Brazilian Martial Arts

It seems the only thing that is certain is change, and martial arts aren’t any different. Sure there are styles and techniques being taught in schools today all over the world that have been around for decades if not centuries, but there are times when some systems become more popular than others. Right now Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is enjoying great popularity largely thanks to the popularity of mixed martial arts fighting competitions in the United States and other countries. Though the combat sport is popular many people don’t realize that BJJ isn’t Brazil’s only contribution to combat sport.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is probably Brazil’s best known sport and rivals soccer in popularity there. The style traces its origins back to Mitsuyo Maeda a Japanese Judo practitioner who was traveling the world to promote cultural understanding and he did so by teaching Judo. Not long after arriving in Brazil in 1914 Maeda put on a martial arts expedition where he took on Brazilian boxers and wrestlers and defeated every competitor easily. Among those watching were members of the Gracie family who weren’t satisfied to just watch the competition, they wanted to learn the new style.

Carlos Gracie and his brothers began training with Maeda in Rio de Janeiro, but the youngest of them Hélio would become know as the sport’s founder. Though originally developed for self defense the sport aspects took over as the style grew in popularity. Judo remains popular in Brazil today, and Hélio’s one loss was Masahiko Kimura a Japanese Judoka who broke Gracie’s arm with an arm lock. The move is now called a Kimura in honor of the fighter and is often used in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) matches.

While the Gracie family was developing their style Capoeira which was brought to Brazil in the 16th century by African slaves was already well established in the country.

The style looks more like a dance, but that only hid sweeps, kicks and head butts as well as other strikes. It takes a lot of athleticism and skill to perform the dance moves and acrobatics, and at one time the Brazilian government outlawed the practice. Today though the style that combines martial arts, dance, and music is still popular and is considered part of Brazil’s cultural heritage.

Regards of what style you do practice in Brazil the place where the toughest fighters compete is in a Vale tudo match. Vale tudo which is Portuguese for “anything goes” is the Brazilian predecessor to mixed martial arts, but there aren’t any rules to stop fighters from ripping each other apart. In the early part of the 20th century these matches went on in Brazil at fairs and circuses and any style of martial arts could be used in a fight. In order to compete in these competitions Luta Livre a freestyle form of wrestling was developed around the same time as BJJ and includes both submissions and strikes.

If you want to get a handle on the martial arts scene today you can look to Brazil and see where many of today’s popular trends originated. The martial artists of Brazil have done a lot to advance combat sports and how competitions are run today, and they should be respected for their contribution. The signs might have change on the walls of the martial arts schools, but what is being taught hasn’t really changed all that much.

Travis S. Lutter is an American mixed martial artist who won the The Ultimate Fighter 4 reality show. His UFC record, not including his exhibition wins on The Ultimate Fighter 4, is 2–4. He is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Carlos Machado.

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