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H I S T O R Y  O F  BRAZILIAN  J I U - J I T S U

E N T E R   M A E D A

Mitsuyo Maeda: Conde Koma

A  L I O N ' S   D R E A M 

A dapper Maeda.

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. The 5'5'', 154-pound Maeda was said to have engaged in over 1,000 challenge matches, never once losing a judo-style competition and only once or twice suffering defeat as a professional wrestler. In Brazil, where he eventually settled he was feted as Conte Comte ("Count Combat") and his savage system of fighting, now called 'Gracie Jujutsu,' is employed by certain fighters in present-day 'no-holds-barred' professional matches." 
B I O G R A P H Y

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.

 
A young bull of Kano's Kodokan.
Maeda as a young man.


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.
 

Eventually Maeda travelled to Spain. It was here that Maeda took on the ring name "Conde Koma" in 1908. Maeda was a person who appeared to be under a black cloud. He described his situation was "komaru" which means to be in trouble. So he settled on calling himself "Maeda Koma" by shortening "Maeda Komaru." A spanish acquaintance suggested "Conde" which means "Count." Maeda then referred to himself as "Conde Koma" which also later became part of his legal name.
 

When Maeda was in London, England, (February 1907 - June 1908) he saw a newspaper article where a Russian wrestling champion was quoted as saying that wrestling was superior to judo. He tracked the large wrestler down and issued a challenge on the spot. The wrestler refused on the grounds that he was misquoted and could not risk losing to a non-wrestler. Maeda was brazen and confident enough to challenge Jack Johnson, the American heavyweight boxing champion. Helio Gracie would also duplicate Maeda's challenge by formally issuing a challenge to the heavyweight American champion of his own era, Joe Louis aka "The Brown Bomber." One of Helio's son, Royce, also repeated this tradition by challenging Mike Tyson, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.
 

Maeda would travel also throughout Latin America to fight. In 1915, he ended up in Brazil in a city called Belem. He considered this place to be ideal and settled in Belem which would become his home. He engaged in challenge matches and became famous throughout the region. He also returned to Cuba, Mexico, and the U.S. when necessarily. Maeda was to continue his role as a judo instructor. He taught San Paulo policemen, army college cadets, as well as ordinary citizens. Of course, one of them was a teenage boy by the name of Carlos Gracie, who would perhaps become his most notable student,  Carlos Gracie.
 

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.
 

In 1925, Maeda began his attempts to assist the Japanese immigrating to Brazil. At the time, there were anti-Japanese sentiments in the US, so Maeda felt Brazil  with its more open policy towards immigration was the ideal environment for Japanese settlers. The Amazon appeared to present itself as a lush territory perfect for the Japanese settlers. Maeda worked closely with visiting Japanese officials scouting the territory to assess its suitability for Japanese immigration. In 1928, a Japanese company was created to help the Japanese settle into a town in the Amazon jungle. This town was in a large tract of land set aside by the Brazilian government for the Japanese settlers. Maeda would labor tirelessly to assists his fellow Japanese. Unfortunately, the settlement turned out to be a failure due to malaria and growing unprofitable crops which were not part of the Brazilian diet. The immigrants eventually abandoned the settlement in droves for the port cities.
 

Maeda became a very prominent member of his community. He was given executive positions in many companies and even received a large tract of land from the government. In 193, Maeda became a Brazilian citizen. He is said to have married the daughter of the French consulate, but there is no record of this in a Japanese register, so they probably only lived together. They had a daughter, but both mother and daughter died when the daughter was 2 years old. He remarried at the age of 44 to a Scottish woman and they had a daughter.
 

In 1940, the Japanese government offered to pay Maeda's way for a trip back to Japan in appreciation of the unselfish assistance to Japanese immigrants. He refused the offer, reportedly telling a friend that he wanted to finish building a house for his family. His wife feared that if he went back to Japan he would never return to Brazil. Although, he showed no strong urge to return to Japan, his supposed final words when he died a year later of kidney disease were "I want to drink Japanese water, I want to go back to Japan."
 

 
 

M A E D A ' S   T E C H N I Q U E S

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 demonstrates a hold.


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.

 
There's a japanese biography on Maeda called:

"Raion no yume. Konde Koma, Maeda Mitsuyo den."
(A Lion's dream. Count de Koma, Maeda Mitsuyo's biography).

Publisher: Shogakukan.
Author: Kouyama Norio.
ISBN: 4-09-379213-5


For another inciteful version of Maeda's history in Brazil, The Arrival to Brazil — Count Koma.