Kohbukan Sisu Judo & Jiu Jitsu - The History of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Mitsuyo Maeda: The Founder of Modern Day Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Maeda was born in Aomori Prefecture in 1878. Aomori is the northernmost prefecture on Japan 's main island. He moved to Tokyo when he was about 18 and began judo. The first record of him entering the Kodokan is in 1897. He had a natural talent for judo and moved through the ranks very quickly, establishing himself as the most promising young judoka in the Kodokan. In the mid-1800's in Japan , there were a large number of styles ("ryu") of jiu-jitsu (sometimes spelled "jujitsu"). Techniques varied between ryu, but generally included all manner of unarmed combat (strikes, throws, locks, chokes, wrestling, etc.) and occasionally some weapons training. One young but skilled master of a number of jiu-jitsu styles, Jigoro Kano, founded his own ryu and created the martial art Judo (aka Kano-ryu jiu-jitsu) in the 1880's. One of Kano 's primary insights was to include full-power practice against resisting, competent opponents, rather than solely rely on the partner practice that was much more common at the time.

In 1904 he was given a chance to go to the U.S. with one of his instructors, Tsunejiro Tomita. The first and only place they demonstrated judo together was at the U.S. Army academy in West Point . Contrary to what has been published, they never went to the White House nor did they ever meet the American president at the time, Teddy Roosevelt. It was the Kodokan great Yoshitsugu Yamashita who taught Roosevelt judo at the White House and later engaged in a match with a wrestler nearly twice his size at Roosevelt's request, but this match took place at the U.S. Naval academy in Annapolis . Yamashita won with an arm bar and was given a teaching position at the academy for what was then considered a great deal of money.

The demonstration at West Point did not go over well. Tomita and Maeda started off with kata, but the Americans did not understand what they were seeing. Maeda was challenged by a student wrestling champion and a match ensued. A misunderstanding occurred when the student pinned Maeda (wrestling style pin) and thought he had won. Maeda, not familiar with wrestling, continued to fight until he got his opponent in a joint lock and made him tap out. The students then wanted to see Tomita fight. Since he was the instructor, they figured he must be the better of the two. The truth, however, was that Tomita was in his 40's and past his prime. He had brought Maeda along to help with demonstrations, but had not intended to engage in challenge matches. He had no choice, and hesitated when his much larger American opponent rushed and tackled him. Tomita was caught under the weight of the bigger man and forced to give up.

Tomita and Maeda parted ways with Tomita heading to the West Coast and Maeda staying in New York for the time being. Maeda began teaching at Princeton University part-time when he won some challenge matches there. He also taught in New York City , but the Americans did not take to the Japanese style of teaching and he often found his students did not stay long. Maeda was approached to engage in a match for money. Since his income was limited at the time, he accepted. This, however, was a violation of Kodokan rules which prohibited members from engaging in matches against other styles. Maeda did not appear to be worried about this and thus his career as a fighter began.

It is widely believed that Maeda was expelled from the Kodokan for participating in matches against fighters from other styles, and later in life, Maeda himself lamented to other Japanese he met during his travels that he feared this was true. The author states that there is no record of him being expelled and this is nothing but a groundless rumor which still exists today.

Maeda is said to have fought over 2,000 matches in his career, many unrecorded. He traveled throughout the Americas and Europe , taking on all comers. He was only about 165 cm tall so he his opponents were usually far larger than he was. Nonetheless, he became a legend in the fighting world and his name is still well known amongst Japanese settlements in the Americas . Maeda was not undefeated. He lost two matches in the catch-as-catch-can world championships held in London . In this tournament, Maeda entered both the middleweight and heavyweight divisions, advancing to the semi-finals and finals respectively. In matches where judo gis were worn, however, Maeda was undefeated.

Maeda thought of judo as the ultimate form of self-defense. To him, western arts such as boxing and wrestling were only games with a set of rules. Maeda's strategy in an anything goes fight was to set his opponent up with an elbow or low kick. He would then go for a throw and then finish his opponent off on the ground with a choke or joint lock.Maeda was never afraid to prove the superiority of judo. Once while in London , he saw an article in the paper where a Russian wrestling champion was quoted as saying that wrestling was better than judo. He tracked the wrestler (who was much larger than Maeda) down and issued a challenge on the spot. The wrestler refused on the grounds that he was misquoted and could not risk losing to a non-wrestler. Maeda also wanted to challenge Jack Johnson, the world heavyweight champion at the time, but figured he would never accept such a challenge.

The ring name "Conde Koma" came about when Maeda was in Spain in 1908. Maeda heard about another Japanese in Spain who was billing himself as Japan 's number one. As Maeda was already famous, he knew this judoka would leave town if he discovered that Maeda was somewhere near. Maeda considered this a problem. At the same time, he had other problems, mainly financial. To describe his own state, Maeda used the Japanese verb "komaru" which means to be in trouble or to be in a fix. He thought about calling himself Maeda Komaru, but decided it didn't have a good ring to it. He dropped the final syllable and just went by the name "Koma". A Spanish aquanitance suggested adding the word "Conde" which means count. From then on, Maeda went under the name "Conde Koma". In later years, that became part of his legal name. (The author never says whether Maeda was able to challenge the so called judo champion).

Maeda continued his travels. In 1915, he ended up in Brazil in a town called Belen [the capital of Para state in Brazil ]. He considered this to be paradise and settled down here permanently. He still engaged in challenge matches and became famous throughout the region. He also returned to Cuba , Mexico , and the U.S. when the opportunity arose, but Belen was to become his home.

Enter the Gracies

When Maeda emigrated to Brazil , he was helped a great deal by the Brazilian politician Gastão Gracie, whose father George Gracie had emigrated to Brazil himself from Scotland . In gratitude for the assistance, Maeda taught jiu-jitsu to Gastao's son Carlos Gracie. Carlos in turn taught his brothers Osvaldo, Gastão Jr., Jorge, and Helio.

In 1925, Carlos and his brothers opened their first jiu-jitsu academy, and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was born in Brazil .

At this point, the base of techniques in BJJ was similar to those in Kano 's Judo academy in Japan . As the years progressed, however, the brothers (notably Carlos and Helio) and their students refined their art via brutal no-rules fights, both in public challenges and on the street. Particularly notable was their willingness to fight outside of weight categories, permitting a skilled small fighter to attempt to defeat a much larger opponent.

They began to concentrate more and more on submission ground fighting, especially utilizing the guard position. This allowed a weaker man to defend against a stronger one, bide his time, and eventually emerge victorious.

In the 1970's, the undisputed jiu-jitsu champion in Brazil was Rolls Gracie. He had taken the techniques of jiu-jitsu to a new level. Although he was not a large man, his ability to apply leverage using all of his limbs was unprecedented. At this time the techniques of the open guard and its variants (spider guard, butterfly guard) became a part of BJJ. Rolls also developed the first point system for jiu-jitsu only competition. The competitions required wearing a gi, awarded points (but not total victories) for throws and takedowns, and awarded other points for achieving different ground positions (such as passing an opponent's guard). After Rolls' death in a hang-gliding accident, Rickson Gracie became the undisputed (and undefeated!) champion, a legend throughout Brazil and much of the world. He has been the exemplar of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique for the last two decades, since the early 1980's, in both jiu-jitsu competition and no-rules MMA competition.

Content Reference
All of the above text was generously taken directly from http://www.bjj.org/rma-faq.html and http://bjj.org/interviews/maeda.html ( "A Lion's Dream, the Story of Mitsuyo Maeda", by Norio Kohyama). authored by Don Geddis, Any credit or errors pertaining to the above content should be directed towards Mr. Geddis directly.
National flag of Brazil Mitsuyo Maeda Mitsuyo Maeda submitting an opponent Helio Gracie in a jiu jitsu demonstration