Mitsuyo Maeda, was one of five of the Kodokan's top groundwork (Ne – Waza) experts that judo's founder Kano Jigoro sent overseas to demonstrate and spread his art to the world. Maeda had trained first in sumo as a teenager, and after the interest generated by stories about the success of Kodokan Judo at contests between Kodokan Judo and jujutsu that were occurring at the time, he changed from sumo to Judo, becoming a student of Jigoro Kano. Maeda left Japan in 1904 and visited a number of countries giving "jiu-do" demonstrations and accepting challenges from wrestlers, boxers, savate fighters and various other martial artists before eventually arriving in Brazil on November 14, 1914.
Gastão Gracie was a business partner of the American Circus in Belém. In 1916, Italian Argentine circus Queirolo Brothers staged shows there and presented Mayeda. In 1917, Carlos Gracie, the eldest son of Gastão Gracie, watched a demonstration by Maeda at the Da Paz Theatre and decided to learn judo. Maeda accepted Carlos as a student and Carlos learned for a few years, eventually passing his knowledge on to his brothers.
At age fourteen, Hélio Gracie, the youngest of the brothers, moved in with his older brothers who lived and taught traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu in a house in Botafogo. Following a doctor's recommendations, Hélio would spend the next few years being limited to watching his brothers teach as he was naturally frail. Over time, Hélio Gracie gradually developed Gracie Jiu Jitsu as a softer, pragmatic adaptation from Judo, as he was unable to perform many Judo moves that require direct opposition to an opponent's strength. Through the years Helio Gracie developed a system that focused on ground fighting, as opposed to Judo which emphasizes throwing techniques. Years later Helio Gracie Challenged Judo's legend Masahiko Kimura. According to Kimura in his book "My Judo", He thought of Hélio Gracie to be a 6th dan judo at the time of his fight with him in 1951. However, there is no Kodokan record of Hélio Gracie having any dan grade in judo, but it is not unusual for a foreign judoka's actual grade to be higher than that officially granted and recorded by the Kodokan, as Kodokan ranks are maintained independently and have much more strict requirements.
Although Brazilian jiu-jitsu is largely identified with the Gracie family, there is also another prominent lineage from Maeda via another Brazilian disciple, Luis França. This lineage had been represented particularly by Oswaldo Fadda. Fadda and his students were famous for influential use of footlocks and the lineage still survives through Fadda's links with today's teams such as Nova União and Grappling Fight Team.
"Jiu-jitsu" is an older romanization that was the original spelling of the art in the West, and it is still in common use, whereas the modern Hepburn romanization is "jūjutsu."
When Maeda left Japan, judo was still often referred to as "Kano jiu-jitsu", or, even more generically, simply as "jiu-jitsu." Higashi, the co-author of "Kano Jiu-Jitsu" wrote in the foreword:
Some confusion has arisen over the employment of the term 'jiudo'. To make the matter clear I will state that jiudo is the term selected by Professor Kano as describing his system more accurately than jiu-jitsu does. Professor Kano is one of the leading educators of Japan, and it is natural that he should cast about for the technical word that would most accurately describe his system. But the Japanese people generally still cling to the more popular nomenclature and call it jiu-jitsu.
Outside Japan, however, this distinction was noted even less. Thus, when Maeda and Satake arrived in Brazil in 1914, every newspaper announced their art as being "jiu-jitsu" despite both men being Kodokan judoka.
It was not until 1925 that the Japanese government itself officially mandated that the correct name for the martial art taught in the Japanese public schools should be "judo" rather than "jujutsu." In Brazil, the art is still called "jiu-jitsu". When the Gracies went to the United States to spread their art, they used the terms "Brazilian jiu-jitsu" and "Gracie Jiu-Jitsu" to differentiate from the already present styles using similar-sounding names.
The art is sometimes referred to as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (GJJ), this name was trademarked by Rorion Gracie, but after a legal dispute with his cousin Carley Gracie, his trademark to the name was voided. Other members of the Gracie family often call their style by personalized names, such as Charles Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and similarly, the Machado family call their style Machado Jiu-Jitsu (MJJ). While each style and its instructors have their own unique aspects, they are all basic variations of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Today there are four major branches of BJJ from Brazil: Gracie Humaita, Gracie Barra, Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Alliance Jiu Jitsu. Each branch can trace its roots back to Mitsuyo Maeda and the Gracie family.
More recently, the name "jitz" for the art has been gaining currency as a casual layman's term, especially in the USA.
Hélio Gracie had competed in several submission-based competitions which mostly ended in him winning. One defeat (in Brazil in 1951) was by visiting Japanese judoka Masahiko Kimura, whose surname the Gracies gave to the arm lock used to defeat Hélio. The Gracie family continued to develop the system throughout the 20th century, often fighting full-contact matches (precursors to modern MMA), during which it increased its focus on ground fighting and refined its techniques.
Today, the main differences between the BJJ styles is between traditional Gracie Jiu-Jitsu's emphasis on self-defense, and Sport Brazilian jiu-jitsu's orientation towards competition. There is a large commonality of techniques between the two. Also, there is a wide variety of ideals in training in different schools in terms of the utilization of pure or yielding technique versus skillful application of pressure to overcome an opponent.
Divergence from Kodokan rules
Since judo was introduced to Brazil there have been changes in the rules of sport judo – some to enhance it as a spectator sport, and some for improved safety. Several of these rule changes have greatly de-emphasised the groundwork aspects of judo, and others have reduced the range of joint locks allowed and when they can be applied. Brazilian jiu-jitsu did not follow these changes to judo rules (and there is no evidence that some of the rules were ever used, such as the win by pin/osaekomi or by throw), and this divergence has given it a distinct identity as a grappling art, while still being recognizably related to judo. Other factors that have contributed towards the stylistic divergence of BJJ from sport judo include the Gracies' desire to create a national martial art, the influence of Brazilian culture, and the Gracies' emphasis on full-contact fighting.
BJJ permits all the techniques that judo allows to take the fight to the ground, these include judo's scoring throws as well as judo's non-scoring techniques that it refers to as "skillful takedowns" (such as the flying armbar). BJJ also allows any and all takedowns from wrestling, sambo, or any other grappling arts including direct attempts to take down by touching the legs. BJJ also differs from judo in that it also allows a competitor to drag his opponent to the ground, and also even to drop to the ground himself provided he has first taken a grip. Early Kodokan judo was similarly open in its rules (even permitting an athlete to simply sit on the mat at the beginning of a match), but has since become increasingly restrictive in comparison.
BJJ's different rules set and point scoring mechanisms are designed to give BJJ an arguably more practical emphasis by rewarding positions of control from which the grappler could strike their opponent in a real altercation.
Jiu-Jitsu came to international prominence in the martial arts community in the early 1990s, when Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert Royce Gracie won the first, second and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships, which at the time were single elimination martial arts tournaments. Royce fought against often much larger opponents who were practicing other styles, including boxing, shoot-fighting, muay thai, karate, wrestling, judo and tae kwon do. It has since become a staple art for many MMA fighters and is largely credited for bringing widespread attention to the importance of ground fighting. Sport BJJ tournaments continue to grow in popularity worldwide and have given rise to no-gi submission grappling tournaments, such as the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship.
Style of fighting
Upholding the premise that most of the advantage of a larger, stronger opponent comes from superior reach and more powerful strikes, both of which are mitigated when grappling on the ground, Brazilian jiu-jitsu emphasizes getting an opponent to the ground in order to utilize ground fighting techniques and submission holds involving joint-locks and chokeholds. A more precise way of describing this would be to say that on the ground, physical strength can be offset or enhanced by an experienced grappler who knows how to maximize force using mechanical strength instead of pure physical strength.
BJJ permits a wide variety of techniques to take the fight to the ground after taking a grip. While other combat sports, such as Judo and Wrestling almost always use a takedown to bring an opponent to the ground, in BJJ one option is to "pull guard." This entails obtaining some grip on the opponent and then bringing the fight or match onto the mat by sitting straight down or by jumping and wrapping the legs around the opponent.
Once the opponent is on the ground, a number of maneuvers (and counter-maneuvers) are available to manipulate the opponent into a suitable position for the application of a submission technique. Achieving a dominant position on the ground is one of the hallmarks of the BJJ style, and includes effective use of the guard (a signature position of BJJ) position to defend oneself from bottom (using both submissions and sweeps, with sweeps leading to the possibility of dominant position or an opportunity to pass the guard), and passing the guard to dominate from top position with side control, mount, and back mount positions. This system of maneuvering and manipulation can be likened to a form of kinetic chess when utilized by two experienced practitioners. A submission hold is the equivalent of checkmate in the sport, reflecting a disadvantage which would be extremely difficult to overcome in a fight (such as a dislocated joint or unconsciousness).
Renzo Gracie wrote in his book Mastering Jiu-jitsu:
'The classical jujutsu of old Japan appeared to have no common strategy to guide a combatant over the course of a fight. Indeed, this was one of Kano's most fundamental and perceptive criticisms of the classical program.' Maeda not only taught the art of judo to Carlos Gracie, but also taught a particular philosophy about the nature of combat developed by Kano, and further refined by Maeda based on his worldwide travels competing against fighters skilled in a wide variety of martial arts.
The book details Maeda's theory as arguing that physical combat could be broken down into distinct phases, such as the striking phase, the grappling phase, the ground phase, etc. Thus, it was a smart fighter's task to keep the fight located in the phase of combat that best suited to his own strengths. Renzo Gracie stated that this was a fundamental influence on the Gracie approach to combat, these strategies were further developed over time by the Gracies and others, and became prominent in contemporary MMA.
BJJ is most strongly differentiated by its greater emphasis on groundwork than other martial arts. Commonly, striking-based styles spend almost no time on groundwork. Even other grappling martial arts tend to spend much more time on the standing phase. It is helpful to contrast its rules with judo's greater emphasis on throws, due to both its radically different point-scoring system, and the absence of most of the judo rules that cause the competitors to have to recommence in a standing position. This has led to greater time dedicated to training on the ground, resulting in enhancement and new research of groundwork techniques by BJJ practitioners.
Along with BJJ's great strengths on the ground comes its relative underemphasis of standing techniques, such as striking. To remedy this comparative lack, there is an increasing amount of cross-training between the sports of BJJ and wrestling, Judo, or Sambo, as well as striking based arts such as: boxing, Karate, TaeKwonDo, Muay Thai, and kickboxing.
Sport Brazilian jiu-jitsu's focus on submissions without the use of strikes while training allows practitioners to practice at full speed and with full power, resembling the effort used in a real competition. Training methods include technique drills in which techniques are practiced against a non-resisting partner; isolation sparring, commonly referred to as positional drilling, where only a certain technique or sets of techniques are used, and full sparring in which each opponent tries to submit their opponent using any legal technique. Physical conditioning is also an important part of training at many clubs.