How Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Got Its Start

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How Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Got Its Start


Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art and combat sport that focuses on grappling and ground fighting techniques. Known for its effectiveness in real-life self-defense situations, BJJ has gained immense popularity worldwide. But how did this martial art originate and develop? In this article, we will explore the fascinating history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, from its roots in Japan to its evolution in Brazil and eventual global recognition.

Origins in Japan:

The story of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu begins in Japan with a martial art called Judo. Judo was developed by Jigoro Kano in the late 19th century as a modern combat sport based on traditional Japanese jujutsu. Kano’s vision was to create a system that focused on efficient techniques and practical self-defense rather than brute strength alone.

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One of Kano’s students, Mitsuyo Maeda, played a crucial role in spreading Judo beyond the borders of Japan. Maeda, known as Count Koma, embarked on a journey around the world, engaging in a series of challenge matches to showcase the effectiveness of Judo. His travels eventually led him to Brazil, where his encounters with the Gracie family would shape the future of martial arts.

The Gracie Family and the Birth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:

In Brazil, Maeda crossed paths with Carlos Gracie, a young man who was fascinated by the art of Judo. Recognizing Maeda’s expertise, Carlos became his student, absorbing the principles and techniques of Judo. Carlos, along with his brothers Oswaldo, Gastão, Jorge, and Hélio, began to adapt and refine these techniques to suit their smaller physiques.


The Gracie brothers combined their knowledge of Judo with their understanding of leverage and body mechanics to develop a highly effective and efficient martial art. This marked the birth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which focused on using leverage and technique to overcome larger and stronger opponents.

The Rise to Prominence:

Hélio Gracie, one of the younger brothers, played a significant role in popularizing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and showcasing its effectiveness. Hélio, who was physically frail, relied on technique and leverage to defeat opponents of various sizes and martial arts backgrounds. Through challenge matches and the creation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the 1990s, the Gracie family demonstrated the dominance of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in real combat situations.


The global recognition of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a legitimate martial art accelerated with the success of Royce Gracie in the early UFC tournaments. Royce, a representative of the Gracie family, showcased the effectiveness of BJJ by defeating opponents from different martial arts backgrounds, including striking disciplines and wrestling. This victory led to an increased interest in BJJ as practitioners sought to learn the art that had proven itself in combat.

Expansion and Evolution:

As the popularity of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu grew, it spread beyond the Gracie family. BJJ academies began to emerge, both in Brazil and around the world, attracting practitioners from various backgrounds. The sport evolved, with practitioners incorporating new techniques and strategies to refine their skills.

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Today, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is practiced and respected globally. It is a fundamental part of mixed martial arts (MMA), and its techniques are widely taught to law enforcement and military personnel for self-defense and close-quarters combat. BJJ tournaments, such as the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) competitions, provide a platform for practitioners to test their skills and showcase their dedication to the art.

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Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has come a long way from its origins in Japan to becoming a globally recognized martial art and combat sport. The journey of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from its roots in Japan to its prominence today is a testament to the dedication and innovation of the Gracie family and its practitioners. What started as an adaptation of Judo techniques has transformed into a comprehensive martial art that emphasizes leverage, technique, and strategic thinking.

The success of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be attributed to its practicality and effectiveness in real-life combat scenarios. By focusing on ground fighting and grappling, BJJ allows practitioners to neutralize and control opponents regardless of their size or strength. This practicality has made it a popular choice for self-defense training, as well as a crucial component of many MMA fighters’ skill sets.

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One of the key factors that set Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu apart from other martial arts is its emphasis on leverage and technique over raw physical strength. BJJ techniques enable a smaller and weaker individual to defend themselves and even overcome a larger, more powerful opponent. This philosophy of using leverage and technique effectively has been a driving force behind the art’s continued growth and popularity.

The globalization of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been further fueled by the establishment of BJJ academies around the world. These academies provide a structured learning environment where students can train under experienced instructors and progress through a belt ranking system. This system, similar to other martial arts, encourages discipline, perseverance, and continuous self-improvement.

Furthermore, BJJ competitions have played a significant role in the growth and development of the art. Tournaments, such as the IBJJF championships, attract competitors from all over the world, allowing practitioners to test their skills against others of similar experience and showcase their abilities. These events not only promote healthy competition but also provide a platform for innovation and the evolution of new techniques.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions):

Q1: Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu suitable for everyone?

A: Yes, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is suitable for people of all ages, genders, and fitness levels. Its techniques can be adapted to accommodate various physical attributes and capabilities.

Q2: Do I need any prior martial arts experience to start training in BJJ?

A: No, prior martial arts experience is not necessary. BJJ academies welcome beginners and provide structured training programs designed to introduce newcomers to the art.

Q3: Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu effective for self-defense?

A: Absolutely. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s focus on ground fighting and grappling makes it highly effective in real-life self-defense situations. It empowers individuals to defend themselves and control opponents without relying on striking or excessive force.

Q4: Can I compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments?

A: Yes, if you wish to compete, there are various BJJ tournaments available for practitioners of all levels. Competing is optional, and many practitioners train solely for self-improvement and physical fitness.

Q5: What are the benefits of practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

A: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu offers numerous benefits, including improved physical fitness, enhanced self-confidence, increased mental resilience, discipline, and the opportunity to be part of a supportive community.


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