This history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was taken from bjj.org. We hope this helps you learn more about this art. It is the absolute pinnacle of the martial arts world. In the mid- 1800's in Japan, there were a large number of styles ("ryu") of jiu-jitsu (occasionally spelled: "jujitsu"). Techniques varied between ryu, but generally included all manner of unarmed combat (strikes, throws, locks, chokes, wrestling, etc.) and occasionally some weapons training.
One young but skilled master of a number of jiu-jitsu styles, Jigoro Kano, founded his own ryu and created the martial art Judo (aka Kano-ryu jiu-jitsu) in the 1880's. One of Kano's primary insights was to include full-power practice against resisting and competent opponents rather than solely rely on the partner practice that was much more common at the time.
One of Kano's students was Mitsuo Maeda, who was also known as Count Koma ("Count of Combat"). Maeda immigrated to Brazil in 1914. He was helped a great deal by the Brazilian politician Gastao Gracie. His father George Gracie had immigrated to Brazil himself from Scotland. In gratitude for the assistance, Maeda taught jiu-jitsu to Gastao's son Carlos Gracie. Carlos in turn taught his brothers Osvaldo, Gastao Jr., Jorge, and Helio.
In 1925, Carlos and his brothers opened their first jiu-jitsu academy, and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was born in Brazil. At this point, the base of techniques in BJJ was similar to those in Kano's Judo academy in Japan. As the years progressed, the brothers (notably Carlos and Helio) and their students refined their art via brutal no rules fights both in public challenges and on the street. Particularly notable was their willingness to fight outside of weight categories, permitting a skilled small fighter to attempt to defeat a much larger opponent. They began to concentrate more and more on submission ground fighting, especially utilizing the guard position. This allowed a weaker man to defend against a stronger one, bide his time, and eventually emerge victorious.
In the 1970's, the undisputed jiu-jitsu champion in Brazil was Rolls Gracie. He had taken the techniques of jiu-jitsu to a new level. Although he was not a large man, his ability to apply leverage using all of his limbs was unprecedented. At this time the techniques of the open guard and its variants (spider guard, butterfly guard) became a part of BJJ. Rolls also developed the first point system for jiu-jitsu only competition. The competitions required wearing a gi, awarded points (but not total victories) for throws and takedowns, and awarded other points for achieving different ground positions (such as passing an opponent's guard).
After Rolls' death in a hang-gliding accident, Rickson Gracie became the undisputed champion, a legend throughout Brazil and much of the world. He has been the exemplar of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique for the last two decades.
Jiu-jitsu techniques have continued to evolve as the art is constantly tested in both in sport and self-defense applications.
In the early 1990's, Rorion Gracie moved from Brazil to Los Angeles. He wished to show the world how well the Gracie art of jiu-jitsu worked. In Brazil, no-rules Mixed Martial Art (MMA) contests (known as "vale tudo") had been popular since Carlos Gracie first opened his academy in 1925. In the world at large, however, most martial arts competitions were internal to a single style, using the specialized rules of that style's practice.
Rorion and Art Davie conceived of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. This was a series of pay-per-view television events in the United States that began in 1993. They pitted experts of different martial arts styles against each other in an environment with very few rules, in an attempt to see what techniques "really worked" when put under pressure. Rorion also entered his brother Royce Gracie, an expert in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as one of the contestants.
Royce dominated the first years of the UFC against all comers, amassing eleven victories with no fighting losses. At one event he defeated four different fighters in one night. This, from a fighter that was smaller than most of the others (at 170 lbs, in an event with no weight classes), looked thin and scrawny, and used techniques that most observers, even experienced martial artists, didn't understand.
In hindsight, much of Royce's success was due to the fact that he understood very well (and had trained to defend against) the techniques that his opponents would use, whereas they often had no idea what he was doing to them. In addition, the ground fighting strategy and techniques of BJJ are among the most sophisticated in the world.
Besides the immediate impact of an explosion of interest in BJJ across the world (particularly in the US and Japan), the lasting impact of Royce's early UFC dominance is that almost every successful MMA fighter now includes BJJ as a significant portion of their training.