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What is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

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The History

Mitsuyo Maeda

In the early 20th century a Japanese Judoka by the name of Mitsuyo Maeda was sent abroad by his sensei, Kano Jigaro, the founder of Judo, to demonstrate Judo’s effectiveness. Mitsuyo traveled first to the United States, where he toured the eastern seaboard, giving demonstrations and accepting challenges. After two years in the States, Mitsuyo set his sights to Europe, stopping in Cuba on his way. While in Europe, Mitsuyo visited England, Scotland, Belgium, Spain, and France, supporting himself through professional wrestling bouts. He left France in 1908 and headed for Central America by way of Cuba and Mexico. Maeda, joined by another judoka, traveled through Mexico and Central America setting up demonstrations and professional tournaments along the way. Plagued by match rigging and political chaos, the group left Central America and moved into South America where Maeda was given the opportunity to help establish a Japanese colony in Brazil. Maeda accepted the offer, landing in Brazil in November of 1914.

The Gracie Brothers

Three years after his arrival in Brazil, Mitsuyo Maeda met Gastao Gracie when Gastao took his son, Carlos, to an exhibition that Mitsuyo was participating in. Carlos was drawn to Judo and asked if Mitsuyo would teach him the art. Mitsuyo agreed and Carlos began his studies. After several years of tutelage, Carlos began teaching his brothers to pass along the sport. However, the youngest of the five brothers, Helio, was physically fragile and forbidden from practicing with the others. Instead, Helio watched his brothers practice and teach, memorizing the techniques. When Helio was finally given the opportunity to practice the moves he had been memorizing he found that his physique prevented him from executing many of the more physically demanding techniques. This led him to evolve the techniques he knew to utilize angles and leverage in a more effective manner, giving birth to Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

Luiz Franca and Oswaldo Fadda

At the same time Carlos Gracie began taking lessons from Maeda, Luiz Franca became his student as well. After his tenure with Maeda, Franca began teaching his art to the police, military, and especially the poor of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. While teaching the Brazilian Marines, Franca would meet Oswaldo Fadda. After receiving his black belt, Oswaldo continued Franca’s initiatives, teaching Jiu Jitsu to the poorer families on Rio. At the time, the mid 1900′s, Jiu Jitsu was seen as an upper class sport, but Fadda wanted to share his passion with everybody, not just those that could afford it. Fadda used Jiu Jitsu to help the poor, and physically and mentally disabled, a tradition that has continued to this day.

The Art

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu originated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the early 1900′s. Originally a derivative of Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or BJJ, has evolved into the most effective submission grappling system in the world. Its effectiveness lies in the use of angles and leverage, allowing anybody to overcome a larger or more physically dominant adversary. Jiu Jitsu has two main categories of attacks. The first, joint manipulation, focuses on isolating a weak part of your opponent’s body and matching it against a powerful part of your body. The second form of attack is the choke. A choke is designed to temporarily cut off blood flow to your partner’s brain. This renders your partner temporarily unconscious, allowing you to escape safely, and when your partner regains consciousness they won’t even have a headache. Jiu Jitsu goal, once you’re in a physical altercation, is to keep yourself safe

Although joint manipulations and chokes are staples of the art, the real foundation lies in a practitioner’s ability to control an opponent. However, controlling somebody that is stronger than yourself is impossible if you match force with force. Like many of the traditional martial arts, Jiu Jitsu obtains “maximum effect with minimal effort”. However, because Jiu jitsu focuses on grappling rather than striking, it takes a unique approach on how to achieve this effect. Jiu Jitsu focuses on

One of the founding principle of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is that it needs to work in real life. To test the art’s effectiveness there needs to be a way to test each technique in a live scenario. This creates a dilemma, however, because to test the submissions you would injure your partner. ‘Jiu’, meaning ‘gentle’ or ‘soft’, and ‘Jitsu’, meaning ‘art’ or ‘technique’, gives rise to the nickname the “Gentle Art.”

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