While Maeda's time in Brazil (1914 - 1941) was substantial and led to the growing popularity of combat sports and combat sport competitions, Brazilians practiced Jiu-Jitsu prior to his arrival. The person that did introduce Brazil to the Japanese art, was most likely not Japanese, but actually an American.
Irving Hancock was an American author who wrote dozens of books. In the beginning of the 20th century, he befriended a traveling Japanese fighter named Katsukuma Higashi in New York City. While Higashi’s qualifications and expertise are hard to verify, it appears that he had at least some training in traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. Hancock chose to create two martial arts instructional books with Higashi: Jiu-Jitsu Combat Tricks (1904) and The Complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu (1905). Interestingly, while the two leveraged Jigoro Kano’s name for their second book, it appears unlikely that Higashi ever trained in Kano Jiu-Jitsu/Judo.
While Hancock and Higashi were in New York writing and taking photographs for their Jiu-Jitsu instructional manuals, nearly 7,000 miles away, Japan was locked in a war with Russia. The Russo-Japanese war lasted from 1904 to 1905 and related to territorial control of Manchuria and Korea. Surprisingly, Japan resoundingly defeated the Russian military and immediately raised its profile on the world stage. The western world became fascinated with Japan and its culture and how such a small nation could so quickly defeat a global power in combat. This, in turn, led to significant demand across North America, South America and Europe for knowledge into the Japanese fighting arts. While much of the war was fought with naval assets, articles at the time attributed the Japanese soldiers’ and sailors’ success to their Jiu-Jitsu training.
Hancock’s books were some of the first books written in English on the subject of Japanese hand to hand combat techniques. They were quickly translated into a myriad of languages. Brazilian naval officers Captain Santos Porto and Lieutenant Adler de Aquino translated the English texts to Portuguese and these books appear to be Brazil’s first exposure to the Japanese art.
It was shortly after the arrival of Hancock’s book in Brazil, that the term Jiu-Jitsu started to appear in advertisements. Traveling circuses, carnivals and athletic shows would crisscross the country and often contained “Luta Romana” (Greco-Roman Wrestling) and “Luta Livre” (Catch Wrestling or what we would consider No-Gi Submission Grappling) fights. As early as 1909, Brazilian showbills advertised the addition of “Jiu-Jitsu” fights. The competitors in these matches were Brazilians with extremely limited knowledge of Jiu-Jitsu. They most likely learned it from Hancock’s books and used that limited knowledge to satisfy the crowds’ demands to see the Japanese art in action.
Katsukuma Higashi and Irving Hancock
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