Geo Omori is arguably the most significant, yet least known of the pioneers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He taught, fought and spread his style of Judo/Jiu-Jitsu across Brazil in the 1920’s and 1930’s. While his biography, accomplishments and contributions to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are quite similar to that of Mitsuyo Maeda, Omori has all but been erased from the origin story. There is one reason that Maeda is a household name (within Jiu-Jitsu circles) and Omori is largely unknown. While Maeda’s name helped legitimize the Gracies, Omori was one of their chief rivals.
Robert Drysdale has said that without Carlos Gracie, there would be no Mitsuyo Maeda. While Drysdale is being somewhat hyperbolic, there is truth to his statement as Carlos Gracie and his brothers, when starting out, needed to align themselves with a legitimate instructor to gain credibility. However, Maeda was but one of several, accomplished Japanese Judo/Jiu-Jitsu men that traveled the world, fought in challenge matches, performed demonstrations and taught locals from the 1910’s through the 1930’s. Brazil alone had Maeda, Omori, Soshihiro Satake, Sadao Okura, Takeo Yano, brothers Yassuiti and Naoti Ono and handful of others. The Gracies, as they promoted their version of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu history, were incentivized to “talk up” Maeda and minimize the contributions of other Japanese masters. This was especially the case for anyone who dismissed their legitimacy or skill. Something that Omori would do on more than one occasion.
While a full biography of Omori would be quite long, I will stick to the standard format for these articles and attempt to highlight the key details.
Geo Omori was born in Tokyo in 1898 (some accounts list 1892) and began training Judo at the Kodokan at the age of 9. At 17 years old, he was awarded his Black Belt from Tokugoro Ito. 1925, after a stint in North America, a 29-year-old Omori emigrated to Brazil and began teaching Judo/Jiu-Jitsu in Rio de Janeiro.
As mentioned previously, throughout his time in Brazil, Omori participated in the standard business model of his Japanese contemporaries:
1. Perform choregraphed demonstrations of techniques as part of carnivals, circuses, variety shows and formal events to familiarize the populace with Judo/Jiu-Jitsu techniques and concepts.
2. Fight in various types of challenge matches against everyone from random audience members to elite, professional fighters. These contests could be what we would now consider Sport Jiu-Jitsu, No-Gi submission grappling or mixed martial arts fights. They could take place as part of circuses and carnivals or be part of formal fight cards that contained amateur and professional bouts. These fights, under wildly inconsistent rulesets and judging, helped promote a particular fighter’s ability or the effectiveness of a certain style of martial art. Success in these fights led to larger fight purses and lucrative teaching contracts.
3. Teach law enforcement and military personnel under short term contracts. Judo/Jiu-Jitsu instructors would often enter into short term teaching assignments at police academies, military academies, police stations and military bases to teach basic combatives courses.
4. Open formal academies to teach civilians their style of unarmed combat. As mentioned in previous articles, civilians pursuing Judo/Jiu-Jitsu training as a hobby, athletic pursuit or for self defense was not a mainstream concept in Brazil at this time. When academies did start opening in Brazil, being present and teaching full time at the academy does not appear to have been a priority for the instructors. They would often travel and prioritize the three other revenue streams listed above over teaching at their home academy.
It appears that Omori’s first few years in Brazil were focused on teaching, traveling and performing demonstrations. He may have been teaching in Rio de Janeiro as early as 1925, but it is unclear how much of his time was dedicated to consistently teaching.
By 1928, Omori was participating in professional fighting. He fought challenge matches for the Quierlo Brothers circus in São Paulo. Challengers would win a gold medal if they could defeat him. On Oct 19, 1928, he fought a Vale Tudo match defeating Oswaldo Caetano Vasques. Throughout his career, he fought other Jiu-Jitsu men, boxers, wrestlers, strongmen and capoeira fighters.
Omori’s Vale Tudo fight against Archimedes Rogerio may have been what was described in a Sep 24, 1928 Time magazine article about a Japanese Jiu-Jitsu fighter vs a Brazilian Capoeira fighter.
During this time period, Omori solidified his roots in São Paulo by opening the Paulista de Jiu-Jitsu at Frantão do Braz in 1928. The school changed its name in 1929 to Escola de Jiu-Jitsu Geo Omori.
His first documented loss came in Feb 1929. Omori fought two individuals, back to back in submission grappling matches. He beat Waldemar in the first match, but lost “due to unconsciousness” to Francisco Ritter in the second. Omori likely had his revenge when the two rematched on Mar 9, 1929.
In Apr of 1929, Omori had his first bout with Carlos Gracie. This event is not without its controversy. Carlos maintained it was a legitimate Jiu-Jitsu match. Omori claimed it was merely a demonstration and Carlos’ father, Gastão, paid Omori to make his son look good to the spectators and journalists gathered in attendance. The outcome was a draw. While the legitimacy of the match cannot be concluded, a brief look at Omori’s competitive resume before and after the Carlos fight implies that Omori was definitely “taking it easy” on the young Gracie. Carlos would only have two documented “fights” in his career and both were against Geo Omori.
Omori’s second fight with Carlos occurred on Jan 5, 1930. The match was scheduled for five 3 minute rounds with one minute rest between rounds. The bout occurred at the Madison Square Paulistano in São Paulo. George Gracie fought on the undercard. While the Sport Jiu-Jitsu match between Omori and Carlos was once again a draw, the journalists in attendance noted Carlos’ abilities had improved since there previous encounter.
After the two Carlos Gracie matches/exhibitions, Omori continued to fight professionally in a variety of formats. He fought many of the top competitors of his era, including: Manoel Fernandes, Manoel Rufino, Roberto Ruhmann, Fred Ebert and Dudu. While his total fight count and fight record are impossible to conclude, it was quite likely that Omori had hundreds of professional matches during his thirteen years in Brazil. It must also be noted, like many other fighters of this time period (but not all), Omori was known to participate in fights with pre-arranged outcomes. This was often done to increase fan interest in rematches and to minimize significant damage to fighters.
During periods of time, it appears that Omori maintained some degree of professional relationship with the Gracies. They would occasionally partner to promote fight cards or to publicize the art of Jiu-Jitsu to the press. On occasion, Carlos would even negotiate fight arrangements on Omori’s behalf.
In 1931, Omori opened an academy in São Paulo which became his home base. In Apr of 1932, he opened another school in the Botofogo neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. During this period, he would train with the other prominent Japanese fighters in Brazil, preparing them for their fights. It was also around this time that Maeda and Satake student Luiz Franca would move to São Paulo and continue his training under Geo Omori. Franca would go on to teach Oswaldo Fadda who would start the Fadda Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lineage that continues to today.
Omori had his first true fight with a Gracie on Apr 8, 1933. He fought George Gracie in a Sport Jiu-Jitsu match scheduled for eight 10 minute rounds. George was a very different fighter from Carlos. He had a long and legitimate, professional fighting career and would be the most experienced Gracie fighter of his generation. This fight ended in a draw.
The animosity increased between Omori and the Gracie brothers throughout 1933. Omori claimed the brothers did not have true Jiu-Jitsu and the Gracies became infuriated when Omori trained the Gracies’ opponents, such as Manoel Fernandes.
George Gracie and Omori rematched on Dec 23, 1933 in a Vale Tudo match of ten 5 minute rounds. The fight also ended in a draw.
Omori would continue to travel, teach and fight for another five years. In 1938, at the age of 40, he succumbed to food poisoning leaving behind a wife and young daughter.
Geo Omori really did it all. He was an excellent, Kodokan Judoka who traveled the world, spending more than a decade in Brazil teaching, fighting, performing demonstrations and opening academies. He sewed the seeds for Judo and Jiu-Jitsu schools in Rio and São Paulo and taught a generation of early fighters. He took on all comers, hundreds of times to prove himself and his art.
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