Opening Closed-Guard: The Origins of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil: The Story Behind the Film

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What are the origins of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Is it merely a by-product—a rebel offspring—of Judo? What was the nature and content of the art that Mitsuyo Maeda, a.k.a. “Count Koma”, and other Japanese were teaching in the Amazon? Was it Judo? Jiu-Jitsu? His own personal fight-tested style, built on a foundation of Judo and informed by his dozens and dozens of matches around the world? What was the bridge between the art he learned at the Kodokan and the Brazilian style that claims him as its godfather: a style now practiced by millions worldwide (and growing bigger every day)? Should Maeda even be at the center of this story? And what role did Carlos and Hélio Gracie play in all of this? Did they “invent” BJJ? Would BJJ exist without them? And, if so, what—if anything—did they create? And why does this history matter to the average BJJ practitioner today?

Any history possesses its official narrative with its own favorite characters and events. But true history is seldom simple, and more oft than not the real story is far richer than the popular version that is widely repeated and handed down. The history of BJJ and MMA in Brazil doesn’t escape this paradigm. The recent renaissance in research in regards to the history of martial arts in Brazil led to the author’s curiosity, which in turn led to the documentary Closed-Guard: The Origins of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, which in turn led to this book.

This manuscript started as an account of the author’s recollections of the film’s production, and quickly grew into much more. Opening Closed Guard: The Story Behind the Film contains conclusions, analysis, and historical interpretations, as well as the story behind the documentary itself and the many challenges it faced along the way. It contains interviews, research articles pertaining to the history of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, as well as the author’s own take on the current state of BJJ and MMA. Finally, it is the story of the author rediscovering his love for Jiu-Jitsu in a completely new and unexpected way.


Born in the US from a Brazilian mother and American father, and having spent his life between these two countries, Robert Drysdale remains the only American competitor to have ever won both the IBJJF and ADCC World Championships, the two most prestigious tournaments in all of Jiu-Jitsu. Furthermore, he has also cultivated a career in MMA, both as a fighter and as a coach. The author also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History, as well as a long-held passion for this discipline. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA. He is also the co-founder of the international team Zenith Jiu-Jitsu, and is the father of two girls.

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