You’ve been hooked by the Jiu Jitsu “bug,” and you’re wondering more about Jiu Jitsu History, right? I thought so!
Our Jiu Jitsu History at Kama Jiu Jitsu is that of Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Gracie Jiu Jitsu History starts at Carlos Gracie, who taught his four brothers. His youngest brother Helio, is the “father” of modern Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Of the next generation of Gracie family fighters, it’s been told to me that Carlos taught his oldest sons (Carlson, Robson, Reyson, Reylson, Rosley, and Carley). The rest of Carlos’ sons and all
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of Helio’s sons were all taught by Helio. The exceptions may be the youngest of Carlos’ sons, who MAY have been taught by either Carlson or Rolls.
So, it begins with Carlos Gracie, right? Wrong.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu History actually begins a little further back, with a Japanese Judoka by the name of Mitsuyo Maeda. You’ll also hear Maeda referred to as Conde Koma (Count Koma).
Maeda was a 3rd generation black belt judoka out of Japan’s world famous Kodokan. He was a small guy (about 5’5″, 150lbs) who was sent by the Kodokan to do judo demonstrations. He loved traveling the world representing judo. But with no way to make a living, he began to do prize fights to earn money at his various stops. It is said he fought as many as 1,000 times. He is said to have won all his fights against all comers. He later settled in Brazil at the turn of the century to retire.
If anyone should have earned a 10th dan in judo, it should have been Maeda. However, he was limited to 7th dan as a “penalty” for doing prize fighting. Prize fighting was strictly prohibited by judo founder, Jigoro Kano. In a somewhat related matter, the Kodokan also limited to 7th dan another famous judoka, Masahiko Kimura, also for prize fighting. Kimura was famous for being one of the few people to beat Helio Gracie in a match. He was restricted, despite the fact that Kimura was known as the greatest judoka who ever lived.
In an attempt to get in Kano’s good graces, Maeda helped to settle a Japanese colony in Brazil by being a liaison between the settlers and politicians like Gastao Gracie (Carlos’ father). As a measure of goodwill, Maeda agreed to teach Carlos Gracie Judo. Yes, you read that right. He taught Carlos Gracie his brand of JUDO. Maeda’s judo was refined off of Kodokan judo as a result of having to devise “workarounds” while fighting boxers, catch wrestlers, street brawlers, etc. Contrary to popular belief, Maeda was a 3rd generation JUDOKA. He was not trained in traditional Japanese Jujitsu, which was the traditional martial art of the Japanese samurai. Rather, he was awarded his black belt in judo by one of Kano’s black belt students.
Judo was a collection of positions that judo founder Jigoro Kano felt were the most effective from the vast jujitsu repertoire. He had his students practice these limited positions repeatedly until they mastered them. These positions included throws, pins, and submissions. Once he got his students up to a suitable level, he challenged many traditional jujitsu schools to matches; his judo against their jujitsu. Kano and his judokas won every single challenge match with ease.
Why did the Gracies call the judo Carlos learned “Jiu-Jitsu?” That revelation alone will change our Jiu Jitsu History some, won’t it? Not really. Why do we call the art we all love Jiu Jitsu and not Judo? Well, there are many speculated reasons.
1) Since Maeda was already in trouble with the Kodokan, he didn’t wish to get into more trouble by teaching non-Japanese, judo. As a result, he told Carlos to call it Jiu Jitsu.
2) Carlos wanted to blaze a new path with his knowledge and market a “new” thing.
3) Carlos truly believed he was learning Japanese jujitsu.
4) Because of the changes to jiu jitsu over the years, it’s no longer judo.
Here’s something I learned many years later about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu history…
Maeda had at least one other student, in addition to Carlos Gracie. His name was Luis Franca. Part of the reason why most people have never heard of him is because the Gracie Family was so large and dominated the jiu jitsu scene. Carlos had 21 children. Helio had 9. All the sons learned the family art. It would stand to reason then, that with so many Gracies around, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Gracies, became synonymous.
Why is Luis Franca significant to jiu jitsu history? He had many students, but his most famous, was Oswaldo Fadda. Fadda, like the Gracies, issued challenges. His most famous challenge, was to the Gracie Academy in 1951. It wasn’t your traditional “Gracie Challenge” that involved Jiu Jitsu vs another martial art. But it did show that there were other successful practitioners in Brazil that came down from the same Maeda lineage. Today, the Nova Uniao team traces its jiu jitsu history directly to Fadda.
Helio The Innovator
Helio’s small stature forced him to create his own “workarounds” to be successful in Jiu Jitsu. Among the greatest contributions to jiu jitsu history, was Helio’s refinement of “the guard” position. While judo did have the position, it was nowhere near as refined and effective before Helio perfected it. He turned it from a mostly defensive position, to a truly devastating offensive position. Below, you will see a famous match between Helio Gracie and Kimura’s understudy Kato where you see how effective Helio’s guard was. Kato had no clue what was coming as was evidenced by his
complete lack of defense. He also created the famous teaching methodology his sons and their students still use today. Helio’s first goal was to teach a street-effective combat system based on the self defense positions. Helio truly believed that one needs a spectacular defense first. Without such a defense, you would not survive long enough to execute any kind of offense. Next, he taught the refinements he made to all the ground positions, that found the easiest ways to get to and effect effective submissions. He stressed the need to use your opponent’s strength, in addition to various angles, to be effective against larger opponents.
The Next Innovator…
Helio’s adopted son Rolls, was known as the next major innovator in Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Rolls introduced American wrestling concepts and a higher level of aggressiveness, into his family’s art. Everyone incorporated his adaptations into their training. Many practitioners still refer to Rolls as the greatest Gracie family champion that ever lived.
Fast forward to the late 1980s, early 1990s…
Dave Kama, a California native, began training under Rorion, Rickson, and Royce Gracie in what is famously known as the “Gracie Garage.” Here is a famous video of Rickson paying a visit to the Gracie Academy in the summer of 1992. Rickson had already opened his West L.A. academy by then. Professor Dave Kama (as a purple belt) is the last one to roll with Rickson in the clip. Dave is the one with his pants untied. Ryan Young (a blue belt then) is the one at the beginning of the clip sitting behind Rickson wearing the yellow shirt (with the funny looking hair). A lot of future American black belts were in that room. It’s sad those sessions are a thing of the past.
Ryan Young, a Hawaii native, began training under Relson Gracie in his “Gracie Garage.” In 1992, Ryan moved to California and trained at the newly-opened Gracie Academy, where he met Dave Kama.
The Greatest Champion Ever
The greatest champion the Gracie Family has ever produced is Rickson Gracie. Many people contend that Carlson (who went 600-0) or Rolls were the greatest family champions. The problem, is that Carlson was almost a generation older than Rolls and Rickson, and a comparison was tough to accomplish. Rolls and Rickson were closer in age. While Rolls did dominate Rickson for most of his life, rumor has it that Rickson did tap Rolls while Rolls was still in his prime, before he was tragically killed in a hang gliding accident. And to confirm it, after that event, Rolls stopped rolling with Rickson. Helio saw it, and he began putting Rickson in the position to represent the family (a task assigned to the family champion) in many key fights (i.e. both Rickson x Rei Zulu fights). In his fight with Rei Zulu, you see how Rickson gives up both size and strength. But, he accomplishes the first rule taught to him by his father, Helio. The first rule, is you must defend yourself and survive so that later, you may launch an attack when the opportunity arises.
Rickson is also known for creating the “Invisible Jiu Jitsu.” To simplify his extraordinary concepts to general terms does a disservice to his innovations, but try, I must. Basically, he builds on what Helio and Rolls refined and takes it to the next step. Rickson has been able to take the concepts of weight placement and weight distribution to levels that are almost incomprehensible. Chances are, if you watched him, you would not figure the concepts out. The only way to have learned it, is if he taught them to you himself. Today, there are only a few of his black belts teaching these concepts. With Rickson retired from running an academy, the short list of Rickson black belts teaching the “invisible jiujitsu” concepts includes Dave Kama, Henry Akins, Kron Gracie, and Craig Husband.
Here is an episode of Fight Science done on Rickson. Dave Kama is the training partner.
Jiu Jitsu then, and Jiu Jitsu now…
Those of us fortunate to have learned directly from one of Helio’s sons, were lucky to learn jiu jitsu as they were taught by Helio himself. I (Ryan) can attest to the consistency in the “message” taught by his sons, having learned from four of them. Students during that period learned to value and execute the whole art; self defense, grappling with the gi, grappling without the gi. Practitioners who trace their beginnings to this time also see Jiu Jitsu as a “whole” martial art that is complete.
With the advent of the UFC, and changes and rules instituted into the event since it was taken over by Dana White and the Fertitta brothers, a new sport has emerged; Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). In the old days, no one could fight in challenge matches representing Gracie Jiu Jitsu unless you were designated by a Gracie. In our younger days, both Dave Kama (who has done many) and I (I’ve done a few) were participants in challenge matches vs other martial arts.
Today, with so many BJJ practitioners, it’s difficult to get a pure style vs style challenge these days. After all, if you take a “kung fu” challenger down to the ground in a challenge match, and he puts you in the guard, are you still in a challenge match with a kung fu stylist, or another BJJ practitioner?
At either Kama Jiu Jitsu campus, you will learn Gracie Jiu Jitsu as Helio’s sons teach it. The emphases consist of a strong concentration in self-defense/street combatives, training with the gi, and training without the gi. Kama Jiu Jitsu History IS Gracie Jiu Jitsu History 100%. Again, our students at either campus learn Gracie Jiu Jitsu exactly how we were taught Gracie Jiu Jitsu.
Enter the IBJJF
The prominence and popularity of the IBJJF has helped fuel an explosion in what is called “sport” jiu jitsu. Sport jiu jitsu has developed into a highly technical form of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There are positions in sport jiu jitsu many people have never seen. New positions are being developed daily by talented competitors around the world. Positions like the Upside Guard, Half Guard, Deep Half Guard, Berimbolo, Spider Guard, and others have only been developed in the last 15 years or less. All have been developed as the “next step” in winning in competition.
Today, most newcomers to BJJ want to become “world champions.” Unlike every other competitive sport however, there is not just one “world champion” in any particular year. “World champions” are awarded at every belt level, every weight division, both genders, and every age category. In other words, every “World Championships” event produces multiple “world champions.”
Kama Jiu Jitsu and Competition
Given the often vast differences in Gracie Jiu Jitsu and sport Jiu Jitsu, we don’t have too many students competing in IBJJF tournaments. It’s not that we don’t want our students competing; we neither encourage it or discourage it. If students wish to compete, we will prepare them for competition. If they don’t wish to compete, no problem. Our goal is to pass the art down to our family of students, and help them achieve their goals… whatever those goals may be.
If you thought this jiu jitsu history piece to be helpful, please let us know!
For those of you who want to explore learning at Kama Jiu Jitsu Dallas, please call us at 682-233-0721, or come visit us at 1121 Flower Mound Rd . (FM 3040), Suite 560, Flower Mound, TX 75028 (We are located inside Mid-Cities Martial Arts in the Kroger Mall)