Ever since Royce Gracie won the first, second, and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships in the early 90s, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has been a prominent fighting style in the world. Today it is a staple fighting style that most mixed martial arts fighters train in to at least some degree, and it has brought widespread attention to the importance of ground fighting. But how did it all start? To understand the origins of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, we must first look at Judo.
Kodokan Judo, commonly known simply as Judo, was created by Jigoro Kano in 1882. An important aspect of Judo was the emphasis on “randori” or non-cooperative free sparring. Ancient Jujutsu training was based on what was known as “kata” or pre-arranged sequences of attack and defensive moves. Kano’s Judo allowed learning techniques in the most realistic manner against fully resisting opponents in realistic settings. Judo gained national fame in 1886 when the Tokyo police held a tournament. In 15 matches involving Kodokan Judo fighters against fighters from other classic Jujutsu styles, the judo fighters won 13 matches and tied 2.
Mataemon Tanabe & the Fusen-Ryu School
For years Judo dominated Japanese martial arts with many Jujutsu schools losing ground to Judo schools. However, in 1891 Mataemon Tanabe, the hand-to-hand instructor of the Tokyo police department and a Jujutsu practitioner of the Fusen-Ryu school, became famous for defeating a fellow officer and third-degree Judo practitioner in a challenge fight. Tanabe forced his opponent to the ground and used his superior ground fighting techniques to subdue his opponent with a choke move.
Fusen-Ryu fighters such as Tanabe were trained in ground fighting techniques, an area Judo was lacking. Judo techniques were almost entirely composed of stand up throws. In following matches, Judo fighters were defeated when taken to the ground by Fusen-Ryu fighters. Being impressed and seeing the need for ground fighting techniques in Judo, Jigoro Kano invited Tanabe to teach at his Judo school. It wasn’t long before ground grappling became common training in Judo.
Mitsuyo Maeda & The Gracies
Mitsuyo Maeda was a Judo expert who was taught by Kano himself before being sent around the world to spread Judo. Maeda fought in thousands of no holds barred competitions across North America, South America, and Europe. He pioneered Judo in the United Kingdom and Brazil where he eventually settled. In Brazil, he trained Carlos Gracie and other members of the Gracie family. Because of Maeda’s training of the Gracies who went on to further cement Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a prominent fighting style, Maeda is referred to by some as the Father of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
When Maeda settled in Brazil and found his own Jujutsu academy, one of his students was Carlos Gracie. After several years of training, Carlos started his own school and began training his family and others. This started the Gracie dynasty that has been at the forefront of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for almost a century. While Maeda may be referred to by some as the Father of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the Gracies are its founder.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu focused on what some call “real fighting.” Not to say that other styles aren’t real fighting, but Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has very practical, realistic street fighting applications. And since Royce Gracie’s series of wins in the 1990s, it has been a mainstay in the mixed martial arts world.