Where did it all begin?

Every culture has some form of hand to hand combat in its history. Combat without weapons usually appears in the form of wrestling and sometimes boxing. Looking at the history timeline, one good hypothesis is that the wrestling techniques of Jiu-Jitsu could very well have come from Ancient Greece. Olympic games were one of the Greek’s strongest traditions. It is most likely that along with Greek ideas, came one of its most popular sports, Pankration. Pankration was a sport that involved both boxing and wrestling techniques and became more popular to the Greeks than either of those sports individually. Pankration would later be overshadowed by the Roman Gladiators, and then banned from the Olympics by Christian leaders of the Roman Empire. Even though new rulers would come and go, Greek customs and ideas still reached India, where Jiu-Jitsu’s foundation was likely to have been born. During Alexander the Great’s conquests (356 – 323 B.C.), he brought the Greek culture to the areas he conquered. His conquests stretched all the way to India, where he introduced the customs and ideals of Greek culture to the people of that area. Jiu-Jitsu wasn’t being formally taught in Japan for over one thousand years after this. Many say that the Greek influence in India led to the development of Kung Fu or more appropriately, Wu Shu (martial arts) in China.

The Chinese have a great deal of stories to support the history of their martial arts. The general idea embraced by most historians is that systemized martial arts techniques came from India along with Buddhism (Bodhi Dharma). The concept here is that the Shaolin temple was built in the center of China and this is where Bodhi Dharma introduced Buddhism and Boxing (senzuikyo). (ref. Aikido and Chinese Martial Arts, Sugawara and Xing) The story that supports the idea of Jiu-Jitsu coming from China takes place around the time of the fall of the Ming Dynasty. It states that a man named Chingempin came from Japan to live in Tokyo at a Buddhist temple where he met three Ronin (masterless Samurai) named Fukuno, Isogai, and Miura. Chingempin told the Ronin of a grappling art he had seen in China. The Ronin became particularly interested in pursuing the study of this art, so he then began teaching in Japan, and this art became Jiu-Jitsu.

Excerpted from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, The Master Text by Gene Simco. For the complete history, buy the book!
The next theory is that there was many forms of wrestling that had developed in China. One of the most notable is Horn Wrestling, called Jiaodixi. This form of wrestling was practiced by the Mongolians and later evolved into Jiaoli, which was wrestling without the horns. This form of wrestling can be seen in Native American cultures (evident in the typical Native American Buffalo head wear) and most likely arrived there by way of Mongolians migrating through now modern Alaska. Jiaoli evolved and became Xiangpu and it is said that this form of wrestling became Sumo in Japan. Another theory says that there were practitioners of Chikura Karube, a wrestling sport developed around 200 B.C. It is said that Chikura Karube later became Jiu-Jitsu in Japan.

The last story mentioned here is that Jiu-Jitsu is Japanese and from Japan. This story follows the same basic idea but differs in that Chingempin introduced an early form of Jiu-Jitsu (not yet called Jiu-Jitsu) called Kempo in Japan, which consisted mostly of strikes and very little grappling. From there, the Japanese developed it into a more effective grappling art. One thing is certain about these stories, and that is that the Japanese were responsible for refining a grappling art into a very sophisticated grappling system called Jiu-Jitsu.

Tracing the history of grappling techniques for this book was quite interesting. In doing so, I decided to look for some common threads between the stories, which are:

All ancient cultures had some form of grappling and unarmed fighting techniques.
The Greek culture gave its fighters the greatest financial and social rewards. The ancient Greeks conquered quite a bit of territory during the time of Alexander the Great, including the area that Jiu-Jitsu’s techniques were said to have come from.
Wrestling did exist in China and Mongolia before Jiu-Jitsu did in Japan, and it is interesting to note that this is where Native American wrestling most likely came from by way of migration over the Alaskan Ice Bridge.
The pinning and throwing techniques of Jiu-Jitsu are very similar to, and in some cases, the same as those of Greco Roman Wrestling.