A Brief History of MMA – From Judo to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Gracie Kimura Poster jpegStarting in the early twentieth century, mixed martial arts events were held in Brazil, referred to as vale tudo competitions. These events permitted all standing and ground techniques just like the ancient pancratium did. This competitive environment attracted the attention of some Brazilian Judo schools, which began to adapt Judo to this kind of “anything goes” event. Judo began in Japan in the late nineteenth century as a form of full-contact grappling wearing garments that represent street wear, called judogis, in order to replicate real-world fighting conditions, which typically involved clothed individuals.


Judo combined the fighting specialties of several very old fighting traditions into one all-inclusive grappling sport. Much like other forms of wrestling, and for the same combative reasons, judo aims to throw to the back, pin, or submit an opponent. The separate origins of the two major parts of Judo are still visible today, as throwing and ground grappling are normally practiced distinctly from one another and are kept as two exclusive forms of sparring, known as standing randori and newaza randori, or more commonly simply as randori and newaza, respectively. In addition, the weapon self-defense and striking techniques are kept quite apart from these two major parts.

The Brazilian stylists began to develop a fighting doctrine based on the vale tudo rules, where knocking the opponent out or making the opponent submit in a one-on-one fight is paramount. Thus, the throws and pins, which are dominant but not final actions in and of themselves in a full-out fight, were reduced in value from match-enders to point-scorers. The real challenge became achieving the submission, while winning on points from the throws and pins was a secondary objective.

The rules of Judo were also altered to promote a strategy centered on gaining the submission by progressing through several positions toward maximum control of the opponent. Thus, the ideal progression is to take down the adversary with a throw; pass the guard; establish a side control such as a side mount, scarf hold, or knee on belly pin; and from there achieve full mount. From this pin the opponent can be punched at will, mercilessly, with both hands and submitted with a vast array of locks and chokes. If the adversary turns over to his belly to escape the blows and submission attempts, one is then able to take his back by wrapping the heels tightly into the inner thigh area by the groin and snaking the arms around the neck for a choke hold. Taking the back in this way became a point-scoring move in these new rules. It is then possible to stretch the opponent’s body out by pressing in with the hips and pulling back with the arms and legs, making the opponent totally helpless to strangulation.

This Brazilian form of Judo has become known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and is a unique example of a grappling art whose rules were designed expressly for the mixed martial arts arena. There are two subdivisions of the sport, one that continues to use the judogi, also called a kimono, as an approximation of street clothing better adapted for self-defense training purposes, and another more specific to mixed martial arts that is done without the judogi, often called submission grappling, no gi grappling, or just grappling. Since the gi has been proven a liability rather than a help in MMA combat, training without it more directly prepares one for the kind of grappling situation to be expected in the mixed martial arts ring.

Judo as a sporting form of self-defense training has evolved somewhat in the opposite direction in favor of dominating in the clinch position through throws. For MMA, judo throws are adapted to no gi wrestling grips. Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling have always been seen as the no gi counterparts to Judo, so the creation of a specifically no gi variant of judo was not necessary.

While it is an oversimplification, it can be helpful when thinking of mixed martial arts to think of its techniques as encompassing all those found in boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, and grappling. By no means are these the only sources for MMA competitors developing skills and tactics for the arena, but these are the most time-tested full-contact combat sports, including of course their many modern derivatives as legitimate subdivisions. Combining all these seemingly distinct sets of skills into one art is what makes mixed martial arts such a challenging field of endeavor, but also so interesting.


30 day button red squareCome down to Arashi Do Edmonton North and try out one of our great Brazilian programs like Fundamental BJJ, Women’s Only BJJ or Children’s BJJ for ages 4-7 and 8-14.  All those and you get a 30 DAY FREE TRIAL!  What are you waiting for?  Call or text us at 780-220-5425 or email us at myackulic@ArashiDo.com


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