The Incredible History of Jiu Jitsu

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History of Jiu Jitsu

Martial arts in general have seen an enormous rise in popularity over the past 30 years, with Jiu-Jitsu being a standout among the many fighting styles – but how much do you know about the history of Jiu Jitsu? 

Rewind more than a century to see where the history of Jiu Jitsu originated, and how the art developed over time to make its way into the lives of martial artists around the world.


Roots: From Japan to Brazil

In 1914, Mitsuyo Maeda, one of Jigoro Kano’s top students, was sent from the Kodokan in Japan overseas to spread the art of Judo with the world. 

It was in Brazil that Maeda began teaching judo – at this time referred to as Kano jiu-jitsu – to key individuals such as Carlos Gracie and Luiz França. 

Gracie would go on to share his learnings with his brothers, and the Gracie lineage of Jiu Jitsu would soon grow to become arguably the most powerful martial arts family in history. Meanwhile, Luiz França would teach the art to Oswaldo Fadda, who’s Jiu Jitsu lineage would grow to be the second largest after the Gracie clan. 

The Gracie influence on Jiu Jitsu was so profound that, in time, Jiu Jitsu came to be known as Gracie Jiu Jitsu, and eventually Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. 


History of Jiu Jitsu: The Gracie Expansion

Among the Gracie family, young Helio would watch his siblings train Jiu Jitsu – unable to participate himself due to his sickly nature at the time. Helio would end up adapting the art to suit his needs, making his version of Jiu Jitsu more efficient, relying on technique and leverage to dominate opponents rather than strength and athleticism. 

The first Gracie Jiu Jitsu gym opened in 1925 in Brazil, and began to gain popularity with their teachings as well as their involvement in demonstrations, expositions, and vale tudo matches – rule-less fights, often without time-limits. 

Likewise, the Gracie family became famous for hosting challenge matches, where fighters from various martial arts styles were offered cash prizes in reward for defeating a Gracie fighter. 

The Gracie family’s success in these private and public fights contributed to major growth for the art of Jiu Jitsu, which was then amplified further by the family’s move to the US. 


History of Jiu Jitsu: Global Expansion 

Rorion Gracie, son of Helio, began offering enormous sums of money to anyone who could defeat a Gracie fighter in a challenge match. 

In 1993, Rorion took a major step by creating the Ultimate Fighting Championship – a no-holds-barred tournament similar to the vale tudo and Gracie challenge matches made popular years earlier in Brazil. 

In the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first show, 8 martial artists from various styles were invited to pit their skills against one another. It is said that Rorion intentionally chose his younger brother Royce to represent the Gracie family in the tournament, as Royce was lighter in bodyweight and did not look physically imposing than some of his brothers. 

Royce would therefore be able to demonstrate the technique and strategy of the art without having obvious strength and athleticism in his favour. 

Royce Gracie won the first Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament on that fateful night in 1993, and with that the world of martial arts – and particularly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – skyrocketed in popularity. 


Traditional Jiu-Jitsu to Submission Only 

Besides being a major part of mixed martial arts, Jiu Jitsu and mixed grappling competitions are now commonplace in most major cities around the world. The IBJJF and ADCC remain the two top organizations for world-class grapplers to show their skills and earn legitimate world-championship titles. 

But criticisms of major Jiu-Jitsu competitions do exist – namely that spectators without experience in the sport become easily bored by the technical, methodical nature of most high-level matches. 

Whereas traditional Jiu Jitsu competitions rely on point-scoring from positional dominance as well as fight-ending submissions to win matches, organizations such as Polaris, EBI, and Fight 2 Win Promotions are modifying their rule-sets in pursuit of submission-only matches.  

These rule-changes have forced competitors to modify their strategies, which in turn lead to matches full of scrambles, submission attempts, and overall more excitement.

In particular, the no-gi submission-only grappling scene is attracting a lot of attention inside and outside of the Jiu-Jitsu community. These are the first meaningful steps towards monetizing and legitimizing the sport of Jiu Jitsu – something that will benefit athletes and spectators alike.   


A New Major Sport?

The dream of turning Jiu Jitsu and submission grappling into a major sport is no longer as far-fetched as it once was. 

Athletes like Gordon Ryan serve as an example of what is possible if the sport continues to develop at its current rate. Recently signing a 5-fight, $100,000 contract with 3rd Coast Grappling, Ryan shows what the landscape might look like for professional grapplers in years to come. 

Likewise, as the sport grows, new opportunities to generate revenue present themselves. BJJ Fanatics and Jiu Jitsu X Factor has been producing dozens of quality instructional videos as of late, providing top grapplers and fighters a chance to not only share their knowledge with the world, but also earn an income to support their careers and lifestyles. 

The history of Jiu Jitsu is a fascinating one. With the sport still in its infancy, spectators and athletes eagerly watch its development as it continues to gain momentum. 

Will the Art of Jiu Jitsu grow to the level of major sports leagues such as the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL? 

If so, how long will it take? At that, what needs to happen for the sport to take the next step in its development?

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