The “which is better, Brazilian jiu-jitsu or judo?” discussion has been going on for some time and by now, most people who train in either see it as a silly question. If you ignore one or the other, there’s a massive hole in your game. Period. BJJ and judo came from the same roots and are so closely related that they’re almost the same thing (but not quite). In fact, aside from a subtle difference, judo and jiu-jitsu have the same name.
The short story is that Brazilian jiu-jitsu came from judo, which came from traditional Japanese jujutsu. For the long story, most aspects of the history of judo can be found at the Judo Information Site. The Gracie Academy does a nice job of outlining their family’s side of Brazilian jiu-jitsu history. Renzo Gracie and John Danaher’s book Mastering Jujitsu has one of the most extensively researched sections on the history of grappling (from ancient Japan to 21st-century MMA) that I’ve ever seen. Also interesting is T.P. Grant’s Bloody Elbow article “History of Jiu Jitsu: Oswaldo Fadda, Nova Uniao and Non-Gracie Jiu-Jitsu“. The Jiu-Jitsu Vortex is giving a middle-of-the-road, quick-skim version.
Bujutsu = Martial Arts
We’ll start back in medieval Japan, where the term bujutsu (bu = martial, jutsu = art) covered all the fighting arts, which were subdivided by weapon. The Japanese word for sword is “ken”, so swordsmanship was kenjutsu. Likewise, archery was known as “kyujutsu”, spear fighting as “sojutsu”, etc. Hand-to-hand combat was known as jujutsu, the prefix “ju” translating to “soft, pliable, or yielding”.
Budo = Martial Ways
At some point along the road, masters of the various bujutsu recognized that internalizing the martial arts required intense mental discipline and that, in addition to teaching how to kill, the martial arts had much to offer in the realm of personal development. To harness this mental and meditative aspects of the martial arts, some masters began creating “budo”, or “martial ways”, which took the emphasis off of the combative aspects of the bujutsu, opting rather to use martial techniques as a path to perfection of the self. To borrow terminology from martial arts historian extraordinaire Donn F. Draeger:
- The bujutsu (martial arts) = self protection
- The budo (martial ways) = self perfection
Jujutsu Becomes Judo
How does this apply this to the history of judo and jiu-jitsu? Enter Jigoro Kano, a student of Kito Ryu and Tenshin-shinyo Ryu jujutsu in the late 1800s. Kano was a small man, so he spent a lot of time isolating the principles behind the techniques and adapting them to reduce the reliance on strength. He began to create his own fighting system by applying these principles to all of his favourite of Kito ryu and Tenshin-shinyo ryu jujutsu techniques.
Kano’s goal was to teach his system with more of a budo than a bujutsu approach by emphasizing physical education and personal development, so he decided to call his art judo to differentiate it from the traditional jujutsu schools. His underlying philosophy is encapsulated in judo’s principles of:
- Jita Kyoei – “mutual welfare and benefit”
- Seiroku Zenyo – “maximum efficiency”
In 1882, Kano started teaching judo at his own school, which he called the Kodokan (“place for studying the way”), and proved judo’s effectiveness by taking his students to compete against the jujutsu schools. There was one tournament in particular at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Station (anywhere between 1883 or 1886, depending who you ask), wherein Kano’s best students won against the Totsuka-ha Yoshin-ryu jujutsu masters to cement judo’s place in martial history.
Fusen Ryu Jujutsu Shows Kano the Importance of Newaza
It’s important to note that Kano had emphasized nagewaza (throws) up to this point. In fact, the famous tournament mentioned above was decided by throws. This sets the stage for a piece of judo’s evolution that is often glossed over: shortly after the Tokyo Police tournament Kano’s Kodokan were demolished in competition by Matataemon Tanabe and his Fusen Ryu Jujutsu students. Historical accounts state that nearly every match was won by submission after ground fighting. It’s even suggested that many of the Fusen Ryu fighters started sitting down (stop blaming guard pulling on the IBJJF rules). Seeing the gaping hole in his Kodokan Judo, Kano increased judo’s emphasis on newaza (ground fighting). One of his students around this time was named Mitsuyo Maeda (aka Count Koma)
Judo Becomes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Now we’re in the early 1900s and have skipped across the ocean to Brazil, where judo expert Mitsuyo Maeda was part of a Japanese immigration colony. A man named Gastao Gracie helped Maeda establish himself and to show his gratitude, Maeda taught judo to Carlos Gracie, Gastao’s oldest son, who then passed his knowledge to his four brothers. The youngest, Helio, was a small guy so he had to emphasize proper technique to be effective against bigger opponents (sound familiar?)… and this was the beginning of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Helio’s skills with judo / Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques grew to the point that he became a formidable fighter and national sports hero, fighting in and winning a series of high-profile matches, including two against international wrestling champs Wladek Zbysko and Fred Ebert. Helio’s three most famous fights were:
- A victory over Japanese judo champion, Kato
- A loss by kimura shoulder lock to legend Masahiko Kimura, Kato’s instructor
- Against Waldemar Santana, which he lost after three hours and forty minutes when Carlos threw in the towel
Helio Gracie had established Brazilian jiu-jitsu’s place in martial arts history. Over the coming decades, the word of BJJ spread across the world via his sons, particularly Rorion, who moved to the US and went on to create the Ultimate Fighting Championship. To showcase the effectiveness of BJJ, Rorion entered Royce, his younger, smaller brother, in the first UFC tournament on November 12, 1993. And we all know what happened next….
- Gracie, Helio. Gracie Jiu-jitsu Master Text. Gracie Publications, Inc. 2005.
- Gracie, Renzo and John Danaher. Mastering Jujitsu. Human Kinetics. 2003
- Kano, Jigoro. “Jujutsu Becomes Judo”. From the Judo Information Site. [http://judoinfo.com/new/alphabetical-list/judo-history/125-jujutsu-becomes-judo]
- Kano, Jigoro. Kodokan Judo: The Essential Guide to Judo by Its Founder Jigoro Kano. Kodansha International. 1986.
- Muromoto, Wayne. “Judo’s Decisive Battle”, Furyu: The Budo Journal, Issue #3, Winter 1994-95.
- Rasmussen, Phil. “The History of Judo”. From the Judo Information Site. [http://judoinfo.com/new/alphabetical-list/judo-history/130-history-of-judo-by-phil-rasmussen]