Primer on the Organizational History of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil (pt 1) – Thank you to Carlos Loddo for providing this information
In order to understand the origin of the IBJJF and it’s policies, it is necessary (Really) to understand a goodly portion of the history of Professional Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil. I wish there was an easier way, but there is not. That said, it is a fascinating story with it’s own rewards. I think it is safe to say that when you have finished reading this article, you will know more about the history of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, and the IBJJF in particular, than the vast majority of people involved in the US sport scene. I will try to keep this interesting and painless.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s there were several active professional Jiu-Jitsu fighters teaching in Brazil; among these were Geo Omori, Takeo Yano, and of course Maeda and the Gracies. Professional Jiu-Jitsu, like all fighting sports belonged to a single Confederação (Confederação Brasileira de Pugilismo) and its respective federações (Federação Carioca de Pugilismo, Federação Paulista de Pugilismo, Federação Bahiana de Pugilismo and so forth, for each state). This system of Federations under a Confederation, analogous to the Association of Boxing Commissions, controlled all fighting sports in Brazil (boxing, wrestling, capoeira, jiu-jitsu, judo, karate etc.), and regulated Jiu-jitsu matches between professionals, Japanese and non-Japanese; Maeda students and non-Maeda students, were often held in the prelims of vale-tudo cards.
Initially, the Gracies, Carlos and Helio in particular, were not keen on having a sportive Confederation or Federation system because they had just a single academy (in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the famous Academia Gracie at Av. Rio Branco, 171, in Rio’s financial center), and they strictly forbid their students to teach elsewhere until the 1960’s. With most of the Rio-based players under one roof, inter-school competition was uncommon, a few contests with the Fadda Academy being the notable exception. At this point, a competition circuit was not really a priority.
In 1965 Carlson united with rival Ivan Gomes and his financial backer, and opened the first splinter school, at Rua Toneleiros, Copacabana. The new Academy failed a year later, and Carlson returned to work with his uncle Helio, at Academia Gracie. In 1968, however, Carlson made a considerable amount of money fighting undefeated Vale Tudo legend Euclides Pereira, in Salvador, Bahia. Although Carlos was defeated (decision), and Pereira’s manager saw an opportunity, and diverted part of his fighter’s purse to Carlson for the purpose of opening an independent Academy in Rio (Pereira was going to open his own school in the north-east). Carlson opened his Academy and was now in direct competition with Carlos and Helio’s Academia Gracie . Rolls Gracie acted as a link between Carlson’s school and Helio’s school, and the competition between the two academies, and between Carlson’s and Roll’s students was considerable.
At this point the flood gates opened and many of the Gracie’s students began opening schools of their own. Jaildo Gomes sold his school to Helio Gracie student (and UFC I referee) Helio Vígio. Armando Wriedt opened a school, as did João Alberto Barreto, with his brother, Álvaro.
Suddenly, with competing academies all over the Rio area, a Federation was needed. The Gracies set to work using their considerable influence with the political class to free Jiu-Jitsu from the Pugilismo system, no easy task, as the system was controlled by influential people.
The Rio de Janeiro Federation was formed under the name Federação de Jiu-Jitsu do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (Jiu-Jitsu Federation of the State of Rio de Janeiro), controlled by Carlos, Helio (as Technical Director), and certain elder students such as João Alberto Barreto who was instrumental in formulating the curriculum and competition rules. In addition to defininy the sportive aspect, the new federation was created to be the official certifying entity for the Gracie’s system of Jiu-Jitsu, controlling all teaching certification, as well as all promotions to the rank of black belt and above; a function it retains to this day. This is where you will find the rank registration for Carlos Sr, Carlos Jr, Helio, Oswaldo, Rorion, Carlson, and even the younger generation (Kyra, Ryan, etc.)
In the ensuing period, other Jiu-Jitsu (state) federations were formed. The Federação Mineira de Jiu-Jitsu (Minas Gerais State), for instance, was one of the first. Curiously, it was formed by students of (non-Gracie JiuJitsuka Takeo Yano, a Gracie rival with Kodokan roots. Another early federation was the Federação Cearense de Jiu-Jitsu, founded by students of Helio and Carlos Gracie such as the Hemetério brothers, and students of George Gracie and Takeo Yano (George was closer to Yano than to his brothers, due to their split in 1940’s, and Yano and George shared students in the North-East region). Inter-Academy rivalry flared, with George going so far as to show up at Academia Gracie challenging any Gracie student to roll with his top student, Nahum Rabbay. This resulted in a hard fought draw with João Alberto Barreto, then the most technical Carlos-Helio student.
Under the authority of the Gracie controlled Rio Federation, Jiu-Jitsu took a more sportive turn, easing the submission-or-draw rules, they began to award points for techniques and positions important to the Jiu-Jitsu game, such as passing the guard, mounting etc. Throws would receive points, as well. But, of course, submission continued to be the primary method of victory. This reform, championed by Rolls Gracie, who wrote the original scoring system to reflect his competition experience in amateur wrestling, Sambo and Judo, gave Jiu-jitsu precisely the foundation needed to for a distinct sport independent of the authority of the existing Judo federation, which, as an official Olympic sport, was no longer under the pugilismo entities.
In 1985, having lost the confidence of the elites, the military government of Brazil was defeated in elections and replaced with civilian rule, overturning much of the pre-existing regulatory structure including those regulating Sport. With many left-wing politicians returning from exile and taking up positions of power, the Gracies experienced a shift in the axis of family power, when the newly Governor of Rio de Janeiro began to favor Carlos, Sr’s 2nd son Carlos Robson Gracie (older brother of Carlos Gracie, Jr), who had supported the left, and awarded him the post of Secretary of Sport of Rio de Janeiro. At this point, power at the Rio Federation began to shift away from Helio, and he found himself displaced from the position of Technical Director, in favor of (Carlos) Robson, who controls the Federation to this day. A few years later, with the rift of family trouble between them healed, Rorion and Helio founded a new federation in the United States, with Helio restored to his former position of authority over who is, and is not, permitted to teach the Gracie style. Whether this is a legitimate move or not turns on whether you accept Helio as the founder of the Gracie family style of Jiu-Jitsu (as is claimed by Gracie Torrance) or whether there are three founders (Helio, Carlos and Oswaldo) as recorded by the Rio Federation.
Now, in Brazil, a Federação is a body controlling a sport at the state level (for instance, in Rio de Janeiro State, São Paulo State, Bahia State, etc); a Confederação is a body controlling a sport nationally, with all the federações of a sport affiliated and subordinated to the confederação of that respective sport. Decades passed before this was attempted for Jiu-Jitsu as, according to Brazilian law, three (state) federações are required to found a (national) confederação. Bureaucracy remained an obstacle, with the various states having differing regulations, competition rules, and influences.
In 1994, shortly after the death of Carlos, Sr, the Rio Federation joined with several other state federations and founded the Confederação Brasileira de Jiu-Jitsu (Brazilian Confederation Of Jiu-Jitsu) in a move analogous to the formation of USJI (USA Judo) by consent of the existing grassroots Judo organizations (USJF and USJA). The Rio Federation was, therefore, one of the founders of the Confederação Brasileira, and became one of its affiliated state organizing bodies. Helio and Rorion had founded their own federation in America, and Brazil was firmly in the hands of Carlos Sr’s sons, with Carlos Robson controlling the Rio Federation (and the Gracie style of Jiu-Jitsu) and Carlos, Jr controlling the Confederation (and the Sport). In Brazil, all national sports (Football, etc), have “Confederação Brasileira”, and Sport Gracie Jiu-Jitsu aka BJJ was now established firmly among them.
By the mid 90’s the American scene was exploding. Rorion and Helio had their federation (Gracie Academy), Joe Moreira started the US Federation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (USFBJJ) and was running the first large tournaments, and Carlson Gracie founded the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) with his son Carlson Gracie, Jr at the helm. This latter organiztion was not affiliated with the Confederação Brasileira de Jiu-Jitsu while controlled by Carlson’s side of the family. The IBJJF briefly disappeared in 2001, and mysteriously reappeared in 2002 as part of the CBJJ website (the IBJJF did not get a site of its own until 2006). If this is difficult to follow, let me say it again: the IBJJF was founded in 1997 by Carlson Gracie Jr, disappeared in 2001, and reappeared as a CBJJ-associated entity in 2002 under Carlos Gracie, Jr.