Some historians of Jiu-Jitsu say that the origins of "the gentle art" can be traced back to India, where it was practiced by Buddhist Monks.
Concerned with self-defence, these monks created techniques based upon principles of balance and leverage, and a system of manipulating the body in a manner where one could avoid relying upon strength or weapons. With the expansion of Buddhism, Jiu-Jitsu spread from Southeast Asia to China, finally arriving in Japan where it developed and gained further popularity. At the end of the 19th century, some Jiu-Jitsu masters emigrated from Japan to other continents, teaching the martial arts as well as taking part in fights and competitions.
Esai Maeda Koma, also known as "Conde Koma," was one such master. After traveling with a troupe which fought in various countries in Europe and the Americas, Koma arrived in Brazil in 1915, and settled in Belem do Para the next year, where he met a man named Gastão Gracie. The creator of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Carlos Gracie is the third generation descendent of an immigrant from Scotland. Born in 1901 to Gastão Gracie, a Brazilian scholar and politician, Carlos was the smallest and skinniest of five brothers but was never defeated by his younger brothers. His younger brothers were Osvaldo, Gastão, Jorge and Helio (born 1913).
He was raised in a wealthy family, and he became a student of Maeda when he was 19 when Maeda settled in Brazil. Maeda had made a name for himself in Brazil through his fighting exploits, and had opened up a school. Allegedly, it was Carlos' father who introduced Carlos to Maeda. Eventually, Carlos taught his brothers jiu-jitsu.
At that time in Brazil, there was no technique for fighting besides boxing and Capoeira. Only Jiu-Jitsu had grappling techniques for fighting. From Carlos on to his brothers, Oswaldo, Gastao, Jorge, and Helio, they made a name for the family by fighting in several demonstrations and street fights using Jiu-Jitsu. Carlos only took one year of lessons from Maeda. (Maeda once went back to Japan). Later on he learned from Brazilian instuctor assistants, and then combined all the techniques to create Gracie Jiu-Jitsu as a fighting technique. Interesting, a japanese martial arts magazine article about Maeda referred to Maeda's style or school in Brazil as "Parasuits." (This was the phonetic Japanese translation). Carlos Gracie opened up the first jiu-jitsu academy in Belem in 1925.
Having created an efficient self-defence system, Carlos Gracie saw in the art a way to become a man who was more tolerant, respectful, and self-confident. With a goal of proving Jiu-Jitsu superiority over other martial arts, Carlos challenged the greatest fighters of his time. He also managed the fighting careers of his brothers. Because they were fighting and defeating opponents fifty or sixty pounds heavier, the Gracies quickly gained recognition and prestige
His most famous fight was against a Japanese named "Giomori." Carlos tied with his larger opponent according to Carley Gracie. Reylson Gracie, in an interview, said that Carlos and Giomori fought twice; "once by the rules, the second time no holds barred. Both times they tied." Carlos Gracie died in 1994 at the age of 92. As Maeda challenged other schools, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu players also challenged other schools. Carlos spent all of his time establishing Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and let his brothers do the fighting with other schools to improve their technique. Notably, Helio defeated all challengers and became the strongest fighter. (Note: Helio only had two losses: one to Kimura and one to Valdemar Santana, Helio's own student in his later years).
At the age of 17, Helio first stepped into the ring in Frontao against a boxer named Antonio Portugal. Helio won in 30 seconds. He also defeated a Japanese Judoka, Namiki, in 1932. This was the first jiu-jitsu/Judo match of his career and also the first time he wore a gi during a fight.Helio ended the fight with Namiki in his guard when the bell rang a only seconds before Namiki submitted. Helio won fights against Japanese Judo players, Miyake and Kato (pronounced "Kado" in Japanese). He fought Kato twice. Their first match, at Maracana Stadium, was called a draw. In the second match, held in Ibirapuera Stadium in Sao Paulo, Helio choked Kato unconscious. This footage in on one of the Gracie in action video tapes. He also tied with Yatsuichi Ono. Eventually, a local (Brazilian) Japanese group decided to employ the most powerful judo player in attempt to defeat Helio.
Attracted to the new market which was opened around Jiu-Jitsu, many Japanese practitioners came to Rio, but none were able to establish schools as successful as the Gracies. This was due to the fact that the Japanese stylists were more focused on takedowns and throws, and the Jiu-Jitsu the Gracies practiced had more sophisticated ground fighting and submission techniques. Carlos and his brothers changed and adapted the techniques in such a way that it completely altered the complexion of the international Jiu-Jitsu principles. These techniques were so distinctive to Carlos and his brothers that the sport became attached to a national identity, and is now commonly known as "Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu," practiced by martial artists all over the world, including Japan.
With the creation of an official governing body to oversee the administration of the sport, including competition rules and the grading system, the era of sport Jiu-Jitsu competitions was started.
Today, Jiu-Jitsu is a highly organised sport, with an International Federation as well as a Brazilian National Confederation, both founded by Master Carlos Gracie Jr. Through his work with the
Confederation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Carlos Gracie Jr. contributed to the growth of the sport by holding some of the first organised competitions. Currently, the IBJJF and CBJJ holds competitions in Brazil, the United States, Europe, and Asia, realising Carlos' original dream of spreading Jiu-Jitsu around the world.