Luiz França the Unknown Founder of BJJ

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a modified form of Judo, or Kano Jiu-Jitsu (after the founder Jigoro Kano), as it was called before the name was changed to Judo, that focuses on ne-waza (ground techniques). If you know anything about BJJ you’ve probably heard of the Gracie name.  The Gracie family, in particular Carlos Grace and Helio Gracie, are widely known to have developed the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. However, what if I told you that the Gracies weren’t the only founders? What if I told you that there was a founder of BJJ that was completely outside of the Gracie family?  Meet Luiz França Filho, the other founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Luiz França was a student of Soishiro Satake and Mitsuyo Maeda. Satake and Maede were both trained in Judo at Waseda University in Tokyo. Before leaving the university they would both receive a rank of san dan (third degree black belt). Soishiro Satake would be the first to establish a Judo school in Brazil. Maeda would travel the world, doing exhibition showing the effectiveness of Judo. It was during this time that Maeda was exposed to catch wrestling, boxing, savate, and other arts that influenced his way of thinking. Maeda would also arrive in Brazil to teach Judo. Both Satake and Maeda would become naturalized Brazilians.

Satake opened his own academy in 1916, at the Atlético Clube Rio Negro, becoming the first Japanese to open a Judo academy in Brazil. This gym became the place where Luiz França would begin his training. This same gym where Luiz França picked up skills, was the same place where Satake taught Vinicios Ruas (the uncle of former Vale Tudo/MMA champion Marco Ruas).

Luiz França remained at Satake’s academy for around one year, training very hard, before he moved to Belem do Pará where Mitsuyo Maeda was teaching. Maeda would then became França’s instructor, at the school where Maeda taught was also Carlos Gracie.

After his time spent with Mitsuyo Maeda, Luiz França moved to São Paulo, where he trained with another Japanese Judo man, Geo Omori. After his stay in São Paulo, França settled in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where he taught the techniques learned to the military, including a young Marine named Oswaldo Fadda. Oswaldo would become França’s standout student, carrying the França Jiu-Jitsu torch alive for many years to come.

Not much is known of Luiz França’s coaching style, what is known is that he opened the doors of his gym to the impoverished population, contrasting with the Gracie approach in Rio de Janeiro’s wealthy. It is also known that França focused his teaching approach on self-defense instead of competition.

Unlike the Gracie’s, França did not transform his family into an army of fighters, but his legacy lives on. Today França’s lineage has been passed down through Oswaldo Fadda, who was known for teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the poor; he taught them free of charge. Fadda was regarded by the Gracies as an outcast In 1951, Fadda issued a challenge to the Gracie Academy.

The Gracies accepted the match and Fadda’s team would win based on their superior footlocking techniques.  The Gracies frowned upon using footlocks and claimed they were inferior.  It was this contempt for such techniques that allowed Fadda’s team to win. Hélio Gracie in an interview after the event to newspapers said…”All you need is one Fadda to show that Jiu-Jitsu is not the Gracie’s privilege.”

Through Fadda, champions such as Jacare, Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, BJ Penn, Robson Moura, Leonardo Santos, Jose Aldo, and Rodolfo Vieira were forged. More over, Fadda Jiu-Jitsu gave birth to new well-known academies such as Nova Uniao, Grappling Fighting Team (GFT) and Master Wilson Academy.

If you’re interested about hearing some stories from a non-Gracie lineage check out this video:

Daniel Brackins
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