(Originally published at BJJ Heroes)

The story of Mitsuyo Esai Maeda did not start (and certainly did not end) with the Gracie family. The Japanese ‘Kano Jiu Jitsu’ master who taught Carlos Gracie and Luiz França those grappling principles that led to what we recognize today as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, lived a long and prosperous life in his favorite Brazilian location of Belém do Pará, in the Amazon, eventually adopting a Brazilian citizenship in 1930 and changing his name to Otávio Maeda. It was here that Maeda remained until his death in 1941, leaving behind one of the oldest and most traditional grappling academies in Brazil, the ‘Conde Koma Judô Clube’.

The Japanese Mitsuyo Maeda arrived in Pará at a time when this immense Brazilian state was at it’s highest and most prosperous period. It also coincided with a period of heavy Japanese migration to the Amazon, which must’ve helped Maeda in his decision to remain in Belém, the state’s capital city.

Although he settled in Belém do Pará around 1917, Maeda still travelled often, and so it was only in 1921 that Conde Koma finally opened his own academy, after the Gracie’s left the city. Initially located at the Clube do Remo (rowing society), in the burg of Cidade Velha, it was one of the first Judo clubs in the country. Mitsuyo remained as the top man of the society for many years forming great grapplers in the region. As Maeda grew old, the helm of the club was passed on to two of his top students named: Sebastião Oli (a second generation Italian immigrant) and the Japanese Nakasan. On November 27, 1941 the Kodokan Institute in Japan promoted Maeda to 7th dan, unfortunately for the great Master, he never had the pleasure of receiving the honour as he passed away on the following day, November 28, 1941 in Brazil.

Maeda’s Judo students remained faithful to the club keeping the continuous stream of quality fighters. Two of the most well known competitors to come out of the Count Koma’s Judo Club were Gabriel Hermes and Alfredo Coimbra, the later one took control of the academy in 1991, continuing the good work of his predecessors.

Alfredo Mendes Coimbra, a 3rd generation black belt of Maeda’s lineage became the main instructor of the academy during the 1990’s, a role he kept for over 20 years. Master Coimbra was born on the 2nd of October, 1934. He started training Maeda’s grappling system at the age of 20 with both Oli and Nakasan quickly becoming one of their top students and a well known competitor in the region. Master Coimbra competed during the 1950’s and 1960’s against some of the top fighters of that era, including 3 tough vale-tudo (NHB) bouts against the internationally known Waldemar Santana, the man who defeated Helio Gracie in 1955. The Alfredo Coimbra vs. Waldemar Santana trilogy took place in 3 of the most important cities of the North-east of Brazil: Pernambuco, Belém and Macapá, the results were 1 draw and two wins for Santana.

During the 50 year period while the academy and it’s students were under the guidance of Sebastião Oli and Nakasan, the training ground moved a few times, always in the same burg of Vila Velha. In the early 1990s, as Master Coimbra took over, the ‘CKJC’ moved to SESI (Serviço Social da Indústria), where it remained for many years. According to many researchers, Coimbra taught Maeda’s style to 80-90% of the Judo black belts currently in the state, teaching most of the classes until 2012, with 58 years of Jiu Jitsu under his 7th degree Judo belt (Kodansha).

As Master Coimbra grew older, the classes were taken over by one of Coimbra’s finest students, Mr Alessandro Barros. The ‘Conde Koma Judô Clube’ is an unusual Judo academy, as it focuses heavily on ground work (newaza) and has a clear and very distinct curriculum from most Judo academies’ systems. When interviewed for this piece, Alessandro Barros, the current head coach at the club, expressed his great pride on the quality of the academy’s ground game, feeling that the team is a reference to the whole grappling community. The ‘Conde Koma Judô Clube’ still produces high quality fighters inside and outside the Judo rule set, as MMA fighter and Bellator’s star competitor Luis ‘Sapo’ could attest, a fighter developed inside the Conde Koma’s walls.

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    Professor Jigoro Kano

    Brian N. Watson
    Over a century ago, Japanese jujutsu men from various ryu or schools, often competed against one another and sometimes fought boxers and wrestlers in thuggish prize fights, similar to today’s MMA. Participants suffered injuries in these barbaric bouts and occasionally, according to early Kodokan instructor *Sakujiro Yokoyama, even death. Jigoro Kano, after becoming an expert in jujutsu himself, soon lost interest in furthering such brutality and seemed to believe that if a student gained expertise solely in martial arts, it was neither sufficient nor conducive to the development of appropriate character. He therefore wrote extensively and made great efforts to CIVILIZE martial arts by creating non-violent forms that if taught as he envisaged, could have positive influences, by having a balanced effect on one’s character. He achieved his objectives to some extent, and as a result jujutsu, with its unsavory reputation, largely lost its former appeal. In Japan’s schools, police dojos, and naval dojos, Kodokan judo, a safer martial art, along with kendo came to be widely accepted by the authorities from the early 1900s as a suitable means of physical training for both adults and especially schoolchildren.
    Mainly through Professor Kano’s persistence, Japan’s varied martial techniques, chiefly those of jujutsu and kenjutsu, were transformed into non-violent activities and as a consequence, the name endings were changed from jutsu ‘technique’, or perhaps ‘violent technique’ to dō ‘way’. Kano, ever the academic, regularly lectured in the Kodokan and encouraged his senior students to lecture in his absence on the ‘way or path’ he believed students should follow in life. His altruistic aim seems to have been to persuade judo students to concentrate not only on the cultivation of a healthy physique but also on the attainment of a virtuous mindset, or in other words, focus themselves on becoming JUDOKA-SCHOLARS.
    Although judo has in modern times become a regular Olympic sport, judging from the letter that Kano wrote to Gunji Koizumi in 1936, Kano had an ambivalent attitude with regard to this outcome. Moreover, he discouraged judo training merely for sporting prowess, medals and fame. He was much more obsessed on seeing his students pursue judo training as a means of personal cultural attainment, which he hoped would help further the expansion of a responsible citizenry.
    In keeping with Kano’s emphasis on such objectives, over the past decades many Japanese judomen have had distinguished careers both in business and in academia. As an example, two Kodokan black belt holders in particular who undoubtedly exemplified Kano’s teachings in full measure became Nobel laureates. Ryoji Noyori, a 1st dan, past president (2003-2015) of RIKEN Physical and Chemical Research Institute, achieved the 2001 Chemistry Nobel Prize, and Shinya Yamanaka, of 2nd dan grade, gained the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine. This specific honor was in recognition for his discovery of how to transform ordinary adult skin cells into stem cells that, like embryonic stem cells, are capable of developing into any cell in the human body. Yamanaka’s achievement therefore has fundamentally altered the fields of developmental biology and stem cell research.
    Another judo black belt holder worthy of note is famed French astronaut Thomas Pesquet who on February 11, 2017 broadcast from the International Space Station the following message that has been translated from French as follows: ‘If you are a judoka or simply passionate about judo, you know how much practicing of our sport, and our discipline is based on essential values through judo. These values have made me the man I am today, and I do my best to apply these values in my daily life and to transmit them to the youngest generation. Here, for example, in the International Space Station to work in extreme conditions is sometimes dangerous. It is good to know what courage and self-control are, and as we work as a team, respect and friendship are essential values to the crew in space as on the tatami. Judo is more than a sport; it is a school of life. I wish you a great tournament (Judo Paris Grand Slam, February 11th & 12th 2017) in Paris.’
    In closing, a quote from Kano made in *The Ideal Judo Instructor, reads as follows: ‘They (judo instructors) should have detailed knowledge of physical education, teaching methods and have a thorough grasp of the significance of moral education. Finally, they must understand how the principles of judo can be, by extension, utilized to help one in daily life and how they themselves can be of benefit to society at large.’
    Brian N. Watson
    Tokyo, Japan
    March 19, 2017

    The Father of Judo, Kodansha International, 2000, 2012
    IL Padre Del Judo, (Italian) Edizioni Mediterranee, 2005
    Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano, Trafford Publishing, 2008, 2014
    * (Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano Page 69, The Ideal Judo Instructor)
    Memorias de Jigoro Kano, (Portuguese) Editora Cultrix, 2011
    Kodokan Dictionary of Judo, Foundation of Kodokan Judo Institute, 2000
    The Fighting Spirit of Japan, E.J. Harrison, The Overlook Press, 2000
    * (Chapter V1, page 65)
    (This report may be sent to others. My only request is that no alteration be made to the text. B.N. Watson)


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