Where did Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Come From?


Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that evolved from Judo. In the early 1900s a Japanese prize fighter and Judo expert named Mitsuyo Maeda was traveling around the world competing in matches and demonstrations with catch wrestlers, boxers, and fighters of many different disciplines.

No holds barred competitions of the time could be really rough fights with few rules. Maeda often fought men much bigger than himself and there was even a match when he allowed his opponent to use a knife! For a while in 2009 he stayed in Mexico City where he offered $50 to anyone he could not throw and $250 to anyone who could throw him… there are no records of anyone ever winning the money. Over the years Mitsuyo won more than 2000 fights.


Eventually Maeda settled in Brazil, although he still traveled internationally and occasionally competed. While in Brazil he taught Judo, and one of his students was Carlos Gracie, the son of an influential Brazilian businessman. Carlos taught 3 of his brothers the art, but the 4th brother, Helio, was considered to sickly and frail to participate.

The brothers started teaching local students, while Helio watched from the sidelines for several years. Once though, his brothers were late for class and Helio figured he’d seen enough to be able to lead the lesson. He was a natural teacher and the students kept coming back, asking for Helio to teach.

But Helio found that many of the techniques he had learned from watching his brothers didn’t work well for him, since he was not as strong. Through a lot of careful study and practice he refined the techniques to use more precision and leverage so that they would be successful for a smaller and weaker fighter. This was the beginning of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, which went one to become Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Today Gracie Jiu-Jitsu usually means the style of the art as taught by Helio’s direct family, while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a more general term.