There are dozens of styles of martial arts, and while most originated in Asia and Europe, other countries have made a huge mark in the progression of martial arts. In Brazil, for instance, the art of Jiu-Jitsu has evolved into a premiere skill and a key component of today’s mixed martial arts fighting.
While the name Jiu-Jitsu is the common name associated with the art, it truly was born out of the Japanese martial art of Kodokan judo. This type of judo emphasizes grappling as well as ground fighting combat skills, which can be huge advantage for a smaller fighter competing against someone larger or stronger. The grappling skills, chokeholds, joint-locks and ground fighting taught within this discipline very often negate the natural advantages of a larger opponent.
The Japanese form of Jiu-Jitsu was introduced in Brazil in 1914, when famed Kodokan judo expert Mitsuyo Maeda was touring the world showcasing his skills. In 1916, Carlos Gracie, the eldest son of circus owner Gastao Gracie, went to one of Maeda’s expositions. It inspired him to learn the skill, and he became one of Maeda’s students.
After training with Maeda, Carlos Gracie teamed with his brothers to open a martial arts academy that emphasized Jiu-Jitsu techniques. The Gracie academy opened in 1925, and the brothers began training dozens of willing students. The Gracies also held competitions, inviting fighters of any fighting style to come and challenge the Gracie fighters. In nearly every no-holds barred bout, the Gracie fighters easily beat their opponents. The advantages of learning of Jiu-Jitsu became clear very quickly, and the sport grew exponentially throughout Brazil.
The Gracie’s youngest sibling, Helio, was a huge part of the development of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Physically weaker than his siblings and prone to illness, he hardly seemed to be destined to become a giant in the field of martial arts. However, he spent several years simply observing his brothers teachings. His observations paid off, and when he began sparring or rolling with his brothers, his talents became apparent, and he is largely responsible for transforming Kodokan judo skills into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. There are many other significant influences in the art, as well, including the Machado Family, Luis Franca and Oswaldo Fadda.
Royce Gracie was one of the first to bring Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the attention of Americans. Using his extensive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills, Royce Gracie won the first Ultimate Fighting Championship, as well as the second and fourth UFC titles. From there, it was only a matter of time until BJJ became a huge part of mixed martial arts training.