Origin of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Some historians of Jiu-Jitsu believe that the origins of “the gentle art” can be traced back to India, where it was practiced by Buddhist Monks. Concerned with self defense, these monks created techniques based upon the principles of balance and leverage, and a system of manipulating the body in a manner where one could avoid relying upon strength or weapons. With the expansion of Buddhism, Jiu-Jitsu spread from Southeast Asia to China, finally arriving in Japan where it developed and gained further popularity.
In the last days of the 19th century, some Jiu-Jitsu masters emigrated from Japan to other continents, teaching the martial arts as well as taking part in fights and competitions.
Esai Maeda Koma, also known as “Conde Koma,” was one such master. He was an expert in Japanese judoka and member of the Kodokan. Maeda was one of five of the Kodokan’s top groundwork experts that Judo’s founder Kano Jigoro sent overseas to spread his art to the world. Maeda left Japan in 1904 and visited a number of countries giving “jiu-do” demonstrations and accepting challenges from wrestlers, boxers, savage fighters and various other martial artists before eventually arriving in Brazil on November 14, 1914.
Since its inception, judo was separated from jujutsu in its goals, philosophy, and training regime. Although there was great rivalry among jujutsu teachers, this was more than just Kano’s ambition to clearly individualize his art. To Kano, judo wasn’t solely a martial art: it was also a sport, a method for promoting physical fitness and building character in young people, and, ultimately, a way (Do) of life. To a very large extent, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has also encompassed these philosophies.
It is often claimed that BJJ is a development of traditional Japanese jujutsu, not judo, and that Maeda was a jujutsuka. However, Maeda never trained in jujutsu. He first trained in sumo as a teenager, and after the interest generated by stories about the success of judo at contests between judo and jujutsu that were occurring at the time, he changed from sumo to judo, becoming a student of Kano’s Kodokan judo. He was promoted to 7th dan in Kodokan judo the day before he died in 1941.
Maeda met an influential businessman named Gastão Gracie who helped him get established. In 1916, his 14 year-old son Carlos Gracie watched a demonstration by Maeda at the Teatro da Paz (Theatre of Peace) and decided to learn the art. Maeda accepted Carlos as a student, and Carlos went on to become a great exponent of the art and ultimately became the founder of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
For a naturally frail fifteen year old Carlos Gracie, Jiu-Jitsu became a method not simply for fighting, but for personal improvement. At nineteen, he moved to Rio De Janeiro with his family and began teaching and fighting. In his travels, Carlos would teach classes, and also proved the efficiency of the art by beating opponents who were physically stronger. In 1925, he returned to Rio and opened the first school, known as the “Academia Gracie de Jiu-Jitsu.”
Since then, Carlos started to share his knowledge with his brothers, adapting and refining the techniques to the naturally weaker characteristics of his family. Carlos also taught them his philosophies of life and his concepts of natural nutrition. Eventually, Carlos became a pioneer in creating a special diet for athletes, “the Gracie Diet,” which transformed Jiu-Jitsu into a term synonymous with health.
Having created an efficient self defense system, Carlos Gracie saw in the art a way to become a man who was more tolerant, respectful, and self-confident. With a goal of proving Jiu-Jitsu’s superiority over other martial arts, Carlos challenged the greatest fighters of his time. He also managed the fighting careers of his brothers. Because they were fighting and defeating opponents fifty or sixty pounds heavier, the Gracies quickly gained recognition and prestige.
When the family moved to Rio, younger brother Hélio Gracie was too young and sick at that time to learn the art, and due to medical imposition was prohibited to take part in the training sessions. Despite that, Hélio learned from watching his brothers. He eventually overcame his health problems, continued to refine the technique’s for weaker, smaller fighters, and became a legendary fighter and proponent of the family style.
Hélio competed in several submission judo competitions which mostly ended in a draw. One defeat (in Brazil in 1951) was by visiting Japanese judoka Masahiko Kimura, whose surname the Gracies gave to the arm lock used to defeat Hélio. The Gracie family continued to develop the system throughout the 20th century, often fighting vale tudo matches (precursors to modern MMA), during which it increased its focus on ground fighting and refined its techniques. Hélio is thought by many to be the founder of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, however he learned from Carlos and his older brothers.
Carlos Gracie Jr.
Renzo is the grandson of Gracie Jiu Jitsu founder Carlos Gracie, and son of 9th Dan BJJ black belt Robson Gracie, and brother to Ralph and Ryan Gracie. Renzo started training Jiu Jitsu as an infant. Renzo had formal instruction from many of the Gracie patriarchs, but his biggest influences were the legendary Rolls Gracie and Carlos Gracie Jr ., who awarded him his black belt.
The Renzo Gracie name is also synonymous with Vale Tudo and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Renzo’s first official fight was at the age of 25 in the Gracie Vale Tudo Challenge were he submitted his opponent Luiz Augusto Alvareda by rear naked choke.
Renzo pursued his fighting career moving to the US to compete where the sport was gaining recognition after the early UFC’s. Renzo also opened his own academy in New York, a gym that rapidly became a reference in America and the world for high quality Jiu Jitsu. From this same academy Renzo Gracie forged fighters such as Matt Serra, John Danaher, Ricardo “Cachorão” Almeida, Shawn Williams, Jerry Rinaldi and many, many others.
After a successful victory over the famous Russian fighter Oleg Taktarov, Renzo was invited to defend the Gracie surname in Japan, a challenge Renzo grabbed with both hands. He went on to fight and be successful at the prestigious Pride FC, the UFC, and ADCC. Retired from fighting, Renzo, a true martial arts legend and a fantastic coach, has produced dozens of important black belts. Renzo was also the subject of a famous documentary about his life as a fighter named: Legacy. Renzo continues to represent the Gracie family, and with affiliate academies in several countries, is spreading the virtues of the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle worldwide.
Prominence of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu came to international prominence in the martial arts community in the 1990s, when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Royce Gracie won the first, second and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships, which at the time were single elimination martial arts tournaments. Royce fought against often much-larger opponents who were practicing other styles, including boxing, shoot-fighting, karate, judo, tae kwon do and wrestling. It has since become a staple art for many MMA fighters and is largely credited for bringing widespread attention to the importance of ground fighting. Sport BJJ tournaments continue to grow in popularity worldwide and have given rise to no-gi submission grappling tournaments, such as the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship.