History of BJJ
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art and combat sport that focuses on grappling and especially ground fighting with the goal of gaining a dominant position from which to submit an attacker. The system is based on the ideal of a smaller, weaker person using leverage and proper technique to defend themself from a bigger, stronger assailant. BJJ can be trained for self defense, sport grappling tournaments (gi and no-gi) and mixed martial arts (MMA) competition. Sparring and live drilling play a major role in training, and a premium is placed on performance, especially in competition.
The art began when Mitsuyo Maeda, a master of Japanese jujitsu and judo, emigrated to Brazil where he taught his system to Carlos Gracie, who passed it on to his younger brother Helio. The brothers trained many of their sons, who now carry on the family tradition today. The Gracie family continued to develop the system throughout the 20th century, often fighting vale tudo matches (precursors to modern MMA), during which it gained its focus on ground fighting and refined its techniques.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu came to prominence in the United States when Royce Gracie won the first, second and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships in the earlier 90s. It has since become a staple art for many MMA fighters and is largely credited for bringing wide-spread 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 ADCC.
The art is sometimes referred to as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (GJJ) but this name is trademarked by Rorion Gracie and specifically refers to the style taught by him and his selected teachers. Other members of the Gracie family often call their style by personalized names, such as Charles Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and similarly, the Machado brothers call their style Machado Jiu-Jitsu (MJJ). While each style and its instructors have their own unique aspects, they are regarded as variations of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Jiu-jitsu arrived in Brazil when Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese Jujutsu Master and Judoka, first introduced it to the Gracie clan during his visit to Brazil with the hopes of establishing a Japanese colony in the country. It continued to be developed by the Gracies throughout the 20th century.
The most important factor that differentiates Brazilian Jiu-jitsu from Judo and Japanese Jujitsu is that BJJ places a decided emphasis on ground fighting. While Japanese Jujutsu and Judo do incorporate training in ground fighting (newaza), with some schools favoring more ground techniques than others, no Japanese schools, with the possible exception of Kosen judo, put as much emphasis on ground techniques as BJJ. Some, if not the majority, of BJJ schools overlook most throwing techniques entirely. Such a training regime is responsible for the great advances in ground fighting introduced by Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. In addition, like Judo, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu encourages “randori” or free sparring against a live, resisting opponent. Thus, students have an opportunity to test their skills and develop them under realistic conditions, with minimal risk of injury.
Overall, while most Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques can be traced back to traditional Jujutsu, the major difference is that BJJ excels at ground positioning and grappling transitions to set-up submission holds; most BJJ schools teach “position before submission”.
A Japanese jujitsu expert and judoka, prizefighter, and former member of the Kodokan named Mitsuyo Maeda, also known as Count Koma, immigrated to Brazil in the 1910s where an influential businessman named Gastão Gracie helped him get established. In return for his aid, Maeda taught the fighting art of Jujitsu to Gastão’s son Carlos, who then taught the art to his brothers, including Hélio Gracie. Hélio had the opportunity to teach a class one day while Carlos was absent. He soon realized that most of the techniques could be adapted in a way to increase leverage therefore minimizing the force needed to execute the moves. Through Hélio’s experiments early on, and constant technical refinement in training and real fighting, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as we know it today was created. Some argue that the differences are more in culture and moral goals than in the physical principles and techniques of BJJ, however the considerable differences between BJJ and the Japanese styles include the use of strikes on the ground, and holds and joint locks forbidden in the sport of Judo. Another main difference is that Judo, especially in its Olympic sport form, emphasizes throws, while Jiu-Jitsu focuses on submitting the opponent using arm locks, foot locks or chokes. Judo has a much higher amount of referee intervention; in Judo matches, the competitors are often returned to the standing position, while in Jiu-Jitsu matches, the participants are generally allowed to remain on the ground throughhout the entire match.
Other contributing factors to the stylistic divergence of BJJ include the Gracie’s desire to create a national martial art, the influence of Brazilian culture, the Gracies emphasis on full-contact fighting and self-defense, the post World War II closing of the Kodokan by the American Occupation Authority (which were only allowed to reopen on the condition that emphasis be shifted towards sport), as well as the Gracies’ own additions to the body of technique and theories regarding self-defense, martial arts and training methods; and, more recently, the influence of mixed-martial-art competitions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Pride Fighting Championship.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu first became internationally prominent in the martial arts community in the 1990s, when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Royce Gracie won several single elimination martial arts tournaments called the Ultimate Fighting Championships against sometimes much larger opponents who were practicing other styles, including boxing, shoot-fighting, karate, judo, tae kwon do and wrestling. The remarkable success of BJJ versus the other martial arts has been attributed primarily to the unique Gracie methods, and the critical importance of ground grappling techniques neglected by those arts.