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The Martial Chronicles: Jiu-Jitsu Brings Mixed Martial Arts to Brazil

Cageside Guest Columnist John S. Nash brings us another feature edition of his fascinating series chronicling the origins of MMA. This time, we journey to Brazil.

前田 光世: Maeda Mitsuyo aka naturalized Brazilian Otávio Maeda, circa 1910
前田 光世: Maeda Mitsuyo aka naturalized Brazilian Otávio Maeda, circa 1910
Wikimedia Commons

This is a revision of an article which was originally cross-posted at the now defunct Head Kick Legend Blog by Cageside Features Guest Columnist, on Jan 13, 2012. [†]

On the first day of May, in the year 1909, a large crowd filed into the International Pavilion Paschoal Segreton, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to witness another demonstration given by the "Professor of Jiu-Jitsu" Sada Miyako. Miyako was one of two Japanese nationals recruited by the Brazilian Navy to instruct their sailors in the art of hand-to-hand defense, as so many of his countrymen had done before him in North America and Europe. Additionally, he had taken to giving jujutsu exhibitions before a paying audience. [EN1]

"For some days a terrible player has haunted the amusement hall audience with his indescribable agility, a jumping Machiavellian. Every night the Japanese champion challenges the audience to test themselves against him..."

"JIU-JITZU" A Pacotilha, June 14, 1909

Every night, the outcome had been the same for any man that dared climb onto the stage to accept the challenge: a quick and embarrassing defeat.

However, the large crowd who filled the theater that night had not come to see the usual line of local strongmen trying their hand against the invincible "Jiu-Jitsu champion". Interspersed amongst the usual spectators were contingencies of Japanese nationals, government officials, Navy officers, journalists, members of high society, and students from the Faculdade de Medicina.

With that last group sat one "Cyriac Francisco da Silva", a 38-year-old former street fighter from the Municipality of Campos dos Goytacazes, who now worked carrying sacks of coffee from the docks to downtown Rio. He was better known as "Macaco" ("Old Monkey"), one of the best, if not the best, capoeirista of the era.

He had been brought here by his pupils, the medical students, to challenge Miyako and defend Brazil's national honor from the foreign import. His presence was responsible for the night's considerable attendance, as both fight aficionados and the merely curious, crowded into the theater to witness this confrontation between two masters of jujutsu and Capoeira.


The fact the match was even taking place was itself a surprise to many, for at the time, Capoeira was illegal (outlawed by the Republican Criminal Code of 1890). Insistent requests were sent out for the law to be relaxed by Cyriac's supporters, while the Capoeirista himself argued he be given the chance to defend the nation's honor, stating:

"I am quite confident in my skills, if I have a shot, I will not disappoint".

Eventually the Federal authorities, military officials and owner of the International Pavilion, Segreto Pachoal, all agreed to permit the match to take place.

As soon as the nightly challenge was made on Miyako's behalf, Cyriac climbed on to the stage to accept. He then proceeded to remove his jacket, vest, cuffs, collar, and boots, revealing the 'gi' he was required to wear for the bout; this, before taking his place opposite Miyako.

Cyriac later described the match in the pages of the magazine "O Mahlo":

"I went up there, saluted the Japanese and began my ginga. I sized him up, faked a slap and applied a leg sweep that had him off balance. But he stood. The crowd yelled: ‘Go for it Cyríaco!' I resumed my ginga, leaning my body left, and unleashed a rabo de arraia (stingray tail) that made him eat dust. I saluted the audience, gazed towards the man holding the clock, but the gringo refused to continue." [EN2]

With his victory, Cyríac was hailed a hero, carried in triumph by the students along the newly built Concerto Avenida, as they sang "a Ásia curvou-se ante o Brasil" ("Asia bowed to Brazil"), a quadra that was repeated all through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. [EN3]

For Jujutsu, the loss was a setback.

In embarrassment, the Navy removed Miyako and his compatriots as instructors. The interest and excitement the Japanese discipline had generated amongst the public now waned. In 1908, the Fabril Athletic Club boasted a large following of jujutsu students; just four short years later, by 1912, the sport had been eliminated. Jujutsu would need another attempt to plant seeds and take root in Brazil.

On October of 1915, the Folha do Norte announced the coming of a new attraction to Belém, the capital of the Amazonian state of Pará:

"The troupe will perform jiu-jitsu, wrestling, boxing and Japanese fencing matches and is directed by the undefeated world champion Count Koma. He will offer 5,000 francs for anyone able to defeat one of the troupe's members formed by Okura, champion of Chile, Shimizi, champion of Peru, Satake, champion of New York and Luku a former military instructor in Peru.

"The troupe is currently in the state of Pará on its way to North America. Its performances were met with great success in other countries. The troupe will be dressing proper and decent attire, and its performance is rigorously family oriented. The troupe will parade through the streets in their traditional outfits."


Conde Koma's real name was Matsuyo Maeda, while Satake's full name was Soishiro Satake. The two men had a decade of experience each in the world of prizefighting, and had been sent by Kano Jigoro, the founder of Kodokan Judo in 1904, to the United States to assist Tsunejiro Tomita in his efforts to spread Kodokan Judo.

After almost a year of giving demonstrations at Princeton, Columbia, and West Point, offering private instructions, and running a dojo in New York City, the two young Judokas parted ways with Tomita and entered the world of professional wrestling and prizefighting.

For the next decade, they traveled throughout the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, while gathering the other members of their troupe along the way in Peru, Chile, and Argentina. They now found themselves in Brazil, having arrived in Porto Allegre from Uruguay on November 14, 1914. They spent the next year crossing the nation and performing, from São Paulo to Rio to Recife to São Luis, until finally reaching the northern frontier city of Belém.

Their show included jujutsu demonstrations, self-defense advice, contests between the Japanese members, and, most famously, an offer of 5,000 francs to anyone who could beat them. This last challenge drew long lines of day laborers, local tough guys, vagrants, and other professional wrestlers looking to take home a small fortune in these tough economic times.

The ease with which they defeated these challengers led to them being described as a troupe of "Nippon Hercules". One opponent attracted particular attention: the infamous Capoeirista Pé de Bol. The headline for the November 7, 1915 edition of Folha do Norte blared:

"Today: Capoeira against jiu-jitsu! Everyone to Bar Paraense!"

Recalling the previous match between Cyriac and Miyako, nationalism took hold, as the people of Bélem rallied around their native son. They would be disappointed, as Satake easily defeated him. [EN4] Finishing their stay in Belem, they moved on to Manuas, marching through the streets to announce their arrival:

"A troupe of Japanese jiu-jitsu fighters have comes to Pará to the delight of patrons of the popular Theatre Polytheama. This troupe is led by Conde Koma, world champion of "Jiu-jitsu," and will arrive, parading down the streets in their Eastern costumes.

"This renowned troupe is made up of: New York Champion Satake, Chile champion Okura, Argentina champion Shimitsu, and Laku, a former professor for Peru's military."

"The celebrated Japanese troupe of fighters is led by Conde Koma, world champion of jiu-jitsu.

- "Jornal O Tempo", December 12th, 1915



Portuguese transcription of above newspaper excerpt to follow:


Chega hoje, a bordo do paquete "Pará", a troupe de luctadores japonezes de , que vem fazer as delicias dos frequentadores do popularissimo théatro Polytheama.

Esta troupe, que é chefiada pelo Conde Koma, campeão mundial de , desembarcará em trajes orientaes, percorrendo as ruas em automoveis.

Os espectaculos a serem realisados pela troupe são em numero pequeno, porquanto tem ella de, em breve, realisar outros contractos.

Como se vê, a empresa C. Oliveira não perde occasião para facilitar ao publico amazonense diversões varias e optimas.

A estréa da troupe dar-se-á segunda feira, 20 do corrente.

Loose English translation of above newspaper clipping:


Arriving today, aboard the steamship, "Pará", the troupe of Japanese "jiu-jitsu" fighters, comes to the delights of the hugely popular Polytheama Theater-goers.

Upon disembarking the ship, this troupe, which is headed by Conde Koma, world jiu-jitsu champion, will head out to roam through the streets in a parade of cars, in their oriental fighting costumes.

The performances, to be demonstrated by the troupe ​​are small in number, as they have other contracts to honor soon.

As it turns out, the enterprising C. Oliveira does not miss an optimal opportunity to facilitate various amusements for the Amazonian public at large.

Currently, the troupe will be making their debut Monday the 20th.


At the Theater Polytheama, where they had been booked by Octavian Pires Junior, they offered a familiar show of jujutsu techniques, a demonstration in Japanese arms, an exhibition contest between Shimitsu and Luku or Maeda and Satake, and the familiar challenge to the audience.

On December 23, it was announced that the following evening there would be a "Great fight between Koma and the Barbados boxer Adolpho Corbinian." That Christmas Eve, "Conde Koma defeated the boxer in seconds, showing his Nippon talents." Following his defeat, Adolpho elected to become a disciple of Maeda. [EN5]

A week later, on January 3 1916, Maeda faced the Turk Nagib Asse, a Greco-Roman wrestler who was billed as the Australian champion. Maeda would win the contest by armbar.

A few weeks after this, the troupe (with the exception of Satake, who would settle in Manaus) would depart Brazil. For Maeda, it would be but a short separation. Sailing to Liverpool, he traveled through England, France, Spain, and Portugal as the Great War raged across Europe, before returning to the safety and prosperity of Belém with his new bride, D. May Iris, sometime in 1916.

Shortly thereafter, Maeda would be introduced to a name that would have historic repercussions for jujutsu and martial arts.

In December of 1916, a member of Maeda's troupe, Uenish Sadakazu, faced the Italian-Argentine wrestler, Alfredo Leconte, in Manaus. Sadakazu would lose, in part thanks to Leconte's manager, one Gastâo Gracie. For the match, Gastâo refused to allow Leconte to don the previously agreed upon gi. The Japanese relented, but Leconte's behavior grew worse during the match.

He entered the ring with his body greased and took to the cowardly tactic of fleeing through the ropes whenever he found himself in any danger. The final insult was when Gracie arranged for his wrestler to be declared the winner after holding his opponent down for only a few seconds, instead of the previously agreed upon thirty-second hold-down. [EN6]

The resulting riot which followed Leconte's victory led to wrestling being banned in Manuas, so the follow up match between Leconte and Shimizu Kusaka was moved to Belém. Shimizu fared no better, as Leconte repeated the same tactics. The wrestler's victory was followed by another riot and a ban on professional wrestling in Belém.

This would not be the end of Maeda's relationship with Gracie.

Beginning in late 1915, Maeda began to offer jujutsu lessons at the Teatro Moderno in Belém, advertising as much in the Folha do Norte:

Good news in the realm of sports. We will have lessons in the favorite branch of Japanese sport: jiu-jitsu. Count Koma, currently performing on the stage of Bar Paraense, will stay with us to teach jiu-jitsu. Appropriate attire (gis) will be provided for children and adults. Count Koma also wants to teach jiu-jitsu in our private schools. We recommend for youngsters interested in physical fitness to enroll in jiu-jitsu lessons taught by the Japanese at Teatro Moderno.

The Japanese martial art proved impressive enough for Gaståo that he saw fit to enroll his son, Carlos, in classes with Maeda beginning sometime in 1916. For the next two to three years, young Gracie studied under Maeda before moving with his family to Rio, where he would share what he learned with his younger brothers; writing the next chapter in Brazilian martial arts. [EN7]

Maeda would settle in Belém, his last public match there was on July 8 of 1920 against the Italian wrestler Victorio Segato at the Palace Theatre, who he defeated in "spectacular fashion" via an armbar. [EN8]

He briefly departed for wrestling tournaments in Cuba and New York City in 1921, but returned in 1922, welcomed home by his pupil, Jacynth Ferro, who met Maeda's ship in a rowboat off the harbor. [EN 9]

Upon his return Maeda focused on teaching Judo, establishing a permanent academy in Belém. Studying alongside Carlos Gracie, were Donato Pires and the aforementioned Jacyntho Ferro. Maeda would also later serve as instructor to the Ono brothers.

As for his fellow troupe members, Shimitsu and Okura served as instructors alongside Maeda until they returned to Japan in 1920. Laku would open a Judo dojo in Rio de Janeiro, which he ran until the outbreak of the Second World War, when he relocated to Peru. Maeda's old companion Satake settled in Manaus, where he ran his own dojo, which Maeda would occasionally serve as an instructor at when visiting. Amongst their students were, Luís França and Vinícius Ruas.

Jiu-Jitsu had taken root and found a home in Brazil.


† -- This revised article by our guest columnist has been 'crossposted' to today (Nov. 14, 2012). In addition to delving into wrestling's past for Cageside Seats, Mr. Nash has regularly chronicled the forgotten history of mixed martial arts at our fellow SBNation Blog:, and the now defunct Head Kick Legend blog, where this article was posted in it's original form back on Jan. 13, 2012. Cageside Seats is proud to feature the cross-posting of his entire archive of articles in this exclusive guest column for your enjoyment. To read more fascinating articles from Mr. Nash, simply bookmark this link and remember to check back frequently for new content.



MODERNIZAÇÃO, NACIONALISMO E A ELITE: A Origem do Jiu-Jitsu Brasileiro, 1905-1920 by José Cairus

Jornal do Capoeira | bibliotecno


EN 1: Miyake also offered his services as a private instructor. Inquiries were to be addressed to "Rua Goncaalves Dias No. 78 or to Willegaignon Fortress", according to an advertisement published in the May 2, 1909 Jornal do Comércio.

EN 2: Other sources tell of Cyriac attaining victory through methods "malicia". In one version, he wins by striking when his opponent extends his hand before the match officially starts. Another version tells how Cyriac blinded Miyake at the beginning of their contest, by either throwing sand in his face, or, after biting hard on his own tongue to build up a large volume of saliva, spitting in his face.

EN 3: May 2, 1909 Jornal do Comércio. Cyriac's victory was viewed as a victory for Brazil by many nationalists. He was invited to give a demonstration before a group of academics at the College of Medicine, and his face gifted the pages of Careta. In the wake of his triumph, there was a large push towards instituting Capoeira into the military (much to the Navy's embarrassment having hired Miyako), but it all came to naught. Cyriac died three years later with Capoeira still outlawed, and it would remain officially so until 1941.


EN 4: As one Journalist explained afterwards, "He admitted that he, like most Brazilians of his rank, had naively fallen under the spell of street Capoeira. But he concluded in relief: fortunately not all Brazilians believe in it."

EN 5: Jornal O Tempo, December 23, 1915 and December 25, 1915

EN 6: The event screams of a 'worked" professional wrestling match. That Gastâo was partners in the American Circus with the Queirolo brothers of Argentina, promoting wrestling matches throughout the Amazon, does little to dissuade that view. The only thing that would suggest it wasn't is the fact that there seems to have been some serious disagreements between the two camps over the outcome (large amounts of money appear to have been involved) and the resulting riots ruined their business for almost a year. It is also worth noting, that the reports that Gastao's connection with Maeda was in helping with political and Japanese immigration problems is false, and that they met as part of their mutual business interests in professional wrestling.

EN 7: There may be some truth to the Gracie's stories that Maeda taught Carlos something different from Judo. At the time, Maeda seems to have made a conscious decision to refer to his art as jujutsu rather than Judo or Kano Jujutsu, perhaps to save the Kodokan any embarrassment, for at the time prizefighting was frowned upon. Maeda also seems to have made a pedagogical change to the usual instructions and offered no belts. Considering where he was, and who he was instructing at the time, it is possible he was teaching a combination of Kano Jujutsu and no-holds-barred wrestling. After retiring from the professional wrestling circuit, he would begin calling his martial art Judo, following the Kodokan curriculum with his students.

EN 8: Folha do Norte, July 9, 1920

EN 9: According to José Cairus in MODERNIZAÇÃO, NACIONALISMO E A ELITE: A Origem do Jiu-Jitsu Brasileiro, 1905-1920, Ferro was a Greco-Roman wrestler who became Maeda's first student in Belém. As his senior pupil, he often assisted in instructions and would have done so for Carlos during his time as a student of Maeda.


  • Capoeira "Versus" Jiu-Jitsu from Caretas Magazine image via Jornal do Capoeira
  • Conde Koma Wrestling image
  • Troupe Japoneza image via

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