History of Jiu-Jitsu (Brazilian and Japanese Origins)

Brazilian and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu are two of the most popular martial arts in the world. However, they have completely different histories and have progressed to become very different fighting styles. This led me to question, what are the origins of Jiu-Jitsu?

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu originated in the 1500s, and later helped influence Judo. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu includes striking and weapons. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu originated in the early 1900s, blends traditional Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, and was designed to help smaller practitioners defeat larger and/or stronger opponents.

Let’s have a closer look at the origins of these martial arts. I’ll also explain the key differences in the martial arts, as well as the rulesets and objectives of the fighting styles.

Overview of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that focuses on ground fighting. It is sometimes called Gracie Jiu-Jitsu due to being popularised by the Gracie family in Brazil and now mostly based in the US.

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there is typically no striking. It usually starts with a takedown where an opponent is brought to the ground. Then various submissions are executed such as chokes and joint locks.

That being said, there are schools such as The Valente Brothers in the Miami area where self-defense is the goal over competition. And strikes are part of their curriculum. It’s also worth pointing out that their school is where BJJ found Helio Gracie’s gi hangs.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a very tough martial art, and it takes about 10 years to become a black belt.

But there are a lot of factors that determine how long your BJJ black belt will take.

In this recent article on my site, I talk about how long it takes to get your BJJ black belt. I go over important factors like training frequency, age, previous experience, and how they affect your progress.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

One of the most famous BJJ schools in the world is Art of Jiu-Jitsu in Costa Mesa, California. The main governing body for BJJ is the international Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu federation.

The international Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu federation holds over 100 competitions per year all over the world. Jiu-Jitsu has boomed in popularity in the last few decades, and there are now hundreds of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools all over the world.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art where you use joint locks, Judo techniques, wrestling moves, and other grappling techniques. There is no striking and no weapons. There are some self-defense BJJ programs that will teach you how to defend against strikes.

But there is no striking in BJJ competitions. BJJ is designed for a smaller person to use maximum efficiency to defend against stronger opponents.

The origins of Jiu-Jitsu are in Rio De Janeiro, where the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu school was opened in 1925. South America remains a hotspot for BJJ to this day. That being said, the younger generation Gracie family members like Renner all live in the US.

BJJ has boomed in the United States too, with the rise of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and with Rickson Gracie in particular starting in the 90s.

Overview of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu originated in the 1500s in feudal Japan. At this time, the samurais needed a martial art that would work in heavy armor. Therefore, the Japanese Samurai used Judo and then modified it to include some strikes and weapons work.

The Japanese Samurai learned how to use Kodokan Judo throws and Jiu-Jitsu techniques to defeat people in armor. After all, you cannot punch, kick, and do wrestling takedowns in armor, can you?

To this day, the practice of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and Judo are still popular in Japanese society.

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu saw a boom in the late 1800s, which led to BJJ being invented in the early 1900s. So Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is very similar to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu produced some of the toughest martial artists of that time.

Traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu focuses on using the weapons used by the samurai warriors.

These include swords, knives, nunchucks, and other tools. The practice of Jiu-Jitsu and other traditional martial arts, such as Karate and Taekwondo, has been heavily reduced in recent years.

This is because modern martial arts, like MMA, have taken over. There are other martial arts like Krav Maga that include the use of weapons in their training sessions. So, there is no real need for Japanese Jiu-Jitsu now.

Who pioneered Japanese Jiu-Jitsu?

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is not something that was invented by Buddhist monks. It was invented by the samurais. This was the original form of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. There are now newer forms of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, the most notable being Kano Jiu-Jitsu.

Kano Jiu-Jitsu was invented by Jigoro Kano. Then the students of Jigoro Kano continued teaching his version of the martial art until it became popular. Jigoro Kano was a famous Japanese Judoka who lived in the Meiji Restoration Period in the late 1800s.

The students of Kano wanted to find a way to apply the techniques of traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu to modern-day self-defense. After all, we don’t walk around wearing samurai armor now, do we? In modern-day Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, you will learn techniques such as gun and knife defense too.

Who Pioneered Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

The development of BJJ is a key part of modern Brazilian history. The history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is quite well-known. In the beginning, a man called Mitsuyo Maeda, also known as count Koma or Esai Maeda, taught the Gracie family.

The key members of the Gracie family were the brothers Carlos Gracie, Helio Gracie, Jorge Gracie, Gasato Gracie, and Osvaldo Gracie. Mitsuo Maeda initially taught the Gracie brothers techniques from Judo and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.

However, the Gracie brothers found that most of the techniques required a lot of athleticism to pull off. Therefore, they started to modify the techniques so that they could focus more on leverage and technique. That way, they don’t have to use strength.

So, the objective of BJJ is that a small person can defeat a larger and stronger person in a fight. After they had established their style of Jiu-Jitsu, the Gracie family began their famous “challenge matches”.

The challenge matches were where the Gracies would fight experts from other martial arts. This was in order to showcase the effectiveness of the martial art they had invented.

After that, the Gracie family started the UFC. Originally there were no rules or weight classes in the UFC. These no holds barred fights attracted the attention of the common people to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

After that, in the late 1900s and early 2000s, BJJ surged in popularity. It has become the national sport of the UAE, and there was a push to get BJJ into the Olympic games too.

Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu better?

Overall, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is better than Japanese Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense and MMA. This is because live, full-contact sparring is commonplace in BJJ gyms. It is very rare to find a BJJ school where there is no sparring in every class.

In Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, the focus is more on practicing rehearsed and choreographed attacks.

In reality, you are not going to get attacked in a particular way in a street fight. Real fights are spontaneous. Therefore, BJJ is better. Because in sparring, you are forced to react to your opponent’s attack.

BJJ is also better for fitness. In a BJJ class, you will do lots of drilling and sparring. BJJ is excellent for improving your isometric strength and is one of the most intense forms of cardio. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is better if you are older and less athletic.

You are much less likely to get injured in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is better than BJJ though when it comes to throwing techniques since it has techniques from Judo. If you are looking to learn the wrestling techniques used in MMA, then you will do more of that in BJJ.

Another reason why BJJ is better is because of the number of submissions you learn in BJJ.

BJJ joint locks and chokes are the most effective way to finish fights.

In this recent article on my site, I talk about the top 49 most effective BJJ submissions. I go over everything from blood chokes, air chokes, cranks, arm locks, leg locks, and even spine locks!

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the UFC

The UFC stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship and is the most well-known mixed martial arts organization in the world. Funnily enough, it was made by the most prolific family in martial arts, the Gracie family. Rorion Gracie was one of the main founders of the UFC.

The first UFC event was fought by Royce Gracie. Royce Gracie weighed just 170 lbs but would use his Jiu-Jitsu skills to defeat opponents who were much larger than him. After that, many other Gracies stepped into the cage. Rolls Gracie was famous for his MMA fights too.

Since the UFC was in the USA, BJJ took off in the Western world. It spread like wildfire all over America and is super popular in Europe too.

Perhaps the most well-known contest in the early days was Masahiko Kimura vs. Helio Gracie. This was a match where Helio Gracie fought a man that outweighed him by more than 80 lbs. He lost, but nevertheless, the effectiveness of BJJ was bought to everyone’s attention.

Helio Gracie also went on to fight other ferocious competitors such as Wladek Zbyszko. He was a highly accomplished Polish wrestler who also outweighed Helio.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu takedown origins

Most of the takedowns in BJJ come from wrestling. This is because the first application of BJJ in competitive fighting was in MMA. And in MMA, there are no gis. So, the throws of Judo and Sambo were not widely used.

Instead, most of the takedowns came from freestyle wrestling. To this day, if you set foot in a BJJ gym, most of the takedowns practiced are single-leg, double-leg, and ankle pick takedowns. There are some throws being used now though.

Over the last decade or so, Judo throws have become popular in BJJ. This is because Judo black belts started competing in BJJ competitions as blue belts and dominated the divisions. Also, there were sensational judokas like Travis Stevens that showed the effectiveness of Judo in BJJ.

And, of course, in the last 5 years, the UFC has seen a whole range of Sambo fighters from Russia. This has further popularized the throws of Judo in BJJ.

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu takedown origins

Almost all of the takedowns in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu come from Judo. This is because Japanese Jiu-Jitsu was made to work on people wearing samurai armor. Therefore, grip fighting and controlling the upper body for takedowns is the focus here.

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu was never used that much in MMA and other combat sports. Therefore, this marital art has remained relatively unchanged. There is very little use of takedowns where you control your opponent’s lower body.

This is because, in Judo, you are not allowed to take people down using their legs.

Should you learn BJJ or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu?

Overall, you should learn BJJ instead of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. This is because BJJ is more realistic and more fun. In BJJ, you will learn techniques that work in Judo, Sambo, MMA, and self-defense. There are also more BJJ competitions for you to sign up for.

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu did not grow as much as BJJ, despite being more than 400 years older than BJJ. Therefore, you may it may be difficult for you to find a legitimate gym to train at. There are also not that many Japanese Jiu-Jitsu competitions to compete in.

So, if you are looking for a challenge, train BJJ. The other reason why you should train BJJ is because, in BJJ, you will train against a resisting person in every class. There is sparring every day in BJJ.

I remember my BJJ coach saying that he would not do that much sparring when he did Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ is also more legit than Japanese Jiu-Jitsu as well. My coach also used to tell me how when he was a blue belt, he would beat his black belt teacher in sparring!

That would never happen in BJJ. Even a BJJ blue belt (with about 2 years of training) would be able to completely dominate about 90% of people in a fight. BJJ is incredibly effective, and you don’t have to be a world champion to make it work.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu History in 5 Minutes


BJJ and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu have very different origins. There are many differences in the fighting styles too. The most popular of the two martial arts is BJJ. This martial art is suitable for everyone from a young boy to a family man to an old person.

BJJ is a martial art that is truly for everyone. That’s because it is designed for a small person to use technique and leverage to win fights. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu uses the more explosive and dynamic techniques from Judo.

Overall, there are more BJJ schools to train at than Japanese Jiu-Jitsu schools. There are also more BJJ competitions that you can compete in.

Curious about the word “OSS” that gets used in a lot of Japanese-origin martial arts classes?

I get into the meaning and origin of the word OSS in a recent article, including how it ended up being used dominatly in BJJ which is as much Brazilian as it is Japanese.

Click click that link to read it on my site.

Image by Julián Amé from Pixabay

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