The Origin of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & Judo

The art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a descendant of Judo

The evolution from Judo (the Japanese Jiu Jitsu style) to a style uniquely Brazilian, began when Mitsuo Maeda came to Brazil to help settle Japanese colonies in the country. He was befriended in Brazil by a politician named Gracie. In return for the kindness shown to him by Mr. Gracie, Maeda taught the Brazilian politician’s eldest son his style of Jiu-Jitsu. The traditional Judo had many ground techniques, and so it began. The eldest son became a Judo instructor, teaching the art to his brothers. The youngest of which was Helio. Suffering from physical ailments, and lacking physical strength, Helio was confined to watching his older brothers teach and train. One day, a private student showed up for his lesson but no instructor was there to teach him. However, Helio, was around, and proceeded to teach the student what he had learned from watching his brothers, and threw in his own adaptations he had invented out of physical necessity. Unable to out muscle anybody, Helio had been forced to rely more heavily on efficient use of leverage and movement to control his opponents. Helio, had developed a style of Jiu-Jitsu that allowed smaller, weaker people to control larger stronger opponents on the ground. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was born.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) would first gain notoriety through competitions in carnival fairs in Brazil. Some of the matches would feature the slight Helio defeating men nearly twice his size. The Gracie family issued challenges through the newspapers to practitioners of other martial arts. Challenge matches were held at an academy or neutral place and BJJ always emerged victorious over all other martial art styles, including Karate, Tae-Kwon-Do, and Judo. This lead to professional Vale-Tudo (anything goes) professional matches in Brazil. Once again BJJ practitioners easily dominated the scene. Helio’s eldest son Rorion (pronounced Horion) Gracie moved to California in the 1980’s, bringing with him his brothers Rickson, Royler and Royce. Pretty soon the Gracie brothers were defeating teachers of Karate, Tae-Kwon-Do, Kung Fu, Ninjitsu and others stateside. What was astonishing was the ease in which the BJJ practitioner was able to negate the ability of the other martial arts stylists’ use of strikes by simply closing the distance. The fights would follow a predictable pattern.

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The opponent would attempt to strike the BJJ practitioner, which would enable the BJJ practitioner to close the distance and clinch his opponent. Once inside the clinch, the opponent was unable to effectively strike, and the BJJ practitioner would pull him down to the ground. From the ground position, whether the BJJ practitioner landed on top or bottom of his opponent, he would proceed to use a submission hold (choke or joint lock) to make his opponent give up or submit. What these challenge matches demonstrated (besides the dominance of BJJ) was that most martial arts do not sufficiently address the issue of what to do when the fight hits the ground. This is a glaring weakness, especially when one considers that in the states FBI statistics have consistently claimed that over ninety percent of all fights end up on the ground. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling (ground based) fighting art.

For Rorion Gracie, Proving his art to the citizens of the Greater Los Angeles area was not enough. In the early 1990’s, he came up with the idea of pitting martial art versus martial art on television through pay-per-view. Thus, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was born. The competition was designed to show the general public what happens when top practitioners of different arts fight each other. Who would win between a Karate guy and a Boxer, a sumo wretler or a Kung Fu expert, etceteras. Entering the tournament was Rorion’s little brother Royce, all 176 pounds of him. To make a long story short, Royce submitted all of his larger and stronger opponents with ease en route to becoming the first UFC Champion. Because he made it look so easy, and the fact that Royce seldom needed to actually hit his opponent to win, led to the emergence of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a martial art throughout North America.