BJJ History


Jiu-Jitsu (gentle art) was born in India, among Budhist monks, as a compassionate approach to self-defense. At that time (over 2,000 years ago), Budhism was flourishing in Southeast Asia, especially in the vast lands of India. Several monasteries were established throughout the country, usually in remote areas. The difficult access and isolation favored assaults and robberies against caravans of supplies to Budhist locations. The monks themselves were often victims not only of direct aggression, but also of incredible hardship once their goods were stolen. Lack of supplies, especially during the winter, would bring disastrous consequences to their temple inhabitants.

Their beliefs prevented them from causing harm to others, which created a dilemma when confronted with the need to defend themselves if attacked by bandits. The dire need to protect their goods gave birth to an effective yet humane self-defense, where the main goal was not to hurt the assailants, but to control and neutralize them with techniques based on simple leverages. Their slender bodies nourished primarily from vegetarian diets did not present bulk nor great strength. They had to rely on some form of skills capable of working against bigger opponents. That was the birth of Jiu-Jitsu.

The Role of Japan

Budhism enjoyed protection and support from the emperor at the time Jiu-Jitsu was created (before Christ’s era). However, political upheaval brought to power another ruler who saw the monks as a source of competition for power. In an attempt to eradicate the growing influence of religion in the region, the new emperor adopted a policy of persecution and destruction towards Budhism. Monks soon started to flee the country, finding refuge in several different countries. As they started their teaching in other areas, Budhism became even more widespread than before. It soon reached the Far East, in the land of the Samurais: Japan.

Japan’s culture and way of life where receptive to the ideas of Budhism, which also included the martial arts. Jiu-Jitsu became a passionate discipline among the strict warlords and Japanese apprentices. Soon Japan turned into a hotbed for the further development of Jiu-Jitsu. Their fighting spirit greatly enriched the art, which eventually became the root of future martial arts. The samurais have learned hand to hand combat besides their excellence in using blades.

Japan to Brazil: the birth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

In the early 1900′s, heavy migration from Japanese colonies took place in Northeastern Brazil. Among the several immigrants, there was a samurai of the time, whose name was Maeda Koma. He was the head of the Japanese immigration for the region. He was also a highly accomplished Jiu-Jitsu champion in Japan, and a well respected master of that art. His effort to settle in Brazil was greatly assisted by a diplomat named Gastao Gracie. Gastao was very instrumental in providing entry visas to Maeda and his group. Maeda became grateful and fond of Gastao’s support.

Gastao was the father of eight children, including four boys (Carlos, Jorge, Osvaldo and Helio). His oldest son, Carlos Gracie, was a skinny and hyper-active child, constantly giving headaches to his parents for his erratic behavior. It did not take long for Maeda Koma to learn from his friend Gastao about the difficulties in raising Carlos. Soon Maeda offered to teach his friend’s son the art of Jiu-Jitsu, a secret only reserved for nationals of Japan. Carlos became the only non-japanese student at the exclusive Dojo of master Koma.

After a few eventful classes, the youngster Carlos Gracie found a new path in his life. Within a few years since he started, he passed to his younger brothers Jorge, Osvaldo and Helio what he knew from Maeda’s teachings. That was the initial step in the building of a saga that transformed martial arts worldwide. The Gracie family eventually became a notorious and legendary clan, the ambassadors of an art they considerably improved throughout five generations. They were the creators of what later became known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, one of the most revolutionary martial arts systems in the world.