Some historians of jiu jitsu say that the origins of "the gentle art" can be traced back to India, and was practiced by Buddhist Monks. Concerned with self-defense, these monks created techniques based upon principles of balance and leverage, and a system of manipulating the body in a manner where one could avoid relying upon strength or weapons. With the expansion of buddhism, jiu jitsu spread from southeast Asia to China, finally arriving in Japan where it developed and gained further popularity.
In the last days of the 19th century, some jiu jitsu masters emigrated from Japan to other continents, teaching the martial arts, as well as competing in fights and competitions.
Esai Maeda Koma, also known as "Conde Koma," was one such master. After traveling with a troupe which fought in various countries in Europe and the Americas, Koma arrived in Brazil in 1915, and settled in Belem do Para the next year, where he met a man named Gastao Gracie.
The father of eight children, among them five boys and three girls, Gastao became a
Jiu Jitsu enthusiast and brought his oldest son, Carlos, to learn to fight from the Japanese master.
For a naturally frail fifteen-year old Carlos Gracie, jiu jitsu became a method not simply for fighting, but for personal improvement. At nineteen, he moved to Rio de Janeiro with his family and began teaching and competing in martial arts. In his travels, Carlos would teach classes, and also proved the efficiency of the art by beating adversaries in competitions who were more physically strong. In 1925, he returned to Rio and opened the first school, known as the "Academia Gracie de Jiu Jitsu."
Since then, Carlos started to share his knowledge with his brothers, adapting and refining the techniques to the naturally weaker characteristics of his family. Also, Carlos taught them his philosophies of life as well as his concepts of natural nutrition. Eventually, Carlos became a pioneer in creating a special diet for athletes, "the Gracie diet," which transformed jiu jitsu into a term synonymous with health.
Having created an efficient self defense system, Carlos Gracie saw in the art a way to become a man who was more tolerant, respectful, and self-confident. With a goal of proving jiu jitsu's superiority as well as to build a family tradition, Carlos challenged the greatest fighters of his time, as well as managing the fighting careers of his brothers. Fighting opponents fifty or sixty pounds heavier, the Gracies quickly gained recognition and prestige.
Attracted to the new market which was opened around jiu jitsu, many Japanese practitioners came to Rio, but none were able to establish schools as successful as the Gracies. This was due to the fact that the Japanese stylists were more focused on takedowns and throws, and the Gracies practiced had more sophisticated groundfighting and submission techniques. Carlos and his brothers changed the techniques in such a way that it completely altered the complexion of the international jiu jitsu principles. These techniques were so distinctive to Carlos and his brothers that the sport became attached to a national identity, and is now commonly known as "Brazilian Jiu Jitsu," practiced by artists all over the world, including Japan. With the creation of a official body overseeing the administration of the sport, the rules and the ranking system started the era of sport jiu jitsu competitions. Today, jiu jitsu is much more organized, with an International and National Federation, founded by Carlos Gracie Jr. Through his work with the Confederation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Carlos Gracie Jr. contributed to the growth of the sport by holding some of the first organized competitions. Currently, the Confederation holds competitions in Brazil, the United States, Europe, and Asia, realizing Carlos' original dream to spread jiu jitsu around the world.