BJJ History

The history of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) goes back through the Gracie family to their original teacher, Mitsuyo Maeda (Conde Coma) and his training in the Kodokan, the home of Judo.

Maeda

 

Mitsuyo Maeda (1878-1941) was a martial arts prodigy who eventually became one of the greatest fighters in the history of Judo. Maeda originally practiced classical styles of Jiu Jitsu, eventually entering the Kodokan to study Judo.

 

After remaining undefeated in Judo tournament competition, Kano sent Maeda to the U.S.A. in 1904 to spread the message of Kodokan Judo. Over the course of his career, Maeda fought in literally hundreds of matches, grappling with and without the gi, and fighting in “mixed” matches (that included striking and kicking, commonly referred to as “no-holds-barred” fights). During his travels, Maeda fought in the United States, Great Britain, continental Europe, Cuba, Mexico and finally Brazil.

 

Throughout his career as a professional fighter, after engaging in over 1,000 free fights, Maeda retired without ever losing a match. The culmination of Maeda’s training in classical Jiu Jitsu and especially Judo, tempered by his extensive combat experience against all types of challengers, resulted in a realistic, street effective method of fighting.

The Gracie Connection

 

In 1914, jiu-jitsu master Mitsuyo Maeda, also known as Conde Coma, was given the opportunity to travel to Brazil as part of a large Japanese immigration colony.

 

In Brazil, in the northern state of Para, he befriended Gastão Gracie, an influential businessman, who helped Maeda get established. To show his gratitude, Maeda offered to teach traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu to Gastão’s oldest son, Carlos Gracie. Carlos learned for a few years and eventually passed his knowledge to his brothers.

Carlos Gracie

 

Mitsuyu Maeda introduced Carlos to Jiu-Jitsu, at the age of 14. He became an avid student for a few years. The studies under Maeda had a profound impact on his mind. He never before sensed the level of self-control and self-confidence Jiu- Jitsu practice allowed him to experience.

 

Helio Gracie

 

Helio Gracie, the youngest son of Gastão and Cesalina Gracie’s eight children (three were girls), was always a very physically frail child. He would run up a flight of stairs and have fainting spells, and no one could figure out why.

 

Helio’s small size and weak physical condition made it difficult to execute some of the positions properly. In order to progress and earn the attention and admiration of his older brothers, especially Carlos, Helio had to research alternate jiu-jitsu methods, which worked for him. His discoveries emphasized leverage and timing over strength and speed.

 

The adaptations of techniques Helio learned from his brothers were mastered through trial and error with the end result being the further development and refinement of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

 

Helio widely regarded as the first sports hero in Brazilian history, also challenged boxing icons Primo Carnera, Joe Louis, and Ezzard Charles. They all declined.

Helio Gracie

THE GRACIES

 

Several members of the Gracie family began to emigrate to the United States in the late 1980’s. BJJ became world famous in the mid 1990’s when Royce Gracie won a string of victories in the early Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) competitions, an event pitting martial artist and fighters of various disciplines against each other in an NHB format.

 

Shortly after, Royce’s brother Rickson went undefeated in similar events in Japan, and other members of the Gracie clan were equally as successful in MMA events around the U.S. It became quickly apparent that fighters versed only in punching and kicking lost every time they faced a BJJ trained opponent.

 

At present, all fighters in open rules events (now popularly called “mixed martial arts” or MMA) train in BJJ to some extent. The emergence of the Gracies and their particular brand of Jiu Jitsu, with its time tested and proven effectiveness in challenge matches and MMA fights, has had a major impact on martial arts worldwide.

BRAZILIAN JIU JITSU

 

Therefore, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, although obviously similar in many respects to Judo and other traditional systems of Japanese Jiu Jitsu, differs in some fundamental ways from all other related systems. Judo was originally designed as a powerful system of self-defense that also included a sportive component and the idea of self-cultivation and the mutual benefit of members of society.

 

Presently, although the techniques of Judo may certainly be applied in real fighting situations (and many practitioners of “sport” Judo have applied their skills very effectively in non-sportive confrontations), the emphasis in most schools is on sport competition. During the course of the last century the rules of Judo began to emphasize means of achieving victory in competition that did not necessarily reflect the conditions of all in fighting.

 

For example, a Judo match may be won by a throw or a pin hold without a submission. These rules and limited groundwork that forbids many of the original submission holds found in early Judo somewhat limit direct applicability to street fights. Other styles of classical Jiu Jitsu are still plagued by the original problem Kano addressed with his emphasis on randori, namely, technical training is limited to kata practice.

 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has followed a different course in the last 90 years. The sport grappling with and without the gi (matches that include a wide range of submission holds, but no striking).. For example in a sport BJJ match, points are awarded based on achieving superior positions, positions from which not only grappling techniques can be more readily applied, but also from which strikes may be applied or defended. Students naturally seek the positions that will garner them the most points, thereby constantly reinforcing the most efficient strategy for real life confrontations. This “position-submission” strategy has proven to be the most effective for real life confrontations.

 

The overall fighting strategy of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is designed to equip a physically smaller or weaker individual with an effective method of defending against a larger and stronger attacker. When applying BJJ techniques, leverage is paramount, as leverage is the secret to the amplification and most efficient use of force.

 

BJJ also has the most developed methods of fighting while on one’s back, a position weaker fighters will often find themselves when attacked. The innovations of the Gracie family, most notably by grandmasters Carlos and Helio Gracie, and continuing with BJJ fighters today, through constant testing and refinement in the crucible of actual fights, has resulted in this.