By Nickolas Dinos,
Mitsuyo Maeda was a Japanese martial artist who travelled through the entire world demonstrating his exquisite techniques and showing the entire fighting world his unique style of combat. Maeda was considered one of the five Kodokan’s top groundwork experts as he was personally trained by the legendary founder of Judo, Kano Jigoro. Maeda, a 5ft. 5 man, was obsessed with showing the world that for a true martial artist, size is not an issue. In order to achieve his goals, his mentor Kano Jigoro decided that his best -and favourite- student was to be sent overseas to spread his art to the world. Maeda left Japan in 1904 and visited a number of countries giving “jiu-do” demonstrations and accepting challenges from wrestlers, boxers, savate fighters, and various other martial artists, and eventually arrived in Brazil on November 14, 1914.
Brazil was the place where Maeda met Carlos Gracie, a business partner of the American Circus in Belem. In 1917 Carlos Gracie watched a “Kano Jiu-Jitsu” demonstration by Maeda at the Da Paz Theatre and decided he wanted to learn. Maeda accepted Carlos as a student. He taught Carlos for several years eventually passing his knowledge on to his brothers. Gracie’s account of the events is that his younger sibling Hélio Gracie gradually developed Gracie jiu-jitsu as a softer, pragmatic adaptation that focused more on the ground fighting and leverage aspect of Jiu-Jitsu/Judo, rather than the throws, as he was unable to perform many Judo throws that required direct opposition to an opponent’s strength. The Gracie family, using and adapting Maeda’s incredible understanding of Judo, modified the ground grappling aspect of the art, to create a new one: the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). BJJ remained rather unknown outside of Brazil and Japan, as the fighting community of the time was centralized around the blockbuster boxing fights of Las Vegas. Still, grappling competitions started to become more and more prominent and BJJ was soon to become one of the most famous martial arts in the world.
In the early 1990s, Rorion Gracie collaborated with promoter Art Davie to create an eight-man single-elimination tournament for the purpose of showcasing the effectiveness of Gracie jiu-jitsu against other martial arts. The tournament would be no-holds-barred combat, much like the grappling matches the family had participated for years in Brazil. The event was to be televised and would aim to publicly determine the best martial art. The inaugural tournament took place on November 12, 1993. Rorion’s younger brother Royce served as a combatant in the tournament, representing the family’s martial art. Despite being the smallest competitor, Royce was able to win all three of his matches and was crowned champion. As more events were held, Royce would go on to win two more early UFC tournaments. His victories brought widespread attention to the family’s style of jiu-jitsu, attracting many martial artists, especially in America, to begin training the art that proved so effective against the various styles showcased in the early Ultimate Fighting Championship tournaments.
The evolution of these kind of Mixed Martial Arts tournaments has been immense in the last two decades. As the sport grew and transformed the sport-fighting world- selling at times more Pay-per-views than boxing events- it was evident that in order to have a chance of competing against the best, the athletes had to possess the knowledge and skills to survive the ground grappling aspect of the game. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu started to spread around the world and was now considered essential to one of the most popular sports in the world.
As BJJ focuses on submissions and sparring and live drilling became the most essential part of the training regime, this type of training allows practitioners to practice at full speed and with full strength, resembling the effort made in a competition. Training methods include drills in which techniques are practiced against a non-resisting and resisting partners; isolation where only a certain technique or sets of techniques are used; and full sparring where each practitioner tries to submit their opponent through technique. Physical conditioning is also an important aspect of training.
As the discipline became ever so popular, people of all age groups and athletic backgrounds were beginning to get attracted to this newly crafted martial art. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is by no means an easy thing for someone to learn. It is a sport where someone can learn how to choke someone unconscious or how to dislocate someone’s shoulder. It is a sport that forces you into a claustrophobic situation where someone is on top of you trying to implement those violent techniques. But still, it is a martial art that attracts a lot of people who tend to get attracted to the compassion and the strong bonds between the practitioners. For its practitioners, the sport’s soul-destroying, ego-clipping nature goes hand in hand with an intense connection and close-knit community. Consent and support are beneath the violence of the grappling art. You trust someone to let go of their submission hold when you tap, and you do not deliberately try to injure your opponent but rather engage in a very difficult and painful learning experience. Essentially it turns into mutual evolution through the sharing of violence.
Inside the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu environment, close physical contact is a constant thing. This close physical contact occurs in the context of intense interpersonal competition, in a stylized struggle for survival, and a very real struggle for physical dominance. The nature of competition and survival triggers other intense psychological and physiological changes, trying to triumph through hurting someone that you do not actually want to hurt.
It remains to be seen whether BJJ will maintain its status and dedication amongst its students or will be a fad. But in any case, the unique and compelling element of close physical and violent contact along with a mutual understanding and compassion between people who essentially want to hurt each other makes the martial arts one that really stands out.
- BJJ Heroes, Seeds of Mitsuyo Maeda. Available here
- JiuJitsuBrotherhood, The Gracies – First Family of Jiu Jitsu. Available here
- Sharma, A., A Complete History of the UFC, One37PM. Available here
- TheBxngClub, Jiu Jitsu: Unearthing the Origins & History of BJJ. Available here