Some historians of Jiu-Jitsu say that the origins of “the gentle art” can be traced back to India, where it was practiced by Buddhist Monks. Concerned with self-defence, these monks created techniques based upon principles of balance and leverage, and a system of manipulating the body in a manner where one could avoid relying upon strength or weapons. With the expansion of Buddhism, Jiu-Jitsu spread from South East Asia to China, finally arriving in Japan where it developed and gained further popularity. In the last days of the 19th century, some Jiu-Jitsu masters emigrated from Japan to other continents, teaching the martial arts as well as taking part in fights and competitions.
Esai Maeda Koma, also known as “Conde Koma”, was one such master. After travelling with a troupe which fought in various countries in Europe and the Americas, Koma arrived in Brazil in 1915, and settled there the next year. He met Gastao Gracie who became a Jiu-Jitsu enthusiast and brought his oldest son, Carlos, to learn from the Japanese master. For a naturally frail fifteen-year old Carlos Gracie, Jiu-Jitsu became a method not simply for fighting but for personal improvement. At nineteen, he moved to Rio de Janeiro with his family and began teaching and fighting. In his travels, Carlos would teach classes. In 1925, he returned to Rio and opened the first school, known as the “Academia Gracie de Jiu-Jitsu.”
Having created an efficient self defence system, Carlos Gracie saw in the art a way to become a man who was more tolerant, respectful and self-confident. He started to share his knowledge with his brothers, and together they adapted and refined the techniques to suit the naturally weaker characteristics of his family. With a goal of proving Jiu-Jitsu’s superiority over other martial arts, Carlos and his brothers challenged the greatest fighters of his time. The Gracies quickly gained recognition and prestige for defeating opponents who where much larger and stronger than themselves.
Carlos and his brothers changed and adapted the techniques in such a way that it completely altered the complexion of the international Jiu-Jitsu principles. These techniques were so distinctive to Carlos and his brothers that the sport became attached to a national identity, and is now commonly known as “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,” practiced by martial artists all over the world, including Japan.
The art came to be internationally recognized when Royce Gracie won the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) tournament in 1993 despite him having a significant size disadvantage in most of his matches. His success in the UFC proved the importance of ground techniques, an aspect which is absent in most styles of martial arts.
Today Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a highly-organized sport, with an International Federation (IBJJF) founded by Master Carlos Gracie Jr. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an effective martial art and combat sport that enables a smaller and weaker person to properly defend themselves against a larger attacker using leverage, skill, and technique to apply numerous chokes, holds, lock and joint manipulations.