Gracie: O Criador de uma Dinastia
Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2008
by Roberto Pedreira
March 15, 2013
Chapter 3 Do Japão Para
Chapter 3 comprises three
sections: "A Origem do Jiu-Jitsu", "O Conde Koma", and
"Carlos Gracie e o Jiu-Jitsu".
The first summarizes how
Jigaro Kano transformed the battlefield arts of jiu-jitsu into the sport of judo
which was less efficient for fighting. Jiu-Jitsu was in danger of disappearing
completely, were it not for a fortuitous encounter between Conde Koma and Carlos
Gracie in Belém do Pará in 1917. This is a familiar story, probably deriving
from Dr. Helcio Binda Leal,1 one of Reyla's
interviewees. It differs from the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action2
version only in that it doesn't claim that the Japanese created a fake jiu-jitsu
(judo) to teach to foreigners in order to hide their secret combat techniques.
The important point, obviously, is that Conde Koma taught real jiu-jitsu to
The second section reviews
the life of Esai Maeda (or Conde de Koma, as he was also known). Reyla doesn't cite any
sources for her information, but it seems generally accurate, although,
according to Norio Kohyama, Maeda practiced sumo with his father before entering
the Kodokan at the age of 18. He did not study "Tenshin jiu-jitsu".3
Reyla also claims (p. 37) that Kodokan sent teachers to most countries in North
and South America, where they met Japanese jiu-jitsu practitioners who left Japan to
teach real jiu-jitsu in exotic locales rather than submit to the new Kodokan
"sport" rules. This is questionable. Key to the story that will ensue,
she adds "Mas de todas as sementes plantadas, somente uma vingaria, graças
ao adolescente Carlos Gracie, que Maeda encontaria em Belém do Pará
[of all the seeds that would be planted, only one would thrive, thanks to
the young boy Carlos Gracie, who Maeda would meet in Belém do Pará].
Reyla correctly points out
that Kano gave special emphasis to throwing, but also retained arm-locks, leg
locks, and chokes from various jiu-jitsu styles while eliminating the most
dangerous techniques, which (it is implied) Maeda knew and taught to Carlos, and
which, logically, we must assume, were incorporated into Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
This is a necessary assumption, because without it, Maeda simply taught Carlos
some basic judo techniques.4 If however Maeda
taught Carlos real jiu-jitsu which was different from sportive judo, then we
would not be surprised to find the Gracies later using these lethal
techniques in their matches and desafios [challenges], and teaching them
in their private lessons. If we do not find techniques that are different from
judo, then the foundation myth falters.
The third section is
"Carlos Gracie e o Jiu-Jitsu". No sources are cited regarding Maeda
and Carlos. Since the only person who would have been in a position to witness
any of this would have been Carlos himself, it is probable that Reyla's source
was again Jose Geraldo's comic book A Verdade sobre os Gracie. The second
half of this section concerns the family's financial and inter-personal
In 1917, Gastão took
Carlos, then 15 years old, to a Maeda exhibition at the Teatro da Paz in
Belém. Carlos was impressed by the victory of technique over brute force.
Maeda gave lessons on the side, like most professional wrestlers. Gastão
thought that jiu-jitsu lessons might serve as an escape value for the young
boy's aggressiveness. Maeda liked Carlos's insolent temperament, which Reyla
thinks might have reminded Conde Koma of himself.
Did Maeda detect a future
champion in that skinny kid? Reyla wonders. One incident suggested that he
might have. Soon after his first lesson, Conde Koma asked for a student to
volunteer (obviously it was a group lesson) to be the "uke"
in a demonstration of the mystery of apparent death [misterioso da
morte aparente]. No one volunteered. All of the students sat, slack-jawed in
fear. Carlos was just as afraid as his fellow students, but
wanted to show that he feared nothing, so he offered himself. Conde Koma began
his demonstration and then stopped, saying "no Carlos, it won't
be you [não Carlos, não vou fazer isso com você] ...a great champion
should not begin learning jiu-jitsu while unconscious" [Não convém a
uma grande campeão começar a aprender jiu-jitsu perdendo a consciência].
This left Carlos relieved but with a passion for jiu-jitsu that would last all
of his life.
Seeing in that skinny blond
kid [louro magricela] a future champion, Conde Koma taught Carlos more
sophisticated techniques than he taught the other students and after the regular
class he would ask Carlos to hang around to learn the details of the techniques.
We basically have Carlos'
word for all this. In Maeda's absence,
Carlos practiced with Jacinto Ferro, who taught Oswaldo and Gastão Jr. Jacinto
was obviously just as much a beginner as Carlos. Carlos resumed his lessons when
Maeda was available. We have no idea how often he trained. Reyla concludes that
it was almost three years, but that was enough to perfect his knowledge of the
mysteries of jiu-jitsu. But the evidence is not overwhelming. It consists of what
Jose Geraldo said that Carlos said and the fact that Maeda was in Belém at the
We also don't know what
Carlos learned, but according to Reyla, it wasn't the traditional
jiu-jitsu of Japan, nor was it the sportive jiu-jitsu moderno (judo). Reyla says
that Maeda taught Carlos some of the secrets and tricks of real fighting (p.
40). These included not turning your back to your opponent,5
not letting him get the mount position and not letting him control you. Maeda
did not teach inefficient judo wrist locks (???) but instead taught chokes and
arm-locks to finish the fight definitively. In this way, the jiu-jitsu taught in
Brazil more closely resembled the reality of a fight than the jiu-jitsu that was
being taught in Europe and the USA.
Tragedy struck the always
disorganized (and as it might be said today, dysfunctional) family. Carlos's
adored aunt Lindom became acutely ill with bronchitis. Before she died, she
confessed that she had had intimate relations with Gastão. That revelation did
nothing to improve relations between him and Cesalina. As if that weren't
enough, in 1920 the American Circus, owned by Gastão, went bankrupt. He
went off in search of opportunities, but without success. But on December 13,
1921, Gastão's father Pedro passed on, and Gastão, anticipating a big
inheritance, packed up his bags and family and headed back to Rio.
Carlos never returned to Belém and as far
as we know, had no further contact with the man who altered the course of his
life, although he
easily could have, because Conde Koma stayed in Belém and was a well-known
person in Brazil up until the time of his death in 1941.
Chapter 4. Rio de Janeiro, Capital do Brasil
1. Helcio Binda Leal's
version can be found here. Keep in mind that it has
been modified by Reyson Gracie and may not accurately reflect Dr. Leal's
According to Rorion, “the Japanese always wanted to hide the ancient
techniques of jiu-jitsu. That’s what originated the idea of judo, just the
sportive aspect of the traditional jiu-jitsu.”
[Raion no Yume: Maeda Mitsuyo], by Norio Kohyama 1997. Tokyo:
Shogakukan. Since Kano had studied Tenjinshinyo-ryu
(and other styles), and his Kodokan judo was a synthesis of many arts, and Tenjinshinyo-ryu itself was, according to Syd Hoare (2009, p. 45), "an
amalgam of the Yoshin-ryu and Shin no Shinto-ryu," it is very likely that Maeda
acquired whatever Tenjinshinyo-ryu techniques he knew via Kodokan judo (or
from people with Kodokan connections).
For more details see A History of Judo.
by Syd Hoare,
London: Yamagi Books,
2009. What they were and whether he taught them to Carlos is of course a
different and unsubstantiated matter. Reyla doesn't throw any light on it in
this chapter, and indeed, somewhat confuses things. [Update June 24, 2021: for a
historically accurate account of how Kano created Kodokan judo see Craze
1, especially chp. 5.)
4. Which is what
Rorion and Helio claim. See this Helio interview for one
5. Not letting an
opponent take your back sounds like common sense in 2013, but it wasn't always.
In a tape made sometime during the late 1980's, shooto champion Erik
Paulson, who had taken some lessons with a number of the Gracies, told his
training partner Chad Stahelski, "The Gracies say 'never turn your back to
your opponent'". Chad was a shooto fighter, and instructor at the Inosanto
Academy, and all-around impressive
martial artist (also Hollywood actor and stuntman), but he continually gave his
back and repeatedly got choked. "Keep your hands up" is also common
sense, but if everyone did it no one would get knocked out.
(c) 2013, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.
Updated June 24, 2021.