A BJJ History Lesson with a View of the Future

It’s hard to believe that a chance meeting between a wandering Japanese martial artist and a Brazilian businessman way back in the early 1900’s would change the face of martial arts so dramatically, the world over.

The two men in question were Mitsuyo Maeda, the son of a well known Sumo wrestler from Hirosaki City, Japan and Brazilian Gastao Gracie, the grandson of a Scottish immigrant. Maeda was traveling around North and South America showcasing his Jui Jitsu skills when Gracie offered to let him tour with a circus for which he had a half share.

The diminutive Maeda would throw down challenges for anyone to join him in the ring, much like the boxing booths that traveled around Europe.

His ensuing successes became the stuff of legend, and it was at a demonstration in Belem in 1917 that Gastao’s son Carlos first saw Maeda at work. Carlos eventually became a pupil of Maeda’s and in the late 1920’s opened up the first of the Gracie BJJ academies.

The rest, as they say, is history. Although the Gracie family is as legendary for their self-promotion as for their martial arts prowess, the influence the family has had on the development of the sport is truly phenomenal.

However, they were not the only developers and practitioners of Brazilian Jui Jitsu. Luiz Franca started his martial arts training in 1916 with Yoshihiro Satake in Manaus, Northern Brazil. One year later moving to Belem to begin his studies with Maeda at the same time as Carlos Gracie. A fact often left out of popular BJJ history.

Whereas Carlos’ academy would attract those wealthy enough to pay for tuition, Franca took his BJJ skills to Rio de Janeiro, where he taught the poor of the favelas. A tradition carried on by his star pupil, Oswaldo Fadda.

Fadda, at one time, the highest-ranking BJJ practitioner outside of the Gracie family, ignored the lucrative path of opening a high-end academy for Rio's well-heeled. Instead, he took his art to the beaches and public parks, where he taught for free.

In 1950 Fadda eventually opened his academy and within five years, had enough skilled pupils to challenge the Gracie's to a showdown. The result of the 14-match contest is open to debate, even though Reila Gracie (Carlos’ daughter) says in her book that overall victory went to the Fadda team.

What isn't in doubt, however, is the following year's competition, when Fadda’s team won a decisive victory, ‘we put an end to the Gracie taboo,' he told the local newspaper at the time.

There can be no doubt that the phenomenal worldwide success of MMA as a sport and the UFC as its high altar is thanks to another Gracie, Rorion. He started the UFC in 1993 as a way of promoting BJJ as the best martial art in the world capable of defeating all comers.

The adoption of BJJ ground moves into Mixed Martial Arts made it the ultimate and visually exciting combat sport it is today, but as established as it is, variations on the theme keep the game on its toes.

The latest of these evolutionary branches is Combat Jui Jitsu, the brainchild of controversial Eddie Bravo, instigator of the EBI (Eddie Bravo Invitational) no-gi submission-only tournament.

Eddie Bravo is a progressive BJJ tournamnet. 

Eddie Bravo is a progressive BJJ tournamnet. 

At EBI 11, held earlier this year, the card saw stars of the sport such as Gordon Ryan, Ritchie Martinez, and Vagner Rocha battled it out for submission-only honors. Spectators were also treated to a roll out of the very first CJJ event as an added bonus.

Combat Jui Jitsu cranks it up a gear this November though when it becomes a tournament in its own right with a world title up for grabs. The eight-man competition that allows fighters to use open-handed blows when the fighting hits the floor generated serious interest in August with the announcement of the competitor’s names.

The card looks like a head to head showdown between MMA regulars and world-class grapplers. Featuring cage vets Cole Miller, Vagner Rocha, Diego Brandao and Mac Danzig. Plus, the cream of competition grapplers in the shape of EBI champ Garry Tonon, Nathan Orchard, Rafael Domingos and AJ Agazarm.

The event promises to be a battle of epic proportions, not just because of the controversial rules, but also because of the two different fighting styles.

Watching how each fighter adapts his game will make for excellent viewing. Raising questions such as will the MMA crew, more used to hand strikes be at an advantage, or will the submission fighters tie them up in knots?

We only have to wait a few weeks to find out.  

Whether CJJ is the future or just another branch of the BJJ evolutionary tree, for a sport that finds itself at home on the floor, it sure has to stay on its toes.