A Brief History of the Evolution Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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By Paul Mahoney

Today, we can observe many varieties of Jiu-Jitsu in the martial arts world. All these well marked varieties of Jiu-Jitsu have descended with modifications over a period of time from a common ancestor. Most variations that have appeared were not able to survive in the harsh struggle for existence, but a few styles have appeared that are surviving in the fierce competition of the mixed martial arts world today. The modified styles of Jiu-Jitsu that have succeeded are those that have become more diversified in structure and are thus able to dominate in places previously occupied by other styles. One variation of Jiu-Jitsu that has continued to become more improved and dominant in relation to others, is called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and it is this variation whose history we wish to trace.

Our method of tracing this history will be to begin in the present and walk backwards through time hoping to discover the common ancestor of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu being taught in America and around the world today. As we journey backward through time, we will meet some of the individuals who have been influential in the creation of Jiu-Jitsu from its early beginnings in Japan to its modifications in Brazil and finally to it’s present day success in America.

We will begin our journey back through history with a very talented instructor who is teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Palm Beach County. Professor Mauricio Villardo traveled from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to the United States in 2001 and brought Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with him .In 2002, Professor Villardo established the Mauricio Villardo Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Boca Raton Florida, followed by Academies in Wellington and Loxahatchee. Of course, Professor Villardo did not independently create Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and therefore we must continue to walk back through time in order to locate the origin of his unique style of BJJ.

We must travel with Professor Villardo back to his home in Brazil .When we arrive in Brazil, we will stop and meet with the family who created the style of Jiu-Jitsu which is in fact the common ancestor of all the various branches of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which we see being taught and practiced in America and around the world today. This family is the legendary Gracie family, now being led by the grand patriarch, Helio Gracie.

Professor Mauricio Villardo is connected to the Gracies through Master Royler Gracie,Helio’s 5th son. Mauricio trained and assisted Royler, teaching in Brazil . He is a third degree Black Belt, and is certified by the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation. Therefore, Professor Villardo can trace his Jiu-Jitsu back to Brazil and to the Gracie family through his relationship with Royler Gracie. The Jiu-Jitsu that Professor Villardo teaches in Florida is a direct descendant of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

Let’s continue our journey backward, deeper into the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu tree. Our search does not end with Royler Gracie, because Royler did not create Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. He was taught Jiu-Jitsu by his father, Helio Gracie. We could spend a long time visiting with Helio, who is now 95 and still teaching and training every day, but we must continue traveling back to the early 1900’s in order to discover the source of the Jiu-Jitsu being taught by Professor Villardo, Royler Gracie and Helio Gracie. Helio Gracie was born in 1913. He was the youngest of five sons born to Gastao Gracie. By 1930 he was teaching Jiu-Jitsu with his brothers in Rio, and in 1940, he opened an academy in Rio and continued teaching Jiu-Jitsu to Brazilians. In 1967, he formed the first Jiu-Jitsu federation. However, our journey does not end with Helio. Although he was instrumental in creating what has become Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, he did not originate it. We must travel back in time and visit his oldest brother, Carlos Gracie.

Carlos Gracie was born in 1901 and died 1998. During his childhood, there was a large Japanese population in Brazil, and his father, Gastao Gracie was helping a man namedEsai Maeda to establish a Japanese immigration colony in Brazil. Maeda, who later was given the title “Conde Koma” or “Count Combat”, was a Judo champion, who in 1904 traveled from Japan to the United States to demonstrate Judo to President Roosevelt. He later settled in Brazil where he met Gastao Gracie Their friendship resulted in theMaeda teaching Gastao’s son, Carlos Gracie some Judo, which Carlos in turn taught to his brothers, one of whom was Helio. The time was 1914. But where did Esai Maeda learn Judo and how are Judo and Jiu-Jitsu related?

We must now take one final step into the past in order to locate the common ancestor of the various forms of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu we meet in the world today. This search will take us from Brazil to Japan where we will meet the teacher of Esai Maeda and the creator of Judo, Jigaro Kano. Jigaro Kano modified the Jiu-Jitsu that had been used by the warrior class during the Feudal period in Japan. At first, his style was actually called Kano’s Jiu-Jitsu and by the late 1800’s he had renamed it Judo, the gentle way. It was this Judo that Jigaro Kano taught to Maeda who in turn passed it on to Carlos Gracie.

For now, our journey ends here. These are the facts and beyond this the history of Jiu-Jitsu becomes speculative. That of which we can be certain is that Jigaro Kano created his own system of Jiu-Jitsu and called it Judo. Kano passed his way onto his student Esai Maeda who traveled to Brazil in 1914 and shared it with Carlos Gracie. Carlos Gracie made modifications to what Maeda brought from Japan and taught these modified techniques to his brothers. By 1925, the Gracies had opened an academy and were calling their style, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. One of Carlos brothers, Helio made more adaptations to this system so that a smaller person could easily apply them to larger person. Grand Master Helio Gracie would continue to make modifications that would improve Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and he taught this to his sons. One of those sons is MasterRoyler Gracie, who passed this Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to Professor Mauricio Villardo.

This historic journey should help us to keep in mind that Brazilian / Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is a method of fighting that is evolutionary in nature and continues to change with the time moving toward the perfect fighting system.

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