A couple of weeks ago we covered Muay Thai in our Brief History of Martial Arts series, which has a long and storied history in itself, as well as being the main stand up martial art used in MMA due to its effectiveness. This week we’re going to cover the other side of the coin and look at the ground fighting element of MMA, which more often than not means Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (more commonly called BJJ) originated from Kodokan Judo, a grappling martial art that was founded by Kano Jigoro in Japan. This was then experimented with and adapted by several martial artists (namely the Luiz França and the Gracie Family, who’re synonymous with BJJ), until it eventually formed a distinct martial art in itself, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
The first Jiu Jitsu/Judo school in Brazil was opened in 1909 by Geo Omori, a Japanese born Brazilian martial artist who fought in Vale Tudo (a precursor of modern MMA) fights and rose to prominence. Whilst Geo taught Luiz França it was arguably another one of his trainers, Mitsuyo Maeda, who had the biggest influence on the formation of BJJ. Maeda was one of five students of Kano Jigoro who were sent overseas to spread his martial art. He travelled through many countries, giving demonstrations and accepting challenges from various other martial artists – eventually he arrived in Brazil in 1914.
It’s here that the Gracie family became involved. Gastão Gracie was a business partner of the American Circus in Belem, and in 1916 Maeda was involved in a show there. This fascinated one of the sons of Gastão Gracie, Carlos, who decided that he would begin studying Judo. After a few years of training Carlos began to teach his siblings, and it was Helio Gracie who developed these skills further and formed Gracie Jiu Jitsu, which focused on ground fighting, as he was unable to perform many Judo moves that involved direct opposition to an opponent’s strength.
Whilst the Gracie Family are seen as the fathers of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu there are other schools of technique, including Luiz França’s style, which involves a lot of foot locks and is still popular with some fight teams today.
In the modern era BJJ has become a popular martial art in itself. It’s often the self defence art of choice for smaller men and women, due to it’s ability to neutralise the size of your opponent and it’s popular with police forces and security teams because of its emphasis on controlling your opponent with chokes or joint locks. On a competitive level BJJ is popular in itself with major grappling competitions across the globe, both with and increasingly without a Gi, but a huge amount of its popularity and recognition comes from how common it is in MMA, virtually every fighter uses at least some level of BJJ to control and submit their opponent on the ground, and it’s proved extremely effective.