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Jiu-jitsu History

The Beginning

"Where did it all begin?"

I don't think anyone can answer this question with certainty, but there are plenty of good hypotheses. Every culture has some form of hand to hand combat in its history. Combat without weapons usually appears in the form of wrestling and sometimes boxing. Looking at the history timeline, one good hypothesis is that the wrestling techniques of Jiu-Jitsu could very well have come from Ancient Greece. Olympic games were one of the Greek's strongest traditions. It is most likely that along with Greek ideas, came one of its most popular sports, Pankration. Pankration was a sport that involved both boxing and wrestling techniques and became more popular to the Greeks than either of those sports individually. Pankration would later be overshadowed by the Roman Gladiators, and then banned from the Olympics by Christian leaders of the Roman Empire. Even though new rulers would come and go, Greek customs and ideas still reached India, where Jiu-Jitsu's foundation was likely to have been born. During Alexander the Great's conquests (356 - 323 B.C.), he brought the Greek culture to the areas he conquered. His conquests stretched all the way to India, where he introduced the customs and ideals of Greek culture to the people of that area. Jiu-Jitsu wasn't being formally taught in Japan for over one thousand years after this. Many say that the Greek influence in India led to the development of Kung Fu or more appropriately, Wu Shu (martial arts) in China.

The Chinese have a great deal of stories to support the history of their martial arts. The general idea embraced by most historians is that systemized martial arts techniques came from India along with Buddhism (Bodhi Dharma). The concept here is that the Shaolin temple was built in the center of China and this is where Bodhi Dharma introduced Buddhism and Boxing (senzuikyo). (ref. Aikido and Chinese Martial Arts, Sugawara and Xing) The story that supports the idea of Jiu-Jitsu coming from China takes place around the time of the fall of the Ming Dynasty. It states that a man named Chingempin came from Japan to live in Tokyo at a Buddhist temple where he met three Ronin (masterless Samurai) named Fukuno, Isogai, and Miura. Chingempin told the Ronin of a grappling art he had seen in China. The Ronin became particularly interested in pursuing the study of this art, so he then began teaching in Japan, and this art became Jiu-Jitsu.

Excerpted from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, The Master Text by Gene Simco. For the complete history, buy the book!
The next theory is that there was many forms of wrestling that had developed in China. One of the most notable is Horn Wrestling, called Jiaodixi. This form of wrestling was practiced by the Mongolians and later evolved into Jiaoli, which was wrestling without the horns. This form of wrestling can be seen in Native American cultures (evident in the typical Native American Buffalo head wear) and most likely arrived there by way of Mongolians migrating through now modern Alaska. Jiaoli evolved and became Xiangpu and it is said that this form of wrestling became Sumo in Japan. Another theory says that there were practitioners of Chikura Karube, a wrestling sport developed around 200 B.C. It is said that Chikura Karube later became Jiu-Jitsu in Japan.

The last story mentioned here is that Jiu-Jitsu is Japanese and from Japan. This story follows the same basic idea but differs in that Chingempin introduced an early form of Jiu-Jitsu (not yet called Jiu-Jitsu) called Kempo in Japan, which consisted mostly of strikes and very little grappling. From there, the Japanese developed it into a more effective grappling art. One thing is certain about these stories, and that is that the Japanese were responsible for refining a grappling art into a very sophisticated grappling system called Jiu-Jitsu.

Tracing the history of grappling techniques for this book was quite interesting. In doing so, I decided to look for some common threads between the stories, which are:

  • All ancient cultures had some form of grappling and unarmed fighting techniques.
  • The Greek culture gave its fighters the greatest financial and social rewards. The ancient Greeks conquered quite a bit of territory during the time of Alexander the Great, including the area that Jiu-Jitsu's techniques were said to have come from.
  • Wrestling did exist in China and Mongolia before Jiu-Jitsu did in Japan, and it is interesting to note that this is where Native American wrestling most likely came from by way of migration over the Alaskan Ice Bridge.
  • The pinning and throwing techniques of Jiu-Jitsu are very similar to, and in some cases, the same as those of Greco Roman Wrestling.

Development of Jiu-Jitsu

Jiu-Jitsu itself was developed in Japan during the Feudal period. It was originally an art designed for warfare, but after the abolition of the Feudal system in Japan, certain modifications needed to be made to the art in order to make it suitable for practice. During Feudal times, Jiu-Jitsu was also known as Yawara, Hakuda, Kogusoko, and an assortment of other names. The earliest recorded use of the word "jiu-jitsu" happens in 1532 and is coined by the Takenouchi Ryu (school). The history of the art during this time is uncertain because teachers kept everything secret to give their art a feeling of importance and then would change the stories of their art to suit their own needs.

After the Feudal period in Japan ended (Jiu-jitsu was no longer needed on the battlefield), a way to practice the art realistically was needed, which is why Jigoro Kano (1860--1938), a practitioner of Jiu-Jitsu, developed his own system of Jiu-Jitsu in the late 1800's, called Judo. Judo was helpful because it allowed practitioners the ability to try the art safely and realistically at the same time. The most important contribution Judo made to the practice of "Jiu-jitsu" was the concept of Rondori. Rondori was a form of sparing and contained a set of sportive rules that made practice safe, yet realistic. Because of the sportive outlet (rules that made practice safe), students of Jiu-jitsu from Kano's school were able to practice more frequently due to the fact that they were not always recovering from injuries. This multiplies the amount of training time for student's of Kano's school and drastically increased their abilities. Judo (Kano's version of Jiu-jitsu) was watered down from the complete form (of Jiu-jitsu), but still contained enough techniques to preserve its realistic effectiveness. The one problem that occurred was, in Kano's opinion, ground work was not as important as achieving the throw or take down, therefore ground fighting was not emphasized in Judo and became weak in that system. Judo also began placing too many rules and regulations on the art to make it more acceptable as an Olympic sport. Leg locks were not allowed, and when a fight went to the ground, a player had only 25 seconds to escape a hold or pin before the match was lost. These are a few of the rules that hindered Judo as a realistic form of self-defense. Then why did Judo flourish and why was it so great? Even with all the rules and restrictions, the time-tested principle of "pure grappler beats pure striker," still holds true. The fact remains that most fights, even those fights occurring between strikers with no grappling experience, end up in a clinch. You see the clinch in just about every boxing match, and hundreds of punches usually need to be thrown to end the fight with a strike, which gives the grappler plenty of opportunity to take his/her opponent to the ground, where a pure striker has no experience and is at the grappler's mercy.

After a match-up between older styles of Jiu-jitsu and Judo at the Tokyo police headquarters, Judo was named the national martial art in Japan. It was the official art used by law enforcement in the late 1800's, and continues to be popular to this day. During World War II, many U.S. soldiers were exposed to the art of Judo and brought it back to America with them. The first issue of Black Belt magazine here in America (1961), featured a sketch of a Judo throw and was a special Judo issue.

It wasn't until the birth of martial arts in Hollywood that the mystique of martial arts myths were catapulted to the public eye on a large scale. Here in the U.S. especially, Bruce Lee was one of the greatest catalysts for martial arts in the world today. Bruce Lee was actually a student of Judo and did many studies on grappling while he was alive. He criticized traditional martial arts as being ineffective, but ironically spread more myths about martial arts through his movies than almost anyone in martial arts history.

Jigoro Kano was the founder of Judo, however, Judo is simply a style of Jiu-jitsu and not a separate martial art. Kano was not the first to use the name Judo, the Jiu-jitsu schools he studied at, which would be the source of much of his Judo's techniques had used the phrase before he made it famous in the late 1800's.

The first use of the name Judo was by Seijun Inoue IV, who applied it to his Jujitsu of Jikishin-ryu. Students of Jikishin-ryu Judo were not only expected to master its ninety-seven techniques, but to also develop into generous and gentle-mannered individuals.

Kuninori Suzuki V, the Master of Kito-ryu (Kito means to Rise and Fall) Jiu-jitsu, changed the name of Kito-kumiuchi to Kito-ryu Judo in 1714. The most important contribution that kito ryu would offer Judo was the principle of kuzushi (off-balancing), which is the key to the throwing techniques of modern Judo. Jigoro Kano studied the judo of Jikishin-ryu and Kito-ryu, and incorporated some of their concepts into his original system, which he named Kodokan Judo.

Judo is made up of many styles of Jiu-jitsu whose masters Kano had studied with. The most notable were Jikishin-ryu, Kito-ryu, and later Fusen-ryu would be incorporated for its groundwork (ne waza) as Kano would ask the style's head master, Mataemon Tanabe for his syllabus. Yokiashi Yamashita (Kano's Chief assistant) would add his knowledge of Yoshin Ryu ju jitsu and Tenshin shinyo Ryu ju jitsu, both of which, he was a master.

In 1912, Kano met with the remaining leader masters of Jiu Jitsu to finalize a Kodokan syllabus of training and kata. Aoyagi of Sosusihis Ryu, Takano, Yano, Kotaro Imei and Hikasuburo Ohshima from Takeuisi Ryu. Jushin Sekiguchi and Mogichi Tsumizu from Sekiguchi Ryu, Eguchi from Kyushin Ryu, Hoshino from Shiten Ryu, Inazu from Miura Ryu and finally, Takamatsu, a Kukkishin Ryu master, whose school specialized in weapons training.

Before the formal meeting between Kano and the grandmasters of Japan's greatest Jiu-jitsu schools, a defining event occurred, which is one of the most historically important pieces of the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu puzzle. By 1900, the Kodokan had been challenging other Jiu-Jitsu schools in sport competition and winning with throwing (standing) techniques. Much of the Kodokan's status was built on the throwing skills of Shiro Saigo, a practitioner of Oshikiuchi, the art of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu. Jigoro Kano had actually enlisted the help of Shiro Saigo in order to win a famous tournament at the Tokyo police headquarters in 1886. This tournament, mentioned briefly earlier in this chapter, was Judo (Kano's style of Jujitsu) vs. "old" Jujitsu. It is interesting to note that Kano's champion was not originally a Judo student at all, but a student of an older Jujitsu style, which in reality, defeated the purpose of having a Judo vs. Jujitsu tournament in the first place.

As I stated earlier, Judo was a collection of Jiu-jitsu styles, once such style was the Fusen Ryu. Fusen was a school of Jiu-jitsu which specialized in Ground Work (Ne Waza). In 1900, the Kodokan challenged the Fusen Ryu school to a contest. At that time Judo did not have Ne Waza (ground fighting techniques), so instead they fought standing up, as Kano had been taught in both the Tenshin Shinyo Ryu and Kito Ryu systems he studied. Both Kito Ryu and Tenshin Shinyo Ryu had excellent striking skills and effective throws.

When Kodokan Judo practitioners fought the practitioners of Fusen Ryu Jiu-Jitsu, the Kodokan practitioners realized that there was no way they could defeat the Kodokan Judoka standing, thus they decided to use their superior ground fighting skills. When the Kodokan fighters and the Fusen Ryu men began to fight, the Jiu-Jitsu practitioners immediately went to the guard position ( lying on their backs in front of their opponents in order to control them with the use of their legs). The Kodokan Judoka didn't know what to do, and then the Fusen Ryu practitioners took them to the ground, using submission holds to win the matches. This was the first real loss that the Kodokan had experienced in eight years.

Kano knew that if they were going to continue challenging other Jiu-Jitsu schools, they needed a full range of ground fighting techniques. Thus with friends of other Jiu-Jitsu systems, among them being Fusen Ryu practitioners, Kano formulated the Ne Waza (ground techniques) of Kodokan Judo which included three divisions: Katame Waza (joint locking techniques), Shime Waza (choking techniques), and Osae Waza (holding techniques). This all occurs shortly before Judo arrives in Brazil, and serves as an excellent suggestion as to why Brazilian Jiu-jitsu contains a higher percentage of techniques on the ground than most styles of Jiu-jitsu or Judo. Thus, we find ourselves faced with the impending development of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil.

Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil

Eventually, in Japan many different variations of the art (Jiu-Jitsu) took shape, including Karate, Aikido, and Judo. But these arts were missing essential pieces of what the complete art of Jiu-Jitsu originally held. Soon the day of the Samurai came to an end, the gun replaced the sword, and new sportive ways to practice martial arts were developed. This lack of reality created years of confusion in the martial arts community, a confusion that legendary Bruce Lee would later refer to as the 'classical mess'. The 'sport arts', such as Judo and Kendo were wonderful in the way of offering their practitioners a safe way to realistically train the techniques of their system, but often limited their practitioners with too many rules to maintain effectiveness as a combative style. The more traditional combat schools were simply practicing techniques no longer suitable for modern day combat, and with no way to safely test them, practicing these arts became like swimming without water. It wasn't until the sport art of Judo and the combat art of Jiu-Jitsu were introduced to the Gracie family in Brazil that the real art of Jiu-Jitsu would be brought to life again. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu (practiced as Judo) was introduced to the Gracie family in Brazil (@ 1915) by Esai Maeda, who is also known as Conde Koma. This name came about when Maeda was in Spain (1908). While in Spain, Maeda, having some financial troubles, used the Japanese verb "komaru", meaning to be in trouble, to describe himself. Maeda decided this didn't sound right, so he dropped the last syllable and changed it to "koma." The word "conde" comes from the Spanish language, meaning "Count." Later in his life, Maeda would be given the Brazilian title of "Conte Comte," or Count Combat.

Maeda was a champion of Judo and a direct student of its founder, Jigoro Kano, at the Kodokan in Japan. He was born in 1878, and became a student of Judo in 1897. In 1904 Maeda was given the opportunity to travel to the United States with one of his teachers, Tsunejiro Tomita. While in the U.S. they demonstrated the art of Judo for Theodore Roosevelt at the White House, and for cadets at the West Point Military Academy. This is an exert from Roosevelt's letters to his children on wrestling and Jiu-jitsu (note the spelling is Jiu-jitsu, not Jujutsu due to the fact that it is before 1950):

White House, Feb. 24, 1905.

Darling Kermit:
"... I still box with Grant, who has now become the champion middleweight wrestler of the United States. Yesterday afternoon we had Professor Yamashita (Yamashita was Roosevelt's Jiu-jitsu instructor before Meada and Tomita had arrived there in the U.S.) up here to wrestle with Grant. It was very interesting, but of course jiu jitsu and our wrestling are so far apart that it is difficult to make any comparison between them. Wrestling is simply a sport with rules almost as conventional as those of tennis, while jiu jitsu is really meant for practice in killing or disabling our adversary. In consequence, Grant did not know what to do except to put Yamashita on his back, and Yamashita was perfectly content to be on his back. Inside of a minute Yamashita had choked Grant, and inside of two minutes more he got an elbow hold on him that would have enabled him to break his arm; so that there is no question but that he could have put Grant out. So far this made it evident that the jiu jitsu man could handle the ordinary wrestler. But Grant, in the actual wrestling and throwing was about as good as the Japanese, and he was so much stronger that he evidently hurt and wore out the Japanese. With a little practice in the art I am sure that one of our big wrestlers or boxers, simply because of his greatly superior strength, would be able to kill any of those Japanese, who though very good men for their inches and pounds are altogether too small to hold their own against big, powerful, quick men who are as well trained."

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
(Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children. 1919. NEW YORK: CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS, 1919 NEW YORK: BARTLEBY.COM, 1999)

Maeda eventually parted ways with Tomita, and settled in Brazil. Maeda was staying in Sao Palo City to help establish a Japanese Immigration colony. At this time Brazil held the largest population of Japanese people outside Japan. He was aided in Brazil by Gastao Gracie, a Brazilian of Scottish decent, who's first experience with Jiu-Jitsu was most likely through managing an Italian boxer named Alfredi Leconti, who fought a friend of Maeda in November of 1916.

For some time in Japan, Judo and Jiu-Jitsu were almost synonymous. Judo was known as Kano's Jiu-Jitsu. Regardless, this answers the question, "why do they call it Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and not Brazilian Judo?" Because they were essentially the same thing at the time, remember, the Gracie family was learning Jiu-Jitsu and Judo while Kano was still struggling to show the difference between the two and popularize his art. In the early 1900's there was very little difference between the two. In fact, Judo was merely a collection of Jiu-jitsu styles, whose strongest points were put together to make what then became Judo. The Gracie family was introduced to Judo at a time when the Kodokan had recently suffered a great defeat to the grappling style of the Fusen Ryu. This can be compared to the Ultimate Fighting Championship of the early 1990's, when most martial artists were attempting to fight Royce Gracie standing. They would all eventually find themselves on the ground, where they were at a loss as to what to do. Consequently, grappling became very popular over the next ten years and many styles began to incorporate grappling techniques into their curriculum. Royce Gracie was simply doing what had already been done in the early 1900's by the Fusen Ryu to Judo practitioners of the Kodokan, so we can easily draw the conclusion from the experience in our own time that when Meada arrived in Brazil, he was a student of a Kodokan that was adding "new" grappling techniques to its system.

To show gratitude to Gracie for his help in the colonization, Maeda taught Gastao's son Carlos the basic techniques of Jiu-Jitsu. Carlos Gracie then taught his brothers Oswaldo, Jorge, Gastao, and Helio. In 1925 the brothers opened their first school, and Jiu-Jitsu was cultivated into a more effective martial art and sport known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. What made this version of Jiu-Jitsu more effective was the constant exposure of its practitioners to real situations. Between their own schools, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu players would compete in a sportive way to keep the techniques of their art sharp. The Gracie family would issue a challenge to all others to fight without rules. In these no rules or 'vale tudo' fights, the Gracie family and their students would evaluate the techniques of their fighting art.

"If you want to get your face beaten and well smashed, your ___ kicked, and your arms broken, Contact Carlos Gracie at this address..."

-- Brazilian newspaper ad, circa 1920s

Through the last fifty years, many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools have opened and broken away from the original members of the Gracie family, making subtle differences in styles within Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Machado Jiu-Jitsu, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are all different schools of the same art. The Gracie family itself has hundreds of members who do not all associate with one another.

The formal teaching of Jiu-Jitsu to Brazilians by the Gracie family began in 1940 when Helio opened an academy in Rio. Over the next 18 years, if you wanted to learn Jiu-Jitsu from the Gracie family in Brazil, you had a choice of four academies, all of which were located in Rio. The Gracie's were not the only one's teaching Judo and Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, but they were certainly the most popular, teaching over 2000 students in that 18 year period. A good example of this is Mehdi, a Judo master who came to Brazil from France in 1949, and still teaches there now. There have been Judo schools in Brazil since the early 1900's and Sao Paulo still has a very large Japanese population. Mehdi's list of students include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belts Mario Sperry, Rickson Gracie, and Sylvio Behring, just to name a few. This is another example of Judo's influence on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and that Helio Gracie did not invent it. The Gracie family developed the art of Judo into a more effective rules-free style. While in Brazil, I learned about a Grand Master named "Fadda," who learned Jiu-Jitsu from a man named Luis Franca. Like Carlos Gracie, Franca also learned Jiu-Jitsu (Judo) from Meada. Fadda took the Jiu-Jitsu he learned from Franca and started his own school of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil. His popularity is not as great as the Gracie family, but nonetheless, he is an example of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu being refined and practiced outside the Gracie family. His students compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments and consider their art separate from both Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and the older styles of Jiu-Jitsu in Japan. This stands as evidence that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is not the same thing.

In 1967, the first federation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was created by Helio Gracie, and the system of belts as we know it was developed (white, blue, purple, brown, and black). Around the time the Carlson Gracie team was born in the early 1970's, the Gracie family made their first split. Carlson Gracie was the son of Carlos and a very reputable Vale Tudo fighter. He claimed many victories while defending the Gracie family name, including avenging one of Helio's very few losses. There were now two sides of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Family, students under Helio and students under Carlson. Helio's side would argue that Carlson's style of Jiu-Jitsu involved too much strength and that it was Helio who developed the technique further due to the fact that he was much smaller than his brother Carlos, who taught it to him. The fact remains that it is basically the same Jiu-Jitsu with a few natural variations in teaching methods in the actual application of techniques. Robson Gracie created a new federation in 1988 and Carlos Gracie Jr. created the Confederacao Brasiliera in 1993. Carlos Jr.'s federation is the most active one worldwide and is responsible for the development of the World Championships. The idea of the Mundial (World's) is to attract foreign competitors in hopes of making Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu an Olympic sport. This was all done around the time Royce was winning the first UFC (early 1990's) and giving America its first prominent taste of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Members of the Gracie family are not the only ones to operate federations and associations of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who may organize tournaments or give rank within the art. In an interview with Andre Pederneiras, a fifth degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and founder of the Nova Uniao team, he was asked about his involvement in the promotion of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and organization of the art's first tournament. He stated that he had organized the first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament in 1993, then the following questions were asked:

"What is the difference between the first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament you created and the BJJ Confederation (Carlos Jr.'s) Tournament?"

"Price for one. In my tournament, I charged competitors ten dollars per person and Carlos Gracie Jr. charged thirty dollars. I only charged ten dollars, but I held the event in an expensive place called Club Hebraica. At the time his tournament was held as the Clube Guanabarra and I know he paid nothing for this place."
"Did you collaborate on this event with the president of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Confederation, Mr. Carlos Gracie Jr.?"
"Of course not. The confederation did not exist yet when I was putting this tournament together. After my idea, Carlos Gracie created the Brazilian Confederation and started to make the other Brazilian tournaments."
"So basically he made a much greater profit than you did?"
"Exactly. I created the tournament so that all Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters could compete and have a good time, not to get rich. Our priorities are were just different."

(from interview for www.jiu-jitsu.net, August 2001)

JJ Machado on the Gracie Family's influence:
"Carlos Gracie Jr. was our teacher from the beginning. When you say Jiu-Jitsu you have to link it to the Gracie family. That's the family that started our Jiu-Jitsu style and we're just one part of that clan. I think that everyone today that knows Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu learned it, directly or indirectly, from a member of the Gracie family. I think everyone should be grateful to them for that."
A good example of how Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is truly a mixed martial art and not developed PURELY by Gracie family members is illustrated in a question from an Interview with Romero "Jacare" Cavalcanti by Kid Pellegro:

"You are one of the few Black Belts from Rolls Gracie, what was it like learning from him?"

"It was spectacular, Rolls as the best of his time, besides being a great instructor he was also an incredible person. I trained with him from '74 until '82 when he died. He died on June 6th, '82 and I had received my Black Belt in February. He would teach a lot of self defense, stand up, and ground fighting, with and without gi. It was a very complete class. He had started to do wrestling, so he added a lot of the wrestling attacks, single leg and double legs takedowns. So Rolls revolutionized the Jiu-Jitsu with his new positions. As a matter of fact, the "Triangle" was invented by one of his students, Sergio Dorileo, Sergio had been studying a Japanese book of positions and invented the Triangle. At that time everybody would pass the Guard the traditional way with one hand on the biceps and the other hand between the legs and low, so all of a sudden, if you would try to pass Dorileo's guard you'd end up in a triangle. What was considered the right way didn't work anymore. Can you imagine!!! Everybody had to go back and rethink a lot. It was an incredible experience, I learned so much from Rolls, even the way he warm up the class was special. It was one of the greatest losses in my life and it took me years to get over. I still get choked up, to this day, when I reminisce."
During the mid 1900's while Vale Tudo (free-style fighting) was developing in Brazil, there were experts of Judo, wrestling, capoeira, and boxing mixing together in these no-rules contests. It is impossible to think that as these competitions took place, the participants wouldn't cross-train and "borrow" techniques from their competition. This interview, taken from Black Belt magazine, illustrates this point:

Black Belt Magazine: "At what point in your jujutsu training did you decide that the art's techniques needed modification?"

Helio Gracie: "I didn't invent the martial art. I adapted it to my necessity-what I needed for my weight and lack of strength. I learned jujutsu, but some of the moves required a lot of strength, so I could not use them. I couldn't get out from some of the positions I learned from my brother because of my lack of strength and weight. So I developed other ways out."
Black Belt Magazine: "Why didn't anyone before you refine the techniques of traditional jujutsu into a more effective style?"
Helio Gracie: "Because most people who practice the martial arts already have physical strength and ability that I didn't have. I needed to create those [techniques]. This was the only way I had to compensate for my lack of strength."
No matter where you live or what style of Jiu-Jitsu you practice, we all owe some degree of respect to the Gracie Family for introducing us to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The Gracie family is responsible for a large part of the modern advancement or improvement of Jiu-Jitsu. The term Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is used to describe the difference between the 'old' Jiu-Jitsu (jujutsu/jujitsu), and the Gracie family's advancement of the art through the 1900's. Now that 'Gracie Jiu-Jitsu' has spread all over Brazil and to the United States, many champions of the art are being born that are not Gracie Family members. These champions are contributing to the art's progression by improving on techniques and developing new ones. The bulk of basic movements may still be Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, but as the art develops, the term 'Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu' becomes more appropriate. As more and more innovators contribute to the art outside of Brazil, it eventually may be appropriate to simply call the art 'Jiu-Jitsu'.

The Gracies face opposition

The Gracie's were not the only ones doing Jiu-Jitsu in the world during the 1900's, and certainly not the only one's doing Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, they were just the most popular. Early members of the Gracie family in Brazil were political figures and very involved in the community where they lived. Among Helio's first students were Governor of Rio, Carlos Lacerda, and President, Joao Figueiredo. There were many Japanese immigrants practicing Judo and Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil and a new form of "free fighting" was also developing in Brazil at this time. The Brazilians developed a system of fighting called Luta Livre (Free Fight), and if you ask a Gracie, they might tell you that Luta Livre is from Jiu-Jitsu, if you ask a Luta Livre practitioner, he might tell you something different. There is a large rivalry between the two styles, but the truth of the matter is that the styles are very similar. I heard from a few sources that Luta Livre was developed from Wrestling and Judo in Brazil. Luta Livre is practiced without the gi or kimono. While I was in Brazil, I passed down a street in Bahia (which is where Capoeira also comes from) named after one of the great Vale Tudo (meaning "anything goes") fighters of the mid 1900's named Valdimar Santana, who was responsible for one of Helio Gracie's only defeats. I've heard some Brazilians call him a Luta Livre fighter, others say he was a Judoka, and the Gracies say he was a Jiu-Jitsu player. During Valdimar's fight with Helio Gracie, after over an hour, Helio's corner was forced to throw in the towel. I've read that Valdimar Santana was one of Helio's students, but have heard different as well. Carlson Gracie would later avenge Helio's defeat by defeating Valdimar Santana in a No Rules fight. The other famous victory over the Gracie family in the early part of the art's development occurred in 1951. After defeating a famous Judo player named Kato, Helio issued a challenge to another Japanese fighter named Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi was concerned about taking the fight because he felt Helio would be hard to submit. A friend of Yamaguchi named Masahiko Kimura (5'6" 185 Lbs.) stepped up to face Helio in his place. The fight between Helio and Kimura resulted in a win for Kimura by TKO after Helio's side threw in the towel. Kimura applied udegarami (a shoulder lock now called the Kimura), an arm lock to Helio's left arm, breaking it. Helio was commended for not giving up, but still suffered a defeat, nonetheless.

An interesting event occurred later in the 1950's when Kimura ended up facing Valdimar Santana in a No Holds Barred Match. He describes the name of the fighter as Adema, but I assume that this is a spelling mistake made in the translation due to the description being identical to Valdimar right down to the place he resided. Kimura describes the match in this excerpt taken from his biography "My Judo". I debated for a while about whether to include this, but it was so interesting, hard to find in print, and so historically significant that I had to share it with you. This excerpt really gives a lot of insight as to what was happening in Brazil during this time period, and gives an idea about how far ahead of the U.S. and Japan that Brazil was in Mixed Martial Arts fighting. The next two and three-quarter pages are taken directly from Kimura's book, My Judo.

"My opponent Adema (Valdimar) Santana was a 25 year old black man, and was a boxing heavy weight champion. He was 4th dan in judo, and a capoeira champion as well. He was 183cm had a well proportioned impressive physique. His weight was close to 100kg. Bahia, where the match took place, is a port city where black slaves were unloaded. The slaves were forbidden to carry a weapon. As a result, many martial arts were developed by them, I heard. Vale Tudo is one of such martial arts. In the south of Sao Paulo, pro wrestling is popular. But the farther one goes to the north, the more popular Vale Tudo becomes. Helio Gracie, whom I had previously fought, was the champion in Vale Tudo. But Adema Santana challenged him the previous year (Note: 1957), and after 2 hours and 10 minutes, Helio got kicked in the abdomen, could not get up, and got knocked out. Thus, Adema had become the new champion. In Vale Tudo, no foul is allowed. 1 foul results in an immediate disqualification. No shoes are allowed. When the fighters are separated, they are not allowed to strike with a fist, and they have to use open hand strikes. But once they get in contact with each other, every type of strike is allowed but groin strikes. All types of throws and joint locks are legal. The winner is decided when one of the fighters is KO'd or surrenders. Biting and hair pulling were illegal. Since bare-knuckle punches are traded, taking direct 2 or 3 hits in the eye means the end of the fight. I was told there have been many cases in which a fighter got hit in the eye with an elbow, and the eyeball popped out from the socket by half, and got carried to the hospital by an ambulance. Therefore, there were always 2 ambulances at the entrance of the arena.

"I have no choice. I will fight." I said. Then, the promoter grinned, took out a form and told me to sign it. Yano translated the content, which said, "Even if I die in this match, it is what I intended, and will not make anyone accountable for my death." I nodded, and signed the form. On my way to the ring, someone raised his arm and waved at me. It was Helio Gracie, whom I had not seen for several years. Helio was at the radio broadcast seat. He was the commentator of the match. The gong rang. Adema and I circled the ring first. I lightly extended my fingers in a half-body posture, and prepared for his kicks. Adema, also in a half-body posture, had tucked his chin, tightened his underarms, as he would do in a boxing match. Once in a while, he delivered high kicks to my face.

"I blocked the kicks with my hands, and returned a kick with my right leg. Adema started to deliver right and left roundhouse kicks. I stepped back and dodged them, but suddenly, I received a fire-like impact on my face. It was an open hand strike. I had overlooked his hand motion, paying too much attention to his kicks. When I got hit in the temple, and the core of my head became a blur, left and right roundhouse kicks came. When I blocked his right kick with my left hand, a tremendous pain ran through from the tip of the little finger to the back of the hand. I had jammed the finger. I traded kicks with him. The entire audiences were standing with excitement. Even in this situation, I was able to think clearly. While I was thinking 'Adema is one level higher than I both in kicks and open hand strikes. In order to win, I must take the fight to the ground,' another fast kick flew at my abdomen.

"I struck the kick down with left knife hand, and jumped in to deliver a head butt on his abdomen with a momentum that could penetrate through his body. This must have had an effect on him. He covered his abdomen, and stepped back while wobbling. I wanted to get close to him, throw him, get on top of him, and use Newaza. If I succeed in this, I could use elbow strikes and head butts. Adema recovered from the damage, and delivered a kick to my face again. I ducked the kick, and jumped in for a clinch. I got in a tight clinch to prevent him from using knee kicks or elbow strikes. We traversed along the rope. All of a sudden, I received a head cracking impact. I experienced a tremendous ear ringing, and got momentarily unconscious. I received a head butt on my left temple. It was a head butt from a side. I had thought that all the head butts would come from front. I never knew a side head butt. 'I cannot lose here. I must win even if I may die,' I thought. Driven by this will power, I tried to find a way to fight back. The referee then came in between to separate us. We were already covered with blood. The fight was brought back to the center of the ring again. Adema threw a right open hand strike. I caught the arm and attempted Ippon-seoi. It seemed like I could score a clean throw. However, it was a miscalculation. We were both heavily covered with sweat as if a large amount of water had been poured onto our heads. Moreover, he had no jacket on. There was no way such a technique could have worked under these conditions. His arm slipped through, and my body rotated in the air once forward, and landed on my back. 'I screwed up!' I shouted in my mind, but it was too late. Adema immediately jumped at me. If he got on my chest, he could freely strike my eyes, nose, and chest with his elbows."

I caught him in a body scissors. I squeezed his body with full force hoping to sever his intestine. Adema crumbled momentarily, but did not surrender. Since the body scissors did not finish him, I realized that I was in a disadvantageous position. When I lifted my head, hundreds of stars flew out of my eyes. I took a straight punch between my nose and my eyes. It was an accurate intense punch. The back of my head got slammed onto the mat.

"Moreover, an intense head butt attacked my abdomen. It felt like my organs would be torn into pieces. Once, twice, I hardened my abdominal muscles to withstand the impact, and waited for the 3rd attack. At the moment the 3rd head butt came, my right fist accurately caught Adema's face by counter. It landed between his nose and eyes. Blood splattered. I had also already been heavily covered with blood. The blood interfered with my vision. 'Kill him, kill him!' the devil in my mind screamed. Adema wobbled, and stepped back, and tried to run with the ropes on his back. I chased him throwing kicks and open hand strikes. He returned head butts and elbow strikes. But, neither of us was able to deliver a decisive strike. Maybe we were both exhausted, or maybe the blood in our eyes prevented us from aiming clearly at the target. After all, the 40 minutes ran out, and the match ended in a draw. It was my first Vale Tudo experience. That night, my face was badly swollen. I had a number of cuts on my face. Every time I breathed, an excruciating pain ran through my belly, and I could not sleep. I received an injection from a doctor, and cooled my belly with a cold towel all night. However, I learned a very important lesson in this fight. That is, one must never fear death. If I had not had the iron will to fight despite the possibility of getting killed, his head butts would have torn my intestine into pieces." - (From My Judo, by Masahiko Kimura , 1985)

Carlson Gracie Comments on his fights with Valdemar Santana:
"Valdemar was a student of the family for twelve or thirteen years. He fought more than 20 times for our academy. What happened was, he had a disagreement with Helio Gracie, and they decided to fight Vale-Tudo, and Valdemar won. In fact, I was a friend of his, and told him: "look Valdemar, we are friends, but now I can't let it pass, you beat Helio, now your going to have to fight me. I have nothing against you, but in the ring, I'm going to beat the shit out of you!" And I did. I fought against him six times. I won four times, and two were a draw. He was tough shit. If it were today, he would be one of the best fighters". (From O'Tatame magazine (Brazil) Translated by Tatiana Andres, 1997)
Besides Helio's defeats (where it is interesting to note that he did not actually submit to either opponent) the Gracies remained undefeated for the most part in Vale Tudo (no holds bared) matches, until another Japanese fighter would give them some trouble. After the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the United States, Japan started to host a series of Vale Tudo tournaments, one fighter in particular started grabbing everyone's attention, and his name was Kazushi Sakuraba. Sakuraba was not the biggest fighter on the scene, but he was creative and experienced. Sakuraba represented the sport of Japanese Wrestling, which is very different from American wrestling in many ways, the biggest difference being that Japanese wrestlers have an outstanding knowledge of submission holds. The Wrestling style that Sakuraba practiced looked almost exactly like Jiu-Jitsu, and during my research for this book, I've stumbled across more than one article that states Sakuraba had trained Jiu-Jitsu quite extensively. Sakuraba had been winning no holds barred matches against some formidable opponents in Japan, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Conan Silvera, whom he beat with a Juji Gatame, or in Portuguese, Chave Braco, a standard move in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It wasn't long before Sakuraba and the Japanese press set their sights on the Gracie family. Sakuraba's first victory over a Gracie family member was over Royler. Sakuraba outweighed Royler by at least forty pounds. The fight ended in a very controversial referee stoppage, over which Royler appeared to be very upset about. The second was to Royce; this fight lasted about an hour and thirty minutes until Royce's corner threw in the towel. To Royce's credit, Sakuraba was not able to submit him and Royce fought very well. The third was to Renzo Gracie. Renzo was fighting very well until Sakuraba applied the same lock he used to defeat Royler; the lock was applied standing and when the two fell to the floor, the fall broke Renzo's arm. Once again, the Gracie family member did not submit, and the referee stopped the fight. The fourth was to Ryan Gracie who lost the fight after suffering an injury to his shoulder and after time expired by judge's decision. I have researched a couple of sources that claim a famed BJJ black belt named Sergio Penha was actually training Sakuraba and that this aided him in his victories.

To the Gracie family's credit, I have not seen members of the Gracie family 'lose' very often. There are incidences in sport Jiu-Jitsu where a Gracie family member will lose to another Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player, but that is Jiu-Jitsu losing to Jiu-Jitsu. Dan Henderson's victory over Renzo Gracie is one of the few I can recall where anyone outside of the sport of Jiu-Jitsu or the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu defeated a Gracie family member.

Jiu-Jitsu has now developed beyond the Gracie family and with all appropriate respect and thanks to them, it moves forward and progresses through the teachings of instructors from all parts of the world. It wasn't until this happened that people from outside the art of Jiu-Jitsu started claiming victories over Gracie family members. By introducing the Brazilian style of Jiu-Jitsu to North America, the Gracie family opened the door to great financial rewards and the problems that would come with success.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was introduced to the United States in the 1970's, but was not made popular until 1993, when Royce Gracie defeated opponents from other martial arts in a contest called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. This type of fighting was known in Brazil as Vale Tudo (anything goes) and would later become known as NHB (No Holds Barred) here in the United States. The effectiveness of the art form over so many others made Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu known to the martial arts community and the world. This was America's first look at Mixed Martial Arts fighting. Unlike many other martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gained its reputation and popularity through effective fighting, not Hollywood movies.

In November of 1993, a large number of Americans would get their first look at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ... it wasn't pretty. For years in the United States, the Martial Arts community had been plagued by the mystique and misconception created by Hollywood. I can remember getting into street fights as a kid and having my opponent say "OK, no Kung fu stuff!" thinking that if the other guy knew Kung fu, something terribly deadly would happen. This couldn't be farther from the truth, and in 1993 we would all find that out. To make a long and over-told story short, Royce Grace, a thin Brazilian, was pitted against champions of Kung Fu, Karate, Boxing, Kickboxing, Wrestling and a variety of other Martial arts in a contest called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Unlike the American No Holes Barred contests of today, Royce had to fight up to 4 times in each tournament. There were no weight classes and Royce was usually the lightest, sometimes being outweighed by 80 lbs. or more. There were very few rules: no eye gouging, no biting, and no time limits. Although this would be The United State's first look at Brazilian Jiu-jitsu vs. other styles of Martial Arts, it was not the first time a ground fighting style would have the opportunity to show the superiority of Grappling vs. Striking alone.

In 1963, Gene Labell (a Judo player) faced a champion Boxer named Milo Savage, gaining a solid victory for Grappling enthusiasts everywhere. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was the catalyst for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the US, but after the initial boom of popularity, there would be a whole new world of problems to face. The same entrepreneurial and capitalist ideals that made America great would be a hindrance to the authenticity and quality of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the United States. Carley Gracie (Carlos' son, Carlson's younger brother and Roll's older brother) was the first to bring their Brazilian style of Jiu-Jitsu to the U.S. The idea was born through his training of American Marines in Rio (in the early 1970's) and by 1972, he was teaching Jiu-Jitsu in California. Rorion was the next to come, opening his academy in California and trade marking the Gracie name. This action would lead to a huge problem in the family; Rorian was not allowing any other members of the Gracie family to use the name, and was also accused by family members of distorting the truth about the history of the art, since he had claimed his father (Helio) was responsible for the birth of the art.

I have found through the research of this book that everyone has his/her own story, so it was most logical to go with common denominators to find the truth. Carley would later challenge Rorion to fight, as they had done when they were younger (Carley claims to have defeated Rorion previously a total of eight times), but Rorion preferred to battle it out in court. This was the second major split in the Gracie family after the first split between Carlson and Helio, but it would be the first of many to happen in the United States. Rickson came to teach as well, along with the Machado Brothers (who are related to the Gracie family as cousins), both eventually separated from Rorion due to some sort of business differences. Actually, it was Rickson (considered by many to be the champion of the family) who felt he should be the first Ultimate Fighting Champion, but Rorion was in control of the early UFC's and decided it would be Royce who would make the point to the American public, and the rest is recent history.

Japanese and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

"What is the difference between Japanese (classical) Jiu-Jitsu (jujutsu) and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?"

The first and most important reason can be found in the art's history and is primary to all others discussed afterward. When you research the history of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, you will understand that it came from "Judo" in its time of renaissance. In the early 1900's, Judo was being developed from a variety of Jiu-jitsu styles in order to make it the most complete and effective martial art in the world. Some older Jiu-jitsu schools only focused on one area of fighting (some practiced primarily standing techniques) and had been left without a realistic battlefield testing ground for hundreds of years. If you recall the history of Judo's beginning, you know that it was made up of mostly standing techniques at first, from Kito Ryu Jiu-jitsu and a few other styles. This alone was not enough, so the groundwork of Fusen Ryu was added, making it more complete. When you say "traditional" or "Japanese" Jiu-jitsu, you are referring to only one of these Jiu-jitsu styles, which is incomplete alone. When you say Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, you are referring to the best techniques from a wide variety of styles.

Our Jiu-Jitsu in the United States was underdeveloped compared to the Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil. Only now are we beginning to catch up, and we are still suffering from the inadequacies of the 'older' and more traditional schools of Jiu-Jitsu in this country. To give you an idea of what I mean, I'll tell you a little about my training. I earned a black belt in a classical style of Jiu-Jitsu, which taught all the Judo throws of the Kodokan and Aikijitsu (the grandfather of Aikido). It was a great art, but one that could not be used on anyone with skill effectively before complete mastery. I was subsequently defeated by a student of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who was only at blue belt level, while I was a black belt in traditional Jiu-Jitsu. Why? Lack of realistic practice is the reason. There was too much of: "you stay perfectly still while I try an extravagant technique on you and you play along." There are many techniques which is where Judo is great, and some traditional schools teach techniques that were designed thousands of years ago whose applications have not been modified or thought about since. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is simple to learn, so simple that a dedicated student of one year can easily beat martial artists of other styles who have many years of experience.

Some styles of martial arts spend hundreds of hours working on a rigid stance and one hundred standing techniques that cannot possibly be mastered in a reasonable amount of time. I once interviewed Royce Gracie and he gave a response that supports this point quite well:

"We don't believe in teaching a ton of moves every class and the student walking away with limited knowledge. We prefer our students to know 20 techniques at 100%, than 100 techniques at 20%."

(Interview with Gene Simco for www.jiu-jitsu.net)

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu focuses on techniques that are easy to learn in a very short period of time. The techniques taught in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are also effective and have been tested on knowledgeable martial artists who are not cooperating. A small amount of simple but high percentage techniques makes the difference. If all you do is practice five or six techniques, you will be very good at them in a year or so, but if you have to divide your time between a hundred or more techniques, you will most likely be a jack of all trades and a master of none in a year's time.

The differences in the two styles of Jiu-Jitsu are not necessarily in the technique, but in the practice and application. First of all, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has a very sophisticated ground-game, where Japanese Jiu-Jitsu places importance on standing techniques, as does Judo. Judo as a sport does not allow leg locks, where Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu does. Sport rules for Judo dictate that if a player has been pinned by his/her opponent for twenty-five seconds, he or she will lose the match. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has no time restraints on ground positions and stalling most often occurs while standing. Older styles of Jiu-Jitsu (often spelled jujutsu or jujitsu) are usually preceded with their style name or Ryu (the Japanese word for "style"). These Ryu of Jiu-Jitsu were developed long ago and have no sport application to allow them to develop technically. The lack of realistic practice is what makes some styles ineffective or obsolete.

To really understand the differences between Brazilian and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, one must research the history of both arts. In particular the birthing of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by Carlos Gracie, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's founder, who was an avid boxer. Most Japanese Jiu-Jitsu fighters were studying traditional Karate strikes, which are much different from that of a boxer. Maeda, the man who introduced Gracie to Jiu-Jitsu, was also a student of Judo, which at the time was considered an updated version of Jiu-Jitsu, or Kano 's Jiu-Jitsu. As discussed previously, the Judo that the Gracie family was introduced to was a Judo whose focus had turned to ground fighting in recent years. This ground fighting came from only one style of Jiu-jitsu (Fusen Ryu), the other styles that made up Judo had not focused on ground work, so as their practice continued, they stayed to their traditional roots, which considered mainly of standing techniques. While older styles of Jiu-jitsu stuck to their core curriculums, Judo soon forgot about experience and turned its attention to gaining world wide exposure as an Olympic sport, which would eventually restrict the once great art and cause it to focus once again on primarily standing techniques. Maeda was also exposed to western wrestling, as he had encountered one wrestler in particular at the West Point Military Academy in New York, and had more experience fighting throughout Europe and the Americas than any other Japanese fighter of that time.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a progressive style of Jiu-Jitsu; once a technique is developed and used in competition, other Jiu-Jitsu players begin to design counters to that technique, and counters to those counters, which allows Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to evolve freely. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu players do not prepare for the untrained opponent; they assume that their opponent may be more technical.

The problem with some 'older' styles of Jiu-Jitsu is the same problem with old cars, or anything that has not been updated or modified. I earned a black belt in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and now that I am at an advanced level of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I notice the similarities and differences. Some of the self-defense movements are identical; it is typically in the groundwork (ne waza) where the Judo or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu practitioner lacks ability. It is for that reason I started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Comparing "old" Jiu-Jitsu to "new" Jiu-Jitsu is like comparing old cars to new. Both a Ford Model-T and a Ferrari will do the same job, but a Ferrari will do it more efficiently. The ability of Jiu-Jitsu teachers can be compared to the mechanics certified to work on these cars; if you take a mechanic from 1910 and show him a Ferrari, some things would look familiar, but he would not understand the new design and complexity of the modern variation without proper training.

In the style of "Japanese" or Traditional Jiu-Jitsu I learned, not much is technically different. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has more techniques on the ground whereas Japanese Jiu-Jitsu has more standing techniques. What I like now about having plenty of experience in both styles is that I feel it has brought my technical level to a higher understanding. I know lots of little details and "tricks" or "secrets" within the techniques that you don't see anywhere. I think that although things improve in the evolution of Jiu-Jitsu, you also lose some details that the "ancient" schools sometimes hold "secret". Without proper modification, these "secrets" don't mean much, but when you combine them with the refined practice of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you've really got something. As I get higher in the ranks of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I start to appreciate the Model T. I'm not so embarrassed of my "old" Black Belt in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu anymore, I'm actually learning to apply it. I know details of arm locks and chokes that I don't see anywhere else. It is important to note, however, that I attribute my ability to apply the old Jiu-Jitsu to my advanced level in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The End



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