Know Your Roots

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Knowing martial arts is a privilege. And part of the privilege is knowing where your art began and how it grew to what it is. It’s not a necessary part of learning the art well, but here at Frequency BJJ, we think it’s important to know your roots.

Foundation for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – Japan (late 1800’s)


Before jiu jitsu found its way to Brazil, it began as an art called Kodokan Judo, founded by Jigoro Kano in 1883. It was important to him to maintain the basis for ancient martial arts practices in Japan while combining these arts to form one that was more realistic and suitable for the average person. In 1886, the Tokyo Police held a large martial arts tournament that pitted Kano’s new art against fighters using classical jujutsu practices. Out of 15 matches, Kodokan Judo fighters won 13. This surprising result brought many new students to his door.


Kodokan Judo continued to win in almost all tournaments for quite a while. But around the year 1900, one fighter using an obscure form of jujutsu easily defeated his Judo opponent. He defeated him with ground fighting, a practice that was not taught in Kano’s Judo until that moment. Seeing the need to incorporate this aspect of fighting, Kano invited this opponent, Mataemon Tanabe, to teach ground grappling at his school. Combined with the standing/throwing practices they had been learning, the inclusion of ground fighting once again made Judo unbeatable. The man who would bring this fighting technique to Brazil started training in Kano’s school around the same time that ground fighting was introduced. 


Mitsumo Maeda – The Spread of Ground Fighting


Mitsumo Maeda was already an accomplished martial artist before joining the Kodokan Judo school. During his training there, he remained undefeated in every tournament he fought in. Because of his proficiency, Kano chose Maeda as one of five of his top fighters to travel the world and spread the art of ground fighting and Kodokan Judo. In 1904, Maeda left Japan. In over 1,000 “no-holds-barred” fights while competing all over the world, Maeda was never beaten. He eventually settled in Brazil in 1914, and quickly built his own jiu jitsu academy. 

Photo from “The Foundations of Japan: Notes Made During Journeys Of 6,000 Miles In The Rural Districts 

As A Basis For A Sounder Knowledge Of The Japanese People”, by J.W. Robertson Scott, published 1922


The Gracie Family – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s Popularity Grows


With the combination of the classical elements of Japanese jujutsu and Kano’s more streetworthy style Judo, Maeda’s new Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school quickly became popular. One of the first students, Carlos Gracie, enjoyed it so much that, after only a few years of training with Maeda, opened his own BJJ school in 1925 and passed his knowledge on to his brothers. One brother, Hélio Gracie, continued the evolution of the art to what it is today. Because he was not as large or strong as his brothers, he had to adapt it in a way that gave him just as much advantage as a larger fighter would have. 


Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Comes to America 


The first BJJ school in the U.S. was opened in 1972 by Carley Gracie. Soon after, Rorian Gracie opened another school. Rorian would eventually go on to co-found UFC in 1993. When another Gracie family member, Royce, won multiple UFC tournaments against larger and stronger opponents, the world got to see how effective Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is. Today, there are many branches named after the lineage that started them. Due to how impressive the art is in both sport and self defense, jiu jitsu is now one of the most popular martial arts in America and beyond. 



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