The birth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu goes way back to Jigoro Kano’s Kano Jiu Jitsu in Japan. However, pivotal to the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu known today comes from the decision of Gracies to transfer to the US. However, it wasn’t just in the 80s when Gracie’s brand of grappling entered the US soil and eventually around the world.
Rorion Visiting the US
Rorion played a pivotal role in the birth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in modern times. He is also responsible for bringing BJJ in the US. Rorion is the eldest son of Helio Gracie, the man who was responsible for BJJ as we know it today. Rorion Gracie trained extensively with both his father and his cousin Rolls Gracie. By age 17, he was already teaching private classes in Helio’s academy. With stories by Rolls of the US, he was intrigued of what the US has to offer. He decided to visit his mother in New York. His first visit to the US was in 1969.
It wasn’t a smooth trip for Rorion. In fact, he ended up losing his plane ticket at a YMCA hotel. Though he was able to reimburse some money, they weren’t able to reimburse his plane ticket. And for Rorion to have a new ticket, he needs to wait another six months in order for the airline to know that the claim wasn’t a scam.
Rorion ended up staying in America for the next six months. From here, Rorion trained in a judo club at the YMCA and ended up building a connection with the instructor. He ended up with a job at a White Castle cooking burgers. From here, he later went to Southern California before going back to Brazil. This year-long adventure for the young Rorion made him decide to bring the entire Gracie Family to the US along with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Returning to the US in the 80s: The birth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in The United States
Rorion was able to finish a law degree in the 70s and decided to come back to the US in 1978. With the contacts that he made during his first visit, Rorion began working as an extra in different TV shows. He also offered free BJJ lessons.
From a small garage, the students grew in number and Rorion was able to set up a Gracie academy in the US. Though they were able to build a thriving gym, BJJ was still struggling to gain recognition in the US mainly because of the popularity of Bruce Lee movies that has put emphasis on flashy striking.
Gracie Challenge and the Birth of the UFC
Rorion began issuing Gracie Challenge and letting them agree that the fights are going to be videotaped and will be given cash if they can win the match. These Gracie Challenges became popular to the point where students are also taking out challenges. These videos were used to counter the belief that grappling martial art is inferior to striking.
Though it has given a jiujitsu a good reputation, it was during the first UFC that made a positive change for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Rorion along with other members of the Gracie family chose Royce Gracie over Rickson Gracie to represent Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on November 12, 1993. Unlike Rickson, Royce was much smaller and scrawnier. And it would be enough to prove a point that BJJ is an effective martial art. This would be the first large stage demonstration of BJJ and the Birth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in The United States.
Royce Gracie was able to beat Ken Shamrock during the finals. Both Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock reaching the finals was a testament to the effectiveness of grappling. And with Royce’s victory, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was able to hit the mainstream. In the next decades, BJJ MMA and UFC have all become household names.
Today, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has grown in popularity and has become a sport. The sport has received such positive recognition in the US that many US practitioners have related BJJ to a human game of chess. Its level of strategy with alethic attributes makes the sport a true competition of mind, body, and spirit. There are even organizations that are lobbying towards the inclusion of BJJ in the Olympics.