The Gracie Family and the Birth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Part Three)

Check out last week’s installment here: The Gracie Family and the Birth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Part Two)

From the UFC to ADCC, the Beginning of Mainstream BJJ

Soon after Royce Gracie dominated the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), BJJ gyms began popping up all over the United States, though the locations stuck mostly to the coast for a while. The UFC faced its own struggles to gain legal status the US, having been banned in 36 states after making an admittedly bad impression by forcing fighters to compete in multiple matches and allowing hair pulling, mismatched gear (gloves and shoes often not being allowed), and any and all types of strikes. Regulation after regulation would be proposed, and eventually the promotion grew to the UFC we all know today.

While MMA was gaining traction, Carley Gracie, often referred to as the “Lion of the Gracie family,” was assisting in bringing Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to the US Military. The US Marines in charge of the US consulate’s security in Rio de Janeiro sought out Carley Gracie and began training. After they returned to Quantico, Virginia, their new skills were noticed and the US Marines made a formal invitation for Carley Gracie to come teach at the base. Carley accepted this offer, and spread Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in a format that would later become the Gracie Combatives program offered today.

In one of the Gracie family’s earliest US disputes, Rorion Gracie attempted to trademark the family name. Fortunately, Carley had been in the United States longer than Rorion and had been using the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu name for many years. Though it was not easy, short, or cheap, Carley ended the legal battle by defeating Rorion’s trademark attempt in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In essence, this courtroom battle allowed Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to be spread freely by any and all members of the Gracie family.

While the UFC sought to gain mainstream traction for mixed martial arts and the Gracies in America faced legal disputes, Carlos Gracie Jr. began organizing sport BJJ, founding both the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Foundation and the Brazilian National Confederation. Through this, Carlos Gracie Jr. has been able to spread Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu not only throughout the United States, but around the world.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu comes to the United Arab Emirates

With the traction gained by Carlos Gracie, Jr., and in light of the legal struggles in the United States, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu began to look elsewhere to grow. It found a surprising home in the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, with the assistance of his BJJ coach Nelson Monteiro, created the Abu Dhabi Combat Club, or the ADCC. While not precisely a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament, it is a competition which aims to bring the top level grapplers to compete against each other in a no-striking, pro-grappling, submission-friendly format. This includes competitors in Luta Livre, wrestling, catch wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu, sambo, shooto, and mixed martial arts.

This popularity was not entirely organic; rather, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan was so enthusiastic about the sport that he thrust it into public consciousness, insisting it be part of the UAE educational system. In doing so, he brought his country into the forefront of Jiu-Jitsu, becoming a haven for competitors and teachers alike.

Despite its early progress, the UAE continues to struggle between BJJ and Sharia law, going back and forth between allowing and disallowing women to practice. It has also been reported that many black belts are offered deals to coach in the country, and those deals are broken once they touch down in the UAE.

While the UAE established a safe haven for BJJ, Carlos Gracie, Jr. continued his work in organizing competitions. In addition to the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Foundation and the Brazilian National Confederation, Carlos was able to create and international competition. This would eventually grow into the IBJJF, which now holds competitions in Brazil, the USA, Europe, and Asia. Carlos Gracie’s dream of spreading BJJ throughout the world has steadily come true.

Next week: Established, then Refined: BJJ Today

Rachel Dows

Rachel is a 20-something year old writer and martial arts enthusiast. She works at a desk job all day to afford to be able to spend the majority of her free time at the gym, where she is a blue belt in BJJ. She also sometimes goes outside to run, hike, and enjoy living in small town USA.