Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art of Japanese roots that uses essentially levers, twists and pressures to take an opponent to the ground. and master it. Literally, jū in Japanese means “softness”, “softness”, and jutsu, “art”, “technique”. Hence its literal synonym, “gentle art”.
Its secular origin, as with almost all ancient martial arts, cannot be precisely pinpointed. Similar fighting styles were seen in different peoples, from India to China, in the 3rd and 8th centuries. What is known is that its development and refinement environment were the samurai schools, the warrior caste of feudal Japan.
The purpose of its creation was due to the fact that, on the battlefield or during any confrontation, a samurai could end up without their swords or spears, thus needing a method of defense without weapons. As the traumatic blows were not enough in this fighting environment, since the samurai wore armor, the falls and twists began to gain space for their efficiency. Jiu-Jitsu, thus, was born from its opposition to kenjitsu and other so-called rigid arts, in which combatants carried swords or other weapons.
Martial art gained new directions when a famous instructor from the Japanese school Kodokan decided to conquer the world and prove the efficiency of his strangulations and armbars against opponents of all sizes and styles: Mitsuyo Maeda, a son of a sumo wrestler born in the village of Funazawa, city of Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan, on November 18, 1878, and died in Belém do Pará on November 28, 1941.
An eternal defender of Jiu-Jitsu self-defense techniques, Maeda left for the United States in 1904, in the company of other teachers from Jigoro Kano’s school. At the time, thanks to the political and economic ties between Japan and the USA, Japanese techniques found great and notorious admirers on American soil. In 1904, for example, President Theodore Roosevelt took lessons from the Japanese Yoshitsugu Yamashita.
In the USA, the agile Japanese began to collect thousands of combats and opponents that fell along the way, in countries like England, Belgium and Spain, where his noble posture gave birth to the nickname that consecrated him, Count Koma. Back in America, the fighter made several presentations and challenges in countries like El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. In July 1914, the valiant 1.64 m and 68 kg Japanese would reportedly land in Brazil to put down roots and change the history of the sport.
Maeda would collect tasty stories in Brazilian lands. After touring the country, the Jiu-Jitsu black belt settled in Belém do Pará. One day, he faced the challenge of a capoeirista known as “Pé de Bola”, about 1.90 m tall and almost one hundred kilos. Maeda didn’t hesitate and even let his daring rival carry a knife in the fight. The Japanese disarmed him, took down and submitted the Brazilian. Conde Koma, as has become tradition among Jiu-Jitsu teachers, would also issue challenges to famous boxing rivals. That’s what he did with the famous American boxer Jack Johnson, who never accepted the fight.
It was Koma, also, who promoted the first Jiu-Jitsu championship in the country – in fact, a festival of fights and challenges to promote the unknown sport.
Researchers Luiz Otávio Laydner and Fabio Quio Takao found, in the Gazeta de Notícias, of March 11, 1915, the rules of the event scheduled for the Carlos Gomes theater, in Rio de Janeiro, then the country’s capital. Koma announced the first rules of our Jiu-Jitsu, a regulation with ten simple laws:
1. Every fighter must present himself decently, with perfectly cut fingernails and toenails;
2. He must wear a kimono suit, which Count Koma will provide him with;
3. Biting, scratching, picking with the head or fist is not allowed;
4. When using the foot, it will never be done with the point, but with the curve;
5. He who has his shoulders [back] on the ground is not considered defeated, even if he fell first;
6. Those who consider themselves defeated will demonstrate this by slapping three times on the padding or on the opponent’s body;
7. The judge will consider defeated the one who, due to the effect of the fight, does not remember that he must give three spanks;
8. The fights will be divided into rounds or bouts of five minutes with two rest periods. Having the field judge count the minutes out loud for greater understanding of the public;
9. If the fighters fall off the mat without any warning, Mr. Judge must make them place themselves again in the center of the pad, standing, facing each other;
10. They will replace Mr. Judge Messrs. Jurors. Neither the company nor the fighter who wins is responsible for the greatest harm that may befall the loser, if out of tenacity he does not want to give the agreed signal to end the fight and declare himself defeated.
* Doctors of medicine, representatives of the local press and professors of physics and fencing who are in the venue are invited to take part in the jury.
In 1917, a teenager named Carlos Gracie (1902–1994) saw for the first time, in Belém, a presentation by the Japanese who was capable of dominating and submitting the giants of the region. A friend of his father, Gastão Gracie, Maeda agreed to teach the restless boy the art of defending himself. In his classes, he taught Carlos and other Brazilians – such as Luiz França, who would later become Oswaldo Fadda’s teacher – the concepts of his art: standing or on the ground, the opponent’s strength should be the weapon for victory; to get closer to the opponent, the use of low kicks and elbows should be the tricks before taking him to the ground. For evolution in training, he made use of randori, real training with a partner.
A faithful student, Carlos Gracie embraced Jiu-Jitsu for good and, to the regret of his mother who dreamed of seeing more diplomats in the famous family, he began to instill in his brothers a love for the art. One of eight brothers (Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., George, Helena, Helio, Mary and Ilka), Carlos opened, in 1925, the Gracie family’s first Jiu-Jitsu academy. In the newspapers, the ad was a masterpiece of marketing: “If you want a broken arm, go to the Gracie gym”.
The grandmaster would have 21 children, 13 of which would become black belts. Each member of the family then began to strengthen the art and add another link to the chain created by the great master Carlos, founder and guide of the clan, as well as the first member of the family to launch himself into a fight without rules, which he called “anything goes”. It was in 1924, in Rio de Janeiro, when Carlos Gracie faced Samuel, a well-known capoeira athlete.
Helio Gracie quickly became the standout among the brothers, for the technical innovations he promoted as an instructor and for the indomitable spirit that did not match his slight build. In line with Conde Koma’s tactics, the Gracies continued, in Rio de Janeiro, to challenge capoeiristas, dockers and bullies of all origins and sizes. If standing up, such brutes were scary, on the ground they became easy prey for the boats and strangleholds that captured them like magic.