History of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Jiu-jitsu is the oldest form of practiced martial arts known to man. Jiu-jitsu originated more than 4,000 years ago by Buddhists monks in northern India. The form of that time was designed as a way to protect the monks in their travels as they spread Buddhism. The key fundamental of their new martial skill was to utilize balance, pressure, leverage, and position instead of the reliance on weapon systems.

Jiu-jitsu spread throughout Southeast Asia as Buddhism developed monasteries throughout the region. Between the late17th to early 19th century Jiu-Jitsu reached China and Japan. As it reached Japan it evolved to what is commonly known as jujutsu or jiu-jitsu. Adopted by the Samurais as an unarmed form of close quarter combat.

The martial art highlighted their own code of conduct known as Bushido, the “way of the warrior”. Centered around core values including loyalty, justice, manners, purity, modesty, honor, self confidence and respect, They gave the style the name jiu-jitsu, which means technique or art of “gentleness” or “the gentle art”.

With the end of the feudal system in Japan, Jiu-jitsu split into more than 100 distinct styles that were put in the service of feudal lords in their wars. Several of these different styles continue to be practiced, including Aikido, Karate, Judo etc. With the passage of time, jiu-jitsu became a major martial art of the Japanese and one of their national treasures.

In 1882, Dr. Jigoro Kano (The Father of Judo) made a comprehensive study of the ancient self-defence forms and integrated the best of these forms into a sport which is known as Kodokan Judo. Judo of this period had deep roots in Jiu-jitsu of today.

Starting with the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853 and the beginning of the Meiji era in Japan, Western influence drastically changed Japan. With that change came the expansion of Japanese business and culture along with an influx of western culture into Japan. These conditions allowed for the exposure of westerners to Japanese martial arts an increase in interest in the martial arts.

In 1914, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu champion Mitsuyo Maeda (Esai Maeda/Kosei Maeda) migrated to Brazil, and while there instructed Carlos Gracie in the techniques of Jiu-jitsu.

Maeda’s teachings were then passed on to Carlos’ brothers Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., and George. Hélio, however, was too young and sick at that time to learn the art and due to his medical imposition was prohibited to physically partake in training. Despite his poor health, Hélio successfully learned the art of Jiu-jitsu through watching his brothers.

Today, Hélio and Carlos are both widely considered by the Jiu-jitsu community and Gracie family as the creators of modern Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The first academy of jiu-jitsu, at Rua Marquês de Abrantes, Praia do Flamengo was established and the Gracie family continued to train students in Brazil. The Gracie influence in Brazil continued to spread and branched off to several schools. Details of this period can be found in the links below.

Oswaldo Fadda was an important figure in the development of jiu jitsu in Brazil, being also the main alternative lineage of the Brazilian grappling style to Gracie family, and one of the few men that achieved the rank of red belt (9th degree/nono grau). Oswaldo Fadda became an influential figure for the growth of jiu jitsu working from the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where he set his own academy in the 1950’s. In recent times, the main academies developed under the Oswaldo Fadda lineage are Nova Uniao and GFTeam.

By the mid-1960s, Jiu-Jitsu was firmly established in the Brazilian martial arts scene. While the Gracies were minor celebrities in their home country, hardly anyone outside of Brazil had been exposed to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

Rorion Gracie was the eldest son of Helio Gracie and grew up training under his father and his cousin Rolls Gracie. Rorion had a gift for teaching and by the age of 17 he was already giving private lessons at his father’s academy.

In 1969 Rorion traveled to California. A judo club at the YMCA caught Rorion’s eye and he attended a class as a white belt and left that class with a brown belt.

After a year in the U.S. Rorion returned to Brazil and decided that he had to return to the United States, and this time his goal was bring his family art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with him.

When Rorion returned in 1978, he offered free lessons in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to every single person he met. One of Rorion’s firs students was Richard Bresler. Jiu-Jitsu classes at this time were little more than private lessons that Rorion held in a garage where he had laid some mats down. Bresler became one of the Gracie’s first steady students, and is still good friends with many of the Gracies.

The number of students grew rapidly and the garage soon was too small to accommodate Rorion’s needs, so he set out to open a real school. With the opening of the first Gracie academy in the U.S. Rorion also called home to Brazil, to tell his family that had established a foothold for Jiu-Jitsu and that he needed help accommodating the sheer number of students.

The family responded by sending Rolyer and Rickson Gracie, Rorion’s brothers, and several of their students including a 17-year-old Royce Gracie

During the 1980s Rorion and his brothers established a thriving academy, but still they had trouble expanding and being accepted by the American martial arts community. Many of Rorion’s students came from other martial arts and when they would go back to their dojo they would tell their instructors of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Some of these instructors took exception to this new art sweeping up students and challenged Rorion to a fight.

Rorion and his brothers were veterans of Vale Tudo matches and quickly overmatched many of these challengers. Rorion began to use these matches like his uncle Carlos used the famous “Gracie Challenge” by having challengers sign the rights to be videotaped in exchange for a cash prize if they won the match.

While these matches certainly earned the Gracies fans in Southern California, including Chuck Norris, who took lessons from Carlos Machado, one of Helio’s and Rickson’s students. Norris’ contacts allowed the Gracies to become more accepted by the martial arts community and spots at conventions and demonstrations that were previously closed to Jiu-Jitsu opened.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu began to spread across California as students of the art began to spread and teach students of their own, but few Americans had heard of, much less had access to, Jiu-Jitsu east of the Rocky Mountains.

In the early 1990s, Rorion wanted to reach out to the rest of the United States, but he knew the grassroots movement he had used in California would be impractical. Rorion went to a friend and student John Milius, a filmmaker, about how he could best reach the largest number of Americans possible. Rorion wanted to use the concept of the challenge match and show the use of ground fighting in a no rules fight.

Milius put Rorion in touch with Art Davie, a promoter, and together the three of them came up with the the Ultimate Fighting Championships. Rorion insisted that there could no rules, no gloves and no time limits, while Milius came up with the idea of an Octagon-shaped cage.

The idea was simple enough, a one-night tournament in which representatives of different martial arts would test their skills. Fights would end by stoppage only: submission, KO or corner throwing in the towel and the winner would be crowned The Ultimate Fighter.

No detail was more hotly debated than which Gracie should represent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. All logic pointed to Rickson, who on top of having transcendent technique is also a physical beast. It was Rickson’s physical nature that caused Rorion to instead pick the scrawny Royce Gracie. To maximize the promotion of the family art, Rorion wanted Royce to appear as the underdog in all his fights based simply on physique.

On November 12, 1993, UFC 1 was held.

Royce won the match due to the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emphasis on position over submission when he was able to lock on a rear naked choke after obtaining a modified back mount.

The UFC was a smashing success, not just as an infomercial for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but also as a promotion all on its own.

Since UFC1 Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has spread throughout the United States and the world.

It has branched off into many linages. These linages are dynamic and expanding as time goes on. To list them with any accuracy to when you read this article is impossible. The following link is a Wikipedia link of BJJ practitioners and a link to a very in depth linages chart.



T.P. Grant: History of Jiu-Jitsu: Coming to America and the Birth of the UFC12 Apr. 2011
Gracie, Rorion. Interview with Fightworks Podcast. 12 Dec. 2010.
Bresler, Richard. Interview with Fightworks Podcast. 24 Jan 2010 http://thefightworkspodcast.com/2010/01/24/rorion-gracie/
Gracie, Rorion. Interview with T.J. De Santis on Sherdog Radio Network. 16 Jan 2011