The BJJ Shaka Sign: Meanings & Origins

The BJJ Shaka Sign: Meanings & Origins
The BJJ Shaka Sign: Meanings & Origins
Photo credit: @freepik

Martial arts have their traditions, culture, norms, language, and distinct history. It's very crucial to understand the main motive and history behind the signs and traditions of your favorite martial art.

Like all traditionally rich norms, BJJ culture has a lot of signs, and symbols that need to be communicated and understood. Like the BJJ triangle sign, another famous sign in the grappling world is the “Shaka Sign”. Now it's time to discover the history and origin of this sign. Let’s dive into BJJ history to discover more about “Shaka Sign in BJJ”.

1. What Exactly a “Shaka” Sign Is?

The shaka is a hand gesture that entails extending the thumb and small finger while keeping the three middle fingers curled. You can display the front or back of the hand while making the gesture, and you can even twist it back and forth for emphasis.

2. Theories About the Origin of Shaka Sign

There are different schools of thought when it comes to the origin of the shaka sign. We will discuss the origin of shaka considering different regions and perspectives of the world.

2.1. Shaka Sign In Hawaii

Most people believe that it was introduced in the 19th century by the citizens of Hawaii. When one of the employees lost three middle fingers of his right hand during work. After that accident, the worker started to supervise the sugar train. His all-clear gesture of thumb, or sign to frighten off noisy youngsters who jumped on trains, was mimicked by children that later developed into shaka.

Some people believe that Jiu-Jitsu's famous shaka was introduced by the Spanish nationals in Hawaii. They used the special hand gesture (extending their thumbs by folding their three middle fingers) to show sympathy with their peers.

Another narrative about the origin of the shaka sign belongs to a salesman, Lippy Espinda, who also worked in the famous American drama series Hawaii Five-O. It is believed that the shaka sign gained popularity when it was used by Lippy Espinda in a TV commercial.

2.2. In California

After Hawaii, the shaka gesture began to be used in California among surfers (people who are curious about games). They used the sign after their victory in games or to express greeting gestures.

2.3. In China

Shaka sign has adopted different meanings depending on the different origins of the world. When it came to China, the people used it as a sign for communicating the number “6”.

2.4. In Australia

Australian people used the shaka sign as an invitation to a smoke party. They used to raise their thumb outward by keeping the pinky in the air to invite someone to smoke marijuana.

3. Why Is It Known As “Shaka”?

The term “Shaka” was specifically used for the popular hand gesture in the 1960s after Lippy Espinda used this term in his television advertisement. People began to use the hand gesture with the name “Shaka, " previously known by another name.

4. How Is Shaka Introduced In BJJ?

Now you are wondering about the arrival of shaka in Jiu-Jitsu. It all started with the surfer culture in Brazil. In 1970, the time when Jiu-Jitsu began to develop in the US and nearby regions. The surfers from America and California started to salute their fellows with the enthusiastic body gesture called “Shaka”.

The era of Jiu-Jitsu started with the Gracie family in Brazil in the mid-20th century. Rolls Gracie was the first from the Gracie family who used to go surfing. The shaka was famous for “Hang loose” in Brazil with the surfing culture. The Jiu-Jitsu community started to adopt hang loose to express different feelings and gestures. 

The Master Renzo Gracie, the 7th degree Coral Belt Champion in an interview, talked about the arrival of shaka in Jiu-Jitsu.

“Many people think that the Shaka/Hang loose sign was used by Jiu-Jitsu fighters because it was imported by surfers that also trained Jiu-Jitsu but that simply isn’t true. Before the Shaka, BJJ fighters would just do a regular thumbs-up. I was the one responsible for popularizing the shaka in Jiu-Jitsu. When I fought and knocked out Oleg Taktarov in a bare-knuckle MMA fight in 1996, I broke my hand. Every time I posed for a picture after that, I wanted to do a thumbs up but since my hand was broken, the pinkie kept going out so it looked like a shaka (laughs). Next thing you know, all the Jiu-Jitsu guys started doing the shaka

(Renzo Gracie)

5. How Can You Make A Shaka Sign?

It seems to be an easy task to hold your fist in a shaka gesture. However, you need to follow all the steps to make a perfect gesture.

  • In the first step, hold the hand in a loose fist.
  • Secondly, extend your thumb and small finger (pinkie) upward but in opposite directions.
  • In the last step, the back side of your hand must face the recipient of the shaka sign.

6.What Shaka Expressed In Jiu-Jitsu?

Now shaka sign has become popular in BJJ and is used by everyone on different occasions. When it comes to the meaning of shaka, this sign has different but positive meanings depending upon the place and scenario.

In Jiu-Jitsu, this sign is used for greetings like thank you, Hello, Goodbye, and Hy. Also, it is used for friendship messages like Take it easy, Things are great, etc. BJJ players also used this gesture in their snaps after winning the tournament. However, in different places, Hawaiian used shaka as a sign of love and affection.

7. FAQs

7.1. Is Shaka a Positive Gesture?

Yes, Shaka is considered a sign of positivity, accomplishment and happiness in things like friendship and greeting. It also signifies the relaxing position of anyone.

7.2. What Does Shaka Use For?

Shaka is used as greetings and to enjoy the victory. Jiu-Jitsu player Ronaldinho celebrated his victory by making shaka.

7.3. Is Shaka Sign Universal?

Yes, the famous shaka is used worldwide but with different meanings according to different situations.

8. Conclusion

Shaka sign is a hand gesture with multiple meanings in different regions of the world. Although, initially, it was used in the 19th century, its name comes after being used in a television Ad by Lippy Espinda. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners use the shaka to celebrate their victories and present greetings to one another.

Photo credit: @bjjee

Related Readings

Reading next

Tips On Training BJJ While Fasting
Tips On Training BJJ While Fasting

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.