History of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
(aka Gracie Jiu-Jitsu)
Mitsuyo Maeda Carlos Gracie
Over four centuries ago in northern India, Buddhist monks in order to defend themselves from attacks developed a form of grappling that allowed them to subdue opponents without killing them. Eventually this style of fighting made its way to Japan where it was improved upon and called jujutsu or jiu-jitsu. Judo is a derivative of jiu-jitsu.
In 1914, Kodokan Judo master Mitsuyo Maeda (1878-1941) came to stay at the household of Brazil’s Gastao Gracie. Gracie helped Maeda with business in the area and in appreciation of this, Maeda taught Gastao’s eldest son, Carlos, the art of judo. In turn, Carlos taught the other children in the family what he knew, including the smallest and youngest of his brothers, Helio.
Helio often felt at a disadvantage when practicing with his brothers because many of the moves in judo favored the stronger and larger fighter. Thus, he developed an offshoot of Maeda’s teachings that favored leverage over brute strength and refined the formula for fighting from one’s back on the ground. Today the art that Helio refined is called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the UFC
On November 12, 1993, Helio's son Royce showed the world what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could do by taking home the inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) trophy in an open weight, barely-any-rules tournament. Even more impressive was the fact that at only 170-pounds he went on to win three of the first four UFC Championship Tournaments.
Royce dominated the first years of the UFC against all comers, amassing eleven victories with no fighting losses. At one event he defeated four different fighters in one night. This, from a fighter that was smaller than most of the others (at 170 lbs, in an event with no weight classes), looked thin and scrawny, and used techniques that most observers, even experienced martial artists, didn't understand. Besides the immediate impact of an explosion of interest in BJJ across the world (particularly in the US and Japan), the lasting impact of Royce's early UFC dominance is that almost every successful MMA fighter now includes BJJ as a significant portion of their training.
Characteristics of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an art based in ground fighting. Along with this, it teaches takedowns, takedown defense, ground control, and especially submissions. Submissions refer to holds that either cut off an opponent’s air supply (chokes) or look to take advantage of a joint (such as armbars).
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters tend to feel very comfortable fighting from a position called the guard, if need be. The guard position-- in essence, wrapping one's legs around an opponent to limit their movement-- is what allows them to fight from their backs so effectively, and is also something that separates their art from most other grappling styles.