History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

by | Aug 24, 2020

BJJ Wollongong

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has twin roots. Germinating in feudal Japan and then sprouting in early twentieth century Brazil, both countries and timeframes are collectively responsible for the beginnings, evolution and growth of the sport.

Samurai and Judo Origins

Born in the era of the samurai, various holds and throws were used to self-defend a warrior bereft of his sword and weaponry. Striking was less commonplace as battlefield armour essentially rendered punches and kicks ineffective. Hence, the favouring of throws, chokes and other ground grappling techniques when disarmed in battle.

In 1882, Kano Jigoro (the founder of Judo) started a self-defence school, streamlining the best elements of the samurai art of unarmed combat into the less complicated Kano Jitsu.

Mitsuo Maeda

In 1894, Mitsuo Maeda started training at Kano’s training school. He became one of the top students and later to be known as the father of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Maeda Meets the Gracie Family

Armed with his training experience, Maeda traveled the world promoting Judo and participating in prizefighting competitions. He went to Europe and Cuba earning the ring name of “Count Koma”. During his travels, he acquired catch wrestling skills which he would blend with his Judo arsenal.

In 1914, he came to Brazil, whereupon he met Gastão Gracie. Maeda started training Gastão’s son, a teenager named Carlos Gracie. Carlos studied Maeda’s style of Jiu Jitsu for eight years, sharing his skills with his five younger siblings. One of his brothers, Hélio, experienced issues when executing some of the moves due to his small frame and lack of strength. Necessity forced Helio to modify and make refinements to Maeda’s Judo and ultimately transform it to submission ground fighting. This trial-and-error massaging of technique by Helio and the other brothers gave rise to Gracie Jiu Jitsu or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) as it’s commonly called today. 

United Fighting Championship (UFC)

The Gracie family had big ambitions for their form of Jiu-Jitsu but they needed a platform to launch it globally. The UFC provided that platform.

Super confident in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to counter and get the better of other styles of martial arts, the Gracie family entered Royce Gracie in UFC 1 in 1993. Three victories later and tournament winner, the leverage and timing and skillset of BJJ had proved itself.

Slight of frame and the smallest participant in UFC 1, the non-threatening looking Brazilian in the white gi proved himself against bigger and stronger opponents. There were no weight classes. Despite the weight and strength disadvantages, Royce exploited his opponents lack of ground fighting skills. Drawing on his high-level grappling, a submission choke won him the crown and catapulted Brazilian Jiu Jitsu into the public spotlight. Many have fallen prey to a choke hold or joint-lock in the octagon since.

Train hard. Train smart.

Yours in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu,