This blog was written by Dustin Fritsch. Dustin is one of the owners at Twister Sports in Warrensburg and Sedalia, and is the Martial Arts Program Director. Dustin has practiced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for eight years. Twister Sports offers Preschool Martial Arts, Kids and Adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The gym offers classes and opportunities to compete in gi and non-gi divisions.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or BJJ is a martial art of Japanese origin in which one uses levers, torsions and pressure in order to take an opponent to the ground and dominate them. Literally, jū in Japanese means ‘gentleness,’ and jutsu means ‘art,’ ‘technique.’ Hence the literal translation by which it’s also known, the ‘gentle art.’
The art of Jiu Jitsu was developed and refined by the samurai in feudal Japan. While on the battlefield a samurai could lose his weapons and need a weapon –less method of defense. Traumatic strikes were not effect due to the fact that many wore armor, the takedowns and torsions of jiu jitsu were used more due to their efficiency.
Jiu Jitsu was brought to Brazil by Esai Maeda, a Jiu Jitsu champion, in 1914. He befriended an influential businessman named Gastao Gracie, who helped Maeda get established in the northern state of Para. To show his gratitude, Maeda taught traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu to Gastao‘s oldest son Carlos Gracie. After training with Maeda, Carlos began passing down his knowledge to his brothers. One brother in particular shaped the martial art we now call Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, his name was Helio Gracie.
Helio was the youngest son of eight children and always very physically frail child, the very act of running up a flight of stairs would cause him to have fainting spells. For a good part of his teen years he was limited to only watching his brothers teach jiu jitsu. One day, when Helio was 16 years old, a student showed up for class when his brother, Carlos, was not around. Helio, who had memorized all the techniques from watching his brothers teach, offered to start the class. When the class was over, Carlos showed up and apologized for his delay. The student answered, “No problem. I enjoyed the class with Helio very much and, if you don’t mind, I’d like to continue learning from him.” Carlos agreed, and Helio became an instructor.
Due to his frail physique, most of the techniques Helio had learned watching Carlos were particularly difficult and didn’t work well for him. So he began to emphasize leverage and timing over strength and speed and modified many techniques and created Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. To prove the effectiveness of his new system, Helio challenged all the reputable martial artists in Brazil. He fought 18 times, including matches against one-time world heavyweight wrestling champion, Wladek Zbyszko and the #2-ranked Judoka in the world at the time, Kato, whom Helio choked unconscious in six minutes. His victory against Kato qualified him to enter the ring with the world champion, Masahiko Kimura, the best Jiu-Jitsu fighter Japan has ever produced, and who outweighed Helio by almost 80 pounds. Kimura won the match but was so impressed with Helio’s techniques that he asked Helio to go teach in Japan claiming the techniques Helio presented during their bout did not exist in Japan. It was the recognition by the world’s best to Helio’s dedication to the refinement of the art.
In the ‘90s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu exploded in America, when Rorion Gracie, son of Helio, came up with the Ultimate Fighting Champion (UFC). Rorion got some of best martial artists around the world representing various types fighting styles. The Gracie family choose Royce Gracie to represent Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in these fights. Royce was chosen because they knew that he would be the smallest competitor in the tournament and they wanted to show that a smaller person can use technique and leverage to overcome a bigger, stronger opponent. Royce dominated the first several UFC tournaments, solidifying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a dominant and extremely effective martial art.