Abigail Kon, Ellie Smith, Devin Quinlan, Regen Zimmerman

Japanese influence led to culture shock for Brazilian society

Presentation Link: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1dSk02N5Mx6aJS1Thcu98kwahCQV74yLW-I-Ym9pKAUo/edit?usp=sharing

Although very different from one another, The Brazilian art forms of Jiu Jitsu and Zhen Brazil were built on a Japanese foundation, and are an immense part of Brazilian culture. However, the Brazilian community was not quick to integrate the Japanese people into their society as they held many stereotypes, as well as discriminated against those of Japanese origin. The culture and music involved in both Jiu Jitsu and Zhen Brazil was a way of giving hope and subsiding the fear surrounding the negative stereotypes of Japanese by the Brazilian society.  In our paper, we will discuss the history and different types of Jiu Jitsu, as well as the influence and benefits it brings to Brazil.  The history of Zhen Brazil and what their live performances were like will be explored.  These unique art forms helped the Japanese cope with their fears of not integrating within the Brazilian society.

Jiu Jitsu is defined as a martial art of Japanese origin in which the athlete uses various body movements including levers, torsions and pressure, in order to take their opponent to the ground and dominate them. In the Japanese language, ‘ju’ means gentleness and ‘jitsu’ means art or technique. So, the literal translation of Jiu Jitsu and what the sport is also known as is gentle art. In Japan, the samurai needed a way of defending themselves without using swords or other weapons. Therefore, Jiu Jitsu was created as a new method of weaponless defense that still allowed samurai to take down their opponents effectively.

After being practiced in Japan for many years, the martial art gained new dimension when Mitsuyo Maeda, an instructor at the Kodokan School in Japan, decided to travel the world in an attempt to face opponents of different styles and test the effectiveness of Jiu Jitsu. In 1904, he traveled to the United States where he faced hundreds of opponents. He then ventured through England, Belgium and Spain, where he was given the name Count Koma, a name that many know him by today. Over the next decade, he also traveled to many countries throughout Central and South America including El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Peru and Chile. In July of 1914, Maeda traveled to Brazil, where the course of Jiu Jitsu would be changed forever. While in Brazil, he challenged many masters of Capoeira and defeated over a thousand opponents without ever losing a match. During the 1920’s, Maeda settled in Brazil and opened his own academy of Jiu Jitsu where he taught many students the martial art and spread the sport throughout the country. He also continued to spread Jiu Jitsu through tournaments, giving notoriety to the relatively unknown sport.

Through his travels, Maeda brought the martial art to new levels by testing it on many different styles and gaining extensive experience in combat. “Over the course of his career, Maeda fought in literally hundreds of matches, grappling with and without the gi, and fighting in “mixed” matches…The culmination of Maeda’s training in classical Jiu Jitsu and especially Judo, tempered by his extensive combat experience against all types of challengers, resulted in a realistic, street effective method of fighting,” (History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, 2016). Maeda brought a new dimension to the sport and he is the main reason why Jiu Jitsu has spread to so many countries and continues to be practiced today.

A better understanding of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be understood by looking at the differences it has with Japanese Jiu Jitsu. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is sometimes termed “human chess”. About 62% of fights go to the ground in which a variety of chokeholds and joint locks are used until the opponent taps out. The martial art is composed of ground fighting and submission holds in which allows mechanics and leverage to be of competition against physical strength (The History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, 2016). A submission hold therefore represents checkmate. Experienced grapplers whom may be smaller can control much larger, stronger opponents to submit. This ground fighting style is what most strongly differentiates BJJ from other martial arts. Tsui’s article Traditional Jiu Jitsu vs Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, illustrates the differences between the two forms of the martial art. Japanese Jiu Jitsu emphasized speed, power, and throws while Gracie or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu focuses on maneuvering and submission (Tsui, 2015). The emergence of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu therefore demonstrated a transition to the application of proficiency and technique.

It is believed that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu influenced the emergence, development, and growth of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Starting in the 80’s most MMA fighters are trained in jiu jitsu to give the fighter flexibility if the fight goes to the ground (Green & Svinth, 2010). If a fighter does not have background knowledge, they are likely susceptible to defeat as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu offers a great advantage. Spiegelman’s article, The Hidden Benefits of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu describes his beliefs that the martial art can be used as a mindfulness tactic or way to build character for children and adults in order to dissolve stress, worries, and anger. Research has further attested psychological and physiological benefits to practicing (Spiegelman, n.d). Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is also becoming a trend for physical exercise today to build strength and mobility (Spiegelman, n.d). Celebrities such as Tim Tebow, Ashton Kutcher, and Chuck Norris are some celebrities who attest to practicing.

Today, martial arts including Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a part of the training of law enforcement personnel, soldiers, and athletes to help them succeed in their careers. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not yet an olympic sport but many organizations are fighting for its spot in the Olympic Games as many believe athletes should get international recognition and have the ability to represent their nation in an important world event. Currently the prospect is that the 2024 games will include jiu jitsu but only time will tell (Pasella, 2016).

In Chinkov and Holt’s 2016 article, Implicit Transfer of Life Skills in the Participation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the beneficial aspects of the martial art on the individuals whom practice was evaluated as, “they looked as sport as a vehicle for individuals to acquire positive outcomes, most specifically life skills.” The study was conducted on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu because it encompasses the values of competence, self-restraint, and control. Physical benefits are obviously apparent including strength, endurance, and body awareness. Chinkov and Holt determined lessons gained through participation in which was further transferred to other areas of their life included respect for others, perseverance, confidence. Respect and acceptance of the differences in people is gained through practice and training as it is a key element of the martial art. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu requires you to persevere in the sport itself but also as a way to deal with adversity and developing psychological resilience. Self confidence in the forms of personal growth and self-defense was acquired through interactions with others. Not specifically researched but through our understanding and belief, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu provided hope as in the ability to protect oneself as well as an outlet for fear and emotion as one can find safety and security in the martial art. The Japanese Brazilians perhaps used Brazilian or Japanese Jiu Jitsu in this regard as they feared they would not fit into Brazilian society.

To understand the platform and necessity of the band Zhen Brazil, it is important to know why Japanese people immigrated all the way to Brazil. First, feudalism ended in Japan during the 19th century. This left workers in rural areas impoverished and desperate for work. In order to find jobs to support themselves, these people sought the acceptance of other nations. Next, in 1924, the United States of America placed a ban on non-white immigrants through the Exclusion Clause of the Immigration Act, which specifically targeted the Japanese because of turmoil following World War 2. Finally, when slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, Brazil faced a shortage of labor, which could have posed a threat to the production of important exports. Because Brazil was attempting ‘whitening’ at this time, the initial target was white Europeans, however because of low wages and poor working environments, they eventually left and stopped coming altogether. Therefore, when the Japanese needed employment from a new country and the U.S. would not accept them, they turned to Brazil who could not attract white workers from Europe.

The Japanese were the first large population of Asian people to immigrate to Brazil. They often kept to themselves, maintained their own cultural traditions and behavior, and made little to no effort to assimilate. This led to the Brazilians stereotyping them harshly because they were unfamiliar with them and critical of the unusual behavior they did not understand. The fear of the unknown the Brazilians felt led them to quickly outcast the Japanese. However, when the next generation of Japanese-Brazilians emerged, they were more eager to assimilate and become a part of the society in which they lived. In order to express themselves and influence Brazilians to become more comfortable with their existence in society, four Japanese-Brazilians created the musical group Zhen Brazil. These founders were eager to promote a relationship that focused on being allies so that the two cultural populations could live amongst each other harmoniously.

Zhen Brazil was more than just a means of expression, but a platform to encourage acceptance. Through the marriage of Brazilian and Japanese music styles and the use of humor, Zhen brazil gave an important subject matter a light-hearted feel that attracted an audience of listeners. The distorted and exaggerated stereotypes Brazilians burdened the Japanese-Brazilians with were exposed for their ridiculousness with humor to discourage their continuance. For example, the band called out what interracial marriage entailed, like the combination of Japanese and Brazilian foods. This was smart because a topic like this can be pointed out to show how insignificant their differences are in relation to who they are as people. These parodic representations of the Japanese-Brazilians also humanized them because they poked fun at their stereotypes and allowed listeners to see them as people instead of outsiders. The Zhen Band used humor to draw in an audience and promote the understanding and acceptance of the Japanese-Brazilians living in Brazil.

The Brazilians’ fear of those that were different to them led to inaccurate opinions and damaged relationships. The Japanese-Brazilians’ fear of their future among people who misunderstood them led to their unwillingness to branch out of their bubbles and only perpetuated the lack of acceptance they experienced.  Zhen Band brought hope to a society that lacked cohesiveness by promoting the acceptance of those one might fear because of differences through the medium of humorous music.

Both the art forms of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Zen Brazil have unique features derived from their Japanese origin. The culture and music aided in giving the Japanese Brazilians hope that they would one day be integrated and accepted into Brazilian society. The author we found most valuable during our research was Karen Tei Yamashita and the story she tells of a Japanese immigrant living life in Sao Paulo, as it showed what life was like for Japanese living in Brazil at the time.  Although Jiu Jitsu is still very prominent in Brazil and across the world today, Zhen Brazil has since broken up, but their influence on Brazilian society will continue to live on forever.



Aleksandar E. Chinkov & Nicholas L. Holt (2016) Implicit Transfer of Life Skills Through Participation in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 28:2, 139-153, DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2015.1086447


Green, T., & Svinth, J. (2010). Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation (Vol. 1). ABC-CLIO,LLC.


Lorenz, S. (2011). Zhen Brasil’s Japanese Brazilian Groove. In Brazilian Popular Music and Citizenship (pp. 155-171).


Passela, A. (2016). Olympics will be the next stop for jiu-jitsu, with the 2024 Games the most likely target. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from http://www.thenational.ae/sport/abu-dhabi-world-professional-brazilian-jiu-jitsu-championship/olympics-will-be-the-next-stop-for-jiu-jitsu-with-the-2024-games-the-most-likely-target


Spiegelman, S. (n.d.). The Hidden Benefits of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from https://breakingmuscle.com/learn/the-hidden-benefits-of-brazilian-jiu-jitsu


The History of Jiu Jitsu. 2016. Graciemag. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from http://www.graciemag.com/en/the-saga-of-jiu-jitsu/


Tsui, D. (2015). Traditional Jujitsu Vs. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/462509-traditional-jujitsu-vs-brazilian-jiu-jitsu/
Yamashita, K. (1992). Brazil Maru. Coffee House Press.