History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Are you looking to understand the roots of your sport? Or maybe you are looking to dive into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a new hobby? Or maybe you are ready to enhance your existing martial arts skills and pushing yourself to the next level. No matter the answer you are in the right place because Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is for everyone. So let's further understand the origins of this art. 

In this blog we will reference "Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu" (BJJ) which we will see is an adaptation of Jiu-Jitsu from the 1700s in Japan. BJJ came to having "Brazilian" added to the name based on those who practiced and enhanced the art in Brazil under the instruction of Mitsuyo Maeda, an iconic Japanese Judoka (and wrestling champion) who trained with legendary figures such as Kano Jigoro. The discipline has evolved over centuries into what it is today: one of the most effective forms of grappling and self-defense.

In this blog post, we'll take a deep dive into its origin – from reclaiming a culture largely forgotten during colonization until modern martial artists made waves on the UFC stage.

We'll also discuss why this art form has become increasingly popular in the last decade and explore how anyone can begin learning jiu-jitsu today.

What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art and combat sport focusing on grappling and ground fighting. It was developed in the early 20th century by the Gracie family in Brazil, drawing heavily upon the instruction of Maeda and his learnings from the Kodokan Judo school and incorporating techniques from other martial arts. The main goal of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is to gain a dominant position, usually by taking your opponent to the ground and controlling them with various pins, holds and submissions. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu often refers to the Gracie family's adaptations of the ancient art. Sometimes even called Gracie Jiu Jitsu. It is becoming more common to drop the "Brazilian" and refer to the modern adaptation of the art as just "Jiu-Jitsu." 

Is Jiu-Jitsu Effective?

Jiu-Jitsu is an incredibly effective martial art and self-defense system, as evidenced by its long history of success in combat sports worldwide. The origins of Jiu-Jitsu can be traced back to the ancient Japanese samurai warriors, who developed a form of unarmed combat that utilized throws and joint locks to defeat their opponents.

This martial art was further developed in Brazil during the early 20th century and has since become one of the most popular martial arts practiced today. Jiu-Jitsu is highly effective for self-defense as it relies on using an opponent's force and momentum against them rather than brute strength alone.

In addition to its effectiveness in real-world self-defense scenarios, Jiu-Jitsu is also highly effective in competition. It has become one of the most popular martial arts for mixed martial arts (MMA) athletes, and most top professional fighters have to have some base level of Jiu-Jitsu techniques.

Jiu Jitsu continues to evolve as a martial art, with schools and gyms worldwide offering classes in classical, self defense focused and modern "sport" variations. No matter your style, Jiu-Jitsu is an incredibly effective martial art that can provide a great workout and improve your self-defense skills. 

The popularity of BJJ has grown significantly in recent years, with many competitions and tournaments held worldwide. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's effectiveness makes it a great option whether you are looking for self-defense or want an intense workout. The effectiveness of BJJ for smaller participants has given rise to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu becoming very popular for kids. Kids and adults can practice BJJ with almost full resistance from their opponent, building their confidence of how they can protect themselves and others in a true self defense situation. 

1700 – Jiu-Jitsu in Japan: Golden Age and Decline of the Gentle Art

The roots of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be traced back to the early 1700s in Japan. During this period, Jiu-Jitsu was a widespread martial art and was highly respected. Jiu-Jitsu techniques were developed and refined in various schools across Japan, blending Chinese, Indian, and Japanese martial arts styles.

The most influential teacher of the time was Jigoro Kano. He founded the Kodokan School in 1882 to teach his style of Jiu-Jitsu, which he called Judo. His teachings focused on the principle of maximum efficiency with minimum effort. Judo was often referred to as "Kano jiu-jitsu" or, even more generically, simply as jiu-jitsu which can be confusing.  

The Kodokan School was extremely successful, and Jiu-Jitsu soon spread to other countries. Unfortunately, Japan banned Jiu-Jitsu during World War II, and many instructors were killed or imprisoned. This period marked the decline of Jiu-Jitsu in Japan.

Fortunately, Japanese immigrants brought the art to Brazil, where it was rediscovered and developed further during the 20th century.

It was during this period that what we know as modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emerged, blending together traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu with elements from other martial arts styles.

This style of Jiu-Jitsu was heavily influenced by the legendary Gracie family gaining their knowledge and instruction from Mitsuyo Maeda. The Gracies founded their school in Rio de Janeiro and began to popularize Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu worldwide.

Today, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of the world's most popular martial arts styles, with many practitioners competing in tournaments and demonstrating its effectiveness in mixed martial arts competitions.

Art continues to evolve, with new techniques and strategies constantly being developed. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a living tradition that has stood the test of time.

Gracie Family History

The origins of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) can be traced back to the Gracie family of Brazil. The Gracie family developed their version of Japanese Judo, then known as "jiu-jitsu" or "gentle art." They adapted this martial art to create BJJ, which uses leverage and technique to overcome bigger opponents.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is based on the principle that a smaller, weaker person can subdue a bigger and stronger opponent by utilizing proper technique and leveraging their body weight in strategic positions.

This is done by applying joint locks and chokeholds to defeat your opponent. BJJ also includes ground fighting, where practitioners use various grappling positions such as guard, half-guard, and mount to control and attack their opponent.

The Gracies are credited with popularizing BJJ in the early 1990s when they introduced it to the mainstream audience through a series of mixed martial arts fights. Their influence on martial art has continued to this day, and the Gracie family is still considered one of the leading authorities in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Roots from Judo

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an offshoot of the Japanese martial art of Judo. It began in Brazil in the early 1900s when a group of students trained under one of the original Kodokan judoka, Mitsuyo Maeda (1878-1941).

The group was led by Carlos and Helio Gracie, who learned and developed their martial art style by experimenting with different techniques. This style focused more on ground fighting and grappling, which has become the foundation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu today.

The Gracie family spread their style throughout Brazil, eventually leading to the rise of modern-day BJJ schools.

Today, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is practiced worldwide, with practitioners from all walks of life participating in the style's continuing evolution.


As you start or continue your journey in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you can look back on its history for inspiration and guidance. The lineage of the style is still alive today and can be seen in the way its practitioners have embraced it as a way of life.

You can continue to shape and evolve the style with practice, dedication, and an open mind to the possibilities that come with this martial art. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu mentally and physically helps you reach your goals whether you are just starting or have been training for years.

Use of Jiu-Jitsu by the Samurai

Jiu Jitsu is believed to have originated in Japan as early as 1530 but was really developed from the warrior class around the 17th century. During this time, Jiu-Jitsu was mainly practiced by samurai warriors who used it as a form of self-defense and combat during battle.

These samurai warriors developed various techniques, including throws, locks, pins, and chokes, which are still practiced today in modern Jiu-Jitsu. This art of Jiu-Jitsu was passed from master to student and eventually spread to the world.

Renzo Gracie wrote in his book Mastering Jiu-jitsu

that the history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu dates back hundreds of years. It is believed that a form of Jiu-jitsu was practiced by Buddhist monks in India around 2,000 B.C.  From there, it spread to Japan and eventually to Brazil, where the Gracie family continued to perfect the martial art.


History of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu FAQs

Where did Jiu-Jitsu start?

Jiu-Jitsu may date back to early monks in India but really gained all traction in Japan where it is rooted in the martial art of Kodokan Judo. The modern style of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was developed in the early 20th century by a group of Judo and traditional Jiu-Jitsu practitioners in Brazil.

They sought to enhance existing techniques to create a more effective martial art system. The Gracie family, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu share, led by Carlos and Helio Gracie, became some of the most influential figures in the development of what we know as modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Who were the important people associated with the history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

The three most important figures associated with the history of Jiu-Jitsu are Mitsuyo Maeda, a Judo master from Japan; Carlos Gracie, one of the founders of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu style; and Helio Gracie, Carlos' brother, and co-founder.

Other important figures in the development of Jiu-Jitsu were Gastão Gracie, another brother of Carlos and Helio; Jorge Pereira, a Judo master and one of the first practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; and Rorion Gracie, the father of modern MMA.

Did the Samurai use Jiu-Jitsu?

Yes, the medieval and early-modern Japan were known to practice Jiu-Jitsu. 

Although Jiu-Jitsu was not the primary martial art used by the Samurai, it was certainly an important part of their military training when they did not have their weapons or were on foot. 

What is the difference between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo?

The primary difference between modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo is the emphasis on ground fighting. Judo emphasizes takedowns and throws, while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu focuses more on submissions and ground control.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu also heavily emphasizes self-defense, while Judo of the modern age is more tournament oriented. Additionally, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes using leverage and technique to defeat larger opponents, while Judo emphasizes using proper body mechanics and timing to take an opponent to the ground.

What are some of the most popular Jiu-Jitsu tournaments?

Some of the most popular Jiu-Jitsu tournaments include the IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation) World Championship, IBJJF Pan American Championship, IBJJF American Nationals, European IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship, the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) Submission Wrestling World Championship, Sport Jiu-Jitsu International Federation events, Jiu Jitsu World League events and Fight 2 Win (F2W) events just to name a few.

Additionally, several more local and regional Jiu-Jitsu tournaments are held worldwide each year.


I hope this article helped to provide a brief overview of the history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. As you have seen, it has come a long way from its roots in Japan to becoming an internationally recognized martial art.