Is Jiu Jitsu Japanese? (Origins of BJJ)

Jiu-Jitsu is one of the most popular forms of martial arts and is practiced worldwide.

Because of how widespread this practice has become, it can be difficult to actually know where the origins of this combat style are from.

Is Jiu Jitsu Japanese?

This article will cover where Jiu-Jitsu came from, if it is Japanese, and how it has developed into what it is today.

It can be argued that Jiu-Jitsu is actually Indian in origin, as some of its roots can be traced back to Buddhist monks who resided within India.

However, Jiu-Jitsu as we know it today and all of its modern teachings originate from Japan. Jiu-Jitsu was one of the tools used in combat by Japanese samurai, and this is where it gained its traction to become what it has become today.

Jiu-Jitsu developed into what it is today as a sort of back-up plan for samurai. As most people know, samurai were normally heavily armored, rode on horseback, and usually fought using swordplay.

Jiu-Jitsu was the alternative for if they ended up disarmed and needed an effective method of combat as well as self-defense. 

What made Jiu-Jitsu a fitting style for these samurai is the focus it placed on limited mobility, because samurai often had so much armor, Jiu-Jitsu needed to be able to work effectively without the same flexibility if movement other combat styles require.

This is why Jiu-Jitsu includes lots of throwing, joint locking, and strangling, in combination with striking arts that are so common in other forms of martial arts.

Jiu-Jitsu And Judo

As mentioned at the start, Jiu-Jitsu has developed into many different fighting styles and could actually be treated as an umbrella term to speak on many similar forms of combat.

These different styles are known as ‘ryu’ and by the 1800s Jiu-Jitsu had many different ‘ryu’ making it a very versatile combat style.

While the different ‘ryu’ all had their own intricacies and elements that made them unique, they all had similar core principles that revolved around use of weapons, strikes, and grappling.

An important style of Jiu-Jitsu came about in the 1880s by an impressive Jiu-Jitsu fighter called Jigoro Kano.

This fighter developed his own ‘ryu’ like many others had, but his revolved around the concept of ‘randori’ meaning to use complete power to practice and resist against powerful opponents.

Due to this difference from Jiu-Jitsu it soon developed into its own unique practice until it became known as Judo, which is now one of the most popular and commonly used forms of martial arts.

Jiu-Jitsu And The Gracie Family

Jiu-Jitsu And The Gracie Family

One of Jigoro Kano’s students known as Mitsuo Maeda emigrated to Brazil from Japan in 1914.

He did this with the assistance of a local politician called George Gracie who was also from an immigrant family, with his father being Scottish.

As a token of Maeda’s gratitude, he took it upon himself to teach Jiu-Jitsu to Carlos Gracie, George’s son. After this, Carlos shared his skills with his brothers.

Because of this small act of kindness, the Gracie family ended up practicing Jiu-Jitsu and eventually developing it into their own style of Jiu-Jitsu.

This style of Jiu-Jitsu is known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but more commonly referred to as BJJ. In 1925 the family opened their first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy to help this new form of martial arts gain traction.

Members of the Gracie family, particularly Carlos and Helio, in addition to their students from the academy, continued to refine this style of martial arts. 

The combat style was seen as quite brutal, with more of a focus on public matches. These matches had a strong focus on submission and ground fighting.

This was designed so that smaller people would be able to defend themselves against larger attackers, a skill which is not common in a lot of martial arts that are more defined by weight categories.

By the 1970s Rolls Gracie also began to further build on the combat style, with one of the most notable additions being the inclusion of moves that originate in wrestling which synergize well with BJJ fighting styles.

As well as this, the first point and rule systems for a Jiu-Jitsu competition were developed by Rolls Gracie in this era.

Jiu-Jitsu And The UFC

Even still, in the 1990s, members of the Gracie family were influencing the history of Jiu-Jitsu. This time, Rorion Gracie moved to Los Angeles from Brazil to showcase BJJ to an American audience.

No rules, mixed martial arts (MMA) fights had been present in Brazil (more commonly known there as vale tudo) since Carlos Gracie began spreading BJJ in 1925, but this concept had not spread at this point. 

This lead Rorion Gracie and Art Davis to create an event known as “The Ultimate Fighting Championship” which is now mostly referred to as the UFC.

This event aimed to pit different martial arts styles against each other, with the aim of different styles and disciplines fighting against each other on a scale that had previously not been seen or appreciated.

One of the aims was to prove which martial arts style would work the best.

It was 1993 when the first UFC took place and was dominated by Rorion Gracie’s younger brother, Royce, who was outweighed by many other competitors.

He used their underestimation of him to his advantage and exploited their weaknesses to eventually win, beating 4 opponents in just one night. This achievement gave BJJ a massive boost in interest worldwide.

Jiu-Jitsu And BJJ In The Modern Era

After 1993 BJJ became one of the fastest growing forms of martial arts, and with this standard Jiu-Jitsu also gained some attention with thousands of academies for each present worldwide.

The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Foundation (IBJJF) has since been formed to be a governing body for this popular form of Jiu-Jitsu.

Jiu-Jitsu is still present and popular and if you want to do well in MMA, you need to have a certain level of knowledge and understanding of this ever-changing form of combat!

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy our article on ‘How Much Are Jiu-Jitsu Classes?‘.

Christopher Anderson
Latest posts by Christopher Anderson (see all)