Origins of Brazilian jiu jitsu

The origins of Brazilian jiu-jitsu stem from Japan around the beginning of the twentieth century. For centuries jiu-jitsu had already existed in Japan. India is often regarded as the original source of jiu-jitsu, although there is not sufficient evidence to claim as a fact. Texts from ancient Japanese make references to various grappling styles, and there are many scrolls depicting ancient jiu-jitsu techniques that are recognizable to the modern jiu-jitsu practitioner.

Jiu-Jitsu means the “gentle art” or “soft art”, although it was a fighting art with direct links to bloody battlefields of feudal Japan. It encompassed punches, kicks, painful pressure point attacks, throws, strangleholds, and joint locks. The term “gentle art” was meant to express the guiding idea that lies beneath all jiu-jitsu, both Japanese and modern Brazilian-the notion of using one’s strength in the most effective way.

Jigoro Kano (1860-1938) took up the study of jiu-jitsu as a means to improve his frail physique and as a defense to persistent bullying in school. Kano saw a major problem, classical jiu-jitsu was taught mainly by kata-pre arranged choreographed sequences where tow training partners followed a pattern of movements without resisting each other.

Live training (sparring) was done in only a few schools and only by the highest level practitioners. This was because classic jiu-jitsu contained many dangerous moves, eye gouges, groin strikes, hair pulling, and so forth. These obviously could not be practiced by students using their full power without harming their partner. This meant that students never were able to apply their moves on a resisting opponent. Kano sought to rejuvenate classical jiu-jitsu in response to these problems.

The most crucial element that Kano instituted in his school was randori or live sparring. The idea was for two students to train “live” with each other, both trying to resist each other and apply techniques. Kano saw that in order to have live training, the dangerous elements of jiu-jitsu must be removed. Kano opened his own school, the Kodokan, in the early 1880’s and used his teaching methods. He called his martial art judo to differentiate it from classical jiu-jitsu.

Kano’s best student

Bjj school in Astoria

One of Kano’s best students was Mitsuyo Maeda (1878-1941). He originally trained in classical jiu-jitsu but switched to Kodokan when he was eighteen. Kano wanted to spread judo throughout the world, possibly because he wanted to make it an Olympic sport. Maeda was sent to the United States by Kano to demonstrate the sport, and do the sparring if necessary. Initially, things did not go well in America. An impromptu challenge was issued from West Point Military Academy, a powerful looking football player against Maeda.

Maeda was taken down and pinned on his back. Maeda kept fighting and secured an arm lock, but people considered the football player a victor because he pinned Maeda.

The confusion over the outcome made people want another match. Another of Kano’s students, Tomita, was there and ranked higher than Maeda, although older and out of his prime. The football player went against Tomita, and was pinned, a humiliating defeat for judo. After this embarrassment Tomita and Maeda split, Maeda staying on the East Coast and Tomita, going to the West Coast. Maeda was anxious to bring back dignity to judo and went up to take on a fight with an American boxer or wrestler. He then fought a talented local wrestling champ in New York and won, restoring honor to judo.

Maeda became so confident that he challenged Jack Jackson, a man who many regarded as the greatest heavyweight champion of that era. In doing this Maeda started a tradition that Helio Gracie and his sons would carry on. Maeda molded his fighting style to deal with the most two coon type of fighters’ boxers and wrestlers, and he insisted on calling his art jiu-jitsu. In the early 1920’s Maeda became heavily involved with the Japanese government to start a colony in northern Brazil. He immersed himself in the project, which ultimately failed. One local man who used his political connections to help Maeda was Gastao Gracie, whose family emigrated from Scotland to Brazil. The friendship grew and Gastao offered Maeda to teach jiu-jitsu to his sons.

Carlos Gracie the oldest of the Gracie brothers became one of Maeda’s students. Maeda modified his techniques for MMA competition. He discerned, for example, the principal fighting method involved in throwing a low kick or elbow to set up a clinch from where he would throw his opponent to the mat. Once there, he focused on ground grappling submission holds to finish the fight. This general strategy seems very similar to that used by modern Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters.

Carlos was a student of Maeda’s no more than four years and possibly a little as two years. He opened his own school in 1925, but there’s is conflicting evidence as to how long he studied jiu-jitsu before he actually opened his own school. Maeda continued his travels around Brazil and the other countries, leaving the Gracie brothers to work of the myriad precise details of their martial art over time.

The Gracie brothers

The Gracie brothers had several advantages that enabled them to make quick advances in the development of their art. One was numbers; they had four sons, who were heavily involved in jiu-jitsu. There was never a lack of training partners to practice with and refine technique. The four brothers had a huge number of children, most of whom became avid jiu-jitsu students and teachers. The Gracie’s\’s taught jiu-jitsu for a living and devoted all their time to study and research.

Helio Gracie, for example, is known to have spent a staggering amount of time refining and adjusting techniques. The single greatest innovation that the Gracie s incorporated, and one that is possibly more than any other responsible for the success of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in MMA events, was the development of a simple, yet devastatingly effective general combat strategy, and the implementation of a sport point system that reflected strategy.

The record shows that the innovations end improvements to Jiu Jitsu incorporated by the Gracies have created a combat style with unequaled success in MMA competition. Since the early days of Carlos and Helio, through the second generation, Carlson and Rolls, through the current generation, Rickson, Rorion, Royler, Royce, Ralph, and Renzo (among others), the Gracies and their students have experienced tremendous success in open MMA events and challenge matches that has brought them worldwide recognition.

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