What Is Gracie Jiu-Jitsu?

In a nutshell:  Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is a ground-based system of self-defense. The primary objective is to take your opponent to the ground, establish a dominant position, then force them to submit by utilizing a choke or joint-lock.

A little more detail:  While jiu-jitsu is a form of wrestling, it is unique for primarily two reasons:

  1. It relies entirely on achieving the mechanical advantage. That means instead of using physical attributes (like speed, strength and flexibility), it utilizes mechanical attributes (like leverage, timing, weight distribution, etc).
  2. It enables the practitioner to not only defend, but if need be to also attack while lying on their back.

For these reasons, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu enable a smaller and weaker person to defend themselves against a much larger and stronger person.


  • Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is the single most effective form of unarmed self-defense the world has ever known!
  • The "Gracie Family" invented the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) in 1993 to showcase the effectiveness of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to the world. As a result, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu revolutionized the martial arts community!
  • The United States Army teaches the Gracie Combatives program to all soldiers.
  • The kids "anti-bullying" program, Gracie BullyProof, is nationally recognized and has been featured on CNNABCNBC and Oprah.

Short History:

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was originally derived from Japanese Judo (also referred to as, Kano Jujutsu). Carlos Gracie originally learned from Mitsuyo Maeda, then Helio Gracie learned from watching his older brother, Carlos. Since Helio was so small and weak, he was not able to effectively perform some of the techniques on larger/stronger people. As such, Helio modified the techniques to use mechanical attributes (like leverage, timing, weight distribution, etc), rather than physical attributes (like speed, strength and flexibility). Over time, Helio changed the techniques so much that it became a unique style: "Gracie Jiu-Jitsu"

Long History:

At a very young age, Helio Gracie learned traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu techniques from his older brother, Carlos. In the late 1920s, he began to modify these techniques to accommodate his frail physique with the objective of developing a system that would enable him to defend himself against larger opponents. After years of refinement, he proved his art’s effectiveness by routinely defeating larger and stronger opponents, some of whom outweighed him by as much as 100 pounds. As a result, Helio’s techniques quickly became the new expression of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil and set the stage for a worldwide revolution in martial arts.

In 1967, under Grand Master Helio Gracie’s guidance, jiu-jitsu practitioners established the first Federation of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil to host recreational competitions in which they could test their self-defense skills in a safe setting. An unintended by-product of this development was a shift from jiu-jitsu for self-defense purposes to sport-focused techniques and applications. The excitement and fun of competition, coupled with the prestige that accompanied tournament victories, drove the vast majority of jiu-jitsu instructors to focus entirely on preparing their students for tournaments. They dedicated their training sessions to developing techniques that would lead to victory based on the point system, rules, and weight classes that governed sport jiu-jitsu. Unfortunately, the tournament epidemic had dire consequences. It undermined the art’s effectiveness because most sport jiu-jitsu techniques had little or no applicability in a real fight. Worse, by perfecting the sport techniques, a student often developed reflexes that could be disastrously counter-productive in a street self-defense situation. Unwilling to compromise on the foundational principles of his art, Helio resigned from the Federation.

In 1978, Rorion Gracie, Helio’s eldest son, left Brazil and came to the United States to share his father’s techniques with the rest of the world. Upon his arrival, he immediately noticed that most Americans had no appreciation for jiu-jitsu’s effectiveness. Even those with knowledge of martial arts confused his family’s system with the traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu that had been in America since the 1950s. In order to emphasize the distinction between the two disciplines, Rorion trademarked the name “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.”

Rorion spent several years teaching out of his garage while leading a one-man campaign to open the eyes of American martial artists to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu’s simplicity and effectiveness and concluded that, despite his tireless and constant efforts, he needed a more powerful and visible way to demonstrate the superiority of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu over all other martial arts. To accomplish this, he created the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). This pay-per-view television spectacle shocked the martial arts world as his brother Royce used the simple techniques of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to repeatedly defeat larger, more athletic opponents armed with a wide variety of martial arts skills.

The success of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in the UFC spurred many sport jiu-jitsu practitioners to leave Brazil in order to capitalize on the increased demand for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu instruction. Due to legal restrictions on the use of the trademarked name “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu,” these instructors began using the name “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” as an alternative.

The influx of sport jiu-jitsu instructors, many of whom were members of the very large extended Gracie family, led to the establishment of numerous jiu-jitsu schools all across the United States. Nearly all of these schools claimed to teach the same jiu-jitsu that Grand Master Helio Gracie had created and Royce employed in the UFC. In fact, most of them were teaching a version of the art modified specifically for sport competition. Students hoping to acquire the realistic self-defense skills they saw in the UFC flocked to these schools and often trained for several years before they came to the disappointing realization that what they were learning had very limited street applicability.

The worldwide demand for Gracie or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instruction continues to grow at a phenomenal rate – without regulation. As a result, many jiu-jitsu practitioners with widely varying skill levels have opened schools to capitalize on this demand. At best, these self-proclaimed instructors are competent sport jiu-jitsu practitioners. At worst, they are marginally skilled, lack depth of knowledge, or are simply poor instructors. To counter this disturbing trend, the Gracie Academy has launched the Global Training Program aimed at perpetuating the techniques and principles of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in their purest form – as a method of self-defense.