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The Early Days

Mitsuyo Maeda
Mitsuyo Maeda

Some historians of Jiu-Jitsu say that the origins of “the gentle art” can be traced back to India, where it was practiced by Buddhist Monks. Concerned with self-defense, these monks created techniques based upon principles of balance and leverage, and a system of manipulating the body in a manner where one could avoid relying upon strength or weapons. With the expansion of Buddhism, Jiu-Jitsu spread from Southeast Asia to China, finally arriving in Japan where it developed and gained further popularity.

At the end of the 19th century, some Jiu-Jitsu masters emigrated from Japan to other continents, teaching the martial arts as well as taking part in fights and competitions.

Esai Maeda Koma, also known as “Conde Koma,” was one such master (one of five of the Kodokan’s top groundwork experts that judo’s founder Kano Jigoro sent overseas to demonstrate and spread his art to the world). After traveling with a troupe which fought in various countries in Europe and the Americas, Koma arrived in Brazil in 1915, and settled in Belem do Para the next year, where he met a man named Gastao Gracie.

The father of eight children, five boys and three girls, Gastao became a Jiu-Jitsu enthusiast and brought his oldest son, Carlos to learn from the Japanese master.

Carlos Gracie
Carlos Gracie

For a naturally frail fifteen-year old Carlos Gracie, Jiu-Jitsu became a method not simply for fighting, but for personal improvement. At nineteen, he moved to Rio de Janeiro with his family and began teaching and fighting. In his travels, Carlos would teach classes, and also proved the efficiency of the art by beating opponents who were physically stronger. In 1925 he returned to Rio and opened the first school, known as the “Academia Gracie de Jiu-Jitsu.”

Since then, Carlos started to share his knowledge with his brothers, adapting and refining the techniques to the naturally weaker characteristics of his family. Carlos also taught them his philosophies of life and his concepts of natural nutrition, which transformed Jiu-Jitsu into a term synonymous with health.

Having created an efficient self-defense system, Carlos Gracie saw in the art a way to become a man who was more tolerant, respectful, and self-confident. With a goal of proving Jiu-Jitsu’s superiority over other martial arts, Carlos challenged the greatest fighters of his time. He also managed the fighting careers of his brothers. Because they were fighting and defeating opponents fifty or sixty pounds heavier, the Gracies quickly gained recognition and prestige.

Attracted to the new market which was opened around Jiu-Jitsu, many Japanese practitioners came to Rio, but none were able to establish schools as successful as the Gracies. This was due to the fact that the Japanese stylists were more focused on takedowns and throws, and the Jiu-Jitsu the Gracies practiced had more sophisticated ground fighting and submission techniques. Carlos and his brothers changed and adapted the techniques in such a way that it completely altered the complexion of the international Jiu-Jitsu principles. These techniques were so distinctive to Carlos and his brothers that the sport became attached to a national identity, and is now commonly known as “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,” practiced by martial artists all over the world, including Japan.


Carlson Gracie

Carlson Gracie was born on the 13th of August, 1932 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was the oldest son of Gracie Jiu Jitsu founder Carlos Gracie. He became a top competitor in No Holds Barred matches during the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s era. He was also one of the finest Jiu Jitsu coaches to have ever lived.

His life was filled with turmoil, with family feuds as well as conflicts with his own students. He will however always be remembered as a warm hearted person who made history in the sport and as one of the greatest BJJ masters to have ever lived.

Born in 1932, he started competing at the tender age of 5 at the “Campeonato Aberto de Jiu Jitsu e Luta Livre” and open championship between BJJ (plain Jiu Jitsu in those days) and wrestling. At the age of 17 he won the “Campeonato Carioca de Jiu Jitsu” Rio de Janeiro’s first State Jiu Jitsu Championship.

At the age of 15 he left school to dedicate himself fully to fighting.

His first professional fight came when he was 18 against the Judo practitioner Sakai who weighed 92kg against Carlson’s 67kg. After this fight, Carlson Gracie released a press note challenging anyone in the country to come and fight him. This fight’s revenue would go to a charity fund towards the victims of the drought that was devastating the country’s Northwest region (in which his family had strong ties). Cirandinha, a 100kg Capoeira fighter took the challenge and Carlson defeated him due to strikes from the mount.

Carlson continued to compete always trying to improve his skillset, at the age of 23 he faced one of Brazil’s most renowned fighters, Waldemar Santana. He had already on his resume a Knockout win over one of Carlson Gracie’s mentors, his uncle Helio Gracie. Carlson’s father Carlos Gracie went on record stating that he would give 300,000 real (a fortune in those days) if Waldemar managed to survive his son’s superior technique. Unfortunately for Carlos, Waldemar (according to the records) played a defensive fight and managed to keep at bay of Carlson’s attacks, the fight was labelled a draw and the money given to the happy Santana. Another fight was arranged soon after, and this time Carlson managed to get the fight win he so anxiously looked for in order to restore his family’s honour. The fight was won at a sold out 40,000 seats at Maracanãzinho in Rio de Janeiro due to strikes from the mount.

Carlson Gracie
Carlson Gracie

Carlson was always a creative fighter and teacher; he reigned supreme for almost 30 years.

After teaching at his uncle’s academy for several years, he broke up with Gracie Academy and Helio Gracie. This split was largely due to the fact that he believed Helio and his teachers were only teaching basic techniques to the outsiders, keeping the fundamentals to themselves.Carlson believed the only way to move forward is to test yourself, and to do so you needed open your knowledge to the public. He opened the famous “Carlson Gracie Arrebentação team” and went on to teach fulltime. Over the last 30 years Carlson trained many of the greatest names in Jiu-Jitsu, and in the process he assembled one of the greatest teams that ever competed.

Carlson Gracie trained many top competitors such as Ricardo De La Riva, Allan Goes, Murilo Bustamante, Mario Sperry, Wallid Ismail, Pablo Popovitch, Vauvenargues “Marinho” Vicentini, Kevin Christopher, Andre Madiz, Andre Pederneiras, Julio Fernandez, Ricardo Liborio, Marcus Soares, Rodrigo Medeiros, Ricardo “Rey” Diogo, Marcelo Alonso and was also responsible for introducing and mastering Vitor Belfort into Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, amongst many, many others.

Always opinionated and charismatic, his death on the 1st of February 2006 in Chicago, came as a shock to the Jiu Jitsu community. His achievements will be remembered forever.


BJJ Today

With the creation of today’s official governing body to oversee the administration of the sport, including competition rules and the grading system, the era of sport Jiu-Jitsu competitions was started. Today Jiu-Jitsu is a highly-organized sport, with an International Federation, as well as a range of associated federations around the Globe. Through their life’s work Carlos and Carlson contributed to the rapid growth of the sport by holding some of the first organized competitions, and operating some of the most prestigious schools.

Currently, the IBJJF and CBJJ holds competitions in Brazil, the United States, Europe, and Asia and Oceania, realizing Carlos and Carlson’s original dream of spreading Jiu-Jitsu around the world.

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