The following is said to be a video of Mitsuyo Maeda (1878-1941), the man who famously brought Jiujitsu to Brazil from Japan and (allegedly, since there is some debate about whether he was taught directly, or by a student) taught Carlos Gracie of the Gracie family, who went on to popularise Jiujitsu in the country, creating the Brazilian variation of the art, which hit the big time after UFC 1 in the USA in the 1990s, and is now practiced the world over.
I’d recommend watching it at half speed -( go to Settings/ playback speed/ 0.5 ) – since like many films of the era (circa 1908), it’s sped up.
What do you think? My first reaction is that this is clearly the Pro Wrestling of the time. You can see that the performance is done purely as a kind of entertainment, not as a real fight at all. Those are real jiujitsu moves being demonstrated (sacrifice throw, hip throw, etc) but it’s also scripted like a very Chaplinesque slapstick comedy involving members of the crowd getting up on stage to join in.
As I mentioned recently, I’ve started taking my son to watch local Pro Wrestling events because he really enjoys them, and it’s given me a greater respect for Pro Wrestling and the skills of the performers.
Mitsuyo Maeda was known to have performed challenge matches as a way of earning a living, but I’ve always thought that his stage name, “Count Koma”, sounded more like a sideshow wrestling name than anything else. And here’s proof that he was earning his living as an entertainer. That’s not to say that he couldn’t have also engaged in serious challenge matches, but I can’t see how those were putting food on his table.
First though, we have to be confident that this is Mitsuyo Maeda. It certainly looks a bit like him. But can we be sure?
The find is credited to an Instagram account called origensdojiujitsu the text next to the video is in Portuguese, and the Google translation reads:
“In the 20th century it was common for Jiu-jitsu performances in Theaters and Circuses throughout the West, many Japanese emigrants, as a way of surviving, entered the World of Show and transformed their Martial knowledge into pure entertainment.
Due to the numerous presentations in theaters and circuses, the Soft Art gained notoriety in the West, it was common for the fighter to perform and even throw challenges to the spectators of the Audience, a common practice used by Conde Koma and his compatriots.
In silent cinema, some presentations in short films served as a trailer between one film session and another, in Brazil and in the world, both the armed forces and the shows contributed to the popularization of art.
In Brazil, the first exponents traveled both in the military environment and in circus shows such as Geo Omori, Conde Koma, and Satake, among others.”
So, this recording could have been a trailer shown between silent films. it certainly sounds credible, and if legitimate, it’s a fascinating look back at the origins of Brazilian Jiujitsu, and perhaps a refreshing break from the tough guy image that it later became associated with.