A History of Jiu Jitsu
A history of jiu-jitsu
The roots of jiu-jitsu tree were said to have first originated high in the mountains of India in 500 BC. These roots supposedly then stretched through China. Then around 400 years ago settled in Japan where they found the soil to grow strong.
Jiu Jitsu in South America
George Gracie arrived in Brazil in 1801 from Scotland. He moved to this new land seeking adventure and opportunity. At the time he had no idea that his descendants would eventually form the largest fighting dynasty of all time. Georges’s grandchild, Gastao Gracie, was initially groomed to be a diplomat. He studied and learned seven different languages in Germany. Eventually, however, he decided against the pursuit as diplomat and became a businessman instead.
In the early 1900s a seed from the strong Japanese jiu-jitsu tree found its way to South America, more specifically, the Amazon region. Mistuyo Maeda was a jiu-jitsu teacher who was aiding a Japanese immigration colony in northern Brazil. It was here that Maeda was known to have participated in no-rules challenge matches where he demonstrated the effectiveness of jiu-jitsu.
Carlos Gastao and jiu jitsu
Gastao at the time was living in the city of Belem, in the state of Para, by the delta of the Amazon. Fate would eventually bring these two men together when Gastao helped Maeda to establish himself in his new land. To express his gratitude, Maeda introduced Gastao’s oldest son Carlos, who was in his early teens to jiu jitsu. He fell in love with this discipline and dedicated all his energy to his newly-discovered passion.
He continued practicing during the resulting years until the family moved South to Rio de Janeiro. Carlos, who was the eldest of eight siblings, five of whom were boys. When the family finally settled in Rio, they faced adversity with financial difficulties. This led young Carlos to seek additional sources of income. He took this opportunity to make money doing what he enjoyed – teaching jiu-jitsu.
To gain recognition and establish credibility for his teachings, Carlos led his brothers in a series of challenges against all comers.
Helio Gracie, the makings of a Grandmaster
Helio, the youngest of the five Gracie brothers, was physically a frail child. He would run upstairs and have faint at the top. When he was about eight years old, upon completing second grade, he convinced his mother, Cesalina, that he shouldn’t go to school anymore. A few years passed and when he was fourteen, Helio moved in with his older brothers who lived and taught jiu-jitsu in a house in Botafogo, a borough of Rio de Janeiro. Helio spent the next few years watching his brothers’ teachings, since doctors had recommended they keep Helio away from any physical activity, including jiu-jitsu training.
When Helio turned sixteen, a student showed up for his class with Carlos, who was not there. Helio, who memorised all the moves of his older brother, offered to start the class, and the student subsequently accepted. When the class was over, Carlos showed up and was very apologetic for the delay. The student answered, “Not a problem. I enjoyed this class with Helio very much. If you don’t mind, I’d like to continue having classes with him from now on.” Carlos agreed. Ironically, Helio Gracie had just been promoted to instructor level by one of his students!
Heilo soon realised that some of the techniques he had memorised from watching Carlos were not very easy to execute. In a relentless quest to find answers to guarantee effectiveness in jiu-jitsu techniques, Helio dared to break away from the traditional jiu-jitsu his brothers had learned and practiced. He started to adapt his moves so that he could execute them despite his weak body. He did so through trial and error and by incorporating leverage, which reduced the amount of strength necessary for the execution of the technique.