“The Gentle Art”
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a submission grappling martial art popularized in the U.S. by Royce Gracie’s phenomenal success in the early Ultimate Fighting Championships. Unlike striking arts (karate, tae kwon do, etc.) BJJ happens mostly on the ground and involves positional control, joint locks, and choking techniques. It involves constant activity and uses the entire body’s whole range of motion, so it provides a great combination of cardio, strength, and flexibility. Sometimes called “human chess”, BJJ is very cerebral, forcing you to think several moves ahead to maintain and advance your advantage. Designed to allow a smaller, weaker fighter to overpower and submit a larger, stronger opponent, BJJ is ideal for self defense.
In 1914, Japanese Judo prodigy and prizefighter Mitsuyo Maeda immigrated to Brazil, where he befriended and was aided by a prominent local, Gastão Gracie. In exchange for Gracie’s help and hospitality, Maeda taught his fighting style – which he had by now customized based on his battles with fighters of different styles around the world – to Gastão’s son, Carlos. Carlos passed the art on to his brothers, including Hélio. Because Helio was thin and weak compared to his brothers, he had to develop his fighting style to make maximum use of position and leverage. This signified the true birth of the art we know as Gracie or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Since the 1930s, BJJ percolated through the prolific Gracie family, but remained mostly confined to Brazil until 1993 when one of Helio’s sons, Rorion , co-founded the Ultimate Fighting Championship, originally designed to determine the world’s most effective martial art. Rorion’s brother Royce was chosen to represent Brazilian Jiu Jitsu not because he was their best fighter, but specifically because he was relatively small and unimposing – a “regular guy”. Royce’s victory in the UFC marked the beginning of an explosion of interest in BJJ outside of Brazil.