Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or BJJ, has gained quite a following since its inception more than a century ago. The philosophy and techniques of the martial arts have mostly appealed to non-athletic and non-muscular people as they learn how to defend themselves against bigger, stronger, and heavier opponents. But the road to respectability and popularity had not been a smooth journey for its practitioners early on.
The Gracie family is synonymous to Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Since the late 1910s, the family has passed on the style from generation to generation and countless students. The first member to learn BJJ was Carlos Gracie, studying it from Kodokan judo master Mistuyo Maeda. And in his attempt to promote the art and superiority of Gracie’s style of BJJ, Carlos issued the first Gracie Challenge in the 1920s.
The Gracie Challenge was vale tudo, or a no holds barred match that featured a smaller Gracie against a larger and more athletic opponent. The Gracies defeated martial artists of many different styles and lost just a few fights, earning respect from a lot of people.
Rorion Gracie, Carlos’ nephew, would, later on, introduce Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the U.S., where at that time eastern martial arts dominated. And in his effort to gain local respect, he brought the Gracie Challenge along with him.
It was effective as they won a huge number of fights that drew the attention of large crowds of students from different martial art styles. The no holds barred fights would also lead to the creation of mixed martial arts fighting and, eventually, the institution of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.