While the below version of the history of BJJ does omit some key players and streamlines events, I have included it as it is the most often conveyed "version" of the BJJ origin story. See the "A More Complex Story" Section for a more comprehensive view.
Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese citizen and acclaimed black belt in the grappling art of Judo, began traveling the world in 1904 to garner interest in the newly created Japanese martial art. In order to get people interested in learning Judo, he often competed against local tough guys and professional fighters under a variety of rule sets. He traveled to Europe, North and South America, won many fights, popularized Judo and earned the nickname, Conde Koma (the Count of Combat).
In 1914, he arrived in Brazil and quickly attracted a following with his "prove it in the ring" mentality. In 1917, in Belem (Northern Brazil), Maeda came into contact with local businessman, Gastao Gracie Sr. (the reason for this interaction is debated). As a result of their relationship, Gastao's son, Carlos Gracie Sr. became a pupil at Maeda's school and learned the master's grappling techniques.
In 1921, the Gracies moved from Belem to Rio de Janeiro and Carlos taught his brothers, Helio, George, Oswaldo and Gastao Jr. the fighting techniques he had learned from the Japanese master. The Gracie brothers took those skills and opened a Jiu-Jitsu academy (returning to the more combat focused name of the art) in Rio in 1930 and began teaching students. Over time the Gracie's altered Maeda's style, focusing on ground fighting, adding techniques, positions and refining technical details.
Following in Maeda's footsteps, the Gracies sought to prove their particular style of Jiu-Jitsu against other fighting arts through a variety of no rules, limited rules and sport matches. Over the next 63 years, Gracie family members and their students would fight professionally as well as behind closed doors against local rivals and international fighters to prove the superiority of their method. During this time, the Gracies earned both acclaim and scorn from the martial arts world for issuing a challenge and offering a cash prize to any fighter from any school that could beat a Gracie fighter.
It was in 1993, that Helio's oldest son, Rorion, would seek to the take the "Gracie Challenge" concept and package it for an international TV audience. He created the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). A single night tournament consisting of eight fighters from different martial arts styles fighting in a single elimination tournament, in a cage, to prove which style was best. Helio's younger son, Royce, represented the family, winning the first UFC and retiring undefeated after UFC 5.
These early UFC's and similar events exposed the world to the effectiveness of Brazilian/Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ/GJJ) and created tremendous demand for qualified teachers. The Gracies and their students then fanned out, first to the United States and then to other countries to establish academies and teach the art.
Today, dozens of Gracies and hundreds of their black belts teach the art around the world.
The core principles of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu include:
"I am the shark, the ground is my ocean and most people do not even know how to swim." - Jean Jacques Machado (7th degree red/black belt in BJJ)
Rolker, Royce, Rorion, Helio, Relson, Rickson and Royler Gracie.
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