One way or another, you have probably heard of Jiu-Jitsu at least once in your lifetime.
That, or you are an avid fan of martial arts.
Either way, you’re here curious as to where Jiu-Jitsu originated.
The short answer was probably Japan, but that isn’t all there is to this art’s history.
That’s where this article comes in, where we delve into the details and prominent names of the art.
But first, what is Jiu-Jitsu?
Jiu-Jitsu is a Japanese martial art involving levers, twists, and pressure to take someone to the ground and control them.
It can also be written as jujitsu or jujutsu.
In Japanese, the word “jū” means “gentleness,” and the word Jutsu means “art” or “technique.”
Because of this, it’s also called “gentle art,” which comes from the literal translation.
As with almost all ancient martial arts, no one knows exactly where it came from in the secular world.
Between the 3rd and 8th centuries, people from India to China had very similar fighting styles.
What is known is that the schools of the samurai, the warrior caste of feudal Japan, were where they grew up and got better.
Even though it may have started with Buddhist monks in India or China, samurai warriors in Japan used Jiu Jitsu on the battlefield.
Samurai warriors were usually well-armed and rode horses.
Samurai created the art of Jiu Jitsu so that they could fight well if they were disarmed and on foot.
So, Jiu-Jitsu was created as an alternative to kenjitsu and other so-called “rigid arts,” in which people fought with swords and other weapons.
Jiu-Jitsu grew to include throws, joint-locks, and strangles, as well as striking skills because armor made it difficult to move swiftly.
When the time of the samurai was over, the gun replaced the sword, and practitioners found new ways to practice martial arts for fun.
Jiu-Jitsu eventually grew into many different styles in Japan, such as Karate, Aikido, and Judo.
But these arts were missing essential parts of what Jiu-Jitsu was supposed to have.
This lack of reality led to years of confusion in the martial arts world, which the famous Bruce Lee would later call the “classical mess.”
Bruce Lee learned about Judo and did a lot of research on wrestling while he was alive.
He said that traditional forms of martial arts don’t work.
Traditional fighting schools just used techniques that weren’t useful in modern fighting.
Since there was no safe way to test these arts, practicing them was like trying to swim without water.
The real art of Jiu-Jitsu didn’t come back to life until the Gracie family in Brazil learned the sports art of Judo and the fighting art of Jiu-Jitsu.
Esai Maeda, also known as Conde Koma, taught the Gracie family in Brazil how to do Judo, a form of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.
This was around 1914. Maeda was a Jiu-Jitsu champion and one of Kano’s students at the Kodokan in Japan.
He was born in 1878, and in 1897, he started learning Judo (also called Kano’s Jiu-Jitsu).
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The Gracie Family
In 1914, Maeda was given a chance to move to Brazil with a large group of Japanese people.
In Brazil’s northern state of Para, he became friends with the powerful businessman Gasto Gracie, who helped him get started.
To show his appreciation, Maeda offered to teach Gasto’s oldest son, Carlos Gracie, traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. Carlos studied for a while before passing on his knowledge to his brothers.
In Belém, Brazil, in 1917, there was a young man named Carlos Gracie (1902–1994).
There he saw a show by a Japanese man who could first beat and control the area’s giants for the first time.
Gastão Gracie was a friend of Maeda’s father, so he agreed to teach the boy how to defend himself.
He taught Carlos and other Brazilians, like Luiz Franca, who later taught Oswaldo Fadda, the basics of his art in his lessons.
They would use their opponent’s own strength against them on the ground.
Low kicks and elbow strikes are used to get close to the opponent before taking them down.
He would use randori, a full-on sparring session with a partner, to help his training evolve.
Carlos Gracie was a dedicated student who fell in love with Jiu-Jitsu.
He started to teach his brothers the art, which made his mom sad because she wanted more diplomats in the family.
Carlos Gracie, one of eight siblings, named Oswaldo, Gasto Jr., George, Helena, Helio, Mary, and Ilka, opened the first BJJ school for the Gracie family in 1925.
Helio Gracie was always a frail child.
He was the youngest son of Gasto and Cesalina Gracie’s eight children, three of whom were girls.
No one could figure out why, but when he ran up a flight of stairs, he would pass out.
Helio’s technical improvements as an instructor and indomitable spirit made him stand out among his brothers.
This was despite being at odds with his skinny body.
In line with Count Koma’s strategies, the Gracies fought capoeira artists in Rio, stevedores, and other brave individuals.
Though intimidating when standing, when on the ground, these muscle men were easy prey for pounces and chokes.
Helio soon realized he was too small to make the most of the moves he had learned from watching Carlos teach.
So that the techniques would work for him, he started to change them so that they would work with his weak body.
Helio modified almost all of the techniques and, through trial and error, came up with Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
He did this by emphasizing leverage and timing more than strength and speed.
Helio publicly challenged all the well-known martial artists in Brazil to show that his new system worked.
He battled 18 times, including Wladek Zbyszko, a former world heavyweight wrestling champion, and Kato, who was ranked #2 in Judo at the time.
His win over Kato gave him the right to fight the world champion, Masahiko Kimura.
Kimura is the best Jiu-Jitsu fighter Japan has ever had, and he was almost 80 pounds heavier than Helio.
Kimura won, but he was so impressed by Helio’s skills that he requested him to teach in Japan.
It was a sign that the best artists worldwide saw how hard Helio worked to improve his art.
At 43, Helio and his former student Waldemar Santana set the world record for the longest continuous no-holds-barred fight by fighting for 3 hours and 40 minutes!
Helio is often thought of as Brazil’s first sports hero.
He also took on boxing legends Primo Carnera, Joe Louis, and Ezzard Charles. All of them said no.
THE PRESENT TIME
Today, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the fastest-growing martial art in the world.
It is riding the wave of the “Mixed Martial Arts” (MMA) craze.
There are now tens of thousands of Jiu-Jitsu schools in every part of the world.
Jiu-Jitsu as a sport has also become very popular.
The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Foundation (IBJJF), a governing body, runs a competition circuit annually that thousands of people enter.
Jiu Jitsu stays true to its roots by being used effectively in all MMA competitions.
All fighters, no matter what they specialize in, need to know at least the basics of Jiu Jitsu if they want to win.
The people who practice this art are continuously improving it and making it better.
Every day, people come up with new moves and techniques, which shows how dynamic and “live” the art is.
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Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art with a rich history.
Aside from this, civilians can benefit from learning the art.
There are many reasons one can pick up this fighting style, from self-defense to competing.