The History of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

 The roots of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu originate in the teachings of Mitsuyo Maeda, one of Judo’s most prominent figures, while he lived and taught his art in Brazil.  Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, sent Maeda as a representative from Japan to teach Judo worldwide.  During his travels, Maeda fought many matches and openly took on challenges from opponents of different martial arts and sports backgrounds, like wrestling and boxing.  Based on these experiences, he began to modify the sport Judo he learned from Jigoro Kano so that he could persevere and win in a real fight, rather than a sports match with set rules and regulations.  He incorporated many techniques derived from the samurai fighting arts that were discarded in the development of Judo as a “gentle art” to be practiced in times of political peace.


        When Maeda moved to Brazil, he became friends with Gastao Gracie and taught his son Carlos the fighting skills he had acquired both from his traditional Japanese martial arts training and from practical experience gained during this travels


       In a fight, Maeda found that he was most successful using strikes and kicks to close the distance between him and his opponent.  Once close enough, he would clinch and use Judo to take his opponent to the ground.  On the ground he would apply pins and submissions that the opponent did not know how to defend.  Maeda was the first to innovate in this manner, weaving together techniques into phases of combat, and thereby creating a unique strategy that centered on taking the opponent to the ground as soon as possible.


        The innovations did not end with Maeda, however, Carlos Gracie and his brothers learned under Maeda and became proficient practicioners and teachers.  They embraced and perfected Maeda’s strategy of taking opponents to the ground.  Like Maeda, they engaged in and began open-challenge matches, testing their strategy and skill against opponents of other backgrounds.  These sanctioned matches had few or no rules, and the Gracies quickly earned a reputation for their unparalleled skill and courage.

The innovations of the Gracies came from additional challenges that they faced during their fights.  Like Maeda, they had to modify their techniques to win.  The Gracies were physically smaller compared to most of their competitors, and so they needed to find ways to use leverage rather than strength and to fight effectively on their backs for long periods of time.


        Whereas in traditional fighting victory was achieved by means of a pin, the Gracies saw that these pins rarely kept big opponents down.  Instead it was more effective to control the opponent from the back.  While a position like this would never get points in a traditional match, in a real fight it was a key to success: another breakthrough.


        Pins were still used, but the Gracies began to test and rank them, understanding when each one should be used in a fight, and which ones presented opportunities to strike the opponent.  In this way, the Gracies developed a system which guided the fighter to escape from bad positions and transition to good positions from which submissions were easier to achieve.  In a sense, the goal of the fighter was to advance up a "hierarchy of positions".  Even today in sport Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, points in a match are awarded based on "positional dominance": another innovation of the Gracies.


        Based on this strategy of positional dominance and technique, anyone can excel at the fighting arts with proper training.  The Gracies innovated by necessity, so that they could win against bigger and stronger opponents.  They were smaller, but they fought smarter, using positional strategy and techniques based on leverage in the context of human anatomy.  Because of this Gracie Jiu Jitsu, now widely known also as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, has been successfully taught to and used by people of all backgrounds, body types, and ages, from Mixed Marital Arts fighters to athletes and non-athletes, women, children, and even sick, disabled, and elderly people.  The root of this success in a broadand diverse spectrum of practicioners is that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a martial art based on a practical system of self-defense, tried and tested extensively in Brazil and worldwide, that anyone can confidently put to use in their lives.


        The benefits of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu extend past self-defense.  Pracitioners appreciate Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a way of maintaining health and fitness, motivation for diet and exercise, mental agility, discipline, awareness, confidence, and recovery from sickness, to name a few.  Please view the testimonials (coming soon!) to read accounts of the impact of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in practicioners’ lives.




Gracie, Renzo and Danaher, John (2003) Mastering Jujitsu. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. ISBN 0-7360-4404-3.


Machado, Rigan and Fraguas, Jose M. (2004) Encyclopedia of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Vol. 1). Burbank, California: Unique Publications. ISBN 0-86568-224-0.


Photo credits:


Helio Gracie: obtained from


Carlos Gracie: obtained from


Carlos Gracie armbar: obtained from

Carlos Gracie
Helio Gracie
Carlos Gracie demonstrates the flying armbar.

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