In 1904, “Judo’s founder Jigoro Kano sent one of his strongest young judoka, Mitsuyo Maeda (1880-1941) with Jojiro Tomita to the White House to assist in a judo demonstration for President Teddy Roosevelt. After a formal demonstration, an American football player in the audience issued an impromptu challenge.” The less adept Tomita took to the floor instead of Maeda. “Tomita failed with a throw and was pinned helplessly beneath the football player’s bulk. Maeda, abashed by Tomita’s poor showing and frantic to reassert the superiority of Kodokan Judo, stayed on. He persuaded some Japanese businessmen to stake him $1,000 in prize money and embarked on a long career of challenging all comers throughout North and South America. In Brazil, where he eventually settled he was feted as Conte Comte (“Count Combat”) and his savage system of fighting, now called ‘Gracie Jiu-Jutsu,’ is employed by certain fighters in present-day "no-holds-barred" professional matches.
It was Maeda who brought Jiu-Jitsu to Brazil. As a member of the Kodokan, Maeda went to America with his kohai Satake, etc. as Judo ambassadors. He was said to have fought more than 100 fights and in Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, he was respected as Count Koma (Conde Koma).
Maeda was born in Aomori Prefecture in 1878. When he was a boy, he learned Tenshin (Tenshin Shin’yo) Jiu-Jitsu. He moved to Tokyo when he was about 18 and went to Tokyo Senmon School. He began practicing Judo and a record of him entering the Kodokan is dated 1897. He was very persistant and never gave up on anything. He was naturaly talented in judo and rose through the ranks quickly to establish himself as the most promising young judoka in the Kodokan. Maeda was a small man at 164 cm, 70 kilo.
In 1904, he travelled to the U.S. with one of his instructors, Tsunejiro Tomita. The first and only place they demonstrated judo together was at the U.S. Army academy in West Point. Contrary to what has been published, they never went to the White House to meet the President, Teddy Roosevelt. It was the Kodokan great, Yoshitsugu Yamashita who taught Roosevelt judo at the White House and later engaged in a match with a wrestler nearly twice his size at Roosevelt’s request, which took place at the U.S. Naval academy in Annapolis. Yamashita won with an arm bar and was given a teaching position at the academy. The demonstration at West Point however was a failure. Tomita and Maeda performed kata, but the Americans did not comprehend the techniques they were observing. Maeda was challenged by a student who was a wrestling champion. Maeda accepted the challenge and the wrestler ended up pinning Maeda which the wrestler had felt garnered him victory over Maeda. Maeda, who was not familiar with western wrestling continued to fight until he put his opponent in a joint lock forcing the wrestler to tap out. The students at West Point then wanted to see Tomita fight. In their minds, since Tomita was the instructor, he must have been better than Maeda. Tomita was in his 40′s and was past his prime. He had no choice but to accept a fight or he would of lost face. His larger American opponent rushed and tackled him. Tomita was held helpless under the larger man and forced to give up.
After this incident, Tomita and Maeda separated. Tomita left for the West Coast and Maeda stayed in New York. Maeda began teaching at Princeton University part-time after he had won some challenge matches. He also commuted to teach in New York City, but his American students did not take to the Japanese style of teaching and he often found his students did not stay long. Maeda was approached to engage in a match for prize money by the local japanese. Maeda wasn’t having much success teaching judo so he accepted. This was a violation of Kodokan rules which prohibited members from engaging in matches. He accepted the wrestling/judo match with a Brooklyn, New York wrestler nicknamed “Butcherboy” that took place in the Catskills, New York. Maeda defeated the wrestler. His victory raised the pride of local Japanese in the area. This match was the beginning of his career as a professional fighter.
Maeda is rumoured to have fought over 2,000 matches in his career; many unrecorded. He traveled throughout Latin America and Europe, taking on all comers. He became a legend in the fighting world and his name is still well known amongst Japanese settlements in the Americas. He only lost two matches in his fighting career. One in the “catch-as-catch-can” world championships held in London. In this tournament, Maeda entered in both the middleweight and heavyweight divisions. He advanced to the semi-finals in the finals in two weight classes. In matches where judo gis were worn, however, Maeda was undefeated.
Maeda thought of Judo as the ultimate form of self-defense. To him, western arts such as boxing and wrestling were only sports with set of rules. Maeda’s strategy in an anything goes fight was to set his opponent up with an elbow or low kick. He would then go for a throw and then finish his opponent off on the ground with a choke or joint lock. Maeda stated in his autobiography that he took Kodokan judo techniques and pared them down to the simplest, most effective methods exploiting what he observed were the weaknesses of wrestling and boxing. He studied the two enough to see what were their strengths. He is quoted as saying that he took elements from taryu shiai judo (judo techniques specifically used for matches against other schools), pared them down, and used techniques that were deemed most effective. For example, he found that boxers were relatively unaware of defenses against judo groundwork, so he concentrated on take-downs and groundwork.
Maeda traveled the world and learned from his experiences and slowly developed his own unique expression of judo. When Kimura encountered Helio Gracie, what he saw reminded him of the earlier judo methods that were rough and tumble. Prewar (prior to WWII) Judo had body locks, leg locks, unusual choking techniques that were discarded because they were not legal in contest judo, which had evolved slowly over the years.
In 1914, jiu-jitsu master Esai Maeda, also known as Count Coma, was given the opportunity to travel to Brazil as part of a large Japanese immigration colony. In Brazil, in the northern state of Para, he befriended Gastão Gracie, an influential businessman, who helped Maeda get established. To show his gratitude, Maeda offered to teach traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu to Gastão's oldest son, Carlos Gracie. Carlos learned for a few years and eventually passed his knowledge to his brothers.
Helio Gracie, the youngest son of Gastão and Cesalina Gracie's eight children (three were girls), was always a very physically frail child. He would run up a flight of stairs and have fainting spells, and no one could figure out why. In fact, upon completing second grade, he convinced his mother that he wasn't well enough to attend school, anymore. She fell for it, and he never went back to school.
When the family experienced some financial hardships following their move to Rio, some of the children were scattered to live with other relatives. Helio was sent to live with his aunts, and through these family contacts, he found work as a coxswain for a popular local rowing team, eventually moving into the team dorms. His indomitable spirit and great sense of humor combined to make him quite a hell-raiser. In fact, his tireless ability to drive people “nuts,” earned him the nickname of "Caxinguelê" or "Squirrel" in Portuguese.
At age fourteen, he moved in with his older brothers who lived and taught jiu-jitsu in a house in Botafogo, a borough of Rio de Janeiro. Following doctor’s recommendations, Helio would spend the next few years limited to only watching his brothers teach.
One day, when Helio was 16 years old, a student showed up for class when Carlos was not around. Helio, who had memorized all the techniques from watching his brothers teach, offered to start the class. When the class was over, Carlos showed up and apologized for his delay. The student answered, "No problem. I enjoyed the class with Helio very much and, if you don't mind, I'd like to continue learning from him." Carlos agreed, and Helio became an instructor.
Helio soon realized that due to his frail physique, most of the techniques he had learned from watching Carlos teach were particularly difficult for him to execute. Eager to make the techniques work for him, he began modifying them to accommodate his weak body. Emphasizing the use of leverage and timing over strength and speed, Helio modified virtually all of the techniques and, through trial and error, created Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
In order to prove the effectiveness of his new system, Helio openly challenged all the reputable martial artists in Brazil. He fought 18 times, including matches against onetime world heavyweight wrestling champion, Wladek Zbyszko and the #2-ranked Judoka in the world at the time, Kato, whom Helio choked unconscious in six minutes. His victory against Kato qualified him to enter the ring with the world champion, Masahiko Kimura, who outweighed Helio by almost 80 pounds.
In an event worthy of a Hollywood movie, he once jumped into the shark-infested waters of the Atlantic Ocean to save a man from drowning.This heroic feat earned him a medal of honor.
At 43 years old, Helio and his opponent, former student Waldemar Santana, set the world record for the longest uninterrupted no-holds-barred fight in history when they fought for an incredible 3 hours and 40 minutes!
Helio widely regarded as the first sports hero in Brazilian history, also challenged boxing icons Primo Carnera, Joe Louis, and Ezzard Charles. They all declined.
A modern-day legend, Helio Gracie gained international acclaim for his dedication to the dissemination of the art and philosophy of Gracie Jiu-jitsu. A dedicated family man who exemplified a healthy life-style, he was the epitome of courage, discipline, determination, and an inspiration to all those who knew him.
Helio's son, Royce Gracie, is one of the most famous and influential Martial Artists in History. He introduced his family's art to the U.S. and the World when he stepped into the Octagon in the First Ultimate Fighting Championships and dominated all his opponents despite being outweighed by them all. These early fights more closely resembled the Vale Tudo ("Anything Goes") fights of his native country than they do today's MMA fights. There were no weight classes, time limits, fewer rules, and multiple fights in one night. Royce was the one tasked by his family to prove the superiority of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to the world and there can be no doubt that he did just that. Royce was the first person inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame as well as being named one of Sports Illustrated's Top 50 Athletes of All Time
Mr. Thompson is one of the top Combatives Instructors in the US Army and is the current Trainer and Advisor for Special Forces Units 3rd 7th, C37, SWCS, Range 37 (Advanced Skills Battalion) and other Special Units. Greg is the Advisor to the MACP (Modern Army Combatives) Level 3 and 4 Programs. He is also an advisor to the Navy Seals in Little Creek, VA, and 10th SF unit Germany. Greg also created SOCP (Special Operations Combatives Program) which is the first Combatives Program officially designated for all U.S. Army Special Operations Forces.
Roy Marsh is the founder of Royce Gracie/Team-ROC Southern Pines and is a Multiple Time IBJJF Gold Medalist. He is also an advisor to the 82nd Airborne Combatives Program at Ft. Bragg and has taught seminars throughout Europe and the U.S.