Jiu-Jitsu is one of the oldest forms of martial arts known to man. It is said to have originated more than 4,000 years by Buddhists monks from northern India, a few miles north of Bernares, where a man, known today as Buddha, the “Enlightened One,” lived a peaceful life. The monks wandered the countryside divulging Buddhism. In these journeys, they were often robbed and murdered. Thus, they created a system of fighting techniques designed to defend themselves against their oppressors. Because it was against their religious principals to harm others, they developed a system without the use of any weapons and violent techniques. The Buddhist Monks were the true creators of the grappling arts.
After the death of Buddha, the power of India was upon King Azof, and he disseminated grappling techniques to Tibet, Bermania, Zion, China, and Japan. Jiu-jitsu came to Japan between the late 17th and mid 19th century. The method of unarmed grappling and self-defense came to Japan and evolved to what is known as jujutsu or jiu-jitsu. The term jiu-jitsu means technique or art of gentleness. It was perfected and hidden by the Japanese from other nations until the past century.
In the 1800’s, the Japanese opened their ports and started commerce with the English. They were amazed with their new strategy of fighting. It was a fighting style where smaller men were capable of defeating bigger and stronger opponents. However, the Japanese were not allowed to disclose to the West the techniques of the grappling art. It was a crime against the Japanese Empire and national security law.
Because of the persistence of Westerners to learn the art, the Japanese taught them part of jiu-jitsu, an art developed by Jigoro Kano (1860-1938) and later known as judo. Brazilian jiu-jitsu evolved in the early 1900’s. It was planted in the fertile ground in a family of Scottish immigrants. In 1914, Mr. Mitsyuo Maeda (1878-1941), a Japanese man representing the Japanese government, arrived in the city of Pará, Brazil, to engage in cashew nut commerce. He stayed at the Gracie family house. Gastão Gracie was a “Carioca” (from Rio de Janeiro), a descendant from Scotland, and a family patriarch. He had eight children who are Carlos, Gastão, Osvaldo, Jorge, Lika, Helena, Mary, and Hélio Gracie. Gastão Gracie helped Mr. Maeda, also known as Conde Koma, to prosper in his business in Belém. Mr. Maeda showed his gratitude in teaching Carlos Gracie, the eldest son, the secret of Japanese jiu-jitsu.
Moving back to Rio de Janeiro, Carlos Gracie started to teach jiu-jitsu. One day he was late for class, and his student, an important person from the Brazilian Bank accepted to take classes from Hélio Gracie, who was only 15 years old. From that day, he started to teach and became a professor. He adapted jiu-jitsu to his body type and with leverage to give movements that the Japanese only did with power and strength. In that manner, Hélio Gracie went a step further than his teachers by introducing techniques that required less strength than the Japanese style. Daring to break away from the traditional Japanese style, they began experimenting, modifying and perfecting simple techniques that would be effective regardless of stature. Though Jiu-Jitsu descended from the ancient Japanese style, the differences are quite apparent. Many of the Japanese facets of the art that depend on physical prowess and stiff were removed and replaced with flowing techniques.
One of Helio’s proudest accomplishments as a fighter was his match with undefeated Japanese judo champion Masahiko Kimura. Confident of victory, Kimura told the press that if Helio lasted longer than three minutes he should consider himself the winner of the bout. Helio lasted 13 minutes and was still fighting when his older brother and mentor, Carlos, threw in the towel, afraid that the arm lock Kimura had caught his younger brother in would shatter Helio’s arm.
Read more on the history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu here: