Jiu-Jitsu, which means gentle art is the oldest form of martial art. It originated in India more than 2000 years before Christ. It was created by monks who could not use any type of weapons to defend their lives against barbarian attacks. It spread through China, and eventually took root and was elaborated on in Japan becoming the first martial art style. The samurai clans in Japan adopted Jiu-Jitsu as their own traditional style to defeat an opponent regardless if the situation was striking, throwing or grappling. With the passing years, they split the techniques and developed other martial arts styles, such as judo, akido, karate, etc.In 1914, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu champion Esai Maeda migrated to Brazil, where he was instrumental in establishing a Japanese immigrant community. His efforts were aided by Gastão Gracie, a Brazilian scholar and politician of Scottish descent. As an expression of his gratitude for Gracie’s assistance, Maeda taught the Brazilian’s oldest son Carlos the essential secrets of the ancient martial arts technique. Carlos taught Maeda’s techniques to his four brothers, and in 1925 they opened the first Jiu-Jitsu academy in Brazil. For the Gracie brothers, teaching the art was more than an occupation. It was their passion.
By opening the first Jiu-Jitsu academy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Gracie family was taking the first steps in what would be a worldwide revolution that would change the face of martial arts, fighting and self-defense forever. Working with the roots of Japanese Ju-Jitsu / Judo that they learned, the Gracie brothers transformed the traditional Japanese martial art into the most effective form of self-defense and fighting in the world – emphasizing leverage and technique over speed and coordination, such that the art could be effective for people of all sizes.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of the art over other forms of fighting, Hélio Gracie and his brothers Carlos, Oswaldo, Gastão Jr, and George challenged all comers in Brazil and across the world, in what became known as the “Gracie Challenge”. For decades, the family remained undefeated, besting opponents of all sizes and from all backgrounds, utilising the efficient techniques of what became known as “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu”.
As the popularity of Jiu-Jitsu exploded across Brazil, Hélio and his brothers expanded to a new location in the 1960s. Using this as the headquarters of their efforts, they would refine the art’s curriculum and lay the groundwork for what would one day be more broadly known as “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu”. This academy was located in the Botafogo district of Rio, and was named simply – Academia Gracie de Jiu-Jitsu.
The overall fighting strategy of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is designed to equip a physically smaller or weaker individual with an effective method of defending against a larger and stronger attacker. When applying BJJ techniques, leverage is paramount, as leverage is the secret to the amplification and most efficient use of force. BJJ also has the most developed methods of fighting while on one’s back, a position weaker fighters will often find themselves when attacked. The innovations of the Gracie family, most notably by grandmasters Carlos and Helio Gracie, and continuing with BJJ fighters today, through constant testing and refinement in the crucible of actual fights, has resulted in this unique style of Jiu Jitsu.
A much more complete and in depth history can be found here