Japanese Jiu-Jitsu was one of the earliest martial arts to be formed into a system that could be practiced and taught. It came long before the Brazilian version, which wasn't formed until the early 1900s that a Brazilian family, the Gracies, took the ancient Japanese martial art and modernized it. Today their Brazilian version is taught in schools all over the world and is recognized as one of the most effective forms of self-defense.
The origins of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu are unclear because it formed centuries ago. It's even speculated to have originated in India among Buddhist monks who were looking for a way to peacefully defend themselves.
The name Jiu-Jitsu can be roughly translated as the "peaceful way" which means that it's meant to be performed without weapons.
Military Martial Art
However, another school of thought is that the art was developed for samurai soldiers who were unarmed during combat. That means the original form of Jiu-Jitsu was probably much more violent than the one practiced today. It was likely distilled over the years into an art that could be taught to citizens for sport and recreation, making it much less dangerous.
The original version was a mixture of wrestling and other bare-handed techniques that used leverage and friction to defeat an opponent instead of punches and kicks. They also used submissions to hurt their opponents. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu was also much more varied and complex than the Brazilian version taught today.
The first Japanese Jiu-Jitsu school was formed in 1532 by a man named Hisamori Tenenuchi. In the 1800s another form of martial art that incorporated Jiu-Jitsu was formed in Japan, called Judo. It quickly became the official martial art of Japan after it was found to be more effective in combat.
Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, which was known as Judo at that point, was introduced to the Gracie family in Brazil in 1914 Esia Maeda, a Judo champion. One of the members of the Gracie family, a boy named Helio, was physically frail and unable to participate as a boy. Instead, he watched his brothers teach classes at their family's Jiu-Jitsu gym.
One day his older brother showed up to teach a class and Helio stepped in to teach for him. He taught well since he had been memorizing the techniques for years from the sidelines.
Putting it to the Test
After that, Helio began creating his own system of Jiu-Jitsu that would work for his weaker physique. He modified the moves from the original Japanese style and created his own, which was eventually dubbed Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
He used his style to beat some of the best martial artists in Brazil. He even challenged the Jiu-Jitsu champion of Japan, who was around 80 pounds heavier than Helio, and impressed the champion so much that he was invited to teach in Japan.
The Brazilian version of Jiu-Jitsu is much more simplified than the Japanese version, which is most likely why it's so popular. By including fewer techniques in the art, Brazilians are able to concentrate their practice on honing and mastering fewer skills. It's now a competitive sport with an international championship.
Mixed Martial Arts
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has also been popularized by an American sport called Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA. In an MMA fight the competitors can use kicks, punches, knees, elbows, takedowns or submissions to defeat an opponent. Brazilian jiu-jitsu lends itself very well to the sport because it's a very effective way to neutralize an opponent, take them down and force them to submit.
In fact, Helio Gracie's son, Royce Gracie, was one of the first champions in the biggest mixed martial arts federation in the world, the UFC. He won three championships total and was one of the most influential fighters in the sport. He proved the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu against opponents of different backgrounds, such as boxing and sumo wrestling.