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The Beginning of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

How Grand Master Carlos Gracie Sr. Created a Legendary Jiu Jitsu Art

2000BC – The origins of Jiu-Jitsu

It is difficult to say precisely when or where Jiu-Jitsu originated.  Despite the efforts of many historians trying to find the origins, and evidence of  Buddhist monks in India being the ‘first’, the elements of grappling can also be traced back to Greece, China, Rome, and America.

Modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a natural and intuitive way of fighting that has basic origins from various cultures and time periods. One cannot simplify its origins as belonging to a ‘single’ source, person, group, or period.  For as long as there were man, there was combat.

A martial art is more than just a set of techniques and combat strategies. The reason or purpose behind the art creation, and the moral code of the practitioners determines the direction and perpetuation, or not, of the martial art.

356BC – Jiu-Jitsu in India

From that point of view, it makes sense to want to associate Buddhist monks in India around 2,000 B.C. with the origins of Jiu-Jitsu.

The Buddhist value system of deep respect for all forms of life allowed for the development of a system of self-defense that neutralized an aggressor without causing them any bodily harm.  Jiu-Jitsu served well the self-defense needs of Buddhist monks.  Their principles of not harming opponents, and the pursuit of self-discipline and enlightenment, helped spread Jiu Jitsu throughout Asia, close to China, and later Japan, following the Buddhism expansion on that continent.

1700 – Jiu-Jitsu in Japan: Golden Age and Decline of the Gentle Art

While it is safe to assume that basics of Jiu-Jitsu appeared in many cultures at different times, it was in feudal Japan, during the second millennia A.C that the art encountered fertile ground, allowing it to flourish and establishing itself as a widespread style of combat.

For Samurais, or warriors, in a country fragmented by the feudal system, Jiu-Jitsu became necessary training for combat survival.  The term “Jiu-Jitsu” (jujutsu) was not coined until the 18th century DC, after which it became synonymous for a grappling-related disciplines.

Jiu-Jitsu evolved among the samurais as a successful technique used against armed and armored opponents, without the use of weapons. Samurais learned that the most efficient methods for neutralizing armored opponents were the use of pins, joint locks, and throws.  Striking against an armored opponent was ineffective. These techniques were developed using an attacker’s own strength and momentum, rather than directly opposing it.

However, with the Meiji Restoration, a political movement that put an end to the Japanese feudal system and started the industrialization of that country, the prestigious class of the samurai lost its primary importance.

The radical political, cultural, and social changes that took place in Japan in the 19th century, caused Jiu-Jitsu to change from respectable combat to an illegal practice.  The government struggled to contain and reprimand bloody combats that were taking place between jobless former Samurais and their disciples.

1882 – Kano Jiu-Jitsu

Jigoro Kano (1860-1938), member of the Japanese Ministry of Culture and Martial Artists, played an important role in rescuing Jiu-Jitsu’s reputation during times of peace.

Kano saw how Jiu-Jitsu could serve as an effective tool to educate, and allow men and women to develop a more balanced lifestyle for developing their potential, and not just as a combat tool.  In other words, Kano realized Jiu-Jitsu could be used as a powerful educational tool that would positively develop human beings, in turn supporting the Japanese goals for social and economic development.

Operating under a new training philosophy, Kano adopted new training methods and removed dangerous techniques. These changes allowed practitioners to engage in safe, but intense training drills with full resistance – what we know as sparring or live training today.

The new philosophy and methods approach to Jiu-Jitsu, then called Kano Jiu-Jitsu, and later Judo, created a positive impact on the Japanese society. It helped Jiu-Jitsu regain its social status that had been declining since the Meiji Restoration.

In Kano’s deep training philosophy and innovative training methods, new rules were introduced to redefine the focus of the art. The ground fighting – the heart of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – was relegated to a few moves.

While Kano’s reforms contributed to the survival of a millenary martial art tradition, the focus on take downs created a fragmented fighting style that lost the connection with the essence of Jiu-Jitsu and the reality of real combat. While Jiu-Jitsu regained its reputation in Japanese society, the decline of ground fighting occurred, which was the most efficient set of combat skills Jiu-Jitsu had to offer.

Mitsuyu Maeda was one of Kano’s exceptional students.  He benefited from Kano’s innovations, but was still attached to other Jiu-Jitsu schools that emphasized ground fighting, and self-defense skills under real combat situations.

Maeda, who later became known as Count Koma, had above average skills and was sent overseas to help spread Jiu-Jitsu to different cultures in the world. He travelled to many countries including the US, Central America, and Europe.  Maeda landed in Brazil in 1914. There he would meet a young boy named Carlos Gracie and plant the seed that would keep alive the essence of Jiu-Jitsu.

1914 – Jiu-Jitsu arrives in Brazil

Maeda meets Gracie – Count Koma "Count of Combat"

Maeda began his travels abroad with a group of men who participated in challenge matches across the globe. In 1914 he landed in the northern state of Para, Brazil, to help establish the Japanese colony in that region.

Settling down in Belem do Para, it was natural for Maeda to use his outstanding fighting skills in demonstrations, shows, and even circuses as a way to make a living and spread the Japanese Culture.

The first time Carlos Gracie met Count Koma, was at one of these demonstrations. Carlos was amazed by Koma’s ability to defeat other opponents who were much bigger and stronger than him.

Carlos Gracie was a rebellious teenager, and his parents, Gastao and Cesalina were losing control of him.  Hyperactive and energetic, Carlos was giving them a lot of trouble. Knowing that Maeda just started a Jiu-Jitsu program in town, Gastao decided to take Carlos to learn from the Japanese as a way to discipline, and calm his son down.

1916 – Carlos Gracie

Mitsuyu Maeda introduced Carlos to Jiu-Jitsu, at the age of 14. He became an avid student for a few years. The studies under Maeda had a profound impact on his mind. He had never experienced the level of self-control and self-confidence Jiu- Jitsu allowed him.

The connection he felt with his body each training session allowed Carlos a deeper understanding about his own nature, limitations, and strengths, and brought him a sense of peace that he never felt before. The times with Maeda did not last for long, though. Less then 5 years from the day he started, Carlos had to move to Rio de Janeiro with his parents and siblings.

Arriving at the then capital of Brazil at the age of 20, Carlos Gracie had difficulties adapting to a normal life and working a regular job. Even though he worked in governmental jobs, Carlos’ wild spirit would not allow him peace. His desire to teach the art he learned from Maeda was already burning, and he decided to pursue it.  The profession of Martial Arts instructor at the beginning of the 20th century in Brazil was not exactly the most promising. People’s awareness of it was practically nonexistent, making it extremely hard to find paying students to teach.

The only people to see value in what Carlos Gracie had to teach were Law Enforcement officials. An opportunity finally arose for Carlos to teach in the state of Minas Gerais.

The passion for Jiu-Jitsu and Koma’s dedication to make him a Champion, allowed Carlos to discover a new meaning in life. Carlos started to use and see Jiu-Jitsu as a tool to help him find his way in life.  More than that, in time, he followed Jiu-Jitsu as an ideal worth fighting for and embraced it with strength and determination.  Carlos Gracie had good opportunities in making a living. After a few years in Minas, Carlos decided to move to Sao Paulo, and then back to Rio. His free spirit and faith in the great things Jiu-Jitsu could do for everyone made it hard for him to restrict his teachings to only police officers and members of law enforcement agencies.

1925 – The First Gracie School is Founded – the Gracie Clan

The first Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu School was founded in 1925 at Rua Marquês de Abrantes 106, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the age of 23 years old, Carlos Gracie understood well the amazing benefits Jiu-Jitsu could bring to someone’s life. Founding a school represented a very important milestone in his decision to grow Jiu-Jitsu as a national sport in Brazil.

The Marquês de Abrantes school was not exactly what one would expect as the pioneer power house of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. With limited resources and concerned with the wellbeing of his younger brothers, all Carlos could afford was a small house where he turned the living room into a training area.

In that house Carlos united his brothers and engaged them in his life project. He knew it would be impossible to accomplish such a gigantic task alone and started to teach his younger brothers, Oswaldo (1904), Gastao (1906), George (1911), and Helio (1913).

The first generation of Gracie brothers living and working in the same house seems to have forged the same family spirit that brought through generations, and so important to the extraordinary success the Gracie Family achieved over the years.

George Gracie

People say that George was the most talented out of the five brothers.  Born in 1911, the Ginger Cat, as he was known, received special attention from Carlos for his exceptional abilities. That may explain why he had the most MMA and Jiu-Jitsu fights amongst the brothers.

Besides being a great fighter, George was a professor and mentor, contributing to the spread of Jiu-Jitsu to different regions in Brazil. Most of his students referred to him as a true warrior, giving him the credit for what the Gracie Family was able to accomplish in Brazil.

Gastão Gracie Jr.

When the Gracie Academy was opened, Gastao Gracie was only 19 years old, and already had a basic undersanding of Jiu-Jitsu. Since he liked fighting, he became responsible for the classes, and the administrative part, continuing his studies until he graduated.

Oswaldo Gracie

At the age of twenty something, Oswald was also a talented fighter.  As such, he helped solidify the Gracie name, and his contribution as an instructor at Carlos’s school was also very important.  In 1934, Oswald moved to Belo Horizonte, and opened a Gracie School with the same structure of programs created by Carlos, and the school in Rio.  Years later, he became the instructor at the local policy department, a position he maintained until he died.  Although he lived in a different state, he never lost contact with his brothers.  Oswald faought many times, and became famous for his fight again Joao Baldi, a Greco-Roman wrestler twice as large as he.  Oswald submitted him with a choke in less than one minute.

1932 – The Helio Gracie Era

Helio Gracie was just a kid when the Marques de Abrantes school opened its doors in 1925. At 12 years old, he was too young to help with the classes or in the running of the school.

Carlos was busy teaching and managing the family business, so Helio’s first lessons in BJJ were delegated to his other brothers, Gastao and Oswaldo. It was not until later that Carlos noticed Helio’s talent, and dedicated more time to train him.

Helio’s small size and fragile condition made it difficult to execute some of the positions properly. Helio wanted to earn the attention and admiration of his older brothers, especially Carlos.  He  researched alternate jiu-jitsu methods, which worked for his body.  His discoveries emphasized leverage and timing over strength and speed.

The adaptations of techniques Helio learned from his brothers were mastered through trial and error resulting in the further development of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

Under the tutelage of his brother, instructor, and mentor Carlos, Helio participated in countless fights, including a 3 hour 43 minute fight against a former student, Valdemar Santana. Helio’s courage, tenacity, and discipline turned him into a national hero.

As Carlos grew older and became more dedicated to his research in nutrition and exercise, and more committed to spiritual enlightenment, Helio took over the family business and became involved in running the Gracie School. At this point, it was a much bigger facility located in downtown Rio de Janeiro.

Carlos, Gastao, Oswaldo, George, and Helio formed the first generation of Gracie fighters. Although Carlos and Helio were very close, spending decades working and living together, all five brothers had an enormous contribution to the growth of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil in the first half of the 20th century.

1955 – The Carlson Gracie Era

Carlson Gracie (1932) emerged as the family’s number one fighter right after Helio’s defeat to Valdemar Santana in 1955. At the age of 43, Helio could not maintain the physical level required to allow him to compete at the highest level. The reputation of the Gracie family was blemished when Valdemar, a former student, defeated Helio Gracie.  Carlson was called upon to bring the family name back to the top.

Carlson defeated Valdemar Santana, and became the main fighter of the family for decades to come. His many battles in the ring made him famous and fueled his desire to start his own Gracie School. He established his branch in Copacapana, Rio de Janeiro and started to build his own group of students and fighters. Carlson had a very important role in stimulating the competitiveness in Jiu-Jitsu and further contributed to the technical development of the art. Very competitive himself, Carlson built a strong team of young athletes that had a remarkable performance on the 70’s and 80’s at the Jiu-Jitsu tournaments already being held in Brazil.

1970 – The Rolls Gracie Era

Roles – as friends and family called him – was another Jiu-Jitsu genius who added an enormous contribution to the development of the art. According to Master Carlos Gracie Jr., Rolls was the link between the “old Jiu-Jitsu” and the “modern Jiu-Jitsu” practiced today.

More than that, Rolls played a key role in maintaining Jiu-Jitsu as an important sport in Brazil. In the 70’s, the country was under turbulent political times established by the military dictatorship and Jiu-Jitsu was losing its glamour because of the lack of media coverage. Using his talent, charisma, and leadership abilities, Rolls influenced an entire generation of young people in Rio de Janeiro towards the practice of Jiu-Jitsu and a healthy lifestyle.

Rolls started training Jiu-Jitsu as a little kid and at the age of 12 started to help his uncle Helio with classes at the Gracie School. Rolls was also very close to Carlson, his older brother, from whom he learned a great deal as well.

Extremely talented and committed to training and achieving his full potential as a fighter, Rolls Gracie also had a very open mind and strong desire to learn whatever he could to make his Jiu-Jitsu better. What impressed many was not only his physical quality and sharp techniques, but also his strong character and commitment to becoming the best he could be.

During his teenage years, Rolls had the opportunity to visit many different countries where he learned Sambo, Judo, and Greco-Roman Wrestling. A black belt at the age of 16, Rolls grew into a solid and cut young man with a great vision for Jiu-Jitsu and his career as a fighter and instructor. One of the ways he found he could grow the sport was by competing in tournaments as a way to engage more people in the sport. In 1976, Rolls participated in his first No Holds Barred (Vale-Tudo) Fight. He accepted the fight after a Karate Instructor challenged him by questioning the effectiveness of Jiu-Jitsu during a TV show appearance.  The challenge was promptly accepted and several matches were arranged between Jiu-Jitsu fighters and Karate Fighters for a specific date. All Jiu-Jitsu fighters won that night, but the main event was certainly the one everyone was waiting for. Rolls Gracie and the Karate Master fought for a few minutes with Rolls applying a beautiful take down, controlling his opponent’s back and submitting his opponent with a rear naked choke.

Rolls also started his own Gracie School following a pattern created by Carlson that would soon be followed by many members of the second generation of the Gracie Family. Being so close to Carlson, Rolls shared the same facility with him where they would teach on alternate days.

Unfortunately, Rolls left a lot behind to still accomplish.  But his legacy still lives strong among us. At the age of 31, Rolls Gracie suffered a hang gliding accident on the mountains of Rio de Janeiro.

Crolin Gracie

Please read Master Crolin’s full Biography under his biography article.   His roots come from the Original source of Jiu-Jitsu, born the grandson of Carlos Gracie, and being trained by his own father, uncle and brothers while growing up. 

If you would like more information on how to affiliate with Gracie Gym, and become part of our family of gyms, please go to www.GracieGym.com.  Or you may call 972-841-8751 to find out more information about our offerings.


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