The period of Japanese history between the 8th and 16th centuries was covered with constant civil war and many systems of Jiu-Jitsu were utilized, practiced and perfected on the battlefield. This training was used to conquer armored and armed opponents.
It was originally an art designed for warfare, but after the abolition of the Feudal system in Japan, certain modifications needed to be made to the art in order to make it suitable for practice. During Feudal times, Jiu-Jitsu was also known as Yawara, Hakuda, Kogusoko, and an assortment of other names.
The earliest recorded use of the word "Jiu-Jitsu" happens in 1532 and is coined by Hisamori Tenenuchi when he officially established the first school of Jiu-Jitsu in Japan. The history of the art during this time is uncertain because teachers kept everything secret to give their art a feeling of importance and then would change the stories of their art to suit their own needs.
In approximately 1603, Japan came to a fairly peaceful period following the formation of the Tokugawa military government by Tokugawa Ieyasu. During this time (1603-1868), the feudal civil wars that had plagued Japan for centuries started to disappear. However, following the adage "living in peace, but remembering war," the traditions of classical budo (martial arts) required that everyone should learn a method of self-defense for those situations where weapons could not be used and the practice of Jiu-Jitsu continued to spread. Forms and techniques displaying weapons skills of fighting began to yield to weaponless styles which incorporated many of the grappling ground fighting techniques of the older styles.
After the Feudal period in Japan ended (Jiu-Jitsu was no longer needed on the battlefield), a way to practice the art realistically was needed, which is why Jigoro Kano (1860-1938), an educated man and member of the Cultural department and a practitioner of Jiu-Jitsu, developed his own version of Jiu-Jitsu
in the late 1800s, called Judo. Judo was helpful because it
allowed practitioners the ability to try the art safely and
realistically at the same time.
After a match-up between older styles of Jiu-Jitsu and Judo at
the Tokyo police headquarters, Judo was named the national
martial art in Japan. It was the official art used by law
enforcement in the late 1800s, and continues to be popular to
Because of the sportive outlet (rules that made practice safe), students of Jiu-Jitsu from Kano's school were able to practice more frequently due to the fact that they were not always recovering from injuries. This multiplies the amount of training time for students of Kano's school and drastically increased their abilities. Judo (Kano's version of Jiu-Jitsu) was watered down from the complete form of Jiu-Jitsu, but still contained enough techniques to preserve its realistic effectiveness. He named it Kodokan Judo. The one problem that occurred was, in Kano's
opinion, ground work was not as important as achieving the throw
or take down, therefore ground fighting was not emphasized in
There is a theory that claims that Judo was developed with the purpose of hiding the realistic effectiveness of Jiu-Jitsu from the western world. During World War II, many U.S. soldiers were exposed to the art of Judo and brought it back to America with them.
"As to the origin and native land of Ju Jutsu, there are several opinions, but they are found to be mere assumptions based on narratives relating to the founding of certain schools, or some incidental records or illustrations found in the ancient manuscripts not only in Japan but in China, Persia, Germany, and Egypt. There is no record by which the origins of Ju Jutsu can be definitely established. It would, however, be rational to assume that ever since the creation, with the instinct of self-preservation, man has had to fight for existence, and was inspired to develop an art or skill to implement the body mechanism for this purpose. In such efforts, the development may have taken various courses according to the condition of life or tribal circumstance, but the object and mechanics of the body being common, the results could not have been so very different from each other. No doubt this is the reason for finding records relating to the practice of arts similar to Ju Jutsu in various parts of the world, and also for the lack of records of its origins."
--Sensei G. Koizumi, Kodokan 7th Dan
Like many other subjects of history, it would be impossible to accurately describe the origin of Jiu-Jitsu. However there is no lack of hypotheses. Every culture has shown to have some form of hand-to-hand combat in its history. Weaponless combat usually appears in the form of wrestling and sometimes boxing. Looking at a fighting timeline, it is possible that the wrestling techniques of Jiu-Jitsu could have been influenced by Ancient Greece. The Olympic Games were one of the Greek's traditions. In fact one of its most popular sports, Pankration was a sport that involved both boxing and wrestling techniques and became more popular to the Greeks than each one of them individually. During Alexander the Great's conquests (356 - 323 B.C.), he brought the Greek culture to the areas he conquered. His conquests stretched all the way to India, where he introduced the customs and ideals of Greek culture to the people of that area where Jiu-Jitsu's foundation was likely to have been born.
The general idea embraced by most historians is that systemized martial arts techniques came from India along with Buddhism (Dharma). The concept here is that the Shaolin temple was built in the center of China and this is where Dharma introduced Buddhism and Boxing. Buddhist Monks in northern India are said to have greatly contributed to the early development of Jiu-Jitsu. Bandits constantly assaulted the monks during their long journeys through the interior of India. Buddhist religious and moral values did not encourage the use of weapons so they were forced to develop an empty hand system of self-defense.
These Monks were men of great wisdom who possessed a perfect knowledge of the human body. Consequently, they applied laws of physics such as leverage, momentum, balance, center of gravity, friction, weight transmission and manipulation of the human anatomy’s vital points in order to create a scientific art of self-defense.
Another version supports the idea of Jiu-Jitsu coming from China around the time of the fall of the Ming Dynasty. When a Chinese monk named Chin Gen Pinh came to Japan, accompanied with his knowledge and experience of Kempo, known as the “China Hand.” Another theory says that there were practitioners of Chikura Karube, a wrestling sport developed around 200 B.C. It is said that Chikura Karube
later became Jiu-jitsu in Japan.
One thing is certain about these stories, and that is that the Japanese were responsible for refining a grappling art into a very sophisticated grappling system called Jiu-Jitsu which was developed in Japan during the Feudal period.
When the days of the Samurai came to an end, the gun replaced the sword, and new sportive ways to practice martial arts were developed. Eventually, in Japan many different variations of Jiu-Jitsu took shape, including Karate, Aikido, and Judo. But these arts were missing essential pieces of what the complete art of Jiu-Jitsu
This lack of reality created years of confusion in the martial arts community, a confusion that legendary Bruce Lee would later refer to as the 'classical mess'. Bruce Lee was actually a student of Judo and did many studies on grappling while he was alive. He criticized traditional martial arts as being ineffective. The more traditional combat schools were simply practicing techniques no longer suitable for modern day combat, and with no way to safely test them, practicing these arts became like swimming without water.
It wasn't until the sport art of Judo and the combat art of Jiu-Jitsu were introduced to the Gracie family in Brazil that the real art of Jiu-Jitsu would be brought to life again. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu (practiced as Judo) was introduced to the Gracie family in Brazil around 1914 by Esai Maeda, who was also known as Conde Koma. Maeda was a champion of Jiu-Jitsu and a direct student of Kano, at the Kodokan in Japan. He was born in 1878, and became a student of Judo (Kano’s Jiu-Jitsu)
In 1914, Maeda was given the opportunity to travel to Brazil as part of a large Japanese immigration colony. In Brazil, in the northern state of Para, he befriended Gastão Gracie, an influential businessman, who helped Maeda get established. To show his gratitude, Maeda offered to teach traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu to Gastão's oldest son, Carlos Gracie. Carlos learned for a few years and eventually passed his knowledge to his brothers.
Helio Gracie, the youngest son of Gastão and Cesalina
Gracie's eight children (three were girls), was always a very
physically frail child. He would run up a flight of stairs and
have fainting spells, and no one could figure out why.
At age fourteen, he moved in with his older brothers who lived and taught Jiu-Jitsu in a house in Botafogo, a borough of Rio de Janeiro. Following doctor’s recommendations, Helio would spend the next few years limited to only watching his brothers teach.
One day, when Helio was 16 years old, a student showed up for class when Carlos was not around. Helio, who had memorized all the techniques from watching his brothers teach, offered to start the class. When the class was over, Carlos showed up and apologized for his delay. The student answered, "No problem. I enjoyed the class with Helio very much and, if you don't mind, I'd like to continue learning from him." Carlos agreed, and Helio became an instructor.
Helio soon realized that due to his frail physique, most of the techniques he had learned from watching Carlos teach were particularly difficult for him to execute. Eager to make the techniques work for him, he began modifying them to accommodate his weak body. Emphasizing the use of leverage and timing over strength and speed, Helio modified virtually all of the techniques and, through trial and error, created Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
In order to prove the effectiveness of his new system, Helio openly challenged all the reputable martial artists in Brazil. He fought 18 times, including matches against onetime world heavyweight wrestling champion, Wladek Zbyszko and the #2-ranked Judoka in the world at the time, Kato, whom Helio choked unconscious in six minutes. His victory against Kato qualified him to enter the ring with the world champion, Masahiko Kimura, the best Jiu-Jitsu fighter Japan has ever produced, and who outweighed Helio by almost 80 pounds. Kimura won the match but was so impressed with Helio’s techniques that he asked Helio to go teach in Japan claiming the techniques Helio presented during their bout did not exist in Japan. It was the recognition by the world’s best to Helio’s dedication to the refinement of the art.
At 43 years old, Helio and former student, Waldemar Santana, set the world record for the longest uninterrupted no-holds-barred fight in history when they fought for an incredible 3 hours and 40 minutes!
Widely regarded as the first sports hero in Brazilian history, Helio also challenged boxing icons Primo Carnera, Joe Louis, and Ezzard Charles. They all declined.
A dedicated family man who exemplified a healthy life-style he was the epitome of courage, discipline, determination, and an inspiration to people everywhere. A modern-day legend, Helio Gracie gained international acclaim for his dedication to the dissemination of the art and is recognized as the creator of Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.