappling.

Training methods include drills in which techniques are practiced against a non-resisting partner and isolation sparring where only a certain technique or sets of techniques are used against near full resistance. Physical and mental conditioning is also an important part of learning the system.