History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Jiu Jitsu is an intuitive practice that has manifestations in various cultures and historical moments. The basic principles behind Jiu Jitsu can be traced back to Greece, India, China, Rome, Native America, and more. For this reason, it’s tricky to say exactly when and where Jiu Jitsu officially originated. To understand the source of Jiu Jitsu, we must look beyond the physical techniques, considering key elements such as the philosophy, purpose, and moral code that defines the practice. The timeline below shows some of the main influences that have shaped the world of modern-day Jiu Jitsu.

2000 B.C.

Buddhist monks in India develop a value system based upon deep respect for all forms of life. This allows for the creation of a self-defense practice focused on neutralizing aggression without harming the aggressor. Buddhists monks practiced foundational principles of Jiu Jitsu, such as non-aggressive conduct, pursuit of self-mastery and enlightenment, spreading their self-defense system and values throughout Asia towards China and Japan with the expansion of the Buddhism.


This period is considered to be the Golden Age of Jiu Jitsu in Japan. Although Jiu Jitsu was influenced by an array of cultures throughout the first and second millennia, it was in this period of Japanese feudalism that the art achieved widespread recognition as a style of combat. In the Japanese feudal system, Jiu Jitsu became a valuable survival skill, as each feud defended itself with a set of warriors, or samurai. These warriors used techniques to disarm opponents and neutralize their enemies with pins, locks, and throws—using an attacker’s energy against him, rather than opposing it.


Jigoro Kano (1860-1938), a member of the Japanese Ministry of Culture and martial artist, helped to preserve Jiu-Jitsu’s importance as the country entered a time of peace. Kano demonstrated that Jiu-Jitsu could serve not only as a combat skill, but also as a powerful tool for teaching values and skills that would help individuals maintain a balanced life and contribute to the society’s socioeconomic development. Kano made new rules that redefined the Jiu Jitsu with an emphasis on safety. Among these changes, ground fighting—the backbone of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu—was minimized and restricted to a few moves. At first referred to as Kano Jiu Jitsu, this practice was later known as Kodokan Judo, or simply Judo.


Mitsuyu Maeda becomes one of Kano’s students. Measuring just under 5’5’’, Maeda had practiced sumo as a teen but decided to switch to Jiu Jitsu and Judo because of its reputation as a powerful fighting method, especially for smaller-sized individuals. Maeda, who later became famous as Count Koma, became highly skilled and was sent overseas to help spread JiuJitsu around in the world.


Maeda, now known as “Count Koma”, lands in Brazil during is global circuit participating in matches and training around the world. He settled in Belem do Para and made a living demonstrating his fighting skills in shows and circuses.

Carlos Gracie - Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Founder


Carlos Gracie meets Maeda and discovers Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 14. Carlos was an energetic and rebellious child who was constantly getting into trouble, and his father Gastao took Carlos to Maeda’s program in an effort to calm down and discipline his son. Carlos became an avid student, profoundly impacted by new levels of self-control and confidence that he learned from his training. From then on, Carlos used Jiu Jitsu as a tool for finding his way in the world.


The first Gracie Brazilian Jiu Jitsu School is founded in Rio de Janeiro. After several years of difficulty trying to adapt to life as an adult with a regular job, Carlos Gracie (then 23 years old) decided to pursue his passion for Jiu Jitsu and establish a school. Being a martial arts instructor in 20th-century Brazil was not the most promising career, as people were largely unaware that Jiu Jitsu existed. Even so, Carlos was determined to grow Jiu-Jitsu Gracie as a national sport in Brazil. Beginning with very limited resources, Carlos started his school in a small house where he turned the living room into a training area. He started his project by teaching Jiu Jitsu to his four younger brothers, Oswaldo (1904), Gastao (1906), George (1911), and Helio (1913).


In 1990, Jiu Jitsu gained prominence as a martial art when Royce Gracie (descended from the original Gracie clan) famously won several UFC championships, using BJJ to defeat opponents who practiced different styles and were much larger in size.

kids jig-jitsu


The first generation of Gracie brothers living and working in the same house fostered a strong family spirit that they passed on to subsequent generations.The Gracie School steadily grew to become a prominent and influential organization whose philosophies and methods form the foundation of many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools. Today, BJJ is considered a staple art for MMA fighters, a critical tool for law enforcement officers, and a method of empowerment, self-defense, and fitness for individuals around the globe.

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