The word “jiu jitsu” derives from the Japanese “Jū” meaning “gentle” and “Jutsu” meaning “art”; essentially, jiu jitsu is the “gentle art”.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a predominantly ground-based martial art, using the principals of leverage, angles, pressure and timing, as well as knowledge of the human anatomy, in order to achieve a non-violent submission of one’s opponent. Unlike other martial arts that focus on strikes and/or kicks, jiu jitsu focuses on close-contact “grappling” holds and techniques, and the application of chokes and joint-manipulations.
The Brazilian style of jiu jitsu resulted from the import of Japanese jiu jitsu and judo to the South American continent in the early 1900s, and its transformation into a new martial art style by a core group of Brazilian pioneers.
Before it arrived to the shores of Brazil, however, the origins of jiu jitsu are believed to go back thousands of years. There are several theories concerning its very first beginnings, but many agree that it can at least be traced back 4,000 years ago, to Buddhist monks in India, who needed to protect themselves during their travels without inflicting harm on their attackers. It then spread to feudal Japan, where it developed into an effective hand-to-hand combat during war, before transitioning to become more of an art form and a competitive activity. Some even argue for much older origins than India, dating back to the earliest forms of “grappling”, which are immortalized on the walls of ancient Greek and Egyptian ruins.
Then in 1915, a world famous Japanese judoka, Mitsuyo Maeda, arrived to Brazil, where he soon began teaching and giving demonstrations in jiu jitsu and judo, which at the time were not seen as separate disciplines. Three of Maeda’s first students went on to become the founders of what is known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie, and Luiz França. Each of these early pioneers contributed to the development of what is today known as Brazilian jiu jitsu, by maximizing the effectiveness of existing techniques, creating new ones, and giving rise to a distinct martial art.
It wasn’t long before the Brazilian style of jiu jitsu started to spread to other countries and continents. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu arrived to the United States in the early 1970s, but grew relatively slowly until the 1990s, when the UFC brought mixed martial arts – and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – to the mainstream public.