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A brief history of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has exploded in popularity in recent years, so we thought it was worth writing a short post explaining the sport and where it came from, for anyone who was curious about it or even parents who are wondering if it’s safe for their children.

Spoiler alert: it’s safe for your kids.

What is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (or BJJ as you’ll see it referred to) is a martial art, a sport, and a way of life.

There’s nothing quite like it for keeping you fit, building confidence, and making life-long friends.

For the martial art part of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, most other fighting sports are about knocking your opponent out. BJJ promotes the concept that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant by using leverage and proper technique.

As a sport, there’s nothing that really compares to it for keeping fit. The constant pushing and pulling on the mats work every muscle in your body, building strength and burning fat.

As a way of life, BJJ helps people overcome fears, insecurities, and self-confidence issues by teaching disciple, respect, and patience.

How BJJ started

If you thought Jiu jitsu was an oriental thing, then you’re right, so don’t be confused by the Brazil part.

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has its origins in Judo, which started in Japan in 1882 by Jigoro Kano. Surprisingly by this time, martial arts had all but been abandoned by the Japanese, and the few who did practice were looked down upon by society.

Wanting to promote martial arts as a way of bettering the soul and not just the body, Kano believed that “jūjutsu” was insufficient to describe it, so he changed the second character to dō, meaning way, road or path, which implies a more philosophical context than jutsu (meaning art or means).

Thus Judo was born.

One of Kano’s students was a man by the name of Mitsuyo Maeda, who went on to become known as the father of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

After mastering his art in Japan, Maeda then travelled the world, giving “jiu-do” demonstrations and accepting challenges from wrestlers, boxers, savate fighters and various other martial artists before eventually arriving in Brazil on November 14, 1914.

The Gracie family

Once in Brazil, Maeda started giving demonstrations in what was then known as “Kano-ryu Jiu-Jitsu”.

In 1917, at the Da Paz Theatre in the city of Belém, a 14 year old by the name of Carlos Gracie watched one of Maeda’s demonstrations, and was so enamoured he asked to be taken on as a student.

Maeda agreed and the young man went on to become one of the sports legends.

Carlos and his brother Hélio ended up teaching the sport to their other brothers, Osvaldo, Gastão, and Jorge. In 1925, Carlos returned to Rio and opened the first school, known as the “Academia Gracie de Jiu-Jitsu.”

Carlos and his brothers established a solid reputation by issuing the now famous “Gracie Challenge”. All challengers were welcome to come and fight with the Gracies in no-holds-barred (NHB) matches.

The Gracies continued to develop the strategies and techniques they learned from Maeda, honing their skills and eventually creating a separate martial art, known today as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

BJJ today

In the mid-nineties, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) aimed to pitch the world’s different combat systems against each other to see which style was really the best.

Boxers, Karate champions, and wrestlers all took part, but what no one expected was a little guy in his pyjamas beating everyone.

Royce Gracie was undefeated in the first FIVE tournaments, beating much bigger opponents by choking them out or making them submit.

The UFC Hall of Famer is considered to be one of the most influential figures in the history of MMA, revolutionising the sport and popularising Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by introducing it to a world-wide audience.

If you would like to try Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for yourself to see what all the fuss is about, then check out our free 14-day trial.

After a couple of weeks if it’s not for you, it’s not for you… but if it is, your life will never be the same again.