While modern-day Jiu-Jitsu may be an evolution of Japanese martial arts that originated in Brazil, the combat sport actually has a long and storied history in Southern California.
The martial art can trace its origins to Japanese Kodokan judo. In the early 1900s, Japanese instructors traveled over the sea to spread the combat sport to other countries — including Brazil.
Once it was in Brazil, Jiu-Jitsu instruction eventually made its way to the legendary Gracie family — who became largely the first ones to promote Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the world. In 1917, Carlos Gracie was taught Kodokan judo by Mitsuyo Maeda, a traveling Japanese judoka (an expert in judo).
Carlos’s interest and training in Kodokan judo planted the seeds for the Jiu-Jitsu we see today. While there are other prominent BJJ lineages that started around the same time, the Gracies are the most well-known.
The Gracie style of BJJ eventually made its way to the U.S. in the 1970s when Carley Gracie, one of the original pioneers of his family’s Jiu-Jitsu lineage, began teaching the combat sport at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.
The U.S. invited Carley to instruct after seeing one of his demonstrations at a consulate in Rio de Janeiro. Throughout the 1970s, Carley instructed many students at Quantico. But while his teaching started on the East Coast, he eventually settled in California in 1979.
A year prior, in 1978, Carley’s cousin Rorion also moved to California. Famously, he taught his family’s trade out of his California garage. By the early 1980s, he requested help from his 17-year-old brother, Royce Gracie. If you’re at all familiar with martial arts, you likely know that name.
By the 1980s, Rorion’s gym in the Los Angeles area was booming. Around the same time, major names like Chuck Norris became proponents of the combat sport. In 1989, Rorion sat down for an interview published in Playboy — further placing the martial art in the cultural spotlight.
BJJ finally hit the mainstream in 1993 when Royce Gracie dominated the very first Ultimate Fighting Championship, which was co-founded by Art Davie and Rorion. Royce’s success in the fighting league solidified BJJ’s place as a top-tier and world-class martial art.
That was really the start of the modern BJJ movement we see today. After Royce won the first UFC, thousands of students flocked to gyms across the country — and the globe.
But while BJJ has its roots in Southern California, there’s still a booming scene across the region today.
San Diego, California, for example, has one of the largest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu communities in the country. A San Diego-based fighting league — Cage Warriors — elevates fighters to the international stage by providing them access to the UFC.
And when it comes to Jiu-Jitsu in San Diego, there’s no better example of a world-class fighting gym and martial arts academy than The Arena.
The Arena is the second oldest continuously operated martial arts school in North America, and is also the largest. Its founder, U.S. Marine Aloysius C. Holtmann, learned Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu in Japan and began instructing professionally in the U.S. in the 1940s — predating the Gracie family’s arrival in the country.
But while Holtmann came from the Jiu Jitsu lineage and not the BJJ lineage, there’s no better place in Southern California to learn the martial art than The Arena. The gym offers a variety of different martial arts — from boxing to wrestling — but its Jiu-Jitsu instruction is especially notable.
The head MMA and Jiu-Jitsu instructor at The Arena is Baret Yoshida, a legendary mixed martial artist who has competed in the ADCC 10 times — more than any other person in history. He’s also a three-time IBJJF Black Belt World Champion and a 3x ADCC medalist.
There’s even a pretty direct connection between Yoshida and the Gracies. Yoshida first burst onto the international fighting scene when he competed against Royler Gracie in 1999.
In other words, if you want to learn BJJ from someone who has gone toe-to-toe with one of the originators of the martial art, then The Arena should be your top choice.