Who invented Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

Origins in Japan

There are different stories about the beginnings of the martial art Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which cannot be clearly proven. A Chinese priest is said to have brought the first form of Jiu-Jitsu to Japan. The original Jiu-Jitsu was considered a product of human movement, it starts with instincts and teaches how to use the body for self-defense. Grandmaster Kanō Jigorō is one of the first people to teach Kodokan Judo in Japan. He is responsible for some of the initial as well as specific training methods of Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. The training was tailored for boys and teenagers between the ages of 10 and 20. It was part of the educational program in schools and was intended to teach the children or teenagers important values, such as strengthening character or self-confidence, and to teach self-defense. The basic techniques that the grandmaster taught his students had been taught before him. Kanō Jigorō adapted them for his students and showed new variations. The Chinese philosophy of compliance was well known in Japan at that time. Techniques of defense should implement this principle, since dominating with pure force is not very effective. The concept of compliance still has an influence on the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu today. The idea behind the concept is to use the opponent’s strength against him and use little force in defending himself. The word Jiu-Jitsu literally means flexible, gentle art or technique.

Basically, it is difficult to define who first showed the techniques and training methods in the past. Many movements of martial arts are instinctive and some of them can be found in the original form of wrestling. Wrestling has its roots in many cultures and it is difficult to make provable statements about the origin of the techniques. The wrestling style of Japan is Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art in which an attacker is wrestled to the ground and there incapacitated. The style is trained in a kimono, which is considered a tool to overpower the opponent.

Origins in Europe

In Europe and especially in England, Gunji Koizumi was one of the first Judoka and Jiu-Jitsu teachers. He is the founder of Budokwai and for a long time had the largest school outside Japan. Koizumi claimed that there are records that provide evidence of the first practices of jiu-jitsu techniques. Among the countries of origin of his techniques, he cited places such as Egypt, Germany, and Persia. The techniques are said to have been practiced earlier on various continents of the world.

Origins in Brazil

Mitsuyo Maeda brought the martial arts of judo and jiu-jitsu to Brazil. He first trained Carlos and then other members of the Gracie family. Hélio Gracie, together with his brother Carlos, continued to develop the techniques. Their goal was to make the training more effective. The two played different roles in the evolution of martial arts. Carlos was the mentor and visionary, whereas Hélio spent more time on the mat fine-tuning the techniques. The vision was to make the martial art more “workable” for adults. When Jiu-Jitsu techniques arrived in Western countries, the training for both men and women had to be adapted (for example, in throws and falling techniques) so that students would not injure themselves so easily. In the beginning, mainly Kanō Jigorō’s methodology was used, which was more suitable for children. Some adaptation was also done by Japanese teachers, but the Gracie brothers took it to the next level. The techniques were improved by Hélio and his brother assisted him. They developed not only techniques, but also a complete lifestyle around the martial art, including a healthy diet, a positive mentality and the teaching of social values.

Gracie Jiu Jitsu

The Gracie brothers opened their first official academy on 07.09.1930, Brazilian Independence Day. In the 1930s, they taught very successfully in their school and managed to attract and train important people in their version of Jiu-Jitsu. Training was done in groups and private classes. Hélio and Carlos (with the help of other unknown people) developed a new methodology and a comprehensive curriculum for the training. The curriculum consisted of 36 lessons (units) on self-defense. The training program was taught as early as the 1930s, evidence of which exists in the form of newspaper advertisements that provided information about the training. To this day, the original Gracie training program continues to influence modern self-defense curricula. Descendants of the Gracie family and other jiu-jitsu families have developed numerous new curriculums, some of which were approved by Grandmaster Hélio before his death. These include, for example, the Gracie University Combatives or the Valente brothers’ program. Because Hélio Gracie had spent so much more time on the mat training, he was instrumental in fine-tuning the program. Hélio improved and worked on the techniques and his training program with the help of his students from 1930 until his death.

In the 1940s, the training stagnated somewhat, Carlos moved to another city (Ceará) and Hélio got married. After that, they taught only in the living room. Carlos visited families in their homes to teach them techniques and make the martial art known. Afterwards, Hélio took over this role. They offered a mixture of private classes with an introduction to jiu-jitsu and more intensive training with preparation for professional fights. Carlos Gracie acted as promoter for fights and saw this as the best chance to make his martial art better known. After Carlos moved back home, he had two fights against Caribé and Azevedo Maia. In 1951 he fought Kato and Kimura and in 1952 he finally opened a big Jiu-Jitsu school with his brother. A great synergy and unity of the brothers enabled the success of their version of Jiu-Jitsu. Their system taught effective methods of training for self-defense and a healthy lifestyle.

The sport Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

A sport is generally established and defined by rules. In the 1960s, the sport of BJJ was born when Hélio Gracie (president of the federation) and Carlos Gracie (chairman) founded a sports federation with the support of Grandmaster Francisco Mansor, João Alberto Barreto and Hélcio Leal Binda. The brothers changed many aspects of the sport, for example, they were long against a points system in competitions. In their opinion, a fight should end only by the opponent’s surrender and otherwise be considered a draw. The belt system also changed, Hélio Gracie was against the introduction of several belt colors. Furthermore, Hélio was against the sporting focus of martial arts and how it changed the goal of the sport as well as the training. The self-defense aspect and philosophy was somewhat lost over the years. Sport Jiu-Jitsu became the focus of the federation, so Hélio resigned from the federation later. With the establishment of the federation, Jiu-Jitsu evolved into a regulated sport that is practiced today for a variety of motives. Jiu-Jitsu continues to be trained for self-defense as a hobby or as a competitive sport. The techniques are similar, only the goal and intentions differ. Competitions in BJJ began in the 60s and 70s. The culture and style of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu changed over the years due to the evolution of the sport and influences of many people involved. These include Carlos and Hélio Gracie, Carlson, Carlos Gracie Jr. and many others. Systematic changes in techniques, forms of training, by the still young sport, are constantly taking place. Thus, there is an increasing gap between Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as an effective and complete self-defense system and BJJ as a pure fighting sport.