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 selfdefense, these monks created techniques based upon principles of balance and leverage and a system of manipulating the body in a way that 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. Near 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.
After traveling with a troupe who fought in various countries in Europe and the Americas, Koma arrived in Brazil in 1915, settling in Belem do Pará the next year, where he met a man named Gastão Gracie. The father of eight children, among them five boys and three girls, Gastão became a Jiu-Jitsu enthusiast and brought his oldest son, Carlos, to learn from the Japanese master. 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 prove 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 began sharing 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. Eventually, Carlos became a pioneer in creating a special diet for athletes, the “Gracie Diet,” 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 more tolerant, respectful, and self-confident. In order to prove 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 this new market created by 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, while the Jiu-Jitsu practiced by the Gracies 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 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.
With the creation of an 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 Brazilian National Confederation, both founded by Master Carlos Gracie Jr. Through his work with the Confederation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Carlos Gracie Jr. contributed to the growth of the sport by holding some of the first organized competitions. Currently, the IBJJF and CBJJ holds competitions in Brazil, the United States, Europe, and Asia, realizing Carlos’ original dream of spreading Jiu-Jitsu around the world.