The history of modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu begins with Mitsuyo Maeda, a prominent Japanese Judoka and member of the Kodokan.
Maeda was one of several judoka (Maeda, Satake, Okura, Shimitsu, and Laku) sent by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, to demonstrate Judo around the world, including the United States, Europe and South America. Although Maeda is usually the focus of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s early history (because he taught Carlos Gracie), it must be noted that Soshihiro Satake was the first Japanese to open a Judo/Jiu Jitsu academy in Brazil.
In any event, Maeda is said to have fought over 2,000 matches in his career, many unrecorded. He traveled throughout the Americas and Europe. Because Maeda was only 5’4″, his opponents were usually far larger than he was. Notably, Maeda was not undefeated. He lost two matches in the catch-as-catch-can world championships held in London, where Maeda entered both the middleweight and heaveyweight divisions, advancing to the semi-finals and finals respectively. In matches where judo gis were worn, however, Maeda was undefeated.
In 1914, Maeda traveled to Brazil for the first time and for the next seven years he would constantly be visiting the South American nation fighting challenge matches. In 1921 Maeda opened his own Judo academy in Brazil, which still exists today. Two of his most famous students were Carlos Gracie (Helio Gracie’s older brother) and Luiz França Filho, who began his training in Manaus with Satake. Maeda taught the training methods of Kodokan Judo, with its emphasis of live randori (sparring) and newaza (groundfighting), as well as classical submission holds that were not part of the traditional Judo curriculum. In addition, photographs suggest that Maeda also taught catch wrestling techniques, which he undoubtedly learned and absorbed from his extensive fighting career abroad.
Carlos Gracie took his first lessons in what Maeda then called “Kano Jiu Jistu” at age 14. Although it is unclear how long Carlos actually trained with Maeda (probably less than 4 years), Carlos opened the first Gracie-owned Jiu Jitsu academy in Rio with his first students being his younger brothers: Oswaldo, Gastao, George and Helio Gracie.
The Gracie’s primary innovation to what they learned from Maeda seems to have been their focus on the Newaza (groundfighting) aspect of Judo and development of the dō-osae or trunk position, which became what is today known as the guard.