History of Jiu-Jitsu (Part 2), Maeda and the Gracies

continue from part 1

Information in this article was taken mostly from a book that I recommend, mostly for it’s history section,  “Mastering JuJitsu” by Renzo Gracie and John Danaher.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has it’s roots in the Gracie family, but the Gracies learned from Mitsuyo Meada (1878-1941), “Count Coma.”  He was doing mixed martial arts matches around the world before the Gracies had been taught Jiu-Jitsu, and what BJJ practitioners do today came directly from what he taught the Gracies.  The challenge match, the strategies of taking a striker down to the ground to submit them, and the training methods emphasizing live sparring was passed to the Gracies via Maeda.


Mitsuyo Maeda (1878-1941)

Maeda was a classically trained Jiu-Jitsu student that had switched over to Kodokan Judo.  He was present when Mataemon Tanabe had defeated many members of the Kodokan (details in part 1), and was part of the movement to incorporate more groundwork (called newaza in Judo) into Judo.

Jigoro Kano had originally sent Maeda to America as a delegate of Kodokan Judo, and Maeda had fought challenge matches in 1904 on the East coast.  Maeda felt that America was unsuited to live because of the racism towards Asians.  How it would have changed history if he had stayed and developed American students!  Would what we train now have been called American Jiu-Jitsu?

Maeda went on to travel the world and have challenge matches, winning all but two.  And before World War 1, he ended up in Brazil as part of Japan’s overseas colonization.  When Maeda looked for land for which to house the Japanese colonists, he befriended Gastao Gracie, a Scotsman who had emigrated to Brazil and was involved in local politics, who helped Maeda.  Both men had an interest in fighting, and Maeda did many challenge matches in Brazil.

Maeda had become quite rich as a result of these challenge matches, and owned a lot of land.  And to show appreciation for Gastao Gracie’s help, he offered to teach his sons Jiu-Jitsu.

The Gracie’s sons trained with Maeda for somewhere between 2 to 4 years.  Maeda then moved to another part of Brazil.

Maeda’s Curriculum

Maeda was an interesting character.  He had fought all over the world in all types of matches: with the gi, no gi, with striking,  grappling only, and no rules matches.

What Maeda had taught to the Gracies was Jiu-Jitsu ground work, Judo throws (which came from classical Jiu-Jitsu), some catch wrestling he had learned in England, as well as Maeda’s own strategies for defeating strikers.

In 1925, Carlos Gracie opened his own Jiu-Jitsu school.  Similar to Jigoro Kano, Gracie had 4 years training (and possibly less), and was also in his early 20’s (Kano was 22 when he opened his school).

Carlos Gracie

Carlos Gracie

The Gracies began teaching full time and honed their art.  What gave them the most notoriety was their participation in public challenge matches.  They remained unbeaten, facing boxers, wrestlers, capoeristas, and other martial artists.

It is interesting to see that before the Gracies, Kano had became famous for beating classical Jiu-Jitsu fighters in challenge matches, and Fusen Ryu Jiu-Jitsu had gained influence through beating Judokas in challenge matches, as well as Yukio Tani and Maeda had gained a lot of exposure through challenge matches.

The Gracies continued to evolve their methods of combat through challenge matches.  They got rid of the goal of pinning that was prevalent in Judo and Wrestling, as pinning someone down doesn’t hurt or incapacitate an attacker.  They focused a lot on the guard, as when they faced larger attackers they often ended up on their back, and continued to seek better ways to gain dominant positions and submissions.

The Big Change in Judo

In 1925 Jigoro Kano implemented a  number of rules that prevented ground work from dominating Judo.  The Judo that was practiced from the late 1800s until 1925 was most ground grappling based.  He added several rules, such as not allowing Judokas to pull guard, and increased referee intervention that prevented the groundwork of Jiu-Jitsu from overshadowing the throws of Judo.  Kano wanted Judo to be in the Olympics, and he felt that the groundwork did not appeal to the crowd.

There was one style of Judo- Kosen Judo, that resisted these changes and remained ground grappling dominant.  Therefore the style that most represented pre-1925 Judo was Kosen Judo, which was the most similar to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.  This is where the rumors that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu came from Kosen Judo originate.

Besides Kosen Judo, Judo became detached from reality combat.  The rules were structured to produce spectacular crowd pleasing throws, which would end the match.

Sambo became the national grappling system of the Soviet Union, but because it was from a communist nation, Sambo never got much exposure in the West.

Professional Catch Wrestling, which utilizes throws and submission holds, was ultimately overtaken by fake professional wrestling with “worked” matches.

Amateur wrestling also used to have submission holds, but to make it safer those were eventually not allowed.

One of the few grappling systems that did not get watered down for combat effectiveness was the Jiu-Jitsu taught by Maeda to the Gracies that they continued to develop.

As I mentioned before, much of the information in this post is from the book mentioned above.  One thing not mentioned is that much of the philosophy and etiquette of Jiu-Jitsu was not carried on by the Gracies.  I don’t know if Maeda never taught them, or if the Gracies just didn’t practice it, but there is a huge difference in attitude and behavior between the average Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.

In the martial arts community, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners have one of the worst reputations for behavior.  BJJ practitioners are considered more fighters than martial artists by other martial artists.

In the average martial arts school, there is an atmosphere of respect, humility.  It may be there only on an etiquette level, and not in spirit, but there are some reminders of these higher qualities.  In many BJJ schools, there are very few rules of etiquette or behavior.

Many BJJ practitioners goals are to enter the MMA cage, or to win tournaments.  In most schools, there are not many checks and balances to ensure that the BJJ student has a good attitude.


Did Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu come from Judo?  A little yes and mostly no.  The techniques of Judo were actually taken from classical Jiu-Jitsu, so Judo came from Jiu-Jitsu, but the training method of live sparring was made popular by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo.

The other thing to take into consideration was that Fusen Ryu Jiu-Jitsu was already doing live sparring on the ground.  The practice of live sparring was not invented by Jigoro Kano, as it is a natural part of training.  But Kano made it’s practice popular.

It is interesting to note that when referring to Judo, you almost need to to clarify which Judo you are referring to.  The beginning of Judo was throwing based.  Then it heavily emphasized ground work.   But then Kano made Judo more throwing based again.

And to complicate the issue, Kosen Judo remained ground grappling based throughout it’s history.

A lot of what is called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is traced back to Maeda, who had Jiu-Jitsu and Judo training, and who created his own strategies for real situations.

But without Carlos Gracie, and his brothers, including Helio, we may not have the amazing art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu today.  They took what they learned and continue to evolve it.

I have heard many Judokas say “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is just Judo.  We have the triangle choke, it’s called sanken.”

But why do low rank  BJJ practitioners often beat Judo black belts on the ground?  It is not the same!  There are literally hundreds of techniques taught in BJJ schools that are not taught in Judo dojos.

To be fair, BJJ schools often train Judo to improve their throwing.  I am not saying that BJJ is better than Judo.  BJJ is better on the ground, and Judo is better standing.  And it is not to say that there are not Judo practitioners who can’t grapple on the ground.  But Judo does not delve into the groundwork nearly as deep as BJJ, as the rules of Judo tournaments  are designed to do.

For those of us who love Jiu-Jitsu, we owe a lot to the Gracies.  Whether you agree with everything they do and stand for, without their huge contribution to the martial arts,  many of our lives would be different.


6 Responses to “History of Jiu-Jitsu (Part 2), Maeda and the Gracies”

  1. Shawn says:

    You said – “For those of us who love Jiu-Jitsu, we owe a lot to the Gracies. Whether you agree with everything they do and stand for, without their huge contribution to the martial arts, many of our lives would be different.”

    That’s a big for sure. The Gracies pioneered bringing Jiu-Jitsu to the USA. When I first heard of Jiu-Jitsu and wanted to train… I had 4 options.

    1 – go to Torrence, CA and train with Royce and Rorion Gracie
    2 – go to New Jersey/New York and Train with Renzo Gracie
    3 – go to Hawaii and train with Relson Gracie
    4 – go to Brazil and train with the Gracies

    So I did what any intelligent person would do… I went to Hawaii

    As for the Judo or Jiu-Jitsu, I remember being challenged back in the beginning days by many Judo practitioners saying that Jiu-Jitsu was just Judo. Yet, they didn’t train 95% of the techniques I was learning and as Blue Belts, we were tapping out many Black Belts on down with chokes and armlocks that they had never seen.

    Personally I think the History is fascinating… Thank You for sharing this.

  2. Ryan says:

    Thanks Shawn King!

  3. David says:

    After I left Brazil to come to the United States for college, I believed that I would never find a school that valued the full spectrum of the history and art of Jiu-jitsu. Keep it coming!

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  5. Adrian says:

    Nicely written article. But I think it should be clarified the lack of ground techniques taught in Judo schools may relate more to tournament based judo schools, and perhaps even more so it is a USA Judo phenomenon. In many Dojo outside the USA Ne Waza is still taught comprehensively. Of course the detail is not as much as in Jiu Jitsu as the emphasis is different.

  6. jeff says:

    HOW can I say this without offending any one ?I have met many fine people in both judo and jiu .jitsu.I tried both judo and jiu jitsu mastered neither. when I was on the ground with experienced judo players I was ok when I switched to jiu jitsu I was surprised how fast I was being tapped

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