If you watch UFC, you know it presents the world’s best fighters battling in the ring. They use a wide array of martial arts and techniques to bring their opponent to submission. What you may not know is that one incredibly powerful martial art popularized this fighting entertainment. Its name is well known, but its story is not. This is the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Learn the Beginning of Jiu Jitsu in 60 Seconds
As Journey Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy, which teaches Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Madison, notes, jiu jitsu (also spelled jujitsu, or jiu-jitsu) has a long and storied history. It grew to national dominance in Japan before moving to Brazil. Jiu jitsu as a form has traveled the world over to become what it is today.
The earliest forms of jiu jitsu had been in existence for centuries before a well-educated man came on the scene and shook it up. His name was Jigoro Kano, and according to Shen Wu, he is the founder of the martial art called judo, which is a form of jiu jitsu.
Kano, also credited with originating modern education in Japan, styled judo after jiu jitsu with a striking twist. Most forms before him were practiced in controlled environments with predetermined moves. Kano insisted on practicing in real-world settings, with no rules.
As the years passed, Kano’s brand of fighting (mostly methods of throwing) repeatedly won out over other forms. His form ruled until the Fusen Ryu fighters challenged him and won, overpowering with grappling techniques on the ground.
After this catastrophic loss, Kano decided to blend judo together with the jiu jitsu of the Fusen Ryu. His students would learn to throw while standing and to grapple on the ground. This fusion created one of the finest martial arts in the history of the world.
How Did a Martial Art Travel from Asia to South America?
Enter Mitsuyo Maeda, already a practitioner of jiu jitsu. He began studying judo with Kano and eventually became the greatest fighter in the history of the sport. Kano asked Maeda, his best student, to travel to the U.S. to spread the martial art to Americans.
Maeda left Japan in 1904 and traveled to America, the U.K., Europe, Cuba, and Mexico. After this, he found his way to Brazil and opened his own training academy, where Shen Wu says he taught “jiu jitsu”, assuredly a blended form of judo.
His best student was a Brazilian man named Carlos Gracie. Gracie opened his own academy in 1925, with the infamous “Gracie Challenge”. He accepted fights from any opponent with any technique, no rules or strings attached.
Learning from these fights, Carlos adapted his method of jiu jitsu while also training his sons in the martial art. Hélio, Gracie’s youngest son and best student, was a small, weak boy, yet he paid careful attention to the techniques as he watched.
Hélio famously choked out a boxer at only 18 years of age in a vale tudo, or no-holds-barred match, according to BJJ Heroes. Hélio fought continuously after, becoming a jiu jitsu teacher himself, spreading far and wide the martial art his family had developed.
He traveled, fought, and taught, ultimately transforming into the founder of what we now know as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. In this video from a third generation Gracie, you can watch Hélio swiftly outfox opponents and hear more of their history.
BJJ Is the Art of Fighting Without Fighting
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (often shortened to BJJ) is a way of fighting that tries, well, not to fight. It is truly an art form. It requires the practitioner to use balance and positioning to maneuver their opponent into submission, much like Kano’s judo did.
The word itself in Japanese paints a picture of the form: jiu means “yield”, while jitsu means “art”. Hence, the art of yielding. Robert Sterling says, “The idea is to use the attacker’s force against him rather than meeting it head on.”
In practice, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a combination of many things. According to Sports Evolution (SE), it is martial arts, combat sport, and a system of self-defense. It places its central focus on how to grapple, especially while on the ground.
Being intelligent is far more important in BJJ than being big or strong. “By using leverage and proper technique,” a small combatant can always defeat a larger attacker, says SE. The Gracie principle is simple: control your battles, and you will always win.
This Gracie philosophy and technique is utilized widely during tournaments, both with and without the uniform. Sparring, sometimes called “rolling”, is also a principal part of BJJ, both in practice and competition.
Here, performance is often the most important part, particularly during a tournament, where points are scored. These contests confer progress and are how one ultimately achieves belts. Belts are like levels in jiu jitsu, very similar in that respect to karate.
Conclusion: The Future of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Is Strong
Though he had a small stature and delicate frame, Hélio proved the value of his personal jiu jitsu practice and technique. He repeatedly defeated people much heavier or more traditionally powerful than himself.
The Gracies’ seemingly simple approach has become a worldwide phenomenon. The “Gracie Challenge” is essentially what we see on TV when we watch MMA or UFC. Opponents from different backgrounds try to outsmart and outfight each other.
From Anderson Silva to Chuck Liddell to the Gracie Family, whether boxing, karate, or judo, the goal is simple: to force the opponent to submit. Or, in jiu jitsu’s wording: to yield.
If you want more info, check out the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation. They have facts and figures about ranking and championships, as well as the currently accepted rules of the sport. You can even learn the technical specs of (or buy) a gi.
Now, you might also want to cover the Green and Red Zones (distance from opponents). There’s swimming (basically controlled flailing) and the stages of being ground-trapped. Rener Gracie’s videos are absolute goldmines in this respect.
Many of his tutorials are on the YouTube channel The Art of Manliness. They are a fantastic primer of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from a descendant of both Carlos and Hélio Gracie, the original masters.
Now, get out there, keep a safe distance, and do your best not to fight. If you must, though, at least make sure you watch all his videos first.