Mitsuyo Maeda was born in Funazawa Village, Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture, on November 18, 1878. He attended Kenritsu Itiu high school (currently Hirokou – a Hirosaki school). As a child, he was known as Hideyo. He practiced sumo as a teenager, but lacked the ideal build for this sport. His interest in judo arrived because of this unsuitability to sumo, combined with stories about the success of judo during contests between judo and jujutsu that were occurring at the time. At seventeen years old, in 1894, his parents sent him to Tokyo to enroll in Waseda University. He took up Kodokan judo the following year.
FORMATIVE YEARS AT THE KODOKAN
Upon arriving in the Kodokan, Mitsuyo Maeda, who was 1m 64cm tall (3′ 25.2″) and weighted 64kg (141 pounds), was confused with a delivery boy due to his country manners and demeanor. Judo’s founder Jigoro Kano spotted the boy, and promptly assigned him to Tsunejiro Tomita (4th dan), who was the smallest of the teachers of the Kodokan’s shiten-no, as a measure to show that in judo, size was not important. Tomita was the first Kodokan judoka and a close friend to Jigoro Kano. According to Koyassu Massao (9th dan):
Among the four Kodokan shiten-no, it was Tsunejiro Tomita who received the greatest amount of teachings from Jigoro Kano sensei . . . as a fighter he wasn’t so successful as Saigo, Yamashita and Yokoyama, but was exceptional in applied studies and was als fluent in the English language . . .
Although the weakest of Kodokan shinte-no, Tsunejiro Tomita was able to defeat the great jujutsu champion of that time, Hansuke Nakamura, from the Tenjin Shinyo Ryu style.
Mitsuyo Maeda formed with Soishiro Satake the head of the second generation of Kodokan judoka which replaced the first by the beginning of the 20th century. Satake, with 1m 75cm and 80kg, had no match in amateur sumo but admitted that he himself wasn’t a match to Maeda in Judo. Satake would later travel together with Maeda and settle himself in Manaus, Amazonas State, while Maeda keep traveling. Satake would be the founder in 1914 of the first historically registered Judo academy in Brazil. Together with Maeda, both are considered the pioneers of Judo in Brazil.
At that time few were the graduated Kodokan judoka. Mitsuyo Maeda and Satake were the top graduated professors at Waseda University, both sandan, along with Matsuhiro Ritaro (nidan) and six other shodan.
Kyuzo Mifune registered in the Kodokan in 1903 and attracted Maeda’s attention who commented “you are strong and competent, therefore, you will certainly leave your mark in the Kodokan…”. However, Mifune went to learn under Sakujiro Yokoyama. Later, already a celebrated judoka, Mifune expressed that Maeda’s words were fundamental and a great incentive to him, as he regarded Maeda with the greatest admiration, even though Yokoyama was his sensei.
According to Mifune, in 1904 Maeda lost to Yoshitake Yoshio by Hane Goshi, after defeating three adversaries in succession, but then, in a following tsukinami-shiai defeated eight adversaries in a row, and was awarded the 4th dan (yondan). Mifune also states that Maeda was one of the biggest promoters of Judo, although not by properly teaching Judo, but, instead, forcing Judo recognition through his many combats with contenders from other disciplines.
Mitsuyo Maeda treated experienced and inexperienced students alike, throwing them as if in real combat. He reasoned his behavior as a respectful measure towards his students but was often misunderstood and scared many youngsters, who would abandon him in favor of other professors.
PRELUDE TO KODOKAN’S EXPANSION
In 1879, Ulysses S. Grant, the former President of the United States, went to Japan. While in Tokyo, he attended a jujutsu presentation at Shibusawa Eiichi’s home in Asukayama. Jigoro Kano was one of the jujutsuka present. By that time, jujutsu was already being mentioned in Europe and North America, and foreigners with dubious knowledge based on poor sources (obscure books and papers) capitalized on this. Judo and jujutsu were not considered separate disciplines at that time, and even many years after the arrival of Kodokan professors both were regarded as the same art, only finally being set apart after the 1950s.
In 1903, a senior Kodokan instructor named Yoshiaki Yamashita traveled to the United States at the request of the Seattle businessman Sam Hill. In Washington, D.C., Yamashita’s students included Theodore Roosevelt and other prominent Americans. Through Roosevelt’s request, Yamashita also taught judo at the U.S. Naval Academy. Appreciating the good publicity, the Japanese Legation in the USA asked the Kodokan to send more judo teachers to America, thereby giving continuity to Yamashita’s work. Tomita reluctantly accepted the task; Mitsuyo Maeda and Satake embraced the opportunity.
Tomita, Mitsuyo Maeda and Satake sailed from Yokohama on November 16, 1904, and arrived in New York City on December 8, 1904.
During early 1905, Tsunejiro Tomita and Mitsuyo Maeda gave several public demonstrations of judo. On February 17, 1905, Tomita and Maeda gave a demonstration at Princeton University. Maeda threw N.B. Tooker, a Princeton football player, while Tomita threw Samuel Feagles, the Princeton gymnasium instructor. On February 21, 1905, they gave a judo demonstration at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Tomita and Maeda did kata — nage-no, koshiki, ju-no, etc. At the request of the crowd, Maeda wrestled a cadet and threw him easily. Because Tomita had been thrower in the kata, the cadets wanted to wrestle him, too. Tomita threw the first (Charles Daly) without any trouble. However, Tomita twice failed to throw another football player named Tipton using tomoe-nage (stomach throw). Tomita was smaller, so the Japanese claimed a moral victory. The Americans just laughed, and instead hired Tom Jenkins, a former world champion professional wrestler, to be the Academy wrestling coach.
The two Japanese did better at the New York Athletic Club on March 8, 1905. “Their best throw was a sort of flying cartwheel,” said an article in the New York Times, describing Maeda’s match with John Naething, a 200-lb. wrestler. “Because of the difference in methods the two men rolled about the mat like schoolboys in a rough-and-tumble fight.” After fifteen minutes of wrestling, Maeda secured the first fall.” Ultimately, however, Naething was awarded the match by pin fall.
On March 21, 1905, Tsunejiro Tomita and Mitsuyo Maeda gave a “jiu-do” demonstration at Columbia University attended by about 200 people. Following introductions, Tomita demonstrated falls and throws, then Maeda threw the university’s wrestling instructor. According to the student newspaper, “Another interesting feature was the exhibition of some of the obsolete jiu jitsu tricks for defense with a fan against an opponent armed with the curved Japanese sword.” Translations were provided by chemist Takamine Jokichi.
During April 1905, Tsunejiro Tomita and Mitsuyo Maeda started a judo club in commercial space at 1947 Broadway in New York. Members of this club included Japanese expatriates, plus a European American woman named Wilma Berger.
On July 6, 1905, Tsunejiro Tomita and Mitsuyo Maeda gave a judo exhibition at the YMCA in Newport, Rhode Island. On September 30, 1905, Tomita and Maeda gave a demonstration at another YMCA, this time the one in Lockport, New York. In Lockport, the local opponent was Mason Shimer, who wrestled Tomita unsuccessfully.
On November 6, 1905, Mitsuyo Maeda was reported visiting professional wrestler Akitaro Ono in Asheville, North Carolina; after this, Maeda was no longer routinely associated in the US newspapers with Tomita.
On December 18, 1905, Mitsuyo Maeda was in Atlanta, Georgia, for a professional wrestling match with Sam Marburger. The contest was best of three, two falls with jackets and one without, and Maeda won the two with jackets and lost the one without. According to the Atlanta papers, Maeda listed his residence as the YMCA in Selma, Alabama.
Before traveling to Europe, Mitsuyo Maeda and Satake went to Cuba along with Akitaro Ono and Tokugoro Ito. All of them engaged in combats. It was during this time that Maeda defeated Adobamond, the “number one” fighter in Cuba. On February 8, 1907, Maeda and Satake arrived in Liverpool, England. Apparently this was to join up with Akitaro Ono, who had gone to London to wrestle for promoter William Bankier in London music halls. In London, Maeda paid the rent mostly by wrestling professionally. On January 1908, he participated in a tournament at the Alhambra. Maeda was runner-up in the heavyweight division, losing to Austria’s Henry Irslinger. In February 1908, Maeda participated in another wrestling tournament. Again, he ended up runner-up, this time losing to Jimmy Esson.However, in March 1908, Maeda beat Henry Irslinger in a match that Health & Strength magazine described as “one of the squarest, straightest which have been held in England in many years.” Maeda also appears to have done some wrestling in Scotland during September 1908, as several Japanese were reported giving demonstrations of judo and sumo at the Northern Games in Inverness. In between, Maeda gave judo lessons. His students included a man named W.E. Steers. Steers was very enthusiastic about his lessons, even going to Japan to earn first-dan grading in 1912. In 1918, Steers was among the first non-Japanese to join the London jujutsu club known as the Budokwai, which in 1920 would join the Kodokan to become a Judo club.
After the match with Henry Inslinger in March 1908, Mitsuyo Maeda went to Belgium. He didn’t like Belgium, so he soon returned to London, and in May 1908, he participated in a professional wrestling tournament at Hengler’s Circus. Maeda and another Japanese, Tano Matsuda, entered as middleweights, and neither man reached the finals. During January 1909, Matsuda became notorious for losing a mixed match to the African American boxer Sam McVey.
Mitsuyo Maeda went to Spain in June 1908. He was accompanied by Fujisake, Ono, and Hirano. While in Barcelona, Maeda had matches with Sadakazu Uyenishi and Taro Miyake. Phoebe Roberts, a Welsh woman who was advertised as the female judo champion of the world, was part of the entourage. Roberts subsequently married Hirano, and stayed in Portugal for the rest of her life.
CONDE KOMA ORIGIN
It was during the Iberian trip that Mitsuyo Maeda adopted the stage name Conde Koma. There are many theories explaining its origin. It can be an allusion to Komaru, which in Japanese means “troubled,” and provided an ironic reference to his always being broke.
Maeda stated in a European magazine:
“An influential Spanish citizen, impressed with my victories, posture and demeanor, . . . gave me this title which soon spread everywhere in detriment of my real name.”
Maeda was fond of the name and started using it to promote his art thereafter.
CUBA, MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA
During November 1908, Mitsuyo Maeda went to Paris, France, apparently to see his friend Akitaro Ono. From Paris, he went to Havana, arriving there on December 14, 1908, and his twice-a-day wrestling act quickly proved to be very popular.
On July 23, 1909, Mitsuyo Maeda left Havana for Mexico City. His debut in Mexico City took place at the Virginia Fabregas Theater on July 14, 1909. This show was a private demonstration for some military cadets. Shortly afterwards, Maeda began appearing at the Principal Theater. His standing offer was 100 pesos (US $50) to anyone he could not throw, and 500 pesos (US $250) to anyone who could throw him. The Mexican Herald did not record anyone taking his money.
During September 1909, a Japanese calling himself Nobu Taka arrived in Mexico City for the purpose of challenging Mitsuyo Maeda for what the Mexican Herald said would be the world jujutsu championship.After several months of public wrangling, Taka and Maeda met at the Colon Theater on November 16, 1909; Taka won. There was an immediate rematch, and four days later, Maeda was pronounced the champion. It was later revealed that Taka was none other than Maeda’s old friend, Soishiro Satake.
In January 1910, Mitsuyo Maeda took part in a wrestling tournament in Mexico City. During the semifinals, Maeda drew with Hjalmar Lundin. This is a different result than Lundin recalled in his 1937 memoirs.
In July 1910, Mitsuyo Maeda returned to Cuba, where he tried to arrange matches with Frank Gotch and Jack Johnson. Of course, the Americans ignored him — there was no money to be made wrestling him, and much money to be lost if they lost to him. On August 23, 1910, Maeda wrestled Jack Connell in Havana; the result was a draw.
During 1911, Mitsuyo Maedaa and Satake were joined in Cuba by Akitaro Ono and Tokugoro Ito. The four men were known as the Four Kings of Cuba.
The Four Kings were very popular in Cuba, and the Japanese were proud of the reputation they were bringing to judo and Japan. Consequently, on January 8, 1912, the Kodokan promoted Mitsuyo Maeda to fifth degree black belt. There was some resistance to this decision because not everyone in Japan approved of professional wrestling.
In 1913, Ito Tokugoro stayed in Cuba while Maeda and Satake went to El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. In El Salvador, the president was assassinated while Maeda was there, and in Panama, the Americans tried to pay him to lose. So, they kept moving south. In Peru they met Laku, a Japanese jujutsuka that taught the military and invited him to join them. They were joined by Okura in Chile, and by Shimitsu in Argentina. The troupe arrived in Brazil in November 14, 1914.
According to a Mitsuyo Maeda passport copy provided by Gotta Tsutsumi, head of Belém’s Associação Paramazônica Nipako, Maeda arrived in Porto Alegre on November 14, 1914, where his first exhibition in Brazil took place. After that, one sees glimpses of Maeda and his companions throughout the country: on August 26, 1915, Maeda, Satake, Okura, Shimitsu, and Laku were at Recife; during October 1915, they were in Belém, finally arriving in Manaus on December 18, 1915. Ito Tokugoro arrived sometime later.
On December 20, 1915 took place the first demonstration in Belém at the Theatro Politheama. The O Tempo newspaper announced the event stating that Conde Koma would show the main jiu-jitsu techniques, discriminating the prohibited ones and would also demonstrate self-defense techniques; the troupe would be accepting challenges from the crowd, and there would happen the first sensational match of jiu-jitsu between Shimitsu (champion of Argentina) and Laku, Peruvian military professor.
On December 22, 1915 according to O Tempo, jiu-jitsu world champion Mitsuyo Maedaa, head of the Japanese troupe and Satake, New York champion, performed an enthusiastic and sensational jiu-jitsu match. In the same day, Nagib Assef, an Australian Greco-Roman champion of Turkish origin, challenged Maeda. On December 24, 1915 Maeda defeated in seconds boxer Barbadiano Adolpho Corbiniano who became one of his disciples. On January 03, 1916 at Theatro Politheama, Maeda finally fought Nagib Assef who was thrown out of the stage and pinned into submission by arm-lock.
On January 08, 1916 Mitsuyo Maeda, Okura and Shimitsu boarded the Antony and left to Liverpool. Ito Tokugoro went to Los Angeles. Satake and Laku stayed in Manaus teaching, according to O Tempo, jiu-jitsu. After 15 years together, Maeda and Satake finally split up definitely.
Of this last trip very little is known. Mitsuyo Maeda went from England to Portugal, Spain and France coming back to Brazil in 1917 alone. Settling in Belém do Pará Maeda married D. May Iris.
Mitsuyo Maeda was still cherished by the local population and recognized as a great fighter. Maeda slowed down and only fought sporadically. Around 1918-1919 Maeda accepted the challenge from famous Capoeirista (Capoeira fighter) Pé de Bola. Maeda allowed Pé de Bola to use a knife in the fight. The Capoeirista was 1m 90cm tall and weighted 100kg. Maeda quickly finished the match.
In 1921 Mitsuyo Maeda founded his first Judo academy at Clube Remo in a 4m x 4m shed. Later it was moved to the Fire Brigade headquarters and then to the church of N. S. de Aparecida. As of 1991 it’s located in the SESI and run by sensei Alfredo Mendes Coimbra of the third generation of Conde Koma’s descendants.
In 1925, Mitsuyo Maeda became involved with helping settle Japanese immigrants near Tome-açú, a Japanese-owned company town in Pará, Brazil. This was part of a large tract in the Amazon forest set aside for Japanese settlement by the Brazilian government. The crops grown by the Japanese were not popular with the Brazilians, and the Japanese investors eventually gave up on the project. Maeda also continued teaching judo, now mostly to the children of Japanese immigrants. Consequently, in 1929, the Kodokan promoted him to sixth dan, and on November 27, 1941, to seventh dan. Maeda never knew of this final promotion, because he died in Belém on November 28, 1941. Cause of death was kidney disease.
In May 1956, a memorial to Mitsuyo Maeda was erected in Hirosaki City, Japan. The dedication ceremony was attended by Risei Kano and Kaichiro Samura.
Since its inception, Judo was separated from Jiu-Jitsu in its goals, philosophy, and training regime. Although there was great rivalry among jujutsu teachers, this was more than just Jigoro Kano’s ambition to clearly individualize his art. To Kano, judo wasn’t solely a martial art, it was also a sport, a method for promoting physical fitness and building character in young people, and, ultimately, a way (Tao) of life.
Outside Japan, however, this distinction wasn’t even hinted. Both arts, jujutsu and judo, were practically unknown. Neither of them were recognized individually. Instead, they were considered the same thing. Even teachers of both arts didn’t try too hard to make the distinction clear. For example, Tomita himself appeared in a book called Judo: The Modern School of Jiu-Jitsu. In 1920, when Kano and Hikoishi Aida visited London, they had little trouble convicing two British jujutsu teachers Yukio Tani and Gunji Koizumi, to begin teaching Kodokan judo at their club, the Budokwai. Other examples can be found. Thus, when Maeda and Satake arrived in Brazil, every newspaper announced jiu-jitsu despite both men being Kodokan Judoka.
Gastão Gracie had established business in Pará eventually getting married in Belém. In 1917, his son Carlos Gracie, still a 14 years old boy, watched a demonstration by Maeda at the Teatro da Paz and decided to learn jiu-jitsu. Maeda accepted to teach Carlos who would become a great exponent of the art and ultimately, with his younger brother Hélio Gracie would be the founder of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, modern Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
In 1921, Gastão Gracie and his family moved to Rio de Janeiro. Carlos, then 17 years old, passed Maeda’s teachings on to his brothers Osvaldo, Gastão and Jorge. Hélio was too young and sick at that time to learn the art, and due to medical imposition was prohibited to take part in the training sessions. Despite that, Hélio learned jiu-jitsu by watching his brothers and eventually overcome his health problems and is now considered the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
It is not known why Mitsuyo Maeda chose to call his style of judo “jujutsu”. One explanation is that Kodokan judo wasn’t as famous in the 1920s as it is today, and that the traditional term for similar Japanese arts was jujutsu. (In Brazil, the transliteration was more often Jiu-Jitsu.) This explanation seems plausible, inasmuch as the Japanese government itself did not officially decide that the correct name for the martial art taught in the Japanese public schools should be “judo” rather than “jujutsu” until 1925.