According to Dr. Helcio Leal Binda (Ex-Vice President of Federação de Jiu-Jitsu of Rio de Janeiro), the origin of Jiu Jitsu is undeniably India. Buddhist monks were creators of complete forms of personal defense.
“Buddhist monks were the creators of the most complete form of personal defense of all times, which was jiu-jitsu, the father of all fights. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the origins of Buddhism in order to understand the formation of what in later centuries was called by the Japanese as "The Art Suave", or the technique of self-defense, such that with a minimum of force, without the need for brute force, a weaker defender can defeat a physically much stronger adversary."
The philosophy of Zen, which arose in Buddhism, without a doubt, is a trace left by the old Buddhist sects that knew jiu-jitsu.”
“Introduction of Jiu-Jitsu into Brazil"
In 1914, a world champion of jiu-jitsu, Kosei Maeda, known as Conde Koma, who won great victories all over the world against every style of fighting, arrived in Brazil. In Belém do Pará, Koma taught the real jiu-jitsu to his diligent student, Carlos Gracie, who moved to Rio in 1920 with his brothers, of whom he was the uncontested leader, and established the first academy of jiu-jitsu, at Rua Marquês de Abrantes, Praia do Flamengo.”
Before the early 1990's and the explosion of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) on the international stage, the other grappling sensation emerging from Brazil was Luta Livre. Like BJJ, Luta Livre was a grappling art with an objective of getting an opponent to the ground, and applying the threat of joint destruction or strangulation to end a dangerous situation. This outcome is the result of making an opponent realized he/she is trapped, and therefore surrender before serious damage is done. While both these systems are similar in their aim of using submission holds to subdue opponents, their philosophies differed greatly, due to inherited perspectives from their respective predecessors. BJJ originated from Japanese Judo, which teaches that with leverage and proper technique, a smaller and weaker person can overcome a stronger, larger one.
Luta Livre on the other hand being predominately an offshoot of catch wrestling, teaches that strength and timing is inevitably what ‘catches’ any opportunity to win.
With the early Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners, finding that the moves in Judo still slightly favored the stronger and larger fighter, emphasis was placed on fighting on the ground from one’s back. From this position, a BJJ practitioner could set up a ‘guard’ - a place wherein someone on their back could wrap their legs around an opponent’s upper body, or use the legs to keep the opponent away, protecting one's owm body - in order to limit and control an adversary's movement. Demonstrated here is the contemporary evolution of BJJ. The evolution unearthed meticulous, logical strategies where a practitioner would take an opponent to the ground, and bypass the ‘guard’, taking the legs out of the equation, and moving to either side control (a position across an opponents’ chest), or the mount position (sitting on an opponents chest). Both positions - defending with the guard, and getting 'passed' the guard - became opportunities to patiently control an opponent, and set up submission holds. Whereas BJJ utilizes a more patient, neutralizing approach to submissions, Luta Livre emphasizes very quick, non-strategic attack, using strength and technique - takedowns, takedown defense, and basic ground control in order to catch an opponent off guard. The goal with Luta Livra is to achieve a submission hold as quickly as possible.
While these arts have very similar, yet distinctive characteristics and philosophies, most people separate them into two categories, Gi and No-Gi. Those who fought in the style of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu did so with the use of the Japanese kimono otherwise known as a Gi. Those who practiced the Brazilian Luta Livre participated without the Gi. Nonetheless, most people incorrectly attribute the rivalry between these two Brazilian martial arts to the usage or non-usage of a Gi. In fact, the rivalry was largely due to ‘Vale Tudo’ (No holds barred) competitions that sprung up in the mid 1900s in Brazil. Both arts (along with other styles) were of differing training pedagogies and competed in these events with great success; together, eventually realizing that only one another was their only real opposition. The quest for preeminence was on.
The rivalry grew, and boiled over when students from both arts would frequently engage in street fights and ‘dojo storms’. A dojo storm is where, in order to settle a dispute, a particular school’s students would violently invade another school, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. In any regard, the attempt to finally answer the question of dominance came down to effective technique, leverage and strategy vs. strength and timing. In the end, BJJ with effective technique, leverage and strategy proved victorious by defeating most Luta Livre fighters. We will revisit this in a moment.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, trying to prove itself on a larger stage, went on to orchestrate and compete in a no holds barred competition in North America, now known as the “Ultimate Fighting Championships” (UFC). The question poised was which style of martial art was in reality effective in realistic live combat; and of the one’s that proved legitimate, which was best. It was through very easily and unanimously defeating many traditional styles of martial arts that BJJ left the fighting world in awe, and gained international recognition.
However, after the early years of the UFC, the gi was no longer allowed in North American Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competitions. BJJ world champions began to struggle against an aggressive ‘ground & pound’ style of MMA developed by practitioners with strong wrestling backgrounds. It was soon to develop that Muay Thai and kickboxing strikers with strong wrestling backgrounds proved to be extremely difficult for the Brazilian fighters. It evolved that fighters began cross training in BJJ, wrestling (practiced without a Gi), and other martial arts, such as Muay Thai and boxing, in order to form a well rounded fighting discipline. It become orthodoxy to take the most effective techniques from the foregoing arts in order to form a complete, effective, but most importantly, reliable fighting system. The UFC evolved, grew and expanded, as well incorporating new rules, such as no hair pulling, eye gouging or head butting, etc., and requiring all fighters to wear MMA gloves, and to fight in shorts. The traditional game of BJJ in the Gi was thus no longer allowed in North American MMA fighting events.
Many Americans, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts, notably Chris Brennan, Jake Shields, and Eddie Bravo, only to name a few, would refine BJJ to make it more suitable for MMA. According to Brennan, Bravo, and various other Gi practitioners, including ADCC stand out Leo Santos, the learnt techniques of Gi training, which required use of an opponent’s or one’s own clothing, would prove problematic. According to Leo Santos, for example, required was an unlearning of various muscle memory impulses that depended on the manipulation of worn material.
The North American No Gi pioneers mentioned above would incorporate the No Gi effectiveness of Luta Livre, and combine it with the ideas of patients, position and strategy of Gi based Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. A new style was born!
No-Gi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu developed. This would create a suitable, effective style for MMA. The muscle memory developed from training in this new style would never require a readjustment from one that is dependent on an opponent’s attire. The above mentioned pioneers of No Gi training felt that there was no point in training with a Gi if you were not allowed to use it in MMA competitions, as they wanted to create muscle memory impulses that would never require relearning or readjusting. Under hooks, over hooks, clinching and squeezing replaced gripping at sleeves and collars. The new approach is universal for all sport, MMA, and self-defense applications. However, different from Luta Livre, No Gi training owes its foundation to its roots of BJJ and traditional Judo where leverage and technique are key.