Jiu-Jitsu, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art, combat sport, and a self defense system that focuses on grappling and especially ground fighting.
The art evolved in the early 20th century that evolved from Japanese roots in Brazil, and continued to evolve for many decades. BJJ teaches that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant by using leverage and proper technique—most notably by applying joint-locks and chokeholds to defeat the other person. BJJ training can be used for sport grappling tournaments (gi and no-gi) and mixed martial arts (MMA) competition or self defense. Sparring (commonly referred to as ‘rolling’) and live drilling play a major role in training, and a premium is placed on performance, especially in competition, in relation to progress and ascension through its ranking system.
BJJ fighter Royce Gracie brought BJJ to the forefront in the early UFC’s (Ultimate Fighting Championship) where he battled against competitors from many different martial arts backgrounds in the no holds barred tournament, becoming it’s very first champion.
The Importance of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil
The history of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil mainly derives from one man, Mitsuyo Maeda – known in Brazil as Conde Coma (Count Coma). Maeda was a student of Jigoro Kano and his Kodokan School of martial arts. Though Kano is widely recognized as the father of Judo, his style of teaching was regarded in the early days as a branch of Ju Jitsu and not it’s own art form. In fact, Jigoro’s style has been diluted from its original format over the years by consistent changes to Judo’s rules and regulations.
Mitsuyo Maeda was one of Jigoto Kano’s star pupils, and as such he was asked to help spread the word of his master’s style. Maeda travelled all over the world displaying the art in arenas and circuses, travelling through the United States, England and many other countries before landing in Brazil. It was in Brazil that he met Carlos Gracie, a troubled teenager that Maeda took under his wing and taught his style, though Carlos wasn’t the only student taught by Count Coma, nor was he the only one to develop his own Jiu-Jitsu School, one other student of Maeda also spread his seed into Jiu Jitsu’s landscape, Luis França. There were other Japanese Jiu-Jitsu masters teaching Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil who were lesser known, though still relevant to BJJ today, people like Takeo Iano in the North of Brazil and Kazuo Yoshida in Bahia.
The Importance of the Gracie’s in Jiu-Jitsu
Carlos Gracie was taught by Master Maeda in the city of Belém do Pará in Brazil, but due to financial difficulties moved to Rio de Janeiro. Mituyo Maeda also moved away after his spell in B.P. and left the country, never to see his student again. In Rio de Janeiro, 1925 Carlos established his first school of Jiu-Jitsu at the Marques de Abrantes Street, number 106. To help out with the school he brought in his brothers and taught them his master’s art. The brothers were: Oswaldo, George, Gastão and Hélio Gracie. Carlos and his brothers would go on to promote their academy through a series of challenges, some with no rules, where they would fight men of any size or weight proving their style’s superiority.
Though Helio became possibly the most famous family member of the Gracie brothers, it was George Gracie the one that held the family’s name highest competitively from that first generation of Gracie combatants. Helio Gracie did compete successfully also, but his two most famous fights were also his worst defeats, to Masahiko Kimura and Waldemar Santana, two fights he lost when he was already reaching his 40’s against bigger and younger men.
As Carlos Gracie got more involved with the business side of the family and George’s wild ways separated him from his brothers chain of thought, it was Helio that took responsibility in keeping the school a tight unit. Helio Gracie was also given the responsibility of raising most of Carlos Gracie’s household, teaching them the family martial arts trade. Since the 1920’s the Gracie family has been able to produce consistent talent through every generation, making it one of the strongest martial arts lineages in the world and the strongest amongst Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The Importance of Jiu-Jitsu in MMA
The first steps of MMA were given in the 1920’s Brazil and this events were called “Vale Tudo” (anything goes). They were unsanctioned bouts with no rules (eye gouging and strikes to the groin were allowed) no gloves, no weight categories and most of the times they did not have a time limit either. It was in these bouts that the Gracie’s made their mark and created a name for themselves throughout the nation. As the sport progressed, a few tweaks were made to these Vale Tudo matches, but nowhere near what the sport is today.
In the early days, when these matches started occurring, Jiu-Jitsu’s greatest opponent was Luta Livre, a style of submission grappling used in Brazil. As the popularity of Vale Tudo grew, so did the rivalry between these two opposing styles, so much that many street fights between students of both martial arts and even Dojo storming were common practice.
In the 1984 an attempt to settle the affair was made with the “Jiu-Jitsu vs Martial Arts” event being held where several important figures of Jiu-Jitsu were put up against fighters of other trades (but mainly Luta Livre). The result was inconclusive and the unfriendly Banta continued, until 1991, one of the most important events in the history of Vale Tudo/MMA was held to decide once and for all which was the best martial art in Brazil, the name of the event was “Desafio – Jiu-Jitsu vs. Luta Livre” (BJJ vs Luta Livre Challenge). 3 fighters were chosen from each style to compete against each other in a Vale-Tudo match with no time limits, the fighters from BJJ were Wallid Ismail, Murilo Bustamante and Fabio Gurgel against Eugenio Tadeu, Marcelo Mendes and Denilson Maia from Luta Livre. Jiu-Jitsu won all three fights, a major feather on the cap of BJJ’s community who became broadly considered the stronger style.
While the Brazilian Vale Tudo panorama was roaring, the same was not happening in the United States. It was again through the Gracie family’s efforts that the sport was put in its place. The Gracie’s had seen a market for their Jiu-Jitsu style in America, and they established an academy in California. In trying to prove that their style was the best martial art available, the Gracie’s developed a No Holds Barred event, the concept being designed by Rorion Gracie, this event was named Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and it had the same principle as the Vale Tudo events back in Brazil. The first champion to emerge from this event was Royce Gracie, who later became a UFC Hall of Fame. The brand name and the event itself would suffer severe changes to the rule set, such as the inclusion of gloves, the Kimono (Gi) being stripped, the time frame and striking limitations added and so on and so forth. With time the fighters became more well rounded learning all facets of the game. Today, though less relevant than it was in the past, Jiu-Jitsu is still one of the most important disciplines in the sport.
If the sport started in the US in the early 1990’s, the same seemed to happen in Japan around the same time. Considered the birth nation of Martial Arts, Japan would seem to have a head start when it came to No Holds Barred; the Japanese were serious about striking martial arts and ground fighting with their Karate and Kosen Judo schools. Still, when MMA (Vale Tudo) emerged in Japan, another Gracie name rose above all others, the name of Rickson Gracie. Considered by many the greatest BJJ competitor of all time, Rickson remained undefeated throughout his career, and once again cemented the Gracie name and the Jiu-Jitsu style in that country.
*Some content courtesy BJJ Heroes