There is more to Jiu-Jitsu History then you may think. Jiu-Jitsu, sometimes spelled ‘Ju-Jitsu’ or ‘Jujutsu’, is a traditional Japanese martial art which embodies the principle of using an attacker’s energy and momentum against him in order to defeat him, rather than forcefully opposing the enemy. There are multiple theories about the beginning origins of Jiu-Jitsu, as there are various records which have been found not only in Japan, but also in China, Persia, Germany, and Egypt. There are also theories that origins could go back as far as the Buddhist monks of India. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has an important difference which separates it from more traditional systems of Japanese Jujutsu; in addition to being a martial art, it is also a sport and is utilized to build character and promote physical fitness. Modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an evolution of the fundamentals of Kodokan Judo ground fighting that was perfected by individuals such as Takeo Yano, Mitsuyo Maeda, and Soshihiro Satake.
The first Jujustsu/Judo school in Brazil was opened by Geo Omori in 1909. He would go on to teach a number of individuals including Luiz França. This laid the ground work for Jiu-Jitsu to become a popular martial art in Brazil, and subsequently led to its introduction to the United States. Judo’s founder, Kano Jigoro, sent five of the Kodokan’s top groundwork experts overseas to introduce his art to the world; among them was Mitsuyo Maeda. Maeda left Japan in 1904 and after visiting a number of countries to give “Jiu-Do” demonstrations, as well as accepting challenges from wrestlers, boxers, savate fighters and various other martial artists, he arrived in Brazil in November of 1914.
It was in 1916 that an Italian Argentine circus called Queirolo Brothers presented Maeda, who performed Jiu-Jitsu as part of their circus show. A business partner of the American Circus in Belém , Gastão Gracie, had a son named Carlos Gracie who watched a demonstration by Maeda in 1917 at the Da Paz Theatre. This sparked the interest of Carlos Gracie, and he decided to learn Judo. After Maeda took on Carlos as a student and taught him for a few years, Carlos began passing on his Judo knowledge to his brothers. This is where the evolution from Judo to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu began to take place. Carlos’ younger brother Hélio Gracie had a frail physique, and most techniques he learned from watching Carlos teach classes were very difficult for him to execute. He began to modify his brother’s techniques in order to tailor them to his weak body. Hélio began emphasizing use of leverage and timing rather than strength and speed, and modified nearly all techniques. This was the birth of modern-day Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.