Also referred to as BJJ, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a kind of martial arts, which mainly focuses on submission and ground fighting. It is the fastest-growing combat sports worldwide, which is also great for self-defense. In fact, many of those who decide to try this out agree that it is indeed one of the best martial arts for self-defense.

But the question is how, when, and where did Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu start? If you are curious about BJJ’s history then this article might answer your questions. Let’s talk about what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at first, though, so you will have some sort of idea about what it is and why it continues to gain popularity worldwide.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: An Overview

As mentioned earlier, BJJ is one famous form of martial arts. It is mainly based on ground fighting and grappling. This means that it focuses on developing the skill of gaining complete control of your opponent using effective techniques designed to force him to submission.

The main goal of this martial arts is to let the opponent submit through joint lock or strangulation. It also involves voluntary strikes, like kicking in the knee, head, elbow, and fist. Many even consider it as a modern form of martial art, which sharpens the mind. The reason behind it is that it focuses on timing, leverage, and technique, not brute force, so expect it to help you dominate larger opponents.

It takes pride in the fact that many view it as a gentle art. It is because it lets even a weak and small person to use leverage as well as submissions, like locks and chokes, as a means of defense from a larger opponent. With that, it is no longer surprising to see people saying that learning this form of martial arts is one of the best self-defense tips they can follow.

It is because honing your skills in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu makes you more capable of bringing down an opponent or intruder in case you are in a situation that requires you to defend yourself. The good thing about BJJ is that it allows anyone to practice it. This means that it is a good martial art for men and women, as well as 4-year old kids.

The fact that it is considered an art built for weaker and smaller practitioners subduing stronger and larger opponents, it is safe to say that anyone can definitely practice it regardless of their age, sex, and size. It is also a flexible form of martial arts in the sense that you can practice it for a wide range of reasons (not just self-defense). These include for fun, stress relief, camaraderie, and fitness.

The History

Now on to the history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. So how did this famous form of martial arts actually started? As its name suggests, it came from Brazil but the whole practice is derived from the traditional Jiu-Jitsu in Japan, which is now called judo. It was created and introduced during the first half of the 20th century after Mitsuyo Maeda, a famous judo fighter moved to Japan and popularized his art. In the succeeding years, there were modifications in his taught techniques.

They were modified by Carlos and Helio Gracie who emphasized using leverage as a means of letting people with smaller figures beat larger opponents, which is the principle followed by the BJJ.

The Relationship of BJJ to the Samurai Years

Just like what has been said earlier, the story of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu started in Japan, the place where a traditional type of Jiu-Jitsu was created and used by Japanese samurai on the battlefield. They are warriors who were involved in armed horseback battles and used Jiu-Jitsu as their last defense in case they get disarmed. However, they noticed that the heavy armors they were wearing limited their movements, causing some of them to prefer throws, joint locks, and chokes to striking methods.

This eventually caused Japanese Jiu-Jitsu to branch off into various styles that focus on slowly changing from being in armed combat into self-defense. Every style is different, although the emphasis on joint locks, strangles, and throws seem to have a consistent theme. Eventually, a unique style that emphasized maximizing efficiency with the least effort emerged, leading to the development and wide recognition of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The Birth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Last 1882, Jigoro Kano built a martial arts school called Kodokan. Around thirty years after the founding of Judo, one student of Kano traveled to Brazil, which led to a series of events resulting in the development of the most effective ground fighting technique worldwide – the BJJ. This student is Mitsuo Maeda who specialized in ground fighting. During his trip to Brazil in 1914, he became friends with Gastão Gracie, a businessman.

He accepted the offer of teaching Gracie’s teenage son, Carlos Gracie, who studied the ground fighting technique of judo for a few years. He also shared the things he learned from Maeda to his younger siblings. However, Hélio, one of his brothers, found it hard to execute some judo techniques because he lacks strength and size. This is where he started adjusting the techniques he practiced. He refined the techniques so anyone can apply them regardless of their level of strength and size.

These adjustments and innovations led to the birth of BJJ. For several years, it was the Gracie family who tested, studied and made adjustments on BJJ techniques by regularly participating in matches. Fortunately, only on rare occasions did any of the family lost a challenge.

This resulted in the continuous evolution of BJJ throughout the years. In fact, it incorporated some aspects of wrestling as well as other forms of grappling arts into the curriculum. During the later parts of the 1970s, the Gracie’s got serious about exposing BJJ to the world, which is why Rorion Gracie brought it to the US. This was the first step to introducing BJJ to the world. Upon seeing the effectiveness of the art, everyone seemed to gain interest in it, causing the BJJ’s revolution after a few centuries of its development.


From the moment it was introduced worldwide, BJJ’s popularity seems to rise steadily. It is all thanks to the increasing number of people who love MMA. The good thing about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that it is not only meant for matches and competitions. Anyone who wishes to master the art of self-defense can also train himself to be an expert in BJJ.

Featured Image: © John Lamonica [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons