The History of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Part 1

The Beginning
“Where did it all begin?”

I don’t think anyone can answer this question with certainty, but there are plenty of good hypotheses. Every culture has some form of hand to hand combat in its history. Combat without weapons usually appears in the form of wrestling and sometimes boxing. Looking at the history timeline, one good hypothesis is that the wrestling techniques of Jiu-Jitsu could very well have come from Ancient Greece. Olympic games were one of the Greek’s strongest traditions. It is most likely that along with Greek ideas, came one of its most popular sports, Pankration. Pankration was a sport that involved both boxing and wrestling techniques and became more popular to the Greeks than either of those sports individually. Pankration would later be overshadowed by the Roman Gladiators, and then banned from the Olympics by Christian leaders of the Roman Empire. Even though new rulers would come and go, Greek customs and ideas still reached India, where Jiu-Jitsu’s foundation was likely to have been born. During Alexander the Great’s conquests (356 – 323 B.C.), he brought the Greek culture to the areas he conquered. His conquests stretched all the way to India, where he introduced the customs and ideals of Greek culture to the people of that area. Jiu-Jitsu wasn’t being formally taught in Japan for over one thousand years after this. Many say that the Greek influence in India led to the development of Kung Fu or more appropriately, Wu Shu (martial arts) in China.

The Chinese have a great deal of stories to support the history of their martial arts. The general idea embraced by most historians is that systemized martial arts techniques came from India along with Buddhism (Bodhi Dharma). The concept here is that the Shaolin temple was built in the center of China and this is where Bodhi Dharma introduced Buddhism and Boxing (senzuikyo). (ref. Aikido and Chinese Martial Arts, Sugawara and Xing) The story that supports the idea of Jiu-Jitsu coming from China takes place around the time of the fall of the Ming Dynasty. It states that a man named Chingempin came from Japan to live in Tokyo at a Buddhist temple where he met three Ronin (masterless Samurai) named Fukuno, Isogai, and Miura. Chingempin told the Ronin of a grappling art he had seen in China. The Ronin became particularly interested in pursuing the study of this art, so he then began teaching in Japan, and this art became Jiu-Jitsu.

The next theory is that there was many forms of wrestling that had developed in China. One of the most notable is Horn Wrestling, called Jiaodixi. This form of wrestling was practiced by the Mongolians and later evolved into Jiaoli, which was wrestling without the horns. This form of wrestling can be seen in Native American cultures (evident in the typical Native American Buffalo head wear) and most likely arrived there by way of Mongolians migrating through now modern Alaska. Jiaoli evolved and became Xiangpu and it is said that this form of wrestling became Sumo in Japan. Another theory says that there were practitioners of Chikura Karube, a wrestling sport developed around 200 B.C. It is said that Chikura Karube later became Jiu-Jitsu in Japan.

The last story mentioned here is that Jiu-Jitsu is Japanese and from Japan. This story follows the same basic idea but differs in that Chingempin introduced an early form of Jiu-Jitsu (not yet called Jiu-Jitsu) called Kempo in Japan, which consisted mostly of strikes and very little grappling. From there, the Japanese developed it into a more effective grappling art. One thing is certain about these stories, and that is that the Japanese were responsible for refining a grappling art into a very sophisticated grappling system called Jiu-Jitsu.

Tracing the history of grappling techniques for this book was quite interesting. In doing so, I decided to look for some common threads between the stories, which are:

All ancient cultures had some form of grappling and unarmed fighting techniques.
The Greek culture gave its fighters the greatest financial and social rewards. The ancient Greeks conquered quite a bit of territory during the time of Alexander the Great, including the area that Jiu-Jitsu’s techniques were said to have come from.

Wrestling did exist in China and Mongolia before Jiu-Jitsu did in Japan, and it is interesting to note that this is where Native American wrestling most likely came from by way of migration over the Alaskan Ice Bridge.

The pinning and throwing techniques of Jiu-Jitsu are very similar to, and in some cases, the same as those of Greco Roman Wrestling.

Development of Jiu-Jitsu
Jiu-Jitsu itself was developed in Japan during the Feudal period. It was originally an art designed for warfare, but after the abolition of the Feudal system in Japan, certain modifications needed to be made to the art in order to make it suitable for practice. During Feudal times, Jiu-Jitsu was also known as Yawara, Hakuda, Kogusoko, and an assortment of other names. The earliest recorded use of the word “Jiu-Jitsu” happens in 1532 and is coined by the Takenouchi Ryu (school). The history of the art during this time is uncertain because teachers kept everything secret to give their art a feeling of importance and then would change the stories of their art to suit their own needs.

After the Feudal period in Japan ended (Jiu-Jitsu was no longer needed on the battlefield), a way to practice the art realistically was needed, which is why Jigoro Kano (1860–1938), a practitioner of Jiu-Jitsu, developed his own system of Jiu-Jitsu in the late 1800’s, called Judo. Judo was helpful because it allowed practitioners the ability to try the art safely and realistically at the same time. The most important contribution Judo made to the practice of “Jiu-Jitsu” was the concept of Rondori. Rondori was a form of sparing and contained a set of sportive rules that made practice safe, yet realistic. Because of the sportive outlet (rules that made practice safe), students of Jiu-Jitsu from Kano’s school were able to practice more frequently due to the fact that they were not always recovering from injuries. This multiplies the amount of training time for student’s of Kano’s school and drastically increased their abilities. Judo (Kano’s version of Jiu-Jitsu) was watered down from the complete form (of Jiu-Jitsu), but still contained enough techniques to preserve its realistic effectiveness. The one problem that occurred was, in Kano’s opinion, ground work was not as important as achieving the throw or take down, therefore ground fighting was not emphasized in Judo and became weak in that system. Judo also began placing too many rules and regulations on the art to make it more acceptable as an Olympic sport. Leg locks were not allowed, and when a fight went to the ground, a player had only 25 seconds to escape a hold or pin before the match was lost. These are a few of the rules that hindered Judo as a realistic form of self-defense. Then why did Judo flourish and why was it so great? Even with all the rules and restrictions, the time-tested principle of “pure grappler beats pure striker,” still holds true. The fact remains that most fights, even those fights occurring between strikers with no grappling experience, end up in a clinch. You see the clinch in just about every boxing match, and hundreds of punches usually need to be thrown to end the fight with a strike, which gives the grappler plenty of opportunity to take his/her opponent to the ground, where a pure striker has no experience and is at the grappler’s mercy.

After a match-up between older styles of Jiu-Jitsu and Judo at the Tokyo police headquarters, Judo was named the national martial art in Japan. It was the official art used by law enforcement in the late 1800’s, and continues to be popular to this day. During World War II, many U.S. soldiers were exposed to the art of Judo and brought it back to America with them. The first issue of Black Belt magazine here in America (1961), featured a sketch of a Judo throw and was a special Judo issue.

It wasn’t until the birth of martial arts in Hollywood that the mystique of martial arts myths were catapulted to the public eye on a large scale. Here in the U.S. especially, Bruce Lee was one of the greatest catalysts for martial arts in the world today. Bruce Lee was actually a student of Judo and did many studies on grappling while he was alive. He criticized traditional martial arts as being ineffective, but ironically spread more myths about martial arts through his movies than almost anyone in martial arts history.

Jigoro Kano was the founder of Judo, however, Judo is simply a style of Jiu-Jitsu and not a separate martial art. Kano was not the first to use the name Judo, the Jiu-Jitsu schools he studied at, which would be the source of much of his Judo’s techniques had used the phrase before he made it famous in the late 1800’s.

The first use of the name Judo was by Seijun Inoue IV, who applied it to his Jujitsu of Jikishin-ryu. Students of Jikishin-ryu Judo were not only expected to master its ninety-seven techniques, but to also develop into generous and gentle-mannered individuals.

Kuninori Suzuki V, the Master of Kito-ryu (Kito means to Rise and Fall) Jiu-Jitsu, changed the name of Kito-kumiuchi to Kito-ryu Judo in 1714. The most important contribution that kito ryu would offer Judo was the principle of kuzushi (off-balancing), which is the key to the throwing techniques of modern Judo. Jigoro Kano studied the judo of Jikishin-ryu and Kito-ryu, and incorporated some of their concepts into his original system, which he named Kodokan Judo.

Judo is made up of many styles of Jiu-Jitsu whose masters Kano had studied with. The most notable were Jikishin-ryu, Kito-ryu, and later Fusen-ryu would be incorporated for its groundwork (ne waza) as Kano would ask the style’s head master, Mataemon Tanabe for his syllabus. Yokiashi Yamashita (Kano’s Chief assistant) would add his knowledge of Yoshin Ryu ju jitsu and Tenshin shinyo Ryu ju jitsu, both of which, he was a master.

In 1912, Kano met with the remaining leader masters of Jiu Jitsu to finalize a Kodokan syllabus of training and kata. Aoyagi of Sosusihis Ryu, Takano, Yano, Kotaro Imei and Hikasuburo Ohshima from Takeuisi Ryu. Jushin Sekiguchi and Mogichi Tsumizu from Sekiguchi Ryu, Eguchi from Kyushin Ryu, Hoshino from Shiten Ryu, Inazu from Miura Ryu and finally, Takamatsu, a Kukkishin Ryu master, whose school specialized in weapons training.

Before the formal meeting between Kano and the grandmasters of Japan’s greatest Jiu-Jitsu schools, a defining event occurred, which is one of the most historically important pieces of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu puzzle. By 1900, the Kodokan had been challenging other Jiu-Jitsu schools in sport competition and winning with throwing (standing) techniques. Much of the Kodokan’s status was built on the throwing skills of Shiro Saigo, a practitioner of Oshikiuchi, the art of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu. Jigoro Kano had actually enlisted the help of Shiro Saigo in order to win a famous tournament at the Tokyo police headquarters in 1886. This tournament, mentioned briefly earlier in this chapter, was Judo (Kano’s style of Jujitsu) vs. “old” Jujitsu. It is interesting to note that Kano’s champion was not originally a Judo student at all, but a student of an older Jujitsu style, which in reality, defeated the purpose of having a Judo vs. Jujitsu tournament in the first place.

As I stated earlier, Judo was a collection of Jiu-Jitsu styles, once such style was the Fusen Ryu. Fusen was a school of Jiu-Jitsu which specialized in Ground Work (Ne Waza). In 1900, the Kodokan challenged the Fusen Ryu school to a contest. At that time Judo did not have Ne Waza (ground fighting techniques), so instead they fought standing up, as Kano had been taught in both the Tenshin Shinyo Ryu and Kito Ryu systems he studied. Both Kito Ryu and Tenshin Shinyo Ryu had excellent striking skills and effective throws.

When Kodokan Judo practitioners fought the practitioners of Fusen Ryu Jiu-Jitsu, the Kodokan practitioners realized that there was no way they could defeat the Kodokan Judoka standing, thus they decided to use their superior ground fighting skills. When the Kodokan fighters and the Fusen Ryu men began to fight, the Jiu-Jitsu practitioners immediately went to the guard position ( lying on their backs in front of their opponents in order to control them with the use of their legs). The Kodokan Judoka didn’t know what to do, and then the Fusen Ryu practitioners took them to the ground, using submission holds to win the matches. This was the first real loss that the Kodokan had experienced in eight years.

Kano knew that if they were going to continue challenging other Jiu-Jitsu schools, they needed a full range of ground fighting techniques. Thus with friends of other Jiu-Jitsu systems, among them being Fusen Ryu practitioners, Kano formulated the Ne Waza (ground techniques) of Kodokan Judo which included three divisions: Katame Waza (joint locking techniques), Shime Waza (choking techniques), and Osae Waza (holding techniques). This all occurs shortly before Judo arrives in Brazil, and serves as an excellent suggestion as to why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu contains a higher percentage of techniques on the ground than most styles of Jiu-Jitsu or Judo. Thus, we find ourselves faced with the impending development of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil.

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