Choque: The Untold Story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil 1856-1949 (Volume 1) (4 page)

BOOK: Choque: The Untold Story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil 1856-1949 (Volume 1)
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Prohibited techniques [
golpes prohibidos
] of luta romana were demonstrated in the magazine
Illustração Brazileira
in 1910. They included twisting the hands [
torçer as mãos
], guillotine chokes [
envolver o pescoço
], banging the opponent’s head on the ground [
bater com a cabeça no chão
], and hooking the opponent’s leg [
traçar a perna
]. The techniques were posed by the Russian lady wrestler Schuwaloff, whose nickname was “Golden Girl” [“
Menina de Ouro
“], assisted by Phillipi, among others including João Baldi and the Brazilian amateur lady wrestler, Nené. Only one permitted technique [
um lindo golpe
] was shown, a
ceinture arriére
[rear bear hug].

Two days later the same magazine showed world champion Giovanni Raicevich of Italy and Aimable de la Calmette of France, in the “
en garde
” [starting] positon. Each fighter had a grip on his opponent’s opposite-side wrist, with a collar tie. Also shown were former world champion Romanoff of Russia and Ruggero, Italian champion, in the “
en garde de tête
” [head to head position].
Like football, luta romana was an easy game to understand and could be played almost anywhere. Other things being equal, exposure increases liking. That tended to make them popular.

Luta romana continued to be a popular spectator sport until the late 1930’s when it was displaced as a form of spectator entertainment by luta livre and catch-as-catch-can, which, depending on the time and place, were sometimes seen as the same thing with different names, but sometimes as distinct forms of wrestling, each with its own rules. It was to the advantage of teachers and promoters to distinguish them, as it seemed to offer more variety.
There were cases of two fighters engaging in a luta livre match one night and then a catch match a few days later, just as they would alternate between luta livre rules and jiu-jitsu rules, and for the same reason. The more “styles” there were, the more matches any two fighters could engage in without losing the fan’s interest and the easier it was for a fighter to remain “undefeated”.


Savate had originally been devised as a less lethal alternative to dueling, using hands and feet rather than weapons.
Savate was sometimes included as a component of
shows, which featured, in addition to rapiers [
] and swords [
] and other bladed weapons, more pedestrian objects such as canes [
] and sticks [

Savate was originally the art of punching and kicking. As early as 1862, savate had become specialized as “the game of legs” [
o jogo do pernas
]. Punching was a separate game [
o jogo do soccos
]. Probably the reasons were two: By separating them, shows would have greater variety and could be twice as long. In addition, the public was probably more impressed with flashy kicks than punches, which anyone could throw. This became fixed terminology when boxing arrived.

Variously referred to as “box”
, “luta de box”, “boxe”, or “Box Inglez”, boxing was the new, improved, specialized, and more widely accepted and practiced form of the
jogo do soccos
, with standardized and internationally recognized rules and an already well-established economic framework, with practicioners, both amateur and professional, from the developed countries and others, but especially Europe and North America. There was money in boxing, and the possibility of international prestige.

Like luta
romana, boxing was easy to understand. There were however some differences between the sport of boxing, in both amateur and professional guises, and their predecessor, “prize-fighting”. Brazilians were duly informed about them.

The principles of boxing were described in 1909 to the general literate public in an article titled “
Box: Seus Principaes Golpes e Paradas
” [Boxing: The Principle Blows and Blocks]
Revista da Semana
. Thirteen pictures with captions described the major punches, positions, and movements, including the Bob Fitzimmons shift punch (high right followed by outside step and left to solar plexus), and some general training information, such as how to spar, what size gloves are worn and so on.

Boxing matches were occasionally staged in
Rio following the same format set by luta romana. The first “Internacional Campeonato de Box Inglez” was held in Rio in 1913. It was promoted by the man who had brought the first jiu-jitsu expert, Sada Miyako, to Brazil, and would one year later present on the stages of his theaters the most famous of all, Conde Koma―and subsequently many other fighters of less celestial stature.

he concept of a world boxing champion dates from 1882.
Subsequently the public developed certain expectations for how champions would be crowned. The winner of a tournament on a single stage in one city in Brazil could hardly claim to be a world or even national champion. The tournament format was not often used for boxing shows.

Boxing also, despite being endorsed by two of the most advanced countries (
England and the United States), was not regarded favorably by all Brazilians. As one wrote in 1910, “
Boxe….o sport mais estupido e bestial
” [boxing…the most stupid and animalistic sport]. He described boxing as “
savate com as mãos

e did not go into great detail as to why he disliked the noble art, but he wasn’t the only one. The spectacle of two men pucnching each other did not seem like entertainment to many people, particularly not to respectable Christians. Professional boxing had a hard road before it was finally legalized in the United States.
It took a world war, a hard-hitting heavyweight named Jack Dempsey, and the marketing genius of Tex Rickard to make professional boxing the muilt-million dollar business that it became.


livre was introduced as an extension of luta romana. The objective was similar, to put the other man on the ground. But luta livre offered more. The rules and techniques were explained in numerous articles and demonstrations, as jiu-jitsu had been. In 1909 a newspaper columnist named “Cousin Henry” summarized the differences. He also showed a clear grasp of the business side of professional wrestling.

There are two types of “luta”
, he explained. One is luta romana (occasionally referred to as luta greco-romana). In his view, luta romana had once been but no longer was an athletic contest or sport, but rather a commercial exhibition [
não é mais uma sport mas…um exhibição commercial

The other was luta livre, which was a genuine sport and athletic contest with the purpose of throwing a man to the ground using the techniques and rules of the game [
enviar o adversario ao solo
] or pinning his shoulders to the mat [
encostamento as duas espaduas
], using the various techniques of the sport such as “
” [locks, grips], “
crocs en jambe
” [leg hooks], “
prise de pieds
” [footlocks], and others. Luta livre is called catch-as-catch-can in North America, he explained, and practiced there, and in England, Turkey, and India.

In the “troupe system”
, he explained, fighters form groups, which are contracted by an
[promoter] to perform “
” [shows] for a specific “
” [season, or period of time]. Fighters are paid before fighting. The troupe leader decides what the outcome of the match will be the day before or sometimes hours before the fights. In the case of
[challenges], the fighter doesn’t risk his own money, rather the empresario underwrites the performance, viewing an occasional defeat as an operating expense.

Henry’s overview was generally correct, but didn’t foresee that luta livre would quickly recapitulate the trajectory of luta romana. In fact, he probably over-estimated how different luta livre was from luta romana even in 1909. The same could probably be said of professional jiu-jitsu.


Between 1856 and 1909, capoeiragem was associated with slaves and former slaves, black people, and in general the lowest classes.

O Paiz
expressed it, “Use of the ‘
,’ as capoeiras called razor blades, turned the public against the national game, which originated in Africa. Famous gangs formed whose existence was contrary to Brazilian civilization, and capoeira began to be adopted exclusively by the lowest classes of society, by criminals and cold-blooded vagabunds, until it reached the disreputable and degraded condition that it has now reached”.

Capoeiragem from 1887 and 1888 was generally referred to in the context of police arrest reports of individuals of a “certain class” who were caught in the act of performing street exhibitions [
] of agility [
] and dexterity [
]. “
Armas prohibidas
” [prohibited weapons] were invariably used as props, which intimidated passers-by.

Three examples may suffice to give the general impression of capoeiragem in the
days before the official abolition of slavery, May 13, 1888.

“Yesterday at
11:30 in the morning, a slave named Trajano, belonging to Justino da Silveira Machado, was arrested on rua da União. He had been performing a capoeiragem show [
] with some other individuals who eluded authorities. Trajan injured João Baptista dos Santos by throwing a rock at his head”.

“Felicio Joaquin Martins, known by the
nickname Moleque Felippe, was arrested  for performing capoeiragem at Largo de S. Francisco. He was injured when he was stabbed by another capoeira, Dominguinhos da Sé, who ran away”.

“Sebastião Jose da Silva was arrested yesterday for performing a capoeiragem demonstration, armed with a razor blade”.

Similar examples could be added almost ad infinitum. Capoeiragem was regarded as a threat to public safety, an impediment to commerce, and in its milde
r manifestations, a general nuisance. It was not seen as a sport, a system of self-defense, or a form of “physical culture”.

Nevertheless, some critics couldn’t help but observe that some of the capoeiras demonstrated admirable physical attributes. To put it in perspective, capoeiragem in nineteenth century
Brazil was something like the break-dancing that one can see on the streets of some large American cities today. The difference is that break-dancers don’t perform while brandishing straight razors.

The slaves were freed in 1888.
But capoeiragem remained a crime. In 1890, the
Codigo Penal dos Estados Unidos do Brasil, Decreto n. 847
of October 11, 1890 was enacted. The section addressing Crime and Punishment [
Dos Crimes e das Penas
] was published for everyone to see.

It consisted of four major sections [
]. Section III addressed
Das contravenções em Especie
[types of misdemeanor], of which there were 13 “
“ [chapters, or sub-sections, each with several articles [
] related to specific offenses]. Chapter 13 concerned
e capoeiras
[vagrants and capoeiras].

Three articles specifically concerned capoeiras,
the first article 403, being most relevant (article 404 concerned repeat offenders and foreigners, article 405 concerned aggravating conditions). Article 403 of the 1890 penal code specified imprisonment for two to six months, or longer under certain circumstances.

As many young men continued to perform capoeiragem in public, prisons needed to be built to accommodate them. One example of that occurred in 1898 when the
Superior Tribunal do Justiça
.of Pernambuco passed a law (
n. 370) authorizing the governor of the state to create a penal colony on the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, or some other place, for people convicted of the crimes of
[vagrancy], or capoeiragem.

Even with laws prohibiting it, and prison time for practicing it, capoeiragem continued. Young, uneducated, unskilled, and unwanted black men did
n’t have many job options. Capoeiragem might have been seen as a somewhat less profitable but also less dangerous occupation than robbing and kidnapping. Given the social identities of the capoeiras, it isn’t surprising that capoeiragem continued to have a negative connotation.

BOOK: Choque: The Untold Story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil 1856-1949 (Volume 1)
3.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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