Global Training Report Archives 1997-2016






Myths,  Misconceptions, and Misinformation about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Japan[1]

  By Roberto Pedreira

August 30, 2016

Some readers may be surprised to know that Maeda Mitsuyo [前田光世] (aka Mitsuyo Maeda, Count Koma, Conde Koma, and several other names) is not a living legend and national hero in Japan. In fact, he was virtually totally forgotten in his own country until Rorion Gracie mentioned his name in Gracies in Action, or more exactly, until Japanese promotion companies decided to import UFC style events on a large and well-capitalized scale in 1994, cashing in on the Gracie family's clever marketing campaign and the sudden availability of exotic fighters who could deliver the goods without the need for elaborate choreography. (See interview with Pride president Naoto Morishita). The Japanese already had a surfeit of pro wrestling companies, and the Pancrase organization evolved out of one of them just a few months before the first UFC. In fact two of the first UFC contestants were veterans of either Pancrase or the UWF, namely Ken Shamrock and Gerard Gordeau.  

Suddenly, Japanese became interested in their forgotten Kodokan judo heroes, Masahiko Kimura [木村政彦] and Mitsuyo Maeda [前田光世]. 

Interest was not limited to fans. Scholars also took notice. Unfortunately, most of Maeda's career was spent outside of Japan. He left in 1904 and never went back. So Japanese researchers needed to rely on foreign sources of information. Japan's interest in Maeda stemmed directly from his alleged association with the Gracie family, specifically as the putative (unconfirmed) instructor of Carlos Gracie. Most books and academic articles mentioned the Gracie family, specifically Carlos Helio or Rickson, and asked such questions as: How and why did Helio Gracie develop his unique brand of jiu-jitsu out of Maeda's Kodokan judo? Indeed, most foreign writers ask this question, assuming that what Royce did in UFC 1, 2, and 4 was what his father created in the 1930's (or even later). Otherwise, there is not much to be explained. Obviously, BJJ is now very different from judo. Anyone who has trained both knows what the differences are. People with some knowledge of judo history will also have a pretty good sense for why they came about (hint: internationalization and sportification, both of judo and BJJ, albeit at different times). 

This brings us to history. Unfortunately, Japanese researchers suffer the same limits, but even more so, that everyone else does. To know what happened in Brazil, you have to be able to access and read old Brazilian newspapers and other documents. As of 2014, all. or most, of this information has been available in Choque 1-3.  Before that, researchers used what the could get and interpolated (made up) the rest based on what seemed plausible, what they read on the internet, academy web sites, or martial arts magazines. Virtually everything derived from Gracies in Action (1988 and 1992) and the Pat Jordan Playboy article (1989). Myths, misinformation, and and misconceptions flourished as one writer recycled what another writer said, nobody seeming to notice that it all came from the same source, namely Rorion Gracie (and later, academy owners and others with vested interests in maintaining the myths).


1.  神山典士[Kohyama Norio]. (1997). ライオンの夢コンデでコマ=前田光世伝. 東京:.学館.

Two books about Maeda were published in 1997. Both contributed to and helped spread the Gracie Myths. Norio Kohyama's Raion no Yume was first, published May 10. Takao Marushima's followed on November 1. Marushima did not cite Kohyama's book but he could not have avoided hearing about it. It is possible that he read it, if for no other reason than to avoid covering too much of the same material in too similar a way. They differ in various respects but the most significant is that Kohyama's is not about the Gracie family (although the book was inspired by Maeda's alleged relationship to them), while Marushima's book is substantially about the Gracies.

Kohyama conceded that he wrote his book because of Maeda's resurrected fame thanks to the Gracies claiming a direct lineage from him (pp. 21-22; he also notes on page 225 that judo history was impacted by Kimura's match with Helio Gracie in 1951. His own research did not reveal anything about Maeda and the Gracies. His conclusions appear to be based on a December 1993 interview with Helio and Rorion in the magazine 格闘技通信. Like everyone else (until GTR, Jiu-Jitsu in the South Zone, and Choque 1-3), Kohyama did not attempt, or was unable, to verify what Helio and Rorion said. He probably didn't care that much, His interest was in  Japanese immigration and related topics. Maeda's ring career was covered vaguely and briefly (pp. 106-109). Based on what Helio and Rorion said, and possibly other similar things he obviously heard or read, Kohyama  wrote that Carlos learned jiu-jitsu directly from Maeda but because Carlos was dead (as of 1994) it was left to the remaining family members to carry on Maeda's legacy for the benefit of Japanese MMA fans [ "コンデ-コマに直接柔術を習ったカルロスはすでに亡くなっていることから、グレイーシ−家としても前田光世にまつまる記録はほとんど残っていないという状況だが、グレイーシ威光から、日本の格闘技ファンの間でコンデーコマ=前田光世に対して新しい光りが当たり始めた."]

He quotes Helio who said "In 1914 Maeda and Iomata were in Brazil. My four older brothers, Carlos, Gastão, and George, learned jiu-jitsu from Maeda for 3 or 4 years. And there was me. [一九一四年、(アマゾンのべレンに) 前田とイオマタという日本人がいて, 私の兄弟は三−四年間前田に柔術を習った。私は五人兄弟で四人の兄がいて、上からカルロス (この大会の後九四年に死亡)、ガシトン (八十七歳)、ジヨージ (故人)、そして私だ.] [2]

Helio erred on several points. Although Oswaldo on at least one occasion claimed that all of the brothers (except Helio) learned from Maeda, there is no evidence that they did. For his part, Helio had no way of knowing what his brother did or didn't do, other than what Carlos told him. Moreover Helio went on record in 1951 as saying that he never even heard of jiu-jitsu until January 1930 or March 1929 at the earliest [Choque 2 chp. 2, and Choque 3 app. 5]. In other words, whatever Helio said about Carlos and Maeda was based (at best) on what Carlos told him.

Helio’s oldest son, Rorion (age 43) was also present at the interview. He explained that "In Brazil Maeda taught the old stiff style of jiu-jitsu. My dad was handicapped by a lack of physical abilities so he tried to use his physical limitations as an advantage, with the mentality of "soft overcomes hard" of the original jiu-jitsu. That's what Gracie jiu-jitsu is." [Rorion: "前田がブラジルに伝えたオールドースタイルの柔術は動きが硬かった。だから、体格に恵まれなかった父は体力のハンデイを逆に武器にしながら、柔よく剛を制すの精神でオリジナルの柔術を作っていたんだよ。それがグレイーシ柔術さ"].

Rorion was born in 1951 so he obviously had no idea what his father did or didn't do, apart from whatever Helio may have told him. The theme of a weak man using science to overcome strong men is a jiu-jitsu marketing cliché that goes back to the days of Jigoro Kano himself [Choque 3, app. 5]. As Choque 1 documents, Helio was not a frail, small, weak boy during his first jiu-jitsu career (1932-1936) or second either (1950-1955), but on the contrary was a healthy, studly athletic young man. He had already been a swimming and rowing champion (both strenuous sports) before he begin learning jiu-jitsu, and he was not particularly small either, for a Brazilian of his age, at that time, other than in comparison to the typically obese pro wrestlers in his milieu (see almost any chapter of Choque 1-3.) Recall that most of Helio's ring opponents were about his own size or even smaller, see here ). 

The chief impact of Kohyama 's book came not from anything in it--it's almost all about immigration. The impact came from an internet review by Mark Gorsuch, who added his own erroneous personal opinion that Maeda was a vale tudo fighter who used kicks and elbows to take it to the ground after which he finished by submission. This error subsequently took on a life of its own in the forums and blogs (see here for details about that).



2.  丸島隆雄 [Marushima Takao] (1997) 『前田光世世界柔道武者修行』島津書房.

Takao Marushima's biography of Count Koma/Mitsuyo Maeda is available only in Japanese and currently out of print. It achieved fame on the internet via Graham Noble's 2000 article on Yukio Tani. Graham suggested that Marushima supported the claim that Tani was a student of Tanabe Mataemon and thereby was a Fusen-ryuu stylist. Unfortunately, Graham apparently did not read Marushima's book. Others, who should have been more cautious, then cited Marushima based on what Graham said, none of them having actually read the book.[3

Marushima's book is as much about the Gracies as Maeda. Unfortunately, all of his information (about the Maeda connection and Gracie Jiu-jitsu origins) came from Gracie marketing videos, Japanese magazine articles promoting the Gracies.  Marushima was even cited by Japanese researchers (see below). Incidentally, the Gracies did not call their jiu-jitsu Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or even claim that it was different from Japanese jiu-jitsu until Rorion moved to America (with one brief exception see Choque 3). On the contrary what they claimed was that their brand of jiu-jitsu preserved the features of old jiu-jitsu that modern judo abandoned. The issue about what their jiu-jitsu was didn't even arise until judo became an international sport and Brazilians started to want to learn it and compete.

According to Marushima (1997, p. 140) "Tani was a student of Tanabe Mataemon of the Fusen-style of jujutsu ["谷は、不遷流の田辺又右衛門の門弟である"]. He adds, "Tanabe’s specialty was ne-waza. He was known for having measured forces with the Kodokan’s 'strong men' and making them lick a bitter cup” [寝技を得意とし、講道館の猛者たちと渡り合い、彼らに苦杯をなめさせたこと有名だ."] . No mention of Tani's father is made.

Marushima did not cite a specific source, but in his references/bibliography section [参考文献] he lists `秘録日本柔道 by 工藤雷介 [Kudo Raisuke], published in 1972 (but Marushima got the publication date wrong; above is a picture of Tanabe from page 110 of Kudo's book).  However Kudo Raisuke did not mention Tani. Marushima also listed Minorou Yamada 1997 book Yawara: 知られざる日本の柔術の世界 as a reference (but did not cite anything specifically).

According to Minoru Yamada (p. 40), both Taro Miyake and Yukio Tani were Fusen-ryû students of Tanabe in Kobe. But Yamada's source for this is 1983 book about Pro Wrestling [日本プロレス秘語] by Kojima Sadaji. 

Concerning Tani's background, sources conflict. Some say Fusen-ryû, some say Tenjinshinyo-ryû, some say both, some say neither (or nothing). What they all have in common is that none provide any credible evidence. The closest to evidence is Gunji Koizumi, co-founder with Tani of the Budokwai in England. Koizumi claimed that he studied Tenjinshinyo-ryû and two other styles of jiu-jitsu. If he did, he probably would have been able to recognize Tani's background from his grappling style. But Koizumi's own background is based only on his own claim.  Kosuke Nagaki, in a 2009 article, trying to pin down Tani's background, cites a half dozen sources (including Inoue and Yamada, mentioned above) and a 1955 article written in Japanese by Koizumi, but concludes that none of it is conclusive and he is simply (for the time being) trusting Koizumi without being able to verify what he wrote.


3. 井上俊 [Shun Inoue]. (2004). 武道の誕生. 吉川文官.

Shun Inoue [ 井上俊]  is a respected historian. His article "The Invention of the Martial Arts: Kanô Jigorô and Kôdôkan Judo” is frequently cited in academic sports history (most academic articles are never cited, so 50 citations is a lot). This article has nothing to do with the Gracies. In 2004 he wrote a brief (195 pages) book about how unarmed military skills became a "way" [武道野誕生] as well as a sport and an ideology. It also is not about the Gracies but it does acknowledge them (justly, because they more than anyone else resurrected not only Maeda, but also Kimura, and stimulated a sort of boom in grappling history. The main significance of Inoue's book consists of a single, short unsupported reference on page 65 to Yukio Tani as originally being a Fusen-ryû stylist. This is important because it is cited by other writers/researchers to support their claims about Tani's background, hence (in some cases) the sources of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

He has little to say about the Gracies other than that Maeda taught Carlos Gracie (p. 69). He doesn't provide a source for this statement and there is nothing in his references section that could support it.  To be clear, there is no huge myth or misconception here, only an unsubstantiated claim. But the fact that a respected historian such as Inoue made the claim led other writers (such as Kosuke Nagaki, above) to cite it as a source for their own subsequent speculations.  

4.  谷釜尋徳 [Tanigami Hironori]. (2013). 柔道の普及と変容に関する研究 グレイシー柔術に着目して(その 2). 東洋法学, 56(3), 276-265.

In 2013, Tanigami Hironori (a law professor at Toyo University) wanted to ascertain how and why Helio Gracie "transformed" [変容] the judo that Mitsuyo Maeda brought to Brazil into the style that we know it as today. It is sad but not surprising that he gets most of the historical facts wrong. That is because the source of his information was a 1995 VHS tape titled グレイシー柔術の歴史秘技 (The History of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu's Secret Techniques) along with the unreliable parts of Toshinori Masuda's 2011 biography of Kimura, 木村雅彦はなぜ力道山を殺さなかったか. Most of Masuda's book is reliable but unfortunately Tanigami cited the parts that are not (discussed below).  


The majority of Tanigami's source citations are to this 1995 tape, with some others to books that also depend on Gracie marketing materials or Gracie fan publications. Even the few better sourced books he refers to are not without problems. Here are a few errors.

Error 1. Helio fought many Vale Tudo fights.

Fact: Helio had a total of two vale tudo fights. The first was in 1935. The second and last was in 1955. He won the first, lost the second. The fight with Antonio Portugal was a mixed styles fight. (See Choque 1, chp. 12, chp. 15, and Choque 2, chp. 6). 

Error 2. Fought boxer Antonio Portugal in 1930 and won by choke. Helio was 17 at the time.

Fact: The year was 1932. Helio won by arm-lock. (Choque 1, chp. 12).

Error 3. Also in 1930, Helio fought and defeated a Japanese judoka named Namiki. 

Fact: The year was 1932. Helio did not defeat Namiki. The result was a draw (more accurately, an empate, which meant that neither man was submitted,  knocked out, or gave up or abandoned the ring. It  did not mean that the match was equal. (Choque 1, chp. 12).

Error 4.  Also in 1930, Helio fought and defeated Manoel Rufino dos Santos. 

Fact:  Helio never fought Manoel Rufino dos Santos. Carlos did, not Helio. The year was 1931, not 1930. Carlos didn't defeat Rufino Santos, he lost by abandoning the ring. (Choque 1, chp. 11).

Error 5. In 1935, Helio fought and defeated Takeo Yano and  冨川富興, using ground grappling.  Takeo Yano and another judoka named 冨川富興 succumbed to Helio Gracie's ne-waza [いずれも寝技で退けている]. 

Fact: Tanigami cited a statement on page 367 of Masuda (2011): "[Yano and 冨川富興] successively yielded to Helio's ne-waza" ["相次いでエリオの寝技に屈した]. Tanigami rephrased Masuda's verb 屈した as 退けている but both mean that Helio won by way of ne-waza. But both are wrong. Neither one lost to Helio Gracie. Yano had only one fight with Helio, which was a draw. Helio never encountered anyone named 冨川富興 (and there is no record in the sports press of anyone by that name). The name 冨川富興 can be pronounced in several ways. Without knowing who he was, we can only guess at the pronunciation. However, it doesn't matter because there was no fighter by either name in Brazil at the time (and the Brazilian press did not write Japanese fighter's names with kanji). Moreover, Helio Gracie didn't have any grappling matches with any Japanese other than Namiki, Miyaki, Massagoichi, Yano, and Yassuiti Ono (and a sufficiency test with Naoiti Ono) until 1951 (in 1951 his Japanese opponents were Yukio Kato and Masahiko Kimura).[4]

Error 6. Helio fought a boxer named Waldemar Santana in 1956. The fight lasted over 3 hours and ended in a draw.

Fact:  Santana did have some rudimentary striking training, including capoeira, but boxers are people who compete in boxing matches, which Santana did not, therefore he was not a boxer. He was an all-round luta livre fighter with both jiu-jitsu and judo training (whose career is described in Choque 2 and Choque 3). The fight took place in 1955, not 1956. It did not end in a draw. It ended by Helio Gracie being knocked unconscious by Santana's foot. However, it is true that it lasted over 3 hours. Tanigami's source for this misinformation was the 1995 Gracie VHS tape.  

Error 7. In 1936, Helio fought Takeo Yano again. This time they drew. The 1995 Gracie tape is again the source.

Fact. Helio and Yano met only once and the result was a draw (more accurately, an empate, which meant that neither man was submitted,  knocked out, or gave up or abandoned the ring. It did not mean that the match was equal. See Choque 1, chp. 16 for full details). 

It is unfortunate that Tanigami choose to rely so heavily on what any prudent researcher should automatically be suspicious of, namely marketing materials written by people with a direct financial interest in presenting a particularly point of view. Somewhat more understandably he also trusted T. Masuda, but failed to adequately assess Masuda's use of sources (or rather, to notice that Masuda sometimes made claims without offering any sources). Perhaps the message is that law professors are not necessarily competent historians.

The above is only a small sample of myths, misconceptions, and misinformation to be found in (or in some cases, extrapolated from) Japanese sources. There is plenty more. Japanese writers are not immune to the urge to speculate, and sadly, have been just as apt to rely on inherently flawed source materials (i.e., Gracies in Action and derivatives) as almost everyone else (until Choque). Obviously, there is also plenty of good solid reliable information in Japan, especially in places that were not destroyed by American B-29s during the last war.[5] Most of it is available only in Japanese, and most of that is out-of-print (but libraries will have or be able to obtain them, assuming you are in Japan, or possibly a good research library somewhere else). The trick is to use tried and true historical research methods to separate fact from fiction. 



1. Titles are given in the original and quotations are likewise in the original Japanese mixed script, the reasons being that, if you intend to look for the books/articles in Japanese libraries, you will most likely need this, rather than English translations or romanized Japanese. If you can read Japanese, romanization serves no purpose, and if you can't read Japanese,  it also serves no purpose. Names and titles are provided in English when it serves a useful purpose. 

All translations are by Roberto Pedreira unless otherwise indicated.

2. Helio mentioned that he had four older brothers but named only three. He left out Oswaldo who was also a fighter and teacher and helped establish the Gracie name between 1930 and 1943. Unfortunately, he was the only brother who didn't live to a ripe old age. See Choque 1, chps. 10-22 for details about Oswaldo Gracie.

3. If it turns out that Graham Noble can read Japanese fluently and has read Marushima, I will stand corrected. That does not seem to be the case, judging from the introduction to Graham's  essay "Mas Oyama in America" and considering that the title of Marushima's book is cited and translated incorrectly, which is easy to explain if Graham merely saw a copy of the book (the removable dust cover specifically), but hard to explain if he actually read it. Perhaps Graham's other source, Shingo Ohgami, had a copy and Shingo's statement was based on what Marushima said (and Marushima's statement was based on what someone else said that someone else said....)? It is a minor point. Marushima does in fact say part of what Graham alleges. It is Marushima's source that is problematic. Citing books you haven't read is a dangerous practice, but sadly, all too common, even in the respectable academic world. For a typical and highly relevant example, see:

Martin, Laura. (1986). “Eskimo words for snow”: A case study in the genesis and decay of an anthropological example. American anthropologist, 88(2), 418-423.

Or (updated commentary on Martin):

Pullum, G. K. (1991). The great Eskimo vocabulary hoax and other irreverent essays on the study of language. University of Chicago Press.

4. If you are curious about what a "sufficiency test" is (or rather was), read Choque 1.

5. As we know, Kyoto (home base of Butokukai)  was spared for what can only be considered a flukish reason.  Concerning Kyoto and the Butokukai's good luck, see Here. The Butokukai itself, however was abolished soon after the war.  



Previous Myths and Misconceptions

Six Myths about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu History

Four Questions & Answers about BJJ History

Top 30 Myths

Myths in GIA 1

Myths in Playboy

Myths in GIA 2

The Backstory


Roberto has no agenda other than researching and sharing the historical truth. He is not pro or anti any family, person, geographical region, or style. (See About GTR).



(c) 2016, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.

Revised August 4, 2016 (minor edits and clarifications). Thanks to A Reader for comments.







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