The history of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu just like any other martial art stems from other arts that existed before it. It is very difficult to know exactly when grappling began as a sport or an art. There are numerous statues and paintings depicting men wrestling dating back to the 3rd century BCE. This proves that grappling existed a long time ago. Regardless of how these arts were created more important are the men that revolutionized them through blood, sweat, and dedication.
Jiu-jitsu was used by the samurai of Japan to kill their enemy or survive an attack at close range when sword fighting was not an option. Samurai were fearless warriors that were probably some of the most well-rounded fighters that existed during their time. They were great archers, horseback riders, swordsmen, and hand to hand combat specialists. Their armor was light and allowed more freedom of movement, but still very limited. That forced the samurai to develop an art based on sweeps and throws. It proved to be effective in combat.
Jigoro Kano is the creator of Judo. He saw a great potential in the arts that already existed during the 1800’s in Japan. He created Judo in 1882. It differentiated with its randori (live sparring). This made Judo more realistic and allowed it to be tested in a real-life scenario with an opponent that was resisting. Judo involves many throwing, tripping and sweeping techniques, with the Gi. Once you are able to apply your grips on an opponent’s Gi, you should be able to execute an attack. Prior to that people practiced more of the art aspect of martial arts without any real resistance. All the attacks were pre-arranged. In order to test the effectiveness of Judo, in 1886 the Japanese police in Tokyo, Japan organized a tournament in which Judo solidified itself as number one. Out of 15 Judokas, 13 attained victories. One of Jigoro Kano’s top students was Mitsuyo Maeda (Count Koma).
Maeda was sent to travel the world and spread the art of Judo, and in the process won over 1000 fights. Prior to learning Judo, Count Koma was a Jiu-jitsu practitioner, but once he adopted Judo he was able to become a well-rounded fighter and very hard to defeat. He finally decided to settle in Brazil where he opened his own Jiu-jitsu academy. One of his first students was a man by the name of Carlos Gracie. Carlos had a younger brother and his name was Helio Gracie. Helio was able to adapt Jiu-jitsu to fit his wiry figure and had to rely on technique and leverage to be successful in Jiu-jitsu, which he did without a doubt.
Carlos and Helio Gracie opened their own school and created BJJ. Helio was not a big powerful guy, but very brave and challenged anybody that wanted to test him and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. He was able to really adapt and refine particular techniques to complement his style. The art was created for self-defense purposes. Gracies’ goal was to make it effective against larger and stronger opponents. BJJ allowed the refinement of the ground game, so the base of it was ground fighting and submissions. Being able to neutralize an attack from a weapon was also a part of BJJ. A major pinnacle for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was one of Helio’s most popular fights. He faced the best judoka fighter from Japan, Masahiko Kimura. Kimura won the fight, but it was not an easy win for him due to Helio’s toughness and technical abilities. The great judoka recognized Helio’s skills and the value of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, so he invited the Gracie to go and teach BJJ in Japan.
Growing of BJJ
The Gracie family are the pioneers of BJJ in America. Rorion Gracie came to America and began teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In the beginning, it was difficult to establish BJJ as a fighting style. Striking dominated the martial arts circuit in the U.S. In order to prove BJJ is superior Rorion created the Gracie challenge. Anybody was allowed to challenge him in a fight with no rules. Rorion dominated his opponents and established BJJ as a force. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu exploded when the Gracies created the UFC. A tournament with no gloves, rounds or rules. The setting was a caged octagon. Royce Gracie was chosen to represent the family in the tournament. Rorion strategically picked the young Royce because his physique resembled nothing of a fighter. He was able to defeat all of his opponents by submission and win the UFC title. With this achievement Jiu-jitsu solidified itself as a martial art and gained the respect it deserves.
Thanks to many sacrifices today BJJ is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has a massive role in this. Jiu jitsu still plays a major part in today’s MMA community. Most of the BJJ schools practice traditional Jiu-jitsu, but without striking. Tournaments such as the Eddie Bravo Invitational have added open palm strikes to their rules. The sport of BJJ is gaining popularity through competitions and sponsorship opportunities.
The future jiu-jitsu practitioner will be very well rounded and proficient in both, Judo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. We are already beginning to see this. Travis Stevens, 2016 Olympic Judo medalist is a great example. Both arts have come a long way and their evolution continues. Those that played a role in revolutionizing martial arts in general have to be respected. Thanks to them we are able to practice the fun art of Jiu-jitsu.