The History of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu


Written by Verdict Community member Taylor Dow

The origin of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) begins in Feudal Japan around the 1500s, on the battlefields of the Samurai. The Samurai developed a combat style they named "Jujutsu", meaning "gentle art". This fighting style was used only as a last line of defence when an opponent disarmed them of their weapon. Focusing mainly on chokes, throws and joint locks, the Samurai created this grappling style around the heavy armour they often wore, choosing the former over striking techniques.

A young Japanese man named Mitsuyo Maeda began his studies of Jujutsu and Judo in 1894 and eventually became one of the top students under his teacher, Jigorō Kanō. In 1914, Maeda travelled to Brazil, where he met Gastão Gracie. Gracie soon agreed to let his son, Carlos Gracie, begin training Maeda's style of ground fighting as Carlos had witnessed a public demonstration of Jujutsu previously in Belém, Brazil. Carlos wholeheartedly became dedicated to the art and introduced his brothers to the sport (Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., George and Helio). The family went on to open the first BJJ academy in 1925.

Mitsuyo Maeda in 1910. Credit: Wikipedia and the Maeda family.
Mitsuyo Maeda in 1910. Credit: Wikipedia and the Maeda family.

Carlos infused his 21 children into Jiu-Jitsu, with 13 becoming black belts under his tutelage. Every member of this family grew the sport with each passing day, but none more than Carlos' brother, Helio. Helio created many technical adjustments to the sport as a whole just by being one of the thinnest of the brothers; instead of relying on brute strength, Helio had to rely on technique and position. Helio figured out ways to submit men double his size just by finding the proper leverage, and it was these adjustments that made BJJ what it is today.

The Gracie family began challenging martial artists worldwide to prove that BJJ was the most effective form of self-defence on the planet. The founder, Carlos, who had now earned the title of "Grandmaster", put himself into a rule-less fight which he coined "vale-tudo", which translates to "anything goes". Following countless wins in vale-tudo matches, the family began appearing on the newspaper's front pages and gaining massive traction.

In the 1990s, Grandmaster Helio's son, Rorion Gracie, teamed with Art Davie to start the first inter-discipline combat sport they named The Ultimate Fighting Championship. Rorion's brother, Royce (aged 27), would agree to compete in the first UFC as an ambassador for BJJ. Royce would win 11 fights in a row by finishing every competitor of different disciplines and winning 4 consecutive UFC tournaments until rematching Ken Shamrock at UFC 5 and going to a draw after 36 minutes of fighting without any breaks.

Royce Gracie earns $50,000 after being named The Ultimate Fighter. Credit: Markus Boesch/Getty Images.
Royce Gracie earns $50,000 after being named The Ultimate Fighter. Credit: Markus Boesch/Getty Images.

Now having been showcased all over the world, the sport grew exponentially, as did the Gracie family. The family amassed 33 grand masters over the sport's history, and to this day, all people within the Gracie family still practice BJJ. The sport is still ever-changing, with new people putting their own twist on the fighting style that has now delivered around 12,000 black belts.

The Gracie family are responsible for creating Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in its entirety and making the UFC what it is today. BJJ remains one of the most effective fighting styles ever created, just as it did all those years ago.

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